It has taken a fair bit of work but there’s nothing like setting out for your first adventures and learning the lingo on the cut
If you’ve bought your first boat, there are bound to be a few adventures along the way as you set off...
We started our search for a boat in March 2015 and, after several weekends going around marinas and brokers, I found one advertised five miles down the road on the Peak Forest Canal.
Blue Horizon had been built in 2010 and fitted out as a liveaboard but, amazingly, it had only cruised from Whaley Bridge to the mooring in New Mills and no further, so basically I had found a narrowboat that was five years old, still in primer and with an engine showing just 3.5 hours.
As it was still in primer we knew we’d have to give her a paint job – the bottom of hull was looking pretty shoddy, too, so she was booked in for blacking. Inside, though, it was pretty modern and she just needed a clean and tidy and a few alterations.
As there was no front deck as such, we started painting by giving the roof a few coats of non-slip grey. Next we needed to tidy the back end. For a first attempt we used Hammerite garage door paint from B&Q. It worked fine, but then we decided to go for a darker navy blue and bought some marine paint off the internet at £16 a tin.
With the painting done so far, it was time for the first run out… I hadn’t ‘driven’ a narrowboat since the late 70s when I had built them at Coles Moreton Marine and ‘driven’ a few away from the marina after welding repairs. Still, how hard could it be...
We decided to pop up to the turnaround bit towards Whaley Bridge, head back to the marina for fuel, carry on past to the next turnaround bit, come back and park up backwards. Easy. As our mooring is at an angle you have to head out in the direction of Whaley Bridge, so when parking you had to reverse in with the boat pointing towards Whaley Bridge. Getting out was a struggle; we drifted into the barrier, pushed the back out, reversed a bit and off we went to get fuel. (Memo to self: tie up securely.)
Then it was off to the next turnaround bit. Although we got a little out of shape, a little push with the wooden stick on the roof got her going.
We were feeling pretty pleased about how the 20-minute trip was going until
just before the bridge, someone came the other way… Panic, what to do? Easy, press the horn. They waved… what now? “Stop,” shouted Michelle… “There’s no brakes,” I shouted back. (I don’t know why we were shouting, we were stood next to each other!)
I slammed her in reverse and the back end went into the far bank and the front end went into the towpath bank – we ended up sideways across the canal with the other boat still coming towards us. I’m not sure what I did, but it straightened up and the other boat passed by.
Pulling alongside our mooring I turned towards the bank, went into reverse with the ‘handle’ pointing to the left and she started heading straight into the slot. Apart from getting stuck on the bottom momentarily we had done it, we were home.
With Blue Horizon’s inside looking okay, we started thinking about its exterior colours – blue, red and grey sounded good. So with a bit more painting done, we were ready for our second trip – Bugsworth Basin for lunch with Rhiannon and grand-daughter Lyla as crew.
After the usual tricky manoeuvre getting out of the mooring we were off. The first obstacle was a swingbridge at Furness Vale. We had bought a key from eBay but didn’t need it as the bridge was unlocked. Continuing on our way we noticed a boat heading towards us, I’d read ‘drive straight at them and then swerve at the last minute’. It kind of worked…
We manoeuvred into Bugsworth basin, turned nicely and backed into a space. Tied up and turned off. A spot of fishing and a few sandwiches and we were ready to head back. As we cruised along we started smelling bad eggs... was it the sandwiches?
As we reversed into the mooring the smell got worse and seemed to be coming from the batteries. After we moored up we found one was bulging, hot and hissing; sulphated and, basically, knackered.
With more blacking to be done, the first problem was that a boat was stuck in the dry dock. Not only that, it was a 65ft liveaboard full of furniture etc. It took eight people to pull her out.
With our job eventually done it was time for a weekend cruise – Macclesfield looked good. So we packed our food and drink, got Simba and the cats and the spare keys and ‘full steam ahead’. Then came the first bridge, an electric liftbridge. Michelle jumped off and made her way to the bridge panel. Oh ’eck, the keys we bought on eBay don’t work… Luckily, our spare key was from CRT and it did – eventually.
After a manual liftbridge and a swingbridge we arrived at Marple. It’s a tight turn into the Macclesfield canal and, as we were turning, another boat came through the narrows and said, “wait there, a day boat is coming and you know what they’re like!”.
We didn’t know what they’re like actually, but soon discovered when an open boat full of pirates drinking lager came along. They didn’t have guns and knives so we passed them and carried on through High Lane, Poynton and on to Bollington where we moored for the evening.
When we got to Macclesfield we stopped about half a mile south of the football ground and knocked some of them big nails into the footpath and made a brew. Ten minutes later a boat came past pretty fast and the nails shot out of the ground. Luckily I was able to grab our rope and pull her back.
Heading home Michelle drove for around three hours at a nice steady pace; just one issue when we met somebody who thought he owned the cut and pushed us into the shallows between High Lane and Marple. I should make a note of boats like that and shame then on the internet...
Back at New Mills, just before dark another battery bit the dust! Two down,
two to go… A few months on and all four have been replaced.
With the paintwork almost complete in 2015, we decided to wait until 2016 to finish it. We had to wait until April for the weather to warm up before we could start thinking about painting. The gunwales had only been given a quick coat of blue the previous year and had faded pretty badly. After looking around other boats I decided to paint them satin black.
They looked terrific which spurred me on to get the rest of the boat done. It took three months of evenings and weekends, then, suddenly, she was looking presentable.
In August we took a trip to the far end of the Macclesfield where we experienced the Bosley Lock Flight. Twelve locks within a mile or so – Lock one novice, Lock 12 expert. Well, not quite, but it was a great experience.
Unfortunately by this time the red paint on the back of the boat had almost fully faded away. Why…? Ultra-violet from the sun, reaction to the primer? It meant only one thing, a repaint.
Mind you, I’d only put one roller coat on last year so maybe that just wasn’t enough...
And if that wasn’t enough, towards the end of last year we felt the grey on the roof just looked like primer so we decided to change it to cream.
We’ve owned the boat for nearly two years now. How’s it going? Great, and you seem to discover something new nearly every week, and you meet lots of nice people.
We’ve also learned a few of the correct words, so for wooden stick, it’s now barge pole; turnaround bit, winding hole; steering stick, tiller; squashy thing at side, fender and for parking, read mooring.
We have also learned that quite a lot of fishermen don’t like you; eBay keys don’t necessarily work; batteries don’t last forever; don’t moor overnight too near pubs; aircraft-type toilets leak and keep you awake all night; cassette toilets fill up in two days when you’re cruising; the water is not always brown, sometimes it’s green...
Graham and Michelle
Perfectly pained, but not for long
A happy passenger
All that hard work paid off
Our grand-daughter Lyla (7) wrote us a poem: There’s a bridge number 31 and the water
is green A fisherman tries to look happy But his face is old and miserable The water is now brown but has green bits
floating Grandad Gray nearly crashed but is okay now Grandad Gray thinks he is king of the road But I don’t think he is king of the canal!
This may be a more appropriate colour