ME & MY BOATS
After the rigours of rock ’n’ roll (well, folk rock) it’s time for one musician to hang up his tambourine
Back in 2004, after an amicable separation from my wife, I was faced with the choice of buying a smaller house or indulging myself in a pipe dream that I’d thought about on and off for a while.
Having spent many of the best holidays of my life cruising the waterways of England and Wales on hire boats, I considered taking to life afloat on a liveaboard narrowboat.
With the concept of ‘If I don’t do it now, I never will’ and armed with a wishlist of the features I wanted from a boat, I started the search. Having viewed some good craft, some reasonable craft and some diabolical DIY disasters, I spotted an advert for a boat at Whilton Marina which seemed to tick all the boxes on my list.
I was not disappointed. The boat’s name at the time was International, owned by Bruce (a Scotsman) and Janice (a Dutch lady), hence the boat name!
This boat had every single item on my wishlist and more (57ft/Trad stern/ covered cratch/cassette toilet/bath and shower/front lounge and galley/rear bedroom with fixed double bed/12v and 240v electrics) and the price was within my budget.
After a successful survey, she was mine. Evenings and weekends on the water were relaxing and idyllic after the hectic but enjoyable week at work.
Maintenance work on my boaty home no longer seemed a chore, but was actually interesting. Jobs always seemed to take longer than usual because my mooring is opposite to the lock approach and nearly everyone waiting for the adjacent lock to empty or fill wants to ask
questions or just pass the time of day. As a newbie I began to realise the cut was a whole new world of interesting and helpful people.
I know it’s supposed to be bad luck to change the name of a ship, but I renamed my boat Canny Craic which was the name of a folk rock band in which, many years ago, I used to play five-string banjo, a home-made mandola known as The Plank and, ashamedly, a tambourine.
The ‘Canny’ part of the band name, was derived from the fact that our main vocalist was a giant Geordie. During the gigs as more drink was taken, his accent would become broader and broader until on occasion, I had to translate the song lyrics into the Queen’s English.
The ‘Craic’ part of the band name was in recognition of our Irish bass player, a talented musician but unfortunately partial to cocktails of Guinness with Vermouth chasers … coupled with the fact he had absolutely no sense of direction. We would regularly lose him on our way back from the nearest pub during the gig interval.
The band survived for an unforgettable couple of years and the boat name is a happy reminder of my wilder past.
In 2011, I retired and became a full-time pensioner. I tried to be a grumpy old curmudgeon, but happily failed.
Now having more time, I have been able to travel further. My most memorable retirement trip was to Banbury Folk Festival based at The Mill, right next to the South Oxford Canal.
Due to a problem along the direct route through Leicester, Foxton etc., I had to go via The River Soar, The River Trent, The Trent and Mersey, Coventry Canal etc.
This latter route although further in miles, did however have the benefit of fewer locks … a consideration that single handers sometimes have to think about.
On the way I bumped (not literally) into Bruce and Janice, the previous owners of my boat, on their latest boat Rapide. After they had sold their boat to me, they had bought a much larger boat in which to cruise the busy Dutch canal system for a number of years and then returned to England.
At the festival, I was moored practically opposite the famous Tooley’s Boatyard, a spot which was very convenient for the ceilidhs, French dancing, concerts and Morris dancing...
The festival also coincided with a canalside European Food Market, so the boat larder was full to bursting with French bread and cheese, German sausage, Spanish sangria and Greek olives. Had it not been for all the lock wheeling on the return journey, I would have been spherical.
In 2012, I decided to splash the cash and have Canny Craic repainted. After much deliberation, I finally settled on a colour scheme that was traditional in a cream, red and black Fellows, Morton and Clayton sort of way.
The signwriting and other artwork were done by genius Jon Leeson who featured in a previous issue of Canal Boat. He made such a fantastic job, I enrolled on one of his signwriting courses thinking I might be able to do some less conspicuous areas of Canny Craic.
No chance … I managed a pretty good capital letter E, another guy on the course did a pretty good capital letter R and one of the girls could do rather good numerals. Between us, I thought we could get a contract painting those red pillar boxes with the Queen’s logo … E II R.
Sadly it was not to be and another ‘make a million scheme’ bit the dust.
In 2015, the bank manager nearly had another heart failure when Canny Craic was slipped to be reblacked. On this occasion it was grit blasted down to bare metal and layers of two-part epoxy black applied. It is an expensive initial outlay, but I’ve found it lasts much longer, isn’t dissolved by any diesel fuel on the water and it hasn’t needed any patching up since the day it was done.
The highlight of 2016 was doing The Leicester Ring singlehanded, but in company with another boat Andante.
Tunnels don’t normally hold any fears for me but on this trip I had a dodgy moment. Andante had gone first into Crick Tunnel and I held back a short while to give a reasonable gap between us. Some 50yds after I’d entered the tunnel, my headlight died! … it’s amazing how dark it can be just a short way into a tunnel, even with the navigation and internal lights on.
With Andante only a tiny spot of light in the distance, it was too dark and far to carry on, too dangerous to stay put and try and fix the light, so the only choice was to back out of the tunnel.
Holding a torch in one hand, operating forward and reverse gears (to straighten up) with the other hand and steering backwards with my third hand(???) was not easy, especially as Canny Craic seems to have a mind of her own travelling in reverse.
I had that grim feeling that another boat coming into the tunnel with no ‘night vision’, would plough into my stern.
Fortunately I made it without mishap. A medicinal gin and tonic later, I took the tunnel light apart and found a slightly corroded earth connection.
With this cleaned up, it has worked perfectly ever since, but now I have a second tripod mounted tunnel light ready at the stern …also a couple of more powerful torches and gaffer tape to hand … just in case!
Conclusions? It’s a wonderful way of life, living and travelling on the cut. Any problem, there’s always someone willing to lend a helping hand or to impart some useful advice. And for the future ? I’ve a mind to take
Canny Craic along the mighty Trent to Newark. It would be a bit more hairy on a big river with strong currents, whilst cruising single handed … but I know a rather cute young-ish lady who might be persuaded to be crew.
Medicinal G&T after the Crick Tunnel incident
Canny Craic moored with Andante
Poised outside The Malt Shovel, Shardlow
Canny Craic just out of Barrow Deep Lock