Af­ter the rigours of rock ’n’ roll (well, folk rock) it’s time for one mu­si­cian to hang up his tam­bourine

Canal Boat - - This Month -

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

Nearly home

Canny Craic moored with An­dante

Poised out­side The Malt Shovel, Shard­low

Canny Craic just out of Bar­row Deep Lock

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