At­tacked on all sides by snow­fall and freez­ing tem­per­a­tures, liveaboard David Johns whiles away the hours dream­ing of his fan­tasy col­lec­tions but what, no back cabin?

Canal Boat - - This Month -

When there’s snow blow­ing into the boat, David Johns can only dream the cold days away un­til he can start his voy­ages

Iam not alone, I think it’s fair to say, in hav­ing a ‘fan­tasy garage’ com­pris­ing an en­tirely imag­i­nary line-up of the cars I would im­me­di­ately go out and buy were the money to be­come avail­able (sadly this has not so far tran­spired). At the time of writ­ing, the garage in­cludes a Fer­rari F430, a Porsche 911, a Range Rover ... yes, yes, so far so clichéd for a mid­dle- aged bloke. It will also house a Tran­sit van, a Re­liant Kit­ten, an orig­i­nal Mini 1275 GT, an MGB GT (steel bumpers of course), a Daim­ler Scout ar­moured car and a smat­ter­ing of other in­ter­est­ing ve­hi­cles.

For many years this is where the fan­tasy be­gan and ended. Then I dis­cov­ered nar­row­boats and this has punched a whole new level of hole into the imag­i­nary wal­let. The con­se­quence is that my (at least ten-car, heated, de­hu­mid­i­fied, air-con­di­tioned) garage will now need to be con­structed on the site of my new ‘fan­tasy wharf’ where a se­lec­tion of nar­row and wide­beam boats will be moored.

There’ll be a tiny boat, the tini­est you can find, for amus­ing pootling about. It’ll

be just a few me­tres long and with an out­board en­gine, I sus­pect, to be a hooli­gan on, whirling round the wharf do­ing ‘dough­nuts’. Speak­ing of dough­nuts, my but­ler will also be per­mit­ted to use the tiny boat when he’s tasked with bring­ing after­noon tea to whichever boat I’m loung­ing on.

There’ll be a com­pact nar­row­boat for week­end use, the kind that’s small enough to turn al­most any­where for when I can’t be both­ered to en­sure I’ll end up near a wind­ing hole.

There’ll be my cur­rent boat – I live aboard that and I love it so it’s def­i­nitely stay­ing in the fleet. I’d also quite like a cus­tom-built, semi-trad, re­verse lay­out for al­ter­nate days. A wide­beam with wall to ceil­ing, full-length win­dows would be nice as a static float­ing of­fice. Oh, and per­haps there should be a Dutch barge with a large sun deck for the sum­mer. While we’re imag­in­ing, it would also be pleas­ant to have a boat with a tra­di­tional en­gine in it for that lovely “ker­plunk....ker­plunk” sound as you go along.

I’ve been turned on to these by vis­it­ing a few lately and hear­ing their own­ers’ love and en­thu­si­asm for the mighty lumps of iron de­spite their sometimes per­nick­ety na­ture – the en­gines, not the own­ers.

There’s cer­tainly a more pleas­ing note to the ear with some­thing that thumps like a heart­beat rather than rat­tling like a tin can as some modern en­gines do.

Asked re­cently if there is an equiv­a­lent to a Rolls Royce en­gine for nar­row­boats, I re­alised I had no good an­swer. There are all the usual names of course, your Be­tas, your Bar­ruses, your Ve­tuses and so on but are any of them ap­pro­pri­ate to war­rant a Spirit of Ec­stasy ris­ing from the stem? (note to self: have these in­stalled through­out the fan­tasy fleet)

Ac­tu­ally, I won­der if there is any­one who has put a gen­uine Rolls en­gine into their boat ... any­one? That would be amaz­ing.

On the sub­ject of clas­sics though, is it canal heresy to dis­like the boat­man’s cabin? Of course they’re to­tally tra­di­tional and all that but what an odd use of space in a modern con­text. That fold-down, rather short-look­ing cross­ways bed. The tiny stove in the cor­ner. The cup­board that’s also a ta­ble. It all had its place once upon a time but I don’t warm to them and alas, this may be the el­e­ment that scup­pers the plan to have a trad en­gine be­cause find­ing one in a non-trad boat will surely be tricky.

There’s only one thing for it: the fleet will have to be built brand new es­pe­cially to my ex­act­ing re­quire­ments. Kerch­ing! It’s at times like this I re­ally wish I’d in­vented eBay, Ama­zon or YouTube be­cause the imag­i­nary fleet will clearly not be cheap.

Such idle dreams are the stuff of the early spring, when the feet are itch­ing to stand astern with tiller in hand and the view from the saloon win­dow is glo­ri­ous sun­shine and blue skies but the truth, step­ping out through the rear doors, is an arc­tic blast of wind that makes the reality some­what less con­ducive to boat­ing than the vi­sion.

For yes, I con­fess hap­pily to not be­ing a ‘proper boater’ who’ll chug on with steely de­ter­mi­na­tion what­ever the weather. Not for me the early start, late fin­ish and gritty de­ter­mi­na­tion of the coal boats to bat­tle all el­e­ments. Be­gone you dark clouds with your heavy splat­tery rain­drops! Be­gone

you filthy chill wind! Bring on the warm rays of the sun­shine and just the mer­est whis­per of a breeze, say I. There’s no shame in want­ing and wait­ing for fair weather be­fore get­ting a hand­ful of miles un­der one’s belt, is there?

Be­sides, af­ter the re­cent un­pleas­ant con­flu­ence of the Beast from the East and Storm Emma whack­ing the coun­try on both sides, there must surely be some hint of pleas­ant climes to come this sum­mer.

This past win­ter was cer­tainly un­for­get­table. Not cold on the boat thanks to lu­di­crous quan­ti­ties of coal, shov­elled re­peat­edly so as to main­tain a bright orange glare and an in­side tem­per­a­ture more akin to the trop­ics but never has the boat been pushed about so much in the wind as this past win­ter and never has the canal iced over so fre­quently.

In­deed, was there any­where on the net­work that didn’t freeze over in Fe­bru­ary? I read news re­ports about 60 miles of Lon­don’s canals be­ing iced up and saw pic­tures on­line of boats stuck fast from as far afield as the Ken­net & Avon in the south to those on the Shrop­pie and be­yond.

Mean­while if you thought the snow and ice was merely an­noy­ing, an on­line warn­ing men­tioned the pos­si­bil­ity of snow block­ing up the gap around nar­row­boat roof vents lead­ing to po­ten­tial car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing from in­ad­e­quate ven­ti­la­tion.

But who of us with vents in the front doors wasn’t at least tempted to block them up a bit be­cause of the freez­ing wind snaking its way through the gap? No, I didn’t and you mustn’t (for the afore­men­tioned ven­ti­la­tion rea­son and as­so­ci­ated dan­ger of death) but dang that breeze was nippy.

It was blus­tery too. You know how when new par­ents start wrap­ping ev­ery­thing in their home with bub­blewrap or pipe in­su­la­tion to pad the blows when their child be­gins to wan­der and stum­ble around? I felt like do­ing much the same with the fend­ers, the so­lar pan­els, the ropes ... any­thing to soften the din overnight from bang­ing bits of chan­dlery against the hull.

The wind was so force­ful that it even be­gan to sneak the pow­dery snow­fall in­side; there were dunes form­ing on the well deck lock­ers overnight at one stage hav­ing crept be­tween the cratch cover and the boat side. If I may be in­dulged a quick Star Wars ref­er­ence, a scene rem­i­nis­cent of the planet Hoth was found in the en­gine room too.

You know, some­one re­ally should in­vent a mini lightsabre that you could use to fire up the stove with. Hey, could this be my eBay mo­ment? I’ll let you know! Find out if I ever build the fleet via Twit­ter (@ Cruis­ingTheCut), the video blogs at www. Cruis­ and of course, here in Canal Boat mag­a­zine.

‘The wind was so force­ful that it even be­gan to sneak the pow­dery snow­fall in­side; there were dunes form­ing on the well deck lock­ers overnight at one stage hav­ing crept be­tween the cratch cover and the boat side’

Hose is re­dun­dant for the mo­ment

Wait­ing for the warm weather is a chore

Snow is sup­posed to stay on the out­side

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