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?
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. CruisingTheCut.co.uk 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