With a bang­ing headache (duck through those bow doors) and a litany of laun­dry chal­lenges, down­beat David Johns may just be go­ing un­der

Canal Boat - - Contents -

A bash on the head in­spires David to start com­pil­ing a list of rea­sons why liv­ing on a nar­row­boat is ac­tu­ally quite an­noy­ing

You’d think af­ter nearly three years of nar­row­boat own­er­ship that I’d be used to duck­ing slightly on ex­it­ing through the bow doors and not crack­ing the top of my skull on the very solid metal that forms the frame. But ap­par­ently not. To my neigh­bours, the cry of some very rude words must by now be the com­mon code for “David’s leav­ing his boat”.

Ev­ery time I do it, I swear it’ll be the last. That I’ll learn, fi­nally, that the door is not quite high enough to just step through with nary a care. Yet, so many times even this most ba­sic of tasks – walk­ing through a door with­out in­jury – seems to elude me.

It’s at times like this, I con­fess, that I some­times give in to the crime of won­der­ing what on earth I’m do­ing liv­ing on a boat and why don’t I just be like nor­mal peo­ple and have a house?

With the Crick Show been and gone once again (see Crick re­view start­ing on page 41) there will have been a hoard of ea­ger po­ten­tial boaters flock­ing to its fields, hoover­ing up ev­ery snip­pet of boat­ing good­ness they can find in an­tic­i­pa­tion of get­ting onto the wa­ter.

Wor­ried by their novice en­thu­si­asm un­sul­lied by dirty re­al­ity, and with my lat­est at­tempt at go­ing out­doors still ring­ing on my cra­nium, this month I thought I’d present some Rea­sons Why Be­ing On A Nar­row­boat Is Ac­tu­ally Quite An­noy­ing. Yes, I am a bit grumpy to­day,


The clue is in the name but I need to high­light the gen­eral cramped­ness of ev­ery­thing. Long and thin ac­com­mo­da­tion I do not mind in the­ory but duck­ing and div­ing all the time so as not to clang my nog­gin on some pointy ex­tru­sion can get wear­ing.

Add the chaos when you need to store any­thing on the boat that isn’t nor­mally there and you have a mine­field of things to trip over or step around. Go­ing from one end to the other is like a mil­i­tary as­sault course some­times.

Why are so few boats de­signed with a util­ity room? No won­der the well deck be­comes a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic night­mare of aban­doned stuff. I want my well deck to be a tidy place of hap­pi­ness and Zen-like calm for watch­ing the duck­lings, not a scene from a Chan­nel 4 doc­u­men­tary about com­pul­sive hoard­ers. Sadly, this utopian vi­sion is far from the prac­ti­cal re­al­ity.


And socks. And T-shirts. This is the laun­dry is­sue. Un­less you’re lucky enough to live on a boat that has, or has space for, a con­ven­tional wash­ing ma­chine (not to men­tion the suit­able bat­ter­ies, in­verter or genset to power it), your op­tions are limited in the clean clothes stakes.

I bought one of those pop­u­lar, £90 twin-tub plas­tic job­bies you see on eBay and touted on the fo­rums as be­ing ‘just the job’ but truly they are dread­ful. Such a pain first load­ing up the washer, fill­ing it with luke­warm wa­ter and soap, wait­ing for it to jig­gle the clothes – which doesn’t work prop­erly un­less the thing is only half-filled with gar­ments any­way – then drain­ing, hoik­ing all the stuff out into the spin­ner, then wait­ing while that does its thing, then giv­ing it an­other rinse, then an­other spin ... oh hang on a minute, I’m now due to go into a re­tire­ment home the length of time this is tak­ing. Then there’s the un­re­li­a­bil­ity. Mine had just a hand­ful of washes un­der its belt be­fore it started leak­ing and while I’ve been typ­ing this ar­ti­cle has tripped out the shore­line (not re­as­sur­ing when I need to put my hands into the tub full of wa­ter) then given up spin­ning en­tirely af­ter mak­ing a nasty grind­ing noise.

I hate it and it’s about to get dis­posed of at the lo­cal tip. Or with a lump ham­mer. Maybe both.

Laun­drettes you say? Sure there are quite a few of them about, if you can bear to lug a huge bag of smellies through town. Then you’ll need a load of pound coins. Most cru­cially of all, I don’t think their ma­chines do a very good job. In fact at the laun­dry near­est to me, I swear their ma­chines barely put any wa­ter in, pre­sum­ably in some cost-sav­ing mea­sure. So no, laun­drettes are not the an­swer.


Saucy! Not that. I have a fixed dou­ble but mak­ing it up with clean sheets is an ex­er­cise in yo­gic flex­i­bil­ity. Three of the four sides are rammed tight against wooden bulk­heads/cup­boards/side­walls mak­ing ac­cess to the mat­tress cor­ners un­be­liev­ably in­fu­ri­at­ing.

Squat on the bed, haul the springloaded mat­tress back and leap upon it as if try­ing to over­power a par­tic­u­larly vig­or­ous es­caped al­li­ga­tor and if you’re lucky you’ll man­age to throw the noose – I mean, sheet cor­ner – around it. One down and only mi­nor in­juries. Three more to go.

The sit­u­a­tion isn’t even helped by the bed pulling out side­ways a few inches; now there’s a slim chasm in which I can perch with one foot whilst si­mul­ta­ne­ously pok­ing my hands un­der like a de­mented gy­nae­col­o­gist to tuck the sheet in.

For­tu­nately I’m a chap so the sheets are only changed ev­ery few months (when they get re­ally crusty) but the awk­ward­ness of do­ing so is enough to ex­tend this time for as long as pos­si­ble.


One of the great joys of the canals is the sheer va­ri­ety of wildlife liv­ing there. Ir­ri­tat­ingly, this ex­tends to the not-so­pleas­ant crit­ters too. Bees, wasps, horse­flies, house flies, mos­qui­toes, mis­cel­la­neous un­known fly­ing pests ... as soon as the weather turns half de­cent and you fling open the bow doors (be­ing care­ful not to bang your head), in will storm a plague of tiny devils, seem­ingly un­able or un­will­ing to find their way back out again de­spite the doors still be­ing as wide and easy to get through as they were when the fly ar­rived.

Come night time, they’ll flut­ter round your light fix­tures and, worse, wait un­til you’ve gone to bed then buzz you as you try to snooze, the worst be­ing the mozzies with their screachy lit­tle “zzzzzz” right above your ear.

As a man gen­er­ally in agree­ment with the Bud­dhist ideal of not tak­ing any life, this means a whole lot of cap­tur­ing things in up­turned glasses and throw­ing them

Bed time: Saucy! Not that. I have a fixed dou­ble but mak­ing it up with clean sheets is an ex­er­cise in yo­gic flex­i­bil­ity

out in the dead of night, usu­ally in the dark so they don’t come straight back again upon see­ing the light. This of­ten also leads to bang­ing my head, for which see point one.


Is the boat about to sink? How bad is the rust un­der the wa­ter­line? Will the en­gine keep work­ing? Has my fuel got diesel bug? Will the boat be bur­gled if I leave it for more than five min­utes? Where are the safe places to moor overnight? Is all of hu­man­ity doomed?

Maybe it’s time to see a coun­sel­lor but these fears are up­per­most in my mind most days from dawn to dusk. I’m sure I re­call read­ing that liv­ing afloat is sup­posed to re­lax, calm and soothe the fevered brain yet, I as­sure you, there is no ter­ror quite as great as won­der­ing ev­ery morn­ing whether your shower drain is se­cretly leak­ing wa­ter into the bilge.

Now it’s time to take stock and re­mind my­self of all the joy in boat­ing. I’ll go for a nice tow­path stroll and maybe plan the coun­ter­point to this cat­a­logue of angst.

To see if I’ve calmed down, per­haps fol­low me on Twit­ter: @Cruis­ingTheCut or watch my boat­ing videos at com/Cruis­ingTheCut

The fuel boat at Buckby Locks

Oh the joy of wash­ing day with a twin tub

Proud mum on the school run

A glo­ri­ous day for a canal­side stroll so it’s not all bad

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