ME & MY BOATS

Af­ter re­plac­ing weary wiring, find­ing his feet with ma­rina ma­noeu­vres and opt­ing for a sex change, Ian Hut­son is ready to cast off for car­di­nal points

Canal Boat - - Contents -

A re­wire, an in­ter­est­ing first at­tempt to get to his ma­rina moor­ing in a cross­wind, and Ian is off on ad­ven­tures around the sys­tem in Car­di­nal Wolsey

When I met my boat he was a she and was called Moorea. It was only af­ter I’d signed on the dot­ted line that Dame Julie An­drews ap­peared on my shoul­der, and she be­gan singing ‘How do you solve a prob­lem like...’

If I wished to avoid cruis­ing the canals while be­ing pur­sued by an Alpine nun I had to change the name. I de­cided that I might as well do my part for gen­der equal­ity by chang­ing the sex too. A solid, quintessen­tially Eng­lish and thor­oughly male name was re­quired. Guy Fawkes? Oliver Cromwell? Big­gles? I set­tled on Car­di­nal Wolsey. Wolsey was a bit of a rob­ber-baron rot­ter of his times, but he also did ad­mirable things such as run­ning the coun­try while Henry VIII was too busy hunt­ing and wench­ing to do so him­self. Car­di­nal Wolsey also some­how suited the sober dark blue state­li­ness of my new boat.

I’d bought the best hull, lay­out and en­gine that I could find and af­ford, but there was still much work to be done to pro­duce a com­fort­able, safe, float­ing man-cave with ac­com­mo­da­tion for the oc­ca­sional vis­i­tor.

New fire-board and stove sur­round went in, along with new floor­ing, ex­tra in­su­la­tion, one-way glass in the win­dows and port­holes, LED lights in place of the old Halo­gen ceil­ing-heaters and blinds in place of the wildlife-habi­tat cur­tains. The electrics through­out proved to be of the twisted wires and duct tape school. The main iso­la­tion switch iso­lated noth­ing. The bat­ter­ies were con­nected by cob­webs, tin foil and some near-ter­mi­nal op­ti­mism.

The Car­di­nal was rewired from stem to stern. Seven me­tres of en­tirely un­nec­es­sary heavy-gauge ca­ble were re­moved from the starter cir­cuit alone. The en­gine stop but­ton was changed from black duct tape over a hole in the in­stru­ment panel to a big red, fin­ger­friendly switch.

The time then came when, af­ter months of go­ing nowhere fast, I had to move the

I found my pon­toon al­right, and then the wind lost it for me and pinned us against the tow­path

Car­di­nal to take him to see a qual­i­fied chap who could tickle the gas equip­ment aboard. I don’t know who was more out of prac­tice mov­ing, me or the Car­di­nal. Get­ting the work done was easy, I moored along­side a pub and my part was eat­ing, drink­ing beer and com­fort­ing my highly-emo­tional wal­let. The gas me­chanic got cramp and knocked knuck­les on my be­half. Re­turn­ing to my moor­ing in the ma­rina though was prob­lem­atic. The wind had risen and the ma­rina, like most mari­nas, was about as shel­tered as an Antarc­tic pic­nic area.

I found my pon­toon al­right, and then the wind lost it for me and pinned us against the tow­path. I saw our berth again, briefly, as we blew past it side­ways in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, and be­came pinned up against the boats on the other side of the ma­rina. On the third time of be­ing blown past I just man­aged to edge the Car­di­nal’s bows into our slot.

Un­for­tu­nately, by that time I was in a Pa­pal-pur­ple funk, pan­icked and phys­i­cally flus­tered. In­stead of the re­quired touch of ‘en­gines half-astern please, Doris’ some sort of di­rec­tional dys­lexia or­dered my throt­tle-hand to en­gines full-ahead and damn the tor­pe­does. My moor­ing evoked the spirit of the Nor­mandy Land­ings.

I rammed the pon­toon so hard that I wouldn’t have been sur­prised to see 50 Marines leap off the bow and en­gage the en­emy. Glass tin­kled, ev­ery boat in the ma­rina rocked, and the res­i­dent heron hid his guf­faws un­der a wing.

Well, that’s all in the dis­tant past now (dis­tant past is an in­sur­ance in­dus­try term) and the Car­di­nal and I are in our sec­ond year of slightly glacially-paced free-range ex­plo­ration. It’s been an ad­ven­ture, a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery.

We have baked in heat­waves, been blasted by 60mph winds and been stuck in ice three inches thick. We’ve been cilled at Grind­ley Brook locks when some­one opened the pad­dles to drain the cen­tre cham­ber while I was only half­way into the up­per cham­ber. We’ve been back and forth over the Pont­cy­syllte Aque­duct. We’ve been se­ri­ously grounded on the Shrop­shire Shelf. We’ve gone around in cir­cles in un­fa­mil­iar mari­nas, look­ing for the hid­den ser­vice pon­toons. I’ve bought coal from the rov­ing fuel boats, trad­ing in the black of night like smug­glers mov­ing to­bacco and brandy.

I’ve lis­tened to lap­wings in the fields, watched foxes slink past at dusk and dawn, met an adder nose to nose, wor­ried about the safety of grebes un­der­wa­ter for too long and fought spi­ders the size of chi­huahuas.

There was one ex­pe­ri­ence though that took my breath away.

One windy April night I was awo­ken at 3:30am by an almighty bang­ing and scrap­ing noise at the stern. Some­thing

was at­tack­ing the boat! It surely couldn’t be the French fleet again, the chances of them nav­i­gat­ing so far up the Shrop­shire Union canal un­chal­lenged were slim to “pas pos­si­ble, mon Em­peror”. It had to be ei­ther aliens with ab­duc­tion and prob­ing in mind, or else it was ne’er-do-wells, ma­rine foot­pads try­ing to get the locks off the Car­di­nal’s diesel tank. I switched on the out­side flood­lights and gave a long blast on the 120db horn. The noise con­tin­ued.

I per­formed my best im­pres­sion of a Dober­man bark­ing. No ef­fect. I tried my world-class Hound of the Baskervilles blood-howl while pre­tend­ing to be a 200lb dog throw­ing it­self against the in­side of the stern doors. No ef­fect. The bang­ing and scrap­ing con­tin­ued.

With some thought as to what I might look like in po­lice crime scene pho­tographs, I got dressed in dark jeans, dark shirt, black train­ers and my best ‘missed two days’ med­i­ca­tion in a row’ face. The bow doors at least put me 57ft away from the com­mo­tion at the stern.

My torch uses six D cell bat­ter­ies and runs three ul­tra-bright LEDs. It has a daz­zling range of about half a mile. Duck­ing un­der the cratch cover and step­ping off I just had time to see the in­sanely brightly-lit, cross-eyed face of the badger that bowled me over and left me sit­ting on the tow­path grass. Good man­ners are im­por­tant, so I lit his way for him as he galumphed off at a very re­spectable pace. Badgers have teeth, bad breath and very rounded rumps.

Day­light re­vealed a ripe, long-dead hare jammed be­tween the Car­di­nal and the tow­path. I think that Mr Brock had been try­ing to reach down for a quick snack and had fallen in. The bang­ing and scrap­ing must have been the sound of him try­ing to get his heavy, wet body back onto the tow­path.

That in­ci­dent, I think, is typ­i­cal of the bar­gain you make with a nar­row­boat. For ev­ery oc­ca­sion when you are soaked through and frozen, fingers sliced and blood­ied by haul­ing against the wind on an ice-cov­ered cen­tre-line, there’s a sen­sa­tional quid pro quo.

What next, I won­der? The Car­di­nal will let me know in his own good time.

There’s no bet­ter view of a sun­set than from the cut

Wrapped up for win­ter as the snow fell

Ex­tra space in the pull­man diner was wel­comed

Here’s hop­ing this tun­nel is badger-free

Sal­vaged oak was used for the new elec­tric box

Moored and ready for a rest

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