Welcome to the world of Narrowboating

To risk is to live!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Pictures sorted

I have finally sorted out my photography issues and wanted to show off my two new purchases…

titch 1   Isn’t she pretty? I call her Titch. I titch's backsidehad to take a picture of her face as she definitely has one – hence the eyebrows! She is a bit of a 60’s throwback and I love her. Yes, she only has a 1 litre engine but the upside is that she does 63 mpg and costs only £20 a year to tax. Oh, she is a Peugeot 107 by the way.titch's face

solar panel

If Titch saves me in tax and petrol, this beauty saves me diesel. This is my new solar panel and so far it has more than cut my diesel costs in half! Instead of running my engine for between 2 and 3 hours every day to charge my batteries sufficiently for all my energy needs, I am now running it between 1 and 1.5 hours. At this rate I will have paid for the panel and controller and fitting in just over one year. Obviously there are less daylight hours in winter but on the plus side they won’t be much shade from the trees and also the light is clearer in winter – something to do with less dust in the air, so more power to the panel.

The only downside, as you can tell from the picture, is that since I got it, we have hardly had a sunny day so I have yet to see it operating at its best!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Don’t Panic

I meant to post a picture or two of my boat in the last entry – never mind, here they are…

summer dont panic 1

journey 005

dont panic in mist

Single handing

I have always been single – both in boating and in life terms. I have a confession to make – in this age of compulsory relationships, I am actually very happy with my own company and could not imagine what it would be like to share my space with another person 24/7!

I often get comments from people who see me operating my boat alone. They range from ‘Oooh, aren’t you brave’ (to which I reply ‘No, just no choice if I want to cruise’) to ‘Oh I couldn’t do that’ (to which I reply – ‘it’s amazing what you find you can do if you just give it a go’.)

By the way, while I am vaguely near the subject, do you know how incredibly old fashioned canal culture is when it comes to roles for men and women? Living at the bottom of a lock flight means that I see lots and lots of boats come through. I would estimate that 95% of boats that have a couple on board have the woman doing all the hard work of operating the locks while their men lean on the tiller watching them and waiting to steer the boat into the lock. When I comment on it, the vast majority of women say ‘Oh I always do the gates, I couldn’t possibly steer the boat.’

Could I just say this once – steering the boat is the easy bit. It is a conspiracy on the part of the male to tell their women that steering is hard and you might damage the boat if you get it wrong. You won’t damage a narrow boat – they are made of steel and IT ISN’T DIFFICULT TO STEER! It just takes practice. The hard part is winding stiff paddles, struggling with heavy gates and trying to persuade other crews not to whip your paddles up so fast that your boat bounces about like a sexual athlete!

Quite often the male will stand beside their boat on the towpath and pretend to have to hold it there by its centre rope, so they couldn’t possible go and help set the lock – even when it is obvious their partner is struggling. A word to them – those round white things near the lock are called lock bollards and they exist so you can tie your boat to them while you go and exercise your muscles and your chivalry!

There, that feels better.

Back to single handed or ‘lone’ boating. I do have to think ahead a little more than boaters with crew do. I also have to take it a little slower through locks, swing bridges etc. Although having said that, in narrow locks I have a system which allows me to lock through just as quick as boats with crew. Also I get lots of offers of help both from ‘gongoozlers’ (the term for those who visit the canals and watch the boats going through) and from other boat crews. I love it when they offer to close the gates for me after I have passed through as it means I don’t have to balance my boat in the mouth of the lock whilst climbing back up to close the gates. I don’t love the aforementioned crews who, without even looking at me, wind both lock paddles up as fast as they can. The effect of this is that the water rushing in will push my boat back towards the rear gates. Then when the tidal wave hits the back gates and rushes forward again, it picks my boat up and slams it into the front gates!

People often ask me how safe I feel, particularly mooring up in the middle of nowhere all on my own. I feel very safe on the canals. I have never once been threatened by anybody. I remember once feeling threatened as I approached a lock in a town and noticed a group of hooded young men sitting on the balance beam drinking out of paper bags. I was going to have to move them in order to operate the lock and I really wasn’t looking forward to it. But it was a lesson for me not to judge by appearances. They all leapt up (or staggered depending on their level of drunkeness) and asked if they could help me. With some trepidation I handed over my windlass (makes a useful weapon) and instructed them on the dark art of lock operation. They did exactly as I asked and were so chuffed with themselves when the boat emerged safely.

You do meet a lot of characters on the water and some of them will be very different in every way from you and that can sometimes feel scary. But I find meeting people like that fascinating and if I refuse to give in to feelings of fear when meeting strangers then generally it is a good experience. I do believe that fear keeps us apart from each other and since my chances of meeting an axe murderer / rapist / litter dropper are fairly small, I refuse to let my fear dictate my actions and separate me from my neighbour.

A favourite advert of mine had as its tag line ‘Don’t let your fear stand in the way of your dreams’. Amen to that!

autumn mooring

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Do Less

My current philosophy of life can be summed up in the two words above. This philosophy has been largely shaped by two books by Tom Hodgkinson – How to be Free and How to be Idle. I highly recommend them – particularly the first as it helped me change my life from stress driven land living to chilled out living afloat.

Before I moved onto my boat I was your typically driven career woman. I worked long hours and even when I was off duty I would fill my days with activities. In fact any period of inactivity would make me quite anxious. I took as my mantra the old Victorian work ethic; the more you do, the holier you are. The devil finds work for idle hands etc etc. What is amazing is that most of society, including the Church still live by this lie. It helps keep our capitalist world turning, the workforce willing and our congregations subdued and exhausted if we are convinced that the harder we work the more valuable and worthwhile we are.

But what would life be like if we all did less? If we spent significant amounts of time smelling the roses or sharing a pint with our neighbours or sitting still, being aware of the present moment and what a gift breathing is!

Less activity would mean less pollution, less interfering in other peoples lives, less war, less stress, less heart disease, less road rage, less crime, less mental illness. I could go on…and on and on! In my life afloat I have found that my shoulders have dropped from being somewhere around my ears as my whole body has slowly relaxed. I no longer use a diary as I make very few set appointments. The whole pace of life slows when you can only travel at 3mph.

Learning to be lazy has taken discipline though. I still find when I am sitting in the sun, watching the world float by, that all the ‘worthwhile’ jobs I could be doing march through my brain and endeavour to lever me out of my lounger. I still jump in to help boaters at locks even though they haven’t asked for assistance. I realise that I am boosting my own ego by offering help – showing I know how to do it well – rather than being motivated by any sort of altruism. I still look for ways I can ‘get involved’ to make me feel significant or useful.

However I am getting better (or worse if you actually believe in the work ethic!) I am better now at recognising my internal slave driver and telling her to go to hell where she belongs. When I catch myself about to leap up and do something, I am practising just pausing and becoming aware of what is driving me. I am  loving taking leisurely walks and actually noticing and rejoicing in the bird song, the colour of the leaves, the other people walking past. When cruising, I am slowly letting go of the need to ‘get on’. If someone is working the lock slowly then I am getting better at waiting without my blood pressure rising. I’m even practicing occasionally saying ‘No, after you’!

My health has improved, my self esteem has improved as I am no longer relying on achievement or applause to boost it and I am slowly finding my own natural rhythm of life. I highly recommend idleness to all my readers – I would start a movement except that I am becoming too lazy for all that activity!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Some photos to set the scene

Bonny's 1st cruise 001

This is my crew member Bonny Lass. This was taken when she was around a year old – she is two now. She has ridden on the roof of my boat since she was 12 weeks old and she loves it. We don’t use the life jacket very much any more as she has never yet fallen in off the roof and she can swim. Her favourite position is right up at the front, by the cratch. I think she believes that she is deciding where the boat is going and I’m just following on behind!


She is very friendly with absolutely everybody and even tries to befriend the swans at our mooring. They hiss horribly at her but she doesn’t take the hint!


This was what our mooring looked like for most of last winter.


view to starboard spring

And this is our view in the summer.

mary and Fradley 010

Lastly, this is me with my best friend!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The story so far…

Since this is a brand new site, I thought I would run through my story so far – or at least what led up to my living on a narrowboat on the Trent and Mersey canal.

I was born as fifth child of seven and attended boarding school till I was 16 when I went to college, got the odd undistinguished qualification and then shocked my family by joining the police force in Hampshire. My father, who I think was expecting me to do a ‘little ‘job’ before finding a respectable man to marry, told me I’d never last the training – just as well he did, it was the only thing that kept me in!

I was a police officer for 16 years, reaching the dizzy heights of detective sergeant on murder squad, but never found a respectable man to marry – or any other type for that matter, although came close once. Then, for various reasons I got fed up with the police and joined the Church Army instead! This is like the SAS of the Church of England and it’s purpose was to ‘share the Gospel by word and action’ and incidentally recruit more people for the Church. It only took me 9 years to get fed up with the Church, but for more profound reasons than the police. It is harder to leave the Church however, as they give you a nice house to live in and a good standard of living but not much pay so I could never save enough for a house of my own (although had one when I was in the police and sold it at a loss – long story!)

I was pondering my options when I saw a programme about narrow boats on Sky. I had loved boats when I was a child, although it was yachts we spent most of our holidays on, but the idea of living on the water immediately appealed. With my endowment maturing from the mortgage I used to have and a sizeable bank loan I could manage to raise around £35,000. So I started my search.

One of the first things I did was attend a boat handling course at Stourport to find out if I could manage to cope with cruising singlehanded. I did one day on the canal and one on the River Severn and realised that I picked up the basics pretty quickly – enough for the boat and I to survive, but that it would take a lifetime to master – what an exciting prospect!

I also drove around the country talking to as many boaters that I could find – no problem striking up conversations – boaters are a friendly, chatty lot for the most part and most are very happy to pass on tips to a beginner. they gave me a good idea of the sort of boat I should be looking for with my budget and told me the sort of thing to avoid. I visited as many brokerages as I could, but at the same time started to hunt for a mooring. finding a boat is easy, finding a mooring if you are living on your boat is considerably more difficult.

Eventually I found narrowboat ‘Don’t Panic’ – the name nearly put me off buying her as I hate being told not to panic – especially when I am, but I have since grown into the name! She was built by Tim Tyler (very reputable) and won the Lionel Munk trophy for her fit out, when she was built 13 years ago. She is a 50 footer with a trad stern, pump out loo and Beta 43 engine (all that will mean something to you only if you know something about narrowboats – skip it otherwise!)

I started off living in Barton Marina near Burton upon Trent and that was a good beginning as I knew nothing about this life I had chosen and at the marina there were plenty of people offering help and advice. the prices were reasonable and the marina welcomed liveaboards (as we are called) which is quite unusual.  However by the end of my first year I knew that I wasn’t a marina sort of person. It was too much like a small village for me – yes, lots of people to chat to and lots of help, but also lots of people with too much time on their hands and so silly disputes and gossip abounded. People would know when you sneezed and I value my solitude too much to sacrifice it for safety or convenience.

So, by the beginning of my second year I was living on a British  Waterways mooring at Fradley Junction – the nearest place to Heaven that I have ever been to!

That just about brings us up to date although I haven’t mentioned my cruising adventures yet, which include nearly sinking the boat but they will keep for another day. I will end this entry by saying that this is the first time in my life that I have been completely happy!

Hello and welcome to my new blog!

This blog is taking over from my last one - The Narrow Way.
My purpose in writing is to share what it is like to live aboard a narrowboat and how I cope (or don't) with single handed boating! I also occasionally stray into a bit of philosophy around meaning of life stuff. I haven't entirely been successful in setting up this blog as it keeps sending me error messages when I try to make it pretty but if it allows you to leave comments yet, then feel free! Photos of the boat and other stuff to follow.