Thursday, December 29, 2016

Weeks away from Kantara

We've been back in the house for almost two weeks now, and we really miss her. Coming back here was the right thing to do. Christmas is a family occasion for the Distills, and we love to do the traditional things - Church on Christmas morning, the full turkey dinner, presents under the Christmas tree, opened after dinner, lots of games, buffet tea and a fair few drinks! Our good friend Michelle (as seen in "Life with our feet under water") had arrived on Christmas Eve, so there were five of us at table together. Naomi and Eddie had dinner with Eddie's dad, and returned to us for a delayed, grand present-opening. Michelle seems to think I have a bad memory (as if!), and she gave me three games to help me improve it. It was a lovely day, and we continued in similar manner on Boxing Day, too.

But, of course, there was shopping before Christmas. Shopping shopping shopping! Thank God for Amazon and wish lists. We kept our high-street battle to a minimum, and only visited Sainsbury's twice!

On the Monday before Christmas, Grace and I had dentist and hygienist appointments. We were both in the waiting room when Jess phoned from work - front of house at the local pantomime - to tell us that she was being attended by an NHS First Responder. Her heart was palpitating at over 200 beats per minute, and she'd collapsed. Shortly after, she phoned again, this time with her heart doing a more reasonable pace. She was being taken to Watford Hospital. The situation wasn't serious - that kind of problem runs in Grace's family, and she seems to have passed it in different degrees to our three kids.

We arrived at the hospital to fine her lying on a trolley, in a queue for a full consultation with a doctor. Bloods had been taken, and she was awaiting results. Cutting a long story short, she was discharged within two hours, and came home to rest. The next day, she went to work, but was sent home because she was exhausted, She's recovered well now. She has to be fit next week. The Company of Players will be recording their first album in a studio in Cornwall. I wish I could be there - it's going to be a lot of fun.
The Company of Players
BOAT - Bring out another thousand - doesn't just apply to boats, does it? Pretty much as soon as we arrived back in St Albans, we had to buy a new washing machine and fridge. OK, NOT as much as a thousand, granted, but not welcome! We think the gas boiler'll be next.

There's been no snow, much to our disappointment, but we had the first frost for ages on Tuesday Bank Holiday, and we are rather concerned about Kantara in sub-zero temperatures. We've emptied the domestic water pipes, but not the calorifier and its pipes. We're trying not to worry too much about this, They're all under the bed, much of it under the water line, and the tank itself is thickly insulated, of course. We've ordered a small, thermostatic, electric heater, and that's arriving today, so we'll drive up to the marina tomorrow, check that all is well, and install the heater. Until then, we'll try to fight off the lurking lurgy we both have.

Before I sign off, for no other reason other than that I like them, here are some photos that caught my attention recently.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A filler

Well, since this blog's supposed to be my record of events for my own benefit (anyone else out there of a certain age will understand) I'd better not leave any gaps. Though it has to be said that this post has happened more because I simply enjoy writing than because it's rivetingly interesting!

Last Thursday was our 43rd Wedding Anniversary. We're wrenched from our slumbers at 7:00am by a loud mechanical sound very much like a very unhealthy pump of some kind? Our water pump?? If so, why??? Or our battery charger, perhaps. The dehumidifier! Grace and I jump out of bed to investigate the several internal possibilities. My head's in the electrics cupboard when Grace calls out, "No, it's coming from outside." I pull on some clothing, and step out onto the pontoon.

It's very dark, and it's hard to see anything, but there's a man with a lorry at the diesel pump. Neither lorry nor diesel pump should be making that noise! But hang on, he's holding the fuel hose nozzle. Putting red diesel into his lorry? Stealing it? The office is closed, so it's possible. Or am I mistaken, and he's filling the tank that supplies the pump? I can't see, and I'm freezing bits off. But then the noise stops, there's silence, and a stillness returns to the marina. I retire back into the warmth of the boat and our bed. An hour and a half later, it starts up again. At least we're awake now.

We ignore it, and carry on with the crossword and our Anniversary.

Cruising the Cut's latest vlog, cleverly entitled "Yule Vlogs", is mostly a very generous look at other boaters' vlogs, but in the final minutes he promotes "Hints and tips for life with your feet under water" for me. I'm chuffed. His recommendation is enthusiastic and unequivocal, and sales of the book increased significantly over the next several days.

I told the Twittersphere that it was our anniversary,

and I was amazed and delighted at the huge response of likes, retweets and replies. My tweet got copied to Facebook, as well, and the same thing happened there. Grace particularly loved this tweet...

So, filler post complete, I'll take my lovely young wife shopping now! Christmas looms.

Monday, December 12, 2016


We're back aboard Kantara now for just a few more days before returning to the house for Christmas. We finished hanging the decorations there yesterday, managing to make the modest imitation tree look more than respectable, and actually finding strings of lights on which all of the bulbs worked. Back on the boat, we have no room for chains or tinsel looped across the ceiling, but we do have a tree, and it injects a good bit of seasonal magic into the saloon after dark.

And even in daylight.

We've spoken before of our wish sometime to spend Christmas here in the marina. It sounds like it's a friendly, communal affair, with an afternoon of carol singing, and several folk sharing Christmas dinner together at The Wharf Inn at Welford. But being with our kids is important to us, and always a lot of fun, so it's a no-brainer for us really.

David of Cruising the Cut fame has already had his Christmas day! Being a self-confessed failure at cooking, he invited four friends from nearby boats to join him in celebration yesterday - a week early because he wanted to video the lot for a vlog that he'll post next week. Two of the friends are far better cooks than him, so he was, no doubt, able to spend his time recording the whole affair, and get a decent dinner out of it!

I've mentioned Cruising the Cut before. Watch his video stream on (or better still, after!) Christmas Day to see what happened.

I doubt that I'll have much occasion to post on this blog again until after the festivities, so I'll wish you all now a very Happy Christmas, and a healthy, prosperous New Year.

"God bless us, every one!" (Tiny Tim)
A Tearfund card - 

Friday, December 09, 2016

A new perspective

Of course, the good thing about Cream Cracker and Achernar moving over to the other side of the marina is that we get a much better view out of our starboard windows. It's what we see when we open the bedroom blind first thing in the morning. Though it was foggy on Wednesday, and we could hardly see the end of that jetty!

Furthermore, with no-one living nearby any more, I can play my music as loud as I want without the fear of disturbing anyone! And Grace can practise the flute! That said, we miss the Arrens and Phil and Jackie.

We came back to the house on Thursday, It looked as though there was no rough weather around that would bother an unheated Kantara, so we're back to put up the Christmas decorations here, and to visit former pupil Jacqui's silver jewellery fair today.

It was a lovely event, held in Jacqui's 500-year-old house. Not only was her beautiful jewellery on display, but some also made by the woman who taught Jacqui the craft. Cake and coffee were being served in the kitchen. After a lot of umming and aahing, Grace came away with some lovely, silver ear-rings. She was spoiled for choice.

The last time I'd seen Jacqui was something in the region of 30 years ago. It was lovely to see her again. She'd grown a bit!

Monday, December 05, 2016

Go to the gate, and turn left!

It's some days now since NB Emma Jane returned to her home berth next to us, looking very smart indeed after her repaint. She arrived while we were away, and we didn't recognize her when we first saw her. The transformation is amazing. Needless to say, Jan and Ed are delighted.

On the other side of Kantara, Cream Cracker and Achernar have both moved across to the opposite side of the pound from us. Was it something we said? I think it might be that they've moved to a pontoon better suited to their length. There's no point in paying for length you're not occupying, after all.

Things have got even more exciting for Said the Maiden recently. This time last year, they played at the Great British Folk Festival, on the Introducing Stage. There, they won an audience poll for best act, which gave them a place on the Main Stage this year. And that's where they were last Friday evening, playing to an enthusiastic audience of some 2,000 people. And look who they shared the lineup with!

And to that audience they announced their first headline UK tour next November, and the launch of their Christmas single, "Past 3 o'clock", written by them.
Then there's the second album they've started to record, engineered and produced by Steve, for release before the tour. And add to that the recording of the album with The Company of Players in January, and their tour, as well... Exciting times for the Maidens!

Their most recent EP 

Several friends and family members have asked us recently what our cruising plans are for next year, and answer has been, "not to have any plans". Basically, we'll go to the gate and turn left, then see what happens. The left turn gives us the most options. We're going to avoid deadlines, schedules, anything time-critical. There are family and friends who'd like to cruise with us for short spells, and we'll be glad to have them on board, as always. Perhaps we'll see them early in the year, before our major cruising starts. But after them, no plans. Just making it up as we go. We're so looking forward to that!

(Yelvertoft Marina this morning)

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Winter in the marina

Winter so far in the marina looks very much like this most of the time, and feels distinctly chilly!

In previous years, we've winterized the boat and taken ourselves back to the house before today, 4th December. Not so this year, though. We've just woken to another frost dusting boats and rushes and pontoons with a gentle layer of white under a clean blue sky. The temperature was only just below zero, so Kantara would have been fine if we'd not been here. But we're not going to go through that faffy rigmarole of winterizing this year. Instead, we'll bounce back and forth twixt house and home as fancy or necessity dictate.

Last weekend we were in St Albans, cleaning and re-proofing the cratch cover. Saturday evening was the occasion of Jess's 30th birthday party, so we spent the evening ensconced in our bedroom, watching TV and listening to the hoots of enjoyment from below. We were awoken in the wee small hours by the sounds of singing and ukulele from an impromptu band of Jess's many musical friends. When we got up in the morning, we found several of them sleeping on various floors. Most amusing was the sight of Jess, in her pyjamas and sitting on a sofa, with two other members of The Company of Players snuggled down in their beds (of sorts) on the floor next to her, all three involved in a CoP planning meeting!

We came back on Monday, returned to St Albans on Thursday, and came back again on Friday after my AAA screening - passed with full marks. We'll be back there again some time this week, this time to put up the Christmas decorations and, hopefully, for Grace to do her painting. On Friday, we'll be driving out to Bishops Stortford to see an exhibition of silver jewellery made by Jacqui, a former student of mine. After that, who knows?
This weekend, Said the Maiden are at The Great British Folk Festival, where, on Friday, they played to an audience of 2000 at the Main Stage, having been voted best act on the Introducing Stage last year. And just look at the names they share the lineup with!

It was late to bed, late to rise for us last night, having spent a long evening with Sarah and Trevor from NB At Last, so I've got a huge pile of washing up to do. I'd better go and do it! 😒

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I guess it's winter now

I sort of envy those who are out on the cut at the moment. The weather's quite spectacular, and every day Twitter is full of photos from these hardy folk, showing sunsets and sunrises and mists and frosts, all against a canally background that we don't have here. Nonetheless, we enjoy some lovely sights. 

 The past two mornings have been frosty. This morning, the marina pound was frozen over.
Our concern now is if it's going to get colder, or warmer as the weather forecast suggests. We came back to the boat on Monday, but we have to go back to St Albans again tomorrow. I have a Friday appointment for AAA screening (abdominal aortic aneurism), a routine test offered by the NHS to all men aged 65. We're hoping that it's not going to be so cold that Kantara needs us to stay to keep her warm. Some snow would be good, but it'd have to get the timing right!

While I've been typing this, the sun's been setting.

The Bubble stove's alight, we're cosy and warm, and now it's wine o'clock!

Spring mooring


Hints and tips for life with your feet under water


Aerial view of bow and stern springs...


Sunday, November 27, 2016

A job worth doing - a warning!

The waterproofing fluid arrived late the next day - yesterday - and we applied the necessary second coat this morning. It's drying well, and we should be able to take it back to the boat tomorrow, and refit it. Job done, and we're glad of it.

But we've learned a few lessons from this experience. The cratch cover's ony two years old, but there are marks on it now that look as if they'll never come out. It's a general sort of grubbiness, particularly on the roof of the cover. And this is a disappointment.

Our warning to you, then, is this.

If you have a cratch cover or stern canopy on your boat

  • clean it regularly - mild detergent, preferably a preparation made for this specific purpose, a softish scrubbing brush, and plenty of water for rinsing, a hose being best. 
  • apply waterproofing fluid every 6 months. It's what's recommended by the manufacturers, and by the makers of the covers. Be aware that sunlight reduces the cover's waterproofness over time, not just rain, hail, sleet and snow.
  • do both jobs together once annually

These covers cost upwards of £700, so you want them to last as long as possible, and you probably want them to look good just as long. And though the cleaning and proofing fluids aren't cheap, what you'll spend on them over the life of your cover won't be anything as much as the cost of a new cover.
photo -

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A job worth doing - postscript

So, I left the cratch cover hanging over the airers, almost dry. I went out, and didn't see Grace until later when we met up with the kids at a rather nice Italian restaurant. Part way through the rather nice meal, Grace turned to me and said "I have some bad news."

Of course, one's imagination conjures up all sorts of possibilities in response to that.

"The cover's nowhere close to being waterproofed." She'd tested it before she left the house.

Is that all?

OK, so we're out of proofing fluid, and it'll take a few days for it to be delivered. I could think of worse things. I just had, in fact!

Back at the house at nearly midnight, Grace gets on to Amazon, to order more proofer. Next day delivery is free if we sign up for a 30-day trial of Amazon Prime. So we do. We'll catch up with some films and stuff we've missed.

As I type, Grace has discovered that delivery is imminent. So guess what we're going to be doing this afternoon! We're very thankful that the weather's so good today!

Fun, fun, fun!

Friday, November 25, 2016

A job worth doing

And we so wish we'd done it last winter. I'm talking about cleaning and re-proofing the cratch cover. It's only two years old.

At the end of last year, it seemed to be clean inside and out. By the end of October this year, there were light mould spots on the inside, and dirt outside. We bought pukka stuff to do the job with,
and the job didn't take as long as we thought it might. We had to come back to our house to do it. There was nowhere on the marina where we could spread the cover out, so our front drive had to suffice. A lot of dirt washed off, but there are stubborn stains which remain, and that's annoying. So I expect this is a job that need to be done annually if we're to keep the cover clean and in best condition. Renovo recommend re-proofing every six months! That makes me wonder whether we might be able to get a better fluid for the job. I've used Fabsil previously, but can't say I was that impressed.

Anyway, the cover's hanging over three airers in the living-room here in the house, and we'll see how it looks tomorrow, when it should be totally dry. We'll take it back to Kantara then, and re-fit it. We've been lucky that the weather over the boat's been dry. Our well-deck's not really made for getting wet - water would get into the lockers - so we draped a tarpaulin over it, just in case.

We'll probably find ducks have taken up residence underneath!

It's Naomi's 37th birthday today, so we're having a celebratory family meal out tonight. But we're back to the boat tomorrow.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Time flies - with not much on its back

The past week, since Michelle returned home, has gone by really quickly, though we can't actually remember all that we've done. That's due to a blend of boater's time sense and poor memory, I guess! We do seem to have done an inordinate amount of shopping for very few items. But my shopping tour de force was the purchase of a length of hose for the engine air filter. Exciting, huh?
You'd think it'd be easy to find, wouldn't you? But I tried loads of places like Screwfix and Screw DIY, and Steve tried his various sources, too, but to no avail, though one motor factor Steve knows "might be able to get it in in December". My last hope was an engineering supplier in Rugby, but they didn't have any that size. But they did know a man who might! They directed me to Ideal Hose, not far from them, and he had some! Only about five or six metres of it, after which they wouldn't be stocking it any longer. I only wanted a metre and a half, and was impressed when I found he sells it at any length you want, not simply by the metre. I was even more chuffed when he discovered (i) that it wasn't listed in the price-book, and (ii) it wasn't in the stock-book either.

So he had a priceless (literally), non-existant (to all intents and purposes) length of 50mm plastic hose. What could he do with it? He gave it to me. A very satisfactory conclusion to my quest! I took it home and fitted it, with a smile of relief on my face.

I saw Mark the other day, the guy who fitted a new Morse mechanism for us a few weeks back, and I asked him to pay us a return visit. When the RCR mechanic doing our annual engine service started the engine up a few days after Mark had done his work, it was idling too fast. The Morse cable hadn't been fitted properly. Mark looked duly shamefaced, and will be back to put things right.

We want to clean the cratch cover and the taff skirt before the winter sets in - if it hasn't already. There's nowhere on the marina we can spread it out for washing and re-proofing, so we'll take it back to the house and use the front drive. For that, we need two or three days without rain, both in St Albans, and over the boat, since we don't really want her uncovered bow to get too wet. The forecast suggests we can start work on Tuesday morning, and have several days of dry weather. Here's hoping!

"Hints and tips" got a couple of 5-star reviews on Amazon UK recently,

Great book with lots of interesting and useful tips, I learned a lot!
We are currently in the 'research' stage and will hopefully buying our boat early next year.
Although we thought we had done a lot of research already, there was still lots that this book
taught us. It is also really nice to actually hear advise from someone who is already living
aboard. Very helpful book!

and I stumbled upon one for "Life with our feet under water" on Amazon US that I'd not seen before.

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Roger and Grace sound like nice people, with a tolerance for things going wrong (just as well)
and an appreciation of people in general and their chosen lives in particular. Having rented
canal boats a couple of times, I could understand the narrative as Roger discussed recalcitrant
locks and narrow winding holes. This book has inspired me to go and do it all again.

Very gratifying, and it helps me to press on with my next book, "Moving home with our feet under water", which is progressing quite well now. I'm still not even thinking about when it might be published.

It'll be supper-time soon. Earlier, I visited Squ!sito, the local Italian bucher's shop and delicatessen. We'd driven past it so often, and never visited, so today I put that right. It's a super little shop doing a big business. I came away with home-made beef burgers and pork and fresh apple sausages. We'll be trying one of those tonight!

Who could resist those sausages?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sight-seeing, and what sights they were!!

Michelle arrived at the boat around midday on Thursday, after a number of problems and postponements, the latest of which had almost been a total cancellation because of Grace's cold. But the cold was abating quite fast, Grace was well enough to enjoy some days out, and we all enjoyed three days of sight-seeing and games-playing.

We ate at The Moorings in Crick on Thursday, always a good choice, then returned to the boat for chat and games.

On Friday, the clear, blue skies called us out to Baddesley Clinton, a NT house Grace and I know well, but new to Michelle.

Saturday's weather was dull and drizzly, but we drove out to the NT's Canon's Ashby. Michelle had loved Baddesley Clinton, so we reckoned this old house would please, too.

And please, it did! After supper, Michelle drove home. Her stay with us had been a day shorter than anticipated, but a really good time was had by all!

Today, the sun's out again, and the marina's busy. Lovely!