Saturday, February 27, 2016

Watery Ways

The reason that I haven't mentioned before any of the several books I've read about life on the waterways is not that I want to avoid distracting potential readers from my book (hint, hint!) (buy it here!) (have you read it yet???) (Life with our feet under water), (only £2.99) but that I've not really been very impressed with any of them. That is, until I found "Watery Ways" by Valerie Poore.
"Trading life in the fast lane of Johannesburg for that of Rotterdam's serene Oude Haven, Valerie Poore packs all her worldly possessions aboard the historic Dutch barge Hoop and sets about rebuilding both the boat and her life after divorce – and rediscovering herself and her own capabilities in the process.
Along the journey of renovation she is joined by an array of characters, including two dogs and a rather adventurous cat, a smiling but absent-minded ‘landlord’, a quirky friend and confidante, and an olde worlde charmer whose mastery at the helm wins more than just her respect. Before long Val has to learn to cope with the strenuous demands of acting as Skipper's Mate during numerous nail-biting adventures – frequently with hilarious effect.
When the Hoop, her rented home, is sold, Valerie relishes the new challenge of hunting down the Vereeniging, another picturesque barge aboard which she builds herself a new home and learns that, when life on the waterways is threatened by rust and insurance critics, it is those who band together to help who make the lifestyle so worthwhile.
Valerie’s touchingly sincere story is one of discovery and friendship, endurance and love and, most importantly, never allowing the landlubbers to get you down!"
What was of particular interest to me is the setting, totally unfamiliar to me - a barge in a Rotterdam harbour, and the rivers and canals of the Netherlands. And Valerie really gets her hands dirty. There's a lot of work to be done on the two barges which are her home in this book, and she doesn't shy away from hard work! But this is very much a book about people, too, and the community in which the writer lives. It's a good mix, and I found it thoroughly engrossing. And a great plus in my judgment is that it's a well-written book by an author who cares about words. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Valerie also maintains a fascinating blog at

Watery Ways (a meagre £2.99) and several other books written by her are available on Kindle/Amazon.

(...where my book can also be found!)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Our longest trip of the year

It was another icy night, though we remained warm under our duvet and very fluffy fleece. The Alde heater stays on all night on its lowest setting, but the odd thing is that the dehumidifier stops dehumidifying early on in the night. We know that it won't work at freezing point, but it just doesn't get that low in the boat. I woke to the sound of Reed Warblers warbling in the reeds as only Reed Warblers can. I'm surprised by how many of them there are around the boat throughout the day.

We did our longest trip of the year this afternoon. To the service platform to fill the tank with diesel for the Bubble stove. There it is, to the right of the photo, as seen from the stern as we lie in our berth.
I thought you'd be impressed.

After that, with the weather still lovely, and the sunshine warmish through the chill breeze, we went for a drive; a bit of an exploration of a local road we've passed many a time, but never driven down. It led to the village of Watford (population 224 in 2001 - I think they got forgotten in 2011), not to be confused with that Watford (population 90,301 in 2011), which had little of interest to keep us there except the 14th century church. But we're glad we visited.

We've seen some good comedy films since returning to Kantara. The first two are quite old DVDs, rather silly, but very entertaining.
Stuck on you 
In Martha's Vineyard, conjoined twins Walt and Bob Tenor make the best of their handicap by being the fastest grill cooks in town. While outgoing Walt hopes to one day become a famous actor, shy Bob prefers to stay out of the spotlight. When fading Hollywood actress, Cher, decides to get her show "Honey and the Beaze" cancelled, she hires Walt and his brotherly appendage as her co-stars. But their addition surprisingly achieves the opposite.

Cheaper by the dozen
Tom and Kate Baker have compromised their careers to raise 12 children. Tom coaches a high-school football team, while Kate has retired from journalism to raise the family. Things change when Tom is offered a college coaching job in a new city at the same time a publisher buys Kate's parenting memoir. After moving, Kate goes on a book tour, leaving Tom in charge of the children, who, already unhappy about relocating, plunge the household into chaos.
The third we saw at the cinema yesterday, where we were two-thirds of the audience!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
In the 19th century, a mysterious plague turns the English countryside into a war zone. No one is safe as the dead come back to life to terrorize the land. Fate leads Elizabeth Bennet, a master of martial arts and weaponry, to join forces with Mr. Darcy, a handsome but arrogant gentleman. Elizabeth can't stand Darcy, but respects his skills as a zombie killer. Casting aside their personal differences, they unite on the blood-soaked battlefield to save their country.

The film was outstanding. A top cast in a tense drama which blended wonderfully with comedy, much of which came from the absurdity (in that context) of text taken straight from Jane Austen. I can't imagine she would have been terribly amused, though!

Tomorrow, we return to St Albans for a few days. On Saturday afternoon, we'll be picking up Jess from the airport, returning from what sounds like an amazing month in Iceland. I think we'll be doing a lot of listening, and very little talking!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

An inspiration!

I often wonder when I might decide that life on the canals is too much for an old guy. Don't get me wrong. I'm not feeling old, believe me. I'm 65 this year, and not feeling older than 27. Ok, 32. I'm fit and healthy. But I still wonder how I'll feel about this boaty life in, say, ten years time.

I'm encouraged, then, by Michael on NB Clancy J, who celebrates his 75th birthday this week. Michael's had a very active life, by the sounds of it, much of it spent on the water, and most of that at sea, I think. OK, so he doesn't cruise now, but I think that's by choice rather than enforced by age or incapacity. How many 75 year-olds are out there on the cut? I wonder. Well, I intend to be one of them one day.

Many happy returns, Michael!

My thoughts have turned to the singing group we left behind when we left the marina at the beginning of December. Neil told me yesterday that they hadn't met since then. Shame. I'll have to ask around, and see if there's still any interest. But then, Grace and I could be off on a cruise as soon as the weather looks good for it, so we can't give it any real commitment. And if they can't manage without us...

And, speaking of the weather...
It's good to see that rain's disappeared from the immediate picture, and the winds have abated somewhat as well. It's still chilly, especially at night. It amused us when we came back last Tuesday that, the fridge door having been open all the time we were away, the motor didn't kick in as soon as we switched it on. The boat was that cold!

I've had problems from time to time with the cowl on the top of our Bubble stove chimney. It's one of those which rotates to put its "back" to the wind, thus stopping it from blowing down the chimney.
(photos -
They're often seen looking like a chicken or duck.
The problem with ours is that sometimes it sticks, and doesn't put its back to the wind at all. Resulting in very unpleasant diesel fumes blowing back into the boat. Looking around the marina, I found that most people have the ordinary "Coolie Hat" type.
So we drove out to see  what was available from the three chandlers in Braunston. We came away with one which "ties" to the chimney, which we thought would be a good idea, considering the strength of the winds it will have to cope with.
However, this proved to be too big for out flue, so we'll have to change it for the simpler model. And hope it doesn't blow away!

Rather more successful was my fixing of the problem we've had over the past week with our water pump. Or rather, with the accumulator it works with.
Water passes into this 5-litre tank from the pump before going off to the taps, shower and so on. It is (supposed to be) pressurised, and the pressure falls and rises as the water enters and leaves it. When the pressure falls below a preset level, the pump responds by switching on and pumping water into it. It switches off again when the pressure reaches the preset maximum.

When I tested our accumulator, the pressure was almost zero, and this has caused the pump to run too often, and for too long. It was put right simply by using my car tyre pump. Would that all boaty jobs could be that simple and cheap. Over the Christmas period, NB Blue Moon had to have a new calorifier fitted. The prices was in four figures!

Oh, and I used the extending mirror for the first time on this job, to read a label on the far side of the accumulator (which is situated in a restricted space under the well-deck). Brilliant! I couldn't have done without it. Every boat should have one!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

45 mph

OK, so this is nothing like the extreme winds which parts of the UK have had to endure over the past months, but it's pretty fierce for those of us living on the water. The water itself is pretty choppy, but nothing the boats couldn't handle if we wanted to move. No, it's the effect of the wind itself on our floating homes which is the main thing. Boaters invented Rock & Roll, I assure you!

The video gives you something of an idea of winds gusting in the region of 35 mph. 45 mph is predicted for later today, but there's no way I'm going to go out in that! The poor quality of this video is entirely down to me being buffeted constantly, certainly not my poor camera work. I very nearly fell off the pontoon on two occasions. If you have sound on, you'll get a better idea of the experience!

Twitter's been full of boaters' comments about their experiences. Some are not at all happy.

It's good at night, though. You get rocked to sleep very effectively!

Tomorrow, it'll be far less windy, so they say. But colder again.

Who cares about the cold, though? Our Bubble stove's running at minimum, and we have to have the doors and a window open to stop ourselves from overheating!

Friday, February 19, 2016

And we're back!

Tuesday came. I'd completed all of my tasks. The new tumble drier had been delivered, installed and tested. (The old one had developed a dreadful squeal, which it made every time it was used. It was 19 years old, in which time it had been used for up to eight people's wet washing. Being that old, it wasn't worth repairing it - if it could be repaired! - and current models are far more efficient than that one. Strangely, it stopped squealing, totally, as soon as the new one was delivered!) Steve was back safely from his week of snowboarding in the French Alps, and Jess was happily exploring Iceland. We'd packed everything else we needed for life aboard Kantara. There was nothing to stop us. Off we went. The M1 did its best to delay us, but we cheated it, and came off just as the holdup had really kicked in, taking a quicker and more pleasant route to the marina.
We were welcomed by fine weather. Cold, yes; windy, of course. But the sky was blue and the sun shone brightly, encouraging NBs Adagio and Wreyland to compare solar panel output again on Twitter. Decent panels generate a fair amount of electricity on days like this. I was so glad it wasn't raining. There was a lot to carry from the car to the boat, and we set to work returning everything to its rightful place.
We promised ourselves that we'd not do this again. In future, we'll stay here through the winter, returning to the house just for a couple of weeks over the Christmas and New Year period. It's just too much hassle, the winterizing and de-winterizing (we had soaking wet problems again this year, replacing the water filter) and the ferrying of clothes, pots and pans and all of the other things of everyday life. We leave as much as we can on Kantara, of course, but we don't want to have two sets of clothes, two sets of kitchen utensils (Grace likes stuff which is really quite expensive, and we don't want to buy a second lot), two CD and DVD collections, two guitars, four sewing machines (we have two types) and so on. And anyway, we warm to the idea of being on the boat during the kind of winters we've had over the past five years. We're hardier now!
February 2012

I've been really glad of Twitter while we've been away. It's an excellent way to keep up with what's going on across the waterways, and what numerous friends and acquaintances are doing. The weather had been a major theme for all of the time we were away. The winds and the floods hit rivers and canals very badly. I'm still not really into Facebook. I have my Tweets copied automatically to it, which my FB friends seem to enjoy, and there's a lot of interest in our canal life amongst my ex-students and colleagues.

Some poor boater, I haven't discovered which boat it is yet, has suffered a burst holding tank, an incident which has made us glad that out only internal flooding problems have been watery ones!

Though nothing to do with our marina, I was saddened to read of the death of Pete, the skipper of NB Futurest, whose blog I've followed for years. He'd been cruising solo for 82 months. A memorial service was held at Tooley's Boat Yard in Banbury. Very fitting.

A friend of ours here had to be rushed to hospital for surgery to remove a stomach cancer just a few weeks ago. I'm glad to say he's up and about now, looking well after a successful operation, and itching to do some cruising. As we all are!

How good it is to be back. People here are so friendly; there's a real community feeling amongst us. A two-minute stroll out to the car to get something from the boot that is our shed, turns into a 20-minute chat with a moorer or three. Time is rarely an issue. It's brilliant.

2016, we're back!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Circumnavigating the globe

No, not one of Grace's crazier ideas!

I've recently been contacted by one Rona House, who messaged me via Flickr while she was looking through my "Life with our feet under water" gallery there. What followed was a series of messages and emails between us in which I found out that she is a yachtswoman of some decades' experience who sailed around the world in a 27 foot Vancouver Yacht, Cacique, back in 1990-93. She sent me a Kindle document, not publicly available as yet, which is a series of newsletters she wrote on the voyage. Some of what this lady reports very casually is, frankly, scary!

Fourteen days in, her engine "ran away with itself at full throttle", and the new radio, essential for weather forecasts and direction finding, "packed up". 10 days out of New Zealand, she encounters "Winds 55 to 60 knots sustained, gusting higher. Seas PHENOMENAL", when she really believes she's going to perish. "Six feet of very black, very mean-looking snake" tries to nest in Cacique's exhaust pipe. There are menacing pirates around Indonesia. Later, the yacht collides into the side of a freighter while Rona's below deck, sleeping, damaging her boat and breaking several ribs. Shortly after that, she becomes ill, delirious for several days. She loses over a stone in weight. A rope gives way, and she falls overboard, is able to pull herself onto a jib, but can't get any further onto the boat than that. Her only option is to let go, let the boat carry on without her, swim, and hope to be rescued by a passing boat. (She is, and she retrieves the boat.) Then an 18-foot whale crashes into the boat, injuring itself but, amazingly, not the yacht. And corrupt officials abound.

But it's not all catastrophe. It's a very human document, with fond tales of meetings with lots of friends on the way, meals and celebrations, and encounters with many other people in her several spells spent on land. It's not a long document, and not ready for publication as a book, which may never happen anyway. But it's a gripping read, and a fascinating insight into life at sea. Rona's currently reading my book. It's not anything like as exciting as her story, but will give her a look into a hugely contrasting life on the water, as hers gave me.
(Photos from Rona's gallery)

Rona's pictorial record of the three-year adventure can be seen here.

After the circumnavigation, Rona sold Cacique, and the boat's now available for hire, with or without a skipper, in Brixham Harbour.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Done deal

It's decided then. Even Grace, who doesn't like to plan much in advance, has agreed to my plan. I've booked our passage through the Liverpool Link on 31st July. After a stay of seven days, we'll have a leisurely trip to Pelsall for the IWA Festival of Water over the Bank Holiday weekend, then saunter back to Yelvertoft. There'll be no hurrying on the outward journey, either, so we reckon we'll be out for about eight or nine weeks. Unless we decide to carry on and not go back to Yelvertoft straight away, of course.

CanalPlan tells us,
"The total distance is 452 miles and 242 locks. There are at least 44 moveable bridges, of which 8 are usually left open; 154 small aqueducts or underbridges and 21 tunnels (including Crick Tunnel (1528 yards long), Braunston Tunnel (2042 yards long), Newbold Tunnel (250 yards long), Harecastle Tunnel (2919 yards long) [see navigational note 2 below], Barnton Tunnel (572 yards long), Saltersford Tunnel (424 yards long), Preston Brook Tunnel (1239 yards long), St Nicholas Place Tunnel, Mann Island Tunnel (96 yards long), Cowley Tunnel (81 yards long), Wolverhampton Tunnel (109 yards long), Factory Tunnel and Curdworth Tunnel (57 yards long)."
Some of those "tunnels" sound rather more like fat bridges, to be honest!

Sandy and Dave on NB San Fairy Anne went to Liverpool last year, and highly recommend it. We're really looking forward to it.


Until then...

Well, it had to happen, didn't it? Because of the rather extreme weather which is prompting many cries of anguish from friends back in the marina, we postponed our return to Kantara. And now that we've committed to a number of endeavours which will keep us here till next week, the weather improves considerably! The sun's out, the sky's very blue. It was the same yesterday, and the forecast says it will continue. So now there's plumbing to be done, serious hedge cutting, a tumble drier to be delivered, and an old one to dispose of.

I wonder how long the weather will hold. At least the wind seems to have past.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Not today, thank you!

With storms from Abigail to Imogen having swept the nation since November, cries from boaters on the canals for it all to stop and leave them alone, and from the marina, saying that if they wanted waves that high, they'd have moored at sea, Grace and I have officially postponed our return to Kantara. She's safe and sound where she is. We're safe and sound where we are. It's a no-brainer. It'd better just stop soon, for the sake of all of us.
I've just read NB Adagio's blog, a post about their plans to visit Liverpool, and the route they'll take. We're umming and ahhing too much, I think, not deciding where we'll cruise this year. We want to go to Liverpool, too, but I fear we'll be too late to book a passage into the docks. I've booked to moor for up to three days at the IWA Festival of Water over the August Bank holiday. This is to be held at Pelsall Common on the Wyrley and Essington Canal, and will be part of a bigger trip - though we're not certain what the rest will be. Liverpool, maybe.
There's still no live TV that attracts us, so we watched another DVD yesterday.

Inside Llewyn Davis
"In 1961 New York City, folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is at a crossroads. Guitar in hand, he struggles against seemingly insurmountable obstacles to make a name for himself in the music world, but so far, success remains elusive. Relying on the kindness of both friends and strangers, Llewyn embarks on an odyssey that takes him from the streets of Greenwich Village to a Chicago club, where awaits a music mogul who could give him the big break that he desperately needs."
Entertaining, interesting in parts, but quite forgettable.

Ooops! There goes next door's fence!

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Six weeks published

Well, it's only just over six weeks since I published "Life with our feet under water", and I've been delighted by the response to it. I now have my first reviews on the Amazon page from which the book sells.

4.0 out of 5 stars
In depth insight into life on a narrowboat
By Steven P. Carter on 26 Jan. 2016

A fascinating and very detailed account of the travels, tribulations and jubilations on board the good ship NB Kantara. This is no slim pamphlet cashing in on the plethora of "we sold our house and bought a boat" but a cross between a diary (as if written to oneself only, warts and all) and a blog (the modern announcement to the world). It has over 400 pages and is littered with quotations, sayings, maxims and even recipes. It's not something you could read in one go, but better to put down and then pick up later, perhaps dipping into specific chapters. Plus the author has attached thousands of photographs all linked to a Flickr account to be viewed online. It gives detailed accounts of living on a narrowboat and would best suit a novice boater or perhaps the curious; what is this boating bug and should I even try to catch it? The more experienced boater may gain from it too, as it does detail a lot of the cruising areas around their marina near Rugby and would be a good reading supplement to any cruising guide.

(That same review is also to appear in Towpath Talk in due course.)
5.0 out of 5 stars
Sailaway from the comfort of your lounge!
By andyclaret on 25 Jan. 2016

An enjoyable read of life on the canals whether or not you have a narrowboat. You are taken away to a more enjoyable way of life, still with it's ups and downs, they just happen slower. There is the added bonus at the end of each chapter where you can click a link to see the photographs taken by the author of what you have just read about. I am sure that many people will want to follow this way of life after reading this and purchase their own narrowboat.
By Mr. P. J. Howarth on 29 Jan. 2016

An interesting and informative read.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Very informative
By Stuart R. on 6 Feb. 2016

Good insight to boat life being humerus in parts well written very enjoyable taken lots of notes for future reference.


I'm expecting a review in Canal Boat magazine in the coming months, too.
It's a pleasing start, but I'd rather like some more reviews. I've had a couple of suggestions that, because the book is quite long, and because there are so many photos to look at, it's going to take people longer than average to complete. And they do have other things to do with their lives! It's a fair point. I should have made it into two books. Darn!

I started off taking a lot of interest in the Amazon Bestsellers ranking, but soon found out that one's rank can change daily by several points, and I'm constantly jostling with two other writers for places in the top 15. I've had better and worse days than the one shown here...
There's little I can do about sales anyway, so it doesn't really make sense to pay much attention to the figures. And it's not as if I depend on it for my living. There are writers on Kindle who are relying on it to boost their income. It's just as well I'm not!

I can't remember if I've said this before, but a thing that fascinates me is a graph that's available to me that reports how many pages are read each day by those who are reading the book from Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners' Lending Library.

Friday's a good day for reading!

I've had a good number of new readers of this blog lately, so for your benefit - and, I hope, for mine! - I'll tell you that the book is to be found on Amazon, published for Kindle and all other devices.

We watched the film "The Book of Eli" last night. I don't usually appreciate post-apocalyptic films, but this one was extraordinary.
"Thirty years after war turned the world into a wasteland, a lone warrior named Eli (Denzel Washington) marches across the ruined landscape, carrying hope for humanity's redemption. Only one other man (Gary Oldman) understands the power of what Eli carries, and he is determined to take it for himself. Though Eli prefers peace, he will risk death to protect his precious cargo, for he must fulfill his destiny to help restore mankind." 

Steve took a 4 o'clock flight this morning to France, for a week's snowboarding in the alps with friends. The forecast there is for lots of good snow. I still reckon ours is to come!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Time to go home, time to go home...

The baby-boomers amongst you will be able to finish the title! (Hint - it involves Andy)

Stage one of returning to Kantara was completed yesterday. It was a fairly quick visit with a number of cases and bags of stuff to unpack onto the boat, and a check throughout her to find her (relatively) warm and absolutely dry; no condensation or mould as often happens in boats left unattended through the winter. It was lovely to be welcomed back by so many friends and acquaintances on the marina. Hopefully, subsequent stages will be completed next week, and then we'll be back for the rest of the year.

Jess went off to Iceland on Monday, for a month, and she's loving it.

"Iceland Is cold! -4 but feels like -7. Our hostel is awesome! All leather sofas and dusty books and gramophones. Our northern lights tour got cancelled and we don't have time this week to do another one. Fortunately we didn't pay when we booked so we don't lose out. We're going to go on our own hunts instead. The ice on the pavements is like no ice I've had to walk on before! Inches thick and clear as glass! Precarious, but there are lots of clear paths too. Icelandic beer is yummy, Icelandic pate is served in a cereal bowl with 9 pieces of rye bread. Yes... 9..."
"Today it snowed! Not much but it was fun. We saw the northern lights last night..from just outside our hostel! Who needs expensive tours!? Not us! Today I drank the best ever hazelnut latte, bought a mug that says 'I have no idea what this mug says' on it in Icelandic, and went to the saga museum, the settlement exhibition and the penis museum.....yup.....that's a thing. The vagina museum is, apparently, in Rotterdam."
"The penis museum sells willy warmers, t shirts that say 'penis museum... it's not for pussies', wind up willies, willy candles."
Steve's off to the French Alps on Saturday, snowboarding with a group of friends. The snow in their resort looks very good!

Grace has to collect new glasses before our final trip back to Kantara, and that should be on Monday. Fingers crossed.

More DVDs watched recently... 

Breakfast on Pluto
"As a baby, Patrick (Cillian Murphy) is left by his mother on the steps of the rectory in their small Irish town. He's discovered by Father Liam (Liam Neeson), coincidentally his real father, and placed in an abusive foster home. By the time he's a teen, Patrick identifies himself as transgendered, renames himself Kitten and sets out for London with a rock group in hopes of finding his mother. Along the way he works variously as a magician's assistant, a prostitute and a dancer."
This is a fascinating comedy drama with not a little pathos, and an outstanding performance by Cillian Murphy. Quite unlike anything else I've seen.

The other Boleyn girl

"King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) lacks an heir. Seeing this as an opportunity for personal gain, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) and Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) persuade Thomas' daughter Anne (Natalie Portman) to seduce the king. But Henry falls in love with Anne's sister, Mary (Scarlett Johansson), instead. When Mary becomes pregnant, she's confined to bed, with charged with Anne keeping the king from straying, but the plan backfires when Anne seeks the king's affections for herself."
Up in the air
"An idea from a young, new co-worker (Anna Kendrick) would put an end to the constant travel of corporate downsizer Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), so he takes her on a tour to demonstrate the importance of face-to-face meetings with those they must fire. While mentoring his colleague, he arranges hookups with another frequent-flier (Vera Farmiga), and his developing feelings for the woman prompt him to see others in a new light."

"Dodge Connolly (George Clooney), captain of a 1920s football team, wants to give the sagging sport a boost and capture the country's attention. He recruits Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) to play for the team. Carter is not only a war hero, but he is also fast, handsome, and guaranteed to pack the stands with fans. Newswoman Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger) goes digging for dirt on Carter, while both Dodge and Carter try to score with her off the field."

No in-depth consideration of any of these here - they're all very good films.

Apart from this one...

Ivans XTC
"Based on Leo Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," set in contemporary Hollywood.After a hotshot Hollywood agent (Danny Huston) dies, colleagues scramble to dissuade clients from defecting from the agency."
To put it simply, a depressing tale of a man killing himself with illegal drugs.