Me & My Boats: Deborah Mendel-Lion
- Credit: Archant
They’d spent years saving up for a boat but it was still a long way off... until an alternative idea came to mind
Words and pictures: Deborah Mendel-Lion
Every time there was a sunny weekend, Colin and I would tell ourselves, ‘When we get out own boat and the weather is like this, we could just pop down to it for the weekend’. We’ve been spending thousands of pounds every year on our narrowboat holidays, while putting a little away each month in the hope that when we retired, we could finally buy a boat of our own. Meanwhile, we loved going to Crick and other boat shows to daydream.
Then our options were suddenly opened early in 2011, when, at a party, we bumped into old friends we hadn’t seen in years. As we chit-chatted, they told us their plan for the summer was to cruise on their new narrowboat, quickly turning the conversation away from small talk to serious boat business. How long was it? Trad or cruiser stern? Cassette or pump-out? Reverse or traditional layout? And the big question, how could they afford it?
As soon as the idea of increasing our house mortgage was suggested, the possibility of owning a boat was brought forward by a decade. We had saved enough for a deposit and by the end of the following week, we had a budget. We could afford a reasonable secondhand boat.
In the eight years we had been together, we hired several boats from different companies, so we knew what we wanted. A 60-footer, traditional layout, cruiser stern and a pump-out loo.
Colin narrowed our search down to six boats – all within a two-hour drive of our home in Northwood, Middlesex – but none felt right.
- 1 Winifred: a 1980s hire boat refit with reclaimed wood
- 2 Boat test: “Oyster Catcher” the permanent house boat
- 3 Weekend visits: a trip down Basingstoke canal
- 4 4 Interior Design Ideas for Your Narrowboat
- 5 Boat test: 'Whitsuntide No2' hybrid 52ft canal boat by Trinity Boats
- 6 Stormin' Norman: singlehandedly navigating the waterways, aged 86
- 7 Linking Lichfield: the Lichfield Canal restoration
- 8 Stretching your narrow boat: process and advice
- 9 Cruise Guide | Grand Union Canal, Part 2 | Braunston to Marsworth
- 10 The waterways heritage spotter: narrow gauge railway tracks
Whilton Marina in Northamptonshire had a few more, though, and that’s how we found Rosella II.
We opened the stern door, which led directly into the cabin, and I saw a shelf by the bed perfectly placed for my morning cup of tea. Walking past the bathroom into the galley, I spied a perfectly placed wine rack. Colin checked out all the main stuff about engines, electricity and batteries while I investigated cupboards, storage and soft furnishings.
This was our boat.
A few weeks later, we made our first voyage up through Buckby Locks and Braunston Tunnel. My parents had regularly hired from Concoform Marina at Weedon in the seventies, so this stretch of canal became familiar to the young me. My father taught me to steer. I don’t think I would have been able to learn as an adult – I see people struggling with creaky paddles and heavy lock gates because they are too nervous to steer.
We now cruise this section of the Grand Union regularly and it always feels like home. Since buying Rosella ll (Rosie for short), we have been as far afield as Llangollen, Nottingham, Bristol and, only recently, Stratford-Upon-Avon. In the summer of 2017, the plan is to cruise to Peterborough.
We cruise most weekends, take longer voyages in the summer holidays and at Easter, we travel through London to the Lee and Stort Navigations. The highlight is the cake shop at Sawbridgeworth. As continuous cruisers, we move regularly around the system, which is fantastic as we see new places all the time, but we also relish revisiting tried and tested haunts.
We love the community feel at The Wharf Inn, in Fenny Compton, and the huge servings of delicious home-cooked food at The Rowbarge at Woolhampton. Another regular is the canalside shop by The Folly at Napton on the Oxford, where we buy local honey and buffalo cheese – made particularly thrilling by the fact you can see the buffalos in the fields by the shop.
Since we have had Rosie, we have fitted a multi-fuel Squirrel stove (which gets regular use on cold winter cruises), a TV/DVD player and two new diesel heaters. I have repainted the roof, bought a top box, replaced the saggy captain’s chairs with a comfy sofa bed and hung new matching curtains.
Last year, we moved on to the boat full time for seven months as a trial run for our retirement. I loved being able to have breakfast watching the ducks and morning light on the water, and strolling along the towpath after work. I did, however, miss having a washing machine and dishwasher. The plan is to retire in five years and cruise the whole system.
I love watching Colin – who also enjoyed canal boat holidays growing up in the sixties – leaping about the locks, while I sit on the deck slaving over the ‘hot tiller’. I have steered and negotiated locks single-handed and the sense of achievement is huge. I do think more women should challenge themselves and learn to steer.
When we meet new boaters I think it is important to be friendly and helpful rather than rude and critical. The more the canal is used, the better it will be for everyone, as new investment has to follow.
Colin and I just love the alternate universe offered by the canal system in the UK and feel privileged to be part of it.
Thank you Deborah for sending in your story.
Now it’s your turn to tell us about the boats in your life. If you would like to be featured in Me & My Boats in a future issue of Canal Boat magazine, send your story (about 1,000 words) and photographs (don’t worry, we’ll return them!) to email@example.com. If it’s used, you’ll win £100!
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