Me & my boats: Dog days afloat
- Credit: Archant
If you’ve had a life-long boating history, how would a new husband with dry feet feel about an old love affair?
I must confess, I used to be a naturist boater. My first exposure to the canals was full on, full frontal... but I was only six months old at the time, an excitable gurgling baby joining my parents in those early hire days of the late 1960s, so I guess we can overlook the nudity.
I was more appropriately clothed for all the childhood canal holidays that followed – good job, given my dad’s propensity for going out at Easter – but I’m sure that all those days spent on the back deck of our (mostly) Harborough Marine built hire boats breathing in the fumes of the trusty Lister thee-pot beneath me penetrated the clothing to get under my skin and into my blood.
So when I met my husband, I had no hesitation in introducing him to the canals, merely nervous about how he would react as I really wanted to continue my narrowboating love affair with the other love of my life. His excitement over that inaugural weekend mirrored that of a hyper toddler, jumping up and down, burbling, laughing like a loon – result! Cue much relief and the seeds of a new plan, to become actual boat owners. It needed a few more hire holidays to consolidate that plan, but in 2002 we commissioned a new build trad-style 57-footer from Midland Canal Centre.
We called it Arcadia, in homage to an old Weltonfield Narrowboats hire boat we had taken out as a family, although it was subsequently rechristened Greyhound when we found ourselves the adopters of five retired racers a few years later.
We loved every minute we spent aboard her – she was smart but not flash, very trusty and true, and we covered about 70 percent of the system in her without a moment’s worry. We learned to step over the dogs, who would arrange themselves in a decorous pile on the floor – when they were not hogging the fixed double that is. When we walked them down the towpath, we could have been millionaires if we’d had a pound for every time someone said ‘“you’ve got your hands full”. They caused us the odd heart in mouth moment, too... correction, quite a few heart in mouth moments, actually. The Great Marple Escape, One of our Hounds is Missing, and the Fast and the Furious Gypsy all had a filmic quality to them, and we can laugh at them now from the security of the present. For ten years we cruised everywhere, with Greyhound as our perfect holiday home afloat and our greyhounds as our perfect companions.
And then Henry came into our lives.
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We weren’t looking for another boat, but I liked to keep my finger on the pulse as it were, and I was a regular visitor to sales websites. And surfing one Wednesday afternoon, I saw Henry advertised and I guess it was the marine equivalent of love at first sight. We arranged to see him on Friday, we put the offer in on Saturday morning and it was accepted on Saturday afternoon. It was official, we were a two-boat family.
Thankfully, because Henry needed a complete refit, something that we were going to stage over several years, we didn’t need to make any immediate decisions about Greyhound. We had twinges of guilt, that somehow we’d been unfaithful to her; but as Henry came together, guilt was rather heartlessly shoved into the wings by a growing thrill at Henry’s transformation (see Canal Boat, Feb 2014 for the full review).
As Henry neared completion, we took the decision to sell Greyhound, and on a poignant farewell trip to the brokers at Crick, our beautiful greyhound tiller pin came adrift and plopped into the cut – as fateful signs go, that was pretty definitive.
And so life began with Henry H. And a more different experience you couldn’t imagine. Forty feet, instead of 57. A vintage thumper instead of a whisper-quiet Beta. A 33ft draft as opposed to 26ft. Not to mention its shrunken working boat appearance which, as we were to discover, would lead to another ‘if we had a quid for’ question: “What’s under the front then?”. Surprise, surprise, more greyhounds, although these days we only cruise with two, rather than five.
And cruise we do, as Henry is very much a ‘going’ boat, although age is now encouraging us to make him more of a ‘stopping’ boat too. Although we’ve only had him on active service since Easter 2014, we’re fast catching up on Greyhound’s cruised waters tally, plus adding in some new territory too – the big Gardner 2LW has given us the confidence to go down the Severn and up the Trent, and we didn’t let his hefty backside stop us from tackling the up and over of the Rochdale, though at times I swear we were boating in a thimbleful of water.
And we would have been very happy with just Henry in our lives when fate intervened again and we stumbled over Enceladus. I have had a latent historic boat itch for some years but, admiring of full length, unconverted boats as I am, I was more taken by something that we could use for cruising, in comfort, with dogs, that didn’t need a huge amount of work doing, as we’d already been there, done that, and written out the eye-watering cheques
And boats that fit that particular bill don’t come up very often… except in the summer of 2015, one did, a small Northwich, with a rich history and now the recent beneficiary of a superb restoration job by Industry Narrowboats and Brinklow Boat Services. In the late Sixties it had been cut down, with the fore section becoming the British Waterways hire boat Water Valiant. It had deteriorated over the years but from 2010-2103 it was given a rebirth as a 48-footer, with a handsome tug deck, a Lister HR2, and decked out in the original two-tone blue GUCC Co. livery. It was a fateful find, and a familiar pattern emerged – spotted on the broker’s website on Tuesday, seen on Saturday am, offer made and accepted Saturday pm.
So there we were, back to being a two -boat family again, and a two-boat family we will hopefully remain long into the future. And I will confess, the first time I took the tiller of Enceladus, I too went into that hyper toddler state that my husband experienced all those years ago. I was ridiculously excited. But I did keep all my clothes on.
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