Me & My Boats: Sarah Jury
- Credit: Archant
How a ‘mongrel’ boat was transformed over the years into a comfortable, and reliable, home from home
Every boater experiences at some point the same questions about their boat from curious bystanders at locks. This is a conversation I often have:
Gongoozler – “Is it yours?” Me – “Yes.” Gongoozler – “Isn’t it cold on board in winter?” Me – “No.” Gongoozler “How old is it?” Me – “Ah, It’s complicated.”
Our boat, The Griffin, is a bit of a mongrel. My husband Mac bought her around 1982 when she was a five-year old 36ft Hancock & Lane little tub called Magpie III with a Lister SR2 engine. She had been fitted out by the previous owner who had pulled apart a Dawncraft cruiser and inserted the galley, dinette and even part of the fibreglass hull inside his new steel boat.
It was an interesting idea and suited him, but Mac had very definite ideas about how he wanted his boat to be, and it wasn’t long before work began on changing things around. Thirty four years later and work is still in progress – as many boat owners know, the job will never be totally finished.
The first task was to change the name of the boat. Magpie as a boat name may be okay, but Magpie III was not for us. Mac owned a heating and plumbing company and one of his major clients at the time was the Fuller, Smith & Turner Brewery. The chief surveyor suggested if he named the boat The Griffin, the brewery would provide bits and pieces to decorate her. This escalated over the years to providing the splendid signage now in place. As an enthusiastic customer of Fuller’s products and with no better idea at the time, Mac leapt at the offer and the boat was duly renamed.
However, this was done when she was still in the water and although we’re not superstitious, we do wonder if this was unwise as it is said to be unlucky to rename a boat unless she’s out of the water. Shortly afterwards there was a major fire on board (caused by the gas fridge), and later on the same holiday, water came in through the sink waste hole overnight and she was in danger of sinking.
- 1 Fire-damaged lock keepers cottage on Oxford Canal up for sale!
- 2 The Wilts & Berks Canal restoration: 15 years on
- 3 Heritage spotter: the Purton Hulks
- 4 Boat test: “Oyster Catcher” the permanent house boat
- 5 Narrowboat Living: Space-Saving Solutions
- 6 Brand new boating show for 2022: BoatLife Live!
- 7 Canal heritage spotter: turf-sided locks
- 8 Fenland fees in force
- 9 Cruise Guide | Grand Union Canal, Part 2 | Braunston to Marsworth
- 10 10 of the best pubs along: Grand Union Canal, Braunston to Marsworth
However, all was sorted out and The Griffin sailed on to fight another day. In 1985 Mac decided a larger boat was needed as he was in danger of finishing the fit out on the first 36ft. He commissioned Paul Castle to put 20ft in the middle. As the budget was, to put it mildly, tight, the work was carried out in an old disused factory at Springwell near Croxley Green, Hertfordshire and Paul did a good job. However, a bigger boat meant a bigger engine was required and the trusty Lister was removed. Mac had spotted a 1935 Perkins P4 engine gently rusting in the yard at Cowroast Marina. It had (allegedly) been restored. This engine was going cheap (£350), but over the ensuing years, not really going, at least not for any length of time. Many hours were spent after each breakdown bow hauling the The Griffin to boatyards for help and Mac was often upside down in the bowels of the engine hole trying to fix the latest problem.
I eventually issued an ultimatum – replace the engine or I’m not doing any more boating.
As he needed someone to help with the locking, steering, cooking and the myriad other jobs required on boats an engine was duly identified – a 1965 BMC 2.2 accompanied by a new PRM gearbox. This time the engine was fully and properly rebuilt by Terry Yates and his son at Newbold on the North Oxford Canal. It was then installed in Aylesbury by Mac and marine engineer and boat builder John Pattle. This engine was not going as cheap as the last one, it cost £1,700, but at least it was going, and has continued to go ever since.
In 1992 Mac was again in danger of finishing fitting out the newest section of the boat. The opportunity arose to add a 14ft front deck with a Josher bow to replace the original bow from the Hancock & Lane Merlin hull. An excellent job was done by Roger Farrington assisted by John Pattle at Braunston Bottom Lock. Initially the deck was made up of wooden planks but a steel deck was recently put on making it water tight, so an inboard generator is now in place. There is also a lot of storage space under there. It’s amazing how much essential stuff has to be carried about with us (I am told by Mac).
The main benefit of our lovely front deck is when we use it as our ‘patio’. A table and chairs with tablecloth and flowers often prompt the comment: “How civilised!”, and when Wendover, our over-sized large bear (won at a Wendover Arm Trust auction about 20 years ago) is sitting at the table, there is often much amusement and waving from children of all ages as we pass by.
We worked hard on the boat for many years but had just two weeks’ holiday available for travelling the system. The worst part of these holidays was coming back to base - we would often look wistfully along a fresh section of canal at a junction as we passed and comment “wouldn’t it be lovely just to turn up there and keep going”.
Having now retired we have now realised our ambition of long-term summer cruising. All on our beloved boat which is 39, 31 and 24 years old. We travel north from our base on the southern Grand Union to the Midlands and beyond for three or four months. This year we plan to visit Leicester, Birmingham, the Ashby Canal and are already thinking about where to travel next year. We don’t cruise for hours on end to keep to a schedule any more, or travel in the rain if we can help it. We have even been known to tie up outside a pub or two.
We can now also decide to make an unplanned turn at a junction and simply keep going.
Thank you Sarah 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. If it’s used, you’ll win £100!
You may also like: