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Liveaboard: Why I am trying to stay single

PUBLISHED: 10:57 04 April 2018 | UPDATED: 10:57 04 April 2018

Winter sun at Norton Junction

Winter sun at Norton Junction


Intrepid liveaboarder David Johns has come clean... he’ll cruise anywhere, anytime but those double locks are downright daunting for a solo crewer

The boat’s begun waking up ready for Spring. I know this because on the handful of rather delightfully sunny mornings we’ve had recently, I’ve been roused from my own slumbers by the now familiar sound of creaking and groaning as the warmth stretches the metalwork of the hull and with it, the timber. I fondly like to imagine it’s the boat yawning and reaching out its limbs after snoozing soundly through the winter hibernation.

Very soon it’ll be wanting a nice breakfast of freshly-poured diesel with an oil chaser then it’ll rattle into life, raring to go on voyages into the unknown - or at least somewhere down the Grand Union maybe.

The only thing that puts me off that particular trip is all those double-width locks. Being based in the Midlands means I’m spoiled with all the easy to use narrow locks and every time I meet a biggun it’s a bit of a shock to the system, especially as I’m travelling solo.

I can’t remember where I got this method from but wide locks are now approached by coming slowly in close to one side, throwing the boat into neutral at the last moment, then jumping off - taking the centreline with me - and running up the stairs beside the lock.

Early sunshine and it's time to riseEarly sunshine and it's time to rise

Whipping the line up and over the gate, and over any cracks in the concrete coping stones which always seem to want to tug at the rope if it falls into them, the trick then is to whirl the line once around a bollard and gently brake the boat whilst pulling it into one side. After that it’s situation normal, close the gate, do the paddles etc.

It’s not that hard and I’m sure it’s good cardio exercise but it’s a bit more huffing and puffing than trundling gently into a narrow chamber and idly stepping up off the roof in the fullness of time.

Perhaps the CRT could embark on an ambitious 21st century program of lock enhancements whereby a giant waterproof barrier, the length and height of the lock, could emerge on huge pistons from one side of the chamber to divide a wide lock into two singles upon detecting the approach of a narrowboat, especially a single-handed one?

Or maybe some sort of huge balloon could inflate to take up one side of the lock rather like those things you get to save water in a toilet cistern. Just think of all the water that would be saved in a lock!

Big wide locks keep you on your toesBig wide locks keep you on your toes

What’s that you say? Destroying the charm of the canal’s industrial heritage? Pah, I suppose you’re right. I’ll just have to buckle down and muscle up ... but first, another cup of tea with a jammy scone. Now that’s what I call civilisation.

Speaking of which, staying inside over the long winter months appears to have removed my canal manners. Walking down the Buckby flight a few days ago on a gorgeous sunny morning, there were all manner of other folk engaged in the same pursuit. Dog walkers, boaters, ramblers and others came by and ... horror ... I almost forgot to say hello or nod my head in cheery acknowledgement. It was as if I was living back in town where the head-down, don’t-make-eye-contact approach is compulsory. The shame!

Also shameful were the occasional bags of dog poo, carefully wrapped and tied but then left “hidden” behind a canal milepost. Who on earth does this? What mindboggling reasoning goes through their tiny heads? Take it away and bin it, you grotty vermin.

On a far more pleasant note, how lovely to meet one of the many roving canal traders during the walk. Somewhere about half way up the flight was The Cheese Boat, en route to Braunston and looking forward to having a new pram hood installed.

Big wide locks keep you on your toesBig wide locks keep you on your toes

We had a quick chat as the lock filled. It went something like this:

Me: “Ah, you’re the cheese boat!”.

CB: “Yes. What do you think we sell?”

Me: “Errr ... cheese?”

Looks like we made it to Niagara FallsLooks like we made it to Niagara Falls

CB: “Correct! You’d be surprised how many people ask, despite the big sign on the side.”

Me: “Blimey. What do you say to them?”

CB: “I tell them we sell bananas”

Now that’s exactly the kind of sarcasm I like so it set me in a chucklesome mood for the remainder of the stroll.

Braunston 5 milesBraunston 5 miles

At the bottom of the flight all the top gate paddles had been left up by a boat full of young lads, clearly novices on the canals. I know it was them firstly because they were the last boat through there and secondly because they left another one up further along as I walked past later. This I pointed out, along with the only half-closed gate, causing much argument between the crew as to who should have done it, why they hadn’t and what a numpty - their word - they were.

The errors would soon have been rectified by a handful of craft going the other way but it seemed reasonable to highlight the issue so that any future pound-draining incidents might be avoided. Better yet, it gave me the precious opportunity to “tut” loudly and shake my head wistfully in the manner of a mariner who’s been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. For a brief moment, I felt like a proper boater.

Diverting very slightly - but bear with me, there’s an admittedly tenuous link - a fortnight or so ago was my mum’s birthday. I took her to a pantomime in Worcester for a bit of a laugh. It was “Aladdin” in which, of course, our hero finds a cave full of treasure.

For boaters, Aladdin’s cave is surely “the chandlery”, its shelves stacked high with all manner of gleaming goods crying out to be purchased. There’s one at the bottom Buckby lock, next to Whilton marina so of course a quick visit ensued. It would be rude not to, having walked all that way.

The sun stayed low in the sky on this tripThe sun stayed low in the sky on this trip

Was I a magpie in a prior life or is every boater this drawn to shiny, glinting things even if they don’t strictly need them? New lamps for old! (LED, of course). Who of us doesn’t want yet another bilge pump? And surely every narrowboat deserves a new set of batteries?

Whoah! Put those down. There was no way I was walking back up the lock flight with three leisure batteries cradled in my arms though perhaps that would be just the muscle-building exercise I need for those aforementioned wide locks.

However, on the subject of bits and bobs for the boat and just before I finish for this month, regular readers of this column - if there are any - will surely be overjoyed to hear that my stove chimney now has a brand new lid and this time it’s been secured by two substantial jubilee clips.

Disappointingly, I can’t help but notice that these two supposedly stainless items seem already to be developing a fair bit of rust so quite how long chimney lid #4 will actually survive remains to be seen.

If such matters grip you with anticipation then be sure to follow my journeys online at or check that your subscription to Canal Boat is all up to date so you never miss a moment.


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