Battening down the hatches, and other tips for winter survival

We’ve had a couple of named storms so far this autumn, of course, so I thought I’d acknowledge them and offer a few suggestions for the theme of bad-weather boating.

Living in a simpler way means more exposure to the elements- there’s no getting away from that. Being responsible for your own heating and lighting mean that as simple a thing as forgetting to stock up on logs, paper, kindling or coal can leave you shivering- so it’s useful to have blankets around as well! I’ve mentioned elsewhere about the solar panels on Dreams not quite keeping up with the battery maintenance- at this time of year, after Samhain, when we are into the dark days, we’re obviously using the batteries more for light while at the same time drawing less power from the sun to charge them. I’m writing this on a really grey day, knowing that when I get home I’ll have to run the batteries for a good couple of hours to both charge the batteries and to heat the water. Lots of people have generators and if you have higher power consumption- running a telly, say- that’s certainly a good idea.

On my list of things to do is obtain a large jerry-can to fill with diesel, so that I can fill the tank right up again once we get into the marina and plug into shore power, without having to spend a day physically taking the boat to the oil place (half a day’s navigating away, and the same back again). It’s recommended to keep the tank topped up because it reduces the possibility of condensation forming, contaminating the fuel, and increasing the risk of diesel bug.

I also need to get the stove serviced. It wants new fire bricks and the baffle on the door is a bit broken and comes off at times. One mystery- perhaps you can help- is why some wood burns really hot, so hot we have to turn it right down; while another burn will be really cool, even with the draft right up and burning fiercely. Last night was a cool-burning night, while wood from the same load the night before burned very hot. Mystery.

So most people keep their stoves in with coal. I haven’t, yet- it’s been quite mild, and we’re usually out and about during the day- but I will do, so a few bags of coal are a key requirement. Then there’s the wood store. I do prefer wood- usually I find it easier to light, because I don’t like using firelighters, and it’s carbon-neutral. Of course, coal as a primary domestic fuel isn’t as harmful as using power generated by a coal-fired power station (secondary domestic fuel) but it’s still, in the words of a Twitter user, filling this atmosphere with pollutants from the Jurassic atmosphere. I think as long as we can avoid keeping the stove in, or can maintain a good supply of wood, I’ll try to do that rather than using coal a lot.

In the bedrooms it does get cold at night. A hot-water bottle is nice, to warm the sheets before you get in. Thick wool socks, leg warmers, and warm pyjamas are also important! I have a feather duvet and Boat Girl has a wool one (a baavet 🙂 ) and we’re both toasty at night. We have blankets available for extra layers as required.

What else? Don’t forget to add anti-freeze to the coolant tank in the engine. Wipe your window frames in the mornings, to dry the condensation before it can soak into the wood. Get decent thick curtains. Be prepared to feel damp if you don’t have a fire going. Tie your belongings down in high winds, and make sure your fenders are sound. The boat will bump and creak and your ropes will slacken off as the water levels rise or fall. Use chains rather than pins. Set aside time to do your prep, to lay the fire, run the engine, fetch drinking water if you don’t use your tank. When it’s a still day, do the jobs that need you to move the boat (like fill the water tank, or pump out). Get used to switching lights off that you aren’t using.

We’re out much later than we were last year but when we move next weekend I’ll take us in. It’ll be nice not to have to run the engine but to have hot water on tap. A bit of luxury for the darkest of days.

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