Spring has really sprung the last week or so. The crocuses are all but over, the daffs are looking lovely, and I haven’t needed to keep the fire in overnight or through the day for ages. (As a result I’m burning mainly wood at the moment.)
Sitting out out on deck of a morning or evening, I reflect on how lucky I am to have had this chance, to make this choice. It’s one I can’t imagine regretting. Even winter-those short days!- feels a long time ago.
The composting loo is working well. Not smelly, not arduous; and Single Mum has offered me a third share in an allotment, so compost heaps will soon be mine! A moment of composters’ humour: to accelerate the composting process, I was advised to turn and mix the contents of the bucket. As a result I can now say that I stir shit; and have a shitty stick that I wouldn’t touch things with 😂
However, once the Heap is created I suspect the buckets will simply be emptied directly, to break down naturally. A food waste compost heap will be created as well; I don’t envisage using the Heap on my strawberries or potato plants 😱😷
There are lots of jobs to do, apart from breaking into the overgrowth on the allotment. I swept the chimney last week, and cleaned the cratch, but the deck rail wants sanding and oiling, and I really must get around to the rust patches on the roof. However, the bottom is blacked and I’m told she is in good shape down there, so I am pressing on with the kitchen refit. Ideally I would swap all the living spaces around, but unless the lovely B can’t do the smaller job this spring, I think I will let that idea lie for now.
The marina is busy at weekends now, with people filling up, running engines, ‘tidying things up’ after the winter. The rubbish area is filled with evidence of cleaning and clear outs- I took another four bags of books and clothes to the charity shop. Everyone is eager to get out onto the canal. Me too- this summer I must get to the far end and I also want to do my shopping by boat!
I thought I’d link to this short film about the (ongoing) dispute between CTR and various groups of boaters. We’re leaving the marina for the summer (but we’re hoping to get back in for the winter!) so I’m keenly aware that I might struggle to move “15-20 miles” as that’s the length of the whole canal…
My own feeling is that CRT are on rather shaky legal ground, but of course so few people being pressurised have the funds to mount a challenge in the courts- and there is an argument to suggest that S8 notices are issued in a trickle for the very purpose of preventing people banding together to defend themselves as a class action.
There are also a couple of petitions doing the rounds- one about allowing boat children to stay in one area to attend school, and one to prevent the eviction of boat dwellers. Let’s not forget that S8 notices are designed for the removal of sunken or abandoned vessels- not people’s homes. Secondly, for most liveaboards, the boat is their home and their only real asset. Confiscation is a massive, massive step to take and it’s hard, in my opinion, to justify that move in the circumstances that we’re seeing in some of these cases.
We’ve had a few frosts this autumn but the real winter weather started yesterday, with overnight low temperatures down here of about -5°C. We woke to a stunning white world, frost coating every blade of grass. The following night was even colder and when I woke up this morning, the edge of my duvet was slightly damp where my breath had condensed onto it. We have had ice on the brass window frames once or twice, but this morning’s was most impressive.
We’ve not been cold in our beds; we are snug in warm cotton pyjamas and good duvets (feather for me, wool for Boat Girl) and have blankets on top, plus leg warmers for warming cold feet. In the mornings I usually get up first and throw a cardi or a fleecy hoodie over my pyjamas as I get out of bed- my cotton dressing gown is no match for these early temperatures! It doesn’t usually feel too bad getting out of bed, although this morning was a bit sharp, I must admit, and I hurried to grab my hoodie. Boat Granny recently finished making us some lovely new curtains, using the old ones as linings, and that’s a massive help because being so much thicker, they really cut out the draft. She’s even made us a door curtain and again, that’s made a huge improvement.
My first job is to riddle the fire and stoke it up- I bank it up overnight with coal, so in the morning it doesn’t need re-lighting and the saloon end of the boat doesn’t get too cold. That way it warms up again quickly in the mornings and also in the evenings. Sometimes I chuck on a few logs to ramp up the heat, but on work days I heap on more coal so that once we’re on the way out, I can just turn down the vent and leave it to burn low all day long. Our shoes stay down by the stove overnight, which helps with cold feet as we’re heading out for the day.
Boat Girl’s dad gave us an electric heater and that’s been a boon the last couple of mornings. Coming on for an hour at six, morning and evening, it takes the edge off the chill by her bed, and helps keep that end of the boat less damp-feeling as it starts to solve the problem of condensation on the metal and means the air isn’t too cold when she goes to bed, or when she gets up. It isn’t too expensive on the pillar, either; though I don’t know how it’ll run on the inverter. Hopefully over Christmas I’ll get to try it out on the cut and see how practical life will be living out there full time. Having said that, I’m glad of the facilities at the moment. We use the shower and the loos in the block here, saving our own water- pontoon water is off while the temperatures are so low- and we have shoreline electrics. My battery charger doesn’t seem to be charging the batteries at the moment so it’s all on the solar panels- and while they are doing well, the daylight is so limited just now that they can’t fully charge the batteries; we’re floating between 60 and 80% at the moment. Out there, we have no immersion so will still need to run the engine to heat water (and charge batteries) until I find a way around that problem.
In this cold weather I’m using more coal- lots more. Probably a sack a week, supplemented with logs. It’s still affordable when you offset that cost against the savings made by having no other utility bills to speak of*, no council tax and minimal rent (and that only for a berth in the marina; out on the cut, it would only be the annual cost of the licence). £11.30 is good for 25kg of Taybrite fuel. I’m sharing the logs with Boat Granny, so that’s another saving (a load is far cheaper than buying by the net, and free logs can be found in the woods; we cut them up and stack them together). I’m comforted that it’s a primary use of fossil fuels- our own heating and also some (quite a lot of) cooking. It’s more sustainable than using electricity generated by a coal-fired power station; and wood is carbon neutral, of course.
My second morning job is to get the coffee on, and then the porridge. Each evening I put Boat Girl’s school clothes near the fire so that they’re nice and warm for her to put on in the mornings. Pyjamas go there in the evenings, and towels hang there to dry. I need an enormous cup of coffee to start the day. Boat Girl often has hot chocolate and again, if I leave the kettle near the stove it makes boiling up in the mornings a quicker process.
Changing in this weather is done quickly. Bottom half, then top half. Boat Girl changes by the fire but I don’t because although we’ve curtains on the side windows, our front windows are currently open to the world! As a child I remember getting dressed under the bedclothes because I didn’t have a radiator in my attic bedroom (no, my parents didn’t make me sleep in a garret!) and it’s similar now. No hanging about. We shower in the evenings and put pyjamas on with a fluffy dressing gown (Boat Girl) or an old cardi or hooded top, and slippers, and sit by the fire for stories and cwtches before bed. It’s important to stay warm in the evenings, because warming up in a cold bed is hard if you’re already chilled. Our camping experience comes in handy for things like that! In the morning, a splash of super-chilled water on the face is great for waking you up!
On weekends, I have a day when Boat Girl is with her dad, and a day with her. On the day I’m alone, I do jobs like cleaning, filling the well, moving the boat to the pumpout station and so on. I make mental lists of jobs I’ve not got round to, like sanding down and rust-proofing those pesky patches on the roof and around the windows. “In the spring,” I think, recalling the drying advice on the tin of Jenolite… I also try to take time to admire our home, tidy it, and enjoy it. It’s pretty special and on mornings like this morning, it’s not hard to see why I still say I’m loving our boaty life.
*I’m still waiting for that gas bottle to run out. One day soon, one day soon… it’s been in place since 1st August! Undoubtedly it’ll go on a wet, dark day or night, when I really don’t want to wrangle with it and can’t do without it…
My gas stove seems to be quite efficient. The first full cylinder I used lasted exactly three months, and we cook every day. However I’ve changed the gas twice now, and it hasn’t been me in either case. As I’m expecting that soft ‘pht’ which heralds the emptying of the cylinder at any moment now (probably before 7am or after 5pm, when it’ll be dark and even more difficult to do), I thought I’d look at the problems inherent in The Gas Locker.
First of all, there’s the design of the gas cylinder. You open the connector using a special spanner, but you have to turn it the wrong way. They are inevitably tightly closed, so you need a lot of force to do this.
However, at this point the design of the gas locker comes into play. Ingeniously stored in the prow of the boat, it is nicely tucked away and doesn’t take up valuable space elsewhere.
That said, reaching inside means crouching over the hatch, perched precariously on the prow yourself. While you want to have a good purchase and use your weight to open the bolts, you can’t because of your strange position. You want to be on a level with the gas cylinder but you’d be in the water. So you have your knees under your chin, you’re balancing so as not to fall, and you’re trying to turn a screw that’s below the level of your feet.It’s a horrible task.
The string holds the gas spanner, so that it doesn’t get lost inside the locker. There’s room in here for three bottles, but having three makes it even harder to manipulate them when you want to change them over.
This is a strong reason for reversing the layout (more on that another time) because you could have the gas bottles on the deck at the stern.