Ever dreamed of a life afloat? Lodger wanted

Our beloved Hannah is moving on to conquer the world, and so we find ourselves at once heartbroken and in need of a new lodger for our captain’s cabin from January.

It’s one of my favourite spaces on the boat, for the facts that you can see the river on three sides with have extra light from the beautiful beehive hatch in the ceiling my dad restored; it’s two steel bulkheads and a separate staircase away from the rest of the boat so very peaceful and private; and we had the conversion from office to cabin professionally done by a friend of a friend who is so busy he’s booked 2 years ahead but squeezed us in because he likes boats.

He even managed to reuse much of the tropical ironwood from elsewhere on board to make the beds, which alongside the walnut desktop make the whole space feel so warm… and don’t get me started on the mini stove, and the idiosyncratic new en suite loo the Owl installed where the captain’s original ropey old sea loo used to be.  It’s truly romantic.

Anyway before I get carried away, I’ve always slightly wished we could live in there but the Owl is exceptionally tall with an unfortunate habit of bumping his head on things, so it’s best we don’t. Not least as it frees up the space for someone new to come and discover this magical way of life!

Pros – come and have a look if:

  • You like ducks. Or geese, or swans, cormorants, grebes, wagtails, herons or a variety of seagulls (hm), all of the Nature along the Thames path or growing in The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the occasional seal or dolphin
  • You’re freelance, or just like the sound of a 1hr max commute to most places in London
  • you like peace and quiet, preferably with a mug of hot coffee watching the sun rise on the river
  • You have a spirit of adventure that flares at the thought of spontaneous kayak trips
  • You have a romantic soul that yearns for red wine, sunsets and real fire (fire pit in summer, wood burning stoves in winter)
  • You love vibrant London, but hate its anonymity and can’t fathom the lack of community despite everyone living right on top of each other. You’d like to live somewhere the neighbours all genuinely enjoy each others’ company and regularly borrow quantities of sugar/ tomato puree/ cavolo nero (just kidding. We are in Kew though, so given half a chance…)

 

Cons – it’s probably not for you if:

  • Manicures and high heels are an indispensable part of your daily life
  • You’re susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis
  • You really don’t like kids
  • You like to be surrounded by the sounds of a city
  • You don’t like space
  • The sight of rowers sculling past your sunlit lounger is enough to put you off your G&T

 

Full album of photos below, and advert with more details to follow in next post.

Please share, forward, repost, bring up at your next dinner party/ night out – even if it’s not for you, we’re looking for a needle in a haystack so we need all the help we can get!

captain’s cabin ad Oct 2017

 

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room with a view. or a view with room

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the captain’s cabin

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a recent visitor

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summer

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slack water, high tide, summer sunset

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summer

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the saloon – our main living space

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the Beast – our multifuel stove with backboiler

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autumn

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Our patch of Thames

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dining area… (the table has grown since)

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after the rain

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barging past the houses of parliament

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the wheelhouse AKA the hallway AKA my pottery table

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lunch party

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the Palm House at Kew – especially good for a hangover

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the Princess Diana Conservatory is 10mins walk from our door

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we sometimes need wellies to get to the pub

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summer

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Sunrise from the heads

A PDF of the Captain’s Cabin Ad – if you or someone you know might be interested.

 

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Onwards and Upwards: creating “more space” on a boat

This may be more frustrating than continued silence as I’m probably going to write this and then disappear for another 2 years, but hey ho – it’s my blog, so…

I delivered our second Bun just over a month ago – a beautiful little boy called Sasha who we are all entirely in love with.  How’s that for a status update?! 

He arrived reluctantly, 15 days overdue and with copious persuasion – the only merit to which was the extra time it afforded the Owl and I to complete this summer’s hugely ambitious DIY project.  Silver linings… 

But first a little catch-up:

Life at Kew is as beautiful as we’d dreamed – not for us any wistful glances back to Barking sunsets over Tesco carpark, oh no.

These days we have a beautiful Siberian larch deck made by the Owl’s own fair hand (last summer’s hugely ambitious DIY project), that faces West into a sunset over an uninterrupted skyline of river and the trees of Lots Ait (apparently built by “Princess Augusta” when she took up residence in Kew Palace, to save her Royal sensibilities from having to confront the realities of life in Brentford. We learned from one of the passing tour boats this summer that Brentford was the biggest slum in Europe at one point. Fact.) 

Anyway: the upshot is a view the likes of which I suspect you’d be pressed to find  anywhere else in London.   We love our neighbours, the local area is ridiculously pretty (like a scene from JP Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953) which has one of the best opening lines for a novel ever: “The past is a different place; they do things differently there,”) and we’ve been slowly building on the advantage of a slightly older Bun to get on with more boat improvement jobs in the last year or so, after a hiatus of about 18months.   We are ridiculously lucky.

So: onto today’s post. Obviously “more space” on a boat is something of an oxymoron, so curb your expectations accordingly please, before I begin…
It was the subject of much hilarity when I gave the Owl a joinery course of all things for his 40th in December last year. Despite my protestations that it was his own request (and for the record, I gave him a wine course too – with strict instructions that they were not to be practiced concurrently) we have yet to find anyone who doesn’t collapse into gales of laughter at the self serving nature of my present… But whatever, I Am Not Sorry.  Check out the acoustic-insulated stud wall and cabin bed he’s just built! 

A bit more back story quickly first: 

It was something of a surprise to discover at the start of the year that I was pregnant again.  Cue: wondrous amazement all round, after which the Owl immediately began worrying about his sanity/ sleep potential.  He concluded that the only solution was to build a new bedroom for Sadie so she didn’t wake up every time the new baby so much as squawked and expedite our conversion back into zombies. 

Roll on 9+ months – 41+5 to be precise – and I find myself urgently painting new walls around my vast belly, perched perilously on one of Sadie’s miniature chairs, listening to This American Life with a hot water bottle strapped to my lower back. I love these walls.  I didn’t know it was possible to love a wall but these walls are fantastic. 
The plan was to build an identical wall to our existing bedroom wall 2m into the living room, creating a box room and an alcove between the two, and that’s exactly what we did. The impact on the living room has been minimal as the sofa was already pulled “forward” to create a play space for Sadie behind it, so we’ve only really lost a couple more feet and the daylight from the port lights – but look at our new spaces! And look how nice and shiny white/ freshly painted they are – after four years of hideous stained yellow/ cream high gloss, it finally feels like this is a grown up space to enjoy being in (rather than suffer the usual low levels of angst every time I looked up).

So without further ado, here’s the latest project in photos.   Enjoy – and hopefully see you in less than another couple of years! 

Constructing the wall (the Owl’s bit):
‘Before’ shot – so light! So roomy! I think this was before even the stove went in, so before Bun #1 even…

Partially constructed main wall from the doorway to the Bun’s new room.

Completed wall awaiting half its ply topcoat before painting.

The acoustic rockwool insulation packed between both chipboard and ply layers on either side of the wall  (it pays at times like this to be married to a sometime sound engineer…). 

Clever right?! He got the curve of the ceiling so neat by clipping the metal frame at regular intervals so that it could follow the line. It looked very neat and impressive. 
Build done, it was on to the fun bit (for me) – decorating.

Saloon side decor:

Primed, painted and ready for hanging (and stories with H in the meantime)

I’ve long had one of those invisible book shelves and been desperate to use it. This is my chance! So here is the weight of books it can take (titles to be confirmed but these are all helpfully of a theme (from my Old Icelandic/ Anglo Saxon/ Middle English degree modules. Happy memories…!)

Painted living room wall with first gallery pics hung (a Josephine Baker print from one of those left bank street vendors in Paris, and our stunning Ansel Adams wedding present from the Owl’s mum&dad, in case you’re wondering…)

And finally, all finished. Still no invisible bookshelf, you will note. Despite excellent layout planning (with paper templates for all my frames and everything), I somehow managed to forget about the bloody thing. O well. Its time will come.

On to the other side: Sadie’s New Room.

The original inspiration for Sadie’s cabin bed was something like this.  Then I found an Ikea hack ‘how to’ using a £250 chest of drawers, which we hacked again (META) to use a couple of chests we found at a charity shop in Brentford. Win!

Bed build complete (ish) – mid paint on the cabin bed and wall

Rainbow WIP. I was originally going to go for the full spectrum, then simply blue and yellow (oddly too cold) but these colours are just me all over, I love them. Simultaneously warm and cool… The paint is all Little Greene, the blue is their Juniper Ash. I Heart It.

 The client inspects work in progress

From the saloon doorway facing our cabins and the bow… 

 

Trying out her new bed, which the Owl cleverly made to be the exact same size of an Ikea kids standard mattress

Completed: craft corner

Finished! 

Man Overboard

In stark contrast to my last post about the hottest days of last summer, it’s currently the coldest it’s been all winter. Which admittedly isn’t saying much, but putting it into context, it’s now 7.40am and 0 degrees (“feels like -4”).
Imagine then my shock, when I nipped out onto the pontoon at 6pm last night to turn the water off to hear a quiet, “help” from the river.  I barely heard it but I peered into the icy gloom and was horrified to spot an upturned scull (thank god it was white) with a woman holding on for grim life as the tide whisked her out towards the sea. Man, that river can move. 

To be honest, I didn’t know what to do for a second – I was so surprised. It was FREEZING. It was a seriously serious situation. I yelled down the pontoon to the guys who thankfully were still on the marina working on the black water pump/tank installation, who stationed themselves on the outside of boats further downstream to try to catch her. 
The life ring at our end was tied on against the wind – “textbook fail”, I thought – it was like being in a thriller – but fortunately it was just hitched and I got it to the first guy on Volharding before she went past. We missed. 
The next guy was already on Seahorse waiting, so a couple of us grabbed another ring and ran down to the very stern, shouting for an ambulance and to call ahead to Kew Pier in case we missed her again. Thankfully Stuart caught her from his position on Seahorse and pulled her onto the roof. 

She only had one oar – we later learned the other had snapped up by Brentford lock and she had been stuck in her boat caught in branches for half an hour as the sun went down before something gave (tide or branch) and released her, and she tipped over into the river and started moving – we estimated she must have been in the river for half an hour or so. Fortunately she is 17 and super fit, and pragmatic enough to keep her head and as much of her body out of the water as she could, holding onto her upturned boat. She didn’t even get her hair wet!  I was humbled by her dignity – she very nearly died. 
We quickly decided our boat was the warmest and helped her back up along the pontoon and inside Maria Elisabeth. Thank god our friend J was here and doing a sterling job entertaining Sadie, who by this point should have been in her bath and on her way to bed but instead was still in her highchair eating blueberries and yoghurt and giggling. 
Meg was shivering so hard she could barely speak, but she knew what she was about and knew her mum’s mobile which we called as we got her out of her icy things and into dry warm clothes, made her hottie bottles and hot sweet tea, and installed her as close to the open door of the fire as we could without singeing her. 
Her coach arrived – the poor guy had been scouring the river trying to find her since he’d seen her boat was missing from the clubhouse, and finally found it empty on our mooring and thought the worst. He must have gone past her a couple of times in the dark which is a scary thought. Her mum had called him, demonstrating the value of a crisis comms plan (as my BBC days drummed into me!)
The RNLI arrived, who were as great as ever. She warmed up, the club’s safety officer turned up. The Bun’s bath was cancelled. 
It was all incredibly dramatic, and not in a fun way: once everyone had finally gone their ways and I’d got the Bun to bed, I acknowledged my headache and descended into a migraine. I haven’t had one since the junior doctor tried to make me go cold turkey on the dihydrocodene in hospital when I had Sadie: Not. Good.  
I have no photos – obviously, but a pity for you as it was v dramatic – so you are dependent on my powers of description. Go crazy. I’ve been up since 4am so I’m going back to bed. 

Barging up the River Thames DAY ONE: BARKING TO GRAVESEND

Well that was quite the cliff hanger, wasn’t it?! 

I would say I’m sorry, but I’ve been enjoying every moment with the Bun and it’s been heavenly, so… 
Casting my mind back with a wrench to those halcyon days of summer, and the 1st July which was if you remember, the hottest day of the year. 

  
Because Life is a little tinker who never misses an opportunity to make a point, not only did she introduce us to one of our favourite new families of 2015 two months before we left Barking; but they turned up to wave us off bringing The World’s Best pastel de nata from a glorious little Portuguese cafe around the corner that we never knew existed. Still, the cakes were nice.

  

After an ever-so-slightly anxious moment leaving Fresh Wharf where we cast off before the tide was high enough to open the barrier and had to hover midstream against a minor current until the gates parted (don’t know if you’ve ever tried to do that but it’s almost impossible), we were off. 

   

  
    
 
  
 
   

  

  

  

            
I couldn’t quite believe it, to be honest.

 There was an amazing moment of stillness as we meandered down Barking Creek through slack water towards the Thames, basking in the sun as we left the industrial estates, scrap yards and sewage works behind us and all those niggling little weights that had accumulated over the past two years slipped gently one by one from my shoulders and plopped into the water.  It was a glorious feeling to be under way – in our very own boat, heading for an incredible mooring, on such a beautiful day, with two fantastic days of boating on the finest river in the world ahead of us. I’m sorry if that reads as smug – it’s not intended. We couldn’t believe our luck. 

On board were: 

– Us and the Bun

– My mum (who’s been with us all the way since that first trip to Holland and wasn’t going to miss this for anything)

– Our skipper Edward and his wife Pamela, and their friend and engineer Carlo

– Our good friends and longtime partners-in-mischief Tom and Sophie joined us for day 2

         
 

We turned left at the Thames and headed out into the estuary and the commercial reach of the river. My god but it’s wide. Obviously – but you don’t often get to see it from the middle like that… And bumpy! 
The Bun wasn’t phased however – she proved her mettle as a true-born boat baby and slept solidly all the way down to Gravesend. 

         

 

After two peaceful, uneventful and wholly satisfying hours, it felt as if Gravesend came upon us rather quickly.  But there we were, and as we all cooed and marvelled at the swans (“Swans! Loads of them! In the sea!”), our skipper expertly manoeuvred us into the place he’d reserved on the pontoon at the end of the pier as the last of the tide ebbed away, and we gathered ourselves to go to the pub. 

 
  
 

Except it wasn’t the right pier. 
It looked a bit grubby and neglected  I grant you, but we only really started to smell a rat when there appeared to be no way off the pier except by pre-approved vandalism (is vandalism still vandalism if you’re given permission?)

 
  

Sure enough, it soon transpired that the PLA pier was the next one upstream, and we were going to have to try and get ourselves off our now distinctly shallow berth and onto the right one. Which in its favour had a very nice-looking pub easily accessible just at the top of it. 
In our excitement we had failed to realise the following useful fact:  to contact the PLA whilst navigating the Thames, use call sign LONDON VTS and vhf channel 14 (West of Crayfordness) OR vhf channel 68 (East of Crayfordness). All that time we’d been patting ourselves on the back on the wrong pier, they had been trying to reach us on VHF68 to no avail… Awkward.
To cut a long story short, it culminated not only in a snapped jackstaff and the PLA having to rescue us with a very powerful tug, but further in a sternly worded letter of reprimand which we received just last week (I take some small consolation in the knowledge that the PLA are evidently as inefficient at admin as I am). The nice harbourmaster did give us a useful map though which is now stuck to the bathroom wall for us to memorise while we’re brushing our teeth:

 

So. Live and learn. Duly chastened, we did eventually make it off the pier and into the pub, before bunking down ahead of our Big Day still to come. Hopefully I’ll get to that bit a bit faster, because it was genuinely EPIC. 

Catastrophe

As you know, I have a six month old baby. She is the best Bun in the world – she sleeps like a dream, she eats like a horse, she beams at everyone she comes across but especially at me: she’s great. I do have the odd moment of feeling completely knackered and ever so slightly over it, but by and large my life feels pretty perfect these days – I am actually Living the Dream and I think I might be the happiest I have ever been. 

So imagine my regret when I recently started to feel the odd twinge of nausea. 

Then I felt a bit dizzy. I had a bit of a headache. Over the course of a few days and a few more symptoms, I realised I might have a Situation. Hmmm.

The first pregnancy test was negative. I weighed the fact that it was impossible to tell whether I definitely had several other symptoms as they are also symptoms of / absent during breastfeeding (sore breasts, missed period, sore back), so I waited a week while the nausea and dizziness persisted and the Owl suffered a bout of my ill-humour, and did another one. 

Still negative. Hmmm. 

I reviewed the facts and checked my calendar. It started about three weeks ago. My main symptoms are occasional waves of nausea and dizziness. 

The dates coincide with our move up the Thames to our new mooring. It’s a busy stretch of the river, and fully tidal – I’ve really enjoyed spending so much time on board watching all the activity and being rocked about by the wind and the wake of the bigger boats going by, and by our own boat as she bottoms out twice a day. 

I have a mild case of sea sickness. 

Ha! 

Passage Plan up the Thames from Gravesend to Kew Bridge

This is the plan for tomorrow. I may regret saying this, but if you’re in Central London and free at lunchtime, come on down. I’ll post bridge updates as we pass them on Instagram @minkypink – proviso being, our boat has a whole load of gubbins on it so don’t judge us for being scruffy, we’re working on it and we’re in a better state than we were.  Also – photos please! 

WEDNESDAY 1st JULY 2015

06.30 Run engine and check systems.

LW G’End at 07.00

In slack water ease the barge out of berth. 

dep G’End by 08.00

G’End to Kew Bridge 34 m = 6 hrs @ 6 kts.
Tower Bridge c12.00

Hammersmith Bridge c13.30 (1.5 hrs before HW)
HW Kew Bridge 15.00

arr 14.00

Turn barge upstream of mooring and ease down into berth using the last of the rising tide to manouevre.

all secure by 15.00 (slack water)

A Burgee and a Jackstaff

Don’t worry, I had to Google them too. And I live here. 

Today’s the day!  I’ve got through the last week by trying to do a new thing every day. Yesterday I made a new burgee. 

To quote our lovely new skipper: 

“A small jackstaff (goes) at the bow with a small burgee, flag or anything that flutters – it shows the helmsman what the wind is doing to the bow. Ideally the jackstaff should be a fraction taller than the highest point of the ship. It allows you to approach a bridge with caution and shows whether you will get through. A broomstick will suffice.”

Don’t you worry Edward. We own both these items. We just didn’t know what they were called.  Also the burgee (or “burger” as predictive text would have it) was in a terrible state having been whipped to shreds by the wind over the last two years.  Anyone remember the punishing gales of winter 2013/14? You didn’t want to be our jackstaff in them, let me tell you. 

  

Our boat in profile, where you may or may not be able to see that the jackstaff is taller than the wheelhouse.

The Owl suggested a tea towel. I don’t want to sound petty but I am not motoring past the Houses of Parliament with a frigging tea towel flapping in the wind.  I may not know one end of an alternator from another, but I can sew a straight line on a sewing machine like you wouldn’t believe, so off I went. 
  Our embarrassingly tatty burgee

Do flags warrant dedicating? They feel like semi-official type things, so with that spurious link established, this one is dedicated to our friend Kacey who had never been on a boat before ours, and who got married two weeks ago to the equally marvellous Amy. 
Turns out that despite having fallen to shreds at one end, the other end of our old burgee was really well made. The fabric itself was 100% pure class plastic. I own a lot of fabric, but none as plastic as that. The first thing that came to hand was this 100% cotton Dutch batik I bought for Kacey and Amy’s wedding two weeks ago, so I traced out the flag with chalk, gave it an extra 2cm depth for the hem, and set to with the pinking shears. 
  I love this fabric
  

Here is the original burgee, mid-dissection. 

The fabric is sewn onto the string, and then the binding is sewn up and down it twice, with a neat little arrow formation at one end for luck. (I’m making that up. Presumably to stop it from tearing – in which case it was v effective, so I copied it.) 
 The string having been sewn onto the flag,  I sewed the flag into the binding


 My trusty Janome at approx 11pm last night
  Here it is finished (the sewing part)


  


Here it is being waxed.
 

Being 100% cotton, I’m not expecting it to last long – but obviously the longer the better, and waxing will help.  

  
And here it is up on its jackstaff.
And with that, with any luck, we’re off at 11.30am today, riding against the top of the tide down to the Thames and hanging left to overnight at Gravesend, practicing some manoeuvres on the way.  
If anyone is in central London around lunchtime tomorrow, come and give us a wave!  I’ll post our estimated timings tonight or first thing tomorrow, once the skipper has a feel for the boat and has revised his original guess.  

Today is our third wedding anniversary, and the Bun was 5 months old yesterday. The times, they are a’changin…