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. 

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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. 

Installing a boiler stove on a boat

So, the stove. 
You may have noticed I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post for quite some time… Truth to tell, it was probably the most painful project we have completed so far. Not least because so much was riding on it – having barely survived our first winter with the temperamental 25 year old diesel-guzzling monster boiler we inherited (rusted chimney and all), a good new multifuel stove installation was always going to be essential this time around – especially as our little bun was due deep in the darkest depths of January. 

First, we had to insulate the hull behind where the stove would go, as we wouldn’t have such easy access once the new stove and its gravity fed system went in. 

 The silver bubble wrap that was there (and still is throughout Most of the boat – HOW DID THEY SURVIVE?!)

  

 Exposing bare hull beneath the bubble wrap

The waterline. This freaked the Owl out to such an extent that he destroyed his hands on a particularly aggressive wire brush and oxide mission to achieve this:

  

Pretty hunh? Still fricking freezing though. Also note the late night lighting. Last winter was fun in so many ways! 

    The celotex going in between the ribs, panel by panel

 All the saloon walls propped up in our bedroom. Note the baby basket and surrounding mess – next post: our new bedroom / nursery shelves!

Cue: much cursing as the Owl mastered the dark art of spray foam and got it all over the floor in the process (no photos here as I was too busy being annoyed…)

Our next ‘interesting’ (read: MAD) decision was to make the tiles for the hearth. We made them, but they took about two months longer than anticipated (squeezing in evenings and weekends around full time jobs and being pregnant) and didn’t all turn out amazingly (sadly I’m even worse at glazing than I thought I was).  

  The Owl, helping out one Saturday afternoon.

  Checking how many tiles fit on a top loader kiln shelf 

The start of the process: cutting and finishing new tiles

   Some trial layouts at the greenware stage 

Still, we got there, and found these great tilers on Check-a-Trade to come and install them. They thought the tiles were so great that one of them subsequently went and did an introductory pottery class at my old studio, Turning Earth in Hoxton! So that made me happy. 

   
   
Sadly there is no check-a-trade for boats. God, how I wish there was.  Instead, of the 16 boat yards we emailed last summer about installing the superduper-all-singing-all-dancing stove we’d chosen, only two got back to us. And only one of them wanted to do it.  And they rinsed us.

I still don’t know where we went wrong here, and I’ve been chewing over it for months now. We probably shouldn’t have bought the stove until we’d found an installer who knew what they were doing, and we should have allowed a (now standard for all our outsourced boat work) 3 month contingency for any setbacks, delays and let downs. 

The stove we chose is a Charnwood Cove 2B (model: Cove, size: 2, B = with a back boiler). 

Here it is on its plinth at Christmas, awaiting insulation and installation:

   

The Charnwood Cove 2B is, according to the lovely and knowledgable guy at the Kings Worthy foundry whose idea it was in the first place*, the “Rolls Royce of stoves” – which unfortunately meant that having bought it, we couldn’t find anyone who knew how to install it on a boat. 

Not that that stopped the guys we ended up with giving it a go. Normally you’d find a load of local corgi(?) registered installation engineers and pick one. But because we live on a boat, house rules do not apply and these guys wouldn’t touch it – we needed someone who could install it to the BSSC standard instead. 
So to cut a long story short, a installation job that started in October was finally completed in the first week of January to dubious standard, and destroyed all that remained of our renovation budget.  Suffice it to say we did not part on the best of terms with our contractors – BUT at least we got it installed, it’s still working despite a few frustrating hiccups that we think we’ve mostly mastered, and the boat was toasty and warm by the time I went into labour.  

Look, here it is!  And this makes us so happy it makes up for all the preceding hullabaloo: 

  Note: my beautiful new Christmas coal scuttle and fire irons 

So, we got there eventually, and we love it – it’s transformed our home in winter into a cosy den we don’t want to leave.  And it’s such a great, dry heat that our port lights don’t drop condensation any more, even in the depths of winter when we’re drying washable nappies on the rack overnight. 

#winningatlife

* NB: We didn’t buy it from him – on his recommendation – so I believe him,and will forever think kindly of him.

Why I Live On A Boat

Various people have asked us in the past few months what we plan to do about living on a boat with a baby – especially given I’m due in the icy depths of winter – or if it’s a phase we might grow out of any time soon. The short answer is: we’re staying. It’s not a phase, people have raised kids on boats for many, many years before we came along, and we’re staying.

So although I can’t speak for the Owl, I thought I’d explain my side of it, given it was my big idea in the first place.

Remember when you were little and your parents said you could be anything in the world you wanted? And as you grew up you saw photos of rock stars, artists, astronauts in the media and each one struck a chord for the sheer fun and excitement of waking up every day and being that person and you thought: Maybe… And then after a few years you realised … Probably not, and modified your expectations in line with your A’ Level options and whatever your first forays into the dreaded “work experience” had taught you by then (tea, anyone?).

When the time came to face the real world in earnest, despite everyone around you’s best efforts you felt unprepared and vulnerable; you applied for anything and everything going – even the jobs the idea of which made a small piece of you die inside – and hell, maybe you even worked with pop stars and actors for a bit, and as a matter of fact it was quite fun and exciting… Until you realised that, actually, it was also quite shallow and phoney, and perhaps it was time to grow up. To accept the real world in all its tarnished glory, and hope you’d be rewarded with something perhaps less glittery but more substantial. To learn that basically life is about putting one foot in front of another, every day, come rain or shine.

So where does that leave you? You land a job you can actually see yourself making a career out of, and you try to make the best of every step, right?

Problem is, it’s tough to keep searching for the silver lining.

For me, it quickly descended into trudging to work every day on dirty grey pavements littered with chewing gum, wondering if the gas man was ever going to call back about fixing the oven because I’d really like another baked potato before I die; panicking because my boss suddenly had changes to the press release that was signed off to go out yesterday, wondering what it was I had to do next to make it a little further up the ladder of career comfort and stability. And then going home, watching an episode or two of something fun but forgettable with a glass of wine and a bite of supper, off to bed and do it all again the next day.

I hate pavements.

Given how much our daily happiness depends on it, the silver lining really shouldn’t be so hard to find.

And beside the fact that I just love being near water – any water – I find that waking up somewhere a little bit special every day lifts my soul, makes me smile, keeps me interested in the little daily mundanities which are an irrefutable fact of life.

There seems to be a trope doing the rounds at the moment about how happiness is the journey not the destination. I say “at the moment”: I think Buddha started it.

And in the last few years, I’ve taught myself to love those little mundanities; those big, “Are you seriously telling me that THIS is IT?!” questions that plagued my early twenties and saw me hellbent on a hedonistic quest for satisfaction of any kind no longer phase me. I can honestly say I love my life.

One of the major reasons for that is the fact that I have portholes and A MASSIVE ANCHOR.

Last night we slept to the sound of rain hammering down on the deck above our heads, and woke to a world washed clean: the river sparkled, the decks shone, the sky was high and clear and the swans were preening themselves on the upturned tub opposite.

I’m not saying the pavements aren’t still a daily part of my life, but my doorstep is a gunwale I have to step off over the river before I reach them (don’t get me started on the vocabulary. We have a foc’s’le for god’s sake: the only word I’ve ever come across with not one but TWO and occasionally, depending on who’s in charge, THREE apostrophes! It’s completely ridiculous. I can’t even begin to explain how happy this makes me.) One of my household chores comprises pushing the driftwood out from between ours and our neighbour’s boat with a long stick.

It’s FUN, and occasionally when the wind gets up, it’s even quite EXCITING. I don’t need to be a rock star, or an artist or an astronaut. Living on a boat does it for me.

Sorting out the Saloon and Other Bits and Pieces

Remember how hot it was 2 weeks ago? 29.5 degrees in the shade – we checked. We checked AFTER we had the excellent idea to take delivery of the most enormous piece of furniture it’s possible to fit – just – through the dog box hatch in the roof, and entertain ourselves by attempting to construct it in the midst of the most blood-boiling heat Barking has seen in recent memory.

Great idea. Let’s do that.

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Actually it wasn’t that bad. We got it in easily (by “we” I obviously mean “he”). The delivery men were charming: “Now I can say I’ve delivered everywhere, ho ho. ”
All the pieces were there in all the right quantities.
And the wind picked up a delightful breeze just before the heavens opened, which dropped the temperature by a significant and much appreciated 0.5 degrees.

I don’t have many pics of ‘before’ because it was depressing me too much but here are a couple (me with god daughter in foreground):

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So… Yep. You get the gist.
Here it is post construction. I need to paint the walls white (currently a grubby cream gloss) so the lamp casts less of a toxic sodium glow on proceedings, but we’re getting there…

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Certainly the urgent objective of providing a reasonably comfortable place to sleep for J’s incoming parents was met, although it’s a shame we weren’t sufficiently organised to sort the captain’s cabin in time which would have been even better. Still, you try doing this on top of demanding full time jobs and see how you get on!

On top of which we recently discovered I’m pregnant (cue: astonishment/ confusion/ mass hysteria) which is awesome in many ways, but also means I can no longer wield toxic paint around the decks with gay – or indeed any – abandon at all. So that’s stalled too.

In other news, the tiles are coming along nicely. 55 cut ready for finishing:
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Ready for firing:

20140721-085108-31868317.jpg Fired:

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Now I’ve just got to work out how to glaze them.

Finally, my dad has been making amazing progress on our beautiful-but-parlously-neglected-to-the
-point-of-rotting beehive hatch on the back deck, so there will be a post on that soon as it’s the only project recently that has been started and – nearly – finished…

Oh, and we bought a dinghy! I’m in love. She needs a little bit of tlc but she came with a pair of oars and her own little outboard motor, and I cannot wait to take her for a spin and inspect the river from a swan’s eye view. We just need to work out how to get her off the (very high) quayside and into the (very low) water. Hmm.

Long Time No Speak

Oh HI THERE, everybody.
There are lots of reasons why posts have been a bit thin on the ground of late, but suffice it to say we’re back, and after a minor but much needed hiatus (summary: “Why did we leave Hackney/ What were we thinking/ This is really hard/ Actually it’s still way more interesting than pavements/ Hello again, Calm and Happy Place”) we’re making progress on the boat again.

Full posts will follow on the excitement of the new water tanks, the never-ending story that is the deck painting, how to strip out and restore a porthole, and many other such delights.

In the meantime however, this is what evenings afloat look like these days:

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Like our new deck colour? It’s looking a little shady blue here but it’s generally a very light pearly grey. We LOVE it. I especially love how it changes colour in different lights. Here it is in full sun:

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And THIS is the joy we came home to on Sunday after a wedding weekend, feeling a little the worse for wear:

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The best possible news. And SEVEN of them! Having watched helplessly as their lost and laden nest disappeared on an outgoing tide two months ago – and commiserated with Dick for the weeks subsequent as he hung out on the orange tub and tried to give Liz space to get over it – turns out we know sweet Fanny Adams about swan domestics and during their “time apart” she was actually nesting.

Here’s the nest in case you missed it – much more magic now it’s not so tragic. Three cheers for the Taylor-Burtons!

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Moving the Barge from Cuxton to Barking

The irony was not lost on us when we realised, a little over two weeks ago, that having regrettably alienated many of our friends and family during months and months of fastidious effort to keep our diaries clear for The Move, the date we ended up with turned out to coincide with the only exception we’d allowed ourselves: tickets to see the hottest show in town this year, The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre (if you haven’t seen it, book tickets and go immediately).

So Monday last week was always going to be a bit of a hoo-ha, but there was nothing to be done; we packed our overnight kit and sleeping bags on Sunday night, took them to work on Monday, fell out over the time I took to arrange a cool bag and ice packs at work for our picnic, cutting it excitingly close to get to the theatre in time and check all our clobber into the cloakroom – INTERMISSION while we howled our socks off for 2.5 hours – then we pegged it out of the theatre astonishingly early enough to catch the 10.25pm HS1 train from St Pancras International, on which we had a much-needed but still-slightly-grumpy sandwich from the Picnic Box of Contention before arriving at Strood at 11 and jumping in a pre-booked taxi to Cuxton where we were met by R at approximately 11.10pm and invited to rest our heads for a couple of hours before preparing for departure at high tide, around 2am.

We made it! so this, then, was strictly-speaking our first ‘night’ on board. Albeit just 2.5 hours long.

At 2am I bounced out of bed (yes, really) to be greeted with a hot cup of sweet black tea by our crew for the trip: R (our broker) and P (his friend and colleague who had been the crew coming from Holland and also the key holder and general source of all knowledge all those times we hauled ass to Kent in the past few weeks.) Between them they have decades of experience and vast volumes of knowledge on all things boat, so we were in good hands.

At 3am, we cast off. P did the first hour at the wheel to get us over and around the worst of the Medway’s mudbanks, and then the Owl took over, like this:

20130717-193734.jpgCool, huh? Admittedly Sheerness Power Station helped with the drama… Although I maintain most things look dramatic at dawn, especially when you’ve only had 2.5 hours’ sleep and a poxy sandwich the night before. Here is a wonky Sheerness landscape:

20130717-194027.jpgAnd here is us in the middle of it as the Sun Also Rises:

20130717-194441.jpg (Incidentally, I spent much of the trip finishing a fictional autobiography of Zelda Fitzgerald which had Ernest Hemingway down as a heinous, manipulative and misogynistic egotist. Somewhat ruins his writing for me, if true…) anyway, here’s a fast-forward to me reading it:

20130717-204132.jpgThose of you who made it all the way through my post on the Shipping Forecast a few weeks ago may remember a penchant for buoy names. This one’s is no exception – in fact I liked it so much, I’m considering promoting it to my new favourite insult:

20130717-211006.jpgAnd just for the hell of it, here’s another one. Can’t remember what the down arrows mean, but no doubt it’s very nautical and interesting.

20130717-230350.jpgI should mention that at some point between the Sun Also Rising and my tryst with Zelda, I hit a wall and went to lie down for a bit (ok: about 4 hours) which means I ‘felt’ rather than ‘saw’ the only real bit of sea proper we dealt with between the Medway estuary and the Thames. It was still fun though, rolling about with the big waves all wrapped up and dozy in my new cabin. By the time I woke up, the Owl had also succumbed and was snoring gently next to me; the sun was up, and the water looked just as big and brown as it had earlier.
More industrial buildings…

20130718-094213.jpg Lots of ships both big and small:

20130718-100108.jpg Hello, Gravesend. (It’s actually rather pretty, I rather liked Gravesend. Sadly on retrospect however I don’t think this is a picture of it… It’s too far away to tell)

20130718-100246.jpgHello London International Cruise Ship Terminal, you dilapidated monster of embarrassment, you:

20130718-100523.jpgHello, container ship.

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20130722-183953.jpgHALLO, CITY OF LONDON!

20130722-184626.jpgAt this point we realised we were actually going to be early (which felt kind of amazing given how achingly slowly we’d been going for the best part of 12 hours – we’d even slowed down at one point. That’s the magic of tides for you). We stopped on a chunky yellow mooring buoy in the middle of the Thames and tried to think up all the questions we might want to ask the experts after they’d departed, and then about 45minutes later we set off again, into the jaws of this bad boy:

20130722-191112.jpgThe Roding Flood Barrier. A bit like passing under a guillotine, though of course we’re not in France which was some consolation.

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20130722-191558.jpgAnd then we were on the home straight – the view back was like this:

20130722-192814.jpgand this lay ahead:

20130722-192957.jpgjust kidding. That was on the east bank, along with loads more industrial sites. The river ahead looked like this:

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20130722-213021.jpgActually there was the most horrendous stench around about now which I later realised was an enormous – and I mean ENORMOUS – sewage plant on the west bank (to port, if you will). So mostly we stuck with the industrial view and tried not to imagine we were entering the Bog of Eternal Stench…

20130722-213150.jpgAfter a few more bends…

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20130722-214302.jpg…and under the A13 (this is evidently NOT the QE2 Bridge as originally stated which looks like this . Not sure where that red herring came from to be honest, but in case you’re interested: the QEII bridge is  apparently the only bit of the M25 that’s not actually the M25 because it’s privately owned and thereby gets demoted back to an A-road for those few metres)

20130722-214413.jpg… we found ourselves approaching The Barking Barrage…

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And lo! The ode to Mondrian which marks our corner…20130722-221538.jpg

And then here we have ourselves a barrage. Kind of like a lock, but with only one set of doors, a special little dude from the council to open them, no gates, and a weir to the left. Sorry: PORT. And we’re going in… 20130722-221723.jpg

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This is what high tide looks like when it hasn’t rained for a while: 20130722-222159.jpg

And suddenly here we were, waving to the first of our neighbours like we were the Spirit of Chartwell, only a bit less damp…20130722-222340.jpg

this likely looking gap has had our name on it since May, so we just needed to get down the end, turn around and come back, past all our new neighbours, watching to see how we did. Which wasn’t intimidating at all.20130722-222425.jpg

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so basically they’re amazing: a more colourful motley crew of piratical, remade fantastical floating inventions I’ve never seen. Together they look like how you might imagine the cast of the Wacky Races on a boating holiday… Although up close they all make perfect, if sometimes slighty eccentric, sense. For a second, I felt slightly boring with our trad, safe Luxemotor… And then we moored up in our final spot and our eyes rested for the first time on the view. We have a folly! And a timely reminder to know your limitations. This will do us very nicely for now, thanks. Hello Fresh Wharf, thank you for having us. We’re very happy to be here.
And I am unspeakably pleased to have finally finished this interminable post. 20130722-222829.jpg