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! 

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WEATHER

Spotted this headline the other night:

20140118-233036.jpg So it’s high time to talk: Weather.

We had bucketing rain on Thursday night plus three spring tides last week, besides (of course) all the ongoing gale force winds and rain since the end of October.

I remember exactly how long ago it all started because the Owl was in South Africa and I had to go outside at 5am in strong winds to bring the ladder up, which doesn’t feel any cleverer now than it did at the time.

Overall, we’re finding it pretty fun. Although also occasionally quite alarming, even with backup. Especially at 3am when there’s an enormous CLUNK below the waterline as some chunk of tree that fell in somewhere downstream crashes into our hull with the incoming tide, and proceeds to ricochet its way down the full length of our side.

Or at 5am, when you’re woken suddenly by a massive THUNK as some unidentified object falls over on deck (generally a forgotten bucket). Thanks for all your calls asking how we’ve been doing! It is mainly really fun though. I’m having a good time, at least. Honestly. I’m not kidding.

First: the rain.

This is an unusual position to take, but (notwithstanding the damage recent rain has caused to my compatriots), I personally have nothing bad to say about rain. I mean, seriously: where would you rather be when water levels are rising to record, barrier-breaking levels? (If you’re interested in some of the reasons for this incidentally, this Guardian report by George Monbiot is an eye-opener. WARNING: may incite political rage.)

To give you a guide comparison:

Here’s a reminder of the water level just past high tide on the afternoon we arrived here in July:

20140118-234706.jpgAnd here is the high point of the enormous spring tides a couple of weeks ago:

20140118-233641.jpgAnd this is the spring tide level against the quay wall – the highest any of the longer-standing residents I bumped into that morning had ever seen it:

20140118-233926.jpg … So high, we could see the topsides of most of the boats which never normally see daylight. There was some great porthole perving going on, let me tell you… I really want some portholes we can actually see the surface of the water out of. Not loads, but big ones. Maybe even a bit like this lovely red one on our neighbours’ noble ship:

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Incidentally, spring tides are not actually caused by lots of rain – but evidently where the two coincide it generally gets a bit exciting.

Here comes the science bit:

Spring tides happen twice a month every month when the sun, earth and moon align and the combined gravitational pull creates an extra surge on the earth’s water, but mostly we don’t particularly notice them – there’s typically a phase around about now when they get all exciting because of all the extra rain water going on.

Similarly, neap tides (the low ones) happen twice every month a week or so after the spring tides when the moon is at a right angle to the line of the earth and the sun, which we only really notice after a bit of a draught in the summer.

Anyway, my pros to rain are:

1) On an almost flat metal roof, rain sounds dramatic to the point of biblical. I love it. As long as you don’t have to go anywhere, there is nowhere more cosy (and smug) to be – especially if you have a stove (which we don’t. But we’re working on it.)

2) if you DO find you have to venture out (why would you? But, you know, assuming you do), it’s inevitably warmer or at least less wet than it sounds like it is from inside. Which is excellent management expectation in my view – undersell and over deliver – given you’ve already decided you need to go out in it.

The cons to rain are:
1) Stuff leaks. It does here, anyway. Portholes, skylights, doors, you name it, rain knows it – with occasionally surprisingly swift results (two inches overnight from one dripping porthole?!).

20140118-233333.jpgSuffice it to say: it’s a relief to have a decent variety of pots to hand.

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2) That’s it. I like rain. It’s wet, but generally less than expected. We are (mostly) waterproof. And thankfully, we float.

Next: the wind.
This one not so much: it sounds creepy. It bashes stuff about. Things disappear forever if you’re not very vigilant. It could actually do serious damage. Assuming your lines are secure, the rocking is fun – who knew a big boat like this on such a sheltered mooring would shake around so much?! I can only imagine how bouncy the boats down on the Thames have been. Fully tidal too… Yikes.

At one point during the storms a few weeks ago it was so severe I couldn’t sleep, so I went up into the wheelhouse around 1.30am to sit in the dark and watch. Our boat is heaviest towards the back (engine, tanks – makes for great manoevering, incidentally) and lightest at the front (where our cabin is). Looking up the length of the boat from the wheelhouse at the stern to the prow, I was amazed at how far and wildly up, down, diagonally and horizontally in no consistent order and without cease our bedroom was bouncing on wind so strong the waves were white. So THAT’S why we couldn’t sleep. Fair dos.

We’re moored to another boat moored to the quayside which keeps its ropes loose for just such extreme weather negotiations, so for extra spice in the midst of it all, we occasionally test our fenders with a firm smack together, as he soars out in one direction and we’re careening back in another.

This is all more fun to watch than to try to relax to – I definitely preferred the more rhythmic rocking of the North Sea when we moved up from the Medway on that front.

Third: the cold.
We’ve got off lightly so far this winter on the cold-front. There’s been no ice to speak of (apart from that freak shard last weekend); no slippery frosts to jeopardise our footing as we step carefully off and onto our deck at either end of each day. No frozen water pipes… We’ve lucked out. So far.

Nevertheless, we put chicken wire down along the gangplank over our neighbour’s boat for New Year’s Eve (a sticking plaster gesture on a much bigger problem – the thing is a death trap) and have so far apparently got away without any other precautions against the impending winter freeze (tbc).

The IBC tank on our back deck may not look pretty but it holds a lot of water, so I reckon we could get by for a good 2-3 weeks of being careful, gym showers and laundromats if the pipes did freeze (although rumour has it that the mooring managers may have lagged our pipes recently so we may not get the chance to test that theory.)

By comparison, there are neighbouring boats which run their water straight off the mains who must have suffered badly in winters past when the freeze apparently lasted for weeks at at time. Worth getting a tank in any case, I reckon. Although with any luck that recent lagging will make it a moot point for everyone.

All good things must come to an end and so must this. Next week the Owl is promising an in-depth exploration of the bowels of Bunny (the boiler) so to keep you all going until then, here is one of the spring tides, outgoing over the weir:

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