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. 


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. 


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


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:


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.


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: