General Witterings -
Yes!! It has finally arrived. The 'lost' mail is now found. WARNING!! Do NOT use the services of the Dutch Post Office. Two identically-addressed packages were sent to me, Poste Restante, at Ter Apel. One arrived OK, the other arrived back at the sender's address four weeks later. (The same thing happened last year on our outward journey).
The returned package, plus two other packages, were sent to me c/o a private in Holland - they all arrived back at the sender marked 'Gone Away'!! Finally, DHL managed to correctly deliver them.
In the meantime, I had been in e-mail correspondence with a kind person, who mailed me a book that he thought I might enjoy. It appeared in the DHL delivery, along with some canal magazines, one of which suggested that the book was well worth tracking down to read!!
It is called 'Guilt-Edged' by Merlin Minshall, first published by Bachman and Turner in 1975, and then again by Panther Books in 1977. The first part is an account of his voyage across Europe from in a Dutch barge. In the 1930s he left the UK and headed up the Rhine and down the Danube. The second part deals with his exploits in motor racing, and especially the Monte Carlo Rally and the Mille Miglia. The third part concerns his travels in Africa, and the Sahara desert. Over-riding everything is his conviction that the Nazis were a dangerous bunch of thugs, and his efforts to convince the British government of this.
In the course of the book, he meets up with Ian Fleming, and it is suggested that Fleming used Minshall as the prototype for James Bond.
It's a rollicking good read, and one hopes that it is, indeed true, but one is left with certain doubts!!! Like many such books ('The Riddle of the Sands', for example) there are some wonderful explanatory maps (no 'Here be treasure' but how about 'Here Goering sent the beautiful Lisa to spy on me and share my double bunk' or 'Here I unmasked a Nazi plot'.
During the course of the book Minshall mentions, several times, 'The £200 Millionaire'. This is a magazine article (that I was recently given to read) about some boaters who meet a man in a sailing boat, drifting around Europe. His income was £200 per year, which even in those days was pretty minimal. However, he explains that £200 p.a. is more than adequate for his needs and, by the time he has finished expounding the delights of his chosen lifestyle the boaters are convinced that this lone sailor is, indeed, a £200 millionaire. A very schmaltzy story, but worth a read if you get the chance.
SEA GOING NARROWBOATS
I've been meaning to witter-on about this for some time, as I have had several e-mails from people asking advice about taking narrowboats to sea. Why they ask me, I know not, as I avoid open waters when I can. I have been out into very well-protected salty water, and even then have waited for the weather. I even feel very nervous about going onto big lakes and rivers. Narrow boats are at home on narrow canals!!
So, the advice is don't.
However, I was concerned about the bow and stern waves of the big barges and fast moving pleasure boats over here in Europe, and therefore modified Rosy to improve her flotation prospects.
Most people want to go to sea merely in order to get over to Europe. I am 100% convinced and sure that it is cheaper and quicker to get over on the back of a truck than it is to sail over.
Most boats get craned out of a UK canal and put on the back of a truck. (At this point I also got into the front of the truck as a passenger). The truck goes down to Dover. From here there are some options:
For a narrow boat up to about 55 ft long, the complete trip, including getting craned onto and off the truck in Calais or Ternuzen, will probably cost between £3000 - £4000.
For those people who still want to go to sea, the following impartial advice is proffered, with the strongest of warnings - BUYER BEWARE. The advice has been gleaned from talking to other people, and from reading some of the available literature, and from the work I had done on Rosy. Do, for the extreme minority
(The following is not in any prioritised order).
1. In order to take a narrow boat to sea, it really needs to be BUILT as a sea-going boat.
2. The bows need to be high and buoyant. The 'standard' bow cuts through small waves quite well, but in cutting through higher waves, water might well come onto the deck. A more buoyant bow will help the boat to ride over a wave.
3. The standard, narrow boat stern swim and counter is not ideal in a following sea. The Tuesday Night Club report that a 'slipper' stern behaves itself very much better - I believe that R.W. Davis and R&D Fabrications are amongst those narrowboat builders who will construct such sterns.
4. If the boat has a well-deck, the cratch needs to be greatly strengthened - the standard plywood sheet will be flattened by the first wave, and the canvas 'tent' will buckle when any weight of water hits it. It is also sensible to have the well-deck drainage holes protected on the outside by valves (allowing water to exit the well, but not enter it - simple rubber flaps may suffice).
5. Personally, I had Rosy's well-deck plated over, and replaced the wooden front doors (which had a window on either side) with steel. Chris Cockburn, I seem to recall, kept the well-deck, but decked it over with bolted-down timbers when he went off-shore.
6. I am far from convinced that the standard narrowboat windows will resist a hit with a large lump of salty water. Indeed, I'm not sure that the port-holes fitted to most narrowboats are sea-proof - most are decorative rather than functional, in that they look as if the lights are firmly prevented from falling out, but are minimally resistant to being stove in.
7. All exterior doors need to be capable of being firmly closed and bolted, and of resisting water. To stop the ingress of water the doors should be a close fit, perhaps with rubber seals.
8. Because the boat will be riding waves, the stresses on the hull will be very much greater than on a canal. This, to me, means extra framing.
9. Ballasting needs to be carefully thought out. The ballast must be solidly fixed so that it cannot move about. On the other hand, if it is accessible it can be moved in order to trim the boat. It is useful to have variable ballast! Less ballast on the canals so that shallow canals can be navigated, more ballast at sea in order to stiffen the movement. (It should be possible to achieve this with water ballast).
10. Live-aboards tend to clutter the roof with thinks - bikes, mopeds, boxes of junk, flowers etc. All these need to come off. Partly to stop them getting washed overboard, and partly so as to keep the weight of the boat low down. (Out of interest, Land-Rover used to recommend that their vehicles should not be loaded on the roof with any more than two jerry-cans of fuel. Not many people knew that, which is why so many expeditions suffered from their vehicles rolling over).
11. Fuel and water tanks need to be positioned such that they are symmetrical about the centre line of the boat, so that their use does not affect the port-starboard trim of the boat. They should be well baffled to prevent them from sloshing about in a seaway. Each could even be divided on the centre-line of the boat with a valve and pump connecting the two halves, so that liquid can be pumped from one side to another to maintain the trim of the boat.
12. As a narrow boat sits low in the water, it is useful to erect a mast for use of navigation lights, a radar reflector and aerials.
13. The Tuesday Night Club have found that an oversize rudder is useful for steering when out of gear, and assists steering when moving very slowly.
14. A radio and a competent operator should be carried - hand-held radios are marginally better than nothing, but their limited range tends to mean that folk put more faith in them than they deserve.
15. Each hole in the hull (sink outlets, loo outlets, bilge-pump outlets etc etc) should have a soft, tapered, wooden plug associated with it, together with a mallet to whack the plug into the hole (from the outside) should the hole start leaking. Before setting out, the integrity of the fittings on the boat side of each hole should be checked. Additionally, it is useful to carry a strong, reinforced, plastic sheet, with a rope at each corner that can be rigged around the hull, to keep water out, in the event that the hull is holed.
16. Many narrowboats have simple mushroom vents on the roof, which (I think) the Boat Safety Scheme want to be incapable of being closed. They may need to be closed at sea. Other vents also need to be checked for weather/sea-proofing.
17. Boats with the exhaust outlet low down on the hull may want to consider rigging an exterior extension so that exhaust exit hole is not continually under water.
18. The engine is likely to run both faster, and for longer times, than usual. Many narrowboats suffer from the engine over-heating in hot summers, so the engine cooling system needs to be in good order. The skin tank area should be more than the minimum, and should be properly baffled. (I have seen a narrow boat with some interesting supplementary cooling. Where the cooled coolant exits from the skin tank, a switchable valve permits it to be diverted down a pipe that leads to an oil-cooler tube stack. This tube stack is cooled by filtered, raw canal/sea water being pumped through its jacket. This additional cooling system brought the temperature of the coolant down significantly - 5 to 20 degrees depending on circumstances).
19. All shelves in the boat need to be well fiddled.
20. The cooker needs to be fiddled and gimballed. All drawers need to be properly fiddled. Cupboard doors need positive closures - the weight of goodies inside a cupboard will burst open magnetic and spring catches.
21. Engine and house batteries need to be firmly lashed down, as should any other weighty, moveable object..
22. Life jackets MUST be available for all crew, and those on deck should be wearing them.
23. Provision should be made to run life lines down the roof, and people on the roof or side decks should be clipped onto them.
24. The steerer on a trad-style narrowboat is going to get very cold and very wet.
25. I guess that the minimum is a crew of three - one steering, one on lookout (for buoys and other shipping) and one resting/cooking,
The problem now is that, even having attended to all of the above, you can STILL only venture out to sea when the weather is fine, AND when the forecast predicts good conditions for the planned duration of the voyage (plus a bit!). This means that you need the knowledge, language and equipment to access local weather forecasts, and the knowledge to interpret the data.
If you read the accounts of narrow boats crossing the Channel, you will discover that there is an awful lot of hanging about waiting for the right weather window. This hanging about normally takes place in a marina that is likely to charge the mooring by the metre - so waiting for the weather is going to cost quite a bit of beer-money. Remember, too, that the voyage to France crosses one of THE busiest shipping lanes in the world, with a strong current that changes direction with the tide. AND remember that your journey is MUCH more than the fabled 21 miles from Dover to Calais, as they omitted to build a canal to Dover. So your exit is likely to be down the Thames and out through the Thames estuary - NOT one of the easiest channels in the world to navigate.
So. If anyone was thinking of doing it, I hope that I've talked them out of it. If anyone really does still want to do it, and is kind enough to invite me along, the answer is 'Thanks. But no thanks'. What I WOULD like is an offer from a seasoned skipper to act as crew on a well-found sailing boat, voyaging around the British Isles (perhaps missing out the west coast of Ireland).and avoiding as many south-coast marinas as possible - harbours, coves and heaving-to are my choices for resting places - so long, of course as we have taken the precaution of loading plenty of rum on board!!