The Thames at Boulters Lock - they were rebuilding the famous bridge - Oh, calamity!


Voyages of discovery with 'Grubby Rose'.


I don't remember how it all started, other than I desperately needed some sort of pastime that would get me out into the fresh air and provide a new interest. Boating proved to be the ideal answer.

After months mulling over magazines looking at canoeing to ocean sailing, I finally ended up at a marina on the Grand Union owning an aged, Norman 20 motor cruiser!  Apart from one small detail like, no engine, it seemed to me - a complete beginner - to be a boat in reasonable condition given it was made in 1975. Well, it was afloat and there was no rust anywhere!

            My daughter was not impressed. "White Rose!" she exclaimed, "Grubby Rose would be more accurate". The name has stuck.

            During breaks in cleaning her up and replacing bits of rotten plywood locker in the cockpit, I searched high and low for a suitable second-hand outboard motor. Not knowing anyone in the boating fraternity, it was all down to scanning advertisements in magazines and papers, which proved a fruitless task. After a couple of months, with Grubby Rose now ready to go for my maiden voyage up the cut, there seemed no choice but to upturn the piggy bank and buy a new outboard.  I settled on a 9.9 hp, 4-stroke Mercury with electric start that the marina had on special offer - it cost double the price of the boat! It has proved to be an excellent engine, utterly reliable, and barely runs above tickover to propel the boat at 4 miles an hour. It appears very economical, 34 river miles on 10 litres, on the Thames going upstream, and will do more on the canals (I don't know if this is good as I've never been able to compare with other boaters). For the lone boater, the electric starter is a godsend, particularly leaving locks when others are waiting to enter.

            I didn't do very much in the way of refurbishment to Grubby Rose in the beginning. My plan was to try her out and see what developed! It's a good way to start - try it and then see what needs doing. You'll also discover the things you didn't think of, or would need to change.  I never had her lifted out the water to check the underside. It had been anti-fouled at some time, but its condition was impossible to determine. The cockpit cover, which had obviously been replaced at some time, was still serviceable.  The interior light-blue vinyl covered cushions had some water stains and some zips were rotten in places, but were still useable.  The original sink was in good condition and the Whale manually-operated sink tap worked after I had flushed the water system through several times with a strong solution of Milton in the water. There was a tiny, two-burner gas cooker of dubious vintage, but with new gas pipework and regulator, it seemed to function correctly. The electrics were basic: mast light, side navigation lights, and one small, round interior light. As a precaution, I replaced all the wiring.  As this was 1996, the BSS hadn't yet come into force for an old boat, so the gas bottle lived in the plywood locker at the rear of the cockpit.  Not having a spare car battery, I used my caravan 60 amp hour leisure battery in an old Labcraft battery box. It proved perfectly adequate for starting the engine and powering the one cabin light for a few hours each evening. Using the voltmeter in the Labcraft box to keep a check on the battery was helpful, in fact it never dropped below 12 volts in four years.

            Apart from a boat hook, I had to buy all those essential items as there were none in the boat. It's surprising what you need. Fire extinguishers, fire blanket, two windlasses (in case I dropped one in the water), mooring spikes, club hammer, BWB sanitary station key, spare motor fuses, some fenders, gas bottle spanner, tool for the water filler cap, etc. Fortunately, I had some long lengths of old nylon rope from a lorry driver friend, which did the job, but is hard on the hands, particularly when wet. And, of course, there's all those 'house' things you need like cutlery, bedding, tools, clothing, the list is endless. With license, insurance, and brand new, spiral bound Nicholson's at the ready it was time to go boating!

            I didn't go far the first trip (10 miles, 15 locks, and back again) and soon discovered that in mid-October it gets chilly at night with no heating! The cushions were too hard to sleep on, and standing crouched at the sink doing the washing up, I couldn't see a thing with just the one cabin light fixed to the bulkhead behind me.  I soon developed a technique for handling Grubby Rose through the locks on my own. As it seems to work quite well, I've kept to the same routine ever since. I've done quite a lot of trips now, mostly around the G.U, Oxford, and Thames ring (both directions, several times).

            Although I like to be able to get at the outboard motor when I'm cruising along (you never know when a plastic bag will wind itself around the prop), I have now made a ply cover to go over the motor opening to stop draughts at night. Other than to add a headlamp for tunnels and a horn, I can't think of anything else I've done to the boat.  I'm slowly working my way through stripping the old varnish off the woodwork and shortly I'll take it out the water to give the hull a good paint job.

            The 20 foot Norman is a super little craft, extremely rugged and very predictable, especially on rivers. I've been up the Thames from Brentford to Teddington with water crashing over the bow and the thing dipping up and down like a lifeboat in a force 10, but its never given me an anxious moment. Yes, the windows leak when all bunged up with moss and water mysteriously appears in the bilges (never very much). The Freeman owner on the Thames will look down their nose at you, and you need to be a contortionist to use the Portapotti, but what fun this Norman boating lark is, eh?


Another view of Little Venice looking towards                                 Moored opposite 'Jason' on the G.U.

Paddington Basin. Two nights in a hotel here                                        at Little Venice, Paddington

 would cost more than Grubby Rose is worth!                                                                       



There's a Norman 20 in there somewhere!                                                 Early days on the River Stort

        The River Lee near Cheshunt



White Rose -in 'just purchased' grubby state                  The Thames at Clifton Hampden - delightful!



 Grand Union at Cassiobury Park, Watford