A can of iced lager in one hand, a warm August sun laying its dipping rays over a wide and calm expanse of some distant waterway.
The comforting rhythmic hum of a well-tuned outboard as it nudges your pride and joy along a deserted corridor of water and nature, you are at peace!
Gone are those memories of oily hands and bruised knuckles when trying to get the engine started. Gone are the sleepless nights when over and over in your mind you try to work out just why, for heaven’s sake, the water pump will not work!
Oh the joys of boating!
A couple of years ago my ‘first mate’ and I bought our Norman. It was not our first boat. We had owned one before and I had owned a few ( ranging from plastic rowboats which I wished were bigger to sailing dinghies demanding fitness, a knowledge of terms nautical and membership of an expensive club.)
Yet White Queen, as she was called, and I’ve never had reason to change, was to offer us another aspect on life. Financially demanding more often than not, but rewarding in other ways.
In this ‘White Queen’ page I will recall our early boating days, our accidental finding of a bargain and the seemingly endless hours spent with toolbox, sandpaper and B & Q varnish. For those readers who endure this, then a more pleasant image of boating will follow with the ‘Queens’ visit to a number of East Midland waterways.
But first the crew
Skipper, petrol mechanic, sanitary technician, fetch the milk in the morning from a store just 3 miles away type person and general fixit…………………………………Jim (that’s me)
Chancellor of the bank account, mistress of the sewing needle and cook extraordinaire (I must say that!) ………………………………….Margaret
Crew, provider of endless amusement, watchdog when management are at the pub, and industrial hoover. An 8 year old Beagle named………………………….Monty
Section 1 Before the ‘Queen’
Section 2 A find by chance and the tow home
Section 3 Joinery and upholstery skills
Section 4 A ‘Royal’ tour
White Queen was not our first cruiser. Some 18 months earlier whilst strolling around Sawley Bridge Marina on a beautiful summer afternoon (funny how good weather seems to affect our judgment), the little two berth cruiser on sale in the basin jumped up and said ‘buy me, buy me!’ So we did.
I think my wife Margaret had the notion it would be my toy, something to keep me from under her feet at the weekends. It did for that autumn and winter when I re-painted, added some antifouling, put in a couple of bunks and portable stove. A new wash basin and tiny Thetford catered for the hygiene and sanitary arrangements.
As spring approached I began to pick up signals that the toy would possibly be not so much MY toy but OUR toy when the offer came…’shall I make you some new curtains?’ Soon followed by bunk covers, throw cushions and the offer of a name for this our first cruiser. Mary J it was and for a season it was great. Initially along with Monty our Beagle we covered the River Soar around Syston, Cossington, Sileby and Barrow but as the warm evenings of July and August ensued there always seemed to be a reluctance to head back for the night. Our first overnight stays soon followed.
Considering we were both not altogether sure we would take to the idea of sleeping and eating (and drinking) aboard something that floats …..yes you’ve guessed it, the other boats on the river and the lure of their extra space and standing headroom became too great. The idea of a bigger boat was ‘planted in our brain’.
Sitting in a pub garden or by the locks at Mountsorrel and watching other craft go by gave us some idea of the size we were looking for. Twenty feet with the right layout would provide us with one generous open plan cabin but twenty four may just allow some sort of, albeit notional, divide between sleeping area and living/cooking. Although not tall at 5feet 11, the skipper would really like to stand up! And so it was, we were on the look out for a larger vessel. I think it was more of a passive than active search until one afternoon returning from Barrow Deep lock on the Soar we sauntered into Meadow Farm Marina to ‘have a look’.
Some boaters who we’d met some time before enquired if we were still looking as a 24foot Norman had been put up for sale only that morning on the other side of the marina. We had made up our minds I am sure before we even went on board. I know all the purists would advise second opinions or surveys or further consideration in the cold light of day.…..but that’s boring; I’m certain sometimes you just know when something is right.
Anyway we did inspect and found some surprises.
No wonder she was called White Queen, the upper works were white, the cabin walls and ceiling were white, inside the cupboards were white and even locker fronts had been treated to liberal coats of Dulux Trade gloss. It turned out the chap who was selling it was a professional painter and decorator and I think he must have had some paint left over when he finished Wembley Arena. Later I was to discover 2 gallons of the stuff in an unopened tin in the forward locker.
From the photograph below you can see the soft furnishings which although a little too Marks and Spencerish for me, were quite adequate for the rest of that season.
The white paint is evident.....
We hadn’t noticed it at first. The boat had no engine. It seems the reason she was up for sale was that :
a. Mrs. Professional decorator didn’t like boating and
b. Mr. Professional decorator had just blown the engine
The asking price reflected the above and after some adjustment in our favour and an enquiry to Ian Harris at Junction Boatyard as to the price of a recon outboard, we did the deal. White Queen was ours. But how to get it back to Syston? A Tow was surely the answer……
THE TOW HOME
I’ve been towed before (in a car that is), here you have the luxury of brakes to slow you down when the back end of the vehicle in front looms too close. The AA have rather a smart towing device that is rigid and takes most of the worry out of being towed……but boat towing is different !!!
Mick, our friend from Old Junction Boatyard at Syston, had a Springer called ‘Trafalgar’ and, he assured me, had towed before. We took up his kind offer and early one August morning Margaret, Mick and I set off downstream to Barrow to bring ‘White Queen’ home to its new berth.
The technicalities of actually tying the two boats together were a bit beyond me and I did recall reading somewhere something about lashing cross-over tow ropes:
This presented little problem to Mick’s narrowboat as there were 2 conveniently sited mooring fixtures either side at the stern. However on ‘White Queen’ there was only the standard cruiser fitting of one in the middle at the front end. So….yes you’ve guessed it we didn’t bother and made do with one. The other little problem we had was that unlike sailing boats that have a rudder, an engineless cruiser has no means of controlling the steering. For much of the tow home this presented no problem until the narrowboat made a manoeuvre and our back end would swing wildly from side to side across the river!
Following a request to Mick to curb his enthusiasm for a quick trip and the resulting drop in speed our rear end sorties with each bank ceased.
All seemed well.
Sileby Mill lock and the nearby mill race gave us something else to contend with.
If anyone is out there reading this and they know the approach to Sileby lock heading upstream then they’ll know that if you are approaching the lock with one gate already open you can’t actually see in. And so it was that as our convoy lined up to enter….one came out! Drastic action was necessary and drastic it was….a full 180 took us across the flow from the race sweeping us both (although White Queen had no option with its umbilical cord to the narrowboat) and pushed us firmly onto the reeds and mud against the mill wall.
One hour, lots of pushing with poles and boathooks, full throttle and prayer and we eventually ‘beat the flow’.
Surely a simple passage now as we were entering the home straight.
At first we thought it was the ‘Mary Celeste’. Upstream of Cossington lock there is a sharp bend off the river into the canal and there broad across the water was a stationary hireboat. Our convoy was of course a little difficult to stop on a sixpence and we resorted to loud blasts from the hooter. It appeared the occupants, fired up with the excitement of the day….and several pints of the amber fluid had taken to the canal for a refreshing dip! Climbing back on board with obvious effort, the ‘skipper’ with much visible evidence on his waistline of years of practice with the sport of drinking treated us to a monologue of swearing and abuse for being so ‘sad’ at spoiling his swim and suggested we ‘get a life’.
It takes all sorts. Nevermind once past Mr Idiot and party our flotilla of two made the last lock at Junction without mishap and it was not without the need for a beer myself that the towing party moored alongside at Harris’ boatyard.
A winter of joinery and upholstery skills lay ahead.