I shed a tear and dropped on bended knees to plead with the CRT guys and gals to take me up the lift to the canal. The guy I spoke to was super helpful, which is more than I could say for the lady on duty.
I assumed that she worked for CRT part-time because her full-time position as the chief lemon sucker for a huge citrus fruit processing plant must be a full-time commitment. Then I realised that she responded to my abrasiveness, modified my behaviour, and hoped she would forgive me. And, more to the point, persuade her workmates to extend their working day to help me out.
I waited, and I worried. Even though my fuel tank wasn’t quite empty, it was dangerously low. The engine fuel line would be slightly above the tank bottom and the diesel heater above that. So I could expect the heating system to fail first, followed shortly by the engine. I couldn’t last another four days until I could book the first available passage on the following Friday. The forecast for the next week was for sub-zero nights, so my frigid cabin would be unbearably cold without the heater. What’s more, I couldn’t generate any power without my engine. Without diesel, I would be up Shit Creek without a paddle.
The lady I had insulted returned ten minutes later wearing a frown. Was that because she saw me, or was she the bearer of bad news?
‘You’re lucky,’ the unsmiling lady told me. ‘The guys have agreed to take you, but you’ll have to wait half an hour. And you have to phone our office to book and pay for your passage.’ So I did as she asked and booked a return passage down to the river an hour later as well.
I was reasonably confident that my diesel would last half an hour, providing I turned my engine and heating off and pushed the boat along the riverbank to the waiting lift. Unfortunately, my attempt to ingratiate myself with the taciturn CRT lady as the lift rose was like a wasp trying to make friends at a summer picnic. Fortunately, she didn’t have a fly swat handy.
I reached Anderton Marina without mishap, filled my tank and emptied my wallet. One hundred and twenty litres filled my tank. Added to the forty I put in ten days earlier, that was a total of one hundred and sixty litres of diesel in fourteen days, an average of 11.4 litres a day. It’s an eye-watering amount of fuel to use.
To put that figure in perspective, if that average remains constant throughout my six-week hire, I will go through 478 litres before I hand the boat back. I claimed 90% at the duty-free rate because I used most fuel for heating and battery charging. Even so, the diesel for my six-week hire boat holiday will cost me about five hundred pounds, mainly because of the Eberspacher heater. That’s an absurd amount to spend on heating a narrowboat.
So that you can appreciate the vast difference between different heating costs, let me detail my heating and propulsion fuel costs from the same period last year.
A 25kg bag of Excel coal briquettes cost £13 and lasted a little over three days, but let’s say three days to simplify the calculation. I used fourteen bags of coal during these six weeks, so heating Orient cost £182. My propulsion fuel didn’t add much to the total.
Orient’s diesel for the same six weeks last year cost me £30. Admittedly, the national lockdown limited my cruising ability, but diesel for the same route in Orient as I’ve taken in my hire boat would cost just £60.
Heating and propulsion fuel on a much smaller boat will cost twice as much as it would on Orient. What’s more, I can’t run my hire boat heater overnight or warm the cabin to a comfortable temperature.
Maybe I’m not treating this hire boat with the respect it deserves. But, other than the heating system, it’s a fine boat. It has a reliable engine and a shallow draught. I can cruise wherever I like without worrying about grounding. The Fridge is a responsive boat, easy to handle, a doddle to slip into small and awkward mooring spots, a dream when river cruising. I couldn’t ask for more.
Despite the cold cabin, the double bed is so comfortable that I don’t want to leave it. Probably because of the chilly living space. There’s plenty of storage space for a holiday boat, a well-equipped galley and a comfortable saloon. This boat is perfect for a holiday adventure. And that’s my point.
Many aspiring liveaboard boaters consider ex-hire boats. Most have diesel central heating rather than multi-fuel stoves. Coal-burning stoves are cheaper to run and more reliable than mechanical heating systems. Some potential boat buyers argue that the simple solution is to buy a hire boat and install a stove. Unfortunately, that is often an expensive and challenging exercise. Anyway, I digress.
Discover Life Afloat
Discover all you need to know about living on England's inland waterways during a day on my beautiful narrowboat, Orient. You'll helm my boat on a 12-mile, 6-lock route through beautiful rural Warwickshire. During the day we'll discuss the designs, features, fitting and equipment necessary to live a comfortable and tranquil life afloat.
I filled my diesel tank, tried and failed to empty my cassette at the recently and often broken Anderton Elsan point and sped back to the lift for my 2 pm decent. The lift crew were ready for me with open gates and happy smiles. I returned to the river ninety minutes after leaving it, exhausted but with a full fuel tank.
Phew, this retirement’s an exhausting game.
I flew up the river to Northwich town centre, donated the rest of my savings to Waitrose and staggered back to The Fridge with enough food to last another week. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the energy to move my boat, so I had the pleasure of listening to a mob of teenage skateboarders falling down the Odeon cinema steps into my mooring security gate. Oh, the joy of convenient urban moorings!
I broke a new misery record on The Fridge the following day. I woke to a thick frost outside and a cabin thermometer reading of 1.5°C. I jumped out of bed, flipped the Eberspacher’s switch and slid under my duvet, waiting for the reassuring roar of a working diesel burner. Instead, the Eberspacher clanked, gasped for a few minutes, and then shut down. I prepared myself for an increasingly familiar early morning routine.
I stepped onto my exposed cruiser stern wearing nothing more than a pair of nipple-hugging Y fronts and a sheepish grin, turned the engine on, noted the dismayed glance from an early morning dog walker, slipped back into my cabin, turned the heater on again and returned to my cooling duvet for an hour. The cabin temperature increased just three degrees in that time. The heater is hopeless.
Anyway, I couldn’t hang about in bed all day. I had miles to cruise and locks to negotiate. I tended to my housekeeping first, a quick march to Waitrose for a crafty crap and then a hundred-metre cruise to empty my brimming cassette. With no facilities beyond the two locks I planned to negotiate, I had to ensure that I had enough toilet space for at least a week.
Two CRT guys reached the lock before me. Just as well, really, given that the downstream gates had frozen together. They freed the gates with a bit of cursing and a lot of kicking and raised me to the next level. I arranged a passage through the following lock, Vale Royal, as part of the same exercise. I couldn’t see anything worth stopping for on either Google or Ordnance Survey maps, so there was no point staying on that river section.
I had to tread water for fifteen minutes when I reached Vale Royal lock. More kicking and cursing unstuck the second downstream gate.
After ten minutes of gentle cruising, I reached here and planned to stay for a few days.
As I walked along a footpath to the river’s southern navigable terminus to Winsford, I had high hopes. Sadly, the town didn’t offer much of interest. I stopped at Morrisons on a soulless retail park for a light lunch and walked back to the river searching for decent mooring spots.
Apart from the dozen boat spaces on CRT’s Vale Royal Cut visitor moorings, the only other possible mooring spot south of Vale Royal Lock is close to ‘Winsford Marina’. Whoever gave the duck shit covered slipway that title must have been having a laugh. There’s a shallow basin next to the marina with enough space for three boats and an excellent chance of catching Avian Flu. So other than possibly making a flying visit to resupply while moored close to a flock of coughing birds, I decided to steer well clear of Winsford’s dubious delights.
Much as I enjoyed the tranquillity of my Vale Royal Cut mooring, there wasn’t much to do there either. Neither Winsford nor the walk to it offered much of interest other than the unsightly buildings above Britain’s deepest salt mine. So I decided to abandon this section of the river and head north.
I had to endure another day on this uninspiring stretch before the lock keepers could help me on my way again. The wind picked up and drove me mad when my hull crashed against the riverbank every few minutes. Finally, I moved to Vale Royal lock landing to get out of the wind and set off on my daily walk.
An unsuccessful shortcut along a narrow path behind a commercial estate boundary’s concrete wall added excitement to the day. On a secluded stretch away from prying eyes, I met four feral folk, faces grey as a winter’s day, huddled around a communal joint big enough to ride. An air of menace radiated from them. The closest guy stared aggressively as I squeezed between the group and a concrete wall.
I danced a mental joy jig and released a breath held far too long. I listened for footsteps behind me and relaxed as I drew further away from the unpleasant group. I tempted fate by thanking my lucky stars that our paths would never cross again. That’s when I reached a high barbed wire fence blocking the route and realised that I had to retrace my steps and face the feral four again.
The four guys now blocked my path completely. I carefully slipped my Leatherman out of its belt pouch and held it beneath my coat. I wasn’t sure what help it would be. Maybe I could catch and squeeze an errant testicle with the needle-nosed pliers and a jutting chin with the titanium rasp or use the marlinspike to remove a stone from a cloven hoof.
I gave the leader my best timid stare, hoped I wouldn’t fire a fear fart in his direction, pushed him out of my way and strode away on trembling legs. I tensed for the expected punch in the back of my head, ignored their offensive comments and resisted the urge to run.
Several miles later, I relaxed on a riverside bench watched an angling trio doing fishy things to a roach. It was a different kind of roach to the one familiar to my would-be attackers. I ate a Waitrose roast beef sandwich and revelled in my newfound freedom, my recent escape and the promise of many more adventures to come.
I passed through Vale Royal lock the following morning and then chugged serenely to Hunt’s lock where the boys in blue waited for me. That’s the boys in CRT blue, not the plod type. They dropped me down the second lock, and I cruised for another five minutes to Northwich’s Odeon moorings.
To and fro, hither and thither, back and forth, that’s the nature of my River Weaver cruising.
I walked to Waitrose to deliver yesterday’s food and collect tomorrow’s, booked a passage through Saltersford lock the following morning and moved The Fridge to The Anderton Lift moorings. After a lifetime filling my working days with hard physical labour, keeping fit fills much of my leisure time these days. I try to walk five to ten miles a day so having Anderton’s beautiful and fascinating nature park on my doorstep is a real bonus.
I rushed around the following morning to ensure I was ready for my 11 am passage through Saltersford lock. I planned to backtrack slightly to the service point in Northwich, empty my cassette, fill my water tank and then race back to the lock. Five minutes after setting off, I realised that my timing would be tight. I turned around midstream and cruised towards my appointment. I didn’t want to keep the lock keeper waiting.
I arrived at the lock half an hour early, the lock keeper twenty minutes late. Still, he came, I was in no rush, so I chatted to him as he let the lock water out. He shared two fascinating facts; the largest boat through the lock weighed one thousand tonnes, and the record for the most craft in the lock stood at thirty-three. So it’s an enormous lock.
Emptying 2,500,000 litres out of a lock takes a while, half an hour at Saltersford with one paddle out of commission. The lockkeeper left me to open the downstream gate. The process appeared overly complicated.
He pressed buttons, opened and closed control boxes, twisted handles, tugged one of the gates experimentally, made a few phone calls and looked to the sky for inspiration. Then he hailed me as I bobbed about in the vast chamber to explain that the gate mechanism needed hydraulic oil. I waited another thirty minutes for the oil to arrive and then waited a little longer while the lock keeper and his new friend examined the gates and their mechanisms in detail and at length.
Two and a half hours after entering the lock, I left it travelling backwards. Unfortunately, the broken gate wouldn’t be fixed or even looked at until the following Monday, so I thought I might have missed my chance to explore the Weaver’s northern section.
Shortly after leaving the lock on a quiet mooring in Barnton Cut, I stopped for the day. There’s a bench on the towpath overlooking the mooring. There’s a path to the Trent & Mersey canal and Barnton village and its Texaco filling station SPAR shop. So I had tranquillity, exercise and shops, all rolled into one. It was the perfect spot to stop for a day or two to catch up with my blog post writing.
Discovery Day Update
Just eight weeks remain until my first Discovery Day of the year. I thought I had an explosive start to 2021, but this year is even busier.
My ‘season’ begins this year in March and extends until the end of April. Then I’m off again until July. There are currently five dates left in March and one in April. I expect all of those to go before the end of February so, if you want to join me for a thoroughly enjoyable and highly informative day cruising through beautiful Warwickshire you can see and book dates here. And if you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, you can read about my Discovery Day service here.