Remember Singapore? You could be forgiven if not, as things have been very quiet in relation to Jim's wooden sea boat. Things have not stood still, however; work has been progressing steadily at Frank Hall and Sons' boatyard at Walton on the Naze - it's just that for a change we haven't been directly involved. There is still plenty more to do and she probably won't be going back into the water until next year now, but we - and particularly Jim - are busy making plans for what happens then.
One thing we are going to need is a dinghy and an outboard for it, especially as Singapore is going to be kept on a swinging mooring. That's a buoy attached to a lump of concrete in the middle of the sea, to me, from which one requires a means of getting to and from land.
Well, as of last week, when Jim (with Bill and Michelle's help) collected an ebay purchase from Chepstow, we have the first of those requirements, a nine foot long Hyperlon inflatable dinghy.
It didn't have a name, as far as we know, so I decided it would be fitting to name it after one of Singapore's satellite islands. It turns out that there are masses of these - around sixty - but most have rather unmemorable names. Others turn out to be former leper colonies or the sites of spectacular petrochemical disasters. Lazarus Island, on the other hand, is apparently a peaceful holiday resort. It also seemed like a fitting name for a dinghy which will be deflated and stored away at the end of each season, only to be resurrected the next.
Of course, we had to try it out, and it was very successful, at least on the nice flat canal. Our rowing technique wouldn't stand up to Amy and James's scrutiny, but I managed to get us over the aqueduct and back. Not quite Tom Rolt crossing Pontcysyllte in a coracle, but a start.
I've not yet been to Stourbridge by boat, although it is definitely on the itinerary for next time we go down the Staffie (according to John Thorpe, in the splendidly heartwarming Windlass in my Belt, this is traditionally known as the 'Stour Cut' though I confess I have never heard this name used, sadly). However, the Black Country Man Canal Shop at Stourbridge is our nearest Craftmaster stockist, and they are (he is) very helpful, so today was our second visit, to pick up some engine enamel and carnuba wax polish.
Having done that we thought we would explore the town, and in particular, of course, the charity shops.
Well, the town was rather nice, with an absolutely splendid Victorian town hall that put me in mind more than anything of St Pancras, all red brick turrets and pediments. But the charity shops! I've already forgotten what came from where, so suffice to say that I spent something in the region of £46 in total, and came home with at least eleven items, including a brand new Berghaus fleece jacket (£4), a Rohan fleece jacket, a lovely embroidered silk skirt, an ankle length black lightweight coat, a long black Monsoon skirt (just what I have been looking for) and a gorgeous red Pachamama South American hand knitted jumper. I think I can be certain that this is the best charity shopping expedition I have ever undertaken. And I can justify much of it on the grounds that I'll be wearing it for work!
As Neil of Herbie has pointed out, this, not January, truly marks the new year. A fresh start, new beginnings - not the sad post Christmas leftovers. I've always felt this way. Early mornings again after weeks of indolence; the tang of apples in the air, the harvest safely in. A new class, new friends (and enemies); a whole new set of projects and targets, an as yet unknown world of possibilities.
And guess what I'm doing to mark the new year? After nearly a year out, I've got a new job. On paper it's very similar to the old one (which is no doubt why I got it) but in a whole new setting - different setting, different institution, different people. I start tomorrow and I'm very excited.
Did I enjoy my gap year? Maybe not as much as I'd hoped. It has been lovely living on the boats, but what happened to the plans to just take off and go cruising? I suspect they were a victim of 'living next door to St Paul's syndrome' - when you can do something anytime you tend not to do it at all. We've made lots of short trips this year - more than ever before - including covering the whole of the S&W twice but I don't think we've been away longer than a fortnight. And as for the plans that kept us here - mainly featuring Bakewell's back cabin - they were thwarted by the weather.
So I am looking forward to a bit more structure and external routine; I think it suits me better on the whole. The routine will be similar to my days in Huddersfield, but in reverse. I have landed a job in a city with a canal that I can't take my boats onto, so I have rented a small flat to use during the working week, to return to the boats at weekends. The job is a 0.8 post so timetabling permitting, I am hoping the weekends will be long ones.
So you will forgive my somewhat intermittent posting, I am sure, now you know what has been occupying my mind. Once I get some semblance of order and discipline back into my existence, I am sure I will get back into the swing of it. And when I am no longer living and breathing the boats as part of everyday life, perhaps the interesting things about them - things that are interesting to other people, that is - will leap out again. I love them, and I'm so glad to have had this year living full time on them, but it has meant that it has become 'normal' and thus I find it harder to discern what would be interesting enough to others to blog about.
PS. It won't be hard to work out where I'm going. I'll just add that it's a Russell Group university - my first! And it's a couple of hours away by train.
Not literally, I hasten to add. Almost the reverse, in fact. All summer I have been very worried about rain damaging the wooden panels of Chertsey's rear hatches. These have survived since the early seventies, when they were painted by Ian Kemp, largely because the boat was unused and shut up for much of that time. My fear was that rain would get behind the painted panels and cause them to warp; maybe ultimately to crack or even rot, and they would be damaged beyond repair.
Using the boat every day, to sleep in if nothing else, means that the tops of the doors are constantly exposed. Not only when we are boating, but in winter, with the stove burning, the slide has to be left open for ventilation. So needed to find a way to seal the tops, the grain of the wood and especially the join between the door itself and the painted panel. We considered epoxy resin, which we will very probably be using on Bakewell's back cabin when we get round to doing it, but we've no experience of using it yet. A strip of brass across the top of the wood was another idea, but would mean cutting more of the wood away to make space for it. Either of these may yet come to pass. In the meantime however I have filled the gap around and behind the right hand panel (the left hand one isn't in as bad a state and doesn't have a gap. Yet) with Evo-Stick All Weather paintable silicone, and was so impressed with its manageability I have smeared a layer over the top as well. This stuff claims to stick to wet and oily surfaces as well as remaining waterproof and flexible for twenty years.
This has really, amazingly, been the first opportunity this year to do any jobs of this sort, with enough time for the wood to dry out beforehand and then for the sealants and paint to dry. Jim has kindly sanded the rest of the inside of the hatches too so that they can all be repainted and the panels revarnished - to which end we made a trip to Stourbridge this morning to get a tin of Craftmaster varnish.