Getting on top of things

One of the results of my binge-reading the HNBC newsletter – membership got me online access to all past newsletters, so whoosh, there went my weekend – was that I became acutely conscious that there was a sort of right way to do things vis a vis one’s bits and pieces on the cabin top, so your cans, mop, boat hook, handbowl etc. I say sort of because as has been pointed out to me on various occasions, if you actually study the pictorial evidence of working boats through the ages, there are some clear standard practices but there’s a fair bit of freestyling going on too!

The thermos mug is an essential addition

I’m a slight paradox in that I am not an out and out OCD purist where everything has to be 100% correct, but I do like to do things as properly as I can, or at least make a decent fist of tradition without absolute slavish devotion. Which is why I make Andy polish the brass before we go out lest we look like a Rodney…

Not knowing about cabin top decoration, I was very fortunate that in the first HNBC newsletter I received there was an article from Beryl McDowall offering up some useful pointers on just this subject. The lovely Dave Moore also pitched in with a few tips and rather crucially made all the things we were lacking!

Trying hard to not let the side down

I suspect my cabin top layout is not absolutely traditional but it’s close and it’s what I’m happy with. Let’s hope it doesn’t offend the purists too much.

  • So we have a 3 gallon and a 2 gallon can ahead of the chimney, where I know traditionally on a motor most would have only had the one 2 gallon can, with multiple cans being reserved for the butty roof.
  • I have a handbowl too, which I place upside down ahead of the slide currently but that’s only because I’m not sure where it should go…ahead of the cans maybe?
  • My mop runs up over the pouring handles of both cans, and the carrying handles rest on top.
  • I fix the chimney to the cabin top ring (to the rear of the chimney) with a chimney chain and add onto the chain a couple of rosettes.
  • I attach the cabin strings to the ring, squeezing them under the Northwich handrail
  • I have a couple of chimney strings too but tend to drape these over the can handles.
  • My boat hook is laid on the right hand side of the cabin top, the evil hook bit pointing towards the bow but resting on a figure of eight cotton mat. I understand that the boatmen used to have the hook bit pointing to the stern so they wouldn’t damage the paintwork when lifting it. I don’t know whether the mat is a modern addition that has just crept in?
  • On top of the pigeon box I will usually put a terret and plume, choosing from a collection that is expanding at a stupid rate.

Four hours later, I’m ready to go!



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Despite having a deep love for and interest in our canal heritage, anyone who knows me will be aware that for many years I wasn’t exactly a fan of the whole roses and castles thing. My boat décor has tended towards the contemporary but on seeing Enceladus’s back cabin for the first time, I am afraid I did a conversion worthy of St Paul.

Built by Andy Cox and decorated by Phil Speight, it is simply my favourite space. It also set me off down the road of collecting….not with a purist’s drive for total authenticity (which I do admire but it’s not me), but with the magpie spirit of the old boatmen. If I like it and think I can find a place for it, I get it. So I spend way too much time on the web, on Ebay and Etsy, in antique shops, bric a bric stalls etc being seduced by shiny things. I do seem to have a terrible weakness for rosettes, swingers, and plumes…


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Colours of the cut

You can’t knock any win in life so my recent raffle triumph at the HNBC AGM is not to be sneezed at – especially as I was about the 8th name out of the hat and the prize I really wanted was still on the table! As Edward Paget Tomlinson’s Colours of the Cut is one of my favourite reads, imagine my thrill at bagging a set of 16 COTC postcards! I’ve been reviewing them and will certainly get them framed and put up on Enceladus somewhere – but such a shame that three of my favourite liveries (not counting my ‘two blues’ GUCCC one) weren’t included: SE Barlow, Salt Union and Leonard Leigh. Of course, if I scooped a £50million EuroMillions win, I could have a fleet of many colours…

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Old one, new one

Well, that was interesting…when we popped out in Henry the other weekend, a fellow boater mistook his ‘working boat that’s shrunk in the wash’ lines for those of an icebreaker. Another commented that we were a bit early for the Ellesmere Port gathering. Being taken for an ex-working boat (and icebreaker now!) has happened before but not since we took on Enceladus, who is all too often assumed to be a new ‘work in progress’ project, presumably on account of the cabin and its red oxide sides. We’ve had ‘So when will you have her finished?’ a couple of times! So we now have the rather splendid irony of the 2005 pastiche being badged as an ‘historic’ and the 1935 original branded as a modern replica. But you don’t really want to go into it on the towpath..way too much risk of coming over as a bit of a knob.

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Aesthetic dilemma

Now I know this is a very first world problem but kitting out your historic boat sympathetically brings its challenges. Like no Nespresso machine. Yes, we’ve eschewed mains power on the go, opting to keep everything 12v, which means that I’m oscillating between my cafetière, my stove top Bialetti, and – in moments of weakness when 12v seems like a silly affectation – the space in the engine room that would fit an adequately-sized Victron. I’m being ridiculous of course, I can exist without my wretched Nespresso for a few days (I must, therefore I can. And repeat).

To be honest, a very simple fitout and set-up is perfectly fine, we don’t want for anything and there’s a congruity of function and form, nothing’s overblown. Of course, ensuring we hit no discordant notes sometimes throws up taxing questions, such as ‘what shall we do for a loo roll holder?’ Cocooned in our vintage vibe ablutions area, this is no place for chrome or plastic or, whisper it, bamboo. (What is this fascination with bamboo? I worry for the pandas). No, this is the place for the most bizarre bit of upcycling since my kitchen roll holder (oh yes, there’ll be another post along on that). Allow me to present my Andrex aggregator, the antique shoe last!

A size nine I think

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Now you see them…

Not surprisingly we were a tad overwhelmed at our first viewing of Enceladus so it wasn’t till a subsequent visit that the style, ingenuity and practicality of our front steps really struck me. The previous owner had opted for quite a tight galley layout, preferring to place the fridge and plenty of storage under the tug deck. Fair enough, but how then to have steps that would allow easy ingress/egress at the same time as having no steps so as not to impede free access to the, I mean the milk.

Ta-da! The ‘now you see them, now you don’t steps’. In the ‘out’ position, good chunky steps with a built in coal bucket; in the ‘in’ position, some pretty decoration and a free run to the stores. Love it.


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More of the rebirth

I found another stash of images of Enceladus’s rebirth at Industry Narrowboats. Unfortunately the quality is lousy as these are just snaps of lowish-res colour print outs but better than nowt and at least this way they are committed to an online archive.

This wasn’t really the end of the steelwork story though as when Enceladus was taken to Brinklow for completion, Simon & co put in a huge effort to correct some issues and finesse some of the finer authentic Northwich detail. Cracking job all round, really.

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Less a club, more a cult

When I became a greyhound owner I unwittingly became part of a cult. It’s not so very different now I’m in the historic boat club. We have our unwritten rules – so you always stop to admire other people’s greys/boats and are effusive in your appreciation, while always convincing yourself that no grey/boat can possibly equal your own. There’s the arcane language, so with greys we ‘derp’ and ‘roach’ and with boats we’re all bluetops and bed ‘oles, good roads and greasy ockers. Birds of a houndie or boaty feather flock together, so there is nothing remotely weird about accosting a complete stranger for a fuss (of dog) or nosey (of engine room). Plus we have a propensity to feel just a teensy weensy bit smug at having such cool dogs/boats…oh, is that just me then? 

And then there’s the most dangerous commonality of all….which of course I’ve discovered too late….greys and historic boats are addictive. Ruinously so. I have a terrible track record with greys, having rehomed 15 over the past 14 years. I just need to be shown one with a sob story and it’s in the back of the car. This does not bode well….not well at all. The Braunston show stirred feelings for full length unconverted motors…the HNBC newsletters should come with a health warning as there’s always at least one ‘I want it’ advert in there…so called friends incite you to outrageous fleet expansionist behaviour by playing down restoration costs and telling you to carpe diem…future vendors will surely know my weakness and try to exploit it. The only positive is that grey ownership keeps the piggy bank echoingly empty, because if I could, I fear I would…

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A hire calling

A cracking homage to Black Prince Narrowboats

Seeing this the other day got me thinking as to whether the distinctive boats of the 70s and 80s will ever become classics, in the same way that Ford Populars and Austin Allegros and their ilk are fast becoming, judging by the prices they command these days. I’ve always hankered after what we can see in the photo, taking the king of hire boats, the wonderful Harborough Marine with its sweeping, brook no nonsense bow, and crocodile snappy louvre windows; and restoring it to hire trim, though I’d stop short at insisting on the old dump through toilet. I once had a terrible trauma in the WC dept, of which I cannot speak for fear of reopening deep psychological wounds…

Although we hired with Harborough-hulled Weltonfield in the main, their scheme was quite ‘privateer’, a low key olive and contrasting green. Buddug’s late 70s/early 80s Black Prince look (described affectionately as the yellow peril back in the pre-PC days) would probably be my preferred livery too, as it was such a familiar and indeed instantly recognisable part of the canal landscape when I was young. I’d want the actual ‘Black Prince in his suit of armour’ logo on it too.

No more BP Owners Site…tragic

I was going to nip off and study the Black Prince Owners Club website but it’s no longer there…Tragic! Maybe I can comfort myself with a skip through one of my favourite web pages –

It’s interesting how my personal canal history differs from fellow historic owners, many of whom have direct experience of days when carrying was alive and…if not exactly well, still going after a fashion. Not just as observers but who gave carrying a go themselves or ran trip or hostel boats or who just dragged their boats up unfeasibly knackered canals to help save them and prove a point. My introduction came later, and my world was coloured with Morgan Giles and Gordon’s Pleasure Cruisers and Concoform Marine, whose ‘Weed’ boats were legendarily speedy. There was Black Prince, Anglo-Welsh (in their hideous brown phase), Alvechurch, English County Cruisers, Countrywide Cruises, Dartline, Clubline, Swanline, and, of course, Wyvern Shipping, who straddle both the last days of carrying and the birth of leisure boating – and who are still going strong today. So many more names, some still with us, many sadly gone to the great hire boat in the sky. But they will always be part of my history.

Hogging the tiller even then

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I’m a mug


That they’ve survived this long is a mystery

Now this was just a bit of fun…I’m a big fan of the green Penguin books – crime and mystery, no highbrow purple ones, ta – and as Penguin came into being in 1935, the same year as Enceladus, I had a couple of these made up. The only mystery is how they’re still with us – the mug death rate on boats is quite high…drowning mostly…That said, we do tend to keep these for ‘inside tea’, deploying our rufty-tufty Stanley thermos-style mugs for ‘cruising coffee’. They have variously survived the ‘elbow knock’, the ‘rope lasso’, the ‘windlass swipe’, and other inadvertent assassination attempts but they’re okay…a bit dented but okay.

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