Monday, 21 December 2015

Small Boat Heroes (and Heroines)

There are sailing and boating heroes, people we all know, whose names are spoken only in hushed reverential terms – Chay Blithe, Joshua Slocum, Francis Chichester. But then there are others, less famous perhaps, but equally deserving of the title. One such couple is Dave and Natalie. Did they sail non-stop around the world against all prevailing winds and currents? Did they pass through Drakes Passage or take the long route around Cape Horn?

Nope, they did something far more adventurous. They cooked a four course Christmas Dinner on board their partially restored English Narrow boat on the deepest darkest reaches of the Isle et Villaine canal somewhere in Brittany. I was witness to their achievement and I can confirm it was the best Christmas dinner I have ever eaten!

The boat was bedecked with lights and garlands, the Champagne was served perfectly chilled after having rested in the cockpit for a few hours and the cabin was a haven of tropic heat thanks to the efforts of the driftwood burning stove which burned brightly throughout the evening. The electric cooker was powered by an extension lead connected to a socket in a public toilet further along the towpath.

We had – home-made salmon pate with country bread, roast free-range chicken with vegetables
cooked in the pan juices, pork, chestnut and cranberry stuffing, and all the trimmings. For dessert we had spiced bread and butter pudding. There was also a cheese course but no-one could manage it. 

There was beer,Champagne, white Muscadet and Red Bordeaux. Crackers were pulled, stories were told and presents were exchanged. 

Then a tot of Monkey’s Shoulder Whiskey set us up for the trip home along the towpath, not drunk but pretty mellow, full of food and good cheer. It doesn’t get better than that – Merry Christmas everyone!


Sunday, 13 December 2015

Boat Renovation: Yes But Is It Art?

Bright and sunny winter days. Normally, this time of year we can expect frost and freezing fog but here in Brittany the winter has been uncharacteristically benign. This year so far, the Atlantic depressions have tracked north bringing storms and floods to the UK but here the seasons are confused; here we have spring flowers blooming and autumn leaves still on the trees. 

Work on the boat has continued. I have shore-power, a coffee pot, an electric boat heater and lighting. A tarpaulin over the boom means I can protect the cockpit and main hatch and keep the cabin ventilated without fear of rain entering the vessel. It’s a comfortable place to be – to work on the area behind and above the wood-burning stove, to renovate the space that used to be the toilet – or simply to run through a few blues tunes on an old guitar that I keep on board for emergencies (might have to use it as a paddle one day).

So here is the new fresh water tank, semi-installed, a few pipes, wires and securing straps to fit and then I will have running water on demand in the galley. 

Meanwhile, what to do with those long winter evenings? Well, I found a couple of old brass portholes in a car-boot sale the other day. I paid 3E (£2.10) for them. Back home I cut pieces of old MDF to fit and then painted a couple of appropriate naïve nautical scenes on them. I fitted them to the bulkhead in the main cabin yesterday and was quite pleased with the result. Sometimes even the simplest most trivial efforts can bring a sort of reward.

Is it art? Nope not by any stretch of the imagination! But its fun.