Writers should be banned from living on boats (because they won’t stop wobbling on about it)! Let me wobble on some more.
I love my boat. I loved it right from the start. However, like most of the loves of my life, I soon realised that it could benefit from a visit to a barber’s shop, the devotions of a decent tailor and some sort of obedience training.
Chief among the items screaming for attention was the boat’s name, “Moorea”. Doubtless the previous owners loved it. I did not. Mo’orea is a South Pacific island, part of French Polynesia’s Society Islands archipelago. It is known for its hairy turtle-crabs that crawl up the beach and lay fried-eggs sideways in the tops of palm trees once a century, or something. Anyway, someone had not only hand-painted Moorea on both sides of my beloved boat but had also added some smudges that I guess were intended to represent tropical flowers. The ensemble made me cringe on sight, but worse was to come.
The brother, never one to stick a cork on the sharp end of his thoughts before sharing them, began to whistle as we viewed the boat. Granted, he whistles like a parrot with an over-bite, but even I could tell he was whistling “How do you solve a problem like Moorea (sic)”, from Julie Andrew’s opus magnum, the 1965 box office hit “The Sound of Music”. I have never harboured ambitions to be a nun, I dislike all children intensely (it is my opinion that “musical” children ought to be beaten with their instruments until decently sullen and properly silent), and I have no intention of taking my boat over the Swiss Alps, wartime or no wartime. Moorea would have to go – to Mo’orea in a dug-out canoe if that were her fancy.
I had engaged an oily-fingered chap to undertake a fresh Boat Safety Scheme survey asap or sooner still, and to issue a fresh Certificate. He was kind enough to offer to do all of the official paperwork for a name change – provided that I came up with the new moniker in the five days before the appointment with a dry dock. This arrangement, though pressing, was doubly supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in that it would also meet the terms of the old superstition about only re-naming a vessel while it is out of the water, in order to avoid offending Mr Neptune’s canal-dwelling relatives.
I looked around at other boats for inspiration. “Piece-of-Ship”. “Sir Docks-a-Lot”. “Cirrhosis of The River”. “Tomato Sloop”. “Buoy Oh Buoy”. Even the classic “Ahoy Vey” already. These names are all very well, but think about using them as a call-sign when on the electric wireless to a recalcitrant river lock-keep, or on the mobile telephonium to the stand-up comedians of any of the canal “authorities”.
I floored the throttles on my thinking cap. Hotspur? No, while magnificently handsome I in no way resemble Horatio Hornblower. Heisenberg? I was a little unsure about that one. Porterhouse Blue? I know it’s a reference to Tom Sharpe’s classic, but to most it would sound like a variation on “Elsan Blue”. Schrodinger? Well, yes – and no. John Barleycorn? Terribly English, but also sounds like a failing public house where the gin is warm and the landlord cold. Cardinal Wolsey? Aha. English – tick. A generally good fellow – tick. Any others of that name on the boat lists? Nope, not a one – tick. Did the name suit the boat? You bet it did. It was the alphabetical antithesis of “Narrowboaty McNarrowboatface”, it was nautical nomenclature nirvana. Cardinal Wolsey it was and is. Job done.
Some of the other little post-purchase imperfections were not quite so easily dispatched however.
A couple of days after the moolah changed hands the Bro and I were sniffing around, making lists of things to be polished and decks to be swabbed. I was fiddling about outside and the Bro was inside, poking at things electrical. All of a sudden I heard that rare and special sound, the sort of buzzing that a human being makes when hooked up via some quite substantial cable to 230 volts of nuclear power-station. The aroma of flaming Brilliantine and retired person’s over-heated ear-wax filled the air. Experienced in these matters beyond my years, I waited for the all too familiar sound of a close-relative’s body hitting the Persian shag-pile, but sound there came none – no, the Bro is made of sterner stuff than that.
It seemed that the “dirty great shore-power mains isolation switch” in fact isolated nothing at all, allowing the full majesty of the National Grid through to the Bro’s coccyx and beyond. Once we’d replaced the fuse in his pacemaker and put him in a less soggy change of clothing the Bro confided that his sinuses had never been so clear. Oh, and he mentioned that the boat’s electrics might need some attention, preferably before rainy season and certainly before I plugged in the kettle, the wireless or the automatic toast machine.
Subsequent investigations revealed that the hitherto hidden original wiring on the boat was of the classic “twisted wire and Duct Tape” variety. I expected to stumble at any moment across a well-thumbed copy of “Fuses Are For Wimps” by J.R.R. Hartley.
Nothing was labelled, everything resembled a rather colourful spaghetti. The Bro, even when fully-charged and glowing gently as he then was, can be a thoughtful and considerate cove. He took me by the elbow and led me to one side, where few if any might chance upon me weeping. He said he’d had a look in the engine bay, at the batteries and the engine-starter circuit, and that he’d sketched out what was down there. It looked like a diagram of the arteries and veins in a giraffe.
There were, the Bro confided, something like seven or eight metres of highly unwanted voltage-sapping, current-depressing cable between the starter battery and the starter motor. It hadn’t a chance in hell. The domestic power batteries, a bank of four huge and brutish things, were, on the other hand, connected together with a spider’s web of Woolworth’s economy tinsel and some very wishful thinking. There was a common earth connection point, as required by the weight of the law, but it had live cables jammed up to and wrapped around it, chafing like amateur thighs in a summertime marathon. One or two things, he said, would need a tickle with pliers and a hammer… (which is why it has taken me a year to get to the stage of sailing away from the marina where the Cardinal and I first met).
Well, my mother didn’t raise jellyfish, I can take a beating as well as any man. Was there anything else, on first glance, I asked, with eyebrow askance and a tone of affected emotional coolness in re the whole prospect? Yes, the Bro said, yes indeed.
We found no fewer than 68 miscellaneous hooks inside, hooks from stem to stern, hooks for purposes obvious and hooks for purposes best not thought about, hooks of all shapes and sizes. The previous owners must have had some sort of hook fetish. Some cupboards looked as though they had been lined with metal Velcro.
Anything else? I am a glutton for punishment, feigning enjoyment of pain having been my chief defence against the quick-fisted prefects and teachers of my various schools. The tactic worked as well at Eton, briefly, as it did before I was also sent down from both Rugby and Harrow, but was less than efficacious at Huntingdon Over-spill Comprehensive, where pain actually featured on the official syllabus.
The Brother indicated the pile of no fewer than 23 highly assorted fan-belts that we had found aboard the Cardinal. The Cardinal has two alternators running off the engine, one to charge the starter battery and one to charge the domestic batteries. It appears that both were so misaligned that they might as well have been on separate boats – on different canals. Instead of re-aligning them, as a sober chap might, the previous owners had simply fed the engine a fresh fan-belt whenever it chewed up the one it was using.
That all, is it?
The Brother made that face you sometimes see on a plaintiff when a magistrate is loathe to read out the history of a defendant in open court.
The instrument panel; the tachometer doesn’t.
Eh? Doesn’t what?
The horn and the tunnel light don’t either. No horn, no light. The engine stop button is made of Duct Tape, just like the wiring behind it. There were also two buttons that were fully wired-in, but wired in to what it was not possible to say. One might have been connected to depth charges, the other to some hidden self-destruct mechanism for all we knew. Like most things aboard, they too were not basking in the warm glow of fuses.
I always try to find the bright side of life whenever I can. But the plumbing is good, what?
The Brother made that face, the one you see on a defendant when the Magistrate is eager to read out their prior convictions history in open court…
Thusly in the first few days of ownership, I managed to change the name of the boat, change his sex, from the customary she to a more avant-garde and accurate he, identify a year’s worth of jobs that needed to be done and then cancel any and all immediate cruising plans.
Spirit of Dunkirk though and all that, I put my white Aran-pattern sweater, braided captain’s cap, book of sea-shanties and favourite meerschaum pipe back into storage and changed into my second-best boiler-suit. I began to leaf through a copy of “DIY Tools For Dummies, And Some Of Their Less Common Uses”.
In the past year, this particular dummy has found lots and lots of uses for tools that he didn’t even know existed, let alone knew that he needed. Bolt-croppers and a 38” crow-bar anyone?
Don’t get me started on the 38” crows. More of all of this, later, if Sir S.R. Ape remains indulgent.