68 hooks and a constant reminder of Dame Julie Andrews – Guest Post by Ian Hutson…

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.

What?

Hooks.

Hooks?

Hooks.

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?

Tach.

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.

Ian Hutson

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29 thoughts on “68 hooks and a constant reminder of Dame Julie Andrews – Guest Post by Ian Hutson…

  1. Hysterical! As the owner of a sailboat and a friend with a larger one with all sorts of wiring, I felt embraced by a brotherhood (or sisterhood). You’re just luckcy the wiring wasn’t knob and tube. How did you arrive at the name? I face the same daunting task, and was thinking of naming the sailboat Tiny Dancer until I took her out, sliced my hand on some line or other, and kept yelling ‘bloody boat!’ So now she’s the Bloody Dancer!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Pleased to make contact! As you say, coming up with a name is amazingly difficult – I wrote down a couple of dozen, just words that I liked the shape, sound, feel or colour of, and then worked through them looking for objections. Cardinal Wolsey suited because of his period in history, and he was, by the standards of the time, a decent enough chap for one of the robber barons. He did things such as in time of famine in England buy food abroad and distribute it at standard price with no profiteering. Most narrowboats are bright reds and greens and have fun names, but my boat is a (lovely) sober dark blue, and I wanted a sort of a serious name, something to reflect the boat’s slow and stately progress around the canals.

      Hope that the hand’s healed! Sailing boats must be a handful to control – a fun handful. Wind affects the Cardinal a lot, but I have an engine to bargain with. I confess to loving seeing sails of all varieties out on water – especially when the water catches the sun and produces those primal sparkles… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sailing is very addictive, although of course everything depends on the wind. I did wonder why you named your boat Cardinal but painted it blue! Even a cardinal (not the bird) sports a red hat! Word to the wise – never go anywhere without a roll of duct tape!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Hey Ian, Mr. Chris, Sir S.R,

    Arriving via John’s re-blog on Words To Captivate, and lacking any sense of boating savvy, I thought I’d squeeze a small space on the poop deck and watch you and bro graft away whilst I get better acquainted with the infrastructure of your vessel.

    Thank you for the post, a delight indeed to read your flowing and humorous story from start to end, your writing is excellent and very easy to slip and slide into upon wet boards. Indeed a pleasure to trickle with you merrily between the faulty wiring, batteries, frayed fan-belts, questionable hooks and previous misadventures and incompetence above the Cardinal. You did indeed have a labour of love ahead of you. Is the photograph at the head of this piece the old boat or the new? It looks decidedly well maintained, but I see no name upon his prow?

    You have an engaging wit my friend, a wryness, a dryness cut with subtle sarcasm (very endearing) coupled to a choice turn of phrase….’smudges’ as flowers brought a smile, the Julie Andrews mention had me chuckling well before mention of Mo’orea, which I misread as Moria, the word that wizards do not mention out loud in Hobbiton or the Shire, had me laughing out loud instead. I’ve read the piece twice now and finish my reading still smiling. Wonderful post, thank you.

    May I ask if references to UK Public Schools are legitimate. Are you ex-public school? I attended Haberdasher Aske’s in Elstree and know the schools you mention. Indeed one played ruggers against them.

    Curiously I met a chap, a boat owner like yourself, who made mention of canal-boating across the Alps. To thi day i am not certain if he was pulling my leg, perhaps you’d oblige in offer a definitive answer. Can one canal boat across the Alps? The chap in question went on to describe a journey a friend had once taken with their boat across China, Russia and Europe and returning to Liverpool having crossed the Channel. Again I have no idea if he this tale a further tease. It sounded pretty convincing, including detailed accounts of sections of the long journey that were accommodated by rail and the changes in rail gauge and cuisine when crossing boarders and changing countries. I imagine such a journey possible, but wonder quite how long it would take?

    I’ll leave you to your graft, to swabbing the decks and splicing the battery wires. Best wishes with the project if it is still on-going, and if not, happy wandering. Thank you for the post.

    If celebrating, enjoy your Easter Weekend and the bonus of a bank holiday. Take care.

    Namaste 🙂

    DN

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hello and welcome! I am mightily glad that you enjoyed this article, I worry that I will become – or indeed already am – a thorough bore. The Cardinal’s transformation is just about completed, leaving me with some minor finishing jobs (trim and such) and, of course, regular maintenance… The boat in the first photo is the Cardinal at the time of purchase, actually in excellent condition, just a little too traditional for me, and in need (as all boats are) of some TLC.

      I can’t imagine taking a boat anywhere near anything more mountainous than we have in England & Wales – even that requires thousands of locks to accommodate the terrain. Other than that, travel in “the abroad” 😉 is quite feasible. The Cardinal is certified for rivers – provided that they are reasonably tame rivers, we’re not planning on running the Amazon or finding the source of the Mississippi. We’re flat-bottomed, if you’ll pardon the expression, so the calmer the water the less my decanters get jiggled about. Folk do take these design of boats on the European canals, mixing it with the ocean-going boys, and one or two “adventurers” have taken them across the English Channel… not my idea of “insurable fun”! At some time in the future I will seriously consider having the Cardinal put on a lorry and a ferry, and taken to visit Eire’s canal system, and maybe the French canal system – they seem to be very civilised!

      Schools were the bane of my childhood life, since we moved every two to three years and I was convinced that we were on the run (in fact my Dad was a civilian but working on RAF bases in Cold War electronic warfare techniques, hence the moves). I attended schools as diverse as a village school on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland with twenty pupils of all ages and just one teacher, to the aforementioned Huntingdon Comprehensive, with its two thousand two hundred pupils (mostly with adolescent criminal records, as rough as it comes). Somewhere in between were brief spells at a very posh place in Stamford, Lincolnshire (where we couldn’t afford the school cap, let alone the rest of the uniform) and – the best year of all – an entire year without attending school at all, while we lived in a family friend’s zoo (I kid you not). I loathed school, and schools loathed me – the best year was the year of “no school”! The “top” schools such as Eton and Winchester et al were never blessed with my presence, in fact I believe that they opened fire with sidearms and hand-grenades on my parents’ approach…

      😉

      Liked by 3 people

        • There are indeed limits tothe sizes. The maximum width (the beam) is generally regarded as 6′ 10″ (although some historical boats are 7′ – they meet problems in the locks at that width). The lengths vary from as short as you like up to about 72′. The Cardinal is 57′ long, that is just about the maximum size to allow me to travel anywhere on the system. Oddly, air-draft or height above the waterline (and below it) is a factor too because of the shallow water in a lot of canals, and the worm-hole size of some of the tunnels – just inches to spare on a good day!

          Most folk, I think, don’t live on their boats but keep them in marinas and only get to them during weekends and holidays. There’s a bit of “us and them” sometimes with we live-aboards being regarded in some circles as “not quite the done thing”. I don’t know why, it’s a brilliant life!

          Liked by 2 people

          • 6″10 ouch. My RV was 40.4 feet long, with a width of 8 feet with Slides that extened that some times as much as four feet to a side. I loved it but Ron couldn’t live in it for more than a year and half. It crushed me to sell it. Oh well, life is an adventure. Hugs

            Liked by 2 people

      • Hey Ian,

        My apologies for something of a tardy reply, my week has been a rollercoaster in permanent flux, or so it seems. I trust you are well, and thank you for the enjoyable reply.

        Flat-bottomed or otherwise, the Cardinal appears to have relished your nurturing and sits proud upon the water once again. A years worth of love, spit and polish and a fulfilling outcome, your rewards for honest endeavour. The generally good condition of the boat in the opening photograph certainly had me fooled, I imagined it were the ‘finished’ article. Will you be posting, or might you have already posted an image of The Cardinal as He appears now?

        I trust your decanters are firmly secure sir without need of hook, duck tape, extensive wiring, or a prayer.

        Naïve fool that I am, I hadn’t appreciated boat- licencing was differentiated by ‘type of water’, but of course it makes good sense. Your mention of navigating neither Amazon nor Mississippi encouraged a smile…I imagine there are those sufficiently ‘adventurous’ to consider the possibility feasible. Indeed good luck, best wishes and happy wandering in anticipation of your Irish and French adventures, I wonder which will offer you the ‘greatest’ personal reward. My guess would be Ireland and Her civilised waterways, extending the romance as one journeys Westwards leaving the Anglo-Saxon to embrace the rich heritage of Celtic nations. I trust you will enjoy the beauty of Wales (perhaps you’ve already sailed her) en route to Irish water.

        Regards my schooling, I would have welcomed side arm fire and grenades, but alas my parents were permitted to sign me up for the duration at Haberdashers….a full scholarship was awarded or my place would not have been afforded. My father also worked within the broad sphere of Aviation, concluding his career with Boeings in Seattle as a senior future projects design engineer. I have to admire your resilience through childhood, the constant moving and disruption is sometimes difficult to accommodate, the challenge being one ask to far on occasion. We also moved many times, which has perhaps promoted the tramp in me, I am currently occupying my 49th address this lifetime around. I hear you on the dislike, nay loathing of school, I too felt caged, compressed, and poured into a sausage machine with expectation of becoming a homogenised sausage. It’s not me at all, never was, and nor does it appear it is you either sir. Free birds, free spirits, and lovers of water nymphs always. (I have no boat Ian, just love for freedom and spiritual water nymphs.) Do you think your opinion of school might have been different had a longer period at public school been an option for you or would it have changed little within you? May I also ask if Huntingdon Comprehensive was your personal testing ground…a challenge to overcome prior to entering adult life? I would not have fared well as you, perhaps even deciding to leave with dotted handkerchief affixed to a pole and my cat tagging along for the ride before school was out for summer.

        I have had the call of the waterways whisper in my ear before and almost bought a boat back in 1996 with moorings in Macclesfield. The boat, a dedicated 2 birth vessel had been beautifully restored, re-hulled and fitted for convenience with a little luxury.£17,500 seemed a fair price for 20 years of affordable pleasure and forward motion. It was the romance of freedom once again, the thought of waking to a new place everyday was enticing. Looking back I sense degrees of disappointment in not purchasing her, the moment subsequently came and went when opportunity elsewhere tempted me away. The idea remains, and perhaps if I ever make it to retirement I shall consider it a very real possibility again. I like the idea of being a water snail.

        Thank you for a warm and engaging reply…I fully appreciate Ian why you are a favourite here on WP. You have a certain charm that infuses your words…a gentleman with sense of wit and a craftsman with words. Thank you it’s been a delight meeting you here.

        Take care of you, bro, and The Cardinal. Happy wandering my friend!

        Namaste 🙂

        DN

        Liked by 2 people

        • How do, sir! The schools I went to were all challenging in their various ways, I just didn’t have a great time at any of them. I would have to say that Achmore village school (Lewis) and the Nicolson Institute (Stornoway, Lewis)were the most useful – for one thing I (very eventually) learned to read and write there, much behind my time! Now that I am long-since through with school, of course, I believe that schools should be like concentration camps and that kids should enter once born and not leave until twenty-one, even for holidays – it’s amazing how one’s perspective changes. 😉 Escargot mph is quite fast enough for me (unless there’s a head-wind, in which case I’ll pile on a few more revs).

          Liked by 2 people

  3. I love your journey of discovery. I wonder if you could say what you prioritised and spent more effort fixing over other things. Is there something that keeps needing to be fixed just by the nature of the boat being a boat? Or do things need more attention simply because of purpose and use? Good watering to you, may your motor never die as you are exiting a lock. Hugs

    Liked by 2 people

    • The odd thing is that we searched and searched for boats, and the Cardinal was in great condition – good hull, good engine, it’s just that all wiring and plumbing on boats seems to be… a tad dodgy! Safety and practicality items were prioritised, in that order. The stove (wood and coal burner) has had new heat-board and a new metal surround with increased air-gap, so over winter I felt confident in leaving it banked up overnight. All of the wiring has been rationalised and replaced, some items such as water pumps were previously hidden in areas that could only be reached upside down and back-to-front with a torch held in your teeth, so they were moved. After the safety we went for efficiency items – LED lighting in place of halogen (mind you, that’s also a safety swap, those things get far too hot!), a touch more insulation and some oak flooring. It’s taken me until the past couple of weeks (of reasonable weather) to get around to giving him his first coat of T-Cut & Wax on the paintwork! Now I’m just moving gently around, letting the Cardinal tell me if there’s anything else he needs urgently… 😉

      Liked by 2 people

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