Monday, 27 April 2015

Decisions....decisions..and more decisions

Spring has well and truly arrived at the marina
Well Spring has finally sprung here in South Derbyshire and although the marina’s 6,000 daffodils have come and gone, the tulips are now taking over and the trees and bushes are frantically budding. The Canada Geese have finally settled down after a month of choosing their mates and warding off rivals, and it’s finally warm enough to sit outside the marina’s Boardwalk bar, with our pontoon pals. Now all they have to do is to get some decent beer in.

Our pontoon pals on "J" and "I" enjoy a Sunday afternoon drink outside the marina's Boardwalk Bar
We have now been back in the country some six weeks though it seems a lot longer. Before we left New Zealand, we had formulated a plan, and had a clear idea of where we would be in one year, three years and even had a long-term plan in place. We like plans.  I like to have some sort of structure and Pat likes to plan and is rather good at dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

Well, most of these plans have gone out of the window in these few weeks – the time scale has been accelerated, and the way we live while in the UK has taken a bit of a U turn.

Realistically, we should have been out cruising by now. We have certainly had the weather for it, but we put it off until the 1 May, to carry out some remedial work on the boat. That’s now slipped another week or so, as the marina is hosting a bit of a bash for its volunteers next week and we have been invited to attend.
Last weekend we headed south, back into Hertfordshire, and stayed with our dearest pals Bob and Penny in Mill Hill, a leafy suburb, high above North London. I think we visited four or five of our pals as well as relations, while we were there, many of them coming up to retirement. Most were having to make some pretty serious choices about the way their lives were changing and the ramifications of their decisions, so we are clearly not alone in that area. It was also good to see our son Kev, and are delighted that he is coming up to the boat over this weekend’s Bank Holiday.

Our "Enterprise" hire car. Quite a novelty to be back on four wheels 
I have mentioned on more than one occasion in this blog that we were considering applying for “Residential Status” in New Zealand. We don’t really need this as we can stay up to six months in any one year, but it would be very handy to have it as we get older, if we want to spend more time there.
So this week we have filled in an “Expression of Interest” form – some 24 pages of it. On receiving this and scrutinising it, the relevant NZ department in Auckland will then either invite us to apply for residency or turn us down. We remain quietly confident that we fulfil most of the main criteria, but are also conscious that life is not always straightforward and we could be turned down.

Only 20 more pages to fill in
That said, we have had to adopt a timetable of events and have decided to sell our home of 30 years in Welwyn Garden City later this year and plan to move back into the house over the August Bank Holiday weekend to decorate and tidy it up. We had planned to keep it rented for another 12 months, but an opportunity has presented itself here in the marina, that we feel we cannot ignore.

Our present view of the lodges on the opposite side of the marina
We have decided to buy a lodge. There are 12 of these facing the water, on the other side of the marina from where we moor, and two plots remain. The marina has offered us a number of inducements which include five-year’s free mooring for “The Cat’s Whiskers”, and a substantial discount on the normal price. Some of the lodges are residential and some are rented out as holiday homes, which the marina manage. We would live in ours for two to three months a year and rent it out for the rest of the year. Our pals on the pontoon are already planning a New Year’s Eve party!

One of the lodges, that is rented out. This one only has two bedrooms, so the lounge area is a bit bigger.
As an investment it is not perfect. Nobody has sold a lodge yet, so it is uncertain what the lodges might fetch. What we do know is that the owners of the marina are planning another 20 or so similar lodges, in a different part of the marina, once the last two are sold, and they will be £20,000 more expensive.

Pat works out where my ukuleles might go
I suppose we both realise this is not the perfect answer to our lifestyle, but it is about as close as we can get at the moment. The lodges are very secure, within a gated community, so we have no worries about security while we are away. We enjoy the community spirit that exists here at Merica and really like this bit of the country. Over the last few days we have visited several of the lodges, both the rented ones and the residential properties, and have been impressed with what we have seen and heard.

Our plot where the lodge will be located
They are very well built, and insulated, with all main services. We can go out on the boat for a week, or a month, and then return to the marina and enjoy all its facilities, either on the boat or in the lodge, depending on whether it is rented out or not. Deposits have been paid, and Pat has been busy planning the layout, which will be three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Whether we will be able to moor the Cat’s Whiskers at the bottom of our garden remains to be seen but we hope that all our pals will come up and visit us once we are in.

Last Saturday we joined a few of the marina volunteers to plant out a meadow between the marina and the canal. Armed with herbs and small trees we planted several dozen plants, before rain stopped play – the first rain we had experienced for several days.
Pat and Magda (our artist in residence) go tree planting
This mild weather has really helped our maintenance plan and I have polished both sides of the boat, touched in the battle damage from last year’s Northern Campaign and am currently painting the bilge (around the engine) and treating the rust that has started to appear.

So we have decided to ditch our journey on the Upper Thames but still come down the Oxford Canal and spend a bit more time on the Grand Union. We will need to get the boat back into the marina late in August and I will have to return a few weeks later and move her the 15 miles back to where she was built as it’s time for her to come out of the water and have under the waterline treated with what is known in the trade as “Two Pack” and have the anodes replaced. Then she needs to go back to Mercia so I am looking for some volunteers.

Toodaloo chums

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

"Spring"ing into action

I find that when we meet folks from around the world who have visited our fair shores, their abiding memory of Britain is often how much rain they had to endure. This is further reinforced by foreign travel guides, with their principle recommendation to always pack a sturdy umbrella, whatever time of year when visiting the UK.

Pat in action at the marina's Easter Monday craft fair, collecting on the local Air Ambulance stand
Now I am well aware one of our national pastimes is to obsess about the weather so I will be true to stereotype and whinge away. Well, maybe not whinge but comment, as it seriously affects what us boating types can get up to. Especially as we do not have a car at our disposal.

There has been a lot of rain about since we got back to the UK, and an awful lot of wind. Last week we had white-topped waves scudding over the marina as we were lashed by 70mph winds. Today it is glorious, as it was yesterday on Easter Monday, but I guess that is not particularly unusual at this time of year.

The change has meant I can get on with the remedial work needed on the outside of the boat. Nothing serious, but if you leave the scars and battle damage that goes with extensive cruising, then you are asking for a rusty boat.

Our roof top box (where we keep our chimney and excess wood) was one of the first targets. As you can see from the first picture it was pretty bashed up. I contacted a few canopy makers in the Midlands and they all wanted over £100 for a replacement. Pat went to Dunhelm, and made it for £15, and it looks good. The girl is a genius with a needle and thread. I am in awe.

Our old roof box cover 

replaced by our all new, Pat-built, cover

When it has been fine, we have been out walking. The tow path is always muddy at this time of the year, but we have a number of good walks of various lengths and the sound of new-born bleating lambs is never more than a few feet away.

These little chaps live just across the road from the marina

We have already welcomed our first guests. Vic, an old school friend, who divides his time between New Zealand and the UK. He visited us last weekend with his partner Liz. They are actively looking for a narrowboat to live on over the summer months, a bit like us, and were on their way round the dozens of brokerages and marinas in the Midlands, looking for something suitable.
At present the marina is hosting an art boat, and one of their community-based projects has been to construct a willow spiral in the field between the marina and the canal. It’s a bit like a maze that curls around itself. So we spent last Saturday morning cutting and bending local willow into shape. It looks pretty “pants” at the moment, with lots of holes, but it’s already budding and I am sure when we come back into the marina in the autumn it will have some shape.
Planting out the outline of the Willow Wheel, helped by our first guest of season, Liz
Easter has come and gone and after a cold and cloudy start it picked up. We took part in an Easter Egg hunt at the marina on Saturday lunchtime, though spent more time in the pub than walking the towpath looking for clues.
Searching for clues along the towpath, with Ian, Louise and Sarah, on Saturday's Easter Egg Hunt
Easter Sunday was surprisingly warm and on Easter Monday we volunteered at the marina’s craft fair. I thought we would be put on litter or car parking duty but we were asked if we would help on the local air ambulance stand and I am really glad we did. We had a very good four hours, talking to boaters and visitors who flooded into the marina. Mercia is certainly a real magnet for visitors when the sun shines, and it was the first time we had really seen the marina bathed in sunshine. The local air ambulance is a popular charity and many visitors were very generous. This essential service receives no government funding, which surprised many people - £20 keeps the helicopter in the air barely 10 minutes and it turned out that Pam, one of our neighbours on the next pontoon, is one of the helicopter doctors that man the service. She popped along to say hello.
"Give us yer money"
We have also had a visit last week from a marine engineer that our boating pals Eileen and Ian recommended. Even though we changed our propeller last autumn, after hitting several subterranean objects in and around Manchester, bending one of the blades, I am still experiencing excess vibration through the tiller bar. I have also been getting a lot more water in the bilge that I should.
I feared the prop shaft might be at fault. He lifted the lid, looked at the engine and told me it was clearly out of alignment. He can sort it out, but has recommended we get a new Centraflex coupling to replace what is already fitted. We have a chandlery on site and the price is over £300, but luckily they are having one of their “Freaky Fridays” this week, where everything is 20% off.
Hopefully, he can fit it before we leave the marina at the end of the month.
Toodaloo chums