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The beginner’s guide to flooding your boat

February 14, 2014

When we first bought Freya, in Holland in 2008, she had some fairly rudimentary systems. Lighting consisted of a dozen desk lamps strategically balanced on shelves, connected by daisy chains of extension leads. Heating was delivered in the form of a spacious but spectacularly inefficient coal stove, which managed to heat the air space six feet directly above the chimney to furnace like temperatures, whilst leaving the rest of the boat with frost on the windows.

Water was stored in a barrel.

Over time, we have slowly but surely worked to make these systems better. We now have full electric lighting (with switches and everything) in the bedroom, and if the weather’s not too cold, and the coal is just right, and the month doesn’t have an R in it, we can just about wake up in the morning without first cracking the ice off the faces of our watches.

The water situation is still… problematic. One barrel has since turned into four, connected by an intricate system of pumps and pipes, but it still only contains 800 litres, meaning it needs regular refilling. The water tends to run out at any one of the following times:

  1. 11 o’clock at night when you’re brushing your teeth and it’s snowing.
  2. Six in the morning, just after you’ve applied the shampoo.
  3. During a cooking emergency, when the only thing that will save the boat from immediate incineration is a swiftly applied gallon of water.

Filling the water tanks is one of the less fun chores in winter, involving a trudge up the muddy bank to the water point, unfurling an iced-up hose, and running this down to the bow of the boat, whereupon it is fed into the front hatch. You then need to scramble into the front cabin (a midget would find it cosy) and fumble around in the rusty, musty dark, to insert the hose into the tank. You are then required to go back outside, turn on the tap, and wait forty minutes for the tank to fill.

Probably the most important step in this process is then to turn it off. Failure to carry out this step results in an admittedly slow, but spectacularly persistent method of destroying your boat. There are no ball valves, alarms or overflows. The water goes straight over the top and directly into the bilge.

It was whilst Ben was enjoying his third pint at the pub that he discovered his error – in the form of me phoning and asking him if there was anything he meant to do upon leaving the boat an hour earlier.

“Oh bother,” was his reply.

Ok, those weren’t his exact words, but I’ll also admit that my polite enquiry wasn’t actually so polite. It wasn’t just my sarcasm that was dripping, but also my clothes, hair – anything that came within the vicinity of the bulging plastic tank, spouting hose, and rapidly filling bilge.

I’m a bit of a drama queen – it wasn’t that bad (although I did have to change my socks). But it did occur to me (in vivid, dripping detail) what would have happened if I’d gone with my beloved to the pub. There we’d be, knocking back our snakebite and blacks without a care in the world, looking at the big screen tv and feeling sorry for those poor bastards in Wales whose houses are being swept away in the storms, blissfully unaware that a mini manmade climate change was taking place in our own home, only in reverse. Good job I’d been left at home, and decided to wander into the bedroom for reasons now forgotten, to hear the peculiar, and alarming, sound of a babbling brook beneath my feet. A few more inches (granted, it would have taken hours) and the water would be gently lapping over the floorboards.

Enough telling off. Ben has had more than his fair share of punishment by spending the entire next day up to his armpits in bilge pumps, grease, and 1500 litres (as a conservative estimate) of icy scummy water. He’s not convinced the pint was worth it.

Of course, we’re now in ‘never again’ mode, and lengthy discussions have been had concerning ball valves, hose releases and water gauges… I sense the imminent arrival of a weighty package from screwfix. I only hope that when we finally plumb in the all-singing, all-dancing purpose-built water tanks, there is some contraption incorporated that will warn us when the tanks are getting empty, as well as full, so that I won’t ever again have to go to work in a hat to hide the dried-in shampoo. It’s happened more than once!

The boat is still a work in progress. The portholes leak and mould grows where it shouldn’t. I have a yearly rant as to why coal manufacturers can’t package their products in bags that weigh less than a human corpse, and why the local rowing team are allergic to daylight and must carry out their training in the pre-dawn hours of a Sunday morning.

But for all the dramas, the bumps in the night, the absurd amount of diesel one engine can use to propel itself forward at four miles an hour, I’m still the proud owner of a 107 year old floating (for now at least) home. I may just need to invest in some wellies.

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