Why can’t I hire a narrowboat in winter? My telephone enquiries were answered in a variety of no-nonsense ways by experienced boat-rental companies. My dad was travelling from Cyprus to join us for Christmas and in my head, a lovely cruise through the winter wonderland of the Grand Union Canal was just what he needed. The experts had other ideas: too cold, no staff, boats in dry dock for maintenance, canal closures and concerns over flooding. We took my dad to the zoo instead.
A month later, Aaran tried a different tack and managed to persuade one solitary marina to hire us a dayboat.
“The heating doesn’t really work,” said the yard owner, as we climbed aboard for our induction at 7.30am. He eyed us carefully to assess our reactions to this news. I think it was an initiation test. We blinked stoically while mentally counting clothing layers. “And don’t worry about the surface ice on the canal. It will melt as soon as the sun’s up.”
This reassuring information was to be discussed often during the next six hours as the little boat took on some hardcore icebreaking. Thick, frozen ice plates slid over each other and refused to do any kind of melting. Crashing and sliding along the Grand Union as the dawn broke was a new experience: loud and terrifying, to be honest. Boaters, moored at the towpath, leaned out of their windows to check their paintwork was okay. (It was.) No doubt they’d been slightly deafened by our approach and somewhat alarmed at the potential for a low speed crash. This is why marinas don’t hire in the winter.
We weren’t deterred. We loved it in the summer and we loved it in the winter. Narrowboats have become an obsession and part of our future. We trawl forums and prepare cashflows. We haunt Apollo Duck and eBay. Here’s the thing: we bought a boat, or rather, we bought a shell. We are confident that we can turn her into something amazing. Then we will buy another and another after that, until we have a little fleet of hire boats, all the time hoping that there are enough quiet times to enjoy with our family and friends.
Naïve? Hell, yes. But give us a chance because we’re going to have a ridiculous amount of fun along the way.