Second Christmas

If the hobbits can have second breakfast we can have second Christmas. This time we were celebrating on board Firecrest on 25th December. Sadly it is the first time I can remember that we haven’t been able to go to church, but that wasn’t going to dampen our spirits, we knew who’s name we’d be singing a happy birthday to as we washed our hands that day.

I’d decorated the corner of the saloon with a miniature Christmas tree, that had been delivered by post complete with lights and decorations (thankyou Carole) and added the gifts we had been given last week. Everything looked perfect.

Firecrest’s Christmas corner

I won’t go into all our little traditions but as you can see we had a good time.

Goodness knows where we’ll put it all

Lunch was a prepped turkey roast intended for four, but hey we need leftovers to last the week.

Turkey roast from our favourite Suffolk butcher

But the effort was worth it.

Mmm not sure the cook is supposed to wash up as well

More presents in the afternoon, usually Eric gives me a jigsaw.

Easily pleased, he’s already drunk the whisky

but I turned tables this year and had this one printed from what we consider to be our best photo of the year. There is a confident kingfisher, who’s territory is the Market Harborough Union Wharf. And his favourite perch – no pun intended, just happened to be right opposite where we were moored. We saw him so often we became rather blasè about “our” kingfisher. Eric was able to snap away with his digital SLR most days.

What a poser

Try as we might, didn’t quite capture the moment he dived for his dinner, even though we saw it happen several times.

Preened and proud

So as we wrap up our Christmas cheer, I want to say thankyou to all our friends and family who found a way to send cards, gifts and good cheer. Thankyou, we love and appreciate you all. And to our friends and family who have not been able to celebrate this Christmas, particularly the families of Connell, Chris and Angie you are in our hearts and prayers.

Black is beautiful-and so is our bottom

The reason for our season here was to have our hull re blacked at Debdale Wharf Marina
Typically narrowboats are taken out of the water every few years to re paint the hull which protects the metal. Depending upon what sort of finish you want/can afford etc determines your choices. Traditionally the original wooden working boats would have been hand painted with bitumen tar to seal any gaps and preserve the wood. It’s still used today, but bitjmen is a soft finish and prone to being scraped off, plus, metal isn’t absorbent like wood. Nowadays a two-pack epoxy resin paint is much more hard wearing and longer lasting. Although it’s still feasible to do this yourself, our lifestyle and skills meant we chose to hand Firecrest over to the professionals. We opted to go the whole hog and have the hull grit blasted, zinc plated and then two-packed. Not the cheapest option, but it’s guaranteed for 10 years so in theory we don’t need to have the boat out of the water again before 2030. Though in reality we probably will, just to pressure wash the hull and check it’s all ok but we can do this ourselves, so the sums arent quite so negative in the long term.
If you open this link to Debdale wharf, there is a video showing what they do.
The whole process was relatively easy. The hardest bit was tidying up inside and moving “stuff” off all the work surfaces so nothing would slide off during the crane out.

Hmmm Is that really Firecrest

With everything shipshape and secure on the Monday morning we apprehensively, handed over the keys, waved goodbye to Firecrest got into our hire car to drive to Heather’s for the week.

Just testing the crane will lift 18 tonne of boat

However the most traumatic bit of the day was during the drive home. We were hit by a piece of debris falling off an oncoming lorry. It smashed into the wing mirror and destroyed it. We’re still thanking God that it didn’t hit the windscreen otherwise it could have been really nasty. Thank goodness for car insurance, the bill came to just under £700.

That was a close call

We managed to sneak in this trip to Heathers legitimately, on account of being made homeless for the week, but we were well aware that restrictions could be tightened at any point so whilst we consciously kept a low profile and didn’t do the usual round of visiting friends we did celebrate “first Christmas” (Second Christmas will be just the two of us and third Christmas will be when we finally get to see our son again.)

First Christmas

The seven days flew by but it was exciting to get back to admire our bottom. We arrived in good time to see the whole process of Firecrest leaving the shed and being craned back into the water.

Emerging from the warm shed

It’s obviously a well oiled machine, the team worked as one, efficiently and confidently, whilst able to chat to us about what was going on.

Attaching the front fender

I really didn’t need to have worried about the boat swaying. Debdale have a gantry crane with a double webbed cradle that is remarkably stable.

If he’s brave enough to stand there, the crane must be strong enough

But it was still a huge relief when we were finally back in the water.

Floating again

Debdale provide their customers with photos of the weeks work and whilst I wouldn’t usually share photos of us with no clothes on, this shows Firecrest‘s hull just after pressure washing. The white scratch marks on the base plate show the damage done from scraping along debris thrown into canals. We think they are white because of the electrolysis effect from the anodes whilst we were moored in Liverpool’s briney basin. You can also see how much original paint has flaked off leaving the steel vulnerable to rusting, which only served to confirm the need to have a hull re blacked.

After pressure washing

You can see the difference before and after the grit blasting . The surface is now perfectly prepared for the zinc to adhere.

Before and after grit blasting

The molten zinc is sprayed on straight after the grit blasting has been done to prevent any oxidisation. You can see the image of the stern showing the hull zinced but the gunwale above the rubbing straight is just grit blasted ready to receive the two-pack with its cream flashes. And finally the hull is fully clothed in nice shiny black two-pack

Zinc and blacking

What you can’t see from any of the photos is that the gunwale is now in need of painting so it matches the hull. It’s a quick and easy job, something we usually do once or twice a year just to keep it looking pretty. But for now we are back out on the cut, with a huge sense of relief that we don’t have any deadlines or obligations in the foreseeable future. And apart from that pesky little bug doing the rounds, we are free to “fly” again.

Moored just beyond Debdale

Meandering around Market Harborough

We weren’t able to do exactly what we had planned during our stay in Market Harborough but being given permission to stay for the full 4 weeks of lockdown gave us plenty of time to explore. We moored just outside the entrance to the Union Wharf basin. We had a water point next to the boat, there are at least 5 along this stretch of mooring. And the other essential services were a few minutes walk in the basin.

Looking towards the end of the line, At Union Wharf

Being November, we had to snatch our opportunities as the weather was miserable a lot of the time. The Towpath had nearly as much water as the canal.

It’s about a mile’s walk into the town center, past some lovely Georgian buildings

Walking into Harborough

And a fantastic Victorian fishmonger, open right onto the pavement. complete with marble slabs and hand made tiles, where I got the freshest of mackerel. It’s a pity there were so many customers to have taken a photo of the whole place, but I’m very glad to see it thriving.

The Old Grammer School in the centre is unusual, it is built on stilts because Market Harborough had a reputation for flooding. It was also the head quarters for the royalist’s cavalry during the first English civil war. Nowadays, it is an open hall for hire.

The old grammar school

Thanks to lockdown, we took the opportunity to walk further out of town. Gt Bowden is a quintessentially perfect English village, we could imagine the roaring fire in the pub whilst we strolled around. Instead we enjoyed the outside, and you will have to take my word for it that the Florentine Millionaires shortbread, from Weltons deli really did taste a million dollars.

Looking towards Great Bowden Church

Mind you it wasn’t always us doing the looking, we got the distinct impression we were being watched as we walked to the Farndon Fields farm shop.

That’s a well fed bunny

Time to Reflect

I don’t cope very well when my world is restricted, or rather I cope by closing in on myself. Eric and I are very content living on Firecrest, yet while I’m quite content with my own company, and love interacting with just one or two people, I struggle with crowds. Hence my lack of posting over the past month. I haven’t lost my “happy space” it’s just become a lot lot smaller, and I find it harder to share.

We spent November moored just outside Union Wharf in Market Harborough.

Union Wharf Arm, Market Harborough

When the government told us to stay home and CRT told us we could only cruise for essential services, we had to debate going for rural and enjoying the permitted cruising to keep the tanks appropriately occupied, or to opt for the convenience of civilisation, with a water point and services all on hand. Having been spoilt during first lockdown in Liverpool with everything available, we hoped for more of the same.

Gallows Hill, Gt Bowden

Market Harborough is a superb little market town, it’s somewhere I could imagine living. Besides it having a canal, it’s got lots of independent shops, selling locally made produce. 18 months ago, when we booked the boat in for blacking at Debdale we were positively looking forward to spending the exciting run up to Christmas here, with fairs and concerts to enjoy and happy people all enjoying the hubbub of life. Alas non of that was to be. And I just felt overwhelmingly sad. Our own suffering has been limited to inconvenient restrictions, but for so many, worlds have been ripped apart physically emotionally and financially. And sadly, unlike some, I don’t have a magic wand.

Flying high over Market Harborough

We made the most of our time, and got out walking. This part of Leicestershire might not boast the most dramatic scenery but it’s awesome to stand at the top of a hill and look across the fields for miles.

Looking down towards the village of Gt Bowden

And as always we remain hopeful.