When we began our search for a new boat, almost from the off we knew we weren’t after a modern boat. We looked at a few and, for us, they really didn’t press-the-buttons.
Claire, early on in the search, brilliantly encapsulated what we were after by describing it as ‘a boat with soul’.
We rapidly moved from seeking a budget boat to a historic boat, from a quick fix afloat to a long-term renovation project.
And when we saw Eileen we knew we’d found the right boat for us.
Eileen is a historic boat – registered at Tipton in 1903. The more I find out about her history the more drawn-in I become. I’m hooked on finding out the slightest detail about her, and her biography is in a constant state of flux as new information comes to light.
Tangentially, out of the Eileen research, have emerged several other unexpected historical projects I’m slowly gathering material on, for example BCN day boats. A year ago I’d hardly heard of them and what I did know could be written on the back of a postage stamp; now each image, each piece of new writing is pawed over hungrily, and I’ve enough to begin drafting a short history of these once numerous, and hugely successful, boats.
Then there’s ‘roses & castles’ as I paint up my first water can; there’s ‘Kelly Kettles’ and all manner of low tech cookers and kettles; and there’s everything from the secrets of the Cold War food stocks, to Anderson shelters and Romney corrugated stores…
And last but not least, there’s the surprising confirmation of my family’s long association with the Cromford Canal during the late 19th and early 2oth century. The study list grows like Topsy and each new nugget helps enrich my appreciation of our boat, the craft and culture of our inland waterways, and my own family’s history.
Whether it’s admiring the historic boats at Braunston or Shackleston, Stoke Bruerne or Little Venice; or joining enthusiasts at the Historic Narrow Boat Association’s meetings; or my delight at learning that Eileen merited inclusion on the National Register of Historic Vessels; my first year back afloat has been enormously enriched by history and the powerful sense of rootedness and place it’s engendered in me.
Owning a boat again feels right, it also feels exciting and optimistic and in many ways increasingly acts as an antidote to the multiple stresses of working or city life.
I take owning an old boat enormously seriously. For me there’s a strong sense of both responsibility (for her survival) and guardianship (respecting her history).
We decided from the start that we’d not be attempting a full restoration, after all that’d entail unpicking decades of additions; removing, for example, the cabin and engine, and going in search of a horse to pull her along the Cut!
No, we decided from the outset that our renovation would, on the one hand assure her survival, and on the other be fully respectful articulation of her long history.
We’ll be thinking carefully about each addition we make, ensuring that the changes are ‘in the right spirit’.
Our family is the next chapter in Eileen’s history. I hope the photo posts over the year, illustrating our various mini-voyages on Eileen, have captured just a little of the adventure we’re experiencing…
We can’t wait for the second year!