Buying a barge – the wrong way
A tale from a barge beginner.
I’d always liked the idea of living on the water and had been
fascinated by all those boats lining the Thames. The cosy glow through
at night looked inviting and the thought of being able to move your
home from place to place seemed like lots of fun.
Now, I knew nothing about boats yet alone small ships. I had some sailing
experience but only as a crew member and I had managed to escape getting
involved with the nuts and bolts of boat maintenance thanks to living
in London while the yacht I sailed on was moored in Portsmouth.
What I had learned in my few sailing trips was that things on boats
seemed to go wrong, quite regularly, even when the skipper had many
experience and lots of qualifications. On my very first trip the propeller
shaft fell out requiring a more experienced crew member than me to
shove an appropriately sized finger into the hole while the remaining
tried to sail into a tricky berth. On the second trip we managed to
find a selection of plastic bags and string to wrap around the propeller,
requiring the crew to sail into an even trickier berth. Ropes snapped,
fittings pulled out, electrical items failed and all this on a relatively
new boat. Buying a boat wasn’t going to be easy.
Once I’d made the decision that I wanted to live on a boat, I
thought that I would plan everything carefully, pick the brains of
anyone I could
find and generally not rush into things. At this stage I had not discovered
the Dutch Barge Association (who would later provide me with a much
needed source of advice). It was June 1996 and I had more than six
before the lease on
I travelled to west London and met some people living in a converted
lighter on a canal. It was a palace inside. I hadn’t realised
living afloat could be so luxurious. All the comforts of a house – huge
bathroom with bath, shower and a proper toilet, central heating – plus
great big windows where ducks begged for food scraps from the canal.
I asked questions, marvelled at their innovative solutions to everyday
problems, peered into nooks and crannies and generally expressed concern
when they told me about the lack of moorings in London and how much
everything seemed to cost. Plus, it enabled me to find out what a lighter
was (an unpowered ex cargo vessel)
Canal dwellers were a helpful bunch. They allowed me to find out about
holding tanks, water supplies, pumps, boat safety certificates and
hundreds of other things I hadn’t considered. The people I visited
were all selling their boats but were only too happy to give me advice
tell me about living afloat. Other liveaboards were equally helpful.
I had e-mail conversations with a guy living on a small wooden boat
in South Dock marina who patiently answered all my questions about
electricity, heating and anything else I could think of.
I wore out copies of Boats and Planes For Sale searching for suitable
vessels and spoke to brokers about buying a big boat and wanting to
live in London. They all patiently explained the problem of finding
to put it, but one told me about some new moorings coming up in Grosvenor
Dock in Pimlico, I put my name down.
I decided I wanted a barge rather than a houseboat.
I looked at static houseboats and converted barges whose engines had
not run for many years and others
been completely removed to make way for extra rooms. I liked the idea
of being able to move around.
Through a contact at work I was introduced to a guy who had a boat
called a Lemsteraak sitting in a car park in Surrey Quays in south east London. Unusual
think, but he didn’t seem to think it was anything out of the
ordinary. It was a pretty ship but a bit small and had a few too many
the bottom. The engine was in a few too many pieces and someone had
very inconveniently erected a building right next to it since it had
in by crane a few years previously. It was definitely the sort of thing
I wanted though, I just needed a bigger one. I liked the bluff bow
and the very traditional look the Dutch seemed to do so well. He explained
to me in great detail about the types of Dutch barge that were available
and how to pronounce their names.
So far so good, my research was paying off and I was getting knowledgeable
enough to be able to bluff my way in conversations about boats. I even
knew where a foc’sle was even if I didn’t know what it
Next port of call was the Medway where there seemed to be more boats
of the type I felt I wanted – a Dutch barge. I examined a sailing
Tjalk that was 20 metres long. It seemed great although I couldn’t
stand up in the middle and the bathroom was so small and dark it was
hard to tell where the bad smells were coming from. The broker told
me the mast was rotten, it was also expensive. I looked at a Luxemotor
at 30m was a bit on the big side. It was fantastic inside with masses
of space, lots of headroom and a beautiful engine room, it was also
even more expensive. I looked at a steel Dutch fishing boat that had
been converted to live aboard but it was so badly done that it would
suited to filling up with cod than living in.
The following day with snow on the ground I travelled to Cuxton to
look at another Tjalk. The advert read "Planet earth prices – Dutch
sailing Tjalk". I really liked the idea of a sailing barge! I
had spoken to the broker, a rather tough sounding Scotsman, whose name
had trouble understanding. He assured me that it was worth looking
at and that his business partner was an expert engineer who specialised
in converting barges.
Nestled between a lighter full of steel scrap, miscellaneous boat junk
and a small tug, there she was, listing to one side because she had
leak’. All three vessels moved gently with the swell, grinding
and screeching against each other. She was a sorry sight but had nice
with a pronounced sheer to her hull and a big wooden mast lying in
its down position supported by a cradle with all sorts of other spars
that looked pretty sound. She had solid looking wooden leeboards with
steel straps running around the edges and was painted a strange blue
colour although rust seemed to be the main surface coating. She
was cheap by Dutch barge standards.
I learned from the Scotsman that she had been a charter sailing vessel
in Holland but had been lived on somewhere in Kent for the last ten
years. The foc’sle had a full set of sails that were all in good condition
and the engine was a Mercedes. She was also called Maria Cornelia although
there was no name painted anywhere. He left me to skid around the decks
and I was able to verify these facts, pulling up the engine hatch to
reveal an oily monster with a Mercedes symbol on the rocker cover, it
looked like trouble. The foc’sle was huge and had neat shelves
stacked with sails in bags. The mainsail was so big and heavy I could
barely move it on its shelf. They were all a rich red colour and looked
in good condition. At the stern was an unconverted cabin filled with
tools, a dangerous looking generator and miscellaneous spares. It had
potential as a spare bedroom or to continue as a shed.
The Scotsman returned with his partner, an enormous chap in his early
sixties who shook my hand with a grip that felt like he would have
no trouble tearing up bits of steel to repair any hull problems. They
me round the main cabin.
You had to duck your head slightly to get from the main saloon to the
forward part of the boat because of a huge steel beam that supported
the mast, other than that the headroom was good. There were 3 rooms
here with rows of old festering bunks, obviously remnants of her previous
life as a charter vessel, and a huge sea toilet that sat behind a wonky
door in the middle. It was raised higher than the floor level with
step up to it which made it look like a giant rusty throne. Between
these rooms and the main saloon were the skipper’s quarters.
This room was about the size of a double bed with various cupboards
enough it was wallpapered with anaglypta. It smelled damp. Just outside
the entrance, on the centreline of the boat, was a water tank made
of galvanised steel with sharp edges and a generally hideous look to
1970s spotlights hung precariously from the roof with brown water stains
running down them.
The main saloon was pretty big and the decks were tall enough so that
you could sit under them on the built in furniture. The walls were
fairly neatly clad in tongue and groove. Reminiscent of a sauna, they
it was a traditional style – damp, rotting cushions completed the
look. A rusty and well used Morso Squirrel stove, like the ones I’d
seen in various narrowboats sat on the opposite side with a neat chimney
and a tiled area around it. Another stove, a drip fed diesel monster,
was fitted forward of the Morso near the dividing wall with a dirty
black chimney rising to the roof. The tongue and groove was burned
A small shower room sat off to the left with an old sink and an equally
old shower. The large galley behind the main saloon contained a strange
old gas fridge. It was all bit tired with various cupboards in a strange
mustard colour, all the drawers and cupboards were labelled in Dutch.
A strange pump was bolted to one of the worktops with pipes and cables
disappearing into the gloom behind it. The wooden floor was removed
in an area to the left of the galley and the water that was causing
list sloshed backwards and forwards under the floor in a channel between
the poured concrete ballast and the edge of the boat. A dam had been
made with rag and plywood to stop the water running into the main bilge
channel for some strange reason. An electric pump sat in this rusty
soup with a plastic hose running up and out through one of the portholes.
The engineer assured me that it was just a rivet popped and it would
be a simple repair, I left thinking I’d never return.
The two of them invited me back to the office to warm up and look at
pictures of other vessels that they had for sale or had been involved
with in some way. I looked through these and the engineer talked me
through various conversions he had completed. They looked very professional.
He had another collection of pictures of boats that he liked. One picture
stood out and the engineer took it out of the folder and gave it to
It was an immaculately restored sailing Tjalk moored somewhere in Amsterdam – this
picture was to cause me all sorts of problems.
|The picture that started it all
Back at home I propped this picture up and continued my search for
the perfect boat. I couldn’t help but think how similar Maria
Cornelia was to this vessel and maybe with a bit of care and attention
one day look that good. In fact her hull was a nicer shape…
I did some sums in my head and worked out that if I could buy her for
a bit less than they were asking I could afford to spend about six
thousand pounds on a basic conversion and spend more as I could afford
I was living aboard.
The following week saw more perusing of Boats and Planes and various
sites on the internet but there was nothing much around. I rang the
Scotsman and asked a few more questions about the availability of the
to do some of the work. Between them, they put together a schedule
of ripping out everything forward of the main saloon and putting in
where the old skipper’s quarters were, a holding tank under the
side decks, a bedroom with built in wardrobes that utilised the space
under the mast support and new floors. They faxed this to me with some
sketches of how the layout would be and some prices based on using a
B&Q bathroom of my choice. This included, rewiring and replumbing
the boat using another water tank that was behind the galley. I was
impressed, it seemed reasonable considering how much work was involved.
live with the galley for a bit.
I had two months left before I had to move out of my rented flat, it
was decision time. Nervously, I rang the Scotsman and offered 4 thousand
pounds less than the asking price. This, I boldly stated was conditional
upon a satisfactory survey and that any surveyors’ recommendations
regarding the hull were to be carried out as part of that price. The
Scotsman accepted immediately. I’d bought myself a neglected 90
year old boat. I told my friends, who enquired about my mental health.
I wished I’d offered less.
The road to Cuxton passed in a blur of anxiety. I had a cheque for
10% in my pocket and a million questions to ask. After I handed over
deposit, the engineer talked about a surveyor. He told me that he knew
most of the local ones and gave me some telephone numbers. He said
he could organise it all for me, this seemed like a good idea. He produced
a receipt and shook my hand. The Scotsman offered me a drink from a
he kept in the drawer for these occasions. I declined politely – it
was 10am, he had one anyway.
The engineer grabbed a big pad of paper and we clambered over the boat
talking about what he would do and by when. I asked about getting someone
to paint the boat which he said he would organise. I was anxious that
the boat looked extremely unsightly and I might have trouble finding
somewhere to put it, so painting it seemed like a priority, especially
if I was going to moor it in Pimlico. My conversations with the organisers
of the Pimlico mooring left me feeling anxious about when they would
be ready. I rang South Dock marina and put my name on the waiting list
for a 72ft space.
I let the engineer organise the surveyor but rang the insurance company
to check if the suggested person was acceptable. They said he was.
On the day in question, a crisis at work prevented me from attending
I was worried about but secretly glad in case my tiny amount of barge
knowledge was put to the test in front of all the barge experts.
The next day the report popped out of my fax machine at work. It listed
how many windows there were, how many winches were on board, how you
got inside, how many bits of timber were lashed to the mast and how,
in the surveyors opinion, there wasn’t enough light below decks.
After the first 5 pages he got round to mentioning what condition the
hull was in. A hand drawn sketch listed the ultrasonic hull thickness
readings which were all between 5 and 6mm except for an area around
where the leak was which measured between 3 and 4mm. He also drew a
of crosses where the rivet had popped and another near it which was
I rang the engineer the next day who told me he had Maria in a dry
dock and he’d finished the hull repairs. He’d put a doubler
over the thin area, welded up the suspect rivets and fitted a set of
It was all fixed and he intended to pull her out of the dry dock on
the next tide and get started on the conversion as soon as I paid the
Everything was going to plan. The following weekend I took down the
biggest cheque I’d persuaded the bank to let me write and handed it over.
I also handed over a smaller cheque for £1000 to buy some materials
so that he could begin the conversion. He prepared a receipt and told
me he would prepare a proper contract for the following weekend, I
went home and started packing.
|The work begins
Back at glorious Cuxton the following weekend Maria had been relocated
to a berth away from the floating scrap. She sat high up on the mud
with a nice fresh coat of tar on her hull and planks leading from the
to the decks and roof. It was freezing, snow lay on the ground and
a gentle drizzle fell from the sky. The sound of hammering could be
from inside Maria and smoke was rising from the chimney. The engineer
took me into the office and gave me all the paperwork signed by the
previous owner and he signed it himself. More shaking of hands and
offers of drinks
and it was time to go and see the boat.
On the mud nearby were various recognisable items, water tanks, bits
of furniture, the diesel stove, cupboards and piles of wood. Inside
was a hive of activity, two men, introduced to me as Buggsy and Togs,
busy trimming bits of timber and angle grinding the frames which were
now exposed. The stove was roaring away and they were both in t-shirts.
Everything was stripped out of the forward section of the boat, a metal
bulkhead was visible with a door leading into the foc’sle and
the sea toilet sat in the middle of all this on top of a rusty tube
a bit exposed and somehow embarrassed. The engineer told me he hadn’t
had time in the dry dock to plate over the outlet and remove it but
would do so as soon as he could rebook a docking. Elsewhere, wood,
junk were stacked in filthy piles. He drew my attention to the area
where the leak was which was now dry, it all looked very rusty and
in the bilge but then I thought maybe a 90 year old bilge was supposed
to look like that.
The next two weeks raced by with me visiting Cuxton at every opportunity
to look at what had been done and to give the engineer more money.
He had to buy all the insulation, more timber and the bathroom plus
the workers, it was all looking good though. The bedroom was all neatly
paneled out and the mast support boxed in, the sea toilet still sprouted
from the floor but someone had thoughtfully covered it with a sheet
to protect its modesty. The entrance to the forward section had been
across to the left and a new doorway fitted for the bathroom and bedroom.
Inside the bathroom a stainless steel holding tank had been fabricated
and fitted into place under the deck, it was pretty big, which could
only be a good thing. A domestic toilet with a pump had been plumbed
in along with a bath and sink.
The bath had its own pump to drain the
water as it had been fitted as low as possible to give height for the
shower. All the taps and the ancient gas water heater were working
even if the water coming from the tank was bit on the murky side. The
had also been busy despite the weather – scraping, grinding and sanding.
The boat was now looking a more uniform shade of red oxide. He’d
had to remove the leeboards with a crane to get at the hull sides properly
and they now lay alongside the boat in the mud looking like the rest
of the boat junk that covered the area around the boat. I’d ordered
some nice burgundy coloured topcoat through another of the engineer’s
contacts but it would be a while before that would be needed.
|The bathroom takes shape
I gave the engineer another £2000 which he estimated would see
me through pretty much to the motoring out of the Medway stage in another
week. The dry dock was booked to remove the sea toilet and new starting
batteries ordered. The Scotsman told me he was planning on getting a
bottle of something special for the relaunch. South Dock Marina called
me to say they had a mooring available which I accepted as the Pimlico
spot wasn’t quite ready. Everything was coming together nicely.
It was unlikely I would have the boat decorated and ready to move into
but it wouldn’t be too far off, I could finish it all at my leisure
when I was finally living aboard in London.
Back at home the packing and throwing out of items unsuitable for life
afloat was going well when the phone rang at 11pm. It was the Scotsman,
he’d obviously been attacking the celebratory bottle a bit too
early. He explained in between incoherent ramblings that the engineer
had been arrested and that Customs and Excise had searched the yard seizing
everything and sealing it off. He didn’t know much more and by
the time I’d got him off the phone it was midnight.
Cuxton’s acres of mud greeted me early the next morning when
I arrived to find a flurry of activity down at the yard. The owner
moorings next door explained to me that the engineer had allegedly
been arrested trying to smuggle something into France. He was currently
being detained there. Customs and Excise had searched the yard as a
precaution, there had been sniffer dogs all over my boat and the muddy
everywhere confirmed this. I telephoned the police who couldn’t
tell me anything. I called the engineer’s home and spoke to his
daughter who was a bit distraught and not very interested in speaking
to me, the Scotsman promised to help but was clearly having a bit of
trouble even operating the telephone.
The next call was from Togs, who offered to continue the work on the
boat if I wanted him to. He also suggested that I moved it out of the
yard before any angry creditors or associates of the engineer turned
up. His tools were on the boat and he was also anxious they didn’t
go missing. He suggested I meet him at 5am – just before high water – the
following morning to move her up the Medway to where his friend
had a dry dock. He could continue the work there and sort out the sea
toilet when the dock was next empty.
Togs was waiting when I arrived with a couple of coils of rope, the
biggest pair of jump leads I’d ever laid eyes on and a trolley. He told
me that the new starting batteries had been delivered and that we just
had to find them. In the freezing cold and dark we fumbled around the
engineers storage sheds which were in reality rusty sea containers sinking
into the Medway mud. He had very thoughtfully borrowed the keys from
the Scotsman in the pub the night before, I didn’t ask whether
the Scotsman knew. After knocking over several bits of junk in the
dark we managed to find them and load them on to the trolley along
After some heaving, sweating and cursing we had them on the floor of
the stern cabin near the existing battery bank. In a few minutes Togs
had them connected up and after fumbling with various valves gave the
engine a whir round on the starter. It turned over ok but didn’t
seem to want to fire. Togs squirted some Easy Start into the inlet manifold
and tried again, this time it fired briefly. After twenty minutes of
this we were getting nowhere, it just wouldn’t keep running.
Togs got some rag, squirted it with Easy Start and held it in a pair
then a big squirt into the inlet and lit the rag. While I cranked the
starter he held this mini bonfire near the inlet and the engine roared
into life disturbing some of the local wildlife which squawked loudly
in disgust. While the engine warmed up Togs and I dragged the leeboard
that was on the bank down nearer the water, it took our combined strength
just to move it. Togs secured it through its mounting eye to one of
the stern bollards. The other board was sitting on a floating platform
the other side of the boat, this was secured to the bollard on the
other side and allowed to float free. Quickly we untied the mess of
was holding Maria, threw off the planks and motored gently into the
Medway dawn. The leeboard on the bank joined us with a splash and then
along like an overweight waterskier.
The trip to the dry dock took about twenty minutes, past more
boatyards, the engine hummed along nicely and I had a turn at the wheel
for the first time since buying her. The steering seemed very effective
despite all the leeboards under tow but the front of the boat seemed
a long way away.
We moored alongside the dry dock and let the leeboards float about.
Dave the welder, met us there with a grin and a mug of tea.
about the engineer for a bit and then matters turned to money. Togs
been paid for a week but realised that wasn’t really my fault.
We drew up a list of jobs and he agreed to finish them for an agreed
price and would start the next day. Dave would get the
boat in the dry dock and plate over the sea toilet opening and Togs
to South Dock the following weekend, a week behind schedule.
I rang the engineer’s daughter and asked her to give me some money
back. An ambitious request I realised and as I had no paperwork detailing
how much I’d paid her father she declined. I did manage to get
20 litres of black tar and 10 litres of primer out of the storage sheds
but that was as far as I got. All the photographs of the work in progress
were also lost.
Bright and early on Monday morning the welder telephoned with more
bad news. He’d found a hole while welding up the sea toilet.
He told me to ring the surveyor as the whole area around the bow appeared
and needed a large plate to make it sound. On the positive side, he’d
made up some new mounting pins for the leeboards and craned them back
The surveyor turned out to be very elderly and refused to get into
the dry dock because he considered it too dangerous. When pressed on
ability to examine a boat hull he claimed that his survey only gave
a general view of the hull’s condition and that he could not
be responsible for specific areas. He suggested I contacted the engineer
with whom I
had the agreement. Short of suing him, it appeared I had no comeback.
Rumour had it that the engineer had in fact done the ultrasonic testing
while the surveyor wrote down the numbers.
I climbed into the bottom of the dry dock in a pair of borrowed wellies
and waded around in the mud that filled the bottom six inches. With
a big hammer Dave the welder whacked areas around the forward part
of the bow and
invited me to listen to the dull thud it made, he thought the area
had worn thin probably from the boat being on a tidal berth.
One week, £1500 pounds worth of welding and 6mm plating later and
Maria was shipshape again. A neat plate with radiused corners covered
the area, Dave also showed me where he had drilled through and welded
to the original hull, but more importantly I no longer had an ugly toilet
poking through my bedroom floor. He had also spent a couple of hours
with his hammer looking for other problems and found none, he’d
floated her on the last tide and the bilge was dry.
Togs was ready, the last jobs were almost done, he’d filled the
day tank with nice new fuel, checked the oil and we were ready to head
for the Thames. I arranged to meet him at the dry dock on the following
day and we’d pull her out as soon as there was enough water.
Dave would give the bottom another coat of tar in the meantime and
leave at dawn.
A cheerful Togs greeted me the next day as I turned up with sandwiches,
snacks and flasks of tea. The engine was running, the dry dock was
sunk and a soon as he could measure enough water over the edge of the
with his trusty stick we would go. Another experienced friend of Togs
called Steve was also coming along for the ride. High water came but
the stick wasn’t giving a very precise reading. Gently reversing
caused the rudder to hit the edge of the dock, it seemed we were going
nowhere. A lower tide was forecast for the next day so it was now or
never. Togs disappeared and came back with his workboat, he tied it stern
on to Maria with some hefty rope and gave it full throttle, the surge
of water lifted Maria sufficiently to get the rudder over and then a
sickening thump and the sound of grinding metal brought everything to
a halt. Undeterred the workboat roared again, this time both boats moved
smoothly backwards followed by Togs leaping from the workboat and making
Maria fast against one of the bollards on the back end of the dry dock.
He gingerley engaged drive and the sound of Maria’s prop clanking
against something solid could be clearly heard.
Luckily I’d managed to extend my lease for two weeks and I spent
the rest of the day eating sandwiches, drinking tea and waiting for Togs
to call. He sounded a bit tired when he finally did to say that the skeg
had been bent slightly as it hit the dry dock, he’d managed to
straighten it with Dave’s help wading around thigh deep in the
mud and some judicious hammering with a length of scaffold pole and
a big hammer.
My last early morning start in the Medway was a pleasant one as Steve,
Togs and I motored away from a waving Dave with the engine humming
nicely. We took turns on the wheel and standing in front of the fire
roaring away, burning bits of old timber that was stacked in the junk
pile that was now my home. If we started to run out, there was plenty
of old furniture waiting to become fuel. It felt strange to be out
on such a quiet stretch of water but it was an immense relief to be
for London. The Medway passed into the Thames in a blur of refineries
stories from Togs and Steve of boating fun, disasters and Medway characters.
As we passed under the Dartford road bridge someone decided to check
the bilge was ok, it wasn’t, it was full of water. There was an
engine driven bilge pump but this could only pump water from the engine
compartment. A bulkhead separated this area from the main bilge so there
was nothing for it but to start bailing with a plastic bucket. This left
one frightened man to steer and two frightened men to empty the bilge.
Half an hour later and the water level was under control. It wasn’t
coming in too quickly but it was too quick to continue on to South Dock.
Togs knew a man who had a boatyard at the top of Barking creek and in
between shivering and steering I managed to make several calls on my
mobile phone and track him down while they looked for the leak. He was
just closing his yard when I got through and explained my predicament,
he agreed to hang around and try to help. He said he would come down
the creek in his tug to guide us in but the tide was only just on its
way in so it would be a while before he’d have enough water to
come looking for us.
None of us said a word as we thumped towards Barking creek, luckily
Togs knew exactly where it was and we nosed in on the turn of the tide.
touched the bottom a few times and the sound of the prop grinding through
stones and pebbles made us all wince, but we kept going. At the time
a new lock was being built and we just had this in sight when the engine
slowed abruptly. Togs threw it in reverse and then neutral but we’d
lost any drive, the engine stalled, we restarted, tried again and it
stalled, something was around the prop.
We were still floating and the wind was blowing us slowly backwards.
There was a large scaffold pole on the deck so Togs tried to use this
as a punt while I untied a length of timber from around the mast and
used it to do the same on the other side, we made slow and painful
progress towards the lock. The effort was exhausting and the wind pushed
the moment we stopped. Over an hour later and with darkness descending
we reached the lock gate, the wind caught the bow and blew us sideways
across the creek.
More punting from the bow and we straightened her
up again. The top part of the lock was covered in scaffold and through
supreme effort Steve managed to lasso an upright and stop us blowing
backwards. We caught our breath and waited while the tide gradually
filled the creek, we were all absolutely exhausted.
A light appeared out of the gloom and a tiny tugboat came towards us,
a heavy rope was thrown by an unseen hand and we made it fast to a
forward bollard. We were towed 100 metres into a basin and swung round
berth. We tied Maria up and climbed onto dry land. I still had to get
back to the Medway to collect my car, if the boat sank I didn’t
care. Togs had arranged for a lift back for all of us so I got out
my chequebook and paid him for his time. The drive back was torturous
that I had about 3 days to fix the problem, get the boat to South Dock
and move in.
The owner of the yard arrived the next morning and cleared a 3 inch
diameter length of rope from around the prop, he mopped out the bilge
her float on the next tide. He rang me later and told me that the bilge
was still dry, he’d also inspected what he could see of the hull
while she was sitting on the creek bed and couldn’t see any obvious
holes. He thought that maybe a rivet or weld was leaking when underway
from the extra water pressure and that it would rust up and stop the
leak. I was a little doubtful. He added that he had a new dry dock
arriving the next month and suggested I waited to see if she stayed
dock when it was ready.
I asked if he knew anyone who could help me
get her up to South Dock assuming the bilge stayed dry. He offered
her up with his bigger tug and put her on the holding pontoon at South
Dock, he would have someone inside to monitor the bilge and I didn’t
need to come back down to Barking unless I wanted to, he was happy
to bring her up without me the following evening. I had no choice,
living on the street or in a leaky boat, not the choice I envisaged
when I’d started planning all those months before.
Shivering on the holding pontoon at 10pm I could just make out the
glimmer of a light coming upstream, sure enough it was a tug with a
big red oxide
barge lashed to one side. A short while later she was alongside the
pier and a boatyard owner from Barking had a well deserved £400
in his pocket. With the help of some of the South Dock staff early
morning a dry bilged Maria made her way through the lock and the lifting
road bridge to her new berth. I plugged in the power cord and tripped
the circuit breakers of most of the other boats in Greenland Dock.
Still, I was home and dry.
|Home and dry
Eighteen months later a much smarter looking Maria was on her way back
to Barking creek... but that’s another story.