Buying a barge called Maria Cornelia. A tale from a barge beginner.
By Gary Cookson
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 the windows 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 years of experience and lots of qualifications. On my very first trip the propellor shaft fell out requiring a more experienced crew member than me to shove an appropriately sized finger into the hole while the remaining crew 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 decided 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 (DBA). It was June 1996 and I had more than six months before the lease on my rented house ran out. Plenty of time.
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.
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 and 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 moorings, 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 somewhere to put it, but one told me about some new moorings coming up in Grosvenor Dock in Pimlico, I put my name down.
It had to be a proper boat rather than a houseboat. I looked at converted barges whose engines had not run for many years and others that had been completely removed to make way for extra rooms.
Barges in carparks
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. Unusual you might 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 holes in the bottom. The engine was in a few too many pieces and someone had very inconveniently built a building right next to it since it had been lifted 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 was for.
The 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 but 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 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 have been better 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 I had trouble understanding. He assured me that it was worth looking at and that his 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 a ‘slight leak’. All three vessels moved gently with the swell grinding and screeching against each other. She was a sorry sight but had nice lines 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 nearby 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 showed me around 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 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 a 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 and strangely 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 it. 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 told me 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 and stained behind it.
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 the 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 me. It was an immaculately restored sailing Tjalk moored somewhere in Amsterdam – this picture was to cause me all sorts of problems.
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 she could 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 to once 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 engineer 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 a bathroom 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. I could 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 the 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 bottle he kept in the drawer for these occasions. I declined politely – it was 10 am, 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 which 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 couple of crosses where the rivet had popped and another near it which was suspect.
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 new anodes. 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 balance.
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.
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 bank 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 heard 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, were 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 looking 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, tools and 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 damp down in the bilge but then I thought maybe 90 year old bilges were 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 pay 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 moved 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 painter 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.
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 of the moorings next door explained to me that the engineer had been arrested trying to smuggle drugs in large quantities 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 dog footprints 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 Dave 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 with the new topcoat.
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 of pliers, 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 on 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 rope that 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 floated along like an overweight waterskier.
The trip to Dave’s 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 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 toothless grin and a mug of tea. We talked about the engineer for a bit and then matters turned to money. Togs hadn’t 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 would take me up 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 Dave 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 to be thin 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 into position.
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 his 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 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 we would 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 dock 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 which was 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 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 heading for London. The Medway passed into the Thames in a blur of refineries and 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. We 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 us backwards 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 a 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 onto a 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 knowing that I had about 3 days to fix the problem, get the boat to Greenland 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 and let 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. He added that he had a new dry dock arriving the next month and suggested I waited to see if she stayed dry and if not put her in the 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 to tow 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, it was 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 10 pm 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 the following 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.
Eighteen months later a much smarter looking Maria was on her way back to Barking creek… but that’s another story.
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