The terrifying 22 minute solo voyage of Captain Bean

The thing about boats is, they want to move. They want mostly to move away. Even your gen-yew-ine boat du boats, the Cardinal, takes off at the first opportunity like a machine on a lonesome mission. In spite of my cabbage-green state of dis-experience even I am aware that it is imperative to at all times be in full and sound possession of a piece of stout, hairy string tied to the boat, to prevent its straying too far and to facilitate recall.

Boats don’t answer to whistles, I’ve tried that, and nor do they answer to tearful entreaties from the towpath expressed in English, Latin, French or Anglo-Saxon. They answer only to stout bits of hairy string.

Snoozing again.

This morning I awoke to discover a very dull, drizzly day but a day with little to no wind. Hithertofore, Hutson has moved in the welcome company of his trusty crew, Hutson-elder. It was, methought, high damned time that I moved home all by myself, and today was the day.

  • Caffeine – tick.
  • Muesli with a banana, soy milk and two small Valium – tick.
  • Centre-line securely attached & draped to stern, within easy reach – tick.
  • Stove chimney removed, lighting mast lowered – tick.
  • Paraphernalia of a diverse nature laid to hand, in case of moorings of a diverse nature – tick.
  • Cover removed.
  • Ignition key on little floaty cork ball discovered.
  • Fingerless gloves on – tick.
  • Tick, tick, tick.
My trusty centre-line. Something like eighteen tons of my home on the end of, occasionally.

Having procrastinated quite long enough making ticking sounds, the time, as times always do, arrived when it had to be dis-moor, un-rope and set the Cardinal free, as free as a bird. Well, as free as a swan would be more appropriate I suppose, given his elegance.

Thingy is, by the time you’ve set the bows free and then walked back down to the stern to undo the adventurous knotting there, the bow is already straining at the leash and blocking half of the canal. The even more thingy thingy is, by the time a chap’s slipped the lines at the stern, the stern is drifting out into the great blue “oops, I can’t leap onto that, not from here”.

So I didn’t. I yanked the Cardinal’s lead, and persuaded him back to the towpath to wait for me to board. Giant leaps may be all very well for mankind, but I have no intention of taking any when in the middle of deserted nowhere and on a cool, damp morning in an English March. Not ever, in fact, unless the proverbial Devil is poking at my hindquarters with a warmed poker (under which circumstance you’d see a giant leap like no other).

Once aboard it was into gear, add an extra hundred revs or so to tickover and away we went. We went a lot less “farther” than I think the Cardinal was expecting initially. Since Hack Green was so deserted – as in “devoid of witnesses, bar the sheep and their lambs” – I decided on a couple of launchings immediately followed by gettings back to the towpath, just for practice. Then and only then did we proceed under Burrows Bridge and away into the sunset. Um, the dawn.

The Cardinal was eager, very eager, and it seemed such a shame to disappoint him but disappoint him I did, for my target was the visitor moorings at a place called Coolé Pilaté. I’m going to hide there until the weekend traffic, such as it is, has abated, and I can explore the service delights of Overwater on a Monday – hopefully with fewer people to watch my tiddly-widdly manoeuvres with the throttle and the steering stick. That, and it’s a damned nice and rural part of the county of Cheshire, to be grokked in full while the opportunity arises. A mile, or just shy of a mile, was our tally.

The long blue mile.

Damn, but all alone I felt like Hornblower captaining his first prize ship back to England.

looked more like Sid James, of course, in Carry on Cruising, but inside, where it matters, I was Hornblower, midshipman of Her Majesty’s fleet.

None of the dog-walkers on the towpath laughed, anyway, so that was something, yes indeed, Myffanwy (we are quite near wales in this part of the country).

Such a meagre move that even the vast mobile and microwave-repeater tower of the Hack Green Nuclear Bunker is still visible on the horizon, with the camera on “zoom as far as you can zoom”.


I suspect, for I am suspicious in such matters, that the visibility of the aforementioned tower is the reason why I can get a decent signal from EE, the mobile data wallahs.

My practice landings came in handy when Coolé Pilaté hove into view exactly twenty-two minutes after setting off. I aimed for the first available mooring and achieved the second, looking as though that had been my intention all along. Thank you, the Shropshire Union Canal Society for the mooring rings and things. Much appreciated.

It is, once again, raining (last night was torrential), although I am pleased to report that the raindrops are falling wholly in accordance with the laws of gravity this time, the wind having remained nothing more than the breath of a wolf upon one’s neck.

We are re-tied, using my favourite nautical knot (the “dog’s dinner”), and it is now time for luncheon, followed by a spot of reading to aid the digestion and then maybe some proper work. Actually, there is a work-party here this weekend, so if the rain stop I may find myself with a paint-brush or similar in hand, doing some upkeep.


Everything is stowed safely away, back in its place, the stove is lit and has been asked to “please just take the damp chill off the day” and my solar panels are struggling to find a star to feed upon through this thick layer of grey nonsense.

England in springtime.

The Cardinal has harrumphed, muttered and gone back to snoozing, like a dog in his basket. His next trip will be three or four times the duration, with some interesting manoeuvres included. After that, in due “canal-time” time, “whenever, whatever, what’s the rush, Norman?” we’ll be heading back north towards Nantwich and Dorfold Hall and then Beeston Castle.

Assuming that my “dog’s dinner” knot on the bow holds.

Otherwise we might be there sooner.

Probably backwards, and I’m not certain that even I have the faux-chutzpah to make that look intentional.


Ian H.


    1. With each trip I am gaining a little more confidence. Some of the original gets knocked off, a larger portion is added each time! Fingers crossed that it stays that way! 😉

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  1. An adventure for the curious soul, and a grand read for us on land to follow along with you. You do make your current situation sound so idyllic, even the greyness of the day couldn’t tamp down the joy. I am wondering, did you ever post a floor plan of your grand Cardinal? I do wonder as they are so long how well they handle? IF two of these were to try to pass by each other what are the chances of doing it without losing paint? Hugs

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    1. They’re actually quite controllable – it’s just that the wind plays such a large part in the process. Slowly slowly slowly is the secret that I am finding – time to react, time to slow down and stop. When two narrowboats pass each other in opposite directions the bow is always pulled out a little, but it’s consistent, so can be allowed for (at least, it can, if I am awake and compos mentis)! Each boat pivots (steers) about a point something like a third to halfway along – and they none of them do reverse very well! I’ll post some detail on the floorplan and the changes we’ve made – the Cardinal is very open, with just the shower-room the only enclosed space and separating off the sleeping cabin. The Cardinal is just about the perfect “man cave”! 😉

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  2. What a different world you and the Cardinal live in! May you fare well in the nautical life as you ply the seas of wherever you are. (Do they provide maps of the canals as you roam?)

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    1. Maps are indeed available, I have a complete set of canal guides too – the show important things such as areas large enough to turn a boat around in (mostly the canals are far too narrow to just turn around at whim) My learning curve at the moment includes finding water supplies, where to get rid of rubbish… it’s, seriously, all great fun too. 😉

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    1. My calculations indicate nearer to half or two-thirds of a brave soul. Actually, it was great fun – once I’d got over my flying solo jitters and managed to forget for a while that I would, at some time, have to come in to “land”. 😉


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