Forget solving a problem like Maria, how do you black a Cardinal’s bottom? #narrowboat #England #canal #boating


Once every two years, more or less, the protection on a narrowboat’s hull has to be re-applied. This is called “blacking” because the paint used is black.

The Cardinal was due, so a few days ago, having mooched up from Middlewich to the boatyard that was top of my enquiries list, I strolled in and made enquiries. Thinking two/three/four or more months hence I was a bit surprised to be told ‘we can begin today and get the first coat on while the weather’s good, do please enjoy this 10% discount and fetch the boat around to the slipway at your earliest convenience.

Chief among the reasons why I wanted to get the job done at this boatyard is that they use a rinky-dinky patented-invention trailer to get the boats onto dry land; the Cardinal would not be swinging on straps under some ill-maintained, ill-driven crane arrangement. Second among the reasons, and no less important than the first, is that this is one of few (very few) boatyards where once the boat is back on hardstanding I can continue to live aboard…

The Cardinal coming in to land – quite literally. Cardinal Wolsey coming out of the water at Aqueduct Marina, Church Minshull, February 2019. You can see the “this is how the marina does it” rooster-tail of white water from the prop.

I put the Cardinal on one of their visitor moorings and immediately thereupon the boatyard’s insurance policy took over, ๐Ÿ˜‰ , I stepped off and one of their chaps stepped aboard to manoeuvre him onto the semi-submerged trailer at the slipway.

Onto the trailer, keep the prop turning until the tractor has taken the weight… Cardinal Wolsey, Aqueduct Marina, February 2019.

Hydraulics then lever down the big wheels at the rear of the trailer and the boat is pulled out of the water. All much more pleasant than some horrid – and much riskier – crane arrangement.

Towed up the slipway at Aqueduct Marina, Church Minshull, February 2019. The Cardinal weighs some 17,000kgs when empty, and here, full of my worldly goods and chattels, he is having a serious effect on the tyres of the tractor at the front…

Because it was all so sudden an arrangement, no more than thirty minutes from casual enquiry to moving the Cardinal from his canal moorings outside the marina, I had made few to no preparations. The stove was still lit, my ropes are now out of reach up on the boat’s top – and I am not about to walk the gunwales, they being six foot higher than usual and over hard ground – and I just had time and the thinkery-thunkedness to grab my coat and man-bag for the few hours while he was being steam cleaned and scraped. Twas late in the after of the noon when I was allowed back on board.

I grabbed what little video I could.

You can see what a civilised process this trailer makes of getting my home out of the water, so much better than dangling mid-air from straps and crossed fingers.

This process is also a land-mark moment in that I have now seen every crook and nanny of the Cardinal. When last he was blacked it was in some semi-secretive customer-not-allowed-in-the-dry-dock arrangement. This is the first time that I have seen all of the hull and seen the prop and rudder arrangement close-up.

Some of the worky-worky bits of Cardinal Wolsey, the prop and the rudder. Pre-blacking, Aqueduct Marina, Church Minshull, February 2019.

While we’re high and dry we will also be having a set of fresh anodes fitted, the previous set(s) having been eaten away while doing their work of corroding away instead of the hull.

An anode, having worked hard for me eroding away in place of the hull.

This being England of course, weather immediately stopped play, and the Cardinal is now languishing with two-thirds of the first coat of blacking on and the stubs of the two-generations-ago anodes removed. The anodes shown can remain until they disappear, the new will be welded on alongside.

Cardinal Wolsey, with half of his slap on, half off.

Life aboard while on the hardstanding is really limited only by not being able to use the sinks or shower (since they would empty onto anyone walking or working below, the drain exits being above the waterline in the hull sides), and by having to use a ricketty-racketty abondoned-by-someone-else-but-useful-to-me Heath Robinson arrangement of steps – meaning that I can only board to the stern (usually I get on and orf at the bow when moored). You have to admire that lovely extension to the top step – the word “unstable” obviously not featuring in the original designer-builder’s lexicon!

Those rear doors are on the list to be modernised, they still sport their (horrible) canal-esque carving… Cardinal Wolsey. Aqueduct Marina, February 2019.

The coating requires some six days to cure and dry properly, so we’re here for a while yet (six daysย after the last coat, natch).

If –ย when – the weather plays ball once more I may take t’opportunity and do some of the paintwork that is needed along the gunwales myself, while on dry land. I also want to oik off the weed hatch and mayhap replace the seal. Plus, the engine is due a service too, so if the sun shines I’ll be bounding around the engine bay a bit, for a while. It all depends not only upon the weather but upon synchronisation with my energy levels… ๐Ÿ˜‰

The outlook here cannot be described as “rural”, but itย does have the benefit of lots of big boys’ toys rushing about – boats and tractors and trailers and fork-lift trucks and HGVs abounding – so there’s always something to watch. After these few days I can now tell you who is best at manoeuvring the boat-trailer, who is happy in their work and who is not… Nosey R Us, Observant Is I.

Damn, I think I may have channelled Yoda there for a monent. Please do forgive me, Little Ones. Unstable am I, best of times at the.

Showers and wotnot are taken in the marina’s facilities block. Water for drinkery-cookery purposes is available from the usual taps down by the waterside. No change there then.

The local supermarket has delivered my groceries.ย Thatย was a pleasant change, since they could park the van at the bows, and I didn’t have to lug a trolley-load of shopping miles along a towpath! Outlook on life is always better with fresh orange juice, spuds, carrots, onions, cabbage and broccoli!

The marina and the canal are far away, off behind that tree to the top left, where you may just make out the boats in the marina. Cardinal Wolsey, Aqueduct Marina, February 2019, up on blocks…

Being here is a bit like being a tin sardine in a tin marina, cheek by jowl, although without any water. Very few of the other boats are occupied, and at night the boatyard assumes the character and feel exactly as you would expect an empty boatyard at night to feel. It is anย interesting experience, but then I have always lived inย Interesting Times.

Unusually, we’re hooked up to a mains electricity supply (pre-pay card), so the battery bank is feeding on an all-it-can-eat 230volts basis, whenever it feels hunger. The solar panels are anyway, even at this season, still supplying most of my sparrow-like needs and we are taxing the local nu-cu-lar power station not a whit. I paid for 125kW hours, and last time that I read the meter on the connection we had used but 5 of those 125.

All we really lack is a break in the wind and rain so that the remainder of the hull can be re-cleaned, re-scraped (after its unexpected spell in the meteorological inclemencies) and the first coat finished. Then comes, sometime, the second coat, then the drying period and then we’ll be back atย sea on the canals again. In truth, given the howling gales here that would make moving the boat impossible, I am in no great rush!

The interwebnets here would, I suspect, be non-existent were it not for the Cardinal’s amplified MiFi aerial up on top (yee-haw – thank’ee kindly), and – as you may see from this post – I am just about able to connect with the world via the world-wide webbing, most of the time.

Mr Stove, despite our increased altitude, is keeping the boat nice and toasty, even with the wind howling under us as well as around and over.

I must away now and murder some vegetables for lunch.

It’s all go here, you know!

I am a black-belt in the ancient martial art of Hurry Up & Wait.


Ian H. and Cardinal W.


  1. Your videos are always fun to watch. ๐Ÿ˜‰ … I imagine that both you and the Cardinal feel a bit like fishies out of water, fishies on wheels even. ๐Ÿ™‚ … may you both return to your native element swiftly and efficiently. ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. Talking of PC, are you allowed to say the cardinal is being blacked up? But if you could get to keep that tractor and trailer jobby you could have yourself a houseboat / caravan conversion. That would be fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Should I ever succumb and fall prey to the “PC” lobby please shoot me in the head! I must confess that I rather covet the tractor itself, although I have no idea what I would do with it – a splendid vehicle for driving around in after the coming “zombie apocalypse” methinks…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. In the current “PC” climate this is probably illegal to think let alone to say, but whenever I catch sight of the Cardinal up on blocks I am reminded of being parked in Liverpool, sans wheels… ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a nice way to get your chores done. Snug and convenient, except for the water. Which I would find annoying. But I suppose a whole lot of the current world and for most of the past all of the world, had to haul water, so I’m just showing my lazy distaste for inconvenience.

    I hope the weather cooperates and the Cardinal swoops back into the water shiny and ready for more mooching down the canal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The “manual services” element is nothing fresh, usually I have to move the boat somewhere near taps and sluice rooms as well as do the manual filling and emptying! At least here it’s all on-site. The processes involved in living on a boat, though, have been a wonderful incentive to reduce my use of any and all resources; would that all folk (had) to live this way, there would be far fewer environmental problems abounding! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. I have on occasions considered a problem like Maria, but never coating the Cardinal’s bottom. That was actually really interesting (I don’t mean to sound surprised – I just was). It must be a bit odd in the boatyard at night, though…

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    1. Daytime in the boatyard, on its busier days is fascinating, night-time when it is deserted is akin to living on the set of some Hammer House of Horror film… It’s just one mor place that I hadn’t foreseen myself living for a couple of weeks! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. Absolutely fascinating to read and see all this going on and pleased you and Cardinal Wolsey have not been parted. Reminds me of temporary conditions having a new bathroom installed (i week with pans of hot water in the downstairs cloakroom) and a new kitchen (7 weeks! of hell trying to live with extra onboard occupants living here), I envy you that quiet stillness of the night. Good luck for a speedy return to normality!

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    1. This morning has dawned in a somewhat more clement fashion (although the afternoon is slated to be grotty a la mode) and a painter gentleman is slapping on the remainder of the first coat as I type… ๐Ÿ™‚

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