Thursday, 29 January 2015

Update on Alan

Well, Alan has spent a couple of weeks since the retina operation. After a few days he became aware of seeing through what looked like the door of a washing machine as it slowly emptied. There was a clear line of liquid in his eye that was slowly 'draining down', and which sloshed about as he walked. Encouragingly, he could see some misty stuff above the 'water line'. Eventually, this liquid turned into a bubble, which bobbed about at the bottom of his vision, occasionally splitting in two, and then reforming. Today he woke up and it had finally gone.

It wasn't obvious at first, but what was happening was that the 'gas bubble' which was designed to press the retina against the back of his eye was starting to dissipate, and moved upwards in the eye. As we see the ground in the top of the eye, and the sky in the bottom of the eye what he was seeing was the gas bubble moving upwards as it dissipated, not liquid draining down. The bit he couldn't see through was the gas bubble at the top of his eye.

We went back to the JR in Oxford on Monday, and they were pleased with the progress of his retina, but the process has accelerated the slow forming cataract in his eye - this is what is causing the misty vision in that eye - he can see quite well at a distance, but not detail.  We go back again in three weeks time, and hopefully they will discuss with him the possibility of cataract surgery.

Today we went to audiology in Hemel Hempstead. Alan had hearing aids years ago, but didn't get on well with them, during his episode of severe depression eight years ago he left them out, the batteries deteriorated, and that was the end of them. However, it is not unusual for people to speak to him in public, and him to just not hear them. I've got quite used to fielding him on the towpath at festivals, "Alan, X just spoke to you!"

Not only that but I have become increasingly fed up with the conversations that consist mostly of "What?" So, I did what every good wife would do, and I nagged him to get his hearing tested again. Today we went to get the hearing aids. 

Alan drove both to Hemel and home, the first time that he was able to drive, because previously the bobbing bubble in his eye was far too distracting. On the way back he commented on the noise that the traffic going the other way was making. Then, back at home, "does the coffee machine always make that much noise?" 

This is going to be interesting... 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Sometimes life gets in the way

Posted by CATH

We had a quiet Christmas, and went up to Loughborough to meet friends immediately afterwards. 

As soon as we had got back Alan started to say that he seemed to be seeing green flashes, and 'patterns' in his eyes, but couldn't even identify which eye. Since he had some problems with his eyes a few years ago he has had quite a lot of dark spots, known as 'floaters', in his eyes, and has had them re-checked. Last time he was told to put up with it unless they increase drastically. He was aware of a lot of these, but they hadn't really increased a lot over a short space of time.  However, within a day or so he was worried enough to contact our optician and arrange for an appointment the following day.

I went with him, because he knew that his pupils would be dilated, and wouldn't then be able to drive. He went in to see the optician fairly quickly, but fortunately I had taken my knitting with me because after two hours of waiting I had to move the car because our parking had run out. Back at the opticians he was finally coming out of the examination room. The optician had been unable to see anything wrong with his eyes, and had got his supervising opthalmic optician to check. However, they had done a 'field of vision' test, which showed considerable loss of vision on the left side of his right eye. They wanted to do the test again, and Alan opted to have it done the following day, as his eyes were now so tired he wasn't sure that any test would be valid.

The following day the test was done again - only an hour and a half wait that time. The optician said that definitely there was nothing wrong inside the eye - but the field of vision seemed somewhat worse than the previous day - and that the most likely cause was a pituitary tumour pressing on the optic nerve. He was referring Alan to our GP, who would send him for an MRI scan.

Not surprisingly, we were fairly devastated by this news. It also made sense because this is exactly what happened to a former colleague of mine, who discovered a brain tumour at a visit to the optician, and had to have surgery and many months off work. Other people I have known with brain tumours haven't been so lucky. We tried hard not to talk about it, but both of us had some very dark thoughts.

After a day or so of fretting Alan rang our surgery, who said that he had been referred to Stoke Mandeville for further tests. Ringing Stoke Mandeville eventually got a time for an appointment on Monday the 12th January.

We decided to go up to Flamingo for the weekend, to get on with the refurbishment, and to forget about the things that neither of us wanted to talk about.


We drove up to Flamingo, and got the heating going. Around six o'clock I was sitting in the boat, while Alan went to get some things from the car. I heard a bit of a noise outside, not really sure what it was, but I went outside to find the marina in pitch darkness - the lights were not working - and Alan up to his neck in the near freezing water. 

The first thing to do was to get a lantern, because I couldn't even see where he was. Then we took several minutes to manage to drag him out onto the pontoon. In the boat we stripped him off as he was shivering badly, while a small cut on his finger dripped blood onto the floor. He had lost his glasses in the fall, plus the 25kg bag of coal that he had been bringing to the boat.

He had been right under, and was mucky and his feet were very muddy. We hadn't been on the boat long enough to heat the water so I boiled a kettle of water and we started to wash him down - at which point I discovered the gaping cut behind his left ear. This was far too big for me to try to treat, and he would probably need antibiotics, so he needed to go to A & E.

This wouldn't be simple, because we had Odin with us, and we were not prepared to leave him alone on the boat while we spent hours queueing at A & E. So eventually, after some deliberations, we decided that I would drive Alan to A & E, leave him there while I went back to the boat with Odin, and then, when Alan was finished there he could ring me and I'd pick him up. 

Unfortunately we'd left the Sat Nav at home but it didn't take too long to get to Northampton General Hospital, because we just drove towards Northampton, and then followed the big H signs. Getting back to the boat in the dark with no Sat Nav was much harder, and took at least twice as long as the journey there. 

I had just got back to the boat when my phone rang. It was Alan, he had been seen immediately, could I pick him up? So I set off again, found the hospital easily, and once again drove all over Northampton trying to get back to the marina.

He had the cut behind his ear steri-stripped, his left arm was in a sling because he had torn a ligament. His knee hurt and he had extensive bruising up the inside of his right leg, and he had a small dressing on his finger - which they had X-rayed, but fortunately was not broken.

So, not a lot of work got done on the boat for the rest of the weekend, although we did got to complain about the non-working lights. Alan couldn't lift much, and we eventually set off back for home ready for the difficult appointment on Monday.


Stoke Mandeville. I took my knitting again, which frankly was sensible given that we spent a great many hours there. Tests were done, redone and a retinal scan taken. What we heard was both a massive relief, and a new worry.

There was definitely a problem in the eye - retinal detachment. So, no brain tumour, but because of the delays, with the redoing of the test, and the referral through the GP, rather than straight to an eye hospital (plus bashing his head while falling in the cut) the retina needed dealing with very quickly. They tried to get him into the John Radcliffe eye hospital that afternoon, but couldn't get through. We waited. The reception staff went home. One of the doctors went home saying that his colleague was still trying to get him into John Radcliffe. Finally, as the evening wore on he got an appointment for JR the following day. I drove home feeling exhausted and wrung out, we got David to heat us some chips, then we went to bed to fall into a fitful sleep. 


John Radcliffe. Oxford. A long wait at first, then the surgeon looked in Alan's eyes again. "They should have been able to see this." He explained that the tears were very close to the centre of the retina, and that he was hoping to save the macula before it detached. The macula is the centre of the retina, and is involved with detailed vision. If the retina is repaired before the macula detaches, then there is a very good prognosis for 'reading vision'. If the macula detaches, then the percentage chance of detailed vision falls to less than 20%. Mr Peh, the surgeon, explained exactly what he would be doing - which he explained as 'welding inside your eye with a laser'.

Did Alan want a local anaesthetic, or a general? Given that Alan was a very nervous patient when he had his cataract done, and was advised not to have a local for eye ops in future he said 'general', especially as the operation would take at least an hour and a half. Of course, this means that you need an anaesthetist, and so Alan was put on the emergency list to wait for one.

Alan was put to lie on his right side (fortunately, as his left shoulder is very painful), so that gravity would help to prevent any more damage to the retina. They told me I should go away until about 6 pm as there was nothing more I could do, so I caught a bus into Oxford for a few hours. I spent far too much time (and money) in the Oxford Yarn Store, where the kindly lady in the shop made me a cup of tea while I browsed. I then caught the bus back through the heavy Oxford traffic.

Alan had not been to surgery, and was now starving, since he had only had a light meal before 6 am. We thought it unlikely that anything would happen, because it was so late, but Alan was concerned because he knew that time was of the essence with retinal surgery. 

Then, suddenly, at 8 pm, doctors and porters arrived and he set off for surgery. I went home, and got a phone call from the ward at about 11:30 which Alan had insisted that they do because he knew that I would be fretting until I had heard that he was OK. "Ring at about 10 am," the nurse said.


I spent a very frustrating time trying to get through to the hospital. I couldn't get hold of Alan on his phone, because, in all the stress of the weekend he had managed to leave it on the boat. The only person I was able to speak to who knew anything told me to ring back again later, and of course....

Mid morning the phone rang, which I assumed would be the JR. No, it was Northampton General. The radiologist had reviewed the X-rays from Saturday, and Alan has a fractured finger - I was told to get him to see our GP.

In the end I got fed up with not knowing what was going on at the JR, and because visiting hours started at 2:00 pm, I set off anyway.

In the morning Alan had woken up, and although he had a patch over his eye, it was clear to him that he couldn't see anything in the eye, everything was blurred. He didn't find out until he saw Mr Peh again in the middle of the day that this is to be expected. A 'gas bubble' is inserted into the eye to press the repaired retina against the back of the eye while it (hopefully) heals. This takes a number of weeks to disperse during which time vision is blurred. A pity that no-one warned him of this beforehand. This also means that it is not going to be possible to know how successful, or not, the operation has been for some weeks.

Of course, everyone turns up for visiting hours at the same time, and all the car parks had long queues, tempers were fraying and I was half expecting to see fisticuffs, so I drove off a mile or so away and rang the hospital. This time, miraculously, I got through, and got to speak to Alan, who had already managed to ring home and had found out that I was on my way. They were planning on discharging him that afternoon, he would ring me when it was time to collect him. So I knitted in the car until twilight, then drove to the hospital when I got the call. It would be nice to say that he arrived at the car immediately, but I had to wait some 40 minutes, becoming more worried, until he finally turned up at the car. He had his medications, but no instructions for aftercare, or the eyeshield he should have. In the end he had just decided that he would work out what to do when he got home.


Fortunately Alan got a late morning appointment at the GP, who couldn't have been more helpful. We must have been in his surgery for close on an hour, while he rang JR for aftercare information (they said they would ring Alan, which they have just done at nearly 6:00 pm). He rang Northampton who will send a fracture clinic appointment. He took detailed notes, gave advice, and arranged for Alan's finger to be strapped up, and for him to be given a tetanus injection.


A flagship hospital, the surgeon was very helpful and clear, the other doctors gave confidence, the nurses were friendly and helpful. But... no-one seems to know what is going on at any time. I couldn't get information, phones rang for ages, people said they would ring back and didn't. Alan was left in a wheelchair by a porter who went off saying he'd be back in a few minutes, but didn't ever return. Alan eventually had to get nearby receptionists to work out where he should be. Is this symptomatic of the breakdown of the NHS? On the other hand.... Alan passed through the A & E at Northampton in less than an hour on a Saturday night, including two X-rays.


Alan has an appointment at JR in about 10 days. We won't begin to know how successful or otherwise the operation has been until then.


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Maiden Voyage - Third Day

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Friday 28th November.

The day started with the story of the tunnel lamp, but how to tell it?  Yesterday we had briefly passed through the short Newbold tunnel - so short I would not normally have bothered with the tunnel lamp.  However, as it was a gloomy day, I had reached down for the switch, and it had seemed to turn the light on, so I didn't think much more about it.  Last night I knew we would pass through Braunston tunnel today, where it was definitely required, and I wanted to check it, and its alignment, but I threw the switch several times and nothing happened - the first problem to look at today then.

"Nelson" Lock, Braunston
There is absolutely no chance of following cables, so I had to hope the problem was the light itself, or the switch.  It was a freezing cold morning when I clambered onto the front deck, and started pulling things apart, (and they were sufficiently bodged together, that taking them apart was a pain).  The bad news was that the bulb was OK, but that no 12 volts was making it down the wires that supplied it.  However, in the boatman's cabin on what I thought was the switched that had turned it on yesterday, the full 12 volts was present.  There was only at least 70 feet of well hidden cable between the two then that could be the problem.  I had no alternate lamp self powered lamp, and actually seriously considered "borrowing" a battery from the bank in the engine room, and standing it on the front deck to supply the lamp directly, but this made no sense - I was sure it had worked yesterday.

Cath was feeling quite unwell that morning, and had stayed in the warm and not got involved, other that having me come in cursing from time to time to try and warm up.  I really didn't understand how the lamp could have worked, but not now, so said to Cath "it is almost like there is a second switch or fuse that I don't know about".  "What about this switch in the corner at the back of the main cabin?", she suggested, "I think he said that works the tunnel light, so I switched it yesterday as we were approaching Newbold".  Yes, that's right, you couldn't make it up, could you?  Yesterday when I had thrown a switch that I believed was the one for the tunnel light, Cath must have been throwing the one that was actually for the tunnel light!  We tried it, and the lamp, (still hanging on its cables, and not yet"bodged" back on), lit up perfectly - the switch I had been switching made no difference, and it stayed on - that switch had nothing to do with the tunnel light!

This shot gives some impression of an unconverted boat!
All the above had used up at least 2 hours I think - I hope I managed to laugh it off at the time - at least it makes a good anecdote now.  Finally we got going, but had decided we were low on solid fuel, so stopped near the marina to buy some.  Foolishly I had thought I could carry a 25Kg bag the considerable distance the boat was by foot from the marina shop - in practice I would really have struggled, and I was grateful for the loan of a wheelbarrow.  Next we walked a full toilet cassette back to the Elsan disposal point, and found this had been blocked up, and was out of order.  Flamingo had come with no spare cassette, so this was more unwelcome news.  However, all credit, we walked it around the long walk to the private marina, and they allowed us to use their facility.

Still not quite ready to finally start ascending the locks, we stopped for the chandlery at the foot of them.  There I was able to purchase 2 small 12 volt LED lights - not large enough to be main cabin lighting, but sufficient to replace two of the horrible "bus" bulbs we had that were using a fair bit of power, and casting very little light.

I can't remember too much about our passage through our first flight of broad locks with Flamingo, so assume it went well.  we were taking some pictures, and that is usually a sign we are progressing OK.  I remain surprised quite how much it takes to stop the boat, and suspect that things are not quite right in that department - I erred on the side of caution though, and there were no bumps.

The tunnel was passed smoothly - being a full length boat, Flamingo holds its course far easier than Sickle, a boat that has had over 30 feet cut out of it, and is actually far more intolerant of and lapse in concentration.

I know how long it is, but still surprised by pictures like this.
Despite reasonable progress once we had completed all tasks in Braunston, we had not started to go up the locks there until well after noon, and by the time we arrived at the head of the next lock flight at Long Buckby it was nearly 3:00 pm.  Even if things go well, Buckby can take a while, and we could not now get down to the bottom before the light had gone.  So we elected to go down just one lock, and tackle the rest of the flight the next day.

We were become increasingly suspicious that we were using electrical power faster than our single alternator was generating it, and general dully or flickering of lights when water pumps were run was increasingly confirming a problem.  We had some contigency in terms of battery lighting - my bigger concern was that if we lost the inverter that produced mains voltages from the batteries, then we would lose the pump that circulates the water from the boiler into the radiator circuit.  I wasn't confident if this happened that the solid fuel stove would not then boil the water, so was really more concerned about potential loss of heating than lighting, as it was again most cold!

At least I could now install the LED lights I had just purchased at a couple of temporary locations, and minimise battery consumption a little bit.

Braunston to Buckby Locks
Miles: 5.1, Locks: 7
Total Miles: 18.4, Locks: 10

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Maiden Voyage - Second Day

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Thursday 27th November.

Under way - I'm liking the colours, even if the paint is somewhat dulled.
We had concerns about managing the heating system, which currently relies on a circulation pump designed for a domestic installation, running on mains voltage.  For this to work, it was drawing power through a large inverter - a device that transforms the low voltage from the boats batteries into something able to power "mains" voltage equipment.  The indications were this inverter was drawing a significant amount from the batteries, and as yet we knew nothing about the condition of the batteries, or our ability to keep them adequately charged from the single alternator on the engine.  We didn't want at this stage to leave the circulating pump running all night, and compromise the batteries, so had elected to turn off the diesel fired boiler that relied on it.  The end result, (not unexpected), was that the boat was very cold in the morning - really very cold indeed!

The front is ballasted enough to look less "menacing" than an unconverted "Town".
Attempts to relight the diesel fired boiler, (which the vendor had demonstrated to me), resulted in some "blow backs" of flame, which I didn't pay a lot of attention to at the time, but took more note of when Cath pointed out both my eyebrows and beard were severely singed!  Abandoning the diesel stove for the time being, we decided to rely instead on the large coal fired stove, (although this still needed the 240V pump to circulate water).  This, and sorting out some other issues, resulted in a much later than planned departure, but we were in no great rush, and it was important to start understanding better how things worked, and what issues we could face.  Particularly we didn't want to be without electrical power in the evenings, as we wanted to start investigating inside the boat, and measuring it up to prepare some plans from.

Bottom locks at Hillmorton
Before too long, we were working our first locks, the twinned narrow locks at Hillmorton - these are a nice gentle introduction with a new boat, but even though I thought I entered the first  very cautiously, I needed most of my reserves of engine power to not hit the cill at the far end.  This boat takes a lot of stopping - far more than I was expecting.  We passed smoothly up the three locks - sometimes there are low pounds here, but thankfully not so today.  We normally pass my late brother Peter's former butty "Angel" in the flight, and today was no different - there is always a tinge of sadness, but it looks well cared for.

Odin doesn't seem phased that he has yet another "home".
We had decided we would try to arrange to meet a friend for lunch shortly afterwards, and were able to arrange this.  Odin was very pleased, as this was one of his very special friends!  A visit to a chandlery was not particularly successful.  I had hoped to buy some LED based lights - Flamingo was reliant largely on mains lighting, (needing that inverter again), and some very inefficient 12 volt lights which were basically naked "bus" bulbs.  However the chandlery seemed to have little enthusiasm for answering questions about what they sold, so no LED lights were bought.  I was also not impressed however when said chandlers informed me that the price on a very basic chimney I had picked up was incorrect, and it would actually cost a tidy few quid more - with hindsight I wish I had told them to keep it, as the quality is very poor for the price charged.

Passing "Angel" that belonged to my late brother Peter.
Like getting started in the morning, lunch also took longer than expected, and by the time we got going again, with the days drawing in very rapidly, I was not convinced we would make our target of Braunston before darkness.  However I enjoyed learning how to deal with this full length boat around some of the curvy bits of the Northern Oxford that didn't get taken out by later improvements, and was feeling a lot more confident - oh, except if it involved stopping - stopping was taking a long while, sometimes, and I tried to avoid any situations where I might need to do it in a hurry!

Middle pair of Hillmorton Locks - going well!
We did make Braunston in the light, but only just, and had decided we would stop as soon as a space presented itself, so didn't get as far as the junction at Braunston Turn, instead mooring up whilst still on the Northern Oxford.  The towpath was soggy, and the condition poor, and the inadequate mooring stakes we had not doing a great job.  I think they might have pulled out had there been a likelihood of boats passing, but hardly any boats seemed to be moving at all.

As a final gesture, I thought I would make sure the tunnel light was working, as we would need it tomorrow.  I had checked with the vendor that it was functional, but when I threw the switch, nothing happened.  It was too dark now to investigate, but clearly we would not be away promptly tomorrow either.

Rugby to Braunston
Miles: 9.8, Locks:3
Total Miles: 13.3, Locks:3

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Maiden Voyage - First Day

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Wednesday 26th November.

I could of course "forward wind" completely through the period that elapsed between paying a deposit, and agreeing to purchase "Flamingo" and ultimately driving up for a handover, and to start moving the boat.  However, there is inevitably more to it than that.   At the very least there is a period of anxiousness about whether the deal will complete painlessly, or whether anything could now blow it out of the water.  Even putting aside such fears, you of course still have to make sure the seller will get his cash when expected, and it would always seem sensible to make sure you have insurance before the boat becomes your responsibility.

I could bore you to death with the full detail sad story of just how hard our bank managed to make the process of arranging a direct CHAPS transfer to our vendor.  Suffice it to say we had had problems with CHAPS transfers on previous transactions, so I went to some lengths to ensure we would have no repeats.  Unfortunately my best efforts failed!  One person who sounded entirely clued up gave me one set of "facts" about what was required, and a plan of campaign to follow.  However when I phoned the relevant department to set this all in motion, someone sounding equally plausible told me my first advisor had told me all wrong - it didn't work that way at all, and this is what must happen instead.  I had little choice to accept that, but as it turned out, I should not have done.  Later someone senior in the payments department rang me to tell me that what my most recent advisor had told me was even more wrong - they clearly had a "training issue" for which she apologised profusely.  In fairness, she then personally did everything she could to put things right, and as a gesture of goodwill, and without me asking, waived the charge normally made for a CHAPS transaction.  On the day it actually all went very smoothly, despite two people getting it all wrong, but it could easily have floundered had someone competant not got hold of it. (I have probably now bored you to death anyway, and haven't given any of the detail of everything they got wrong!).

Steerers view approaching Newbold tunnel - one of the few pictures taken.
The other thing we had not bargained with was just how much we would need to travel up with.  "Flamingo" would be largely empty of anything.  It had no fitted furniture beyond the kitchen, so there would be no tables or chairs.  There would be nothing to cook with, nothing to eat or drink from.  There would be no tools, if things proved not to be working, or we broke down.  We established there would be some cruising gear like mooring stakes, ropes and windlasses, (though I wish I had enquired about the adequacy of the hammer!)  However, there wouldn't even be coal or kindling.

In practice I'm not quite sure the vendor believed the car load of stuff we turned up with, and to be honest, I'm not sure I did either.  The car was filled to the limits, to include anything alluded to above, as well as essentials like food, pillows, duvet, bedding, etc.  More inventively we had gone prepared with improvised porthole bungs, and materials to make up some internal curtains to act as the internal "doors" the boat does not currently have.  Although we know each other quite well after all these years, neither of us had any great desire to see the other sat on the loo, for example!  Of course to make curtains, you need really need a swing machine, so my grandmother's old hand cranked Singer was amongst the things filling the car to the brim!  Anything that might prove useful in fixing plumbing or wiring, and indeed just boxes of screws and nuts and bolts were also "borrowed" from "Chalice", (though inevitably things that we ultimately found we needed were not always amongst them).

Anyway, on the day agreed, as we drove up with our massively loaded car, (Odin has to share the footwell with Cath's legs), a text came through from our vendor confirming the arrival of the cash in his bank.  There would be no delays waiting for a payment to go through at an undetermined time - something that had remained a strong possibility.  We wanted to try and get some miles in that day, so this was good news.

Our vendor helped us with the considerable task of moving an awful lot of stuff from car to boat, for which we were grateful.  After that he gave us a run through of what was supposed to work what, (switches particularly), but we later found we had really not found out enough!  He had also arranged we could leave our car at the marina for collection later - another great help, as we had thought we might have to do a lot of shuffling around by public transport.  Fairly quickly formalities were over, and he was gone, leaving us with nearly 72 feet of unknown boat that needed reversing off a pontoon, and pointing through the narrow bridges at the entrance.

I'm not sure if I was expecting the initial moves to be as sluggish as they seemed, and of course we were taking things very carefully at first, but we quickly learned it only gets going backwards very slowly, and, as a consequence, if you are travelling forwards, doesn't stop in a hurry either.  we left the marina without incident, but needed some shuffling to and fro to actually complete the turn on to the Oxford canal.

Rugby - fortunately plenty of space for a full length boat this time.
After this we just pottered along gaining a feel for the boat, whilst exploring some of its quirks - for example the speed wheel doesn't currently say where you put it, and starts to wind back from whatever revs you have selected - so most of our initial trip involved one hand kept on or near the wheel, in order to maintain progress.  Not ideal, but no obvious quick fix presented itself!  We had hoped to get to Rugby visitor moorings if we could, because it would give access to a large supermarket for much needed supplies, however we had untimately left Brinklow very much later than planned.  For a while, despite having less than 4 miles to cover, progress  seemed sedate enough that we might not get there before dark, but in the end we did so OK.  Only on arrival did we discover that despite the previous owner saying there were 5 mooring stakes on board, all were damaged or bent in various degrees, and none particularly ideal for tying up such a heavy boat on such soggy tow-paths,  Before we had got very much further, some decent replacements were purchased.  When you buy a "new" boat you can more or less guarantee to be making unexpected purchases for the foreseeable future!

Brinklow Marina to Rugby
Miles: 3.5, Locks: 0

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Finally! - It's "Flamingo".

Posted by Alan

"Flamingo" - (Formerly GUCCCo "Letchworth)
"Flamingo" first appeared advertised on the Apollo Duck website towards the end of October.  The detail given was scant, (there was not a single internal picture of the main cabin), and the asking price seemed "top end".  However the pedigree of the boat was right, another example of a "Town class" "Large Northwich" motor boat built for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company, by W J Yarwood and Sons, the same builder as "Sickle", and, as it happens in the same year, 1936.  The exterior looked well proportioned - a more attractive boat than some "Town class" conversions, I felt.

Back cabin is darkly decorated, but serviceable
"Flamingo" was not a boat I was familiar with the recent history of - I can't recall ever seeing it, and it was certainly not one that attended the shows and festivals.  However, I knew it had a very interesting history in the final days of regular long distance narrow boat traffics in the 1960s.  It had been acquired by Willow Wren, and worked for them more or less until they ceased operations.  The name "Flamingo" comes from Willow Wren's habit of changing the names of many of the boats they acquired to those with a "bird" theme.  Being a "Town class" boat when built for the GUCCCo, it was originally named "Letchworth", and had their fleet number 153.

Lister HA2 engine - believed to have been fitted in 1960s
As we had been trying to buy a historic boat for well over a year, but without success, Cath and I had already decided that for any boat that came up, we would now try and view all of them, unless there were very obvious reasons why a given boat would be unsuitable.  A conversation with the owner didn't leave me very confident - the boat was clearly a significantly unfinished project at best, and the price really did not seem to reflect this.  None the less we arranged to go and see "Flamingo".

Very open interior - looking rearwards, towards entrance
I think the honest answer is that the first viewing left us with very different feelings!  I saw huge amounts of work required, and likely huge costs, not to mention masses of man hours, to get the boat reasonable.  Cath however, I later found out, as we discussed it away from the owner, saw a boat with huge potential - perhaps in some ways more than others we had tried to buy.  We agreed we would go away and think about things, but I had probably gathered far less information about "Flamingo" than I had on other viewings, because I had already, I think, decided we would be unlikely to be pursuing it.

Very basic kitchen area - almost no storage, currently
We mulled it over for several days, but anyway I did the maths, "Flamingo" was just too expensive, given its condition.  We assumed as it was new to market the owner would not yet be ready to take a much lower offer, and we were not prepared to go anywhere near the full asking price.  I was therefore surprised when he seemed to be indicating he might move on price by quite a lot.

Luxury bathroom - not!  The most devastated area by a long way.
After a lot of heart searching, Cath and I decided to ask to go and see the boat again.  However further discussions then revealed a bigger gap than I thought we had between the sellers expectations, and our own attempts at coming up with the very most we might consider paying.  We were not it seemed close enough, and he had other people planning to view the boat.  We decided to wait until they had done so.

"Large Northwich" front end - bedroom is under the "cloth shaped"part of cabin.
After an agonising period where the vendor was not contactable, (though to be fair he worked shifts, was often abroad, and his mobile regularly didn't work where he was!), we assumed we had once again lost out, and a deal had been struck elsewhere.  However when we did finally establish contact, he had rejected one offer he described as "silly", and nobody else had after all viewed the boat.  It was time for us to take another look, although it was some time before he was available for this.

"Willow Wren" livery - a little faded, but still attractive.
The second viewing convinced me it was at least as large a project as I had felt after the first viewing - in fact it was probably bigger!  Cath, on the other hand, saw just as much eventual potential as she had the first time, and if I looked beyond all the missing walls, damaged linings, and bundles of wires hanging from the ceiling, I could actually see where she was coming from.

An unusual gap in the cabin forward of engine room provide main cabin access.
Another walk around the marina, to contemplate away from the seller, and we decided to take the plunge, provided we could meet half way between the numbers we had both had in mind up until that point.  He could, so a deal was struck.  My personal opinion is  that he would have struggled to get more, but as I have thought that about two previous boats that somebody has actually paid more for, perhaps I just have unrealistic expectations.

Either way, we handed him a wad of cash as a deposit, and started to discuss dates by which he could do a hand over, provided we had the cash ready to transfer.  it looked like we had finally bought another historic boat - a bit down at heels now, but with an interesting history, and the potential to be far, far  more than what we were looking at at the time.