I have not been out much on GB in the last month but still have the pleasure of doing a little maintenance here and there when I want to. I can decide to stop over or not, top up the food and fuel just ready for when I want to go out etc.
That does not mean I have not been spending time along the canal this autumn. Now that the holiday boats are thinning out, and many of us leisure cruisers are thinking of tucking their boats away for the winter, you can not but notice those that remain are mainly the live-aboard boaters with no home mooring. As a waterways chaplain one tries to look out for those in need, and they are there.
Sometimes this is their chosen abode, for many it is the only thing they could afford following some break up, medical issue or other trauma in their life.
With no home mooring they have to keep moving, over 25 miles out and back during the year. Yet they may need to visit a clinic or benefits office frequently.
Often they have no access to internet yet many of the applications for benefits or appointments and other communications are done via the internet.
Once they miss appointments they may loose all benefits resulting in no food and forcing them to reluctantly ask for a food parcel to tide them over. I have seen boats with not insulation at all, just cold steel next to the water. There are boats with so many rust holes in the side and badly fitting doors that you can watch the scenery through them, if you can stand the cold blast of the draft in your eyes. I came across someone with no access to cooking other than heating a kettle on top of a fire, which took over an hour to boil. I have seen slight boaters pulling their 14 ton boat along just to keep moving and to save the little diesel they have left, or because either engines are broken and they can’t afford to fix them on benefits. I have seen a boat so rusty that when started the canal water poured into the cabin.
Most of this I have seen not a stone’s throw, or a golf ball’s chip, away from the UK Golf Masters championship ground where a day ticket would cost half a week’s benefits and Sunday lunch about the same.
I’ve seen some boaters valiantly helping others out. One with recent leg injuries limping a mile down the tow path with a 13kg gas cylinder to lend it to someone else with no gas for cooking, then limping off for miles to get their post and replacement engine parts.
The water points are 6 miles apart so you often see owners of broken down boats carrying their water for miles. Effluent disposal points are even further away.
And with winter coming, jobs difficult to get especially with no home address, nights longer and mornings colder is it any wonder that depression creeps in, and it rarely comes alone?
So if you do see any of those disreputable looking boats, with half a garden and contents of their garage and shed on the roof, just consider there may be someone inside trying to catch the drips, stuff paper in the drafts, stay warm on gathered firewood and eke out the water until they have to face the cold and go to fetch some more.
Meanwhile I will continue to wonder at my good fortune and feel more than a tinge of guilt when I enjoy my old tub.