Is it cold in winter… and other stories

That and toilets really. Those are the things people ask about first when they find out you live on a boat. I’ve long had a stock (and true) answer which is that it being too hot in summer is a much harder thing to deal with. This little tin can heats up vent nicely indeed, but venting the heat away is much harder than warming the same space small in winter.

I type this whilst there is an inch and a half of ice on the Caldon Canal at Endon. I know that because CRT came past in a square fronted tug yesterday, with two guys with poles breaking ice as they went. It was painful to watch as well as listen to. Square fronted boats are hard work at the best of times but in ice they are just the worst thing. I nipped out for a quick word and they said they were hoping to to get to Etruria. I wished them luck and retreated to my desk. An hour later a second one came past, The ice was still in bits so they made better progress. A little while after that, they both came back. Apparently the first one had broken down and they’d towed it back. Can’t say I’m surprised with the constant revving and reversing.

Ice at Endon, 12th December 2022

It did however give me an opportunity, as the broken ice meant that I could reverse back to Park Lane services and get water. The reversing was the easy bit, the ice held the boat in a better line than it would normally take, but when I tied up I soon realised that the hosepipe (which is permanently attached to the water tank) had water in it, so was frozen solid. pouring hot water over it didn’t help and eventually I detached it and brought it inside for a few hours to defrost. Thankfully with nothing but the work boats moving, staying put on the water point until mid evening wasn’t a problem. The only real challenge was safely getting back to my towpath mooring after dark when everything had become slippery. Pulling the boat into the side – with ice still everywhere – both in the water and on the towpath was a particular challenge. Anyway job done.

I was hoping not to have to top the water up this week but I’ve wasted a lot as the pressure relief valve in the water system has failed and triggers – pouring water over the side – whenever the water pump is on. Never had this happen before and I jumped out of my skin when the bang-bang-bang of the spring loaded valve repeatedly opening started as I was eating breakfast a couple of days ago.

I now understand what needs to be done and it’s a really horrid fiddly job. The valve is at the bottom of the hot water tank – at the back obviously – and the tank is behind the fridge, under the bed (because you use every space!) The job will be to turn the heating off, drain the water tank down, disassemble the bed, change the valve and reverse. That’s certainly not going to happen while we’re in this cold snap so I’m temporarily living with the water pump turned off except at the exact moments I need it.

The – very well hidden – pressure relief valve

Today’s task will be to top up the diesel. The main cabin stove drinks the stuff at this time of year, some of it keeping me warm, the rest keeping the fish warm. I’ve never known a space with such an extreme temperature gradient as the cabin of this boat. The floor (there is poured concrete below the carpet) can often be below freezing when ceiling level is well over 30°C. I use a fan which circulates the air and helps a bit but the trick is definitely to stay as high up as you can for as much of the day as you can.

On a day like this she will burn maybe 9 litres of red diesel and the tank holds about 80 litres so needs to be topped up every week. When I’m in this area I buy fuel in drums from a petrol station in Leek. It was £1.19.9 this day last week, so my heating bills are not dissimilar to many houses when you do the sums.

I’ll need to get fuel for the generator as well. Charging the batteries is another job that needs doing at least every other day and when I’m moored up a genny is marginally less antisocial than running the big old engine for 3 hours. When I was on a marina mooring earlier this year (and that’s a whole different story that I’ll come back to) I was on a shore line for long enough to work out that electric from the genny costs about 3 times as much as mains electric. Thankfully I’m relatively frugal, barring assorted screens and other devices on my desk.

So yes, it is cold – and warm at the same time. It keeps me very busy even when I’m not moving. And I didn’t even mention the toilet!

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  1. Brian Anthony Holt

    Best you get friendly with a farmer or maybe the railway and maybe get it a little cheaper. I paid £1.29 for my last fill up from the marina at Fazeley.

    • It’s a strange time when £1.20 feels like a bargain. Hard to believe it was 69p in Leek in November 21. The most I’ve paid at any point this year was £1.55, from a fuel boat down south.

  2. As it happens I’ve recently been thinking about super-thin floor insulation, and have come across this range of stuff called Thermablok.
    Might be worth a look.
    Stay cosy.

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