Monthly Archives: May 2021

telling tall tales

telling tall tales

my adventure into writing

“Now, maybe” he thought, as he looked across the river “Maybe there is some rule, or byelaw that says that I should not be here at all.   Somewhere in some dusty office is a book in which is written an edict proclaiming that I should not do what I am about to do, however, in the absence of anybody to inform me of the fact or enforce said edict, I shall carry on and see what happens.”

This is a modified version of my thoughts on the day I first started the motor on my little boat.   I was sixteen and would have saved more for a moped but I got a slightly decomposing 15 ft 6 inch clinker ply cabin cruiser instead, and for rather less money.   Power came from an extremely rough looking British Seagull 4  horsepower outboard and not the 3.9 horsepower Mercury alluded to in my first book, “Mayfly.” I sold the Seagull a few months later, and with another twenty quid (which was all the money I had) bought the rather better Mercury which took me and the boat (Bee 1) on a few memorable journeys whilst I owned her.

mike nye tall talesThey do say that everyone has a book in them but, when I wrote that first paragraph about eleven years ago I didn’t even think there was a book.   A short story perhaps, but not a book, and certainly not eight of the things!   Jim and Amanda simply won’t either fade or go away.   Their adventure is ongoing as I am working to get this year’s book “The Mayfly Children” into print.   It’s hard to think that the main characters (who are both older than me) are still going strong.   Jim couldn’t possibly have known where the adventure would go, mainly because I as a writer had no idea whatsoever.   I just wrote bits as the ideas came into my head.   New people arrived and were written into the plot, all of which was held in my memory until I made a mess of things which I then proceeded to unravel.

I now have a timeline for the books that starts in 1931 and finishes (at the moment), somewhere around 2027.   The process I work by makes me (in the parlance of other writers) a pantser, or one who chooses to fly by the seat of their pants.   To write a book that way seems to work for me, but I wouldn’t fancy doing the same with any kind of aircraft!

Whilst all of my stories are fiction, real life does appear in them in places almost as it happened.   The only difference is that they happen to someone else and not me.

The first day of my degree course at art school comes to mind as a mix of what was there and what I’d have liked to say about it.  I remember being ushered into a room at the top of the college with what seemed to be the result of fly tipping arranged in the centre.  I was told I could go into the other room which had a double bed with an array of saucy underwear strewn across it.   I stayed with the fly tipping and, after a quick charcoal sketch of it, I turned to the scene from the window across the rooftops of the town and drew that instead.

The words spoken by May in “Maze Days” were similar to the words I would have used if I hadn’t bottled them up for fear of appearing stupid or causing offence.   You’ll have to read the book to find out what happened after that!

Another character that sticks in my mind is Lou, who was based  on an actual lengthman that we met on our first family canal holiday in 1967.   He had worked for the canal company and was probably well beyond retirement age when we met him.   He was a quiet person who seemed full of knowledge of the area and the inner workings of the waterway.   Lou appears from time to time in pretty much every book despite him not being actually alive beyond the end of the first.

I am ever thankful to my father (who sadly passed away 30 years ago) for the collection of our holiday photos he took on 35mm colour slides.   He was never one to motor his way through film but each photo he did take counted for something.  His chosen Agfa film has not aged too well, leaving the slides with a rather warm colouration, but they are still invaluable as a reference to how things were and really useful when I am preparing the cover scenes, each of which reveals a little of the plot.

mike nye

mike nye tall tales

So, where did my adventure end on that day?   Jim Stratton may well have sailed away into the sunset with various unscrupulous people pursuing both him and his unlikely stowaway Amanda Donaldson, but my first trip was rather shorter lived.

mike nye tall tales

After doing my best to ignore some know-it-all that was giving unwanted advice on starting a motor he knew nothing about, I finally got the thing going and headed into mid river.   I may have started the thing but I’d not attached it tight enough, so it was soon  sitting at an odd angle on the stern and probably a minute or so from taking a dive into the Thames.   I stopped it and ended up scrambling to grab the side of a steel barge on the other side of the river whilst I tried to work out how to re-tighten the damn thing before going straight back to where I’d come from.

My adventures as well as those of the original characters in Mayfly are ongoing.   That there are a few similarities to my life in their world are probably not that surprising as all fiction is a mix of actual events linked by things that never happened so that they appear just that little bit more interesting and colourful.

My Books

front cover of Mayfly - a book by Michael Nye

Here We Go a book by Michael Nye

Emily's Journey, a book by Michael Nye

Nearwater, a book by Michael Nye

Reedcutter by Michael Nye

BBallad of Maisie and Linda

before you make that journey

before you make that journey

some useful maintenance tips from RCR

River Canal Rescue managing director, Stephanie Horton, says the inland waterways this summer will, predictably, be busy with owners keen to blow the lockdown cobwebs from themselves and their boats.

This, coupled with a focus on ‘staycations’ this year, means business is booming for hire companies and marinas/brokerages who report increased interest from hirers and first-time buyers keen to spend some cash.

With so many new and existing boaters on the waterways, RCR says there’s likely to be a 25% increase in call-outs over the peak season and in response, the firm has employed additional engineers to meet demand.

Stephanie comments: “While we’re always on hand to support the waterway community, many call-outs can be prevented by undertaking some simple maintenance checks prior to your journey, having some toolbox essentials onboard and knowing what to do if an issue arises."

Maintenance tips 

  • Check you have enough fuel to complete your journey and inspect all fuel lines and shut-off valves for leaks.
  • Where possible obtain a sample of your fuel, check it smells like diesel and is clear and not cloudy – if it’s cloudy or smells of ‘paint thinners’ this indicates contamination which needs to be dealt with before you go anywhere.
  • Drain off any water from pre-filter housings or the agglomerator.
  • Check batteries are charging correctly and that the charge rate from the alternator to the batteries is as it should be.
  • Check the morse control is working correctly and the throttle and gears are selecting smoothly. Stiffness indicates the cable may be due for renewal or has rusted due to disuse.
  • Switch isolators from one position to another to clean contacts.
  • Check the condition of the stern gland, ensure there’s plenty of grease supplied to it and that the prop shaft is turning freely.
  • Check the engine oil and gearbox oil levels and top up if needs be.
  • Check the condition of the fan belt. If it’s worn get it replaced.
  • Check all coolant hoses for leaks and wear and tear. Replace if required. For raw water-cooling engines, check the seacock, impeller and filter and all pipe work for leaks.
  • Check the condition of the engine mounts, and look at the engine mount bracket for signs of cracks or breaks. If they are worn replace them or if the bolts seem loose, tighten before cruising again (but only adjust the top bolt).
  • Check all coupling bolts and connections are tight.
  • Check the air filter and if dirty, replace or clean as needed.
  • Check the weed hatch seals are intact and that the weed hatch is secured

Tool Box Essentials 

  • A multi-meter (battery tester)
  • PTFE tape (for dealing with unexpected domestic leaks)
  • Adjustable spanners
  • A flat head and multi-faceted Phillips screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • A hammer
  • Spare lengths of electrical wire/ insulation tape
  • A socket set

And don’t forget the spares, such as; morse cables for steering, throttle and gear selection, fan belt, impeller, spark plugs, fuel filter, bulbs, bolts and fuses, plus a supply of oil and ‘stop leak’ or putty for those unexpected hull breaches.

Before you make that emergency call 

Below are some common scenarios which may resolve the problem:

  • If you’re losing propulsion and the propeller is slow-moving, put the engine in reverse.   The prop may be covered in weed or leaves and this can help release it.
  • If the engine cuts out when in gear, check the propeller for obstruction.
  • If the engine cuts out when revved, check the air filter - it may be blocked with dust (you can remove and run without it in an emergency).   Alternatively check for blocked fuel filters (Vetus has a small fuel pump filter that is usually overlooked).
  • Is the engine overheating?   It could be an air lock in the cooling system.   Resolve it by unscrewing the bolt sitting on top of the water tank - this will release the air.
  • If the boat won’t go into gear, check the cable is moving the selector arm on the gearbox, if it is then the cable is fine.   Check the oil in the gearbox.
  • Engine won’t turn off?   Know where the manual stop button or lever is situated, usually on the right hand side of the engine.

at least your engine works!

dawncraft chronicles

at least your engine works!

Time to recommission DT after almost a year of lock down or if you’d rather a lesson in why second-hand boats that have been stood still for a year or more go wrong the instant you turn the key.

dawncraft dawn treaderFirst sort the outboard which, despite the odd run up, occasionally decided not to come out of self-isolation and point blank refused to start.

Step one:  release the tilt mechanism and give it all a good shaking up and down – dunking the prop and intake in and out of the water. What this does is clean any debris out of the intake up to the impellor. I wouldn’t use a hose pipe - you will push everything further up the transfer tubes. Step one may need to start with you spraying the life out the tilt mechanism with WD40 to get it to move!!

Step two:  a good liberal spray of wd40 or similar over the engine especially the electrics and a tiny squirt up the air intake.

Step three:  taking a large spanner, or a hammer (but the spanner looks more professional...) tap the side of the carburettor fairly hard. What this does is free off the float valve just in case the liberal shaking up and down of the motor didn’t.

Step four:  (I recommend anyway) Ditch the old fuel , use clean fresh stuff with a liberal dose of Redex or similar and try and start the engine. Even if it sounds like a bag of spanners and mine took several attempts to start at all, leave it running then disconnect the fuel line whilst it is running, what this does is in its last gasp for fuel it sucks through any rubbish in the carburettor jets. I do this two or three times and was told this trick by an out-board service engineer.

Step five:  Mix in a load of fuel cleaner (I use Redex0 and leave it running for 30 minutes or so – obviously making sure you have a steady stream off cooling water, then promptly apologise to any boaters nearby as your exhaust gas will look like you have just elected a pope. Oh yeah, I forgot, temporarily cover your smoke alarm! Mine had a fit. I did have the fore sight last year to fill my tanks with a fuel additive that is supposed to stop fuel from going off. We can argue the merits of these but, like snake oil, if you believe it’s doing some good, it will, and having spent a lifetime with old motorbike engines and lawn mowers it can be a religious experience, where a little faith, even in a placebo, goes a long way to help.

Don’t forget to re grease all the points - the old grease would have gone hard putting extra strain on steering mechanism etc.

I have noticed loads of weed growth around my intake and prop. This is best cleaned off as well as any creatures such as mussels etc. which can ruin the day, but at 60 quid a tin it’s not feasible to use a commercial cleaner unless you have some left over. Notice that I have not said replace filters, spark plugs, gear box oil etc – I just said get it running even if it sounds rough.

Now you know the engine works you can start to improve things. Remember the more you tamper around with it, twiddling the carb, pulling spark plug leads off and breaking the connections, changing filters and trapping air in the system, the further into the mire you go until you have now created loads of reasons why it will not run.

simon woollen cleaning the outboardTool of the year has to be a rechargeable pressure washer – which made short work of the green slime. I am a big fan of this bio boat cleaner, spray it on leave it to dissolve the grime and rinse off. Obviously the pressure washer found the weak spots in the paint work so a rub down (go steady with this remember all glass fibre boats have a water proof gel coat, or rather did until your belt sander removed it) I have found Hammerite smooth works wonders and in my impatience discovered a trick; sand it off before it goes hard, it fills the sand paper almost immediately but it also fills in any imperfections (almost like polishing it) and goes rock hard. The pressure washer is such fun that I did the outboard (which is why it struggled to start - got a bit damp!!), bilges, shower room and even the loo and especially the moss in the window frames.

I was going to use this super decking on DT but have stumbled on grip tape available from a major online retailer we have all resorted to in the last year or so, and dirt cheap. It was unintentional but if you are careful and lay this down nicely it looks like a strip deck! – and it has not lifted off even with a pressure washer.

My only advice on looking around the marina is do not beat yourself up because your boat looks a bit neglected. This time last year there was a possibility that we may have never seen it again and seeing as we can’t socially mix on board just yet – who cares if you have a hard wood floor, and new tongue and groove panelling  - no one is going to see it!! Mine looks good from 6 feet away and that’s as close as you are allowed.

Finally crawl into your bunk, clip up the sides and fall asleep again cocooned in your own version of an imperfect world, sound in the knowledge that it might look rough but at least your engine works.


everything’s coming up roses

everything's coming up roses

narrowboat woolies is transformed!

It is so good when you get to see a narrowboat completely made over through the superb skills of a couple of traditional artists.

Julie Tonkin, trading as Art by Julie, has been in the business for 20 years, but on this occasion she was joined by a relative newcomer Kerri Williams, also known as 'the heritage crafter'.

Graham Paton, owner of narrow boat “The Woolies” has always been a great fan of the traditional artwork created by Julie Tonkin. He already had many of her creations on his boat, so when he decided to have 36 panels painted, Julie was the obvious choice.

He took his boat to Julie in Netherton on the Dudley Number 2 Canal for his artwork to be done. As Julie says, "Graham has the most wonderful engine room which houses his Gardner engine with lots of panels on the walls needing decoration as well as a back door and 3 side hatches."

The work was such a big job that Julie enlisted the help of Kerri Williams, previously Julie's student, then apprentice, then assistant, and now an established traditional artist in her own right. Julie says of her "Kerri is a very talented painter of the future who is keen to uphold the tradition."

julie tonkin nb woolies

julie tonkin nb woolies

Canal Art by Julie

Together they painted the panels in Craftmasters heritage green undercoat with a red frame, yellow undercoat around the panels and, after painting roses and daisies, they added scumble paint and 2 coats of clear varnish.

"There were 36 panels in total and we counted 124 roses, we didn’t even count the daisies!"

Canal Art by Julie

Canal Art by Julie

If you would like your boat doors and panels painted with roses and castles, or items for your boat, please contact us. Julie  and Kerri.

Canal Art by JulieI decorate narrowboats and all sorts of items for narrowboats including water cans, stools, coal skuttles etc. I trade on e bay as "juliecanalart", you can find me on e bay in the "canal barge ware" section. I am also to be found at canal fetes and craft fayres.

I teach canal art as a college subject and to groups

Contact Julie by email, visit her website,  or follow her on Facebook.

kerri williams the heritage crafterHi I’m Kerri - artist, designer and chief mischief maker at The Heritage Crafter.

My passion is decorative art, created on the boat dock or in my paint splattered workshop. The results can be seen here.

Although I have a range of ready painted items, commissions are always welcome.

Contact Kerri by email, visit her website or follow her on Facebook

blue space research by aquavista

Analysing data on each counties’ access to lakes, canals and beaches, new research by Aquavista reveals that the residents of Cornwall have more access to blue space than any other county in England. Surprisingly and thanks to its extensive canal network, the West Midlands was found to be the county with the second most access to blue space In England.
Read More

mission to seafarers

mission to seafarers

(onetime mission to seamen)

shipping containers at seaIt is estimated that roughly ninety percent of the world’s goods are transported by sea, with over seventy percent as containerized cargo.

Seafarers face many problems, including loneliness, shipwreck, homesickness, less time ashore, increased workload, perhaps being abandoned for weeks on end when their shipping line goes out of business, unpaid wages and not seeing their families or being able to contact them for years.

The Mission’s chaplains serve in 200 ports in 50 countries all over the world, visiting crews on board, trying to solve their problems; and their Flying Angel centres offer relaxation and support on shore.

Below are a few extracts from fan (flying angel news), Spring 2021 issue:

“Our chaplain in South Africa contacted me about some Indian seafarers in Vietnam who had been signed off but not received salary or payments”, explains Revd. Nitin Dethe, the Mission’s chaplain in Mumbai. Revd. Nitin immediately responded, calling their recruitment agent in Mumbai and ensuring all outstanding amounts were paid by the end of the day.

Another call he received was from a Filipino chief officer docked in Shoushan, China, who had been unwell for weeks. Once again, Revd. Nitin leveraged the Mission’s international network to ensure that the seafarer received the medical attention needed.

In one tragic case, our team offered counselling and practical support to the mother of a seafarer who died from Covid-19.

“Ultimately, it is not about us – it’s about the seafarers – they are just so grateful because someone’s there for them.”

Mark Classen is chaplain in Richards Bay, South Africa. When he was contacted by a captain who had found a 23-year-old cadet dead in his cabin, he was prepared to go the extra mile. As part of the Port Welfare Committee, the Mission worked closely with the other welfare agencies in Richards Bay to organise a Mass safely on board the vessel. It took more than a week to get the relevant clearance, but the comfort it brought the crew was incomparable.

With shore leave cancelled, Mark and his team have also been busy collecting everything from essential equipment to boxes of chocolates for seafarers.

Our chaplain in Seattle, Ken Hawkins, and his team have been coordinating Amazon deliveries and gangway visits to ensure seafarers get everything from fresh fruit to toys for their children. “Sometimes we’ll have a window of just a few hours to get the deliveries to the crew,” he explains. “It means so much to seafarers to be able to give something to their families, so we want to help them do that.”

toothbrushOur volunteer team in South Tees received an emergency call on Easter Sunday from an inbound vessel with a single toothbrush between a crew of 17. The team sprang into action, unlocking the centre, stripping the shelves of toothbrushes and allied toiletries. What started with a toothbrush has now grown. “Our team started to make up welfare packs of toiletries, biscuits and chocolates – all duly quarantined and safely delivered to the gangways,” explains volunteer, Alexe Finlay.

“I can only begin to imagine how seafarers and their families will speak about these dark times years from now. Many, I know, will recall the profound difference made through acts of service and kindness, large and small, by our port teams. These will have a lasting impact, as will the prayers and generosity of our supporters.”

It is important to remember, for both seafarers and the rest of the world, that at any time of the day or night, throughout the entire year, somewhere in the world a Mission to Seafarers chaplain is pulling on his or her boots and hard hat and going to the port to provide help. Our work never stops and is vital to the 1.5 million seafarers around the world.

Mission to Seafarers     Tel. 0207 2485202