It’s that time of year when the TV is full of adverts for cruise ships showing off their levels of comfort and sprinkling the word luxury onto everything from the food to the service and even the bathroom. Even the chance of seeing exotic sea life. And all this before it's tied up in some sun-drenched port offering excursions and the chance of fine dining alfresco with the natives.
Well it’s not for me, I go boating to get away from modern life to experience some simplicity – but wait, I do but obviously if some one has built not one but several 1000 of these craft others may not share my ideas.
Before we go any further I must stress that Mrs Woollen has a unique understanding of the psychology of men and boys – basically there is little difference and we both have the need to play the boat being a grown-up toy and actively encourages me to spend nights on board or to go off and do something with it - tempering it slightly with normal life as obsession can soon over ride all. I know only too well though that one person’s hobby can be a domestic battle ground that no one wins.
OK a week on a cruise ship costs money – but is it any more than the cost of mooring fees, Canal licence, insurance not to mention the variable cost such as fuel, repairs and eBay specials. Add it all up and we are half way through a 5-night river cruise on the Rhone. I may not like it – mainly because they wouldn’t let me drive but I can see Mrs W enjoying 5 days of being pampered and not cooking etc.
Suddenly the realisation that my idea of getting away from it – sleeping on a two-foot-wide bunk in a pair of cut downs, not shaving for a few days and going easy on the shower water may not be someone else’s - a phenomenon underpinned by the up rise in glamping a long way from the days of the humble tent without ground sheets.
The exotic locations, this is also something that shouldn’t be sneered at. I have learnt that one trip from Foxhangers to Bradford on Avon is great, two trips can be samey and three – the wife isn’t interested in (seen it, done it). This has been highlighted by my sailing days - 20 years of sailing flat out around in circles on the Avon at Salford finally bored me. Indeed my profile picture shows the folding dinghy that has opened a new and varied world.
Sadly, an old Dawncraft is well beyond the capabilities of a roof rack and even a 4-wheeled trailer is pushing it. Coupled with the need to be moored reasonably locally so maintenance isn’t an issue and far from cruising new ground we are never more than 20 miles from home. As for seeing whales from a private balcony the chances on the Kennet and Avon are nil and any attempt to replicate it would be more pantomime than realistic. As for excursions - difficult when you have lived somewhere for thirty years to find a new one.
There would even be a good argument for renting a barge each season on a different part of the canal net work rather than owning your own boat, certainly the ones where I am moored are better appointed than our home with every mod con and someone else has to do the laundry, cleaning and painting.
Maybe one underrated issue is food.
Now my favourite munchies are sausages wrapped in sliced bread with ketchup or mustard delicately served on a tin plate jammed on the cabin roof. Washed down with a coffee in a mug that perhaps ought to see a dishwasher. In fact, I am harbouring a secret liking for partly dissolved lumps of powdered milk to the point where it may have some addictive qualities. Fine if it’s just me but why wouldn’t Mrs W hanker for table service a choice of menu and not have to cook it your self – that’s before you try washing up in a sink that is too small even for the meanest washing up bowl. I have even joined an online boat cooking group just to make sure that food on board isn’t just heated pasties.
Suddenly one realises that life on this soggy old Dawncraft is going to have to raise its game.
Comfort is subjective. I have mastered exactly what setting the water heater needs to be on to avoid be lobstered or frozen, I know the vagaries of the port-a-potty and its ability to back pressure – not the most endearing trick when you are trying hard to make someone feel relaxed and at home. Mrs W is 5 feet 2 so has plenty of head room – I am not and only just fit standing upright - a matter made slightly worse by my injection of the headlining with expanding foam. Head room aside, 2 feet by 2 foot square isn’t the best place to try and get undressed showered dried and redressed – something will always get wet.
I am also pretty sure that your average cruise ship doesn’t ask you to drag the loo to the nearest emptying point on deck any more than it comes with a dial to say its full at the most inopportune moment.
As for relaxing even I removed the original dining set up in favour of cushioned directors chairs that you can lean back in. The original set up being more like a fast food diner that looks comfortable but is cleverly designed not to be as it doesn’t want you sat there too long.
One can argue that with a holding tank none of this is an issue but then it becomes an extra cost and my “plastic bathtub” (when you have sailed the amount I have and taught boat handling etc., don’t you just love a little waterway snobbery...) would soon become akin to a toxic tanker.
Finally, I am pretty sure that cruise companies don’t ask the passengers to operate the locks or stuck swing bridges and if they did they may be accused of barking the odd order to stop an errant stern line taking out the prop. Any more than passengers are expected to act as mechanic's mate when the engine plays up. And that is the point - the realisation that family and friends are passengers who just want to relax and get away from it all.
Me? The weather's improved enough to risk filling the water tanks and washing the coffee mug; there is a few hours getting greasy with the engine; I could do with a waterproof loo roll holder but its not essential; there’s still some tins of stew from last season and what I assume are baked beans but the label has come off with the condensation; and I’ve lost all the tea spoons somewhere. But I am off this Friday.
Mrs W? possibly pleased to have some peace and quiet and look up the prices of a river cruise along the Rhone.