john skull

featured author - spring 2022

john skull

narrowboating - it'll be fun, they said...

I love boats. From every warship I served on during a 21-year Royal Navy career, a flybridge cruiser we owned in Sydney and our 42-foot sailing yacht, which carried us all the way up the east coast of Australia from Melbourne to the Coral Sea off Far North Queensland. I loved them all.

During my naval career, I travelled all over the world and the lust for travel stayed with me even after I left the Navy over twenty years ago. I’ve lived in Germany, Cyprus, the United States, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand, and in all these places, I managed to find myself on the water or under it – I am a scuba diving instructor, too.

I retired in 2017 and Biene, my German wife, and I returned to Europe to live in Germany. In 2018, during a short trip to England to visit friends and relatives, we went to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see the birthplace of Shakespeare and Biene spotted a narrowboat. She reminded me that I had always fancied a spell on the canals, so we decided to think about it.

john and biene skull with sunset

John Skull - beautiful canal scene

Buying a boat is generally a long process involving numerous trips to marinas and boatyards, drawing up lists of wants, must-haves, likes, don’t-wants and hates. How long? Narrow or wide beam? Traditional or cruiser stern? These are all questions to be carefully considered. Then there are the surveys and negotiations/haggling with owners and brokers. This can take months.

Bearing all this in mind, within five days of deciding to ‘think about it’, we took command of the first and only boat we viewed. Clearly, this could be an article called, “How Not to Buy a Narrowboat!”, but as it happens, we got lucky and the good ship Speakeasy became our home for almost two years. Two years of adventure, fun and misadventure.

car being driven down canal

john skull, author

As well as boats, I love to write, so I kept an illustrated daily journal of our first seven months on the cut. It was originally meant as a tool to keep friends and family informed of our travels, but it developed into much more. For example, I never thought that I’d ever write so much about toilets! I had previously written a memoir of my childhood in Belfast during the height of the Troubles and how I managed to find myself in the Royal Navy, which received great reviews on Amazon (It’s called, ‘If You Can’t Take a Joke….’ and you can find it on Amazon).

if you can't take a joke, by John Skull

Narrowboating - It'll be fun, they said

I decided to self-publish my narrowboat journal, as it gives a light-hearted, but realistic account of everyday life on the canals, including the successes, failures and simply stupid mistakes, like this extract from the book:

Cast off the mooring lines and off we went - eastwards once more. As we passed under Henley Bridge, a gorgeous wooden boat fully dressed with flags and bunting wanted to cross our bow and head downstream. Given our average speed of 3mph, I happily waved him through and slotted in behind him and followed him downstream. It was at this juncture that Biene tapped me on the shoulder and with a nod of her head suggested I should take a look behind me. I did. As well as the lovely boats ahead of us, there was a line of these wonderful boats following us. We had inadvertently joined the parade of historic wooden and Dunkirk boats, during the Henley Regatta! At this point, it was impossible for us to move out of the parade, so Biene and I joined in the spirit of the event and treated all the spectators to our ‘royal’ wave. Most waved back!

Henley Regatta

Like every other boat I’ve had the good fortune to sail on, Speakeasy was loved. She provided us with shelter, warmth and a sea-chest full of stories for our grandchildren as they grow up. It is available on Amazon under the title, ‘Narrowboating......It’ll Be Fun, They Said’.