Missing the North Shannon

Many times, I have said that we are enjoying Alexandra’s new base in Lakeside Marina, near Athlone. And that is still true! But we were based in Carrick-on-Shannon for 6 years and made a lot of friends up that direction. And today I am missing the North Shannon and my friends in Leitrim!

About a dog

I think my melancholy was started when I saw a photo of Kai on Facebook recently. Kai was a dog. But a kind of special dog – more like a friendly giant. Kai belonged to Jackie and Dave, and was a huge German Shepherd with enormous paws, and a long black coat. We first met Jackie and Dave in Dromod a few years ago. Mike was delighted to discover a shared love of whiskey with Jackie. I can’t stand the stuff unless it is served in coffee, hot, and with a dollop of cream on top (sacrilege to real whiskey drinkers I know!). Most of the time, Kai was tied up, not because he was dangerous, but because he was a big dog and just his size alone was likely to make people nervous. But he really was a gentle giant.

Walkies!

Jackie took him for a walk in the marina and let him loose for a run. I saw Kai as he came around a corner and made a beeline for a bloke out walking his Cocker Spaniel. Jackie called him off, and there was no harm done. Naturally, Jackie was concerned that Kai might have upset or scared the bloke. However there was quite a different issue which she didn’t realise until much later. The issue wasn’t the stranger’s nervousness of Kai. The friendly Kai wasn’t the least bit interested in the strange bloke. Didn’t even look at him. Noooo, Kai was much more interested in the stranger’s Cocker Spaniel. The little girlie dog was the one who got the fright, if you get my drift 😉 

Anyway, Kai died some time ago, and Jackie shared one of those Facebook memory thingys, a photo of Kai. Isn’t it amazing how we get so attached to our pets? More on that in a later post. 

So what has Kai got to do with Missing the North Shannon?

Kai’s picture made me realise that I haven’t seen some of my North Shannon friends since we moved to Athlone, and that is over a year ago. Catching up with boaty friends when you are 8 hours drive away (by boat that is) isn’t so easy.

Anyway, to Jackie and Dave, and to the crews of Lady Gwendoline, and Phoenix, and Eridanus, and Lady Mystique, and Le Cheile, and our former next-door-neighbours-who-haven’t-put-a-name-on-their-boat-yet, and Bora Bora, and Derrane and many others around Carrick and in Albert Marina, and also to my land-based friends from Victoria Hall, Burke’s, Floradale, Kinneden Café, Esquires, McLoughlins in Drumsna and many others, I hope you are all keeping well. I miss you! 

Links here.

The Winter Coat

So, did we do all those pesky little jobs over the winter? Ha ha ha! No, of course not!!!! But the winter has flown by and now it is time to wash off the winter coat, and get ready for the season ahead.

Getting things ship shape means an awful lot of hard work. Usually we travel to the boat early on a Saturday morning, and spend all day getting it ready as we stay on it that night. It is a mad rush, and puts us under pressure.

 

A little luxury

But this year, we had the luxury of being able to stay in Killinure Chalets so we travelled down on Friday night, thinking (huge mistake, huge!) that we would make an early start on Saturday. The whole process was made easier certainly, but it is still a lot of hard work and we were glad to get home on Sunday.

 

Boat Buddy

We also decided to get really organised this year (doesn’t happen often ;)), and got Chris from Boat Buddy to sort us out with some boaty goodies to make the job easier. Once the winter coat is washed off, and the canopy is removed and cleaned, the windows and side decks are cleaned. The hull gets a pressure wash too, and any spiders are encouraged to live elsewhere. To be fair, there were very few creepy crawlies on the outside of the boat this year.

When the superstructure was dry, we got to work applying the wash/wax and polishing it off by hand. It nearly killed me. But the final effect is the difference between clean but dull-looking fibreglass, and fibreglass that shines and looks like new.

I have some before and after pictures. You can see Alexandra in her green and gross winter coat, looking very unloved. The Boat Buddy cleaner removed the green gunk. And then the polish made her gleam in the sunshine.

Even though the polish is a pain to apply (because it is slow and I have absolutely no patience), I know it is worth it. Every time Alexandra gets a wash from now on, the dirt will slide off easily. The polish also protects the fibreglass from the elements.

Then we re-sealed some of the windows where the old sealant is either not doing its job or has come lose during the winter. It is a messy job.

 

Winter coat off, what’s next?

Then there is the engine. I think that this is one of the simpler jobs, without the energy-sapping repetition of polishing. Or maybe, I think it is simple because I don’t actually do it myself ;);););)

 

Water

The water system is next. This takes a while to fill and bleed. Also, we add 4 Milton tablets to the tank. These are to ensure that the water is safe to use for washing your teeth. Although it won’t do any harm, it tastes disgusting so it is not used for drinking. Actually on that, the quality of the water along the Shannon varies considerably from near-perfect in Dromod to revolting on the opposite bank in Roscommon, and with every level of drinkability, smell, and colour in between. A good test before you fill your water tank is to pour some of the tap water into a white cup. Look at the colour, and look for bits floating around in it, then smell it. And then you will probably end up doing what I do – buying large 5 litre bottles of still water to use for drinking and making tea. I use bottled water for the kettle – a smell of chlorine from the Milton tablets, and the dodgy quality of the tap water along the Shannon rule out using our tank water for tea and coffee. So the tank water is used only for washing and for teeth.

 

Bottled water

There has been some discussion in recent years regarding the use of bottled water – the plastic bottles are not eco-friendly, and once open, these bottles aren’t suitable for storing the water for more than a few days, and it seems that dangerous chemicals can leech from the plastic into the water. But my alternative is to use water from my own tank which smells of chlorine, or water from the taps which is inconsistent and sometimes awful. I have poured tap water into a cup in Roscommon and I wouldn’t use it for washing clothes, never mind drink it. Brown and smelly – and I don’t care what anyone says, if the tap water smells like sewage, it is not drinkable. Tap water in Ireland also contains fluoride, a known neurotoxin, and it looks like that is now being linked to health issues. And yes, if I could get bottled water in glass or reusable bottles, I would. Perhaps you know where this is possible? If you have any better alternatives, please let me know. 

 

Work continues inside

Anyway, back to Alexandra. I started working inside, at the bow, and cleaned the berths, headlining and walls. I also cleaned the inside of the windows, and found 2 big spiders in the curtains, as well as a few small ones – I call them money spiders. So, was the tip I gave you at the end of last season about using cloves a success? Absolutely. It isn’t perfect, but these were the only spiders I found all weekend. Without the cloves, there would have been spiders everywhere, ruining my curtains, and making a confusion of webs in every nook and cranny, from bow to stern, inside and out, and generally scaring the life out of me.

I had to take down the curtains in the forward cabin. I left them in place over the winter. They got dusty, and there is some slight mould on one of them. These curtains have been washed many times and I know that a 40 degree wash, followed by a quick iron will do them no harm at all. Even though we have a dehumidifier switched on during the winter, it is in the main saloon. I think its effect just doesn’t reach the forward cabin like it should, so the air doesn’t circulate properly. We stash the mattresses in the main saloon during the winter, so they were fine.

 I cleaned the centre cabin next, but I was starting to run out of energy, and home beckoned. I got a pic of the sun just as it set behind the boats.

 

So what is left?

We still have a few things to do. But is there ever such a thing as a completed To Do list where boats are concerned? Our list still includes resealing more windows, the shower head needs to be replaced, and there is a seal on the loo to be done, and I didn’t get around to cleaning the ropes or fenders…… but nothing major and nothing that will stop us from moving next time we are down. 

I don’t care that we didn’t actually move the boat or get all the work finished. I know that with very little extra effort, Alexandra will be ready to go next weekend. And go we will. No point having a boat that doesn’t move!

I look forward to catching up with everyone over the next few weeks. Here’s to a great season, a safe one, and maybe even a little decent weather!

 

Some links…

Boat Buddy – not just any old cleaner.

Killinure Chalets

Lakeside Marina Chandlery

Clinton Marine

 

Mike turns a disaster into a hiccup

I mentioned that we had an issue on Alexandra some time ago with the head gasket. This is an extract from her log at the time…..

Well, it was a usual Friday afternoon – a mad helter-skelter dash to the boat to try to beat Bank Holiday weekend traffic. Our June Bank Holiday was promised to be warm and dry, so there was no way we were going to miss it! Actually on that, bank holiday weekends are very precious to me. There are only a few during the boating season, and they are an opportunity to go further afield – Alexandra not being the fastest boat out there means we can only travel a certain distance on a Saturday, as we have to be mindful of the return journey on Sunday, followed by a long stint in the car to get home. So any events that occur on a Bank Holiday weekend are a serious disruption to my boating!

Anyway, back to the boat.

 

Heading for Lough Key

We left Albert Marina, heading for Lough Key, but didn’t get very far. Not even as far as Ardnaraffin Bridge on the Jamestown Canal, and there was a loud bang. Really loud. I thought it was a gun, and got a fright. Alexandra’s engine started spluttering and the whole boat started to shake. Our poor engine wasn’t a happy camper at all. I looked on, helpless and clueless, as Mike made some checks. In a way we were incredibly lucky that this happened on the Canal, and not on an open lake, as Mike was able to give it his complete attention knowing that the boat wouldn’t come to any harm with no engine running. But his diagnosis was quick and not good news at all. It seemed our weekend trip to Lough Key was over.

Our only option was to go back to base and for Mike to start stripping the engine to see how bad things were.

 

Help is at hand…

Many a time we have helped out others (and are glad to do so), but today it was the turn of Phoenix. She left the marina and followed us through the lock, and then dragged us back down through the lock (a bit scary when you have no power to steer or stop), but Phoenix were fantastic and we were able to get back home with a minimum of fuss and no bumping into anything.

We were tired and to be perfectly honest, very upset. Idle chatter of new engines, and thousands of euro, and all sorts of other damage made me sick to my stomach. But Mike is an expert, and he was positive that anything could be fixed. He started talking of parts to order and work to be done. We decided to forget about it and enjoy our weekend anyway. I made myself really useful and poured wine. 

Din dins

By weird coincidence, we had been given a haunch of wallaby for our dinner. Yes, that’s what I wrote, wallaby. Small kangaroos to me. There are wild wallaby living on Lambay Island in Dublin. Honest! And MK Meats are the only butchers that can supply wild, Irish wallaby. And we had one. Not much clue how to cook it, but that never stopped us. Into the oven it went.

Tadhg, Eithne and Elaine, the lovely crew of Phoenix dropped over to see if we were ok, and we asked them to join us. And the crew of Lady Gwendoline joined us too, squashing up around Alexandra’s table, trying out our unusual dinner. And it was good! I would definitely recommend wallaby if you haven’t tried it. It is a dark meat, very dark like venison, and with a strong flavour, but so soft and tender. We didn’t do anything special to it, just roasted it in a tin.

I will be forever grateful for these friends who cheered us up that night.

 

So what is a head gasket?

Mike got cracking on the engine the next morning, stripping it down, and finding our problem, the head gasket. For those of you who aren’t mechanically minded, the head gasket is a thin strip of metal with lots of holes in it that is fitted in between the top and bottom parts of an engine. Sort of like a washer. And when it breaks, it affects pistons and causes water to leak where it shouldn’t, and eventually leads to an engine that overheats and all sorts of other serious issues. But Mike was confident that it was just the head gasket and that no other damage had occurred.

Mammy Alexandra (her real Mammy, that is) was very concerned about our broken engine. She knew that these things take time to fix and breaking down in June, at the height of the season… well she assumed we would be out of action for the remainder of the season.

The following weekend, I went to stay with Mammy Alexandra, while Mike, who had already got a delivery of the necessary parts, went to Carrick to start putting our engine back together.

 

How Mike rolls…

On Saturday evening, I got a phone call from Mike. I could hardly hear him with the background noise. He told me that he had worked all day, that the parts were fine, that the head gasket had been replaced, and the engine was now up and running perfectly. He turned it off, and there was silence. And on again and even over the phone, I could hear that the engine sounded smooth. I was surprised, but this is not fair to Mike. Actually it is very unfair. This is what he does – diagnose engine problems and fix them. He correctly diagnosed the problem, stripped the engine down, ordered the parts, and got Alexandra’s heart running sweetly, just like he said he would. All in the space of a week.

A big, big thank you to Mike from Clinton Marine, to the crew of Phoenix for rescuing us, MK Meats for dinner and to the crews of Phoenix and Lady Gwendoline who reminded us that even if a long weekend goes pear-shaped, life is good when you have the right people around you.

 

MK Meats https://www.facebook.com/MK-Meats-126405060769990/

Clinton Marine www.clintonmarine.ie

Carrick on Shannon www.mycarrick.ie

Lambay Island https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambay_Island#Wildlife

Lough Key http://loughkey.ie/

 

Winter Update

Winter Update on the Boat

Alexandra is laid up for the winter, but I still like to keep an eye on her even when she is not in use. So we dropped in before Christmas, set mouse traps, checked for leaks and damage, changed the ropes to older ones, took in some of the fenders not in use, and checked the dehumidifier. All good!

Even though it was 3.30 in the afternoon, the sun was setting and the lake was flat calm. Doesn’t it look fab? Don’t be fooled though. It was freezing cold!

Winter water levels

There has been much discussion lately about the low levels this year. Yes, they are certainly low, but apparently not exceptionally low – just exceptionally low for this time of year. Coincidentally, I was in Lakeside this time last year and the photographs I took are quite different.

In the first picture, you can hardly see Alexandra, but a year earlier, the water was lapping over the road, and you can see the jetty is considerably higher than the road.

Winter update

December 2016: Look at the green handrail, down to the floating jetty.

 

Winter update 2015

December 2015: Taken just over a year ago. Look at the same green handrail on the right. The floating jetty is several inches over the level of the road. Note also the water spilling out over the road.

 

Water levels in Belturbet

I was also in Belturbet recently, and coincidentally this time last year as well. Just look at the difference in the levels….

Winter update

December 2015: Look at the handrail, wellies needed just to get to it. Note the telegraph pole to the right. Water starting to flood into the carpark.

 

Winter update

December 2016: The same handrail. The tarmac jetty in the foreground, as well as the bank to the right were completely submerged a year earlier. Note the telegraph pole to the right.

 

A boat is just a leaky tub…

We spend so much time on boats fixing leaks. We constantly check for leaks, we mop up after it rains, and we put in pumps and float switches on the assumption that there is bound to be a small leak somewhere. Leaks on a boat are one thing. But dealing with flooding in your home is something I have only experienced once. It was a burst pipe, so the water was clean, switched off very quickly and the damage was limited. But even so, carpets were ruined, floor tiles lifted, furniture needed to be restored professionally, and of course, the walls, floors, skirting boards and doors were soaked to a height of about an inch. And we had to move out in a hurry too. We were lucky that our kind next door neighbours gave us a place to stay.

 

But a home is slightly different…

Even though industrial heaters dried out the damage fairly quickly, it was an expensive and very stressful time. So I can only imagine the horror of seeing my lovely home filled with filthy stinking water, my possessions floating around in the sludge, the washing machine quietly seizing up, and with no idea of how long it will take to drain out, much less dry out. Imagine the repairs, the cleaning, the cost, and dealing with insurance? And a year later, putting sandbags around my front door and praying it won’t happen again. And keeping wellies in the car, just in case I arrive home to the worst.

So to all my land-based friends living and working along the banks of My Lovely Shannon, I hope you are keeping dry. It is looking good so far but the winter rains aren’t over yet.

Fingers crossed.

 

Books about the Shannon

I have been on the River all my life, and like to think that I have read just every book out there that relates to the Shannon. I have a collection of books and maps, many of which came from my Dad, and including some books that are rare and out of print. But I am always delighted to find new books about My Lovely Shannon. And I have found 2 interesting books about the Shannon recently. The first is called Reedbound, and I stumbled across it in the Bastion Art Gallery in Athlone.

 

Reedbound: A year on Ireland’s Waterways

Reedbound is written by Giles Byford and illustrated by Jill Parkinson. It is an account of their life in the UK living on a narrowboat, their wish to build  a bigger boat and the difficulties and stress that entails. All of which leads up to their precarious journey to explore our waterways. They bring their boat Hawthorn across the Irish Sea, and the book continues with an account of their first year in Ireland, during which time they travel extensively covering the Shannon, Grand Canal, River Barrow and many smaller rivers.  

This book is easy to read, whether or not you have an interest in waterways and boats. It is punctuated by beautiful sketches from Jill. They are black and white and at first I was disappointed that there weren’t beautiful colour photographs of the River and its scenery and wildlife. But her sketches are simply stunning, and she has captured many evocative scenes that colour wouldn’t do justice to. Some of her work is for sale in The Bastion Gallery.

Living the dream

Ultimately, this book is about one couple’s desire not to be beaten by lack of money, or poor weather, or dodgy craftsmen, or any other problems they encounter. It is about hard work, the ability to change, being positive and determined, and realising a dream.

Reedbound is an easy read for anyone, whether they are a boater or not.

Maps and charts Shannon

Just some of my books about the Shannon. The Shell Guide must be 40 years old. Driftwood by Harry Sheehy is about a Shannon cruiser that moves to France and is hilarious. The Chingles Go West by Patricia Murphy is a fantasy novel, written for children. It is set in Ireland, and information on how to operate a Shannon lock is included.

 

The Bastion Art Gallery

Now this is my kind of shop! It is an eclectic mix of stuff: handmade, Irish, unique, quirky, useful, useless, pretty, interesting, colourful…. There is soap handmade locally, fair trade goodies, ceramics by Jeanette Everson, crystals, jewellery, books, a section for children’s toys and books, lamps and throws, mirrors and angel cards,  furniture and … well you get the picture. It is a great place to buy gifts and cards. A lovely place to browse.

I reckon the owner just goes shopping and buys stuff she loves and has the shop for when she can’t fit all the lovely goodies into her own home!

Well, whatever her reasons and wherever she gets it from, I love it!

Pay a visit, and I dare you, in fact I defy you to come out empty-handed because The Bastion Gallery has such a huge range of possibilities for gifts. So…. if I am on your Christmas shopping list… now you know where to shop for me….just saying 😉

 

The C Word

Ok so I used the C word possibly for the first time this year. I have a hatred of all things Christmassy at any time of the year other than actually at Christmas. But it is December, so I suppose I better get over myself. While it was not intentional, this blog post might give you some ideas for Christmas. Happy shopping!

 

Good Coffee

I should mention that on the same day, I called into the new organic shop, Lowe & Co, just a few doors up the street. I had lovely coffee and a piece of beetroot chocolate cake which the owner assured me was healthy. It was sticky and gooey although I am not sure if chocolate and healthy go together, but hey, who am I to argue?

 

Left Bank Antiques

And, also on the same day, I dropped in to the antiques shop near Sean’s Bar. I was expecting a shop full of beautiful but cost-the-earth antiques and was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of pockets catered for in this little gem of a shop. From vintage 1950s handbags, just the thing to transform a nice outfit into the Hollywood bracket, to a  copper and brass jewellery casket lined with luxurious red velvet, to antique gold jewellery I fell in love with, to a vintage coffee set in cream and gold that would look classy in any home…. I could go on. Athlone continually surprises me with what it has to offer the visiting tourist. And remember I am only discovering Athlone because Alexandra has moved to a new base in nearby Lakeside Marina.

 

Donal’s book: The Mid-Shannon Waterway

And the second book was sent to me by the crew of Pamel. Donal Boland’s book is a pictorial guide of designated and tranquil moorings, between Portumna and Athlone. At first glance, Donals’ book seems more of a coffee table book because it has lots of aerial photography, and is easy to pick up and browse through it. But his book is much more than that. The excellent photographs show My Lovely Shannon from a new (to me anyway) and stunning perspective. Donal has marked each photograph with mooring spots, and details of where you can and can’t go. He also includes notes on each picture. 

Uncharted Waters

The designated moorings (the ones we are familiar with from our navigation charts) are included. But this book is really about the undesignated moorings. Those places that are off-chart, but have enough depth to go exploring. Donal has highlighted areas behind islands, disused sections of river, and plenty of places to stop, albeit by tying off a tree or using the anchor. Some of the suggestions will not be suitable for mooring in poor weather or for overnight stops. But that will just add to the charm of these spots and certainly won’t stop me from trying them.

I have often taken Alexandra onto sections that are navigable but not charted – I am sooooo my father’s girl! But it is a risky business, and requires concentration. I have never had any problems because I am careful and always rely on local knowledge of channels and depths. And of course, I have the comfort of knowing that I can call on Mike if I mess things up!

Donal’s book is a delight. It means that I can explore areas I never thought possible. With Alexandra now based in Athlone, Donal has opened up an array of exploring and mooring opportunities for next season. And there are lots of them! Shannonbridge, Shannon Harbour (that little river just off the main channel is navigable for quite a distance), an area I call the private lake above Banagher, several sections between Banagher and Meelick, behind the islands between Meelick and Portumna and many more. And for anyone who hasn’t been into Munster Harbour, try it. Donal has also given me names for many of these areas which are not included on any of my navigation charts.

 

Photography

The photography is very clear – mostly aerial photography (a good use for those pesky drones) which shows off My Lovely Shannon beautifully, although the pictures are intended to provide you with information rather than to be pretty for the sake of prettiness. Donal has also had the sense to produce his book on high quality paper that will be sturdy and withstand the wear and tear of constant use on a dashboard, with pages folding back easily on a ring binder.

 

Following Donal’s Advice

His book doesn’t mean that you can go chasing around the river on unmarked sections. It is not a navigation map, rather a suggestion of possibilities worth exploring.  You will need to follow his directions carefully. This book will still be a great addition to Alexandra’s collection of books, and I reckon I will return to it again and again.

Well done Donal. I don’t suppose there are plans for something similar for other parts of the River??? Hint hint 😉

An excellent book and it will be a joy to anyone who wants to explore lesser used sections of the river, to the boater who wants to travel off the main navigation, go fishing, or just find somewhere quiet to while away the hours or to enjoy the wildlife in peace.

 

Talking of Christmas…

Christmas for the boater. Well, if you are like me, all I want is nice girlie things for the boat, maybe some softer ropes, and ties (ties that match, that is) for the canopy, and new carpets maybe. And maybe replacements for the 3 wine glasses I broke that got broken this season. Oh, and a holey bucket. Yes please! Oh, my kingdom for a holey bucket!

And for the girlie boater in your life, how about Melanie’s suggestion of a 12volt hair straightener? Yes, there is such a thing for the glam girlie in your life. Melanie is an Irish blogger, and was using the hair straighteners in a car but I don’t see why it couldn’t be used on a boat.

But I think most boaters would like electronic gadget stuff like depth sounders and fish finders and navigation systems. Or maybe enginey things  like pumps, gennies, switches, etc. Or how about a simple 12 volt fan to clip to the dash for clearing condensation off the windscreen? Very handy.

 

The best present ever

One of the best presents I ever got for my parents was a pair of mirrors, etched with the shape of Alexandra. One is still on the boat, and the second is hanging in my Mom’s home. But the artist is no longer doing this work. Perhaps an opportunity exists here for someone crafty?

 

An Item of Purpose – the holey bucket

Maybe I should explain. Many years ago, my parents got a bucket with a large hole in the bottom, covered with a rubber flap. They bought it in Union Chandlery in Cork. Once a rope was tied to the handle, it was a really useful thing. Seriously. Think about washing the boat, dropping this bucket into the water, the flap opens, water fills the bucket, and you use the rope to pull it out of the water.

I kept the crew of Cassandra amused on the Grand Canal at Mespil Road some years ago. I had to demonstrate the handiness of the holey bucket to them. They were drinking. I was washing, more fool me.

But alas! The rope frayed and the bucket fell into the water and sank. Well, it did have a big hole in it. And we have been unable to get a replacement. Goodness knows we have tried and tried. You will see me peering into buckets on display outside hardware shops, to see if they have a hole in the bottom. Yes, I am that sad person. So if you ever see someone looking into an empty bucket, now you know what they are hoping to find!!!!!

Until next time.

 

Some links related to this blog post:

Reedbound is available widely

The Mid-Shannon Waterway, available only through the IWAI, or directly from the author.

The Bastion Gallery

Athlone.ie

Organic shop Lowe & Co

Sean’s Bar

Left Bank Antiques 

Waterways Ireland

Lakeside Marina

Melanie May

Union Chandlery

Grand Canal