Coal scuffle

The toughest element of living on a boat is, as you might expect, keeping warm. No matter how much insulation you pile into the sides, 33% of your living space is in direct contact with seriously cold water, and it’ll leech the heat frighteningly quickly. So there are technologies. I have diesel-powered central heating, a wood-burning stove, and copious electric heaters. In practice, one of these is far better than the others.

The central heating doesn’t get much use. It runs from the main engine diesel tank, which means it seems free until the day it costs £1800 to refill. Plus it’s noisy, inefficient and needs hours to make an impact, so I tend not to bother. The stove is far more powerful: it’s 5kw, and will easily take the cabin from 12 degrees to 28 in ninety minutes. Which is clearly insane, but the hope is that I’ll master the whole maintaining-a-reasonable-temperature thing at some point. So I use the stove most days. It feels vaguely romantic sitting next to a fire in the evenings, and it’s a pleasant kind of all-encompassing warmth. It’s obviously powered by coal and wood, and a local company deliver these to the marina. This has never been a problem. Until today.

So this morning I had a large load arrive: 75kg of coal, plus three 20kg bags of wood. They were delivered to the yard, which is the far end of the marina from me – about 250m away – so this evening I headed over and loaded up one of the many inexplicable-but-handy shopping trolleys that litter the place. I’d intended to make a couple of trips, but I figured what the hell – why not just pile it up? I could still move the trolley, and it would be worth a little extra effort to only have to make the trip once. So I rolled my 135kg load up to the gate that leads onto the wooden pontoons of the marina itself. There’s a slope down, but this wasn’t too bad: I guided the trolley from the front and things went ok. It was damned heavy, but I could manage it for a little while. I was more worried about the noise.

Baltic Quay viewed from South Dock MarinaThe marina is deathly quiet much of the time (I have no idea how this is possible in zone 2, but somehow it is), and water carries noise very well. Plus the wooden pontoons are artfully designed such that the slightest movement makes a colossal racket. But it was only 21:00, and I figured everyone could stand a few minutes of shuttling. So I slowly moved the trolley along the pontoon, and began to think about how this would soon be over. Sure, it was noisy and awkward now, but in another 15mins I’d have all it all loaded into the boat’s storage hatch and I could think about lighting a fire and watching Scrubs. And then we hit an area of what I’m going to call adverse camber.

Everything veered to the right. And there was nothing I could do. Damn thing wasn’t moving terribly fast, but had such momentum that I couldn’t stop it. The pontoons are only maybe 250cm across, and so within moments the trolley reached the edge and collided with a boat. Mercifully empty. And mercifully made of steel, so unlikely to show scratches. Ok. This wasn’t great, but at least I had some thinking time. And then a moment of horror as the boat began to shift outwards on its loosely-tied ropes, and the front-right wheel of the trolley headed towards the water.

If there hadn’t been a samaritan walking past at this particular moment – not a common occurrence – I think I’d have lost the trolley and its contents in some awful flipover, en route slamming the lot into the paintwork for good measure. Thankfully the samaritan and I were able to wrestle everything back into a sensible position, at which point I emptied half of the contents onto the pontoon. Lucky.

Not my finest moment. And probably witnessed by a bunch of people, and heard by dozens more. I think I might have sworn somewhat.

But I’m typing this next to a roaring fire, so it’s not all bad.