Archive for November, 2007


Thursday, November 29th, 2007

The haulage is all set up. Three separate haulage companies to bring the boat from Berkshire to Suffolk, plus a company bringing eight antique creosote-treated oak railroad sleepers (‘ties’ in the US) to use as a base for the boat.

A few possible risks involved in moving the lifeboat:

1. When the crane lifts her, she buckles and breaks her back.

2. The lowloader (articulated truck/trailer) can’t make it around the tight corners on the country lanes leading to our village.

3. Small bridge leading to village crumples under weight.

4. Low hanging electrical cables slice off my precious wheelhouse.

5. 60 ton crane can’t get good enough access to my garden, therefore does not have appropriate purchase to lift 10 ton boat into garden.

6. Sky falls.

It’s going to be a stressful few days! I am distracting myself by editing movie footage from the Sputnik concert at the ICA. Perhaps when it’s done I’ll put up a podcast or something.

Here’s a pic of the saloon.


Offer accepted!

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Great news today, I made an offer for the lifeboat and the sellers accepted. Transportation will happen in the next week. I have a new home for my studio!

What I know about her so far: She was built in 1938 as a ship’s lifeboat for the SS Queen Anne, a British merchant vessel operating in the South Seas. She would have had oars and a sail at that time, possibly a small parafin engine, though now she has a Perkins single prop diesel. Her lower construction is double diagonal carvel in mahogany, which goes up as far as the blue ‘strake’ along her side; the cabin and wheelhouse were added some time later by extending the ribs and using horizontal planking. She has navigational equipment, depthfinder etc so it’s clear she was cruised at some point. For the last however many years she has been used as a ‘liveaboard’ on a canal in Nottinghamshire, and has mod cons like 240v shore power, cooker, water heater, wood burning stove, head, TV aerial, and so on. The conversion was done very well with all brass portholes, pine floorboards and interior walls, and mahogany hatches.

The couple I bought her from acquired her a little over a year ago after seeing her on her canal mooring, and didn’t bother to get a survey done. At that point she was lived on full time and the (then) owners had kept her very spruce. Sadly, I think my sellers were not really ‘boat people’ and didn’t know what they were getting themselves into with an old wooden boat. They hauled her out and down to Reading, and put her in the water at a marina on the Thames. She immediately started taking on water with the bilge pumps working overtime, so they lifted her straight back out. It’s not surprising her seams had opened up a bit, but this was excessive. (I pointed out to them that some of the diagonal planking on her port side was so wide open you could see daylight though it!) They got a surveyor’s view, and he said that about 2/3 of her port side planking needed replacing. You can’t do it in mahogany because we’ve already depleted the world’s supplies, so you have to use larch. This would have cost them thousands of pounds and they wouldn’t have ended up with a boat worth as much as they’d just spent on her.

They’re now suing the previous owners for trying to ‘falsify’ her condition. Frankly I think they have zero chance of success. With everything in limbo they just left her on blocks in a farmyard outside Reading, not bothering to do basic things like doing something to prevent rainwater leaking in through the broken planks, covering up the hatches, keeping a heater ticking over etc. As a result, her condition has deteriorated very rapidly. They advertised her for sale on various Internet sites—the same sites I have been scouring for six months or more—but without any photos. I think had they included photos, some nutter like me would have come along a lot earlier, because there’s a constant demand for roomy vessels as liveaboards. But because I’d already viewed about 10 boats, and was getting somewhat discouraged, I decided to leave no stone unturned, and I began investigating even the Internet ads that had no photos.

So I was not expecting much when I traveled down to Berkshire to see her. It was pouring with rain, and my GPS was hard pressed to find the little farm in the middle of nowhere. But from the first sight of her, I knew this was the best contender yet. She has lovely lines, but not like a ‘Gentleman’s Motor Cruiser’ such as a Silver, which would have been too posh for my purposes. She looks utilitarian, yet her comfy interior is a lot more welcoming than many motor fishing vessels I’ve seen. And above all, she has a great wheelhouse. I’d decided over the course of my search that wheelhouses rule. They’re high up; they have a great view; they are sometimes full of cranky old compasses, spotlights and instruments. Fantastic for a studio. Hers was a peach, and because of its sternward placement, I will be able to position it close to the sea with a panoramic view up and down the beach.

When one of the sellers let slip that the farmer had given them notice to get her off his land, and that absent a suitable buyer they were resigned to burning her and selling her engine and fittings on eBay, that pretty much made my mind up! One thing that had been bugging me was, I didn’t want to deprive anyone of a perfectly good, seaworthy vessel that could be enjoyed out on the water. What were the chances of finding a boat nice enough to rescue from burning? And what’s more, it indicated to me that they would accept a very low price. This would leave me the budget to spend money on making her suitable as a studio, add some high-tech frills that would give me plenty of power from renewable sources, and then, very carefully, to move her to East Anglia.


I will post more pictures of my new lifeboat in the next few days!

About Boats

Monday, November 26th, 2007

I am drawn to the water. Always have been. I need to be close to it, to be able to get out onto it, and view the land from it. If I visit a new city I don’t feel I can really see it until I find a way to get on the river or ocean and see it from that vantage point. If it’s a city with no water–like Santa Fe, NM for example–I just don’t connect with it at all. On the other hand I love Venice, which is a city made of water with its buildings rising out of the water on stilts like splendid dry docks for its inhabitants.

To make this possible, you need a boat. People have all sorts of different relationships with boats. For some they are a luxury. I like them best when they’re born out of necessity.

The last time I went to Venice was with my family in the summer of 2005. A week before we were due to go my 10 year old son Graham dropped a marble paving stone on his foot and broke two bones. Venice is a city you have to be able to walk around. Even a wheelchair is not much use, because of the steps on the little bridges over the canals. We considered canceling our trip, but Graham was distraught. So I looked for a motorboat to rent. Now, in Venice they don’t like tourists to rent motorboats. The locals use the canals like roads, to deliver groceries, get to work, move apartments and so on. The tourists are best confined to the water buses and taxis, or the $400-per-hour gondolas. The last thing they need is tourists playing dodgems in their streets, getting themselves drowned in the polluted waters and so on. But I managed to find a boat rental place a little out of the centre, and in broken Italian I persuaded them to rent me a boat. It was unglamourous, like a giant coffin without a lid, but it was big enough for nine people, and we set off armed with a map of the canals to find an apartment above a bakery where some friends were staying, to pick them up and make a tour of the city and the neighbouring islands.

I’ve done a lot of boating in my life, on several of the Earth’s oceans and in all kinds of weather, but navigating around Venice in a motorboat was the most challenging seamanship I’ve ever had to do. Using just a flick of your right wrist on the throttle you have to find your way down tiny canals with inches to spare on either side; avoid water taxis doing 35 knots and gondolas doing 3; and parallel park into mooring spaces, with other boat drivers screaming at you. AND there’s a current! Still, we saw more of Venice that day than we possibly could have done by any other means—and young Graham lay on the bow, his leg in a cast and his crutches beside him, looking up at the fabulous Medici architecture, completely enthralled!


That’s really the best use for a boat, in my opinion: one born out of necessity.

Why do I mention this now? Because I am close to choosing a boat to put in my garden in England and use as a studio. I’ve been scouring the Internet every day for four or five months. I have about 12 brokerage sites bookmarked, plus I have several eBay saved searches, so I get emailed every day with new ones as they get put up for auction. Of course, the most practical choice would be a good solid fibreglass boat that would require minimal maintenance. Light, watertight, lots of space. But will that work for me? No. Because it’s the romance of an old wooden boat that makes this a fun idea.

Where we live, we’re close to a river mouth. All summer long we see Thames Barges float by that are over 150 years old. We see gaff-rigged schooners and cutters and yawls, clinker-built dayboats and half-deckers, elegant Edwardian sloops and Dutch merchant sailors: all of them insanely impractical compared to today’s fast plastic ‘Bendytoy’ cruisers. No matter how much you fancy an old ‘woody’, any sensible man would steer well clear of those old hulks, and get himself a practical modern boat that won’t leak or sink, and that he can stash away in a barn all winter and that won’t deteriorate before next Spring. But will that work for me? No, not in a million years.

I’m going to sleep on it, but I think I’ve found my lifeboat. She’s on blocks on a farm in Berkshire, about as far from the sea as she could get, and still be on the British mainland. She’s somewhat neglected—in fact the owners are planning to burn her unless I buy her this week—but she has enormous potential. A lovely mahogany interior, and a wheelhouse to die for. I’m not going to tell you any more about her until I make up my mind, but let me just say this: she is a boat born out of necessity, and if I decide she’s the one for me, I will abandon myself to a whole new romance with a wonderful ship, the open sea, and my imagination a blank sheet of manuscript to fill with the soundtrack!

Travelling Again

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

I’ve been in Athens for a while. A good friend was celebrating a ‘big’ birthday and had to be there for a conference, so a bunch of us descended on him and took him out to tavernas and to see the wonderful sights.

It’s always amazing there, and reminds me very much of my father, but in a good way. He used to take me around the ruins and the museums, and tell me amazing stories that were not in any guide book. I feel ashamed that I can’t now remember many of them, to replay them to my friends. It’s a little sad that back in those days one could walk more or less anywhere among the ruins, whereas now there is so much construction and restoration going on and you’re very limited.

I think I have finally shaken off the post-tour blues. These last couple of legs really took it out of me, what with airport security issues, computers breaking down, work permit shenanigans and so on. I really love touring but when things go awry and you have to pull out all the stops so that the show can go on, it’s very draining. Especially at my advanced age! I have played over 75 shows in the last couple of years, and for the most part it’s been fantastic. The audiences have been so welcoming, and have made me feel right at home. My band and crews have been great. But I feel I’m done with touring for a while now, and it’s time to move onto the next phase.

Now I can relax and get on with some new music. It’s good to be back in England, actually seeing the seasons change. I have spent only short periods here since I left in 1986, and I’ve always enjoyed visiting, but there’s a certain continuity that I’ve missed out on; here it’s more about the quality of life than the standard of living, and now my family will get to experience that as well, going to English schools, being around their relatives, making new friends.

We had some drama a couple of weeks ago when the whole East Coast of Britain was hit by a huge gale and many small villages like ours were flooded. The tide was about 9 ft higher than it was supposed to be, seeping up through the beach, and all around our house lagoons of seawater were forming. There’s a small bridge you have to cross to get to our house, and the water was over the road so we were effectively an island for a few hours. The kids of course thought this was very exciting, but beautiful as it was, Kathleen and I found it a bit disconcerting. The flood was not strictly speaking a result of global warming, though the incidence of high tides like this may be on the increase. However, there were many villages in East Anglia that disappeared under the waves over the centuries, and ours could soon become one of them.

So I’ve been on the lookout for a lifeboat. Preferably a classic wooden one with lots of character. I plan to put it on blocks in my garden, like an Ark. It will make a fantastic studio; and if one day we all have to clamber aboard and float off across the ocean, I’ll just keep right on making music.