Balti Express and other Imaginary Boats

· 1619 Words


This is the fifth of the eight boat stories.

People get funny ideas when it comes to naming boats. After all, our boat is called Monstronauticus and it’s virtually the only name that my wife and I could agree on. Our son happily avoided a similar fate.

Who can explain it

The phenomenon can be explained by good old British bureaucracy. Like cars, every boat must be registered and licensed. On the canals they chose a numbering system. On the Thames, where numbers are impersonal and insufficiently poetic, the name is the numberplate. I was allowed to keep my first boat’s name when I brought her onto the river, but was warned that I might have to change if a pre-existent ‘Dawn’ came to light.

Because no two boats can have the same name, boat owners have to resort to some creative ingenuity. Finding your dream of owning a boat called “Jezebel” dashed, you might have to settle for “Jezebel’s Regret”. There’s a boat near us called ‘Prep H’ (I won’t explain, you can look it up). There must be a story behind that name, but I’m happy to remain ignorant.

Balti Express

Our little group of boats shares a postbox. The occasional mis-delivery gives insight into what the postman must think of us. If it gets into our post box, the postman thinks it’s a credible boat name.

One letter particularly amused me. It was addressed simply to “Balti Express”. This conjured images of a mysterious vessel, always in a hurry to get somewhere, passing by at great speed and leaving an aromatic haze wherever it went.

Fictional boats

Sadly, there is no such boat as Balti Express. The following boats also don’t exist, as far as I am aware:

  • Pterracotta - A deliberately scruffy boat. A small rosemary plant grows from the gas flue, which hasn’t been used for years. All cooking and heating is done on the wood-burning stoves, of which there are five. The roof is always covered in firewood, tied up in filthy green tarpaulins.
  • Mistress Trout - A long, thin narrowboat with a slipper stern. Spots are painted onto the hull below the waterline. No-one can see them, but the owner knows that they’re there. Once got stranded on Port Meadow and everyone saw the spots. Less exciting than many had hoped, and the owner was mortified.
  • Mango Everett - Owned by a syndicate of postmen, who take turns. Always out at odd hours, and they each cruise in their own patch.
  • Digital Parachute - Driven by an advertising executive. Surprisingly good at tight turns.
  • Maximilian Elouise - Lovingly restored from a rusting wreck by a her devoted owner. Not an old boat, in fact only three years old, but the previous owner neglected her terribly.
  • Tragic Pangea - Painted a garish orange colour. Covered, and I mean, covered in fenders. Insists on hand-signalling before every turn.
  • Trout Offering - Lovingly known as ‘the otter’ by those in the know.
  • Vestibule Marmoset - Who puts bunny ears on their boat? The owner of this one. And they’re welded on.
  • Mallory - A rare sight these days, a wooden narrowboat. At least that’s what the owner claims. If he gets a chance to talk to you he’ll moan all day about rust.
  • Trip tide - The owner’s been clean for eight years, but used to have tiny raves on his tiny boat. Only 20 ft long, but they managed to squeeze a lot of people in. Still has the occasional party, and always packed, but his heart’s not in it. Who knew that so many people were still into triphop?
  • Rows Hips - The owner, a quiet retired postmistress. She wanted to be in on Mango Everett, but postmen closed ranks: no management allowed. She quietly wishes people would ask about the name.
  • Amber Pirouette - A sprightly boat, painted bright white. Rumour has it that she has bow thrusters fore and aft. This allows the boat to travel sideways, which the owner often does, just to piss everyone off.
  • Sunset Pangolin - Another rare one. Originally called just ‘Sunset’ but renamed because the boat has a slight bend to the left (port). The steel used to build these boats in the 70s was reclaimed from huge cylindrical gasometers. The large curved panels were beaten flat before being used to build boats. After a while the steel slowly returned to its curve. Weirdly, tends to pull to the right (starboard) when driving.
  • Water Bambi - Technically not a boat, but the Environment Agency make an exception.
  • Stoatbank - The owner, an old organist, wrote a hymn tune with this name. No-one, including himself, liked the tune, and only he himself liked the name. The boat is otherwise unremarkable.
  • Glutton - Another boat that has started to sag a little. In the middle Glutton is a whole foot wider than at either end.
  • Arabella Montbatten - Owned by an old gentleman who is too timid to ever take the boat out.
  • Hoopnought - No-one has ever seen this boat move. But it’s never seen in the same place twice…
  • Riverbonk - Owned by a couple in their 60s, who live in a house in the Wirral and only visit the boat for one thing.
  • Thyme and Tide - A boring boat, with boring owners.
  • Thyme and Toad - The owners of Thyme and Tide bought a second boat of the same design. No-one knows why. They divide their time equally between these two identical boats.
  • Wind in the Pillows - This boat is nearly as wide as it is short, but is otherwise a conventional narrowboat.
  • In my waters - The owner went overboard with painted buckets and watering cans painted in the traditional style. Once someone knocked the bucket off the roof in a lock and he’s never let anyone forget it. Makes the joke about ‘kicking the bucket’ to anyone who’ll listen.
  • Joan Ozark - A boat made in Ozark, Arkansas, and towed over the Atlantic ocean. Of course, the boat sank a day into the voyage. The tug still towed the boat, now submerged, the whole distance. Because of the American construction, everything is measured in inches and thous, and the owner refuses submit his Environment Agency registration paperwork in millimetres. Every year, it causes problems.
  • Ember Spyglass - Rumour has it, this boat has a glass bottom.
  • Jungle Pinion - Owned by a potter. The roof is stacked with packets of clay. The owner has had a custom wood-fired kiln installed, where she fires her pots. She insists that every pot she sells must have been weathered on the boat roof for six months.
  • Crocodillopig - This boat is covered in camouflage webbing and has some very un-PC stickers in the windows. One to avoid.
  • Norse Dog - A figure of a Norse Dog adorns the prow. You wouldn’t know it was Norse unless you asked. The owner is a private character, and wouldn’t tell you unless you asked, but is happy to chat.
  • Corrolloround - Belongs to a logician who plays the bassoon. Not loudly, and only when cruising, when you can’t hear it over the engine noise anyway.
  • Alacriteatime - You can be sure of a cup of tea and a biscuit if you knock on the door. Don’t step aboard without being invited though.
  • Rowlocks to Rexit - A loud, brash boat. Painted in vertical stripes, each one a different colour. Weirdly it has rowlocks at the stern and a pair of long oars. Despite a brand new 50hp Yanmar engine, the owner refuses to burn petrofuels and instead rows it everywhere. A nightmare in locks - if you see it, hang back.
  • Common Agrarian Policy - There roof is covered in polystyrene boxes full of crayfish. No-one asks where the crayfish come from, or where they go.
  • Fish n Chip Butty - A butty boat, meaning that it has no engine and is meant to be towed.
  • Caxtons Apple Press - The Juice Boat. They have a poster in the window that they have apple juice for sale, but will only barter and the only payment they accept is apples.
  • Brixton Ringer - Rumour has it that the builders installed the gearbox backwards, so there are five reverse gears but only one forward. The gearbox and engine were taken from a London Black Cab. Sadly doesn’t steer well in reverse, but that doesn’t stop the owners doing it.
  • Toad Along - A small children’s boat, a tiny scale model of a narrowboat. No engine, and an adult would have to lie down to fit in.
  • Dog Spuds - An unremarkable boat, but there must be a story behind the name.
  • Faulternator - Watch out for this one. More often than not you’ll be asked for a jump-start.
  • First Might - A boat with two diesel engines and propellers. A clever arrangement with hydraulic transmission means that the two engines are arranged length-ways along the boat, not side by side. Built at a time when the government was floating a plan to abolish locks on the Thames, meaning the river flow would be a lot faster and more difficult to navigate. The plans never materialised, so the extra power was never needed. It’s impossible to run only one engine, so it uses twice the fuel and most of the boat is taken up with engines, gearboxes, fuel and hydraulic equipment. Always seen traveling too fast, the owner looking miserable.
  • Bosun’s Chore - Always spotless. Don’t touch.
  • Weather Forecourt - I don’t know what kind of sick mind dreams up a boat with a balcony.

If you run into any of these boats, give them a nod from me.

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