Thursday, December 06, 2012

Winter on the water

The Vereeniging in the snow
It has turned very cold in the last few days. Last night, we had our first snow showers, and more is forecast for tomorrow. These days, my barge is fitted with an oil stove which delivers heat of tropical proportions, but every winter I am reminded of the first December I spent on board on the Vereeniging - ten years ago this year.

It was exceptionally cold exceptionally early. As I recall, it was already freezing in November, and come the first few days of December, we had not only snow, but ice too - inside the barge as well as out. The reason for this was that I had not finished insulating and there were large sections of the hull which were still bare iron. What was worse was that I had no bathing facilities, no hot water and all I had for heat was a rather feeble electric radiator. It was in the early days of my conversion to the higher state of normal living.

The cold hit me hard, that I do remember. I had still not acclimatised to European weather and winters and my South African blood longed for sun with some warmth to it, not the frigid glare of the European variety. The days were beautiful that winter - the sky a vivid blue and the sun fluorescent in its white, bright light, but the rays felt tinged with ice and I wanted to die.

I remember one particular day. The east wind was blowing the water out of the estuary and keeping it out. It was low tide and the water in the harbour was so shallow, we were sitting on mud flats. My loopplank was like the north face of the Eiger. Getting off the barge was akin to rock climbing while getting on it meant performing a sitting shuffle as I slithered down the perilously icy planks of my wooden gangway. And I was cold through to my bones. I remember the feel of it now, oh my goodness, it's still so vivid a memory! It just became too much that day and I remember hugging the radiator for just some kind of warmth. And I cried. Yes, I did. Me, a forty something, supposedly mature, strong woman who'd held positions of responsibility in Johannesburg's corporate and, lets' face it, rather more dangerous world. There I sat in tears because I was just so cold. I hadn't turned a hair at having to strip myself of all valuables before going into the South Africa's most lawless city, or at signs saying "Gun free zone. Please leave your firearms at the security desk" when I went visiting clients. But faced with below zero temperatures, I found myself as pathetic as a snivelling ten year old, and with no spunk whatsoever.

Luckily for me, help arrived to save my shredded dignity. Koos came. He took one look at me, hauled me up the loopplank and carted me off to find a more effective form of heating. At that time, the best thing we could find at short notice was one of those Zebro Kamin paraffin stoves - great because the heat is instant, very economical and extremely safe with their automatic cut off switches. They are not ideal for old iron boats though as the condensation they create is potentially very damaging, but for now - I mean for that time (see how close it is to me still!), it was the best answer to a very immediate need.

The Vereeniging in warmer weather
I still have that heater today. It's hardly ever used, but is always there as backup in case we run out of diesel or it gets so cold that even the normal stove is not enough. Last winter, the harbour froze over and I woke every morning to the sound of ice scraping against the sides of the barge. This winter, it may be even colder. Who knows? I am not there so much these days, but Jodie is learning to cope with it now. Luckily, she will never have to endure a winter like my first. The barge is well insulated, there is a bathroom, the water supply is good and the heater works like a charm. Even so, I am waiting to see what she makes of it. Time will tell.


  1. It must feel damp on a barge in the winter...? I don't think I could deal with that part of it. It is very damp out here as the marsh/vale is right below us and I can feel it in the morning.

  2. Oh my goodness!! You must have been soo cold! I can just about cope if I can dunk my self in a hot hot bath at the end of the day!! Stay warm, lovely Val. I shall come and visit you some day.

  3. Brrrrr! I hope you have plenty of vests.

  4. String, oddly, it doesn't feel any more damp than anywhere else in this damp country. In fact as the water is generally a slightly higher temperature than the air, it can actually be warmer on board than in a house if you have decent heating and good insulation. At that time, I didn't have either, and yes, it was miserable. I really hate cold weather. Always have.

    Carol, I was desperate at the time. Things are a lot better now, though, and it would be lovely if you came to visit!

    Jo, I feel like the michelin man already :)

  5. That reminds me of the days in my teens when I worked on the open market. By the end of each day I was so cold it didn't even hurt anymore. Glad you've got some proper heat now. Looks like we're in for a freezing spell.

  6. Oh, I know exactly what you mean! I remember the year Beth was just four and I was pregnant with Bobby. It was November and the temperature had shrunk to minus 20 or less. We had just moved into our new home, deep in a secluded gully by a creek.
    George's Mum had just passed away and he had gone home to Ontario for the funeral and to be with his immediate family.
    There beth and I were, in the deep, dark coulee with no heat. Our meagre supply of firewood consisted only of a few lengths of punky poplar that hardly burned, let alone put out any heat.
    The moment that really stays with me, bringing to light how cold it really was, is when Beth stepped out of her evening shower. Her lips were already blue and her shivering would not stop. The only solution was to crawl into bed together under a pile of quilts.
    Thankfully, the following day it had warmed up some, George returned home and we managed to top up our wood supply with some hot-burning pine and fir.
    Yes, I can relate, Val, but I don't remember if I cried.
    Oh, did I mention it was all topped off by a hearty bout of all-day morning sickness?

  7. Ice inside the barge...holy moly!
    Oh the cold can bring us down to nothing. It weakens the soul and spirit. I have only this one time this house I lived in for several years. It was poorly insulated, or more like no insulation. I would burn wood endlessly in the winter months, try to get it so hot for shorts, to try and have heat through the nigh. no other source of heat.but it ghe heat just seeped out the walls by middle of the night it was all a waste of wood. Sleeping bundled up and with socks, ugh I dislike sleeping with socks. These days though oddly, being cold at night is refreshing; the night sweats with the eyelids sweating is awful. Sorry sidetracked there!

  8. I don't do cold and I can fully understand why you cried. We are insulating everywhere - walls, underfloors, ceilings and anywhere else there is a gap! Although the yacht is nice and cosy (like being in a nest!) I HATE driving in the snow and frost. The last couple of days we have had snow and ice so I have moved in to Officers' Mess at work. The forecast is the same for next week, so I will be there again. Have a good weekend xxx

  9. Rosalind, I can well imagine the cold of the markets. I love markets, but always feel sorry for the stall holders when the weather is very cold. Markets are nearly always cold and draughty!

    Dale, your memories are as vivid and with you as mine. I can feel it! Add morning sickness to that too...yuk!

    Grace, the cold that creeps in when the wood stove goes out! I know that one well too. For the first few years on the Vereeniging, I had a wood stove. By morning, I was an ice block in my bed too!

    Fran, so nice to see you again! I can't say I blame you for seeking refuge at work! I don't like to drive in the snow and ice either. We are lucky in that we have plenty of public transport here, so that solves my problems. There's always something to get me to work: bus, train or tram!

  10. I think "roughing it" makes one appreciate the comforts. I like to look at it that way.
    makes one hate the cold too!!!

  11. Hi Val - interesting to read .. the thought of living in an non-insulated boat on return from SA - gives me the shivers .. I don't think I've really got used to the cold!

    This year will be interesting weather wise - they're threatening us with bad weather .. the snows seem to come earlier now - growing up .. it was always January -February that had the dreadful snows .. Interesting to read how your daughter, Jodie, copes ...

    Cheers Hilary

  12. Hi Val - me again! I had a look back and some of my comments seem to have gone AWOL! I think it is because I often comment from my work computer and for some reason blogger doesn't like the MoD! Other bloggers have said that my comments often end up in their spam box. Rest assured I am reading and trying to comment, even if my comments don't always appear! Xxx

  13. roughing comfy it appears, and Koos the savior (romantic). I have the gift to believe there are ways to keeping warm, yet I remember the cold or the chill of damp in the Netherlands.

    I like your freedoms. Keep warm.

  14. Hello Val,
    I too dislike the cold even though I'm a winter baby (born in January) Lot's of layers are the answer - five is the minimum requirement and one them needs to leather.
    Oh and I'm back blogging :)

  15. Good gref. That must have been terrible. I don't think I would have survived.

  16. The ice is crunching around the boat today. It's not very thick and is moving with the flow but still makes some 'Arctic documentary' type noises around us!

  17. Thanks, Grace, dear! I always feel I'm roughing it in the winter. I am never warm enough!

    Hilary, thanks for your visit again! Yes, it was pretty hard to cope with after SA, but then it still is. I will never get used to the cold.

    Fran again. Not to worry, dear one. I think I see you fine now and am happy to see more posts on your blog as well :)

    Gina, freedom comes at a price when it's this cold. I'm not good at it.

    Stu, that's living on a boat for you...although maybe I should say that's living in NL!

    Anne, I miss that sound, even though I hate the cold. Hope to see you again soooooon...Okay in 2013 :)

    Mel, great to know you are blogging again too. I'll be over to visit.


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