Saturday, May 03, 2014

A little light relief

Aha, I can hear you all thinking that I'm going to write about something less inclined to give you the heebies this week - sorry, I'm not going to let you off yet. My title really is the subject of this post, but as you might have guessed by now, it's about light on a barge - or rather the lack of it.

Many of you will have seen live aboard boats at home or in your own areas. Many of you will also have spent holidays on boats, but I wonder how many readers here have spent time on a traditional, or historic barge.

In the Netherlands, it's an amazing fact that there are more boats per capita of the population than almost anywhere else in the world. Quite something for such a small country, isn't it? So the Dutch have a strong sense of their waterways heritage as well as being very active boaters themselves. Our particular harbour is dedicated to the restoration of the barges that thronged the rivers and canals from the mid 19th century up to World War II. Our duty, as the barge owners and restorers, is to maintain the exterior of our boats as they were in the days when they were in use as cargo carrying vessels. And our job is to try and restore them to the state they were in when they were first built.

There is a slight snag with this. They were, as I've said, cargo boats. Their holds were never meant to be lived in; they were closed spaces covered only by wooden hatches and they had no windows. But practically all of us who own these old barges convert these cargo holds into living space, so what do we do about light? Since we are absolutely not allowed to place windows in the sides, it ends up being a kind of compromise.

I describe in Harbour Ways how I sneaked a window into the rear end of the hold after I raised the 'roof' or height of the Vereeniging. It's difficult to see this window from a normal standpoint, so I got away with it. In fact, it's just a kind of wide slot between the engine room roof and the top of the hatches, but for quite a while, this was the only natural light I had inside. This meant that one end of my space, the bedroom area, had light, but the area where I spent most of my time - closer to the entrance - was constantly dark.

The sneaky window at the back of the hold - barely noticeable
Now I don't know about any of you, but I don't really relish living in a cave. I didn't mind it when I was a student and trying to be cool with my Indian drapes, jos sticks and Pink Floyd music on the stereo. But having reached that certain age when my eyes were no longer so good and I really needed to see my face before presenting it to the public, light became something more of an issue. As things were, there was many a time in my early Vereeniging days when I would put on non-matching earrings or different coloured socks. I even wore blouses and tee-shirts inside out once or twice, and never even noticed till I got to work. And I won't  expand on how embarrassing the odd shoes were (one brown, one blue) - or the yesterday's mascara smudges  - or the splodge of toothpaste on my smart business jacket - none of which I could see in the gloom. I still go all hot thinking about the shame of it even now.

So, more light became something of an urgent matter. My first move was to make a new entrance hatch with a window in it. That helped, and again, it couldn't be seen by a casual observer. But it wasn't enough. I started getting cabin fever a bit too easily. I won't go into how it manifested itself but imagine PMS mixed with menopause madness and you get something approaching the symptoms. Not pretty. Luckily, I realised it was lack of light that was the culprit, so I did something very daring.

An old photo showing the window in the entrance hatch

I cut a carefully measured hole in the brown sail cloth that covered my hatches, removed a single heavy hatch-board, and found a fitting piece of perspex. This was then attached to a frame and slotted over the space where the hatch-board used to be. The difference was amazing. I could see - even in the early morning; well at least as far as my waist. The bottom half was still a bit vague and I still got my socks mixed up, but the improvement in my mood was substantial. And I had managed all this without losing my monumental status - and yes, I do mean that.

'Strip' lighting in the hatches. I want more of these!
In the summer, light was and is less of an issue. I can take out a panel in the side of the barge, which is just lovely. And more recently, I have made a nifty and discreet permanent  window in one panel which has a flap over it that I can close if I need to be totally authentic, or rather the barge does. So with each stage of development in the boat and with each of my advancing years, I do a bit more to improve the light inside.

I should say I now have plans to take out more hatch-boards and have what is effectively 'strip' lighting down the centre of my ceiling, but that's for next year. Or maybe I'll do it in stages; I don't know yet. For the moment, I'm happy to say I am no longer given to bursts of light-loss lunacy. But it's true that the challenge of solving the problem without losing my Vereeniging's historic status has been one that has taxed even my stubborn and bullish nature!

26 comments:

  1. I love the idea of you wearing odd stuff - do you have a reputation of being slightly eccentric?!!! Light makes such a difference. We have a large hatch that at the moment has a wooden cover (and all winter has been closed in with celotex) so our main living area is also dark. Pete has just found a large piece of Perspex where he is currently working that the owner has no use for. Hopefully he will fit it this weekend and we will have light too. Mind you, then we can see what we are eating and perhaps that won't be such a good thing! Xxx

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  2. I like lots of light, so I would find it difficult on a barge. Your solution is brilliant, and I hope you continue the 'strip' lighting. Oh, and I can't blame barge-living for the fact that I've been known to go to work with one black and one navy shoe, on more than one occasion. Just early morning madness, and not paying attention!

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  3. I'd struggle with the lack of light - though I suppose it must make you go outside a lot! But how resourceful you are - but then i think we knew that!

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  4. Haha, Fran, if there's one person who knows what I'm talking about, it's you :-) Seeing what you're eating isn't always bad…especially when you have absailing spiders along with the dark spaces. Enjoy the light!! And yes, I do have a bit of a rep - it's true...xxx

    Patricia, I cannot imagine you being anything other than perfectly groomed, but you're right, light is essential.

    Jo, yes, we do spend a lot of time outside as soon as it's warm enough. It's the winters that are toughest to be honest. I have to be resourceful. Getting more light is an exercise in the art of deception!

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  5. Looks like strip lighting makes all the difference..by the way I have never been on a barge, a ride on one is on my to do list.

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  6. Glad you can see what you are doing now Val - it can't have been easy doing all the reading you do in the dark!

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  7. This is somewhat like the dark-time depression that many people struggle with during winter months, though in this case sort of self-imposed. A traditional barge is not the easiest of living arrangements!

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  8. So now you can see the spiders!!! These posts are really making living on a barge come to life. I see boats moored on the Regents canal, and they always look so picturesque...but now,I see another side..next time I'm on the towpath, I shall be able to engage the owners in knowledgeable chat, rather than the nod&smile stuff I do presently. I may even refer to you as my ''expert''.

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  9. Valerie, if you ever get over here, you would be welcome…

    Chris, I had a series of LED lights stuck over my bed, and lots of table lamps (the ceiling is too low for top lights), so reading is not such a problem, but it's those dark mornings….

    Maria, you're right, and on a more sober note, depression can be a problem in winter, especially when it's very rainy and the hatch has to stay shut.

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  10. An interesting and humorous blog Val.
    I have been wearing odd mixed match clothing for years; years ago my daughter told me I had odd socks on. To which I said no one is a left foot sock & the other a right foot sock and at home is another similar pair!

    As regards light did you know that Dulux have developed a paint that reflects back twice the amount of light that shines on it. We are thinking about using it in some of the dark areas in our home.

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  11. Carol, see I told you this one wasn't so bad…and you've given me an idea for my next post too…talking about knowledgeable chats :)

    Mel, you are absolutely right about the socks, no…left…no..right, oh never mind :) Anyway, that's brilliant news about the paint. I shall have to look for that! If you find out what it's called, will you let me know? That would be wonderful. We don't get Dulux here, but I'm sure I can get a friend who goes to and fro to bring me some!

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  12. Since the advent of light management for us as a way to avoid fatigue with the split 12 hour watches, some of the new boats over here are being built with no windows in the quarters and staterooms. I'm with you; don't think I'd like that even a little bit... I like what you've done under the harbor restrictions, Val; very inventive!

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  13. Thanks, Tom! Yes, it's horrible to be without daylight isn't it? Amazing that in modern vessels, they would even think of denying the crew members natural light!

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  14. I don't remember feeling a lack of light when we stayed on your barge a few years back. Mind you, it was summertime, and the living was easy. This winter has been absolutely brutal and long here, and I can well imagine how it much worse it would have been without all the windows in our old house. Your solution is brilliant. I've said to you many times how much I admire your resilience and ingenuity. I could never do it.

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  15. Hello Val, here it is :-
    https://www.dulux.co.uk/products/light--plus-space-matt/

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  16. Thanks, Anne Marie, dear. I think when you stayed, I had just put the ceiling window in, and of course, you're right, it was summer. Lovely times! :-)

    Thank you so much, Mel. I shall now investigate how I can get some!

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  17. Really liked this post Val! Sure know what you mean about light...this new house has tons of it, I feel like I have crawled out of a cave as well! Daylight is so important.

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  18. Thanks String. We don't realise how important it is until we start suffering from the lack of it. I am going to take Mel up on his suggestion of this new paint!

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  19. The lack of light is certainly an issue. Did you think about an old 'koekoek' no idea of the name in English. I once put an old Koekoek on a boltjalk made a big difference and it looks good. This time the size windows on the boat was a deciding matter, not just portholes. To enjoy the light even more hang down some rainbow crystals.
    This is the first time i see your boat and she sure is a true beauty.

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  20. Ah, Wanderlust, I would love a koekoek (I don't know the English name either :)), but I'm not allowed to have one on my barge as it would not be authentic, more's the pity. We have very strict rules and I would lost my class A monument status with the FONV if I did that, and with the Havenmuseum. That's a good idea about the crystals. Thank you! And I'm glad you like my barge. I do too :-)

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  21. The alternative is to live somewhere sunny so you're always out on deck :) I couldn't be happy without lots of light either.

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  22. It never crossed my mind about light on your barge. I like light . Interesting to read how u found a spot to bring some in.

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  23. Yes, Jenny, that is the ultimate plan :-)

    Grace, thank you. You have to be creative when there are so many limitations :)

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  24. I am so impressed that you cut out bits of board and replace it with bits of see-through. I wouldn't know where to begin!

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  25. Ros, it's all about solving a puzzle and I've always enjoyed that :)

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  26. I so love seeing pictures of the inside of your boat! Oh, the article is good, too, ha ha! I know what you mean re needing more light these days....

    Love reading about how you tackle your problems on board :)

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