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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It Pays to Keep a Boater's Log Book

"I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof." ~Rodney Dangerfield, American comedian
   I am writing this post at Les' request. Tuesday, April 14th, we received an email from Canal and River Trust (CRT), the charity which is now responsible for the running, maintenance, and oversight of the English and Welsh Canals and some navigable rivers. They also license all boats using said canals and rivers, including ours. The email said:

From: Patricia Fox <>

Dear Boater

Our sightings suggest your boat has been moored in the same locality for more than 14 days. If you have not already moved, please continue your journey, or call Customer Services on 03030 404040 to discuss, remembering to quote your boat index number and that you are currently moored in the South East waterway area.


Trish Fox

Boating Co-ordinator South East

Canal & River Trust

   I spent an hour the next morning, going back through my daily diary which I've kept since moving aboard NB Valerie. Besides the events of each day--when we got up, the weather for the day, what we did (washed two loads of laundry, emptied the loo, and made bread, while Les worked on the new wood box...), I also keep track of all maintenance to the boat, hours on the engine, all repairs (date, repair, cost), all changes, and how much and when we spend money for diesel, Calor gas, and coal. Finally, I also track our cruising, noting where we are each day, when we arrived, and when we cruise somewhere else.  Every January when I buy a new diary, I write where we were each day the previous year, at the bottom of that day's entry on the new diary pages so I know where we were a year ago.
    I drafted an email to Ms. Fox, as seen below:
 From: Jaqueline Biggs []
Sent: 15 April 2015 10:54
To: Patricia Fox
Cc: Richard Parry
Ms. Fox,
I am Leslie Biggs' wife, Jaqueline. We live aboard NB Valerie (513386). I am answering your email of yesterday for two reasons:

1. I am the keeper of a detailed log book of all of our travels--when we moor up and where, how long we stay, etc. etc. going back to 2011 when we married and I moved aboard our boat.

2. My husband was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in August of 2013. We have endured no less than three surgeries to date, with cancellations of all of them by the NHS and during all this time we have abided by the conditions of our license or contacted the local CRT representative to inform them of our need to overstay in an area due to serious health issues.

We worked with Phil Brogan when we had need to moor longer than 14 days in October-December 2013 at Cow Roast and CRT graciously allowed us to overstay while Les went into hospital, came home to the boat and had visiting nurses in every day, fell ill with Sepsis and nearly died, and eventually recovered enough for us to cruise as we are used to doing and prefer to do. We set off January 14th, 2014 northward and visited the Aylesbury Arm and cruised all the way To Welford on the Leicester Arm.

My husband was informed in August of 2014 that cancer had traveled to his liver. We were up on the Leicester Arm at the time and turned around to return to Cow Roast as we could access buses and trains down to London from there without taking the boat to London and becoming mired in the morass of continuous moorers living there. We opted to go into Cow Roast Marina as another three month recovery was required for a far more serious operation than the first one. We Left Cow Roast marina the end of January 2015 with the plan to cruise northward, but cancer has other plans for us.

Les was scheduled to undergo a procedure for possible metastasized cancer to his left lung, yesterday at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead Heath, London. We need to be close to a good bus/rail line to travel to London. We didn't want to return to Cow Roast so we decided Fenny Stratford/Milton Keynes was a good place to meet our needs. We waited three and half weeks before hearing anything. We received a call on April 8th to say Les' surgery was scheduled to April 14th. So we came back to Fenny Stratford and prepared to go down to London. We were told this procedure (Radio Frequency Ablation) would require 1 nights stay in hsopital and then Les could come home. We planned to head North then...but his surgery was canceled again. The inefficiency of the NHS is sending us 'round in circles as we wait to hear, get a set appointment, and then have it canceled. This has happened to us three times now, and all three times we've sought to find ways to meet the conditions of our CC'rs license.

From our log book, here are our exact days and movements for the past two months:
March 2105, NB Valerie, 513386
March 1st: moored up below Slapton Lock. Stayed there through Wednesday, March 4th.
March 5th: cruised to Leighton Buzzard so Les could catch train to RFH, London for a scan. Stayed through Saturday, March 8th, filled with H2O and dumped rubbish.
March 9th: Cruised to Soulbury Three locks and moored up at the top on 14 day moorings. Stayed here through March 14th.
March 15th: Cruised to Fenny Stratford and moored up past the stop lock and swing bridge and stayed until Thursday March 19th. Filled with H2O and dumped rubbish.
March 20th: Cruised to Old Linslade Manor Park and moored up for 48 hours. Notified by the RFH that Les needed to come in for a consultation on the 24th.
Monday, March 23rd: Winded and cruised back to Fenny Stratford and moored up before the stop lock on 14 day moorings where we stayed until March 28th. We took the train to London the next day and were informed of the new lesions on Les' lungs. We were given options and Les chose Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) as the least detrimental and most likely successful option. We were told he would be scheduled for surgery--and the procedure would take place--within 4 weeks.
March 29th: Winded the boat, filled with H2O and dumped rubbish. Cruised to Stantonbury and moored up on 14 day moorings. Stayed moored up through Friday April 10th.

April 2015:
April 1st-10th: Stantonbury 14 day moorings.

Wednesday April 8th the RFH called to say Les' appointment for RFA was scheduled. He needed to arrive in London at the RFH on Monday , April 13thfor pre-op and check in and stay overnight. the surgery would be done the next morning on Tuesday, April 14th and Les would stay overnight in hospital. Barring any complications Les could come home on Wednesday April 15th and we planned to wind the boat, fill with H2O and cruise north again--and keep going. He planned to catch the train back down to London in about 6 weeks time at Rugby, for the follow up appt. with the surgeon. Instead Les' surgery was canceled for lack of beds and we are forced to wait for a re-schedule while trying to figure out how to keep moving and meet the condition of our license while staying near to someplace we can easily access trains to London.

April 11th: We cruised to Cosgrove, filled up with H20, dumped our rubbish and winded, cruising back to Fenny Stratford, where we moored up at our current location.

It is not our intent to continuously cruise the same section of canal--we hate it but are forced to do it presently due to my husband's health and the complete inefficiency of the bloody NHS. We will never overstay in one place but we may have to keep turning and going back and forth between Fenny Stratford and Stanton Low, mooring in places along the way where we can get a Tesco delivery, and access bus and rail service until the NHS gets Les' RFA procedure scheduled, gets him in, does the job and releases him home. Once that occurs we will be on our way Northward to cruise continuously as is our joy, delight, aim, and desire.

If you have any questions or concerns about our further movements or you require medical proof of Les' health issues please contact me and I will walk into town and get copies of his paperwork printed and mail them to you. CRT personnel may also read our blog I will follow up this email with a phone call to the number you included in your original notice to my husband's email address but I wanted to be sure CRT representatives have a written copy of this information as well. If you review the sighting records for NB Valerie since my husband had her put into the water in 2006 you will see that we have always met the conditions of our license and cruised continuously until ill health has forced our hand and required us to stay for longer than we have ever wanted, in areas where we could access services, grocery deliveries, visiting nurses could easily find us, and we could easily catch buses and trains to London for medical appointments and surgeries.

We would like a list of CRT sightings of our boat please for the past two months, as it appears they do not match our daily log book.


Jaqueline and Les Biggs,
NB Valerie

   I also followed up my email within minutes, phoning the CRT customer service number. Ms. Fox was on another line. She returned my call ten minutes later, we went over my email, and she apologized for troubling us, saying that when a boat is recorded by Enforcement Officers (EO's) in the same place over a period beyond 14 days, it is included in a mass email notice which is sent out to boaters.
   Trish said she would let the EO, Glynn Bumford, know about our circumstances and CRT would open a file on us, explaining our circumstances and our need for limited cruising. She asked only that we keep CRT informed of our circumstances. Our phone conversation was lovely--cordial, respecftul, helpful. She also followed up right away with this email reply:


Further to our telephone conversation a short while ago, here are the boat sightings you requested.

Fenny Stratford 14 day S1 Mooring
Grand Union km 139
Grand Union km 158
Grand Union km 158
Grand Union km 160
Cowroast 14 day Visitor S1 Mooring
Grand Union km 164

As I suggested during our conversation, I have sent an e-mail to the two EOs who cover the area you are in and around at the moment and have asked them to consider a restricted movement pattern in order to facilitate catching trains for your husband’s appointments. I will contact you again once I hear back from them, or they may contact you directly themselves.

I hope everything goes well and please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any assistance.

Regards, Trish

Trish Fox
Boating Co-ordinator South East
Canal & River Trust
Tel: 01908 681277

   An hour later as I was finishing up breakfast out on the bow, Glynn Bumford himself came calling. He was actually out on the towpath working, and he was there to place a patrol notice on a plastic cruiser moored in front of us that already had two patrol notices on it.  
   Glynn introduced himself, we shook hands and he said Trish had called him to explain our situation and asked him to stop in and say hi to us. We had a ten minute conversation, Les showed Glynn his Stoma and his scars, Glynn asked if I would please email him a copy of the letter from the RFH so he could open the file for us in the CRT system, and we all parted cordially. (NHS letters from the RFH with updates have been emailed and are on file).
   About two hours later another CRT employee strode up the towpath towards us. Les and I were outside working on the wood box. This fellow--with a large sheaf of legal looking papers in his hand--stopped to say hello. He introduced himself as Peter Palmer--Glynn's supervisor. 
   Peter was out in the area to handle an issue which had escalated, requiring someone with more power than an EO to address. He had spoken with Trish in the office and she said he would likely pass by NB Valerie and would he please introduce himself to the nice folks on board. We had a lovely brief chat with Mr. Palmer who said a check of CRT records did indeed underscore that we are bonafide Continuous Cruisers and he apologized as well for the mass email. We parted with smiles and off he went to see a man about a boat, as they say. 
   Now quite obviously the boat reporting system currently in use by CRT is far from perfect. Despite our movements and the fact our bow was pointed in the opposite direction when first spotted, from their recording records it appeared we had not moved. Never mind...Les and I have seen positive changes all across the canal system since CRT took over from the U.K. government department of British Waterways (BW). Canals are being dredged, old, broken gates are repaired, overgrowth is being trimmed back, towpaths have been improved, and Continuous Moorers are finally being dealt with legally, instead of ignored as they were in the days of BW.
   Our interactions with CRT have always been pleasant, informative, and supportive. But then, as our records indicate, we are bonafide Continuous Cruisers. It isn't rocket science; it's not brain surgery; it's quite simple: abide by the requirements of your boat's license as set forth by CRT at the time of licensing. Any time you cannot abide by those regulations, contact CRT and let them know. Explain why and be willing to provide proof. Be polite and respectful. It also never hurts to offer a cuppa and a slice of cake either!
   On a final note, we met a young man and his father at the Fenny stop lock when we winded (turned the boat around) and stopped for water. They had gone through the lock before us, leaving the footbridge opened, and a gate opened with a paddle up as well. They stopped at the canalside pub for a brew. They had just bought the boat and Dad was helping his son cruise down to London where the young man will live on it. He cannot afford housing in London and was chuffed to bits to be the owner of a new floating home. He will join the masses already floating side by side in the City, adding to the congestion and issues rampant on the canals in the south. He is the fourth boater we've met this year who bought a boat as an answer to lack of affordable housing in London. From our conversations with each of these young men, not a single one of them had a clue about the rules and regulations regarding their licenses, how to operate locks or paddles, or indeed how to care for their boats.
   We wish CRT luck with this thorny issue and thank Trish, Glynn, and Peter for their kind and friendly care of us during this stressful time. We hope to wave goodbye to this section of the G.U. soon, and with NB Valerie's bow pointed north, we plan to keep going. 


Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

A lovely post, Jaq, showing the good commonsense of the two of you and the commonsense and compassion of CRT. Mxox

Dogsontour by Greygal said...

Excellent post, Jaq, just spot on. Wishing you both the very best for when your bow heads north

Amy said...

Glad to hear you've had such a positive response from CRT. Good luck to Les and to you, I hope all goes well. Much love,

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Marilyn, Greygal, and Amy,
Thanks indeed for your good wishes and love.

Unknown said...

Dealing with legal (or illegal if you wish) entities means documentation
to the nith degree.
Best cover your butt cause the other party often will not cover theirs. Also photographic documentation as well, if needed.
Jaq, remember Arlo Guthrie's song about Alice's restaurant? And the mention of how many black and white glossy 8 inch by ten inch prints with the evidence?
Exactly. Write everything on paper, trust not the computer and make sure the evidence can be confirmed.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs