Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The boat freaks: Max, Jesse and the Bobby Dazzler...

Vyvian Raoul embarks on a new series that charts the weird and wonderful on London’s waterways. With Tom Medwell, he set out to collect the stories of London’s boat-dwelling community. He found the continuous cruisers – those with no permanent mooring, destined to be always on the move – tend to have the most colourful aquatic lives. In this first episode, we learn of the joys and hardships of river roaming

If you go down to the canal today, you’re sure of a big surprise. London’s waterways are alive with music, chatter and laughter. Hip does it a disservice, but something is happening along our towpaths. More dynamic than the houseboats and moorings of Chelsea Harbour and Little Venice, London’s continuous cruisers are making their presence felt — in various wonderful ways.

The rules are different for the semi-nomadic continuous cruisers. Their licence means they must make a ‘significant journey’ every two weeks; what constitutes ‘significant’ is currently being debated in various courts. Continuous cruising is more popular than it’s ever been and British Waterways, the keepers of the canal system, are trying to put a lid on it.

In this first in the series on the special breed of boater, we talked to Jesse and Max, aboard Bobby Dazzler, while they were moored along Regents canal between Broadway Market and Mare Street.

Name: Max(amilliano) Oliva and Jesse Goodman (and Duncan, the dog)
Age: 36, both Place of birth: Buenos Aires, Argentina; Bronx, New York, US
Occupation: administrator for L’Oreal Europe; digital media professional
Time aboard: 3 years

Name: Bobby Dazzler
Age: 6
Place of birth: Liverpool (Liverpool Boats)
Length: 58′
Top speed: Jesse: “A hundred miles per hour…no, they all go like 4 or 5mph; they’re all slow.” Max: “Unless you’re on the Thames and you’re going with the current, then you can go to 7 or 8mph, I think, which is double. And you’re freaked out – you feel like you’re in a speed boat and it’s super fun.”

How does living on a boat compare with renting?
Jesse: Renting’s a pain in the ass because you usually have a landlord. Most people have a landlord they don’t get on with. Our landlord didn’t give a shit about the apartment, and it was expensive, so…

If you’re renting a flat you have to pay someone every month, you have a bill for everything: council tax, electric, water, all that stuff. It’s just a freedom thing: we don’t have to report back to anybody, we can do what we want.

Are there any downsides to all this floating independence?
Jesse: I enjoy it, and I think Max does too, but there’s a constant maintenance element to it. It’s a kind of a ‘the work is never done’-type feeling. Even if everything’s done, there’s always more to be done. There’s a lot of involvement to maintain the boat, to keep everything operating. I think that some people have romantic notions about it, but after working a full day in the winter, if you just want to crash — this wouldn’t be for you. We come back and we have to make a fire, make sure the boat is warm. I mean, I think the whole aspect of living that way is great. Sometimes it’s a little frustrating if a lot of things go wrong at the same time…

Max: A lot of people come to a boat and they’re, like, ‘Oh it’s really pretty with candles and blah blah blah.’ But that’s kind of like a couple of hours that you do at the weekend. You have to do a lot of shitty things that you don’t want to do when you come from work. If you’re constant cruisers, if it’s raining or snowing, you have to move anyway.

Do you stay within certain limits, in a certain area?
Max: No, we just keep going. We go as far as we can. If we go west, we go to Rickmansworth, Watford. As far as we can commute, y’know, because we both work in London. So we’ve always got to get to points where you can get the train or something to work.

Jesse: I think we move further than most continuous cruisers. We like to see huge stretches. We love east London, but it’ll sometimes be six months before we’re back again. There are other continuous cruisers who’re very east London and they’ll stay around this area and maybe creep out every once in a while, but pretty quickly get back here.

So, you don’t have a favorite spot?
Jesse: My favorite spot’s always changing because the dynamic of the spot changes. For example, we never really liked Kings Cross to moor; sometimes we’d just pass it, sometimes we’d moor there and it was just ok. But the last time we were in Kings Cross, there’s a spot by the Guardian building, and it just gets really wide there. We had four boats moored together and we’re all really good mates; we were there for three weeks and that made Kings Cross the best place ever at that time. We just all had a lot of fun, barbequed, parties — it was great.

Max: Yeah, it has to do with your neighbours as well.

What about your neighbours — what’s the boating community like?
Max: Everyone is super friendly, tight and they’re always ready to help. Like, you have a problem with your boat, you just call someone and they’re like, ok! If they cannot help you, they know who will be able to help you.

Jesse: They’re naturally open. In a building, everyone’s protecting their little piece of space. We all have our little pieces of space but it’s all shared. All the continuous cruisers face a similar set of issues — things that you have to get done, whether it’s building a fire in winter, or filling up with water. The community’s open for a lot of reasons, but I think one is because of that intense sharing of what we all have to do.

What’s the difference between continuous cruisers and those that moor?
Jesse: Continuous cruisers are constantly changing scene and moving from one place to another, so the community is always evolving and changing. You’ll get one set of boaters in Victoria Park one week and you’ll have a different dynamic and different set of boaters there the next. That’s for me the more interesting aspect of continuous cruising from permanent mooring, where you have your community there but it stays the same.

You have friends that you develop relationships with, and you may not see them for six months until your boats cross again. So there’re farewells and reunions almost everywhere we go.

Max: It’s true, right? Every time you move, something dies.

Jesse: I love it. I think all continuous cruisers feel it. There is a real beauty in this that is incredibly unique.

Photos: Tom Medwell

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