Back in the mid 1990s I bought a trail-boat, an impulse purchase, but being interested in canals I intended to use it at trail-boat rallies which were usually held on isolated stretches of ancient canals. It was 18ft long from stern to the tip of the bow and the plan was to build a cabin in the style of a canal narrowboat so that it could be slept in when at a rally. I acquired it when I was staying with friends who lived in west Wales and the boat was put in their barn where the build would take place at occasional weekends over the coming months.
The day after purchase it was gloriously sunny and we just had to go and try it out, so we towed it down to near Gwbert on the estuary below Cardigan and set about to launch on the public slipway. Here we see friends Lynne and Jon with young Richard sitting in the hatchback of my car preparing to unhitch and push the boat into the water. The whole outfit was extremely light and could easily be handled by one person. Our maiden voyage took us upstream nearly as far as Cardigan where we beached the boat and then had a picnic before returning on an eventful bumpy journey against a rising tide. We had used Jon’s vintage Seagull two-stroke outboard engine which was fine once started, but did take some string pulling to get us in motion.
Back at base later the conversation came round to a suitable name for the craft. All sorts of daft and strange suggestions were put forward and it was only when Lynne brought out coffee and asked “Custard Cream?” (my favourite biscuit at the time) did I realise it was the perfect name. Custard Cream was christened later with a toast of home-brewed red wine (half a glass for Richard) and a lovely meal provided by Lynne whilst we all sat on the boat, on dry land in the back garden, and became very intoxicated with the situation and perhaps the wine as well!
The cabin I built on the little boat was a little on the eccentric side, but then, what else would you expect from me? Based very loosely on a canal working boat it had roll-up canvas sides and a small cabin at the rear in which I installed a camping stove on one side and a portable toilet on the other. It had a bench seat either side which would accommodate six persons seated and was just wide enough to provide two (very narrow) single beds for night time use. The construction was made from 2″ x 1″ timber with very thin plywood covering so it would bend to the contours I required, and the canvas roll-up sides were lettered with SMT&Co, although what that stood for has dissolved into the mists of time, but it’s probably the first initials of the surnames of the persons who used to holiday on the canals together!
At its first trailboat rally at Resolven on the Neath Canal in 1995 it chucked it down for much of the weekend and young Richard and I attempted to sleep in the cabin. It leaked very badly, not through my workmanship I might add, but through a quirk in the boat’s design, so our sleeping bags became drenched overnight. We had to find a launderette nearby capable of drying them out before we could spend a second night aboard, which turned out to be a little less moisturised! Motive power was via another of Jon’s boat engines, a diminutive battery outboard one, very silent and just powerful enough to propel us gracefully and sedately up and down the short stretch of canal available to us. I shared the engine with Jon’s tiny little boat Puffin so it was either one or t’other in operation that weekend with Richard and Puffin using it most of the time.
That very damp Neath Canal Rally was the maiden voyage of another boat, a radio controlled narrowboat which Jon had made for Richard (and himself). We also took this little boat with us when we went on our annual canalboat holidays which we did for a few years during this period. Jon and Lynne were so enthusiastic over canals they had a narrowboat built to live on permanently and are still enjoying canal life, albeit less nomadically these days. Richard christened the little narrowboat Chugga and is seen here extremely early in the morning, dressed suitably for July, before the day dried up just a little!
Custard Cream only ever went to the one event, the following year at Resolven we were boat-less but attended as we were members of the Canal Society and one of the crews operating the Society’s trip boat that weekend. In July of that year I took a temporary job at the local crematorium, it was only meant to last for six weeks but actually finished fifteen years later when I retired last June. The boat was eventually sold in 2006 just a couple of weeks before we moved out of our home at Southerndown. It was fun while it lasted and I have pleasurable memories of the short period in which Custard Cream featured in my life.