28: The White Swan

28: The White Swan

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

The White Swan

Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made.

~Robert N. Rose

“Wake up,” Peter said, gently shaking me. “We’re starting to sink.”

It was the middle of the night and I rubbed my eyes, trying to understand what Peter was saying. Half asleep, I pulled myself out of bed and grabbed my robe. Was the boat really going under?

Peter and I lived on a boat, and although it was moored in a marina, the water was still pretty deep. As I got off, all I could think about was losing my precious home. It barely crossed my mind that we could have gone down with it if Peter hadn’t woken up and realized what was happening.

I stood on the pontoon, trembling. Peter had gone into the bilges to see if he could find the problem. Meanwhile, the boat was slowly and steadily going down. I worried about Peter still being on board, but he had to see if he could do anything to save our home.

When we bought the boat, it needed a complete overhaul both inside and out. We didn’t have much money to spend, but there were a few old boats in our price range. I have no idea why, but I was drawn to this boat from the moment I saw it. I didn’t care that it was a complete mess inside. It didn’t have proper cooking facilities or a decent bathroom, and the furniture was threadbare. I saw the potential in the old wooden Broads cruiser, a forty-five-foot motorboat that had been used as a hire craft on the waterways of Norfolk, a county in the east of England.

We were getting married the following year and this would be our first home. Peter had introduced me to boating and I had fallen in love with the way of life. We decided that we wanted to live permanently on a boat. I knew the boat needed a lot of work to make it livable, but it had the potential to become a snug and comfortable home. Peter had always enjoyed renovating, so we put in an offer.

“Are you sure this is the one you want?” Peter had asked at the last minute.

“Yes, I love it,” I had replied. “As long as you’re okay with doing the work.”

I felt slightly guilty. I knew Peter would be doing the bulk of the renovating and that it would be hard work. However, he assured me he was looking forward to it.

The boat had a center wheelhouse and we decided to turn this into the dining room. In the stern we had a combined sitting room and galley. Peter fitted out the galley with a cooker, fridge, microwave and washer/drier. The bedroom, bathroom and a small office were at the bow, and we even had central heating fitted. The only thing the boat didn’t have was a name.

“It’s about time we decided what to call our home,” Peter said one day.

I had been thinking about a name for weeks, but hadn’t come up with anything. Looking around and seeing the ducks, moorhens, and swans float by, I was suddenly inspired.

“I know,” I exclaimed. “We’ll call it ‘The White Swan’. What do you think?”

“Perfect,” Peter said. “That’s just the right name for our new home.” We christened our boat with a glass of champagne.

We spent an almost ideal start to our married life on The White Swan. It was only upset by my health, which gradually became worse due to Crohn’s disease. Finally, one year after we got married, I had an operation. After eight weeks recuperation, I was much improved. The boat was my sanctuary during my recovery and I felt sad leaving it to go back to work and to a normal life.

Now I was watching our beloved boat and home sink and I started to cry. I couldn’t believe that this was the end of our boat. I wanted to rush onto it, but I realized that I couldn’t help and would probably get in Peter’s way.

Suddenly, my husband emerged.

“It’s okay,” he said, smiling. “The bilge pump had stopped working, but I’ve got it going again.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and rushed to hug Peter. We still had our home and there was no permanent damage.

The following day Peter fitted a second bilge pump as a precautionary measure and the boat was later taken out of the water to be checked. A small hole was discovered and mended.

We lived on The White Sawn three more years before we sold it and replaced it with a steel cruiser, feeling the need for more space. The new boat was sixty-eight feet long, spacious and comfortable, but I still felt sad when we let our old wooden boat go. Peter had transformed it into a perfect haven and it was our first home as a married couple. It journeyed with me through my illness and was my refuge through some very dark and difficult days. However, it didn’t leave us without a bang. We sold it to a family at a marina a little further upstream, and Peter sailed it there himself. When he arrived, he went to jump off, but the boat moved and Peter fell in the water! He arrived home soaked to the skin, convinced that The White Swan was paying us back for selling her!

~Irena Nieslony

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