28 May

Water. It makes up around 69% of our bodies, about 71% of the planet surface is covered with it, it's everywhere, sometime welcome, sometime not.

My boat lives on a flood-prone river, my home is near the same river, as is my local town which suffers badly from flooding. Winter months are spent anxiously looking at the weather forecast, praying the rain will stop and checking the water cameras to see it the main road in to the town is still open or we need to take a ten minute detour to get to work, school or the shops. Sometimes living by a river seems more trouble than it's worth.

Yet in summer that same river is the source of much business and pleasure. The town has a thriving marina, a company renting day boats operates for tourists, who also use the riverside pubs, sitting watching the water as they has a long lunch. Hikers enjoy the footpaths along the two banks, and the flood meadows play host to festivals, at least one a month from Easter to September. The proximity to water is wonderful.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and water has it's part to play in that. A recent article in the Guardian newspaper highlighted what are being described as "Blue Spaces" - places near water, particularly near the coast. This quoted a study which claimed living within half a mile of the coast showed people to have better physical and mental health. The same can be applied to rivers and lakes.

People who live by water tend to be more physically active - ask someone who's heaved a bag of coal half a mile down a muddy towpath to their boat! But being by water has also been shown to lift our mood, calm stresses and allow us to observe nature. Light on the water is thought to play a big part, as does the gentle sound it makes.

This might go some way to explaining why you will often find un-official tented villages of homeless people close to a canal. The water calls to people - in a basic, domestic way, providing a commodity vital to life, but also, whether they realise it or not, offering some mental comfort as well.  It was seeing these tented villages, talking to those who live there, which made me realise how many homeless veterans live by water. 

For some, living in conventional bricks and mortar, in one place all the time, is never going to suit them - having been used to swift deployments and regular changing of posting. For those, living on a boat, moving every couple of weeks as the licence requires, works well for them. And that's where we at Forces Veterans Afloat are trying to help. Once our boats are refurbished, with the aid of various charities, we can give some of these veterans, to who water has another vital role to play, a chance to find the peace it will give.

"Keeping Heads Above Water" is our motto but even for us - and most of us are seasoned boat owners, it's not that easy. Our flagship NB Daisy is out of the water at the moment, for vital welding work on her 102 year old, 1980's steel-skited hull. That'll stop the water coming in from the bottom. She needs her roof-felt replacing, and is covered in tarpaulin to stop the water coming in from the top.

 So imagine our annoyance, to get on her a few days ago and step in to a couple of inches of water. One of her 4 big internal water tanks has developed a leak - you couldn't make it up.For the moment all we can do is borrow a bilge pump and battery, and pump the water out as it flows down in to a bilge in the centre of the boat. We have no idea how full the tank is - only the most modern have any kind of reliable gauge - so it's wait and see, and water, water, everywhere, until we can get it fixed.

That's causing another leak - in our finances! So we'll be out at the boat fairs - The Steamboat Spring Fayre at Sawley, has been and gone but there'll be others. We have new, branded wrist bands and hoodies to sell, a range of car or boat stickers is in the pipeline, and there's always good old Gofund me!https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-forces-vets-afloat-project

Lizzie Lane Co-Chair, The Forces Veterans Charitable Trust

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