... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Plans, and impossible dreams

Hopefully the former, but I'm not counting any chickens yet. Two boats to move, from two different directions, hopefully to converge on the Shroppie in roughly a week from now.

Chertsey is still at Torksey, worn part replaced and engine reassembled, but not yet been started up as we need someone a bit more expert - or at least a second opinion - to reset the timing. Hairy Neil, who helped us diagnose and fix the problem, has gone away for the weekend, but his friend was going to come - but he un fortunately wasn't well so couldn't come before we left on Friday. Neil has very kindly offered to move Chertsey for us, and to sort the timing out before he leaves. The time available now to get through Fradley before the stoppage begins on the 7th is getting very tight though, and there are still a fair few potential hitches in this plan. Will Neil find crew? Will the engine start, and run well enough to be confident on the remaining tidal section? Will he get through Fradley on time, or will Chertsey end up abandoned on some foreign towpath for another winter?

Bakewell, meanwhile, needs to be collected from Warwickshire Fly at Stockton. For this job I have engaged Nick Wolfe with Aldgate, doing it in his professional capacity. Although this route isn't affected by stoppages, we need to leave early on Tuesday to fit in with Nick's schedule (which includes the promise of a bonfire party at Smethwick), and having us as crew makes it cheaper (not sure if that will hold when he finds out how inept we are). Hopefully there are fewer pitfalls in this plan, though one potential big one is that I have so far had no confirmation from Warwickshire Fly that they have received the money I transferred last Monday, and which should have been in their account by Thursday, despite my explicitly asking them to let me know, and emailing and phoning subsequently. They have taken the ad down though so I guess that is a good sign.

So the car is all packed up with yet another complete set of household effects (I am getting very practised at this now) and we leave early tomorrow in the hope of having a day to settle in before setting off. So begins another new adventure. I suspect Nick will be quite a demanding captain, so I might be too exhausted to write up each day as it happens, but I will do my best. Up the Grand Union on a pair of Grand Union boats - what could be better?

Location:Plans, and impossible dreams

Saturday 29 October 2011

Blogpress ate my posts

You might think that my last post was about meeting Sarah from the book barge. In fact, I wrote two other posts since then; one about the unpopularity of Petter PD2s possibly being due to the necessity of completely dismantling and reassembling them in order to fix anything, and the other a rather poetic account, with which I was particularly pleased, of the effect of the turn of the tide up the Torksey lock cut.

I hit save, as usual, and selected 'publish now'; got the message that my post had published successfully and did I want to view it now (I think perhaps I even did), and put the iPad away, a job well done. Or so I thought until I got home and looked at the blog, to find no trace of those two posts. Nothing saved in Blogpress either. Disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again. Unless of course you know of a way of retrieving them...

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Tuesday 25 October 2011


Here's another one of those little boaty coincidences... Last night I woke up at half past one and rather than lie there thinking 'oh my god, I've just spent all my money on a butty', I started browsing through boaty blogs, following up links, and looking at ones I've never read before, and the best of these was Book Barge
(No idea how that link's going to work)
... And guess who came along and tied up behind Chertsey in the dark at eight o'clock this evening...

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Monday 24 October 2011

A floating house with a lovely (if slightly leaky) back cabin attached

It's been a long and convoluted process, with its share of disappointments, but it's all turned out for the best.

Yes, I have bought a butty; at least, I have paid over the money, so I hope it is safe to make the announcement. It is Bakewell, with a big steel conversion, commodious and rather well equipped, to make our boat dwelling lives easier.

I got the impulsive idea of getting a butty, ready converted, when I saw Bodmin advertised on Apollo Duck. We went and saw it, and hummed and hawed and hesitated, and as we were about to make an offer, someone else got in first. For a few days we were horribly disappointed. I'd seen Bakewell advertised, but the price seemed to be out of our reach. Then it was suggested that an offer might be considered, especially from a potential good home, so we went and had a look.

Well, it was much better than Bodmin on most counts; particularly the fit out, and the interior of the back cabin, which is reputedly original. Although its 'new' steelwork is a few years older than Bodmin's, it still has its original (repaired) knees, which Bodmin has apparently lost. While Bodmin was ahead in having a new Stockton Dry Dock steel backcabin, Bakewell's is more Waterways Ply than Warwickshire Fly, and will need replacing as a matter of some urgency, but oh, what an interior!

All the photos are taken from the Warwickshire Fly ad. by the way but I'm sure they won't mind.

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Thursday 20 October 2011

Pictures of mechanical destruction

This (below) is the guilty part, photographed (none too clearly) on my phone. You can see the slot where the woodruff key went, and see how it's worn. I wanted to post a picture of the key too, but it's gone missing. It was very obviously deformed, with a number of grooves in either side.
The fuel pump itself is mounted on that plate on the right. It is gear, rather than belt or chain or cam, driven.

This (sadly out of focus), hopefully, is what it should look like. This is the spare entire assembly, complete with nice clean precise slot for the key.
And this is what it looked like after a visit to the local machine shop, cleaned up and with a new key in place.

There are more photos, mainly of the replacement parts, here, should you be so inclined.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Shafted (again)

Well bugger, bugger, bugger. Once again the river Trent finds our weak spot. Last year it was the bearings on the fan shaft, and as a result the shaft itself, that needed replacing. This year it's the woodruff key on the shaft driving the high pressure fuel pump that has rattled itself loose, and in the process damaged the shaft.

The first manifestation of this was large amounts of black smoke as we left West Stockwith, which, rather than clearing, got worse. After half an hour or so, the engine started to miss, and the exhaust syack got so hot the paint started to peel off it (and, I discovered on finally tying up, melted through the Hempex back end rope). This, we subsequently learnt, was all because the badly worn drive mechanism on the fuel pump was putting the timing out. We had no idea at the time what the cause was; our first thought was dirty fuel in one way or another, and after that we ran out of ideas.

Anyway, we had little choice but to struggle on to Torksey. There simply isn't anywhere else to stop on this tidal section, apart from Gainsborough, which we had already passed. Torksey is a couple of hours from West Stockwith, and it's three or four more to Cromwell and the end of the tidal section. In contrast to our last visit, the pontoon below the lock was empty, so we tied up with a sigh of relief. The lockkeeper was as friendly and helpful as before, and is keeping an eye on Chertsey for us now, as we have come home to raid the heap of spare parts. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Having ruled out dirty fuel or some other cause of fuel starvation, we were casting around for ideas of who we might ask for help - we'd already tried a couple of people recommended by the lockie, but they were either too busy or didn't want to get involved with an old engine. Then I had a flash of inspiration - Hairy Neil! Wasn't he relatively local... So I rang him to ask if he had any ideas and as he started asking pertinent questions about the problem, I remembered that he was a lorry mechanic as well as having lots of boating experience. Within an hour, he and his mate Paul were there, and not much later, had identified the problem. At this point it looked pretty dire, a new shaft to be made along with various bearings/bushes, and large scale dismantling of the engine to fit it. So, as it was getting dark, we shrugged and went to the pub. I had been looking forward to trying the White Swan's legendary steak pies, as a consolation prize, and while they were perfectly nice, and very welcome, they didn't quite live up to the billing of being out of this world. A minor quibble though; a pie, chips and peas apiece for the four of us, a few pints of Black Sheep, and a log fire, and we were soon feeling more positive. Despite the fact that we still have to be through Fradley Middle lock by November 7th!

Yesterday morning was bright and breezy again as we awoke on the deserted pontoon. Our forays from Clayworth to Retford stood us in good stead when I saw on the bus timetable helpfully displayed at the lock that we could get a bus from Torksey to Gainsborough, as I knew there was one from Gainsborough to Clayworth. We were ready in time to catch the 11.40, which connected faultlessly with the 12.35, and we were back in Clayworth by half past one. I've moaned about buses in the past but this was a most enjoyable journey, and only £2.60 for each leg - longer distances seem to be much better value.

So now we are home, and hopeful that we have a spare, in good condition, of the whole assembly, which might hopefully mean less dismantling. There were other spares too, in even worse condition than the one that's just gone. We now have to wait to get a new woodruff key made for it then it will be back up to Torksey as soon as we an to try, with Neil's help, to fit it, reset the timing, and test it by launching ourselves back onto the tidal Trent. Maybe we'll leave it a year or so after all before we come back.

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Sunday 16 October 2011


Almost on the spur of the moment, we are back on Chertsey. Rather than try to accomplish the eight day or so trip back to Stretton in one go, we decided to spend a couple of days moving from Clayworth to Newark. This was mike's idea really, as we were trying to work out a way he could join me for this trip, freeing Jim up for the 101 jobs that are ongoing back at the house. It would have been nice for Mike too as he's not been on the Chesterfield or the Trent before, but sadly he turned out to be even busier.

We arrived at Clayworth at lunchtime, having had an enjoyable drive up the A1. We said goodbye and thanks to our lovely hosts at the Retford and Worksop boat club, and set off at two. There was much more water in the canal than we came up (praise be!), and we made steady progress. We had hoped to get all the way to West Stockwith, where we are booked to go out at 9.45 tomorrow morning, and almost made it. It was dark though by the time we got to the Misterton locks, and having made it through them, have tied up just below Misterton Low lock - yes, on the lock landing! We decided the chances of anyone coming through before we leave tomorrow were sufficiently small.

These locks are pretty short, and while we didn't notice it on the way up, going downhill it presented a bit of a challenge. It wasn't possible to get back far enough to steer round the closed gate (these bottom few being wide locks) so in three out of the four we ended up with Jim pushing the front across with the shaft.

More interesting were the cills. Of course it was possible, just, to keep clear by keeping the boat hard against the bottom gate, but the cills are at three levels, somit would be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security and let the boat drift back before you were clear; worse, the locks are rounded at the bottom and the lowest level of the cill extends around the side - and, crucially, extends beyond the cill marker. Now I know it would take a lot of doing (though stranger things have happened) but it could be possible to catch your rudder on this bit whilst being forward of the marker, if you weren't aware. The marker is a bit overexposed in this hastily grabbed photo, but you can just see it.

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Thursday 13 October 2011

Rot spots

Today we went to visit Singapore, cosily tucked up in a nice dry shed at Frank Halls and Sons, Walton on the Naze. Jim discussed the work required with Gary, who will be doing it. We know that a fair bit of planking will need replacing, and in some places there are pockmarks already where rotten bits have been diagnostically gouged out. These are all above the waterline, where she has previously been repaired with various unidentified hardwoods. It turns out that the breasthook which needs replacing is the smaller, lower breasthook, not as we had assumed the larger one directly under the foredeck. This should make it an easier job and so is good news. The next step is to burn off all the paint so as to be able to make a really thorough examination.

After our visit to the yard we took a stroll into the town of Walton. This is a rather charmingly down at heel seaside town. The dereliction and sense of abandonment is very sad to see, but only reflects the fate of similar towns all around the coast. It is a shame though that the miles of golden sand are no longer appreciated by holidaymakers. I am looking forward to spending more time on Walton's lovely beaches.

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Wednesday 12 October 2011

Back on the Regents Canal for a night

My friend Mike, he who sold me Andante, has recently - and rather excitingly - acquired a trip boat business ( and last night I was one of the crew on Lady A as he took an office party of nine people for a three hour cruise and a three course meal. My role was to be standby reserve steerer in case Mike had to attend to anything else but everything went so smoothly I didn't have to do anything but keep Mike company while he steered, and work one lock (twice, though!). A professional chef and waitress were on board to work miracles in the tiny kitchen, and the passengers thoroughly enjoyed the trip. As of course, did I.

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Thursday 6 October 2011

Web log

Staying with the salty theme for another post, I was as hard pushed as ever this year to find something original and suitable for Jim's birthday. Obviously a new boat project raises all sorts of possibilities, but where to start andwhatvwould he actually like? Fortunately he solved the problem for me by winning this on ebay.

Now, this is part of a whole new world opening up for me. Of course if you'd got me to think about it I would have said that I supposed there must have been some way for boats to know how far they had travelled, but would never have guessed at something as simple and elegant as the Walker's Knotmaster Log.

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Tuesday 4 October 2011

Seaside postcards

A couple of favourite photos from the sea trip. I've left them big so that you can see them full size and even zoom in.
A young seagul with - yes - a fish in its beak. That's Sizewell in the background. The first ever benefit gig I went to was for the Stop Sizewell B campaign. It featured Christopher Timothy, for some reason, and somewhere I still have the programme he signed. Despite my sixth form efforts, Sizewell B went ahead, and now I've seen it for the first time.
And this is us passing Felixtowe. I just like the contrast between the stark white yachts and the grey misty background. Of all the photos I took, there weren't many to choose from where the horizon was straight. I shall have to pay more attention to that.

Sunday 2 October 2011

All at sea

We set off at half past eight this morning, out of Lowestoft Harbour and onto THE SEA. Everything went wonderfully well. The sun was shining and there was only a very light wind (most of the time), and not very big waves. We never lost sight of the coast, which made it more interesting. Having started to get a grasp at the deges of the rudiments of navigation, my appetite is whetted to learn more. We have decided that my total lack of any sense of direction can only be a help, as it means I won't be distracted by perfidious instincts from what the charts tell us.

The engine, which was a slightly unknown quantity, didn't miss a beat, and five and a half hours after leaving Lowestoft we were making our way through the Walton backwaters to Frank Halls and Sons' boatyard. On the way we passed Sizewell power station and Felixtowe and Harwich; Orfordness Lighthouse, and miles of sandy, beach hut bedecked coastline.

When we arrived Jim set off to get the train to Brundall, thence to collect the car. While I was sitting on the cabintop reading, an eledrly gentleman came along to see Singapore; he was Frank Halls senior, who had undertaken the extensive restoration work in the 1990s. He told me some interesting stories and I am sure there will be more to hear while we are here.

Singapore should be coming out of the water next week and going straight into the shed, which means we don't have to worry about her being exposed to the elements. I'm sitting in the cockpit as I write this, smelling the sea and listening to the squelch and sigh of the barnacles on the wall as we settle gently into the mud.

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Saturday 1 October 2011

In with the grotty yachties

Tonight we are in the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club marina at Lowestoft. Our place on the visitor mooring is costing us £22 (@ £2/metre) for the night. How the other half live! The showers are perfecty OK, but have only curtains rather than boltable doors, on the cubicles. You're not allowed in the restaurant in shorts, but that's ok, because it's closed for a private function tonight anyway. It's been another long, interesting day.

We set off from Reedham at about nine. We'd booked to go through Mutord Lock - the sea lock at Lowestoft - at one, as they can't open the road bridge there between 12 and one. But we were told that of we got there before 12, he might squeeze us through. We got there at about 11.15, and were let into the lock. As it began to fill, the lock keeper asked where we were going, and we told him. Didn't we know, he said, that we'd missed the 11.15 opening of the bascule bridge from the inner harbour to the yacht club, so we'd have to waitnuntil 2.30 anyway. Oh damn, we said, no one told us about that. At which point the lock keeper got quite snidey, telling us it was our fault and we hadn't done our homework, to which we responded (quite reasonably, I thought) that we'd consulted the Broads Authority guy at Reedham - what else were strangers to the area to do but consult the local representative of the navigation authority. Oh, we we told, he doesn't know anything (which was incidentally exactly what the Reedham guy had said about the lockies at Lowestoft). It appeared we had stumbled into some local politics. Anyway, we kept our cool (for once) and I said that while inefficiency was forgivable, his rudeness and condescending attitude (especially as we had just handed over £11 to go through his bloody lock) was inexcusable. I also said how wonderful British Waterways were in comparison. At some point his colleague joined in and the upshot of the discussion was them saying, you were booked to go through at one so we're not letting you out until one, and going off for their lunch.

Which was the best thing that could have happened really as while we were having a cup of tea, who should turn up but Brian and Diana of Harnser, who live nearby and saw that we were in the area - they would have missed us if we'd gone through sooner.

At one we went through and suddenly we were in the sea, looking at great big tugs and trawlers. At last Singapore had salt water under her bottom again. We were supposed to be meeting the Moomins at the Yacht Club, but they had arrived well before us and were watching from the bascule bridge as we looked for somewhere to wait. There were no official moorings but they found a place where they could get onto the wharf, and got permission for us to tie up. So we were joined by them while we waited, and when the bridge opened at 2.30, they came along with us into the marina.

The Yacht Club being out of bounds for the evening, I used my Good Beer Guide app to find the nearest decent pub that served food and we ended up at the Norman Warrior, which was indeed very good, and we all had dinner there, after which the Moomins set off for home and we rolled out the eight foot wide bed again for an early night ready for an early start in the morning. Graham from Walton on the Naze is coming to pilot us there, and seems very sanguine about the prospect...

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