Thursday, 31 July 2008

Last night on land!

After tonight, we will be sleeping in our boat for the forseeable future! That's a very exciting thought! Yesterday James went back to Bracknell and picked up two garden chairs which will arrive on the boat when James' mum comes to visit, and some of his grandad's old tools as well as buying and being given (thanks Alison!) some more. This resulted in an extremely heavy toolbox to lug half-way across London. We were meeting friends in Camden for dinner, and he didn't have time to take the box home beforehand. While in Camden we tested out our new BW key (despite the lock enclosure being open) but didn't make it across the balance beams to the central island, sadly, as a result of having the box with us.

When we got home eventually, James showed me the contents of the box which was extremely exciting, including lots of prop-clearing devices, and various other old, lovely-smelling tools. One of the hammers is from 1941!

Monday, 28 July 2008


James went on a bit of a shopping spree today, buying various useful things for the boat: hose, torch, wellies, combi padlock, stanley knife, a length of polyprop and a boa grip. But the most exciting thing we acquired today was a BW key which we borrowed from Sarah of NB Warrior. It was lovely to see her again - quite a spontaneous meeting, since I only posted about needing a BW key yesterday. She even photographed us with the all important key to commemorate the occasion! When we see Warrior again in Cropredy we shall return it with thanks.

Here is it amongst our other purchases:

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Moving Home- Part I

Yesterday we embarked on the first part of moving home, by taking a load of kit to Engine Arm to drop it off at the boat; two large rucksacks and a holdall worth of winter clothes, crockery, and assorted bits and pieces.

The day was long and stressful, because we started off in Cambridge. Friday was the last night of the bumps, my crew getting a technical rowover along with most of the top mens' boats after an accident ejected a cox into the water, resulting in the division being stopped for safety reasons. Frustrating, but the only decision the marshals and umpires could take. Although disappointing this did nothing to dampen the spirits of the assembled rowers of Cambridge, who took to various boathouses for late-night partying- Amy and I included, along with Emma and James as they report here. We left after the boat burning, but before the naked rowing...

Saturday morning therefore found us in Cambridge. We were awake at 9:30 and headed, along with (big) James and Emma, to Tishka's, a local cafe, for breakfast and much-needed mugs of tea, before heading into town. James and Emma gave us a wonderful boatwarming present- a bath mat in the shape of a bright yellow duck! Fantastic; pictures to follow soon... it's the third duck we've received so far, and doubtlessly there will be many to follow.

I went to NatWest to do battle with them over a replacement card- they were meant to send it to Cambridge, but it's possibly in Bracknell; rather annoying. We headed onto the first of several trains for the day, travelling to King's Cross, then the underground to Finsbury Park, and a bus to Harringay to pick up the (pre-packed) bags, before heading to Manor House tube station on another bus, then the tube. We went to Regent's Park to meet some friends and after the briefest of hellos had to head off to Marylebone. We made our train with a minute to spare and headed towards Birmingham Moor Street.

This station is utterly fantastic- a sympathetically restored GWR station, winner of several awards.

Amy was also (justifiably) intrigued by Alsop's Selfridges building, seen in the background above- a collection of metal disks on a glass-fibre structure. Either way, it looks like something out of "Doctor Who".

(Amy took this particular arty photo...)

We headed towards the fantastically named Smethwick Rolfe Street station on another train from New Street, having walked a short distance through a shopping centre with all our luggage; we got a number of looks from passers-by, I'm convinced it must have been in admiration at our carrying so much luggage and not mirth as Amy caustically suggested. Oh well.

We arrived at Smethwick and had a brief trip back to Engine Arm with John, and dropped our luggage off. He's moving off over the next week onto his new boat in a staggered process. We had another look around the boat and an informed chat about electrical systems, spares for cruising, tools and many other useful things. The boat looked fantastic, basking in the evening sunlight.

Our fourth duck is the largest yet- a statuette and a custom-painted plinth in the form of the end of a redundant lock balance beam! This lot comes with the boat, and is to mark our mooring.

He generously cooked dinner before running us, now luggage-less, back to the station for our train home.

We finally arrived back in Harringay at half-past midnight- an extraordinarily long day, with the majority of it spent on public transport- extremely hot and muggy, fantastic. Still, it was a LOT cheaper than hiring a van! I'm sure most other "normal" people would just pay a removals firm or hire a car to move things in one go, but we're improvising and moving house by public transport. Part II of the saga will follow on Friday when we move another load of stuff onto the boat. I really can't wait!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Getting Prepared

We now have a full set of the canal and river guides that we need from Nicholson and Imray . Since we are going to be traveling on 6 different canals and 5 rivers, it was quite a large package that arrived at work this morning, especially since we ordered the Diesel Troubleshooter and Narrow Boats: Care and Maintenance. But we got them all from The Book Depository which is cheaper than Amazon and has free delivery on everything! I was most impressed, although they did take a little longer (4 days).

So, we are nearly there. Tomorrow we go to Engine Arm to drop off the first load of possessions then we have until Friday to get the rest ready -things we will actually need for the journey. Its all so exciting. Exactly a week to go!


Inspired by Andrew Denny of Granny Buttons, I have installed a Twitter widget in my blog side bar under Where is the Duck? This is simply a so-called micro-blog, much like a facebook status update where it is possible to describe your situation in a few short words to keep friends updated. Whats great about Twitter is that you can send text messages to it. So if we have no internet access we can still keep the blog updated, and people who need to catch up with us can find us if they need to.

Water Explorer has a feature specifically so that boaters can log the location of their boat on Google Maps but it is not vastly user-friendly and it seems to work best with a GPS system that logs your position automatically - which I haven't got! It also requires a working internet connection which we may not always have.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

On blogging.

I began blogging in April mainly as a record for myself, of the process we were going through, never imagining that other people would be interested enough to read it. It was also, for me, a way of metering out time, and of keeping myself focused when I became despondent about how I was going to stick out these months in London. But somehow, through CanalWorld and links on various other bloggers' pages, people began reading it, and making comments.

There are several varieties of boat blog: those who live aboard and stay where they are most of the time, like Bones and Kestrel, those who continuously cruise like Hadar, those who spend some time on their boats but live on land like Greygal and Warrior. And then there are others like Caxton and previosuly Marmaduke who blog about having boats built. But mine didn't fit into any of these - unlike everyone else, I didn't even have a boat, I was just a girl with a dream. So I guess it did surprise and excite me to find that I had a readership.

But the most exciting thing I found was not that my blog was being read but that people were interacting. In particular I am referring here to various members of both mine and James' family. When I blogged about James' first narrowboat trip, they all stepped in to comment and provided information about location, and date, and who was there. And at a family party last weekend, it was lovely to find out how many people were reading regularly, to the extent that there was very little news I could actually tell them! I'd begin, and people would reply with, 'Oh yes, I read about that in your blog!' But it was amazing - I mean there is no way I could have enough time to explain all the boaty goings on to everyone on both sides of the family over the phone.

And then there's the other bloggers, many of whom we hope to meet up with during our trip. Since, by its very nature, narrowboating is a very mobile activity, its an excellent way to find where people actually are. Many spontaneous bloggers' meets have happened this way, simply by being on the same piece of water at the same time.

In nine days' time this blog will become a more conventional cruising log, but having seen so many other excellent ones, I hope to find a way to make it interesting, and relevant without being tedious, as I have a tendency to ramble. Hopefully James will take over sometimes, as he has begun to, and bring a bit of a change from my writing.

So, yeah thats enough... and thanks to all our readers!


The Jameses and Emma are for the next few days focused on one thing and one thing only: Bumps racing. Town Bumps is the most important series of races for the non college crews in Cambridge. I explained something about bumps racing in an earlier post.

Todays results were quite satisfactory for Chesterton Rowing Club, with both the Jameses M1 and Emma's M2 boat rowing over (not being bumped or bumping anyone else) and W1 and M3 bumping. The full results are here. (big)James has also commented on today's proceedings here.

Having just started to learn I'm no way ready to race yet, so I'm staying out of the way in London until Friday night when I will go to Cambridge to watch the last race and go to the post bumps party. Can't wait!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

New Template

I'm rather pleased with this new layout, and title image. It took a bit of faffing to get right, but its all in order now. I was inspired to rethink it after I saw Warrior's new title block, and Uisce's cartoon below.


Embedded here is the provisional calendar for our trip. It will be updated as we go, but this should give people an idea of where we'll be when, in order for people to decide when to join/look out for us!

I have also embedded the itinerary as a permanent fixture in the sidebar, so keep an eye on it!

Monday, 21 July 2008

How much does this doggie want a sausage?

Mutiny on nb Kestrel

(James, Emma and Jess (who else?) of Kestrel; as far as I know they're not planning on changing boats any time soon, but we all end up dreaming...)

New blog to add

NB Uisce leaves Cambridge today, and have started (or more accurately restarted) a blog at and I have added it to my blogroll. It will be exciting to follow their progress, as they cruise to their new home in Reading. I particularly like the title cartoon!

This also has implications for us and our plan to moor in Cambridge - although we will be sad to see them go, the more people leave, the quicker we get to the top of the list!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Amazing Cake, how sweet the...

Last night we were in Cambridge to continue James' birthday celebrations. Emma had (on instruction of Chesterton M1) made an absolutely amazing edible version of a cox box, out of chocolate cake and royal icing. We have yet to eat it... that pleasure will be reserved for tonight. James was somewhat incoherent after 2 pints of Old Rosie but was remarkably unhungover this morning, when I left for London at 07:30.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Part I of the Voyage

I have been looking at Canal Plan AC (I love that its a palindrome) and have been working out the first stage of the journey to London. From Birmingham (Engine Arm) we need to go Camden Lock in order to get my possessions from London, by 25th August. We are planning to go down the Birmingham and Worcester, onto the Stratford, then the Grand Union briefly before heading down the Oxford, onto the Thames and into London. We'll be stopping for longer in Oxford and Reading, in order to see friends and family, although if you see us, we can be persuaded to stop anywhere that will give us a cup of tea!

The route from Canal Plan:

Total distance is 212 miles, 5¼ flg and 153 locks. There are at least 30 moveable bridges of which 20 are usually left open; 8 small aqueducts or underbridges and 4 tunnels.

Made up of 71 miles, 1 furlong of narrow canals; 42 miles, 4 furlongs of broad canals; 0 miles, ¾ furlongs of small rivers; 93 miles, 6½ furlongs of large rivers; 5 miles, ¾ furlongs of tidal rivers; 61 narrow locks; 58 broad locks; 33 large locks.

This will take 100 hours, 21 minutes which is 11 days, 1 hour and 21 minutes at 9 hours per day.

For calculation purposes, this is taken as 11

Undoubtedly, with stopping, and general ameteurishness, it will take us far longer, but thats kind of the point!

Part II will be back up the Grand Union, to Northampton, Peterborough and finally Cambridge. More details to follow!

Happy Birthday James

His birthday present is a 48ft narrowboat. :D

And at 21, he's now officially a mature adult (snigger)!

Monday, 14 July 2008

The new improved blog

With the completion of the sale of Lucky Duck, we decided to rename the blog. FadeToScarlet still exists, to point people in the direction of this one, but may also become a non-boaty blog.

Spent the evening planning our route, down to the last lock, although we'll have to wait until we have a set of canal and river guides to plan it fully. When its better worked out, I will of course post it up here!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008


Following a request from an interested party, I was compelled to make use of the software available to me at work, and made a rough plan of the boat in my lunch hour. It just shows how the space is used. I've not labelled everything, but hopefully it makes sense.

Starting from the welldeck, which is larger than most, with a custom-made cratch cover, storage lockers and gas-bottle holders, you enter through beautiful red cast iron curved doors. Inside, immediately on left and right are small corner shelves for TV, books and trinkets etc. There is a double fold out sofa/futon that just fits when fully opened out. A lovely Mørso Squirrel solid fuel stove heats the saloon, and the bedroom, by way of a backboiler. Its also great for cooking stews on, I can't wait! A table folds out from the wall, and a storage box, with a lid that slides out forms an extendable seat for dining. The windows in the saloon and kitchen are all bus windows, and in very good condition. The floorboards were only recently laid. I'd quite like to find small rug to put in the saloon, I think. The galley has cupboards which slide out rather than hinge open, making everything easy to get at. They are carefully arranged so that they don't clash with the opposite ones as well. There is a gas oven and a fridge, which has a computer fan behind it to draw cool air up from the bilges, making it more efficient. Through to the shower room, which is a wet-room (all the walls and floor are covered in a waterproof layer of vinyl) containing a portapotti and a sink with shelves beneath. There is a plughole in the floor under the sink. The bedroom has portholes rather than windows and is cunningly arranged such that there is space underneath, when the bed is lifted up on gas struts, for a desk, chest of drawers, toploading wardrobe and bookshelf. The engine room has a storage locker and removable floorboards for access to the engine and weed hatch.

It won't look like much until you click on the image to enlarge it. but hopefully it should be more readable than the version I had up yesterday.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Its mine!

Lucky Duck is actually mine. The funds have been transferred by Collidge and should be with the current owner tomorrow. Wow.

Monday, 7 July 2008

So very nearly there.

Today James and I went to the offices of RoyScot Larch (who are actually underwriting the mortgage) so that I could sign the relevant documents, and speed up the process. The full amount will be transferred to the current owner in just a few days, and narrowboat Lucky Duck will finally be officially mine.

We took the train to the nearest station at Didcot and then a bus as close as we could get which still involved walking a few miles. But its lovely country (I know the area a little, since my grandparents lived in nearby Wantage) overlooked by the constant presence of the incredible Didcot power station cooling towers. They have been named Britain's third worst eyesore according to a 2003 poll in Country Life, but I think they're beautiful, personally.

Before returning to London, we visited Didcot Railway Centre, where both James and I had been as children. Since it was a weekday in termtime, we had the whole place to ourselves. It rained rather spectacularly while we were in the engine shed, but it was fun to revive many childhood memories (ironically on the day that I finalised the most important, adult purchase of my life!)

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Smoke on the Water

The Cam echoed today not to the grunts and strains of rowers and the howling of coxes, the swearing of irate fishermen and the moaning of narrowboaters, but to a rather different beat- that of a double acting single cylinder Sissons steam engine.

NB President of the Black Country Living Museum finally made it to Cambridge a year late, having been stuck the wrong (or, arguably, the right!) side of the collapsed bridge at Ely last year. They arrived in Cambridge whilst we were shivering and wet in Tishka's, a local cafe, after early rowing outings for both of us.

We went back to Kestrel to get into dry clothes, and the sun came out. We headed towards town down the hailing way, on the way to the bank to beg for money, and came across President by Jesus Lock. After a tour of the engine room with the president of the President trust (well, chairman I suppose, but that's not so amusing a title) we found out about volunteering for the Trust; it sounds fantastic, I'd love to learn how to drive and fire a steam narrow boat (note the all-important space! Modern craft are narrowboats) which should be easier than a 5" gauge steam loco; and Amy wants to dress in period costume, including the obligatory boatwoman's bonnet. That might well be our holiday next year!

Amy also wants me to point out the "fantastic whistle" in this video... I suspect she's becoming a bit of an anorak!

(big) James also got some nice photographs.


There was also some rowing during the weekend, and the boat I cox, Chesterton M1, managed to a achieve a split of 1:19 for a period of five seconds. We were extremely happy with that achievement, until we worked out later that we would be side-by-side with the GB men's eight for all of four strokes until they accelerated into the distance. There's some way to go before we're at that level, but what we've got will do for bumps!

Friday, 4 July 2008

Proceedings and Photos

I have arranged to go to Royscot Larch's offices in Abingdon to sign the paperwork on Monday, which is another important step. After the current owner has signed the bill of sale, and we've sorted insurance (with Collidge, so quite simple) it will be officially mine!

In the meantime, here's some photos I took when James and I went for a walk along the Regents from Sturt Lock to the Islington Tunnel on Wednesday evening. I go past a bit of that section on way to work on the 141 bus every day, and sometimes, in the past, seeing that bit of canal for perhaps all of 30 seconds has been all that kept me going and I promised myself we'll go past it by boat in August.

We saw a particularly lovely boat, Angel II (below), just above City Road Lock, and I googled it when we got back. Turns out its a community boat, which schools, youth clubs, and community groups from deprived areas of Islington can hire. What a great idea!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


We decided, for reasons of cost, to black Lucky Duck ourselves. For the cost of £220 for drydock and enough cans of bitumen paint (straight from the barrel, lovely...) to give several coats, Caggy's boatyard was less than half the price of some other boatyards.

Having resolved to cover the bottom of the boat with sticky, caustic, gloopy bitumen ourselves, we looked at the internet for a guide as to how to actually go about blacking a boat. Surprisingly there is no single guide that we've found. Everyone tends to just show photos; though it is just a matter of slapping on paint thickly- just the kind of painting I'm good at!- there are a few stages to it. I thought I'd just write down my own opinions here and detail what worked for us, as much to aid my memory next time we do it as anything else!




The surface to be blacked needs to be prepared first. The boat was dry docked and pressure washed, luckily not by us as the boatyard pressure washer has a 50cc engine and would be suitable to disperse rioting crowds with its force! After, we set about finding the pits in the hull the surveyor had found (2.5 mm deep in a nominally 5mm plate... ) and having them filled with weld by the current owner. He also used an angle grinder and abrasive disk to remove any traces of rust so the hull was smooth and ready to paint.

In terms of the paint itself, it seemed to be literally just bitumen and thinners- gloopy and smelly, but surprisingly not as caustic as other types. When we met Sarah of nb Warrior and chatted about blacking, she gave the sage advice to make sure we had the right kind of paint to match what was already on there, and to ensure that we stirred it VERY well to ensure the thinners were spread throughout the pot, so we didn't end up with watery black at the top of the can and a thick glutinous mess at the bottom!

We also prepared ourselves with overalls (in a very fetching blue colour!), white spirit (to remove any errant bitumen from hair, skin, Jess, (she was protestingly dragged along with James and Emma in their car) etc.) and, most importantly, a big box of disposable latex gloves. Be advised, though, despite all this protection the bitumen still soaked through onto the clothes underneath- my jeans are covered in it- so make sure you wear old clothes! We also bought a few big cheap paintbrushes and a roller and tray, all from Mackays; it really is a place of wonder, with lots of shiny, dangerous-looking tools.

Painting- First coat

Whilst you can use a roller and tray to get a consistent coat of paint, we found it best to just lollop on the black with big paint brushes for the first coat, to make sure that it was thick and got into all the nooks and crannies on the hull surface; as an old boat, Lucky Duck's hull is far from smooth, and making sure all the surface was covered is important.

Well, I say we daubed the black on thickly. I mean that I did the bits below the waterline, slopping it on, and Amy took a smaller brush and, with horizontal strokes, produced a lovely smooth coat above the rubbing strake, in contrast with my dollopy, runny and drippingly saturated coat below.

We didn't black the bottom of the boat, although it is going to be on a river. As a canal is mostly stagnant anaerobic water, generally the bottom plate is left unattended. It is VERY hard to get to, and the thought of lying on my back in the mud and slime of the dry dock with bitumen dripping on my face was too much for me. Having said that the plate is in good condition and we'll probably pay someone to black it in the future.

I did black the Uxter plate- the horizontal plate that forms the bottom of the round counter above the triangular swim at the rear of the hull. This was particularly fun, as using copious amounts of bitumen resulted in saturated overalls and black-kneed jeans beneath. Still, it looked impressive! The swim, stern tube, skeg (horizontal bar that supports the bottom of the rudder behind the propeller) and rudder were all blacked in this coat.

This first coat was 80% done on Friday night and was finished off in the morning; blacking at 10pm in fading light isn't a great deal of fun!

Taking care of the brushes wasn't too difficult either; just leaving the brush in an open pot overnight and stirring in the morning was enough to make the bitumen runny enough to slap on.

Painting- Second Coat

The second coat was less messy than the first! I still used a brush below the waterline, and Amy took the roller and managed a nice smooth consistent coat above.

Painting- Third Coat

The third coat was the easiest and quickest to apply- we had the hang of it by then! The problem comes, though, when you forget where you got up to and can't see the difference between the old and new coat of black!

Tunnel Bands

Lucky Duck had a somewhat faded blue and red set of tunnel bands- that is, the blocks of colour on the round counter underneath the tiller. These are a direct throwback to working boat days, and Amy wasn't at all impressed that the shiny newly painted hull was complemented with faded and scuffed bands, so she took a can of scarlet paint and repainted the red one. We rubbed the blue down with white spirit to remove the layer of grime from the surface and brighten the colour up.

The best way to get a smooth edge, we found, was to use a small brush and precisely cover the red with the black paint, after the red had dried.

We also noticed that the rubbing strakes (round metal bars on the hull that stand proud and take any impacts) were coloured the same as the tunnel bands, so I carefully covered these in black bitumen, without too many drips onto the fresh red paint! Nothing white spirit and a quick blob of red couldn't fix, anyway! We found that this really improved the appearance of the boat, and made it look far more traditional. We did notice, however, that the semi circles at the end of the band have the colour as a semi circle, not the black as a semi circle onto the colour. It's not too noticeable, though, and makes the Duck more unique!

Other boats have them a bit more like this (Photo stolen shamelessly from nb Warrior); the colour is concave, not convex:

Overall, it was actually good fun to do. It was messy and sticky, and Amy did manage to get bitumen in my hair which required a prompt haircut; but the result is fantastic. Blacking is clearly my kind of painting!

Lucky Duck in dry dock:

The wonders of Tipton:

And the best thing about it? Chip shop chips and gravy, yum!

Its all good!

Valuation came though last night, and the survey this morning. We have agreed a price which suits both us and the current owner and its just a matter of getting the documents ready now, and sent to Collidge. The minor bits and pieces from the survey have mostly been done too!

I'll put the photos from the weekend up too, soon. I was just reluctant to do so until the money side of things were a bit more sorted.