Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Northampton Nights

Whilst moored up waiting for the floods to subside in Northampton, I had charged up my DSLR camera and taken a few night shots of the Carlsberg factory, and only just uploaded it since James' laptop doesn't have and SD card reader and my PC works best on a shoreline connection:

Post Modernism

Today, after James' interview (no news yet, but fingers crossed!), and when I had finished work, we decided that we should go all the way to Upware again. We have been moored in Cambridge and Clayhithe for the past week, so in order to check our post a trip was required. It took 2 hours and 45 minuted in total and the cooling system performed excellently for the whole trip!

It was very exciting to get to the post-box wall and find that letters have actually made their way out here to the middle of nowhere - we received

2x cards from my mum
1x card from my grandma
1x package of important documents for James (including new bank card)
1 x boring bank letter to me

Tomorrow, I will make the first attempt to commute from Upware - luckily my shift's not til 12pm so I have a bit of time to work it out - I shall leave VERY early!

Sunday, 28 September 2008


Intruiged by Starcross's reference to our not having signed up to the Top 100 Boating sites webpage despite being 'recent stars' (!), I decided to register, and see where we would be placed. We're 51! Not bad, considering we're up against shiny Texan marinas and the like. But as Andrew Denny says, since its so American dominated, its really not that indicative af anything. What we need is a top 100 Canal sites page!

An Update

Apologies for the dearth of blogs. We have been somewhat preoccupied by the processes of finding jobs, the scattering of CVs like confetti, the online applications, the interviewing... But thankfully I now have a job: working in the White Stuff shop in Cambridge. Its hardly career-boosting but we need the money and i enjoy retail work. The White Stuff shop is the biggest in the country, with frequent visits from head office and very high expectations of its staff. Its going to be a challenge, but I hope I'll enjoy it! Long-term, I would like to go back to university to do a Masters and eventually architectural research, but for now I'm happy to settle into Cambridge life and get the boat fixed up!

James has an interview for a job as an ICT support position at a school in Cambridge, whoch would be excellent if he gets it, since he would like to go into teaching.

We've just been enjoying the sun, trying not to get too stressed about work/finances, and seeing friends for the past few days. Once I start work (tomorrow) life will have a different rhythm, but it will be good to establish a routine again. We will continue blogging when anything interesting happens that is worth writing about but obviously it won't be everyday!

Thanks again to everyone who's commented and wished us well!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Pipe Dreams

Cambridge - Upware

So, on Saturday, we arrived in Cambridge. It really feels great to be home, although in some ways, this is just the beginning of a new saga - that of finding a way to live comfortably and earn money in Cambridge, as well as fix all the problems that reared their heads while we were cruising.

On Sunday I again donned wetsuit and jumped (well, clambered inelagantly) into the River Cam. Luckily it was another sunny day. The reason for this second immersion was to check on the tights wrapped round the intake baffle plate, since we'd still found the engine to be overheating. They were still in place but I replaced them with some plastic netting that a nice chap gave me for free in Homebase when I explained how little I needed and what for. Using cable-ties I fixed it securely over the baffle plate, ensuring that nothing could get in that was smaller than about 3mm diameter. It was quite a surreal moment when one of our friends arrived for tea and cake, and I was still in the water up to my neck!

This seemed to help but it would require a cruise to test it out. So we took our friend for a short excursion to the Penny Ferry (about a mile away) and back. On the way back the engine was still overheating, so James also had another look at the intake hose. He took it out fully this time, and surmised that it was in a poor condition, and would need replacing/reinforcing.

Moored at the waterpoint, with bikes affixed ready for the off.

So, yesterday after going into town and scattering CVs to various agencies and shops, he fixed jubilee clips onto the pipe, to try and prevent it kinking and sucking itself flat, which we reckoned was preventing enough water from getting to the heat exchanger. At about 5 we set off, hoping that the cooling system might work better this time a,d that we'd makie it to Upware. Alas, the temperature needle was still climbing and a look at the pipe told us that it wasn't worth continuing to reinforce it, so we made a hasty landing at The Plough Inn, which has some visitor moorings, and rushed back along the river to B&Q before it closed, in order to find some better pipe. As luck would have it, after fruitless searching in the garden hose section, we found some plumbing pipe that was absolutely perfect for the job: it was a 'flexbile overflow pipe' made of ribbed, reinforced plastic, and was the right length and diameter as well as having rubber ends that fitted exactly onto the fittings in the boat... all for £2.50. Amazing. However, when fitted, there still wasn't enough water coming though, so we decided to call it a night and try again in the morning.

The day dawned miserable but we managed to get the water flowing well, somehow, by taping up any possible airleaks in the pipe connection and flushing it again just in case. Miraculously, the netting in combination with the marvelous new pipe seemed to do the job and we made it to Upware with the bypass (which lets out spare water, showing that the intake has sucked in enough) opening up at tickover. It normally doesn't open until the engine's running at 1800rpm! And the temperature stayed at 60 degrees! We may have found a temporary solution - if only we'd worked it out somewhere on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, not here...

The new pipe!

Anyway, so now, here we are at Upware. We had a little difficulty mooring, since the pontoon's not quite long enough, but were soon welcomed by our neighbour, and shown where to connect our shore line and other useful things.

We have set up our placemarker that came with the boat - a duck sitting atop the end of an old lock gate beam - and put our postbox up. So if anyone fancied writing, our address is quite obviously:

Amy and James,
nb Lucky Duck,
Upware Marina,

The lovely brass plate was made by James' uncle Phil!


443 miles

295 locks

32 moveable bridges (of which 20 are usually left open)

15 small aqueducts

6 tunnels

That's an average of 8.9 miles, 5.5 locks and 3.4 cups of tea per day.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Day Fifty - Back Where we Belong!

On the Cambridge visitor moorings, in front of the (infamous) Georgina.

Ely - Cambridge

River Great Ouze, River Cam

17 miles, 2 locks

Finally, we've made it- after cooling failures, propshaft failures, tiller failures, bridgestrike, crashes, bashes, low bridges, floods, running out of electricity, improperly charging batteries, lack of electrolyte, lack of fuel, and running out of teabags... we're at journey's end.

It feels strange- I'm extremely happy to have arrived, and to have reached the end of what has been, at times, an incredibly difficult journey. I've learned a huge amount about narrowboating, far more than I would have otherwise, in an extremely short space of time.

And yet, the happiness is tinged with regret. For the past fifty days, we've not had to worry about getting up for work, paying National Insurance, commuting, deadlines or pressures of the "real" world. Instead, we've been "on the cut", meeting incredible people and having a generally fantastic time. Of course there were bleak moments, but there's also been moments of joy and the ever-present realisation that this is what we want to do- that boating is for us. Even in the pouring rain and howling wind, it's nice to be able to look forwards to mooring up and lighting the stove; even when the propshaft situation was at its worst, we knew that this was one of the downsides to an otherwise amazing way of life.

We'd never argued with each other in the year so far that we were together- and then we got the boat... a situation that other couples I'm sure will find familiar.

Well, enough navel gazing. On with the account of the fantastic final day's cruising.

We had a look around Ely in the sunshine, before leaving at 10:30 or 11, or thereabouts. The weather was fantastic- bright, warm sunshine, extremely nice for September. There were a couple of intake problems, however, which slightly marred the day; although there were none yesterday, there were a few recurrent issues today. We had to stop a couple of times to flush it- however, we've come up with some improvements to the system, which are documented below.

Pope's Corner, where the Cam and Ouze (Old West River) converge

We passed Upware marina at midday exactly, and saw our space through the trees. Round the corner, we breasted up to a widebeam on the EA moorings for five minutes so we could flush the intake, and found out that the gentleman owner was another moorer at Upware, and that he had some surplus steel he was happy to give us to make a skin tank- and that several of the other moorers were welders! That's the long-term solution- but, for now, it's extremely gratifying to realise that our neighbours are so nice and supportive; hopefully we can be equally community-minded once we're there.

We were also hailed, as we passed, by the crew of NB Jambo- "we read your blog!"- and we promised them a mention. Well, it surprises us both greatly when we see our readers- surprises us, in fact, that we actually HAVE readers!- one day, we'll be able to stop properly and chat to people we see.

A fleet of Optimist small dinghys, that we overtook at the River Cam Sailing Club, below Clayhithe

Once we'd arrived in Clayhithe, a few miles away from Cambridge, we decided to stop on the visitor moorings and put our Plan into action, for dealing with the intake.

(Big) James had mentioned how another Cambridge boater, who has a similar intake and similar problems, put a pair of tights over the end of it to keep leaves and muck out. The water at Clayhithe was clear and nice, and the weather extremely nice; Amy was resolved that we try it at least whilst we could, so she squeezed into her wetsuit and hopped over the side, a pair of tights in hand.

These she stretched over the baffle plate and tied in place with a twisted wire- I'm not sure how well they will work, but we can at least try them and see if they keep muck out. The next step is a wire grille, made from a sieve we think, and some cable ties to cover over the gaps.

The second part of the plan involved reinforcing a hose. The Duck's water intake has a two-foot length of inch diameter plastic hose between the inlet and the strainer. We'd noticed that, when the intake got blocked, this flexible hose would suck itself together and really compound the problem. My idea was to place a length of garden hosepipe, cut from the hose we use to flush the intake, inside the larger hose to stop it kinking and squeezing itself shut- and, when we set off again, the indications were good, with the bypass opening up- showing that we had more than enough water going through the system- at normal cruising revs, and the temperature staying low. A temporary fix, but it should be enough to keep the engine healthy for the short-term.

Then, we pressed on towards Cambridge- and, soon, Baitsbite Lock was in sight, and then we were through onto the stretch of river I'd rowed upon countless times. It felt fantastic and surreal all at the same time- good to be there, but strange to be there on our own boat, to see the familiar scenery and sights from our own counter.

The bridges of Cambridge

Clare boathouse

This photo's unfortunately missing a green 62' trad and a hyperactive barking collie...

As we headed into town, we saw a few boaters we recognised- with an ecstatic welcome back from Luther on his fishing boat, ZZ10 - before we finally made it into the centre of town and moored up in a nice, duck-sized gap.

It feels good to be home.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Day Forty-Nine - A Key Purchase

Inquisitive geese, ducks and muscovy ducks in Ely

Salter's Lode - Ely

River Great Ouse 17 miles, 2 locks

A good day today; we had to wait for the tide, and so couldn't leave Salter's Lode until about midday. We spent the morning cleaning, tidying, and sitting on the folding chairs on the landing stage reading.

The next bit of the journey was tidal, and we'd heard tales of sandbanks, strong streams, and boats being swept inexorably towards King's Lynn and the sea... we prepared the anchor and had it on the welldeck ready, in case the engine failed. We had to make a sharp turn to the right immediately after exiting the lock and batter our way into a very strong tidal stream.

I kept reminding myself, "they let hireboats do this, it can't be too bad!" but I was still nervous.

And then, the hour was upon us, and after checking the engine (water intake, grub screws, and oil level- all crucial...) and donning our life-jackets, we moved into the lock.

The massive iron paddles (they'd be known as "penstocks" on the Middle Level, and "Slackers" on the Ouze and Cam...) creaked open, and we slowly rose- and then, the big gate itself. I'd talked the route over with the lockkeeper earlier- the lock is at an angle away from the direction we need to go in, with a fence alongside the approach, and a strong tidal stream. The trick is to accelerate fast so as not to get caught by the flow.

The engine performed admirably- I revved it to 2,200 rpm (700 above our normal cruising speed) and made the tight turn out of the lock, and moved to the far side of the river out of the strongest stream; then I reduced the revs to 1,800 and we moved up well towards Denver, finally slipping into the lock with the minimum of fuss. No problems, really- the boat was fine. However, going from Denver into Salter's Lode is a LOT harder! I'm relishing this future challenge.

After going through, we moored up on the landing stage and went back to sort out the paperwork. We needed a license for the boat, and so bought a month's one for £147.94. We'll get one for alonger term later, once we can afford it!

Then, fully legal, we put the cratch up again, put the chimneys on (we'd taken both off because of the low headroom on the Middle Level and through Salter's Lode) and headed off down the Ouze. But we'd forgotten one thing. The waterpoints and locks on the Ouze and Cam are locked, and need an EA key. The only place they can be obtained from is Denver- and we'd forgotten to buy one. Oops. We didn't remember until we were about two hours away- too late, really, to turn around and go back. We resolved to press on towards Ely, hoping to either get one there from another boater, buy one from Bridge boatyard (presumably they issue the keys to their hire boats, so they might have some) or even to get the train to Cambridge tomorrow and borrow one from another boater.

Well, the Great Ouze is rather boring, I'm afraid to say. Long, straight stretches, with high flood banks on either side so you can't see what's going on- at least the weather was fantastically warm and sunny. Only the odd passing combine harvester relieved the monotony- that, and the radio on the hatch slide.

Eventually, we approached Ely, and the welcome sight of the cathedral visible for many miles accross the Fens.

Canalplan says the journey should take 5 and a half hours; we did it in less than five, having pressed on.

And so, we arrived in Ely; there was a small space on the visitor moorings, and so I reversed the boat in; the chap on the boat behind us said, "you've done that before, haven't you?" which made me feel happy. Whilst mooring the bows, I talked to the gentleman on NB Noel's Ark, moored ahead of us, and he sold us a spare EA key. It really was very much appreciated.

Ely trip boat

Cambridge University Boat Club's boathouse (the blue one) and that of King's School, Ely

We must be near Cambridge- Battleship Bob's infamous widebeam is here!

Finally, we had a short walk into Ely itself, and enjoyed a bowl of cheesy chips at the Cutter Inn on the waterfront.

Tomorrow, we'll make Cambridge- and our 50-day epic journey will be at an end. I'm sad, happy, and relieved simualtaneously, and a little bit apprehensive about the future; now we just need to find jobs!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Day Forty-Eight - Time and Tide wait for no man

March - Salters Lode

Middle Level

12 miles, 1 lock

We filled up with diesel, and emptied the Elsan at Fox's before moving off in bright sunlight through March. We liked it even more in the sun- the water frontages of the houses are just lovely, and even the sanitary station which we'd been told was nasty, looked to be in good condition.

Carrying on towards Upwell and Outwell, there wasn't much to see, but we enjoyed the sun, the fact that we were moving under our own power, that the intake hardly blocked up at all and the familiarity of the fenlands. There is one lock to break up the monotony, and it is supposedly manned (well, womaned) but as we arrived, we heard some very angry voices, and realised that we'd accidentally arrived during some major family row at the lock keeper's cottage. We decided to leave them to it and set about working the lock ourselves. After a lot of indistict but worryingly hate-filled shouting, a man stormed out and drove off in a cloud of dust in his Land Rover. Presently the lock keeper came out and helped us through, chatting away merrily as if nothing had happened. Most odd!

We had been warned about low bridges at the village of Upwell, but although they did look low, they didn't present any problems. We really liked Upwell/Outwell (they're pretty much the same place) and we got lots of waves from passing pedestrians and even toots from lorry drivers! It seemed like a pretty, friendly place. There, we saw nb Welkin of Isis, a boat that we'd seen at Whilton earlier in the year, and had half considered buying!

After Upwell/Outwell we had bacon and brie english muffins while underway and continued to Salters Lode, where the Middle Level meets the tidal Ouse, arriving at about 3pm. We spoke to the lock-keeper who let us know that the next tide will be at 12 noon tomorrow. So we wait. But once through, its no more than 2 days to Cambridge!

Day Forty-Seven - Weld Done!

Peterborough to March

18 miles, 2 locks

We had booked passage through Stangound Lock on the Middle Level, at 9am, so were up early enough to make it at the appointed hour. The lock isn't wide enough for two boats of Warrior's or Duck's size, so we went in one by one, the Duck first, being poled and hauled in simultaneously, follwed by Warrior. The lock keeper, seeing our predicament, mentioned that there were some Middle Level maintenance men with a portable arc welder, who might be able to help, and gave us their number.

Stanground Lock approach

We got in contact, and lo and behold, just before Whittlesey, our angels in green overalls appeared. They had a generator, and an arc welder in their van and proceeded to stick-weld our tiller back together. Amazing luck! Now able to steer and propel the Duck independently of Warrior, we had to decided how to proceed. Much as we would have liked to head for Ramsey, and meet our friend known as Moominpapa, we decided that it would be best to press on to Cambridge as soon as possible. Finances are getting tight, and the quicker we can start earning the better. When we've saved up a bit, we'll be able to start doing all the jobs that have presented themselves on this journey.

So, with sadness, we said bye to Jim, who has been so kind to us, and helped us through so many of the numerous predicaments that we've encountered, and moved off seperately. We helped Warrior through Ashline Lock, and that was the last we'll see of it until Jim and Sarah hopefully come to Cambridge at Christmas. Warrior turned off down the old course of the Nene towards Ramsey, and we carried on towards March, in order to top up the diesel tank at Fox Narrowboats.

Typical fenland vista

It was closed by the time we arrived, but they let us stay overnight on the fuel landing stage, and we went off for some well earned chips in March.

This has been our first taste of the Fens proper, with its huge skies, endless farmland, and long straight waterways (which are in fact drains used to keep the fenlands dry (mostly they're below sea level). And although they can be boring ("a corner! yay!") I rather like it here. March was lovely - I really could envisage living there.

A sign we found in March - kind of sums up the fens...

Cambridge here we come!

Just a short one, since I've found some sporadic internet (a rarity in the Fens) and so I will breify update before it goes altogether, and write more when I can!

Basically, yesterday we had the extreme good fortune of being put in contact with some Middle Level Commissioners maintenance men, by the lock keeper at Stanground. They met up with us, bringing their portable arc welder in the back of a van and proceeded to weld our tiller back together! So, we changed our plans and decided not to head for Ramsey but to make for Cambridge, where we could settle in, start working, make some money and then perhaps return to Bill Fen to get the prop shaft and other things fixed. We said our farewells to Jim and Warrior, our faithful companions for two weeks, and headed to March.

So here we are at the tidal lock on the Great Ouse. We'll be in Cambridge by the weekend.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Day Forty-Six - Blessed uneventfulness!

Warmington Lock - Peterborough

17 miles, 6 locks

We woke early (for us) in order to have a cup of tea with James and Emma before we went our separate ways. I was too sleepy to get a a proper photo of them as they left, sadly! It had been good to meet up, if only briefly.

We had a fairly uneventful run to Peterborough, aside from another cross-strapping incident. Luckily this happened in open water, with time to re-adjust before hurtling through Milton Ferry bridge, although we did end up jack-knifed across the river for a few minutes.

We arrived in Peterborough at about 6, and moored on the Town Quay which gave us easy access to the centre of town. I took the opportunity to go to the NHS walk-in centre to pick up some antibiotics - I've not been well for the past couple of days but it's just a minor thing that a course of pills will cure. They were so efficient - I was in and out (with drugs in hand) in about 20 minutes. I was very impressed!

So now we are sitting down to home-made (ish) pizza and looking forward to getting onto the Middle Level and to Ramsey tomorrow. A welcome party awaits us, we hear!

Day Forty-Five - Cratch Bang Wallop!

Woodford Lock - Warmington Lock

River Nene

18 miles, 10 locks

The bad luck continues- today we knocked the cratch board on a very low footbridge, scratched the side of the boat on a protruding pipe, and later- more seriously- seriously bashed in a corner of the roof on the medieval, small-arched Fotheringay bridge.

BUT despite these further blows (ha, ha...) we're still happy; these things happen with narrowboating, and the Duck has proved itself to be exceedingly tough.

The day started well enough, but coming up towards Islip Footbridge (marked 2.4 metres headroom in the guide- the heights given by Imray are, at best, fanciful!) the helpful gauge boards showed the headroom as more like 1.7 metres- or too low for us to get under easily. I put Warrior into hard reverse and slowed down enough so that we only lightly knocked the front of the cratch board; I tied the pair off to a tree at the back so we could stay in position, Jim held the boats back, and we put the cratch down, took all the chimneys off, and with Jim and Amy in the well deck as ballast (!) we managed to squeeze through with about 5mm to spare between the top of the roof at the front of the boat, and the top of the pigeon box, and the bridge above- precision narrowboating!

The rest of the day was glorious, really; the sun shone and we pressed on. James and Emma of Kestrel were, we knew, going to be on the move also and we looked forwards to seeing them for the first time in a month or so, hopefully in a pub!

Some of the locks were rather hard work. The Nene locks have vee gates at one end, and a guillotine at the other, and so as to help discharge water, there is normally a flow over the top of the vee gates. When the levels are high- which they were at Titchmarsh lock, for example- and the water level a foot or so above the top of the gates, an extremely foamy and powerful Niagara is created- it was just like being in the lock with all the paddles open.

The second misfortune of the day occurred when I was taking the pair through a narrowly-arched bridge. I really, REALLY dislike these bridges! The navigation arch tends to be off to one side or really inaccessible, so you have to turn the boats around obstacles to get through, or go through at an angle. At this particular bridge, I had to turn the boats as we went through and caught an awkward protruding pipe which I hadn't seen with the left-hand side of the Duck- there's now a nice four-foot long scratch, an inch wide in places.

However, that scratch pales in comparison with the wallop we took later on.

Approaching the particularly narrow Fotheringay bridge, we saw that we wouldn't get through breasted up, so with difficulty pulled into the bank and separated the boats out. We hastily tied cross straps on, and set off for the bridge.

And that's where the trouble started. The problems with navigating these bridges, whilst towing the Duck astern, are that in order to keep the pair straight in the stream- and the stream is extremely strong in the narrow bridgeholes- you have to be using a fair bit of power and, hence, going quite fast. The idea is that the front of the Duck is tied on with rope to the stern of Warrior, and prevented from moving from side to side, so that it follows on exactly.

Unfortunately we hadn't tied the rope on with as much care as we should have, and approaching the bridgehole, the Duck's bow moved sideways and ended up nearly alongside Warrior's stern. There was nothing Jim, who was steering at the time, could do- the front of the Duck's cabin hit the side of the arch full on.

This was an extremely scary moment- the boat tilted crazily over- maybe 30 degrees from the vertical!- there was a loud crunch, followed by the sounds of books, plates, crockery and all kinds of things falling. The boat did right itself, though, and we made it through in a cloud of brick dust and swearing.

It looked extremely bad- bits of bricks, bare and twisted metal- the corner of the roof was completely bent in, with twisted beading. It's made of 5mm steel and took a huge wallop. The photo above shows it after being bashed back into roughly the shape it was before.

We thought it was awful, but on inspecting the damage realised that it wasn't too bad. The cabin itself wasn't penetrated or deformed- just the cosmetic corner to the overhanging front of the roof. It looks horrible, but it's easy enough to sort out; 5 minutes with a club hammer got it back into roughly the right shape, and final filling, tweaking and painting will completely repair it.

Everyone was extremely shocked by the incident, and so we moored up as soon as we could- on the river bank just above Warmington lock, some 4 miles short of our target for the day. Amy was also not feeling well, and we stopped and sorted ourselves out. We spent a good hour or so cleaning the exterior of the boat of chunks of brick- the bridge came off worse than we did!- and putting the interior back to rights. Amazingly, all that was broken was one plate, having fallen off the kitchen counter- everything else was unscathed.

We thought that stopping here would put us too far away from Kestrel, especially after hearing from them that they only left Peterborough at 5pm or so. At about 9 o clock, we got a message- they were considering pressing on! I tried to contact them for nearly an hour, but they had no phone signal and, at 11pm just when we thought they must have given up and stopped further downstream for the night, I got a call from Emma.

I waited at the lock with my torch and, at twenty minutes past midnight, I saw their navigation lights and tunnel light come towards the lock. I helped guide them in, Amy joined me, and we saw them safely through and moored up behind us.

"Dr. Howard, I presume?"

It was late, but it was an epic feat to do so well at night, against the stream- and it was fantastic to see them again. We had tea in the Duck, inspected the damage, and came to the conclusion that it wasn't too bad at all. Bedtime was at the extremely late hour of half one- but it was very, very worth it.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Day Forty-Four - Snap

Whiston Lock - Woodford Lock

River Nene

18 miles, 12 locks

I really, really feel like the name of the boat is the complete opposite of what's happenned to us on our journey so far.

Today we had a further dose of bad luck.

The tiller has been snapped off.

Yes, the great big strong metal thing. It's extremely hard to believe that something so seemingly solid could break; but break it did, and now the Duck is unable to move under its own control.

The day started well enough; we got moving at the sensible hour of eight thirty, and the sun obligingly came out. It was extremely pleasant, motoring along through nice countryside to the sound of birdsong.

And then disaster struck. Just past White Mills lock, the river narrows and the speed of the flow increases to about 4 or 5 mph at the moment. Travelling breasted up, the Duck ploughed into a tree branch; nothing wrong with that, they normally bend and move out of the way.

Except this one didn't; it was far, far more solid than we anticipated and, because of the stream, there was nothing we could do. It dented the chimney for the Morco heater, knocked off the fender we acquired in Reading, and swept a windlass into the river.

But, worst of all, a branch got stuck under the bend at the top of the tiller, and there was a sharp "crack".

We were all dumbstruck; carried away by the stream, we could only gaze back in amazement at the sight of our tiller, hooked over a treebranch some eight or nine feet from the bank.

It was astounding; a solid lump of metal. None of us had ever heard of a tiller breaking in that fashion before. We couldn't reverse against the flow, so pulled in as soon as possible alongside a fishing platform. I took our cabin shaft, which usefully had a sickle gaffertaped to the end which made it into a useful hook, and walked back towards the tree.

The stump- at the bottom of the picture. The rope is to stop the rudder swinging about.

At first it seemed impossible; the entire way was barred by nettles and brambles. I reached the tree itself; a collection of branches sticking some nine or ten feet out over the water, with brambles and small branches everywhere- and covered in mud and slime from where the river had previously been flooded. A very daunting prospect, but I determined not to give up, and foolhardily inched my way, slowly and carefully, anong the tree branches, sometimes balancing, sometimes holding onto the cabin shaft, all the while over the water; I certainly didn't want to go in. I could see the tiller hooked over the branch, and finally managed to reach it; I didn't tell Amy at the time, but the branch I was standing on was bending and I got wet feet. I managed to reach the tiller though, and inch by inch dragged it back along the precarious branches, through the brambles, and back to the boat, covered in burrs, scratches, and mud; a proud moment. I'm very glad to have got it back; it means we can fix it up again.

In the meantime, we were on the move again. There's no way to fix the tiller right now, so we just decided to enjoy the sunshine and press on.

It should be easy enough to fix. Having inspected the metal where it snapped, Jim showed us how the 1-inch diameter metal bar that connected down to the rudder had snapped in the past, and been shoddily welded up as a repair; there was only one weld of three holding the tiller on. In many ways, it's a blessing that it happenned when it did- it means that- like so many of the systems on the boat- we can fix it properly and know it's reliable. At least it broke when we didn't really need it. To fix it, it's just a simple matter of disassembling the parts, angle grinding off the old welds and dressing the two bits ready to be welded together again.

The miles were covered quickly, and many locks; some of which have a big, three foot diameter metal wheel which must be turned 150 times to lower the guillotine gate, and another 150 to raise it... as Sarah had promised, it was hard work!

Winding the lock

The challenge, later in the day, was Irthlingborough bridge.

This medieval packhorse bridge has the navigation arch at only 12' wide; and, breasted up, the boats are 14'. Clearly, we were going to have to tow the Duck through, but with no steering it would be very, very tricky.

I rigged up a system with a rope through the eye on the top of the rudder; by hauling on one side, the rudder could be turned and the boat steered. We put the Duck on tight cross straps behind Warrior, and took the cratch down; if it went wrong, we didn't want to break it at all.The Duck looks extremely strange without it!

We approached the bridge at a worryingly high speed, but couldn't slow down because of the flow; if you slow down, you can't steer and lose control! You just have to go for it! I was at the reins at the stern of the Duck, and Jim steered Warrior; we just HAD to get it right first time.

We approached at high speed, 35 tons travelling at about ; Jim turned Warrior into the corner, I hauled on ropes for all I was worth, and we shot through the bridge without even touching the sides. Fantastic! It really was a great moment, with some brilliant steering from Jim. This is, perhaps, the closest Narrowboating comes to an extreme sport!

The VERY high speed run through the bridgehole

The lessercratched Duck

We carried on after a well-deserved cup of tea into the evening, heading for Woodford visitor moorings. Strangely, although marked on the map they don't exist, so we have been forced to tie up to a floating pontoon next to Woodford Lock. We'll have to be off first thing tomorrow; it looks like we'll be in Peterborough the day after tomorrow, hopefully.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Day Forty-Three - Gone!

Northhampton - Whiston Lock

8 miles, 8 locks

Grand Union (Northampton Arm), River Nene

And, so, after 5 days languishing in Northampton, we are finally on the move, and earlier than expected! At about 11, a chap on a passing boat informed us that his daughter was on the river at Titchmarsh Lock, beyond Doddington and that it was open. So we decided to chance it and see how far we'd get.

After provisioning at Morrisons, we set off, waving goodbye to the friendly bunch of teenage fishermen we'd seen many times over the days we'd been moored up. It was great to finally pass through Lock 17, which had been all that stood between us and the waters of the Nene and which we'd walked past innumerable times. Once onto the Nene, singly, we breasted up in Beckets Park Lock, and then stopped to top up and empty the tanks. Soon we were on the move properly. We were overtaken by several boats, which had been moored on the waterfront before the lock, perhaps inspired by our decision to move!

James and I got our first taste of Nene locks - they're geared such that although they're easy to wind, it takes many revolutions to open and shut the paddles. But it was a glorious day and nothing could dampen our spirits as we pressed on through more locks. We'd have liked to get to Wellingborough, but have decided, at about 7 to stop on a lock landing stage - there are precious few moorings on the Nene, and it gives us an extra incentive to get moving tomorrow morning! We're also in the middle of nowhere, which is good for security.

So, the final leg of the journey has begun, in a few days we'll (hopefully) pass through Stanground and onto the Middle Level. Already the landscape is becoming more familiar - the wide open vistas and huge skies of the Fenlands are drawing near.

Day Forty-Two - Going, going...


0 miles, 0 locks

After a morning spent filling in application forms, James and I went with Jim for an exploratory walk, to see where the nearest waterpoint was and check out the state of the river. We resolved to make some progess on Sunday, so that when the river opened we'd be in pole position and so that we could fill and empty the relelant tanks before setting off. We wandered back though the town and past the Malt Sovel pub, which has a very good reputation, according to CAMRA, and decided to check it out later on.

On the way back, James and I discovered a ladder in some bushes by the towpath. We pulled it out, and found it to be in quite good condition. James sawed off the broken bit and we now have a very useful gangplank for if we have to moor in a daifficult place on the Nene!

As we'd planned, James and I met Jim in the Malt Shovel at about 8. It was extremely good. Jim was happy with London Pride, James with some 9% Somerset Scrumpy, and me with some delicious draught Belgian fruit beers. It really is excellent and we all recommed it heartily - 15 real ales, 4 ciders and an great atmosphere. Its also not far from the moorings above Lock 17, so easily accessible for boaters!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Day Forty-One - Bored Meeting

Northampton, still...

0 miles, 0 locks

We have had another fairly uneventful day, doing some odd jobs on the boat like re-attaching the fender that got hung up on a lock gate on the Rothersthorpe Flight, and mounting our Absinthe Robette poster on some card salvaged from the back of the Netto; it's now securely screwed to the underside of the bed. We went for a wander round Northampton - its actually not that bad a place, in the centre, and did some general admin like changing our addresses at various banks. We also picked up a cardboard box from a shop's rubbish to store the contents of the engine room cupboard - the batteries are underneath the bottom of this and we wanted to be able to remove the contents quickly if we needed to access them

Sorry, all this is so unexciting to write, I dread to think what it must be like to read! One thing that was exciting, however, was seeing Jim's excellent scumbling in the back cabin. Its not finished yet but its looking good.

Anyway, here are some photos that we haven't get been able to upload:

Towing the Duck through the Rothersthorpe Flight.

The Northampton Arm: The Duck finally under her own power!

Horses try to obstruct our passage at Lock 15 on the way into Northampton a few days ago. Luckily they were more interested in eating than in us!

Our Northampton mooring.

Carlsberg don't do eyesores, but if they did... (the joint BW and EA boards in the foreground mark the change in waterways management and the gateway to the Nene)

The lock through which it will be very satisfying to proceed when eventually we do!

Our ducks on the side hatch (they're not quite roses and castles but we like them) and the Absinthe Robette poster just visible attached to the underside of the bed.

The Nene in flood; the Carlsberg 'factory' on the right.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Day Forty- No big black holes yet...

0 miles, 0 locks.

Not much happenned today; we recharged the batteries, I checked as many I could to see if any were malfunctioning or not holding a charge (I could only get to three of the five leisures, so there may be a duff one lower down) and read the papers and books, and updated our CVs for job applications...

Day Thirty Nine- So Nene, and yet so far....

Rothersthorpe- Northampton

Grand Union Canal, Northampton Arm

4 miles, 11 locks

Today we set about charging the (flat) starter battery from the Duck, so we could start the engine. This battery was buried in the lower row of batteries (the Duck has two boxes of three, one on top of the other) and, as far as we knew, was a sealed semi-traction type.

Well, it wasn't; the reason why it wasn't holding the charge was because it wasn't sealed at all, and it badly needed topping up with electrolyte for it to work. We happenned to have some deionised water on the boat, bought to top up the coolant in the heat exchanger, and so topped up the battery. It was then connected to the battery bank in Warrior, and Jim fired up the National; our battery was fully charged in an hour or so. Thank goodness for 80 amp marine alternators!

After this further act of help (we owe Jim so many pints we'd keep a small brewery in business indefinitely- there is one here in Northampton, but I don't think he'd approve of the L***r they make...) we set off down the flight and towards Northampton.

There were a few narrow bridgeholes and a LOT of reeds, but we made it easily (having to clear the intake once) and, having borrowed Jim's multimeter, kept an eye on the batteries as they charged. Whilst they never quite reached the 14.4 volts that would show them to be nearly fully charged, they got quite high and so we'll see how long they last.

We arrived in Northampton and moored above lock 17, where the canal ends and the Nene begins. The river is still under Strong Stream Advice, and we can't proceed any further; we'll stay here and wait it out.

After waving goodbye to Amy's mum at the station, we headed over to the local Netto for supplies. As we didn't know how long we'd be on the Nene for, and as there's an absense of supplies along the way, we stocked up on tinned foods and staggered back to the boat.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Day Thirty-Eight- On my left is Clare College, the second oldest...

Blisworth- Lock Six, Rothersthorpe Flight

Grand Union Canal Main Line & Northampton Arm

3 miles, 6 locks

Today we resolved to deal with the domestic affairs and move on towards Northampton. A phonecall the night before from Claire of nb Penelope meant that, if we could find the (delightfully named!) harbourmaster of Blisworth Marina, where they normally moor, we could use the washing facilities and catch up on the mountain of laundry. So, not wishing to pass up the opportunity, we walked a mile or so down the towpath with a toilet cassette to empty on Jim's trolley, and a big Ikea bag full of washing. Thankfully we didn't get confused and put the laundry down the Elsan disposal chute or the contents of the cassette in the washing machine; instead, we perused the back issues of Canal Boat magazine available in the laundry room and wished we could return to 2001's prices for boats, inverters, and chandlery!

This really was absolutely fantastic of Claire to let us use the facilities; another wonderful Canal person who's helped us out.

Afterwards, we returned to the mooring and then set off towards the Northampton arm. We knew that the Nene was in flood, but wanted to wait in Northampton as it has shops and facilities. Although we filled up with diesel at Blisworth marina, I needed to bleed the engine before it would start, because when the engine ran out of fuel it sucked air into the fuel pipes; I now needed to pump the new diesel through and bleed off the air so the engine would start.

However, it still wouldn't, and so we started locking through the narrow, single locks bowhauling the Duck. This was fine to get it into and out of the pounds, but a few had a number of reeds at the side, and we couldn't keep the boat out of them; so, in the end, I resorted to punting with a borrowed long shaft from Jim! It was surprisingly easy; although the lock pounds themselves had very muddy bottoms, it was easy enough to move the boat if I really got it moving out of the previous lock. We moored up for the night after lock six, in the pound, as it was getting dark, determined to start the engine in the morning.

(The title comes from the punt tour guides who infest the River Cam)

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Day Thirty-Seven - Tunnel Vision

Stoke Bruerne - Blisworth

Grand Union Canal

3 miles, 1 tunnel

Things didn't get started as early as planned this morning, but eventually James was prised out of his bed amid cries of 'I didn't think we were going through the tunnel til tomorrow!' ... and we could begin to get underway. The Nene is still under SSA (strong stream advice) but Blisworth at least has a shop, we thought, and we could feel like we'd made progress if we went through the tunnel. Having spoken to the man in charge, we had decided to tow the Duck using cross-straps rather than get it closed for us while we attempted to pass through breasted up. This became even more imperative when we discovered that we'd run out of diesel.

So, with the Duck closely tied to Warrior, myself and my mum on the Duck's stern, James steering Warrior, and Jim operating the tunnel light, we set off.

Just before the tunnel mouth, we were excited to be hailed by a couple of our readers. I encouraged them to comment, and do so again here! Our passage through the tunnel itself was actually quite alright. I had been a little scared as to how the Duck would cope with being towed and what would happen if we met other boats. I had some steerage with the Duck's rudder, but if we swung out at the wrong moment, all could go a bit pear-shaped. Luckily, we only met one boat, and passed them without mishap. It was, at 2813m (3076yds), the longest tunnel we'd ever encountered, although it is only the third longest tunnel in the system. Part of the tunnel was rebuilt in the 80s, and this was used to test the materials later used to build the Channel Tunnel!

We moored just beyond Blisworth, in walking distance of Gayton Junction, with a plan to leave early tomorrow, fill the Duck with diesel, and continue down the narrow locks of the Northampton Arm. Having my mum on board will make this part easier, since we can have two people to each boat. The Nene will, according to one of the lengthsmen that we happened to meet, not be open for another 48 hours at least, but if we're through the Northampton flight, at least we're postioned ready to take on the Nene as soon as it opens.

We made use of the afternoon's much appreciated sunshine by opening up the boat and drying some clothes on the roof, using a rather exciting structure created by James. My mum and I also spring cleaned inside, and went blackberry picking. Although it was nice to have the walk we didn't find many, despite having seen bushes dripping with them from the boat over the past few days!

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Mind the Gap

Day Thirty-Six - Why are we waiting?

Cosgrove - Stoke Bruerne

6 miles, 6 locks

Grand Union

In which Mother Duck attempts steering, is overtaken by an impatient crew before becoming stuck behind a slow one, battles with the stream, before mooring at Stoke Bruerne, unable to proceed onto the Nene.

The rain continued this morning, so one of my first tasks once underway was to contact the Environment Agency's floodline. From this service, I discovered that the River Nene, vital connection between the Fenland waterways and the rest of the system is closed due to a strong stream. And unlike the Thames, which just 'advises' that navigation is not attempted, the EA just close the Nene completely. So we decided to proceed to Stoke Bruerne (where we had planned to stop anyway) and see what happened.

Mother Duck tries her hand at steering on the way to Stoke Bruerne.

Unusually, we were overtaken twice on the way to the Stoke Bruerne flight. One particular boat was very pushy about it, even trying to force us over to the bank where it was just too shallow for Warrior's deep draught. The flight was ascended in very wet conditions, and we were held up by a particularly inept boat. But we were in no hurry, since there was no change to the stream conditions on the Nene, and we moored up at about 3pm, in the rain.

My mum and I found groceries at the Boat, but alas there is no village shop, so Jim went without his Guardian for two days in a row (yesterday he made do with the Independent and the Telegraph but it's just not the same!). I was rather excited by the Bolinder engine in the cafe, and by a copy of Colours of the Cut in the bookshop, but we decided not to spend £5 going to he museum.