Thursday, 31 December 2009

Westward Ho!

Or, at least, Exeter.

We left for Amy's mum's house about a week before Christmas, and greatly enjoyed the comforts that land-based living involves- a fridge that isn't a box in the well deck, a shower drain that doesn't clog, and electricity that magically comes out of sockets.

Meepy, the cat at Amy's home

The day before Christmas Eve saw the worries of a chimney fire; the resin from the logs burnt had built up, and the soot caught fire. It was dramatic, with a big roaring and flames shooting out of the chimney pot; damping down the fire with water, and standing outside in the cold waiting for the fire engine, we were faced with the sight of the appliance sliding almost sideways down the hill on the ice.... Suffice to say the firemen were professional and, although the fire had burnt itself out, they cleaned out the chimney a bit and damped down all the soot. Amy's mum got a sweep in the next day, and resolves to sweep the chimney more often!

Sunset and mist in the Exe valley

A frozen-over Exeter Ship Canal. One day, long in the future, we may return and use this canal if we're living on a Dutch barge or similar...

Amy's bike in the snow

On the 28th, we headed to Bracknell to see my family, and after a fraught journey- train to Basingstoke, changing for Reading, then to Bracknell- which worked out £75 or so cheaper than the direct train to Reading then Bracknell!- where we enjoyed Christmas 2.0 and celebrated my stepmum's birthday and retirement with a barn dance. Amy enjoyed herself, after I plied her with gin and persuaded her to dance, and we headed back to Cambridge on Wednesday 30th.

Whilst we were away, Lyra had been looked after very ably by John and Jackie on Pippin- and, I think, put on a little weight over Christmas... We really are grateful to them, and to Sabrina, for keeping Lyra fed, watered and warm whilst we were away.

Today, on New Year's Eve, we decided to come into Cambridge for supplies of diesel and food, and so as to be able to celebrate the new year. The recent snow-melt resulted in a very fast flow on the river, of something like 6kph, whereas normally the flow is negligable. Amy and I were umming and ahing over whether to navigate. We decided that the only way to see if we could stem the flow was to try it. Certainly, the most dangerous part of the journey would be Baitsbite Lock and the weir next to it.

As it was, the Duck performed well. At 2,000 rpm we made a walking pace- the GPS registered a forward speed of 3kph, whereas at 2,000rpm we normally manage 8 to 9kph- against the strong flow, and moved towards the lock.

There was an extremely strong eddy around the lock tail, but luckily it was in our favour and we could head straight in. This required heading towards the lock wall at 1,500 rpm and letting the strong slow push us sideways into the lock. We managed it without a scrape. It was exhilarating, and even had it gone wrong all that would have happenned was a loud "BONG!" and some scraped blacking- but it was still Salter's Lode levels of excitement!

After that, the journey into town was a bit tame and we have moored up outside the Fort St. George, and have been shopping and saw James and Emma of Kestrel in a fantastic local pub. The river is still flowing strongly, and is about 18" up higher than normal. It's well over the hards at the boathouses, but we've got floodpoles in and a high piece of concrete bank here at the Fort so we're safe and sound. We're going to see the New Year in in style, either in the Fort with other boaters, or at the top of Castle Hill watching the fireworks. Grand!

Helena Knowsley, a boat on the residential moorings in Cambridge. It's been looking tired for a while, and the engine bay filled with water so that it was down by the stern. However, neither the council (who administer the moorings on the commons) nor the Cam Conservators took full responsibility, and as a result in the recent rains and higher river levels, she sank. John and I had planned to pump her out when we were both in Cambridge, but didn't have enough capacity to store the polluted water from the engine bay, which was full of floating oil, engine antifreeze, and other hazards; otherwise, we would have pumped it dry.

The Conservators were tied up in bureaucratic red-tape, and affixed a notice to the boat, apparently, saying that it was in danger of sinking; for whatever reason, perhaps the same ones that we had, they couldn't just hire a pump and save it from this danger, and as a result the boat sank.

It really is a terrible shame, because- firstly- this is someone's home, even if they don't spend as much time on it as they could. But, secondly, this boat is unlicensed and has been for the past year or so, and has been continually festooned with stuck-on notices from the Cam Conservators saying so and threatening further. It's no business of ours why it wasn't licensed, of course, but now the Cam Con have lost a potentially great deal of money too; they're allowed to sell boats they repossess for a profit, but now that it's sunk, it's worth perhaps £5k as a shell, plus the cost of salvaging it and licensing it that a new owner would have to pay, rather than the £20k or so it would have been worth as a complete boat.

And, further, the boat is now leaking oil, antifreeze (which is highly poisonous to aquatic life), and other pollutants into the river, and will have to be salvaged at great expense.

Whatever the reasons, it is a great shame that the boat's owner is now effectively homeless, and that a boat has been lost.

Friday, 25 December 2009

To all our readers...

Wishing you a very

and all the best for the new year!

(This is the card we sent out this year.)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Deepest Darkest Devon

We have been staying with my mother, her partner and my sister since Saturday, for a long, lovely Christmas break in Devon. It has been very relaxing, and good to spend time with family. It is cold and icy here, but there is no snow, just rain. After Christmas, we will go to James family too.

We are VERY thankful to John and Jackie on Pippin, and Bree, who are looking after Lyra while we are away. We miss her!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Snow Joke

We were in Cambridge last night when it began to snow heavily. At first it was magical, but then the wind picked up. Bu the time we were walking to the boat along the floodbank, it was imposssible to see as well as walk forwards! We struggled home through the blizzard, and arrived looking like we'd just come back from the Antarctic. We warmed up aboard Pippin first, with sherry and tea, while James set the fire going on the Duck.

This morning dawned clear and beautiful. We were excited about showing Lyra her first snow. She didn't like it at all. But we encouraged her to come out and play for a bit, and Tom Kitten joined in the fun. Lyra just miaowed constantly ("my paws are cold!, my paws are cold!") and Tom was a little more adventurous. In places, the snow was 6 inches deep, and watching the cats walking through it was quite hilarious! I took lots of photos of them both, including a lovely one of them nose to nose 'kissing' in the snow, but I'm afraid you'll just have to imagine them because my stupid phone on which I took them has somehow managed to delete all this morning's images. I've called James and asked him to take a few more while its still snowy though. This one was part of the snow series this morning, some of which (the dull ones) weren't deleted for some odd reason!

One of James' later photos, but the snow had started to melt by this point, it seems.

A determined Lyra makes her way through snow up to her 'armpits'!

The Ginger one

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Pipe Dreaming

A good friend of mine lives in Marsden, at one end of the Standedge tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow. Ever since I started to get excited about boating and canals, it has been a dream of mine to visit her there by boat. So I decided to do a little search on Canalplan AC, just to see what the time scales are like.

First, I just let it choose the route, which would take us up to the BCN, along the Trent and Mersey, the Macclesfield, the Peak Forest and then the Hudderfield Narrow. It would take us about two weeks. But when I selected 'quickest route' it suggested that we cross the Wash, follow the Witham, cross the Fossdyke to the Trent, then go along the Aire and Calder Navigation, the Huddersfield Broad, and then the Huddersfield Narrow. Canalplan reckons that would take 9 days. Wouldn't that make a fantastically varied and exciting ring? Maybe one day...

Monday, 14 December 2009

Fenland Fog, and a Winning Weekend

A dense swirling fog prevented us from carrying out our plan to drive the boat into town on Friday night. It was quite fantastic to wander about in, and make incredible jets of light with our torches, but it would have been foolish to try and navigate.

So we stayed in, warm by the fire, with Lyra playing outside. Presently we heard her come into the weldeck, but she was not alone, for another bell was jingling, and another set of slightly differently coloured (more green to Lyra's turquoise) shiny eyes greeted us. Tom Kitten had come to say hello. He is a very sociable cat, and with both his owners out, had been attracted by the noises and lights of the Duck. He looked a little lonely, so rather than shutting him out in the welldeck (after giving him a quick cuddle) as I normally do, I opened the door to let him in and see what would happen. Lyra was by the door, so I assumed that if she had a problem with him coming in, she would let him know, probably by giving him a biff! But she let him come past, and the two were quite happy chase each other up and down the boat.

A Ginger cat and a Jamaica Ginger Cake cat (John's wonderful description of Lyra)

After a while he started pawing at the door so we let him out, and shortly after, John returned. We had a neighbourly cup of tea, while recounting his errant cat's exploits.

The next morning, the fog had lifted, and we enjoyed a very pleasant cruise into town.

Sunrise near Clayhithe

City IV under the newly painted A14 bridge (Queens' College won the Fairbairns race)

It was the day of the Christmas Head race, in which James' mens VIII won their category, and were presented with some very tinny medals. They were very pleased with this win, however, the first since the squad's training regime began in earnest.

The Duck opposite Peterhouse, with James' Chesterton VIII on the opposite bank getting out of their decrepit wooden boat.

On Saturday night, a Chesterton contingent went over to the Elm Tree for celebratory beer. It was a really enjoyable evening. I had some delicious Belgian honey beer, but not enough to meake me feel at all ill in the morning thankfully! On Sunday, we did a few chores, James coached some new additions to the mens' club, and after tea with a friend, we made our way home.

P.S Christmas cards are all in the post now, but I still have plent left if anyone would like one! The link to my email address in the the Welcome section at the tope of the page now.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Real Christmas cards

Recently, we got lots (well, 100)of real Christmas cards printed, which I designed for the occasion:

We are currently in the process of collecting addresses to send them to. So, beloved blog readers, if you would like to see the final design, and receive a Christmas greeting from the Ducks in your post-box (and we don't already have you address), then please email your postal address to me at the address in the photograph below.

Saturday, 5 December 2009


This morning, the Duck had its Boat Safety Scheme Examination. It went very well.

The examination was carried out by Tony Pope (recommended by the chap near Birmingham who did the Duck's BSSC last time, Andrew Phasey), who was very professional, friendly and helpful. He didn't even mind when Lyra sat on his papers with her muddy paws and made him start one sheet again! In fact he thought it was quite funny! We would highly recommend him.

Lyra makes herself unuseful

Most excitingly, all of James' new electrics passed with no problems at all! So that was quite satisfying. There only issues were a gas pipe that was not as securely fixed as it should be, and a missing 'GAS ISOLATOR SWITCH BELOW' sign, so it did fail on those. We could probably have solved the gas fitting ourselves, but decided to seek professional help in the form of John Walsh, a friend of Tony's who was able to come over and fix it within the hour! He was also very friendly and helpful. After some previous experiences with a boat contractor who was unprofessional and useless, it was very refreshing to receive such good service!

So the boat is now ready to be re-examined the week after next (for no extra charge) and Tony will be able to sign it off.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Further Electrickery

Overview of all the wiring. The junction box housing the main positive busbar has a lit to be fitted; tonight, I'm going to Maplin and getting covers for the other busbars.

New fuse holders, and busbar supplying the power to all the circuits. Labels need to be made, but all the connections were crimped with my ratcheting crimpers- a fantastic toy!

Bus-bar and loom for the 12v lights. Annoyingly, they are all orange, so fault finding could prove problematic....

Negative busbar- returns from all the domestic wiring, and connections to the charger, wind-turbine regulator, and the inverter negative. Space to add more connections if needed- and FAR better than a mess of wiring, bodged onto the battery terminals, as it was before.

Newly installed are several busbars, to allow fault-finding, and all the cables have been cut to length, securely cable-tied and made into looms, and routed sensibly so fault-finding is easier.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Boaters Banter and a Mega Marrow

On Saturday, we went to the CWDF Banter at Thrupp (on the South Oxford). Our friends Simon (aka Moominpapa) and Ann very kindly gave us a lift.

On arrival at the Boat in Thrupp, we were greeted by the sight of two very familiar boats. One of which we'd been inside before (Milly M) and one of which we hadn't (Bones). We were especially excited to see Bones' boat, and admired the bedroom that was inspired by ours! It was also very exciting to meet the two mutts: Molly and Boots, who are both adorable and great fun. It goes without saying that we were also very pleased to see the boats' and dogs' respective owners, Maffi and Bones!

We then walked down to Annie's Tea Room by the lift bridge. We came through here on our cruise last year, so it was lovely to be back on such a delightful bit of canal. PJ, from nb Ocelot was already there, and it was nice to see him too. After a cup of tea, and some very nice bacon sarnies and cake, we took the dogs on a little walk down the canal and back through a very pretty church. James rather failed to photograph the dogs as they hared through the graveyard at breakneck speed.

We returned to the tea room, with Sarah and Jim (aka the Warriors) who had just arrived. We also met Alan and his wife, and several other forum members. Sarah brought a set of lovely photographs of her wonderful new project boat, Chertsey. We hung out in the tea room for quite a while before heading over the pub. Others started to arrive, and we met lots of new face as well as catching up with some old ones. It would be impossible to remember them all, but it was a particular pleasure to meet the other young boaters Jim (aka Heffalump) and Dan (dhutch). Bones had organised for us all to have curries or stew, and these duly arrived for all 40+ people, amid some level of confusion!

We had to leave relatively early, in order to get back to the Fenland wastes, and the Moomins kindly dropped us back at Cambridge station so that we could get the 11pm train home. All in all a wonderful day out, and just what we needed. James in particular needed cheering up after finding that his PGCE application was not sucessful. He is still planning to train to be a teacher, however, and there are a couple of other routes that he could take, so all is not lost.


Last night we visited our friends aboard nb Rowanberry, one of the nighbouring boats on our mooring. Andreas had taken on the challenge of cooking the gigantic marrow that had been grown on the mooring allotment, and sat in the shed for quite a while. No-one had dared attempt it. UNTIL NOW. He stuffed it with mince, chillies, peppers and other flavoursome things, and as it was so big, invited us all to share it. It was quite delicious!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Home again

Lyra enjoying being let out for a bit in Jubilee Gardens, by the Jesus Lock visitor moorings, just before we set off for home.

We stayed in town until Saturday afternoon in the end. I was particularly glad of this, as I had to meet at the boathouse at 7:15 for a race on Saturday morning. And then another one at 10:15... So by the time we were ready to set off I was quite knackered, and let James do most of the work! The race was still going on when we left (there were five divisions planned!) and we had hoped that they would let us through between divisions. We had arrived in plenty of time to follow the rowing boats up past the start to Baits Bite Lock, but the race organisers weren't having any of it (despite letting a boat through in the opposite direction). But we made the most of the wait to head to Tescos, so all was not lost. However, having to wait til all the racing was finished meant that we arrived home in the dark and the rain.

After lighting the fire, we went over to see the Pippins, and the boys cooked a nice dinner of chicken and rice, and we caught up with each other's news. It was a most enjoyable evening.

Unfortunately, despite being home, and there being a stiff wind still blowing, we can't yet use our wind generator. The engineer who RCR contracted to sort out our electrical problems disconnected the batteries from the regulator without stopping the turbine from spinning. Result: fried regulator, which has now been sent back to Marlec for repair. The foolish engineer will be getting a bill for the cost. Grr.

In happier news, we are going to Thrupp next weekend for a jolly boaters get together (organised by Bones) with several of the bloggers and contributers to CWDF. We are looking forwards to seeing old friends, and hopefully to making some new ones!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Blowing a Hoolie!

Having arrived in Cambridge on Sunday night to watch Dr Who, and moved to the other visitor moorings on Tuesday night, we were planning to move back home last night. But the winds were so strong that we felt trying to navigate would be somewhat foolhardy. James called up the Conservators to ask for advice and they said that they were happy to let us stay and wait for the winds to die down.

It looks pretty tranquil in this photo, but it is quite sheltered here, compared to elsewhere!

So, here we are, still, next to the Georgina, enjoying the pleasures of being moored up in town. We do miss home a bit though, and Lyra is itching for a proper run about. I have let her out, but the novelty of the location is a bit much for her, and she tends to just sit there next to the boat, ears and eyes everywhere, watching and listening, and generally looking a bit overwhelmed by it all!

James' lovely new wiring (not completely finished - the battery - positive busbar and battery - negative busbar leads need to be replaced with a thicker one like the short thick cable). He has been working on it in bits and pieces since March, but his PGCE interview got in the way a little bit so he only finished it very recently)

Monday, 16 November 2009

Dr Who Cruise

Last night there was a special episode of Dr Who on TV. Exciting stuff,a nd important not to miss. The Kestrels also wanted to watch it (like us they are big Dr Who fans) but they don't have an aerial for their TV. So they called and asked, could we detatch ours and bring it in? But of course, we said, although at the time we were not on the boat so couldn't check if it was easily detatchable. We got home, and realised that it was not going to be simple to take it off. So, the obvious thing to do was to bring the aerial in to Cambridge while still attached to the boat! With our lovely new cooling system and prop shaft, this was not an issue. So in we came, arriving just after dark. Lyra is getting better and better at coping with the engine's movement and noise, party because due to a fuse blowing in our charger, we've had to charge the batteries with the engine a bit recently. She even ate her dinner while we were on the move, which is unknown for her, and sat on my lap while I waited for the kettle to boil. The Kestrels brought their TV over (its larger than ours) we plugged it into the signal booster, and so we had everything we needed.

The episode was great fun, clever and a little bit scary. We're looking forward to the Christmas one already!

After Dr Who we retired to Kestrel to play a couple of games of Settlers, and drink Horlicks. Mmm.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Because we CAN!

Yesterday evening, we embarked upon what was probably our first care-free cruise, undertaken simply because we wanted to do it!

We cruised into Cambridge as dusk fell, and moored up outside the Fort St George, next to Pippin, who is also in town.

Waking to the splash-thump of rowing boats in the morning, oh! how we've missed it! (you can't see it in this photo, but there's another VIII between the City IV and Pippin!)

The purpose of our visit: to see the annual firework display on Midsummer Common. All narrowboats have to move from the part of the river edging theCommon, and so for one night only, breasting up is allowed tolerated. We and the Pippins are taking advantage of this, to moor next to Kestrel and Innocenti respectively. There will be a party on the boats/towpath and we will be watching the fireworks from the roofs of the boats!

In other news, James has an interview for the Cambridge Secondary History PGCE next week. Fingers crossed it goes well.

Monday, 2 November 2009

A Terrible Blow

Yesterday was quite a long day hence the lack of blog!

We awoke with the dawn again, and got up ready for the 7:30 tide out of Salters Lode. The tidal passage went smoothly, so we were through Denver by 8, and onto the last leg of our journey. Unfortunately the weather was abysmal! A strong headwind plus driving rain made standing at the tiller somewhat uncomfortable. We wrapped up warm, with several hats each, as well as raincoats and cap to keep the rain out of our eyes and took turns at the tiller. The readjusted rudder/tiller gear made the actual steering a lot easier though, which was fortunate since the wind made it very difficult to keep a good line away from the banks. Many times we found ourselves crabbing along (moving along at an angle) but I think we both enjoyed the challenge that the wind brought to the otherwise tedious stretch of river betwen Denver and Ely.

Once we reached Ely we decided to moor up and go in search of the CHIPS which had eluded us the day before in Upwell. We headed to Alan's Fish Bar, where we found the aforementioned CHIPS as well as a Saveloy for James and a battered slice of Rock Eel for me. It was very tasty and much welcome.

Back on the Duck, and full of CHIPS, we started up the engine and set off for the final leg, back to the mooring. The wind did not let up, but the skies cleared and we found ourselves needing sunglasses to steer! Once home, we tidied up a bit, said hello to the only resident who was about (Tom Kitten) before heading into Cambridge to pick up our much-missed Lyracat. She has been enjoying a holiday on dry land, and was as sad to leave her new friends as they were to see her go! Again she hated the taxi ride home but soon settled in. We had a nice evening catching up with the neighbours before an early night.

Not a happy Lyra

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Homeward Bound

Well! Today has again been crazy. Luckily we managed to recharge our batteries, over the past few days, by relaxing at Amy's family home with reading, a bit of DVD watching, and plenty of sleep.

Today we had to get from Exeter to March, pick up the boat, and get it through Marmont Priory lock before it got dark at 5pm and the lock being shut. We planned to do as much of the journey as possible in daylight, because night navigation on the Middle Level is very much verboten and frowned upon, not to mention hairy with low bridges.

Our alarm went off at 6am, and we caught the train at 7.50. After a few quick changes, we arrived at the boatyard by 12.30, filled up with 30 litres of diesel and set off.

What a change! The engine sounds utterly different, with a dry exhaust. The rudder was much more solid with no play or waggle- it was like a completely different boat!

A bit of complicated reversing out of the marina, without touching any of the moored boats, set us on our way. Once out of March and on deeper water, we made good time, arriving at the lock at 3.15, although we had to help the lockkeepers reset it after a previous boat. Arriving in Upwell at 4, we attempted to get some CHIPS as sustenence, but no-where open did any so we headed off, arriving at Salter's Lode at just after six pm. Many times I had to use a burst of reverse to clear the prop, which often clogged with weeds and leaves. We would have had to flush the intake at least eight or nine times, I reckoon, were it not for our new skin tank!

We plan on getting the 7am tide tomorrow morning to Denver, and arriving back in Waterbeach at four pm or so, in a long Kestrel-style day!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Ducks: All at Sea

The past few days have been spent at my mum's house, eating, resting, and being generally spoiled! Electricity just magically comes out at the walls all the time, and showers can be uncharacteristically long and indulgent.

However, today we embarked upon a very different kind of boating adventure! My dad owns a 26ft sea-going trimaran, Diva. And while we have been known to mock GRP boats, this one is different because it has the redeeming feature of being a sailing boat. Yes, it has an outboard, but it's only used when sailing is impractical, so we approve!

We had been aboard Diva before, but only while on its winter mooring. Today the conditions were perfect for trip round the bay. We hopped in the little rubber fender at Starcross Yacht Club on the Exe estuary and headed out to her mooring buoy. This is a photo of the same class of boat: a Telstar 26, but its not my dad's boat. I couldn't get a picture while she was under sail, for obvious reasons, so this will have to do.


The Exe Estuary runs north-south and the wind was a southerly so we motored out rather than trying to beat down the channel. Once out past Exmoth an into sea, we turned the engine off. The wind was very light, but we were able to get a little way out into the bay, towards Teignmouth and Dawlish. Our useful friend, George, aka the autopilot, was manning the tiller, leaving us to set the sails (main and genoa), drink lots of tea and enjoy the freedom of being at sea. There was a slight swell, but since we weren't going fast, it felt kind of 'sloppy', meaning that James started feeling a little seasick. So after an hour or so, we headed back for the channel and home, running before the wind. This time, with the wind mostly behind us, we were able to sail all the way up the estuary. The trimaran has a shallow draft, and it was high water, so we took a short cut across the sand-bank. The depth meter showed that we were only in about 0.8m of water at one point, but we made it with grounding at all, and soon our mooring was in sight. My dad headed the boat into the wind, James hooked the grab buoy, and I shacked the mooring line on, all in one swift series of movements, and all without the need for the outboard to position it. Very neat!

Me, George, and my dad

We headed back to land for a mug of hot chocolate in the club house. James had felt less ill as soon as we were in the shelter of the estuary, and it had been a thoroughly enjoyable cruise, but we were glad to get safely back to dry land all the same! We're not used to boats actually moving round such that using the 'heads' is a challenge. Now we have been back home for hours, but Jame is still complaining that he's not got his land-legs back!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Duck Out of Water

This morning, at about half-past eight, the Duck went up the slipway at Fox's. We were very impressed with the efficiency of the guys at the boatyard- they arrived and went straight down to it, helped us move the boat back over the trolley, and then slowly and smoothly up the boat went. More photos to follow... We went through the list of stuff to do, and departed, leaving the Duck in their capable hands- and, before we'd even left the yard, they were sweating over the prop, having a go at removing it.
They certainly don't hang about!
We're currently in the public library in March, waiting for our train at 1pm to Peterborough, then trains to King's Cross and finally Exeter St. Davids, arriving in the early evening.
The week could see an altogether different kind of boating, because if conditions are right, we might go to sea on Amy's Dad's trimaran. Exciting stuff- and far less boring than the Middle Level!

Sunday, 25 October 2009


We've made it to March! Awoke early, dismantled the cratch and roof
furniture, and set off for the 10am tide. A very strong wind, however,
was holding back the incoming tide so we entered the lock at 10.30,
and headed out onto the tidal bit down to Salter's Lode.

The wind meant turning early, but I misjudged slightly and ended up
gently sliding onto a sandbank. I had been travelling slowly and
cautiously, and so managed to reverse off easily and made a neat turn
into the lock without touching the sides, the guide rails or the tyre

But I still win my fiver back from James on Kestrel, because I got
0/10 because of the sandbank encounter.

After the lock, we made our way onto the blustery middle level.
Interesting for 30 minutes or so, we both soon wished ourselves
further along in Outwell.

We made it to the twin villages of Upwell and Outwell, but after a
burst astern to clear some leaves from the prop, I noticed a
high-pitched squeal, so stopped to investigate. The R&D clamp had come
loose, but 10 minutes with a spanner and socket set- plus the 2 foot
long torque wrench given to me by my granddad- did the bolts up tight

The very strong headwind made for slow progress, but by 3.30 we made
the outskirts of March, and eventually entered Fox's Marina and

Currently, we're having some celebratory CHIPS in a local greasy
takeaway- and they taste great! Right, must finish my share before Amy
eats them all!

Sent from my mobile device

To Denver

After work on Friday, we met at Ely for the next leg of our journey, the Boring Bit, aka Queen Adelaide straight. I have entirely unintentionally of course, not done this exceedingly dull stretch of river since we first arrived on the Ouse last September. The three times that the Duck has travelled it in recent times, James has been single-handing. So I was actually quite interersted in doing this bit, however dull. James went into the cabin for most of it, leaving me on the stern, and I actually enjoyed it at first, but it soon got tedious. Luckily he came back to the stern bearing tea at this point, which was most welcome!

We arrived in Littleport just after night had fallen. Lyra wanted to stretch her legs, clearly, as she hopped onto dry land before we'd even moored up properly! With no 12v lights however, we decided to have a meal out, and celebrate the fact that we were moving again. We found a lovely Indian restaurant called Indian Garden, and enjoyed a really rather good meal for a reasonable price.

This morning, our first task was to drop Lyra off at the friend's house where she will be staying the week. A train ride, follwed by a taxi journey proved to be a short but traumatic experience for her, but once out of the cat basket she soon settled down. We are sure that she will enjoy spending a week in an actual house and will no doubt be writing about her experiences in due course!

After a rowing outing for James and some chores for me, we got a lift back out to Waterbeach where we caught the train to Littleport to resume the journey. It was a lovely cruise, with a beautiful looming sky that broke into a short sharp shower before a rainbow appeared and transformed it into a flawlessly blue fenland sky. A kingfisher followed us for a little while flashing in the unexpected sunlight.

We arrived at Denver Sluice, the gateway to the sea and the Middle Level, while it was still light enough to go for a recconnaisance walk. The entrance from the tidal Ouse into Salter's Lode and onto the Middle Level is famously difficult and James wanted to remid himself of the angles needed for entry.

This evening we used the generator to provide light and are enjoying a quiet evening, waiting for the 10am tide(and yes we know the clock change tonight!) and the excitements of tomorrow. NB Kestrel's James has made a bet with James that rides on the score awarded by the lock keeper at Salter's Lode for his entry from the river!

Thursday, 22 October 2009


This week has been a real mixture, of both stress and relief. We joined RCR on Monday morning, and arranged for one of their contracted engineers to visit us that afternoon. Unfortunately, the Duck's wiring was- in his opinion- in a pretty poor state, and he wasn't able to make a completely safe and reliable repair under the terms of his RCR contract, which like the AA will get you going again but not do too much work.
We arranged for him to return on Tuesday, but he had a sinking boat to attend to so came briefly on Wednesday and today. We've had to disconnect the domestic supply as the wiring had an earth leak somewhere and it was causing the ignition to fail.
But we got the engine started, albeit with no instrumentation, and Amy and I set off for Ely at 3.30. We stopped after Bottisham Lock to flush the intake, but couldn't start the engine again. The solenoid would fire, but the engine wouldn't turn over. I turned it reasonably easily with an adjustable spanner, so reckoned the problem was not mechanical, but electrical.
It turns out that the starter battery is more useful currently for ballast than engine starting. We tried wiring in one of the domestic batteries, which are dual purpose, and it started first time. Relief!
Thinking about it, the starter battery has probably always been a bit naff; in the past, due to the selector switch being faulty, it has always had the leisure batteries to back it up; on its own today, for pretty much the first time, it showed its weakness.
The engine eagerly turned over on one of the elecsols, and we had a pleasant cruise into Ely, arriving at a quarter past six.
Moving at last!
So, for now, I have put one of the old leisure batteries in the well deck next to the water pump- because we do need to flush the intake- and I've put the inverter back onto the batteries so we can use the 240v lights as the 12v have no power.
Another job to put on the list for March to look at; and so there may be 12v rewiring when we return to Cambridge.
Lyra, by the way, is very confused that her home was moving. She sat on the engine cover at our feet, yowled a bit to indicate her displeasure at us having the temerity to make her home rattle, shake and move, but she soon settled down.
Where are we?

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Time's onward March

This week is going to be an eventful one. The Duck is booked onto the slipway at 8am on Monday 26th; we have to get from here to March before then, with the added complications of working every day, three rowing outings, and getting Lyra to our land-dwelling friends who have arranged to cat-sit for the week.

Then we've got to hand over a list of work to Fox narrowboats, and depart to Devon by train for the week, as we can't stay on the boat whilst it's on the slipway. This is going to be a much needed holiday in the half-term week, and we've saved up what would have been an impossible amount to achieve when we were cruising last year to get the boat fixed, and ensure trouble-free cruising.

It's a little like the Spanish Inquisition sketch by Monty Python: "NOBODY knows the amount of work we're having done! Our main problem is the cooling system and prop-shaft... our TWO problems are cooling system, prop-shaft, and engine bearers.. our THREE main problems are cooling system, prop-shaft, engine bearers, and engine alignments... our FOUR- no, AMONGST our problems are such diverse elements as...."

But the first handicap is getting the boat to March in the first place. We plan to leave on Wednesday night, going up to Ely where we will spend the rest of the week, commuting in and out by train (and possibly doubling back to Little Thetford, or on to Queen Adelaide moorings, as that's more than the permitted 48 hours), before dropping Lyra off on Saturday morning, and heading up to Denver for the 10am tide on Sunday, and then travelling from Salter's Lode (with a £5 bet riding on the score I achieve steering the boat in...) to March on the Sunday, and celebrating with CHIPS in the evening, before having the boat hauled out on Monday. If their winch and tractors can cope with Kestrel and Pippin, the much-smallerDuck should be no problem- although Amy's collection of handbags and shoes makes the Duck much heavier than it looks...

Today, however, I tried turning the engine over to check it worked. I'm glad I did, because- having worked on the electrics several times since last moving the boat, changing all the batteries, and generally playing around, I can't get the engine to start. I'm sure it's an electrical problem, because there's only 0.24 volts showing at the ignition switch, on the alternator warning bulb and the oil pressure warning bulb, and the oil-pressure warning buzzer isn't sounding. The starter battery is, by the way, nearly fully charged- that was the first thing I checked!

I spent a good hour with the multimeter checking the ignition system out, but I can now hold my hands up and say it's beyond my competence to deal with it. I could take the whole system to bits, but I'm not sure I could put it back together again reliably enough to make it work!

Rather than calling in favours from friends and family, as we have in the past, we've decided to dip into the savings a little bit and join River and Canal Rescue, and call out an engineer to have a look. Big John on Pippin, Andrew Denny on Granny Buttons, and several other bloggers have nothing but praise for the organisation. We've got a very busy schedule this week, and so have decided that- although this is expensive- it's not as expensive as I had thought, being £150 for the timeframe and immediacy that we need, plus it should also give us great peace of mind in future.

This is the crux, really. We have to get the boat to March, at all costs, else we'll lose the slipway booking, and upset all these plans. In the short term, RCR's guarantee of help or a tow is just what we need. Plus, it means that, in future, if anything serious or minor goes wrong there's going to be massively experienced help only a phone call away, which is immensely reassuring! Combined with the repairs March are carrying out, it should help us enjoy stress-free cruising, compared to what we have had before, and so I will feel comfortable enough to take the Duck to Bill Fen, around the Middle Level, and ultimately onto the canals next summer for a holiday- something we've not really been able to consider yet.

We'll be able to use the Duck as a boat again, to cruise into Cambridge when we like, or up to Ely or further afield, with no worries. At the moment, she's a static houseboat- but, soon, that will all change.

And I'm certainly looking forwards to it!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Small is beautiful!

So, it was my 24th birthday yesterday (himself was going to blog about this but was "too busy"). It sort of crept up on me without me noticing to be honest, and since we both spent the evening rowing, yesterday wasn't really the day to celebrate it.

I've asked James to save the money for our imminent boat-fixing appointment in March, and my family are giving me their presents when I see them, so i wasn't expecting much yesterday. But I got lots of lovely cards. Thanks Ken and Marion, Pat, Kevin and Jill , Gran-Gran, Mummy, Ian and Millie, Daddy and Karen.

An exciting parcel containing a Settlers game arrived from Kevin and Jill (thanks!), and my boss co-incidentally chose yesterday to fulful his promise to give me a foldie bike on permanent loan, which was most unexpected and great fun, so that felt like a birthday present too (even though it wasn't really).

After work I enjoyed trundling into town on my new foldie and then went rowing. James coxes an Thursdays so I though I might as well! It was good fun and I ended up stroking the IV! Tonight we are having a nice meal in together, and then on Saturday I am sharing a fancy-dress party with a rowing friend, for which the theme is 'Flying'. Hopefully I'll arrange another birthday teaparty with non-rowing friends on Sunday too!

Its even got the word Yachting written on the side!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

De-fuse-ing the situation

Wednesday was, for me, a day off due to it being a training day at work. Apparently, I require no training, and so resolved to work on the boat instead.

So I decided to sort out the coolie hat- no, sorry, the "Chinese Rain Hat" (to use the PC term)- and mount it on brackets on top of the chimney, to keep the rain out.

The coolie hat itself was a gift from Big John, who had in turn been given it by John III on Monty. Confused as to all the Johns? Me too.

Either way, it is brass and shiny, and will polish up a treat. The first task was to make the three supports, which will attach onto the bolts holding the outer and inner skins of the chimney together, so I used a piece of flat steel bar I had bought from Mackays yesterday, and cut each support to length before drilling the holes for the bolts in the chimney, and the bolts in the hat itself, and then finally bending them to shape in Big John's Workmate.

The final mounting looks OK, but I think I'm going to drill another set of holes further up the supports so the cover will sit lower; the gap is a little big at the moment, and it hasn't completely passed the aesthetic review by Amy, so it will need fettling at some point in the future.

The next job was to replace the fuseboard for the 12v supply, which powers all the lights, pumps, and the domestic electrics. This job took all afternoon, interrupted for a spectacular lunch with John.

The old fuseboard took "Continental" fuses, and was extremely corroded. Getting the old one out was simple- snip the "busbar", which was in reality a tiny little wire soldered to all the contacts, and unscrew it from the plastic box housing.

The corrosion and the age of the fitting meant that it was becoming unreliable. Having lost power to the lights four times on Tuesday night- once when Amy was in the shower!- this job was bumped up the list of things to do.

I had bought two fuseholders (each holds four fuses, and I needed six) from a local motor factor, for something like 15% of the price of a "proper" Vetus unit! Yes, these ones might not be as neat looking, or as splashproof, but they will do adequately, I think.

Mouning the fuseholders was easy, but supplying the six positive terminals from one power feed was going to be interesting! I was tempted to use a chocolate block and many wires, going one to the next, but came up with a far neater- and probably quicker- solution.

I took a thick copper cable, that had previously joined two batteries together, and stripped off all the insulation leaving a core of copper wires. I twisted them and made branches off by each terminal for the fuses, and then bound the whole thing in insulation tape for safety and to hold it together, and crimped on the terminals with my new ratchetting crimper tool, bought from Mackays yesterday.

I connected up the power feed, and then spent nearly an hour fiddling about trying to reconnect the feeds to the 12v supplies. It was frustrating, but I managed it in the end.

I attatched the lid, tidied away all the cables, and finally sat down for dinner and an (I think) well deserved cuppa.

Long-term plans include changing the short piece of cable between the master switch and the fuseboard for something a little heftier, as the exisiting cable (the brown one entering the white fusebox on the right hand side in the photos above) is a little small, and so the lights tend to flicker whenever a high-current demand, like the water pump or the inverter, is used- which is annoying when showering, as the lights dim and brighten in time with the cycles of the water pump! But it is still slightly better with the improvements I made, there's just a little more to go.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Kids of Today

Or, rather, Kittens- have no respect for their elders and betters.

It turns out that Big-Loud-Human and Springy-Curly-Hair-Human on the Oddly-Wide-Blue-Boat that moors next to the Warm-Home-Place boat has had the temerity- no, the pawdaciousness!- to invite a little ginger catkinkitten into their lives. I espied him last week through the windows of Oddly-Wide-Blue-Boat, and gave him a haughty stare- he must Know His Place.

But it turns out that he hasn't learned yet that kittens must be Seen And Not Heard, because two days ago, I was strolling down the bank quite happily inspecting my territory, and keeping an eye on the White-Hissy-Flappy-Things, when this little bundle of ginger fluff turns up out of the blue (literally) and wants to gambol and play and exercise.

Well! The cheek of it! He'd barely introduced himself when he started stalking my tail, and forced me to chase him around a bush. I saw him again today, and he hadn't learned a thing. Despite my giving him a Very Hard Stare, he decided to jump into my Warm-Home-Place-Boat, and I had to chase him off. He kept doing it all afternoon, and running round and around toolboxes and bags on the bank.

I give up, I really do- but- keep this to yourself- it was a little bit fun. I just couldn't show the Humans that, and break my facade of lazy indifference. I spend ages perfecting my act- despite them poking me and saying I'm getting fat, and need to get more exercise, pah! It's not fat, it's insulation for the harsh winter!- and then this little kitten goes and forces me to drop it, and the Humans see that, after all, I quite like playing and chasing.

And I have heard rumours of a tiny, one-month-old kitten on New-Arrived-Under-Tree boat, who is black all over- a far more sensible colour, but still not at all as good as my own brindlecoat- which will mean another youngster who will need keeping in line, and who will need to be Kept In Their Proper Places!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Ex Libris

Three years ago, Cambridge Central Library closed its door to the public, and promised to be open again as soon as possible. I was a student then, with little time for reading books other than for my course so I barely noticed its disappearance. But when James and I moved back to Cambridge, we were sad to note that the library was still closed. Both he and I are avid readers, but James is such a quick, voracious reader, that without a steady supply of new material, he suffers severe withdrawal symptoms! We frequented the library in Ely whenever we were moored there, as well as the poorly stocked library van that parked in the market square two days a week. We even resorted to bookswapping, to try and keep fresh reading matter flowing! But it was not enough, really, and a despondent James read and re-read the books we have on the boat.

So, when the library finally reopened its doors on the 29th September, we were delighted. I kept up with the progress of the refurbishment using the library's twitter feed: @camcentral. It is a huge, hi-tech library, on three floors in the centre of town with automatic check-in and check-out using RF tags on the books. It has wifi, loads of computer terminals, a cheap, tasty cafe and a large collection of books. There is even a film library where you can watch anything from the vast BFI catalogue in booths using headphones. We were very impressed when we visited on Saturday, and will be returning. Frequently!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A Winter's Tale (and a surprise visit)

This weekend we have been preparing for the arrival of colder months. The first job was to fit a liner into our new chimney, so that we could burn all the lovely fuel that we have recently acquired: 200kg of Phurnacite as well as lots of wood. The unlined chimney had been leaking tar and dribbling nasty stains on to the newly painted roof. We could have just bought a new one, but it was very simple to get a steel tube from Mackays and bolt it onto the inside of the chimney, with the tube fitted neatly into the hole in the boat itself. Drilling three holes at 60 degree angles was interesting (they had to be at these positions to fit a coolie hat) - we don't have a protractor or compasses, so we used our kitchen clock to mark the positions for drilling the three holes!

Then we decided to get the winter coats out of the welldeck, prompting a sort-out of everything that we store both under there and in the fore-peak locker. This is how much stuff we had stored:

Note R2D2 helmet that James wore to cox last year's Christmas Head (fancy dress rowing race)

Some of it went back in, some was thrown away, and some will be donated to Emmaus. But it is all much neater now, and easier to get at the important things like coal and the generator.

Today, we were happy to receive a semi-surprise visitor. My younger sister (not the one who visited recently but the other one, Esther) called last night to ask if she could come and visit, so this morning she arrived from London. She has just embarked on a degree in Medicine at St Barts and the London, having spent the last two yeas travelling. I had not actually seen her since sometime last year, when she came over from France for her interview. So it was lovely to see her, and show her the boat. Now all the members of my immediate family have visited! She found the tranquility of our location and the boating lifestyle to be a welcome break from the chaos of Freshers week in the centre of London, and now she is close by I hope we will see a lot more of her!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Taking A Look

Yesterday was the Camboaters Open Boat Day. It is a great event, involving lots of residential boats from the river Cam coming and mooring up together in the basin at Jesus Lock and opening their doors to curious local people. Plenty of people are curious about our way of life and it is fun to chat to them, and let them know that we are not the stereotypical hairy hippie types, but a diverse bunch with very diverse boats.

James chatting to a couple next to Eleanor

Unfortunately we were not able to bring the Duck in, even though we really wanted to, because we wanted to save any remaining strength left in the propeller shaft coupling for our trip to March, and because we were not sure if Lyra would be best pleased. But we were very happy to help out. Several people were giving tours of their boats by themselves (Jeff on Eleanor, Steph on AWOL and Mike on Innocenti), and so James and I were on hand to answer general boaty questions and alleviate some of the pressure. We were also tasked with blowing up helium balloons and tying up bunting. The boats looked wonderfully festive!

Geraniums and strawberries on the roof of Innocenti

I was surprised at the sheer numbers of people who were interested in having a look around the boats. Innocenti alone must have had more than 100 pass through! I think it was very successful in showing people what living afloat is like and improving relations between boaters and the rest of the Cambridge community. The sun shone all day, there was music on the roof of Dutch barge Daya, and there was a distinctly holiday feel to the day. The best comment was from a boy who proclaimed Innocenti to be 'Awesome!'