Saturday, 28 February 2009


This morning, due to a failure to take enough cash out, we ended up moored in the middle of nowhere, with not even the bus fare to get into town. Error. So we cycled into Waterbeach (along 5 miles of the A10 - not fun) where I continued on into town by bike and James caught the train. We were both pretty tired before we even started work this morning!

Our mooring on the Old West at Stretham Old Engine

So when we eventually arrived back in Stretham by bus at 8pm, we were delighted to find a wandering chippie just minutes from the bus stop. Nothing better than hot chips on a cold night!

Friday, 27 February 2009

Venus Rising

No, not this one:

Or even this one (which we nearly bought):

But THIS one:

Venus in conjunction with the young moon. Which is auspicious, or something...

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Here Be Dragons!

Today, we've moved onto uncharted waters for the first time since last September. We took the Duck south to Pope's Corner, and then turned right down the Old West river, not left onto the Cam. It was 7:30 in the evening, as Amy had been at work until late, and so we picked our way down the much smaller river past the line of moored boats, and then under the train line until we reached the Old Engine at Stretham. The moorings themselves are about 1,300 metres from Stretham itself, and unfortunately there's only about 20m of mooring available- which is taken up entirely by two cruisers. It was 8:00 by this point, and windy and inhospitable, so we've moored opposite onto some convenient neatly-piled bank; tomorrow after work, we might move onto the moorings at the Lazy Otter, or wind and head back to the visitor moorings nearer to Pope's Corner.

It is odd, however, being in a completely new place! I've not had that feeling since we passed Ely last summer, as we've stayed on the Cam and the Ouse ever since. We're investigating the visitor moorings along the Old West, because there's a number of larger towns- St. Ives, Huntingdon, and eventually Bedford, which all have good transport links to Cambridge by bus or train. However, we can't get too far because of a stoppage at Hermitage Lock near Earith. For now, Stretham is adventurous enough!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Pannekucken ins kookpannen

In which the Duck goes Dutch, dank u wel, for pancake day. Or Pannekuchen Dag as it might be known...

Today we decided to have pancakes... with a twist. Rather than just make sweet pancakes with sugar or honey, we decided to try the Dutch savoury version for starters, followed by sweet ones for pudding.

So we fried chopped bacon and added that to the mix as it cooked, and then poured over honey and sugar just before serving.

The idea came mostly from Amy's Dutch friend Hanne, who introduced savoury pancakes to her a few years ago, which then led us to our now favourite London restaurant- My Old Dutch- which serves big, big, BIG Dutch pancakes. They have pans about two foot wide, and plates that are equally large, and a wide selection of sweet and savoury pancakes.

Our own ones weren't quite as large, but they were very, very nice!

(I think my Dutch grammar is wrong in the title, though...)

(An early attempt, that wasn't quite as good...)

Sunday, 22 February 2009


Today was my first race in a rowing Eight. It was a bit of a milestone for me and went well enough - I didn't do anything monumentally stupid, and identified some issues that I need to work on. But it was also good fun to experience a 2.6k head race, having watch James cox so many. Yesterday I had also gone out on the river, at 8am, despite having been rather ill the previous night, but I was glad that I made it - it was useful to have the practice the day before the race and the outing wouldn't have happened if I'd not turned up!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Pippin Soup for the Soul

Big John kindly dropped over for a reciprocal cup of tea last night- and gave us some fabulous home-made chicken soup, made from stock and some weapons-grade chilli and wine-based Secret Ingredients.

It was utterly, utterly fantastic- thanks John!

Weapon of Mess Destruction

The Duck with a curiously elongated fender at Ely waterpoint.

After waking up to a mist-covered Fidwell Fen, we had our first cup of tea and then set off towards Ely with Emma singlehanding Kestrel behind, as James had the misfortune of having to go to work. Well, someone has to keep Jess in the dog-biscuit-filled style to which she has become accustomed.

The sun came out, although still cold. Amy was steering, and so I provided tea and entertainment. After passing Pope's Corner (and seeing several kingfishers!) and approaching Little Thetford moorings, we noticed that Emma behind us had slowed right down and looked like she was mooring.

What was wrong? Had her injured shoulder given up? Had their engine broken? Had Jess fallen in? We winded and headed back at top speed. Turns out she just needed the loo. Oh well.

After setting off again, we soon saw the octagonal lantern of Ely cathedral rising mysteriously out of the mist. We moved through town and breasted up at the water point, where the various tanks were filled and emptied. I made tea and we headed off when some other boaters approached- unfortunately we missed the bridgestrike incident, but managed to moor up on the visitor versions nearest to the station.

A trip to Tesco let us provision ourselves with the essentials (bagels, milk, biscuits, and cereal- along with some other less tasty things) before we headed into town to look for a mop for the Duck's muddy floor. After searching high and low- literally, because Ely is built on a hill!- we finally found one to our liking, and looked for a new siphon pump to replace our old one which gave up the ghost when confronted with excessive amounts of engine oil in the bilges.

We met Big John on ABTCBNICTWFO and after a pleasant cuppa we went back into Cambridge by car for Paul, the Queen's College Boatman's, birthday party at the Fort St. George. A good time was had by all, and we returned to the boat happy- until 1am, when Amy had to get up as she was feeling rather unwell. Might have been something she ate- but it wasn't my cooking, I hasten to add!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Convoy DK17

James on Kestrel fancied a change of scene, so planned a short weekend cruise. We tagged along too, just to get off the Cam and do some exploring.

Before that, I spent all of Thursday cleaning the engine and the bilges, and doing an engine service, changing the oil and diesel filters. Whilst it wasn't quite at the stage of Brasso-ing it up to make it shiny, it looked a great deal better. I also identified an oil leak, around the seal on the cover over the cylinder head, which will need a new seal to stop the leak and hopefully help keep things cleaner.

On Thursday night, we slipped our moorings and went to the water point, before going back to the Fort St. George to pick up the mooring pins I'd forgotten to pull out. Oops.

After that, we moved together up the Cam to Baits Bite lock. We had purchased some stick-on battery powered LED lights in B&Q, and they are actually bright enough to use as navigation lights, so I'm going to get some coloured gels from the theatre and make them red and green. One made a very good stern light for the journey, and after passing a small amount of rowing traffic, we entered into the lock. James and I had a good chat, Jess tried to jump between the boats but was forcibly restrained, and Amy and Emma locked us through.

The next stretch was faster, with no moored boats, and we were soon at Bottisham lock. Both locks had been in our favour, which was quite unusual. The river becomes a bit bendy and the landscape extremely fenny after Bottisham, and so Amy went below to cook a fantastic dinner and I steered us on. We had cheesy mash and brilliant sausages with onions caramelised in muscovado sugar. It was utterly, utterly fantastic. Amy had also cut it all up into bite-sized chunks, so it could be eaten at the tiller. That really relieved the tedium, and just after finishing the last mouthful, we passed Fidwell Fen visitor moorings, which are at Upware but on the other side of the river. Emma called out a warning about the thick silty mud which had been deposited, two inches thick, on the landing stage. We carried on to Upware and moored temporarily on the pub moorings to pick up the post, before heading over to Fidwell Fen moorings. Unfortunately I mucked up the approach to the mooring- Bong! "Woof woof woof!" "Oi!"We floundered into the thick mud and managed to moor without too many problems, before heading over to Kestrel for tea.

There was a strict "boots off before coming in" policy in operation, and soon Jess decided that it was bed time, so we trooped off back, setting several alarms to ensure that we got up in time the next morning!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Politically Incorrect Pudding

Today I finally made James his Valentines cake. He decided to cox all of the day itself, so I delayed my cake making! I made him a dish of the delcious but unfortunately named 'Brown Betty' which I used to make with my grandma as a child. She, in turn, used to make it with her grandma in Timaru, New Zealand, in the 1940s. A few weeks ago I had a sudden recollection of how delightful it was, and wrote to her to ask for the recipe.

Its very simple and involves floating blobs of chocolatey cake mixture in a sugar syrup, then baking it. Dark brown muscovado sugar is essential to give it the right taste.

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup water
for 1-2 minutes. Set aside.

Beat in a bowl
  • 2 oz butter (softened)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates and walnuts
Pour hot syrup into dish and drop mixture in large spoonfuls.
Bake for half an hour at Gas Mark 4

Friday, 13 February 2009

Sterling is red, insulation tape's blue...

... and I bought it and wired it, especially for you.

No, I haven't forgotten St. Consumerism's Day. I just thought I'd be unconventional in my choice of present for Amy.

A dozen red roses? Serenading from a balcony? Romantic evening punting? Cuddly toys and a £3.99 card?


A Sterling ProCharge 20A charger! I bought it online (saving something in the region of £100 under what I'd budgeted) and tonight I installed it in the Magic Cupboard where the elec-tricks hide and cause problems. There was a lot of deliberation over the size and cost of charger to get. I wanted a 50 amp charger, but the generator hasn't got the guts for any charger that needsmore than 500 watts.

Annoyingly, the wattage of a charger is never advertised, seemingly. They'll tell you about the wonderful digital controller systems, the temperature compensation probes, the this, that, and the other, and give you pages of technical details- but never the one figure that you really, really needed. I ended up phoning up various companies and, in the end, plumped for the Sterling unit.

Be warned, though, it doesn't comewith battery cables, and you have to link any unused outputs together which is fiddly but possible. Just out of shot is the 35A fuse and fuseholder in the positive battery lead- so as not to damage the batteries if things go wrong.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Kestrel and the Blue Boat

It's often joked that Jess on Kestrel isn't just barking at rowers, she's actually coaching them.

Today, the Blue Boat (the ones who race in the Boat Race) had a naming ceremony for a new boat, called, appropriately enough, "The 800th". They took their lovely shiny brand-new Empacher out on to the flood, having waded through ice-cold water up to their thighs. (Cox Rebecca Dowbiggin got a piggy back from her strokeman- I don't think James would ever consent to carry me into the boat if flooded!)

So whilst they paused by Kestrel and turned around, they got the benefit of Jess' expert coaching whilst they were swept relentlessly downstream by the fast flow.

Good practice for the Tideway...

"Sprightly Young Things...

...who can leap like gazelles"

That's us, according to Bones, in her latest column. She's found getting into her new, higher-level bed, modelled on ours, as being harder than she anticipated. I'll admit that we use the ladder under the sidehatch, but being metal it's usually freezing cold. Brrrr!

In which the Duck is entirely surrounded by water

This was the sight that greeted us this morning. The river level had risen overnight and we are now entirely surrounded.

The ladder and gangplank are getting a good use, and at the moment are just about long enough- otherwise it's wet feet time! The wellies are, annoyingly, tucked away in the welldeck storage and it will require a mission to retrieve them if the level rises any further.

Other than that, we're safe and happy. We've got our floodpoles in between the boat and the hard bank edge (which is currently under some six inches of water) so that we won't float over onto the land if the level rises further. The ground anchor is in firm dry ground at the front of the boat, and the back is secured to a mooring ring. All the lines are loose so we can rise or fall quite happily. I'd be happier if we were in the centre of town, and not quite so far off the beaten boater track- that way, we might have been able to stay at the pub until nearer closing time, rather than having to walk home early!

But we're coping. Unlike other people, our feet don't get wet when getting on and off- yet.

A few photos of happenings in Cambridge:

A very soggy Combined boathouse

An unlucky, un-attended boat. Looks like it'll need professional salvage.

The floodplain by the new flats doing its job.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Portaloo; or, across England with a Thetford

I swear that, since getting the boat, we've done more weird and wonderful journeys carrying a weird and wonderful assortment of cargo than we ever have before. Not only did we move house by train (see the post at the end of July last year), but we also regularly cart around coal, pallets, gas bottles, hosepipes, boxes, furniture, rucksacks, bags... But the strangest journey of all, and our oddest cargo, must be the one we achieved last weekend.

We had Christmas 2.0 with Amy's family. Yes, I know it's February. But we had a white Christmas, after arriving on Saturday, with a full Christmas dinner (cooked wonderfully by Amy) with turkey, cranberry sauce, and most importantly of all a surfeit of stuffing. Crackers and silly hats followed, and we had an amazing time.

However the journey home proved to be interesting. The present from Amy's dad was a nice sparkling white almost-new PortaPotti. Our current convenience is a beigey-brown model, which always contrives to look filthy. And the flush is broken, too, and it needs new O-rings. But the New, Improved model is sparklingly clean-looking and altogether newer.

But there was a problem. We were in Devon with the PortaPotti, and the boat was the other side of the country. To get it back, we had to lug the thing back to Paddington station on a possibly crowded train, take the tube, and then get it back to Cambridge. And then get a bus from the station.

I'm not sure what people thought of the two young people, snugged up against the cold in a multitude of hats, scarves, and gloves, carrying a white shining toilet in a bright orange bag between them. I doubt it was very complimentary.

And, of course there was the toilet humour the whole way home. "Oh, we're just going through Great Portaloo Street", "Arriving at Waterloo station", and all the rest...

But we made it. You couldn't do that with a Pump-out loo, could you!

We did see this dog, and another, which was a dead ringer for the cute mutt on the underground that prompted Amy to start blogging in the first place.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Strong Stream Advice has been issued for the River Cam

...although it's not got to the stage of reversing locks yet (an operation on the Nene and Ouse, where the EA chain open both sets of lock gates in an emergency) the river has risen pretty swiftly. We woke up this morning to peace and quiet- no passing rowing boats. This ought to have been suspicious, until I went to put my foot onto dry land and get off the boat, only to find that the land wasn't as dry as it should have been! We put the floodpoles in and loosened the mooring ropes, and went to work. Amy managed to leave early to check on the boat, so we weren't too worried.

There had been a strong flow yesterday, and we nearly moored up next to Jesus lock. The visitor moorings were full, however, and we moved onto a different mooring, which was good because this was the scene that greeted me when I went back this afternoon:

Big John's boat, Pippin.

Turbulent water- glad we're not moored there...

The sluices were fully open and the river was significantly higher than normal. We've escaped lightly, however, at the mooring where we are because the bank is slightly higher than elsewhere, with a nice solid edge, along with some mooring loops in solid foundations. Other people hadn't been so lucky- their mooring pins became submerged, and as the ground got wetter and wetter, they started to come loose. One narrowboater ended up waking up when travelling sideways downstream and was assisted by some passing rowers, livening up their morning after the rowing was cancelled.

On the way back tonight, I walked along the river and took a few photographs; it looks like I might not be rowing from City of Cambridge boathouse tomorrow! The hard is completely submerged in some places, and has come in under the doors.

So we're sitting tight tonight, with the fire on, and a nice sturdy plank to walk across... ;)

(nb Kestrel's ex-plank)

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Three Hulls Good, One Hull Bad

Yesterday we took the train across the snow blanketed country to Exeter, where I grew up. I've always loved the train journey but ever since getting excited about canals, I've enjoyed it even more. For a fair proportion of the route, the line follows the Kennet and Avon Canal (incidentally, if we ever get kittens, they will be called Kennet and Avon). Iced over in many parts, it looked quite beautiful in the snow. I even managed to photograph it from the train. And the forum on the screen in the first picture? Yes, that's CWDF...

We arrived early afternoon and since the purpose of the trip was to recreate the Christmas we'd not made it to Devon for in December, everything had a festive air. We opened our presents, which included many lovely but small things so that we could transport them! My dad gave us a solar mobile phone charger which, having tested, works excellently. It will be really useful.

After our mini Christmas, we went with my dad to see his Telstar trimeran, now moored on the Exeter canal for the winter. I saw it when he first bought it but it was great to see it afloat, and with the mast up. Of course it was aboard Diva that he had his heart attack, but he is now fully recovered and determined not to let that stop him sailing, so when summer comes around, we'll definitely be returning for a cruise!

There is even a photo of the Duck up in the cabin!

My dad and me:

We returned to the house in order to start cooking Christmas dinner, replete with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and roast potaoes cooked the way James' grandma showed me. We even had crackers! It was thoroughly enjoyable and we all felt very full, but happy.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Dreaming Vaults

of Newnham College Library. It is such a beautiful place to work.

I am currently installed here, carrying out some research into funding for the Masters (leading to PhD) that I may be studying for next year. The only copy held by the University of the book I needed to look at is here at Newnham,and luckily a friend of mine has let me in.