Tuesday, 31 March 2009

That's more like it!

We set off from the Waterbeach moorings at 4:15 today, and as we cruised northwards the weather got steadily better and better. The journey was lovely, and the sun warm. We had the good fortune to arrive at Bottisham lock minutes after another narrowboat, nb Sanderling, who we shared with, speeding things up somewhat. They were on their first excursioin of the year, from their mooring at Hornigsea, by Baits bite.

At the tiller in short sleeves for the first time this year!

After a brief stop at Upware to collect our post, we were on our way again, essentially in convoy with Sanderling and we both moored up on the EA moorings at Little Thetford. We put dinner in the oven and decided to go for a wander in the village while it cooked. It is a strange little place, with no newsagent, pub or garage, but a recumbent bicycle shop, called D.Tek...

The Duck at Little Thetford

Cruising by evening

A huge benefit of the clocks going forward into BST is that we've ended up with much lighter evenings.

As a result, we can move the Duck whilst there's still daylight, which makes things a whole lot more fun- it can become cruising again, enjoying the sights of the river, and not merely a dash between moorings in the dark. On Sunday evening we moved up from outside the Fort St. George towards Clayhithe, after Amy finished work at 5. A small, homemade speedboat behind us provided some comic relief, as we winded on ropes at the Fort and headed off. Unfortunately the very shallow and dirty bottom of the river there stirred up some rubbish into the intake, so we stopped at the new waterpoint by Stourbridge Common to flush it. Springing into action like a well-practiced machine (which we are by now!) we had it clear, and after a stop of slightly under a minute were on our way again.

Going past the Plough pub, we passed nb Hornblower and nb Badger. The former are Cambridge residents, the latter their visiting parents- and now, grandparents, as one of the cabins on Hornblower is turned into a nursery! After some good-natured banter- "Hurry up through Baitsbite, we want to get to Clayhithe today!"- we headed straight into the lock and passed through in record time. Amy closed the bottom gates after us, and hopped on at the landing stage, with the lock already being filled for the family pair behind us.

After Baitsbite, the river becomes deeper (so we can travel faster) and the scenery far more picturesque. A few herons flew majestically by, and we enjoyed the evening sunlight.

Turning the corner towards Clayhithe, we were greeted by the sight of the moorings- completely empty! That's a rare sight indeed, so we moored up right on the end and, as we were cooking dinner, our erstwhile companions slid by to moor up also. Amy watched the "Number One Ladies' Detective Agency" on the TV, I read the Sunday Times, and we went to bed contented and happy.

The propshaft works well- indeed, the oil seal isn't dripping at all now, which it was earlier. I was worried that the plastic R&D flexible coupling would transmit more vibration to the hull than the far more flexible rubber Centaflex that was in previously, but there's no noticeable difference.

Crossing fingers, toes, eyes, and everything else, now- the coupling seems alright, we really really hope it stays that way!

If the rest of the summer's post-work cruising is as relaxing as Sunday's, I shall be happy indeed.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Together at last!

Our engine and propeller that is.

The new split half coupling arrived on Tuesday as promised and once fixed on we spent the limited daylight every evening during the week aligning the engine. There was not quite enough shaft available for the flexible coupling to quite meet the gear box spider so a few washers were required to space it out.

This morning we were finally on the move again and have completed a short trip to test the new coupling.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

New Face of 'City Life'

Wandering through a shop off Cambridge's Mill Road, we came across this little homespun magazine, with - bizarrely - a badly stretched photograph of the Duck on the front page of its March 2009 edition. Ironically for a publication that claims to be 'Your city, your community, your magazine' we had no idea that it even existed, let alone that our home was its cover star!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Getting Connected

Our replacement split half coupling arrrived today, as promised, and the old one collected by the same courier. Happily it fitted perfectly (well, with a little persuasion!) and the task of realigning the engine has begun. In this photo, you can see that the engine still has about an inch still to move stern-wards, bringing the coupling parts together. We moved it most of the way before it got too dark too see well, and had a nice evening, cooking dinner for the Kestrels. We will continue tomorrow evening, and - fingers crossed - be moving again in a few days.

Meanwhile a closer look at the old coupling reveals just how worn the old grub screw holes were, and just how much metal needed to be angle-ground away!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Duck Dive

Yesterday, I arrived back from work and saw a trail of wet foot prints leading towards the boat, and entered the well deck to see a pile of wet clothes and boots on the floor.

A somewhat damp James explained sheepishly that he'd been examining a bollard (as you do...) and had missed the edge of the riverbank. He found himself up to his neck in the Cam and had earned a round of applause from some nearby tourists! The pizzas he'd just bought were also rendered inedible...

Our 'Boating Support Network'

As we have mentioned in previous blog posts (and indeed in our WW article), the one way in which Lucky Duck has always been lucky is that whenever anything goes wrong, we always seem to have the good fortune to be surrounded by people (and their boats) who are more than willing to help us out. A plethora of friends and family with expert knowledge in various fields are also only a phonecall away when disaster strikes!

We had decided to carry out the repairs in Cambridge for this reason, knowing that as well as access to hardware stores we'd also be able to ask our friends and neighbours for advice if needed. There are of course, people willing to help out in Upware, but its a bit further to go if you need to suddenly buy something that no-one can lend. However, it was the arrival in town of a certain blue widebeam that was the most fortuitous event of the last few days' travails. Without the use of their wonderful 6kW generator and John's angle grinding skills, things would have been rather more difficult.


John gets stuck in

We are equally grateful to James of nb Kestrel who got up early on Sunday morning to perform open Duck surgery despite having plenty of jobs on his own boat to attend to.

(big)James triumphant with the mutilated coupling finally removed!

The old coupling finally removed, it was clear that the new one was too big. In the last post, James remonstrated himself for getting it wrong, but he seems to have forgotten that it was not his fault at all. Anyone who knows James will attest that despite best intentions, he is (like all of us) entirely capable of making such a mistake, but not this time! We took the measurement for the prop shaft diameter from a document given to us when we bought the boat, clearly stating that the shaft was 1 1/2 inch. Either way, prior to taking the coupling off, there was no way to check the diameter short of taking the weed hatch off and ruining James' digital calipers by measuring the shaft underwater, because the shaft was entirely obscured by the coupling and stern gear. Even then, there would have been no guarantee that it was the same on the other side of the stern tube!

However, I have been in touch with the chandlery that sent us the R&D coupling, Chandlery World, who were very helpful. In fact, our new 1 1/4 inch split half coupling should be with us tomorrow. Fingers crossed that we'll be on the move soon!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

First Law of Boating- Things always take longer than you think.

The plan was simple- remove the old grub screws from the prop shaft, slide the engine forwards, detach the old flexible coupling, slide in the prop shaft, realign the engine, and bolt together. We planned on having the old coupling off by elevenses, the new one attached by lunchtime, and the engine realigned and ready to go by the evening.

Unfortunately, it was no-way near that simple.

Getting the grub screws out on Saturday morning proved problematic. I ended up buying an allen socket from Mackays, so I could apply more torque. Two came out- and one sheared in half at the top, leaving only a small semi-circle of metal sticking up out of the top.

Molegrips, spanners, G-clamps, swearing, running the engine in forwards then reverse- none would shift this recalcitrant grub screw.

By this point, it was 2pm, and I resorted to drilling it out. James on Kestrel lent me a fantastic De Walt cordless drill and some HSS drillbits, and I set to. Unfortunately, this took all afternoon to drill even a few millimeters into the screw. Even mooring alongside TBWCBNICTWFO (aka wb Pippin) and borrowing John's bigger drill- and power from their 6kw generator- couldn't drill any faster.

So the angle grinder came out.

After several hours work by John, the flexible coupling had a large semi-circle eaten away around the recalcitrant grub screw, and it became looser and looser. And at the moment of triumph, of removing the coupling... I made the rather tedious observation that, actually, ALL of the grub screws had sheared off, and the stubs of the other two were still attaching the coupling to the shaft.

So out came the angle grinder again, John working hard, resulted in significant inroads into the coupling. Retiring to the Fort, where bought a few well-earned rounds for John, led to a good brief chat until closing time, where we staggered home, and to bed.

Sunday morning proved to be just as sunny and nice as Saturday. A text from Emma- "James coming round, put the kettle on"- led us to spring into action. James set to with the angle grinder, assisted by Amy, and I headed off to cox an outing. I'd been of a mind to cancel it, but that proved unnecessary.

At 10am, a shout of triumph announced that the old, mangled coupling was finally free from the propshaft. It has literally been hacked to pieces- no chance of eBaying the remains!

And then the next problem struck. I'd ordered the wrong size clamp to attach onto the shaft! After some choice language and several mental kicks up the backside for stupidity, I set to trying to move the propshaft into the boat, to expose more than the two-inch stub for the coupling to grip onto.

It turns out that there's a bush or something inside the old oil seal that's preventing it from sliding in- annoyingly!

Now, I'm ordering a new clamp, and until then we're immobile at Jesus Lock. Hopefully that should arrive on Monday or Tuesday, so we can get everything sorted out.

Meanwhile, the Duck is, again, a butty with an engine unconnected to the prop.

[Photos to follow when I have the right lead for the camera]

Friday, 20 March 2009

Evening Sun

It's rather nice weather at the moment- or, rather, it was until today. Cruising in shirtsleeves in the last rays of the afternoon's sun has been quite pleasant- although today we awoke to a thick blanket of mist, almost a pea-souper.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

In addition...

I see that James has, even in his multiple blog posts, failed to mention the most exciting event of recent days: this month's Waterway's World came out yesterday and our article is on on p.85!

Our new R&D flexible coupling has also arrived, so that we are all set for this weekend. We have cancelled all our Saturday outings, and can hopefully get it all done in one day. This will mean that even if we don't get a permanent mooring soon, we'll have the confidence to cruise as much as we need to over the summer.

Google Maps

A tranquil(ish) scene on the river- plenty of Virus training sculls about.

Well, I have to agree with James here. Now, on Google's StreetView, you can take a virtual walk around Cambridge- at least, by road. Here is King's College, for example, and a selection of Cambridge views.

Round Turn and...

I do love half hitches, especially the effect you get with a chain of them. It looks quite neat, almost counting as decorative ropework!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Share and Share Alike

It's time for a little cathartic moan, I think.

The subject is mooring. The Cam Conservancy have thoughtfully provided mooring bollards, which are a 1" bar on a couple of uprights, at Clayhithe at the visitor moorings. They are very useful, and certainly much more secure than banging pins into the ground.

However, the problem is that they dictate the number of boats that can moor- and people tend not to moor as close together as they otherwise could.

The rings are 20' or so apart, but when I arrived at Clayhithe last night, there were 5 boats, and none of them were sharing rings. This meant that there were a number of 30' gaps between the boats (because everyone has their lines going back at an angle) which was annoying to say the least; you could have fitted two or three more boats on the moorings if everyone had shared rings and moved up.

As it is, I managed to sneak the Duck into a gap, with about six inches between the stern fender and the bow of the boat behind, and about 2' between our bows and the boat ahead. But if my boat had been longer, I wouldn't have been able to moor at all.

It's human nature to not get too close to other people, I suppose, but I really wish that people would share rings, or move up when boats leave, so that everyone who wants to can moor.

Moan over; normal service to be resumed shortly!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Special Purchases

The Kestrels and ourselves are both very highly enamoured with the Gnome Factory, aka Waterside Antiques in Ely; three floors of "antiques" of varying age, utility and desirability. It's always hard to go in and come out without buying things; from amusing stuffed ferrets to C19th hand tools, to an astonishingly large number of warming pans, the shop has it all- even a manually-powered dentists' drill.

We particularly like the idea of buying things that are meant to be static ornaments, and using them for their original purposes; of going to the antique shop to buy useful everyday things, rather than for ornaments or things that will never really be used . We saw several fantastic old petrol tins a couple of months ago, and thought that rather than just having them standing around looking great, we could actually use them to carry petrol in. We wanted a larger metal jerry can for petrol anyway, so these would be perfect.

Luckily enough, no-one had bought them in the meantime, so we came away with a wonderful Shell Motor Spirit (in red, to match the boat) complete with embossed shell logo and the original price of "3/-" on the top, with embossed writing on the sides. It's got a few dents, but I think they add character- in the same way that old working boats are often very bashed about at the bows!

Amy also apparently loves ironing- and no, before anyone points out the obvious, that isn't the only reason I'm going out with her!- but as we've not got a large battery bank, or a TravelPower 240v alternator, or a big inverter, we can't run a normal steam iron.

So we bought a lovely solid flatiron, which can heat up on the top of the stove and, along with a water spray and a tabletop ironing board, can make my shirts look far less scruffy.

Whilst in Ely, we enjoyed taking afternoon tea (rather, old bean!) with some friends in the award-winning Peacock's Tea Rooms which are conveniently right by the antiques shop on the waterfront. It's all very, very twee, but they have a wonderful selection of tea and homemade cakes- they even have chocolate tea!

Sunday, 15 March 2009

A Cunning Plan...

...but, unlike Baldrick's, hopefully this one will work!

We've resolved to solve the Duck's propshaft woes by replacing the flexible coupling; and the date set for this momentous task is next weekend.

We're buying an R&D split half coupling, and a flexible coupling from them.

The plan had been to spend Easter week in Upware, soaking the old Centaflex coupling in oil and using hammers, a vice, and other tools to try and separate the two cones that form the coupling.

However, we've decided to solve the problem sooner rather than later, and hopefully once and for all. It might also let us have more access to the propshaft; at the moment, the flexible coupling is only about 10mm from the face of the oil seal that forms part of the stern tube, so you could barely see the shaft.

We may have to angle grind off an inch or so of the old shaft if it is significantly worn; however, it didn't look conical last time I saw it, so this hopefully may be un-necessary.

Realigning the engine is also going to be interesting, however I've had a few lectures on how to do it from people; the trick is to borrow a set of feeler gauges and to turn the coupling around, shifting the engine infinitessimal amounts until there's a uniform amout of clearance all the way around; which means the engine and shaft are both aligned. Then the coupling is bolted onto the gearbox.

This should make cruising a whole lot more enjoyable, once the propshaft is fixed!

Saturday, 14 March 2009


If any mooring feels like home, its this one:

Couldn't be closer to our 'local' the Fort St George, and there are many friends within walking, or even hailing distance. But alas, we can only use it for 48 hours every 9 days. Last night was spent in the Fort, of course, where the conversation meandered somewhat interestingly. We'll be moving today, further downstream, but not before a trip to Ely to hopefully make a rather special purchase or two.

Friday, 13 March 2009


The recent lack death of posts has been simply beacuse, well, not much has happened. We've been doing our usual hopping about on the Cambridge visitor moorings, going to the pub. In fact the most exciting thing that we did was buy an auxiliary 19kg gas bottle (low neck - which alas still doesn't quite fit out gas locker).

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The Tideway

On Saturday, James and I went to London for the Women's Eights Head of the River Race, on the Tidal Thames. James was coxing his City of Cambridge first womens crew, and I was supporting the Chesterton women's crew.

After heading to Putney Bridge to hand James his all important wellies and arriving literally minutes before they were to push off, I took a bus to Hammersmith where the Chesterton women were boating at Furnival Rowing Club. Alas, I was too late to help them push off too, but was luck enough to run into the Chesterton supporters, and went to the neareat pub to wait with them until the race began. Three hundred crews were racing, and I was determined not to miss James' City crew but also to see some of the best women's rowing in the country passing below me as I stood above the racing line (second lamp post from the right, on Hammersmith Bridge). The course in on the same stretch of water as the Varsity Boat Race but rowed in the opposite direction (both races are rowed with the tide however). James' City crew were no.199, and Chesterton no. 267. I manages to see, cheer for and photograph both crews without dropping my camera in the Thames!

City W1 overtaking a slower crew


I didn't then see James until we met up for celebrations in Cambridge that evening, but went down to Furnival to help the Chesterton women back in. I was the only one of the supporters wearing wellies, and the tide was low by that point, so it was up to me to wade out and grab a blade. Then I helped carry the boat up the ramp to the trailer, pack up, take the boat apart, and head back to Cambridge on the train with the crew. I helped put the boat back together, and then James and I retired to the Old Spring for meals with our separate crews. He and his crew were in high spirits, having been ranked 28th overall, only 10 seconds behind the university women who rowed much earlier when the tide was stronger. The Chesterton women also rowed really well, especially considering that for many of them it was their first experience of rowing (and coxing) on the Thames. I really hope I'll be able to row with them next year!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

UnLucky Duck

Look out for our three page article 'UnLucky Duck' (complete with more compromising pictures of me, this time in a wetsuit) in Waterways World's April edition about breaking down!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A Sad Story


This morning at 11am police recovered a body of a man which was caught in the buoys above the weir at Jesus Lock. I often walk across Jesus Lock bridge, and would have done just that this morning, had we been moored as we often are, just below the lock on the visitor moorings. The police "have not ruled out suspicious circumstances" but whatever happened it is sad and and slightly disturbing to think of such a thing occurring in 'my' river. Especially as I could easily have been one of the members of the public who notified the police. Toni, on NB Lee which is moored above the lock is quoted as saying "It's all a bit eerie and a murky business. We didn't notice it until all the police came."

Monday, 2 March 2009

Bumps, Bangers, Burgers, Bacchus and Beer

Heading into town into the sunset

Waiting for the lock to empty, ready for the convoy

Bacchus and Kestrel in the lock

I spent Sunday morning with my rowing crew, in preparation for WEHoRR- Women's Eights Head of the River Race, which is taking place next Saturday in London. After a pub lunch, I got a lift back to Clayhithe and a text from Emma- Kestrel and Bacchus (another friend's boat) were heading back into town and were at Bottisham Lock. Amy was unfortunately at work, and so missed out on the sunshine.

I started the engine and moved off , through Baits Bite lock- which is as slow as ever!- in front of a very large number of gongoozlers, some of whom with cameras. I kept my cool as, with sunglasses on, I emptied the lock and then brought the Duck to a graceful halt right alongside the lock wall I wanted, before tying up loosely and opening the guillotine gate. After locking though, I moored the Duck up on the lock landing stage, and after checking for boats coming in the other direction, I reset the lock ready for Kestrel and Bacchus, who cruised sedately into view and both made perfect entries into the lock. There were less gongoozlers, though, by that point, so arguably less pressure on James and Tanja to get their steering right!

I was tempted to wait below the lock to try and fit all three boats into the lock together. Perhaps we will next time.

We headed into town into the setting sun- after a mock bumps racing start-  and moored up safely in our respective places- with the Duck outside the Fort pub. Amy joined us all inside and a fun evening was had by all. 

All in all, a rather lovely day, even if I didn't have sausages or a burger for dinner.