Friday, 31 July 2009

North of Watford Gap


19 miles, 24 locks, 2 aqueducts. 1 VERY suicidal dayboater...

In which the Ducks assist the crew of nb Melaleuca in kick-starting their canal holiday.

On Wednesday evening, after work, James and I left Lyra in the capable hands of a neighbour, and got on an X5 bus, follwed by a train to arrive in Northampton. It was pouring with rain, but we found our way through the grimy city from the station along a route we knew far too well, and soon we were at the bottom of the Rothersthorpe flight, where we were to meet our friends Simon and Ann, on nb Melaleuca. They have just embarked on an ambitious trip through the inland waterways, and had invited us to join them for a couple of days. We had a lovely supper before retiring to bed aboard Melaleuca.

Leaving Northampton

Our first task of the morning was to go the Netto that we used to shop at when we were languishing in Northampton last September, to get provisions. Then it was off up the Rothersthorpe flight towards the Grand Union. These are narrow locks and most of them were in our favour. With three of us lockworking at any one time we were soon at Gayton Junction and turned North up the GU towards Braunston.

Ascending the Rothersthorpe Flight

There are no locks to deal with until the Buckby flight starts near Whilton Marina, but there was plenty of excitement to be had, due to the large volume of traffic along this arterial waterway. The most hair-raising incident was when a small day hire boat approached. It appeared to be on a good line to pass us with no issues, then but suddenly seemed to make a sharp U-turn right in front of us! It was pretty scary, as Melaleuca's bow button hit the boat broad-side on, and started to turn them to an alarming angle. The boat righted and cleared, smashed headlong into the bank, and the steerer apologised, claiming to have 'steering issues', and that he thought you travelled on the left! Their boat had a noticeable large dent, but we were unharmed.

Soon we were passing through the famed Watford Gap, where the East Coast Mainline, the GU and the M1 motorway pass through the same gap in the hills. Towards the end of the day, we climbed the Buckby flight, our first broad locks of the trip, and moored at the top, just before the Braunston Tunnel.

Watford Gap

We had dinner in a lovely pub called the White Horse, in Welton, which was ravenously devoured by all before heading back to the boat and collapsing into bed. In total, we had gone through 24 locks, and were exhausted. But it was a fantastic day - good to spend time with friends on a lovely section of the waterways which brought back so many memories for us!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Back home

We stayed at Jesus Lock from Saturday until yesterday night. Most of Sunday was spent sorting out the holes in the cabin side. James used an angle grinder to grind it all back to bare metal, and then we used epoxy metal putty to fill the holes, before painting them with anti-rust paint just in time to avoid the rain. It was pretty worrying to find the rust holes, but at least we've now addressed them, rather than letting them languish and get bigger! James also ground down and painted the foredeck, as an experiment into paint removal and rust-proofing.
In other news, we have ordered a Rutland 913 wind generator and three Elecsol leisure batteries, from our friendly local renewable energy specialists, Midsummer Energy. These will make huge difference to our electricity usage and charging capabilities, as well as reducing our carbon footprint and making our life afloat more sustainable. They aren't cheap, but they will be worth it.
Last night we had a lovely sunlit cruise back to our home mooring, follwed by the watching of some of James' birthday DVDs, which was great. On the subject of DVDs, I also received a package today containing a box set of the first series of Torchwood, which was gratefully received (mmm Captain Jack... *drool*), but I have no idea who it was from! I suspect it is a late arrival for James' birthday a couple of weeks ago from his family, but I am not sure. So, benevolent DVD sender, please step forward so we can thank you!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The Joy of Weekends

Today we got up very late after the antics of the night before, and a week's exhausting rowing/coxing. It is also the beginning of my first weekend for a long time(since I've been working on Sundays for about the last 9 months)

After a lovely breakfast at Tishka's we did a bit of shopping including buying Lyra a new collar and a tag saying

(my number)

We also bought a few bits and pieces for our planned repaint of the boat. When we got home we had a walk around of the Duck to see what we'd need to do. Some rusty bubbles under the paint turned out to be a lot worse than we thought, and there are holes right through the steel! However, the are only through the first layer of our double skinned roof (the Duck has a kind of lid on top, like a false roof, and its this that's rusted though) meaning that you can poke a finger/torch into the hole and see into the void between the two skins. The insulation appears to be inside the inner skin. We need to get these holes closed up asap though!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Bumps and celebrations

Thursday's bumps results:

M1 - down 1
M2 - down 3 (overbumped)
M3 - down 1

W2 - down 1

Friday ( and overall) results:

M1 - rowed over (down 3)
M2 - BUMP! (down 1)
M3 - down (1 down 6)

W1 - up 1 (up 2)
W2 - down 1 (down 4)

Not a spectacular year for Chesterton, except for the victorious W1 ladies.
James' crew (M1) were very pleased with their row over, however, having held off a following crew very well, and my crew (W2) had great fun all week, culminating in dressing up on the last day (a tradition in the lower womens divisions) in rollers and headscarfs!

After our last race we rowed home (via the beer tree, where beer is distributed to all crews who pull up to the bank and give a donation) and the whole club had fish and chips in Queens boathouse, as well as LOTS of alcohol. It was areally great night, which ended at City of Cambridge boathouse with a bonfire and more booze, as well as various antics although sadly no naked rowing (unlike last year...). We got home at about 4am and fell into bed. At this point we were so glad that the Duck was just minutes walk away from the celebrations!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Lyra, meet Jess!

Finally, Jess' conviction that a cat lives on the Duck has been verified. The two came nose to nose, and gazed warily, after Lyra gave a good hiss at Jess.

You could almost read the expression in Jess' eyes as Emma took her off- 'see, I TOLD you there was a cat on that boat- but you didn't believe me....'

Back in Cambridge

This morning, we cruised into Cambridge on the Duck in brilliant sunshine. It was great to actually be cruising for pleasure again, and it will also mean that we are well placed to stay out at the pub tonight and more importantly tomorrow night.

Lyra is still not impressed with the whole boating lark, although she settled down a bit towards the end. We when set off, and while using the lock, we shut her in the bathroom, which she really dislikes - great yowlings could be heard from within. But when she was allowed to wander about, she was less anxious and made no attempts to come out onto the stern or jump off, thankfully.

Oh yes, and last night's results were as follows. Not a great night , except for a well deserved bump for M2:

M1 - down 1

M2 - BUMP!

M3 - down 1

W1 - row over

W2 - down 1

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

On the Road Again

The Duck is mobile again! After a long hiatus in which we didn't have time to fix the prop shaft coupling, and had no incentive to do so as we have a permanent mooring, James spent today fixing it up. He replaced the bolts with longer ones, tightened the whole thing up again, and has cruised into Clayhithe on the Duck.

This was also Lyra's first experience of the engine going with her inside. (She had already caused trouble by getting stuck in the engine bay while he was fixing the coupling...silly puss). Before he turned on the engine, James shut her in the shower room, with some food, so that she might associate the experience of engine running with food. But she was still very scared! Now she is looking out of the windows at the Clayhithe mooring with a confused expression, apparently!

All this is in aid of having the boat in town for the last day two days of Bumps, so that we can go out and enjoy the revelries on Friday night safe in the knowledge that our boat (and cat) are just a short walk away!

Bumps (Day 1)

Not the best start for Chesterton last night:

M1 - Down 1 (James' boat)
M2 - Row over
M3 - Down 3 (double overbump)

W1 - Row over
W2 - Down 1 (my boat)

M3 were particularly unlucky as Emma has documented here.

It mas my first ever bumps race so I'm just glad nothing went drastically wrong! We did get bumped, but our start was pretty good, no-one caught a crab or anything and we were (apparently) gaining on the boat in front. Bring on tonight!

Our friend Paul is keeping a blog about his experiences as Captain of M3, which is pretty entertaining and worth a read.

Results are alas, not up online yet, although this is where you'll find them when they are.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Happy Birthday James

James turned 22 on the 16th July! Alas, his present was not, like last year, a narrowboat! Like last year, his birthday is just before the Bumps which means that it often seems to get a bit lost. This year, he is having two celebrations, to make sure as many people as possible can come, one on the day itself, and one on the day after. In time-honoured tradition (started by Emma when she made him a cox box cake, I have spent the day fashionong him a birthday cake (roughly) in the shape of a Russell Newbury Engine! Its been fun, if somewhat messy!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The Duck's Quack: Part II

Today, we had an unexpected evening off. James decided to have a go at fixing our newly aquired klaxon to the Duck's stern hatch cover. It is now securely attached using three stainless Allen bolts and we have discovered that the handle is removable so that we won't be disturbed if anyone decides to try it out. James is also planning a cover for it. The obligatory testing of the new klaxon also prompted a sounding of horns from several other boats at our mooring, which was pretty amusing!

Daddy Cool

This is my dad racing his Finn, Fatboyfinn in the Exe Regatta 2009, just off Dawlish Warren, in Devon. Great photo taken by a professional race photographer.

On the subject of racing, both James and I rowed the CRA Time race last night. It absolutely poured it down for the duration of the race, which wasn't fun, but it was good practice for the Bumps!

Monday, 6 July 2009


Summer - our proper Summer Holiday - is fast approaching. James' school will soon break up for its long vacation and as of the 20th July I will be working just 2/3 days a week at my new research position. This means that once Bumps are finished we will have rather a lot of time on our hands, but we shall not be short of things to do!

Most importantly, we have a few things that need to be sorted before our next BSC (Boat Safety Certificate) inspection is due in December. We plan to replace and rehouse our battery bank, as well as a few other bits and pieces.

The propellor shaft coupling needs a good look at (hopefully by a professional) before we can think about crusing any sort of long distance, so that's another priority.

Perhaps most excitingly for me, the Duck needs a new coat of paint! We need to grind off a few rust patches back to bare metal, which will then need to primed. The original primer coat seems pretty good, but we'll have to remove quite a bit of loose flaking paint, clean and rub down the whole lot before starting to think about the top coats. We've been thinking a lot about colour schemes and signwriting but have yet to come to a decision about what to do. I hope to have a play around on Photoshop, the results of which will be posted here of course!

Now we just have to hope the weather holds!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Happy Birthday Ken!

Firstly, a very happy Happy Birthday to one of our most avid blog readers! James' Grandad, Ken turns the grand old age of 80 today, so many happy returns to him. There had been plans afoot to go for a cruise on the Basingstoke canal for his birthday, but sadly this didn't happen in the end. We are however, going to visit soon so we are looking forward to that!

With Ken on the Kennet&Avon

Lazing on a sunny afternoon

Today started, as usual, with rowing and coxing for both of us, after which we headed home. We had a few things to do before our friend Richenda came to visit. While I tided up, James was very kindly given a lift by John III to the village where a very useful shop sells Calor gas. We haven't run out, but wanted to replace the empty one so that we have a full one ready for when it does.

When our friend arrived we settled down on the grass bank to have afternoon tea in the sunshine which was lovely. She hadn't been to visit before and was very impressed by our beautiful surroundings! We let Lyra have a wander outside, and she is getting more and more bold. Thankfully she stayed dry this time, but did extend her explorations to walking up and down the gunwhales, roof and stern deck as well as hissing at Flanders and Swan and a brief encounter with Grace, the lovely greyhound who belongs to one of our neighbours!

"I'm a proper boat cat now!"