Tuesday, 28 April 2009

But is it Art?

In town a few days ago, I saw that Trinity Street had come to a standstill, watching a young woman placing hundreds of origami boats (she had in fact made exactly 1000) in a neat line along the kerb.

I stopped to ask her what it was all about, and she told me that she was a Fine Art student at Anglia Ruskin and this was part of her final year project. The boats were spilling out of a small gallery on Trinity Street, and was apparently a comment on whether art should be confined to galleries at all.

She also told me she had plans to set the boats free to float down the Cam when the exhibition is finished. I had my reservations about this, especially as this was just before the Great Cam Clean Up, but she assured me she had permission!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Home. At last.

The Duck now has a home. A permanent one.

We're still on The List, waiting for a Cambridge mooring, but this one is nearly as good. On the Cam, easily commutable to Cambridge (no more 7 mile cycle rides in the dark!) and really lovely.

Its surreal. We're sitting here, knowing that we don't have to move again until we want to. What utter luxury. But we will try not to forget that we do live on a boat, and that we can still cruise about.

Right, drinks aboard Pippin call....

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Ducklings

Emma's ducklings find some bread between the bank and nb Innocenti. Everyone: 'Aww!'

Monday, 20 April 2009

There and back again

Stretham- Waterbeach (Saturday), Waterbeach-Cambridge (Sunday)

On Saturday, we set off into the grey and windy Fens, heading either into Cambridge or Waterbeach, depending on mood. The boat was running well, punching through the chop created by the strong winds, and we made good time into Upware, where we retrieved our "Lucky Duck" statuette and lock-gate plinth, with the boat's name inscribed, in addition to our long power cable. After a year of visiting fitfully, and carefully maneuvering in and out, the lease on the marina berth is coming to an end and so we collected the paraphenalia.

We headed into Waterbeach, and ended up lounging in the late afternoon sun, reading and relaxing, and in the evening we met Big John and Jackie of wb Pippin and Simon who owns the dutch barge Cosmos in The Bridge pub, before heading back to Bottisham and their moorings aboard Pippin. A small amount of wine and gin was consumed, strictly in moderation of course, before we assisted John in setting up his blog, and then headed regretfully home across the fens.

Sunday saw us both in Cambridge early for the Radegun Mile head race; run perhaps more frivolously than other races. Then we came back out to Clayhithe aboard Kestrel, before going to The Bridge again and then, after Emma arrived, headed for home in convoy.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Special Guests

St Ives - Stretham

14 miles, 3 locks

In which the Ducks return to the flatlands in order to entertain some unexpected, but very welcome guests.

After a trip to Waitrose to stock up on lots of sausages (it will become clear why so many were needed!) we set off at 10 or so from St Ives in miserably chilly, damp, grey weather. As we pressed on towards Earith, the land became flatter and once past Hermitage Lock we were well and truly back in the Fens.

We took turns steering through this dull stretch, while the other pottered about inside, tidying, washing up and straightening things out, in preparation for our visitors. Just as we finally moored up in Stretham, the sun started to come out and we received a phonecall from John to say that he and his boys were in the village, now where is the river? John is the previous owner of Lucky Duck, and had not seen the boat (except on the blog) since we'd waved goodbye to him on the BCN last August. He had texted me yesterday to see if we were free. It was really great to see him, and we had a nostalgic afternoon together regaling each other with stories of what we'd been up to since we last saw each other, and John reminiscing about his years aboard the Duck. His two sons played about on the bank, and enjoyed investigating the upturned hull of a dutch barge that lies like a beached whale on the grass near the mooring. For tea, with five hungry people to feed, I made a big pile of sausage and mash, before waving goodbye. As an added bonus John also agreed to take with him the two empty gas bottles thaht we've been unable to rid ourselves of (due to their being from a company with a network limited to Birmingham), and which have been cluttering up our welldeck for months.

All in all a pleasant afternoon was had and we look forward to hearing more about the fitting out of John's new boat, nb Shuttleworth Snap!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Help Enough

St Neots - St Ives

15 miles, 6 locks

In which the Duck and her crew brave dismal weather, but make good time thanks to the stream and help from the crew of nb Enough, arriving in St Ives in time for a trip back into Cambridge.

Last night we had the misfortune to fall foul of some of St Neots' unsavoury characters, who let the Duck off its moorings, and proceeded to shout insults at us from the safety of the opposite river bank. We suffered no damage since the stern line remained attached and we were quickly able to remoor the bow, but it was without a backward glance that we left the town this morning, despite a grim, grey sky.

It felt quicker, moing in the opposite direction, due partly to our moving with the stream, but also to sharing all but one of the six loxks we passed through today. The first lock, St Neots, we went through alone but it is pretty quick to empty, thanks to a lack of time delay.

St Neots Lock

We were soon through, and as we passed the GOBA moorings near Great Paxton, we were joined by nb Enough, who caught up with us at Offord Lock. Fellow CWDF users and also readers of our blog, there was little we could tell them about our recent adventures that they hadn't already read! They were good company, and made working the other five locks more efficient. At Brampton, however, we were held up by a routine lock mechanism inspection, but the maintenance team were a friendly bunch, and worked the guillotine controls for us.

Sharing Hemingford Lock with nb Enough

The weather failed to improve, but we made St Ives by 4pm. On the way in, just before mooring up, we saw an unnamed narrowboat (dark blue with white details) who recognised us from the blog- hello to you all! We moored at the EA moorings by the museum and did a few odd jobs before setting out to Cambridge for a rowing outing. In the rain... It was a good chance to test the reliability of the bus route however, and we were glad to discover that the buses currently running the route we took are in fact the same vehicles which are to be used on the forthcoming guided busway. They are comfortable, with free wifi and power sockets (great for charging mobiles on the way to work!). See Kestrel's blog tomorrow for more on this!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Here comes the sun

Huntingdon- St. Neots

10 miles, 4 locks

In which the Duck and its crew brave some odd landing stages designed for cruisers, get back into the swing ofmanual locks, and finish up in St. Neots- enjoying wonderful sunshine all the way.

Today we were very lazy and watched the sun sparkle on the bedroom ceiling for ages before getting up. My reluctance to emerge from the duvet was, I think, caused by reading a book by Stephen Fry until half past two the previous night- it was simply too good to put down!

However, eventually we set off and watched the sun start to peep through the grey clouds. We observed several useful moorings along the way, and having passed through Godmanchester Lock, we found Brampton Lock a bit more of a challenge. The lock landing stages have been designed for cruisers, and this particular stage required you to approach it at right angles, make a sharp turn, and end up alongside. Perfectly possible if you've got an outboard motor or a Z-drive on a boat that can turn on a sixpence- but the Duck isn't quite that maneuverable... in the end, I let the wind blow the boat onto it, which was the easier option!


The locks were all against us, which slowed our progress, but just before lunch- soup, taken on the move- the sunscreen had to come out, as the sun emerged from behind the clouds.

Amy and I shared the steering, and I abandoned her (deliberately) to enter St. Neots lock by herself, which she managed perfectly despite a very strong cross-wind. This lock is massive, over a hundred feet long and about 12 foot in width, with a fall and rise of about ten feet. Amy managed to cover herself in slime from the lock wall whilst she attached the centre rope to a vertical cable- her screams were very girlie! (Apparently, it was "very slimy slime" and she didn't like it.)

Finally we made it into St. Neots, and moored up on some floating pontoon moorings right in the centre of town. We plan on using these and other local moorings in the future, as it's only a 40 minute bus ride from here into Cambridge on the infamous X5 bus- which has now been revamped with leather seats, air conditioning and wifi, so the commute might well be quite pleasant.

We visited the Waitrose supermarket having looked around the town, and established that the bus stop is a mere three minute walk from the mooring- convenient! Once back at the boat, we filled up the water tank (having been lied to on two previous occasions by the IMRAY guide, which promised water points which turned out to be non-existent) and had a wonderful picnic in the sun by the boat, with choc ices, quiche, cake, and sausage rolls.

The floating pontoon here attracted a few groups of local children, however one group- having been smoking and playfighting- decided to leave in a hurry after one of their number fell in. The soggy hoodie trailed home, followed by his mates, and we restrained laughter.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Now, where did I put my windlass...?

Double Duck...

St. Ives- Huntingdon

6 miles, 2 locks

In which the Duck and its intrepid crew explore St. Ives, leave (eventually) for Huntingdon, with Amy at the tiller, and negotiate two locks with- gasp!- manually operated paddles and v-gates, before mooring in Huntingdon- and updating their Imray guide...

Today we went for a look around St. Ives, and exchanged our library books (from Ely library) for new ones from St. Ives. We're certainly going through the reading material this holiday! It's also useful to be able to take books out of one library, and return them in another- and great to have libraries with proper choice, as Cambridge's library is closed because one of the walls nearly fell down!

We tried to do some laundry, but found all the machines in use, and impatient to be off, we started the engine and moved through St. Ives' medieval bridge, with Amy at the tiller. We observed the moorings along the way- and they are plentiful, which is promising- including the highly picturesque Hemingford Grey. Unfortunately, one set of EA moorings is on an island with, it seems, no way of getting off on foot or by bike- which makes commuting from them somewhat impractical, to say the least!

The two locks had manually opened paddles (or slackers, as they're known around here) and v-gates, so we retrieved the windlass from under the sofa (luckily we didn't have to search for it,I had previously found them whilst tidying up) and I tried to remember which end of the windlass went onto the paddle gear, and which side of the beam to push- these locks were the first manual ones (with the exception of St. Ives, which we shared with other boaters) we've operated ourselves since last year.

I did the gates, Amy handled the boat- luckily she'd had her Shreddies for breakfast....

Eventually, Huntingdon came into view, and there was space on the 24 hour moorings next to a riverside park; also, unfortunately close to the main ring-road, but it's not too noisy. We locked up and went to explore, having eaten some easter eggs (bought for a third of the price in St. Ives earlier! Easter eggs are cheap after Easter...). According to the IMRAY guide, Huntingdon only has a small set of 24 hour moorings, but we found a good stretch of 48 hour moorings that were unmarked. We located the bus station, and the bays from which the buses into Cambridge depart, and then went into the town center properly. It had a variety of nice buildings, and after stocking up at Waitrose (Tesco was too far away!) headed back to the boat, where we mopped off the bird poo accumulated in St. Ives. A downside of mooring on the quay is that it is a good spot for feeding the birds, and so pigeons, ducks, geese and swans all congregated- and some left their mark...

Moored at Huntingdon

Monday, 13 April 2009

As I was going to St Ives...

Earith - St Ives

7 miles, 2 locks

In which the sun finally manages to shine upon the Duck and its crew. A somewhat hair-raising incident occurs but is quickly put right.

We awoke to the sound of the broads cruiser which was breasted up to us overnight moving off. After a quick breakfast we followed them, departing Earith at about 10am. As we set off, we saw a flotilla of kayaks and canoes passing us. Several more passed us on the way to Brownshill Staunch,a nd when we arrived, and moored up on the floating landing stages, we found the whole lock to be filled with them. They had apparently come all the way from Bedford! The drop in the water heights at the lock was about 2 inches, but it tookan inordinate anount of time to get through! There are guillotine gates at both ends, and both have long delay timers on. But we were in no hurry.

Just after the lock, a watery sun began to shine through the broken clouds, and the lansdscape turned from flat fenland to leafy countryside. We passed the pictureque Holywell, noting a new GOBA mooring that is not marked on the Imray map. The new guided busway route (which is due to open in the summer and would be a great help to us if we were to commute from moorings around St Ives nad Huntingdon) passes over the river just before St Ives:

Approaching St Ives Lock, we saw that the landing stage was full of plastic cruisers to decided to hang back and hover until we were able to go into the lock. Just then, James noticed that we seemed to have lost reverse gear! We were still able to go forward so limped into the lock, with a plan to check it out on the other side. The lock itself was the first one we'd had to operate manually since sometime last September on the Middle Level!

On the other side, there was nowhere to land due to a number of waiting plastc boats, and we planned to stop on the moorings in St Ives itself which we could see were not too far off. But about halfway there we lost all drive to the prop and were fortunately able to drift into bank and check out the problem. A quick look at the engine confirmed what we had feared: the bolts holding the coupling on had come loose. Clearly the ny-locks were not enough, and we resolved to Loctite them on. But it was easy enough to tighten the bolts and in 10 minutes we were on the move again, much to our relief!

We moored up on the public quay, just before the medieval stone arched bridge, and set off in the sun to explore St Ives and its transport connections.

Is Mr. ASBO also a graffiti artist? - passageway near the quay in St Ives

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Double Breasted


15 miles, 1 lock, 1 suicidal hireboater

In which the Duck and its intrepid crew brave new waters and moor up on a tidal stretch of river

Today has been the first full day of our holiday cruise down the Old West river and the Ouse. Saturday could have been the start, but the weather was awful- so we stayed put in Ely, went to the library, and eventually helped the current hirers of nb Zinfandel (the boat is based in Chesterton in Cambridge) to breast up alongside, as there were no other moorings to be had anywhere. Finally, we watched Doctor Who. I think that Cambridgeshire Council should invest in flying buses, like the one we saw on the programme, rather than guided buses- they wouldn't be slowed by congestion on Milton Road!

Sunday morning dawned grey and cheerless- but at least it wasn't raining! We set off at 11am, after breakfast, and visited the waterpoint. Zinfandel was still breasted up on the outside, so we carefully crept out, flicking their sternline over our roof, before remooring them. nb Wildfowl was already at the waterpoint, so we moored in the winding hole for five minutes and emptied the loo cassette. Unfortunately, the blade has become detached from the runners on the cassette, so it won't close; looks like we might need a new one. I'm going to look on the Thetford website for instructions to see if it can be fixed. In the meantime, we've retrieved the old PortaPotti from storage in the well deck and, after cleaning it, are using that.

Once we had emptied that, and I had tried to fix it and failed, we headed off on the first leg of the voyage. The weather was still grey and cheerless, but still not raining! Having passed the Lazy Otter marina, we were on uncharted waters. The Old West is twisty and narrow, and an impatient and eratically driven hireboat from Bridge boatyard pressed past at one point.

The hirers didn't seem used to wheel steering the boat, and so they were zigzaging all over the place, and nearly hit us twice and the bank once when overtaking. I went into neutral and let them past, leaving them to head around the corner and almost hit a bathing cow!

The river, especially the latter sections, reminded me of the Oxford canal; only the high floodbanks on both sides, which prevented us from seeing anything, meant the journey was a bit boring.

Eventually, we reached Hermitage lock, and the lockkeeper locked us through onto the tidal stretch at Earith.

Leaving Hermitage Lock

We've moored onto the visitor moorings on floating pontoons, next to the marina. At the end of the pontoon is the floating diesel pump:

Unfortunately, the pontoon is designed for two or three cruisers, and the Duck takes up almost all the available space; so a large visiting broads cruiser has breasted up alongside us for the night. Earith has one post office, two pubs, and one bus in to Cambridge per day. Luckily it gets in at the right time, so Earith is a possible mooring for commuting- although getting back again is somewhat harder and involves two bus journeys!

So today we were breasted up at the start and the finish.

Tomorrow, the plan is to hop into St. Ives and moor there, investigating the market, the moorings, and the travel posibilities into Cambridge.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Plastic Fantastic and the dog-fender

I've spent today industriously cleaning the inside of the boat- apart from one notable incident.

I awoke with Amy at 8am, and she went into work. At 9:30, having lain in bed and watched the reflections of the sunlight off the water dancing on the ceiling, I started the engine and the iPod and headed into Ely from Littleport.

The Queen Adelaide stretch was boring as ever, and Ely was, understandably, busy with boats of all shapes and sizes. I managed to moor directly outside the Cutter Inn on the waterfront, and set to cleaning the boat.

There was a small gap in front, and a visiting cruiser decided to fill it. The husband and wife crew seemed a little out of practice, and so to make things easier I offered to take their bow rope if they threw it to me.

Their little Jack Russell dog was attached with a lead onto their front mooring cleat, and was leaping about and getting in the way. As the cruiser came in towards the bank, the dog made a bid for freedom and leapt off- only to be jerked to a halt in mid-air, and to fall, hanging and scrabbling frantically, under the bows of the boat between it and the bank. The boat was heading in still quite fast, and the dog was going to be crushed! I shouted to the husband to go astern, and shoved the bows away as hard as I could, and pulled the poor dog out of the gap as soon as I could reach down, as the top of the bows were already over the bank. The poor thing was half-choked and terrified, but otherwise unharmed- luckily I'd managed to get him out of the gap before it closed. If that had been a narrowboat, then I wouldn't have been able to push it away so easily, and the dog would probably have been quite badly hurt if not killed.

I ended up mooring their boat, as the couple had taken the dog inside to calm it- and themselves- down, and after a restorative cup of tea, set to cleaning the boat.

I spent a good five hours spring-cleaning, putting some things into storage in the well deck, taking the recycling to the nearby recycling point, and generally enjoying the sunshine. The spiders, having left us alone for the winter, are now starting to make their home in the boat; perhaps I should borrow Jess, who likes eating them!

I also bought an OS map of the St. Ives to St. Neots area, so that we can see the countryside and area surrounding the moorings down the Old West river and the Ouse; the Imray guides, unlike the Nicholsons ones, don't show the surrounding area in anything more than cursory detail. Our plan for the next week, in the absence of the Warriors and Moomins, is to cruise to Bedford, investigating the commuting possibilities from the moorings along the way.

Amy's good friend Lottie visited in the evening, and after a wonderful home-cooked pasanda curry, and Lottie's cakes, we had a nice chat and caught up; her childhood home is next to the River Wissey, which is a navigable tributary of the Great Ouse that has its confluence near Denver Sluice; one day, we'll come visiting by boat. Lottie was amazed at how long it would take us to get there, being used to trains and car travel around the area- "Five hours!? Really?"

Thursday, 9 April 2009


Mr. ASBO the swan is becoming quite the local celebrity. He's been featured in The Sun, The Mail, and The Telegraph, as well as the Cambridge News.

Plus., if even that celebrity wasn't enough, he's been on BBC Look East!

It all stems from Emma's post here, where she first named the swan "Mr. ASBO".

The swan has attacked me a few times, and although it is a bit wimpy to admit this, having looked behind me to see the swan flying inches behind, wings outstretched and beak forwards and snapping at me, I can confirm that he can be somewhat scary. I've not even got a nice long piece of carbon fibre to persuade him with.

However, a plan has been formulated- I'm about to buy the biggest and most powerful water pistol I can find, to give him a squirt in the face to dissuade him from following me. It's much kinder than bashing him about!

Besides, he's not paid his river licence- although the thought of the Cam Conservators chasing after him with a Form G notice and some gaffer tape to stick it onto him is amusing, to say the least!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Instant Recall

Today at work I got chatting to a customer who mentioned his friends who own NB Dreckly. The name rang a bell, and I remembered that we'd shared a few locks with a boat of this name, at the beginning of our trip. I couldn't remember exactly where it was, but I promised to look it up and post it here and gave them my blog address.

So yes, here it is - http://nbluckyduck.blogspot.com/2008/08/day-five-canal-pilgrimage.html On August 6th (Day 5) we ascended Stockton Locks with NB Dreckly and and wrote this of them:

"...NB Dreckly shared the flight with us. They were good company and very efficient at lock wheeling- which isn't surprising, as they'd been doing it for 25 years! We headed up the flight in convivial company, Amy working the locks in a particularly sprightly fashion and myself steering, trying not to make a fool of myself. We managed very well and, parting company at the top lock as they stopped, we felt it was a shame that we wouldn't be able to do the rest of the day's locks in such efficient company!"

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Ely like Sunday Morning...

Ely mooring

The Duck spent the weekend in Ely, after I cruised it in on Friday night in the evening sunshine- and very nice it was, too.

However, we've spent our weekends elsewhere. On Saturday, we left the boat for work and for coxing, respectively; I then coached an outing for City (which went rather well, the crew definitely improved over the course of the outing) and I had several encounters with "Mr ASBO" as we've taken to calling him- a very territorial swan who attacks anything and everything that rows, sculls, canoes or narrowboats past.

However, come 4:30 we were sitting on a train to Whittlesford Parkway, to meet the Moomins- aka Simon and Ann, who moor at Bill Fen along with Jim and Sarah of Warrior. We were heading into London, to the Swan and Bottle in Uxbridge in particular, for a CWDF meet-up. We had a lovely evening, catching up with Bones and Maffi, and several other people who we met for the first time. Chris of nb Baldock and Marine Engine Services in Uxbridge gave us some useful tips on keeping our engine in fine fettle; if you see me with my hand in the wet exhaust, I've not gone mad- I'm just checking there's not excessive amounts of slime, which comes from bore glazing.

Come Sunday morning, we awoke to the lovely sight of sunlight dancing in patterns on the ceiling, reflected from the surface of the water. Amy unfortunately had to set off for work; I decided to brave the long, long, long, loooooong and boring Queen Adelaide section of the river- a 4 mile featureless straight- to move the boat to Littleport. Using the iPod in the speaker dock, and listening to Cream's greatest hits, helped to stave off the tedium- along with dodging several plastic boats and splashing through the wash of a few speeding cruisers- and nearly running over a careless Cambridge University Boat Club pair who decided that they owned the river and would head straight for me....

Unusual boat with a Reliant Robin (or possibly Regal - I'm sure someone will correct me) as part of its cabin seen on the way from Ely.

Littleport is a wonderful town, with many Victorian listed buildings in the town centre, and a very very large number of useful shops, including no less that 4 chip shops, three Indian restaurants and several Chinese restaurants, along with a proper butcher, baker, and greengrocer.

The Duck, moored just opposite Littleport.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Licence to Kill... sorry, Navigate

Today an exciting letter awaited me in my pigeon hole at work- postmarked "Peterborough" with the EA logo.

Finally, having filled in the paperwork at the beginning of March, the new licence has arrived. It's an interesting aquamarine colour. I stuck it up- no, sorry, I inserted the plate into the holder with the reverse facing me for inside window affixment- certainly not the obverse, no no- and removed the outer protective paper so as to affix to my craft.

Apart from that, I brought the boat into Ely after work today, and we went to Tesco to stock up. Our most exciting purchase is a Technika iPod dock.

Music has always been very important to both of us. When students, we usually had something playing in the background; for Amy, music helped to relieve the tedium of living in London. We've got very ecletic tastes, from flamenco guitar to Pink Floyd; but, recently, we've missed having music. There's the radio, of course, but we didn't have a way to just come in after work and chose a particular meaningful song, or put on something appropriate to tidy up to, or something relaxing. Now we've got the ability to chose again, and have spent a lovely evening listening through Amy's iPod, from Dr. John, via Dylan, Cream, and Moby. And, bizarrely, the Les Miserables soundtrack...

Thursday, 2 April 2009

April Fool...

...although no-one was taken in, seemingly. Perhaps mentioning fitting a bowthruster without taking the boat out of the water was a bit too much of a giveaway?

We're not planning on fitting a bowthruster any time soon.

I've already got one- and if she puts all her weight on the boat pole, it's a 55kgf thruster too!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Boat Improvements

Coming in to land at Little Thetford yesterday, I tried to get the bows of the boat onto the bank, but the stiff wind, and the current, meant that I wasn't able to. I also thought about all the times when we wanted to move the boat around in the marina. To save our paintwork, and that of everyone else around us (!) we've budgetted and examined our finances- which are alright at the moment, because of some extra part-time work we've been doing- and we've come up with a decision. Today I went onto Chandlery World and looked at their bowthrusters. They are expensive, not to mention the cost of fitting the tube to the boat. But I reckon we can just about afford a good Vetus 55kgf thruster; and, what is more, I've found a piece of tubing in the river which I think will make the perfect tube in the bow to hold it.

All it needs now is for Amy to get her wetsuit on again, and we'll have it fitted in no time.