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!'
Last night I was down at the boathouse helping to put our womens' eight back together after the Boston Marathon. As I walked along the river, I saw some people with a punt stringing some grey floats across the river, and I was very intruiged! Soon it all became clear, as several hundred rubber ducks were launched off Victoria Avenue bridge. (Sadly I didn't have my camera on hand to capture that moment!)
It was the annual Duck Race run by the Cambridge Building Society to raise money for charity, and it was quite a spectacle as the ducks gently drifted toward the finish lines. I can't find any links to this year's event, but last year, members of the public were encouraged to call into one of the Society’s 23 local branches and adopt a duck to raise funds for the East Anglian Children’s Hospice, Dogs for the Disabled and the Sunshine Club, which provides activities for children with autistic spectrum disorders who live in Cambridge.
They were very conscientious and fished out every last duck, even one that had gone for a wander off near the Fort St George, but it would have perhaps been better to have 'marshalls' on the bank to warn motor vessels of the event a bit further up and down river!
On Saturday night, I stayed overnight in Cambridge with a friend, in order to be up at 5:30 am and drive with several other crazy rowers up to Lincoln. We were to row the Boston Marathon, the longest inland rowing race in the UK, from Lincoln to Boston along the River Witham.
A sculler at the start
From 9am to 12:30, about 260 boats set off at 1 minute intervals just below Stamp End lock to row the 50km (31 miles) to Boston. Our start time was 12.01pm, when we carried the boat down to the river, laden with water bottles, isotonic sports drinks and malt loaf! Our hands were taped in swathed in all manner of tapes and gloves, in anticipation of the forthcoming blisters. The first 15km were easy, up to Bardney lock, and we soon portaged our eight out and onto the other side. Here we swapped positions, and I was happy to row the last part on my preferred bowside. After a pitstop to rebandage hands which were now beginning to reveal where blisters were forming, we carried on, swapping out in pairs to take on water every half an hour or so. And so the kilometres passed, the km-posts seeming to get further and further apart as the hours wore on. The 30-40 km stretch was the worst, and our bums were beginning to get quite painful from hours sitting in the boat, despite using two seat-pads each! I was lucky, that I was wearing special anti-blister pads, used by transatlantic rowers, so my hands only suffered a little bit where the wrist straps chafed.
The weather was great, warm and sunny, but not too hot, with a gentle tailwind. Perfect. And despite the pain and the aches, I actually rather enjoyed it. I had been told that this stretch of the Witham was really dull, and indeed the banks are high but there were plenty of passing cruisers and narroboats, and lots of nice-looking moorings, the odd sculpture, and even some long-horned cattle! Our cox was great, despite having only stepped in at the last moment, and we all encouraged each other.
The last few km were the worst, as even though I knew it was only a distance comparitive to rowing home after an outing on the Cam, it seemed to go on forever! But finally our cox said that she couldsee the end and we made a push for the finish, to cross the line having taken 4 hours and 57 minutes - sub 5 hours, as we'd hoped, as the only (mostly) women's eight competing.
We were all elated and relieved to have completed this gruelling race, with good spirits all the way through. So, well done Mel, Ev, Anne, Joss, Will, Jo, Louise and Elissa! It was a great day. I'm bloody knackered now though!
The crew. Will, on the far right was an honorary woman for the day. The two at the back were out much appreciated and enthusiastic support team who drove our trailer and mini-van.
It's not just real ducks that turn shades of grey or brown for the winter...
Lucky Duck is no exception. Having spent several weeks over August angle grinding, filling, and priming, over last Saturday and Sunday I spent the majority of the days outside, working on finishing off the paintwork.
And it does look, if I'm allowed to blow my own trumpet, rather splendid. The roof (including pigeon box, handrails, and all the fittings) are now a lovely shiny mid-grey- International's Atlantic Grey Toplac, to be precise. The sides of the "Lid", which were once red, and the yellow stripe are now gone; Toplac over where the red used to be, with several coats of primer underneath where the stripe was, and a neat dividing line after I spent about 5 minutes getting the masking positioned correctly, knowing that Herself would not like a wonkily painted boat....
The chimney collar and Morco chimney are finished in black, to make a nice contrast.
The sides are still dark blue, although this is looking very much the worse-for-wear now in comparison to the shiny new paint.
On the 26th October the Duck will be coming out of the water to be fixed at Fox Narrowboats in the little Fenland town of March. The primary things are getting a new prop shaft and skin tank fitted, so that we can cruise without worrying about the engine overheating or the coupling coming disconnected. Also one of the engine mounts needs re-welding back to the hull, and we'd like to have the engine professionally re-aligned to the propellor shaft. There are a few other odds and ends as well, like the rudder mount needing a look at. If possible, since its out, we'll also get the hull blacked and the anodes checked. It will be out for a week, and we will have saved £1500 plus by then (the maximum we were quoted). So basically, we will give them a list of priorities, and a budget to stick to and see what can be done.
We are very much looking forward to getting these fundamental things sorted, but first we have to GET there! We are not curently cruising, so that we don't add to our list of problem if at all possible! We'll tighten up the coupling, check it religiously, and hope that the Duck is lucky. Because between us and March lies the tidal Ouse between Denver Lock and Salter's Lode (the link to the Middle Level) and the infamous entrance to the lock.
Lyra will be staying with some friends, and we'll be leaving our mooring on the Friday before, overnighting near Upware or Ely and then pressing on to Denver on the Saturday. The tides mean that we have to stay overnight at Denver, and then catch the 10am tide on Sunday morning. We'll then head through the Middle Level to March, arriving at some time Sunday evening. At 8am on Monday, the Duck will be slipped out. After this, we will no longer be able to stay on board, so we'll chat through the work we want doing and then take the train to my mum's house in Devon for a holiday!
On Saturday 31st October we arrive back at March, hopefully to find the boat back in the water and ready to go. Due to the train times, we arrive in March at 4pm. The Sunday tide (which we have to get in order to make it back to Cambridge and work) is at 9am. So it will be a night-time cruise from March to Salter's Lode, and an early start on Sunday. At least this means we'll be able to get quite a long way towards home on Sunday. We probably won't get all the way however, and we'll have to hop back during an evening that week, carfully avoiding clashing with rowing!
We're looking forward to getting fixed, but there's an awful lot of precise planning involved in making sure we get where we need to be on time... so fingers crossed it all goes well.
Yesterday, there was excitement at our mooring, as several of us had got together to organise a van, and to pick up two very large sacks of firewood. It is offcuts from a furniture company, and this lot cost us only £25 for what is in fact extremely good quality hardwood. Indeed, it does seem a shame to burn it!
The gathering of fuel for the colder months to come reinforces those feelings that Autumn bring, of the drawing in of the year and the passing of seasons. Stephen Fry, on his blog, puts it wonderfully, in his post Love Conkers All.
On Sunday, my little (16 yr old) sister came to visit Cambridge and the boat for the first time. It was lovely to see her and show her around my city and my home. It always make me appreicate where I live even more when I show it to other people.
She is a keen shopper, but to her credit, prefers charity shops and vintage places over high street names. So I took her on a tour of the charity shops and interesting little boutiques that Cambridge has to offer. My personal favourite is Emporium 61, a new RSPCA charity shop which is a bit different. It seems to take a lot of care about how it displays its clothes, and the result is a really attractive shop, with stylish changing rooms and a distinctly un-charity shop-like feel. Millie got a new skirt and cardi which she was very pleased with. We then did a few proper touristy things. Firstly I took her to Kings College Chapel, and then we went on a punting tour of the backs of the colleges, given by our resident Cambridge historian, James.
On the river
After that, we made it home just in time to see the boat and the mooring before it got too dark. Millie got to meet all the animal residents, including Pippin's new crew member, Tom Kitten. She is also the first member of my family to meet Lyra, and the two got on very well! After dinner, we all read the Sunday papers (Millie's favourite of course is the Sunday Times Style magazine!)
Lyra stops Millie reading the paper, while I cook in the background.
I made a family favourite for pudding: Brown Betty. Then it was bedtime. Since Millie isn't quite a full-sized adult, she was able to sleep on the sofa without having to undergo the laborious task to making it into a double bed. Phew!
Yesterday morning I put her on the train back to London, and she sucessfully made her way accross London and got the train back to Devon. I was quite pround of her managing this alone, since she'd never used the Tube by herself before. I had given her a lesson on how to use it when I picked her up from Paddington, but nonetheless its different on your own!
For some time, a ridiculous plastic duck figurine has sat on our roof. It came with the boat, and when we moored at Upware, served to mark our mooring spot when we were away.
However, when we arrived home, late last night after rowing/erging in the evening, we found it sitting on the bows. We thought this was slightly unusual, but given the strong winds, guessed that it must have fallen off. However, when I looked at the blogs this morning, I noticed a post from wb Pippin, detailing an elaborate resucue mission, when they noticed that the plastic duck was swimming in the river! Turns out it had indeed fallen off, not onto the bows, but over the side.
On the subject of strong winds, however, we can report that the wind genny gave us 48Ah in the past 36 hours!
Yesterday evening we lit our stove for the first time in many months. We had been thinking that the weather was drawing in, so James had been to Ely and bought a new grate for the Morso Squirrel stove. When we got it, the small circular part that moves when you raddle the ash had snapped in half, but we struggled through the winter with it. This time round, we decided that since it had now properly fallen off and was practically useless, that it would be better to simply replace it, and save our fuel from falling in the gap. It was really simple to fit and now it works as good as new!