Saturday, 31 October 2009

Homeward Bound

Well! Today has again been crazy. Luckily we managed to recharge our batteries, over the past few days, by relaxing at Amy's family home with reading, a bit of DVD watching, and plenty of sleep.

Today we had to get from Exeter to March, pick up the boat, and get it through Marmont Priory lock before it got dark at 5pm and the lock being shut. We planned to do as much of the journey as possible in daylight, because night navigation on the Middle Level is very much verboten and frowned upon, not to mention hairy with low bridges.

Our alarm went off at 6am, and we caught the train at 7.50. After a few quick changes, we arrived at the boatyard by 12.30, filled up with 30 litres of diesel and set off.

What a change! The engine sounds utterly different, with a dry exhaust. The rudder was much more solid with no play or waggle- it was like a completely different boat!

A bit of complicated reversing out of the marina, without touching any of the moored boats, set us on our way. Once out of March and on deeper water, we made good time, arriving at the lock at 3.15, although we had to help the lockkeepers reset it after a previous boat. Arriving in Upwell at 4, we attempted to get some CHIPS as sustenence, but no-where open did any so we headed off, arriving at Salter's Lode at just after six pm. Many times I had to use a burst of reverse to clear the prop, which often clogged with weeds and leaves. We would have had to flush the intake at least eight or nine times, I reckoon, were it not for our new skin tank!

We plan on getting the 7am tide tomorrow morning to Denver, and arriving back in Waterbeach at four pm or so, in a long Kestrel-style day!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Ducks: All at Sea

The past few days have been spent at my mum's house, eating, resting, and being generally spoiled! Electricity just magically comes out at the walls all the time, and showers can be uncharacteristically long and indulgent.

However, today we embarked upon a very different kind of boating adventure! My dad owns a 26ft sea-going trimaran, Diva. And while we have been known to mock GRP boats, this one is different because it has the redeeming feature of being a sailing boat. Yes, it has an outboard, but it's only used when sailing is impractical, so we approve!

We had been aboard Diva before, but only while on its winter mooring. Today the conditions were perfect for trip round the bay. We hopped in the little rubber fender at Starcross Yacht Club on the Exe estuary and headed out to her mooring buoy. This is a photo of the same class of boat: a Telstar 26, but its not my dad's boat. I couldn't get a picture while she was under sail, for obvious reasons, so this will have to do.


The Exe Estuary runs north-south and the wind was a southerly so we motored out rather than trying to beat down the channel. Once out past Exmoth an into sea, we turned the engine off. The wind was very light, but we were able to get a little way out into the bay, towards Teignmouth and Dawlish. Our useful friend, George, aka the autopilot, was manning the tiller, leaving us to set the sails (main and genoa), drink lots of tea and enjoy the freedom of being at sea. There was a slight swell, but since we weren't going fast, it felt kind of 'sloppy', meaning that James started feeling a little seasick. So after an hour or so, we headed back for the channel and home, running before the wind. This time, with the wind mostly behind us, we were able to sail all the way up the estuary. The trimaran has a shallow draft, and it was high water, so we took a short cut across the sand-bank. The depth meter showed that we were only in about 0.8m of water at one point, but we made it with grounding at all, and soon our mooring was in sight. My dad headed the boat into the wind, James hooked the grab buoy, and I shacked the mooring line on, all in one swift series of movements, and all without the need for the outboard to position it. Very neat!

Me, George, and my dad

We headed back to land for a mug of hot chocolate in the club house. James had felt less ill as soon as we were in the shelter of the estuary, and it had been a thoroughly enjoyable cruise, but we were glad to get safely back to dry land all the same! We're not used to boats actually moving round such that using the 'heads' is a challenge. Now we have been back home for hours, but Jame is still complaining that he's not got his land-legs back!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Duck Out of Water

This morning, at about half-past eight, the Duck went up the slipway at Fox's. We were very impressed with the efficiency of the guys at the boatyard- they arrived and went straight down to it, helped us move the boat back over the trolley, and then slowly and smoothly up the boat went. More photos to follow... We went through the list of stuff to do, and departed, leaving the Duck in their capable hands- and, before we'd even left the yard, they were sweating over the prop, having a go at removing it.
They certainly don't hang about!
We're currently in the public library in March, waiting for our train at 1pm to Peterborough, then trains to King's Cross and finally Exeter St. Davids, arriving in the early evening.
The week could see an altogether different kind of boating, because if conditions are right, we might go to sea on Amy's Dad's trimaran. Exciting stuff- and far less boring than the Middle Level!

Sunday, 25 October 2009


We've made it to March! Awoke early, dismantled the cratch and roof
furniture, and set off for the 10am tide. A very strong wind, however,
was holding back the incoming tide so we entered the lock at 10.30,
and headed out onto the tidal bit down to Salter's Lode.

The wind meant turning early, but I misjudged slightly and ended up
gently sliding onto a sandbank. I had been travelling slowly and
cautiously, and so managed to reverse off easily and made a neat turn
into the lock without touching the sides, the guide rails or the tyre

But I still win my fiver back from James on Kestrel, because I got
0/10 because of the sandbank encounter.

After the lock, we made our way onto the blustery middle level.
Interesting for 30 minutes or so, we both soon wished ourselves
further along in Outwell.

We made it to the twin villages of Upwell and Outwell, but after a
burst astern to clear some leaves from the prop, I noticed a
high-pitched squeal, so stopped to investigate. The R&D clamp had come
loose, but 10 minutes with a spanner and socket set- plus the 2 foot
long torque wrench given to me by my granddad- did the bolts up tight

The very strong headwind made for slow progress, but by 3.30 we made
the outskirts of March, and eventually entered Fox's Marina and

Currently, we're having some celebratory CHIPS in a local greasy
takeaway- and they taste great! Right, must finish my share before Amy
eats them all!

Sent from my mobile device

To Denver

After work on Friday, we met at Ely for the next leg of our journey, the Boring Bit, aka Queen Adelaide straight. I have entirely unintentionally of course, not done this exceedingly dull stretch of river since we first arrived on the Ouse last September. The three times that the Duck has travelled it in recent times, James has been single-handing. So I was actually quite interersted in doing this bit, however dull. James went into the cabin for most of it, leaving me on the stern, and I actually enjoyed it at first, but it soon got tedious. Luckily he came back to the stern bearing tea at this point, which was most welcome!

We arrived in Littleport just after night had fallen. Lyra wanted to stretch her legs, clearly, as she hopped onto dry land before we'd even moored up properly! With no 12v lights however, we decided to have a meal out, and celebrate the fact that we were moving again. We found a lovely Indian restaurant called Indian Garden, and enjoyed a really rather good meal for a reasonable price.

This morning, our first task was to drop Lyra off at the friend's house where she will be staying the week. A train ride, follwed by a taxi journey proved to be a short but traumatic experience for her, but once out of the cat basket she soon settled down. We are sure that she will enjoy spending a week in an actual house and will no doubt be writing about her experiences in due course!

After a rowing outing for James and some chores for me, we got a lift back out to Waterbeach where we caught the train to Littleport to resume the journey. It was a lovely cruise, with a beautiful looming sky that broke into a short sharp shower before a rainbow appeared and transformed it into a flawlessly blue fenland sky. A kingfisher followed us for a little while flashing in the unexpected sunlight.

We arrived at Denver Sluice, the gateway to the sea and the Middle Level, while it was still light enough to go for a recconnaisance walk. The entrance from the tidal Ouse into Salter's Lode and onto the Middle Level is famously difficult and James wanted to remid himself of the angles needed for entry.

This evening we used the generator to provide light and are enjoying a quiet evening, waiting for the 10am tide(and yes we know the clock change tonight!) and the excitements of tomorrow. NB Kestrel's James has made a bet with James that rides on the score awarded by the lock keeper at Salter's Lode for his entry from the river!

Thursday, 22 October 2009


This week has been a real mixture, of both stress and relief. We joined RCR on Monday morning, and arranged for one of their contracted engineers to visit us that afternoon. Unfortunately, the Duck's wiring was- in his opinion- in a pretty poor state, and he wasn't able to make a completely safe and reliable repair under the terms of his RCR contract, which like the AA will get you going again but not do too much work.
We arranged for him to return on Tuesday, but he had a sinking boat to attend to so came briefly on Wednesday and today. We've had to disconnect the domestic supply as the wiring had an earth leak somewhere and it was causing the ignition to fail.
But we got the engine started, albeit with no instrumentation, and Amy and I set off for Ely at 3.30. We stopped after Bottisham Lock to flush the intake, but couldn't start the engine again. The solenoid would fire, but the engine wouldn't turn over. I turned it reasonably easily with an adjustable spanner, so reckoned the problem was not mechanical, but electrical.
It turns out that the starter battery is more useful currently for ballast than engine starting. We tried wiring in one of the domestic batteries, which are dual purpose, and it started first time. Relief!
Thinking about it, the starter battery has probably always been a bit naff; in the past, due to the selector switch being faulty, it has always had the leisure batteries to back it up; on its own today, for pretty much the first time, it showed its weakness.
The engine eagerly turned over on one of the elecsols, and we had a pleasant cruise into Ely, arriving at a quarter past six.
Moving at last!
So, for now, I have put one of the old leisure batteries in the well deck next to the water pump- because we do need to flush the intake- and I've put the inverter back onto the batteries so we can use the 240v lights as the 12v have no power.
Another job to put on the list for March to look at; and so there may be 12v rewiring when we return to Cambridge.
Lyra, by the way, is very confused that her home was moving. She sat on the engine cover at our feet, yowled a bit to indicate her displeasure at us having the temerity to make her home rattle, shake and move, but she soon settled down.
Where are we?

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Time's onward March

This week is going to be an eventful one. The Duck is booked onto the slipway at 8am on Monday 26th; we have to get from here to March before then, with the added complications of working every day, three rowing outings, and getting Lyra to our land-dwelling friends who have arranged to cat-sit for the week.

Then we've got to hand over a list of work to Fox narrowboats, and depart to Devon by train for the week, as we can't stay on the boat whilst it's on the slipway. This is going to be a much needed holiday in the half-term week, and we've saved up what would have been an impossible amount to achieve when we were cruising last year to get the boat fixed, and ensure trouble-free cruising.

It's a little like the Spanish Inquisition sketch by Monty Python: "NOBODY knows the amount of work we're having done! Our main problem is the cooling system and prop-shaft... our TWO problems are cooling system, prop-shaft, and engine bearers.. our THREE main problems are cooling system, prop-shaft, engine bearers, and engine alignments... our FOUR- no, AMONGST our problems are such diverse elements as...."

But the first handicap is getting the boat to March in the first place. We plan to leave on Wednesday night, going up to Ely where we will spend the rest of the week, commuting in and out by train (and possibly doubling back to Little Thetford, or on to Queen Adelaide moorings, as that's more than the permitted 48 hours), before dropping Lyra off on Saturday morning, and heading up to Denver for the 10am tide on Sunday, and then travelling from Salter's Lode (with a £5 bet riding on the score I achieve steering the boat in...) to March on the Sunday, and celebrating with CHIPS in the evening, before having the boat hauled out on Monday. If their winch and tractors can cope with Kestrel and Pippin, the much-smallerDuck should be no problem- although Amy's collection of handbags and shoes makes the Duck much heavier than it looks...

Today, however, I tried turning the engine over to check it worked. I'm glad I did, because- having worked on the electrics several times since last moving the boat, changing all the batteries, and generally playing around, I can't get the engine to start. I'm sure it's an electrical problem, because there's only 0.24 volts showing at the ignition switch, on the alternator warning bulb and the oil pressure warning bulb, and the oil-pressure warning buzzer isn't sounding. The starter battery is, by the way, nearly fully charged- that was the first thing I checked!

I spent a good hour with the multimeter checking the ignition system out, but I can now hold my hands up and say it's beyond my competence to deal with it. I could take the whole system to bits, but I'm not sure I could put it back together again reliably enough to make it work!

Rather than calling in favours from friends and family, as we have in the past, we've decided to dip into the savings a little bit and join River and Canal Rescue, and call out an engineer to have a look. Big John on Pippin, Andrew Denny on Granny Buttons, and several other bloggers have nothing but praise for the organisation. We've got a very busy schedule this week, and so have decided that- although this is expensive- it's not as expensive as I had thought, being £150 for the timeframe and immediacy that we need, plus it should also give us great peace of mind in future.

This is the crux, really. We have to get the boat to March, at all costs, else we'll lose the slipway booking, and upset all these plans. In the short term, RCR's guarantee of help or a tow is just what we need. Plus, it means that, in future, if anything serious or minor goes wrong there's going to be massively experienced help only a phone call away, which is immensely reassuring! Combined with the repairs March are carrying out, it should help us enjoy stress-free cruising, compared to what we have had before, and so I will feel comfortable enough to take the Duck to Bill Fen, around the Middle Level, and ultimately onto the canals next summer for a holiday- something we've not really been able to consider yet.

We'll be able to use the Duck as a boat again, to cruise into Cambridge when we like, or up to Ely or further afield, with no worries. At the moment, she's a static houseboat- but, soon, that will all change.

And I'm certainly looking forwards to it!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Small is beautiful!

So, it was my 24th birthday yesterday (himself was going to blog about this but was "too busy"). It sort of crept up on me without me noticing to be honest, and since we both spent the evening rowing, yesterday wasn't really the day to celebrate it.

I've asked James to save the money for our imminent boat-fixing appointment in March, and my family are giving me their presents when I see them, so i wasn't expecting much yesterday. But I got lots of lovely cards. Thanks Ken and Marion, Pat, Kevin and Jill , Gran-Gran, Mummy, Ian and Millie, Daddy and Karen.

An exciting parcel containing a Settlers game arrived from Kevin and Jill (thanks!), and my boss co-incidentally chose yesterday to fulful his promise to give me a foldie bike on permanent loan, which was most unexpected and great fun, so that felt like a birthday present too (even though it wasn't really).

After work I enjoyed trundling into town on my new foldie and then went rowing. James coxes an Thursdays so I though I might as well! It was good fun and I ended up stroking the IV! Tonight we are having a nice meal in together, and then on Saturday I am sharing a fancy-dress party with a rowing friend, for which the theme is 'Flying'. Hopefully I'll arrange another birthday teaparty with non-rowing friends on Sunday too!

Its even got the word Yachting written on the side!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

De-fuse-ing the situation

Wednesday was, for me, a day off due to it being a training day at work. Apparently, I require no training, and so resolved to work on the boat instead.

So I decided to sort out the coolie hat- no, sorry, the "Chinese Rain Hat" (to use the PC term)- and mount it on brackets on top of the chimney, to keep the rain out.

The coolie hat itself was a gift from Big John, who had in turn been given it by John III on Monty. Confused as to all the Johns? Me too.

Either way, it is brass and shiny, and will polish up a treat. The first task was to make the three supports, which will attach onto the bolts holding the outer and inner skins of the chimney together, so I used a piece of flat steel bar I had bought from Mackays yesterday, and cut each support to length before drilling the holes for the bolts in the chimney, and the bolts in the hat itself, and then finally bending them to shape in Big John's Workmate.

The final mounting looks OK, but I think I'm going to drill another set of holes further up the supports so the cover will sit lower; the gap is a little big at the moment, and it hasn't completely passed the aesthetic review by Amy, so it will need fettling at some point in the future.

The next job was to replace the fuseboard for the 12v supply, which powers all the lights, pumps, and the domestic electrics. This job took all afternoon, interrupted for a spectacular lunch with John.

The old fuseboard took "Continental" fuses, and was extremely corroded. Getting the old one out was simple- snip the "busbar", which was in reality a tiny little wire soldered to all the contacts, and unscrew it from the plastic box housing.

The corrosion and the age of the fitting meant that it was becoming unreliable. Having lost power to the lights four times on Tuesday night- once when Amy was in the shower!- this job was bumped up the list of things to do.

I had bought two fuseholders (each holds four fuses, and I needed six) from a local motor factor, for something like 15% of the price of a "proper" Vetus unit! Yes, these ones might not be as neat looking, or as splashproof, but they will do adequately, I think.

Mouning the fuseholders was easy, but supplying the six positive terminals from one power feed was going to be interesting! I was tempted to use a chocolate block and many wires, going one to the next, but came up with a far neater- and probably quicker- solution.

I took a thick copper cable, that had previously joined two batteries together, and stripped off all the insulation leaving a core of copper wires. I twisted them and made branches off by each terminal for the fuses, and then bound the whole thing in insulation tape for safety and to hold it together, and crimped on the terminals with my new ratchetting crimper tool, bought from Mackays yesterday.

I connected up the power feed, and then spent nearly an hour fiddling about trying to reconnect the feeds to the 12v supplies. It was frustrating, but I managed it in the end.

I attatched the lid, tidied away all the cables, and finally sat down for dinner and an (I think) well deserved cuppa.

Long-term plans include changing the short piece of cable between the master switch and the fuseboard for something a little heftier, as the exisiting cable (the brown one entering the white fusebox on the right hand side in the photos above) is a little small, and so the lights tend to flicker whenever a high-current demand, like the water pump or the inverter, is used- which is annoying when showering, as the lights dim and brighten in time with the cycles of the water pump! But it is still slightly better with the improvements I made, there's just a little more to go.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Kids of Today

Or, rather, Kittens- have no respect for their elders and betters.

It turns out that Big-Loud-Human and Springy-Curly-Hair-Human on the Oddly-Wide-Blue-Boat that moors next to the Warm-Home-Place boat has had the temerity- no, the pawdaciousness!- to invite a little ginger catkinkitten into their lives. I espied him last week through the windows of Oddly-Wide-Blue-Boat, and gave him a haughty stare- he must Know His Place.

But it turns out that he hasn't learned yet that kittens must be Seen And Not Heard, because two days ago, I was strolling down the bank quite happily inspecting my territory, and keeping an eye on the White-Hissy-Flappy-Things, when this little bundle of ginger fluff turns up out of the blue (literally) and wants to gambol and play and exercise.

Well! The cheek of it! He'd barely introduced himself when he started stalking my tail, and forced me to chase him around a bush. I saw him again today, and he hadn't learned a thing. Despite my giving him a Very Hard Stare, he decided to jump into my Warm-Home-Place-Boat, and I had to chase him off. He kept doing it all afternoon, and running round and around toolboxes and bags on the bank.

I give up, I really do- but- keep this to yourself- it was a little bit fun. I just couldn't show the Humans that, and break my facade of lazy indifference. I spend ages perfecting my act- despite them poking me and saying I'm getting fat, and need to get more exercise, pah! It's not fat, it's insulation for the harsh winter!- and then this little kitten goes and forces me to drop it, and the Humans see that, after all, I quite like playing and chasing.

And I have heard rumours of a tiny, one-month-old kitten on New-Arrived-Under-Tree boat, who is black all over- a far more sensible colour, but still not at all as good as my own brindlecoat- which will mean another youngster who will need keeping in line, and who will need to be Kept In Their Proper Places!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Ex Libris

Three years ago, Cambridge Central Library closed its door to the public, and promised to be open again as soon as possible. I was a student then, with little time for reading books other than for my course so I barely noticed its disappearance. But when James and I moved back to Cambridge, we were sad to note that the library was still closed. Both he and I are avid readers, but James is such a quick, voracious reader, that without a steady supply of new material, he suffers severe withdrawal symptoms! We frequented the library in Ely whenever we were moored there, as well as the poorly stocked library van that parked in the market square two days a week. We even resorted to bookswapping, to try and keep fresh reading matter flowing! But it was not enough, really, and a despondent James read and re-read the books we have on the boat.

So, when the library finally reopened its doors on the 29th September, we were delighted. I kept up with the progress of the refurbishment using the library's twitter feed: @camcentral. It is a huge, hi-tech library, on three floors in the centre of town with automatic check-in and check-out using RF tags on the books. It has wifi, loads of computer terminals, a cheap, tasty cafe and a large collection of books. There is even a film library where you can watch anything from the vast BFI catalogue in booths using headphones. We were very impressed when we visited on Saturday, and will be returning. Frequently!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A Winter's Tale (and a surprise visit)

This weekend we have been preparing for the arrival of colder months. The first job was to fit a liner into our new chimney, so that we could burn all the lovely fuel that we have recently acquired: 200kg of Phurnacite as well as lots of wood. The unlined chimney had been leaking tar and dribbling nasty stains on to the newly painted roof. We could have just bought a new one, but it was very simple to get a steel tube from Mackays and bolt it onto the inside of the chimney, with the tube fitted neatly into the hole in the boat itself. Drilling three holes at 60 degree angles was interesting (they had to be at these positions to fit a coolie hat) - we don't have a protractor or compasses, so we used our kitchen clock to mark the positions for drilling the three holes!

Then we decided to get the winter coats out of the welldeck, prompting a sort-out of everything that we store both under there and in the fore-peak locker. This is how much stuff we had stored:

Note R2D2 helmet that James wore to cox last year's Christmas Head (fancy dress rowing race)

Some of it went back in, some was thrown away, and some will be donated to Emmaus. But it is all much neater now, and easier to get at the important things like coal and the generator.

Today, we were happy to receive a semi-surprise visitor. My younger sister (not the one who visited recently but the other one, Esther) called last night to ask if she could come and visit, so this morning she arrived from London. She has just embarked on a degree in Medicine at St Barts and the London, having spent the last two yeas travelling. I had not actually seen her since sometime last year, when she came over from France for her interview. So it was lovely to see her, and show her the boat. Now all the members of my immediate family have visited! She found the tranquility of our location and the boating lifestyle to be a welcome break from the chaos of Freshers week in the centre of London, and now she is close by I hope we will see a lot more of her!