Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Holiday Picture Book 1: The Stort

 Some more pictures from our trip to the Stort:

Wonky barge with unusual seating!
Ankle deep
Bridge over the River Stort

The three-legged cat at our B&B

Monday, 27 December 2010

Christmas Food!

Mulled wine syrup
James and I spent Christmas at my mum's house. It was lovely - lots of great food, drink and company. One of the most successful recipes we tried was Jamie Oliver's mulled wine. It involves making a syrup of dark sugar, a little bit of wine and clementine juice, as well as clementine peel, lime peel, lemon peel, cinnamon sticks and star anise. This means that when you add the rest of the red wine and orange juice you don't have to boil it so long, and save more of the alcohol!  It went down very well.

On Boxing Day, my sister made Christmas Pudding Apple Strudel. We had a bit of Christmas pudding left, and so she used it to make this lovely dessert. First she grated Bramley apples and cooked them up with cinnamon, allspice and ginger. Then, she layed out filo pastry sheets, using melted butter to stick them together, and covered them with the apple and crumbled Christmas pudding. She rolled it up, sprinkled it with sugar and cooked it for 40 minutes. It was delicious, especially with brandy sauce!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas from the Ducks

Wishing all of our readers a wonderful Christmas, and a happy and prosperous New Year!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Stalag Puss III

Well. How aggravating.

After the recent trip in the Wobbly Box to the place with other cats and dogs- and Scary Spike Man- I've been catnapped.

The food-providing humans put me in the box again- again! How rude!- although this time I was taken in the back of one of the moving boxes that humans travel in to what I can only describe as a prison.

I knew what was going to happen. Oh yes. The humans left, and I was left in a small room, with interesting toys. But I've seen what happens in the things that the humans have been watching the Moving Picture Box.

I immediately miaowed to the cat next door, and the other cats down the corridor.

Mister Bojangles, three cells down, has been appointed Big X. The escape committee meets tonight. I'm going to suggest digging a tunnel, with the entrance concealed under my litter tray.

But riding the motorbike later on could be problematic...

Thursday, 23 December 2010

In the News Again

Several people have mentioned to me that they saw the Duck's photo in the Cambridge News. I sent in a few icy pictures that I had taken, but never heard anything back. However it seems that they published one of them. I didn't get a copy of the paper, but you can see it in this slideshow (it's No.7):


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Winter Wonderland

On Sunday, James and I took the train to Sawbridgworth in order to walk along the River Stort. We had wanted a couple of days away together to head for somewhere on a canal or inland waterway. So, partly inspired by the recent adventures up the Lee and Stort of Herbie, Northern Pride and Halfie, we looked into walks in the area and finding a B&B. After a lot of searching on the net, I came across Grange Guest House in Bishop's Stortford, just minutes from the river, and highly recommended in lots of reviews.

Our walk took us North, following the river. It was incredibly beautiful, everything blanketed under a layer of thick snow. It took us two and a half hours to walk the 3 miles to Bishop's Stortford and although it was hard work in the thick snow, we really enjoyed it.

Once in the town itself we quickly located the B&B and were welcomed by its owners Paulette and Peter. Paulette showed us to our beautifully decorated, ensuite attic room, and then offered us tea to warm up. We drank it in the cosy living room, complete with open fire, and met the two friendly cats. One of the cats only had three legs! But she in particular wanted to make friends!

After we'd finished our tea we headed in to the town to explore. It is a pretty little town, although we didn't get very far in the cold and ended up reading in a bookshop. We ate dinner at a Pizza Express housed in a fantastic Elizabethan pub, before heading back to the Guest House. We slept very well, although we were not used to being so warm! We would really recommend it - such a welcoming place, but we still felt like we had privacy.

In the morning we were served a delicious cooked breakfast, and the packed up and headed out. We had planned another walk along another stretch of the Stort, but when we found that there were no trains from Bishop's Stortford, we decided to head back to Cambridge immediately. It took us four hours in the end - we caught a bus to Stansted, where we were able to catch a train to Cambridge.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Awesome Cards

We have received lots of lovely Christmas cards from various people (including a gorgeous Moo card from Chertsey), so thank you to everyone who has sent one.

However, I have to say that my favourite ones so far came from James' step cousins Luke and Isaac.

Luke's card had a pirate theme. This is the front:

Inside, he wrote us a little poem about a seasick pirate:

There once was a noble sailor
Who at sea went a lot paler
For he suffered from sea-sickness 
Which made him pretty useless
At being a noble sailor.

Both James and I would be useless noble sailors - we get terribly seasick!

Isaac's card was a wintry narrowboating scene, complete with a miniature underwater scene involving an igloo and a snowman with frozen looking fish swimming around! 

Friday, 17 December 2010

Frozen Panel

This morning I was just about to leave for work (for my last day until the 4th Jan!) when I noticed the solar panel was completely obscured by snow. The sun was out so I thought it would be worth exposing it for the little bit of power it would generate and tried to scrape the snow off. It was frozen on fast. Undeterred, I went inside and grabbed the largest vessel (my enamel teapot!) I could find and filled it with warm water straight from the Morco heater. Then I poured it carefully over the 5m panel, to get rid of the layer of snow and let light onto the panel. It was mostly sucessful: It did freeze back on, but the frozen later of water now on it is thinner and translucent rather than thick and opaque, so it might charge the batteries a little. I expect we'll continue to need to run the generator nonetheless.

Lyra came out and watched me, entirely unconvinced by all the snow and ice. In the photo below her paw is blurred because she is trying to shake the ice off it!

Last night we went to the Camboaters social in the Fort. It was a lot of fun, to see old faces and meet some new boaters. 

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Fancy Dress Rowing

The Christmas Head was held on Saturday, traditionally the 'fun' race for the town clubs, where everyone dresses up in silly costumes for the racing. It was beautifully sunny and warm: such a nice change from the previous week. Sadly James was ill in bed with a tummy bug, but I rowed twice, in the more serious women' boat which came second in our category, and in a mixed boat in fancy dress. We had two mixed boats, one chasing the other so the obvious choise was cops and robbers. I was in the robbers boat. It was great fun, although in the end the cops beat the robbers by 20 seonds over the course.

All these photos are from William C, whose version of events can be found here along with lots of photos of the various silly outfits of other crews: William's Blog



On Sunday, James was feeling better, and we had great fun in the afternoon rowing in Paul and Sarah's stag/hen row. James and Emma organised it, and we helped adorn the boats with banners and balloons. Paul rowed in the Viking outfit of his stag do, and Sarah had a veil as well as a hen 'beak'. We began with glasses of bubbly before setting out. In order to make the races fairer between the men and women, they involved not just ordinary side-by side racing, but a spinning competition- who could turn the boat 180 degrees one way the the other quickest, a single stoke competition, a balance competition and a race where the men were rate capped at 20. It was a draw with the men and women's boats winning 3 races each. It was pretty cold out on the water so we retired for mulled wine in the Fort.

The Hen Boat

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Spiced Parsnip Soup

I had a craving for hot soup and bread the other day, so decided to make a big pan of spiced parsnip soup, perfect for winter!

Picture from recipesfromanormalmum.
I'm not organised enough to photograph my cooking!
When I spoke to my mum last night she asked if I'd give her the recipe so I thought i'd blog it and share it with everyone. It really is very simple.

tablespoon of olive oil
1 whole onion (red or white)
3 large parsnips
4 medium potatoes
teaspoon of cumin
flat (not heaped)! teaspoon of mild chilli powder
vegetable stock cube
a knob of butter
splash of milk

Peel and chop parsnips and potatoes. If you have a blender you could leave the skins on, but I don't! Chop onion and fry in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add chopped veg and spices, add stock and top up with water to cover the veg. Once boiling, turn down the heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Add milk and butter, then blend. I just mashed it up with my potato masher since I couldn't be bothered to turn the inverter on to use my little 240v/125w hand blender, so it was nice and chunky.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Iced In

Well, temporarily. We awoke to a bizarre lack of movement and stillness, as there were no rowing boats out. Eventually, I think a brave scull or something must have passed because there was a great scrunching and squeaking as the ice around the Duck broke and ground against the boat. We looked out of the window to see a sheet of thin ice across the river. We've never seen that before. It was quite impressive. The swans were icebreaking through it, so it wasn't thick, but it was all the way across the river.

The trees and grass looked beautiful - all covered in hoar frost.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

'Tis the Season to be Boating

Moored at the Plough in the sun

...although we've unfortunately not got time to do as much as we'd like, we've still managed to fit quite a few different things in. I do love boating at this time of year, especially when it's crisp and clear, with a wisp of smoke coming from the chimney, a pan of soup warming on the stove, and the low winter sun glinting on the water and the roof.

Over the course of the weekend, we managed to fit rather a lot in. On Saturday, Amy and I were at the boathouse for 8:30, Amy to row, and me to coach, although I ended up coxing the outing when one rower didn't show up. Afterwards, I had another outing with the men's squad, and for a crew thrown together at the last minute on Friday night, it went surprisingly well.

The river is shrugging off the last few bits of ice. Over the past week, it iced over completely in several places. Although this is of course very common on the canals, I've never seen it right accross flowing water, bank to bank. The ice was still extant throughout the week, to the extent that the Fairbairns races- organised by Jesus College rowing club since 1927, over 4,660 metres- were cancelled because of the extent of the ice, for only the third time in their entire history.

By Saturday morning, the ice had mostly gone but was still present towards Baits Bite lock, and so we rowed over a reduced section of river. I spotted Andreas on nb Innocenti coming into Cambridge to pump-out. Andreas used to moor in The Parish along with Pippin, ourselves and others, and is currently renting Mike's boat while Mike is away "dahn sarf"- in Antarctica (eventually). After returning to the boathouse and thawing up with tea and scrambled eggs on toast, Amy and I visited Andreas and discussed the Parish news before heading over to the Mill Road Winter Fair.

Mill Road is a particularly diverse area of Cambridge, with many independent traders and this annual fair. The road was closed to traffic and we wandered around sampling cakes, hog roast, and the festive music of a brass band.

A quick phone call to John led us to the Parish in the late afternoon, where we had tea and cake again (a popular feature of the weekend!) and enjoyed catching up with John, Jackie and Tom Kitten aboard Pippin. We headed home replete.

Sunday morning saw more rowing, until midday. Although the weather was cold, it was above freezing and the sun came out, so we headed to the Plough pub out in Fen Ditton. Packed with people having Sunday lunch, we managed to find a small table, and having had soup and fresh bread on the boat during the journey out, we had pudding only before heading back into town.

The sun was still out as we headed all the way in to the waterpoint, where we filled and emptied the various tanks, and were visited by Squeaky, the black swan.

Bullied by the other swans, Squeaky is unique on the Cam.

In order to spice up the return journey from the waterpoint, I often try and reverse the whole way. It's a challenge- about 500m, with two corners and moored boats for most of the way. Because there was no traffic at 3:30, I decided again to go for it.

The Duck isn't the easiest boat to steer in reverse, being fairly short and stumpy; but if you get the engine revolutions just right, and the tiller dead straight, the prop-walk effect dies down and she comes backwards beautifully. It's even possible to steer, by moving the tiller the opposite way to usual- but care does need to be taken, because of the reverse flow over the rudder it's extremely heavy to use. The trick I've found is to keep looking at the bows to correct the direction of the boat, with only the odd glance astern to line the boat up with where you're going.

This time, I managed almost the entire journey in reverse gear, with only one short, exciting moment when the boat turned sharply towards the bank; I think it's a shallow spot on the inside of the corner, and so the lack of depth sucked the stern towards the bank. A powerful burst of forward gear got the boat straight again. Maybe one day I'll be able to make the entire journey with no bursts of forward gear at all!

We're currently relaxing around the stove with (for only the second time since April...) the generator running, powering the laptops and topping up the batteries for a Sunday night watching iPlayer.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Late Night Flapjack

The other night I had a sudden desire to make flapjack, following a misguided decision not to buy pudding when we went shopping! I checked in the cupboards and found exactly the right amounts left in the containers of the four ingredients in Delia's recipe: golden syrup, sugar, porridge oats and butter. I did have to remelt the golden syrup which had crystallised since I last used it!

The result was a delicious gooey flapjack when still warm (we couldn't wait, although we did stick it outside in sub-zero temperatures for a few minutes as a concession to the concept of 'allowing to cool'). When it had properly cooled the next morning I was delighted to find that it didn't become tough and concrete-like but retained a pleasing chewyness.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Spiky Poky Things

Female Food-Providing Human came home early recently. I was pleased to see her because my water bowl hadn't properly defrosted outside and I thought I might get an early dinner. But no, she only gave me a little handful of food, and put it in the bottom half of the Nasty Dark Wobbly Box. I should learn that these small food offerings often lead to a journey in the Nasty Dark Wobbly Box, but I was too excited about eating my favourite crunchy food. Suddenly I was trapped in the box. I was most aggrieved.

The box moved all the way across the Big Grass (I could just about see out) and it moved too much to be able to sit still. So I wobbled about, and squeaked and tried to tell Female Food Providing Human how horribly annoyed I was by this turn of events, as I could hear her voice close by. But the wobbling continued until we came into a place full of other boxes containing similarly aggrieved cats (I could hear them trying to tell their humans). Then the Growly Yappy Things arrived. They weren't in boxes but at least I was safe in mine.

Suddenly we were on the move again and the box opened. Another human took me out and began prodding and poking me. Nasty Proddy Human poked my ears, looked in my mouth and I didn't like it AT ALL. I jumped off and ran around under the table, but Female Food Providing Human picked me up again. Then, the worst thing: a nasty long spike was stuck in the back of my neck! I squealed and then they put me back in the box. For once I was glad to be in the box - away from the Nasty Proddy Human and the spike.

Soon the box was moving back across the Big Grass, and then I could see Warm Home Place Boat and the door was opened again. Finally!

I hope I don't have to go back in there again soon!
(Lyra is very healthy and now all vaccinated for the year. She has no fleas, probably because she doesn't see any other cats, despite spending all day every day outside. We went to Clarendon Street Vets just the other side of the Common - Female Food Providing Human aka Amy)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Have an Ice Day

On Sunday morning at 9:30, and with temperatures apparently at around -5, we set off for a rowing outing, with me in the boat and James coaching. Earlier, the boatman  had come and warned us that when he went out in the quad earlier, they had not been able to get any further than Logan's Way (about half a mile from the boathouse). But we thought we may as well go out and see how far we got. We saw quite a few plates of ice float past but nothing actually stopped us rowing until we got half way up the Reach and found that we couldn't get our blades in to the water anymore, there was so much ice on the surface of the water. Ice can also damage the gel coat of glass fibre rowing boats like ours so it wasn't worth continuing. Instead, we raced up and down the ice-free part of the river, and although most people's hands and feet felt pretty cold, it was still a fun outing. No photos - we were tempted to take the Duck out and go do some icebreaking, as it was a beautiful day, but we had social commitments that didn't allow time for it.

This morning we did have some snow in Cambridge but it hasn't lasted. I left Lyra peeping out of the cratch cover, looking confused, but was running late for work so didn't take a picture. I will be sure to take photos if we have any more!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Committee Commitment

Last night James and I went to the AGM of Camboaters, the resident's association for all the boaters on the River Cam, It formed several years ago following attempts by the council to ban boaters from mooring in Cambridge. The boaters obviously won, and the system currently in place was created. However, over the years, the group has become dispirite and not as sociable as it once was, with a small group of regulars keeping things going.

This AGM, there was even talk of a 'dormant' committee who didn't meet if there was not enough interest in forming an active one. But thankfully, that has not happened. Luther came forward to be the Chair - the hardest job, I am Secretary, and Charlotte is Treasurer. James is also on the committee, but without an official position. There are seven of us in total, although I've yet to be sent the full list, as several people who weren't there may also be on it.

I'm pretty excited by it. As well as being a chance to get to know people (we put several faces to boats/names last night, which was nice) I hope we will be able to reinstate events which have proved so popular in the past but haven't been held this year, like the Great Cam Clean-Up, and the Boat Open Day. Camboaters isn't perfect, but there's only one way to change things, and that's to get involved.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

What makes an ideal live-aboard boat?

James wrote this in response to this question being posed on CWDF, but I think it's an interesting enough topic to warrant a blog post:

To an extent, it's brokerspeak- because of course you could live onboard any boat, even in a 9' back cabin with no water tank or electricity if you wanted to!

I'd say, though, that if you are going to live aboard your boat, you'll find some things more useful- but not essential- than others.

For example, as a liveaboard with a mooring, I don't move that often, only short cruises to the waterpoint and back, and occasionally longer weekend or holiday trips of a week, with a long summer jaunt for a month. As a result, I'm glad that:

  • We have instant gas water heating, so no need to run the engine or an expensive diesel heater to get hot water
  • We have a solid fuel stove, and lots of storage space for buying coal in bulk, rather than a diesel heater.
  • We have solar panels and a (small) genny, and we've been almost entirely self-sufficient from that 130w panel since April- only run the genny a couple of times when watching TV for an extended period, etc.
  • We have plenty of storage for my entire wardrobe of clothes, from dinner jacket down to boat-blacking overalls- although fitting Amy's collection in too is a challenge...
  • We have a proper amount of storage in the kitchen, so we can store a good deal of food.
  • We have a lot of storage for all my tools, spare diesel cans, paint, and all the supplies needed to maintain the boat.

So in my opinion, the most ideal liveaboard boat will be equipped to allow you to live on it without having to rely on running the engine every day for hot water or power, will have an economical form of heating with space to store the fuel, and the space to allow you to bring all your possesions with you.

Of course, you can do without some or all of the above- there are of course liveaboards who do run engines and gennies for extended periods of time, and have adapted their lifestyle around the needs of their own boat. But I think my central point is that the ideal liveaboard boat allows you to live aboard it with the minimum amount of faff, and to not have to rely on moving every few days. 

To illustrate: a picture of the domestic cosiness of a liveaboard!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Emma Novice Regatta

On Sunday we got up quite late - James had been out til the wee hours at a friend's stag do, involving viking costumes and cocktail making, and I was tired out having rowed in two races the day before.

When we woke up we noticed that the river was full of rowers dressed in silly outfits, and we remembered that it was Emmanuel College's annual Novice Regatta that afternoon. So we walked out to the Long Reach to watch. Novice rowing is brilliant fun to watch, they have so much enthusiasm but so little experience that things can go very wrong and cause spectacular results! Added to this, they were all dressed quite colourfully in crazy costumes. The best one we saw was a boat full of gondoliers coxed by a Venetian masked lady with a bunch of roses tied to the bow!

They were racing side by side, with novice coxes, so there were lots of blade clashes and boats slewing into the bank. No-one was hurt at all but many were dispirited to see their several length lead disappear as a result of a coxing error or a crew-mate catching a gigantic 'crab' and losing control of their blade.

Clare Hall and Trinity Hall as reindeer and cats

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Utopia in Norwich

On Sunday, after rowing, James and I decided that it would be fun to go for a walk along the Lee and Stort navigations. So we headed for the station only to find that all the trains that way were replaced by buses. Change of plan! We had a look at the departures board to see what other trains were running, and saw that there was one to Norwich in 7 minutes. So we hopped on.

An hour and 20 minutes later we arrived. It was raining but we were dressed up to go hiking so it didn't really matter. We had a lovely walk around the city centre, and particularly enjoyed the beautiful Art Nouveau Royal Arcade. It is a city of contrasts really. Arriving from the station, we passed about 20 nightclubs, but once in the historic centre, discovered loads of little trendy boutiques selling organic food and things like that. It also has so many churches, all decorated with lovely cut flint.

A very modern 'forum' has been built in the centre since my last visit. A very multifunctional building, it houses the city library, various shops, and a Pizza Express. It's quite a stark contrast to the older buildings around it, but I liked it.

One of the most amazing things we came across while wandering around was a disused building covered in writing. Intruiged, I looked it up when I got back and found that it is the entirity of More's Utopia, written on the building by artist Rory Macbeth.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Full Set

So, now the Duck has featured in the full set of waterways publications: Waterways World, where we had a article about our trials and tribulations in their 'Breaking Down' issue, Canals and Rivers, where Neil used some images of us blacking the Duck to illustrate his article, Towpath Talk, where our blog was featured, and now we're in this month's Canal Boat, with an article about our trip down the backs.

Thanks to everyone who has commented on the article! I really enjoyed writing it. I also owe a massive thank you to my friends who got off the boat and took such wonderful pictures - it wouldn't have been possible without them.

If anyone happens to come across somewhere which sells Canal Boat, I'd be grateful for a copy - nowhere in Cambridge sells it now Borders has shut down, and James' sub has run out. I'd pay you back! We may be sent a proof copy, but either it's not arrived yet or guest contributors don't get them.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Trial Run

Recently, I have been looking for ways to get more exercise. In the winter, we row only at the weekends, and odd evenings when there are enough people to row and a willing night cox. Instead the focus is on land training: circuit training twice a week, or the dreaded rowing machine. But that still leaves lots of time when I could be getting out and doing more. Crucially I don’t want to spend a lot on the gym. I would love to get back into swimming, but need to get the council to provide proof of residency in Cambridge before I can apply for a City leisure card and get it cheaper.

Partly I have been inspired to do more exercise by the website www.heiaheia.com. It’s a social networking site where you can record your training, and see what training your friends have been doing. It ranks you and your friends according to how much training you’ve done that week. It have brought out the competitiveness in me, as I can see how much training the boys are doing and want to encourage the girls to match it! I’ve definitely been doing more since I joined the site, since I know others can see, and I’d feel embarrassed to leave it blank for days! 

Training logs on Heia Heia
Lots of the boys enjoy running, and  so I thought I would have a go. It’s a way to get out and do some cardio/legs training without needing to involve a single other person or any complicated kit. So last night I began with a short circular run up and down the river, alternating between walking and running. I rather enjoyed it, but I need to prove to myself that I can keep it up regularly. I already have most of the kit I need, in that rowing kit serves well as running kit. But I will need to invest in some better shoes if I am to keep doing it more seriously. So I’m going to build it up over the coming weeks, gradually increasing the ratio of running to walking. I also like the idea of doing interval training, to make it more interesting. And if I still enjoy it, I’ll invest in new trainers. This will also hopefully keep me doing it, as I won’t want to waste the investment!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


On Sunday, a friend of our brought her mum and dad over to visit. Her mum in particular is a follower of the blog and we had been planning to meet for some time. She is an author, and gave me a copy of one of her books which the library doesn't stock, as well as some tasty gingerbread! It was lovely to meet them, to introduce them to Lyra and to show them around the boat. We went for a short cruise down to the waterpoint, to drop them off in town as well as empty and fill the Duck's tanks. In the course of our conversation, we learned that they were looking to buy a portapotti, and so we offered to give them the one we bought at Emmaus some months ago but never used. Always useful to rid ourself of things we don't need!

Lyra of the Leaves

Monday, 8 November 2010

Going with a bang

The biggest annual public fireworks display in Cambridge takes place on Midsummer Common on the 5th November. All the boaters (including us) are asked to move out of the 'fallout zone' for the duration of the show, which realistically means moving the night before and returning the day after. We moved down to a 'safe' part of the Common, opposite Queens' boathouse.

It was dreadful weather on the night itself but despite this, several of our friends came over to enjoy the fireworks and shelter from the rain with a glass of mulled wine afterwards. We crammed 10 people into the Duck, and so it was very cosy, but good fun to have a little party on board.

Photo Claude Schneider

After most people had gone home, we headed to a friend's house and ended up watching Ghostbusters and staying til 2am!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A weekend of boating

On Saturday, after rowing, we spontaneously decided to go boating. It was such a lovely day, and we had to collect Lyra's cat transporter from the Pippins who had borrowed it the weekend of the Backs cruise. While we could have just taken public transport or cycled, and it would have been quicker, boating seemed much more fun. James had to convince me, but I'm so glad we did. What's the point in living on a boat if you can't just grab the opportunity to chug off out of town on a sunny day?

At Bait's Bite Lock we came across a bit of drama unfolding, as a cox had been taken ill with a bad asthma attack, and was awaiting an ambulance. We had thought tht we could help provide blankets etc but just as we moored up, the FRV arrived, and the paramedic was soon with her, follwed by an actual ambulance. She was on a bench a hundred metres from the lock, but there are bollards preventing any emergency vehicles driving down the towpath. We were surprised that the ambulance crew didn't have the code to unlock and remove the bollards. When our rowing club organised a race, we were given the codes so we could take a car down to the start line along the towpath. As it was, she was close to the carpark at the lock, but had an emergency occurred further away, the paramedics would have had a long walk. Once she was safely in the ambulance, we spoke to one of the bystanders who had helped. As it happened, the woman I spoke to had been walking with her husband, an asthma sufferer, who knew what was needed and improvised a nebuliser out of a drinks bottle, and her daugher, a cox from the same college as the girl. So she was able to cox the boat back home! How fortunate to have had the exact people who could help on hand.

We continued on out to our old mooring, having called in advance and arranged to eat with Pippins that evening. John cooked up a simply delicious meal involving lamb seasoned with rosemary, garlic and capers, roast parsnips and potatoes, and carrot and swede mash. There was also gravy made with the juices of the lamb, red wine and John's Secret Rocket Fuel. Delicious. It was so good to catch up that we ended up staying far later than planned, drinking and talking. However, this is the great thing about living afloat. We simply didn't bother chugging home that evening as planning, but stayed on the boat.

Alas, we had an outing at 8am, but it is a nice cycle ride into town, and although I was glad we did it, I was knackered before we even started rowing! After the outing we cycled back rather more slowly, and had a cup of tea on the Duck before heading back over to Pippin for a much needed and enjoyed cooked breakfast. How lucky are we? Several others who moor/moored there were also about and it was great to catch up with Rhoda (from Hullabaloo) and Andreas (sadly boatless at the moment).

After brunch, we headed over in John's car to Jones' boatyard in St Ives and got some diesel at sensible red diesel prices, as well as some chemicals for our new loo (more on that soon). Rhoda also needed to go for a filter for her engine, but they didn't have the right type so she is going to be living with her parents for the next few days until it arrives, as her engine is her only source of electricity! Poor girl. I hope she finds the right one. Tea and teacakes followed when we got back. By the time we left, it was getting dark, but we quite enjoy night boating. We went all the way in to the water point to empty the old loo, and James amazingly managed to reverse all the way back to the mooring. It is a good 500m away!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Loving London

I was in London for a conference on Friday morning, but it finished at 1pm, and so James (since he was still on half term) decided to join me afterwards for a lovely long walk around London. When I lived in the city, we used to spend evenings just wandering about the Thames and the Regents' canal, dreaming of living afloat. So it is fun to come and follow the same routes as bona-fide live-aboards.

We started in Lambeth, at the IWM where my conference had been held. Then we headed West, to the river, and began our walk along the Thames just oppsite Westminster, where we saw laden tugs Resource and Redoubt pulling barges full of rubbish containers. With their dirty industrial aesthetic, they formed a stark contrast to the elegant buildings they passed. We also saw one of the London Ducks, the amphibious vehicles designed for the D-day landings, and now used as tour vehicles. First we saw it pass under Wesminster Bridge, then later on it crossed Blackfriars bridge on the road!

We walked along the South Bank, which is quieter, passing the Royal Festival Hall (one of my favourite concrete buildings!) and the little urban beach at Gabriel's Wharf. Our desitination on the Thames, however was my friend Priscilla's benches at Fish Wharf, on the North Bank, just near The Monument and in sight of Tower Bridge. She won a design competition run by the City of London and the Worshipful Company of Stonemasons. They are lovely: carved by apprentice stonemasons, and inspired by the flowers she saw while researching for the project and walking along the river. I went to their unveiling last year.

We then took the tube up to Camden, to go the market and sit on the lock beams eating a picnic. Dusk was falling so we didn't expect to see any boats, but one narrowboat did come up throught the locks, and we were able to help them, as they were a bit inexperienced. I love the vibrancy of Camden Lock market, it's just so much fun to wander around, even if you don't buy anything.

We had to get the slow Liverpool line home but got there eventually. Thankfully we weren't on the train which was held at Royston for 4 hours!

Tomorrow, I will post a blog about our fantastic weekend cruising out to our old mooring and catching up with our friends out there!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Dream Boat

The first of an occasional series of posts, about other boats that I like. You'll have to excuse me sounding like Tom Cunliffe in his recent BBC series...

This is Consuta, built in 1898 as an umpire's launch for rowing races. The umnpire is necessary for regatta-style racing, especially when there are no buoys to mark the racing lanes, such as at Henley Royal and Women's Regattas, and the Umpire uses a flag to warn crews to move apart. She had to be fast, to keep up with rowing eights- top speed is about 17mph- and powerful, able to accelerate rapidly from a standstill to full speed. In 1898, that meant a steam power plant.

She has a locomotive-style boiler, supplying a 100hp. vertical steam engine, and is made of veneers of mahogony, stitched together with copper wire. At 50ft long, a fraction longer than the Duck, she weighs just 3 tons.

Here she is, in action at Henley Women's Regatta in 2009:

Waterways A-Z

Had to blog about the faboulous tea towel which James' mum sent me for my birthday, along with a little chopping board featuring a duck. The tea towel is an A-Z of the waterways:

I particularly like Q:

Monday, 25 October 2010

A Plumb Job

Last Thursday morning we had plumbing emergency number 1, when the shower hot water pipe split. It had been under stress for a while, as the shut off tap on the pipe had become stiff and we'd had to use molegrips to turn it on and off! We turned the water off until after work, when James went to buy another short section of pipe to replace the split bit, and a nice new shut off tap. These were soon fitted and we thought all was well.

However, the water pump kept being triggered every now and again, leading us to think that there was probably a leak somewhere. On Friday evening, I was out and James had another look at the compression joints to make sure they were tight. In the process of tightening them, it seem that he damaged further another section of pipe which was already weak and leaking slightly. Plumbing emergency Number 2! Unfortunately, this section was inside the wall. The pipe exited the hot water boiler, made a right angle into the bulkhead, down between the bathroom wall and bedroom wall, and back out into the bathroom. Quite why, we can't work out, except perhaps for neatness.

We decided that the simplest way to fix this was to cut off the section which went inside the wall, and reroute the pipe straight down from the water heater to the T junction with the shower pipe. A trip to B&Q later, we had all the parts required to fix the problem, it didn't take long to put it all together. We do, however, still have a redundant section of pipe embedded in the wall, as we'd have to take the bedroom wall apart to remove it!

New fittings

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Run For It

On Sunday, just before we set off for our cruise, we saw hundreds of runners pass our boat. I was trying to get back from Tesco's and found myself walking against the stream of blue-Tshirted athletes! They were all raising money for Cancer Research by running 10km, and the route went along the river. It was incredible to see so many people all running along together.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Duck does the Backs

There is one section of the river that had always remained tantalisingly unexplored by Lucky Duck. We have walked across its bridges many times, and punted up and down it during our time as students. 'The Backs' encompasses that stretch of the river Cam which has been photographed more often than any other, where the colleges line the water, and tourists come to experience quintessential England, watching students drift along in punts drinking Pimms. From April until October, all powered craft are banned from this part of the river, and rightly so, as it is carnage enough with inept punters blithely unaware of the rules of navigation.

But in the Winter, with permission, powered craft are allowed to navigate (if not moor up). We had always wanted to ascend Jesus Lock and attempt to cruise down to the head of navigation at the Mill Pond, so this year, decided to celebrate my birthday by doing just that. I emailed the Cam Conservancy last week, and yesterday got a reply saying that yes, we have permission, and that the punt companies will be duly informed.

It has been done. This is a photo from the Camboaters website

St John's Kitchen Bridge is the lowest bridge, and the most likely to cause a problem. Under nomal river conditions, the height is given as 2.08m. The Duck has got under 1.70m on the Nene, but that was a flat bridge and this is arched. Hmm. But we could turn round if it all goes wrong, and there was only one way to find out!

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, perfect for our adventure. We spent the morning doing last minute preparations, including buying provisions, stowing a quarter of a ton of coal and sealing a couple of drain holes which we were worried might end up below water level with lots of people ballasting the bows down.

At 12:30, we set off from where we are moored and headed to the water point to fill up in order to keep the bows low. At 1pm or so, everyone began to arrive. I handed out warming cups of butternut squash and bacon soup, mulled wine and tea, since everyone was sat outside in the bows to get the best views. We'd also taken off the fabric cratch cover. Bones and James went to set the lock and the once all the guests were on board, we set off through the lock and onto the Middle River.

The Duck prepares to exit Jesus Lock and onto the Middle River

We approach St John's College, where the lowest bridge,
St John's Kitchen Bridge was our biggest worry in terms of air draft,
with its height given at 2.07m on the Cam Conservancy website.

Soon we were under the famous Bridge Of Sighs at St Johns,
and jostling with punts, which were out in force on this glorious sunny day.
(photo: R. Herzig)

We made it under St John's Kitchen Bridge!
Everyone took photos of this momentous occasion.
From here on in, all we have to worry about are the rogue punts!
(photo: R. Herzig)

James steers expertly under the Kitchen Bridge,
but has to duck in order to make it! Plenty of room.
(photo: P. Garsed)

Another of the Kitchen Bridge

Clare Bridge (photo: R. Herzig)

Clare College, James' alma mater (photo: C. Houldcroft)

Lyra was very good. She kept out of the way in the bedroom mostly.
Jackie took this photo of her when were at the Mill Pond.
(photo: J. Witts)

We had more cups of tea, mulled wine, and soup while turning around at the Mill Pond. Then, we headed back, again dodging punts. Both ways, we had several close encounters with the multitude of punts which were out and this was certainly the main worry, after fitting under the Kitchen Bridge. However, thanks to James' steering we had no collisions whatsoever. A few of the professional punters suggested that we weren't allowed to be there, but we assured them that we had permission from the Conservators, and there was little they could say to that! All the punt companies had also been informed of our trip 48 hours before by the Conservators.

All in all, it was a very sucessful trip, and having seen how easy and fun it is to do, we'll most likely try it again sometime before the powerboat ban is enforced again in March! So, thanks to everyone who came, for making my birthday cruise so much fun, and for getting off to take such lovely photos!