Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Back to Backs

There is one section of the river that has 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 have always wanted to ascend Jesus Lock and attempt to cruise down to the head of navigation at the Mill Pond, so this year, we are going 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's only one way to find out. We'll be heading upstream, so won't be swept onto it, and will equip the cabin corners with tyres to prevent scraping. We'll also remove the cratch board, fill the water tank, and get lots of people to stand in the bows to weigh it down. 

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Ordnance Survey Guide to the Broads and Fens

Anyone who has ever cruised the East Anglian waterways will know the Imray Guides. They have simplistic maps, dreadfully out of date information, and ours are covered in additional notes, in an attempt to make them useful. The far superior Nicholsons' Guides use extracts from the information-rich OS maps, and are much more useful at giving a sense of context. The other day, I discovered that Nicholson USED to do a guide to the Boads and Fens, in a similar style to the current canal guides. Quite why they stopped is a mystery, but the last edition of these guides was in 1986, and they went out of print in the early 90s.

On discovering that this guide used to exist, I set about finding a copy. Even that far out of date, it would be interesting to look at, if not actually genuinely useful as a companion (or replacement, if sufficiently updated with notes and current mooring sites) to the Imray guides. I found a copy at Awesome Books, for 64p! This morning it arrived. I have not had time to look at it in great detail, but it's very interesting, and a revelation to see maps of the fen waterways in some kind of context. Happy to scan bits of it for people who are interested, although it is a strage format that doesn't fit on A4.

The general format is much the same as the new Nicholsons Guides

Baits Bite Lock, with no guillotine gate!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


Just after finishing our 50km row, all smiles!
A lovely photo taken by Will C of me, James and our good friend Freya (who stroked the Boston boat). Now the aches are lessening, Freya and I are looking for the next challenge. There is a 100km row around the canals of Amsterdam and Delft next May which looks really exciting! I wonder if we can find anyone else crazy enough to do it?

Monday, 20 September 2010

A Marathon Row

Lincoln Stamp End Lock - Boston Rowing Club

River Witham

31 miles (50km). 4 hours, 42 minutes

At 5:30am, James and I departed for Lincoln rowing club in the company of 9 other crazy rowers. For the second time, I was to row the Boston Rowing Marathon in an VIII, and James was to cox it. Two other rowers from our club were to row the same distance in a pair (2 men, 2 oars, one little boat).

We arrived at the rowing club, and unloaded the boat while one of the other rowers took the trailer to the other end of the course at Boston, before getting a lift back to Lincoln. This is a logistical nightmare for organisers, as the start and finish of the race are so far apart! As one of the organisers, I had to draw a diagram in the end so that I could get my head round where all the cars and rowers should be at any one time!

The weather did not look good. It was tipping it down as we put the boat together, and showed no signs of letting up. But as we pushed off at 10:56, the rain began to let up. By the time we reached Bardney's Lock, 13.5km further on, it had let up completely! The lock is the most stressful part of the race, with crews competing to get out and back in again as fast as possible. Once back on the river we settled into a good pace, averaging about a 2:30-2:40 split (that's the time taken to row 500m), so we were getting through roughly a kilometer every 5 minutes or so. The km markers are really the only way to know how far you've gone as there are few landmarks on the Witham! James is a great job of keeping us focused and rowing well. He also provided musical interludes by playing rousing tunes via an adaptor down the cox box speakers. We rowed to Smoke on the Water, Don't Stop Me Now and the Ride of the Valkyries! Every 10km or so we had a break to take on water and food, but otherwise we just kept rowing. We had thought we might see Naughty Cal, but perhaps they went the other way in the end.

I enjoyed this year's row more than last year. The actual rowing was better, the cox box lasted the whole length of the race, James's coxing was really very motivational and kept us better focused, and best of all we finished the race 20 minutes faster than last year!

Picture taken by Mel's brother on Will's camera. Taken from Will's flikr album
The crew from left to right and top to bottom: Mel, William D, Freya, William C, Jo, Anne, Joss, me, James. Six of us (Mel, William C, Anne, Joss and me) did it last year as well! Tom and Andy rowed the pair.

I survived without any blisters, and most people manged to avoid getting too many. Today, I just ache all over - especially in my legs! I was certainly glad of the carb-loading I had enjoyed on a lovely spontaneous cruise out to Waterbeach on Pippin on Saturday afternoon. They had unexpectedly come in to Cambridge to pump out and we enjoyed the chance to catch up.

EDIT: Will C has done a blog about Boston too.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

I'm a little teapot

Today I went to Ely today for various reasons. Firstly, I had to get a seatpad from Reeds for the rowing marathon (50km from Lincoln to Boston) which I am doing on Sunday. Some of you may remember reading about this last year, when I rowed in the same event. This year, James is coxing it too, and we have two men in the boat as well as 6 women. Then I headed to the Chandlery to get an extra grate for the stove. I also happened to bump into Chris, from whom we had been planning to borrow a coxbox. Happily he was able to oblige, but had to rush off for an hour before he was able to meet me, giving me a bit of time to kill in Ely.

Not a bad prospect, I thought. It was a lovely day, so the first thing I did was get a half of Aspall's from the Cutter and sit outside in the sunshine reading today's Guardian. After I'd finished my drink, I wandered along the river front to the Antiques shop. There I spotted a beautiful enamel teapot, the colour of butter and sunshine, for £7. I couldn't resist. I had to have it for the boat! It will look perfect on the range when we get our proper working boat one day! I am now looking forward to going home and putting the kettle on after work.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Queen of Hearts

When a friend of ours (Charlotte) came over for dinner the other day, I made a pie. In fact I have made several pies recently - it was the pie shop at Atherstone which got me onto it! They seem like good autumn food, warm and comforting on a cooler evening, but still full of fresh flavours, and as much veg as I can put in the filling and have James still want to eat it!  I'm afraid I didn't make the pastry though. This was my first attempt at a double crust pie, with pastry on the bottom as well as the top. The filling was some nice organic pork, as well as leeks, chestnut mushrooms and spring onions, in a white sauce with lots of wholegrain mustard stirred in.

In my proper enamel pie dish, what else?

But, after making the pie, I still had a ball of pastry left over so Charlotte suggested that we make jam tarts! I thought that was an excellent idea, so we got out the muffin tray and squidged the pastry into rounds, and filled them with raspberry jam or greengage conserve. They were yummy. I shan't be throwing odd scraps of pastry away again.

Mmm. The greengae ones were my favourite.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A Small Squeaky Furry Thing

The Humans didn't let me out for ages recently. The Nasty Noisy Beast inside Warm Home Place Boat growled all day, and outside, the world changed far too much. Sometimes there was wet on both sides, and once in the dark, I fell in, which was most aggrieving. I resigned myself to this life of lethargy, and just slept lots and got slowly fatter. Occasionally the Humans would take me out onto the roof when there was wet on both sides. I didn't like that at all! But then, all at once we were back near the Big Grass again. I could come and go, and walk in the tall grass, and stalk the White Hissy Flappy Things who live all the time in the wet. They let me stay out late, and I caught my first Small Squeaky Furry Thing. I was very excited and brought it in to show the Humans. Female Food Providing Human grabbed it (I thought she wanted it to herself, greedy!) and took it in her hands until it bit her and she dropped it. But she soon had it again by the tail and flung it out into the Big Grass (I don't know why she didn't eat it). They kept me in so I couldn't go back and get it, so I grumped all evening.

Monday, 13 September 2010

New Drawers

At the weekend, we went over to Oxfam to collect the new chest of drawers. We strapped it to the sacktruck and wheeled it home. 


Earlier we had turned the boat around so that the bedroom side hatch was on the bank side. It was no trouble to wheel home, and equally, when we came to fit it through the side hatch, slid in with centimetres to spare on each side. I had a satisfying afternoon sorting through the clothes and finding a new way of organising everything. I had a bit of a sock anmesty, matching up as many pairs as possible, and discarding the rest. 


Meanwhile, James had a go at the well-deck storage. We finally got rid of quite a few things which had been taking up space, and quite clearly we don't use, like a manky old sleeping mat for camping, and a portapotti which is broken. Now we have space for lots of coal storage, and as a plus, I think we've sorted out our slight list, by moving some ballast! A very satifying weekend's work.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Storage Solutions

We have a clothes storage issue on The Duck. We always have done. We have a chest of drawers and a top entry wardrobe under the bed but there simply isn't the space for two peoples' clothes to all fit in the the same time. Even with the wardrobe and drawers full, some are always on the floor/on the chair/in the washing bag.

However, I think I may have found a partial solution. In Oxfam on Burleigh Street I found a lovely little chest of drawers for £10, and so reserved it and measured it up. Back home I measured the space between the top of the desk under the bed and the underside of the bed. The chest of drawers will fit perfectly on the desk under the bed if the legs are removed. And it will fit in through the side hatch.

I just love the little round handles.

Now the next step is to get it home Luckily Oxfam is only a 10 minute walk from the boat. and I think that if we strap the drawers closed, and secure the chest to the sack truck, we could probably wheel it home. Its all flat and the paths are smooth. I shall post the results of our endeavours soon.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Cambridge Wood Works

As a result of my search for a source of firewood that isn't the overpriced bags at the garage, I came across the rather excellent establishment that is Cambridge Wood Works. They operate a double ended business: they collect waste wood  - Pallets - broken or whole, timber offcuts, all sheet materials, doors, windows, frames, boxes, crates, cable reels, furniture, fixtures, fittings - and then recycle it for resale. Unlike wood collected by Cambridge Wood Works, timber which is skipped will end up in landfill, where it rots, producing greenhouse gases like methane.

I contacted them by email asking if they sold scrap wood for burning, and received a prompt reply: they sell huge bags of chopped up wood for £5. So yesterday I went along to their conveniently placed warehouse (about 10 minutes walk from the boat, near Mackays on Occupation Road) with my sacktruck. I was met by David, the director, who gave me a bag. He showed me around the warehouse: it's amazing! So many useful bits of wood and board (all diligently denailed), as well as some furniture.

I'm sure we will be back many times over the winter!

The firewood bags are the white ones on the sheves

All for sale
David and his team

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


For some, winterisation means getting a boat ready to be left unattended for the winter months. For us it means making sure the stove is ready to go and that we have enough fuel. Upon looking in the stove, we saw that one of the firebricks had cracked so I sent off for a replacement from ebay, and we fitted it last night. James also took the baffle plate out, which is proving somewhat difficult to get back in, so we'll have another go at that this evening. We also plan to get another grate to keep fuel in more easily.

The new one is the bright one on the left

We also need to clear out the chimney, which is caked with soot, and put it back together (it's not been back on since we took it off at Denver to go cruising). Hopefully this year, we'll also be able to get in on the large Camboaters coal order and get some Taybrite sorted for the winter. I'm also trying to find a source of wood for kindling/daytime use which isn't the garage!

Our current mooring near the pub is also not the best for sunlight. It is between trees, but at certain times of day, its too shaded, and we've had to run the genny for the first time in ages. So we think we'll move up to a sunnier spot further along the Common soon.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Shackerstone 2010: Boats, bacon, butties and Brasso

James and I spent the weekend camping at a festival. But not your ordinary, pitched in a muddy field, surrounded by tents type camping! We set up camp in the hold of the Ling, Sarah E's ex BW working boat, which was moored on the outside of the Fullers' Ibex and Ilford at the Shackerstone Family Festival (and working boat rally).

Camp site
Shackerstone is on the Ashby Canal, in Leicestershire, and it's pretty much the middle of nowhere. However, to get there by hired car would have been very expensive, so we looked into public transport. It turned out that not only was there a bus to a nearby village (Market Bosworth) but that a friend of ours comes from another village also close by and was happy to offer us lifts both to and from the festival. Sorted!

Ibex and Ilford
We arrived at dusk on Friday night, and set up our new tent for the first time. We had bought it the day before in a sale at Blacks for a mere £30, but it is a fairly good quality Vango. It was the only one we found which was narrow enough to fit in the hold of a working boat and not too expensive! However, as it is a tunnel tent and not a dome tent, it didn't stand up by itself and needed to be in tension at both ends to keep the arches in place. Attaching one end to a spare battery, and the other to the chain across the hold seemed to work well, and the porches at either end were fixed by string to the Ling's knees and shuts.

We were welcomed by the Fullers: Rebekah and Joe, their parents Teresa and Roger, and Roger's brother Martin. Rich was also there, and after introductions, us 'young people' headed off to the Rising Sun for a drink. We had met Rich at Braunston, but it was great to finally meet Rebekah and Joe.

YWBS banner, and the pair loaded with limestone

Map of the working boat display

On Saturday morning we arose at about 8:30, to be greeted with cups of tea fresh from Ibex's range. We were finally able to see the boats in the daylight, and had a look inside the lovely back cabins of the two boats. Sarah E arrived later on, so we were finally able to thank her for the use of her hold! Tom, another member of YWBS also showed up. We spent most of the day on the canal, either hanging out on Ibex, Ilford and Ling eating sausages and chatting or wandering down the towpath looking at the other boats. We did venture into the Festival itself, full of stalls, displays and vintage vehicles of all varieties, but didn't quite feel that it was worth the steep entry fee! One of the most exciting 'displays' was the sudden appearance of the Air Ambulance! Visitors were warned that the rotors' downdraft might cause stones or 'heavy grass' to be flung into the air, which had us all in stitches! There was a display by a Spitfire, which got all the boys standing up on the top planks of Ilford to watch.

One of the highlights of the day was a visit by a little dog, who had seemingly escaped from her owners and decided to take up residence on Ilford. We adopted her as a temporary YWBS mascot and named her Brasso! After half an hour of playing with her, we decided to ring the number on her collar tag. This got through to the rescue centre from which she had recently been adopted, who gave us the number of the current owner, who turned out to be from the pair Monarch and Grimsby, just a few boats down. But they were adamant that they'd not lost a dog, until we insisted that they most certainly had! Little Brasso (actually called Betty) had evidently found a way to escape from the butty without anyone noticing! We were sad to see her go!

James, Rebekah and Brasso

In the evening, we went for a ride on a steam train on the Battlefield Line with Sarah and Tom. Although it was fun, and a snip at £3, I nearly fell asleep after the fun of a day on the canal! When the train got back to Shackerstone station, we headed back to the Rising Sun, where we enjoyed their delicious cider and perry while listening to some folk music. Then, we headed over with all the YWBS lot to the Beer Tent at the festival for drinking, more loud music, and some dancing. It was about 1:30am when we finally crawled into our tent.

On Sunday morning, we awoke to a delicious breakfast: Joe was cooking pancakes on the range in Ibex. He even managed some very skilful back cabin pancake flipping! Unfortunately it wasn't long before the weather closed in and the rain started. However, we were all very cosy, huddled in the warm back cabin of Ilford. Teresa made tea and some lovely bacon butties, and we provided cake. Eventally the rain stopped. We headed back into the fair with Tom and Rebekah. On the way we noticed that the signwriting on the famous wooden butty Raymond had been altered. Whether it had been done by the crew of the butty, or by some prankster, we didn't know, but it was pretty funny, and very well executed, with the shadow in the right place! On the festival field, we particulatly enjoyed loking at the old and model traction engines, as well as peeking into a lovely living van, with a similar interior to a back cabin, albeit more spacious.

Nutfield and Raymondo?

Back at the boats, James began to take on the role of tour guide of the back cabins, which were open to intersted members of the public as part of the festival, particularly when there were primary school aged children interested. He enjoyed doing the teacher thing!

All too soon, we heard from our frield Nicola who was very kindly going to pick us up and take us all the way back to the station at Leicester, saving us a bus and taxi ride! So we said our farewells to the Fullers as well as the other YWBS people who were still about, having had a thouroughly enjoyable weekend. Both of us are becoming more and more determined that we need to get our own working boat when the time is right, although probably not for a good few years yet! Moving onto the canals in the future is also becoming more and more tempting, every time we go!

Friday, 3 September 2010


St Matthew's Street garages

Saw this on my way home from work. It's lyrics from a song by Bring Me The Horizon. I really enjoy graffiti which shows some thought and inspiration, and isn't just imindless 'tagging'. It doesn't come close to the graffiti Sarah saw on a canal in London though. Love that one.

We have a very exciting weekend planned, but I will say more on Sunday night/Monday, once its all over.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

For Sale: 72ft River Class Narrowboat Lee

nb Lee

Some friends of ours who used to live on their boat Lee in Cambridge are now selling up to move abroad. Time is running out for them so I thought I'd help out by advertising the boat here. It's a full length converted working boat (one of the BW River Class boats, built in 1959), and is a lovely family home with some nice features like underfloor heating run from the stove and an oak and mahogany kitchen.

More details can be found at Apollo Duck and it is on for £45,000 ono (reduced from the price stated on Apollo Duck).