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.

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