Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Summer Pootle Day 9: Change of Plan

Stretham Old Engine GOBA mooring - St Ives, The Waits mooring 

We had planned to head into Cambridge by bus today, to do some work and check our post, but a phone call confirmed that there was no post waiting. As Amy is due to row tomorrow evening, we decided to head onwards to St Ives, so we can both go into Cambridge on the convenient and fast Guided Bus tomorrow.

After visiting the centre of Stretham village to post something and restock on biscuits - we'd had a bit of a pig out yesterday, and eaten all the biscuits we had, clearly an intolerable situation - we pulled the pins and headed off into the grey day.

It was pretty inclement weather, with occasional light showers and watery sunshine. We made Hermitage Lock just after the lock-keeper's lunch break came to an end, having had to clear the prop of weeds several times on a very weedy Old West River. Once through Hermitage Lock, Amy saw a seal on the tidal part of the river by Westview Marina, but I was inside and, unfortunately, missed it - maybe I'll see it on the way back.

There was quite a strong flow on the river, and so we upped the revs and punched the flow, arriving in St Ives at about 5pm. We headed down the side channel to The Waits EA moorings, where we have moored before.

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Summer Pootle Day 8: Down the drain

Ely - Stretham Old Engine GOBA moorings

We stayed in bed until lunchtime, pretty much, as we were completely knackered from the weekend's fun and frolics! We planned to replenish our provisions at a supermarket and head out to Stretham, but things didn't quite work out that way!

I pulled the plug from the kitchen sink after washing up, only to have the plughole surround come away in my hand - and the bottom of the plug fall down, dumping a load of water into the cupboard beneath! I pushed the surround in hard and called for Amy, and together we managed to hold it together from top and bottom to let the water out into containers, before investigating the problem.

It turns out that the sink waste is in two parts, top and bottom, of a recessed hole in the sink. The whole thing relies on one bolt - plastic in this case - between the two to clamp them hard against the edges of the hole and prevent leaks. Amy had nipped up the bolt tightly a few weeks ago to cure a drip, but I found that the head of the bolt had sheared off completely, so that the two parts were not held together.

So we headed into Ely to try and find a replacement. Unsurprisingly, none of the local shops stocked the parts, and so we found several more promising shops on a small industrial estate just by the railway station. We visited Jewson's builders merchants, and a plumbing merchants, and came away with a new, metal, waste. It was slightly larger than the existing sink waste - I'd brought the old plug surround along to compare sizes - and so we hoped it would fit.

Luckily, it was only a 5-minute job to fix. The two parts, in the sink and below it, fitted perfectly and a bit of fettling managed to fit the existing overflow to the same sink waste unit. Job done! And, as the replacement parts are all metal, hopefully more durable, too.

As a result, rather than leaving at lunchtime, it was now the late afternoon. We headed to the waterpoint, and whilst filling the tank, Yarwood arrived; Lesley and Joe had been taking relatives for a cruise. We had a pleasant chat, and headed back through Ely.

Earlier, we'd bumped into Kev in Tesco. Another blogger, he moors his widebeam on EA-administered moorings just next to Bridge boatyard, and so we breasted up temporarily for a cup of tea and cake, and a brief tour of his very impressive and stylish boat. At 60' by 12', it's palatial inside!

We tore ourselves away, and headed out into the grey evening towards Stretham. Although there was a little drizzle, it wasn't really a problem.

We were dismayed to find that the (very short) 48 hour EA moorings at Stretham Old Engine had been dismantled, and were now being used by a private boat; but, even better, there's a long (150') or so GOBA mooring opposite. We moored on that bank before, three years ago, and it was pretty wild and untamed. Now it's quite neatly kept.

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Olympic Weekend: Sunday: Eton Mass

...of people, at Eton Dorney to watch the rowing. It was all very different to the last couple of times I've been to Dorney - with my rowing club a couple of times for races, and also mooring the Duck there when we passed it with Warrior, all those years ago.

Amy and I set the alarm for 5:30 am and walked into Bracknell town centre from my grandad's house. We were due to catch a bus to Windsor at 6:50am, the same route that I used to use to commute to work at Legoland when I worked there over a summer.

We arrived early in Windsor and walked down the hill past Windsor castle towards Windsor and Eton Riverside train station, from whence we would catch a shuttle bus to Windsor Racecourse and then walk to Dorney Lake itself.

We were feeling pretty hungry, and so popped into a bakery for pastries and food to take in. The rules for the venue stipulated that we could bring in only empty drinks bottles - not even water - and no "excessive" amounts of food; or, even, "excessive hats"! Although we managed to get a couple of cups of tea to take away, it wasn't until we got to the station at the bottom of the hill that we realised that they'd not put milk in as we'd asked for, so we went back up the hill to get some. Yes, I know, the lengths we'll go to for a decent cuppa!

The transport to the venue was very well organised. Pink and purple shirted volunteers directed the streams of people towards several waiting buses, themselves painted pink and purple for the occasion. We were soon at Dorney's transport hub on the racecourse - a vast area covered with plastic panels to avoid the buses getting bogged down, and easily 30 buses waiting, coming, and going, and a constant stream of people heading into the racecourse to get to the lake, which we joined. We headed over lots of temporary plastic footways. It had been carefully built to be very wide, so that although we were part of a crowd of thousands moving at the same time, we didn't feel crowded.

The security checkpoints, which we reached after a 15 minute walk or so, had a series of fast-moving queues and chirpy volunteers. All the ranks of metal detector arches and bag scanners were manned by soldiers, so clearly G4S hadn't delivered on that part of their contract!

We crossed the Thames over a huge Bailey bridge, and were soon at the lake itself. We had a good hour before the first race of the day, and standing tickets which meant that we could stand anywhere along the course from the 500m mark to the 1,500m mark. The only criticism I'd have of the organisation was there was a lack of points to fill water bottles; only one near the entrance (although there were more further down) which everyone queued at, forming lengthy delays.

We headed along the lake, and tried to get as close as possible to the start. Although it was fenced off at the 500m mark, we were still able to see the boats aligning themselves with the start pontoons and getting themselves into position.

Heats of the mens' lightweight double sculls

Heats of the Men's IV- (coxless four)

Women's eights heat- Great Britain just above the head of the person with the light blue coat.

All in all, a very good day.

We headed back to Ely, where we'd moored the boat, via London, where we had a bit of a brief jaunt out to Beckton and back on the DLR, past London City airport and the docks, to make full use of our Olympic-issued travel cards, before getting back via another stopover at Stansted Airport, as there were no direct trains on the Liverpool Street line due to the Olympics.

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Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympic Weekend - Saturday - We must be Barking....

The alarm clock shrilled at 4:30 am. On a few hours of fitful sleep, Amy and I pulled ourselves out of bed, and had a very welcome cup of tea with Richard.

We were joined by Wendy, Dave, and Ian, other boaters and blog readers, who would also be crewing for the trip.

Richard started the engine at 5am, and we headed across the basin towards the lock.

There were altogether 7 narrowboats in the convoy towards Barking. 4 went out in the first locking at 5am, and, facing into the incoming tide, stemmed the flow for a bit to wait for us and the other two narrowboats in the second locking at 5:15am.

Entering Limehouse lock. You have to tie up well fore and aft to the steel cable risers, because there's no paddles or sluices - the radial gates are just opened and the water pours through the gap, creating strong flows. We were the last to leave the lock, and so were tail end charlie of the 7 boat convoy.

Leaving the lock and turning into the tidal flow. Unusually, this trip was done against the tide, because we needed it to be high tide at Barking to get into Barking Pool through the tidal barrier. Normally when cruising the Tideway, the time to leave is chosen so as to allow travel with the flow. 

Sign at the entrance to the lock

The convoy heads towards the City in the dawn light. This part was fairly smooth - the passenger clippers hadn't started running yet, and there were very few other boats about.

We were constantly listening to the VHF channel 14, listening to London VTS - Vessel Traffic Services - who act like an air traffic control tower to co-ordinate the movements of all craft on this heavily congested piece of river.

HMS Ocean is moored on the ship buoys near the Cutty Sark at Greenwich, to provide helicopters for air cover over the Olympics. It is quite impressive!

That's a foreend you wouldn't want to meet around a blind bridgehole....

At about 6am, over the VHF, we heard the first clipper of the day - Meteor Clipper - registering with London VTS and moving off of Trinity Pier. We'd already experienced a bit of wash from a passing Police launch- which passed at high speed - but now the water started to get choppier.

I took over the tiller, and found that there is a great deal of things to think about when steering in this choppy water. You have to be constantly aware of the water, and any floating objects or debris - you don't want to get anything wrapped around the prop when you're punching the tide - as well as other, overtaking fast boats, and their wash. You have to meet the wash at right angles to the boat, either bow-on if the other boat is coming towards you, or on the stern if it's overtaking. And, to do that, you have to make sure you have the room to change course and head off at an angle. All the while, the tiller is pushing and fighting you as the boat moves, and the prop occasionally makes a grinding noise as the back of the narrowboat is lifted into the air and the prop can suck in air and ventilate.

It's certainly very different to the North Oxford!

Approaching the Thames Barrier, we heard our convoy leader - Andrew Phasey of the St Pancras Cruising Club - contacting London VTS. Because the barrier is a pinch point, you have to be allocated a span to pass through by the control. Each span is allocated a phonetic alphabet name, from Alpha to Golf. We went through Charlie Span.

Approaching Woolwich reach, we saw the first ferry - which was loading up, ready to cross the river.... and we were all in its way!

The whole convoy sped up, and we put the power on to punch forwards alongside the narrowboat in front of us and to get out of the ferry's way; they looped elegantly around our stern, and all was well.

Once past the ferry, I saw a very large ship ahead - City of Westminster, a dredger working on the new container port - and prudently got as far out of the way as possible! It kicked up quite a formidable wash, and the whole situation got exciting as we were surrounded by this ship, fuel barge Conquestor which was heading towards the sea, and a small tug. Although the boat started pitching a fair bit, it handled the wash well.

We were then near the entrance to Barking Creek. Being downstream of the Thames Barrier, this is equipped with a huge Stalinist-style guillotine flood gate, to close off the creek if the Thames has a particularly large tide.

The gate itself weighs 300 tons - passing under it was quite an experience!

Once into the creek itself, we passed Calypso, a bulk carrier, and were soon moored on the pontoon waiting for the tidal barrage gates at Barking Pool to be opened and let us in.

Once moored in the pool alongside the various large liveaboard boats, Amy and I headed off. Although it was only 11am, we had had a full day already!

Thanks must go to Richard for allowing us to crew, and I had a great time steering in new, challenging conditions!

Amy and I then took the Tube from Barking, right at the end of the Hammersmith and City line, back into the centre of London. We sat around on the South Bank for a bit, before taking the train to Bracknell to visit my grandparents. Unsurprisingly, we both fell asleep on the train!

We stayed overnight with my granddad, who had kindly recorded the day's rowing at Dorney Lake.

Although we tried to get to bed early, we had to set the alarm for 5:30 am - another early start, because on Sunday we were heading to Dorney Lake to watch some Olympic rowing!

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Olympic Weekend - Friday - Steer it like Beckham...

Friday afternoon saw us heading into London by train. We were going on a trip with Indigo Dream on Saturday morning to Barking Creek- and, to catch the tide, we were locking out of Limehouse at 5:15am, so we had to be there the previous night! Richard and Sue were kind enough to let us stay on board. Richard was volunteering at the Olympics opening ceremony, and was due to return late that night.

After attending the briefing run by St Pancras Cruising Club, who were organising the trip, Amy and I went to the local Tesco for provisions- bacon and sausages for early morning sandwiches, pastries, and other delights to offset the horror of the 4:30am alarm clock!

Water Taxis and Olympic water buses in Limehouse basin.

We walked along Limehouse Cut for a bit, and saw this trail of smoke, left by the Red Arrows, as they passed over the Olympic Stadium at 20:12 exactly.

Once provisioned adequately, we returned to Indigo Dream to watch the opening ceremony on television. It was, as expected, an amazing spectacle. Although we thought the opening part was a bit too twee, it soon livened up when Brunel came on the scene!

However, at 9:30, we left the television and walked across the basin to Limehouse Lock.

Why? Well, the lockkeeper at the briefing had said that "a boat" was booked through the lock at 9:45pm. He hadn't been told what the boat would be, but we all realised that a) the Olympic torch was on Gloriana on the Thames earlier that day, b) that it had to get to the Olympic Park, and so there was only really one route it could take....

We headed down to the lock to find very large numbers of policemen and security guards, all of whom were completely deflecting, in a practiced deadpan way, any questions from the public about whether the torch was going to come through.

However, we took up a strategic position, and waited....

Lights fast approached on the Thames, and soon three RIBs came into sight. They drove quickly into the lock, but we were all disappointed to see that the Olympic torch wasn't lit!

We didn't see, at the time, who was driving the white RIB, but looking at the TV later, saw that it was (supposedly) David Beckham. There were, however, certainly more than two people in the boat, as you can see from the picture above, unlike the pictures shown on the television later!

After they sped off up the cut - no doubt annoying the moored boaters around the corner - we headed back to Indigo Dream to watch the rest of the ceremony.

Although we turned off the TV and tried to sleep about half way through all the athletes entering, we were woken up by circling helicopters, fireworks from the Olympic park - very loud - some drunken singing of "Hey Jude" from a neighbouring loud party, and at about 1am, by the mother of all firework displays when the cauldron was lit. Richard returned to the boat at about 3am - and, despite his best efforts, woke us both up - and so we had very little sleep.

But it was very much worth it!

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Summer Pootle Day 7: Deja Vu!

The Ship - Wild Moorings, Queen Adelaide Straight

Wild Moorings - Ely

A day of two halves, really! In the morning and early afternoon, we met up with the Pippins, moved the boat, and worked on painting the roof; after bringing the boat to Ely, we then headed to London to stay over on Indigo Dream, before an exciting cruise to Barking Creek early on Saturday morning.

Friday morning saw us heading down the Little Ouse to meet the Pippins. We then cruised in convoy back towards Ely, looking for a place to moor and work on the boats. John and Jackie planned to get the angle grinders out and sand Pippin's roof down in preparation for painting; I wanted to get a coat of paint onto the Duck's roof, and do some other noisy jobs.

It was imperative, then, to find a mooring in the middle of nowhere, where we wouldn't disturb anyone else with angle grinders, generators, and noise; and so, after passing through Littleport, we found a patch of bank, most of the way along the Queen Adelaide straight, where most of the vegetation that normally lines the bank and prevents access had been cut and trodden down by fishermen, allowing us to moor the two boats to the bank.

We got down to grinding, sanding, cleaning and painting, and made good progress. I managed to get a coat of topcoat (International Atlantic Grey) onto most of the roof - but had to cease at 3pm, when we moved the boat into Ely, to catch a train to London - Amy and I were going to go on the Thames with Indigo Dream, not only onto the Tideway but through the Thames Barrier and onto Woolwich where the river is half a mile wide and narrowboats look very, very small....

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Summer Pootle Day 6: We meet at Last!

Littleport moorings - The Ship

Yes, back to exactly where we were the previous day!

On Thursday in the morning, we saw Matilda Rose and Yarwood heading past the mooring towards The Ship, which is at the confluence of the Little Ouse / Brandon Creek and the Great Ouse,  where we moored recently. Amy texted Lesley, and found out that they would be back on board from the late afternoon, so we decided to head back and meet up with them; we've been trying to properly meet for ages, and so thought it would be worth a 45 minute journey to retrace our steps.

Before we could head off, Amy headed into Littleport to get a few bits of food from the shops, and I went to Cambridge by train to pick up some parcels of engine bits (new R&D flexible coupling and shaft clamp, and new engine mounts) which I had had delivered to me, in order for John , Mark and I to fix Irene's engine

It was very hot, but we made it with no trouble to The Ship, where we moored up and met Lesley and Joe from Yarwood (and Fletcher and Floyd, the two boistrous black labradors!) and also Graham and Jill from Matilda Rose, and their cat Daisy who didn't get on too well with Lyra!

A convivial evening was had by all in the pub, as we were joined by John who had returned to Pippin which had been blacked in the nearby boatyard.

Lyra found a novel way of coping with the weather:

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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Summer Pootle Day 5: Little (to re-)port

The Ship (Junction of the Little and Great Ouse) - Littleport (Railway station moorings)

3 miles, 1 hour

Not a great deal to report today, in fact the shortest day's cruising in ages! We decided to move the boat closer to civilisation, so we could pick up some more milk and groceries, and so headed upstream towards Littleport.

The journey was quite unadventurous, although we managed to overtake two cruisers which is pretty good going for a narrowboat!

We moored up by 11am and visited the library in Littleport to use their computers for work, and to get some books out; the library system in Cambridgeshire allows you to take books out from any library in the county, which is very convenient for local journeys.

We've spent the late afternoon outside in the shade of some trees by the mooring, doing some more work, reading, and generally relaxing and trying to stay cool. Lyra has, of course, found a shaded spot under a bench and trampled herself out a little nest in the long grass.

You may also spot something interesting with the window frames in the picture above. James' project is stripping them of the old, blue paint- we didn't repaint them from the old royal blue that the Duck carried when we repainted it a couple of years ago - and re-doing them in primer, ready for painting in International Atlantic Grey to match the strips down the gunwales and the roof. 

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Summer Pootle Day 4: A Tight Fit

GOBA Moorings - Brandon - The Ship: 7 hours, 21 miles, 1 lock (twice)

We had planned to go as far as Brandon Lock and see how far we could get - the lock is supposedly 43ft and the Duck is 48ft...

So we set off from the GOBA moorings in blazing sunshine, and enjoyed the trip down the Little Ouse. It's really pretty, with bird life all around, and willow trees. We were accompanied by the sound of more F15s above, and only saw one other boat.  At one point the navigation passes through the sluice to the cut off channel - part of the grand Fen drainage system. In times of flood, this sluice is closed, and the one to the left opened, to put all the waters from this tributary - and the Wissey and the Lark - into the man-made cut off channel, which- via the relief channel which we visited last year - ends up in the sea.

On reaching Brandon Lock, we were prepared to have to reverse back out and moor on the EA moorings just there, but those moorings had been turned into a fun park by the local youth, who were having a brilliant time, diving and swimming in the river, and had set up a few tents and BBQs. They seemed friendly enough but it would have been a noisy spot to spend the night! The moorings were also under a few inches of water as well.

Amazingly, the Duck fitted in the lock without any problems. We were very cautious about using it and didn't raise the gate until we were sure there was nothing that could catch. After lifting the front fender, so that the stem post could touch the gate but not hang up, and putting the boat in diagonally to clear the walkways on the V-doors, we made it through with no problems.

Brandon itself was very pretty, and there are some nice moorings at the head of navigation, which were also being used as a diving platform. 

I headed off to get some provisions and found a wild plum tree, from which I gathered some vary sweet tasty plums. Not enough to make into jam or anything, so I ate them as they were.

Then we decided to head back through the lock rather than stay overnight. It is a nice place, but with the water at a higher then normal level below the lock we couldn't be sure that we'd still fit through the lock if the water was lower. So James reversed all the way back to the lock. Reversing across the weir stream into the lock cut was a challenge, and ended up with the middle of the boat touching the bull nose between the lock and the weir, and then pivoting the boat onto it. It would be much easier if there were less flow, though. We went though backwards, because I knew that the bows fitted over the cill (because of going up that way) but wasn't certain that the deeper stern would clear it, and continued back along the Little Ouse. The water was about 4-5" higher than normal on the lower level, which may be why we were able to clear the cill. I stayed inside to get some work done despite the heat (with all the doors and windows open it wasn't too bad actually) and we carried on back to the junction of the Little and Big Ouses to moor at the Ship overnight.

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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Summer Pootle Day 3: Uncharted Waters

6 miles: 2 hours

First off, we filled up with diesel from the Little Ouse Moorings. Best price in the Fens - 90p/l - and you can self-declare any split you want. We filled the tank and a jerry can. James helped John Pippin take down his wind turbine so that he could get the boat into the drydock, then we said our goodbyes and were off.

This is new territory for us. We'd been up the Little Ouse Moorings before, to have the Duck blacked, but not carried on up the river towards Brandon before. We didn't go far - we were heading for the GOBA moorings halfway, and arrived at 12pm. It was such a glorious day that I couldn't resist going for a swim in the cool, clear water. It was really quite warm, and so lovely!

I'm in love with this mooring - it is beautiful, quiet and remote. There's one other boat on it now, but we had it to ourselves for hours. After swimming and a light lunch, I had to do some work, but it is such a joy to be here that I didn't mind.

We also saw loads of F15 jet fighters flying over with great speed and noise, which was quite fun even if it spoilt the peace somewhat! Lyra loved the place - hiding and jumping about in the grass all afternoon.

In the evening we discovered the only downside to the mooring - all the mosquitos! But the lovely evening sunset made up for it. 

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Summer Pootle Day 2: Big Ouse, Little Ouse

2 hours: 11 miles

After another lazy day in Ely on Sunday, we met up at 5pm or so with the Pippins, who were bringing their boat to the drydock at the Little Ouse Moorings on the Little Ouse/Brandon Creek to be blacked. We cruised in convoy down the Queen Adelaide strait, reaching 10.5 kph at one point - nearly breaking the speed limit! (Don't worry, it's a wide, deep river, so we weren't eroding the banks, and we slowed when we passed moored boats!)

It was a glorious evening for cruising, and with the stream, we reached the diesel moorings where the Pippins had been advised to wait overnight, at 8pm. A quick call to the owners of the place and we were breasted up with them, ready to get diesel first thing. 

We had a lovely dinner with them, and a few (too many) gins, before retiring to bed.

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