Thursday, 31 December 2009

Westward Ho!

Or, at least, Exeter.

We left for Amy's mum's house about a week before Christmas, and greatly enjoyed the comforts that land-based living involves- a fridge that isn't a box in the well deck, a shower drain that doesn't clog, and electricity that magically comes out of sockets.

Meepy, the cat at Amy's home

The day before Christmas Eve saw the worries of a chimney fire; the resin from the logs burnt had built up, and the soot caught fire. It was dramatic, with a big roaring and flames shooting out of the chimney pot; damping down the fire with water, and standing outside in the cold waiting for the fire engine, we were faced with the sight of the appliance sliding almost sideways down the hill on the ice.... Suffice to say the firemen were professional and, although the fire had burnt itself out, they cleaned out the chimney a bit and damped down all the soot. Amy's mum got a sweep in the next day, and resolves to sweep the chimney more often!

Sunset and mist in the Exe valley

A frozen-over Exeter Ship Canal. One day, long in the future, we may return and use this canal if we're living on a Dutch barge or similar...

Amy's bike in the snow

On the 28th, we headed to Bracknell to see my family, and after a fraught journey- train to Basingstoke, changing for Reading, then to Bracknell- which worked out £75 or so cheaper than the direct train to Reading then Bracknell!- where we enjoyed Christmas 2.0 and celebrated my stepmum's birthday and retirement with a barn dance. Amy enjoyed herself, after I plied her with gin and persuaded her to dance, and we headed back to Cambridge on Wednesday 30th.

Whilst we were away, Lyra had been looked after very ably by John and Jackie on Pippin- and, I think, put on a little weight over Christmas... We really are grateful to them, and to Sabrina, for keeping Lyra fed, watered and warm whilst we were away.

Today, on New Year's Eve, we decided to come into Cambridge for supplies of diesel and food, and so as to be able to celebrate the new year. The recent snow-melt resulted in a very fast flow on the river, of something like 6kph, whereas normally the flow is negligable. Amy and I were umming and ahing over whether to navigate. We decided that the only way to see if we could stem the flow was to try it. Certainly, the most dangerous part of the journey would be Baitsbite Lock and the weir next to it.

As it was, the Duck performed well. At 2,000 rpm we made a walking pace- the GPS registered a forward speed of 3kph, whereas at 2,000rpm we normally manage 8 to 9kph- against the strong flow, and moved towards the lock.

There was an extremely strong eddy around the lock tail, but luckily it was in our favour and we could head straight in. This required heading towards the lock wall at 1,500 rpm and letting the strong slow push us sideways into the lock. We managed it without a scrape. It was exhilarating, and even had it gone wrong all that would have happenned was a loud "BONG!" and some scraped blacking- but it was still Salter's Lode levels of excitement!

After that, the journey into town was a bit tame and we have moored up outside the Fort St. George, and have been shopping and saw James and Emma of Kestrel in a fantastic local pub. The river is still flowing strongly, and is about 18" up higher than normal. It's well over the hards at the boathouses, but we've got floodpoles in and a high piece of concrete bank here at the Fort so we're safe and sound. We're going to see the New Year in in style, either in the Fort with other boaters, or at the top of Castle Hill watching the fireworks. Grand!

Helena Knowsley, a boat on the residential moorings in Cambridge. It's been looking tired for a while, and the engine bay filled with water so that it was down by the stern. However, neither the council (who administer the moorings on the commons) nor the Cam Conservators took full responsibility, and as a result in the recent rains and higher river levels, she sank. John and I had planned to pump her out when we were both in Cambridge, but didn't have enough capacity to store the polluted water from the engine bay, which was full of floating oil, engine antifreeze, and other hazards; otherwise, we would have pumped it dry.

The Conservators were tied up in bureaucratic red-tape, and affixed a notice to the boat, apparently, saying that it was in danger of sinking; for whatever reason, perhaps the same ones that we had, they couldn't just hire a pump and save it from this danger, and as a result the boat sank.

It really is a terrible shame, because- firstly- this is someone's home, even if they don't spend as much time on it as they could. But, secondly, this boat is unlicensed and has been for the past year or so, and has been continually festooned with stuck-on notices from the Cam Conservators saying so and threatening further. It's no business of ours why it wasn't licensed, of course, but now the Cam Con have lost a potentially great deal of money too; they're allowed to sell boats they repossess for a profit, but now that it's sunk, it's worth perhaps £5k as a shell, plus the cost of salvaging it and licensing it that a new owner would have to pay, rather than the £20k or so it would have been worth as a complete boat.

And, further, the boat is now leaking oil, antifreeze (which is highly poisonous to aquatic life), and other pollutants into the river, and will have to be salvaged at great expense.

Whatever the reasons, it is a great shame that the boat's owner is now effectively homeless, and that a boat has been lost.


  1. Oh dear missed you again. We were in Cambridge today delivering our son, walked along the bank to take a picture of Kestrel but didn't walk any further. We felt sure that because of the state of the river you would remain at your moorings - we should have known how intrepid you both are!
    Happy New Year to you and enjoy your celebrations.
    Kath & Neil (nb Herbie)

  2. Don't you think it possible that at least some of the responsibility for the Helena Knowsley disaster lies with the boat's owners?