Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This time last week (Tuesday)

It appears that I didn't take any photos on Tuesday - probably because although it was a very pleasant day, spent in the company of Bill and Michelle, nothing very picturesque happened. We moved the boat down from above the top lock to above lock 2, and in fact could have gone further, as there was space in the next pound, but this was a good spot, ten minutes walk from the marina, and within sight of the pub. I think we spent the day sitting around in the sun and comparing notes of the British and US health/education/childcare systems.

Unexpected interest

Had a lovely chat with a bloke on the train this morning all the way from Newhaven to Victoria. We mostly talked about fishing quotas, but I was also able to share my excitement at the latest issue of NarrowBoat, featuring 'Grand Union Canal Carrying Co: Including 16 different liveries in colour.'

Monday, June 29, 2009

This time last week (Monday)

Hard to believe, but the photos tell me so, it was in fact on Monday evening that we arrived at Braunston, having left Cotton End at lunchtime on Sunday, and spent Sunday night at Gayton. Monday saw us travelling up Buckby locks with Bill and Michelle in Shilling, and by early evening we had met Owl (Jim and Sue) above Braunston top lock, where they advised us to stay. So Jim and I and Bill and Michelle were walking down to the Admiral Nelson, when we had the delightful surprise of meeting Chiswick and Victoria with Mike and James practising their thumblining, which was very impressive.

Live blogging... Postponed

Ah well, here is what I would have posted from Victoria's cabin top if the free wi-fi had worked, rather than making me go through an elaborate registration process and than asking me to pay...

I'm writing this sitting on Victoria's cabin top, stationary in the parade, and hopefully will post it when we get to the marina, taking advantage of the free wi-fi on offer for the weekend. It is marvellous, and at the same time seems completely normal, to be sitting on the top of this wonderfully imposing boat, courtesy of Mike and his dad, not quite watching the world go by, as all movement seems to have ceased since we stopped to empty the toilet... but it is fun watching the bemused non-historic boat in front of us trying vainly to fend off the big beasts from their paint work and wondering just what they've got themselves into... The JP2 is throbbing away underneath me, and just under my nose, Mike's dad is changing the seal on the Porta-Potti... Jim is three boats ahead on Chiswick; they were in front f us but Buckden and the bemused boat have intervened. So far I haven't been able to get on to the wi-fi, but we are now moving closer to the marina. Just been passed by Bristol and Argo, and are now approaching the marina entrance... Past the wonderful row of tugs... And have a connection!Unfortunately something seems to have gone awry with the log in process, and we are now nearly out of the marina again. But I have been brought tea and cake and a lovely sausage roll with mustard in it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hello, Goodbye

Our second day in Braunston draws to a close. Yesterday saw us move down from where we were above the top lock to above lock 2, much more handy for the pub. Jim went back to Bill Fen to fetch the car. First he asked the new landlord of the Nelson whether we could keep it in his car park or a week - no problem; then Jim asked about taxis to the station, and the landlord offered to take him himself! So I have nothing but praise so far for this pub - we ate there again last night and again the food (faggots this time; I'm not sure what our American friends must have made of that) was lovely. Jim spoke very highly of his too, which was waiting on the table for him when he got back with the car, a little later than anticipated owing to roundabout rearrangements at Northampton.
Today has been another fantastically sunny one, and I have done very little. We moseyed down into the village this morning for provisions and a look round, and had a long chat with the owner of Vesta. Other boats that have come past include Nuneaton and Brighton, and Pacific, which was rather gorgeous. I guess more will be coming from the other direction.
This afternoon we bade a very fond farewell to Michelle and Bill, finding it hard to believe that we only met them for the first time three days ago, with promises of meeting up again soon. And now we are going to do our duty as users of the patrons' car park and go and patronise the pub again, from where I shall attempt to post this.
(Actually, hunched over the bridge parapet)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Braunston: the fun begins already

Well, it's seven thirty on Tuesday morning, and the sun is streaming through the side hatch as I write this, tied up above Braunston top lock. It looks as is this is here we'll be staying, as we've been told it's already becoming chaotic further down. I haven't been down that far yet, only as far as the pub - the famous Admiral Nelson, recently reopened after a period of being closed.

This is the place where, according to David Blagrove's Bread Upon the Waters, the legendary Leslie Morton used to hold court in the days of Willow Wren. Sadly perhaps, there was little sense of history or atmosphere left, but on the plus side, the food was lovely; nothing flash, but my sausage, bacon and liver casserole was one of the best things I've eaten in a long time, and the chips were excellent.

Still, back to the beginning. Saturday lunchtime, I got a phone call from Jim to say that he and Craig had arrived at Northampton, well ahead of schedule, so I set off on Sunday morning to meet them at Cotton End at lunchtime. The plan had been to stay there until Monday morning, when Craig would leave for Denmark (the world of duct cleaning and dry ice is truly an international one), and Michelle and Bill would walk down to meet us and accompany us up the flight. Craig, however, had other ideas. Having been well and truly bitten by the bug, he was keen to get in some more boating prior to his 4 a.m. departure, so we decided to head off up the flight. I thought Craig deserved a treat after all those Nene locks anyway.

Thus it was that at around tea time, just before Gayton Junction we saw two people on the towpath that we instantly knew were Bill and Michelle. If they were surprised we hadn't waited, they didn't show it (we had been planning to let them know we'd arrived!). We quickly agreed that they would follow us onto the main line and tie up at Gayton, which we did, at bridge 47. We then enjoyed cups of tea and looking at each other's boats, and greatly enjoyed their company.

Then Jim, Craig and I set off to find a pub; slightly haphazardly, as Craig's internet connection was interrupted whilst doing his researches, but we headed away from Gayton and towards Milton Mansor, and the Greyhound, where Craig treated us to a sophisticated repast (I know it was sophisticated because it came on square plates) which was also delicious. Nice as it was, we decided that we should also investigate the village's other pub, the Compass, which was rather strange; a bit like our local at home, totally empty of customers with only the TV blaring out for company, so we drank up quickly and left.

On Monday morning we awoke to find Craig gone, as expected; he had found a taxi to pick him up from outside the marina, and after breakfast set off in convoy with Shilling to tackle the Buckby locks. We worked out a routine whereby littler 31' Shilling went into each lock first and came out last, and overtook us in each pound, and so we didn't need to open both monstrous gates. This worked well and soon we were up the flight and through the tunnel. As we came away from the tunnel, the steerer of a passing boat called out that he liked the blog! So thank you.

On the way down to the pub last night but Victoria and Chiswick, Mike and James proudly demonstrating their newly acquired and extremely impressive thumblining skills, whereby they use a line from the mast to pull the lock gates open, and as they come out, without the tension on it, the line undoes itself without the need for human intervention. We had offered to help them down the locks, but were clearly redundant.

As we approached Braunston locks we saw Owl, who we sort of knew from the forum, and they were very welcoming. As we made to go down the first lock they said we'd be better off staying at the top, so here we are. Braunston, I remembered all to late, has appalling mobile reception, and in order to even try to post this, I will have to go back down to the pub and stand on the bridge... and see what happens.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

River and canal

On this 'canal-boat' trip, I've traveled about 200 yards on a canal - the beginning of the Grand Union canal to Cotton End wharf. All the rest was river.

What a difference already: the lock was easy-peasy. It's like taking off your lead boots, and springing about oh-so-lightly.

It was lovely on Saturday to meet a couple on the bank a few locks down the river. You could see they weren't just the ordinary gawker.

They explained they were canal people and they were thinking about coming up to the river but wanted to recce it first by car. They were thinking, (just thinking, mind) about going on the river because it was getting so busy on the canal (near Braunston). Chap told me sometimes you had to wait 20 minutes before you could get out (into the traffic, I presume).

As a complete newbie, I don't really have anything much to say on the pro's and con's of river/canal, but I think I said the right thing by enthusing over the nature on the river.

Just a bit worried that I might have said the wrong thing by explaining the bankside tension due to the contretemps with another boat (see below). They might think that we river people are a bunch of uptight, uncouth lunatics.


Precious, moi? I hardly think so.

Jim's a fine fellow; his and Sarah's boat is most certainly ship-shape.

But I was shocked, really shocked.

The machine on the roof that stops you hitting other boats, is fixed on with Blu-Tak!!

Is this in any way proper?

Indirect, English and in a bit of a pickle

Now it's no great shakes to mention that narrow boating is pretty properly English, and the River Nene is heart of England, spires and squires etc and so forth.

Yesterday, we had one of the little downsides of Englishness, and got into a bit of a pickle with another boat. Such a disaster for Englishmen is this, that we even have to give it a foreign name: a contretemps.

The end of Friday, and then again the afternoon of Saturday, we'd ended up paired up with another boat going through the locks to mutual advantage. The other boat was skippered by rather a crisp, smart lady and her male companion. They were of a different social class to us. Not massively different, but enough to generate an edge of awkwardness, and just possibly suspicion.

The indirectness and diffidence of English-speak was a bit of a problem in the locks, especially above the sound of the engines. Nobody of course wants to give a direct order to another, nor be thought of as interfering in the other skipper's manouevres. As a result there was actually a good deal of mutual incomprehension - at practically every lock.

As a not-unrelated aside: practically the first thing the other boat's mate told me on the bankside was:- "My friend's the skipper. Erm, we're friends. We're not..., erm, ah... erm". Being the nasty brute that I am, and concerned to avoid misunderstanding (which is so easy to do), I often wonder should I clarify with: "Do you mean you're not sleeping with her?" I suppose you could go on and ask: "Does this mean that she is in fact available?"

Anyway: a little later on on Saturday afternoon, we rather got the impression that they would prefer to travel on their own. Leaving the lock first, Jim and I debated it: are we sure? What did they mean by saying: "You go on ahead" (it was in any event our turn to go out the lock first). Why had the other skipper made so bold as to give some (very good, as it turned out) advice as to how to avoid being knocked about in the lock 'when travelling on your own'?

Well we decided that they did want to be on their own. It cannot be denied that we did want to crack on and get to the pump-out near Northampton, and be ready for an earlier-than-expected rendez-vous with our admiral, Sarah on the Sunday.

We were just about to leave the next lock, when the other boat turned up. A cold chill ran through the blood. If they had wanted to hang back and separate, you'd have thought they'd have stayed out of sight until we'd left. Oh, sh*t.

Feisty skipper came bounding up the bank, I heard the word 'gall'. Stomped up to confront us with our miserable sh***iness. The 'F' word was used.

I suppose anybody can claim a misunderstanding, and it didn't cut any ice. No, siree. Fair enough: from her point-of-view, I'd have gone potty too.

We beat a retreat with that horrible combination of automatic, fight-ready adrenalin, and no small amount of shame.

For the whole passage up to the next lock we debated the rights and wrongs of the case, the handling of the upset, and what to do. The default position was of course: flee, and hope we didn't see each other again at close quarters. Should we try to make up by waiting at the next lock? Would that be giving in to the rather intemperate display? Would both parties feel far too awkward to see one another again?

We drove into the next lock still not really decided. Then: Oh bug*er - it's a mechanical gate. We can't leave them to do the mechanical gate. Can you imagine the fury you'd whip yourself into with each turn of the wheel?

We'd wait for them.

We waited ages. Doubts started to arise: perhaps they'd been so upset, they'd moored up. That fight-adrenalin was still there too. So* them, let's go.

When they turned up, we were most gratified to hear their surprise that we'd waited. They'd pootled along, little thinking we'd keep the gate open for them. Most gratifying, we had regained a little moral credit. Enough to allow us to speak, to express mutual sorrow over the incomprehension and misunderstanding. She and I wheeled the gate up and down together, a little joke was cracked about hands touching.

The genius of the English is that by the next lock, we were almost friends, and certainly more chatty than we had been before the fracas. No Sicilian feud here, and actually speaking more directly, and comprehensibly.

They've just gone past us a Cotton End, Northampton. We waved, chatted merrily and we quite miss our old pals now.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rush rush, rush rush, rush

It's 10:40 pm, and the day has slowed down, and we're moored up at Irthlingborough. There's good mobile signal, and I've got time to post a blog and tidy up thr previous attempts.

Another great day, and, for me, the fun of learning to drive the boat. 'You can't break it', says Jim. Unfortunately you can break crockery with a bit of a slam into the side of a lock when the paddle comes up. I may have to build a church dedicated to Sarah out of the fragments.

I still can't get over the rush, rush of life on a 6mph boat. This morning I started to put on the sun protection jollop, got the face and arms done, then had to break off for something another. About an hour later managed to do the legs. Went down to get the binoculars, and then a lock came up, then one d*mn thing after another: 3 hours later I got to use them!

It's fabulous: I tried to see if it was possible to get bored. What's the longest period of time you could go without finding something of interest? I managed about 1 minute and 15 seconds (well, about 75 elephants) before something turned up (a dragonfly).

The new chimney

Here are the photo's of Warrior's smart new chimney.

The second photo shows the cool swept-back arrangement -mmm rakish.

Fold-back was nearly done involuntarily at a bridge east of Islip. Would have been an interesting test.

When running with the pipe down, it's like blowing across the neck of a bottle. At least it reminds you to put it back

Still a bit of a movie

Today we're in more open countryside from Elton westwards towards Islip, possibly mooring at Irthlingborough tonight. Now the movie is much more American road movie: big Anglian skies, rolling countryside.

Two red kites performing in front of us, and then being chased off by the adult rooks in a huge, noisy rookery.

Oh and achingly beautiful Fotheringay church. As Jim said: in them good old days when wrong was done, somebody paid a penance. They demolished Fotheringay Castle where Mary, Queen of Scots, had been done down, and built a mini-cathedral, complete with flying butresses to atone.

Bit like a film really

What a marvellous day, the first day was (bit of a blog cock-up yesterday, when uploading from the pub - wonder why?).

For me, the first time proper boating, outside the one previous Little Venice-Limehouse trip.

Even just the first mile out of Bill Fen, along the Nene Old Course, was an astonishing treat of nature.For boaters, it's perhaps ordinary, but for the newbie the scene up the straight-and-narrow is so movie. Had the sensation of watching a pianola roll unfold before me. A coot; a (not sure which) duck; a beautiful goose and goslings, a dragonfly of the most iridescent hue, four swans line abreast taking off in front of us, only slighter faster than us, and (my all-time favourite) martins ducking and diving (actually do neither of those things, but you know what I mean).

All this - and it just unfolds (or unrolls) before you.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Oh dear, a poetic thought

I guess I'll have to sort out the file/camera uploading problem and try to video this, but...

Isn't it lovely how the lily pads, and especially the yellow flower heads, bow, scrape and curtsey under the bow wash as you make your rather regal progress in a narrow channel?

Feeling a tad privileged

Rush, rush, rush

Well, I never thought I'd say it but this boating lark is just all rush.

We've made great time, arriving at Elton this evening at 8:00pm, after setting off from Bill Fen at (a bit later than we imagined) at 8:00am.

Jim would like to suppress the fact that he's in gastro-pub, The Crown Inn, Elton, Cambs. By Jimminy, it's nice nosh, and even nicer beer

Would love to upload the photographs of our smiling, happy faces, of the new 'swept-back', retractable engine chimney on NB Warrior, but a bit of a cock-up on the file location front.

So, yes: rush, rush, rush - got a bit side-tracked off that theme.And that, it turns out, is the theme of narrow boating

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And they're off

The licence arrived this morning, and this afternoon Jim is picking Craig up in Eastbourne and heading over to Ramsey where they will spend the night before setting off tomorrow morning.

Over to Craig then for the next few days....

Monday, June 15, 2009

K&A Awayday

I had a lovely day out yesterday on the Kennet and Avon - a waterway I have never boated on before - thanks to my friend Mike and his colleague Mark. Mike has been doing some steering on the Kennet Cruises trip boat Lancing - and knowing that I would like to add another big Northwich to my collection, asked if I would like to come along. Of course I didn't need asking twice!

Mike met me at Reading Station, and we walked down to his own boat, below the gaol, and I had my first introduction to this eclectic and challenging waterway, as we travelled through the Oracle shopping centre - a waterside completely and deliberately bereft of boats; a variety of locks and of landscapes, arriving at the Cunning Man pub at Burghfield Bridge.

From there we made the brief walk back to pick up Lancing, where I met Mark of Kennet Cruises, who made me feel very welcome. When I asked for instructions, I was instructed to go down to the bar and get myself a drink! Yes, they have a licenced bar - not that I took advantage of the licence, you understand. I got to have a little steer on the way back to the Cunning Man, where we were to pick up our passengers, and it was a different experience on the rivery Kennet, with its currents and silt banks, than on the Regents Canal, although I only tried on an easy bit.

Having collected the passengers (eighteen of them! Heady stuff - Lancing is licenced for up to 44, compared with the 12 that Tarporley, as a community boat, is permitted) we continued up through the next lock and on to Garston lock, just below which we turned around. This is where I came into my own, persuading all the passengers to crowd into the front of the boat so that the back end could just clear the mud. Amazingly, this works. We reckoned that they probably weighed at least a ton in total. Then back to the Cunning Man for the passengers to disembark, and all had thoroughly enjoyed it. That is one of the nicest things about running boat trips; you really get the chance to make people happy, even if only for a little while.

Looking at the Kennet Cruises website just now, I was particularly impressed with their potted history of Lancing, which is clear, interesting and engaging.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Photo removed until I can obscure the reg no - reaslising I have rather foolhardily just commented on another blog, with a link to this one, on the subject of how I have not sent off my driving licence to notify my change of address 12 years ago, in order, even back then, to avoid being issued with an ID card by the back door. I have a piece of paper that says I've passed my driving test and that's good enough for me.

For the first time this year, we have seagulls nesting on our roof. Clearly they do not want to stray very far from their two delightful (for about three and a half days) balls of fluff. I have invested in a tarpaulin for my beloved Bluebird.

Londoners who think pigeons are a messy menace should try moving to the coast. We had a gull in the kitchen earlier this afternoon, wondered in as bold as brass. Then when the cat flew at it, it tried to escape through the door that wasn't open, and then crapped on the floor before finally exiting. Round here we have herring gulls, and they are big, vicious bastards. And if you look at them closely, they're always dribbling.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Len the welder came round this afternoon with our new chimney. I hope the design works, because basically it was my idea. The existing roof flange thingy should stick up through the lower section. helping to keep the upper section in place. It's still pretty heavy, so we don't want it falling down too often, especially as it would land on the engine room roof vent, which is wooden, but it should be a lot easier to lower than it currently is to remove. As well as the tall one, we are having a shorter one for tunnels and stretches with lots of low bridges. This is why the hinge is held together with a removable bolt, so the top half can be substituted.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

WRG - East Croydon chapter

Those of you who do not live or work in the heaving metropolis may be blissfully unaware that there is currently a tube strike on. However, as a result (and I will resist the temptation to give you all the details of our revised journey) Baz and I found ourselves on the platform at East Croydon last night with eight minutes to wait for our next train. As we sought to position ourselves so as to be right at the bottom of the steps when exiting the train at Lewes, a guard came up to us. Baz was wearing his IWA Festival Volunter T-shirt (that we acquired for him: he wasn't even there). 'Oh', said the guard, 'Which waterway are you saving then?' And then before either of us could get a word in edgeways, he proceeded to tell us in great detail about his plans for the Somerset Coal Canal. He was still talking when we got on the train. It was rather a surreal experience because, of course, I know absolutely nothing about that part of the country, but it was still nice just to encounter such an enthusiast.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Went the day well?

Indeed it did. Not only were my skills clearly (even if just about) up to the mark, the fates smiled upon me as well.

Thunder, heavy showers and wind had been forecast, and indeed the night before was very wet and windy, as I lay awake contemplating the day ahead. When I arrived at Kings Place about nine it was damp and chilly, and spotting with rain. Having explained to the relief security guard ('what boat?' 'That very big one just outside your door there') my business there, I went on board and started preparing for my first trip in charge. The first slight hitch was finding the log book and all the passenger forms in a pool of water where the window had leaked, but small matter.

Very shortly I was joined by Penny and Kelvin, 'my' crew, and between us we got everything ready and had a cup of tea before our passengers arrived at ten - a party of the cutest children you could possibly imagine, little moppets straight out of central casting, that even almost overcame my serious aversion to other people's children - at least until they started shouting 'Hello ev'rybody' in unison and kept it up for about half an hour.

And here's the thing: five minutes before we set off, the sun came out, and shone on us all the way to the entrance to Maida Hill Tunnel (we were going from Kings Place to Little Venice), when it started to spit with rain. Still, we stopped at Little Venice and the children were sent off to work off some energy, while the crew availed themselves of Westminster Council's most acceptable toilet facilities, and then as we set off again for the return journey, the sun came out again. And stayed out until the minute we arrived back at Kings Place.

I did not hit anything. I did not make a spectacular mess of anything; I even did one or two things quite neatly; I stopped in all the right places and for long enough for the little darlings to get on and off and help with the locks (and never was I so glad to be the one left on the boat, although I did do some lock 'n' child duties on the way back, which was probably the most stressful part, especially as apparently you aren't allowed to tie them together to stop them wandering off. Still, their innocent little questions... 'is it all full of wee and poo?'; 'How can it [lifejacket] help me float when it's additional weight?' (from a six year old)).

And when I got home, I was so exhausted I could barely stay awake for the European election results.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Jim's other boat

Ah, once again it's the time of year for the Newhaven Fish Festival. This event appears to go from strength to strength, being, in this, its third year, now provisioned with the dodgy funfair without which no festival is apparently complete.

Sadly, I was far to busy arguing on Canalworld to go and look at the fish this morning (still, when you've seen one...) but when Jim came back he suggested we take a stroll down the quay to take advantage of the lifeboat open day.

Jim has recently got involved with the lifeboat; not going off rescuing people, nor raising money, but participating in a scheme they run in which they check people's safety equipment. So he now feels quite proprietorial about the lifeboat.

The one based at Newhaven covers quite a stretch of coast apparently. Rather disappointingly, though, the vessel we went to see today is not the regular Newhaven one, but a stand in. It was pretty brand spanking new though, and even though we arrived just after closing time, we got to have a look over it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

They know not what they do...

Look what arrived yesterday.

And on Sunday I am let loose in charge of the boat for the first time. It is quite a nerve wracking prospect, but I think I shall just go very slowly....

Unfortunately I have just heard that rain and - worse by far - wind are forecast. Oh joy.


I was at Kings Place yesterday afternoon, meeting a potential Tarporley customer, when there was a sharp bang followed by a thud. Looking round I saw a duck lying on its back on the quayside, frantically waving its legs. It had flown straight into the glass side of Kings Place. Oh no, I thought, it's in its death throes, how can I pretend this isn't happening... But a woman who was doing some sort of photo shoot rushed over, picked the duck up and turned it over, and it sat there looking a little bemused but very definitely alive and upright. I didn't see whether they took it away or if it eventually waddled off though.

One of the nicer features, to the human eye, about Kings Place is the way the wavy glass cladding reflects the sky and so doesn't obtrude as much on the skyline as more solid looking buildings, but it must play havoc with birds' visual navigation systems and small brains.