Saturday, 31 January 2009

Going Postal

Jesus Lock - Waterbeach

River Cam

6 miles, 1 lock
, 6 stiles, 4 macaroons, 2 muddy pairs of trousers

In which the Ducks both go for a paddle, enlist the help of a fellow boatie in order to collect various fuels and aquire a superfluity of bread, before moving the Duck up to Waterbeach (avoiding a rowing race) and cycle the 16 miles to Upware and back in order to check their mail.

What a day! It began early, with both James and going for our respective rowing outings. James had a half hour earlier start than me (at 7:30 am) with City boat club's first women's boat. Our boats passed briefly on the water, and we met up again afterwards. James had by this point enlisted the help of Kate, one of his rowers, who has a car and had offered to help us pick up petrol, diesel, and coal. We had planned to fetch them using a couple of trollies, so the help was greatly appreciated!

After dropping our purchases off at the Duck, we regrouped with Kate, and other rowers at our usual haunt, Tishka's cafe. We enjoyed cups of tea and toast, but just as we were leaving the cafe its owner came up and pressed six loaves of bread on us. He said they had too much and so would we please take some? Who were we to refuse? So we have four loaves of Hovis Best of Both! I'm sure we'll not be able to eat ourselves before they go off, so any Cambridge people are welcome to a loaf! If not, we'll feed the ducks...

The next plan for the day was to move the Duck up to the visitor moorings at Waterbeach. However, there was a rowing race on the Cam, and so we obediently waited with the other crews until a gap between the divisions, travelling up the same stretch of water we'd rowed up and down earlier. After racing a few eights along the river, and setting probably one of the slowest times for the course (I'd be very worried for any rowers who went slower, and might suggest that they take up, say, tiddlywinks instead!) we maneuvered through the turning and moving eights at the start line of the race and moved through Baits Bite lock, which was as slow as ever.

Enjoying the sunshine and the fast flow below the lock, and dodging a few first eights who had decided to avoid the race and portage round the lock, we finally made Clayhithe/Waterbeach at 3pm. After a quick cup of tea it was time to get the bikes off the roof, fit panniers, check torches (the ride home would be dark) and then leave to Upware. We had decided to cycle because it was a nice day, and because of work and commitments tomorrow will have to have the boat at Clayhithe. We finally arrived in Upware, having braved very strong winds and LOTS of mud, checked the post (mostly bank statements) and then after some very welcome macaroons in true Famous Five style (minus the smugglers, ginger beer, gypsies and sexism) started to make the long trek back to the boat. The sun was going down and the winds, out in the exposed fens, started to bite; but after a long cycle ride, three stiles and ankle deep mud for half a mile, we arrived home and soon had the fire going.

Settling in again, what could we do with all the bread but make bacon sandwiches? They look about ready- like with most of James' cooking, the smoke alarm's just gone off!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Duckling Loop

The latest cartoon from one of my favourite webcomics, XKCD:


Monday, 26 January 2009

Hot Potatoes!

Cooked, sucessfully, in our Morso Squirrel stove for the first time. Lovely they were too, with a distinctive smoky flavour. We put them in the ashpan for the first hour, double wrapped in foil, then for another half hour in the fire itself, to crisp them off. Mmmm.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Half Term

We will both have a week off in mid February - I will be taking a week off to co-incide with James' school holiday. We;re both very much looking forward to it!

Now all we have to do is decide how we're going to spend it. Tempting as it is to attempt to make it as far down the Old West River as possible (stoppages will prevent us going the whole way) it is probably sensible to stay relatively stationary and do a big spring clean of everything.

The week off also happily co-incides with the posibility of my rowing in my first ever race - the second leg of the Winter League, if I am deemed capable. This will also prevent us from going too far off the beaten track in terms of proximity to Cambridge commitments.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

An altogether more extreme Boat Blog

The Vendee Globe is the only non-stop singlehanded sailing race around the world. It happens every 4 years, and last time around, in the 2004-2005 race when Ellen MacArthur famously came second, my dad and I were avid followers. We turned our globe upside down (Most of the excitement happens in the Southern Ocean) and marked all the waypoints on the race course.

This time, I was so busy with everything that was going in that I completely missed the start at the end of last year. I had been vaguely aware of it though, noting the disastrous demasting of several boats including Mike Golding's Ecover. However, there is one Brit still in the running - Steve White on his Open 60 Toe in The Water.

And he has a blog. In fact a lot of the competitors do. In much the same way as we keep in touch with our families via the blog, so too do these hardcore sailors, out in the open ocean, with help from anyone land-based (except via satellite phone) being expressly forbidden. It takes blogging to a whole new level, and is, I'm sure, a source of great comfort to loved ones left back on land, and a way for the sailors themselves to keep sane! Of course, they rely very heavily on web based contact for everything from weather forecasts to race position info, but it is the concept of blogging about these experiences that brings the race to a more human level. I have added Steve's blog to our blog list and will be continuing to follow his progress.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Let them eat cake?

Last night, after dinner, I really craved something sweet, but the walk to the Co-Op, all of 5 minutes away, seemed too much effort! So i rummaged in the cupboard and larder, only to discover that I had all the ingredients for a Honey cake. Somehow, theis seemed like an easier option than walking to the shops, and I'm sure it was far tastier!

I still have to get used to baking in my oven though. Baked potatoes were impossible- still hard after hours at the highest temp, but this cake was on the brink of becoming burnt after 30 minutes at Gas Mark 4, when the recipe stated 1 hour!

Monday, 19 January 2009

Half Eight in the Morning

At 2.30 am this morning we were woken up by a phonecall from our neighbour on Nb Sirius. James didn't get to it in time to pick it up but it was immediately clear what she was calling about- half a wooden rowing Eight was floating past our window. Eager to prevent it causing a hazard to river users the next morning, James leapt into action wearing little more than a dressing gown and no shoes. By the time I'd put some shoes and a jacket on he'd managed to pull it into the bank using our long boat pole and so i fetched some bits of rope to fix it alongside the Duck. At 30 ft or so even half an Eight's pretty long!

We learnt then that our neighbour had heard the half boat being thrown in from outside the boathouse opposite our mooring. We let the boatman of another closeby boathouse, who she had also alerted, know that we'd secured the rogue bit of boat and he promised to tell the relevant people where the could collect it from this morning. If they don't turn up, it would work well as a fender to keep pesky rowers off our paintwork!

Saturday, 17 January 2009


Amy and I bought the Times today (sorry Jim, they didn't have any Guardians!) and they featured a two-page spread in their travel section on narrowboat holidays. Or, as Caitlin Moran insists on calling them, barges.

(Photograph courtesy of the Times website). She doesn't look happy, does she?

Perhaps her unhappiness stems from trying (and succeeding) to do the Four Counties ring- 204 lock miles- in six days. Whilst she and her family and friends managed to enter the supposed "true" narrowboat spirit (instituting the concept of 2pm being Gin Time, getting pleasantly drunk each evening) the photos accompanying the article show a few mistakes that she made, such as leaving the stern rope piled up on the counter ready to be tripped over or wrapped around the prop, or operating locks barefoot. Which, considering the perennial complaints about dog mess littering the towpaths, might not be the most sensible idea... She also claims to have invented lock-wheeling. I wonder what the working boaters would have said about that!

But the funniest part was the statement (which is probably a typo) that their hired boat's top speed was 15mph.

I'm all for the media advocating narrowboating as a holiday, but Moran's stress on how much hard work it was might put people off. Plus, and I know I'm being overly sensitive here, it really, really, REALLY annoys me- to the point of considering writing to the Times- that they call a narrowboat a barge eight times in the article. It just makes the article seem very under-researched, and hard to take seriously.

Nevertheless, having said that, encouraging people to use the waterways is a Good Thing. The article isn't perfect, but then, I couldn't write so amusingly and entertainingly on a subject I know little about without making a few mistakes. They rankle me, as a narrowboater, and I wish in some ways that she'd portrayed another side of narrowboating- relaxing on a realistically planned and scheduled journey, not going hell-for-leather and pushing on. 33 odd lock miles per day is very ambitious in anyone's books!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Breaking and Entering

Amy came home from work today to see a wide-open front door to the boat and a smashed-up padlock.

Luckily, I had done the smashing, not some local ruffian, as the ABUS combination lock (purchased in Islington prior to our journey) that had served us well ever since, opening and closing many times, decided to seize solid.

Half an hour of trying the combination, resetting and fiddling failed to open it, so I took a hacksaw to it. It was reassuringly noisy- a thief couldn't have done that undetected. However, I got impatient and used a large hammer.

This was quite disappointing. One hard blow onto the dials, and the lock clicked open. Luckily, I managed to phone up Amy who returned from work with a new, stronger lock from B&Q to replace the now useless lump of brass and stainless steel.

It makes a good paperweight; that's about all it can be used for now, though.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Breasted Up Again!

On the Top 100 UK Waterways site we're now breasted up with Warrior. For now at least!

Hopefully we will be able to replace this image with a better one when we have access to an image editing program that isn't MS Paint!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Marxist Tea

This is my latest box painting attempt, a tea caddy for a friend of ours who turned 23 yesterday and is a self-proclaimed Marxist. James supplied the terrible pun ('Proper Tea is Theft', which is marginally better than the other suggestion 'To Each According to His AbiliTea') and I got out my new enamel paints. She was very pleased with the result!

In other news I have a day off and am about to go and buy 150% of my weight in coal...

Monday, 12 January 2009

The Black Stuff

Coal is a central part of most narrowboater's lives at this time of year. It really is vital that you have a good supply, so as to keep warm. It's great in the evenings (despite the broken grate needing care, else all the nice glowing coals get dumped unceremoniously into the ashpan) and it takes some care to ensure it's still going in the morning, otherwise the boat gets rather cold.

The Duck's only source of heat is the Morso Squirrel stove, and I have to put my hand on my heart here and say that we've abused it; it has burnt a variety of fuels, from housecoal (tarry) to pallet wood (hot and ashy), chipboard, paper (an incinerator for un-needed bank papers) and MDF (don't, it's REALLY not a good idea! It's got bad fumes and the glue condenses into chimney-blocking gunk...) but it works best on smokeless fuel.

At the moment, we burn CPL's Brazier, which we get for just over £10 per bag. Depending on whether we're in the boat or not, a bag will last between three days (if I'm at home all day) and a week (if we're both at work).

This isn't the cheapest way to get fuel; the best way is to order with other boaters and get a discount for buying in bulk. We missed the big orders by being poor when we first got back, and now head over to Mackay's to buy our 75 kilos (three 25kg bags) of coal for £32. The new £10 trolley from B&Q makes the trip a lot easier than it was- and a ratchet strap keeps all the bags of coal where they should be and prevents them sliding off.

We're looking at getting a bigger delivery from somewhere like Papworth Fuels; it's all under investigation.

In the meantime, it's a case of carrying on with the trolley and keeping warm!

You've been framed

Today we finally finished putting up some photos that we'd had printed - mementos of our journey and such a nice addition to the boat's interior. It took a full evening to choose them, but these are the photos we've chosen so far:

Dramatic shot of us breasted up with our rescuers, and a photo of the Duck with a fleet of Optimists, just like my first ever boat, Orca, that my dad made for me.

'Steam' series - steam narrowboat President, seen last summer, and an atmospheric shot of Didcot Railway Centre, the day I signed the boat mortgage contract. We both also have many happy childhood memories of visiting Didcot!

The End of our journey (sunrise on the Cam) and the Beginning (taken by the Duck's previous owner)

Random memories!

Thanks to James' mum who made this for us!

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Chocolates of the Cut

I painted these little boxes, containing home- (or rather boat-) made chocolate truffles as Christmas presents for friends. The truffles were surprisingly easy to make, and the boxes great fun to paint, copying liveries from my book 'Colours of the Cut' by Edward Paget Tomlinson.

To make the truffles, I used 300g organic, fairtrade, single-source Ecuadorian milk chocolate (I prefer it to dark) and 300ml of double cream. I melted the chocolate while heating the cream gently, then mixed the two together with a splash of the delicious brandy-based Winter Pimms and a dessert spoon of honey. I left the mixture to cool in the well-deck overnight and made it into bitesized balls, before dusting them with icing sugar.

I took the recipe (and adapted it slightly since I don't have a food processor) from Gastronomie Domine, another blog by a lady who co-incidentally also lives in Cambridge!

Saturday, 10 January 2009

A Very Different Kind of Boating

Today, at the somewhat ungodly hour of 8am, and with air temperatures hovering somewhere around freezing, I finally did what I've been wanting to do for a long time, and went on my first outing in a rowing eight.

Rowing has been a somewhat large part of my life every since I've been with James. Many an evening I've sat with hm, and other 'boatie' friends and endured hours of discussions regarding such confusing concepts as 'splits', 'ratings', 'catches' and 'finishes'. James has coxed for years now, starting while he was at university. I had, however, always remained adamant that I was not a boatie.

But last summer, I changed my mind. I did what I had so often done, and cycled along the bank watching the crews out on the Cam in the sunshine, and wanted to be out there too. So I went out for my first time in a training tub, thoroughly enjoyed it and resolved to continue learning. But somehow, living in London, buying Lucky Duck, moving Lucky Duck (which of course, continues even now we're in Cam) and work got in the way of my training... So it came to January, and I'd still not been on a 'proper' outing in an eight. I suffer from bad circulation, and when I get cold, Raynauld's sydrome can start affecting my fingers, but having found that cycling fast enough seemed to prevent it from happening, I felt sure that as long as I was working hard enough, my fingers would be OK. So, this morning I wrapped up in as many layers as possible (bar gloves - they prevent proper grip on the handle) and went for it. And I loved it. I didn't make as much of an idiot of myself as I thought I would, and I didn't feel too cold. Only when we took the boat out of the river after the outing and the water froze to the hull did I realise just how cold it actually was!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

The Curious Incident of the Duck in the Night-time

This is a major feature of our cruising- travelling at night! I've only moved during the day recently twice, the far majority is in the dark. We've found that if anything the actual travel is safer than during the day, as there's no other traffic- but it's the locks that are the potential danger areas. Although Baits Bite and Bottisham locks are automated and they do have automatic safeguards, it would be possible, when going upstream into town, to open the guillotine gates too far and send too much water into the lock- as well as the usual problems of getting on and off the boat and mooring in the dark too.
To combat this, we each bought headtorches for Christmas. Not just any old feeble things, oh no! These, by LED Lenser, are "Precision-made Optical Instruments", apparently, and the beams are visible "Over 20 km away". I don't know about that, but I do know that they make boating and cycling in the dark so much more safe- and more fun!
Here's a few photos to give a flavour of our night-time wanderings.

Entering Bottisham Lock at night- the lock was against us, so we'd moored up on the landing stage, letting Amy take the photo as I brought the Duck into the lock.

Closing the hydraulic Vee gates at the downstream end of the lock- so much easier than pushing balance beams!

The upstream guillotine gate looking very ominous....

Leaving the lock

Friday, 2 January 2009

Return to the Flatlands

On the 29th, we returned to Upware in style. No bus journey then a cycle ride along the roads, oh no! My dad had offered to give us a lift in, so we navigated back to the Middle Of Nowhere (TM) via Tesco in Cambridge.

My granddad came too, along with a present for us- an unused 110 Ah battery. Well, it beats Worthers Original! Thankyou very much. The plan is to wire it to just the bilge pump, so that no matter what the state of the leisure batteries there will be a fully charged, un-used battery for the bilge pump. On the subject of which, we arrived back in Upware and found the Duck still afloat which was, of course, a bonus. We transfered our large amounts of luggage onto the boat and went for a cruise in the very, VERY cold weather. We didn't even get as far as Pope's Corner before turning around and heading back to the pub.

After a wonderful dinner at the Five Miles next to the marina (thanks, Dad's credit card!) they headed back towards Bracknell, and we wrapped up warm and moved the boat towards Clayhithe. We had a nice run (although the lock was against us, and the mist rolled in over the Fens) and moored up safely just as Dad and Granddad turned onto the M4 from the M25.

All Along the Rochdale

On our way back to Bracknell from the wedding in Huddersfield, we stopped off at Manchester, where we had an hour's wait before our train. We had a look around the city centre, as Amy was convinced "the canal's just along here, honest!" I wasn't convinced at first, but after dodging trams and cyclists we found ourselves on the diverse and vibrant Canal Street alongside the Rochdale canal.

Maybe one day we'll be along here on the Duck- though hopefully not with the cooling system we've got at the moment, the water was full of rubbish and plastic bags!