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.
We have been staying with my mother, her partner and my sister since Saturday, for a long, lovely Christmas break in Devon. It has been very relaxing, and good to spend time with family. It is cold and icy here, but there is no snow, just rain. After Christmas, we will go to James family too.
We are VERY thankful to John and Jackie on Pippin, and Bree, who are looking after Lyra while we are away. We miss her!
We were in Cambridge last night when it began to snow heavily. At first it was magical, but then the wind picked up. Bu the time we were walking to the boat along the floodbank, it was imposssible to see as well as walk forwards! We struggled home through the blizzard, and arrived looking like we'd just come back from the Antarctic. We warmed up aboard Pippin first, with sherry and tea, while James set the fire going on the Duck.
This morning dawned clear and beautiful. We were excited about showing Lyra her first snow. She didn't like it at all. But we encouraged her to come out and play for a bit, and Tom Kitten joined in the fun. Lyra just miaowed constantly ("my paws are cold!, my paws are cold!") and Tom was a little more adventurous. In places, the snow was 6 inches deep, and watching the cats walking through it was quite hilarious! I took lots of photos of them both, including a lovely one of them nose to nose 'kissing' in the snow, but I'm afraid you'll just have to imagine them because my stupid phone on which I took them has somehow managed to delete all this morning's images. I've called James and asked him to take a few more while its still snowy though. This one was part of the snow series this morning, some of which (the dull ones) weren't deleted for some odd reason!
One of James' later photos, but the snow had started to melt by this point, it seems.
A determined Lyra makes her way through snow up to her 'armpits'!
A good friend of mine lives in Marsden, at one end of the Standedge tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow. Ever since I started to get excited about boating and canals, it has been a dream of mine to visit her there by boat. So I decided to do a little search on Canalplan AC, just to see what the time scales are like.
First, I just let it choose the route, which would take us up to the BCN, along the Trent and Mersey, the Macclesfield, the Peak Forest and then the Hudderfield Narrow. It would take us about two weeks. But when I selected 'quickest route' it suggested that we cross the Wash, follow the Witham, cross the Fossdyke to the Trent, then go along the Aire and Calder Navigation, the Huddersfield Broad, and then the Huddersfield Narrow. Canalplan reckons that would take 9 days. Wouldn't that make a fantastically varied and exciting ring? Maybe one day...
A dense swirling fog prevented us from carrying out our plan to drive the boat into town on Friday night. It was quite fantastic to wander about in, and make incredible jets of light with our torches, but it would have been foolish to try and navigate.
So we stayed in, warm by the fire, with Lyra playing outside. Presently we heard her come into the weldeck, but she was not alone, for another bell was jingling, and another set of slightly differently coloured (more green to Lyra's turquoise) shiny eyes greeted us. Tom Kitten had come to say hello. He is a very sociable cat, and with both his owners out, had been attracted by the noises and lights of the Duck. He looked a little lonely, so rather than shutting him out in the welldeck (after giving him a quick cuddle) as I normally do, I opened the door to let him in and see what would happen. Lyra was by the door, so I assumed that if she had a problem with him coming in, she would let him know, probably by giving him a biff! But she let him come past, and the two were quite happy chase each other up and down the boat.
A Ginger cat and a Jamaica Ginger Cake cat (John's wonderful description of Lyra)
After a while he started pawing at the door so we let him out, and shortly after, John returned. We had a neighbourly cup of tea, while recounting his errant cat's exploits.
The next morning, the fog had lifted, and we enjoyed a very pleasant cruise into town.
Sunrise near Clayhithe
City IV under the newly painted A14 bridge (Queens' College won the Fairbairns race)
It was the day of the Christmas Head race, in which James' mens VIII won their category, and were presented with some very tinny medals. They were very pleased with this win, however, the first since the squad's training regime began in earnest.
The Duck opposite Peterhouse, with James' Chesterton VIII on the opposite bank getting out of their decrepit wooden boat.
On Saturday night, a Chesterton contingent went over to the Elm Tree for celebratory beer. It was a really enjoyable evening. I had some delicious Belgian honey beer, but not enough to meake me feel at all ill in the morning thankfully! On Sunday, we did a few chores, James coached some new additions to the mens' club, and after tea with a friend, we made our way home.
P.S Christmas cards are all in the post now, but I still have plent left if anyone would like one! The link to my email address in the the Welcome section at the tope of the page now.
Recently, we got lots (well, 100)of real Christmas cards printed, which I designed for the occasion:
We are currently in the process of collecting addresses to send them to. So, beloved blog readers, if you would like to see the final design, and receive a Christmas greeting from the Ducks in your post-box (and we don't already have you address), then please email your postal address to me at the address in the photograph below.
This morning, the Duck had its Boat Safety Scheme Examination. It went very well.
The examination was carried out by Tony Pope (recommended by the chap near Birmingham who did the Duck's BSSC last time, Andrew Phasey), who was very professional, friendly and helpful. He didn't even mind when Lyra sat on his papers with her muddy paws and made him start one sheet again! In fact he thought it was quite funny! We would highly recommend him.
Lyra makes herself unuseful
Most excitingly, all of James' new electrics passed with no problems at all! So that was quite satisfying. There only issues were a gas pipe that was not as securely fixed as it should be, and a missing 'GAS ISOLATOR SWITCH BELOW' sign, so it did fail on those. We could probably have solved the gas fitting ourselves, but decided to seek professional help in the form of John Walsh, a friend of Tony's who was able to come over and fix it within the hour! He was also very friendly and helpful. After some previous experiences with a boat contractor who was unprofessional and useless, it was very refreshing to receive such good service!
So the boat is now ready to be re-examined the week after next (for no extra charge) and Tony will be able to sign it off.
Overview of all the wiring. The junction box housing the main positive busbar has a lit to be fitted; tonight, I'm going to Maplin and getting covers for the other busbars.
New fuse holders, and busbar supplying the power to all the circuits. Labels need to be made, but all the connections were crimped with my ratcheting crimpers- a fantastic toy!
Bus-bar and loom for the 12v lights. Annoyingly, they are all orange, so fault finding could prove problematic....
Negative busbar- returns from all the domestic wiring, and connections to the charger, wind-turbine regulator, and the inverter negative. Space to add more connections if needed- and FAR better than a mess of wiring, bodged onto the battery terminals, as it was before.
Newly installed are several busbars, to allow fault-finding, and all the cables have been cut to length, securely cable-tied and made into looms, and routed sensibly so fault-finding is easier.
On Saturday, we went to the CWDF Banter at Thrupp (on the South Oxford). Our friends Simon (aka Moominpapa) and Ann very kindly gave us a lift.
On arrival at the Boat in Thrupp, we were greeted by the sight of two very familiar boats. One of which we'd been inside before (Milly M) and one of which we hadn't (Bones). We were especially excited to see Bones' boat, and admired the bedroom that was inspired by ours! It was also very exciting to meet the two mutts: Molly and Boots, who are both adorable and great fun. It goes without saying that we were also very pleased to see the boats' and dogs' respective owners, Maffi and Bones!
We then walked down to Annie's Tea Room by the lift bridge. We came through here on our cruise last year, so it was lovely to be back on such a delightful bit of canal. PJ, from nb Ocelot was already there, and it was nice to see him too. After a cup of tea, and some very nice bacon sarnies and cake, we took the dogs on a little walk down the canal and back through a very pretty church. James rather failed to photograph the dogs as they hared through the graveyard at breakneck speed.
We returned to the tea room, with Sarah and Jim (aka the Warriors) who had just arrived. We also met Alan and his wife, and several other forum members. Sarah brought a set of lovely photographs of her wonderful new project boat, Chertsey. We hung out in the tea room for quite a while before heading over the pub. Others started to arrive, and we met lots of new face as well as catching up with some old ones. It would be impossible to remember them all, but it was a particular pleasure to meet the other young boaters Jim (aka Heffalump) and Dan (dhutch). Bones had organised for us all to have curries or stew, and these duly arrived for all 40+ people, amid some level of confusion!
We had to leave relatively early, in order to get back to the Fenland wastes, and the Moomins kindly dropped us back at Cambridge station so that we could get the 11pm train home. All in all a wonderful day out, and just what we needed. James in particular needed cheering up after finding that his PGCE application was not sucessful. He is still planning to train to be a teacher, however, and there are a couple of other routes that he could take, so all is not lost.
Last night we visited our friends aboard nb Rowanberry, one of the nighbouring boats on our mooring. Andreas had taken on the challenge of cooking the gigantic marrow that had been grown on the mooring allotment, and sat in the shed for quite a while. No-one had dared attempt it. UNTIL NOW. He stuffed it with mince, chillies, peppers and other flavoursome things, and as it was so big, invited us all to share it. It was quite delicious!