Friday, 30 April 2010


Last night my lovely bike was stolen.

I know, its foolish to get emotionally attached to bicycles, especially in Cambridge, where it is statistically likely that they will get stolen, but I did nonetheless. I bought it for a mere £25 back in November 2008. It was a bit old but really good looking, and fast, with drop handlebars and an old-fashioned gear change system. Recently I had bought a new tyre, handlebar wraps and brake blocks, and it was running really well.

Since my last bike was stolen, I have always refused to leave it unless it was locked TO something with a proper D-lock. And last night was no exception. It was locked to a cast iron bench on the common just opposite the boat (there is nowhere else) and when I came back from seeing friends at midnight, all that was left was the D-lock, which had been forced open somehow. I've reported the incident to the police but I don't think I'll see it again. It wasn't insured, but even if it had been, I would still have been upset, it is pretty much irreplaceable.

It could be worse: I only live a 20 minute walk form work. I don't NEED a bike like I did when we lived in Upware, its just handy. Such is life.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

May fair

I arrived back across the Common from work on Monday to find that the May Fair has started setting up to open on Thursday. This is the first of three or four fairs that happen on Midsummer Common during the summer, and is relatively small. Historically, it causes far less trouble than the Midsummer Fair or the notorious Strawberry Fair (which has been cancelled this year amid controversy and rumous that revellers will descend upon the Common nonetheless).

But it remains to be seen how this one will affect us. It is our first big Common event since we moved to Cambridge, so fingers crossed there will be no trouble! For the larger ones, we will take the opportunity to move the boat out of town, but we have to be around this weekend for the Head of the Cam race that our rowing club is organising.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Time and Tide

James and I have had the most fantastic weekend, sailing the Thames Barge Reminder on the Blackwater. I have been wanting to blog about the fact that we would be doing this for ages, but since it doesn't do to advertise the fact that you and indeed several other Cambridge narrowboaters will be leaving their boats unattended for the weekend, I somehow have managed to resist.

(big) James on Kestrel sent an email round a few months ago saying: "Would anyone like to join me and Emma in hiring a historic Thames Barge for the weekend sometime? I need at least six more people." It wasn't cheap, at £195pp from Topsail Charters based in Maldon, Essex, but we decided that this was a chance we simply COULD NOT miss! So we said yes, as did several other of our friends from the river and the rowing club.

So, on Friday night, we drove down to Maldon to board Reminder, ready for an early start on Saturday. She is a beautiful steel sailing barge, 80ft by 18ft and built in 1929; tradition has it that after the 1928 Thames Barge Match, Fred Horlock promised his victorious rivals that he would give them a "reminder" of the speed of his barges. The following year, Reminder was launched at Mistley and fulfilled his expectations, winning races on the Thames and Medway. She was also one of the last barges built. The cargo hold has now been converted to comfortably accommodate 12 people.

Reminder under sail (obviously not my own photo, since I was on board all the time we were sailing!)

The saloon

We were lucky to arrive early and nab the only two double rooms! One of the first things we did was hoist the rowing club flag, which I had brought! It looked great flying at the top of the flag halyard.

Lowering the flag (this is the best photo of the actual flag that I have)

We were to be sailing with a crew of three: Kevin the Skipper, a tough but very friendly seaman, Sam the Mate, a calm, competent 17 year old lad, and Annie the cook whose delicious meals were one of the highlights of the trip. We ate out in a Greek place in Maldon on the Friday we arrived, but all our provisions (bar drinks) were catered for. The difference in price between catered and non-catered was minimal and we were glad to not have to worry about cooking for 14 every meal!

At 7:30 am, the crew arrived and we set off down the Blackwater in the morning sunshine. Kevin explained that while he and Sam were quite able to crew the boat by themselves, we were welcome to join in an help out as much as we wanted. As we were pretty much all either rowers or narrowboaters, sailors or all three, this offer was taken up with enthusiasm! (big) James helmed at we motored out of the channel, and then it was time to get the sails up. Under Sam's instructions, several of us were soon hoisting first the topsail, then the main and foresail. Although there are a lot of ropes, it was actually fairly simple. These boats were designed to be sailed by one man and his boy!

James takes the helm

Once out in deeper water we spent the next few hours beating out to sea, and past the mouth of the River Colne. After a while we got the staysail up as well, and then we really started to move! We were in no hurry to get anywhere though, as the weather was glorious (if a bit cold in the wind) and we were just enjoying being under sail. We were tacking back and forth, so every so often the skipper or whoever was at the helm would shout 'Ready about!', followed by 'Lee-oh!' and we'd all run to our stations to move the bowlines on the foresail, slacken and tighten the relevant staysail runners, and drop and raise the leeboards. Some people didn't feel like actually getting involved in the sailing, but instead just enjoyed the ride, reading or chatting on deck.

Once the tide turned, we went about and began running before the wind back to the Colne, where we were planning to moor up for the night. I took the helm for the first time at this point, and it was very exciting although a bit nerve wracking to be in control of such a large vessel. I sailed quite a bit when I was younger, and so all the principles were familiar to me, but the scale made everything different. Although going about is slower, everything's larger and that bit more dangerous!

James took the helm again as we sailed up the channel towards Brightlingsea up the River Colne. With the help of Kevin and a handheld GPS, I helped him navigate between the shallows and up to the spot where we were to drop the anchor and moor up for the night. Kevin then brought the boat head to wind and we helped Sam stow the sails. We had no need to go to shore, as we had plenty of booze on board, and so spent the evening drinking, reading and playing games after a delicious meal cooked by Annie. Before it got dark, a few of us, James and I included decided to go for a pootle in the tender, which was good fun.

Sunday morning dawned grey and damp, and as we were in no hurry to get back to Maldon (the water would not be high enough to moor at the quay until 9pm) Kevin suggested that we stay anchored and head off after lunch. A few of us headed to shore in the tender, to enjoy the sights and sounds of Brightlingsea on a wet Sunday morning, under instructions to pick up the Sunday papers.

Beach huts of Brightlingsea (some of these go for anything up to £24k!

While we were out, some of the boaters had lit the stove and we returned, wet and dripping to be greeted by mugs of tea and a toasty warm saloon. Most welcome. Sunday lunch was pork and caramelised apples with mash, followed by fruit crumble. After lunch, the weather brightened and we had another glorious afternoon's sailing back to Maldon. On the way we saw a dinghy, with lots of fast, two-man spinnaker boats: RS B14s, Laser 4000s and others.

Another historic boat, Black Rose, was also sailing up the Blackwater, and was a lovely sight.

The wind was in the wrong direction to sail all the way back to Maldon, which was a shame as it had picked up considerably and we were racing along with James at the helm, absolutely loving it! He had really got the hang of it, and the skipper was impressed. At one point a gust caught the boat and she heeled over so much that half of the soup for dinner crashed onto the floor! Once we were in the channel, we stowed the sails again. The staysail got a bit caught on the way down, so the intrepid Sam scaled the ratlines (I think this is the word?) to free it.

As the sun set, we motored back to Maldon, arriving at 8:30pm just as dusk fell. We said our goodbyes to Reminder and the wonderful crew, and headed back to Cambridge, exhausted but having had one of the best weekends boating that we can remember!

Friday, 23 April 2010

What the River Brought Us

I picked this little Chinese box out of the river yesterday. It was floating along, open, past the kitchen window with the little china cup still sitting in it! Incredible that it stayed in. It floated past the Duck, and then over towards our neighbour's boat. I climbed over and fished it out.

It has been so sunny recently, and something about the quality or angle of the light has meant that the river bed is very visible.

The view from Victoria Avenue Bridge

In other news, we have an amazing weekend planned! Can't say any more now, and won't have a chance to blog about it until Monday, so watch this space!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Mr ASBO Strikes Again

Last year, a ferocious swan (nicknamed Mr ASBO by Emma when she used to blog at nb Kestrel) terrified rowers and kayakers on the river by Ditton Corner. And this year he’s back, with a vengeance!

He and his mate are nesting in a little cut at the apex of a right-angled corner, and is attacking all varieties of river craft, from vulnerable single sculls and kayaks to rowing VIIIs and motor boats. Both James and I have coxed boats around that corner which have had him going after the rowers’ blades. In an VIII, however, it is fairly safe (unless of course he starts flying directly at the rowers or cox!) but for those out in sculls or kayaks, a swan attack is more serious. Several lone rowers have fallen in as a result.

The Cam Conservancy, galvanised into action by the numerous reports they have had from river users, have started trying to do something about it. They have been in contact with Her Majesty’s Warden of the Swans, no less, as the Queen has a right to ownership of any swan in this country. If she declines (which is likely, apparently) they then have to go the organisation Natural England to get a licence to proceed. As for what to do to him, the most humane suggestion seems to be removing him and his family to a quieter stretch of river where there will be fewer river users to attack. Otherwise, they might clip a wing to throw him off balance when he tries to attack. I’m not in favour of deliberately mutilating him though. One blogger for the Telegraph advocates leaving him alone and not rowing on that stretch of the river, which is a frankly ludicrous suggestion, given that his nest is on one of the busiest and most popular stretches of water for rowing in the area.

The Cambridge News was the first to report the story of course (with one of its news editors being an avid Chesterton rower), but the story has also been picked up nationally by the Telegraph, the Express, the BBC and the Mail!

The student run spoof tabloid, The Tab, has an excellent article entitled The Return of The Killer Swan with footage!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Ashes to Ashes

(sorry, couldn't resist)

In fact, the only effect that the volcano ash problem has had on us is a positive one: my mum ended up staying with us rather than flying to France. It was lovely to have her to stay, and the weather perfect for enjoying Cambridge. We enjoyed drinks and dinner at the Fort, and several nice walks in the sunshine. As her weekend visit was unplanned (she was going to be arriving 4pm Friday and leaving 3am Saturday!) I still had to go rowing in the morning, and continue my coxing training. Surprisingly, I am quite enjoying learning to cox. On Saturday, I successfully negotiated the stretch of river going out of town past all the residential boats, and on Sunday, coxed the stretch with the most bends and cross-over points. My steering is not bad (I hoped this would be the case, having experience of steering the Duck) although my calls need to improve, but that will come with practice! I think that it will also improve my narrowboat handling skills, and certainly help me deal with other rowing boats I encounter on the river!

About to push off: coxing Chesterton's womens VIII Dawntreader

My mum left on Sunday morning, and James began a task that we have been thinking about for a while: the continuation of The Grand Repaint. He took about 4ft of one side of the boat back to bare and we have now primed it. However, we are thinking about hiring a scabbler to continue the task, as the anglegrinder is inefficient. We'll need to borrow a bigger genny though!

Here's my plan for the new colour scheme (using Grand Union blues). The lid of the roof that folds down over the cabin sides prevents any coach lines, as the horizontal line will always be there. Instead I think we should just work with it rather than pretend its not there:

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Fox Tales

We had a bizarre experience last night. We awoke at 2:30am to very strange noises: a lot of splashing and water moving about, and thumps on the the side of the boat. The boat was also moving oddly. Our first thought was that it was a bunch of kids messing about in the water, but there were no voices. So, James got up and went to investigate. He looked outside, and shouted back 'I think its a fish!'. However, on further inspection, he saw that it was in fact a fox! It had fallen in (perhaps while investigating the pair of shiny green cat's eyes looking out from the kitchen window?), got trapped between the boat and the bank, and our tyre fenders had prevented it from swimming out. So James loosened the mooring ropes, and it was able to swim out, making its way swiftly to the opposite bank, where it hopped out at the CRA boathouse, as the bank is much lower there.

Co-incidentally, while returning from a friend's house late on Tuesday night, we saw another fox, perhaps even the same one, and a hedgehog!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Floating Vote

With the upcoming General Election, I have been looking into registering to vote as a residential boater in Cambridge.

I called the City Council and was bounced around various departments (who all started trying to help be asking 'Can you give me your address?' and were stumped when I couldn't answer) until I found someone who seemed to know what we are talking about. Apparently, in order to register to vote, we have to fill in the standard form, but instead of an address, we have to place a cross on a map, showing which ward we area moored in. This is of course, entirely arbitrary, because we are entitled to moor anywhere along the designated stretch of river, and could be in Market Ward, Abbey Ward, or Arbury Ward, depending on where we decide to bang in our mooring pins... but at least they have a system which doesn't entail having to declare yourself homeless. For those living in marinas with a residential address, it is no problem, but plenty of residential boaters don't have addresses. Continuous cruisers struggle even more, and unless they still own property and can apply for a postal vote, have to declare a 'local connection'. This is exactly what a homeless person would have to do in order to vote in the area they found themselves in when the came to vote. Understandably, plenty of people don't want to use this method, and feel disenfranchised by the system.

As for who will get our votes, so far only the Lib Dems have made the effort to flyer our boat with their manifesto. So that's a point in their favour already!

Monday, 12 April 2010

First BBQ of Summer

Forget swallows, its the first BBQ of the year that really signifies the beginning of Summer! We have had a properly summery weekend, which started on Friday with a trip up to Ely on Warrior to say bye to Jim and Sarah. I was able to come, but only if I got some work done so stayed below for most of the trip (bar a sunny stretch, sitting on the roof between Baits Bite and Bottisham). But there is no better way to work: sitting at a table watching the river go by from the window. It was an extremely productive few hours. Warrior is a speedy boat, so we were soon in Ely where we went to the Antiques shop and were tempted by various bits of Army surplus wear, but didn't actually spend anything. After saying our goodbyes we headed back to Cambridge on the train.

Saturday was brilliantly sunny, and full of rowing and relaxing with friends. We've now moved moorings again, to a spot near the Fort (yes, Kath was right, we wouldn't be happy until we were right next to the pub!). It's also between trees, so hopefully the shading will be less there for the solar panel, and we won't get any bird poo either! Lyra is thoroughly confused by all this moving about and hasn't regained the confidence she had when we were close to this spot before we went to Ely.

And then, in the evening, we decided to have our first BBQ of the year! Mike from Innocenti came over too, and we had sausages, salsa, and mushrooms, which were very tasty.

On Sunday, James was racing in the IV at the Bedford Head with (big) James and some other rowers. I, meanwhile, was learning to cox! I've never thought it was for me, and having done it once and been terrified, I didn't have high hopes. But this time, I was prepared (James having prepped me to just call 'easy' or 'hold it up' if all else failed, to stop the boat and then sort it out) and actually enjoyed it. I successfully negotiated a pair that was on the wrong side of the river, and made a good landing. I want to have another go now, and will be doing so tomorrow and Thursday! The one thing I was most worried about was remembering which side was which if I needed to call for a maneuvering stroke (strokeside and bowside are equivalent to port and starboard) so I wrote a big S and B on the correct hands, to help me out in a panic!

I am now a bit sunburnt, having spent 5 hours, from 11 til 4 in the sun, but it was great fun. We had dinner in a local Indian restaurant with some other rowers who'd also been racing at Bedford, which was a good way to end the weekend.

I've somehow managed not to take any pictures this weekend though, so here's a gratuitous cute cat photo:

Zzzzz... Pretty much how I felt after a weekend of fun in the sun!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Fun and Frolics!

We have had a brilliant couple of days, with the Warriors in town! Sarah has written two blogs about it so far: 1 and 2, which describe most of what we have been up to.

On Tuesday evening, James was coxing, and I went to see the Moomins on Melaleuca, as they had promised me cake! They were feeling quite tired so retured to bed, leaving Sarah, Jim and me to go and find James after his outing and head to the Elm Tree, to add the Warrior's collection of pubs visited in Cambridge.

On Wednesday, I went to work in the morning, and James cruised up to Clayhithe with Melaleuca, heading to Ely to find some primer Jim had spotted. I, meanwhile, met up with Jim and Sarah again to show them the charity shops of Cambridge (Sarah is an avid charity shopper). She found a bag and some shoes, and I got a lovely skirt for £3 and a pretty mug for 40p from Sally Ann's (this is the Salvation Army shop, biggest, cheapest and most down-to-earth charity shop of them all, also selling furniture and with drawers full of cutlery, underwear and other 'oddments')

It was raining, sadly, but we had promised them a tour of Cambridge. So we met up with James and headed into town, showing them all the places we love, including our old colleges and the University Library. We also wanted to look at the river, as we have formulated a plan to cruise down the Backs on Warrior, having established that with its low profile, it would be the perfect boat for the purpose. Sadly, we reckon the Duck would be too high. Most of the colleges were closed, as it is getting to exam term, and even though we are members of the university, would not be allowed to take guests in. But thankfully St Johns, which lays claim to the lowest (and therefore the most crucial) bridge on the Cam, had a side gate open, so we snuck in. Jim reckons Warrior would have no problem getting under there. We'll have to wait til Autumn though, as the Backs are closed to motor craft from now until then.

In the evening, we had a pint at the Fort with the Kestrels before heading to the Devonshire Arms for Real Ale from the famous Milton Brewery. They are all named after classical figures, and even I quite enjoyed my half of Icarus! See Sarah's blog for a photo of me surrounded by Ale! Last orders are at midnight, so it was another late night for us, but a very enjoyable one!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

An Evening in Ely

Its been a while since we woke to the delightful sensation of remembering that although everything looks the same, you are not where you were the night before! We spent the morning pottering about Ely, waiting for the imminent arrival of the Warriors and the Moominclan on Melaleuca. The Warriors were first to arrive, and Melaleuca about an hour an a half later having stopped for water in Littleport. In the meantime, we went to Peacocks with Jim and Sarah, and sadly it wasn't as good as when we went last. But the teacups and saucers were still painstakingly mismatched, the list of teas even longer than before and the tea tasty (although both Sarah and I felt that ours was a little weak). It felt like a holiday, anyway, to go there with friends.

James helps the Moomins moor up

Soon we spotted Melaleuca, complete with the whole family on board, and they breasted up to us. We had not met Simon and Ann's daughers Alice and Jess before so it was great to finally get a chance to speak to them (and they are both lovely). I had looked up where we should go for drinks in the evening, and bearing in mind that Jim and Sarah are connoisseurs of real ale, chose the Price Albert, recomended by CAMRA as being a 'jolly good pub' for real ale. According to Jim's guide, it didn't do food, so we headed to the Cutter for dinner, where we met Alex, a Canadian liveaboard boater in Ely who crewed for Jim on Warrior last year and a very nice chap indeed. We took a somewhat circuitous route to the Price Albert, but once there, found it to be a quiet, friendly place that DID do food after all. Ah well. A Good Time was Had By All, and Jim, Sarah, Alex, James and I stayed til gone closing time.

Apologies if this is a carbon copy of Sarah's account, but we did do the same things all evening! I am also somewhat worse for wear after yesterday's excesses, so not up to much!

Today the Duck and the Moomins have headed back into Cambridge, to be followed later by Warrior. I have to be at work, alas!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter in Ely

16 miles, 2 locks
7 cups of tea!

Tomorrow, we are meeting the Warriors- Jim and Sarah- and Simon and Ann on Melaleuca for a catch-up over a beer or two, and then a convoy into Cambridge on Tuesday. To that end, Amy and I decided to move the Duck to Ely to get a mooring space and prepare for the "frolics" as Jim would undoubtedly say.

We meant to leave at about 10am.

But yesterday was the boat race, and we went to the pub. And stayed in the pub until closing time, with most of the rest of the rowing club, and then went for an "after-party" at a friends' flat- so, as we didn't get to bed until the wee small hours, we didn't leave until 1:30 pm or so.

Oops. Oh well, we missed the rain, and helped a hireboat- a cruiser from Ely's Bridge Boatyard- through Baits Bite lock with us, as we headed off towards the "Ship of the Fens". Joined by another hireboat, both with crews visiting from Germany, they were soon christened the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. We stopped at our old mooring to allow them to overtake and work through the lock with the rest of the bank holiday traffic, and we had a cup of tea with John and Jackie on Pippin, along with Louise and Andreas from Rowanberry. After a catch-up, we headed off again at 4:30 towards Ely, sharing the lock- which was expertly operated by John- with Rowanberry, as they were off to Burwell. If John ever gets tired of hole-making, he ought to seriously consider a career with the EA on a Thames lock!

Moored in Ely

The sun broke through after some weak showers, and we arrived in Ely at 6:30 or so, having made good time. There were more moorings than I thought there would be, and so we managed to find a slightly angled spot alongside a small park in the centre of town- good for Lyra- and about 30 seconds walk away from The Best Teashop In The World (TM)- Peacocks- good for us! We went for a walk into the centre of town, photographing the Cathedral in the wonderful evening light, before heading home to watch last night's Doctor Who on iPlayer and eat some tasty fajitas for tea.

"Hang on a minute- warmhomeplace is the same, but the world is not- where's Cambridge gone?!"

Tomorrow morning brings the promise of a choice of 75 varieties of tea and many different types of cake, before meeting the gang.

All in all, a rather lovely Easter weekend!

Further Fame- 7 MILLION people see the Duck on TV!

On Saturday, 16 athletes and 2 small shouty people went to the Thames.

The athletes worked very hard, the expensive Empacher carbon fibre boats went very fast, the coxswains swore a lot and steered better than I did on the river, and Cambridge won, having tenaciously stayed in contact with Oxford around the long Hammersmith bend.

But, 1 hour 3 minutes and 50 seconds into the BBC's coverage, we saw a familiar narrowboat, moored opposite Goldie boathouse on the Cam, in a montage of training footage shown before the race...

Lucky Duck on the far left

Apparently, 7 million or so people tuned in to watch the BBC's coverage.

Maybe, when in the future we come to sell the boat, we can put in a list of its media appearances- Canal Boat, Waterways World, Rivers and Canals, Towpath Talk, and now the BBC. Not sure it would affect the price much, though!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Blanked Out

Thanks for Brian and Diane of NB Harnser for the suggestion of getting some stel cut to fit the stove. Although it looks odd, it is keeping us warm in this annoyingly cold weather. probably the glass would have been OK, but it was very difficult to control the air flow with a gaping hole in the door!

We are hoping for some good weather tomorrow, for the Boat Race as well as for our planned cruise. Jim and Sarah on Warrior, as well as Simon and Ann on Melaleuca will be cruising down though Salter's Lode and Denver on Monday so we are going to head up and meet them.