Friday, 28 May 2010

Road Trips

In 2004, I passed my driving test. Since then I have driven for a grand total of two summer holidays and the odd trip now and then. The last time I drove was getting on for three years ago. Living in Cambridge, then London, then the middle of nowhere then Cambridge again, I have either been too central to need a car or not been able to afford one.

But we have plans this summer, James and I. We want to go to Crick Boat Show, then Braunston Historic Boat Festival, and in general it would be nice to be able to pick up heavy things when required. So I took a refresher lesson, as I had no idea how much I remembered about driving. it went really well, and the driving instructor was impressed with how well I got on.

The next step was to join Streetcar, which is a fantastic network of fuel-efficient VWs parked around the country. Once you've joined (£59.95 per year) you simply book the car (from £4.95/hour or £49.95/24 hours) unlock it with your Smartcard, and off you go. 30 miles worth of fuel per day is included in the price. Way cheaper than owning a car! There are loads of them dotted around Cambridge, and its also more convenient than hire cars. For example, we are heading to Crick on the bank holiday Monday, and we'd have had to book a car from Friday until Tuesday, as the hire bases aren't open over the bank holiday weekend. In addition to the extra cost, we'd have nowhere to park it while we weren't using it!

The Streetcar and Streetvan at Cambridge Station

Braunston Historic Boat Show is the other big trip we have planned, hopefully to meet up with the Warriors and see Chertsey for the first time!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Bigger Battery Bank

The more orange one (top right) is the latest addition. As you can see, four 100Ah Elecsols fit perfectly in the box (which came with the boat). We started with 3, just in case the 4th didn't fit, so we could put them the other way round, with some supports if necessary. But the three fitted so well and left such an invting gap to be filled, that we always planned to buy another. So when we found that the three were struggling to keep up with the solar panel's output, this was the catalyst for finally buying the fouth one.

The only annoying thing is that the terminals are the other way around, as can be seen from the photo! It just makes the wiring slightly less neat.

And we're noticing the difference already. After an evening of TV/iPlayer watching (cathing up with Dr Who etc), the 'traffic lights' on the regulator still show amber, not red!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Perago a Go Go

This little wonder is a Perago Triple Blaster. It's a series of rubberised star-shaped discs with sharp tungsten-carbide teeth, and is apparently just the thing for removing paint from narrowboat cabins. Jim recently used one on Chertsey's cabin, and as it came highly reccomended by him, we've gone ahead and bought one to continue with the grand repaint in the half term.

I've also reserved an amount of serious kit with HSS, including a large rotary angle polisher which takes abrasive discs, a bigger version of those recommended by Neil on Herbie. Last night the Herbies were in town visiting their son and made a quick exit from the Beer Festival to visit Amy and very kindly give us some left over discs and abrasives.

We'll try out the Perago and see how we get on. Hopefully we'll have no need to hire the stuff we've reserved.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Lyra's Bower

This is how Lyra coped with the hot weather at the weekend. She has flattened down a patch of long grass in the bank to create a shady little place to sleep.

Monday, 24 May 2010


Well, what a glorious weekend! We felt even more privileged than normal to live where we do, as people flocked to the common to sit by the river, picnic under trees, and generally enjoy the sun.

On Saturday, we both went rowing early, then I had another outing at 11, and James came home to intall the new 100Ah Elecsol (more on batteries and solar panels later). After lunch, Charlotte came over and she and I headed for the Jesus Green Lido. Built in 1923, it is the longest outdoor lido in the country, at 100 yards (91m). It is unheated, but since it was so hot, we thought that this was the day to try it! At first it felt bloody freezing, but after a while we got used to it, and spent about 45 minutes swimming, which was very enjoyable.

On Sunday, it was too hot to lie in, so by 9am I was sitting reading in the shade on the bow deck. Later on we both raced in the Champs VIIIs Head, which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite the heat. James coxed my boat. Video here.

Waiting to race

Of course, the sunny weather is also great for our solar panel. In a recent comment, psladen asks: Two months on and I'd also be most interested in an update for how the panel has been holding up! Thoughts/annoyances? Any leaks from the bottom-mounted cables? MPPT tracker holding up?

We continue to be impressed with our wonderful photovolatic panel, having only run the genny a couple of times in anticipation of a lengthy iPlayer session! We have had the fridge on constantly (something we could not have contemplated before) and there is plenty spare. Ours are not bottom mounted : the wires exit from the top of the panel and go into the pigeon box. But others who have the bottom exiting wires have not reported any complaints. The MPPT tracker seems fine, no issues there. We haven't got a device to measure the current output of the panel, but on a vaguely sunny day the batteries are normally fully charged by the afternoon. Just this week we bought another 100Ah Elecsol battery to complement the three we already have, in order to keep up with the panel output, and try to store more of it. The only struggle encountered so far is keeping the panel clean. It has a rough texture which traps dirt and blocks the light but I struggle to keep it completely dirt and dust free. It seems to work fine despite this so its only a minor niggle.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Rowing and Sculling

A recent comment from Soulgirl: 'What is sculling?' prompted me to find some images which clearly show the difference between sweep rowing (the sort of rowing that I do and James coxes most of the time) and sculling.

The crucial difference is that in a sweep rowing boat, everyone holds one oar, known as a 'blade' each, and in a scull, each rower has two oars, known as 'sculls'. Sweep rowing is more common on the Cam, mainly I think because it has so many corners that lots of practice and skill is required to be able to steer and row well on this river without a cox - the smaller sculling boats don't have coxes, except for some training quads. Sculling is a much more symmetrical movement, and juniors are not allowed to begin sweep rowing until they are fully developed.

These images, from visualdictionaryonline are the best I've found:

Sculling boats. Quads, quintets and octuples also exist although the latter two are rare!

Sweep rowing boats

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

A feel-good dog rescue story

A deaf and blind dog was rescued from the river Cam yesterday by a womens crew from Trinity Hall Boat Club (the news says Trinity but they were mistaken apparently). The dog had escaped from her lead and ended up in the water, but with no sight or hearing ended up floating into the middle with the owner having no way to call her back! Thankfully the rowers stopped and helped the dog back in.

The full story from the Cambridge News.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Book Review- "The Boat Girls" by Margaret Mayhew

I realised the other day that a feature of other peoples' blogs are book reviews. The most recently-read relevant book is "The Boat Girls" by Margaret Mayhew.

First impressions? Well, the front cover is a photograph, rather than a painting or illustration, and- to my cynical eye- I noticed the modern boats in the background. But then, I'm exceedingly picky and I went looking for them!

The plot seems to be pretty standard for this genre- women in wartime do Something Different, find themselves and form friendships and relationships with servicemen, and the plot proceeds on its way to a pretty foreordained conclusion.

The big difference to other books in the genre is the Inland Waterways connection. The women from disparate backgrounds- bank teller, out-of-work actress, fresh-from-school upper-class drifter- are united by their replies to an advert asking for volunteers for Inland Waterways service, working pairs of boats to keep traffic moving. Together, they learn slowly the skills of working the boats, after entertainingly-related disasters during the learning process, start to become skilled. But, being "off the bank", they will never really be accepted by the "real" boaters.

The hardships of living aboard seem to have been well researched, and certainly Mayhew does not skimp on the detail, taking an almost perverse pleasure in describing the bedbugs and lack of space in living aboard, the cuts, grazes and blisters of loading, unloading and sheeting up, and the hardships of working boats day in, day out. A few details do jar, however; do the rear fenders on a boat really protect the propeller, which is under the counter anyway? If one were to walk over the top-planks of a boat, set across the beams, surely the drop is only 4 or 5 feet to the bottom of the boat, rather than the more vertiginous nine feet described by Mayhew; and could a loaded boat really fall off an aqueduct, if the steerer were not paying attention?

These are all very small niggles, and I realise that I'm far too much of a finickity historian, picking small faults. The very vast majority seems to have been well-described, realistic, and Mayhew manages to convey the contradiction of a hard, physical, demanding lifestyle with the pleasure gained from it- of working efficiently through a flight, or being free to enjoy the sights and sounds of the countryside; of learning the boaters' names for places and techniques for working efficiently.

Overall? Well, it's not the kind of book I would normally read- but, drawn in by the canal setting, I couldn't help but enjoy it.

Just Cruising

Heading up the Long Reach

We spent a glorious weekend cruising out to our old mooring and back, to catch up with friends and simply enjoy boating for the sake of boating.

Saturday morning was inevitably spent rowing and coxing, but with the exciting addition of sculling! Both James and I are learning to scull so that we can take the double out together or with friends when we feel like it. So we've been getting the training scull out and pootling about, learning the basics so that we can try the double racing shell soon! I was quite apprehensive about the idea, but once I got going, I loved it! We're both looking forward to the freedom that sculling could bring, as well as the opportunity to row more (if that is possible!).

Once we'd finished messing about in little plastic boats, we set off in our big steel one, both for a change of scenery, and because it was a lovely weekend for boating. It was a very pleasant trip out of town, marred only by a foolish college rowing boat who overtook another boat, and pulled out in front of the Duck, requiring James to slam the boat into reverse and hoot the klaxon.

We moored up close to our old mooring, and wandered over to see what was going on. John and Jackie on Pippin were about, as was Andreas on Rowanberry. We had cups of tea and caught up on each others' news. Lots is going on out there: Helen and Gabriel on Brass Monkey are about to become first time parents (she was due on Thursday, so everyone was geared up to see them rush off to the hospital any moment!), and they have just had their boat stretched. It looks great. They were looking to sell up and buy a longer one, but decided to simply improve on what they had rather than go through the stress of buying and selling. Very wise. Visitors from the vicars on lovely electric boat Sunflower also moored up to say hello. They were waiting in the queue for the lock, which was about 6 boats long, and not helped by a Bridge cruiser moored up on the landing stage! We stayed on Pippin for dinner which was most enjoyable and slept very well away from the noise of the centre of town.

On Sunday we woke late and read the papers in bed, until we heard the familiar noise of Kestrel's engine, as James moored up behind us. He and Emma had spent the night out at Wicken Fen (which is apparently lovely - we must make it out there at some point!) and he was now single handing back towards town. However, he wanted to give Kestrel its annual polish, and James was eager to help. I supplied bacon sandwiches and continued to tidy up inside the Duck.

Soon we were heading back into town in warm sunshine despite the BBC's predictions of rain! In the evening we went back out to the old mooring in James and Emma's car, to pick up a huge mahogony box which James had bought from John in order to make a new cratch board for Kestrel. Of course we couldn't visit without being invited in for more drinks on Pippin! Adding to the excitement was the arrival of Rhoda earlier in the afternoon, the most recent addition to the mooring, on her red widebeam Hullabaloo. So another convivial evening was had by all.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Second Wind

Our friendly ghost's new home

Our old wind genny is now spinning happily away in the Firth of Clyde. The new owners were so pleased with it that they sent us some photos of it in situ on the stern of their yacht in Scotland. They even re-used the old rowing blade that we had cut down to use as a pole: it's perfect as it is not made of metal and so it runs no risk of corroding and staining the GRP boat.

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Cows are Back in Town

They are in fact a mixture of heifers and bullocks.

Following a health and safety row over the provision of a ramp to allow them to get back out of the river, the lovely Red Poll cattle have been returned to Midsummer Common.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Big Fore-ends in Little Venice

Here's some of our favourite photos to illustrate our day at the Canalway Cavalcade:

We arrived out of Paddington station to be greeted by this!

Joseph (converted day boat with JP3), Vienna (FMC horse boat built in 1911), Kestrel (1928 Yarwoods built FMC motor), and Victoria (1931 Yarwoods built Royalty boat for ACC with JP2) (Thanks Mike)

President and Kildare were also moored up when we first arrived (we saw this pair for the first time back in 2008 when the visited Cambridge, before we had even bought the Duck)

Then we wandered along the towpath up the Paddington arm, hoping to spot other boats we knew. And lo and behold, we found Herbie, who we hoped would still be there, distinguished by its shiny paintwork and temporary signwriting!

Kath had also made some ingenious bunting from colourful carrier bags, which we admired before knocking to see if anyone was in. We were pleased to see Neil look out and invite us in for tea. It had also begun rainig by this point so cups of tea were most welcome, and we had a nice chat. Soon, Simon from nb Tortoise also showed up, and after more tea, we set out to find some food and drink and watch the historic boats parade.

We had hog roast rolls, and delicious Stowford Press cider which went very well together! We then wandered about the stalls and admired various boats.

Men With Beards talk about beer and boats. Note the rusty spanner embedded in the underside of the bridge- dropped into the wet concrete and then sinking to the bottom, revealed when the shuttering was removed.

Then we headed over to Tortoise which was moored in the perfect location to watch the 'parade'.

It turned out to be more like working boat dodgems! Great fun to watch, as the various pairs circumnavigated the island, weaving expertly in and out of the various other craft which seemed oblivious of the goings on!

Victoria's new paintjob- now in Associated Canal Carriers livery.

Famously large fore-end!

Archimedes and Ara, still working as diesel, gas, coal and pumpout boats on the GU.

All too soon it was time to head for home, but it was a fantastic day!

Canalway Chaos

We spent most of yesterday at the Canalway Cavalcade in Little Venice. We had a great time, seeing lots of lovely boats and meeting up with Neil and Kath of Herbie as well as Simon of Tortoise. Lots of fun. Will extend this when I have my photos uploaded!

Saturday, 1 May 2010

...And, out of the blue, Hello Again!

I found my bike!

What a co-incidence. It was locked up just outside the Fort St. George, with someone else's lock. Luckily I had reported the theft to the Police when it happenned, so I was able to lock it up with my own lock- and anchor chain!- and leave a note, as we waited for the police to arrive.

They turned up within half an hour or so, and James used a pair of boltcutters to remove the other lock and we took it back.

In the absence of having registered the frame number, we had to prove to the Police that the bike was mine- which I did with the blog!

I showed them the original blog post, complete with photo, that I put up back in 2008 when I bought it, and they accepted that as easily sufficient proof of ownership.

The power of blogging!

In future, we'll lock the bike up on the boat- it might be more inconvenient, but I feel it's less likely to go missing if someone has to physically get onto the boat in order to steal it.