Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Dream Boat

The first of an occasional series of posts, about other boats that I like. You'll have to excuse me sounding like Tom Cunliffe in his recent BBC series...

This is Consuta, built in 1898 as an umpire's launch for rowing races. The umnpire is necessary for regatta-style racing, especially when there are no buoys to mark the racing lanes, such as at Henley Royal and Women's Regattas, and the Umpire uses a flag to warn crews to move apart. She had to be fast, to keep up with rowing eights- top speed is about 17mph- and powerful, able to accelerate rapidly from a standstill to full speed. In 1898, that meant a steam power plant.

She has a locomotive-style boiler, supplying a 100hp. vertical steam engine, and is made of veneers of mahogony, stitched together with copper wire. At 50ft long, a fraction longer than the Duck, she weighs just 3 tons.

Here she is, in action at Henley Women's Regatta in 2009:

Waterways A-Z

Had to blog about the faboulous tea towel which James' mum sent me for my birthday, along with a little chopping board featuring a duck. The tea towel is an A-Z of the waterways:

I particularly like Q:

Monday, 25 October 2010

A Plumb Job

Last Thursday morning we had plumbing emergency number 1, when the shower hot water pipe split. It had been under stress for a while, as the shut off tap on the pipe had become stiff and we'd had to use molegrips to turn it on and off! We turned the water off until after work, when James went to buy another short section of pipe to replace the split bit, and a nice new shut off tap. These were soon fitted and we thought all was well.

However, the water pump kept being triggered every now and again, leading us to think that there was probably a leak somewhere. On Friday evening, I was out and James had another look at the compression joints to make sure they were tight. In the process of tightening them, it seem that he damaged further another section of pipe which was already weak and leaking slightly. Plumbing emergency Number 2! Unfortunately, this section was inside the wall. The pipe exited the hot water boiler, made a right angle into the bulkhead, down between the bathroom wall and bedroom wall, and back out into the bathroom. Quite why, we can't work out, except perhaps for neatness.

We decided that the simplest way to fix this was to cut off the section which went inside the wall, and reroute the pipe straight down from the water heater to the T junction with the shower pipe. A trip to B&Q later, we had all the parts required to fix the problem, it didn't take long to put it all together. We do, however, still have a redundant section of pipe embedded in the wall, as we'd have to take the bedroom wall apart to remove it!

New fittings

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Run For It

On Sunday, just before we set off for our cruise, we saw hundreds of runners pass our boat. I was trying to get back from Tesco's and found myself walking against the stream of blue-Tshirted athletes! They were all raising money for Cancer Research by running 10km, and the route went along the river. It was incredible to see so many people all running along together.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Duck does the Backs

There is one section of the river that had always remained tantalisingly unexplored by Lucky Duck. We have walked across its bridges many times, and punted up and down it during our time as students. 'The Backs' encompasses that stretch of the river Cam which has been photographed more often than any other, where the colleges line the water, and tourists come to experience quintessential England, watching students drift along in punts drinking Pimms. From April until October, all powered craft are banned from this part of the river, and rightly so, as it is carnage enough with inept punters blithely unaware of the rules of navigation.

But in the Winter, with permission, powered craft are allowed to navigate (if not moor up). We had always wanted to ascend Jesus Lock and attempt to cruise down to the head of navigation at the Mill Pond, so this year, decided to celebrate my birthday by doing just that. I emailed the Cam Conservancy last week, and yesterday got a reply saying that yes, we have permission, and that the punt companies will be duly informed.

It has been done. This is a photo from the Camboaters website

St John's Kitchen Bridge is the lowest bridge, and the most likely to cause a problem. Under nomal river conditions, the height is given as 2.08m. The Duck has got under 1.70m on the Nene, but that was a flat bridge and this is arched. Hmm. But we could turn round if it all goes wrong, and there was only one way to find out!

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, perfect for our adventure. We spent the morning doing last minute preparations, including buying provisions, stowing a quarter of a ton of coal and sealing a couple of drain holes which we were worried might end up below water level with lots of people ballasting the bows down.

At 12:30, we set off from where we are moored and headed to the water point to fill up in order to keep the bows low. At 1pm or so, everyone began to arrive. I handed out warming cups of butternut squash and bacon soup, mulled wine and tea, since everyone was sat outside in the bows to get the best views. We'd also taken off the fabric cratch cover. Bones and James went to set the lock and the once all the guests were on board, we set off through the lock and onto the Middle River.

The Duck prepares to exit Jesus Lock and onto the Middle River

We approach St John's College, where the lowest bridge,
St John's Kitchen Bridge was our biggest worry in terms of air draft,
with its height given at 2.07m on the Cam Conservancy website.

Soon we were under the famous Bridge Of Sighs at St Johns,
and jostling with punts, which were out in force on this glorious sunny day.
(photo: R. Herzig)

We made it under St John's Kitchen Bridge!
Everyone took photos of this momentous occasion.
From here on in, all we have to worry about are the rogue punts!
(photo: R. Herzig)

James steers expertly under the Kitchen Bridge,
but has to duck in order to make it! Plenty of room.
(photo: P. Garsed)

Another of the Kitchen Bridge

Clare Bridge (photo: R. Herzig)

Clare College, James' alma mater (photo: C. Houldcroft)

Lyra was very good. She kept out of the way in the bedroom mostly.
Jackie took this photo of her when were at the Mill Pond.
(photo: J. Witts)

We had more cups of tea, mulled wine, and soup while turning around at the Mill Pond. Then, we headed back, again dodging punts. Both ways, we had several close encounters with the multitude of punts which were out and this was certainly the main worry, after fitting under the Kitchen Bridge. However, thanks to James' steering we had no collisions whatsoever. A few of the professional punters suggested that we weren't allowed to be there, but we assured them that we had permission from the Conservators, and there was little they could say to that! All the punt companies had also been informed of our trip 48 hours before by the Conservators.

All in all, it was a very sucessful trip, and having seen how easy and fun it is to do, we'll most likely try it again sometime before the powerboat ban is enforced again in March! So, thanks to everyone who came, for making my birthday cruise so much fun, and for getting off to take such lovely photos!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Happy Birthday to me

I am 25 today. My birthday celebrations started last night really, with James cooking me a lovely dinner and then going for a night time walk together. We wandered along the river, as we normally do on our late night perambulations, discussing everything that we'll need for the cruise down the backs on Sunday, including where to station photographers!

This morning I opened the parcel from my dad, containing a set of beautifully illustrated guides to British wildlife. I have often wished for a guidebook while cruising, to identify particularly the birds we see. The most relevant to this area of the set of three will be the guide to Rivers, Lakes and Marshes! I also loved the fact that he wrapped them up in a print of an OS map of Devon! Also in the parcel was a beautiful little glass sailing boat to hang in a window.

This evening, I will see my mum and sisters in London for a meal and then to see Les Miserables! I am so exited, both to see me lovely sisters and mum, but also to see my favourite musical, which I have enjoyed listening to but never seen on a big stage (James's school actually put it on a couple of years ago, and it was excellent, but I suspect that seeing it at the Queens Theatre in London will be more spectacular!).

And then on Sunday we will be adventuring down the Backs. We are very excited about this. Hopefully the Pippins and Bones will be coming!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Novice Weekend

It began on Friday in fact. That evening we were cruising out to our old mooring with John on Pippin. (He had called us to ask if we wanted to accompany him, as he was single-handing, and it was lovely evening.) The river was full of novice rowers in training tubs, meandering about and generally getting in the way. But we chugged along slowly and all was well.

On Saturday and Sunday the tubs were out in force, as it was the first full weekend after term started and all the colleges were tempting the freshers down to the river with talk of fun and barbeques. We had quite a lot to do on Saturday (meeting our friends' new baby Rufus in the Radegund pub being the primary one!), so only really spent an hour on the boat watching the chaos ensuing outside, but had 5 boats collide with the Duck in that time! We really don't mind - its only this bad one weekend a year, and its pretty funny to watch, but they do all look really scared until we reassure them that its OK, and to make sure they push off *ABOVE* the waterline!

This is where we are at the moment. Right in the centre of all the action.

A Jesus tub

Sunday was much nicer weather, and we were on board pottering about and tidying for most of the day, so we saw a lot more action! Two scullers went swimming and lots of other collisions occurred, but it was all in good spirits and no-one was hurt at all. I just wouldn't want to try and move the boat!

A Clare tub (with Clare Hall tubbees) in front of St Catharines

A Cantabs Junior quad and a Bridge boat get involved!

And where was Lyra all day? Snoozing in the sun!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Bicycle Doctor

Talk to Frank!
Frank is our local 'Bicycle Doctor'. He operates a bicycle repair and hire service as well as selling second-hand bikes from his Dutch barge moored not far from us on Jesus Green. The great thing about his repair service is that you don't need to drag your ailing bike over to him - he will come to you if you ring him (07964 427151). Earlier in the year James bought a lovely black and light blue BSA racer bike from him for a very reasonable price, which he loved whizzing around on all summer until it was sadly stolen from outside the Fort a few weeks ago.

I was prompted to write a blog about Frank when I bumped into him the other day and got chatting about blogs. He had come across ours and mentioned that he also had a 'bike blog' on his website. It is only in its infancy at the moment, but looks set to be an interesting blog about biking in Cambridge.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Those Who have Gone Before 2: nb St Kilda

The next account of a boater who has sucessfully navigated the backs is by Robert of nb St Kilda. Robert took his 58ft narrowboat down the 'Middle River' as it is known sometime between 1996 and 2007, when he lived aboard his boat in Cambridge. He has put up some black and white pictures of his cruise, which can be found on his website. Additionally, he has also put up some very useful images of the Cam when it was drained of most of its water. We will be studying these carefully to work out which is the best course. Of course, these photos are quite old, but they will still be useful to give a general idea of where the sediment collects and forms shallows. Over to him:

The Middle River is the part of the River Cam that runs through the backs of the Colleges. In the summer it is used almost exclusively for punting. At its upper limit there is a weir and boats cannot pass unless they can be hauled up the special ramp which is fitted with metal rollers. At its lower limit is the lock at Jesus Green which is normally kept padlocked.

It is not widely known, but in the winter (from 31 October to 31 March) it is permitted to navigate a powered vessel along the Middle River. The fee is set in the 1922 River Cam Conservancy Act at one shilling and sixpence. In practice, you simply ring up the Conservators (the phone number is displayed at Jesus Green Lock) and explain that you wish to pass through the lock; they check that your licence is valid, swear you to secrecy and then tell you the combination of the padlocks. They don't ask for the 1/6d. The Conservators like to know what boats are above the lock because they sometimes drain that part of the river so buildings by the river can be repaired. As long as they know you are there, they can warn you in advance.

There are many shallows in the river, particularly beyond Silver Street Bridge.

There are ten beautiful bridges in the mile of river from Jesus Lock to Coe Fen. Some of the bridges are quite small and some are very close together. On your way upstream things are fairly straightforward but on the way back, travelling with the current, things happen rather fast. It's best not to attempt to navigate the backs after a period of heavy rain. 

The Bridge of SighsSt.Johns Kitchen bridge

The Mathematical bridge at Queens College is often said to have been designed by Newton. In fact Newton had been dead for twenty years when it was erected in 1749; it was his student Etheridge who deserves the credit. Every piece of wood was in compression and the structure should have held together simply by its own weight. It is said that the iron pins were put in after they had fished all the pieces out of the river. 

The Mathematical bridge

At the upper end of the Middle River you emerge from under Silver Street Bridge into Coe Fen where you can moor on the common opposite Charles Darwin's house where "The Origin of Species" was written. In priciple, you can continue to along the tiny stream next to Darwin College and reach the Mill Pond. However, I don't think it is deep enough to take a narrowboat.

There is no towpath on the Middle River (historically, the horses waded along a causeway which was built in the middle of the river by the Conservators to break the University's stranglehold over waterway). You can turn a boat in the weir pool at Coe Fen. Keep to the south side of this weir pool - it is very shallow on the north side. When passing Darwin College keep well to the north where the channel is deepest.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Nearly Neanderthal

Yesterday we got back from an impromptu weekend walking in the Lake District with (big) James and Dan. On Thursday night (after the AGM at which I was elected Women's Captain and James Mens Captain! - more on that some other time) (big)James asked us if we wanted to come walking, and bivvy in a cave known as the Priests Hole. Never having done any wild camping, let alone bivvied in a cave before, I was very excited. (James has slept outdoors before, when he was younger) So we packed up waterproofs, lots of warm clothes and on Saturday at 8am, headed North.

It was a relatively clear drive, and so we arrived in Ambleside at 1 and set off at 1:30. After a steep climb up a road known as The Struggle, we were out on the hills, and climbing up to Red Screes. The weather was grey but not rainy, and below the low cloud, visibility was fantastic. At the top of the first summit, we were just above the cloud line, and the difference was immdiate, as it became much colder and damper. We dropped below the cloud again, and then up to Dove Crag, where we needed to climb to the top before descending carefully around to the cave. Unfortunately when we got close enough to see it, we could make out some figures standing in the entrance. Drat! Another group had got there first.

The Struggle
Looking back towards Ambleside and Windermere
View from the top of Red Screes

Cloud touches the summit of Dove Crag
The cave is at the top of the highest crag

Reluctantly we descended into the valley just below, to the campsite at Sykeside. But the tents we in the car in Ambleside, some 9km away. And the last bus had already gone. So (big)James heroically walked back along the road, back down the Struggle to the village, while we stayed with a pining Jess in the wonderful pub at Brotherswater. An hour and a half later, he returned in the car with the tents, the largest of which (to sleep me, the Jameses and Jess) was set up before we went to the pub. Dan said his was so easy to set up, he'd do it later. After a nice evening in a warm pub, we headed back to the campsite. Dan's tent took a little longer than the 5 minutes he had promised, and needed a little help, as he was not as sober as he could have been! But it was soon up, and we slept very well. Jess, disgruntled at having been left at the pub and then being kept up past her bedtime, sulked by (big)James feet.

On Sunday morning it dawned very wet. We felt for a huge group of fellrunners competing in a relay in the rain! We had a nice breakfast at the pub, and then went our separate ways. James' boots had proved not really to be up to much on Saturday, and his knees and ankes were hurting. So he and I spent the day in Ambleside (having been driven over there by (big)James), while the other two went walking or a few hours. It as a very pretty little village nestling at the North end of Lake Windermere, and we enjoyed a relaxed day eating, drinking tea and reading the Sunday papers in various cafes. We also went boot shopping for James, and although we didn't actually buy anything, he now has a clear idea of what would be best for his feet, as he has narrow feet and weak ankles. Apparently Italian walking boots are made to a narrower fit ususally, so Scarpa boots would be perfect. He also need to make sure that they have decent, high ankle support. So, hopefully, next time we can go further and do more!

A wet morning at Sykeside

In Ambleside, the buses have bike racks!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Those Who Have Gone Before 1: The Tuesday Night Club

In the run up to our adventure down the Backs, I'm planning a few blogs featuring images and extracts from the accounts of narrowboaters who have already been there and done it.

The first, and most well-known account of a trip up the back can be found on the Tuesday Night Club website. The TNC is a group of friends who are planning to cruise every last inch of the inland waterways of Britain and Ireland, and in 2001 they cruised the Backs in nb Frogmoore II. There are some lovely pictures of their cruise but I'm afraid you'll have to go to their website to look at them, as I have not been given permission to insert them here. The most interesting one is of the boat going under the lowest bridge, which gives me hope that the Duck will manage it!

The next item on the TNC Tour program has finally been done care of Honorary TNC Member John Chapman and the TNCFA nb Frogmoore II. John's boat is marooned on a sensible bit of water that is not closed to navigation - The River Cam.  We have both been on standby for the last few weeks waiting for Cam to not be in flood and also to fit in with John's business commitments. At 13.30 Thur 28/03/01 Neil  received the *GO* e-mail.

We started off at 15.30. After spitting with rain on the way up in the car, we actually had a rain free journey, well until the last part of the journey back! The paddle gear on the lock was of a strange design, a windy up screw affair attached to a really tall but narrow steel paddle, which is held in metal runners. We were soon through and had a slow but uneventful journey up to the next weir by Scudamore's punts. 

We passed two Japanese crewed punts, who scuttled for cover on seeing us coming! Beyond Scudamore's, at 16.30 John went for the wind, but found that even with the level up, there was still not much more that 2ft depth even in centre channel!!! Frogmoore II is very shallow draughted, only around 18". The bow came round OK, but the stern was still aground. After a bit of poling and welly the stern came loose and we made a rather hasty retreat past Scudamore's, to gain steerage for the bridge, which is at rather an angle. . . . Frogmoore II's handrails were saved from a scraping, by the conveniently placed "shock absorber" punts, rather stupidly moored under the bridge . . .well no harm done! 

We arrived back at Jesus Green Lock rather quickly, but we were annoyed to find it was empty, as another narrowboat moored above had just gone down stream. We were soon through and at the nearby sanitary station and had a good, well matured dunny dumping, wash the boat and fill up the water tank session. The free self pump-out kit was in disarray, having been swamped by recent floods. A notice said that it should soon be restored to working condition. The last half of this was done in increasing rain. At 17.50 we shoved off, for the 15 minute trip back to John's temporary moorings.