Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mikron at Goring

Last night we went to Goring Lock to see Mikron Theatre. As some of you know, Mikron travel the waterways, performing plays each night. We have been going to their productions for many years now and always enjoy them. This year they are doing two plays, one about Thomas Telford, which we saw in Reading a week or so ago, and last night's play " The Lacemakers" about a family from Leicester whose livelihood was destroyed by the luddites and had to move to Devon, then to France, and finally to Australia in order to find work.

The whole show is put on by the cast of four, who besides being actors also set up the stage and the PA and lights, and play the music and take the money and sell programmes and of course work the boat all day to reach the venue. Of the two plays this year, this one was easily the best and well worth a night out if they come near you. About 40 people turned up with the usual chairs and picnics and we sat alongside the river to watch while, mercifully, the rain held off.

On the way there we took a short walk along the Thames at Pangbourne to see if the rain had affected it. Surprisingly, the river seemed pretty docile, and the rowing club boats were not having any problem with the current.

It was the same at Goring where, in the dusk after the show, I took these pictures of Mikron's trusty boat Tyseley.

Well, Blogger tells me that this is the one hundredth posting on this blog. I've had over 3000 visits now and seem to have about 8 or 10 visitors each day. Thanks for reading, and please come back soon for more.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Safe and sound

Despite all the rain everywhere, and the terrible flooding in the midlands and the North, we seem to have escaped problems on th Grand Union, and even the Thames, which is quite prone to flooding seems OK at the moment. The boating grapevine is buzzing with stories of beached boats and daring rescues at the moment. Some of them are very scary, as the hire boating couple near Cropthorne on the Avon who had tied their boat up to trees to stop it being washed away while they waited for a rescue. They were scared the ropes would give out at any minute.

The benign state of the Thames is good for our friends Graham and Sandra on Shallmar, currently boating up the royal river. When they get near to our home, we may pop out to them on the bus and steal a ride for a day.

When I was writing about good boat names on a previous blog entry, I forgot to mention a good one we saw recently - Sailbad the Sinner. Clever.

I've been doing the stats today. Apparently, since February we have done 183 miles and 212 locks on Herbie. This compares to 276 miles and 288 locks for the same period last year. Some catching up to do.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Elements 0 Herbie 1

Sometimes it's worth ignoring the dire weather forecast and going out anyway. We just had a very enjoyable three days tootling down to Brentford and back in the company of nb. Shallmar. Actually we didn't really get very wet, it was just showery or light drizzle.

The wildfowl appear to be on their second broods of the year now. Coots and moorhens in particular seem to be busy raising their second batch. They like to nest on a raft of rubbish which often seems to include old crisp packets like this one.

I like the canal as it nears Brentford. Not at all urban as you might expect, although motorways and railways do intrude here and there. Here we are going under an underground train!

One bit of industry we do pass is the big Nescafe factory at Bulls Bridge. Depending on the wind direction, you can smell the roasting coffee for miles. It smells like really good fresh coffeee. I wonder what they do to ruin it when they make ordinary Nescafe.

Down at Brentford you can see the boatyards at the dock just as the canal enters the tideway. There always seems to be major repairs going on, and steelwork everywhere. It looks as though this boat is having its bottom overplated. They sit the boat on the new steel, weld it up and them trim off the edges. Meanwhile the local heron seemed oblivious to everything as it waited patiently to grab a meal.

Passing West Drayton on our return, the gravel boat slowed down to warn us of divers in the canal round the corner, and sure enough, there they were. Were they searching for a body, or lost treasure? No, they were examining the state of the piling.

Getting back into the Slough Arm is no mean feat. The entrance is well hidden and narrow and the turn very tight. This photo sequence gives some idea as Kath at the tiller gets it just right.

1. the entrance is just after the bridge

2. and just before the blue sign

3. here we go

you can see the new pole/ plank rack I made too.

4. now swing hard left

5 and we're in

Saturday, June 23, 2007

We'll weather the weather whatever the weather

Some very heavy showers today. I'm glad I fixed our conservatory guttering yesterday, even if it did half drown me when I cleared a blockage from the downpipe, releasing two or three gallons of backed up rainwater in a woosh!

We're off tonight for a couple of days on the Herbie. Down to Brentford in the company of Sandra and Graham on Shallmar. I think we'll get wet but what the heck. I'm more concerned that the river Brent which joins the canal at the foot of Hanwell locks isn't in flood. If it is, we might have a hairy time.

Do you like my saucepan? I've just finished painting it to go on Herbie's roof, planted with herbs (of course). Originally it was an old brown enamelled job we picked up years ago. When you are retired you have time to waste hours on such jobs. It didn't even cost me for the laquer paint which came from a job lot of old tins given to me by Pete Higson last year.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Turning with a tern

You'd think that with all this rain the canal water would be brown and cloudy, but for some reason it was crystal clear today on the Slough Arm. I went out to Herbie to refit the repaired cratch cover and turn the boat round. On the way to the winding hole to turn, I could easily see to the bottom of the canal (admittedly only three feet or so), which at this time of year is fringed with water lillies and teeming with small fish below and damsel flies above.

As I trundled down the arm I was joined by a common tern who was evidently interested in catching the fish that were being disturbed by the boat. The tern circled round and round the boat hovering and swooping just above my head, sometimes only six feet from me. This went on for about ten minutes on the way down and ten minutes on the way back. Of course, you never have a camera when you need one, so sorry, no pics. Anyway I didn't see him catch a fish.

Incidentally, I was browsing through our dictionary (I know I'm sad) and noticed that the word "cratch" actually means a crib for fodder, or a manger. I don't know how it came to mean a covered frame at the front of a narrowboat. I doubt if it was to do with feed for the tow horses, but I suppose it could be. My friend Jock, who has been a sea farer for much of his seventy odd years and knows just about all there is to know about sea going vessels, had never heard of a cratch when I mentioned it to him last night, so it could be just a canal word.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bits and bobs of progress

Do you like our new clock for Herbie's bedroom? We bought it at the Wendover Arm festival last month. It matches the larger one in the saloon in that it measures time in pounds per square inch! They are made by a man on narrowboat Cypress who moors at Cowroast on the Grand Union. We haven't decided exactly where on the wall to screw it yet so here you see it rested on a shelf.

We took our cratch cover up to AJ Canopies at Braunston to have rips patched and zips mended and stayed overnight with Rick and Marilyn while it was being done. Rick has made us a nice bracket for Herbie's headlamp and also gave us two specially modified bright yellow tennis balls which will clip over the tops of our mooring stakes to warn passers by on the towpath and save their shins. He also gave us a boat hook salvaged from the Rochdale canal. What a fine fellow!

The cost of the canopy repair was £130. Ouch! What's more the patches are quite a bright blue over our older faded and darkened blue . Better if they'd used black or grey.

While we were waiting in Braunston, we dropped into Tradline Rope and Fenders. A whole shop full of ropes, fenders, shackles etc of every conceivable type. They had a special offer on ropes so we did what we have planned for a long time and bought a set of four black ropes (fore, aft and two middle). Our old ones were pretty tatty.

Also in Braunston, we spotted this boat passing through the lock outside the Admiral Nelson pub (yes, we did have a pint of Black Sheep) and we were taken by the panels either side of the rear door. The lady said them came from an old cast iron fireplace surround. Nice idea.

Thias morning we took the chance to give the cratch canopy a good scrub while it was off the boat. Here it is drying inside out on our conservatory floor.
Apparently a new one costs about £800 which includes two visits to your boat to measure and to fit. That's on top of the wooden frame and front window which costs at least the same again. Ours came with the boat I'm glad to say!

Unless the weather is awful this weekend ( a distinct possibility), we plan to meet up with Sandra and Graham (who we met at the end of our may trip) on their boat Shallmar and accompany them on Herbie from Bulls' Bridge down to Brentford where they are due to go out onto the Thames. They had invited us to join them on the Thames too but I don't think we can fit it in at the moment. With all the recent storms the Thames might be running pretty full I would think.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

making progress

Well, I've put the first top coat on the rear cants and rubbed down and primed the front ones. Its hard not to get heavy brush marks in the paint, even with the paint thinned down with Owatrol. More rubbing down before the next coat. The photo makes the colour look more pinkish than it really is. I think it'll look good. Ive also undercoated the rear doors. Now this is significant because they are the same colour as the side walls of the boat, so they will be an indicator of whether I will dare to paint the sides myself.

My gangplank /pole rest is finished and in place on the boat and fits really well. I forgot to take a pic for the blog. I'll do it next week.

Herbie is unusual, if not unique, in having wooden grab handles on the side of the boat to help you when you swing off the front deck to walk up the gunwales at the side. These handles were looking sorry for themselves. Where the varnish had worn away the wood had gone grey. Well, a few minutes with some sandpaper and a few coats of varnish and they are now looking pretty good again. Varnishing is a lot easier than painting.

Working on the boat is quite pleasant this time of year, you can see the fish swimming around the boat and there are dragonflies buzzing around the lily pads.
A chap came to view Lady Elgar, the boat next to us which is for sale at an asking price of £65,000. He seemed a nice bloke, but knew practically nothing about boats so I went round the boat with him. Lady Elgar is a very good boat, but I was interested to see that some aspects weren't as good as Herbie. She has bunk beds rather thjana double, and her loo was just a porta potti. If I could have Lady Elgar's shell (classy)and her engine room (which was perfect) and Herbie's internal woodwork, I'd be happy. Not that Lady E' s fitout isn't OK but I still prefer our all wooden cupboards to LE's chipboard carcasses etc. Anyway, the prospective buyer was so green that I advised him to go and look at a lot of other boats before taking the plunge. We looked at about 50 before buying Herbie. The more you look, the more you learn.
One reason LE has a high asking price is that it comes with a residential mooring, which is like gold dust these days. The general advice is first find and secure your mooring and only then go and buy a boat.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

maintenance and a paint alarm

Spent a couple of days last week rubbing down and repriming the paintwork on the rear deck. It had been covered in a rubberised diamond patterned anti slip mat in a nasty pale bue colour which attracted dirt so never looked right. It came off easlily with a screwdriver as a scraper/ lever, and then I was able to scrape the paint off right back to the bare metal to start again with primer etc.

We've plumped for red paint for the rear cants, and I was somewhat taken aback by the colour of the undercoat when I had opened the tin and stirred. A very garish orangey red, nothing like the colour on the outside of the tin. So now I've checked the colour of the gloss topcoat (by contacting the paint company) before I open it. Thankfully its a lot less virulent!

I've also been reminding myself of the limitations of my woodworking skill by making two brackety things on which we will rest the gangplank and poles on the boat roof. Actually they dont look so bad, but they're not as neat as a skilled person would have produced. When I've finished painting them (including some decorative diamond shapes) I'll post a photo.

The trouble with painting is all the waiting for it to dry between coats. I suppose if I were painting large areas this would be less of a problem, but for small detailed bits you do ten minutes painting then have to wait hours and hours (overnight usually) to do the next coat. If the weather is changeable it's difficult to make progress.

Next week we are taking our vinyl cratch cover back to the makers (AJ Canopies) in Braunston the have zips repaired and two rips patched. They'll do this overnight while we stay at Rick & Marilyn's nearby.

One of these days Herbie might look quite posh!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Favourite boats and some not so favourite names

As we travel up and down we get to see some amazing craft on the canal. Some we like because they have good names, our favourite being The Jolly Todger. Surprisingly there are two boats with that name, one being a rather undistiguished cruiser moored at Cowley, and the other being this splendid mini narrowboat which is generally to be seen around the Berkhamstead to Tring area. I was amused to read the blog of Simon on Nb Tortoise to find it was his favourite too.

We're not generally fond of all the pun based names there are around. The joke soon wears off. I think we like the Todger because its such a cute little boat with it. One very common name is Narrow Escape, which seems clever at first, until you see three in one day! Then there's Tunnel Vison , Our Dream (puke) etc

One boat we teamed up with a couple of weeks ago was Torangey MBE, which turned out to be an anagram of My Green Boat! The skipper told us the MBE also stood for My Bloody Effort as he had fitted it out himself.

Another attractive and unusual boat we see moored at Batchworth is Farnworth. We followed it through the Tring cutting last month and saw it again at the Wendover festival. It looks like it probably makes a superb liveaboard, but it's obviously a bit of a handful through narrow gaps!

The picture doesn't do it justice. Its pretty huge.

Then also near Batchworth the quaint Crink Cronk looking like something out of a fairy tale book complete with a shingle roof with a goose on top!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Here we are again

Thanks for coming back, dear reader. Herbie now rests again at Iver after our latest trip which took us as far as Stoke Bruerne (just south of Northampton) with detours up the narrow arm to Aylesbury and up the Wendover arm for the Tring canal festival.

It has to be said that the weather was less than kind to us, and we have now tested our new waterproof clothing to the limit! Now where can I buy some good waterproof trainers?

Cruising statistics:
  • 145 miles and 184 locks, 25 days (of which 6 were stationary).
  • Fine days - 6; wet days - the rest!
  • Guest crew (in order of length of service) Jacob Corbett-MacLeod (7 days) Rick Bunnage ( 5 days), Marilyn and Tim Bunnage (1 day), Andrew, Kirsty and Stephen Taylor (Kaths great nephews/ neice) (half a day).
  • Wildlife spotted: Herons - about 10 a day, ducklings, goslings, cygnets, moorhen and coot chicks - hundreds, woodpeckers - 1, Kingfishers - 3.


Bumping into (not literally) Leon and Ray on the Old Bovine, now looking fabulous since Leon has repainted her. R&L were kind to us and Richard when his boat wouldn't start on the first day of our trip to deliver it to Huntingdon two years ago.

Hacking up the Aylesbury arm in the pouring rain with the Bunnages.
This is a relatively remote stretch and despite the weather we could see and hear lots of skylarks and near our arrival at Aylesbury we were welcomed by a brilliant flying display from dozens of swifts and swallows zooming around the boat. The canal basin in Aylesbury is run by a society who encourage visitors and have a welcome boat where they will see you have a safe place to moor.

Finding somewhere to eat in Aylesbury on a Sunday night is not easy, but we eventually found a very good friendly Indian restaurant where Rick and Marilyn treated us (thanks R&M). Next day we returned down the arm past Jem Bates Boatyard where he restores old wooden canal boats, where they have these wonderful mooring bollards in the shape of heads.

Breaking new ground for Herbie by getting north of Milton Keynes. The passage through MK is green and tranquil, you have no idea you are passing through a city. Just north of the city you pass over the Ouse valley aqueduct, which is short but scarily high,

and shortly after that pass under this nice old bridge before breaking out into the open Northamptonshire countryside.

Reaching Stoke Bruerne the famous canal village at the southern end of the Blisworth tunnel. This was on Kath's 60th birthday and Rick and Marilyn's wedding anniversary so we all went out for a meal.

Mooring at Great Linford in MK where we had our first fine day and did some rubbing down and painting on Herbie. This is a great place to stop. Peaceful and green with a pub with good food a short walk through the park. Here is the view from our side hatch. In the distance is the Nag's Head where we ate.

Taking the Taylor kids for the return trip through MK to Fenny Stratford. They had a great time and didn't want to get off when we stopped.

Spending two rest days at Fenny - a walk into IKEA for a few domestic bits for Herbie, and a good bit of rubbing down and painting. The port side gunwhale is now de-rusted, primed and undercoated and looks good - now I need to moor on the opposite side on a fine day to do the rest!

A fine day cruising from Fenny to Slapton near Ivinghoe where the countryside is lush and pretty as the canal follows alongside a winding stream. That night we explored the local pub (not as good as the guide book suggested) and then sat in the front well deck and enjoyed the warm evening. I got the fishing road out and caught some largeish bream and lost a big carp which gave me a few minutes run around.

A couple of splendid home cooked (real food) meals at our favourite Angler's Retreat at Marsworth, seen here from the bank of the adjacent reservoir which feeds the canal.

And finally, some nice weather for the last three days of the trip, when we were accompanied by a friendly couple on their boat Shallmar (their names were Graham and Sandra Marshall)

Interesting , but not exactly enjoyable highlights:

Tring canal festival in appalling weather. So bad that on Bank Holiday Monday the final day of the festival was abandoned. Such a great shame, as the festival's aim is to raise funds for the restoration of the remainder of the link to Wendover, but in the event it lost money instead.

Lastly, Jacob falling in the canal off the side of the boat as we were ploughing along. The water was deeper than him and he can swim, but was having difficulty as he was clothed and shocked. I had thrown him the life belt but he couldn't reach it. The boat has very poor brakes so he was some way behind when we stopped, so I had to dive in head first off the stern (remembering to take off my shoes and glasses first) and swim to him to help him into the side where it was shallow. We were both pretty shaken. Luckily it was a hot day and I was wearing only jeans and T-shirt. Had it been a few days earlier when I was wearing waterproofs and several layers of clothing I dread to think what would have happened. We will be reviewing safety procedures, and Jacob has readily agreed to return to wearing a lifejacket.

On the positive side, my watch is still ticking!