Friday, October 29, 2010

Through the sound barrier

Somewhere near Waltham Abbey as you cruise north on the Lee,  you cross an invisible barrier.  You become aware that up until now you have been journeying through a polluted area.  Not water pollution, or air, but noise.  The noise of traffic, factories, fork lift trucks and vans, and building sites.  It reaches a crescendo as you float under the M25 north of Enfield, then half an hour later you suddenly realise that it is quiet.

The navigation leads a more lonesome route and the view, and the sky, seems to expand.  We are through the barrier and out to another side.

Last night we moored underneath a spreading chestnut tree at Broxbourne.  Tonight we are in the small park before the bridge in the one street village of Stanstead Abbots, and it is here, four and a half years ago that we first met Herbie.  It's nice to be back.  Along with the change of scene, we too are changing pace, cruising more slowly and for shorter days. 


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Clambering in and out of thre Anchor and Hope

A right comical pair we must have looked at lunchtime today.  Having moved up the Lee navigation past the new Olympic site we eventually reached the Anchor and Hope at Upper Clapton.  This tiny tiny little pub is a rare survivor of bygone days and worth a struggle to reach.

Here we are on the approach run.  The pub is the white building.  We are aiming for the gap between the bushes in the centre right of the picture.  The bank is overgrown and hides a concrete wall, which is as high as the roof of the boat.  Kath nudges the boat in and I leap, rope in hand, onto the wall and tie us (the boat that is) to the railings.  The barman strolls out to welcome us.  We have to climb over the railings which are chest height.   He grabs an old cane chair, lifts it over the railings and plonks it on the narrow ledge atop the wall.  We step on the chair, swing our legs over the rails, onto a bench seat and down to the pub terrace.  Elegant it is not!

Inside the little pub we sample a particularly fine pint of Lancashire Amber Ale, low in strength but high in character.  While I sip, I read an old newspaper article on the wall.  It concerns the previous landlord who kept the pub for over 50 years and is reckoned to have pulled a million pints.  He recounts some of the famous visitors who have drunk there including Oliver Reed.  Then a tale of a woman who was dragged half drowned from the river outside the pub.  A kindly stranger gave her the kiss of life and was promptly punched in the nose by the lady's jealous husband!

Pint over and time to go.  I suggest we could get some glasses from the boat and have a carry out because the beer is so nice.  The barman just pulls us two pints and tells us to return the glasses next time we pass. So now we face the railings and the wall again only this time carrying full glasses of beer.  It was all a bit comical but we made it and were soon on our way north again.

The lower Lee could never be called smart, but it has a charm of its own.  The navigation is wide and the water weedy but very clear.  The left hand side going North is mostly housing and industry while the right hand side b, beyond the Olympic site, is given to, marshes, parks, trees and high banked reservoirs.  I like it. 

Tomorrow we reach the prettier, posher bits.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Canal allsorts

Green. urban. posh. very posh. trendy. urban. industrial, green, urban, tatty, depressing, trendy/posh/exciting.

That's our progress through London today from Kensal Green to Little Venice, Regents Park, Camden

Islington (well under it)

Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Mile end, Limehouse.  You see all sides of the city in terms of wealth and attactiveness. 

The weather started off dull and damp and got progressively more wet and windy as we descended the very heavy locks of the Regents Canal.  If I wanted to show off the pleasures of boating, today would not have been the day.  Salmons Lane lock in the wind and rain is not a good place to be.

Kath and I have a policy of sharing the work of lock operation.  She does three, then we change over and I do three and so on.  On hard days this makes the work a lot easier.  Today Kath drew the short straw, and had I think the hardest locks. Heavy, slippery, and always set against her.  Then when she drove the boat, she had the worst wind to cope with.

Never mind.  The destination has big rewards.

 Limehouse basin, among all the yachts, is a good place to be even if you do have to risk your life climbing a concrete wall to get ashore and go to the pub.  The pub is worth it.  Winner of best London pub 2003-2008, the Grapes is a victorian gem and despite the wholesale rebuilding of docklands in recent years it remains pretty much as it has been for over a hundred years.  This tiny pub, brown varnished and bedecked with lovely old photos and paintings, totters over the Thames in Narrow Street. Stepping outside the door you get a real culture shock as you gaze up at the lights of the Canary Wharf tower.

Tomorrow.  The Olympic site and on up the Lee navigation

Monday, October 25, 2010

Autumn expedition day 1 - up to the smoke

Flippin eck it was cold last night.  We were OK on board but we awoke to a fine crusty hoar frost on Herbie's roof

However the sun shone and we set off towards London in the wake (literally) of Narrowboat Trust historic boat and butty Niuneaton and Brighton.  Quite what they were doing up the Slough arm I have no idea.  I think they ran aground at one point and they had an interesting time negotiating the tight turn into the main canal at the end. 

That wasn't the only encounter we had with a boat in an unexpected place.  We also passed the tripboat Gardenia that usually plies its trade between Little Venice and Camden. This was at Hayes.  We shouted to them that they must be lost and the man at the tiller shrugged and said he was useless at navigation:-)

Now we are at Kensal Green and it feels very autumnal.  The trees are turning orange and the light when we arrived and the giant gas holder was all aglow in the last of the daylight. 

A gap into the bushes next to us leads to some steps and this pretty mosaic.

Tomorrow, Little Venice, Regents Park and the dozen heavy locks down to docklands and Limehouse basin.  Always an adventure.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Expedition preparations

Frantic (well busy anyway) preparations are in hand for our forthcoming expedition.  Some are fairly obvious, ironing and packing clothes, filling boxes with logs for the stove, printing off new versions of my CanalOmeters for the Regents Canal, the Lee and the Stort, getting a voucher for the internet dongle so I can keep blogging, and so on.

Others are not so obvious, such as working out how we can break off for a day and get to Woking and back and how Kath can get to Fareham and back on another day.  Train timetables have been examined along with maps to see where we might leave the boat on such days.  Even boating requires paperwork it seems.

Then there's the recruitment and personnel management. News of the expedition has spread like wildfire and we already have appeals from friends to join us for bits of the trip.  This is good, for the locks won't work themselves.  Actually I tell a lie, on the lower Lee the locks are electrically operated.  Now we have the job of fitting in where and when we can meet people. It's not just crew. Sue and Richard on Indigo Dream suggest meeting for drinkies when our respective boats cross paths.  I may well be tempted.

For anyone out there who doesn't know the geography, our trip will take us from near Slough, through the centre of London to Limehouse in docklands, then northwards past the new Olympic site, through North East London and out into the sticks through leafy Broxbourne to Ware and Hertford, branching off at some point to cruise the winding river Stort to Bishops Stortford.  A real mix of city, leafy suburbia, and countryside.  Or put another way, all the way to the Barge Inn, with stops off at the Black Horse, the Warwick Castle, the Grapes, the Anchor and Hope and probably more we haven't tried yet.  So much to do.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Herbie cuts loose

I'm writing this with my fingers crossed, not because I'm telling porkies but in case our luck changes.  Regular readers may recall that the reason we have not been cruising for a long while is that we have been nursing our daughter Claire and managing the kids while she convalesces from an op.  Well now it seems that she is well enough to resume her maternal and wifely duties and we can take a break.

We have decided on a cruise up the Lee and Stort (via Limehouse) and might start as early as next Monday!  I bet we are in for a spell of horrible weather but it'll be so nice to be cruising again that we don't mind.  Nothing is ever simple, and we have to work around some previously arranged engagements by being at certain railway stations on certain dates, and we have to return south of the junction of the Lee and the Stort by 8 November to avoid a BW stoppage.

Now it's all go as we make hasty plans and preparations, not the least of which will be laying in stores of coal to keep us warm!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mixed feelings

Today, I've been putting together maps and cruising routes from Crick in readiness for Herbie's move of base next spring.  There are some truly mouthwatering prospects.  I hadn't realised The Leicester arm is so high up.  All routes from there go downhill for quite some way, in fact it's not until you get to Warwick  on the GU or Napton on the South Oxford canal that you get any uphill locks.  I think it might augur well for TV reception!  Going anticlockwise round the Leicester ring it would be a week or more at our pace before we faced an uphill lock.

Exciting though the move is, we will have mixed feelings.  Staying aboard Herbie (although not moving) last weekend, we were reminded again how pleasant our moorings on the Slough arm can be.  Not only the view out of the window - trees and fields one side and a pathside garden and hedgerow the other, and shoals of rudd and perch clearly visible in the canal - but also the people we are getting to know.  On Friday we decided to eat out at the Red Lion in Iver and Glyn from our neighbouring boat joined us for what turned out to be a good evening.  We're just getting to know people really well and now were planning to move away and have to start all over again.

Saturday night reminded me why I like just staying on the boat, whether we are cruising or not..  We had a good dinner, and under our new cabin lights which have improved the ambience no end, settled down far from family pressures and chilled out.  A warm flickering glow from the stove, a Rumpole book in one hand, a glass of Jim MacBeam in the other and a good programme about A Wainwright on radio 4.  Simple pleasures.

I could also tell you the detail of how I replaced the rubber seal in a toilet cassette, but to use a currently popular phrase, you might regard that as too much information.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Solar Kong v Fridgezilla

Late Friday morning and we arrive at Herbie to do some jobs.  I can't resist looking at the Smartgauge and it reports that batteries are 100% full thanks to the solar panel.  Right, let's give the panel something to have a go at. Let's have a battle.

Solar Kong versus Fridgezilla.

I switch on the (empty) fridge and greedily Fridgezilla starts to gobble up the batteries, taking all the amps it can to get the temperature down.  In a couple of hours the Smartgauge shows 92%.  Outside it is cloudy.  Solar Kong is making power but not as fast as Fridgezilla can eat it.

Eventually Fridgezilla has gorged all it can for the time being and reverts to a light snack every now and then (i.e. the thermostat has cut in).  Now Solar Kong's steady power production starts to fight back and the batteries hold station.  Maybe the batteries even start to refill.  Maybe Solar Kong can now hold Fridgezilla at bay indefinitely. But no.  Soon the tables turn again.

Night descends and Kong feels his power wane. He senses his strength slipping away as the light fades.  Cruelly,  Fridgezilla not only continues munching the batteries but he is joined by other creatures of the night, the radio and the lights, and now and then, the water pump.  Fortunately the lights have lost most of their appetite now that they are LEDs, but the merciless gnawing at the batteries takes its toll as Kong falls into a deep sleep.  Smartgauge at bedtime reads about 80% and overnight Fridgezilla continues to snack until in the morning the batteries are down to 72%..

Next morning dawns clear and sunny and Kong awakes refreshed and determined.  While we still sleep he starts shovelling power back into the batteries.  Today he is strong.  All day he stays off any further battery loss in spite of the Fridgezilla being joined by the radio and the water pump.  Good old Kong.

However it is October. The days are shortening.  Kong gets weaker by the day, Fridgezilla continues to feed and the lights get hungrier.  In the winter Kong has to admit he cannot win.  Only when Fridgezilla is forced into compulsory hibernation and we switch off and go home.  Kong might sleep at night but he works every day whether we are there or not.

In winter while Fridgezilla feeds, Kong knows all he can do is give the batteries a helping hand.  But he knows that in the summer he will be strong.  He will work hard for long hours.   Fridgezilla can eat all he likes but Solar Kong will feed him till he can eat no more.  And the lights.  And the radio.

In summer Solar Kong will be King Kong.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The First Rule of DIY

The First Rule of DIY is that nothing is as simple as you think.  On Wednesday I fitted our new LED lights.  Just screwing five light fittings to the board and attaching the wires, but I came home completely exhausted.

These little lights need one ceiling hole for the back of the bulb and one for the switch.  Like this
The big hole was already there, for the previous spotlights, and just the right size.  So just drill out hole number two using a paper template I made,  feed the wires through, crimp on some spade connectors,  insulate, connect up and screw on the light fitting.  Simple.

 A bit tiring on the old arms, working overhead and drilling that one inch hole through a thick board, but simple.  On to the next.

Aaah.  For some unknown reason the hole for the old spotlight is only half as big, and it needs to be the full two inches.  How do I enlarge it? Saw?  Too hard.  Chisel?  Too messy.  Chain drill little holes?  Messy and take ages.    I  visit the rear deck lockers to look for tools.  Somehow the rain has got into my old toolbox and everything is sitting in water.  I empty out and clean and dry the lot.  Still no suitable tool.

Idea. A hole saw, that's it.  I rush off to Wickes to buy one.

Hole saws are OK but they wobble all over the place if the central pilot drill has nowhere to bite.  Wobbling I can't have because it will probably scratch the visible wood around the light.  I have an idea!  Cut out a plug using the hole saw, (luckily I bought a kit with several size holes) from some old plywood, exactly the size of the existing hole.  Plug the existing hole and then hole saw pilot  drill has somewhere to bite.  Amazingly it works.

Hole sawing a two inch hole overhead in 18mm ply is hard on the arms and neck.  I have sawdust up my sleeves and my nose. I am already knackered and the drill batteries, which I forgot to charge before hand, are wilting.  Time for lunch while we both recharge.

I try the new lights.  They don't work.  Neither do any lights on that side of the boat.  Aaah, the fuse has blown, very probably two wire ends touched before I got them plugged in.  I should have had the boat batteries off.  I put a new fuse in place, and the fuse fitting in the fuse box snaps off.  Bugger.  It's just a bit of copper strip with a hole in.  I bodge up a new one, not very good but ok for now.  The two new lights work.  Hooray! Three more to go.

Same hole size problem with the remaining three, but the drill and I just make it through before we now both collapse.  Neither of us had long enough to recharge over lunch.  Still I have to sweep up the old sawdust ( which was everywhere) and put away the amazing number of tools and drills I seem to have used.  Then I notice another old spotlight I had forgotten, just above the gas water heater.  So I hadn't bought enough lights.  I need 6 not 5.

Never mind.  I'll replace that one in the fullness of time.  The new lights do just what we want, giving a nice soft light here and there like this one in the corner.  And they only use a small fraction of the watts of the old halogens.

Now I think I have to fit a new fuse holder.  Ho Hum.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Exploring round Crick

Herbie's future new home (from next April) looks pretty good although very different from our current moorings on the Slough Arm.  We dropped in to Crick Marina on Sunday to introduce ourselves and get a feel for the place.  It's big.  They have about 270 boats compared to the 80 odd where we are now, and of course they are all on pontoons as opposed to the canal bank mooring we currently have.  

Apparently they'll probably put us in this row.  Which is just handy for the car park and the facilities.

Another big difference is the canal and its surroundings, sadly less clear water than at Slough, more muddy due to the greater boat traffic and I suppose the soil .  So no more fish watching, but very attractive, much more winding and rural and lots of good bits of bank to stop and have a picnic or a barby  

Here we see the surrounding countryside viewed from nearby Cracks Hill.  You can just make out the marina car park in the middle distance.    

Just over the hill, looking the other way we could see the new Yelvertoft marina (below)

Yelvertoft also looks to be an attractive setting, but the advantage of Crick marina  is that it has the pretty Crick village on its doorstep with a couple of shops and three pubs.  We thought we ought to sample one of them so we had a ploughman's lunch (or these days should that be a soil inversion operative's lunch?) and a pint at the Red Lion.   The pub and the grub was good and the people were very friendly. That'll do nicely I think. 

So it all looks OK, and on top of that we'll have lots of new places to cruise.

5 LED bulbs, a mooring stake and 6 eggs

Well, we visited Bedazzled to buy our LED bulbs and were charmed by the place.  They have a tiny shop in a caravan on a smallholding which leads down to the canal not far north or Weedon.   Not easy to find from the main A5 so they had to talk us in.  Chickens ran around, and they had a substantial kitchen garden which supplied some nice veg for the shop. They had some huge, and I mean huge, courgette marrows for 20p each!

As well as the LEDs and the veg, they also had some canal type bric a brac for sale and we picked up a good mooring stake (used) for a song, and of course some nice free range eggs from the chickens.  How much nicer it is to buy your stuff from places like this rather than an anonymous chandlery chain store.

Despite this rural idyll, Bedazzled's LED bulbs are more high tech than those for other suppliers, being protected against voltage spikes, which can easily occur in a boating environment.  We chose warm white (more like tungsten light) for the saloon and cool white (brighter but harsher) for the galley.  Later in the day, at Braunston we bought our downlight fittings, so now we have 5 lights like this

to give a more cosy feel when we turn off our main fluorescent tube lights.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Old lags, lights and boats weekend coming up.

An exciting weekend in prospect.   On Saturday Rick and I will be attending "The Old Lags Do", an annual gathering of old friends from the engineering firm where we started out our careers some forty years ago.  Some of the more earnest members see it as an engineering heritage association, but I fear the we go along mainly to catch up with old pals and have a drink or three.  Kath has kindly volunteered to be chauffeur, or should that be chauffeuse? Meeting such old friends is amazing, we all look older but somehow we all seem just the same.  People may have become successful or important or whatever, but after half an hour we seem to revert to the mischievous students we used to be.

Kath and I will be staying at Rick's in Long Buckby, and on the way there we hope to acquire our new LED lighting for Herbie.  First the LED bulbs from Bedazzled, just north of Weedon, then some new light fittings from Midland Chandlers at Braunston.

Then on Sunday we hope to fit in a visit to see Herbie's prospective new home at Crick Marina to get a feel of the place and see if we can meet the Harbour Master, Gary.  I expect we'll have a mooch about on the canal bank too and perhaps fit in a stroll along the towpath if the weather stays fine.

That's the good thing about that area. There are more canals, boats, chandlers etc than you can shake a stick at.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

There is an old saying used by yachtsman to describe their hobby which is that it's like standing under a cold shower tearing up ten pound notes.  Having a narrowboat is similar except that you don't have quite so many cold showers.  I've just been compiling a list of repairs, improvements and routine work that we have done for Herbie since we had her and it's quite revealing.  Here is the list for 2010 (so far)

Strip, treat and paint all exterior above gunwales
Make folding cratch table
Make new side hatch window
New domestic batteries
Reorganise battery cabling and modify battery box
Buy and fit Solar panel and make frame
Window blinds in galley to replace curtains
Replace engine governer screw broken when bleeding fuel (non trivial cost!)
Oil and filter changes
Boat Safety Inspection
New water pump

This year's bill looks like something over £2,000.  That is of course on top of mooring, licence and insurance fees, breakdown cover, and diesel costs too.  It would have been much much more had we not done our own paint job and had we not had kind friends to help us.  Also I have been more self sufficient in making tables and so on.

There is good news and bad news.  The bad news is that over the last five years the list of jobs is longer each year.  The good news is that as time goes on fewer of the jobs are repairs and more of them are general improvements, so we are spending less on rectifying things and more on making Herbie a better boat.

Maybe next year we might not have to spend so much, but I dare say something will crop up.

I would like to think that it all helps to maintain Herbie's resale value although I can't be sure.  I suppose it would make her easier to sell at any rate.

Another thought.  If we had spent another £10k on a boat when we bought one. Would we have eliminated many of the costs we have faced over the last five years?  Would it have been cheaper in the long run?

Monday, October 04, 2010

A one way trip on a sinking boat

1994.  We hired a boat from Anglo Welsh on what seemed to us a dream trip.  It was a one way journey from New Mills on the Upper Peak Forest canal in Derbyshire, all the way to Llangollen.  This meant taking in the Macclesfield canal, the Trent and Mersey, the Middlewich arm, the Shropshire Union and the Llangollen canals. All in all about a hundred miles and 62 locks.  We drove to the Trevor boatyard near Llangollen, where they took us on a bus to New Mills to get the boat.

On boarding our boat, Silver Cloud, we noticed a wet patch on the carpet near the rear of the saloon.  "Don't worry" said the man  " we had a bit of a leak from the central heating.  It's fixed now".  He was lying!

To get a cheap hire rate we were going at Easter and it was wet, windy and very cold.  Off we went, reaching a very wet Macclesfield on the first night.   To warm us up we got in a Chinese takeaway and then sought out a warm pub for the rest of the evening.  On returning to the boat, we went to look at the damp patch and it had not dried out, it was much wetter.  In fact there was standing water in the corner.  Further investigations showed a lot of water in the bilges, so we ran the bilge pump and it took an amazing 20 minutes before the flow from the pump stopped!  We checked again in the middle of the night and it was clear that we had a leak because the water reappeared.

Well, to cut a long story short we opted not to call in the boatyard because we wanted to complete our journey, so all week we regularly ran the bilge pump as we were going along and a couple of times each night.  Boy, it was cold.  Sleety rain and strong winds.  Going along the Llangollen canal there were white crests on the waves.  Our hands were numb and our teeth were chattering.  Each night we sought refuge in pubs that had open fires.

Mercifully on our last day the sun shone and we were able to enjoy the spectacular crossings of the Chirk and Pontycysyllte (I spelt that without looking it up!) aqueducts.  Here we are crossing the Pontycysyllte

We took the boat right down into Llangollen and on the way I rescued a poor little lamb that had fallen into the canal, nearly falling in myself in the process.  The water was freezing but the lamb seemed none the worse for his adventure as he trotted off back to his mum.

That night it snowed.  Next morning we returned the boat to Trevor where they were not at all pleased with the folk at New Mills who had obviously left the repair for them to deal with.  They put the boat straight into dry dock and as we left for home they were welding up a hole in the hull.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The story of Cherry - how we learned about how boat firms help each other

While I'm on the subject of out boat hiring days (see previous post) perhaps I should tell you the unforgettable story of Cherry.

She was a nice old boat which we hired from Middlewich Narrowboats in  1989 and the plan for our week's hire was to ascend the Trent and Mersey's daunting "heartbreak hill" up towards Stoke, then turn up the Macclesfield canal to Marple and along the upper Peak Forest canal to Whaley Bridge.  And back of course.

We arrived at the boatyard at the appointed time and were met by a very apologetic owner, Chris, who said there would be a delay as our boat Cherry was in the dry dock having a repair done.  Cherry was unusual in that she had hydraulic drive and it had apparently been overheating, so they were welding on a skin cooling tank.

Chris made us a cup of tea and we waited, and waited, and waited.  In spite of the situation I felt sorry for Chris as he was obviously very embarassed and he was desperately worried that we would be annoyed.  Time dragged on and we had more tea. Chris discovered it was our Peter's "official birthday".  Peter's real birthday was so near Christmas that we used to have an "official" one in June to give him a chance to have some proper presents.  "Peter, pick anything from the shop", said Chris, "it's yours".  I cant remember what Peter chose.  A mug perhaps.

Still no boat and it was early evening.  Chris was really distressed.  "She's very nearly ready but if you think you've waited long enough I'll arrange a bed and breakfast for you locally at our cost."  We opted to wait a bit longer.  It was midsummer and it was light until 10pm so we still had a chance to put some miles behind us once we had the boat.

Eventually we got going at about 7.30pm, some four hours late, and made a bit of progress up the hill.  Next day (Saturday) was fine and we made it to the junction with the Macclesfield.   We had a bit of catching up to do and that day we 29 locks!   I love the lock architecture up there.  Each one seems different and the brickwork is brilliant.

Then on Sunday we set off north and soon noticed that progress was very slow.  Cherry was struggling.  Those days there were no mobile phones.  We had no option but to slowly crawl along.

Soon we came towards a boatyard for Heritage cruisers.  Would a competing boatyard be interested in our plight?  A man came running out and shouted "Cherry.  Are you alright?".  We reported that we were not and to our relief he hauled us in.  "Chris asked me to look out for you in case you had any problems" he said.  "Chris is very religious and doesn't work on Sundays, so we'll sort you out here.  We happen to have a mechanic here today who knows about hydraulic drives."  Once again we were offered tea.

It was our lucky day.  The mechanic dismantled a hydraulic valve and found a piece of swarf blocking it, and soon we were on our way.  Suffice it to say that from then on we had a wonderful trip apart from me losing my favourite sun hat overboard.  There is some beautiful scenery up there.

 On the way back down the lower end of the Macclesfield we once again became very slow, but with hindsight and experience I know now that that was because the canal was extremely shallow.  We saw a boater putting life jackets on his kids and I nearly shouted out not to bother as if they fell in they could have paddled out!  Peter, about ten years old then, did his first ever solo lock gate watched by Claire.

Did our experience put us off boating?  Absolutely not.  It just showed us what a kind and helpful lot the boating community can be.  A few days after we got home we had a nice letter from Chris thanking us for our patience and enclosing a cheque refunding us a day's hire.

Next time I'll tell you about how another boat we hired was sinking all week.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Fear and Trepidation way back when

Although steering a narrowboat is fairly easy, we forget how scary it it when we first started.  In a recent post by Sue of No Problem she was aghast at someone's use of a bow thruster to drive straight forwards out of a narrow lock, and I recalled someone using one this summer just to steer down the middle of the canal.

Then my mind drifted back to sometime in the 1980's when we first hired a narrowboat at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal and went up to Chester and back.   This is us then.  Yes we were young once.

 It was cruiser stern boat with those ghastly curving bars stretching from the prow to the top corners of the cabin.  I assume they were to stop the cabin from bashing into a bridge arch.  I probably needed them.

I was the only one with experience at a tiller, and that was only from a little bit of sailing on the Broads.  I recall now how we panicked  when we saw another boat approaching in the opposite direction and how every bridge seemed to be a matter for trepidation.  Coming through Norbury junction there were lots of moored boats and somehow our hire boat seemed magnetically drawn to them and I couldn't steer us clear.  I don't think we hit anything, but from there all the way up to Chester and back I was losing sleep worrying about passing Norbury on the way down.

When we got to Chester we had to turn round of course and I had no idea how to do that.  Nowadays I would bring the boat to a standstill and spin her round, but back then I kept moving forward while attempting to steer round in an arc.  I seem to remember we hit a wall, much to the delight of a man standing on a nearby bridge.  No doubt he was muttering something about amateurs.

We had a lot of fun and a great deal of rain as far as I recall.  What I do remember is reading a copy of Waterways World when we got home and dreaming that one day I just might own a boat.  Perhaps just a little second hand Springer  Waterbug  (£7000 brand new).  Well we can all dream.