Thursday, December 31, 2009

One final post for 2009, and I must use it to say



David, Rick, Marilyn, Pete, Simon, Roy, Paula, and Jacob for operating locks, throwing ropes, steering etc etc.

The Lucky Ducks for their Christmas card

Geoff and Laura for being good neighbours and loaning us an anchor for three months

Simon, Halfie, Eric, Indigo Sue & Richard, and all the other lovely blog followers who have taken the trouble to send in comments - and especially the amazing VallyP who has commented no less than 123 times during this year!!!

Andrew Denny for occasionally sending my readership figures through the roof by giving us a mention.

And all other readers who have contributed to the 12000 odd visits to these pages this year.

Kath and I wish you all a great 2010, and we hope to have lots of boaty adventures to share over the year. If you see us out and about, don't hesitate to shout, wave or knock. We'd love to meet you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Burgeoning birds and mathematical birthdays

Lots of wrens about lately. I saw quite a few on a stroll yesterday along the river Backwater near home. I can't keep away from water, and the Blackwater although un-navigable is very seductive.
Anyway, the wrens seem to like hopping about in waterside bushes. In the old days of course people would be have hunted for them at this time of the year (St Stephen's day actually, Dec 26). The poor little mite would have been killed, dressed up in ribbons, paraded around on top of a pole and then buried with due ceremony as a sacrifice. I believe they still do this today in the Isle of Man. Folkies will know that there are quite a few songs about wren hunting.

Talking of the Feast of Stephen - did you know that it included pizzas? Hence the phrase in the first verse "deep pan crisp and even" :-)

Two days ago, hovering quite low over Bracknell town centre we saw a red kite. We're used to seeing them in the chilterns for some years now, but they do seem to be spreading out. It can only be a matter of time before we get them over our house. We saw some on the Nene in the summer. That's a long way from the chilterns. Then today we saw some Egyptian geese on the grass verge not 300 yards from our house. Until recent years they were relatively uncommon but now we keep seeing them all over the place like this one at Potter Heigham on the Broads this year.
Changing the subject completely, we have a lot of family and friend birthdays at this time. Peter had his just before Christmas. Although I'm his dad I can never remember how old he is. When I asked him whether he was 30 or 31, he just gave an enigmatic smile and said "Let's just say I'm now in my prime", so I instantly deduced it was 31 because Peter is keen on maths. (think about it).

Another Peter (or Pete) is 60 today and were off to a small party later. Pete likes cider so Kath had the bright idea of buying a selection of bottles of cider, all different, and their alcohol percentages adding up to 60. It took 9 bottles, each having a different alcohol percentage between 6 and 7.5 . I think we must have looked a bit crazy standing in Morrisons doing sums in front of the ciders. Then, at our age people might expect us to be a bit dotty.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Buckby Delight - Sloe ho ho and a bottle of rum

It's Christmas and we've been drinking the first of our 2009 sloe gin and sloe rum. This year, as we had picked the sloes in the field near Rick's house in Long Buckby, we decided to name the gin accordingly.

Being Buckby of course we felt it appropriate to use an image of a lovely Buckby can on the label.

The gin is delicious but I think the rum is even better. Same recipe, just rum instead of gin. The trouble is, it is so popular that I have already given away half of it as Christmas presents.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A VIP visits Herbie

Herbie snuggles up against Humbug (note: not Bah Humbug!) to keep her warm in the ice yesterday. At the other end it looks like we have a visitor.

Ho Ho Ho

Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Now I've seen it all.

Like many others I got caught in the snow traffic gridlock on Monday. Four hours to travel the one mile from the shops to home! At last a trip which would have been faster by boat. Except that Herbie is currently iced in at Iver and able to go nowhere.

As I write, the house is surrounded by snow and it has just finished hailing and started raining and we have thunder and lightning. Really! Earlier today we had fog. All we need now is a heatwave and we'll have the set.

I happened to be in the vicinity of Cowroast today (can anyone guess why I should be there two days before Christmas?), so I stopped to take a few pictures at the lock, always a pretty spot.

No boats moving, but at least its not frozen here like it is on the Slough Arm.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Local man wins big prize.

Three worthy nominees. All good friends. All giving their time and energy to help us along with Herbie. How can I pick one above the others? I can't really, but I have to.

Pete, Simon and David. None is better than the others, or worse for that matter.

But for service with a smile, crewing for us in miserable wet weather when you could so easily cancel, and fitting in so smoothly and gently, the Herbie Best Crew Award for 2009 goes to . . . .

David rainman Allum. (huge applause).

Well done and thanks for everything.

Even as we speak scribes are toiling away illuminating the magnicient certificate (which will be posted to you in the fullness of time).

Runners up Pete and Simon - we love you both and you live to fight another day. Welcome aboard any time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The premier award nomination

I can put it off no longer. The annual Herbie Premier Award for Best Crew Member. This is ther only Herbie Award that goes to a human being and carries an actual certificate.

So what makes a winning crew member?

Someone who is not on board just for the ride, but is willing to brave the elements, to tread the muddy towpaths and heave the lock gates. And someone who is a good companion, on board, in the pub.

Note that family members are exempt, as are previous winners - in case they get too big for their boots.
This year we have three very worthy candidates. It'll be a hard choice.

1. Pete - who crewed for us from Cowroast to Buckby - including a detour up the Wendover Arm. Enduring very mixed weather and a difficult stretch towing an engineless boat through Milton Keynes, Pete worked like a trojan and was selflesly keen to assist with carrying (on foot) a large quantity of beer up the hill from Tring brewery to the canal.

2. David (AKA rainman) who turned out to crew in the full knowledge that it would be a wet and miserable day - not for the first, or even second time I might add! Dedication has its rewards and we did share good weather from Bedford to Godmanchester later in the trip. David sometimes brings chocolates, which makes up for the fact that he doesn't drink beer!

3. Simon (of Tortoise fame) - who cycled up from Brentford to help us down the Hanwell flight, and taught us a great deal about pubs in Brentford. I aslo recall pleasnt evenings around Herbie's stove drinking Jim McBeams.

All should be proud of their nomination, but there can only be one winner. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Special Award for Most Appealing Boat

One or two things this year prompted us to give a Herbie special award. Those things which just appear out of the blue and give us pleasure. The first of these is a boat.

Now we often see more expensive, more beautiful boats than our own. Given enough money we could have one. But there a few unique boats that have special character that money can't buy, and this year the best we saw of these was the converted lifeboat Tamaroa.
Not an RLNI type lifeboat but one which hung on davits on the deck of its parent ship. The SS Tamaroa.

This little boat was so cute. All mahogany and brass inside and straight out of captain Pugwash. The old gentleman who owned it was just right too. Full of character and with a cheery disposition.

Tamaroa lives on the Nene now, and although very old she looks loved and cared for. She deserves our award.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One for battery anoraks

The remaining Herbie Awards follow in a day or so, but meanwhile . .

Today we have tiny whisps of snow, and the thermometer is showing an inexorable slide into frosty weather. Poor Herbie will be feeling the chill I thought, so yesterday I popped out to Iver to make sure she was OK.

Apart from making sure the plumbing was drained to prevent freeze ups I checked on the batteries. The results shown by our Smartgauge show that we have lost 18% of our capacity (from 100% to 82%) in the last 29 days with the boat lying unused and nothing switched on (except the Smartgauge itself). These are "leisure" batteries two years old, so is that good or bad or normal, I ask myself. I'm getting to know a fair amount about batteries but there always seems to be something new to learn so another half hour googling revealed the following interesting (confusing??) facts about lead acid battery self discharge.

Apparently lead acid batteries should self discharge about 5% per month when in fit condition, except if they have antimony in the plates in which case they lose 15% or more. Reading around it looks as though most leisure batteries use some antimony in the plates, so that might explain my higher rate of discharge. This might also explain why I was surprised by the amount of top up water I needed last time I topped them up, because antimony makes batteries boil off more water when being charged. (Note to self - must top up more often).

Temperature has a significant effect. Batteries exposed to high temperatures, especially above 25 degrees C will have their life reduced by as much as 50% for every 15 degrees over. Now I'm not sure how hot it gets under Herbie's engine cover, but I'm sure its hotter than 25 when cruising in warm weather. Not so good then, but in cold weather the reverse is true, so at the moment they should be doing fine.

Capacity is the reverse. Higher in hot weather, lower in cold (as we all know from car batteries being poorer in the cold). So could some of my 18% loss be due to the cold decreasing capacity rather than normal discharge?

That's the trouble with real life. The number of variables pulling in opposite directions makes it hard to know where you stand.

Anyhow I charged them up to 100% yesterday and I'll keep an eye on them . I suspect that by this time next year I might have new batteries.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A well deserved and popular win

That's what we always say when someone wins a raffle. Anyway from your comments I know at least two readers will be pleased that the winner of the Herbie Award for Best Pint is. . . .

Weston's Old Rosie cider, served at the Fort St George in Cambridge.

If you've never tried Old Rosie, you can buy bottles of it in Morrisons. It is a million miles from the insipid and disappointing Magners that , through mass marketing, led the current explosion in the popularity of cider. Old Rosie is to Magners as Timothy Taylors is to John Smiths or roast lamb is to a doner kebab (apologies to vegetarian and vegan readers!)

Try a bottle, and turn it over before you pour to stir up the apple pulp that sinks to the bottom. Cloudy is what you want. Better still find a pub that serves it on draft, but don't drive there. It's 7.3% alcohol, so you won't want more than one or two.

Well that concludes part one of the Herbie Awards. After the break come the special awards.

1. Unspecified - for anything that we saw this year that is award worthy. We're still open to suggestions for this.
2. The prestigious Best Crew Member Award, for those who have endured trips on Herbie this year

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A winning meal and nominations for best pint

An extremely close finish between the Globe at Old Linslade and the Wharf at Bugbrooke for the title. I'm almost tempted to declare a draw, but that would be chickening out. (Not that we ate any chicken).

So the winner on the narrowest of margins is . . .

The Wharf at Bugbrooke - a little bit dearer but worth it. Oh dear that is beginning to sound like a Loreal advert.

As for the Best Pint, you may ask why it isn't called Best Beer or Best Ale. That's because we want to include draft cider. People who don't drink such things might think this is all about just booze, but we happen to think that a truly great ale or cider should have the same respect as a great wine.

I have to confess that this is our most devotedly researched category, and we have endured a great many samples in order to provide a short list this year. With a shortlist of only three, some very fine samples have had to be excluded. Real Ale and real cider are of course very dependent on the skill and care of the hostelry, so the pubs take nearly as much credit as the brewers.

Here they are then.

1. Fullers ESB at the Black Horse, Greenford. Fuller's pubs all seem to keep their beer well, but we've had a couple of truly exceptional pints of this classic strong ale here. ESB is rich and malty and satisfying. I have to be careful not to get as satisfied as a newt because it is pretty strong.

2. St Austel Tribute at the Mad Bishop and Bear, Paddington. This, believe it or not is the railway station bar! Not quite canalside, but near enough to qualify. All their beers are beautifully kept and the Tribute - a slightly pale, fruity ale with a lovely hoppy clean taste, is outstanding. The actual bar is quite pleasant too.

3. Our cider! Weston's Old Rosie at Fort St George, Cambridge. Even stronger than ESB of course, slightly cloudy (that's only apple), very fruity and just on the right side of dry. A good job the boat was only a few feet away. The fact that we avoided going back in there on our second night moored outside is a true testament to our will power.

Results tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Nominees for best waterside food award

So which pubs fed us well on our cruises this year? A bit of a problem this one because I can't always remember what I had to eat, but I can remember the places that rose above the sometimes mediocre average.

Here is our shortlist of nominees for the award.

1. River Mill Tavern _Eaton Socon on the river Ouse just south of St Neots. A real surprise this one because the beer is so so and the decor tends towards the drab, although the location is pretty. Our friend David treated us to a meal there after crewing for us from Bedford. More in hope than expectation we ordered our grub and it was really deelish. Kath had a burger that was fragrantly herby and clearly hand made and I think it had a nice sauce with it. I can't remember what we chaps had but I recall it was good.

2. The Globe at Old Linslade - a superb place to stop in any case. You can moor right outside the door. It used to be quite a posh gastropub, but the menu although still good, is now somewhat cheaper. For the life of me I can't remember what I ate, duck probably. All I remember is that it was extremely tasty, well presented, and the service was very good. On our second visit, returning "downhill" we ate there again and were tempted into the Golden Years Special (don't laugh) which was three courses for about six quid. Suffice it to say it was worth the money, but not a lot more!

3. The Wharf at Bugbrooke - a newish dining pub with moorings at the end of the garden. About £12 for a main course. This is really lovely food with rich flavours and good presentation. The restaurant lacks atmosphere though. I had pork belly in a stunning sauce. Puds were tasty too, and they did a nice pint of St Austell Tribute.

Honourable mentions too for the Thai food at The Magpie and Crown in Brentford, all the food at the Fox in Hanwell and the Black Horse at Greenford, and the wonderful Paper Mill at Apsley where the food is cooked before your eyes and looks and tastes great.

Results forthcoming.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Best Cruising Waterway 2009

The judges have been burning the midnight oil and the arguments flowing back and forth but now the white smoke comes out of the chimney and we have a winner for the Herbie Awards 2009 Best Cruising Waterway. See two posts down if you missed the nominations and descriptions.

And the winner is . . . .

The River Nene

What a cracker! I have read numerous reports of people refusing to go down the Nene because of its fearsome reputation after heavy rain. We too were prepared to call it off this year if such conditions prevailed, but it was hot and sunny both going down, and coming back up a few weeks later.

I cannot recommend this river highly enough. It flows mostly through Northamptonshire, which is a county rarely spoken of in scenic terms but is a true middle England gem. Unspoilt villages perch on the slopes of the high ground set well back from the water meadows, Cogenhoe, Woodford, Denford, Oundle, Thrapston, Wadenhoe, Fotheringhay and more.
Bridges large and small

some unusual lock gates
and some impressive flood defences

Well done Nene. We'll be back another year.

Tomorrow we'll turn our attention to waterside gastronomy as we search for Best Meal in a Waterside Pub.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Best overnight mooring (rural) result

and the winner is . . . . long pause while I tear open the golden envelope.

Wicken Fen (loud cheers)

This was a really tough decision as the other places were so beautiful, but Wicken wins for its solitude, its wildlife, and its cosiness. A place I could never cruise past without detouring up there.

See the post below for the next Herbie Awards category nominations

Friday, December 04, 2009

Best Cruising Waterway 2009

Now the nominees for the third of our 2009 Herbie Awards - Best Cruising Waterway.

Hmmm. What should the criteria be?

a) Scenery - definitely. We want the place to look stunning don't we.
b) Places of interest - maybe bits of the waterway itself or its history, or maybe places to visit en-route
c) Facilities for boaters I suppose, but as long as they're just adequate I'm not all that fussed.

That'll do. Weighted heavily in favour of scenery and waterside structures I think.

So which waterways are eligible this year, i.e where have we been?

a) Grand Union Canal - Brentford to Buckby. Lets split it into Brentord to Uxbridge, Uxbridge to Marsworth, Marsworth to Buckby
b) Arms of the Grand Union - Paddington, Slough, Wendover, Northampton
c) River Nene
d) Middle levels through route from Peterborough to Salters Lode.
c) Great Ouse. I'm going to split this into three bits. The long straight artificial bit from Denver through Ely to the junction with the Cam, the remote winding Old West River from their to Earith, and the remainder down to Bedford. Each feels totally different.
e) River Cam
f) Wicken Lode - the short channel that runs into Wicken Fen nature reserve.
g) River Wissey - the last tributary of the Ouse before it hits tide at Denver

Quite a selection eh? And they all have their charms. There are none that I wouldn't visit again

So for the shortlist of three nominees we have

1) Great Ouse from Earith to Bedford. Passing through numerous attractive towns and villages such as St Ives, Hemingford, Godmanchester, and St Neots . Lovely old bridges and weirs and lush countryside.

2) Surprise surprise I'm going for the Middle Levels, which I have previously referred to as "two days in a ditch."

This time through I learned to love many of its charms. Notably the cute villages of Upwell and Outwell,
and have become fascinated by how the whole area was constructed. You can still see eel traps and mink traps, but what you can't see much of the way is anything over the dyke! As a place for fish watching while you cruise though, its a real winner.

3) River Nene - I wouldn't want to be on it after all this recent rain, but in the sunshine it's gorgeous. Lovely water meadows, superb old mill houses, a real taste of Olde England
straight off the chocolate box.

Place your bets.

A tough decision and three idyllic moorings.

So the Herbie Award for Best Overnight Mooring goes to . .

Hang on a minute, we have some reader votes. Amy likes Cambridge, Vally likes Ely, and Simon laments the exclusion of Brentford. all good suggestions but it just goes to show you can't please all the people all of the time.

Security in the city, clean surroundings, plenty of sitting outside space, modern but stylish architecture, welcoming helpful staff (really!) and handy for everything. Unashamedly urban AND, most unusually, they actually do get people to observe the No Continuous Mooring rules. It had to be . . . . big fanfare . . .

Paddington basin.

Now for the nominations for Best Overnight Moorings (Rural). A really tough one this. What is rural anyway? Do we mean remote from the built environment? Would a pub mooring at the edge of a small village qualify? Or even a pretty spot not far from a town?

Well here are our three nominations.

1. Wicken Fen - you can't get more rural than this. Slap bang in the middle of a beautiful nature reserve, quite a way off the main river Ouse in Cambridgeshire. Marsh Harriers overhead, an abundance of wild flowers and water plants and creatures, and really really peaceful.

2. GOBA moorings near Earith.
A quiet spot on short tidal section of the main river where we sat out late into the evening listening to the burbling of the oystercatchers and watching a barn owl patrolling the far bank. Then, just as it was getting dark, a huge swirl in the water right by the boat and a seal popped up its head to stare at us before disappearing again into the dark water. Magic. Of course
the b*%!*y camera was nowhere to hand at the time. Typical.
3. Fotheringhay on the river Nene. One of the rare places you have to pay for mooring overnight, but well worth the three quid it costs. You can moor beneath the beautiful church up stream of the bridge,
or below the bridge next to the mound that is all that remains of the castle where Mary Queen of Scots met her end.
Either way, it's lovely. Loads of space for a picnic. A couple of minutes stroll into the pretty village with a spledid pub for eating or drinking. What more could you want.

A tough decision. I'll sleep on it then announce the winner.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Herbie Awards 2009

It's that time again when we all put on our tuxedos and ball gowns to join in the Herbie Awards extravaganza. Each December we look back over the year and elect people and places and bestow upon them the rare honour of a coveted and prestigious Herbie Award (monetary value - nil).

After his disgraceful behaviour a year ago we have decided to revoke our invitation to Jonathan Ross to present the awards, and I have gallantly agreed to step into the breech for a similar fee.

And so on to the categories:

Best overnight mooring (urban)
Best overnight mooring (rural)
Best cruising waterway
Best meal in a waterside pub
Best pint in a waterside pub
Best anything else that occurs to me as the awards progress

and the much coveted Special Crew Award -in which the winner receives a beautifully word processed certificate.

The nominations (chosen solely from Herbie's 2009 travels of course) will unfold over the coming days, accompanied by photographic evidence and followed next day by the announcement of the winner.

Just to whet your appetite, here are the nominations for Best Overnight Mooring (Urban)

1. Cambridge - Fort St George.
Close to the heart of this wonderful city, this mooring has a pub ten feet away and offers splendid views of the many University boat crews as they zoom up and down the Cam

2. London -Paddington basin.
Clean, tidy and secure and ultra modern, these moorings are well looked after and are handy for just about everything. The 24hr security guards are friendly and helpful, and on a Friday lunchtime they'll demonstrate the roll up bridge for you.
3. Ely - alongside the park. Well kept moorings just a short walk from the town centre with its interesting street market and the mighty cathedral. A suitable place for a picnic on the grass, and plenty of boat traffic to gongoozle at. Sadly I have no photo of the moorings, so here s a shot of the cathedral.

You'll just have to contain your excitement until tomorrow to discover the winner and get nominations for the next category - Best Overnight Mooring (Rural).

Comments left by readers have a small chance of influencing the decision or nominations so feel free.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Window design decisions

Anyone bored by DIY, please look away now or you will find this tedious in the extreme. In fact I can hardly bear to publish it except for knowing that one or two of my more anoraky pals will be interested! Next time I'll try and write something remotely interesting.

I hope my design for a hatch window insert is going to work. I've made all the decisions and made the bits but haven't assembled and installed yet. I probably need to do a final fitting on site, not here at home.

I decided to mount the perspex sheet into grooves set in a mitred frame. Here are a couple of the finished frame sides.

The grooves were done with a circular saw.

I'm not sure just glueing up the mitres will be strong enough, if not perhaps I'll put some sealant round the edge of the perspex (unless anyone out there has a better idea).

Now for the (I hope) clever bit. The old window was kept in place using three sliding bolts. Remember it's only in place on the odd occasion. The bolts were not very elegant, so I'm going to see if I can hold it in with some of this magnetic strip.

The window will butt up against a steel lip

It may or may not adhere strongly enough. I'll report back.