Thursday, April 30, 2009

Met Office gives us hope, but masses more to do

I hope the Met Office is right. They published their seasonal summer forecast yesterday and are predicting a better than average summer. "A repeat of the wet summers of 2007 and 2008 is unlikely" they say. This is good news because we're going to be out of doors a great deal and at the mercy of the rivers if it rains.
So far on "the cruise", we've covered 82 miles and 83 locks. I was feeling this was all going to be easy until I just calculated we had a further 251 miles and 85 locks to go on the outward journey to Bedford, taking in the Wissey the Little Ouse and the Cam. Then a straight run home will be another 236 miles and 152 locks. Gulp!!

This means that in terms of lock miles we have only covered 18% of the total so far and we have spent 11 days actually moving. So at this rate I calculate that we have another 50 days cruising ahead of us. Now I need to look at where we can find 50 days from.

We've been using the journey so far to test out the accuracy of my Grand Union canalometer. Some days it has given us a remarkably accurate forecast of cruising times although on the final day we beat it by an hour because we had a big crew going up Buckby locks so the one ahead was always waiting empty when we arrived. I fear that my NeneOmeters may not fare so well. Rivers are a lot less predictable and those guillotine locks can take ages.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wet outdoors, wet indoors, plus green rabbits

Sunday was proof of sod's law. On the way up to Stoke Bruerne, crossing the middle of nowhere, the rain was lashing down sideways. I just had to stand out in it and get very wet while Kath and Pete seemed to find useful things to do in the dry below. Then of course the sun came out as we entered to Blisworth tunnel and as Adam said in his comment to my last post, we got a good soaking as the water poured in down the airshafts.

Although it's over a mile and a half long, I don't find this tunnel calustrophobic as it is pretty wide. Passing boats coming the other way is not difficult and we met three of 'em.

We were glad to get to Bugbrooke after a longish day and on Rick's recommendation we moored up at the Wharf (pub) and had yet another meal out. Food there is a bit more expensive (main course about £12, pud about £6) than the general run but boy is it good! Save up and go.

All we had to do then on Tuesday was to get to Buckby. This bit of canal is really attractive and very neatly maintained, almost posh in parts. This setting is typical.
If you look closely (you'll need to click to enlarge)under what might be the kitchen window there is a board painted in diamonds just like our roof box. Through the bridge was this bit of topiary. Aren't people clever!

There are some very nice 14 day moorings hereabouts which have low banks and would be brilliant for touching up the paint on the gunwales. The canal follows the contours and in one place there is a genuine hairpin bend sending you almost back where you came.

Rick and Marilyn walked down from Buckby to meet us and help us work up the locks to the end of garden moorings at the house of their friend Priscilla. She has kindly let us rest Herbie there till we set off again to go down the Nene. Today we're at home doing jobs, with a little help from Grace seen here washing the car.

Meanwhile, this weekend we're going boating! This time sailing on the Norfolk broads with a gang of friends.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Scrapes and adventures plus an amazing lady.

We're currently heading northwards out of Milton Keynes so we have masses to update you on. Internet connectivity has been bad so this is the first proper chance to do it.
Friday morning and we arrived by car at Cowroast to see Herbie waiting with it's newly blacked hull. How long would it be before the first scratch? Would we exit the marina unscathed? Well Herbie did, but our guest crew member Pete didn't. He was holding Herbies bow rope on the bank while we turned her against the wind. leaning back hard against the tension, an un noticed knot in the rope untangled itself and gave him four feet on instant slack! Over he went in spectacular fashion picking up a nasty elbow graze as he did so.

On we went in search of our first hull scratch which we managed to achieve under a difficult bridge in the wind up the Wendover Arm. Now we could relax. We moored in warm sunshine near the end of the arm and walked the mile into Tring to acquire essential supplies from the Tring brewery. They do a new beer every month in adition to standard lines. This month it was Dumpy Dormouse and delicious.

Then off down the serpentine Marsworth flight where the next lock is always just out of sight although only 150 yards away - one of my favourite flights of locks. Mooring up for the night at the bottom, Kath set about rubbing down bits on the gunwales which now are shown up by the glossy black hull beneath. Pete and I were released to go and look at the staircase lock at the start of the Aylesbury arm. To do this we had to brave a pair of very territorial looking swans who had chosen to build their nest on the towpath. I can see trouble ahead when the eggs hatch.

Pete had never encountered a staircase lock before and luckily a lady was bringing a boat up so we could demonstrate. A good job we were there actually because she didn't have much idea and tried to fill the bottom lock from an empty top lock.

Dinner that night at the Anglers Retreat - nice home style cooking.

Saturday looked as though it would be wet, but we deployed the old trick of donning waterprooofs and keeping them on even when it didn't rain and the weather gave up trying to trick us and eventually turned fine. We had a good run across the farmland near Ivinghoe. Its a lovely area and very unspoiled. Our stop for the night was the Globe at Old Linslade where Pete complained because although we were moored ten paces from the pub door we were six inches out of line with it. I explained that this was to allow for a slight stagger when we came out.

The Globe as seen from Herbie

We had a very good meal there (must eat on board one of these days or we'll be skint.)

Sunday was fine again and we expectd an easy day with only a few locks to do then a long cruise around Milton Keynes. However coming out of the little Fenny Stratford lock, which has a drop of only 18 inches, we spied a lady pushing a sixty foot boat along with a pole and stopped to ask if she could help. Now you might not believe this next bit but it's true.

"What's the problem?" we asked. "Got no engine" she replied. "Where are you heading for?" said we. " Kinver (Worcestershire)"!!!!
She had just bought the boat as a shell and with only her eight (?) year old daughter Rosie, Liz was pushing and pulling the boat miles each day. We lashed her boat up alongside Herbie and said we would take her with us for the day. Pete fell over on her roof and grazed his other elbow and we lots of scrapes under the many bridges in MK where the two boats side by side had only half an inch to spare as we went through.

Progress was very slow but the sun shone and we delivered a grateful Liz safely to Great Linford. I hope someone else takes pity on her tomorrow.
We moored up in our favourite spot at the head of Great Linford park - a beautiful place with fine old buldings scattered among the lawns and trees and the Nags Head at the other side. They had a quiz on that night so of course we had a go. A good quiz too. No recognising pictures of celebrities , no questions on TV soaps or 21st century dance records. Just good old general knowledge. I think we came fourth out of six teams but there were only three of us and the others all had six plus, so we held our heads up.

Now its raining as we move along on through Wolverton on Monday morning. Today we have the mighty Blisworth tunnel to do so we'll be outof the rain for an hour. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Days 5 and 6 - tea with posh friends and Herbie bounds out of the water

Winkwell to Berkhamsted takes just a few hours, so before we set off I slapped another coat of paint over the bits I did the day before, and the weather was so warm and with a gentle breeze, that the paint was touch dry in an hour. Being Sunday there were lots of joggers along the towpath and a reasonable number of boats moving, although on the southern Grand Union you could never call it busy. Stange that. You'd think that as the M1 of the canals, it would be crowded, but it never is. Plenty of good stopping places and pretty locations at the majority of locks. I really like it a lot.

Entering Berko, we stopped and tied up for lunch and then repaired to the Rising Sun to watch the Grand prix on TV. This is a tiny pub by the bottom lock and was very quiet, and very basic, but friendly and with an impressive array of real ales and ciders. So the sun shone warmly through the windows as we watched the Grand Prix drivers struggling in the pouring rain in Shanghai.

After that, we had company through the final three locks. Suzanne, whose children Kath used to child mind 25 years ago and her husband Peter. We've stayed in touch but seldom met, but as they live in Berko we gave them a call and along they came. S&P are in a different stratum of society from us. He is a retired very senior government technical adviser and she is a freelance HR consultant working for blue chip companies. Once moored up, we went up to their electronically gated house on the hill and had tea and chocolate brownies in their enormous kitchen. The showed us pictures of their boat - a twin engined sea going, aquaplaning boat capable of enormous speeds. All white and gleaming. Nevertheless Suzanne was genuinely envious of the domestic space and comfort of Herbie. I don't think I would swap. Houses yes, but boats, no.

Today started with more painting, this time a top coat right across the width of the roof for a length of about four feet, and so covering lots of small repairs. This top coat is a lot slower drying so now contains a few unfortunate insects. You can see the shiny band of new paint here. It'll soon flatten to a dull finish.

Luckily the new paint was touch dry by the time we got to Cowroast ready for her to be washed down before bottom blacking.

Getting into Cowroast marina takes a modicum of skill. The entrance is very narrow and at an odd angle. Nevertheless we got in unscathed and a short time after, Herbie was manoeuvered on to the slipway trolly and hauled out of the drink. Seeing your precious boat rising out of the water at a steep angle is not for the faint hearted but it was fine. Look at that blue sky!

Darren, the boatyard engineer quickly donned his waterproof trousers and immediately started pressure jetting the hull. You have to do it before it dries or all the muck cakes on and is harder to remove. The hull is covered by a thick carpet of algae.
This is scary moment number 2, - is the hull in good nick or do we have corrosion problems? A quick blast and a scrape on a test area showed us that the hull is in fine condition. Phew. By the time we had packed up our things and set off for the bus home Darren had uncovered quite a large proportion of the hull and it was looking good. Even better after a couple of coats of blacking over the next few days.

We've had a brilliant time for phase one of our trip. The weather has been beautiful the last two or three days and the spring has really sprung along the canal making it look lush and frequently thick with blossom. Added to that we've had a good time socially. Although we've paused for a good reason, we would dearly have loved to pres on while this lovely weather holds.

On Friday, phase two starts after we pick up Herbie with her shiny black hull and set off to get some scratches on it as we head down the locks towards the north. I expect it will rain, but that won't stop us enjoying it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Days 3 and 4 plenty going on

Continuing on, rather cold and damp, we finally arrived at Apsley at the end of day 3. Jacob was collected by Claire and Grace a couple of locks back. He has been such a good crew member, working hard on the locks and doing a share of steering and generally taking an interest in the canal and the wildlife. Not bad for an eleven year old.

Pulling in at Apsley we realised that the boat moored in front of us was Gs Cargo, belonging to Glenda and Pete, official cratch cover makers to Herbie. We showed off our new box cover and they told us of their latest successful commission, a Morgan car tonneau. So nice to meet friends as you travel up the canal.

For the evening we treated ourselves to a visit to the Paper Mill. Now I kow full well that a lot of boaters scorn pubs like this. Built on the site of an old working paper mill, its a modern pub. No old working boatmen at the bar. Well all I can say is you traddies are missing out. At this pub you get a cracking pint of ESB, good service, a lively and friendly atmosphere and very very good food. Granted you pay nearly a tenner for a burger with mushroom and stilton and chips, but when you see it and taste it you'll know its worth it. We sat near the kitchen hatch where you can see the food being prepared and the dishes going out. We must have seen dozens of meals go out and everyone looked superb and quite different from normal pub fayre. Traditional it ain't but the best of the 21st century it is.

Day 4 dawned a lot warmer and sunnier, but at an angle! Herbie was heeling over a bit because the water level had dropped a bit and we were grounded on a lump in the canal bed. It felt very strange walking about in the boat. A quick push from the bank soon put us a float again, and Idid the housework while Kath went shopping for blinds for the galley windows.

Once on the move agin we had a very convivial time sharing locks all the way to Winkwell with a community boat being crewed by volunteer youth workers learning boatong before taking up duties on youth boat trips. I hope they improve soon. Seeing them enter locks was a bit scary - too fast and with dubious accuracy. Still, they were a nice bunch and it made the trip go very quickly.

Stopping at Winkwell for lunch, we decided to stay put for the night as it is a lovely spot. In the sfternoon Kath rubbed down the cratch seats in preparation for varnishing while I attended to an archipelago of tiny rust spots on the roof - nearly all done now, and I hope more permanently as I took care to rust proof with vactan before over painting.

The Three Horseshoes pub by the swing bridge here has a terrace full of gongoozlers, but we strolled up the road to the White Horse for a quick pint of McMullens - a rarity.

We're having a great time, really enjoying this part of the canal getting some jobs done at the same time.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

dyas 1 and 2 of the big cruise - all going great

Here we sit on a bit of the river Gade as it joins the Grand Union canal through Grove Park. it’s the end of the second day of our cruise and this is undisputably the poshest part of this canal. The cars driving over the ornamental bridge near the boat have included a convertible Aston Martin and numerous Mercedes. I'm surprised they tolerate our presence.

Today, we decided, could best be described as moist but pleasant. It only stopped raining when we arrived here after a day of ten locks and a few miles. At Batchworth we stopped for Tescos and to pick up friend David (shown smiling here although soaking wet)who spent a wet afternoon sharing the steering and the lock working.
Despite the weather we had a jolly time and made good progress.
Yesterday, our starting day, was sublime. The sun came out as we left our moorings, waving goodbye to Saltysplash and we even stopped for ice creams at Cowley Lock. It stayed warm and sunny throughout. How nice it is to be going up the GU again after we rested it last year. Despite the steady stream of locks it’s a lovely bit of canal once you get clear of Uxbridge. Jacob did a fair bit of steering and locking as we tootled on to one of our favourite moorings at Black Jacks lock, where to the sound of peacocks in the opposite garden and woodpeckers in the trees we set about fixing up our new top box cover sewn by Kath. Three times I hit my thumb with a lump hammer whilst fitting the eyelets, but the end result was startlingly good. It all sits very neatly.
Job’s a goodun.

Tomorrow we have to reach a point where Claire can meet us to take Jacob home. I hope it's Apsley because I'm very partial to the Paper Mill pub.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bike beats car beats boat

One day left before we set off. We had a strange sort of dress rehearsal today in that we drove up to Huntingdon to visit Richard to deliver lardy cakes (one of his weaknesses)and then on to Cambridge to take Peter back to his place after he had been visiting us for easter. Our boat trip will take us to the same places except that it will take many weeks instead of the half day it took by car!!

Some people have dogs to guard their home. Richard currently has a swan. We tiptoed past it on the small spit of land that connects his boat to the shore of the marina. The swan was obviously resentful of our presence but it grudgingly let us by. One of these days Richard is going to be trapped. I still envy him his domestic position. Here is the view he sees every morning when he looks out of his door. Back at Cambridge we dropped Peter off by the Chemistry department where he had left his bike and drove the couple of miles back to the Castle inn where he would join us for a meal and a pint (the Castle is a beer hound's paradise -8 really good real ales). To our surprise Peter got to the pub before we did. Twelve years at Cambridge has taught him all the cycle short cuts.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A temporary? disaster - please read and help

Off topic, but please read on if you know my email address ( I do of course). Our main PC has had a mega mega crash and had had to be taken away for someone to try to get into it. We won't have it back before we set off on our trip, so we'll be using our laptop which doesn't have our email contact directory on it. So if you think you would have been on our directory i.e. we have exchanged emails in the past, please can you send me a mail so I can capture your address. This applies to all friends and family ( I know a number of you follow the blog)- we've lost the lot pro tem. I sincerely hope we get the directory back when the PC is fixed but we can't guarantee it.

Sadly, I had just bought a portable hard drive to back up everything, but the crash got there first.

Thanks folks

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Preparations for the voyage.

I expect you've seen those films where the young midshipman arrives at the seaport for his first voyage, and the quayside is covered with crates of pigs and chickens and matelots are scuttling up and down the gangplank with sea chests while others are busy splicing ropes or scrubbing decks. Well it's a tiny bit like that with Herbie at the moment as we prepare for our cruise.
Today I took out our second car load of bits and pieces. Clothing, freshly laundered sleeping bags for guest crew, our Cobb barbecue, maps and charts etc. Then I took Herbie for a short cruise down to the winding hole and back so now we are facing in the right direction. That got the engine oil nice and warm for me to change it and the oil filter and I replaced the alternator drive belt which was looking a bit worn.
At this point I had a picture to show you, but I can't get the b*%$*y thing to upload. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


For anyone who cares about such things, I have corrected a couple of errors in my tube style map of the GU, Nene, Ouse, Cam, Thames S Oxford etc. I had omitted to put the Oxford canal in the legend (thanks David), but more importantly I had called Tring station Kings Langley! and called Wolverton Wolverley. All fixed now. Click here to go to where the new one is stored. Then click on cruise map with stations 2009

Painting Herbie's herb garden

There are no end of things you can waste your time on when you are retired. I've just finished repainting Herbie's miniature herb garden - an old saucepan. I had done it previously but I thought I might try to improve it, so after taking all the old paint off I started again.

Here it is now in our real garden at home.

Last time I used masking tape etc but this time I did it freehand to get a more natural look.From close up you can see it's pretty rough and ready. If you click on this this picture to get it big, you'll see how rough it really is,

but then folks won't see it close up when its on the front of the boat as we pass by.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Seasons Turn and further preparations.

Only ten days now until the first leg of our big cruise and we've been converting Herbie from winter to summer. Today we dismantled and brought home the secondary double glazing, the pram hood thingy over the rear deck and the old cratch cover which is due for disposal.

We also got the roofbox back in place. I managed to rig up a trolley so that we could get it the 150 yards from car to boat without breaking our backs, and with the kind help of Saltysplash, we lifted the box over the roof of Lady Elgar and into place on Herbie's roof. It's hard now to imagine why I thought it would be so difficult - it all went so easily. Kath has made a fitted tarpaulin cover for the box but we still need to put some eyelets in for the securing elastics.

Still lots to do before we set off, including an engine oil change and a new fanbelt. I'm also going to knock up a steerers seat. The one Rick made last year is good for passengers, but because it hangs outwards over the side of the boat, its a bit far from the tiller. My new one will basically be a thick plywood plank . Having spent ten minutes trying to find words to describe it, I have given up and offer you this crude sketch knocked up in MS Paint!The plank is the grey bit. It looks really easy, but it ain't because will follow a curved boat edge and sit on a sloping curved surface, so I have some tailoring to do. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Why have a box on the roof?

Vally P asks what the top box is for. A very good question. The answer is, anything you like really, but bulky items which need to be stored on board which you have little space for inside the boat. We have used ours for bags of coal and logs, brushes and mops, TV ariel, bits of fishing tackle etc. Vally has a big boat, so probably has no use for one.

Kath fancies getting one or two folding bikes, which could be kept there if they would fit. If that happened we'd have to chain them for security to a U bolt inside the box. Then the immense thickness of the box sides would come in handy.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A heavyweight issue

We hope to reinstate Herbie's roofbox before we go away. This is a non trivial task as it weighs a ton. It was made by Herbie's previous owner out of scaffolding planks and was unpainted. In 1996 I took it home and painted it to look like this. You can see how thick the wood is.

Then I made some triangular end pieces to create a roof slope for a cover, so then it looked like this.

Now Kath will make a decent cover from the extra cratch cover fabric we bought from Glenda. Lifting it on to the boat roof is quite a job as it weighs so much, we'll have to get the boat near our car somewhere. I'm a bit concerned that we might have to remove it if we encounter any very low bridges this summer. At least the end triangles screw off fairly easily. Come to think of it, I'm not sure it'll go in our present car. The last time we moved it we had our huge old Peugeot estate which was several inches longer. That might be a problem I hadn't thought about until now.

Oooh Errr!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Don't scratch my cratch

Here's our new cratch cover, completed yesterday but only just. It took Pete and Glenda all day to attend to the final fitting. A tuck here, a pleat there and so on. Here they are doing their bits ably assisted (well hindered actually) by Scamp.

We're pretty pleased with it and hope that it won't be so vulnerable to lock gate damage as the previous design. The new one is also easier to roll up, and has bigger windows and extra flaps that roll down over the windows for extra privacy and winter insulation. The material is a very close weave heavyweight acrylic fabric. We bought a spare length to cover our top box which we hope to reinstate on Herbie's roof soon.

Added to the benefits, the other upside is that it cost less than half what it would have done had we gone to one of the well known makers who come out to be boat to measure up then go back to the workshop to make it, then come back again to fit it.

Glenda was quite glad to finish so they could leave the area to get away from the spot where she found the dead man last week. Their next job is a tonneau cover for a Morgan car in Uxbridge!We hope to catch up with them on our forthcoming cruise, where they have offered to adjust anything that needs adjusting after the new cover settles in.