Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Time and Tide wait for no boat.

I should plan further ahead. Getting on the Thames from the GU at this time of year can be difficult. We've been planning to spend a few days on the mighty river to get the benefit of our Gold licenceand I should have checked tides earlier because now we're quite restricted.

You see the problem is that you have to go up from Brentford to Teddington on the last of the rising tide, and when you return it has to be on the beginning of the falling tide. So you get about an hour twice a day to do these things. "What's wrong with that ?", you may ask. Well now the days are getting shorter, the right tide times are more often than not in the hours of darkness, and there's no way we're taking Herbie up the tidal river in the dark.

Were looking for a time to go out and a time to return on daylight high tides with about a ten day gap, and the choices are very very few. The longer we leave it the worse the problem gets as the nights draw in, especially at the end of October when BST finishes.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A big day in the colonies

We can't always find local labour to crew Herbie, so it's always nice to give employment to those less fortunate then ourselves who hail from the far reaches of the Empire. Here we see one such fellow at Herbie's tiller enjoying a typical English summer day.

Looking at his hat and knowing that his name is Bruce, you'd be pretty certain he hailed from the antipodes. But no! Bruce, a jolly fellow and a cousin of Rick, is a resident of one of our small transatlantic settlements called Virginia and today (Monday) he has a big birthday.

He is also known to lurk around this blog. So:


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Brunel through the locks

After a comment tip off from Mike (Globetrotter) - thanks Mike- and it being a lovely day, we took the car down to Hanwell to see if we could catch Brunel being towed through the Hanwell flight. We parked outside the Fox and dashed to the canal only to find that we had just missed her. Leaping back in the car and for the first time ever passing the Fox without having a pint (!!!) we moved on to the park by Osterley lock where we found Brunel just below the lock waiting for her tugs to come down to join her.

Apparently she had got stuck in Norwood top lock just like Olive, but with the loss of a coat of paint and a few scratches here and there they just managed to scrape her through. All the locks below had been less of a tight fit.

One more lock to go before Brentford, so we walk down the towpath to watch . We didn't have to hurry as progress was pretty slow especially on a silted up bend where she went aground.

The man in charge told us that Brunel was carrying 30 tons of extra ballast in the form of big bags of water. This had been necessary to get her under some of the lower bridges.There was a crew of seven people and besides two tugs (one pulling one pushing)

to move her along, they were using a further boat in front to haul her out of the locks. So each lock had to be operated three times, once for the out hauling boat, once for Brunel, and once for the two little tugs.

Here she is in the day's final lock (Clitheroe) where she fitted snugly but easily.

We were told that tonight she will rest in Brentford, then tomorrow (Sunday) she'll go out on the tide and the Thames tugs will take her down to East India Dock.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Big boats on the cut

Vally P ponders in a recent comment whether her barge Vereeniging would make it through the London canals. Wouldn't that be lovely?

Well we do see a few big boats moored on the southern GU although I can't guarantee they all got there by water, but I guess many of them did. Up near us at at Cowley there are a few proper old dutch barges being lived on. We also see some pretty big boats on the move, although we never know where is the limit of their travel. Here are a few we've seen on the GU and the Paddington arm.

The biggest we see regularly moving is the huge floating classroom used for school parties and corporate events. Ive seen it in Paddington, and here in Cowley, and come to think of it, in Uxbridge, which proves it must pass through Cowley lock which is a standard size. I bet it was a tight fit though, it really is a whopper
A cautionary tale though - in a post in 2006 I told the story of my trip as crew on Olive, the converted Humber keel seen in the third picture above. You can read it by following this link.

To cut a long story short, Olive became a temporary stoppage as she got stuck fast in Norwoood top lock on the way down to Brentford and we had quite an adventure in getting her unstuck. Olive was theoretically the right size to just pass through the lock, but the lock itself had got out of shape over the years.

So I guess you need to be a bit less than 14 feet wide to be sure.

Now up the Lee is a different story, the first few locks up there are huge. Vally P could bring Vereeniging to the Olympics!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

BW replies re Iron Bridge lock!!!!

Well, knock me down with a feather. You may recall that in a recent post I complained about the interminably slow Iron Bridge lock on the GU not being on BWs winter maintenance programme and said I had written to them about it. I had given up hope of any reply as so long had passed but today they emailed me. After apologising for the delay (oh alright I forgive you BW), comes this paragraph:

We are aware of the issues at Lock 77 and are monitoring it on a regular basis. Although works at Lock 77 were not in our original stoppage plan, we are currently looking at a way to add in some works to repair/reduce the leak during the stoppage season. We have not yet identified a specific period, but as soon as we have we will advertise the works on Waterscape. In the meantime, our Customer Operations team are monitoring the performance and will consider a minor improvement job if they feel this is the best course of action.

I'll take that as a definate maybe then. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Whither Brunel? - and London moorings

Sometime around now there'll be a lot of kerfuffle in Paddington Basin while BW remove the barge Brunel which has been moored there since the area was done up posh.
Actually I didn't think Brunel was a real boat but a mock up, but it looks like I might be wrong. Anyway they say it will take a couple of tugs to manoeuvre her out, but what they don't say is where it is going. It looks like they'll have to temporarily dismantle the floating pontoon too.

Paddington basin won't seem quite the same without her.

On the day we took that photo the rest of the basin was empty. Indeed a rare event these days as it has become quite popular with visiting boaters. We rarely moor in the basin itself, but just round the corner in the arm where there is more bank space and a lot less wind.
All the tall buildings around the basin itself seem to generate really strong draughts across the water but round the corner all is calm (ish). Also there, we love watching all the commuters scurrying by. It makes us even more aware of the reassuringly slow pace of boating life.

There aren't enough moorings in London really, but the ones that there are are mostly pretty good, like Kensal Green,

Brentford Basin, Victoria Park (of which I have no picture),
Three Mills

and of course Limehouse, where the eagle eyed will just make out Herbie on the far wall (click to see it bigger).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In praise of artisans

About thirty years ago I was privileged to get to know a basket maker called George Frost. George was getting on in years and he had been making baskets since he left school at age fourteen when he was apprenticed to a local firm. Using only his bare hands and two or three simple tools an awl, a file and some secateurs he could make eighteen or twenty top quality bicycle baskets ( the D shaped type) in a day. He made us a dog basket in twenty minutes! Amongst his other products were huge baskets for hot air balloons, although I'm told that today, the requirements of the necessary certificate of airworthiness would prevent this!

George taught me to make my own simple willow basket which although far from perfect survives to this day. He was a simple man with a rare dignity to match his gentle sense of humour and I admired him greatly.

So I am very pleased these days that there are still people making useful and aesthetically pleasing items from simple materials using one or two tools and their bare hands. I've just ordered a new bow fender for Herbie from Mick Betts who lives aboard Nb Agnes Blomfield on the Grand Union at Cosgrove. Although he looks nothing like him, Mick reminds me of George in so many ways. I could buy a fender much closer to home but getting one directly from someone like Mick is much more rewarding. We''ll collect it in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is it a boat? Is it a tank? Is it unique?

This is the culprit. The boat that strew rushes all over the canal last weekend. A fascinating craft though. It steers like a tank having either or both tracks moving, and seems to go quite well, although I would think that it feels quite choppy to the driver.
I didn't see it come ashore but it looks like it just crawled up the slipway under its own steam. Has anyone else ever seen one?

Monday, September 14, 2009

This is Slough, not Jerusalem - BW please note

Jesus rode into Jersulam on an ass and might have been quite pleased to have palm leaves scattered in his path. Herbie cruised into Slough and was not at all pleased to have rushes scattered in our path. BW, who I suppose mean well, sent a contractor down the Slough Arm to clear the banks for the canal festival. This he did very well, and we had somewhere nice to moor because of it. (more on his very unusual boat tomorrow).

Then he went and spoilt it all by returning up the canal unnecessarily cutting down bankside rushes with abandon and leaving huge rafts of them floating on the surface. This on the very day that boats would be arriving for the festival. Absolutely everyone arrived late and cursing BW for being so stupid. We had all had to stop umpteen times to clear the rushes from our propellors.

Then all over the weekend the trip boats taking people for rides had the same problem. Grrrrr!!!
Here's one in one of the few clear bits. The boat trips were the only thing at the festival that people had to pay for. Entry was free.

In spite of the rushes, everyone had a jolly time and there was a good turnout of local people in the sunshine and a lot of them were very interested in the boats. We did several guided tours over Herbie. People are generally amazed by the inside of a narrowboat if they've never been on one. Next year I'm going to erect an "answers to frequently asked questions" board.
No we don't live on it.
Yes it has a bed and a toilet
No its not cold in winter
Anything between 10 thousand and 120 thousand pounds
Yes you can come in and have a look
etc etc
Only six narrowboats showed up, plus the preserved working boat Roger and I think three trip boats supplied by community projects. We did our bit with our recycled plastic bag bunting seen here in the Friday night sunset.

On the Saturday evening the boaters and helpers gathered for a huge Indian meal with about ten times as much food as we could eat! That was good. Next year they also want to sort out the beer - there was no real ale - and it'll be just right.

On the field - ferret racing, dog agility displays, farm animals for the kids, fairground organs, a childrens entertainer, and best of all a superb birds of prey display, flying huge vultures and American and golden eagles - all rescue birds from failed zoo projects or previous incompetent owners. The guy gave a fascinating talk on each bird as her showed it and they all seemed to respond to him. Taking a picture of an eagle or a vulture as it flies at you is not easy and I got countless missed and blurred shots.

These were the best in flight photos I could manage. First a golden eagle
then a huge griffon vulture

Sunday was Grace's second birthday so we had a bank side tea party, which she liked and gave us a wink of acknowledgement to prove it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Do you get fixated on things when you start to get interested in them? I tend to. One of my fixations this year, which may not surprise you is signwriting. Today I have been trawling through my computer's photo files and tagging different types, and I found I had quite a lot of snaps of boat name signwriting. One or two are so good that I can hardly wait to have a go at copying it.

Take this one, seen at Thorpe Meadows in Peterborough this year. To me it seems so vibrant and lively despite being in black, white and grey.

Looking closely you can see that it's done freehand apart from masking strips to get straight edges top and bottom, but what I like are the little white lines that bring it to life. Click on the picture and you'll see what I mean.
Actually it was a cracking little boat too, although I can't imagine how it got it's strange name.. I like trad boats in this colour scheme, although I'm not sure it would suit Herbie so well.
Tomorrow we're off down to the Slough Canal Festival and we'll have no internet connection until we get home on Monday, so to keep you amused until then, how about this jolly bit of art on a boat that moors very near Bull's Bridge.

and the owners of course are:

No I will not be attempting an idea like this on Herbie!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

You'll never believe it, but its true!

Nothing to do with boats or canals, but I have to tell you of the bizzare event that happened to me today.

I was fishing at my usual place, an old manor house pond with real wild fish - not the farm bred ones that most commercial fisheries provide these days. The carp in this pond often reside right under the rhododendron bushes at the bank side so you have to sit well back from the edge and fish almost under the rod tip at times. The photo you see here was taken from my seat, so you can see I'm well back from the water.
During the morning I caught a carp of just under ten pounds, so I wasn't too upset when it all went quiet in the afternoon and there was no sign of fish biting. I just sat enjoying the sunshine and the view with my rod and reel at my elbow.

Then as I idly reached down to pack up some bits there was a clatter, and quick as a flash, before I could react, the rod and reel leapt from their rest and just like a javelin dived six feet forward and into the water - right from my elbow! The rod sank immediately (the reel being quite heavy) , and in a state of shock I thought first of the loss of my rod and reel, and then of the fish attached to it, although no doubt the fish wouldn't be long in freeing itself as I use barbless hooks.

All I could do was stare at the water for a minute, thinking there was nothing I could do. A friend fishing nearby came along to commiserate, then more in hope than expectation I grabbed the landing net and fished about on the pond bed (only three feet deep) in the faint hope of finding the rod. Amazingly I did manage to find it and with some difficulty managed to snare the reel and hoist rod and reel to the surface. Grabbing the rod handle I stood up, and lo and behold the fish, still attached, took off again. Well I eventually landed it, to find that it wasn't particularly big - probably about six or seven pounds (the carp record is nearly seventy pounds). The fish seemed none the worse for its adventure and it swam off happily once returned to the water.

And here it is, photographed by my friend. Not the biggest carp in the pond, but one I won't forget in a hurry!

Monday, September 07, 2009

London only half isolated!

Well none of you spotted my mistake yesterday, but Kath did. Boaters in London will be able to get to the Thames all winter - via Bulls Bridge and Brentford. But if they turn right at Bull's Bridge they'll come to a dead end in half an hour or so. I guess the lower GU will be lovely and quiet like last last year when we were cut off from the North down as far as Denham.

By the way, I wrote to BW about Iron Bridge lock. I'll let you know if I get a reply. And I found a lovely old photo of the lock on the lovely Francis Frith collection site - take a look. The cottage is gone now.

I also found this picture (2007 -pre Herbie roof paint!) of the same lock
and a group of gongoozlers watching Kath toiling away at the windlass. The more astute amongst you will notice that the bridge is made of brick, not iron, so I can only assume that its present name is a hangover from an earlier incarnation.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

London isolated in 2010

We usually enjoy a short winter cruise down to Brentford after Christmas, taking in the fab Fox pub of course, or maybe up to Paddington or Camden but it looks like we'll have to give it a miss this time. BW have just published their stoppage programme for this winter and for a short time London will be out of bounds unless you're already there, in which case you'll be trapped!

Boats in central London will have no way of reaching the Thames or of going North for a few weeks because the Grand Union canal will be closed at Yiewsely, just south of Cowley for the last half of January and the first half of February, and the Regents Canal at Victoria park, on the East side of London will be closed for nearly three months whilst bank repairs are done.

If we go out on Herbie we'll have to go North, where we'll have a day or two's cruising before we meet a stoppage.

What I fail to understand is why they STILL have no plans to fix Ironbridge Lock in Cassiobury Park. Everyone who uses this lock knows that it's the slowest in the world to fill, and has been for some years. The leakage on the bottom gates is only marginally less that the pathetic amount of water let in by the top gate paddles. Half an hour to fill is quite normal here.

Can it be that BW likes you to take a long time here so all the gongoozlers can enjoy the spectacle, for it is the prime spot for gongoozling? I suppose not. I'm much more of a believer in cock up than in conspiracy.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

When I'm sixty four

Today, as is my wont, I was singing to my self (well no-one else wants to hear it!):

When I get older , losing my hair
Many years - Ohh

pause of sudden realisation

Eighteen months from now !!!!!!!!!

Blimey I'm the old geezer in the song very nearly. That brought me up short, I can tell you. I even have grandchildren on my knee, even if they aren't called Vera, Chuck and Dave.

I reckon I'm lucky to be this age now. Able to retire probably ten years younger than my kids will. Mortgage paid off because it was never more than twice my salary. Loads of narrowboat owners - especially the cruising rather than the live aboard type, are in my generation. I wonder how many of my kid's generation will have the time or the savings, or pension to own and run a boat for pleasure.

Or maybe they will. Most of our boats will outlast us old fogeys, so perhaps our kids will inherit them. Note to self - look after boat.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Travelling along the M4 today we were commenting on the unrelenting naffness of the straplines on vans. You know the sort of thing - XYZ logistics -carrying your cares away or worse still XYZ logistics - caring for the environment through green fueled transportation.

When we repaint Herbie I'd like to have a strapline beneath the boat name - something like

or perhaps
all suggestions welcomed.
Actually, I'm rather tempted by
because that's where we live. If you've got it why not flaunt it!
How about a naff strapline
If you are thinking of renaming a boat, may I suggest:

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Boats flock to Slough ?????

Yes in a week's time (12/13 Sep) it's the Slough Canal Festival when, unless the weather is truly awful, Herbie plus maybe a few other boats will flock down the arm in order to remind the good folk of Slough that they have a canal to play with. If you have a boat nearby and have the time, we could do with some extra support so come on down. You know you'll love it! Or come by car if you have to. Parking is plentiful.

Last year Saltysplash brought Lady Elgar (and Laura) to join us, but this year he's made some excuse about getting married that day. No sense of priority that man! Here he is with Kath last year admiring the neatly mown canal bank. Lady Elgar is there somewhere in the undergrowth. I think this year they might actually prepare the banks - we'll wait and see.
The festival is a modest affair but the locals seem to enjoy it very much. Entrance is free. They have craft stalls, a little funfair, usually a display of stationary engines, ferret racing, and this year they promise a birds of prey display. Oh I nearly forgot the Beer Tent and a stall selling very tasty locally made samosas. This is Slough after all. The IWA have a stall there and the Environment Agency gives fishing lessons to the kids - very popular. There is also a visit by the most famous Slough celebrity, the Dulux Dog. Dulux is a sponsor of the festival, the site being not far from their paint factory.

I understand a local hall has been booked for "evening entertainment" for boaters and helpers. Last year they had a rather good trad jazz band, although the organisation was chaotic to say the least.

The Slough Arm is one of those waterways where the navigability only hangs on by the skin of its teeth. If boaters don't show an interest, you know what might happen! Cruise it or lose it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Signwriting lessons teach yourself style

The family weren't all that keen on the plain block style I showed you the other day, so I had a go at a serifed font and produced this.

I think this one was about three quarters full size.

I'm trying as best I can to replicate what I would have to do when painting Herbie for real, so this time I did no actual measured marking out on the lettering itself. Instead I had a great idea. Well I think it is anyway. I put all the measurements of thicknesses, widths and spacings along a single line above the lettering, the using a home made square and the mahl stick, drew the letters from that. On the actual boat I could do the measuirng line on a piece of masking tape, work all the letters in the same way without having to mark out the actual paint surface. So all the lines you see in the picture above are done using the mahl stick only.

The other thing I am learning is that painting is probably a bit more forgiving than the felt tip drawings I have done so far. If you go off line with the felt tip you can't erase it, but with new paint onto a gloss surface you can quickly wipe off any slips with a rag and try again.

For my next experiment I'm going to go back to paint on metal ( or perhaps wood) , but first I have to get a really good painted surface, so more painting and rubbing down practice. This all takes a long time but time is something I have, being retired, and I would like to make a good job of the real thing when I pluck up the courage to do it. If I can do as well as friend Leon did on his boat the Old Bovine, I'll be very happy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Sad tidings

Two years ago, coming down the Grand Union, we paired up with a boat called Shallmar and got on so well with the owners Graham and Sandra Marshall, that we stayed together for a few days. When Jacob fell in the canal at Cassiobury and I dived in to pull him out, they quickly caught up and treated us for shock with hot drinks.

We purposely met up with them again later to accompany them down to Brentford and later again when they gave us a ride from Henley to Pangbourne on the Thames in Strong Stream conditions. Since then we have kept in touch by email, swapping stories of children and grandchildren.

We were hoping to meet up with G&S on the Nene this year but at the last minute they had to divert to Gloucester where their son had been ill. Today we heard the news that Graham, a fit 65 year old with boundless energy, has suddenly died.

Sadly this is the only photo I have of them, taken at some distance as they approached the weir at Henley
In the short time we knew Graham we quickly appreciated what an extraordinary man he was. Sandra's tales of his works left us in awe of his persistence, energy and , well, just extraordinary capability. He was one of those guys who actually made a difference. He got things done on other peoples behalf. At his boat club on the Chesterfield canal he had achieved all sorts of improvements and provision of facilities. At their holiday home somewhere in Eastern England (I think), he had waded through a minefield of legislation to get rights for his co-tenants. A real champion.

We are doubly sad now that we weren't able to meet up this year and as for poor Sandra I don't know what to say. Our hearts go out to her. She is a lovely lady.