Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fear and trepidation No 4

Checking through my old blog posts I see that I have three times before used the title “Fear and Trepidation”.  Well I make no excuses for using it again this time, in fact maybe I should have called it FEAR AND TREPIDATION!!!, for on Saturday we are joining the Indigo Dreamers for their scariest trip yet.

Not just out on to the tidal Thames,

not just through the Thames barrier,

not just dodging the Woolwich ferries and past Barking creek,

but right underneath the QEII (M25) bridge at Dartford and on to where boats become ships and Men become Kentish.

All the way to Gravesend in fact. 

I don’t know how many narrowboats have ever been out at far, but it must be very few. It’s about three times further from the Isle of Dogs than we have been before and more than half way to the open sea.  I sincerely hope the waves aren’t three times higher than we have seen at Barking because even in good weather we encountered quite a swell out there last time.  Here is a picture of us heading back towards the Thames barrier a year ago on a flat calm day.

pageant etc 132_edited-1

Looking on the satellite view on Google maps, it seems that when we pass West Thurrock, the river will be at least twice this wide!

I can tell you now that there is no way I would be taking Herbie out there, but I think that on board Indigo Dream, we’ll be as safe as anybody can be.  Richard and Sue are now veteran tideway cruisers and that’s why they have been allowed on this invitation only St Pancras Cruising Club outing. I expect it’ll be terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. I may do what I did in the pageant last year and put up a  few blog posts as we go along.  If any of them say blub blub gurgle gurgle, send out the lifeboats.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Crick show report–worrying statistics

You heard it here first.  Shock statistic.  According to my calculations 99.99% of visitors to the 2013 Crick Boat Show did not buy a boat!  Despite this abject failure, most people seemed to be having a good time buying hats, jam, bits of rope and rather a lot of beer.  Well, that’s what we bought anyway. Oh and a nice copper lamp.

The person most pleased with his purchase was Freddie off our neighbouring boat who got a new neckerchief.


Shanks were selling  a brand new (32 hp?) diesel engine, fully marinised, two alternators, warranties  and all that for two thousand quid!  I don’t know what the regular price is but you don’t get much engine for that price these days.

We decided not to buy a boat this time as half of them cost £150,000 each.  The one that won Best in Show was the one that cost £175,000. Surprise surprise.  We would have given the prize to the £71,000 Aintree Boats 57 footer which was just as well built, painted and fitted as the dearer ones, but a lot less pretentious.  Aintree also showed a cute little 25 footer which was very cleverly laid out.

There are all sorts of clever people there to ask awkward questions of. I talked to a couple of experts about whether it would be OK to try to remove our prop whilst the boat was still in the water. They both said No. Doh.

RCR have kept rather quiet about the fact that members can get a free copy of a region of e-canalmapp for their tablet or iphone. We eventually spotted the e-canalmapp man skulking at the back of the stand and now we have our free copy on Kath’s ipad.  Actually the man was very nice, and it’s clear that they are doing a lot of work to keep the data up to date. After a short play with it, it looks pretty good, and even if you have to buy it, it’s a lot cheaper than a Nicholsons or whatever.

On the entertainment stage, Best Band in my not at all humble opinion was a tribute band playing the music of The Police – very arresting.  The only thing that put me off them was that the bloke paying Sting looked too much like David Coulthard.  Best music off stage was me and Kath playing on the back of Herbie.  We must have been good because no-one asked us to stop. Two people flocked to see us and to ask the customary questions about what Kath’s dulcimer was.  We must get one of those explanatory display boards made up.

We still had some cake left at the end, although the Halfies and the Briar Roses did come and eat some of it. John and Jan halfie took up our offer of a bed aboard Herbie on Sunday night and I am pleased to report that they were very well behaved.

The most exciting event of the weekend happened on Monday afternoon when a boat leaving the marina appeared to have been driven by a maniac and crashed into a pontoon, then the swing footbridge, then the far bank of the canal.  So hard did he hit the footbridge that it is now out of action pending repair.  The boat’s name has been noted and he will no doubt be hearing from the marina staff. Whether the boat itself sustained any serious damage, I know not.

So that was it really.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Windy Crick

Blimey it was windy yesterday. When we arrived here at Crick the winds was hammering down the marina. People were looking anxiously over to all the show marquees, wondering if any of them would blow down.

We quickly got inside Herbie, but soon had to go out again when the tonneau cover from the rear deck tried to blow away. Luckily one of the elastics snagged on a cleat and saved the day. Ten minutes later there was a clank and a bang and our gangplank blew off the roof!

Boaters' cars have been moved into a field behind the show ground as there is no access to the normal ones near the boats. I had to make a few trips with a wheelbarrow to ferry all our stuff on board. Coming back on the last of these trips I heard the toot of a steam whistle and looking up, saw Nb President and her butty Kildare (probably the most famous pair of narrowboats) turning into the marina entrance. They stopped in the entrance for a few minutes while they tried to work out how they were going to get to their allotted show place. Eventually they just went for it.

Luckily for them the wind was blowing in exactly the opposite direction to that which it normally does. Had that not been so, they would no doubt have ended up at the wrong end of the marina, stuck against a raft of boats moved out of the way for the show.

We popped over to the beer tent in the evening where the local marina band were playing. We were surprised so many people had friend out as it was so cold. We didn't stay long, but long enough to note that they have nearly 40 real ales set up and half a dozen ciders. It seems like we have left one beer festival and arrived at another.

This morning the wind is dropped and it is sunny. Show time!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Beer market research

Oh the sacrifices I make in finding out facts for my readers. I've been doing more in depth analysis of the Cambridge Beer Festival catalogue. But before all that, a report on today's events.

Today we went to find to more about a dead body at the end of our garden. Well, just outside our garden actually. Our house backs on to a church graveyard and just beyond our fence lies the body of one Frederick Jackson a noted polar explorer who led an expedition to Franz Joseph Land and rescued the more famous Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen after he had failed to reach the North Pole in 1896. Anyway, here in Cambridge they have the Scott Polar
Museum where we learned a big more about our illustrious near neighbour as well as the harrowing story of the ill fated Scott expedition to the South Pole. Good museum, and well worth looking you if you are in Cambridge.

Later we called in to see how Amy and James (the Ducks)were progressing with their fitting out of mb Willow. So far so good, but my word they have plenty to keep them busy for a few months yet. We do admire their energy in bringing this great old boat back to life.

Afterwards we all toddled over to the beer festival were we continued our diligent research into beers and ciders, plus a very interesting mead. After James and Amy left to get a bit more done on their boat, we fell to chatting to two complete strangers who happened to be sharing our table. So pleasant were they that we all ended up tasting each others drinks and had a very jolly evening.

Now to the serious matter of the answers to last nights quiz about beery adjectives. My analysis of the beer festival tasting notes showed the the most popular descriptors were.

1. Fruity with 33 mentions
2. Citrus with 25 mentions
3. Chocolate with 16 mentions
4. Spicy with 11 mentions
5. Floral with 8 mentions

So we may presume that these flavours represent the most popular tastes in modern real ales.

You may well be surprised at the rating for chocolate, but perhaps not when I point out that it is a taste most often applied to descriptions of stouts and porters, probably made popular in the younger generation thanks to Arthur Guinness.

Stouts and porters in fact made up 33 of the 212 beers at the festival, even more than the currently fashionable golden ales of which there were 25 to taste. Surprisingly, there were 25 miles on offer and no less than 19 "speciality beers" contains various fruits and the like. Of course the rest, about half of the list consisted of standard bitters.

As to strength, the majority were in the normal 4 to 5 percent alcohol band, although there were 44 beers at less than 4% and only a handful above 6%. I think the strongest was a stout at 10.5%.

Maybe you can guess the percentage alcohol of a beer called Pi.

I have to say that I was generally very impressed by all the ones I tasted. Most were really lovely. There are some very clever brewers out there these days. CAMRA certainly know how to keep and serve a beer in tip top condition. It's a pity that a lot of pubs can't do the same. It strikes me that the big improvement in beer flavours in recent years has mainly come for the wider variety of hops in use, particularly those from abroad. They really do produce some amazing flavours.

Perhaps the nicest drink we tried though, was a lovely apple and pear cider from Herefordshire. Sadly it ran out before we could return for a second helping.

So that for us was this years Cambridge beer festival. Friendly, very well run, and very popular- it looked no less crowded than last year when they had 41,000 visitors over the week.

Tomorrow we set off for Crick. From beer to boats.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Beery adjectives quiz

What do you think might be the most common adjective to describe the taste of a real ale. Well of course there is bitter and perhaps malty, but tonight I have been engaged in intensive research to bring the tasting vocabulary up to date.

We've just got back from our first evening at the Cambridge beer festival, and whilst we were supping our halves of Fraoch heather ale and Ginger Tosser and the like, I did a count up of the most popular words used in the tasting notes of the 212 ales in the catalogue. Now I should add that we only tasted six beers between us tonight, most of them half pints, so there notes refer to what is written in the catalogue, not what we tasted.

A huge range of descriptors were found in the notes, many naming specific fruits or spices such as pomegranates, cloves, liquorice, elderflowers etc. I couldn't possibly bore you with them all, but after discounting such generic terms as bitterness, malt, hops and sweetness, here are the top ten in alphabetical order.

Spice /spicy

Would anyone care to guess what the top three or four in terms of frequency of use were? You might be surprised. Answers tomorrow.

BTW those we have tasted tonight have all been remarkably good, because the tasting notes help us to find the ones we like. Once again we were blown away by the gorgeous BBC2 from Brentwood Brewery. This lovely beer comes in at an unbelievably low 2.5% alcohol. It has more taste and aroma than many a much much stronger beer. If Brentwood can do it, why can't the others?

Yours in moderation

The Herbies.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Not Shakespeare

In our house it smells of cake
Made by Kath and freshly baked
Tomorrow night we may be seen
Tasting ale on Jesus Green
On Thursday night with any luck
We might find time to meet a Duck
Or two.

On Friday morn to Crick we'll go
To settle in before the Show
Next day we'll visit all the stands
And sit and listen to the bands
We hope before the weekend ends
We might meet up with an old friend
Or two

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Crick show offer to Herbie readers

Boats that don't normally belong in our part of the marina were beginning to appear in our row last week, and more and more empty pontoons were appearing at the other end. Yes they're clearing the decks for the Crick show next weekend. Our usually peaceful marina with everything in its proper place will become a log jam of boats. Our usual car park will be full of exhibitor stands and the adjacent field will be a whole village of marquees. All those fancy new boats will be arriving this week and the marquees will be going up. Will there be another purple and yellow boat with white gunnels to admire? Well you never know I suppose.

As compensation for the disruption, we Crick moorers benefit from free entry to the show so of course we'll be there. Crick show is a good place for meeting boating friends so look us out. We can't spend the whole three days looking at the exhibits so it would be nice to do a bit of entertaining aboard our vessel. Should you spot us strolling about or in the bar then we have a special offer for you. All you have to do is to approach us and say "You are the Herbies and I claim my cup of tea and piece of cake" and your request may well be granted, (although not necessarily at that instant). Provided of course you haven't mistaken someone else for us. (That would be a fun conversation.) If you have never been aboard Herbie you can come and marvel at what what an ordinary little boat she is.

Meanwhile there is the small matter of our annual visit to the Cambridge beer festival to get out of the way.

It's a hard life.

The difference between sailing and narrowboating

As you all know, we went sailing on the Norfolk broads last weekend.  Although we have been doing this once a year for a few years now, I could not by any stretch of the imagination claim to know much about sailing.  It occurs to me that there are some similarities to narrowboating, but rather more differences.  Let’s examine them. (Perhaps I should say first that I’m not talking about sailing round the world here, but rather about tootling round the Norfolk broads which are rather like a series of small rivers, similar to the upper Thames or the Soar, interspersed with larger expanses of open water.)


  • Sailing is often said to be like standing under a cold shower tearing up ten pound notes. It is largely the same for canal boating except we have a cup of tea in our hands.
  • The bottom of the water is too near the top.  You WILL run aground.
  • The banks of the waterway have a magnetic attraction for boats. Your boat will head for the bushes /reeds every time you take your mind off steering for a millisecond.
  • Some people on hire boats may well try to ram you amidships.
  • At the end of the day you always end up at a pub.

But . .


  • When I cruise on a narrowboat I generally don’t fear I might die. Whereas on a sailing boat it seems quite plausible for much of the time.
  • When a narrowboat passes a tree or a bankside hut it does not generally grind to a halt, whereas sailing boats lose all motive power until suddenly without any warning they take of at terrifying speeds and head for the nearest obstacle.
  • When a narrowboat passes under a low bridge you have to duck and maybe take off the chimney.  When a sailing boat passes under a low bridge you have to untie ropes galore and take half the boat to bits, row or paddle through the bridge and then reassemble it all on the other side.  This takes at l;east three attempts as all the ropes have become tangled in the pile of mast and spars.
  • Talking of ropes, narrowboats have about four, sailing boats have about four hundred, all looking the same.  None of them are actually called ropes. Church bell ringing experience probably helps.   
  • Narrowboaters like no wind.  Sailors like a bit but not too much.  When the wind does blow sailors like it to be from the side, which is just where a narrowboater hates it.
  • Sailing boats can't climb hills.
  • When a narrowboat collides with something, the something generally comes off worse.  When a sailing boat hits something, even gently, bits break off and you lose your deposit.
  • Canal boats have their own language of about fifty words naming parts of the boats etc many are decipherable by non cognoscenti.  Sailing boats have their own language of about five hundred words, none of which are intelligible to normal people.

So there you have it.  You can tell by my observations that I find sailing alternately terrifying and baffling.  Fun for a weekend per annum, but for the rest of the time I‘ll stick to our tin tub. where I have some vague idea of what I am supposed to be doing.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A secret passage discovered

Yesterday was set aside for me and Rick to fit Herbie's new thermostatic shower mixer. Regular readers may recall that in order to get to the water connections behind the bath, we were planning to tunnel through from the saloon. A dangerous and non trivial task as it required dismantling the Tv / radio shelves and cutting a hole on the wall, hoping it would be in the right place. The escape committee had spent some hours devising a plan and a stash of tools of various types assembled for the delicate operation.

Well it must have been my lucky day because after I had dismantled the shelves and disconnected three million wires, I noticed a small board screwed to the back wall and so I unscrewed it and hey presto, a large hole in just the right place giving good hand and arm access to the water pipe fittings behind the shower mixer. So that's obviously how the original mixer had been installed in the first place. Neat.

Naturally the course of true plumbing never runs smooth. First the holes in the bath to take the fittings were too small and had to be opened out, and then the fittings I had bought turned out to be the wrong size so we then wasted a couple of hours driving around Hillmorton, Braunston and finally Daventry to get something that would fit. But we did, and when we resumed early this morning it all went pretty smoothly. By ten o'clock we were done and dusted. Well, done anyway, I did the dusting (hoovering up) later when Rick had departed for home.

So now we can have a shower on Herbie without getting alternately scalded and frozen and without having to fiddle with two taps to get the temperature right. Jobsagoodun.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Broads sailing weekend - no-one perished yet

Day 2 of our annual sailing weekend over and despite all the warnings about high winds and 30 odd mph gusts, it has not been too calamitous as we all decided to reef down the sails to the maximum. This is ok until the boats enter into a tree lined area when we catch no wind and end up being unable to move or steer. No-one yet has qualified for the Bowsprit Trophy, awarded to the skipper whose boat causes or sustains the most damage. Were the trophy awarded for the best display of incompetence or most embarrassing moment it would be a different matter.

It would be a split decision between Rick's boat getting stuck in an apple tree on the river Bure, necessitating taking the sails down to extract themselves and our boat floundering around in the middle of Ranworth Broad whist we were unable to work out why the sails wouldn't go up.

On that latter occasion, had Rick not spotted that we had let our scissors (folding mahogany supports to support the lowered boom, mast etc) fall into the water we might still be looking for them now and would have automatically won the trophy on account of having lost the damage deposit.

Yesterday, our transit beneath the fabled Potter Heigham bridge was less than dignified. Wind and tide was against us as we lowered the masts and set off paddling towards the two parallel bridges, the single span modern one and the arched ancient one. I was in the first of the three boats. On reaching the first bridge the wind was so strong that it blew us backwards and we had to gather our strength and try again. By the time we reached the narrow arch of the second bridge the tide was ripping through against us and we barely made it. I thought my arms were going to drop off.

So then we returned on foot to collect boat no 2 with an enlarged crew of four paddlers and one steerer and made a rather better fist of it. By the time we got to boat no3 we were getting severely knackered so resorted to having six paddlers and one steerer. Despite all the extra power the added weight in the boat didn't help and we still managed to struggle, but we made it somehow. Anyone watching, and there were a few, must have thought what a ragbag crew we were.

Should be some miracle we survive without any damage to the boats the Trophy will have yet another rollover year.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Long Itchington photos and guide

As promised some proper camera photos of our Long Itchington trip rather than the ipad ones I have substituted of late.

Long Itch is not a very big village.  Most of it lies a few minutes walk north of the canal.  Local secret no 1. -  if you walk under the canal bridge past the Two Boats pub and round the back of a little brick hut, you come to a metal kissing gate.  Pass through that and follow the path across the fields through more kissing gates, and you will come to the centre of the old part of the village.  Much nicer than walking up the road.

This part of the village has some fine old buildings, a village green with a largish pond, and four of the six, yes six, village pubs, the other two being down by the Grand Union canal near the foot of Stockton locks.  Its a good place to make an overnight stop between Hatton /Warwick and Wigrams turn.  Apart from the six pubs there is a small co-op store near the church and a tiny convenience store hidden in the housing estate near the canal.

Should you have lots of money and want to buy a canal boat, then Colecraft on the road into the village will make you one.  But not I fear while you wait.


For the past six years the village has put on a beer festival during which all six pubs co-operate to put on a range of ales and ciders, each pub having a different selection.  Normal food menus are suspended and you have to make do with barbecues selling burgers (beef and water buffalo), sausages, and chicken etc.  I imagine this is not a good festival for vegetarians.  Several of the pubs have live music outside at different times.  It seems quite acceptable to buy a drink in one pub, take your full glass out and wander along to drink it in another!  Apparently after the festival, the publicans all meet up and have a glass sort out.

The fine weather this year brought a lot of people in and lots of people were sitting on the green or on the grass verges near the pubs.


The festival seemed to be a relaxed family affair.  I didn’t notice any hard drinking going on, and it was interesting to see a lot of young (20s) people studying the tasting notes and sampling this or that ale.  I don’t think a great deal of lager was sold.

If you couldn’t face all that walking between pubs, then the horse drawn caravan would take you for a quid.  The rather wonderful steam tractor (note the rubber tyres) that showed up was i think just there to enjoy the occasion.


Just look at that paintwork.


Which is the best pub?  I don’t really know.  In the village centre, the Bell and Buck near the green was nice and I suspect might be the main eatery in normal times.  The Harvester and the Green Man just down the road were cosy. I suspect the serious ale tasters normally went to the Harvester.  We were unimpressed by the large Duck on the Pond, a Charles Wells tied house.

Down by the canal you have the Two Boats another Wells House.


IMG_2219 They are currently advertising for a tenant.  If you have £30,000 up front to spare and reckon you can achieve a turnover of nearly £1000 a day(!!!) selling only the drinks they supply and doing your own food thing the they would be interested to hear from you.  No wonder so many pub co houses are closing.

Across the canal is the much larger Cuttle Inn which looked as though it might be good although it was packed out in the evenings because they had live bands performing, so we couldn’t see what it was normally like.  The Cuttle has a large garden sweeping down to the canal.  Here we see the Two Boats from the Cuttle garden


Given good weather next year, I can recommend it as a good event to visit by boat.  There is plenty of mooring space. I don’t think you have to like beer to enjoy the atmosphere, but it does help if you like burgers!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Trepidation and satisfaction

The weather forecasters tell us were in for some gales. This is not good, for at the weekend we're off to our annual sailing holiday on the Norfolk Broads. Our level of sailing expertise is pretty primitive to put it mildly and places like Hickling Broad are not the ones you would choose to sail in a gale. It might only be four feet deep, but if a boat goes over, it's a long way to the bank.

If it looks too blowy I shall be brave enough to say I am not brave enough to sail that day, at least across the big expanses of water.

On another subject, as we arrived at the foot of Watford locks today I made the customary walk up the hill to find the lock keeper to book in. As most people know, it is written in the scriptures that whenever a boater shall arrive at these locks , then the lock keep shall be at the other end. So there I was puffing and blowing up the hill when I remarked to another boater that this would either get me fit or kill me and he kindly pointed out that it would cost me a fortune to get this kind of exercise if I joined a gym. Briefly, I felt better about it, then on second thoughts I was forced to reply, "yes but this is costing me a fortune anyway".

Never mind, I'd much rather do a flight of locks than spend an hour pedalling on some exercise bike. Our cruise this week has reminded me why I like boating. The countryside has been lovely, the people friendly and interesting and the quiet hours relaxing on the boat after a hard days locking have been a tonic.

Kath has put the evenings to good use remembering forgotten tunes on her dulcimer. Several have come back to life like old friends returning from abroad.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Solar perplexus

We Brits are a funny lot. Today the weather had been sublime. For boating just about perfect. And yet almost everyone we have chatted to at locks or on the canal bank has reminded us that it'll rain tomorrow or Thursday.

Over the past few days our solar panel has really been earning its keep. We stayed put at Long Itchington for three whole days without needing to run the engine. In fact in weather like this I reckon the panel could keep us going almost indefinitely. It's been putting in between 4 and 6 amps all day which is quite enough for our fridge, lights radio etc.

Now we interrupt this programme for a news flash. The New Inn at Buckby top lock has reopened. This much missed waterside facility is once again available for all who pass, although food wise there is a limited menu pending the arrival of new kitchen equipment. An investigative team sent to sample the beer this evening reported that it is very good. Now back to the studio.

Guess where we are moored this evening. If you can't, here's a photo or two.

Ps congrats to Adam for correctly guessing last night's spot
Pps re the water and the log. You weigh the log (in grams) when new and then several months later. The difference is the weight of water lost. Pour that many ml of water in a glass and there you see it.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Evening cruising

Well who'd a thunk it?! An English bank holiday with lovely weather. The crowds had diminished somewhat at long Itchington beer festival today but there were still plenty of people sitting on the green supping ales and listening to the music. Yesterday we found the pretty way from the canal to the village and used it again today. I feel I ought to write a boaters guide to LI now that we have got the hang of the place.

We decided to hang around until 4pm before launching our assault on the 10 locks above the village. This proved to be a Good Idea and it was so pleasant in the warm early evening that we pressed on further than planned to our current mooring. I bet someone out there can tell from the profile of the canal bank in the photo below exactly where we are.

Maybe it was just the fine weather and the spring blossom, but we began to realise just what an attractive flight of locks the Stockton locks are. A sort of mini Hatton, but in more attractive surroundings.

We could no doubt get all the way back to Crick tomorrow, but if the weather stays fine, why rush?

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Itchington and water

I bet you're ITCHING TO kNow how the Long Itchington beer festival is going (sorry, couldn't resist). If you have never been to such an event it is almost certain your idea of it is wrong. No, there are no groups of pot bellied men muttering about malt and hops, just normal people of all ages from teens to my age and beyond, sitting in the pubs or on the grass of the village green and having conversations about anything.

It's all jolly nice, but for a full report you'll have to wait until I get home and can download the photos from my cameras. Stupidly I forgot to bring the appropriate connecting leads.

It feels abit like spring is here at last although we are still lighting the stove on Herbie at night. The journey here was good and lots of wild flowers came out to greet us. However, Kath is upset because when she wasn't with us (me, Rick and Marilyn) when we at last managed to meet up with Lesley and Joe on Yarwood at Braunston and Joe gave us the guided tour of their lovely boat. We have been rubbing it in all weekend.

Meanwhile, while you wait patiently for the full Itchington report, I have something interesting to show you. If you look at the photo at the foot of this post, you will see a small log and a glass of water. The glass of water is an accurate measure of the amount of water that has dried out from this log since September. I know this because I am an anorak who goes around weighing bits of wood as they dry out. Anyway, it's pretty astonishing don't you think? That's why you should season your firewood before burning it.