Sunday, May 29, 2016

Extreme Narrowboating 2–negotiating the maze.

Note: If you haven’t read Part 1, do that first. In fact even if you had read it on Sunday, you might like to do so again now that I have fixed a lot of the typos – especially the missing “no” in the sentence Sue and Richard on Indigo dream are previous Herbie Award holders in recognition of their bounteous hospitality and today was to be no exception.  Anyhow, here we go with part 2

After the thrills and thankfully no spills of the first half of our mega journey we arrived at our turning point opposite Southend.  This might technically be the Thames estuary, but, come on, it’s the sea ain’t it. Resisting the temptation to cruise over to Southend Pier for an ice cream we somehow managed to identify the line of green buoys we were looking for, not at all easy as there were buoys all over the place.  It was a good job we didn’t head for the biggest bunch of buoys because it seems they mark the site of the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery which sank in 1944 with 1400 tonnes of explosives on board.  Bits of it appeared to be still sticking out of the water. On the map I showed in my previous post, the spot is marked by a star like shape. Suggestions of drifting over there dangling a sea searcher magnet were oddly ignored! 

If you draw a straight line from Shoeburyness on the Essex shore, through our position and on to the land on the South shore inside the Medway estuary, that’s over seven miles width of water.  A bit wider than yer average canal.

Having avoided the explosive wreck we did a wide sweep into the Medway estuary in search of our next explosive target, a socking great liquid gas tanker discharging its load inside a 250 metre exclusion zone.  Size wise, this picture doesn’t do it justice.  it was a whopper.


messages on the VHF were warning boats to keep away. We didn’t need much persuading. Imagine that lot going up! En route to it though, we still had some excitement when two lifeboats came roaring across our bows at some speed heading towards the open sea.  They didn’t miss us by much, I don’t think they were in any mood to stop.

lifeboat 2

We thought we were going fast until we saw these guys.


They didn’t even give us a wave, although they left us some choppy waves in their wake.


The Medway estuary is truly vast and has lots of islands and it took us hours to get through on a zig zag path so bewildering that I am not at all sure that the route I have marked on the map is the one we took  I’m glad to say though that the water conditions were nice and calm, which enabled the wonderful Sue to warm up the scrummy stew she had prepared.  It was an exact copy of a recipe she got from Rick Stein, except she had changed all the ingredients (and probably the method for all I know).  Anyhow it had lamb and almonds and chorizo and I want some more.  Rick Stein should be getting lessons from Sue.  We had been travelling for about eight hours so far and we still have twenty odd miles to go.

The wind had now died down a lot, so much so that a group of beautiful Thames sailing barges that I think had been racing earlier had slowed down to a stately crawl.  What fabulous boats.

barge 1


barge 2

After what seemed an age and after several blind bends in the shore line we entered something that actually looked a little bit like a river and we began to relax.  Well we would have done had we not ended up in the middle of a sailing dinghy race.  I’m not quite sure how we avoided a collision at this point, but we did. I don’t think they see a lot of narrowboats down here, especially coming off the sea. We got looks which said “How the hell did you get here?”  Anyhow, the seemed fairly amused when we asked if this was the way to Birmingham.

Having done all the scary stuff we were now oblivious to more warnings of explosions.



Soon came Rochester


and Chatham


or was it the other way round? Anyhow they both look well worth a visit, especially to the historic dockyard at Chatham.

Then on up the river, now looking like Kent and obviously beloved of plastic cruisers.


after which came some miles of winding through of salt marshes


before reaching a cosy quintessentially English landscape


and at last, at about half past four, our destination  Allington lock which lifted us off the tideway


and into the safety of the river


where we all stopped, had a glass of pink champagne, followed by a couple of pints (surprise surprise) at the Malta Inn. Well we’d flippin’ well earned it after eleven hours non stop cruising don’t you think?  In the pub we met up with some of the crews that had done the same trip in a larger flotilla a couple of weeks earlier.  They did it with overnight stops in Gravesend and Queenborough and had had flat calm and good visibility.  Amateurs Winking smile.

Millions of thanks to our unbelievably generous hosts Sue and Richard, our genial crew companions Trev and Jan, and Andrew and Frances Phasey on Doris Katia without whom none of us would have dared to make the trip.  I don’t suppose any of us will ever forget it.

Extreme narrowboating Part 1 - how we didn't drown - pictures and a video

This is the story of how we went further and for longer and at greater risk than we have ever gone before on a narrowboat in one day. Obviously I'm alive to tell the tale, so you can relax a bit, but there's plenty to raise your eyebrows if you read on.

I think they told us it was fifty eight miles we had to do in the one day, which is pretty good going at any time, but even more so allowing for wind and tide, for we were in tidal waters for the whole trip and in big big waters for more than half of it.  Eleven hours it took.

Here's where we went. You can zoom in and out of the map and I'll explain the symbols as we go along.

Here's the diary of the day.

4.15 am- Limehouse Basin, crawl out of bed aboard Nb Indigo Dream.  By the time we were washed and dressed and compus mentis we peered out of the window to find that our accompanying boat Nb Doris Katia, helmed by the redoubtable Andrew Phasey, had already set off.  Soon we were in full chase up Limehouse cut as the sun rose.

When we arrived at Bow Locks, Andrew was already making his way into the tide lock.

Timing was important, because the plan was to go down towards the sea on a falling tide, then as we turned back into the Medway estuary, we wanted the tide to be coming in, to help us to push inland.

5. 48am- we're off! (starting pistol on the map).  Down Bow Creek and out onto the Thames just by the O2 arena.  I remember the first time we did that, the river seemed massively wide.  Believe me that was nothing compared with what was to come.  Sue and Richard on Indigo dream are previous Herbie Award holders in recognition of their bounteous hospitality and today was to be no exception.  Warm Danish pastries appeared on deck.

As you can see, the river was very calm and flat, and we were very relieved.  It can get very lumpy out there.  The Thames tidal barrier soon came into sight. maybe you can just make out the green light on one of the pods which tell you which gap to aim for.

The Phaseys led the way on Doris Katia.  You'll see a lot more pictures of their boat than ours for the simple reason that it's hard to photograph a boat when you're on it.  Five minutes later as we passed through the barrier the heavens opened and we got a good soaking to start off the day.

Out we went, past the Royal Docks with jets from the City Airport taking off over our heads. Then on, dodging the criss -crossing Woolwich Ferry and  to the  Barking Creek tidal barrier and the river was already a third of a mile wide and growing. Visibility was pretty poor really and by the time we reached the QEII bridge at Dartford  the big ships were appearing out of the murk.

At one time we would have been terrified at going this far down river with just two little narrowboats but we'd done this bit before, so we were relaxed.  Mr Phasey knows these waters so well  he could drive with his eyes shut.

It didn't seem long before we got to Gravesend (see the anchor symbol on the map) which was the furthest down river we'd ever been in the past.  More big ships at Tilbury Docks, but they were mercifully stationary.  From here on the river really started to widen out.  By the time we got to the big bend at Thurrock the river was a mile and a half wide.  It certainly seemed a long way to the edge.

By now we were probably on our third cup of coffee and  enjoying bacon rolls.  Keep it up Sue.

The rain had stopped but it was very misty in the distance and it was clearly going to be hard to make out the marker buoys we were supposed to follow.  Richard was looking pensive.

Out in front it wasn't easy to make out anything from the various dim dots in the distance.

Then we approach Canvey Island a noticeable swell started to affect us.  Not choppy waves but a significant roll.

Our own boat was pitching noticeably but our eyes were fixed on Doris Katia  as her bows dipped beneath the waves alarmingly.

then at the other side of the waves, her bows lifted well clear of the water revealing her base plate

It's at times like this you learn how resilient narrowboats are, even though they're definitely not designed for this sort of stuff.

If you have the band width, watch this short video of Doris Katia rocking and rolling along side us.  It's a good 'un - you may well gasp at about 18 seconds in!

I just noticed that the video wouldn't work on our ipads although it does on our PC.  If you have that problem, you can see it direct on Youtube by following this link.  I just tested it and it works.

I've put a wave symbol on the map to indicate where we were. The river here was about 2 miles wide and about to get much wider.  Not the sort of place to lose anyone overboard.

The waves subsided a bit and then we saw our next worry, in the distance a cruise liner heading towards us.  These big boats can make a helluva wash.

In the event it didn't bother us much and she passed safely at a good distance.

We could now make out Southend pier in the distance, which told us it was time to do some serious buoy spotting, but making them out was really hard, even with binoculars.  Go between the red ones and the green ones they said.  Well it was hard enough to make out buoys at all, let alone see what colour they were.

That foamy line across the water marked out the shallows around the Isle of Grain, not a place to get stranded so we kept well clear.  The estuary (I'll stop calling it a river now) was 3 miles wide.  By the time we turned into the Medway Estuary it was even wider.  By now we had travelled something like 36 miles at a fair old pace, two or sometimes three times a good canal speed.  Richard and Andrew's calculations had worked out near enough spot on and we had arrived at our turning point just as the tide was about to turn.

That seems a good point at which to finish this episode.  I'll do part two tomorrow.  It has speeding lifeboats, ship wrecks, yacht races, twists and turns galore, and finishes at a pub.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Three quick visits with sausages, lemony cake and orangey beer

We popped in at Cropredy on Tuesday to get our first look at Herbie in her new berth.  The staff had moved her to the pontoon in our absence.  Here she is in her new home.h at cropr

We can’t believe our luck at getting this spot. we’re one of the very few boats in the marina to have an open view on one side – in our case, across the fields towards the village.  We can get the car to within a few feet of the boat for loading and unloading, and just across the path we have a grassy area to sit out alongside the canal.  Not quite as grand as our grassy knoll at Crick but still pretty good.

Arriving half an hour before sundown we quickly grabbed our deck chairs and sat by the canal with a can of beer to sample the atmosphere.  Swifts were doing their low level swoops along the canal and the nearby hawthorns were in full bloom.  Out of the blue a man wandered down the row of boats to greet us and invited us over to his BBQ for a sausage.  How nice is that?  Already we have two new friends, Bob and Kate after only a few minutes.

We slept on board, and looking out of the window before turning in we could see bats circling about near the boat. Next morning we had to get away to drive to Cambridge, but we had time as we were packing up to listen to a skylark over the field next to us.  We’re going to like it here.

Realising that our route to Cambridge would take us close to Whilton and reading that Adam and Adrian were waiting to take Briar Rose up the locks, we rang them the previous evening to say we might call in. (Ooh , I realise now that Rick will be reading this and complaining that we should have called in on him too.  Well Rick, we haven’t seen Adam and Adrian for ages, and we saw you a couple of weeks ago. Smile  ) Adam (bless him) texted early on Wednesday to say he had just baked a cake to share with us.  The drive from Cropredy to Whilton is only just over half an hour, or by boat, about three or four days at our pace!

A&A didn’t have to wait in specially for us because the CRT guys up the flight were still struggling to refit a broken lock gate (read about that and see the photos on Adam’s blog), and Briar Rose was in a long queue waiting to go up, so we had plenty of time for a chat and pick up some handy hints on composting toilets (what else?).  Adam’s lemon cake was, as ever, delicious.  Thanks guys.

Then on to Cambridge to meet up with our Peter at the Beer Festival, where we sampled about four halves each in five hours!  It’s interesting to note how the American craft beer industry has now influenced our taste in beers. Lots of ales featured American hops like Amarillo and Cascade. Common adjectives in the tasting notes this year were “orangey” and  “citrus” .  European beers too are having and influence, with quite a few wheat beers making an appearance.  I had a lovely orange wheat beer.  As usual the place was packed both inside and out and it felt like a big garden party, although a somewhat chilly one.

Now we’re back at home thinking ahead to tomorrow night when we board Indigo Dream ready to lock out of Bow locks at 5.48 am on Saturday.  I’m trying not to look at too many maps of where we have to go to get to the Medway,- it’s too scary.  I’m beginning to wonder if we ought to take sea sickness pills.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Biting half the bullet

After putting it off as long as I can, I’ve at last got to the hard bit of repainting  our second Buckby can.  The original looked like this

old can

but the paint didn’t take to well to the weather and big flakes of paint eventually came off, the same as the smaller can did earlier. I repainted the smaller can in 2014


and it’s kind of OK if you don’t look too closely. 

The second can has been stripped back to the galvanising, had three coats of etching primer (nasty stuff that I sprayed on whilst holding my breath), a couple of undercoats and three top coats in four colours, and I can’t think of any way now to delay the inevitable painting of the roses.  Of course I had forgotten how to do it, so it was back to the practice board for quite a few hours, experimenting with different techniques and designs. 

IMG_1709 (1)

This time I’m going to try to do them a little differently and probably less strictly traditionally in form.  You’ll have to wait to see, ‘cos this (below) is as far as I’ve got today using the traditional background prep (the easy bit).


And of course it’s only for the first two bunches of roses.  This can is going to have more than the other one I did, and I’m still thinking of having a go at a castle somewhere on it.  The next few brush strokes are going to be terrifying, but .  .  .

.  .  .no more terrifying than next Saturday morning when we have been invited to join the Indigo Dreamers on their trip down the Thames estuary and into the Medway.  That’s virtually going to sea. Wind, tide, waves, big ships, – scary stuff in a little narrowboat. The Thames Estuary there is five miles wide! We’re more used to a width of thirty feet. Stay tuned for reports on that one.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Lest we forget

I well remember our first narrowboat hire holiday.


We picked up NB Sir Galahad at Brewood and headed north, soon to arrive at our first lock where we stopped to try and work out how to operate it. After about ten minutes I reckoned I was ready to have a go and I put the boat into gear to pull away from the lock landing.  It seems daft looking back, but we didn’t know how to get the boat away from the bank.  A lady with a small child walked post and told us to give the boat a shove from the bank.  It worked of course. We managed the lock without too much trouble and set off again.  Then of course we came to a bridge which looked terrifyingly narrow as we inched through it, and after that we encountered our first oncoming boat.  I was beginning to feel quite stressed.  I remember next day(?) passing through Norbury being terrified that I would crash into one of the moored boats.  Our boat seemed to be magnetically drawn towards them.

Well I had to remind myslef of all this when we recently set of from Fenny Compton behind a Calcutt hire boat.  I tutted when they pulled away from the bank in front of us just as we were approaching, thinking to myself “never mind, it’s a hire boat, they’ll be going too fast and will soon leave us behind.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.  They were cruising so slowly that I had to keep dropping Herbie into neutral to avoid getting too close. We got to the narrow bit in Fenny “tunnel” and they showed me that some boats are capable of going impressively slowly.  Snails on the bank were overtaking us.  Here they are, bless ‘em.


No chance of overtaking there of course so I was very patient for the next half an hour and waiting my chance to ask politely if we could overtake on a wider bit of canal. Eventually our chance came when they actually waved us through, apologising that they were inexperienced and nervous. 

Overtaking on a canal is never easy, and it’s best if both boats know what they are doing.  The Oxford being a shallow canal made matters worse and as soon as we got alongside their boat got drawn towards ours and the poor chap on the hire boat got into a panic and revved up his engine.  I should have slowed down I suppose and talked him through it, but I pushed the throttle forward in an attempt to quickly get past. That was when I noticed that we were both approaching a seven foot wide lift bridge! Over the cacophony of boat boats straining I shouted him to stop or we would crash into the bridge.  Mercifully he did and no harm was done.  Looking back, he had pulled his boat into the bank and stopped.  The poor guy was no doubt in shock. We continued on wondering if he ever got his nerve back.  I blame myself entirely.

Next time a nervous hire boater waves me through I might either decline, or politely ask him to reduce to tick over speed while I crawl past. Boating seems easy once you get used to it, but it’s good to remember how scary it was at first.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Choice

Those exceptionally nice people (yes they really are) at Cropredy Marina offered us a choice of two very different berths for Herbie. Which would you choose?

Yesterday we popped in to take a look at Herbie's newly blacked hull, which looks extremely good and to discuss our permanent (while we remain there) berth position. Two very good but very different slots  had only recently become available. See where I have put white arrows point in this picture borrowed from the marina web site.

1. In the smaller of the two basins and very close to all facilities. It would take us only fifteen seconds to be at the office, the car park, the showers, the (shielded non smelly) elsan emptying, and the recycling. Despite the proximity to the facilities, the spot is very quiet in the evening. At the front of the boat would be a large grass area to sit out on with a small stream adjacent. Getting the boat in and out would be quite simple here, as it is a decent way from the marina entrance, making it simple to get the boat ready to turn in to the slot.

2. The spot further most from all the facilities, in the extreme far corner of the larger basin. Not so easy to get a boat into as it is in a tight corner. From the starboard side of the boat we would look out across the fields to the village beyond, and at the front of the boat would be a grass verge between us and the canal. On walking round there we noticed the bird song in the canal side bushes. We could take a car there to unload and load, but it would then have to be removed to the car park 250 yards away. That 250 yard walk would apply every time we needed to use the facilities or needed to use the car.

Interesting choice don't you think? We were lucky I think to be offered such slots. A choice between convenience and environment I suppose. We made our choice, and on the way home we felt more and more sure we had done the right thing. Now we look forward to returning to Herbie's new home in the far corner of the big basin.

There are a couple of good videos on the marina web site showing the place in more detail.

It was a rainy morning when we were due to leave. Having made our choice, I said we would move Herbie there and then. Dave the marina manager, on learning that we were due to drive home, insisted that we didn't need to move her in the rain, and one of the staff would move her for us tomorrow. See, I told you they were very nice.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

A look at my bottom

Well, alright, Herbie’s bottom. Here it is after a thorough pressure washing.


According to Andy at the dock, all the hull below the water is in pretty good shape. Everything seems sound.  Some of the boats built these days use quite inferior steel which pits very easily, but Herbie was built of sterner stuff and Andy thinks the welding was pretty good. He said that twice lately he has had to call out a surveyor to check out boats that were looking as though they might spring a leak due to extensive pitting – and not old boats either. You can see that the anode has been doing it’s stuff by the fact that it is half eaten away, but it should last another few years yet.  I had a good poke around the prop and the rudder and all seems in order there too.

Above the waterline though, things are not so good.  There’s a fait bit of rust where the blacking has scraped or flaked off, rather more than that caused by normal wear and tear.  Andy thinks one of Herbie’s previous blackings might not have been prepped or applied thoroughly enough.  This time he is using one of those tools with rotating tungsten carbide tipped wheels to get all the old rust out, then he is applying an  anti corrosive primer before the three coats of blacking, so it should be much better (it’s also costing quite a bit more but it’ll be worth it). Apparently he’ll leave me with a photographic record of the work.  Herbie should be back in the water at the weekend complete with repainted tunnel bands and the new button fender that Rick gave us.

Cropredy marina’s floating dry dock thingy is pretty good. Nice and light and with good room to move around. It also seems pretty water tight

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Complying with CRT by fair means or foul – and a local solution??

Well it’s all very interesting isn’t it?  This business of CRT issuing short term licences to naughty “Continuous cruisers” who haven’t engaged “In a continuous journey in one direction of more than twenty miles.”  Let’s ignore the fact that I am not a continuous cruiser and have just completed a leisurely three week journey of 109 miles , and explore what I have learned from meeting other boaters as we tootled up the GU.

CRT’s measures seem to be working, up to a point.  We met a fair few boaters who were indeed moving more that they used to because they had been given six months to do it or be refused a licence after that.  One, I thought was meeting CRT’s requirements adequately enough. he moved every fourteen days and plied a patch between Uxbridge and Cowroast.  That’s 23 miles.  He was so anxious to be seen to comply that his boat bore a sign requesting CRT spotters to sign a logbook in his top box every time they logged him.

Another fellow we met wasn’t so good.  Although anxious to qualify for his next licence, he didn’t seem to want to co-operate with the spirit of the rule, which is to not hog a particular mooring constantly.  As he saw it, all he needed to do was to be seen in two places twenty miles apart during his six months.  The rest of the time (probably 25 weeks) he would spend in a much closer area.  What he was doing when we met him was travelling up to the lock by the Grove pub, just below Leighton Buzzard, photographing his boat to show where he had reached, and immediately returning to his “home” patch.  He didn’t even stop his engine, he just turned round, stepped off his boat to take a picture, and set off back down the canal.  I sincerely hope that CRT doesn’t allow this sort of thing, or it would make a mockery of the whole approach.

I feel sorry for CRT, ‘cos people are clever enough to outwit them a lot of the time by interpreting the detail of the rules but ignoring the spirit of them.  I also feel sorry for a significant number of boaters who have told me that they are reluctant or afraid to take their boat into central London for fear of not finding a place to stop.  It could well get worse before it gets better as more and more people try to establish a liveaboard spot in London.  I notice too, that the demographic is beginning to change.  A new, more affluent class of boater is joining the throng, and evidenced by the increasing number of new widebeam boats heading for the capital.  Someone told me, probably apocryphally, that three new widebeams a week were being dropped (well lowered I suppose) in the canal at Cassiobury.

I have an idea.

Given the very large number of boaters resident on London’s canals, even if they comply with CRT’s rules on moving, the congestion is unlikely to decrease for some time and visitors from outside are going to have a problem finding places to stop.  It is well known that boaters within the city do late night swaps of paces on visitor moorings to keep their place.  I have witnessed it myself. 

One answer could be to register boaters within the capital as “London Boaters” with a separate London licence (no extra charge to the boater).  This licence which would have to be displayed, might for instance have a large L on it or be a different colour – whatever, so long as it could easily be identified.  I would then propose that CRT nominate a number of Visitor Moorings available only to non-London boaters e.g. Paddington basin, a couple of spots near Camden market, A few spots at Victoria Park and so –on.  This would enable boaters from further afield to either visit or pass through London with some assurance that they could get the visitor moorings they are entitled to.

What do you think?

Sunday, May 01, 2016


Well after a trip of 109 miles and 107 locks, here we are at last at Cropredy, Herbie's new home for a year or more. It was, as I feared, blowing briskly across the basin when we turned in. Fearlessly, I pointed Herbie at the far end and gunned it, then did a handbrake turn when we got to the service pontoon and dear old Herbie swung into place as neat as you like. And, for once, someone was watching when I got it right. It was Dave the marina manager who came out to greet us and congratulated me on my boat handling!! Just like Crick, the staff here are very friendly and helpful, we were made to feel at home immediately.


First thing tomorrow, Herbie goes into the unusual floating dry dock.

After they pressure wash her, I'm going in to have a good butchers at the state of the hull and to inspect the prop and the rudder, then we're off home for a few days while Herbie gets a rust proofing and three coats of bitumen.

Dave says he'll let us choose a mooring pontoon from a number available once the winter moorers move out. To be frank, they're all pretty much of a much. Fine, but not nearly as pretty as Crick. I suspect that we won't stay on the boat in the marina much, except when I'm doing jobs that need a pontoon. The moorings in the village five minutes down the canal are very nice, so we'll tootle down there if we need to if we are up here for a mini break.

Cropredy is a quiet little village,apart from when Fairport Convention have their annual festival of course. We've just been reading the Parish Council Minutes where the most exciting event was the removal of an abandoned Volvo. Oh, and they're having a Bottle Tombola at the Old Manor on 11th June. Book now to avoid the rush.