Saturday, March 28, 2020

Help me solve a mystery

Greetings from Alcatraz.  I'm quite enjoying life in solitary but I suspect Kath is digging a tunnel.  I've been let out twice, once to applaud the NHS from our doorstep and again today to nip in the car to our daughter Claire's house a mile away to pick up bags of food shopping which she had left for me on her doorstep.  I was only gone ten minutes but still some B*$£!er stole my parking spot outside the house.  Actually there was another a few yards away so I was alright.  As a family we've been having daily video conferences over Zoom.  We did another Zoom with some friends on Thursday at the time we often meet to have a cuppa and stumble through a few tunes.  No tunes this time because of Zoom's latency issues, but we all drank tea in sync.  Then on Tuesday was it?, we joined several thousand other people in the online pub quiz done by the chap at the Big Drop Brewery.  Look it up if you like quizzes.  The questions were interesting for the most part. Not a bad effort from him and us, a few technical glitches but worth the effort.  So it's all been quite sociable really.

Now then  I thought I might keep a couple of people entertained by a little picture quiz of my own, so I've been looking back at photos from late March in some previous years.  See if you can identify any of the places. (The honour goes to whoever comes second because it's a given that Adam will get there first.)

1. From March  2019 - a pier we strolled along just a few miles from where you could board a narrowboat and move towards the canal system.

2.  From March 2014. Here's Herbie with Rick at the helm passing through a lock we like.

3.  Also from March 2014 but some days further on, see if you can work out where this is.

4.  Lastly and most mysteriously from March 2015, where the hell is this?  I'm blowed if I know.  From the data I can see I took this photo with my phone, but I can't for the life of me think where I was, and neither can I recognise the building.  Help me out somebody please.

Still looking for entertainment to cheer you up?  Well you could do a lot worse than tune into YouTube at 7pm on Thursdays when the National Thetatre are giving free showings of some of their best productions starting next Thursday with "One Man Two Governors" which I have never seen but all the reviews say is brilliant.  Later in the series they have Twelfth Night with Tamsin Grieg which I have seen twice and can't wait to see it again.  If you don't think you like Shakespeare, give it a go because its genuinely very funny and rips along at a good pace.  I think the Youtube broadcast will each be available free for a week after the appropriate Thursday.  I'm hoping they'll get round to Benedict Cumberbatch doing Hamlet because that was a cracker.

Stay safe folks.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Tale of Five Marinas

Hi, howya doin' ?  All peaceful here at home apart from the flippin pigeons non stop cooing in the garden.  They spend the whole day scuttling around under the bird feeders, catching the crumbs that the smaller birds drop. I'm still smarting from my fall off the wall two days ago, so no gardening for me.  Anyhow I said I'd write a bit about our first impressions of Wigrams Turn.

Actually that got me thinking about all the proper moorings we've had for Herbie over the years.  We did about five years at High Line Yachting (hereafter referred to as HLY) down the good old Slough Arm, then four or five at Crick, then four at Cropredy, and now Herbie rests out the current lockdown on a pontoon at Wigrams Turn.  These last three all belong now to the Castle Marinas group, as does our previously intended spot at Kings Bromley, and although they all operate to broadly the same rules, they do have quite different characters. 

Apart from the obvious differences of the shape and size of these places, it occurs to me that they have quite different social feels, and I think it may be mostly due to the number of on site liveaboards. 

When we were at HLY (which if you don't know it is a long offside linear mooring with boats two abreast) half the boats were permanent liveaboard.  Cruising boats like ours were moored  on the open side against the liveaboards which were bankside.  Strangely, most of the permanent residents seemed quite happy to have an unoccupied boat blocking their light and their view of the canal and having people clambering across their boat from time to time.  Some said it gave them good insulation against cold and wind in the winter.  A few people has made little gardens against the hedge, and our friend Saltysplash even had chickens and I seem to remember rabbits.  There were always people about and we always had the lend of a trolley when we needed one.  One nice lady even kept us supplied with free firewood.  It wasn't the smartest place we've been and I don't recall any posh boats at all.  When we left HLY after repainting Herbie, we were one of the smartest boats there.  Arriving next at Crick, we were quite a long way down the smartness pecking order.

Crick has a lot of smart boats, especially in one row opposite the office.  Hudsons and the like abound.  The liveaboards moor together in a couple of areas and small clusters of permanent residents socialise among themselves like a big family, especially on the picnic benches in the summer.  There were quite a few barbecue parties as I recall.  In our little corner where all the boats were cruising boats, it was very sociable too.  We were a bit concerned about being on a pontoon with boats close on either side, but we soon learned that the grassy knoll just behind the boat  was a lovely social space and we spent a lot of time out there.  The marina itself is very tidy and well kept, as is Cropredy.

Cropredy has a lot more open water than most places, you could easily do a loop the loop down the middle.  We were lucky in being one of the few boats who had an end of row slot, leaving one side of the boat with an open view across the fields.  Like Crick, the staff were very friendly and helpful, in fact the new Cropredy manager Georgina is so extraordinarily nice that it made us even more sad to leave.  The proportion of liveaboards at Cropredy seems a lot smaller and consequently it seems bereft of people much of the time.  Folk we met were friendly enough, but not much social gathering went on.  It's a great marina in a lovely spot with good cruising on hand but not as socially cohesive as other places we've been at.  Maybe something to do with the wide open spaces.

We had high hopes of Kings Bromley with its more higgledy piggledy layout, which I'm guessing would lead to more social clustering, especially as there were some particularly nice spots for sitting outside like the little island on the end of 'our' pontoon.  Hopefully we'll get there post virus and we'll find out for ourselves.  Meanwhile we're at  Wigrams Turn.

Now we only spent a couple of hours at Wigrams before driving home, but it was immediately apparent that people were hanging around talking to each other, and a man on the pontoon across from us quickly introduced himself and offered us help.  He lives aboard with his dog.  There definitely seemed to be more of a bustle about the place.  Layout wise, it isn't he most pretty of the marinas in the group.  Most boats are on pontoons three boats long, and getting in and out of your slot needs some care, but spaces between the pontoons are wide so you don't feel so hemmed in.  Georgina from Cropredy used to moor at Wigrams and she speaks of it fondly.

I understand those people who eschew marinas, preferring a towpath mooring, but I reckon there's such a variation that everyone could find somewhere they would like.  When we first got the boat we imagined that a marina or boatyard was just a place to park, but we soon found out that it can be a nice place to just sit by your boat and find new friends.  We've spent many happy days on the boat without leaving our berth.  If I were choosing a marina now, I'd look first at the cruising options from the site, then it being well run by friendly staff, then at the environment to enjoy within the marina.  All the rest, like facilities etc are nice to have rather than essentials.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Banged up

Many years ago, when I had a 32 inch waist and 12 inch hair, I went to prison.  Only one day a week you understand, giving careers lessons to young offenders (mostly about 17 or 18 years old).  I enjoyed it immensely and they taught me a good deal.  Most of the lads were pretty harmless and our sessions were a lot of fun once I learned to use the same teaching materials I used for kids 4 or 5 years younger in local schools. (Anyone reading my Jobs for the Boys book will get a flavour of it all.)  One of the more entertaining things I learned was the terminology used by these lads and the phrase "banged up in the chokey" is one I still recall, meaning of course locked up in solitary confinement.  "Aah," you say, "I see where this post is going in these Covid times".  I thought I might first digress and tell the story of how one of the lads came to be banged up in the chokey. 

Chris was a cheery lad, but not all that bright.  If he and his mates were breaking into a shop and the police came round the corner, the others scarpered and he was the one left holding the brick in front of the broken shop window.  I imagine he had been up before the beak on a number of occasions, mostly for "taking and driving away a motor vehicle" before he was finally given a custodial sentence.  I was told that on hearing he was to be banged up, he made a dash from the dock, tripped over an usher's foot and fell into a policeman's arms.  Anyhow once in the nick he still thought it was a good idea to escape and during a metalwork class he stole a short piece of broken hacksaw blade with the idea of sawing through the bars of his cell window.  The flaw in his plan was that his cell was on the third floor of the Victorian cell block, some 30 feet above the yard which itself was surrounded by a twenty foot high wall.  Bless!  His hacksaw blade was soon discovered and that's how he got seven days in the chokey much to derision of his compatriots.

So here we are banged up at home without even the visiting days the lads in prison got.  So far it's fine.  We are in fair health and have food (thanks to kind family and neighbours) ,drink, toys and telly and we're keeping in touch with the family by the wonders of video conferencing.  What's not to like? 

Well yesterday I thought I would have a go at the garden, general tidying up and cutting the grass, and that's why today I'm in slightly not so good health.  We have a split level garden with a three foot high retaining wall between the high bit and the low bit.  I was walking along the top of the wall as a short cut to the compost bin to dump grass cuttings, when I tripped over a bit of rusty iron left there by Kath (she uses it in a fabric dying process.)  Carrying the grass hopper I was all out of balance and over I went falling onto the patio and on the way down bashing my back hard on the top of the wall.  Suffice it to say it hurts.  Maybe I have cracked a rib, I don't know and for obvious reasons I'm not going to hospital to find out.  It only hurts when I laugh or get up and down from a chair, so I'm sure it'll be OK.  Worse things happen at sea.

 Sorry this isn't about boating but I thought it would be good to have an isolation diary as a record of these strange times.

I still haven't written about our impressions of Wigrams Turn Marina - it's not like others we've used.  next time I'll write a bit about it.

I hope you're all keeping well and enjoying your isolation.  Toodle pip.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

House Arrest

You probably haven't noticed because it hasn't been in the news much, but there's a virus going about.  I think it might be our fault because apparently we're being placed under house arrest for the spring.

"But you're on the move from Cropredy to King's Bromley" I hear you exclaim.  Well we were, and we were quite happy to be out in the sticks on the canal and probably quite safe too, but there was the question of getting back home  by public transport after we arrived at KB, and then abandoning Herbie a long way from home for some months.  So  . .

Herbie now has a temporary berth in Wigrams Turn Marina.  Lucky for us that it was on our route and a member of the Castle Marinas family along with Cropredy and Kings Bromley so it was easy to arrange and at no extra cost.  People at WT and KB have been very cooperative and helpful with our change of plan and thanks to a lift from Rick and Marilyn (to whom we always seem to owe so much, including staying at their house in Buckby over the weekend)  we were easily able to get back to our car at Cropredy.  So all is good.  At the moment we're with our son Peter in Cambridge - he can work from home - but later this week we'll be back home.  I fear our house arrest might mean I can no longer find excuses not to do all the jobs that need doing at home.  I'm thinking of renaming our house "Alcatraz"

In other news  . .

Oi, where's our stove gone?

Oh here it is:

Yes we made our pre -planned stop at Midland Chandlers

where the rather excellent Colin Rowe and his mate made short work of removing the collapsing old one and installing a new one straight from the shop. I was very impressed  by watching them work - recommended for any boat work in the general area around Braunston.  For anyone interested in stoves it's a Hamlet Hardy 5 - all steel.  Colin said he's fitted quite a few of them and people are happy with them.  Much cheaper than a cast iron stove too - less than half the price.  How long it lasts, we will have to see.

And before the stove, we were in at Calcutt having an engine mount replaced and a service including replacing a number of new copper washers along the fuel path to cut out little weeps we'd been having.

Not a cheap week all in all but now Herbie is fit and ready to go - well nowhere for a bit, but it's not her fault.

Best wishes to all our senior pals out there.  Enjoy your peace and quiet in isolation and keep fit.   Although we won't be boating I'll try and think of posts to keep me amused so do drop in.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ups and downs - Herbie transfer cruise days 1 and 2

Wednesday evening - Day 2 of the cruise.

No photos today - signal too weak

Flippin ‘eck, it’s all ups and downs so far on our marina transfer cruise from Cropredy to Kings Bromley. 
Ups and downs mainly in altitude of course having climbed up Claydon flight and down Napton flight but
the weather has been up and down too, albeit mainly dry. and surprisingly warm in the main  Morning
sunshine and balmy skies have given way to vicious snatches of wind in the afternoon, none worse than
when we arrived at Calcutt where we are having some engine work done tomorrow.  What a palaver

We arrived at Calcutt top lock with the wind strongly pushing up our backside and tied up ready for a
night of being buffeted about.  I strolled into the boatyard office to say we’d arrived and ask where they
wanted Herbie in the morning and I confess my heart sank a bit when they asked us to move down into
the marina pool ready for the morning.  It’s not the three big locks you have to go down, it’s the windy
interim pounds and worst of all the narrow entrance to the marina. We know it of old - in strong wind
you just have to point the boat at the entrance channel and gun it, then be ready to do a sharp hand-
brake turn the other side to avoid crashing into the moored boats inside.  A man on a moored boat just
inside the entrance had a look on his face like Edvard Munch's scream as we approached. We didn't
hit him.

The wind, apart from being strong, was in precisely the wrong direction, pinning us to the towpath wall
upstream of each of the locks and meaning we had to manhandle the boat into each lock, scraping our
blacking on the concrete wall of the pounds. Any body watching would be forgiven for thinking that
going boating was not such a nice idea after all. We were all shouting instructions to each other than no-one
could hear because of the wind
It’s not often I think a bow thruster might be handy, but I confess I would have reached for the girlie
button if we had had one today. To say it was all quite stressful would not be an exaggeration. 
Anyhow we’re here now having performed a remarkably elegant about turn to back gently into our
mooring position - some things have to go right occasionally.

Otherwise it’s all been very pleasant.  We had a fond farewell at Cropredy, plenty of space to moor at
Fenny Compton and a good meal at the Wharf Inn along with Rick who had joined us there for 24 hours.
Coming down Napton locks today reminded me what a joy well maintained locks can be- a far cry from
some of the stiff and heavy paddle gear in the Banbury area.  Then we couldn’t of course pass by the Folly pub without paying our respects and lunched there on portions so big it nearly bust us.

One thing I must mention is the sterling work put in by CRT volunteers cutting back offside vegetation, particularly in the Fenny Tunnel area. It has made a huge difference and really opened up the area. Well done them.

Despite it being a mild winter, Herbie hasn’t come through it as well as usual.  Along with the dodgy
engine mount to be fixed here tomorrow and the collapsing stove to be replaced at Braunston on
Monday and the demolished tonneau cover to be replaced one day, we discovered yesterday that the
side hatch had been leaking all over our sofa bed, so we have damp / soggy foam and feather cushions
to deal with now and until we get the stove fixed it’ll be hard to get them properly dry.  Oh and our front
mooring rope has sustained a cut and needs re-splicing. Things can only get better folks.

If we get away from here tomorrow, we’ll be back on route and our next stop will be Flecknoe where we
will be joining Rick and Marilyn in an attempt not to come last in the quiz at the Olive Bush.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

We shall overcome

I've heard it said that BOAT stands for Bring Out Another Thousand.  Also that things come along in threes.  Well how about a failing engine mount, a wrecked tonneau cover and a collapsing stove for example


just as we're about to set off for our trip to Kings Bromley marina in the cold  weather.  The last two I discovered this week when I've been out at Herbie stocking her up with food and clothes for our forthcoming trip starting next Monday. We've known about the mount for a little while and we're booked in at Calcutt for a replacement en route, so that's sorted.  The tonneau cover has been slowly wearing away for a while too - it is 19 years old, and the weight of rainwater collecting on it in all the storms we've had delivered the final coup de grace - well that can wait, it's not an essential item.  The stove is a more serious matter and it seems to have happened while the boat has been laid up over winter.  The back seems to be falling away leaving a nice big gap for carbon monoxide to kill us in our sleep.  Whilst I could plug it with fireproof  high temperature sealant, just imagine the scene if the back finally gave way when it was full of hot coals or ablaze with logs.

Time for another raid on the old Herbie sinking fund methinks. 

Fortunately, our route takes us past Midland Chandlers in Braunston and a quick phone call and a subsequent visit yesterday has sorted out a replacement stove which we can have fitted  on site by their recommended friendly fitter.  There even ordering in two sizes for us so we can choose which best fits onsite.  So we just have to keep warm for a few days till we get there.  Our Eberspacher isn't as good as the stove for keeping cosy, but the radiators it drives will keep the chill off.  I have decided against another cast iron stove - the last two have both developed lid cracks and given way at the back, albeit after a decent life, so this time we're trying a much cheaper steel one.  The lady in Midland Chandlers said cast iron is more suitable for people who keep the fire in all winter, so avoiding lots of starting from cold and consequent thermal shock. She may well be right.  Coincidentally our son Richard had to replace his Morso Squirrel not long ago  - it had failed in a similar manner to our stove- and he now has a steel one, also from Midland Chandlers, which he seems satisfied with.

As if all this wasn't enough, when the tonneau collapsed it dumped several gallons of water onto the back deck.  The deck has a drain, but not enough to cope with all that water at once, so I've had to clear a lot of water from the engine bay. Our bilge pump doesn't really get at anything less than about half an inch deep.  I had to sponge it all out yesterday, which in that confined space is not a trivial task.  In the end I devised a cunning plan and manipulated the sponge using a litter picker, saving me a lot of contortion.

Hey ho - we soldier on.  Actually the weather is not so bad as it has been and the first signs of spring show us we might have a relatively pleasant trip.  

We have also considered the threat of coronavirus, but my reckoning is that being out in the sticks on a boat away from people could be no bad thing, and anyway we'll probably get the trip done before it spreads that much.  Que sera sera.