About Me

My photo
After thirty years of hiring, I finally bought my own 50ft boat in 2005, which was built in 2001 by Andicraft at Debdale Wharf. I mostly cruise single handed and have no problem with that, although it does take a little longer than with a crew. My mooring is on the Wey Navigation, so I have a choice of routes on the Wey or the Thames.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Lower Heyford Fun Weekend

I have been steering trip boats for the last year for the IWA events at Oxford Open doors and Banbury Canal Day since I gained my Helmsman’s Certificate last year, so just had to volunteer for Lower Heyford Fun Weekend on the Oxford canal, with an invitation from Peter Darch to bed down on his boat ‘The Great Escape’ for a couple of nights. I arrived on the Friday, having spent one night on board ‘Stronghold’ at Addlestone, which is a convenient ‘stepping stone’ for trips to the Midlands and beyond. After assisting Peter on Friday afternoon with a few event tasks.We adjourned with Frank, a WRG (Waterways Recovery Group) member to ‘The Bell’ for victuals. It is a pub I have been to before on my travels up and down the Oxford,  with a good choice of ales and very good food in adequate proportions. As good as the pub was, the next experience was not up to the same standard and that was trying to sleep with the main train line about 50ft away and all the extraneous noises that emanate from blokes who have just returned from the pub – yours truly included. I must have counted 30 to 40 trains passing throughout the night; the rest I will leave to your imagination!
Oxfordshire Narrowboats Base

Dayboats moored four abreast with "Muddy Waters" on the inside.

The following day dawned with sunshine and it was warmer outside the boat than in. We did a few more jobs that needed doing around the boatyard and I met up with people who I had not seen since October at Banbury Canal Day. My shift as helmsman came round in the afternoon and once again I was in charge of one of Oxfordshire Narrowboats’ Day Boats. These are about 35ft long with an open foredeck with seats and a small cabin with table, chairs, cooker and toilet. Steering a day boat is totally different to steering a longer boat as they are very skittish and have very little power to accelerate and even less power to stop or reverse. Some of us discussed this and decided that they were built that way to control the speed of the boat by using a small propeller in the hands of inexperienced hirers, thus limiting the forward speed so as not to cause wash on the banks or disturb moored boats. This is acceptable in the present situation, as we are generally passing moored boats on the ½ hour trip, but stopping or reversing means revving the engine so fast that the boat is vibrating out of all proportion to its speed. The other problem is that the boat is bow heavy with all the passengers at that end, making the propeller less effective. Having a boat with an Axiom propeller, as I have, means all this revving of engines comes a bit of a surprise when winding the boat and is easy to misjudge how close to the bank the bow is. However, on this trip, I realised that I could bend down and look through the cabin to see where the bow was in relation to the bank, thus having better control of the winding operation.

One of two day boats coming in to the mooring with Steve Parker as bowman and David Beaumont steering.

As on other occasions, I dressed the part of the historical (or should that be hysterical?) boater in cords, spider belt, embroidered shirt, red neckerchief, waistcoat, black boots and bowler hat, despite the fact that it should have been a trilby hat on the Oxford canal. The bowler hat is the traditional wear of the Grand Union boater, but I think the bowler is more generally appreciated and recognised by the public, so I wear one.

In the evening, we repaired to The Bell again for our evening meal, but with different companions, David and Barby, who live at Lower Heyford and have a boat, “Kings Vanquish”,  moored at the bottom of their garden. At the end of the evening, they invited me to moor alongside at any time when I was next there, which would be extremely convenient if I needed to go home or stay for a longer period, as the train station is right there as well. That is what I like about the boating community, they are all out to help one another. It’s a pity the rest of the world can’t get on so well!
Interior view of the day boat.

Sunday dawned just like the previous day with sunshine and high cloud. We had all slept better as there were only four trains that passed before midnight, then there were no more. The day was similar to Saturday and I was out of a job until 1pm, but I was on call at the boarding point with a newspaper, but little chance to read it as boats were coming and going, so I stepped in when no one else was available to help trippers on and off the boats, as well as chatting to other IWA members who were crewing. My shift ended up in the rain again, but I was well prepared with waterproofs. On one occasion Mary Heritage recalled the boat back to the mooring twice to take on extra passengers, just as I had left. I felt that it was just like being in a boat handling competition.

A thoroughly enjoyable  weekend and I have to thank Peter Darch for his company and hospitality on board “The Great Escape”and to his wife Anne for her endeavours in achieving  the impossible on my behalf.
It did rain at the close of the show.

Friday, 6 April 2012

A Basingstoke Virgin

This post has nothing to do with Richard Branson, so rest assured that I am not planning transatlantic flights into Basingstoke. It is all to do with the Basingstoke Canal, which as you probably aware, has been in suspended animation for a good few years for various reasons, not least that is owned by Hampshire and Surrey County Councils jointly, who have spent very little money on its upkeep since restoration in the ‘70’s, until now. Several large trees have been felled at the Wey Navigation end and the Woodham flight of locks appear to be in good condition, with some attention paid to paddle gear and lock gates in good condition, however, the bottom is too near the top and is in need of some serious dredging. Once above Woodham top lock, the going was much better in clear water for some distance, although there is still plenty of weed, timber and other rubbish afloat.

Approaching Lock No. 1
I was invited by Kathryn Dodington to join the Byfleet Boat Club on an Easter Weekend Cruise and having never ventured up the Bassy in 5 years, since owning Stronghold, I jumped at the chance. There were eight boats taking part, so there were crew on hand for lock wheeling, which was fortunate for me, because I could not have achieved this on my own. The lock landings or waiting points were impossible to get to, due to lack of depth, as I soon found out when I wanted to stop to clear the blades. I realised that the better of two evils was to carry on with rubbish on the prop, rather than to try and stop.

Waiting for the ranger with no depth for mooring.

After spending the night moored at The Anchor at Pyrford, I accompanied Dick and Brenda King on nb Nancy Bell to Woodham Junction on a very cold morning, to meet up with the other boats at Lock No. 1, where we waited for the ranger to arrive and unchain the gates. I then progressed with Zavala, with Brian, Margaret and Suzanne operating the lock gear, though I did manage to wind a paddle or two. We cleared the six locks in good time and were then cruising through mostly clear water with reasonable depth for the next 2/3 miles to Bridge Barn, which was our stopping place for the night. By this time, the sun was out and so were the people at the pub. Several people along the way commented on how good it was to see some boats moving on the cut at last.

They have their own dredger, but don't seem to use it very much!

The Gang moored at Bridge Barn

It was a big table booked for us at Bridge Barn, and as it was a Beefeater House, I was rather apprehensive.
Firstly, there were not enough staff serving drinks at the bar during this very busy period and I only got a pint, because Peter insisted on getting me one in with his round. The table was booked in the restaurant upstairs, which was some respite from the melee at the bar. It took about an hour from being seated to actually getting the food and I was served with my spare ribs, which were very good, but by this time I would have eaten almost anything! We had all had enough activity by now and rolled into bed for a fairly peaceful night.

Day 2.

It was a much warmer night with cloud cover, so no need to light the fire this morning. We set off at 10am with Stronghold and Nancy Bell in the lead. We were soon at St. John’s  Lock flight and all went well until the final pound, which was down by about 12ins.

Bottom lock with Nancy Bell

 Trevor, an ex maintenance man from the Wey Navigation, was lock wheeling and had to let a fair amount of water through the top lock before we could make an entrance, having been stemmed up in the middle of the cut.
Not a lot of water here!

Stemmed up with no way off.

Trevor runs some water through.

 The main problem was the depth of leaves on the bed of the canal, which just choked up the propeller and almost stopped it from rotating. With more water and Trevor bow hauling, I managed to get into the lock, followed by Nancy Bell.

Where did Ratty come from?

The same problem existed above the lock and considerable tooing and frowing continued until we floated free beneath the bridge. After that it was plain sailing in very pleasant surroundings along the long pound to Brookwood Country Park , where we arrived about 1pm and moored up for the night.
Chaos ensues in the mud and leaves.

 I was fortunate in getting on the only jetty with bollards, most of the others having to put planks out.
The first and best mooring.

Brookwood Country Park

Later in the afternoon, I decided to walk up to the Deepcut Locks. It was in the 80’s that I last saw them from a car, when they were being restored, so it would be interesting to see what state they were in now. I passed by Brookwood  three locks, most of which had no paddle gear. There was was water in the pound above, but very green with weed.

Lots of the green stuff about.

Plenty of these too.

 Further on I got to Deepcut bottom lock with an inappropriate sign advertising lock opening times.

Someone's having a laugh.                                                       See what I mean!

Something is going on! 

Strange culverts beneath the cill.

On returning to the moorings it was nearly time for twelve of us to go out for the evening meal to the Hunters Lodge, part of the Vintage Inns Group. Service was much improved on the previous night and we were joined by Sylvia, who conned us into  believing it was her birthday. Upon overhearing that, the waiter brought a bottle of Champagne, implying that is was on the house, but never actually saying so. At the end of the meal, it appeared on the bill, which no one was happy about. Eventually, Brian ‘manned up’ and asked about it, upon which the waiter apologised about it being on the bill and said it was a promotion paid for by Vintage Inns – whereupon smiles broke out all round. Apart from that little hiccup, an excellent evening was enjoyed by all. Finally, Kathryn invited me to join the Byfleet Boat Club, so I think I had passed the vetting procedure!

Day 3
 A rather miserable day with mist and the promise of rain. However the day was brightened up by the arrival of the Easter Bunny with a goody bag from the Basingstoke Canal Society. There was a bottle of Merlot, a chocolate Easter bunny, a little Easter chick and a card thanking me for venturing up the Basingstoke – how nice. We set off a little later and had an uneventful trip back to Bridge Barn, where we had yet another meal. After the last fiasco, it could not have been any worse and it wasn’t, thankfully.

Day 4.
Awoke to rain on the cabin top and it continued throughout the trip down the Woodham flight to the Wey. Phil turned out on his bike to do some lock wheeling, which was very welcome. There was a lot of hanging about, because the locks are very slow to fill the last few inches, but I don’t think anyone got stemmed up, as the channel had been somewhat cleared on the way up and all the pounds were full. Where the water came from, I just don’t know – we didn’t have that much rain and there was nothing coming through Deepcut.
I continued on the Wey with Mick and Suzanne on Aqua Vitae to our moorings at The Pelican, arriving in the middle of the afternoon.

Final impressions.
I have waited five years to voyage up the Bassy and I found it to be somewhat of a challenge, but extremely enjoyable, with new experiences and new companions. I have booked to go again in June for the 40th aniversary of the re-opening, but I will need to go with another crewed boat, because the lock landings are just too shallow to enable a mooring to operate the locks singlehanded. No doubt something will turn up.

Note. I finally got this blog published with pictures with a Wi Fi conection in The Pelican, even though there was no internet connection, or so it said! The first priority was to upload the photos, as they take the longest time to upload. Once that was done, the text was soon done. Trying to do the same with a 3G connection was just impossible. How do these other bloggers do that?

Monday, 2 April 2012

More Modifications

Here are some more bits and pieces that I forgot about earlier, probably because I thought them less interesting to read about.

Shower Convenience

One of the inconveniences that have to be endured on a boat is the constant worry of running out of water, due to the limitations of the storage tank. Having a shower like you would have at home with constantly running hot water is a no-no! To resolve the problem of saving water, I wanted to cut off the supply of hot and cold water part way through my shower without altering the temperature that was already set by the taps. You will see that there is no mixer tap to do the job, so I had to devise some alternative method. With my usual blinkered method of solving problems, I searched in vain for a threaded tap of sorts to fit in the hoseline from the taps to the shower – alas, there were none to be had. I happened to mention this in the pub one night and lo and behold another boater suggested shutting off the water pump with a switch. Why didn’t I think of that? Easy Peasy! So the switch was wired in parallel to the main pump and mounted at the far end of the bath and under the gunwale for added protection from water. Naval showers are all the rage on this boat.

Better Drainage

After blogging about my cabin top drainage system, Neil on “Herbie” described his system, also on an ‘Andicraft’ boat, so here it is, just a piece of wood glued on with mastic. Whether it works as well, or better, remains to be seen when it eventually rains! I still have the wicks in place to test it.

Bow Marker

I think most single handed boaters have all nosed gently up to the gates of an empty lock and pushed them open, just to save time and effort. Entering an empty narrow lock and nosing up to the cill gently without breaking all the china is also a tricky maneuvre. The problem here is being able to judge exactly when the bow will make contact. Boating earlier this year with Peter Darch on the Oxford, I was impressed with his solution and unashamedly plagiarised his idea. The pennant is glued to the top of a 3mm glassfibre rod, which is extremely flexible and it is pushed into the bow fender, so that the pennant is visible to the steerer, as below:-

R and R Time

I have been panic digging up my lawn for the past week or so, so as to get some seed potatoes in. The reason I’m doing that is that I gave up my allotment last October as it was too much of a committment and got on the way of my boating and it was far too big at 10 rods on a hill to boot. Well, it’s partly done and the spuds are in, so it was time for a little relaxation on the water. I cruised through Thames Lock yesterday afternoon and moored at ‘The Anglers’, Walton-on-Thames for the night, having paid a visit to the local Wetherspoons and the ‘Old Manor Inn’.

This morning I set off at 11am to catch up ‘Midnight Shadow’, so that we might go through the locks together.
I have seen this boat frequently cruising this section of the Thames and met up with Nigel at Sunbury Lock, only to discover that he frequents this area because he has cancer and needs to be near the hospital. I also found out that another liveaboard owner on ‘Tally Ho’, is called Rick, who also cruises this section frequently. The Towpath Telegraph gets better by the minute!

I moored up at the Hampton Court Palace moorings, with a view to investigating a very old pub called ‘The Bell’ at East Molesey. More about that later. I sat for most of the afternoon in the sun, re-splicing my centre line. I was advised to wash it in the washing machine, because it was so stiff with dirt. Imagine my surprise when I removed it from the washing machine to discover that the eye splice was like a steel hawser – only that part; the rest of the line was OK. Only one thing to do and that was take it apart as I didn’t want to lose any length – it took an hour to do a 20min splice, it was so stiff!

I did get to "The Bell" eventually with the help of a Google map. The pub was quite impressive from the outside, originally built in 1460, with quaint sash windows and wobbly walls and I think it relied on it’s history for it’s reputation, for the interior left a lot to be desired in a good pub. There were Courage Ales and London Pride on tap, but no guest beer. The food menu was of the fold out encapsulated type that advertises a menu that has not changed for a very long time and shows no originality at all. Overall, the place was very tired and in need of some TLC. Very disappointing! If you are at all interested you can read more here:- http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/s/13/1340/Bell/East_Molesey

The following morning was overcast and very chilly, so after an hours cruising back towards The Wey, I had to stop and make coffee and light the fire. An uneventful return to my mooring arriving  about midday.

I am looking forward to my first jaunt up the Basingstoke Canal with six other boats from the Byfleet boat Club on Easter Weekend, so will Blog about that later.