Monday, 31 December 2012

The Ouse back to normal

While it was still a bit wet and windy today, at least the water level in the river is back to normal and all's well with Skylark and her neighbours. The grassy bank in the marina is quite muddy and there a few bits of flotsom lying about but those are about the only signs left by the receding waters.

I spent a quiet morning tending to the ropes and fenders. I also refitted the bow fender with it's new tyre protector.

This photo shows the water level back to where it should be. Fingers crossed, it will now stay there and we can carry on cruising.

In prepartion for the new season, I cleaned the fridge. It hasn't been used much over the last few months; it's just come on when I've turned the main electrics on and gone off again when I've left. Because of this, it has alternated between being a refridgerator and an incubator. A few splodges of black stuff were duely washed away and the fridge returned to its pristene condition, ready for next year (which, of course, starts tomorrow).

While visiting my two sons and their 'better halfs' at the weekend, I bought a couple of brass bits in Lechlade - a longish towel/curtain rail and a shortish curved coat/kitchen rail.

I don't really know what they were designed for but I'm sure they will have a use in the boat and will look good too. I just need to decide where to put them.

Anyway, to end 2012, I would just like to say, I hope the last year was good for you and that 2013 will bring you whatever you are looking for. To be realistic, I know many people are having difficult times with their work and/or health so I just wish you good luck for 2013.

Our good luck wishes also go to our friend Bob who was carted off to hospital last week. Keep smiling Bob, and everyone will wonder what you've been up to!


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day leftovers

As if the Christmas Day meal yesterday was not fantastic enough,  while I was pottering about on Skylark, the Galley Slave exceeded all expectations today and produced a Turkey Pie par excellance! Delicious!!

To say a big 'thank you' and not to be out-done, I threw together a couple of deserts from an already prepared Nigellisimo ginger bread conconction I found in the cupboard. A cold tin of custard added a certain traditional flavour with a contemporary twist (as Delia would say). I'll leave you to decide which elelment of the meal scored highest in the culinary stakes. Yum Yum!!!

The Ouse is retreating!

I've just returned from Lazy Otter and was pleased to find Skylark swimming clear of the jetty. A neighbour said the water had got even higher last night but this morning, the levels have been going down.

When I left, it had almost reached the top of the wooden jetty, leaving the pontoon well clear. Even most of the grass was above the water.

I took the fender with me but decided not to fit it back on until Skylark has completely gone back to her normal resting place. Thid will avoid the risk of getting hung up on the woodwork.

NB Queenie was also clear...we'll have to hope the levels continue to drop.

While the weatherbods said the humidity was something iro 80%, and rain was heading our way by mid afternoon, the temperature in Skylark was teetering at a sultry 8 degrees and there was not even any sign of condensation in the portholes. However, my feet were starting to get cold so I up sticks and left.

I will keep an eye on things over the next couple of days and report back.


Monday, 24 December 2012

Protecting my fender

Having rubbed up against a few jetties, pontoons, locks and boats bridges in the first year of Skylark's life, I've noticed the bow fender is already starting to look tired. In fact, the main reason for the wear is that my mooring is 'end on' so it's usually rubbing up against the wooden jetty. Anyway, as boating is a contact sport (I'm told), it's not really feasible to avoid bumps and scrapes so I thought it would be good to protect it somehow.

Looking at other people's bow fenders, the most common approach throughout the canals and inland waterways is to lash an old car tyre or fertiliser bag to it with a piece(s) of frayed rope and, hey presto, you have something that looks like its fallen off the back of a silage heap.

Well, not wanting Skylark to look uncared for so soon, I wondered if I could keep to the traditional theme of an old car tyre but to do it with a bit of style. I imagined Shirley Bassey singing Diamonds are Forever and realised it must be possible.

This is the process I followed. But remember to complete each stage before moving onto the next one otherwise you could get into right muddle.

Stage one. Take your fender off the boat and give it a good wash, evict any wildlife living in it and repair/heat seal any frayed bits. A tip, if you clean your fender in the wife's sink, you must make sure you clean the sink afterwards or you might find your tool kit is thrown into the garden.

Stage two. Give your tyre a good wash in the same way as your fender (remember my tip).

Stage three. Measure the front of your fender. You may want the tyre to cover the whole fender, reach from end to end or just go part of the way. It's your fender, so you decide.

Stage four. Cut your tyre to size. I used a Stanley knife to remove the rims following a handy groove between the wall and the tread. Then use a hack saw to cut the tread to the correct length. Remember, cutting through high tensile steel wire encased in industrial grade rubber is great fun so make the most of this enjoyable experience but be careful, Stanley knives and hack saws are sharp.

Here's the one I made earlier:


Stage five. Drill enough holes into the outside edges of the tyre to make sure it fits well without any unsightly bulges. Then tie it tightly onto the fender with black polypropylene rope or, as I did, with paracord*, making sure the ends are heat sealed and hidden from view. Remember, it's good to be neat.

* I'll wait and see if the paracord is strong enough to withstand the rigours of life on the river.

Stage six. Refit the fender and don't be surprised if you find complete strangers complimenting you on your imagination, creativity and workmanship (but don't hold your breath).

Finally, remember, just because you have a nice new tyre-covered fender on the front of your boat, it doesn't mean you can go around bumping into things. Be careful out there!

Have fun!


Water, water everywhere...

The Old West River was down by about 2" today which meant I could walk on the pontoon without getting my boots wet but getting to the pontoon involved a walk in about 12" of water. At least I could get to the boat without the water coming over my wellies.

I remembered my camera today so here's a few snaps...

This was the River Cam, by the Newmarket Road bridge, just upstream of Popes Corner. The river was still visible, but only just.

Heading down to Stretham, this was from the next road bridge. Again, not too much to worry about.
Lazy Otter, on the other hand, had more water than it really needed...
And I found Skylark was still resting too close to the hard stuff...
Apart from adjusting the ropes, to cope with whatever the weather decided to throw at it, I took the opportunity to take bow fender off. The plan is to attached a carefully shaped piece of car tyre to help protect it. So, off it came, about 2 dozen spiders were encouraged to swim to the bank and I bundled the fender and one of those tyres into the Landy (that will be something to do over Christmas). The other thought I had was that this will make it easier for Skylark to slide down the edge of the jetty as the water recedes. I'll see if this part of the plan works when the water goes down.
I was very pleased to meet Malcolm and his wife of nb Queenie today who had read my last post. Apparently the EA website had not made the situation on the water levels very clear so my jottings helped. It was great to meet fellow boaters.
I'll take another look after Christmas and post another on site report asap.
I hope you have a great Christmas! 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

She's run aground Cap'n!

With a brief break in the clouds, I picked up some more pipe insulation from Ely and headed for the marina. As I turned the corner, I caught sight of Skylark amid a sea of swirling muddy water and somewhere under all that water was my pontoon and jetty. I waded over to where Skylark was wallowing and found her bow well and truly stuck on dry wet ground. Her bow line was as tight as piano wire and no amount of pulling and tugging at my quick release knot would release it. So, I took out my very sharp boy scouts pen knife and cut her free. As the rope shredded, Skylark bobbed back to her normal position and I re-tied her to her mooring posts. This time, I gave her a little slack. No damage done. Phew! I wish I had my camera with me.

Anyway, once all the excitement was over, I fitted the rest of the insulation and headed home via my local AmDrams. I had agreed to help them get out of the Regal Theatre following a sell out Pantomime run. Life doesn't get much better than this.

What ever next? (I hear you say). Well, it's Christmas Eve tomorrow and I might just give Skylark a look see. She might need her ropes adjusting before the next storm arrives.


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Pipe lagging

Remember my concerns about freezing pipes? Well, today, I spent just over 5 quid on some pipe lagging and protected all the hot/cold pipes I could get access to under the kitchen cabinet and double bed. Obviously I don't need to lag the central heating pipes as the water in these have antifreeze added but I may extend the lagging to some of the hot/cold water pipes I can't see. These are under the boxing that run along the edge of the floor on the stbd side and a few short ones in the engine 'ole. This is probably 'overkill' but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Ben and family

It was great to see my son Ben, daughter in law Suz and grandsons Jack and James on Saturday. They lead busy lives so its not easy to meet up. I hope you all have a great Christmas and we see each other again - soon.

Jack liked the game of 'peek-a-boo'...

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Checking the pipework

We have had about 48hrs of freezing cold weather so I thought I ought check that Skylark is standing up to it. On Mick's advice, I have not 'winterised' the boat. I can understand his approach to a degree after all, the engine coolant and central heating both have a high percentage of antifreeze, but the cold and hot water system obviously doesn't. Much of this system is fairly well protected, for instance the cold water tank is insulated, as is the calorifier, and indeed many of the cold and hot water pipes are buried inside trunking under the water line.

However, despite all this, I have been thinking there is still a risk so a visit was called for and I was glad I did because I found the pipes to the kitchen taps had developed a slight blockage under the kitchen cabinets. Everywhere else was fine.

So, I started the engine and connected an electric hot air fan heater to the 230 v system and directed it into the kitchen cabinet where the pipes are located. I also fired up the central heating (which worked first time!), and lit the stove. This quickly brought the internal temperature up from anout 2 degrees to 8 - positively balmy!

Within a few minutes the taps started running so I don't think it was too bad but I was glad that I had taken the time to check. If it had been left to get worse, the consequences of a burst pipe would have been horrendous.

We left Skylark at mid day with a slowly simmering fire still glowing in the fire. The weather forecast for this evening and tomorrow is warm and wet so the risk will soon be gone - until next time. I will obviously have to review how to prevent a freeze-up next time we have a cold spell.

While on the subject of temperature control, I'll just mention how impressed I have been with the insulation in the boat. I have found the comfort levels during the recent cold nights and mornings have been good. The boat warms up quickly and stays warm for a long time despite the cold and, if the frost on the roof is anything to go by, little heat is escaping through the skin of the boat. Even the areas around the mushroom vents and above the stove stayed frozen until the sun started to burn it off. So, it's a big 'thumbs up' on the heating and insulation front.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Lazy Otter to Bottisham

Yesterday, I took a spin along the Old West River into the River Cam at Popes Corner. The water level was a bit higher than usual but not a problem.

Once on the Cam, the cold north wind was blowing quite strongly so this should have given me a little push as I headed south but this was counter-balanced by the strong current. Also, while I would not normally complain about the sun but it was very bright and shining directly into my eyes and relecting off the water and shiny roof. As a result of all this, the fairly short journey was not all that pleasant. Anyway, I got to Bottisham Lock (at Waterbeach) and turned around. It would have been nice to go further - maybe into Cambridge but since the Cam Conservators and Environment Agency decided to impose a new registration fee to do this (+£80 for me), I decided to vote with my rudder. That will have them quaking in their offices!

On the way back down the Cam the sun was starting to get quite low behind me and some ominous looking clouds were building up in front. Time to look for a mooring.

I went back to the Five Miles from Anywhere Pub at Upware and moored at the little EA mooring just to the south. I spent a quiet evening watching telly with a hot pasty (heated on the top of the stove) and a bottle of white - very relaxing.

When I woke up this morning, I fired up the Webasto central heating but it conked out again just when I needed it most. Anyway, the stove was still alight so I got up and stoked it. After breakfast, the morning was so beautiful, I decided to move on to Ely.

A cold start. When I pushed off, I found that someone had let some water out of the river without telling me (thanks EA) so I was slightly stuck in the mud. I managed to push the bow out into the main stream and, with a few of my brake horses powering from the rear, I broke free and headed north.

Apart from the cold, the morning was perfect - bright, clear sky; no wind; smooth water; no one else around; the boat gliding through the water - fantastic.

I spent a couple of hours in the town and walked around the cathedral. It looks particularly fine from the west in the sun.

By the way, I poked my head in the front door with the intention of warming up my fingers and toes on one of their their massive Victorian boilers and saw that they now charge an entrance fee of £7.50. Blimey I thought, I'll have to find somewhere else to warm my extremities in future!

After a slap up sandwich and a coffee in the boat, I headed home and, as I left Ely, a mist started to form and this just got thicker and thicker.

By the time I turned into the Old West River, it was full blown fog and all I could see was each river bank and a distance of about 50m in front. So, it was good time to leave the Ouse to its own devices.


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Five hours of fun

The Christmas Street Market turned out well. There were hundreds of people in the High Street - more than I have ever seen. 

We put a couple of tables outside our house and in the hallway and everyone seemed happy. There was lots of jokey banter. People loved seeing inside the house. And, just as important for us, many of them were kind enough to give us some of their hard earned cash in exchange for some of our vintage jumble.

Now, this is not likely to become a regular activity and is not going to compete with the likes of the antique megastores but it does show that, with a little planning and preparation, we can return a small profit. What a fun way to spend five hours!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Hello all

I just wanted to say a big HELLO to everyone who reads my Blog - family, friends, 'old' work mates, and people from the UK, America, Russia, China, Brazil, Australia, Europe and even Ethiopia! I have no idea if you you like what I'm writing about, I don't even know if you're really reading it - you may have just come across it while looking for something much more interesting! 

Whatever the reason, hello and thanks for looking in.

Now, if you've ever wondered what a retired local government officer looks like while he's concentrating on steering the boat in a straight line...


Christmas Street Market

Tomorrow, we're setting up a table outside our house to join in the Christmas Street Market. The weather forecast is cold but fine so there should be some people about. We'll see. Report to follow...

Friday, 7 December 2012


Wednesday night was predicted to be a cold one. They estimated minus 5 in the countryside, maybe a couple of degrees warmer in the towns, so I headed into Ely for another night on the water.

The Ouse was a bit choppy in places and the cold north wind was uncomfortable but there was hardly a cloud in the sky. That big building on the horizon (just left of centre) is Ely Cathedral.

I found a nice quiet spot next to the Maltings and tied up for the night.

Following my last outing, I had been told by Mick that the Webasto boiler probably needed to be switched on and off a couple of times to get it to fire up. I did this the next morning from the comfort of my warm bed and it didn't work so I got up and stoked the coal fire. I was glad this had stayed alight all night.

On the way back to Lazy Otter, I paid a visit to the water and pump out point (what fun!) and, later, I stopped at Little Thetford for a coffee and to warm up my feet. 

While there, I tried the Webasto again, and, guess what, it worked. Perhaps it only works when the engine is hot! I'll give it another chance on my next outing but if it fails to do as it's told, I'll set Mick on it.

Passing Stretham Engine House, the two resident Kingfishers darted past, about a foot above the water, like a pair of small jet planes.

Everywhere was very quiet on the river. No other boats moving about. Ice clinging to the river edges. Birds going about their business. I suppose it's not everyones' cup of tea but I like it. 


Monday, 3 December 2012

Christmas Sale

Last Saturday we boxed up a load of our old stuff - things like wooden boxes, brass nick-knacks, my home-made clocks, kitchenware, etc and went over to Creeting House in the next village.

Our expectations were not high as this was our first attempt to sell anything from a stall and when we got there, our expectations dropped a bit as we learnt that, last year, they had only attracted some 150 people. We set up our stall and our expectations reduced even further as the weather got worse. Cold fingers and toes will put off even the most committed customers.

Looking on the bright side, Diana (our host) was very nice indeed, as were the other stall holders (all 4 of them!). Anyway, the punters started dribbling in from 11.00 am and the trickle continued for another 4 hours or so - it felt like longer. We packed up at 3.00 pm having sold one item.

When we got home, we reviewed the day and concluded the event was not really suited to our stock. We really need to go to an antique fair or similar so we put this retail opportunity down to experience.

Next week, we are putting our stall outside our house as there is a Christmas street market in the town. This will have more people looking for a more diverse range of goods - fingers crossed.

A photo of our stall coming up. How could anyone resist? BFN

Friday, 30 November 2012

A break in the weather

Finding a couple of clear days between two rainy periods is all I need to take me back to the boat. Yesterday I pushed off at 10.00 am along a very peaceful Old West River.

The water level was much lower than my last outing - about 8" I guessed. Many of riverside fields were now above water and the banks had a clear edge. It's also so much better now that the emergent water plants have died back. I arrived at Ely and took up a mooring near the Maltings, as usual. Apart from a few 'over-stayers', it's quiet, out of season and midweek so there's no jostling for moorings.

I spend a quiet day mooching about the town followed by a quiet evening on board. Next morning, as predicted, the weather turns cold and I wake up to find a very clear morning and Skylark's roof glistening with frost. I'm pleased the stove pushes out the heat but a little disappointed the central heater boiler has gone on the blink. I will phone Mick when I get home.

As the river is so peaceful I take time to return to Lazy Otter. 

There's no one else moving about and even the Herons are either too cold, too hungry or just can't be bothered to fly off as I pass them. There's also more Swans about. I wonder where they have been for the last few weeks?

Being on my own I need to assess how much wind there will be as I moor the boat. As I have said before, any wind speed above 5 mph and in any direction other than north or south can be a problem when you're by yourself. Fortunately  this morning there was virtually no wind as I approached the mooring.

So, there we have it. Another peaceful, uneventful trip - it doesn't get much better than this.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

More wind and rain

I know the southern, western and northern parts of the country have really had some bad weather but the forecasters have been telling us it's now our turn. A combination of high wind and heavy rain over the eastern counties prompted me to take a look at Skylark on her moorings. When I got there yesterday, it all looked fine but it was too tempting just to stay there and wait for the weather to arrive so I took a spin up to Ely. When I left Lazy Otter at about 1.30pm it had already started to rain, the wind was brisk and the current on the river was quite fast.

I pulled into Ely about an hour later - normally it would take about 1hr 30mins but the current and following wind helped propel me along.

I found one of my favourite spots near the Maltings and settled in for the rest of the day. The night was fairly quiet really; but, when I woe up, I found the current had increased and there was a lot of branches, twigs and leaves on the riverside. Now, I'm not saying we've had it bad here in the east, but I took me at least ten minutes to sweep all those leaves off the roof.

As the morning went on, the wind gradually subsided so I decided to head home. First, I went out of town to turn around. As I came back I was flagged down to help move a college catamaran. These are the ones that accompany the rowing teams. It looked like it had come adrift from its moorings and had floated a couple of miles downstream so, after a bit of maneuvering in the light wind and strong current, I hitched it up and towed it to the nearby moorings. I guess, the college guys will find it on their first trip out next week.

It was then a case of going back up the Ouse to Lazy Otter and as I did the wind reduced further. Once into the Old West River I caught sight of a Barn Owl hunting along the riverbank and I was treated to a good sunset (at 3.30pm!). The calm river also meant I could get Skylark back into her mooring without any embarrassing shunts or bumps which would also please my neighbours I'm sure. 

Friday, 23 November 2012

What a perfect day

Catching a clear break in the almost continual wet weather, I spent a few hours on the boat. I had thought to fix a Victorian brass door handle to the rear hatch but it didn't feel right. Not only would it create an unwelcome head-banging hazard but I thought the hatch may be too heavy for it. A word with Mick is called for, to see if the runners can be loosened up a bit. I'll then reconsider if a bit of brass will add anything.

Anyway, I found the boat unaffected by the recent high winds and wet weather apart from a small problem with the jetty. It looked like the river levels had risen by about 6" and the stern fender had got slightly wedged under the top rail of the jetty. Not a big problem. Solved by running the boat forward out of the mooring. Anyway, it's something I must be careful about in future.

I headed off at 9.30am and the river looked fantastic in the pale autumn sun. It was so calm and tranquil, it reminded me of the odd occasions when I have been the first person to dive into a swimming pool...

I had a look around the town for an hour or so and decided to go home while it was still light. By the way, I mentioned the 'S' sign on the side of The Miller's House in my last post. I have Googled it and couldn't find any explanation for it. In fact another person had also photographed it and asked for an explanation. All the responses so far are at the humorous end of the scale; nothing serious, so if you know what it means, please let me know.

I headed home at 3.00pm into the setting sun. I would not normally attempt a photograph directly into the sun but I thought, what harm could it do?

The weather forecasters are predicting more rain and high winds creeping over the country to us tomorrow. Batten down the hatches!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Recharging my batteries...

Yesterday, I took advantage of another day of fair weather. My time away also had to fit in with other commitments so this trip would be limited to a day and night. I took a trip up to Ely and I soon found the local wildlife was taking advantage of the warm weather too - ducks, moorhens, swans, coots, grebes, herons and kingfishers were all out and about.

Apart from a few anglers and liveaboards, there were few people about on the river. The town itself was buzzing though.

While I was strolling through the town, I took time to look at some of the details...look at the detail on this place!

The little sign below told the local fire brigade if you had taken out fire insurance.This one looks like an early Sun Alliance brand but I might be wrong.

Do you know what the sign below denotes? Maybe the house was built by someone called Stephen (ha ha)? More likely, being located on a house next to the river, it marks the south facing side of the street. You can just imagine a boater falling out of a local pub and, before he sets sail, he takes a look at the sign - maybe not!
This tall and very long narrow house had a specific use. Guess what?
If you said somewhere to make stilts, go to the back of the class. The answer... 
This morning, I needed to leave quite early in order to pick up my ballot box - yes, I am one those official looking people who will be helping you to cast your vote for a new Police and Crime Commisioner. It's good that we have a democratic right to vote in someone to oversee our Police. I don't remember being asked if I wanted a PCC but in time, I'm sure we'll find it's much cheaper to have only one person per county representing everybody rather than a whole committee.
My short trip back to Lazy Otter this morning confirmed the weather bods had got the forecast right again, bless them.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

More clocks sold

A couple more clocks have been sold - one from a small display in our front window, the other from a local Knick-knack shop.

The lady who bought the first one invited us to join her and a few others at her local hotel for a Swedish Christmas sale. She and her husband appeared on the tv programme, 'Hotel Inspector' a few years ago and by all accounts the hotel has gone on to become a very nice place. The sale, which has by definition, a Swedish theme, should be a good place to sell a few more clocks and some other bits and pieces we have collected over the years.

I now need to settle down to make a few more clocks in time for the Christmas rush. So, I'm now off to my back room, which is starting to look like a cross between Wallace and Grommits basement and the set of Antiques Roadshow!


Friday, 9 November 2012

A few days away

With a predicted 3 day break in the cold wet weather, I decided to have a few days on the boat. So I packed my bags and headed off to Lazy Otter. Over the ‘summer’ I had drained the fuel tank to less than 50 litres (oops) but now I had about 150 litres of diesel so Skylark felt a little heavy in the water. This put up a higher stern wave than before so I kept the revs down. The weather on the Ouse proved good although there was a bit of a cold breeze blowing in from the south. At least this meant it was hitting me from behind rather than in the face.

I got to Ely at about 2.00pm and went down to the water and waste point. Unfortunately a cruiser was moored up to the first bollard which meant I couldn’t get far enough along to use the facilities. It’s a shame some people don’t think more about the effect their actions have on other people. Anyway, I moored nearby and hoped that the owner might turn up in the next day or so in order to let me in.

While it was still light, I popped into Sainburys and bought a family sized Apple Pie for my desert – well, they didn’t have a small one – and settled in for a nice quiet evening on board.
Next day, with more good weather on the horizon, I chilled out around Ely; a wander around the Thursday market and the local shops, a bike ride along the waterfront and a few jobs on the boat including putting up a new piece of brass bling..
The cruiser had moved so I took on board some drinking water and I emptied the waste tank.
In the afternoon, I thought the sun was about to take a dive behind the ever- building clouds so I thought I would make the most of the remaining light and pop up the river for a spin. As I started to unhitch, a Canadian man asked about the boat and I spent the next few minutes giving him a potted history of narrowboating. Now, I can tell when someone is genuinely interested in boating or if they are getting bored with it all but this guy was really interested. After about 20 minutes I had to make my excuses and I slowly moved off.
As expected the sun didn’t last long so I turned around near Little Thetford and headed back to a peaceful mooring right outside the Malting Conference Centre. After a slap up tea, I went into the centre and watched one of their Thursday night films.
9 November 2012 - Happy birthday to me!
Following an unusual breakfast of man-sized Apple Pie and Yogurt (yum yum) followed by industrial strength coffee, I went for an early morning walk into town while the sun was out. The sun then disappeared and I decided to head home.
Au revoir Ely al la douche.
Now some 7.30am while the sun was out...
And then, it got cloudy, so I packed up and went home...