Sunday, 20 May 2012

Media stuff

As if fitting a 240v/12v television and aerial is not bad enough, I have been wrestling with the intricasies of finding the Internet on board.

My son Matthew, who is currently lounging on the side of a hotel pool is Las Vegas (and diligently reading my blog - well done Matt) has asked if I have got anywhere with my faltering steps into the world of Fenland Internet media stuff. You see, when I finally got on board Skylark, I found, like so many other boaters, that the old laptop (circa 1896) doesn't work inside, what I have been told, is a Faraday Cage - in other words, a metal box - so, rather than sitting on top of the boat every time I want to use the Internet, I asked him what the solution might be. He then kindly went on to explain in words of one syllable but I still found it all rather difficult to understand. To illustrate further, he then went on the website of a famous supplier of computer thingys (and I thought Maplins was a holiday camp) and found a wireless mini USB adaptor that I could just plug in and get up to 5 times more wireless waves than I had before.

Now, as you may have already gathered, I am not overly endowed with computer knowledge or understanding but by my calculation, if I started off with no signal waves, having 5 times more will still leave me with no signal waves - or am I missing something? Don't answer that!

So, Matthew, when you have finally finished swanning off to foreign parts, please explain to me again what I have do - a demonstartion would probably help!!!!

Now, I must go have a lie down.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Another cruise on the Ouse

Following a few days of walking in Breconshire in Wales with a few like-minded people (what fun), Kay and I went over to Stretham to pick up the boat and trundle up to Ely. We were there for about a week, chilling out and doing a few things to Skylark. We did a bit of painting (not more!!), fixed on a few things like another mirror, a clock, a bright brass barometer (thanks to Sue and Chris), and a tv aerial. It was quite a busy time really for a chilled out week.
As the weather was a lot better than the last week in Ely, I took a few photos of the River Great Ouse and Ely itself – all looking quite nice in the sun. There’s still lots of water about but the levels are being maintained by the EA.
18 May 2012 008  18 May 2012 013  18 May 2012 017
This southern route into Ely is beautiful. I think we passed one boat in seven miles so this is not for people looking to practice their boat avoidance skills. The Cathedral can first be seen from Popes Corner and gradually takes shape above the Fens. As you get nearer and the vast roof gets even bigger, more urban buildings start to spoil the scene, especially the industrial buildings on the southern edge of the city. I think the Cathedral looks even better from the north as it isn’t spoilt by other buildings and can be seen creeping up the hill in ever increasing towers, spires and their abutments. More photos will follow when we take a trip up north. For now though, a few more shots of Ely’s waterfront.
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It was quiet this week, probably because the boats that had been penned in by the recent floods had moved on. As part of our chilling out, we bought a fairly small cupboard with a drawer to add to the kitchen. Mick and Gena popped in one evening and we joined them in the nearby Cutter Inn for a pint.
We left yesterday and returned home. Next trip planned for next week.
By the way, this is what happens if you don’t pay your mooring fees in the Fens…BFN
18 May 2012 009

Monday, 7 May 2012

Five Miles from Anywhere – No Hurry inn

After an evening meal, we walked over to the pub for a pint. This pub has a great history. Apparently, according to the guide, it was used in the 19c as a base for many Cambridge University clubs, one of the most notable declared the pub a Republic with its own President, Consul, Treasurer, Justice of the Peace and even had its own money. In 1870, Richard Fielder, MA proclaimed himself King of Upware and, dressed in a red waistcoat and corduroy breeches, spent many a happy hour drinking from his 6 gallon jug of punch (6 pints would have been large enough I am sure) and arguing and fighting with the bargees. Other clubs included the Idiots and Beersoakers. It would have been good to have seen some of this culture in evidence (more than just a few dusty photos of the pub on the wall) but, unfortunately, the old pub was destroyed by fire in 1957 and rebuild 23 years later in 1980 with an urban looking house with an enormous extension overlooking the river. When we walked across the lawns, we reflected on the beautiful rural setting and the earlier sight of an owl hunting over the nearby water meadows. Now, the oddly pruned willows next to the River Cam were bathed in bright yellow, red and purple flood lighting. 28 April 2012 063 Saturday night was obviously 80’s disco night and the good folk of the Fens had their glad rags on. They were feasting on an extravaganza of pub grub, taking a selection of fine tropical cocktails and cheap European lagers, exchanging witty conversation, and letting their hair down in a heady atmosphere of sparkling fairy lights and strobe lighting. If King Fielder had been alive to see it, I think he would have wondered what on earth was going on but after a few gallons of his famous Punch, I guess he would be up there dancing to Abba and picking fights with the narrowboaters. We finished our drinks and went back to the boat. Next morning we went back to Lazy Otter, shut everything down and went home. As a first trip with a new boat, everything went well, just a few teething problems that were soon sorted out. I have lots of things I want to work on to improve Skylark even further but they will have to wait until I get back from Wales (walking in the mountains). So please look in again – the next post should be in about 2 week. BFN…

A quiet Friday, then Saturday Eel Festival

Today, the forecast is for more rain but, as I am a natural optimist, I believe they must have it wrong. I know it will be dull and it will rain somewhere but not here. As the day progressed, my optimistic view on the weather proved good and there was no rain to speak of and occasionally the sun even broke through the clouds. Mick turned up at 1.20pm, disconnected the offending water pump and took it back to Ely Chandlers who changed it for another model. The new one worked fine so he then moved on to complete the remaining bits and pieces. He left about tea time and we settled down for a quiet night in. Saturday dawned bright and sunny – what a day for the Eel Festival! But as the morning wore on the clouds rolled in. It never rained and no one was put off but the chill wind. The Eel Festival was fun with a group of Norman Soldiers and Crusader Knights fighting it out in the ring interspersed with Cheer Leaders and Disco Dancers – these were different groups, I would not have wanted to see the soldiers dressed in short skirts and sequins. We bumped into Pete and Vivienne again, and they introduced us to Beverly and Peter who had bought nb Little Owl, now moored at Bedford. Later in the day, we invited them over to ‘inspect’ Skylark. Mick joined us later and fixed another external lock to the front door to enable us to leave by either door – much easier than just leaving by the stern hatch. By 5.00pm the Festival wound up, people dispersed and we made ready to cast of. We took on water and used the free pump out at Riverside and headed back south to popes Corners and on to the Cam to Upware and the infamous pub Five Miles from Anywhere, No Hurry Inn (previously the Lord Nelson). A few moorings are available to customers and we took the last one.

Rain, rain, rain.

Today, Thursday, we might leave our 48 hr mooring, having over-stayed our allotted time. We thought we would pootle down to Littleport or little village of Prickwillow on the River Lark but when I looked outside at 6.00am I saw drizzle, and the local radio DJ was speaking of more rain, on and off, all day. But let’s look on the positive side, at least the pollen count will be low. So, our plans went onto hold until the weather picture became clearer. I would like to be in Ely on Saturday to attend the annual Eel Festival but we will see. By 09.10am, we slipped our mooring at Riverside, and cruised down to Littleport passing the junction with the River Lark – there’s only so many things you can do on a wet Thursday. The journey of about 5 miles took us about 1hr10m. The speed limit on this stretch is 7mph but obviously, with passing moored craft, etc. our average speed was lower. A single Heron, loads of Great Crested Grebes and the brief flash of a Kingfisher. We moored at Sandhills Bridge next to the Black Horse pub. Opposite, we saw nb Midday, another Mick creation. The guide book describes Littleport as ‘an enigma’. Well, that’s one name for it. It has a few old buildings like the church and there are one or two coaching yards but that’s about it. The rest of the place is made up houses of mixed age and design, a few convenience shops, a pub or two and the Littleport Boat Haven. It has a mainline railway station but I’m not sure how many trains actually stop. Littleport is an ordinary down-to earth sort of place and doesn’t appear to hold many attractions for the visitor – not even a Sue Ryder Charity shop. I will tick it off my ‘places to visit’ list and just leave it there. Bt the way, I learnt that a certain Mr Harley was born and lived in Littleport for a while before trundling off to America to design and build motorbikes.  We returned to Skylark with the intention of staying there the night but decided to move back to Ely when we found the water pump had sprung another leak from the repaired joint – obviously a problem with the pump, not Mick’s fitting of it. I rang Mick and Gena and advised them that this needed further work and we would be at Ely for the pre-arranged visit by Mick on Friday. The return journey was uneventful. We even missed the squally showers that had marred the rest of the day. This stretch of the river is used by Kings School in Ely and Cambridge University for rowing practice. I guess this is because its close to their schools and the river has some fairly long, straight bits. In fact they have a couple of boat sheds opposite Ely Riverside where we have been mooring. It’s quite interesting seeing them prepare for their training. Anyway, on our return leg to Ely, I met a couple of men's ‘Fours’ going in the opposite direction – a lot of sweat and heavy breathing as they went past - and that was only Kay! As we chugged slowly into Ely (what a fantastic view of the Cathedral from this direction), we were overtaken by one of the crews. It’s a little odd to be overtaken by a rowing boat but then, having owned an old Land Rover for many years, I am used to being overtaken. Coming into Ely we found a very nice spot at the town end of Riverside, near the Babylon Art Gallery, which will be a plumb position not only for Mick to get to with his tool box under his arm but also for the Eel Festival on Saturday – unless we get a tap on the roof by a nice man from the East Cambs District Council. While we’ve been here for 4 nights so far, which is a little more than the 48 hrs allowed, our continuing mechanical problems is a perfectly good reason to dwell – just look at the local Byelaws. So, we will not be surprised if we are asking us to move on but I’m sure I will be able to explain our position.

Things are getting sorted

On Wednesday, Mick and Gena arrived at about 11.00am to sort out the water pump and various other minor problems. The pump was taken back to the Chandlers in Ely and turned out to be OK, just an odd connection system that we had not been able to fathom out. Mick then started to work through all the other bits and pieces. We broke for lunch and went around to Peacocks, the local cafĂ©, for a sandwich and cream tea. And very nice it was too – highly recommended. In the afternoon, after they had left, we went to Tesco at the other end of the town, near the railway station. We had a nice cup of tea with Pete and Vivian on the way, the current owners of nb Midnight (the boat we had seen originally at Ely exactly one year ago). I was particularly interested to chat about their 12v tv and their recommended fuel for their stove (Wild Fire). It was also good to have a surreptitious look around Midnight. During our chat we learnt that Pete had worked in Needham Market a few years back – it’s a small world once you get chatting. Our walk up to Tescos also meant we passed nb No Problem. We said hello to (sorry, I didn’t get your name) and had a chat about the conditions in the Nene – one week too little water, next week too much; both resulting in minimal movements.

Cruise on the Ouse

The next day, we went up to Ely. The wide, meandering River Great Ouse was a pleasure to travel on with its views over the fenland landscape with its dark brown, almost black peaty soil. It was not long before we saw the vast outline of Ely Cathedral standing on the high ground above Ely itself. Turning the last corner in the open river, we went under the main road bridge and entered the attractive waterfront area. We went along the river frontage past Bridge Marina, the Cutter, Jubilee Gardens, the Maltings, Ely Marina and under Lincoln Bridge to suss out the mooring opportunities. We turned just after the railway bridge and went back to a cosy spot near Lincoln Bridge that cross the river from the Quayside to Ely Marina. The wide river is easy for a 60 footer to turn in – no need for winding holes here. We spent the day in the town and turned in early. It must be all this fresh air! Btw, no photos of Ely or the surrounding countryside, as the weather was dull at best, and downright gloomy at worst. I will probably include some pictures of the places in future posts. See what I mean… 28 April 2012 068 The next morning, I woke early to find we had listed over by a couple of inches. With nothing different inside the boat, it had to be something external. Poking my head out of the porthole, I found the water level in the river had gone down by about 8 inches. Given the heavy rainfall we had experienced and likely to have again, I presumed EA had opened Denver Sluice to let some water out of the system. The Sluice is the main control structure for the whole fenland water system. As a result, I guessed we had come to rest on the soft bottom of the river nearest the quay. I gave it an hour or so to see if the situation would change any further (for good or bad) and decided to move to another berth a little further up the quay. As we pushed off, Skylark left the shelf easily and bobbed upright again. We chugged slowly up to Jubilee Gardens near the Cutter Inn, a nice place to spend a day or two. We had agreed with Mick that he would join us on Wednesday to sort out the few things on our snagging list. As luck would have it, he turned up on Tuesday to service Midnight, one of his previous boats which, by coincidence, was moored next to us. When he finished that job, he and Gena popped in for a coffee and a chat, and Mick sorted out one of the most urgent jobs on the 12/240v system. When they left we agreed to relocate to Riverside Park near the EA water point (about 200 m downstream) so he could park nearer the boat the next day. When we arrived there at about 7.00pm, we discovered the water pump under the bed was leaking so I took emergency action – I switched off the main electrics. A quick phone call to Mick confirmed this was a good thing to do, but I could just isolate the pump by switching off its fuse – that way all the other electrical gadgets would continue to work. Mick agreed this would be sorted out as a matter of urgency the next day. Kay and I went off to the nearby Sainsbury's – a brand new shiny superstore – for provisions. By the way, as I was turning the boat to go to the new mooring point, I passed nb No Problem. I had been reading their Blog as they travelled down the Nene into the Fens – welcome No Problem.


So, after twelve months of work including six months of building, Skylark finally slid into the water. In fact, today we realised that it was exactly this week last year that we walked along the quay at Ely starting our search for a boat and came across Mick and Gena selling their new nb Midnight (see my first post - In the Beginning). So, by the end of Saturday, 28 April it was with great sense of satisfaction and contentment that we found ourselves sitting inside Skylark next to the quay at Ely. So how did the launch go? We had a few things to sort out before we could go to West Row so we didn’t arrive there until 11.30am only to find Skylark had already gone. Apparently the transport had turned up uncharacteristically early and taken her off to Popes Corner Marina on the junction of The Great Ouse and the Cam. So, without any delay we rushed over to meet her (if you can rush in an elderly Land Rover). As we neared Popes Corner we saw the rather odd sight of Skylark resting on the back of the lorry in a lay-by. The driver said he was waiting for the crane to arrive from ‘up country’ so it could go on site first in case of any problems. As it was at least an hour away, we realised we couldn’t do any more but wait. Just then Mick turned up and we decided to drive down to Lazy Otter, where our mooring awaited us, and have a coffee in the adjoining pub. When we got back to Popes Corner, Skylark was next to the quay being prepared for her entrance into the watery world of the Fens. After a few tentative lifts to make sure she kept level, the crane took the strain and swung her over the water. Slowly she was let down to gently rest on the surface. The strops were removed and an inspection was made to ensure she was sitting level. The water came up to her cavitation plate, which, with a half full fuel tank was about right. She also sat level laterally, which was good. The crane driver called over to us, ‘She’s fourteen and a half tons’. So, with the bare hull weighing in at about 8 tons, there’s about six and a half tons of ballast, timber, fixtures and fittings. 28 April 2012 019 28 April 2012 020 28 April 2012 032 28 April 2012 039 28 April 2012 035 28 April 2012 042  With success brimming over, we cracked a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale over her bows (‘poured a few drops’ would be a better description) and, with Mick at the helm, we set off into the Cam and then turned left into the Old West River. In 40 minutes we arrived at Lazy Otter and set about transferring all our stuff from the Land Rover. Everything went well and, after a busy day, we decided to turn in, but with all the excitement we couldn’t get to sleep until 9.30pm. 28 April 2012 077 28 April 2012 080 Sunday was one of the wettest and windiest days of late so we stayed put, getting things in order, and saying hello to the other boaters next door. By 6.00pm the weather cleared so we slipped our moorings and took a trip back up to Popes Corner. This was a short but very pleasurable trip in the pale evening sunshine. We slowly travelled through one of the most attractive landscapes in Cambridgeshire, passing the Stretham Pump House and numerous birds including herons and owls. We didn’t see lots of people because its so rural but many of the people we did se were boaters who said they had seen us go in the water the day before. They wished us luck and all seemed very nice – a good welcome. On our return to Lazy Otter, we popped into the pub (of the same name), had a pint of the local brew and then turned in for the night.