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