Wednesday, 21 August 2013


While there is a lot of stuff on this Blog about the building of Skylark and where we've been during the first year, please don't forget to tune into my new Blog about our continuing voyages.

I don't know how to direct you to it using internet links or whatever they're called but you should be able to find it by Googling 'Narrowboat Skylark 2'

I've tried it and it works!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

New Blog

As you may have realised, I have had a few problems uploading my photos. While I know my ramblings must be of great interest to all my avid readers (ha ha), it's the photos that bring it to life for me.

So, I have created a new Blog called Narrowboat SKYLARK 2 (imaginative or what?). I hope this will solve the problem.

I will stop posting on this Blog now and go over to the new one. I hope you continue to read it.

While on the subject of readers, I know it can be a faff to open up my Blog but I am pleased to know I have friends and relatives who take the time to read it and I know I even have some readers who live in some far off parts of the world like Norfolk. Please stay with me.

It also gives me great pleasure to meet some of my more local readers from the Fenland waterways. Please continue to shout and wave at me from your boat. It really is great to know you can spare a few minutes to read my Blog.

So that's it. New Blog here I come...

Ely Aquafest

To take advantage of the fine weather and the predicted entertainment at the Ely Aquafest, Lady Saga and I went down to Ely at the weekend.

As luck would have it, we found a fine mooring right on the waterfront where much of the event took place - a real ringside seat.

With sun umbrella out and trousers rolled up, we took in the stalls, the music, the food and drink and, best of all, the raft races. I'm not sure who won but that didn't seem to matter too much. There was a great deal of water being splashed about and lots of happy faces - even Madam Mayor entered into the spirit of the events under her official umbrella.

Thomas the Sank Engine got my vote for being one of the first rafts out of the traps but one of the last ones to return.

(imagine an IMAGE here)

It was a great event and one that I would recommend for anyone.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Middle Levels

So, returning to the subject of the Middle Levels, it's fair to say they have a character all of their own. They are generally narrower than the main rivers and often fairly shallow but they are attractive in their own right. The fact that they are also 'sealed in' by manned lock chambers and your name and boat number are taken to control numbers, and you are given a time slot to enter and leave the system gives them a sort of 'inner sanctum' feel.

Here I'll try uplifting some general shots of the system. First Denver Sluice.

Guess what? Blogger has decided that there's no more photos today. I must have used up my daily quota. I'll try again tomorrow - or maybe next week.

Ferry Meadows trip

Could the photo uploading thingy be working again? Let's see if it likes Ferry Meadows. This was taken from the boat...

It would be hard to find a better place to hitch up to...
What a tranquil view!
(I may tempt providence and try a few more)

Open Gardens 2013

We took part in the 2013 Open Gardens event last Sunday and welcomed 100 people into our small patch of Suffolkshire.

Next Sunday, we're opening our garden again, as part of the Street Fair. The plan is to sell off some of the family clutter to help keep the good ship 'Skylark' afloat for the rest of the year.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

More photos?

Here goes...


Back to the Helpdesk...

The Middle Levels

So, to take advantage of the possible return of Blogger's Insert Image functionality, I'm about to down load (or is it up lift?) some photos of our trip to Peterborough through the Middle Levels.

I've done all the writing I want to about the trip so I will only put a few titles on each photo.

So, here goes...good luck everyone!

Nordelph, a typical Fenland village from the water. Who said the East Anglian waterways are all wide and boring?

Marmont Priory Lock, operated by the part-time Mrs Norton. Remember to have a couple of quid handy to put in the 'tips box'.

Edit: Insert Image has stopped working again and won't let me post another photo so I'll save this and try later. Such fun!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Insert image thingy now working!

Tomorrow I'll have a go at loading some shots of our recent trip to Peterborough. For now, you'll have to make do with some ducks and geese at the Ferry Meadows Country Park

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The new TV

I may have mentioned this before but the Cello 12v TV had been playing up. For a few months it was switching itself off with a loud electrical buzzing sound and hailstorm on the screen. Each time, I would unplug it, wait a few minutes, turn it back on and it would work fine. I wasn’t too bothered about this and decided I could live with it until a couple of weeks ago it didn’t come back on. So, I rang Cello and the kind lady told me that as it was now 12 and half months old, it was no longer covered by the warranty and she wouldn’t listen to my protests. She said I could send it back at my expense and one the engineers could look at it. The initial cost would be £79 plus any repair costs. What?!? As I explained my concerns, the phone when dead. It might have been my mobile signal going haywire but I suspect she pulled the plug on me.

Anyway, not wanting to be without a TV for our trip to Peterborough, I found another one on Ebay for not much more than £100. It was a new one with a brand name of Venturer. They had been sold by Argos for a couple of years and the hundred or so reviews were very good. So I bought one and set it up easily before we left.

So far, it has worked very well. The picture is good, the sound is fine, the remote control easy to use and scrolling through programmes is fast. I have fixed it to the swivelling wall bracket which means we can get the viewing angle right so, all in all, I’m very pleased especially as it was much cheaper than all the alternatives. It remains to be seen if it will last long. I have obviously kept the receipt and will have no hesitation in sending it back if it goes wrong within a year.

By the way, I saw at Crick that Midland Chandlers are selling the Cello TVs now. I guess they have researched them well and are happy with them. Perhaps I was just unlucky with mine. I certainly wasn’t very happy with the way their customer services lady dealt with me. Lesson learnt!

Upwell to Ely Monday 17 June 2013

While Kay tried to catch up on her poor night’s sleep, I busied myself around the boat including tidying up, and sweeping the wooden jetty. It was the least I could do for the Trust which kindly providing it for us.

We left at 9.00am and reached Salter’s Lode at 11.00am. I had earlier rang Paul again to tell him we would be arriving. He told us to moor and await his calling. I walked up to the lock and was surprised how small it was. Deeply cut into the flood bank, with a bridge over the top and a sharp narrow entrance near the river, it looked dark and daunting. I could see why some people find it a bit intimidating. At least going from Salter’s Lode onto the river is less of a challenge than the other way round.

It took a while waiting for the other boat to clear Denver before we were allowed to leave Slater’s Lode. At least this meant there was time for the incoming tide to cover the couple shallow mud banks Paul was concerned about. As we edged our way on to the Ouse, it was obvious the incoming tide and the northerly wind were both in our favour – had they been in the opposite direction, it would have been a different story.

We had lunch at the EA moorings at Denver and then decided to move back to Ely. This took us just over 3 hours and we found the waterfront quite busy. This was unexpected, especially for a normal working week day. After a quick shopping trip into Sainsbugs we settled down for a quiet night in.
The plan is to spend a couple days here and head home.

March Riverside Sunday 16 June 2013

A perfect morning. Sun, a light warm breeze, ducks, early morning dog walkers, young lads fishing, Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs, coffee, a good book. Perfect!!

Considering when we might go through Denver, I rang Paul at the lock and he said the earliest time would be 12.30 pm the next day and it might extend to about 2.30 pm. I said I would try to get there towards the end of the session. Thinking more about it, I realised that would meant leaving March quite early and then not being sure if I could get there in good time so we decided to leave March and head for Upwell. That would take a couple of hours off the journey.
As planned, we arrived at Upwell just after 6.00 pm and moored at the Church Bridge Staithe. Unfortunately the Five Bells pub near the church, where we planned to have a pint and maybe a meal, had loud music blasting out (odd for 7.00 pm on a Sunday) so we retired to the boat for a very tasty lasagne and roast veg.

Upwell looks better on foot than it does from either a car or on board Skylark. I was particularly impressed by the Well Creek Trust that provided the mooring and looked after this stretch of river.

Ferry Meadows to March Saturday 15 June 2013

We left Ferry Meadows at about 10.00am having  left a message with Tina at Stanground.  When she rang back she kindly agreed to let us through at 12.00pm. Perfect.

As we entered Orton Lock and prepared to close the upstream doors, a cruiser came up and we let him in. We shared the work and left in good time. I followed him down to Peterborough where we found the annual dragon boat festival going on. We edged past (waving to the appreciative crowds) and left the bustling waterfront.
We arrived at Stanground at 11.30am and Tina waved us in straight away. What nice lady!

This meant we could make good progress through the first section of the Middle Levels. We had lunch at the Leisure Centre moorings in Whittlesey and, despite the foul weather forecast, we headed on to March. Throughout the journey I could see some pretty heavy clouds heading our way but I managed to avoid them – not that I had much say in the matter.
We arrived at March by about 4..00pm and moored next to the well kept park, well away from overhanging trees and with no rat traps! Whenever we hitch up somewhere, we wonder if some the locals will cause us problems but we have never experienced any negatives apart from the odd late night conversation nearby  – you know the sort of thing, ‘You don’t love me anymore.’ ‘Of course I do.’ ‘You only want me for one thing.’ ‘But you’re my best girlfriend. Gizza kiss’

Ferry Meadows Friday 14 June 2013

Just a quiet day in the country park under a perfect sky.
I fitted a Solara 45W Solar Panel to the roof just in front of the rear hatch. Time will tell if this helps to keep the batteries topped up.

I also polished the port holes on the port side and will do the rest when I get a spare hour.

We plan to leave tomorrow and head home. I will ring Tina at Stanground Lock in the morning to see when she can fit me in.

Whittlesey to Peterborough Thursday 13 June 2013

Left the Leisure Centre moorings at about 8.30am and negotiated the sharp left-hander I read about in the guide. No problem until I arrived at the real sharp left-hander. It took a couple of go’s at it. The remaining short section was both narrow and sunken – more like a concrete drain.
Out into the countryside. Don’t look too hard in the direction of the brick quarries, the kiln chimneys, the sewerage treatment works, the heavy industry and a vast McCains Oven Chip factory.

The Stanground Lock on the eastern approaches to Peterborough arrived much sooner than estimated (about 2 hours sooner!) so I lined up behind a 70 footer and went to ask the nice Tina if I could go through in advance of my mid day slot. She was happy to agree with this so I offered to turn one of her paddles. This made her even happier.

We arrived at the waterfront in Peterborough and moored next to the Key Theatre. The guide states Peterborough is ‘architectural poor’. Apart from the Cathedral and its precincts, there is no doubting this statement. Most of it is even poorer than the Whittlesey Leisure Centre (and that’s saying something).
Anyway, after a brief jaunt into the city centre, we went back to the boat, took on some water and then headed further west, aiming for the Ferry Meadows Country Park. A very sharp shower hit us just after Orton Lock but we battled on to reach the country park by 3.30pm. We moored at the 24hr moorings in the centre of the park and were hit by another massive rain storm. The weather bods appeared to have got some of their predictions right.

March to Whittlesey Wednesday 12 June 2013

Edit: My photos are not loading on Blogger at the moment so I'll post the words and keep trying to get the 'insert image' thing to work. I hope they are worth the wait!

The weather forecast today was for cloud and wind so the plan was to move the few miles to Whittlesey which, in the Imray Guide, sounded like a good place to stay if the weather deteriorated as expected.

On our way to Whittlesey, we sailed past a marker informing us we’d crossed the Greenwich Meridian. I’ve crossed it many times in my life at various places but never have I seen a marker post. Perhaps this is the only one.

When we reached the town, and as we approached the one and only lock chamber we came across Paul in NB Moon. He confirmed that we needed a special key and lock windlass to operate the locks. Neither he or we had one so I moored up and we started to consider our options.  On  cue, a Commission’s van turned up and the very helpful guys sold us  a key and windlass. As Paul was going on to the Grand Union, we let him go first. When we finally got through the attractive lock, we moored at the nearby Leisure Centre moorings (2 spaces for no more than 36 hrs).
The leisure centre and it’s earlier swimming pool must have pleased the Council when they were first built but they look like they may have been designed by a 5 year old using his favourite set of felt tip pens. It amazes me that anyone could have thought they looked good when they were built or would stand the test of time. Come on Fenland DC, you can do better than that!
Whittlesey was also disappointing. It has a nice market Square but the rest of it is poor. However, rather than moving on, we phoned ahead to Tina, the Stanground Lock Keeper in Peterborough, to give her the required 24hr notice, and we rested during the afternoon. It’s hard work, this boating lark!

The evening was windy and dull with occasional showers. Tomorrow, we plan to move the 6 miles or so to Peterborough and get to Stanground by 12.00pm. The weather is predicted to get more windy – up to 50mph gusts - and wet!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Denver to March Tuesday 11 June 2013

I woke up at 5.00am to bright sunshine and took a stroll to the sluice. What a massive piece of engineering it is. The lock is an integral part of it and our slot for going through at high tide was scheduled for 10.30am. Busied ourselves until 10.00am, in time for our passage through the lock system. It’s not essential to book at this time of year but it helps the lock keepers plan their work. During the summer it must be essential.

We let Paul in NB Moon go through first and we waited for the second slot. A delay occurred when the upstream guillotine didn’t work so the Lock Keeper rang Paul, the Denver Supervisor who arrived very quickly to throw the resent button. The Lock Keeper, who I also think was called Paul, admitted to being on his second week, and should have known this I thought – of course it was not his fault for not knowing unless it was covered in his induction training and he had forgot!

As we waited to leave the lock into the higher incoming tide, the Lock Keeper rang ahead to Salter’s Lode Lock keeper, another Paul, to coordinate our passage with a boat coming in the opposite direction. After a few minutes, we went through into the tidal Ouse for about 600 metres.

Salter’s Lode Lock appeared quickly on our left and I had been advised to turn early in order to make the acute left-hander. The entrance was tight and it was difficult to see exactly where to place the bow; a projecting wooden structure confusing the issue! Seen from the landward side, you can se how tight it was!

Skylark glided into the narrow opening like she’d been doing it for years. As I slowly edged into the lock, avoiding any scrapes with the various wooden and metal bits that seem to be jutting out, Paul said I should move  forward to the upstream V gates so he could shut the downstream guillotine.
When he came back he said I would have got full marks for my entry if I’d not ‘dithered’ a couple of times. Ha! Not wanting to enter into a full-blown steward’s enquiry, I said they were not ‘dithers’ but minor readjustments to my speed and direction to facilitate a faultless entry to his lock chamber.’ Of course he accepted my explanation without further ado and only dropped me one point from full marks!
As the lock filled he said he often saw shiny-boat owners creep in and cause more damage to their pride and joys due to their tentativeness. ‘Boldness and a steady hand is what’s called for!’ I liked all the Pauls for their helpfulness, friendliness and down-to-earthness.

We emerged into the quite narrow and very shallow middle fens and the going got slow with Skylark hauling herself through the  water. We reached Upwell by lunchtime and pulled over for a bite to eat.

Upwell is generally in a sorry state with many rundown houses and a few shops. It looks like half of it is awaiting a heritage reclamation scheme and the other half is awaiting immediate demolition! While there, I rang ahead to the Marmont Priory Lock keeper, a Mrs Norton. Marmont Priory Lock is an attractive place with surrounding trees and a traditional lock keeper's cottage.

Despite her failing hips, Mrs Norton operated the lock for us and we sailed through into a much deeper and wider part of the River Nene. This meant we could put on a bit more power while maintaining the 4mph speed limit.
We reached March by about 6.00pm and found an unsatisfactory mooring too near the central road bridge. We could see by the litter that things were often thrown over the bridge – we didn’t want to be the ones under it! I also noticed a few rat baiting boxes which gave me clue as to one of their on-going problems. I then noticed a vacant mooring on the other side of the bridge so we went there only to find it was under a couple of large trees used by roosting pigeons. As I didn’t want to spend hours washing Skylark in the morning, we decided to move on and find somewhere else. We went 3 miles out of March, past Fox’s Marina, and moored up alongside the Nene in the middle of nowhere and spent a very peaceful night with only the noise of the increasing wind and sloshing of the river as a soundtrack.

Lazy Otter to Denver Monday 10 June 2013

It was an 11.00am start on a grey cloudy day but at least we were moving on our trip to experience the delights of Peterborough via the middle fens. We took an hour or so in Ely to pick up provisions and stretch our legs and then headed north towards the Little Ouse Moorings to take on 200 litres of diesel (at 92ppl + duty this is still the cheapest fuel I have found on the river).

There were not many boats on the water and not much in the way of wildlife but we reached Denver Sluice at about 6.30pm and finding the frozen meal was still frozen, we had a sumptuous fish platter in the Jenyns Arms right next to the sluice. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? - and it really is.
The sluice is quite a monster (more about that later).
In the evening, I fitted the new tv (more about that later too).

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bed base improvements

When Mick, the builder, built the double bed, he did a good job designing and building the base. It not only serves well as a solid base but also provides plenty of space for storage, the water pump and shower tray pump. However, I have never been happy with the top. He made four ply sheets and laid them in each of the four quarters supported by a sturdy frame. This meant they were not easy to lift and couldn't be left up unless propped up by the mattress. Of greater concern to me was that they created a potential problem of condensation under the mattress. Even with regular and careful airing of the mattress and bedding, this problem never really goes away. So an improvement was needed. Clear the decks!

Once I had removed the mattress and the ply boards I got underway. Space was in limited supply, so organisation was needed.

The ply bases were taken off and will be relegated to the garage at home.
I decided to opt for a slatted base so sourced some 7cm wide timber from B&Q. I did the marking out on the bed base to make sure it fitted exactly. This was not difficult but needed time and careful measuring to make sure the slats would be parallel and evenly spaced. I also had to fit three hinges to enable it to lift up so this had to be factored in.
After fitting the outside edges first (like a jigsaw puzzle), I glued and screwed all the slats in place using more screws around the edges and fewer in the middle. I hoped this would give the bed a bit of... well, 'give'.

I finished around mid afternoon. The work would have taken less time if I had used a power saw to cut the slats and maybe had two power drills (one for drilling, the other for screwing) but I was not bothered. Incidentally, I opted to lay the slats along the length of the bed to reduce the number of cuts to a minimum. Obviously the longer slats have to be supported but there were fewer cuts to be made and fewer screws needed. You can see the waste wood in the bottom right corner of the next photo.

The final piece of work was exactly as planned and I went home feeling satisfied at a good result and completely kn*ckered. I'm really not used to all this hard labour. I didn't even have time to field test the new bed base! That will have to wait for our trip to Peterborough next week.

By the way, Kay hasn't seen it yet but I described it to her like one of those bamboo beds you see in WW2 Japanese Prisoner of War camps. I hope I have reduced her expectations sufficiently.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Open Mic

It's that time of the month again!

I'm playing, with a few other performers, at the Limes Hotel in Needham Market, this coming Sunday afternoon. If you want to come along and listen, please do. If you want to perform in front of a very understanding and appreciative audience, bring whatever instrument you play and have a go. It really is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Red Kite sighting

I should have mentioned in my last post, as we were leaving Ely yesterday afternoon, we caught a glimpse of a Red Kite twisting and turning to avoid being hassled by a Little Tern.

We have seen lots of them on the Little Ouse near Brandon but this is the first time I've seen them so close to Ely. They are beautiful birds and fill a much needed niche in the food chain, helping keep things in balance, mainly eating carrion. Someone else's photo below...


This is probably one of my favourite birds and I consider myself lucky whenever I see one.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Ely fab weekend

Kay and I have had three days away in the sunny city of Ely. Moored near the Cutter and in close proximity to a lot of like-minded boaters, it turned out to be a very nice weekend indeed.

We were very fortunate to meet the 'Commander' and his wife, fellow narrowboaters Kevin (the gerbil) and his wife (the virgin) Mary (their descriptions, not mine), Stuart and his wife, and we even bumped into the owners of Beau Jangles who dragged us off a mud bank last year. Apparently they have renamed Skylark, the Mudlark - nice one guys!

We welcomed Emily, Nigel and the two oldest grandchildren on Saturday and spent some time at the annual St Ethelreada's fair near the Cathedral in between ice creams, chocolate cookies and more ice creams. Where do they put it all?

We're keeping our fingers crossed that this fantastic weather will continue for the next few weeks, right through our forthcoming trip to Peterborough over the fens. I know, it sounds really exotic but you can do this sort of thing when you're retired.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Prep for the summer

With an improvement in the weather, I spent a few hours on the boat today. The weekend looks like it will be even better.

Preparing for the summer, I have been concerned the front doors don't close very neatly. There's a bit of grinding and graunching as the two metal doors come together. The new high security padlock has added a bit of tightness too so I looked at ways of easing things. It was a small task for the new JCB angle grinder. Job done!

I also created a small wooden door (more like a flap) to hide the battery isolation switches. Is there no limit to this man's skills?

Anyway, I know you'd like to see a shot of it  - open...

And shut...
Lastly, a few days ago I came across a rechargeable Black and Decker Dusterbuster thingy in B&Q. It's not very powerful but is great for hoovering up the dust and fluff that gathers around the edges of the floor and in the corners of each room. It beats a traditional broom or the old Hoover Dustette hands down! And it looks a bit like a kettle so it sits on a worktop when its being topped up. Just thought you would like to share in my delight - oh the joys of spring!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Crick and Julia Bradbury

Following a surprise birthday party yesterday for my eldest son, Matt, we went up to Crick for the 2013 Boat Show. The weather was fantastic so the show was packed.

If you went there yesterday hoping to see Julia Bradbury, you will have been disappointed. You'll have to watch Countryfile.

Today, the show lived up to its billing. Lots of stands selling everything you might need for a narrowboat, in the marina there were lots of boats for sale, the beer tent was doing a good trade and there were lots of smiling faces. Can't be bad!

After a very nice one to one chat with Julia for about 20 minutes, I couldn't leave without spending some cash so I came away with a few 'consumables' for Skylark. All in all it was a very pleasant weekend.

Edit: I made up that bit about chatting to Julia.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Crick Boat Show

Are you waiting to see what the weather does this weekend before you decide to go? At the moment it looks like it will be cold, wet and windy - no change there then!

We're planning to go despite the weather. I've told Lady Saga, the fact Julia Bradbury will be there has nothing to do with it.

Edit: the latest weekend weather forecast for the UK is brighter, warmer and dryer. That sounds good so it's off with the oilskins, wellies and sou'wester and on with the shorts, tee shirts and sun hats! Good luck everyone!!!

Anyway, on to something much more interesting. I recently contacted the IWA to ask why they have started to promote 'upcoming' events in their magazine? Whatever happened to simple terms like 'future' or 'next', I asked? There seems to be a growing trend, even in narrowboating circles, to use more letters or words than is necessary. Do they think this makes the message sound more important? It's like the 'strictly private' sign - is this more private than private?

It reminds me of a simple example one of my teachers once told me. He described a sign outside a fish shop that read:

Fresh fish for sale today

He then went on to explain, you would assume the fish were fresh so the word 'fresh' is not needed. The shop is obviously a fish shop so the word 'fish' is not needed. It's also obvious that the fish are for sale so the words 'for sale' are not needed and obviously they are for sale today so 'today' is not needed either. An advertising guru might take a different view but it makes you realise how pointless many words are. It's odd what you remember from your school days!

At the risk of using too many words in this post, have a look at the health and safety poster below. Wouldn't the words 'no entry' do?

I wonder if IWA will respond to my email and, if so, how many words they will use!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Well done Rosie

On a very personal note, I am extremely pleased to let the world know that Rosie, my youngest daughter, has been offered places at four Universities across the country and has chosen to go to the beautiful city of Lincoln.

Well done Rosie!!! You'll love it.

And good luck with your new life outside sunny Suffolk.

Again, very personal, I have to say how pleased I am that all the kids are now well established pursuing their own lives - Matt and Ben are doing great things in the RAF and Army, Emily has just landing a new fab job in Ipswich and Jess is about to Graduate and is considering a PhD.

I am a very proud husband, father and grandfather. I will shut up now as I'm starting to dribble into my Horlicks.

Narrowboat security

I have been reading about what other boaters are doing to increase their security, especially as theft from boats is a problem in some areas.

Having spent a few years involved with security, and health and safety, amongst other things, I was particularly keen to introduce security measures in the design of Skylark. It was partly for this reason I chose portholes and solid steel doors.

I am also very aware of the need to berth in a safe marina, find safe mooring areas, never leave valuables or keys on  board, security mark everything, etc, etc. Btw, I won't mention all the other on-board security measures I've devised as I will leave Bill Burglar or the opportunistic tealeaf to find them out for themselves!

However, I will just mention the doors. While they are extremely strong and have adequate hinges, bolts and internal locks, I have always been a little concerned about the external locks. They are the sort more suited to garages or garden sheds. Because of this, I have invested in a couple of shackleless high security steel locks, the sort used on commercial van doors and trucks. They are not the most attractive locks in the world but they are super strong - probably stronger than the door themselves, being made of 5mm s/steel.

I will continue to use the existing locks for short trips to the shops or the pub but for longer periods away, especially when I may be away for a few hours or days, the new locks will come into operation. It's all about managing the risk without going over the top.
Anyway, who said they are not the most attractive locks in the world? At least, you have to agree they are a bit 'meatier' than the existing ones!! And they send out a very strong message...

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Open Mic at the Limes

If you're free and could do with some home-grown entertainment and friendly chat, please join us at the Limes in Needham Market this Sunday, 12 May from 1.00-4.30pm.

Cleaning up the Ouse

I noticed the Ouse has been tidied up a bit. Apart from the recent news of some over-stayers being prosecuted, a couple old abandoned boats have been also been removed.

The first was a large cruiser on the Little Thetford 24hr mooring. From its condition (half submerged), I presumed it had been there for years. Anyway, while EA's contractors were recently improving the bankside piling, they broke it up and removed it using their on-board digger. Well done chaps..

The other boat was a small narrowboat that had been left near Popes Corner. While I was in Ely last weekend, I saw it moored opposite the Bridge Boat Yard. In the morning it chugged off down the river, presumably to another long-term mooring. With a few quid spent on paint and some work to get the trim sorted out, she could be a little head-turner.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Ely Eel Fair

Well, it all started fine; Skylark was in tip-top condition and raring to go, my cupboards were full of good grub, my cocktail cabinet was brimming over with good plonk, but then I bent over while untying my centre rope and - plop - my reading glasses fell out of my top pocket into the drink. No, not into my G&T, into the River Great Ouse. I wouldn't have minded if they had been one of those £1.99 pairs you get from Pounds R Us but these were the expensive ones I got from QD for £3.99. Oh well, I thought, mustn't cry over spilt milk, worse things happen at sea, mustn't let it spoil the whole trip but I do hate losing things.

Anyway, off I went, undeterred, and the river and that great Cambridgeshire sky did all they could to take my mind off it. They were both looking particularly lovely.

Being the day before the May Day Bank Holiday, Ely was already busy and I found only one mooring spot near the Bridge Boat Yard.

By the way, for the benefit of our American cousins, the May Day Bank Holiday is one of our eight (paid) public holidays designed to keep our cost of production higher than most of our international competitors. For the unemployed and retired (like me), they are a bit of a non-event because we would have had the day off anyway. In fact, they are a bit of a pain in the arse for us really because most people who work will decide to do something over the weekend rather than just sitting around worrying about deadlines or budgets. And, this weekend, most of them decided to go to Ely to do something. So...

My mooring was fairly close to the railway line and, therefore, a bit noisy at times but it did have a good view of the water meadows.

Ely Eel Fair celebrates the city's early trade in the humble eel. It started with a procession from the Cathedral led by the Ely Samba Band. Why such a historic event is led by a bunch of gaily dressed people banging drums to the beat of a Brazilian dance tune defeats me, but there you are, that's the multi-cultural society we live in today.

Anyway, behind the Samba Band, there were, perhaps more understandably, lots of little children dressed as a long colourful eel, the honourable Mayor with his gold chain of office around his neck and his good lady on his arm. There were assorted Town Cryers ringing their brass bells, a troupe of jolly Morris Men playing their accordions and banjos, lady Morris Dancers jigging, tapping and prancing about, various hangers-on and loads of procession-watchers...including me. 

After holding up the traffic for 20 minutes, they arrived at the Jubilee Gardens for a day of frivolous festivities and hilarious activities including folk music, dancing, archery, historic re-enactments, competitions, face painting, looking at real eels in a tank of water, drinking real ale, eating real burgers and much, much more, Such fun!

I particularly enjoyed listening to the choir of ladies (and a few men) singing a variety of well-known songs. They were a bit like the Military Wives - but without the BBC hype.

I spent Sunday pottering about on Skylark doing a bit more painting, maintenance and improvements and then headed back to Lazy Otter in the late afternoon to avoid being hit by the Ely Mooring Police.

I'm quite pleased with the photos I took this weekend, especially the next one, as I couldn't see anything on the little preview screen on my camera without my reading glasses.

That's a funny looking duck. 

Monday, 29 April 2013

Skylark's first birthday

Skylark was launched exactly a year ago. 

We signed the contract for her construction about six months earlier and the original idea for her started way back in 2011.

I described the whole process back in January 2012 (when I started my retirement and Blog) and have posted fairly regular reports about my trips. Of course, this is probably very similar to many other people's boating experiences but it may be of interest or help if I outline some of the things I have learnt along to way.

I should mention, there are shedloads of books about building, maintaining and using narrowboats, and you can read other people's blogs and websites 'til the cows come home. This post is only about my experiences, from my own perspective.

One of the main things I have learnt, which applies to all aspects of boat construction, maintenance and use, is to get on and do it. Yes, it needs lots of thought and discussion - comparing options, designs, materials, equipment, colours, moorings, and, most important, how you are going to pay for it all but you can't beat getting on with it. Talk to people in the know, read the magazines, try out boats, visit the boat shows, then take a leap of faith and get on with it. You will learn a lot more and probably make a few mistakes (hopefully not expensive ones) but your experience and the finished boat will be all the better for it. Life's too short to keep thinking about it or watching what other people have done. Just do it!

Now, without getting into too much detail (read my blog!), one of the most important things to decide is the size and configuration of the boat for your intended use. I knew I wanted a boat big enough to take on long cruises and maybe live aboard, so I started thinking about a hull at least 55 feet long, preferably longer. This would, of course, increase the cost of construction and use. If I had wanted a day boat or one for short holidays, maybe a 45+ footer would have done. Obviously the costs would be much lower but my flexibility would also be less. A shorter boat may also have a more limited market when I come to sell her.

I chose 60 feet overall because it would be a comfortable size for leisure and/or for living aboard. It can accommodate 1 - 6 people and all their gear. A 60ft boat can access all the UK rivers and canals, and the resale market is also good for this size.

Did I want a traditional stern, a semi-trad or cruiser? There's lots on information on the net and all narrowboaters will share their views with you if you ask.

I chose a traditional stern because it maximises the internal dimensions. I don't have the option for large social gatherings on the stern but that is made up for all the extra space inside. I also think a cruiser style looks too modern but you may think a semi-trad is a good compromise.

What size and make of engine did I want? I knew the overall size of the boat and that I wanted to use the boat on canals and tidal rivers. Skylark weighs in at about 16 tons. Obviously this varies according to the number of people on board, how full the 3 tanks are and the amount of stuff I carry so I chose a 50hp Beta. This is a well regarded make and is beefy enough to cope with any conditions I may come across, even where the Ouse becomes tidal. The power is not needed for speed but for control.

What internal layout did I want? Lots of people want a traditional layout with the main cabin at the front followed by the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and engine room. Others want a reverse layout or one that puts the kitchen at the back, closer to the person steering. You may be able to visualise the layout from a plan but you can't beat inspecting and using actual boats. 

I designed an open plan layout with the main cabin, kitchen and dining area at the bow, followed by the wc and shower room, main bedroom, utility area and engine room. I opted for a traditional looking fitted kitchen, wc, shower and double bed but everything else is freestanding resulting in a flexible approach to furniture rather than having everything built in. I didn't need anything much in the way of fitted cupboards other than the wardrobe and kitchen cabinets but the open plan approach allows for them to be built in if the need arises. It takes a bit of a self-control not to clutter the place up and everything needs to be kept tidy but living for a short while in a confined space needs this approach. I also designed the dining area to be open plan but in a way that could be boxed in to create another bedroom if needed. Flexibility and simplicity were important aims.

Did I want windows or portholes or a mixture? Windows can be good if you like to see a lot of the outside world but they can be easy targets for opportunistic thieves.

I chose to have portholes as they look more traditional and are good for security but they do have limited visibility. Maybe a compromise of windows in the main cabin and portholes in the bedroom, bathroom and engine room would have been a good option. 

I also chose to have solid steel doors front and back and a steel side hatch, all without windows so that they are as secure as possible. I have not regretted this decision.

Some people have wondered if my portholes and solid steel doors makes it dark inside. The answer is, no. The internal 'lightness' is helped further by having the interior painted in light natural colours.

I also wanted a traditional approach to fixtures and fittings rather than contemporary. It's a personal choice here but I think it's good to go for one or the other, not a mixture of both. I planned what I felt happy with and always went with it when buying things otherwise my vision for the perfect boat would look more like the inside of a jumble sale.

I avoided cheap options if I could. I think you should try to get the best you can afford. It may be a stretch now but I think I will be glad I did in the long run. The same goes for everything else including the hull, the mechanical bits, the electrical fittings, pumps, toilet, furniture, etc, etc. Unless you have no option or are willing to 'make do with secondbest', my advice is to go for the best you can afford.

I chose to have a boat built from scratch so I could design it myself and get exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be directly responsible for its design and be involved in its construction and finishing off. You may want to buy new (off the shelf) or secondhand. In these cases, research is the key. It's your choice according to your means and/or your time availability but, whichever, you go for, you have to be happy with it. No point doing it otherwise.

Finding a mooring asap was vital. There's no point getting a nice new shiny boat and having nowhere to keep it. I found a mooring but had to reserve it with a holding fee until the boat was ready. You may be lucky and not need to do this but it's vital that you find somewhere before the boat is completed.

I was very lucky to find my marina mooring. It's in the perfect location to cruise the fens, it's not too far from home, it's got good security, adequate facilities and is not too expensive. Like most marinas, security of tenure is virtually non-existent.

Getting the capital to buy the boat is obvious. You may have cash or need a loan (or both). Do your research and work within your budget.

I also needed to budget for the annual running costs including boat registration, insurance, mooring fees and regular maintenance. I prepared a budget for fuel, heating, life jackets, cold/wet weather clothing, furniture, kitchen stuff, etc. and a contingency fund for unexpected expenditure for example repairs, replacements, repainting, etc. I had optional spending on things like joining boating organisations, adding more equipment, buying more kit, etc. etc. If you think golfing or going on holiday abroad is expensive, you probably shouldn't be getting yourself a boat.

Having said all that, I do try to keep the costs down by utilising furniture from home, buying fuel from cheaper suppliers, doing work myself (eg repairs and servicing), etc but you will only find out about these things once you start.

Pulling this all together, I knew I needed to find a good builder, someone I could trust, someone with the right skills who could complete the boat on time, to the right specification and to the budget I set. I was lucky that I found Mick and Gena so soon into my search. We hit it off straight away, sealed our deal with a simple contract, maintained a close working relationship and worked through every issue with good communication and respect. This relationship is vital and, if it goes wrong, I can imagine a very difficult situation arising. I'm very thankful my relationship with Mick and Gena not only flourished during the build but it has continued ever since.

So, what else have I learnt?

I had hired narrowboats before so I was not a complete beginner but taking my boat out for the first time was a combination of mild trepidation, excitement and self-satisfaction - a bit like driving your own car for the first time after passing your test. 

With Skylark, I learnt very quickly that everything had to be done slowly. This principle is simple and I have learnt not to be 'forced' to do things quickly. If I am negotiating a lock, a marina, a mooring, or a water point, I do it at my speed not someone elses.

If you have never used a narrowboat before, I suggest you have go with someone else first. It doesn't take long to get the hang of it but it helps. Most things are obvious but some things arn't.

I also learnt a new way of thinking about other people's abilities. When we start doing something new we always think that everyone else is better than us. Well, that may be true with most things but with boating, you have to think that the next person that comes around that blind bend or the person going into that lock (or whatever) is no better than you. You have to think they may be new to boating, they don't know where they are going or how to operate the boat so you have to anticipate them getting it wrong. Hopefully you will be proved wrong and you will pass each other with a friendly wave of the hand. But the key is your anticipation of all the things that could go wrong, and planning what to do if it all goes pear-shaped.  I have also realised that they are probably thinking the same about me so communication is vital, whether by positioning your boat clearly, by word of mouth or by obvious hand signals.

I am very prepared to offer help but learnt not to ask too soon. The other person may be doing what they want to do at their own speed - not mine! I have learnt to use my judgement; to be supportive, tactful and diplomatic.

I have met many people and I have learnt to take them as I found them (as they did with me). This means being open minded and prepared for a bit of 'give and take'. Most people have proved to be very nice indeed especially when you show them respect and consideration, eg slowing down when you pass them.

I have found it helps to say 'hello' and/or 'thank you' to everyone and the offer of a cup of tea or coffee works wonders, especially with Anglers who may have a negative view of boaters.

I have learnt that, while Skylark is my pride and joy and I may want to wrap her in cotton wool, narrowboating is a contact sport and she will get bashed and scraped. This is a fact of life but if I go slowly, these problems will be slight and easily repaired or painted over.

I have also learnt that Skylark needs constant care and attention to stop her looking tired. This involves keeping her clean inside and out, touching up the paintwork, polishing the brasswork, tidying up, sweeping the floor, removing any stains, keeping tools in their rightful place, maintaining ropes ready for use, sweeping the chimney, washing birdsh*t off the sides and top, etc etc etc. Its almost never ending but enjoyable nevertheless.

So that's it, happy birthday Skylark. The year has panned out as I hoped it would. I've learnt a lot and enjoyed every minute of it.

Roll on year two!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The River Great Ouse at its best

Saturday, 27 April 2013
You've probably gathered I like photographing things like big blue skies with white fluffy clouds, trees making interesting shapes against the sky, still water with mirror reflections, bright red sunrises and tranquil orange sunsets (to name just a few) so I can't resist showing you a couple of shots of the River Ouse to the south of Ely.

The first one was 7.00pm yesterday, the second one was 6.15am today. Fantastic eh?