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?

St Ives to Ely

Friday, 26 April 2013
As the weather forecast is for some colder temperatures – they say 10-13 degrees by day and maybe frost overnight – I decided to leave.

At 9.00am the St Ives lock was in my favour so I steamed right in and was out within about 15 minutes.

The trip down to Brownshill Staunch was uneventful, but pleasant with a light wind and some sunshine. Brownshill was against me so it took a little longer to get through but, before I left, I rang ahead to the Hermitage Lock Keeper to find out if he could put the lock to my favour, which he did. Full marks!

I reached the quiet Aldreth High Bridge GOBA mooring for lunch.
By the time I was tucking into my slap-up sandwich and strong coffee the wind had picked up and it started to hail. Talk about changable! The wind, now coming from the west, was making the river choppy. I decided to hunker down for while as the forecast said it would improve as the day wore on. We’ll see.
I watched the 1.00pm BBC news. They were interviewing a young American girl who had lost the lower part of her leg in the Boston Marathon Bombing a couple of weeks ago. She was already up and walking, and talking about training for another marathon. Incredible determination and commitment. An inspiration to everyone. If only extremists could realise that terror campaigns will never achieve their aims – whatever they are.

After lunch, the weather improved so I went on.
Just as I saw the traffic on the A10 near Lazy Otter, I rang home to say, unless I was needed, I would continue down the river to Ely. Then as I reached Stretham Old Engine House, a massive dark cloud brewed up so I pulled over while it blew over. I put on a real brew and watched a bit of Ice Cold in Alex.
Following the shower complete with a double rainbow, I continued to Ely in very nice sunshine. More Herons and a couple of Kingfishers.

I arrived at 6.15pm and moored in the last sunny position on the riverside. Over 6 hours travelling today so I closed the boat down and prepared for a quiet evening in.
On the news, I was just in time to hear that Max Clifford has been arrested for a number of sexual offences over a period of about 20 years. There was no mention of Rolf Harris. He strongly denies ther charges.
I ended the day thinking, while lots of people are getting their comeuppance for various acts of greed and indecency, I was pleased to rescue a nice black bucket from the Ouse. In the words of that great presenter of Norfolk Radio, Alan Partridge, ‘Back of the Net!’

A busy day in St Ives

Thursday, 25 April 2013
After a cloudy start, the day developed into a hot one – 23 degrees, the hottest day of the year so far. I had a brief walk around the pretty little town and then spent most of the day painting inside Skylark.

The engine room has always needed a bit of finishing off on the control box. Up until now, I have avoided doing this because it needed the various plates, switches and boxes taken off or at least loosened to avoid everything ending up splattered with paint – yuk! Anyway, today, I summoned up enough enthusiasm to do it and was pleased I did.
While I had the paint out, I touched up a few other bits and pieces, which has made the place look almost new. It made the inside of Skylark look like a paint workshop for a while.

Talking of things new, in three days time, it will be the first anniversary of Skylark’s launching. I should be home by then and will post my thoughts on the last year; the GOOD, the BAD and the UGLY. Someone might find it interesting, helpful or even funny. Who knows?
In advance of that, I have just heard some good news – today, the UK has avoided a triple dip recession because the economy grew by a whacking 0.3% during the first three months of 2013. That is good news – isn’t it?

And finally, those children whose parents didn’t want them inoculated against measles 10 years ago are now contracting measles. I wonder if those parents who thought they knew better than the Doctors, are now reflecting on their decision.

St Ives here I come

Wednesday, 24 April 2013
I headed up the Ouse at 12.00 mid day in a nice warm sunshine but, as I went further west, it started to get colder and windier. This section of the Ouse is called the Old West River and, yes, I have heard all the jokes. Not many other boats about. This part of the river really is a little gem.

I passed through manned Hermitage Lock at Earith and stopped briefly at the EA 24hr mooring at Westview Marina to take on drinking water and empty the waste tank. As I left, I saw the famous seal. Unfortunately, by the time I could stop and put Skylark into reverse, it had disappeared under the water and didn’t come back up.

The next lock is at Brownshill Staunch lifting your boat about 12 inches from the 3 miles of tidal Ouse to the upstream non-tidal bit. It was in my favour so I went straight in.

Both Hermitage Lock and Brownshill Staunch are having their staging pontoons replaced so access into and out of the locks is being controlled more than usual. It’s worth ringing the Hermitage Lockkeeper before you get there. No problems though.

There is a very big sign prohibiting mooring outside the Ferryboat Inn at Holywell (rather ironic that).
The next short stretch had the most wildlife; a heron, a kingfisher as well as the usual ducks, swans, coots, moorhens, etc. A few baby coots around - the size of ping-pong balls.
I was the only boat going through the big St Ives lock which was not in my favour. This was a bit of shame as it uses so much water – it’s a double lock with a lift of nearly 2 meters. It took me about 20 minutes and was my first complete solo lock with an electric guillotine gate at the downstream end and a pair traditional hand-operated ‘V’ gates upstream – harrah!

The waterfront at St Ives really is very attractive, even when the sun goes in!

After a very pleasant 6 hours cruising one of the most peaceful and attractive rivers of East Anglia, I moored at the Waits near the little St Ives Museum – very nice.

I had heard another boat owner say this area is the meeting place for local ne’er-do-wells but I have never had a problem here. It attracts all sorts of people at lunchtime and in the evening eating their packed lunches or the fish and chips. There are sometimes a few local lads and lasses hanging out but they all seem very friendly and laid back.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Solo to St Ives

With a few more nice days on the horizon, I'm off to St Ives. Lady Saga is staying at home to look after the cat and get in some more hours at work. Well, someone has to pay for all my trips!

Now for 'Mr Grumpy', I contacted the Environment Agency a couple of days ago about the large amount of rubbish in the Ouse. Lots of it is natural stuff brought down by the recent floods but there is also a lot of man-made rubbish like old tv cabinets, tyres, plastic bottles, broken fencing rails, old boating bits, etc etc.

Steve Green rang me yesterday to say they routinely survey and collect this sort of thing but he has asked his river team to look at it specifically. Good man!

I'm now Mr Happy!! Bon Jovi.

So I'm now off to the boat and will soon be chugging up the Ouse to St Ives - in the sun. My next post will have to wait 'til I get back.


Monday, 22 April 2013

Do herons migrate?

I have been on the boat quite a bit over the winter and it's been months since I saw a heron. In fact, it was only last week that I saw the first one on the Ouse this year. 

So where have they all been hiding? Do they migrate, move to another river or perhaps the coast, or have they been hunkering down behind the bushes and in the ditches so I can't see them?

To help resolve this issue, the RSPB clearly states the British grey heron doesn't migrate. So, I guess I've either missed them or they've been hiding somewhere.

Then to confuse me, another website says that, while British herons are mostly sedentary, some do migrate to Ireland and the near-continent, such as France and Holland.

To confuse me even further, the site goes on to say, in winter, the northern European Grey Heron arrives in eastern Britain, especially along the coast.

So, there we have it. Some of them are like spotty teenagers and just stay at home, some of them are more adventurous and go to Ireland and the near continent, and some of the international jet-setters fly in from the northern Europe.

I wonder if the one I saw last week was returning from somewhere, having a stop-over while going somewhere else or just hanging out in the Ouse as it always does.

Your guess is as good as mine!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Upware then home

Sunday, 21 April 2013

A lovely quiet morning in bright sunshine. I left Ely before the Sunday crowds arrived and headed up the Ouse at a very slow pace because everything was looking so peaceful – I didn’t feel the need to make too much noise.

I reached The Five Miles from Anywhere pub at mid day and had lunch on board. Nice sign.


Now turn round and look at the river.

Returned home in the hope that the Wicken overhead cable has been repaired and someone has removed that piece of litter near Soham - I guess there's a 50% chance of success!

Sunny Saturday

Saturday, 20 April 2013

This must be the sunniest Saturday since this time last year. Do you remember last April when Anglian Water announced a hosepipe ban in the Eastern Region? It then didn’t stop raining until they decided to lift the drought warning at the end of the summer. Anyway, if we have another day like today, they may think about doing it again.
Ely looked a picture in the sun, lots of people and even quite a few white cruisers were on the river braving the unusual elements. I had the pleasure of watching big white boats with names like ‘Atlantis’, ‘Olli-an-Anna’ and ‘Dad’s Dreamboat’ jostling for prime position on the riverside.

I then spent a leisurely day in the town and on the boat. In the afternoon, I even took the top of a paint pot and started touching up the skirting board. Now the skirting looks fab and the rest looks drab. Might have to paint it all to match. Such fun!
It’s now 7 o’clock and all the cruisers have buzzedoff home to watch East Enders or Britain Needs Talent so things are peaceful again on the river. Stunning!

I plan to go home tomorrow.

Oil Change

Friday, 19 April 2013
I woke quite early to a dull day but the wind had died down to a light breeze and it was, as predicted, coming from the north. Skylark was already bobbing about, free of the mud. No problem there then.

I spent the first hour changing the engine and gearbox oil. I had a traditional ‘Castrol’ type oil can to decant the old oil in and out of the engine/gearbox (it could just be a plastic bottle). I poured the old oil into an empty 5 litre oil can (you need two of these to complete the whole job). I then used the can to pour in the new 15W-40 mineral oil (Beta recommends this is used and not any synthetic oils but they don’t say why – members of the Canalworld Forum are happy to offer their views on this issue).
Without a ‘Castrol’ type oil can, the removal of the old oil and pouring in the new oil would have been very difficult and messy. Anything that avoids a mess and in particular oil going into the bilges, is well worth it. I suppose a plastic funnel from Halfords would do but a traditional oil can is much nicer to look at and use imo.

The use of the in-built sump pump on the Beta engine was a great help keeping the job simple and clean. For the gearbox oil, I used a hand-held pump – well worth the fiver I paid for it on Ebay.
Changing the oil filter is, as usual, a fiddly operation, it being located under the front, st’bd side of the engine (I don't need to be told why the filter can't be on top of the engine). Mine needed to be loosened with a filter wrench (you know, a metal thingy consisting of a handle and short length of bike chain) and then, with a plastic bag around it to catch any remaining oil (yes, it was needed!), I turned it by hand. The new filter must have a smear of oil on the rubber seal to help it settle in place and avoid it rucking up. It then turns by hand until it stops and is finally tightened gently with the wrench thingy.

I finally filled the engine and gearbox with the required amounts of oil and checked them with their dipsticks. When satisfied, I packed up the mess and went down to Ely. When I moored up, I checked the levels again and the filter seal for leaks – all good.
Btw, the fuel filter and air filter only need replacing every two years so these will be done next April.

Sunshine and showers today but not in that order and not in equal quantities. 

First sighting of a heron as I arrived in Ely. I'll have to find out where they all go in winter.
The BBC 6 o’clock news has just reported that Rolf Harris is the latest celeb to be arrested on charges of sexual abuse - no, not with two little boys - with a woman! Now who would have guessed that?

I dread to think what he was doing when he first asked, 'Can you tell what it is yet?'

I’ll have to open a bottle of Chardonnay  and a bag of roasted peanuts to help me cope.

Windy Wicken

Thursday, 18 April 2013

This morning, as I drove to Lazy Otter, I followed a white van towards Soham. Nothing odd there I hear you say but, as we got near the large Turners warehouses, a fast food box flew out of his passenger’s window on to the verge. ‘That probably didn’t happen by itself’, I mused, ‘I guess some thoughtless person may have thrown it out on purpose.’ So I made a quick note of the van number and later reported him to the Council. He might think twice next time after having to pay a £80 fixed penalty fine. Ha!

The next bit of excitement happened as I went through Wicken. The wind was increasing all the time but I had no idea it was strong enough to bring down an overhead cable near a farm, until I ploughed into it. As I hit the brakes (too late), it twanged over the windscreen and shot over the roof-rack. How it and the roof-rack managed to stay in one piece I don’t know. If it had snapped, I guess it could have been more of a problem. As I shuddered to a halt, it was left hanging only 3 feet off the road. Cars could sneak past but lorries couldn’t. I spent a few minutes waving a few cars down and then left the local farmer to take charge. As I went on I flagged some lorries down and warned them of the problem. Some turned around, other continued.

As I got to Lazy Otter, I found Skylark where I’d left her on the river; the strong wind pushing her hard against the bank.
The starboard side was in the mud and there was no point even trying to free her while the wind was blowing so hard. So, I went into Ely (to report the white van driver) and picked up some food.

In the afternoon I walked down the river. I would call it bracing walking in a easterly direction, nearly gale force facing the west. Over towards Upware, the wind was whipping up the light sandy soil creating a low cloud of brown fog. I’d seen more of this to the west of Bury St Edmunds too. I understand this is called the Fen Blow and I’m told this is quite an interesting feature of this part of the world. The mid west of America, parts of the Russian Steppes and the Sahara Desert have similar looking sand storms but they are not half as interesting as the Fen Blow. Apparently, the local Fen Folk say, ‘It’s loike drivin’ through Maarmoite’. Perhaps not the best saying in the world but you get the drift.
I wonder what they say about rainbows?
I plan to push off the mudbank tomorrow when the wind turns to the predicted light northerly.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Windy Ouse

It sounds like something you should see your doctor about but a windy Ouse was what we have had for a few days. The zero temperatures moved away and left us with fairly warm sunny days.

I prepared Skylark for a trip to Ely; did all the usual checks, made sure things were in place, put on my new self-inflating life jacket (a must for solo travel, I'm told) and headed down a very tranquil Old West River only to find the prop struggling. I pulled over at Stretham Pump House and found a short piece of polyprop wrapped around the prop (is that how it got its name?).

This is not the first time its happened but its always been waterweed that's caught up. So, what do you do when you've just spent 10 minutes groping about in your weed hatch for a dirty piece of old rope?

Do you:

A. Throw it back in the river (like someone else presumably did),
B. Take a photo of it to show all your friends,
C. Take it to the nearest litterbin and dispose of it responsibly, or
D. None of the above.

Obviously I did B and C.

Having gained full control over Skylark, I continued down the Ouse. Ely was looking its usual self. Very nice in the sun and still not too many people about.

As the day progressed it got windier and windier so I hunkered down for a fairly quiet couple of days on board. As usual I busied myself cleaning and polishing, and I even removed the rear hatch and sorted out an annoying friction problem. Afterwards, it slid on its brass rails like a good 'un.

Just before the sun went down over the yard arm, I noticed a narrowboat coming into moor in front of me. He passed my nearest porthole very closely (a foot!) and came to a slithering halt as he hit my bow. I popped my head out and saw a Fox hire boat Cap'n shouting instructions to his Mrs Mate who was, by now on shore waving a rope in one hand and wiping the 'glow' from her furrowed brow. Cap'n Urban Fox turned and waved a 'sorry' hand signal at me. He eventually manoeuvred himself into the space and roped himself in. Phew!

See that nasty scratch on the bow? That's part of Skylark!

Before I headed home on Tuesday, I noticed the next water event in Ely. Maybe I can encourage Kay (aka Lady Saga) to join me as the weather should be warmer and less windy by then.

When I got back to Lazy Otter, the wind was still blowing a good 20 -25 mph which made it difficult to get in so I pulled over to the GOBA mooring, next to NB The Navigator, who presumably had found the same problem.

The river still looked lovely, made even better by a brief sighting of the Stretham Kingfisher darting off in the opposite direction.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

GOBA News - Spring 2013

My copy of the GOBA Spring mag arrived today and it makes good reading. Full marks to the GOBA Team for all their hard work.

Interesting article on page 4 titled - Awash with fines. Nine people in the Ouse and Cam have been fined for failing to register their boats or for over-staying.

Now I just need to find a spare piece of porthole glass on Skylark for my new EA Registration sticker and the 2013 GOBA membership sticker. I wouldn't want to be found lax in the sticker department.

Monday, 8 April 2013


As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm busking next Sunday. If you would like to support me and few other like-minded people, please just turn up - we need all the support we can get!

Where and when:

1.30 - 4.00pm

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Here comes the sun!

With a gradual improvement in the weather forecast, I have changed my profile picture. This is Ely Riverside last November - yes, November!!!!!

Friday, 5 April 2013

RIP Paul O'Brien

I have just followed up my previous post about the body found at Lazy Otter.

It turns out that he was Paul O'Brien, a 42 year old, ex-soldier. He went missing last October and, following a number of calls to the Police, was only found recently when the van was removed by a Council's contractor.

The owner of the Lazy Otter pub did all she could to find the owner of the van and made a number of calls to the Police for help. Her call to the local Council led to the discovery.

Some people are taking the opportunity to criticise the Police for not investigating and especially for 'not joining up the dots' when the man was reported missing. Some of that criticism may be justified and no doubt lessons will be learnt - until the next time perhaps.

However, what's most important is not to lose sight of what this poor bloke must have gone through. In the Press we're told he served in Northern Ireland twice and in the first Gulf War. He even carried the body of a dead comrade 5 miles when a helicopter failed to turn up.

I really don't know anything much else about his life, what he must have gone through during his military service or the circumstances that led to him ending up in the back of a van at Lazy Otter. I just hope he is now resting in peace and his family is able to cope. It may help them to know people are thinking about him.

Cambridge anthropology

Any question I may have had in my mind about going for a quick spin in the boat was answered when I dragged myself out of my cacoon at 9.30am. The weather was dull, cold and still too windy. It would not make for a pleasurable journey.

So, I stuck with my plan to go into Cambridge. I got there by about 11,00am. What a lovely place, even when the sun's not out and especially before all the tourists arrive.

I found the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology easily.

It’s located in Downing Street (no, not the famous one in London). It’s next to the Sedgewick Museum (in the same building) and opposite the Zoology Museum. They have a very good location map on their website.

The ground floor is dedicated to the ancient history of Cambridge and the surrounding countryside. All very nicely presented in a clear, modern, ‘we’ve just had a grant from the National Lottery’ sort of way. Some of the exhibits would benefit from more explanation and, on some, I and a nearby visitor even found it difficult to work out what some artifacts were.

The ground floor area is quite small and I wondered if ‘that was it’. Then I saw the side door leading to the stairs, so up I went. On the first floor is a remarkable range of material from all over the world presented in a very friendly, accessible way including an enormous North American totum pole which they apparently cut in half and winched up through a trap door in the floor. It reached from the floor to the roof lights.

In an adjoining gallery was an exhibition of a project undertaken in New Guinea including a slideshow comparing life in two jungle villages. This was very illuminating and reminded me in many ways of life in Nepal (and probably many other third world countries).

On the third floor (the walkway in the photo) was a further exhibition of cultural artifacts, mainly artistic, which had formed the inspiration for further work by a group of present day artists. All very interesting.

Having now seen four of the Cambridge museums, this is the one I like best, closely followed by the Polar Museum. As I have said in a previous post, rocks, fossils, skeletons and classical art are fine in small quantities but I prefer the see and learn about the human side of history. In fact, I couldn’t leave Cambridge before I had visited the Polar Museum again.
Incidentally, I was watching Mastermind on TV a few weeks ago and lamenting the fact that the questions seem to be getting easier (ha ha) when a man came on answering questions on Scott’s Last Journey. My ears pricked up! He did well, I must say, but the last question couldn’t have been more better timed. John H asked, ‘What were last seven words written in Scott’s journal?’ As the contestant started his answer, the final buzzer went but, as we all know, he’d already started so he could finish. With gulp and an obvious tremor in his voice, he said, correctly, ‘For God’s sake, look after our people.’ Stirring stuff indeed.

Now a question for you. What were Captain Oates last words before he walked out of the tent to his inevitable death in the snow and ice? Most people would answer, ’I’m going outside and I may be some time.’ And they would be almost right but there is a word missing. What he actually said, according to Scott’s last journal, was, ‘I’m just going outside and may be some time.’ If you got that right, give yourself a big brownie point. If you got it wrong,  just go outside for a while and think about it.

On my way back to the Landy, I passed this sign.
Not wanting to commit a nuisance in any occupiers entry,
I took my leave of Cambridge
-- Apr 2013 --

It's British Summer Time!

It’s 5.00pm on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 and I’ve just got back from a very bracing walk along a very windy riverbank. Still no sign of the Barn Owl or those fighting Kingfishers. Prior to that I pottered about on board Skylark, adjusted the clocks for British Summer Time (ha ha), replaced the fire cement around the stove chimney joint, lit the fire, swept out more dust, tweeked the ropes for the high wind and had lunch.

I had hoped to take Skylark for a spin down to Ely or even up to St Ives but the wind was far too strong for a safe solo trip. It’s still gusting 20 – 30 mph which would cause me all sort of problems manouvering in and out of locks and jetties. So, I’m sitting tight tonight. Tomorrow, I plan to go into Cambridge by Landy and visit the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Sounds like a bundle of fun, doesn’t it? Apparently it’s one of about ten owned by Cambridge University (Google it and you will see). I’ve already seen the Polar Museum, the Fitzwilliam (Fitzbillies to the locals), the Zoology Museum and the Sedgewick Earth Science Museum. It’s now the turn of the MAA. Kettles Yard, a contemporary art exhibition, is partly closed during refurbishment, so that will have to wait for my patronage.
Peeping outside, it’s blowing a northeasterly gale up the river. It’s starting to look like the high seas. This photo doesn't really show how windy it was! OK, high seas it was not, but it was too windy f(and cold) or me to go out alone.

I’ll have to batton down my hatches, shiver my timbers and break out the grog. That's narrowboat talk for shutting the door, stoking the fire and opening a bottle of Pinot Grigio.  

Monday, 1 April 2013

The latest news.

Warning: There are no photos in this post because there's nothing worth photographing at the moment - it's far too dull, but please read on - especially the last bit.

I arrived at Lazy Otter at about midday on Sunday and found the temperature inside Skylark languishing at plus nine. This is not an exact science but I estimate there is a difference of about 5 degrees between the towns and fenland countryside and about the same between the inside and outside of the boat. This gives me a good rule of thumb to decide if I should pay a visit.

I have met a few people who don't fully winterise their boats but just open the taps and boost the batteries every month or so. They maintain their boats don't suffer from freezing pipes because all the vulnerable bits are below the waterline and the temperature there is a couple of degrees higher. I prefer to play safe (and enjoy being on the boat during the winter). So, take your choice!

Cruising into Ely, the weather was fine but there was still a very cold and brisk easterly wind. This meant there was not many other people about. As I arrived in Ely, a number of the white cruisers had already had enough and were leaving nice big gaps in the waterfront. Thanks guys.

After a peaceful night of deep slumber, I rose to a cold dull day - arhhhh! When is this weather going to improve? I left at midday and headed home.

As I packed my rucksack into the Landy, I noticed a man filming the back of the vehicles in the car park. I asked him what he was doing. He explained he was a tv cameraman and was filming the location of a story that was to be transmitted during the evening news. Apparently, after quite a few weeks of trying to find the owner of an abandoned van in the car park, a local man had taken it upon himself to have the van removed. When the van was opened, he found a body in the back.

The Police were called. It turns out he was only 42 years old and appeared to have died in the back of the van with no suspicion of foul play. Sounds a bit 'Jonathan Creek' to me but we'll see if anything further develops. Stay tuned.