Category Archives: Boat Building

Back Afloat with Memories

After a few days of post-Sidmouth rushing around (family gatherings, laundry, doctors and dentists appointments etc.), it was a struggle getting up at OMG o’clock on Wednesday morning to head up to Stoke-on-Trent. The cough/cold/man flu caught at Sidmouth didn’t help either…

Somehow arriving at Piper Boats by 10:45, there was already a very large crane standing guard: they were not only lifting Song & Dance, but a much heavier Dutch Barge destined for Bristol as well. Once Song & Dance was ensconced on the lorry, the crane was apparently following us down the hill to Longport to lift our boat  back into the water. We rather thought the crane would be too big to get down to Longport Wharf, but apparently the crane driver had already done a recce, and was happy everything would fit.

With Song & Dance in mid-air waiting for the lorry to back under it, we realised that it was the same lorry and driver that had broken down all those weeks back. The lorry started this time, but did manage to clout the rudder and skeg while backing under the boat. No damage, it would appear.

So, with minimum drama, we were back afloat, and the Piper Boat chaps were happy. After unloading all the contents of the car back onto the boat, the camera bag finally emerged too late for any pictures of the re-floating. But it looked much like the first time, except that Song & Dance was pointing north.

Leaving the car in the care of Stoke Boats at Longport – thanks chaps – we set off for the long-haul cruise to Westport Lakes, where we’d spent our first night afloat on Song & Dance just over three years ago. It’s a pleasant – if goose-filled – spot, and we’d resolved to chill out there for a couple of days, sorting out the boat, relaxing and taking stock. (We’d originally left the boat with Pipers expecting to be away three weeks, but for lots of reasons it was three months…)

It was good to be back afloat, even though the Captain wouldn’t be keeping us on our toes.

Difficult Decisions

We’d taken the Captain to the Vet on Saturday, because he seemed to be uncomfortable and limping rather badly. With no sign of any particular damage, we thought maybe he’d misjudged a jump or fallen, and pulled a muscle in his rear end or his back somewhere. The Vet gave him a thorough going over, agreed our suspicions were most likely, and given his various issues, prescribed some fairly serious painkillers. He perked up a little over the next day or so, but was still limping on Tuesday morning.

We’d arranged to “pop up” to Piper Boats in Stoke-on-Trent to check that the repairs and updates were more or less complete – with insurance company hassles over colour matching and extra work needed they’d needed the boat a lot longer than originally planned. We had reluctantly come to the conclusion that by the time Song & Dance was put back in the water, there wasn’t really enough time to relocate the Captain and crew back up North for a short summer cruise before we’d need to pack up again to head homewards before setting out for Sidmouth festival. It wouldn’t really be fair on anyone, really. So we reluctantly took the decision to leave resuming our 2017 cruising until after our return from Devon. It meant we’d have lost nearly 3 months of the summer, but there was no real alternative.

Piper Boats said we could leave Song & Dance in their car park rather than launch it just to leave it in a marina paying mooring fees for several weeks, and we made arrangements to re-float her on August 16th. We drove home in glorious hot sunshine, but in rather subdued and sombre mood, listening to the weather men forecasting serious thunderstorms later that evening.

When we got  back home mid-afternoon, despite the lovely hot weather it was absolutely clear that the Captain had decided he’d had enough, and it was time for him to Cross the Bar. With heavy hearts, we took another difficult decision, and headed once more for the Vet. The receptionist – who’d known him all his life – took one look at him on Fran’s lap and said “He’s given up, hasn’t he.”

As predicted, the skies opened that night, and we listened to the thunder while raising several glasses to a unique chap who’d won over hearts everywhere.

Can’t find a recording of our friends Sarah, Carolyn and Moira singing Crossing The Bar, so here’s their arrangement sung by the Spookies just before they headed to Sidmouth and caused chaos for your humble FO.

Piston Broke, or Something

Hearing that the insurance company was sending an inspector to survey the damage and argue the toss, we decided that we really ought to be there. So an early Monday morning start managed to get us to Piper Boats by 11:00am (gulp) to commence the wrangling.

This went much as expected. However, he did point out that (unrelated to our bridge disaster, and certainly not covered by any insurance), Song & Dance’s propeller had seen better days!

Bent Prop

We’d no idea when this occurred. You occasionally hear objects clunking on the prop (shopping trolleys, lumps of wood and so on), but had never heard anything making a racket enough to cause that kind of damage. You’d have thought the damage might have been obvious on the occasional trips down the weed hatch, in which case the damage must have been recent, but equally it could have been done years ago.

Perhaps that explained the rather unusual noises when putting the propeller in reverse to stop the boat in a hurry. Ho hum… more expense!

At this rate, we’ll be buying shares in the Midland Expressway (M6 Toll Road).

Hang on a Minute…

A couple of evenings were passed with Song & Dance lounging at Festival Park Marina, while Sir re-familiarised himself with marina life and the joys of their amazingly long pump-out hose, while a car was relocated from home to Stoke, ready for the Chippenham Festival cum boat repairs break. With the crane and lorry all organised for first thing Tuesday morning, your intrepid FO, under the watchful eye of the Captain, took Song & Dance single handed the 1.8 miles to Stoke Boat’s wharf at Longport, while the head gardener drove the car. The boat took about 45 minutes. Due to some splendidly sited temporary traffic lights and road works, the car took over an hour and a half to cover the same journey… the crane was stuck in the same jam.

While we unloaded the boat, Sir found all sorts of exciting places on the wharf to explore and hide, so we eventually had to confine him to the car (about which much protest was made).

Longport Wharf

The lift initially went well, except…

Longport WharfLongport Wharf

… that when they came to reverse the lorry underneath the boat it wouldn’t start, and just said something like “System Error – B” for those who remember early ICL mainframe operating systems. After much scratching of heads, phone calls to lorry HQ, Iveco Truck Dealer HQ etc. etc., a man was apparently coming with a laptop to reboot the lorry or something. No-one knew where the Control/Alt/Delete keys were on the beast.

Expecting the laptop to get caught in the same almighty traffic jam, the crane driver decided he probably ought to put the boat down for a bit even though it looked very impressive dangling in the air. Meanwhile we decided that we’d better head for home before the Captain sacked us for keeping him cooped up in the car all day.

The journey home was uneventful, and later we heard that – after several hours delay – someone plugged in the magic laptop, the lorry sprang into life, and Song & Dance was now safely back with her makers.

Bredon at Last – Or Not

With Bredon Hill in view from various directions for several days, it was something of a relief to actually circumnavigate it: we were actually trying to get to Tewkesbury.

Bredon HillBredon Hill

It really is lovely countryside around here, even if it is impossible to sail in a straight line.

Bredon Hill

Some mandolin musician friends of the Captain had once hoped to do an arrangement of Ralph Vaughan William’s treatment of Houseman’s Bredon Hill, but Ursula ran some kind of interference so they wrote their own tune. Wonder what they’d make of this boat… it’s very big, and a strange way to spell ukelele!

Bredon Moorings

Bredon church and village looked interesting as did the Tithe Barn, and the book said there were moorings: nothing for a narrowboat, though. Another day, maybe. We did like the sentiment behind the blue-and-white Tupperware job’s name!

Tewkesbury MarinaTewkesbury Marina

And so, in the early afternoon, in glorious sunshine, we eased into Tewkesbury Marina, which is vast, with several basins on both the Avon and the Severn, and moorings on both sides of the river. They even have their own private Bailey bridge across the Avon as well. Still, they were friendly and helpful, and the moorings were all flood safe, so it was a good place to leave Song & Dance for a week or so, come hell or high water.

Jericho Woes

We’d never had any problems mooring in Jericho before: it’s very close to the centre of Oxford, very close to the noisy mainline railway station, and a major cycle/walking/dog walking route, with the bells of St. Barnabas to keep you awake: not everyone likes mooring there but it is very convenient, and – surprisingly – Sir has always seemed at home there.

Well, we arrived mid-morning, and all the decent spots with mooring rings were occupied: some boats had been waiting over a week for the Thames to become navigable, and (sensibly) the 2 day limit didn’t seem to be an issue.

So we were forced to use mooring pins. Not normally an issue, but the consistency of the banks was not unadjacent to warm butter. You could push in a mooring pin with one finger. This did not bode well.

Some hour or so later, a hire boat from the immediately opposite College Cruisers went past at Mach 2, pulled all three pins out, and making all the kitchen drawers open… and Song & Dance was floating away unattached to terra firma.

We went and remonstrated with the hire company, who are supposed to provide training for their clients. Still, at least they gave us some free if rather old mooring pins so we could double-pin the front and back to make it more secure – in theory at least. Even double pinned, they were pulling away a bit every time a boat went past. And with all the hire boats on the other side we couldn’t even breast up with another more securely tied boat without blocking the canal completely… We clearly weren’t going to be able to leave the boat unattended for long!

Meanwhile, used to ducks and swans demanding food with menaces in Oxford, it was a novelty to find that the local geese had adopted similar tactics, perhaps taking refuge from the Thames.

Jericho GeeseJericho Goose

Once the boat movements seemed to have ceased for the day we crossed our fingers and toddled of to a concert featuring our dear friends Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman, who were – as expected – splendid as well as delighted to spend a little time catching up.

Let’s hope we’re still moored up to something in the morning.

It’s a VW Golf, Jim…

From the Thames, the Grand Union Canal climbs inexorably into the Chilterns. The locks are big if you are on your own, but reasonably manageable. They come frequently enough to make it difficult to make a cup of tea, but they’re not always close enough to make a “flight” where lock-wheeling makes sense. Hard work.

The other saving grace is that the locks are consistent. The books say that when you’re the only boat heading uphill in a wide lock, you should tie up to one side as far back as possible, then start by opening the ground paddle on that side, which seems counter-intuitive. The theory is that the water rushes in across the front of the lock, hits the opposite wall and rebounds, keeping the boat gently pinned to the wall. On the GUC, so far this works a treat, even when fully opening the paddle at once. After our experiences last year on the Kennet and Avon (where this technique works less than 50% of the time), we were most impressed. Don’t think we’ve had the boat bouncing around diagonally across the lock once so far. (Fate: you are hereby invited…).

The Captain was too hot, and made several efforts to go ashore and find somewhere cooler before accepting that the shade inside the boat was as good as anywhere.

Meanwhile the canal skirts around Harefield, Rickmansworth, Watford, The Langleys (Abbots and Kings) but stays somehow divorced from them, being largely tree lined. Plodding on through the heat and the locks provided little incentive to linger or take photos, but we were rather “impressed” by the modified front deck of this boat. People sometimes put motorbikes in the front deck (getting them in/on and out/off must be a problem) but welding a VW Golf body to the front was a subtly different take on things. And no, we have no idea why. An entry for next years Turner Prize perhaps?

It's a VW Golf, Jim... but not as we know it.

Some people fit umbrellas or sunshades over the tiller, but we wouldn’t fancy trying to cruise with this one, even if we could put up with the clashing colours.

Parasol and Pink

And despite the dry weather and heat wave, there doesn’t seem to have been any shortage of water: the pound above this lock near Maple Cross is clearly more than full!

Springwell Lock

This section of the canal used to carry significant commercial traffic (gravel from the nearby pits) until fairly recently, when the gravel ran out. But the only commercial traffic we saw was the floating honeywagon / night soil boat, travelling between Brentford and Milton Keynes on a fortnightly run attending to the needs of the many permanently moored boats that couldn’t or couldn’t be bothered to head off for a land based pump-out station when needed. He didn’t need a warning horn…

Strip Clubs, Floating Classrooms and Music Archives

We were rudely woken up on our moorings near Woolpack Bridge at Hayes by the arrival of a very large and rather odd widebeam barge with two outboard motors (!) clouting our rear end attempting to moor next to us. We’d had a surprisingly quiet night up till then: although only about two miles as the crow flies from Heathrow, we weren’t on the flight path, and well inside any downwind traffic. Didn’t hear a peep from any aircraft, nor the even nearer M4 and Paddington main line. Quite remarkable.

And just “halfway from Heathrow to Uxbridge” the only two establishments close to the bridge access were a Sky Sports Pub/Strip Club with an additional Lap Dancing establishment in the car park, and the strangely deserted brick warehouse, so foot and bike traffic on the towpath was minimal. The Woolpack is apparently one of the most famous strip clubs/pubs outside of Shoreditch, and apparently busiest at lunchtime. Go figure. Anyway, once we’d told the Captain that any pussy at the Woolpack probably wouldn’t be to his taste, he spent the time exploring the overgrown paths into the adjacent country park.

Emerging into the morning light, the driver (I use the word loosely) came up to explain that it was his large car tyre fender that had clouted us, not his boat. He then asked if we were staying the night, as his odd looking boat was a floating classroom, he had a second pick-up the next morning from the same spot, and preferred to leave his boat overnight near others who might keep an eye out for anyone who might try and break in to raid the bar. He then asked if we knew what the large brick outhouse was: he’d attempted to wind the boat there once, went aground, and attracted a large number of security chaps who thought he might be attempting to moor up on that side of the canal.

Woolpack Bridge mooring

And then his party arrived: a crocodile of about thirty kids, holding hands in pairs just like we used to do, all smartly dressed in school uniform, and not one over 5 years old. Given today’s sensitivities, no close up photos were taken, although we all thought they looked sweet and very multicultural. If you look closely you can see them in the distance.

And as we cast off for the delights of West Drayton and Uxbridge, a thought struck us. Why would a floating classroom for primary school kids have a bar?

And as for the brick outhouse: we’d already had a clue from signs down the canal a bit, pointing to “The Old Vinyl Factory”… we were in EMI territory. The old vinyl factory may now be a smart apartment block, but the new building (which Google Street Map shows as just having a entrance sign that reads “EMI”) would seem to be a repository for rare musical stuff – the EMI Music Archive, no less.

Passage to Woking: Duck Weed and Duckings

The die was cast –Song & Dance was heading up the Basingstoke Canal: to preserve their water (in short supply) boat movements are limited, and transit through the lock flights has to be pre-arranged, and is allowed on specific days only. An 09:30 appointment at Woodham Lock meant an earlier than normal start for the Captain (and concern that he might not return in time from his nocturnal perambulations). But no disasters… casting off at 09:00 from New Haw gave the crew plenty of time to meet up with the lockkeeper.

Back under the M25M.S.C. Frodsham

The Basingstoke Canal junction with the Wey Navigation is pretty much under the M25 near West Byfleet. Not a very salubrious start, enriched by a rather nice if somewhat unusual boat called Frodsham. If you’ve ever been to Frodsham, you probably wouldn’t want to name your boat after it.

Back under the M25Where's Banksie when you need him?

As befits such a part of Surrey, the graffiti was of a better standard than usual, if still incomprehensible to mere mortals and Russian Blue cats.

Wey Navigation / Basingstoke Canal JunctionWoodend Lock #1 and Duck Weed

Turning into the Basingstoke canal cut, the concrete and traffic was soon hidden by trees and woods lining the canal, and Woodham Bottom Lock was reached, through a thick carpet of duck weed.

Woodend Lock #1Woking Central

We needn’t have rushed: there was another boat due but was running slightly late. Still, it meant we had company and an additional pair of hands through the wide locks. And having completed the paperwork and unlocked the padlocks, Matt, the lockkeeper, kindly went on ahead and set up the remaining locks for us so we could just sail in. A gentle introduction to working again after all the automated Thames!

Although secluded, and potentially anywhere, at one of the Woodham locks we bumped into an acquaintance walking her new puppy. Must be close to home.

Arriving in Woking under leaden skies, there was a work boat moored right in the middle of the limited mooring, rather restricting the options for a longish narrowboat (it had been there for some months). The first mate failed to notice the coping stones were nicely rounded and smooth, missed his footing, and found himself with one foot on shore, two hands on the boat, and a rapidly widening four foot gap between the two. Ah well… the clothes were in need of a wash.

Shower and change of clothes, a quick visit to the delights of Woking for provisions, and we were joined by an old friend for a short cruise to The Bridge Barn and dinner. The next morning Fran spotted an old colleague walking her children to school down the towpath. Definitely close to home!

Where it all started

Just down the water from Henley-on-Thames, near Remenham Hill and Temple Island was the river bank where we had first come across Toulouse, the boat that Pipers copied to make Song & Dance.

It all looked very empty compared to that first visit as we passed by on our way to Marlow for the night.

Temple IslandWhere it all started...

Temple IslandBench for The Invisible Man?