Category Archives: Boat Building

May Day, Marina, Tesco… Every Little Helps

After spending the day at Beale Park, an uneventful and short run downstream, mooring overnight opposite Fry’s Island by Reading Bridge, before winding our way into Thames & Kennet Marina for the day. Piper Boats had some chaps down for a couple of days commissioning a new boat or two and fixing some problems with Song & Dance and some others (it’s not as bad as it sounds; there are loads of Piper Dutch Barges in that marina).

Not unexpectedly, we ended up staying overnight, and the First Mate declined at the last minute to get up at dawn and dance in the First of May. Can’t think why.

Anyway, with most of the problems fixed, a departure for the long haul to Tesco seemed appropriate. T&K Marina is miles from anywhere by road: just across the river (10 minutes by boat, probably 10 hours by Shank’s pony and public transport) there’s a 24 hour Tesco with reasonably attractive mooring under the trees, no more than 30 yards from the entrance. Can’t even see the store or the car park from there, it’s really quite odd, and deservedly a popular mooring spot. Biggles approves, there’s plenty of secluded ground for him to explore (or perhaps exploit).

A major shop ensued, and later our Reading friends Simon & Hilary walked down to partake of some home cooking: the first time we’d actually tried having guests to dinner. The mooring is only 12 minutes walk from the new entrance to Reading Station, so a quick trip home on Saturday to pick up postal voting slips and some parcels seemed in order too.

Here’s a picture of Vinny, (Piper’s paintwork supremo) having a break from commissioning the newly launched Happy Chance while the new owner tries parking it in the marina on his own…

Happy Chance & Vinny

Apres La Deluge-Matters Scatalogical

[Those of a delicate disposition look away now].

When you spend a certain amount of time on narrowboats, you soon begin to understand why one of the most common topics of discussion between boaters are the merits or otherwise of the various on-board methods human waste disposal.

As per Toulouse, her sister boat, Song & Dance has two toilets (of different types). The bathroom one is piped to a large holding tank via something politely known as a macerator, which – when working properly – grinds everything exceeding small while pumping it away out of sight,  smell and mind. And when it doesn’t work, anything less liquid than water can cause it to block. Clearly, when fixing the flooding toilet in the bathroom, something had been disturbed, because no sooner had we started using it again in anger, it filled up and didn’t empty.

A “conversation” with an engineer reluctant to hot-foot it all the way from Stoke-on-Trent to Oxford, and our reluctance to don huge rubber gauntlets and strip the system down – we were trying to leave Oxford, not go on a self taught toilet dismantling course – led to a somewhat alarming suggestion that reversing the electricity connections and running the pump would almost certainly resolve the matter. Instant reaction was that we’d promptly turn the bathroom into something resembling the streets of Paris last November, but hey… nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Fortunately, on pulling the toilet away from the wall, it was immediately clear that when previously  replaced after the leak, the large rubber waste pipe had got twisted and crushed, thus preventing it fulfilling its proper role. A swift go at a jubilee clip to twist and realign things, and we were back in business so to speak. Really needs a new waste pipe: let’s hope that the bodge repair lasts long enough.

Meanwhile, the Captain has his own facilities – a litter tray. When we’re moored up he always has access to the Big Wide World and is encouraged to go off into the hedgerows to do his business, while regarding the litter tray as an emergency backup for those moorings where he really isn’t happy to go out for whatever reason. Regrettably, cats also sometimes eat grass to make themselves sick – usually after a major bout of fur cleaning – a rather less predictable exercise.

Fran coaxed Sir out onto the towpath in the evening as the passers-by had largely disappeared, and both came back in a couple of minutes later. “He’s done his business…”, said Fran, “… he’s peed, poohed and puked”, and with that pure alliterative poetry, it was clearly time to leave Oxford. Fast.

Here We Go Leaky Loo, Here We Go…

As we headed on down into Oxford Town, we noticed that the bathroom floor was oozing water, with very similar symptoms to a toilet leak we suffered on our first week’s proving cruise last year. Fortunately it looked like clean water…

Graham (the energetic man of all trades leaping around in Splashdown in Longport) was dispatched Oxford-wards at OMG o’clock, arrived at breakfast time and soon fixed the problem before heading off to some other problem in Derby. Gets around that chap!

We’d moored just 20 yards across the water from the very splendid and ornate St Barnabas Church in Jericho, one of the venues for the Oxford Folk Festival weekend, where there would apparently be nasty outbreaks of morris dancing, including some from SWMBO. A quick foray into town showed that while the morris sides were as usual slow to appear, a splendid Cossack Dance Troupe from Perm (twinned with Oxford) had got ahead of the game and were entertaining bemused shoppers a day early.

Yarmarka Dance Team from PermYarmarkaNice Cossack bootsFran changes sides...

Fran was very taken, got roped into their version of Bonny Green, and was contemplating joining them but thought it was perhaps a bit far to go for practices on a  Monday evening. Mind you, the lead singer was a bit fearsome, and the twirly skirts competition intense, so perhaps it was for the best…

YarmarkaCompetition for the Twirly Skirt prize is intense.

Old Friends and New

Just noticed that some blog postings from the launch date have either gone AWOL, or were never posted in the first place: just for completeness they’ll get (re?)posted with the original date, just in case anyone wonders what on earth is going on. (A permanent state of mind on Song & Dance these days, we fear…)

Song & Dance is pretty much an identical copy of Toulouse, a boat made about three or four years ago for Mr & Mrs Walker. We saw it at Piper’s annual gathering at Henley, where it turned out they were taking it in part-ex for a shiny new Dutch Barge (called Lautrec – quelle surprise).  We liked Toulouse a lot but couldn’t do anything then – ah well. But a few months later Pipers offered to make us a copy at a mutually agreeable price, and there rest is history. We last saw her moored in Thames & Kennet Marina at Reading in early 2014.

And then we head up to Cropredy in March to move Song & Dance into dry dock for a day when a long (70ft) boat the other side of the marina moved off, and who did we see hiding behind it: Toulouse. Probably been there all winter, just like us. She’d gone when we set off last week, but who should we find moored at Ayhno with a fancy clothes dryer???

Twin Toulouse

Occasional trips to Cropredy over the winter found us parked next to a car proudly displaying a Yateley Morris Men sticker. We knew Ian & Janet (who run the  bar at the estimable Guildford folk club) were having a boat built – called Tuesday Night – and were going moor it at Cropredy. Looked like they’d arrived, and sure enough they had.

Another “hail fellow” we bumped into at Cropredy was another folkie Ian, who we used to see pretty much every week in the late 70s and early 80s at South Hill Park until he moved to Midhurst or Chichester or somewhere and started a morris side. What is  it about narrowboaters and morris dancers? His boat’s called Cuckoo’s Nest but presumably to avoid prosecution under the Obscene Publications act or to avoid upsetting local sensibilities and Ken Kesey fans, the only place her name appears is in very small print on the Canal & River Trust licence.

Wandering around the marina, we also saw several other boats that looked familiar from last year, including Red Kite.

Getting One’s Feet Dry

As the bow-thruster elbow/gear box had comprehensively disintegrated just at the end of the 2014 voyage, Song & Dance needed to go into a dry dock so someone could replace the necessary bits. No problem, we thought – there’s a new floating one at Cropredy Marina, where we’d chosen to moor up  for the winter. Except that it was so popular that when the bits became available at the beginning of February the dock was already booked up until the end of June! (As of mid-April it’s now booked up until November!)

After some friendly discussions with Andy, the man in charge, he said he could squeeze us in on March 6th and luckily the engineer tasked with the job could do it then.

Cropredy Floating Dry DockCropredy Floating Dry DockCropredy Floating Dry Dock

Dry docks and engineers don’t come cheap, and Vetus – the bow-thruster people – were supposed to be sorting all this out under guarantee. So we were pleasurably surprised to find that they had already paid Andy in advance for the dock facilities. Fair play to them.

The fitting of the replacement elbow/drive/gearbox that had comprehensively gone West went OK, apart from some protracted sub-voce mutterings from the engineer while up to his muddy armpit trying to undo things in the (normally underwater) thrust tube. But what a shock when the dock was refilled and we returned to Song & Dance’s berth…

We’d never operated a boat with a bow-thruster before, and had been led to believe that they were noisy, so when the first use on the handover cruise produced a noise like a bag of bolts in a spin-dryer, but otherwise evinced no reaction from the Piper commissioning chaps, we just assumed that Vetus electric bow-thrusters were just – errr – very noisy. So it came as a bit of shock when pressing the button to check the repair out and manoeuvre across the marina: we had to look to see if anything was happening! Although relatively noisy when standing up the front, we could hardly hear anything down at the rear end. We reckon that thruster’s original elbow/gearbox was duff and had been noisily disintegrating from day one! Another lesson learnt!

No Sh1t, Sherlock: another mystery solved

Well, Pipers came and went and came and went and came and went – there are lot of their boats at the marina – eventually leaving us at 22:30 on the Friday faced with a three hour drive back to Biddulph,  having fixed most of the irritating problems that have been bugging HWMBO (aka Biggles).

The biggest surprise (not!) was that despite several attempts to nail it in securely and immobilise it, the reason the washing machine kept trying to self-destruct or propel itself through the hull (rather like this one) was not because the floor wasn’t level (possible cause 2 in the manual), or because the load was unbalanced (possible cause 3)  but because – despite assurances – the transit bolts had been left in (possible cause 1). Ah well…

Still, all is sweetness and calm doing the washing now.

Zipping across the river on Saturday and tying up to our favourite tree next to Tesco saw us whizzing around back home on trains and cars taking away stuff we didn’t need, collecting winter clothes, and [cue doomy music] collecting the post. Was quite taken by the alarmingly red  jobby threatening to take me to court, hang draw and quarter me etc. etc. all because we were a couple of months late settling my late step-father’s latest electricity bill of some £4.32. Wonder what they’d have suggested if we owed them some real money.

And retrieving the latest issue of Waterways World magazine, there’s a short article about some new owners of our old friend the aforementioned John Pinkerton. Seems it’s been bought by someone who’s going to run a floating bicycle/hire service or summat similar on the Kennet & Avon canal. Another mystery solved.

Well stocked up for the journey, braving the Thames for the journey north to Oxford beckons. 5 day forecast for the next few days is lovely, rubbish, rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. Good job we rescued the winter waterproofs and thermals.

Reading bound

A lovely day (weather wise) in Hungerford saw a major exercise take place; washing, rubbing out the marks from the passing vegetation and waxing one side of the boat. Looked really nice when finished, but there’s still the other side, and front and back to do. Nice little cinema club in Hungerford, too.

And of course, such a foolish cleaning exercise was tempting fate: winter – or at the very least, severe autumn – started overnight! Mea culpa.

Autumn morning: Higg's LockAutumn morning: Higg's Lock

Managed to pass through Newbury on a Sunday again, so still couldn’t sample the famous Newbury sausages from Griffins, on  the bridge.

Griffins Butchers. Closed Again.Virgina creeper?

A long descent down all the differing locks into Reading in pretty inclement weather was made easier by teaming up with a nice but clearly mad chap Paul. He ‘s a part-time Thames lock-keeper and single-handed boater, who reckoned he could go from Newbury to Newbury via Reading, Brentford, up the Grand Union, back down the Oxford and thence to Reading again in three weeks (before the winter stoppages). Hmm…

A night moored up under the walls of Reading Jail failed to evince the ghost of Oscar Wilde, tying to a tree the next morning allowed a quick visit to Tesco, and then into Thames & Kennet Marina on the far side of the water from Reading, where we hope Pipers are going to come and sort out some problems. Might be here for a day or two, and it’s in the middle of nowhere by anything other than water based transport. Nice thunderstorms and rainbows though.

Thames & Kennet Marina. Rain.

The Naming of the Beast (Genesis 2:20)

One can’t help indulge in casual boat-spotting in between stints preparing the Captain’s meals and working through locks, although he’s such a hard task-master that there isn’t always time to write them down.

We’ve spotted a few Piper Boats boats around (IYSWIM), including an un-named (as far as we could see) wide beam barge just in grey primer, just before the first narrow lock going up the South Oxford Canal. Must have been a challenge getting it as far as that through the narrow bridges! Saw Iona moored near Newbury, and given the proximity to the Thames & Kennet marina (where a lot of them are launched and initially based) saw a couple of Piper Dutch Barges on the stretch of the Thames just above Reading, including Kabouter (it’s Dutch/Afrikaans for gnome or leprechaun), and Josephine. We’d looked around both of them at Piper’s Henley bun-fight last year.

Josephine, near Beale Park

We were sad to hear that Stan – Josephine’s feline master – had passed away a month or so beforehand.  Don’t know if the vacancy has been advertised yet.

One boat that seems to attract considerable interest on t’interweb thingy is (variously) Walhalla (the old German spelling), Valhalla or even Balhalla, depending on how you read the initial letter painted on the side. Certainly a striking wide beam boat (it appears that there might  have been a narrow beam forerunner). Spotted just as we were leaving Wallingford, the driver’s clothing makes you wonder if perhaps all those pill-boxes on the Upper Thames might come in useful after all.

Walhalla at WallingfordWalhalla at Wallingford

We’re still not quite sure what to make of Caring Yo-Yo, or what Dashiel Hammett would make of Maltose Falcon, either.

Caring Yo-YoMaltose Falcon

The Maltose Falcons are apparently a long-standing American home-brew club, and students of folk music history may notice a subtle foodie reference to Ms June Tabor in the background.

Other names to have raised a groan were the wide-beam Muchroom Bargee , the rather scruffy L’eau Life, and the electrical engineer’s Me Ohm, while presumably the owners of Beerstalker and Tempranillo – The Grape Escape will be needing these new pills the government are going to give us to cure excess consumption.

Finally, the enigmatic Gnum Pus remains, errr, enigmatic…

Decision Time for The Oracle

Once upon a time the intention was to have Song & Dance launched at Thames & Kennet Marina, (because it’s close to home, and Piper Boats launch most of their Dutch Barges there), then spend our first season exploring the Southern canals, which we don’t know at all. But as launch date approached the Thames was still a bit up and down, and learning the new boat’s ropes on a volatile river didn’t seem that smart, nor did the chance of getting stuck there for weeks appeal much either.

So we launched in Longport – closest point to Piper’s factory – and stayed close by having a shakedown cruise on the Caldon Canal, before heading south for what remained of the summer. Good job we did, as it happened, as there were a number of problems with the boat that needed urgent attention. We had originally intended to do the Upper Thames, Kennet and Avon and Wey Navigation before heading back north for the winter, but as a result of the change in plan we were at Kennet Mouth / Thames & Kennet Marina some 2-3 months behind the back-of-an-envelope schedule!

So: down the K&A to Bristol if possible before turning round, or down the Thames and Wey to Godalming? The latter would mean we could go to the Piper Boat event/meet in September, but given the ongoing unresolved issues with the boat and Biggles’ unfortunate tendency to say what he thinks I’m not sure Song & Dance’s presence would have been entirely helpful or welcome! It’ll be no hardship coming back down the Oxford Canal again next spring.

So Bath and maybe Bristol here we come… an early start (for us, anyway) soon found us at the traffic lights controlling boat traffic through the Oracle Centre in Reading… Westward Ho!

Leek and Leak

Second day on our own saw us mooring up just along the Leek branch of the Caldon Canal, just beyond Hazlehurst locks, which gave us our first indication that a strimmer or hedge cutter might be a vital part of the inventory.

Where's the strimmer when you need it?Hazlehurst Locks - Caldon CanalDSCF0583Hollybush Inn

A lovely stroll down Hazlehurst Locks and under the Hazlehurst Viaduct that carries the Leek Branch over the Froghall Branch took us to the busy watering hole The Hollybush Inn for dinner. (Seen here two days later at lunchtime, after we’d stopped over in Leek for provisions before turning round and heading for Froghall).

And somewhere along the line we became aware the water on the bathroom floor seemed to be leaking from the loo rather from wet bodies exiting the shower. Ho hum…