Saturday, 11 June 2011

Narrowboating and Bellringing

One of John's other hobbies is bellringing. He hadn't remotely considered the possibility of linking narrowboating with bellringing until he happened to notice in 'The Ringing World' for June 10th a record of a quarter peal rung on handbells on nb Copperkins, at Milford on the Staffs and Worcs Canal. The quarter peal, rung on 14th May, was 1283 changes of St Clements Bob Minor, rung on 6 handbells by 3 ringers to celebrate a forthcoming wedding. Food for thought - perhaps something can be organised on Patience one of these days!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Have You Read Waterways World?

This is an unashamed plug for that excellent monthly magazine, Waterways World (July edition in every good stationers now!).
Why this sudden piece of advertising? Because there is an excellent three-page spread about Patience and her notable journey along The Backs. Regular readers may have seen a taste of this in our blogs about Patience Up The Backs. Well now this beautiful full colour spread is available in print with more info and bigger pics by Patience's string of fine photographers.
So, go out and buy the July edition now - an excellent publication with a most discriminating editor!
... and if you just want to stand in WH Smith and read it, go straight to page 70!
Postscript:  We had a surge of over 1000 hits on our site as a result of the Waterways World article, which is very satisfying for us and testimony to the interest of WW subscribers. Thanks!

(PS Robert Laws describes his journeys here)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Three Hazards 3. Collision

Of course it's always the other guy's fault (or the tree's or that stationary lamp post that came up and hit you ...). But this is my third (and final) hazard experienced in a single trip down the Ouse.
We were a short way north of St Neots in a fairly narrow stretch of river with reeds at the edges when some distance ahead of us appeared a cruiser, bobbing a bit, as they do, like corks, as it came round a bend. I edged a little nearer the reeds but there was enough space to our left for him to pass and we each maintained our course.
Then, suddenly, for no apparent reason, just yards ahead of us, he swung violently in front of us, his midships straight in front of my bow. I went into full speed reverse and stopped while he continued to turn anti-clockwise. I was stationary as his turn took him round 180 degrees so he was facing the opposite direction, parallel with me, his stern starboard bumper nudging my stern port side.
I was too shocked to say anything, though I distantly heard his wife saying that they couldn't find reverse gear! I set off again, leaving him wallowing - the nearest I've ever been to a serious collision.
My wife, who had seen it all from the bow, came back to share a word or two and she confirmed that he must be an incompetent idiot. Neither of us had the presence of mind to catch either the name or number of the boat. Both of us, however, can confirm the sequence of events.
What do we make of it? He had to have been on the look out or he wouldn't have made it round the bend. Even if his throttle had been stuck full on, he could have made it past us - it was narrow but there was room for two. If his throttle had been stuck he wouldn't have ended up alongside us - he'd have been past us or right in the bank. And why swerve so violently in front of us? I have never seen a GRP cruiser hit full on by a narrow boat bow but I was only a foot away from finding out what happens.
I suppose he panicked (but why?) and he could very easily have dropped himself, wife and two children into the river - and sunk the boat.
What Learning Points can I draw from this? Only that you should allow room for all vessels and be prepared for the unexpected. I did the only thing possible - full reverse and steer straight. But I wish I'd clocked his number. I imagine a 1 ton GRP cruiser is more likely to suffer than a 12 ton steel narrow boat, but I have no wish to test this again - as I know surprising things can happen ....

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Three Hazards 2. Weed

Getting tangled with a submerged supermarket trolley will probably damage your propeller. Less obviously, however, anything wrapped around the propeller or the prop shaft will interfere with the effective power of your engine by changing its flow.
It's wise to check your prop at the end of each day's boating; more frequently if there are visible signs of floating weed or debris, or a feeling that you're not going as fast as you might expect. That's what the weed hatch is for. It avoids you having to dive over the side every evening ....

You MUST switch off the engine - and we always take out the key as a double precaution. Unscrewing the top handle releases the metal cross bar so you can delve in the water below. With luck the light will be right and you can see your propeller and shaft gleaming clearly. More usually it will be your fingers feeling around in the cold and murky depths. Take off any weed, stalks or any foreign matter; rarely, a knife might be needed.
Here Alan is cutting away some fishing line while Patience is in dry dock.
So, why weed? Well, our recent trip down the Ouse was mostly clear of surface weed on the way out, but several days of hot sun had caused the blanket weed (spirogyra adnate) to spread and at one point a combination of a mass of weed entangled on the prop shaft and a strong wind blowing across a narrow stretch of river both pushed us towards the bank and seriously reduced our power. 

The result was we had insufficient power to prevent us drifting to the bank - where more weed lay in wait for us. 
So we stopped the engine, cleared the prop and restarted - but the weed simply re-tangled itself. This time we cleared the prop but poled away from both bank and weed before re-starting the engine. This is not a situation that a single-handed boater would enjoy and once more emphasises the importance of long and strong poles and hooks!
On the bright side, swans and ducks seem to enjoy it....

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Three Hazards 1. Grounding

My first holiday in a narrow boat, from Foxton Locks, was trouble-free. The weather was fine, the canals spacious, the locks easy enough; I found boating was essentially a simple life. Our experiences with Patience have been mostly problem free too - but the recent trip along the Ouse to Barford showed us how concentration, preparation and planning are important.
Brampton Mill

The first hazard was not far from home, just beyond Twenty Pence Marina. With fairly low water levels in this very dry summer we should have been more alert to the dangers of grounding, but we thought we knew our own patch and Patience doesn't have much draught. Unfortunately, on a bend, though the bow cleared the corner, I must have turned the stern in too quickly, and quietly but suddenly we were aground. What was confusing was that the bow was free (there'd been no shuddering or sudden impact) and the propeller appeared to be clear too, kicking up a bit of thin mud but not obviously stuck.
We tried reverse without success, tried poling too, only to realise that it was amidships that we were grounded and pushing a pole from one end simply swivelled us without freeing us. A kind cruiser did his best to haul us off but he was too light to have any effect. Just when we thought we would have to wait for another narrow boat - or to somehow winch ourselves off via a bankside tree - we gave a final simultaneous heave with the boat hook from the stern and the pole from the bow and we eased ourselves off sideways.
Thank heavens for both a pole and a hook. Thank heavens also that there were two of us.
Learning points:
  • A narrow boat needs both a pole and a hook. 
  • Keep an eye open for low water levels.
  • Steer into the middle channel, avoiding corners where shoaling is most likely to occur.
  • Note how a long boat swings round a bend and observe the middle and the stern as well as the bow.
  • Stop immediately then try reversing. 
  • Draining the water tanks might raise you enough to slide off
  • Be prepared!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Stretham to Great Barford

We spent five glorious days afloat in weather that was as sunny and as warm as any we have had this year. Starting on Wednesday from Stretham to moor at Hemingford,  on Thursday to Godmanchester, and on to Great Barford in the evening, we debated going on to Bedford but left that for another day.
Complicated personal arrangements meant that folks were getting on and off Patience at various points, but Duncan saw it through - 84 miles, 24 locks and five days.
The Old West River

We had three problems, which will be described in more detail in a later post, but this was a great trip exploring the further western regions of the Ouse. The water level was generally low but the water clear and sparkling, with trees dipping into the edges, abundant wildlife (heron, kingfisher, and swans, geese and ducks all with young chicks) and a classic view of a basking seal at Earith.
Cygnets on The Ouse

We noted that the moorings at Hemingford appear to be very grand but are in fact hard concrete and so high that there is an ever present risk of either scraping poor Patience's sides or even getting her gunwhales trapped under the ledge with water rising. On the other hand the rough moorings a hundred yards further up are fine and a visit to the excellent Cock for a good pint and a splendid meal compensate for any inconvenience.

 Don't miss the lovely garden in Lucy Boston's house which you can see by peeking over the wall by the moorings.
On Thursday to Godmanchester where we can borrow a private mooring and we filled up with water and newspapers. On to St Neots whose Paper Mill lock is long and deep and can be disconcertingly vigorous with surges of water. Passing the delights of St Neots and the golf course of Wyboston and on through Roxton Lock we smiled smugly at the poor motorists above us in queues on the A1 and the A14. Moored up at Great Barford bridge and ate at the busy and friendly Anchor right next to the bridge. It has been said that a long narrow boat might find it awkward manoeuvring through some of the arches as the river bends immediately south of the bridge but we think you should easily make it so long as you bear left directly after passing through the arch.
The return journey varied with the available crew. We spent longer at St Neots this time and moored for the night at The Offords where the GOBA mooring (a bit cramped though perfectly adequate with a gangplank),  opposite the chic popularity of the Buckden Marina with its pool and gym - and whose well constructed moorings are charged at £5 per night (and which were mainly empty...).
The Old Bridge at St Ives

The final night we moored at St Ives, close by the Norris Museum of local history. It seems to be a honey pot for young people on a Saturday night out. The Golden Lion, where we ate at 8pm, was taken over by young ravers at 8.30 so we made our excuses and left. We counted 12 take-away shops, four pubs with live music and - too late - two small friendly restaurants close to the old bridge.
There was a lot more weed in the river than there had been a few days before - but The Tale of Three Problems must wait, tantalisingly, till my next blog post ....