Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Return of the Traveller

Janis is back, bless her and I’m so pleased to see her. It’s good to have my little travelling companion home.

In anticipation, on Monday I de-winterised ‘Roots and Wings’ by filling her with fresh water and connecting to 240volts to warm the little ship through with strategically placed bar heaters. It took the winter’s chill off at least, which would make my lady's home feel more welcoming when she arrived.

On Monday morning apparently Janis had been luxuriating in hot Thai sunshine of some 40 degrees. So in contrast, she felt distinctly cold as she stepped off the train at Warwick Railway Station when I met her at 2330 with the temperature only reading two degrees Celsius. But at least it was above freezing point and I do think she appreciated being home nonetheless.

Apart from the colour of her skin, which was a dark shade of mahogany, quickly it became very apparent that she hadn’t changed at all in the four months she had been away, as we talked well into the early hours of Tuesday morning and even then I found it difficult to get off to sleep with the elation of it all.

It had been a longer day too with other unplanned excitement.

It was so trifling that I cannot now remember for what reason I needed to do it, but in the morning I wanted to get something out of ‘Futurest’s stern locker over the swim and to do that I had to lift the lid over it, which is hinged outside at the after end of the counter. The idea is that when the lid is down and the two after doors of the Boatman’s Cabin are closed above it, the hatch lid is then drawn over and all is locked. From the outside the trap door cannot be lifted and all inside is secure.

But because there is no clearance between the sides of the trap and the hinged edges of the doors, to open the former, one has to make certain that the two doors are fully open and secured back to the rear bulkhead of the cabin.

On this occasion I didn’t check this important item and began lifting the trap just as the starboard door decided to swing closed. As the lid came up, it caught the bottom of the heavy steel door, lifting it completely off its two hinging pintles. The door, which was then free, bounced noisily once only on the counter before sliding over the side and into the canal before I was quick enough to grab it.

It didn’t float of course but sank very quickly, just like …….. well a piece of solid steel, but I knew I had to retrieve it. The after end of my boat was completely open (or half anyway) to anything that might be inclined to enter, including the cold weather which was blowing strongly at that time from the right direction.

Neither I nor Kate Boats had any tool really suitable for this job, so I seriously began to prepare myself for the necessity of a quick dip(hopefully!) in the Grand Union Canal.

Otherwise the only tool I possessed was my boathook and with the generous assistance of Chris working on an adjacent hire boat, who brought along a second boathook, we managed between us in half an hour or more by prodding, to locate the door in the deepest water at the centre of the cut and then manoeuvre it slowly towards the side. However this was not easily done because of the suction of the mud holding fiercely onto it and not wanting to let go.

But after sometime and with great patience we managed to do this and as Chris got his hook around the edge of the door and lifted it up, I plunged my arm deep into the freezing cold water and groped for it. It needed quite a few attempts at this before I finally and very gratefully found the hard cold edge with my hand and we were able between us to lift the heavy door ashore. I have to be quite honest, I had not fancied a swim.

The door was a bit muddied with grey slime and the paint was a little chipped around the edges where we had damaged it with our hooks but I was so grateful that I had it back.

So now it is safely returned in place and Janis has returned, the little fleet can begin thinking optimistically about its 2013 cruise. It is the beginning of March next week and we should be on our way.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Once More to the Saltisford Arm

Moored just a few berths down the pound from ‘Futurest’ is a 60ft narrowboat called ‘Midnight Sun’ and like us it has been here all through the winter. I discovered earlier that it is owned by a young couple called Marc and Pyn, who bought the boat earlier this year in Leamington Spa. Very courageously they decided that they would prefer to live on the waterways than in a house.

They told me that they were total beginners when they bought ‘Midnight Sun’ and having to work for a living, it means that they need to remain moored in the same place, certainly for the time being, with perhaps the occasional day out if they’re lucky. So for this reason until this last week their total boating experience had been limited to the short distance between Leamington and Warwick, after they had acquired the boat. The passage had been just an open pound with no turning round required and no locks to work for the whole length.

Therefore lacking a little confidence I suppose they asked me if I would go with them on their first proper voyage last Thursday in an advisory capacity, which I was honoured and thrilled to do; I love going for a cruise no matter how long it is or on whatever boat.

In order to gain lock practice in particular, they wanted to travel to the Saltisford Arm and back thus having to pass through the two large Cape Locks in both directions. This little run is good practice for any newcomer as they also have to turn the boat completely round at the entrance to the Arm.

There was a fresh and bitter easterly breeze blowing as we set off in the morning from Kate Boats and in spite of taking things easy, we arrived soon at the Lower Cape Lock. Pyn was at the helm going up while Marc and I worked the locks together.


001-1  nb 'Midnight Sun'

‘Midnight Sun’ lonely at her mooring at the Cape

At the top of the second lock we tied up on the totally empty visitor moorings and went into the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ Pub for a pint and hopefully for some lunch. But as we had just missed the latter we enjoyed another pint instead and another packet of crisps.

After our stop we journeyed the couple of hundred yards up to the turning point and then came back down uneventfully but very satisfactorily, though we had all grown very cold having stood on the stern counter with the wind in our faces for the whole time.

Marc took the helm this time through the locks while Pyn and I went through the business of locking. Everything went well and we arrived back at the berth just as the darkness was closing in.

The two skippers did exceptionally well and didn’t really need my help at all. But by the end of the cruise their confidence had grown enormously and I am certain they will both make excellent boat masters.

For me it had been another lovely day.


The little Seahopper ‘Crafty Scamp’ arrived on Wednesday morning and here are a few photographs which I took as I unpacked the parcel.



The Parcel



The contents



The folded hull and carry bag


010  Wondering whether it wil all fit into the bag

Sails and boat inside and extras still to go in


011  Yes it has!

All inside with Velcro not quite fastening

Another New Toy

On Wednesday a great  big cardboard parcel arrived, addressed to the Skipper. Of course as always, he wasn’t here, he’d gone away to visit his two friends John and Maggie in Banbury. But the office took it in for him and he collected it in the afternoon when he arrived home.

It was obviously heavy since he had a job to drag the package at all and in the end he unpacked it in the office bringing all the pieces outside bit by bit.

It’s his latest idea, his new big toy and I wonder just how long the craze will last…… 

Oh dear! Here we go again.

It’s a foldup dinghy, which he ordered about six weeks ago. You may know about it, as I think he mentioned it in the blog sometime back.

Anyway it’s here and I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to do with it. I expect it will all finish up as another dust collector in the end, just like his folding bike idea under the bed. But he is keen at the moment and Janis certainly is, which will make a difference I think.

He’s packed it all; boat and equipment, mast, sail and oars, into a long bag which came with the order and was especially made for the job. Having got everything outside the office, making sure all the bits had been sent, he packed it all into the bag and then tried to carry it with the two long central carrying handles over his shoulder.

This was impossible and though the boat was advertised as being carry-able by one man I think it meant not including all the extra sailing gear etc. It needs some kind of trolley to do everything, which he hasn’t got.

He managed to lift it a yard at a time, eventually getting it on the quay near my mooring. No way though can he get it on board on his own, as he’d hoped to.

But the bag has a carrying handle at each end as well, so two people – him and Janis, should be able to manage it perfectly alright together. He plans to stow it on board in my Saloon, beneath the gunnel on the starboard side, behind the easy chairs. He has measured the length and I must say, according to the measurements it does fit into that spot very snugly.

He plans to have an official launching ceremony next week, so you’ll have to watch this space.

Oh dear oh dear!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

To Saltisford Arm and Back


001-1  Looking Back at Bridge 49 & Kate Boats

Looking back to Bridge 49 and Kate Boats


003  The Top Lock

In Cape Top Lock


006-1  'The Cape of Good Hope'

‘The Cape of Good Hope’


007-1  Lunch mooring just above Top Lock

Muddy tow path in spite of the Sun

Good Boy!

Well he is really, isn’t he?

He has been today anyway, bless him. He’s tried really hard.

Every day here at Kate Boats the Skipper sits down in his easy chair first thing in the morning, having switched on Radio 3 quietly, while he eats his toast and honey and drinks his coffee for breakfast. Sometimes afterwards his head begins to loll on his chest and his day gets delayed even further then. But always he’ll decide eventually that he needs to go for a walk or whatever. And then that’s me all on my own, all day for another day.

It’s been like that since the beginning of November and I’m fed up with it.

We got as far as the head lolling stage this morning and I thought; “Here we go again.”

But all of sudden he gets up and says “I think we’ll go for a little cruise today.” Just like that. He often talks to himself. He’s actually talking to me not thinking that I can hear and understand him. He thinks I’m just a piece of steel, inanimate-like, but we know different don’t we? I notice when he writes his blog too, he always says “We did this….” or “We did that…” and I know he’s including me in what he’s saying, which is rather sweet I think don’t you? It’s not the Royal ‘We’ or anything. He’s certainly not one of those.

“Yes! We’ll go for a cruise.” he repeats, all firm and definite-like and with that he puts on his shoes, his fleece and his old Blue Star Line cap and marches aft.

Then I know he means business.

During the cold weather, when he’s started the Russell Newbery, just to run it for a while, she has always been very sluggish to want to go and I’ve never given her any encouragement either. But today because she could see that I was eager to go, she started with no trouble at all, even though it had been a frosty night outside and today the thump of her pistons seemed even more excited than usual.

The Skipper let go, my screw began to turn, pushing me ahead and it was a delight to feel the movement of the water along my sides again. I think the Old Man felt exhilarated too judging by the happy smile on his face.

We were on the move, just gently, as we had plenty of time, at tick-over, dead slow ahead. Not only the joggers were passing us along the towpath; everybody was but it was beautiful. There was no breeze at all and the Sun after a while began to shine. It was a perfect day for cruising as I nudged my nose forward through the water.

The ducks were not upset as I pushed gently through them. So long as I didn’t nick their bread that was being thrown from the towpath they couldn’t care less. But a couple of big white farmyard geese were unhappy at my passing and honked at me bad temperedly with haughty bills held high until I was well past…. The miserable things!

Up through the two big Cape locks the Skipper manoeuvred me carefully only half opening one paddle at each one to ensure that I was not furiously thrown all over the place as the lock filled. Then all too soon for me we were at the Saltisford Arm, where a 57 foot boat like me can turn easily.

We did so with ease and headed back towards the top lock. But before we arrived there the Skipper moored me right opposite ‘The Cape of Good Hope’ pub where he had some lunch. I didn’t mind that delay. The sound of the water gurgling through the Top Lock as it leaked down was very relaxing. The Skipper deserved the break too.

In about an hour we were on our way again and very soon; too soon, we  were back at Kate Boats. We needed to turn round so I would be facing the same way alongside as I was before and by this time I had gained enough confidence in the Skipper, after his brilliant performance so far in the day, to think that he would have no trouble with this.

It just goes to show that I can’t relax at all with him around. I should have known better. He made a right pigs ear of it all.

I know exactly what he was thinking. With the wind, which had increased during the day quite a lot, and was blowing up the canal towards the mooring, he decided to reverse into the turning basin and let the wind blow the bow round, therefore facing in the direction we needed to go. Of course he misjudged the available depth in the basin and got my stern stuck midway through the manoeuvre. Couldn’t pole off from anywhere convenient but luckily for us the stern line was long enough to heave ashore and eventually he was able to get to it and, with a lot of effort, physically heave  my stern through the mud and clear.

I think he’ll stick my nose in first next time and heave my stern into the wind if necessary like any sensible person would have done. But my Skipper always thinks he knows better than anybody else. I do wish he would learn.

Still, It’s been a lovely day. I can’t really complain.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Spring and Smoked Salmon Benedict with Champagne

February is half over and 2013 marches on swiftly. The rain is beating down outside and its consistent patter on the roof is as comforting, because it is not allowed to get inside where my fire is keeping everything nice and warm, as it is mesmerising. If I was to relax in my easy chair, the gentle staccato rhythm combined with this feeling of security would soon have my  head falling forward on my chest. Such peace is here.

Though it has had its moments, this winter has not proved as severe as it has over recent years. Though  we have experienced a few days of snow and the canal actually froze, it was only very briefly here in Warwick. If one could predict accurately how the weather was going to behave over this season, one could safely use this idle winter time much more productively chugging along. As it is one is merely killing time tied up to a safe mooring until the beginning of March, when the official cruising season begins.

Here at Kate Boats however the bright and perky little Robin continues every day to sing his optimistic song, never daunted by whatever weather there is; he has such courage. while not far below him, bobbing their white heads in the cool breeze, the Snowdrops enthusiastically offer their applause. Everybody is sensing that the spring  is not too far away.

Not that I feel disappointed with these ‘time killing’ days. They give me the opportunity to carry out all the tasks that I never manage to do in the busy cruising days. All the little jobs that have accrued in the summer can be satisfactorily completed, while of course I get the opportunity to visit the family on the bus, with a ‘stop’ just outside the yard, and from the mainline railway station only a ten minute walk away.

Of the family my brother David is the one I visit the most, as he lives so close at Stratford-upon-Avon. On Friday I arranged to see him and travelled across by the local bus. I had been invited to coffee with him and his two friends Edmund and Patricia.

These three, all single, spend a lot of time together and though a few local people who spot them regularly might be tempted to think ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’, I consider them to be a very illustrious little group and am very honoured when they invite me occasionally as an associate member.

On Friday I met them in the Encore pub and with all the flashing wit and discourse, we managed to pass two easy and comfortable hours together. Then with a break for individual shopping and tasks, we met again at twelve thirty at ‘The Henley Street Tearooms’ for lunch.

It was a special occasion; they all are. So we four enjoyed a delicious Smoked Salmon Benedict with a flute of Champagne, complete with half a strawberry straddling the rim. It was magnificent and all went ‘dane loike a treat’, as they say contentedly in my part of the country, while another two hours was warmly passed in such excellent company.

Later I returned to the ship very happy with my day.