About Me

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The name describes my demeanour and voice! I love narrowboating and that is why this blog is mainly about the boat and our interaction with it. I have been keeping a log for Sonflower ever since we bought her and moved onto her as our main residence. Some incidents in our boating life have been hilarious, some scary and some down right dangerous. I cannot tell what will come in the future but you can now share them! The crew are an 'ordinary' couple. The Best Mate and I.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Visit from a Carpenter

I have been on the boat recently.

I had a visit from Colin and his boss Nick who I hope are interested in doing a small refit of the saloon of the boat. We have been struggling along without proper fixed seating and with plastic boxes of "things" around the place. We are hoping to install a proper bench with storage lockers under it.

At the same time we have found that the 'no more nails' type of glue that is sticking the boat together has come to the end of its useful life. We need to have a lot of the lining pine stripped and re-fixed where it has sprung. A new pair of hardwood rear doors and frame are also needed.

Hence the need for a carpenter.

I took the opportunity to thaw the ice from the insides of the windows again by lighting a fire.

While I was on the boat I heard a terrible grinding noise. It was the sound of 'Sawdust' breaking the ice as it came past. It is hard to describe the sound and I can't do better than Tom Rolt did when he described the ice-breakers coming to Banbury in the 1947 thaw. A thunderous sound in the distance getting louder and louder accompanied by clashes, cracks and squeaks as the ice is broken and slid sheet over sheet. This sound was accompanied by shouts, in our case Alan who lives on Sawdust, who is usually sing at the top of his voice as he goes by, was now shouting encouragement to the boat to make progress through the 6mm glazed covering.

I wondered why he hadn't waited a little while and what made his journey so pressing at the time. The ice strips the water line of blacking and can damage the waterline blacking of every boat he passes as the ice sheets are broken and pushed aside.

Musn't grumble though.

Merry Christmas

I wish all readers of this blog a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

I hope that you all have happy boating.

Monday, 19 November 2007

A bit Disconcerting

British Waterways "trial" of auctioning vacancies at their canal mooring sites is now under way.

It is a bit disconcerting to find that the mooring next to yours is published on the site while the boat that usually moors there is away cruising. Of course, we have no right to moor on any particular part of the mooring site but you get used to having the same "neighbours" and to find that the space where one of them currently moors is up for grabs from 12 December is troubling. Hopefully it is another moorer who is moving on. A quick look along the mooring today, however, didn't reveal anyone whose permit expires before Feb 2008, except one who has already expired and, I suspect has just not put the new permit in the window yet.

I wonder where the 17m space is!

Also disconcerting is British Waterways guide price is what I pay for my mooring at present. Any bid will probably be considerably more than this. Will this be BW's guide to future prices?

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Been Travelling

Sonflower lies neglected on her mooring.

The whole of the half term holiday has passed and she hasn't been anywhere at all.

However, we have been places. You know, people to see , things to do!

The first reason to go traveling is pictured above. This bundle of peacefulness is EliG (Elizabeth Grace). Our youngest grandchild and first grandaughter. So we had to go and visit her parents and have a cuddle of her! She is about two weeks old now and growing fast! Her Mum and Dad are doing well and enjoying the wonder of parenthood.

The second reason to go traveling was to make a visit to Minehead. This was to stay at one of the most interesting training hotels in the country, Foxes Hotel and it coincided with a steam festival weekend on the West Somerset Railway. So we had a ride on the steam trains and a vintage bus and visited their museum, Dunster Castle, Medieval Village and Water Mill and enjoyed a lovely weekend.

Returning today wasn't fun. It rained most of the way but we did see a perfect rainbow!

It is good to go traveling but it's so much nicer to come home.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Ghastly News

We have been so busy this last two weeks. With the Canal Day last weekend and the Canalside Folk Festival this we have been a little pre-occupied.

But all of us are shocked about the latest news of the death on Tuesday of Maurice Batts of nb Tina. The newspapers described him as a 64 year old gentleman. That is a truly wonderful description. Along this part of the canal he was well known for his visits to the town from Grimsbury Wharf, to get water and then moor just below the footbridge to take a few moments in town to quench his thirst with a pint or two. He was always ready to pass the time of day and deserves the title "Gentleman"

Our sympathy and prayers are with his family at this dreadful time.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

O what a lovely day

Here is nb Sonflower all dressed up on the morning of Banbury Canal Day. This is a festival for the town with markets, entertainers, boats and so much more.

Getting there wasn't such a problem. We only had to turn the boat around and head about a quarter of a mile to the town centre. We did this last Friday evening to be there well ahead. The Day itself is on the Sunday. We needed Saturday to clean up a bit so that we could receive visitors. So Saturday was spent cleaning her inside and out, polishing the brass and then rigging up the bunting.

We were moored under the Tom Rolt bridge. This spot had been specially selected by the Vicar of Banbury because we were to be the backdrop for the Christian worship service in the afternoon. The amplification needed power (my generator) and last year (2006) it had bucketed with rain all afternoon so the bridge would provide shelter for the faithfull should lightning strike twice.

We were representing Boaters Christian Fellowship alongside the crew of n.b. Scyeffe who was moored next to us. The vicar's boat, Noah's Ark was also in town but a little bit farther away. Our purpose for the day was to welcome people on board. Over 5000 people expected to turn up to the day and many of them have never been on a boat. What they expect to find inside I have no idea but they seem surprised to find most of the things they have at home! Like beds and a table and chairs and a cooker and a fridge. We have no television so this might confirm to them that we are a bit strange!

All in all we made teas for a good number and showed scores through the boat. It is a great time just to be able to chat with people about boats, boating and living aboard, and showing that as Boating Christians we are nearly normal.

Alex also had fun with the passing children by puppeteering through the swan hatch with two of our favorite puppets, a huge frog called Nyall and Harry a pink hippopotamus. We also gave out balloons to any children who asked. Many were so surprised that we didn't charge for them!

At three o'clock the people gathered for the Service, organised jointly by BCF and Banbury Christians Together. The generator started, the amplifier worked and we were joined by a six piece band to accompany the hymns. Our skipper spoke about the lawyer who wanted the secret of eternal life and Jesus' story of the good Samaritan. (To read Jesus' conversation with the lawyer go to the Bible in Luke chapter 10. )

By 4pm, the crowds were dispersing and the day was ending. We sat on board eating delicious jerk chicken from the Caribbean hot food stall and reflected on a tiring but worthwhile day.

Oh, I forgot. The theme of the day was 'pirates' and there were quite a few about. Three in particular were about nine feet tall! They were fun entertainment for the milling stream of people who went past all day.

Monday was spent returning to the mooring. With so many boats in town the two mile round trip took us over 3 hours.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Tom's best Birthday week ever

This was received by email from my nephew Tom. (See previous post "In the beginning. . .")

My Best Birthday Week…Ever!
Having over exerted ourselves during the Notting Hill carnival at the start of the week, Ang (my Fiancee) and I were looking forward to filling the remainder of my Birthday week with relaxation. As my Uncle Peter explained, we were over the moon when the Sonflower was made available to us.

Uncle Peter’s tuition was very thorough, but not overly so. We soon found that maneuvering a boat 57 foot long and weighing more tons than I can comprehend was no easy task for complete novices as we were. I was glad to find that Uncle Peter was very keen for us to take the controls and learn from the driving seat. I recall that when I was learning how to play tennis, my coach had told me that you can learn everything you need to know about hitting a ball well in a day, but to do it takes practice. Even so, I caught myself wondering how much had sunk in to my sieve like brain as the list of things to remember and consider grew. It was my hope that what I was inevitably to forget would be remembered by my better half as is so often the case in our relationship.

The tuition was largely without incident, apart from one collision into the side of a particular tricky narrow part of the canal. I was to learn that guiding a boat through a clearing of no more than a foot each side was tricky at the best of times, but when that foot is to be judged 57 feet in front of you, the task is altogether more daunting. It was clear after this collision that this boat was no bumper car and I was clear in my mind that this was not something I wanted to do again.

Uncle Peter appeared happy to leave us with the keys, however Ang and I sensed how precious the narrow boat was to my Uncle and perhaps I could not blame him for being slightly apprehensive.
The fresh air ensured we slept well that night. There is no denying that the following morning we both were nervous about the journey we were about to undertake. We had looked at the map and decided on a realistic goal for the day. From Banbury, where we were moored to Cropr
edy. This encompassed a few locks and a dreaded turning point before heading back the following day.

I was to be in control of steering for the best part having taken to it slightly quicker than Ang the previous day. It was very easy to forget how slowly we were moving due to the fact that steering still required a lot of thought and concentration. As such, it was to my surprise when a rucksack laden man strode past us on the towpath on one occasion. Ang was to be in charge of navigation and locks. The going was good and as the journey progressed we became more relaxed and started to take in and enjoy the experience. Corners were rounded, locks were tackled and oncoming boats floated by.

What I had not expected was the willingness of others to help us along the way. On the first day Ang did not open a lock without somebody to take care of the second lock gate. We were thankful for this help and I thought that perhaps the fact we sized up each lock and talked through the process before starting each one may have given away our novice status.

I was soon becoming more comfortable with my steering and was prepared when we arrived at Crop
redy to turn the boat around. I had learnt that turning the boat was no easy feat and involved a lot of aiming, stopping and starting - things which did not come naturally to a boat of such length and weight. The turn itself would have been faultless had the boat been one inch shorter! As it was, I found myself attached to the concrete bank by the knot at the front of the boat (he means the button, Ed). This was quickly overcome with a firm push, which enabled me to swing the boat ready for our return journey.

Having visited the Red Lion in the late afternoon for a few celebratory drinks, we looked forward to our evening meal that did not disappoint (Starter: chorizo sausage, main: steak and ale pie, desert: chocolate cheese tart). Evening entertainment consisted of a pub quiz where the locals got the better of us.
I think we were both very relaxed about the journey home, we enjoyed the journey so much that we deliberately over shot Uncle Peter's Mooring place so that we could get another lock, lift bridge, turn around , lock and lift bridge again and were able to fill the water tank before finally reaching the end of a most enjoyable experience. We were truly sorry that this experience was at an end and very thankful for the generosity showed by the boat’s first crew.

I was also thankful for those people who had been so friendly to us along the way. I guess the canal and the people on it are far removed from the hustle and bustle of life in a city. The proximity to nature; the calm lack of urgency must make for a friendly environment. Friendly acknowledgements from passers by was something I fondly remember of living in a small village… and now the canal too.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Looking Forward

I am sorry to have been silent for so long.

This has been because of Owl's fall (See 'many a slip.....') and the need to continue life with only half the active crew. Also, because I have been slowed by the slow progress of my knee repair, I am not as fast as I could be. Early nights and early mornings have been the order of the day.

Breakfast, packed lunches, school bags to check, getting the boys to school/college, shopping, cleaning, cooking etc all take up a huge amount of time and energy. I do not want to be a single parent and do not envy those of you who have to take on that role.

Things are getting better. I have an afternoon of quiet as Pooh is out on an accompanied shopping trip and Piglet is playing with friends in Spice Ball Park. Owl is resting/reading in her recliner. I am tapping the keyboard.

What are we looking forward to? Well, in October, there is a great festival here called Banbury Canal Day . Sonflower will be there. We hope to have a great deal of fun and invite people aboard to show them that the inside of a boat isn't all that different to the homes they live in! A little cosier perhaps but most of the necessities are there! One of the main sponsors is Hook Norton Brewery so the ale will be good as well.

The other thing coming up is the Canalside Folk Festival At this wonderful few days of music, dancing and fun we will be doing a craft workshop on the Saturday. In the past we have made mainly little model canal craft but this year the weather has been so wet we are centreing on the most endangered species group on the planet- the frog. The TV mega series, Planet Earth highlighted that hundreds of species of amphibian are endangered. We will celibrate this wonderful little creature in paper and card. There will be origami frogs, dancing frogs, frog mobiles, frog games and a large green talking (croaking/belching) frog may turn up as well. Our motto is 'Frogs are Friends not Food'.

So there you are. We are looking forward to it. I hope you are too.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Coming Out

I think it's time to admit to a few things.

First of all identities.

Our crew of four, the main elements of our boating life are Eeyore (Peter); Owl, alias the First Mate, (Fran); Pooh Bear (Leon); and Piglet (Alex). All these nicknames fit very well.

I have explained why I am Eeyore: one of my daughters once commented on my answerphone greeting "you must stop sounding like Eeyore, Dad" but I can't!

Owl has always got many words to say on any subject and occasionally doesn't know what he is taking about. However, Owl is always loveable and friendly and helpful and does her best to help with the spelling.

Pooh is generally a philosopher with his own view of life. Some would consider him, erroniously, to be a bear of little brain. We know for certain that Pooh has a very good brain, but at times we find it difficult to make the same connections in the thought patterns.

Piglet is the smallest. Also very energetic, but certainly not quite as bouncy as Tigger for whose name he could have been a candidate.

We are Winnie the Pooh fans. Not so much the Disney version but the original AA Milne stories are dear to our hearts. We enjoy the poetry as much as the two books. Recently we have discovered Pooh and the Philosphers by John Tylerman Williams, Egmont Books, which confirms that the studies that Peter took part in in his teenage years over hunny and vodka were not in vain. It confirms that Winnie the Pooh is a Bear of Enormous Brain and can shed light on the fundamentals of human existence and purpose.

Secondly, we are Christians

Granny Buttons noted from my first post that the name of the boat gave away that we were members of the Boaters Christian Fellowship The blog is not intended to be a tool for evangelism or preaching to the unconverted. I have tried to keep it on boating and our life aboard. However, occasionally a reference to prayer, the Creator, or some other aspect of our faith may creep in. We cannot divorce our spirit from our material lives. They are as woven together as our boating is part of our everyday life.

Friday, 31 August 2007

The Cost of Boating

I hope to keep you informed of what it takes to keep Sonflower going.

We can't go without diesel and we generally make sure we are full at the start of the Summer Cruise and fill up again at the end. This year the 192 miles, 190 locks and 10 moveable bridges required us to fill with 208 litres of diesel. That's about 1/2 a litre per lockmile and four lockmiles to the pound. I bought this fuel at our local boatyard, Sovereign Wharf, because their prices are always keen and I want to keep them open. Shopping around for boat services can save a few pennies but if the locals don't use the local facilities we may well lose them.

We also used a bottle of gas at 17.95 GBP a bottle.

We "pump out" about every ten days at a cost of between 12 and 18 pounds a time.

We cruised for about 30 days so averaged about 13 lockmiles a day.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

God loves a drunk

I thought that I would tell you about a chance meeting we had the other night.

While waiting with The First Mate in the treatment area of Accident and Emergency at the Horton hospital, a man was admitted to the cubicle next to us. We were only the thickness of a curtain from the conversation he had with the casualty nurse who was treating him. He had come in because he felt ill, had no money for a drink because he had been robbed in Oxford, had survived on a small amount of money a 'kind lady' had given him in Kidlington and had walked to Banbury from there that day.

What struck me about the conversation was his honesty. He was not proud of needing to get a drink and was honest in telling the nurse his story and apologized because he had been sleeping rough and might smell a bit. She in turn said "I am not here to judge you. You have come here for help and we will help you." I was very impressed by these modern day good Samaritans. He had come to the right place.

I was also reminded of "God Loves a Drunk" a breathtaking song by Richard Thompson (once of Fairport Convention). I just had to tell him. So, when the nurse had left him I had a chat with him. He told me he knew God loved him and told me that he was often reminded of what St Paul said in the letter to the Romans: that he did what he didn't want to do and what he wanted to do he couldn't do. It was like this for him. He knew that the drinking would do him no good but his head compelled him to do it to 'sort himself out'.

I told him of a place in Kent where my son-in-law's father worked as a counselor. They take in people just like him and help them do what they know they must do but cannot do on their own. I gave him the address. I do hope that one day he will turn up, sober, there or at a place like it. He is such a lively man and God loves him.

We had to leave before he was re-hydrated and discharged to continue walking the country. We see many like him by the canals.

In the beginning

Yes, as was commented on a post I made a few weeks ago, we all have to start somewhere.

Yesterday, I took my nephew and his fiancee for a boat handling course. They wanted to borrow Sonflower for a couple of days as they had some holiday left and had never handled any craft before.

I took a tried and trusted route. The best way to learn is to do it. Tooley's Boatyard run boat handling courses and take their pupils on a circular tour. The same circular tour that we would undertake to get water. So I did the same with my tutees. We went through the boat with the essentials of the layout and equipment, to fit the tiller, greasing the stern tube and then starting the engine and untying the mooring lines we were away. One of them steered out of Banbury to the Grimsbury Wharf turning point and back to the centre, through the lift bridge and lock then we changed helmsmen for the cruise to the Bankside turning point and back through the lock and lift bridge stopping at the water point to demonstrate this too. And back to Castle Quay. A concise tour of the essentials of narrowboating completed in three hours.

I was then happy to leave them with the keys and our precious boat for a couple of days, knowing that they had navigated between moored boats, through bridge narrows, a lock, a lift bridge, stopped to set down and pick up crew, turned and moored the boat. I was confident that they would survive.

I walked away thinking that it was a far cry from the 'familiarisation' I received from the company I first hired from. Someone came with me to show me how to steer and operate the throttle and stepped off the boat at the first bridge hole, leaving me to navigate two tunnels, eight miles of canal, a busy canal junction that evening with a cheery "don't stop between the tunnels" and the prospect of descending 22 locks the next morning without ever even seeing a hand operated narrow lock before. My only experience had been watching the lock keeper at Penton Hook on the Thames operate his hydraulically operated gates and paddles when I was a boy.

But then the best way to learn is by doing. We all make mistakes. The thing is to try not to make the same mistake too often.

Oh, I forgot to tell them where to plug in their mobile phone charger. I hope they will cope.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Many a Slip........

Yesterday we took a friend and two of her children out for a boat trip. We decided to go to near Nell Bridge, turn and have a barbeque and then return in the early evening.

After filling with Diesel and changing a gas bottle at Sovereign Wharf we set of with excited children for a fun day's boating. We had a lovely day. All was fine with the weather and a slight breeze kept us feeling cool. However, it must have been hotter than we thought because at King's Sutton lock, I came over woozy and ended up sitting on the bank holding the centre rope and calling for the First Mate to return to assist. Three glasses of water later all was well again.

We turned at Nell Bridge but had to hold back as a BW employee's boat was moved from a mooring next to their yard to a mooring on the towpath. This had to be readjusted to give enough room to turn at the winding hole. We moored on the rings about 200 yards from the Lift Bridge and set up the temporary barbeque on top of the BW Contractor's hopper that is moored here collecting rubbish that boaters cannot be bothered to dispose of in the correct place provided.

After a wonderful feast and letting the children go fishing for half an hour or so, we started back.

All was well until we got to bridge170, a farm lift bridge that is usually left up. Today it was definitely down. There was little room between the last moored boat and the bridge so I pulled along side this boat and the First Mate stepped across to get to the bank to raise the bridge. She slipped trying to locate the steps inside the front well deck, twisted and fell heavily backward. She couldn't move. We made her comfortable and I prayed for her. Jarvis and Jo from the live-aboard "nb Lotus" appeared to offer to call an ambulance.

Jarvis and Jo were brilliant. They operated the lift bridge for another boat, then we moved through and Jarvis moored us up next to them and took care of our children while we waited for the ambulance. Jarvis ran up the field and back again (about a third of a mile) to make sure the ambulance knew where to come. The paramedics were great too, getting her on to a board and into the ambulance for the trip to Banbury's Horton Hospital.

I gathered the children, got everyone back on board and navigated in a worried frame of mind back to Banbury where I left the boat on the first available town centre mooring and retrieved the car to get to the hospital. The children were taken by our friend back to her home where they watched a tv football match, ate pizza and then had an impromptu sleepover.

The Hospital doctors and nurses were great, checked , x-rayed and double checked then killed the pain and at Midnight discharged her to return home. Nothing broken, no nerve problems. Just Pain and bruising to get over and heal in due time.

The accident 'spoiled' a lovely day. It all happened so quickly. We cross boats so regularly it almost comes as something natural and we know the layout of the well deck on this type of boat quite well as friends live on one. But it only takes a moment to slip.........

Take care everybody.

The incident has been reported to British Waterways via their on line incident reporting form

Monday, 27 August 2007

Broken Indictor

On the way down to Thrupp we navigated the beautiful stretch of the River Cherwell from Baker's Lock to Shipston Weir Lock without any problems and I remember commenting that the Level indicator at Shipston was on Red when we arrived there. I thought at the time that the indication might have been erroneous.

On the return the indicator wasn't there at all! Maybe the high flows and levels this year were too much for it. I have reported the fault on the interesting, but presently very little used, problem reporting tool Nabo intend BW to access this and act on its information. Maybe it will work.

Keeping it going

Well I promised you news of what it takes to keep the boat afloat. But it isn't much use keeping afloat if it doesn't go so the drive system is VERY important.

Sonflower is now the possessor of a brand new gearbox. The bill came to a conveniently round 1000 GBP. That did include some work to the engine as well (new injectors, belt, oil and filters). But it is all essential if we are to keep boating.

A slightly reduced crew took her back to the home mooring on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was hectic. We cruised to Heyford where we left the boat to get the bus to Thrupp. Unfortunately, we just missed one at the traffic lights between Steeple Aston and Rousham. As there isn't really a bus stop there and we had an hour to fill, we walked to Rousham House but found there isn't a bus stop there. SO we walked a bit further to Tackley Turn but there isn't a bus stop there either. We asked a passing tandem cycling crew to look at their mapo to find we were too far from Tackley to walk any further so we sat in the shade and waited to flag the bus down. This worked and we found out from the driver that there are NO official bus stops between Steeple Aston and Tackley! At Thrupp we retrieved the car and drove to Banbury, stopping at Sainsbury's in the way.

Once back in Banbury, we caught the last bus back to Heyford getting the driver to drop us at the "unofficial stop" by the traffic lights between Steeple Aston and Rousham. After walking back to the boat, our Pooh Bear declared himself sick with heat stroke and decided to put himself to bed. We were exhausted and slept well.

Sunday saw a brilliant sunrise as we slipped away toward the Mill Lift Bridge. I don't like lift bridges and single handling this one is impossible. Piglet awoke to help and we worked through Allen's lock and stopped for bacon and egg breakfast before Heyford Common Lock. After breakfast we set the lock just before a Braidbar Boat (no60, 'Smudge') came along. They enjoyed the smoke from our engine in lock queues throughout the day. We had seen them on Saturday and they thought that by starting early they would avoid the queues. No such luck. The day was punctuated by queuing. We passed another Braidbar (no 95, oooooh only a year old) on the way.

We turned at Aynho, queued for a pump out, turned again and continued to Banbury lock to join an queue of six boats. Here we paused for a kick about in the park and then progressed through the lock to our home mooring. Here we found a new moorer "nb Aborigine" on it! We turned and moored alongside and then moved it back to moor in our accustomed position.

There comes to the end of our Summer Cruise. 192 miles, 2 flg, 190 locks and 10 moveable bridges.

Monday, 20 August 2007

The wrong sort of. . . . .

Winnie the Pooh had a problem with the wrong sort of bees and got stung.

I am heading for a problem with the wrong type of gearbox! I was offered a rebuilt gearbox at a very reasonable price by my local marina. It was a Hurth 150, the same make that was in my boat, and the front to back dimensions are identical meaning that it would fit between the engine and the propeller shaft without alteration. It was of a larger power rating so would not wear out so quickly, but the input and output shafts differed by about 20mm in the vertical dimension meaning that the engine would need to be raised this distance. I didn't think that would be a problem when I bought the gearbox.

However.... there was a problem: the engine has been shoe-horned into the engine bay beneath an overhang at the rear end without even this amount of clearance. To raise it less than 3/4 inch would mean that the coolant tank cap would not be removable. So the cheap option was out and I am now going to have to bear the sting of a full price new gearbox.

The local marina proprietor was very accommodating, accepting the gearbox back onto his shelf and returning my cheque. I insisted that he take a small 'handling charge' which I hope will at least buy him a drink for his trouble.

Some Irishman's Law comes to mind.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

How do I know it's a hire boat? -part 2

Here is a picture I took of a boat in a pound on the Hatton Flight.

One would think that it is a relatively simple task to get your boat from one lock to another one approximately 60 yards ahead in a straight line. However, this boater made a complete hash of this manoevre. After Sonflower had vacated the lock and pulled to the right as seen, the hire boat misjudged the approach, failed to take notice of a slight wash from Sonflower's stern and then could not recover. The helmsman also refused to accept that he couldn't steer the boat when the engine was going astern and scraped it's way down the side of Sonflower with the helmsman over the stern rail trying to push his boat off. (1 man against 17+ tons of narrrowboat is poor odds).

How do I know it was a hire boat?

Summer Pictures

Wiggins Hill on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal
The peaceful Stratford Canal

After 31 lock-miles

Sonflower at Hatton Flight

I promised you some pictures of the Summer cruise. So here they are

Friday, 17 August 2007

There (but not back again) yet

On Monday morning (13th August) we started to go to Oxford. First I thought I ought to get diesel and pay an overdue account at Sovereign Wharf. Unfortunately, at opening time there was already a boat on the wharf mooring and a sign showing they were out of diesel. They had been bled dry by boats heading for Cropredy Festival the previous Thursday. Ray, the proprietor, assured us that the delivery was requested for 'as near ten as possible' and that for the previous delivery the tanker had been waiting at the gate when he had arrived. Not today. A boat called Patience came along. Seeing there was no diesel and being told it would be here soon didn't satisfy the skipper. Patience couldn't wait. The boat on the wharf took on water and then also decided to leave so we tied up and paid our outstanding bill, which was for reconditioning injectors.

The proprietor here used to run a hire fleet and is very useful for technical advice. I asked him why my gearbox might not like engaging forward drive but was fine going into reverse. The answer was simply that the forward motion gets more wear and that it was a sign that the gearbox was in need of an overhaul. This inquiry however brought to light the information that he had a reconditioned gearbox ready on the shelf if I needed it.

I dipped the fuel tanks and decided that we too would get under way, went up to turn and hoped that the diesel would arrive before we passed on the way back from the winding hole. No such luck, so we started a long day boating south toward Oxford. There were queues at every lock. The wind caught us and a hire boat out at a lift bridge just before Somerton Deep Lock and we moored at Lower Heyford, near the station, in time for dinner and for me to catch the 2105 train back to collect the car. All the way there, the drive reminded me that the gearbox was on its way out.

I rang Sovereign Wharf and reserved the reconditioned gearbox.
The next day I went to Thrupp to try to make contact with a marine engineer. Mark Paris had done a Boat Safety Certificate examination for me and I was impressed by his thoroughness. He agreed to fit the gearbox and the injectors for me sometime next week if I could get the boat to Thrupp.

Returning to the boat I found that the mooring we were on was 48 hours. I was loath to move on with the dodgy gearbox especially as the southerly voyage to Thrupp involves a stretch of the River Cherwell and the weather promised more heavy rain. In fact it delivered it that night along with strong winds and about three inches of rain water appeared in my bucket on the back of the boat.

I spoke to the mooring warden's husband who passed her a message about my predicament and she agreed that I could stay until Friday morning. That arranged, I now put the car at Thrupp, returning to Heyford by bus. All set for another changeover.

Friday morning was a wonderful cruising morning and we made our passage easily to Thrupp. On exiting the Cherwell reach, another boater pointed out the indicator was on RED. We should not have made it at all. I am sure that the indicator at the other end was on ORANGE but I will never be sure. I left Bakers Lock because several other boaters had come in, making the more difficult passage against the stream! I hadn't even looked at the gauge!

At Thrupp we were confronted by a distinct lack of 14 day moorings and a mooring warden trying to keep the wide clear for a film crew that were expected later. He told us to turn and moor abreast of Helene of Troy, which we did. I wait for him to call later to find out what is going on!

The car was in the right place and we returned to base ready to collect the gearbox on Monday morning.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Fame at last

We have been moored opposite nb Gypsy Rover for a couple of days and there is a picture of half of us on their blog!


Today we are moving off toward Oxford. One of the crew has appointments in Oxford over the next few days. To get them there and back each day by public transport will not be impossible but as we don't know where we will be (exactly) each night, getting near enough to bus stops will be difficult and checking out bus times will be almost impossible. We have decided to get the car. Of course, we can't carry the car on the boat. We therefore have to do a bit of car and boat hopping.

This reminds us of the time we spent getting the boat to the Banbury Area in 2004. We needed to get the children to school in Banbury each morning, collect them each afternoon and move the boat nearer to Banbury from its original mooring at Ivinghoe on the Grand Union each day. We also had to fit in things like shopping and eating! But we did it. It included walking over the top of Braunston Tunnel when our car was one side and the boat the other; taxi from Folly Pie Pub to Brauston when all the roads of Napton were being resurfaced and the taxi driver couldn't find the pub either; walking from the Wharf at Fenny Compton to meet the boat at Wormleighton and from Claydon locks to Fenny Compton to do the same and cycling the tow path between Cropredy and Banbury was soon to become a regular event.

All that is history but helped us to understand that where there is a will there is a way. We knew we needed to be in Banbury, and made sure we were at the right times!

This week though it isn't so easy. The recent knee surgery and present discomfort makes cycling impossible and walking any distance very difficult. The logistics of this trip are needing even more careful planning. As the Oxford canal takes the scenic contours of the Cherwell valley and over the last 200 years the roads have been straightened and villages bypassed, by buses as well as cars, we are puzzling as to the best way back for the car. I think I am favouring rail from Heyford Station as I am not at all sure that we will be able to get as far as Thrupp in one day in order to get a bus.

Maybe, I'll be able to tell you more how our target of being on the boat and near the car works out. Of course, we will also have to do it all again the other way!

Saturday, 11 August 2007

The Summer Cruise

Avid readers of this blog may wonder why we haven't given any news for the past 11 days.

Simply, we have been cruising.

Now, I did try to get onto the net in Birmingham. Sitting under the shadow of the BT Tower, I expected more than a week signal from BT Open world. As I expected data transfer would not be too good, I didn't bother connecting. This was the only 'hotspot' we encountered on the Warwick ring. Now we saw Granny Buttons, moored with no-one aboard, between locks 4 and 5 of the Alvestone locks, so he was probably in some hotspot keeping everyone up to date. We were too busy enjoying the slow filling rate of the locks to spend time looking for one.

We have had wonderful weather for our cruise this summer. Up to Birmingham was no trouble and we chose the pretty route, via the Stratford canal. We visited Think Tank in Brum for a day out and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. This is a fantastic attraction for any who like hands on science stuff and it also houses the City of Birmingham museum with exhibits of the growth and heyday of the industrial growth. Steam engines to buttons, it's all there.

The remainder of the cruise will take some time to record. Each day had a different character.

For now, suffice to say that we have returned to Banbury for the moment to stock up on stuff, spares and other essentials before going down to Oxford for a few days. More, much more including pics to come later.

Monday, 30 July 2007

A Folly of a meal

We always look forward to dinner. Especially after a longish day of fresh air and energetic work. After the exertions of our cruise form Cropredy to Napton we really looked forward to this one and we were moored only 200 yards from The Folly Inn. This used to be called the Folly Pie Pub. We had eaten here before and the extensive menu of home made pies filled us with anticipation.

We took our seats at a table in the dining room next to the huge fireplace. No need for a fire today though. It was a beautiful warm evening. We looked over the menu and noticed that Cow Pie had been deleted from the list of pies. There were still quite a few and our conventional teenage eater soon had decided on the Chicken and Mushroom. Piglet, who is more selective about his food looked for something to enjoy that wasn't steak and settled on poached salmon. Owl looked at the specials board and spied a good looking Folly Fish Platter boasting crab, mussels, calamari, smoked salmon and mackerel and prawns. Also from the board, the Venison Pie was too tempting for me to miss.

We ordered at the bar and also bough a round of drinks. I noticed an interestingly looking Folly Ale brewed by the Warwickshire Brewery. I am a local beer taster. I can't resist a pint of whatever os the local brew as we travel around so I had to do it just so that I could say I'd tried it. It looked clear and bright but from the first taste I didn't like it. I am quite used to beers that change their character as they go through the cask, Flowers from Kent tends to sour slightly, Hook Norton has a woody edge but this was pain awful and tasted 'off'. The first half pint usually disappears in a single draght, but not this one. I couldn't take it. I returned to the bar and the bamaid didn't even comment or bat an eyelid of surprise but just took the rejected glass and poured it down the sink. I ordered a pint of HB bitter as a replacement to wash the sour taste away with some bitter fines.

The meals came and the pies looked great. Hot and steaming meat in gravy with a light puff pastry crust. No complaints here. The salmon looked good too but Owl was definitely not happy with the re-constituted gelatinous fish sticks that were on her plate with mussel, squid rings salmon and mackerel etc. on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce. Her mathematical mind quickly totted up the cost of the ingredients in the supermarket and compared this to the 13.50GBP we were being charged. And NO CRAB. The fish sticks were not an acceptable substitute. We told the waitress of our unhappiness and she went to the kitchen, returning with a side plate "to put the bits you don't like on". Owl said she preferred to re-order and asked for another salmon which, to be honest was OK.

The pies were good, but ... .... ..... "It is obviously folly to order anything with Folly in it's name" said Owl.

We're on our way.

The rain stopped on Thursday evening at about 5.30pm. We slipped the mooring, backed to th turn and we were on our way over the familiar territory northward. The sun dipped gently to the west and by a rosy sunset we were working through Slat Mill lock and we moored in Cropredy as the clock struck nine.

Early to bed, early to rise. The crew were happy to be aboard again and we slipped into our routine. The candles were flickering to make the saloon glow with a beautiful light and we retired in expectancy that tomorrow would really be the start of our holiday cruise.

I was up early as expected to a glorious morning. We slipped moorings before six and Eeyore and Piglet had worked through six locks before the rest of the crew had got out of bed. We stopped for breakfast at Fenny Compton and then with full enthusiastic crew enjoyed the meandering top pound past the ancient furrowed meadows and the earthworks of Wormleighton medievil village. Round the huge horseshoe meander of Wormleighton Hall and the beatiful view over the fields toward Southam. Our first sight of Napton Windmill in the distance reminded us of the deceptive serpentine path this canal takes. It would be six hours before we were passing beneath Napton on the Hill.

The full crew worked through Napton Flight. Two way traffic to enjoy. Everyone was smiling. Holiday hirers who had had days of waiting for the floods to subside were enjoying sunshine and movement. Americans, Dutch, Danish and true Brits were all enjoying the English sunshine today.

We moored at the foot of Napton Flight end rested after 31 lock-miles. We looked forweard to dinner at the pub by the Canal.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Now we're stuck!

I have no pictures of the floods of the 20th. I was too busy to get any. If you want to see why the Oxford Canal is closed south of Banbury and is under a severe flood warning north of Banbury go to Banbury Guardian . The local paper has done a wonderful job collecting photographs and updating the galleries.

British Waterways have given advice not to move any boat unless it is absolutely necessary. Our summer cruise, which has been in the planning for months is obviously in jeopardy. More rain is expected in the next few days and with the ground absolutely waterlogged more flooding is very probable. I might have been overheard at lunchtime today suggesting booking into a high rise Hilton Hotel somewhere a long way away for a few days! At least we could swim in the spa pool. Our local Spiceball baths are flooded out and there is talk that they will never reopen.

Our favorite watering hole, the GF Club is also flood damaged as is Tooley's boatyard. The water coming down the canal, instead of the River Cherwell, did a lot of the damage this time. The river rose later to flood the railway station and the canal below the lock. The river and the canal mingled as one at Cropredy and the boats had to be retrained from floating over the towpath.

So there we are. Stuck in the middle. Unable to go south and advised not to go north. Maybe it's time to do some more work on the boat. It better be inside work though with the rain forcast to catch us on Thursday or Friday.

Friday, 20 July 2007

It is good to have friends!

We were not on the boat today. We had a busy time with our two sons, attending end of term things at their respective schools. At this time of year we have to cut ourselves in half to get to sports day ( canceled because of heavy rain); summer fete (to be held indoors because of the rain and canceled because of a gas leak that closed the school); headteacher's leaving party (relocated indoors); normal gym club; usual drumming lesson (unable to get to the teacher's house because of flooding) and an Award Evening (canceled because of fore mentioned gas leak).

All the time during the above, it rained and the level in the canal rose. By the time we got to the boat we were quite worried. The water was over the banks in the centre of town and the river Cherwell was lapping the walls of the Spiceball Sports Centre. However, when we got there our ropes had been slackened and the boat was safely afloat. Friends on the mooring had made sure that all the boats safe.

That's what being part of the canal community is about. It didn't take long to walk down the mooring to say 'thank you'. Of course, if I had been around when the water was rising I would have done the same.

I have never seen the canal like this. Near our mooring there is a stream that takes storm water from the local estates, enters the canal north of Hannef Way bridge and the water exits over a spill weir near the water works. This is running very fast. Another boater who took her dogs for a walk that way this afternoon told me that it has burst its banks. I said "If the stream is flowing backwards we are really in trouble". That joke isn't far away if the rain continues.

The rain is stopped at the moment I hope that it is for a reasonable period of time. The news today said that we had as much rain today as usually falls in a whole month.

With our Summer cruise just a few days away now, we are a little worried about navigating rivers such as the River Trent and River Soar which are on our projected route.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Special Trip for Special People

What a lovely day! As I sit in the warm in the middle of a thunderstorm regretting leaving the houdini hatch open, I am reflecting on the lovely day we had today.

We were hosts to Family Group 10 from Frank Wise School in Banbury for a little (two hour) cruise. We managed to get the seven children and four helpers aboard and after the usual safety briefing we settled in for their first experience of narrowboating. Three of the children took a hand at the tiller and enjoyed the experience of action and reaction as Sonflower responded to their movements. The joy on their faces and the thanks expressed by them was a great blessing. For one though, the throttle held a fascination and her helper was very quick as she dived for it to increase the engine revs considerably. This child also had an obsessional need to remove willow leaves from the deck. This help was willingly accepted. It is amazing how many leaves appear when you aren't looking for them!

One of the adults played a tiny guitar and led a few tunes to entertain the crew and after drinks and fruit aboard they climbed back into their minibus to return to school for lunch.

It was good to be able to give this small, but worthwhile, experience to these special people and their helpers.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Musical Boats

There have been a few boats with musical overtones through Banbury this last week. I was taken by the name of a boat being worked on by Tooley's Boatyard. It is called Comfortably Numb. We all know the feeling after a few beers: that feeling of well being that narrowboating can provide. I thought how apt the boat name was. Then I heard someone say, "Pink Floyd wasn't it?" And, of course, yeas it was. The lyric goes:
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

Even more apt if you are cruising around spending the child's inheritance!

Another boat in the town is England's Dreaming. I thought this may have a football connotation. You know, we are all dreaming of winning something again! But when I asked the skipper he said "No". It's about the revolution on Music from the punk era of the seventies onward.

I found when I googled it:

<"England's Dreaming," by Jon Savage, is an exhaustive book about the history of punk rock. Written in 1992, shortly after grunge's ascent>

Add these to the favorite chorus when we see the boat "Pearl" (Pearl's a singer, she stands up when she plays the piano...." ) and the numerous boats named after Beatles songs and we could make quite a medley as we cruise down the canal.

Mooring space at a premium

Anyone who has used the canals recently will know that in some places, popularity makes mooring space a scarce commodity.

Having had a kind developer make the centre of Banbury look neat and tidy around the canal and 'rejuvinate' it, BW realised that mooring in the town had become very popular. So they instigated the "Banbury Mooring Zone" and tell people they are entering it at Hardwick Lock and Bodicote footbridge. Between these points they expect you to respect the mooring restrictions and will issue you a penalty notice if you fail to comply.

Knowing the rarity of mooring space one would expect BW to do the same. But do they? No. They moor their workboat, dredger and hopper right slap bang in the middle outside Castle Quay. Mooring below the lock is less popular for the visiting boater and would be much more reasonable for the workboat. The dredger, last used in the vicinity in April, should surely have been tucked up for the summer back at Nell Bridge depot long before now!

How do you know it's a Hire Boat?

As I approached one of those bridge narrows where a factory lift bridge used to be (about 50 years ago before the demise of real industry that made things) I noticed a boat heading for the same narrow gap. As it was a hire boat I pulled over and waited, waving the oncoming craft forward. I was about level with a live-aboard who was moored on the tow path side. Seeing me stationary, he popped his head above the trad stern hatch and asked if I was OK.
"Yes, just giving way to a hire boat", I said.
He nodded knowingly and ducked down below again.
The First Mate then popped her head up. Having been very well engaged in conversation with a friend who was aboard for a short cruise, she wondered whether all was OK.
"Why have we stopped?"
"I'm just giving way to a hire boat", I said.
"How do you know it's a Hire Boat?" the friend chipped in.
"I just do", I said as the Anglo Welsh craft went between us and the live-aboard.

One just gets to know how other boaters behave. Whether it is because they hug the middle of the canal like a Sunday driver in the middle lane of the M25 or whether they have a determined look that can be spotted half a mile away or what I do not know but somehow, I knew that I HAD to give way to this one or there would have been much reverse thrusting and someone, probably me, would have landed up aground and bramble bound!

Today I was in town and looked about. "Busy today" our friend said. I looked up and down the moorings and saw that there were four boats from Napton Boats moored in the centre. I pointed this out. "How do you know they are hire boats?", she asked. "One just gets to know" It's the livery, the individual designs on the bows, the line of the boats, the number of people surrounding the tiller.... .I don't know. I just know!

I noticed that, since we had moored and gone into the GF Club a boat had moved on and given us more room to move away from the deceptive narrows under the museum bridge and opposite Tooley's dock entrance. I roped Sonflower forward two bollards to give someone else a chance to moor behind me. I went below and put the kettle on to be disturbed very soon afterwards by reverse thrusting next to us. It was my turn to pop up and enquire of the well being of another boater. He pointed me in the direction he had been going and I saw the reason for the reversing engine...... a hire boat coming toward him. His first mate threw me her bow rope and I assisted them to shelter behind my stern in the gap I had so recently vacated. How did I know it was a hire boat?

Of course, many of us started boating that way didn't we? And I enjoyed every minute
of it!

Monday, 2 July 2007

Tut Tut! Looks like rain!

Those immortal words were penned by A A Milne and given to Christopher Robin who walked up and down under an umbrella while Winnie the Pooh hung from a blue balloon like a little cloud to raid the honey from the bees nest at the top of the tree in 100 acre wood. Now we use them every day! This is the wettest June I can remember. June means a lot to us. It contains our birthdays. It is usually hot. It isn't that cold but every day is a wet day.

On my wife's birthday, we decided to go for a cruise. The sun was shining and the rain of the morning had cleared. We decided to head north. We moor pointing south so the first task was to back the boat 200yds round the bend to the winding hole. The sun had brought a few boats off their moorings in Banbury. And it brought them all together with another coming south as we wanted to make the turn! How difficult it is to signal that you want to make a full turn. We avoided the boats that couldn't wait and thanked the one that could.

The sun shone as we slowly made our way up to Cropredy. It was good to be out on the canal and in the fresh air of the Oxfordshire countryside. Once under the motorway and into the fields above Hardwick lock the world slows down. However, the water had sped up. Every weir and sluice was running full. Below the locks the weir stream pushed the bow over to make collision with the side of the lock inevitable or, at least probable.

Boughton Lock used to have a wonderful lockside flower garden (above) that in its time had won the British Waterways competition for the best kept lock on the system. Unfortunately, now, the cottage is empty and the garden is totally untended. A sign of the times. We have had a chat with a BW employee whose background is gardens and horticulture. He is not allowed to use a strimmer because to do so he would need to attend a training course. BW will not pay for the course so they employ a contractor. Another frustrated employee who is unable to use his skills to keep up the canals that he loves. And the Contractor? Well to view the quality or lack if it in his work is a sight for sore eyes. The towpath is very roughly mown and tatty. Nettles and weeds abound as the tractor mower skirts around the potholes and protrusions of the hedges. We spoke to a couple who were attempting to cycle the path but were finding it very difficult to make headway. We have heard the phrase 'rural mangement' in the past. Neglect is a better word to describe it these days.

As we left Boughton lock, the stream dragging the boat away from the lock mooring, the sky darkened and the first drops of the afternoon heavy shower started to fall. By the time we had reached the first bridge the helmsman was soaked. "Stop if you want" said the first mate. Once wet, one can hardly get much wetter so we continued on our way.

The clouds had gone and the rain had stopped and the sun was warming us up again by the time we got to Cropredy. We slowly passed down the moorings greeting friends and acquaintances who were mopping up after their abandoned barbecues and birthday gatherings. "We're going to have a birthday meal in the pub" we told our friends. We usually go to the Red Lion when we are in Cropredy. They suggested that we try the Brazenose Arms. "It's more reliable" "You usually know that you'll get what you order" they advised. Apparently, The Red Lion has had a limited menu at times recently.

So we moored, turning before the bridge and mooring beside the church below the lock. We prepared ourselves and walked up the road to the pub. It has a nice bench outside and we sat under darkening skies for the pub to open. Being Saturday Night, the restaurant was fully booked but the landlord spared no time in making us welcome and setting a table for our family meal in the bar. We all had lovely meal, freshly cooked steaks just to our liking, nice puddings and sausage, beans and chips for our most conventional teenager. (Only available on the children's menu but super-sizing on request was not a problem)

After the super-sized meal however, and after the fresh air of the afternoon, sleep overcame him and we returned to the boat for an early night just as the heavens opened again and the rain came down once more.

On the Sunday morning, the sun shone again and we moved to the water point. At Cropredy, this is not designed for a boat longer than about 40 ft but we filled and freshened the tank and washed the side of the boat (the side on the canal side at our mooring) which desperately needed a good hose down. As we wound up the hose, the rain started again. Just a shower. But by the time we had moved forward to Mill bridge, the helmsman was once again as wet as could be.

At Slat Mill lock we moored for a spot of breakfast hoping the rain would stop. We needed to wait for a boat to come up and then beckoned past the next boat going down. As the next boat came up we jumped to the ready once more to find that there was now a queue of three boats waiting to go down. Here we were in a rain storm in the middle of nowhere, thinking no-one would be as silly as us, to find that there was a boat convention forming more like the middle of an August holiday in Braunston than a wet June weekend miles from everywhere. Of course, if one has hired a boat for a week one has to use it what ever the weather. Although one of the boats was from Calcutt Boats and was going to do Oxford and back in a week ("we do this every year"), the rest of us were owners doing what boaters do!

Messing about in boats in the rain!

We really enjoyed our birthday cruise.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Missing Things

I haven't been blogging recently because I've been laid up. I have had a minor knee operation, called an arthroscopic menicuectomy. I think I have spelt it properly. Basically, keyhole surgery to cut away a bit of torn cartledge in my knee. I didn't realise it would be quite as painful as it was and it has meant that I have had to rest a lot. One would think this would make terrific blogging time. However, as I really wanted to concentrate this blog on the canal and the boat, the fact that I haven't been able to get out of my chair even to view the boats going by hasn't encouraged me. I'm missing out on the towpath gossip.

I did struggle to the club for lunch one day this past week and had a chat to a disabled boater on Castle Quay who sympathised with my struggle on crutches. He had a wonderful display of boat brass plates, which we display to show the world where we have been. Surprisingly they hadn't been on the Thames but had been just about everywhere north of it on flat water. We were interupted by a gongoozler who wondered how he'd grown such lovely lettuces in his roof box. He pointed out that the rain falls on them as well on the canal as anywhere on the land.

Lunching in the club I met good friends who have their mooring in Cropredy. It was really great to be able to converse once more about engines batteries and toilets. It is surprising how one misses these wonderful conversation pieces when one is isolated for a little while. There is always enough in these subjects to keep us busy for a pint or two. I had missed them.

If the conversation slacks then we relax into the interminable subject of the weather: summer has left us for a while and the autumn rains are upon us.

Father's day tomorrow. My father didn't really like it because it is an American invention to make money out of another card and stamp. Mothering Sunday is very British and that was alright as Mothers Day. But fathers day didn't have the same history behind it. Still, I will miss him because it is the first year that he hasn't been able to moan about it with his "you shouldn't have bothered, really you shouldn't"

It's funny what you miss isn't it?

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Sunday thoughts

It's raining. As it's late May in the UK this shouldn't really surprise us. What else is there to do on a Sunday afternoon but to tap about a few words on the blog.

Another week has passed on the town stretch of the South Oxford. What is there to report? Another body found in the cut by the lift bridge on Tuesday. That's three drownings in the same number of months! Also the funeral and wake on Wednesday of Peter from Grampus. I was unable to attend the funeral but I popped into the wake at the Mill. This was a really lively affair with plenty of traditional music and some dancing. The folk around Peter's widow, Liz, do know how to celebrate a man's departure.

I feel now that celebration of a person's life is much, much better than a morbid and mournful reflection on the fact that the deceased has beaten us to leaving this world. Whether we believe in a life hereafter and a final destination or not, it is great to remember the good of a person's life. Will Shakespeare got it right though. We are often more willing to remember the ill and 'the good is oft interred with the bones'. That is sad. When we 'shuffle off this mortal coil' we all leave behind a good contribution in some form or other. Some invest in their children, some in business, some in charity and good works. I feel that is important to concentrate on these things rather than any hurt or pain that we feel.

The pain of loss is very real, I know that only too well. To concentrate on it though will not help the healing process of grieving and mourning.

We are off out of the country for a few days. We are going to visit friends in Toulouse that we last saw when we were navigating the Canal du Midi from the Med to Carcasonne and back. That was in 2002. We did have a lovely time. Three weeks in a narrowboat on the Canal du Midi in glorious sunshine and with the vines sprouting all around us. This time we fly, stay with our friends and hopefully will not need to battle against les Peniches and les Eclusiers. [The original journey, by Sonflower's current crew, has been written up and may be will be published some day. I wait to here from my editor!]

The weather has been checked. Toulouse is definitely a better place to be next week. I'll tell you about it when I return.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

A Contact Sport

"Narrowboating is a Contact Sport" The first time I heard these words were when a boat owner forgave me, a boat hirer on his first cruise, for bumping his boat at the entrance to a lock while he was coming out. I was glad of his forgiving attitude. Unfamiliar with the way the water eddies when it rushes out when emptying a lock and I had got sucked too close trying to be clever and keeping the boat 'on station' instead of using the layby.

Yesterday though I heard the words again. Not referring to my boatmanship but concerning the crew of Anglowelsh hire boat "129". They managed to make it look like boating has more contact than a game of snooker. As I looked back before leaving the town centre mooring, I saw this boat coming through the lift bridge about 100 yards astern from me. I might have expected them to give way and allow me to pull off the mooring but their speed indicated that this was not to be the case. They had posted a lookout in the bow. Possibly to look for a mooring but he ignored the space behind my boat (at least 70 feet) and that I was leaving the mooring (another 60 feet) and headed for a space under the footbridge. Pulling in very fast the helmsman was shouted at because he had a rope dangling from the stern. Pulling in the rope he lost sight of where he was going and crashed into the back of the next boat obviously aborting any attempt to moor and cannoned across the canal against another boat whose crew came out to see what the first bang was about. The lookout fended off with his legs from a seated position in the bow, a very risky thing to do with 17 tonnes of narrowboat behind you. They doubled back to the other boat clipping both of the boats again. The owner of the first boat wished he hadn't pointed out the dangerously dangling rope in the first place and the owner of the second boat resignedly made the quoted remark!

I was priviledged to follow them at a distance out of town and past the Spice Ball visitor moorings. Here they had to avoid another boat coming the other way. The canal is not particularly narrow here but they managed to hit another moored boat during this manoevre. I quite expected them to moor on my mooring, which is on a bend, but they passed that. My neighbour was on his cruiser stern chatting to his wife and watched agog as they failed to make the bend missing them but scraping the next moored boat. I had to wait at the winding hole and watch them turn. To make the turn the helmsman was replaced by the forward lookout who presumably had turned a boat before. It didn't show.

I made a perfect turn but no one was watching- isn't it always the case- and returned to my mooring glad that I didn't have to follow them back. I expect they moored where I HAD JUST LEFT! At least they now had 130 feet to aim at.

"One Rule for One. . . . ."

Having your boat blacked and clean and shiny makes one sensitive!

Yesterday was a beautiful afternoon and the sunshine invited me to get back to our home mooring. This is very necessary for two reasons. Much though I love being in the centre of town, close to my favorite watering hole (General Foods Club- Boaters Welcome) and the bustle of the market and shopping centre the moorings are only 48hr and no return is allowed for 28 days. I must go or I will be overstaying! I agree that it isn't fair for a local boat like me to clog the moorings and prevent holiday makers and cruisers from enjoying this pleasant market town.

However, some boats do seem to return within 28 days with impunity. These are the hire boats who are just 3 days away from base. Banbury is an obvious target for a week's cruise from Stockton, Napton, Calcutt, Braunston and Lower Heyford. These pay a commercial license and understandably are apparently not bound by the local mooring conditions of the rest of us. There is a category of boat that also appear to be immune who pay the same license fee as us ordinary mortals. Stockton and Calcutt Marinas are the base for Ownerships. These craft appear in Banbury town centre on a very regular basis. I debated this subject with the crew of nb Soudley who were this week a lovely couple, a farmer and a doctor. Obviously in their allotted three weeks on the boat in a year they have three one week cruises available to them from Stockton. Banbury and back taking in the South Oxford, Blisworth and back via Braunston and north though Warwick and the Hatton Flight which takes a whole day out of the cruise. What they cannot arrange is the order that the various "owners" (twelve of them in this case) decide to do the trips. It's all about their personal preferences which is fair enough. Hence, their boat can be in town for three weeks on the trot or, at best, every three weeks. Whichever way it is it breaks BW's 28 day rule. However, nb Soudley's crew told me they had never got one of the Mooring Warden's very sticky Red Stickers (a penalty notice)!

What a surprise! We have.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Clean and Shiny

Well, SONFLOWER is out of the boatyard and looking good after her wash and brush up.

TOOLEY'S (est 1790) were as good as their word. She went in on Monday and was out again afloat on Wednesday with two new shiny anodes and a blacked bottom. A couple of leaky windows were fixed while she was under cover and the roof was power washed to remove all the grime that had accumulated in the sanded areas. These non-slip sanded areas are good for walking on but do collect dirt. I can't sing Tooleys praises enough. One cannot get better than doing what you want in the time they said they would do it for the price they said it would cost. Unfortunately to get back to the mooring involves turning the boat. That means navigating the lift bridge, lock , winding hole, lock, lift bridge circuit and I am bound to make contact with something that will make her newness look less than perfect!

This afternoon I did the trip (single handing through the lift bridge is always dodgy so I enlisted the crew of a Napton Hire boat), and lock (a little bit of help from a boat coming up) to the winding hole to turn her round (spotted a kingfisher* just before the winding hole) and back to Banbury town centre (with a lot of fast astern at the bridge to avoid a collision at Tramway Bridge hole -I was there first!) and return her to the mooring outside Tooley's.

The traffic is really building up now as the summer season gets under way. The mile and a half trip took me almost two hours as I had to wait for the lock. It had been filled by a hire boat crew (Oxford Boats) immediately the previous boat had left without looking to see my approach. A TWO MINUTE WAIT WOULD HAVE SAVED ME TWENTY MINUTES.

It did give me a chance to chat to the boat behind, nb Shundraw. They were on their way back to Shropshire having been to Bristol. Navigating the Kennet and Avon is heavy work and they had done it two ways. They told me they had enjoyed it even though the recent weather has been awful. They willingly worked the lock for me which was nice and saved me some time. I keep thinking that we might do the K & A one summer. There is so much to do.

Through the lift bridge (single handed this time) and back onto a mooring to dash off to run one son to piano lesson, my wife to Aldi and then pick up the other son from athletics and run him to his drum lesson in Cropredy and return popping into some friends for a chat and the pub for a pint on the way! Thursday is a busy day.

* The kingfisher is the subject of British Waterways wild life watch this year. I must report this sighting. They are also offering a prize for the best photograph taken of a kingfisher. Has anyone ever tried taking a snap of a kingfisher just as one is about to single handedly turn a 57 ft boat at one of the busiest turning points on the South Oxford Canal? It would be a feat in itself getting a camera up to to your eyes before the beautiful bird has made it's getaway at about 60mph!

Saturday, 12 May 2007

200 years must mean something.

Everyone has heard of Tooley's Boatyard, haven't they? Anyone passing through Banbury cannot miss it. The canal narrows at the entrance to the dry dock and Rosamund the Fair- Oxfordshire's cruising restaurant gets in the way of the lift bridge when single handed boaters attempt to stop on the operating side of the canal.

Well, if it was good enough to be in continuous operation for 200 years, it's good enough for me. Being my local boatyard and being a firm believer in supporting the local canal trades (use them or lose them!), it was an easy decision to have Sonflower's bottom blacked here. We did enquire at a dry dock on the GU near Milton Keynes but the price was about the same and the distances involved did not make any sense.

So, on Monday morning, Sonflower is heading for a wash and brush up.

I'll keep you up to date.

Celebration, Sadness and Sympathy

There is something to celebrate up at Cropredy this weekend. Our good friend Chris on n.b. Aurega has her 60th birthday tomorrow and we popped in to give her a card and a pressie today. We were hoping for a barbie but that had to be called off because of the weather! The hottest April has been forgotten and now we have possibly the wettest May. Any container left out has rapidly filled with wet stuff. About 4 inches in the last couple of days. Of course we have seen the sun, but not to the same extent as last month and now we have a wind with it as well. At least there is plenty of water to keep the orchid healthy (only rainwater will do).

It is gloomy along the cut near Banbury at the moment. Basically, we have too much sadness to cope with. We have lost two boating friends in a very short period. Firstly Jym from n.b. Beatrice - Bath was found by divers under his boat at the mooring. Now we hear that Peter of n.b. Grumpus has succumbed to a massive stroke, leaving Liz behind.

We all know that mortality is all we can be certain of but one doesn't expect so much sadness in such a short time. Add in my personal sorrow at losing my father and brother in the last nine months and I feel that grief is the only thing I can be certain of looking forward to.

Many of you who might come across this post will wonder why I am writing this. The canal is a community. We don't always have the same neighbours for long. Boating by its nature means we are generally moving on. However, every now and then we find that we have a need to put down roots, to stay a while and acquaintances become friends. Most folk need each other in some way at some time. Jim was a friendly type. Always approachable and generally interested in what was happening around him. He didn't always keep things neat and tidy and his dog tended to roam a bit but he was always ready to help or give advice on matters technical. He was an engineer and anyone with an engine problem would get sound advice from him about those little niggling faults that occur from time to time. We'll miss him because he was a character. There is no way any one who met Jym would forget him. We send our sympathy and condolences to all his relatives who too will miss him greatly.

Peter was a big friendly man. He came across to me as a quiet but strong person. I didn't know him well but he was always amicable and passed pleasant conversation in the club on Market days.

Life will go on. I am reminded of Grace, born last year beside the canal above Cropredy lock. And my two grandsons, born in the last year.

There is indeed "time for every purpose under heaven"

Ecclesiastes 3 >>

New American Standard ©

A Time for Everything

1 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
2 A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

May is out

"Ne're cast a clout 'til May be out" is a fine old saying. We have just had the hottest April in centuries and very little rain for ages. It has therefore been fine boating weather.

However, the batteries have been flat and very hard to charge. The engine therefore has been very hard to start and we have been not very far at all! In fact the only progress we have made is 500 meters down the canal toward town to be near to a boat yard and to get out of the way of the British Waterways dredgers who were working down the canal and passed our mooring.

We did achieve something this month though. Having attempted to revive the batteries many times we have now thrown the lot away and installed four new ones. The engine now starts like a dream! One of last month's problems sorted.

The other one that was fairly easily sorted was the loo. Apart from being rubber gloved for a long time replacing the toilet seals and holding down bolts was a fairly painless job. The toilet is now secured with stainless steel fixings to replace the powdered mild steel ones, the seals have been replaced and the area cleaned up nicely. It is now a throne fit for the captains mate!

Oh, and the saga of the diesel leak is now temporarily over. A wonderful friend procured me a roll of 'self amalgamating' tape. This wonderful double sided tape sticks to itself so firmly that it forms a homogenous mass. A few lengths of this were wound around the leaking joint and now there is no leak. What two boatyards of engineers and a travelling marine engineer could not achieve was completed by a post office engineer's bodge.

However the saga of the oil remains. I could get rid of the boat batteries at the local recycling centre but not the oily waste. No they only take old engine oil. So the can of watery diesely oily waste remains at the mooring. We will separate the water from the oil and try again.

Next week another job will be undertaken by the local dry dock: Sonflower goes in for bottom blacking, a biennial job to stave off corrosion below the water line. A corrosion inspection will be undertaken at the same time.

Another May job is the planning of the Summer cruise. We think we will visit the Cheshire Ring this year. The Peak Forest , Bridgewater and Macclesfield canals will be new to us.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

What is a narrow boat?

I just had a terrible thought. Some of you bloggers out there in the world wide web may not know what a narrowboat is or why it is called that. You can see from the pic that SONFLOWER is 17.1M long but only 2M wide! When the canals in the UK were built about 200 years ago most canals were narrow; the locks were built a little over 2m (7ft) wide and 22m (72ft) long. This conserved water which was very important to the canal designers of the day. Hence, today's cruising pleasure craft are still need to be narrow to be able to navigate the majority of the UK canals.

These pretty craft do find themselves on other waterways worldwide. There is a narrowboat at the moment making a voyage down the eastern seaboard of the USA. We have just returned from a trip to the Shannon in Ireland where we saw a couple of narrow boats on Loch Derg and we have navigated the Canal du Midi in southern France on a narrowboat.

However, being flat bottomed and of slight draft (approx 2ft) they have the sea going characteristics of a bath tub with the plug out. I have seen a seaworthy narrowboat but they are very few and far between.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Here's a pic

Here is a picture of SONFLOWER

She is moored on the very pretty South Oxford Canal.

Here she is at Cropredy.

April Fool

Just started! I have just returned from the mooring where I have been enjoying one of the pleasures of being a boat owner. YES! I have been cleaning out the oily bilge. Having suffered a minor diesel spillage/leak on my 44 year old BMC 1500, I have had to quarantine the effluent within the engine compartment in case some of the nasty stuff got into the canal and spread it's rainbow patterns across and down the pound. It really is remarkable how far a tiny bit of diesel will go. So this afternoon was a nice time to enjoy the April sunshine, admire the daffs and narcissi in the hedgerow and drown out the birdsong with the genny and the aquavac. Four pairs of rubber gloves and a lot of stretching and careful pouring and a 25 litre drum was full of oily watery waste, the bilge was dry and washed with detergent and a new absorbent mat fitted to mop up any future drips. What satisfaction!

Of course, after the winter of neglect there are many other jobs that have become urgent before the cruising season can get under way. The Traveller toilet has got loose from the tank. Another pleasant job to tackle. A couple of windows show signs of leakage and need taking out and refitting, cobwebs abound. Where do all those spiders come from? And of course, the batteries are flat!

Maybe I should be joining the huge number of hirers who failed to get round the bend without scraping along my gunwhales. They don't have to worry about all these nice little jobs before they get going on a sunny spring cruise!

There. All the boater's conversational topics catered for in one post-engines, batteries and toilets.