About Me

My photo
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.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

More pictures

SONFLOWER, perfectly lined up to enter the lock.
And making a perfect entry.

SONFLOWER and an interesting workboat. The boat was bought as a burnt out shell. The BMC1500 engine was intact and working and was worth more than this enterprising duo paid for the craft. Removing the roof and putting in a plate deck was a simple modification to give them a utility boat.

Almost there

Today was a wonderful day as far as the weather was concerned and as far as progress was too.

We started on our own and then found company in the form of NB Ricola. They were going to Little Venice as well, had thirty years experience of boating, a boat that could travel like a washless speedboat and knew this stretch of the Grand Union like the back of their hand.

We stopped for lunch just through Widewater lock but befoer mooring I backed to where there was a working boat trading diesel coal etc. He sold me two bags of taybrite and thres in a bag of sticks for £20. Good value. He informed me that he is installing a pump and tank to do pump-outs which will be ready on our way back. 'Where there is muck there is brass'

We stayed withour partner after lunch and when he had cleared Cowley lock we let him disappear intothe distance.

We cheered as we turned onto the Paddington arm and marvelled at the BW boat that is there for the purpose of cleaning the waterways. It had a coot's nest on the bit that should scoop up the rubbish. It was very obvious that it hadn't been used for aq good length of time. The canal was full of plastic bags varying in size from tesco carriers to blue circle cement bags, It was only a matter of time before one or two fouled the prop.

We arrived at Willowtree nature reserve to see NB Ricola already moored and a perfect space for us betweeen her and our frinds NB Trinity. After a welcome and chat we disappeared to cook Beefy Botham Burgers.Tesco (c300yds from the mooring)
provided the large baps.

Three hours or so to go tommorrow. The sky is beautifully clear tonight. I hope it still is in the morning.


The canals never cease to amaze me. Here under a humble railway bridge over the canal is vaulting that would not be out of place in a Cathederal Crypt. The structural engineers have had a heyday with the steel members but the concrete beams are beautiful.

The vaulting in brickwork of some of the 200 year old bridges is also amazing. Some of these skills are being lost for ever in the modern cut and paste world of prefabricated edifaces. There is always something new that's old to wonder at!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

A ten bob note!

This is the sign on the swing bridge at Winkwell. This bridge has been updated with automatic barriers and electric opening and closing gadgetry. Why did they not update the sign!

I think I could afford 50p if I was in a rush!

All alone

The only company we had today was a couple of boats, also heading for the Cavalcade but behind us. When we stopped for lunch and shopping at Sainsbury's they went by leaving us to tackle the locks even without them coming up behind and closing the bottom gate for us. A hard day but we achieved our target and more. We are at Lady Capel Lock No 74 leaving us 16 locks for tommorrow. An easy day after the 22 locks of today.

The weather was kind. Only a light shower today and plenty of sunshine. No real problems except sharing a lock with a workboat and the workman opening the paddles without us having crew on deck (taking his coat off) and putting the boat on the cill. Our crew returned to alert us and we easily floated her off averting a potentially doisasterous incident averted by quick action by all concerned.

We have thought about going on but after a real Italian dinner of spag bol, ice cream and chianti we don't feel like going anywhere except to bed!

Shiny Boats

Here is a picture of NB The Sharp End and SONFLOWER together in Dudsworth top lock yesterday. Both have very new paintwork

And here is a picture of the end of yesterday as we approached Berhamsted on the GUC

We stopped shortly after to dry out for the third time in the day.

Pictures- Dash to London April 2009

Monday, 27 April 2009

O what a morning. . !

I was singing "O what a morning, glorious and bright, with the dawning of day in Jerusalem...." yesterday morning and awoke a couple, who we were later to share locks with, as I passed in Fabulous sunshine. This morning we were accompanied by NB Knot Normal with their wonderful crew of Mark and Margaret or (M 'n' M or Mork and Mindy). They have been doing bespoke joinery on narrowboats now for 13 years and are heading for the cavalcade as well. But they stopped to visit friends in Dunstable Boat Club. Not before we had navigated seven locks in the most unsummery conditions possible with heavy rain and hail! We had one set of water sodden drying by the fire after the locking and over 'a full English' brunch break.

We then got a new partner at Marsworth Locks NB Sharp End who were with us with their friend Colin and his dog Mac. Here we took most of the soaking. After lunch, from Bulbourne we cruised the top level in light rain but it had dried up when we came up behind her again. She was waiting for her partner who caught a bus from Berkhamsted and 'normal service was resumed, apart from having to wait at Dudswell Lock No 1 (Top lock) while a BW contractor finished rolling the new tarmac path. They have covered the boaters foot holds with tarmac. When I pointed it out they told us not to worry, they will be cut out tomorrow when the tar is set. I hop so.

We should be in Berkhamsted before six o'clock. We need to be so that we can get to Waitrose. Either that or its tinned mackerel on toast, without toast for lunch tomorrow

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Another Hot One

When we woke up I lit a fire and started to doze off again to be awoken by the smoke alarm. Some of the sealer from the chimney was smoking!

After opening a few windows we decided to start off and were on the move while there was still ice on the roof and a blue sky over our heads. While we queued for water we made scrambled eggs on toast for breakfast. Then we used the facilities at Cosgrove lock and then shared the lock with another boat that passed as we were coiling up the hose.

The rest of eh day was cruising in sunshine and stillness. Milton Keynes is really attractive from the canal. We enjoyed the ride except for having to give way to a wide beam boat who didn't even say thank you, a hire boat who hadn't heard that one cannot steer in reverse at a bridge hole, and hitting an ex-swing bridge narrows to make sure there was a scrape in the blacking.

At one lock we met up with RYA trainers who were the ideal coaches for a weekender lady crew of a Wyvern Cruiser in a lock with us. We shared locks with them through Soulbury Three Locks and got to know them a bit. They are heading for Brentford and the Thames and said they might meet us again tomorrow. They moored near us last night and we woke them up as we passed at 6.30am this morning.

Today we went further than our target mainly because of the lack of piling rails to moor to in this area. We have covered 26 miles and 9 locks today which Nick's planner says should have taken us 10 hours and 4 minutes. We are a bit slower than that because of the hen party, the lady at Fenny Stratford lock who is polling her engine less shell to Birmingham with her daughter aboard, lunch at the Three Locks and the water stop that is about right.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Where we are

Any one can follow SONFLOWER's progress on Water Explorer

I update whenever I get a connection to the web through my dongle.
There was a scratch on SONFLOWER when we got up this morning. Whether it was a vandal or a hawthorn bush was debated by our crew and a BW lengthsman at Whilton Locks. He admired the boat and noticed the blemish!

It was pouring with rain this morning, scorching sun this afternoon and a wonderful glow about the evening as we ate our Chicken Italien washed down with Chianti.

The change in the weather was dramatic. We have a strong breeze of the starboard bow which chills a bit but the sun has made a dramatic comeback and illuminates the green and pleasant country around us wonderfully.

We are now away from the waterfall of noise that is the M1 and are moored in very peaceful surroundings where gentile ladies ride on horseback over the canal bridge to get exercise. We got ours on Buckby and Blisworth flights.

Altogether a really successful and enjoyable afternoon that increased the happiness rating from 5.4 to 9.5.

We lit a fire this evening to dry the shoes.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Ahead in time

We are now through Braunston Tunnel and moored at Norton Junction. Today, we exceded our target and have really enjoyed it.

We started by watering at Marston Doles and then benefitted from the generosity of NB Alnwick who left a paddle open for us to fill the locks all the way down Napton Flight.

We lunched in Braunston and had a walk round the town and did a little shopping. The Braunston Butcher is fantastic. Pricey but well worth a look.

We did have a little problem! As we waited for the locks at Braunston bottom lock I turned off the engine and it would not restart. I thought it was a jammed starter motor and was about to hit it with a hammer when I noticed that we were outside Union Canal Cruisers where stood a man in overhauls. I asked if he was a mechanic and he said 'not today, but he is!' The man in question came over to our boat with a wit as sharp as a razor, told us jokes and bantered for about 15 minutes as he diagnosed a wiring fault rather than a jammed motor, cured the spill rail diesel leak that he noticed, adjusted the loose fan belt and told me how to modify it so that it can take the extra load of generating charge for my four batteries and then only charged me £15!

I have his details and his assurance that he has a good supply of spares for my 40 year old engine.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Along the way

We atarted today with a wonderful dawn. Sunrise was spectacular. Red sky in the morning shepherd's warning! But not today. It was glorious.

My crew arrived on time at 0900h and we slipped the mooring, saying goodbye to NB SKYY who is set to go south, and headed north. As we passed the Grimsbury Arm I phoned Steve Haywood of NB Justice to see if he wanted to join us as he is headed for the Canalway Cavalcade, but got his answerphone. I left a message.

We had a lovely time. A chat with Chris and Vic on NB Auriga in Cropredy. Vic was runbbing down his boat with baby oil to try to emulate SONFLOWER's shine. He hasn't got a hope without a repaint!

At Cropredy lock we met with a mother and daughter who were towpath walking. They expected to get to Claydon today. They helped my crew, pictured above at several locks on the way before we lost them taking a well earned coffee break. They walk the towpaths every Thursday and hope to cover the whole of the Oxford Canal from Oxford to Coventry in stages in this manner. They had a great day for it today.

At Claydon flight we met a couple who often come to sit on the bench by the locks here. They can no longer boat as the wife has Parkinson's desease but they obviously love the canals. They had a boat in Fenny Compton marina for a long time and miss it terribly. I hope that I never have to leave SONFLOWER.

We continued past our planned destination, The Wharf and moored near Stoneton Bridge in an idylic setting with lambs gamboling around. We hope that the sunrise tommorrow brings as much joy as today's.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

A bright idea

nb SKYY has a marvelous idea for weather proofing a dongle. So simple I wonder why I didn't think of it. They use a clear plastic water bottle but I like my salt container. Refuse, reuse or recycle! I have had mine taped up in plastic bag, taped onto the end of my pole for a long time now.

Sadly, canals are usually down at valley bottom level and reception has to be sought by elevating the dongle. With the inherent dangers of the short sharp shower in this pleasant land of ours, this is an ideal solution.

Thank you nb SKYY!

Change of Plan II

Having considered all the pros and cons, I have decided to go to London via the 'pretty route' of the Grand Union rather than the 'motorway dash' down the Thames. The river locks are only manned 9 to 5 with an hour for lunch. Although boaters are allowed to use the locks outside these hours they are very heavy and power is not allowed because we might do quite a lot of damage if we opened all the paddles at once!

My other concern was the tidal passage. Altough re-assured by the lock-keeper at Teddington that if we arrived there at high tide (about 8am on Tuesday) we would be in Brentford lock 45 minutes later, there is a possibility that we would not be there in time and then we would have to go against the next tide 13 hours later to get through Brentford lock before it closes. I don't think my little 45 year old BMC would like that.

The Best Mate is happier because we think canals are safer than the river. They are not so deep and don't have a current to tow you down and drag you under if you fall in. They don't have big weirs to jump out and grab your boat either. Also, once started, the weather has to stay dry to ensure that the river levels remain steady. Otherwise I will be racing the flood behind me!

The GU means working a longer day but, then, what else have we to do?

I just hope that my crew agrees or I might start off with a mutiny on my hands.

We leave at 9am on Thursday, heading north (to go south!)

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Change of Plan

SONFLOWER is back at Tooley's Boatyard having window trims and a few other snags sorted out. Our little cruise down to Oxford and back was a good test and we had to return in some very wet conditions. However, this weekend was dry.

We met narrowboat Bones on the way back to Oxford.

We have just visited friends in Trowbridge and attended their son's baptism. We used to take care of him one day a week when he was little and it was good to see how he has grown up in the intervening years. We were reminded that he had already been 'baptised' when he fell into our pond! I loved the family celebration as we joined them for lunch. Thanks for a wonderful day.

This week is a busy one as we have to prepare SONFLOWER for a dash down the Thames. This is the quickest route to Little Venice even though the tides are not too favourable next Wednesday when we will need to make a passage to Brentford from Teddington lock. We have had offers by two friends to crew the boat. One will be joining me from Oxford so I need to leave this Thursday morning to get there by Saturday lunchtime.

The original plan was to go round the Grand Union route. That is slightly longer but not so scary (no tidal water). However, we have run out of time. I hope to leave the boat in Little Venice on Thursday, return to Banbury and rejoin her, with the full crew, by train on Friday evening. We have fish and chips booked so don't need to worry about victuals!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Easter Monday

Easter Monday

Today I tried to get onto the Three 3G network but failed.

I am writing a blog with the hope that I can post it tomorrow when I can find a signal.

We are now at Somerton on the South Oxford after a most pleasurable six hour cruise. For a Bank Holiday there was not much traffic about and no queues on this part of the canal. It is Idyllic. We have been asking ourselves why we so rarely head this way rather than the well trodden route north to Braunston. No answer except that there are limited options at the end- the Thames or The Thames.

This morning we heard a knock on the boat and Matt, the mechanic from Tooley's asked why we were still there. The engine won't start, I told him and he went to get tools and ten minutes later we were thrilling to the thump of our BMC 1500 diesel. He also put screws to hold the control column cover in place so that it didn't come off in ones hand when the engine stop button is pulled! “Anything else?” he asked. “Not at the moment” I replied and with thanks we were on our way via the water point and lock toward Oxford.

We are armed with the call out details of Tooley's (just in case) and we are members of Canal River Rescue.

It was wonderful to hear people comment on the marvellous paintwork as we passed. It quite made me feel like I had done it myself instead of just paying for it!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Al dressed up- nowhere to go

We are a very sad crew at the moment.

Tooley's mechanic worked on our boat until almost eight o'clock last night to clear faults that prevented us getting away.

We came out of the dock and the boat looks superb. However, the remainder of the day was not so good. "We couldn't have written a script for this" I quipped. But by the time the Tooley's man had finished all we caould do was get Kentucky fried chicken and go home to bed. We had no hot water and no energy left.

We saw our friends off back to Germany yesterday lunchtime after a full english special breakfast in Paw Paw. This wonderful resource is just a step from the canal at the bus station and provides a wonderful and reasonably priced breakfast until lunchtime and then a mix and match chinese menu thereafter. Full take away service available. But I digress.. . .

We returned to the boat this lunchtime after Easter Service at church, loaded with provisions for our mini cruise for the remainder of the holiday and invited Granny to come aboard as our newly modified stairs from stern deck would now be manageble by her hips and knees. Auntie janet steered her into the boat and she was thrilled to be aboard properly for the first time. So we expected to take her for a little ride but. . . . the engine would not start.

I have emailed the boatyard and will report on their response.

We look good on the outside. But wthout an engine a boat is dead.

Friday, 10 April 2009

The last straw

Here is Tooley's man with his head in the gas locker. He is welding a patch into the bottom with a drain attached that will vent to the outside of the boat.

When he struck up an arc, the engine bay filled with smoke showing me how serious a problem we had.

As he took breather from his work he quipped "That proves it. Mason's paint isn't heat proof!'

I think we knew that! It is a great pity this little job wasn't done at the start of the job. But at least we have a safe boat. That is the important thing.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Another Setback

The paint looks and feels like glass. The sign-writer is working well and doing wonderful work on the graphics. The carpenter is preparing the new steps and getting ready to put the windows back in and all was looking good until the mechanic put a gas bottle into the gas locker to find that the bottom was very thin.

The boat surveyor had hit it with a hammer but had not found that the gas locker was in fact venting into the engine bay! This is not a good idea on a boat. Besides being contrary to the Boat Safety Scheme it is plain dangerous. A leak from fittings on a gas bottle is a common occurrence and one needs to know that the gas, which is heavier than air, will find its way out of the boat and not accumulate in the bilges at the bottom of the engine bay waiting for a spark from the bilge pump or alternatator to cause a disaster.

The bottom needs to be repaired and vented to outside. The painter fears for his handywork and doesn't want a welding torch anywhere near his lovely gloss finish. The people who weld are working on the boat fittings, windows or have a foot in plaster.

Don't worry they chorus. We'll sort it out!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Watching paint dry

I have just come back from a family visit to Kent. We have seen two of our granchildren and their parents. I have been measured for a suit for my son's wedding; the Best Mate has looked in all the usual places for a wedding outfit and we have dined with another daughter and son-in-law. Apart from the soon to be married son's fiancee we have seen all the Kent branches of the family. Pooh made a visit to his own Nanny and Granddad and we stopped off at the Best Mate's parents on the way home. A very successful couple of days.

We are now exhausted and back in Banbury where the boat's top coat should be drying off nicely ready for the signwriter in the morning. Hopefuly we will be able to get onto the boat and get a few things sorted because we are seriously in need of preparing the boat to leave on Saturday.

I am sure that we won't have any time to watch the paint dry.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Flag Query and Etiquette

NB Snowgoose was in town today. Unfortunately there was no-one on board when we passed but she was sporting the Queensland territorial flag on a mast on the roof and this flag on the tiller swan neck.

I am not often bamboozled by a flag. I can usually track it down somewhere. But this one has got me foxed. It might be based on the old Australian Colonial flag with blue stripes overlaid.

Can anyone, the skipper of NB Snowgoose perhaps, tell me what it represents.

A small point of etiquette for visiting narrowboaters. If one has ones national flag or ensign on a vessel it is customary (as a courtesy) to fly the national flag of the country you are visiting higher than the flag or ensign. The Union Flag should have been in the place of the Queensland flag.

Progress Report

No photos today because I did not go into the dock while Martin was lovingly applying paint to the roof of the boat but we had to have a peep on the way to lunch at the club. It is still looking good.

However, I had a call from Matt the boss this morning. He is back at work for as long as he can stand (pun) with crutches but he rang to tell me that they were not going to be able to pull back lost time in the preperation stage when he had his accident and Martin got steel in his eye. He needs to talk about the final stages of completion on Wednesday when the sign writer, Jezz, will be working.

There are a few unknowns. What will the internal trims be like when the new windows are fitted? There will be no time to remedy and dress up any gaps in the lining wood that is there. The windows might fit like a glove but there is no guarrantee that the work will not be without hitches.

Matt says that the probability is that we will be floated out of the dock on Saturday afternoon. We will need to be away straight away and heading up the cut to get to our rendezvous with friends in Cosgrove on Wednesday the next week. Nick's Canal Planner gives the distance as 26 hours, 19 minutes cruising. This is over 8 hours a day assuming we get to Cropredy on Saturday night. We usually cruise for far less and this doesn't take into account Bank Holiday Monday in Braunston!

We will need to return to Tooley's later in the year for a few touches and internal tidying, which is a pity.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Another One to look out for

I came across this post from Lancashire Today about another narrowboat stolen from a marina. This time from Chorley in Lancashire. It is a long way from me at the moment but who knows where it will be later in the season.

I expect it is having a quick gloss over at the moment to disguise it.

Most disturbing is the quote from the loss adjuster: 'Peter Clark, from C Claims Adjustors, who is dealing with the theft, said there had been a recent crimewave on the water, with increasing numbers of leisure boats going missing.

He said: “In the past year I would guess there have been around 70 to 80 similar thefts, whereas in previous years it would be around ten on average. "'

I am taking lots of photos of SONFLOWER to be able to describe her. This wasn't what I would call a 'posh' boat. Just an ordinary narrowboat that is a family's pride and joy.

I hope they find it soon and lock up the theives. practical Boat Owner gives the following details: "If you have any information concerning the present whereabouts of the Rebecca Kathleen or any other stolen vessel, contact the Police at Chorley, tel: 01772 415566 - crime ref: CA 09 00933 - or C Claims Adjusters, tel: 0208 502 6644; email: cclaimsuk@aol.com"


SONFLOWER is glistening in the sunlight that streams into Tooley's dock as the first of the two top coats is completed.

The roof has had its first coat of Raddle and looks very nice in its new grey livery and the grey decks offset the green and yellow beautifully.

The yellow looks thick and lush and the painter wishes that we wanted more of it as he loves working with it. It is expected to be ready for the signwriter next Wednesday and on schedule to come out of the dock on Thursday, all being well.