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.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Bank Holiday

We took my mother and sister on a cruise today. Just a little trip to the Red Lion in Cropredy for lunch. It is just ten minutes away in the car but it is so much better to spend a couple of hours getting there by boat.

Getting my 88 year old Mum on the boat has been a challenge. The last time we did it, the engine wouldn't start. This time all went well. The new back steps were negotiated and Mum got into the saloon and was quite happy looking out of the the front windows. Unfortunately we do not have huge picture windows like some of the hire boats around and Mum is not very tall so the view was, at times limited but I think she enjoyed the peace and calm of the South Oxford as it meandered north from the town. There was quite a lot of traffic and much of it was boats returning to Sovereign Wharf in Banbury! The world and his wife had been out for the weekend including nb William the Conqueror.

After a very nice Bank Holiday lunch (special menu for the day!) My sister drove Mum home and we turned the boat and cruised back to home mooring. The sun shone. A nice day out.

On the way home we met up with a collie dog at Bourton Lock. He had been left behind by a boat ahead of us. How do people do it? We did notice one of the crew running back up the tow-path when we neared Banbury. We told him where we had seen the dog. He had at least a three mile run back to catch up with the boat again! I felt sorry for the dog who would need to run the same distance too!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Lots of little things

Getting back to a pile of post always leads on to a time of catching up. One item that needed attention immediately was the Boat Insurance renewal. Due the 4th September, I did it over the phone. One thing puzzled me however. There was no reference in the renewal document to the need for a survey. Having recently spent out a lot of money on a hull survey and the work to comply with the surveyors recommendations, this seemed a serious omission. I queried it with the customer advisor. She told me they now did not require a survey for vessels under 25 years old. As SONFLOWER is at least 25 years old, my puzzlement continued.

It is our responsibility to keep the insurers up to date with 'material facts'. I pointed out the fact that they had made a mistake by reading 1984 as 1989! This morning I spent writing a letter and getting together the report, invoices to show recommendations have been carried out and a copy of the Boat Safety Scheme examination certificate for good measure. One thing I do not want is to find myself uninsured because the 'material facts' are incorrect!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

...to come ...home

Back in the home territory. Returned to Braunston by bus after a family party and then moved from Braunston to Spurfoot Bridge 124 on the S Oxford. We moored for the night last night in Cropredy and then this morning completed the short cruise back to the home mooring.

But when we got there we found that a new moorer to our mooring site has put his boat on OUR mooring in spite of our beatifully engineered signage and carefully placed mooring chains.

Fortunately we were able to rope the interloper back far enough to fit back next to our beatifully engineered signage and on our mooring chains.

A wonderful cruise successfully completed.

Braunston to Spurfoot Bridge 14 miles, 9 locks; 12 miles, 9 locks yesterday; 5 miles, 3 locks this morning.

TOTAL FOR THE CRUISE: 386 miles, 6 flg and 198 locks

Thursday, 20 August 2009

...so much nicer...

It's nice to go travellin'.....

We enjoyed the Nene, Loved the lodes off the River Cam, were not too struck on the greatOuse and were bored by the Middle Level. Back on the Grand Union Canal feels so much more like home!

Today we made significant progress and completed the 15 miles of the GU to Braunston by 7.30pm. We are moored there now and will be for the weekend.

We have family stuff to attend to.

We pulled together as a crew today. On the canals we know what is required. Piglet is keen to lockwheel. Tigger closes the gates after the boat goes in and after the boat goes out and I and the Best Mate alternated today on the Tiller and as Lock Master. I took the boat through the Buckby seven and the BM took it through the Braunston six.

15 miles, 13 locks

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Jehovah Jireh

This is one of the Hebrew names of God that means "Provider". Providence is a theological subject that is often hard to understand but on days like today it is hard to ignore. Some would say that everything in life is co-incidence but on the other hand today we were very aware that everything was going to the Master Plan.

I awoke at sunrise and decided to leave our beautiful mooring having carefully calculated the probability of being left on the bank holding onto a mooring line with a narrowboat heading toward a weir. Everything was fine and we departed in the growing sunshine to enter Earls Barton Lock. The Best Mate was not feeling well so here I 'single handed' the boat through but by Cogenhoe Lock the crew was awake and Piglet and I were soon into a routine. At Billing lock it was obvious that something was wrong. There was a cruiser in the lock and a narrowboat waiting but the guillotine was moving very slowly. In fact it was Environment Agency personnel hand winding the electic mechanism as the gearbox had failed. They lowered the guillotine gate behind us and declared the lock closed until Friday for repairs!

We were now in the company of nb Billy and Co who were our locking partners for the remainder of the locks on the River Nene. We were at Morrisons in Northampton before 2pm.

We now made the decision to go for the Northampton Arm 17 locks. If it was too much we would stop at the bottom of the main flight after the first three or four locks. In fact, however, all the locks were set for us. At some points we had three locks ahead with gates open prepared to accept us. We passed a boat coming down at lock five and then ascended the remainder. I have never known a flight so prepared: where hardly any locks needed to be emptied to open the gates. We were up by 7.15 this evening. The Best Mate had recovered enough and was refreshed by the effort of the ascent and we feasted on Spaghetti Carbinara at Gayton. A long and fruitful day prepared aforehand for us.

13.8miles and 27 locks today

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Continuously Cruising

That's what it seemed like today. The River Nene is a beautiful river and a wonderful place for the nature lover. Today I have seen a very large pike with a very large fish in its mouth, thrashing to get free from the locked jaws; I have seen wheeling Red Kites, a Little Egret, kestrels, buzzard, snipe, sandpiper, herons, woodpeckers, lapwing and numerous little brown birds; we have checked out the chub under the banks and we have seen calves and foals and lambs.

But the River Nene does have a drawback for the narrowboater. It does not have a proliferation of moorings. This evening we have been looking for an overnight mooring since 4.30 pm when we got to Wellingborough. Having stopped there on the way down the river, we thought it too early to moor today. But there is precious anywhere else. We have now moored on pins about 50 metres from a weir on meadowbank. I have no real idea whether mooring is permitted here but I cannot see any notice to the contrary. The spot is quite idyllic. We are just south of Doddington Lock and its tastefully converted Mill.

Over 8 hours of cruising today: 15.5miles and 11 locks

Monday, 17 August 2009

Nice to be back

It seems ages since I blogged.

If you missed us it is mainly because I have been unable to get on the web until now. Between Peterborough and Thrapston the 3 dongle did not pick up much of a connection, if any.

Where have we been? We were here on Saturday evening watching the POSH draw 1-1 with the Owls at Peterborough United's London Road stadium. The game was quite exciting and good entertainment for a neutral like me. The Best Mate quite enjoyed it too and it was good to hear Tigger shout 'come on you reds' during a lull in the action even though there was not a red shirt on the field.

After the match we moved out into the country and an overnight mooring at Alwalton lock where a nice white cruiser skiper moved his boat back 15 foot toward the next boat to make room for us.

In the morning we shared the locking work with Karen and Sally, the crew of nb Heaven Scent. They are members of BCF as well, and we enjoyed their company to Fotheringhay where we stopped for lunch and they for the night. After an ascent of Castle Mound and a quick look at the village we cruised on to an overnight mooring at Ashton Lock.

This morning Piglet and I did a bit of shopping in the nice little town of Oundle and then it was off again to be the only boat on the 48hr mooring by the Thrapston Bridge.

On the way here we received the wonderful news that Learning and Skills Council have agreed that Tigger's place at college will be funded by them. A great weight off our mind.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Back on the Nene

I seem to hve been away from the net for so long. No network coverage at Denver Sluice, a difficult connection at March on the Middle level but now we are back with a full 5 bars in Peterborough.

The tidal passage (2 hour wait at Denver), the crossing of the Middle Level and the return to the Nene were uneventful. The most exciting thing was having to work through Marmont Priory Lock as the lock keeper was not there when we arrived at 5.20 pm. The going was slow into March but we were there in time to go to the Buffet Chinese restaurant. Eat as Much as you want for £14.00 per head. They just keep on offering to cook more food! What is surprising to us is that we were almost the only customers on a Thursday evening. Another couple did come in a little before we left.

We left March at 9 o'clock this morning. The going is slow through Outwell, Upwell and Whittlesea and moorings are rare. We lunched moored on pins to the bank just west of Whittlesea.

55.5 miles and 6 locks since last post

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Hiding Away

We have been in a lovely littl' backwater of the system this past day. Last night we locked into Reach Lode off the River Cam and moored on the 48 hour EA moorings. We wer3e alone alongside the permit holders. We had met nb SUNFLOWER's crew earlier on the day who told us that we would be able to navigate Wicken Lode and turn at the end but it is very narrow and shallow and I didn't want to chance it. We walked down it this morning and found EA dredging the turning point. The Lode did look very shallow. Weed Cutters from the River Cam Conservators were hard at work on Reach Lode this morning but they told us they were not allowed to enter Wicken Lode, which is owned by the National Trust.

Piglet and I went to have a quiet walk around Wicken Fen this morning hoping to catch sight of a few rare birds. We did spend time in the hides and enjoyed the quiet there noting tree creeper and Little Egret and many warblers. We are not expert enough to tell which if these little brown jobs they were but probably a mix of reed warbler, willow warbler and chiffchaff though none were singing so would not give their identity away. The quiet was broken at one point by a woman with her small son on the board walk. She shouted into her mobile phone "I'm at Wicken Fen, It's been on the telly: that Bill Oddie was 'ere!" The secret's out then.

National Trust opened the cafe on a Tuesday, contrary to information in their handbook, but the prices are not any less. £1.70 for a bottle of coke!

We returned to a salad lunch and the news that Tigger had thrown a sicky and the Best Mate had filled in the whole morning by doing the laundry. It was all dry!

This mooring is delightful and filled up through the day. We were buzzed by a swarm of bees earlier but they went on without staying. Another wonderful sight was of a Bristol Bulldog fighter Biplane making very slow progress across the sky. I wouldn't think it was doing much more than 70mph.

Cambridge to Reach Lode: 7 miles and 2 locks yesterday

Monday, 10 August 2009

We become tourists

My cousin came from Sawley to meet us at the boat and take us into town to walk around the sights. It was good to see her and her husband, and their two children.

So we became foot soldiers in the tourist army this afternoon. It was hot and the streets were quite full of every nationality imaginable. The students go home and a new wave of visitors come in. We resisted a ride on a punt (about £12 an hour) but spoke to a punter. He convinced Piglet that his future career will be running a punt with a tale of taking a thousand pounds in the last three days. Set up costs of about £8000 didn't seem too bad for that sort of return. The punter didn't see that sort of money though. He was grateful to be working in the fresh air rather than in a pub for the summer. Cambridge University is celebrating its 800th anniversary.

We didn't go into any of the colleges. Their visitor charges of between £1 and £3 depending how much of the college was open to view don't seem too bad. But witha party of eight a couple of colleges would have set us back £25. We spent a tenner on ice creams instead. I peeped in to see a manicured lawn or two. Once you have seen one quad you've seen them all. The architecture is not as impressive as Oxford and the main colleges all seem to be very pressed in on one another. I much prefer Oxford. But then I'm an Oxford man really!

We returned to the boat exhausted and put the kettle on. We are planning to do boaty things today.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Big Town with City status

At School I was taught that a City was 'a square mile around a cathederal". Apparently the definition has changed because Cambridge is now a city sans cathederal. It's local Cathederal, the seat of the Bishop is in ELY.

But this morning we went to The City Church who were very welcoming and invited us to join them at a picnic lunch in the play area right next to our boat! We packed up a few things and were almost the first there. Here is a picture of the church in Cambridge as I like to see it. A family together at Sunday lunch!

Yesterday was a long day. We awoke and checked water levels. The stream had increased slightly and I decided to go to St Ives lock to see whether we would fit under the guillotine gate. There was 2.2m clearance so we took the opportunity and cruised through flood meadows
to Brownshill Staunch. Here the water was flowing over both gates. I rang the lock keeper at Hermitage lock to say where we were, that we would be having breakfast and then coming to his lock. He said "Forget breakfast and come now!" I took his advice and by the time I got to Hermitage lock there was very little clearance between us and the road bridge over it. "They have just opened sluices" he said, "You are better off the river now".

So we cruised on until we stopped for lunch at teh EA mooring at Stretham near to the pumping station. After a break, we made the decision to go up the Cam to Cambridge a town we have never visited. We arrived at Sunset and moored near the water point of Stourbridge Common, just 10 minutes walk from the meeting place of The City Church.

31 miles, 5 locks (10hr) yesterday.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Company at the Mooring

We stayed on the Town Quay in St Ives today, deciding not to attempt to navigate to Huntingdon on rising river levels after last nights 2.5 inches of rain. We had a visit fom two gentlemen who were fitting new mooring bollards to the quay. These are the type with a half moon steel hoop that one can pout your ropes right through and secure them back to the boat. These additions to a 200 year old quay to supercede the w=victorian bollrds needed planning consent and took three authorities to manage the project:EA,St Ives Town Council and GOBA sharing the costs. All in the name if Health and Safety and to prevent the local people untieing a few ropes after a bevvy of beers on a weekend!

We feel healthier and safer now. The gents doing the drilling and fixing were river men. and they tolfd us that the river was set to rise a good bit yet, particularly below St Ives Lock where the headroom was now below 2 metres. As we scraped a bridge on the Nene at 1.9 metres headroom, I didn't want to chance being stuck under a lock guillotine gate. We stayed here and I am watching the flood level indicators on the quay and the bridge.

Piglet rejoined the crew at lunchtime today after his holiday in Norwich.

One thing that amused us today was the company on the mooring. A lnely man talked for ages about boats and boating and council tax. Some others joined in and we talked about engines and batteries. People were very interested in the narrowboat that was going nowhere today, asking everything from how old she was to the costs and value.

While in conversation I noticed that I was being buzzed by a very fast bird. I looked and saw that it was a sand martin and it had a nest in a drain in the wall tright next to the boat. The parents were obviously feeding young and were in and out all day. As itwas next to a window I took this picture of one of the birds emerging. I tried to get one in full flight but did not realise just how fast they were and how slow a digital camera is to respond to a press in the shutter button.

Wild life photographer of the year? I don't think so.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

When I was going to St Ives....

....I met a man with seven wives!

Well not really, but as I cast off this morning I met Julie's husband (with nb Queen Adelaide) looking over SONFLOWER and voicing his wish that he had bought a boat longer than 40 ft. How important those decisions are when you begin to think about boating.

We then started off and stopped only for a rain break. During this we ate breakfast and then I finished tiling the new floor at the back of the boat. As I cast off after the rain stopped and the job was finished, a large plastic cruiser passed us. I was looking forward to idly following them toward St Ives down the West River. However, they went round the next bend and were not seen again as I set my speed to the limit of 4 miles per hour. This speed limit has a good reason, being implemented to stop bank errosion. Why don't the people who use this river most (The Big White Cruiser Brigade) see sense and comply?

I had been warned that This Fleet of boats accumulate in battle squadrons in town centres where they sit on their sundeck sipping a glass from an expensive bottle of wine. As we approached St Ives this was just the case. Two Cruisers were moored on the Quay about 45 feet apart. I went under the bridge just as the bow rope was loosed from one of them. I did a sweeping turn, allowed them to come through the bridge before retracing my course and making another sweeping tunr to moor on the quay behind the other cruiser. This boater was of a different sort. He was using his boat for a holiday with this family and told tales of attempting to cross The Wash to the River Wytham. Unfortunately his first attempt was aborted half way because the family were suffering with sea sickness but he has vowed to try again. He also tried to move to give us more space but draught at the quay steps was really a problem.

Here is a picture of SONFLOWER at St Ives lock.

The Imray guide notes a lot of differing wildlife on the stretch we have just navigated including seals. We didn't spot them but we did see kingfisheres, numerous herons, terns, a large crab (in Hermitage lock)lapwing and the piece de resistance, Little Egret (not noted by the guide) in two locations. They are lovely but shy and flew away as the boat approached.

19.1/2 miles, and 3 locks today

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

On the Great Ouse

Since I last blogged we have had quite a trip. We had "no network Coverage" at Salters Lode where we moored last night. We needed to be there to make passage to Denver Sluice at 0830 this morning. We waited in March until lunchtime when my cousin joined us with a parcel of pump spares. The suppliers promise of 'first class post' turned out to be a standard interlink delivery! The parts were duly fitted this afternoon and normal service is restored in the bathroom where the shower can again be pumped out rather than baled.

After taking on water at Denver Lock, during which we were hailed and greeted by Sue of nb No Problem, we moored on 'their mooring' to have a bacon and egg breakfast. I was hoping that they would return before we needed to leave so that we could have a proper meeting but maybe we will meet up on the way back. Their neighbour on a cruiser Bunbury apologised for not being able to helop us moor but looked really rickety with his walking stick. He was enjoying the waterway for the first time for a goodly period because of infirmity.

We stopped in Ely for Deisel and Gas but there was precious little room on any of the town centre moorings so we motored on to stop for the night at Little Thetford 48 hour mooring. Here we got chatting to Julie who owns nb Queen Adelaide which we passed on its mooring on the Queen Adelaide straight. The Great Ouse is one of the most boring waterways I have been on. At least, this part is just hours of reeds and sky. It is worse that watching televised golf.

The locals think that a cow on the bank is excitement.
Here are all of the cattle we saw.


Our 6 hour cruise today almost put me to sleep after the excitement of the tidal passage first thing this morning.

We did have a nice view of this delightful sailing boat.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Shocked at Tragic News

Just before we left Peterborough this morning we heard of the tragic accident that resulted in the death of a mother on a hire boat holiday. We pray for them and offer our sincere condolences. It happened just four miles from our home mooring.

What also shocked us was that the boat concerned was "Harry". We hired her for three wonderful holidays in 2000, 2001 and 2003 and were on her when we heard about the boat we now own. In fact, we enquired whether Kate Boats were open to offers for her WE LIKED HER SO MUCH!

There will no doubt be calls and recriniminations about the training given to hirers. Our experience is that Kate Boats were meticulous in their on board breifing at handover and ensured that we were able to handle the boat safely and with regard to others. In the end, it has to be understood that accidents can happen very quickly and can result in tragedy as in this case.

This accident is so close to home in many many ways and must remind us all of the necessity to be even more careful than we are.

Today we entered the Middle Level Navigation and are moored at March under the chimes of a loud clock. It reminds us of Cropredy where the church bell tolls out the hours and the curfew bell is rung on Thursdays. Time waits for no man.

16 miles and 2 locks today.

At Last

We have met up with Granny Buttons at last. Andrew Denny tapped on our boat this evening and invited us in for a chat and to meet Granny.

After Tigger had gone to bed and was snoring soundly, we crept aboard. The boat was delightful and the company over a glass or two of red wine and malt whisky was excellent.

The hackeneyed Humphrey Bogarde quote comes to mind: "this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship". Thank you Andrew for your hospitality, good humour and welcome.

Tomorrow we must part. We have a booking through Stanground Sluice at 12.30pm and need to be on our way. Granny has other pressing matters to attend to. No doubt, however, our oaths will cross once more.

The only movement today was to the pump out point and back. We are really glad we came back.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Should I water the herbs?

We are heading toward Peterborough. Two little problems today. Firstly, "no network copverage" plagued us for much pf the way. We want to lock through Stanground Sluice on Monday and need to book. The guide says 48 hours in advance but without any network coverage we couldn't do that. We got the network back just after we went under the A1(M). Funny how motorways have more priority for the networks that rivers and canals isn't it? Still no harm done, we are booked for Monday at 12.30pm.

Secondly, the weather. We left at about 9 am this morning and have been dodging showers all day. We got some tiles laid on the new back floor when it rained just after breakfast at Fotheringhay. What a lovely mooring this is. With a beautiful view of the church a cooked breakfast tasted great but was interupted by the landlord asking for their £1.50 mooring fee.

Lunch was taken in the rain at Wilgar Bridge on an impromptu mooring beside two beautiful horses in a mown hay meadow. Shortly after setting off again we were caught up by a thunder storm. I saw a flash of lightning and decided enough is enough, this time mooring on 'unofficial moorings ' just short of Wansford railway bridge. Thomas the Tank Engine is in steam today. We have heard him and glimpsed the coaches but haven't seen him.

I have decided not to water the herbs.

13.1/4 miles and 7 locks

Yesterday's Post: The Jewel of the Nene

This is the first evening of this cruise that I have had no signal. I cannot update my position on waterexplorer and I cannot tell you about the Jewel of the Nene- The Wales Expedition. We had the privilege of sharing locks with these two intrepid explorers who are paddling from Welshpool to Peterborough on a rubber dinghy. They are raising funds for the Marie Curie foundation. This charity is very dear to my heart, having had experience of the good work that their nurses do for those in the last stages of cancer.

We shared the Barnwell locks with them before winding them through Ashton Lock (a hand winder). I thought they deserved the rest!

Today we reduced the crew to three (effectively two because Tigger does not wind and the re are no bottom gates to push open). Piglet has been whisked away for this week in Norwich under canvas at the Norfolk County Showground. I am sure he will enjoy the experience of being with about three thousand other youngsters having a ball. He enjoyed last year's Newday event at Uttoxeter so this should be 'more of the same' but at a different location. We should be re-united in Huntingdon Next week.