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, 31 March 2009

Oh to be back on the water. . . .

We have just spent a lovely hour or so over a pint and a glass of wine with good friends who have returned from a winter break in Malta.

What did they miss most? Not the wintery weather or the damp weather, not the credit crunch or the less imaginative food or even the beer but...they couldn't wait to get back on their boat.

It will be the same for us.

Don't get us wrong. We love the flat. The view over the canal is great: the space for the boys to stretch a bit and clutter some more is excellent but we do miss the boat and can't wait ot get back on it.

Obviously, one cannot live on a boat while the windows are out and the vents are sealed and there is dust or paint fumes everywhere.

But we do miss the boat.......

Monday, 30 March 2009

A lovely evening

The Best Mate stopped sewing and I stopped blogging long enough to enjoy a game of Yahtzee and a glass of this most delicious wine.

It is Black Cherry Wine from the Cwm Deri estate in West Wales. Anyone who thinks that fruit wines are second best to the grape or that the British can't make wine should have a go at this. It is full bodied., totally wrapped in fruit and spicy flavours with a rich bouquet that is good with any food or, as we enjoyed it this evening, on its own.

I won at Yahtzee as well!

Arm or Armless?

As Easter approaches we need to plan our next cruise.

The next major event in our boating calendar is the Canalway Cavalcade at Little Venice. Well, with a new professional paint job one can show off a bit, can't one? We will need to get there.

We hope to start the journey on Easter Saturday. I do not really like travelling on Bank Holidays when the world and his wife take the yoghourt pots out for a picnic trip but needs must.

We could be passing through Braunston then as well which is not good planning! It may not be the best thing for our new paintwork!

Then we need to decide where to stop. We have to get the boys back to college/school. The holidays just are not long enough these days. We may need to take a break. We have left the boat at Cosgrove in the past but that is quite a way from London. Granny Buttons thought Bulls Bridge mught be suitable but that is too far from Banbury as we won't be out of the boatyard until Good Friday.

We have never done the arms. We got to Marsworth Junction, looked toward Aylesbury and thought '16 locks there....16 locks back' and went on past; we got to Cowley Peachey Junction, looked toward Slough and thought 'flat and straight...' and went on.

So this may be an opportunity to reach out an arm!

I have just come across this walking site, foxyislandwalks,that has a photo log of the Aylesbury Arm. It looks very nice.
I've nicked this picture from their site.

More progress

We were just passing.

SONFLOWER is progressing well. The second green undercoat is now being applied and the grey undercoat on the roof is evident too. She really looks OK.

Of course there is nothing that can be done about the aging of the steel and the ripples in the roof sheets are more evident in grey than they were in green.

The Best Mate commented that Piglet will have the job of keeping the grey clean. He will enjoy going along the top with the mop and bucket!

Completion is ever getting nearer and I will need to think about those little jobs that need doing before we start our cruising. Like repairing the top box and clearing out the accumulated rubbish.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

The Big Green Machine


SONFLOWER is back to her normal colour. Having been embarassingly naked and metallic then in her prime and with her underclothes showing she is now getting her petticoats on with a green undercoat. That is except for the yellow bits. They are being unedercoated in 50% gloss. Martin explained this. He said the yellow does not cover easily and it is therefore necessary to build it up a bit at a time using the finished colour.

I can attest to the non-covering qualities. The back rail must have had three coats when I did it and always looked blotchy.

The finish will be started about next Wednesday she will be sanded back to give the base for the last glistening in the sun shiny Mason's enamel finish!

There are other details to see to. We are having 'Raddle' (by Craftmaster) on the roof and decks and sand on the gunwhales.

There always seems to be more to do than can be achieved in the next two weeks. We'll see.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Beautiful blogging

Blogging is not a waste of time. The Best mate often looks across to me and says something like.'blogging again?' But sometimes a little searching around the blogs finds some real gems.

Take this quotation

'A boat is not a destination, nor a conclusion, as a house or a piece of land might be, but a means to reach conclusions and destinations you could only dream of. Everything that hangs in the air above the boat is open-ended. She knows no horizons. For her, anyway, every prospect is an invitation and every casting off an absorption in where she might go. A boat is all beginnings...' Adam Nicholson's 'Seamanship'

My thanks to Nick Holt who blogged this on 24 April 2004

NO ENTRY! chequing in....

There is a sign on the door to the dock. DO NOT OPEN. That is because the undercoat is now going on to SONFLOWER. After all the preperation the paint is now being built up and the painter does not want any nasty dust to get into his very clean dock.

It is very obvious why we had trouble trying to DIY under the M42 bridge when we last painted the boat. It was little more than a gloss over really.

I came across another narrowboat painting post (a series really) which tells how to do it yourself. The time and effort to get a good job is terrific. I am glad I have put it into the hands of professionals.

There was a slight hiccup which took me to the boatyard this morning. I had not signed the last cheque that I gave Tooley's. It was quite a sizeable amount and this left them with a bit if a cash flow crisis as it was returned. I signed it this morning and took them some cash so that they can pay the painter while they wait for the second attempt to clear. I don't want him to stop work!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

What's in a name?

I had acall from Matt at Tooley's this afternoon. I forgot to sign the cheque I gave them last Saturday and it bounced. Ooops! I will need to put it right in the morning.

While I was on the phone, I asked him about the paint that we are using. The quotation I got said that they would beusing Mason's undercoat and top coat. Martin the painter, was using Craftmaster primer and told me he would be using Craftmaster Undercoat, so I asked matt what were his intentions. I was told the sad news that Masons cannot supply undercoats any more. We therefore will have to use Craftmaster undercoats. Tooley's say that they really like these paints but still use Masons Boat Enamel over the top.

I looked at the Canal Junction web site where Phil Speight, reputed to know a few things about canal boat painting says: "be sure of the quality and quantity of the paints to be used. There are some other good paints on the market but obviously we recommend CRAFTMASTER products because we developed them, we use them all the time and we're sure of the results we get. Avoid cheap paint. Once the boat is primed you will need a MINIMUM of two coats of undercoat and two coats of gloss. Make sure that there are at least two undercoats and one (dry) gloss coat on any areas that may be sanded BEFORE sand is sprinkled onto wet gloss. It will then need at least one more coat over the top once its dry and been cleaned."

Thanks for the advice Phil.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Learning the ropes (in France) Pt 5- the finale

It was not all bad. We had a wonderful time. In fact we would love to go again.

The picture is of our hired narrowboat, Saint Nazaire with the crew. The fact was that we were under crewed. In the large locks one really has to tie on to something to stop the boat being tossed around and this means one needs a crew member fore and aft and another on the lock side. Some of the locks have such a large rise and fall that one cannot put crew ashore and there are long poles set into the side of the lock to pass a line around to control the position.

There is one lock that is on a river section of the canal with a lock cut that narrows considerably. It is traffic light controlled but to tell the control system of your presence one has to turn a switch that is dangling over the middle of the canal from an overhead line. When you don't know that it is there, discover it late and pass it it is a job to back up and position the boat so that one can reach the dangling switch which is swinging in the wind that is making it very difficult to back up the boat!

Mooring is fun. One can moor just about anywhere but bollards and rings are very rare. The canal is lined with Plane trees and most of the time one ties to one of these sturdy items of canal furniture or to one of the thousands of roots that dip into the water and form a bank of sorts.

The french hire boats do not seem to know the beauty of taking things slowly and wash making is very common. The french commercial barges also do not slow and keep to the centre of the canal making it quite daunting as they approach. We felt that our little narrowboat would be swept away by these towering beasts. They are big.

One thing we should say. We learnt a lot on our adventure on the Canal du Midi and the Canal de Robine. We went to Narbonne and Carcasonne as well as Beziers and stopped at many villages in between. We loved the countryside and the people. We went to Minerve and the vineyards and sampled Muscat so smooth that it slid down the throat. We visited a chateau right beside the canal and bought wine from the vat. We had steaks and mussels and cassoulet. We loved the Mediterranean sea and the bright blue skies.

And we got there before the Narrow Dog.

Learning the ropes (in France) Pt 4: Tipping is optional

All the guide books suggest that the lock keepers on the Canal du Midi do not expect to receive a tip. However, many of them have a little stall displaying Mon Mammon preserves and Vin de Table at highly inflated prices. Sometimes a purchase from these stalls might not speed your passage through this time but might do on the return. The lock keepers also have telephones. They might communicate with the next lock keeper if you are sypathetic to their wares, the next lock keeper might also expect you to be.

At one lock, the lock keeper displayed a large number of wood sculptures. Many were obviously fixtures but there were some smaller works of art that were definitely for sale. I must say that I am not a collector of sculpture and it didn't really interest me. This lock keeper also had a large yellow labrador dog. He was particularly fond of mooring ropes and would not let go of ours nor would he let us get to it to retrieve it, pulling the end with great strength and gusto, dropping it and then barking furiously before attaching himself to it again. This game went on for quite a time. Long enough for us to get a picture anyway.

I wondered whether he was trained to hold on to our rope until we had bought a sculpture or left a tip!

Learning the ropes (in France) Pt 3: Stopping for lunch

In France, everything stops for lunch.

As we were travelling just around Easter time when there were not too many tourists about we also found that in the villages lunch was a very lengthy meal. There were several days that we stopped when the sun was high and walked into a village to obtain the basics, milk and bread, to find that it was closed for lunch. And I mean everything! Church, shops, garage, houses and businesses.

But there are some things that one does not expect. We approached an automatic lock at a time just about lunch time. Being good English boaters trained on the ettiquette of the canals, we looked back to see a plastic hire boat approaching the lock about a third of a mile away. We waited for them. As they entered the lock the gates automatically closed behind them and the Best Mate pressed the "Ascend" button at the controller.

Nothing. As it was now 1302h, the lock had closed for lunch. The Best Mate was ten feet above us and we were trapped. We were in the lock, the Best mate on the lockside. All we could do was have our lunch. With no way of getting off we made sandwiches on board and attached some of them to the end of the mooring line in a plastic bag. The Best Mate pulled them up. We then tied on a plastic bottle of tea to refresh her spirits.

What can you do when you are in a lock? Well one thing is splice the rope that was cut when it got crossed on the bollard! So that is what I did.

Lesson three: stop early for lunch. [To be continued

Learning the ropes (in France) pt 2 Beware Automatic Locks

The French waterways have been modified by the electrification of the gates and automation of the locking process. However, this can have disadvantages if you are a relative novice boater or unaware of the hazards, as we were on our trip to the Canal du Midi.

Having turned in the round lock at Agde we were returning toward Beziers and were rising for the first time. We entered the first lock alongside a german crew on a plastic hire boat. The gates closed automatically behind us. We had experienced the automative system and I, Eeyore, was on the lock side. I looped the centre rope of the narrowboat around the centre bollard and pressed the 'Ascend' button. I admired the view as the paddles opened automatically, water entered the lock and the boat began to rise. The flow of the water into the lock pushed the boat forward as the rope around the bollard slackened as the boat came up. But only so far. As the roof of the boat came above the top of the lock side it started to tighten again and as the boat had moved forward the rope was crossed and locked onto the bollard. The boat began to tilt quickly and dramatically. The boys were on the boat and plates started to slide off the table onto the floor and items started to crash around them.

Fortunately I noticed in time and hit the RED EMERGENCY STOP button. The paddles closed and calm was restored with the boat at quite an angle but clear of the water. The German crew were not amused as they were stuck in the lock with us. Their skipper shouted at me to get a knife. I got the boys off the boat first and then took a kitchen knife to the taught mooring line. The boat jumped up and bounced back into the upright position.

Voies Navigables de France (VNF) the French navigation authority sent their engineer out to find out why the button had been pressed and reset the controls. I explained and apologised. No harm done!

I had learned a second lesson. Watch the ropes at all times!

It is this incident that makes me believe that the newly installed extra bollards on narrow locks will be "an accident waiting to happen". It happened to us. [To be continued

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Learning the ropes (in France) Pt 1: Tie both ends.

The Fonneseranne Staircase is a monster. Seven ovaline stone chambers linked by gated steps up the side of a hill near to Beziers on the Canal du Midi. While we were burning down London in 1666, a little known frenchman was connecting the Atlantic to the Meditterranean by an amazing canal.

We had come from the hire base at Le Somail via the 54 km pound and this staircase of locks was our first experience of french locks. We arrived in the late afternoon, discovered that the locks are a one way system: down in the morning and up in the afternoon with a break for lunch. We moored up and walked down the locks. We were amazed by their size in comparison to the narrow locks we were used to around the Birmingham Canal Navigation or even compared to the barge lock at Teddington, the largest lock we had ever encountered. What was scary was the fall of each lock: about the depth of Somerton Deep at each lock.

In the morning we were gestured into the locks by Messieurs Eclusers along with another craft and we decended. The water fell. the gates opened and one after another we glided down in a smooth operation. The lock keepers did all the work and we went down on the water. Easy peezey.

After visiting Agde and the Mediterranean we returned to queue at the foot of the stairs. This time the lock keepers beckoned all the plastic cruisers into the lock past us. I thought we had been forgotten and then our tres joli bateau anglais (a nerrowboat) was brought in at the rear. The lockkeepers shouted and cajoled a dutch teenage beauty who was draped across the front of her cruiser to get inside. She reluctantly complied and then saw why. The water entered the lock and we started to bob up with such force that she would have been swept off the bow of the boat. We too realised that we were placed at the back of the lock because the inrush from the gate paddles would have swamped our fore well deck with disasterous results.

When about half full the gates opened and we bobbed forward into the next lock chamber against the flow. It was as near to white water rafting as I have been in a narrowboat.

But that wasn't the worst of it. In each lock I had to throw up to the lockside a line fore and aft. This was about a twelve foot throw. We were short of crew as we were travelling with Piglet, my four year old son, who could hold but not throw, and Poohbear, my special needs ten year old who can't throw or catch. My Best Mate was on lockside to catch at the bow end and a dutch lass helped out by catching the rope that I threw from the stern. That was except in the third lock of seven when, to my horror, she missed my throw and I saw the rope's end disappear into the water followed by all the rest of the line as the other end flipped off the 'T' post!

I reported to the lock keeper that there was about 15 meters of rope in his lock. He did not go to look for it imediately. We had four more locks to ascend.

We got out at the top and were glad of the reprieve and the long pound back to the hire base where we replenished our stock of mooring line. The next one was polypropelene. It floats! [to be continued

Seams on plan

Here is one of the welded seams of SONFLOWER filled with the appropriate stuff.

As promised the painter has filled and is now starting to prime, commencing with unfilled parts. There is still a rosy glow around the dock as the heaters keep the metal nice and warm and the dock stays cosy. Just the right conditions for painting.

I have been warned that I will not be allowed in to take pictures while the undercoats and top coat are being applied because I might produce dust. I will comply.

Matt the mechanic suggested cleaning a bit if window so I can take pictures through the glass. Maybe.

Mooring Prices RIsing

Recession or not it appears that mooring prics continue to rise.

The auction has just closed for a mooring on our site. The highest bid received was £2151 against a guide price of £1650. A similar mooring in Cropredy closed at £2050.

There are no facilities at these moorings. Water is half a mile away. All we have are rings to tie to, and they are in the wrong place for the length of our boat!

It is all about supply and demand even in a recession. Those who can afford it will always outbid those who can't.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Good News from the top

Matt, the boss, reports that his ankle is now in plaster, he should be back at work next week and walking in four weeks. On the mend then!

Not today

The Owatrol
was still tacky today and so Martin would not risk getting dust stuck to it by putting filler into the undercut and cavities and sanding it back.

He primed the swan-hatch doors, the covers and deck fittings but that was the only painting done today.

SONFLOWER stands gleaming still naked.

I am impressed that the boatyard are not cutting any corners. The infrared heaters remain aglow, warming the dock as the painter waits until the conditions are right.

Missed You!

Here is a pic of nb Silhouette of narrowboat fame.

No-one was aboard when I called to extend a hand of welcome to our wonderful town. I do hope that they pop their heads into Tooley's yard where they will see an unidentifiable naked SONFLOWER. Later today she may be hiding her modesty under a coat of primer .

Saturday, 21 March 2009

All in the accent!

I went to the boatyard today and saw SONFLOWER gleaming under the glowing red heaters having been coated with OWATROL. I blogged that the boat would be coated from stem to stern in this paint pre-treatment but called it "oletrol'! It must be Martin's accent (or my poor hearing) that promoted the mistake.

Here it is on the shelf.

It comes highly recommended by other boat painters, who used to work for Tooley's but branched out on their own as Oxon Boat Painters. I met one of them in the yard this morning and the other partner used to be my neighbour on Tramway Moorings. They say they use it all the time. It must be good.

Friday, 20 March 2009

And after all that progress

YES, Matt the Boss at Tooley's might have broken his ankle by falling down these steps keeping him away from the yard for ten days but he is still able to email me an INVOICE!

After the progress comes paying for it!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

More to report

Here are some pictures of the new weed hatch and cover/baffle plate with quick release which replaces the shorter weed-hatch with eight bolt flange. All looking good.

Also today I saw Martin Pocock, the Tooley's painter, here degreasing the new cruiser stern back balustrade, before making good progress to do the whole boat ready for an application of oletrol sealer/preparation. This should be applied tomorrow to have two days drying time over the weekend.

The filler and primer should follow early next week.

It is all looking very good.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


I tried to visit SONFLOWER today but got to Tooley's just after they closed at 4pm. I peered through the glass. She is almost totally prepared now. Metal shining through all over the place.

She also has the balustrading complete on the cruiser stern deck and four shining new magnesium anodes fitted to the 12 foot extended area of the hull.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

A new screen

I have just come across this screen on blogger. I have no idea where it came from. Some strange things are happening to the web tonight. I cannot cope with all this change.

I wanted to get to my comfortable dashboard where I can choose what I want to do.

While here though I am posting this as a test.

first edit I am back in my comfort zone, editing via the dashboard screens.

Boating Equipment

Just been sent the link to this Boating Equipment site. Some of the stuff seems rather specialist for our market but the racers on Granny Buttons recent post might be pleased to have the face protection for their high speed antics.

The prices all seem to be in hundreds of dollars where one can find them buried under several layers of links.

Monday, 16 March 2009

A bit of a tough day.

The Best Mate was unwell this morning. After a restless night she felt very queezy. We left her in bed this morning while we went to church. I had the priviledge of taking the children's group that she had prepared to teach. Five adorable lively youngsters aged between 5 and 8. All with differing needs and attention span.

We had fun together learning from Jesus' parables of the mustard seed and the yeast. An hour with them reminded me how tired I get these days and how much energy they have.

We cooked bacon and eggs, mushrooms and potato wedges for lunch. Very typical boy food. We filled up with bread and butter and hot cross buns.

I took a siesta after taking Tigger to Respite house and hearing that Chelsea had scraped a 1-0 win against ManCity. During my nap, the Best Mate surfaced to prepare tea of salad and cheese tacos and salsa.

We enjoyed Piglet's choice of Sister Act on the big screen and then there was nothing left to do but go to bed.

But I am sleepless. . . .

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Another job done, but. . . .

The swan neck bearing has been replaced and is looking very new against the rusty deck.

Also finished is the preperation of the hatches and covers. They have been shot blasted and primed and look very nice.

Unfortunately there have been some set backs. Matt, the boss, has broken his ankle, descending some steps in the yard. He is confined to looking at a computer screen at home and won't get the full plaster on for a week or so because of the swelling and bruising around the break. So, there is no-one 'cracking the whip'. I hope he gets better soon and wish him well.

Martin, the painter, got hit in the eye by a splinter of steel from the roof yesterday and needs to rest it and keep it covered for a few days. I wish him well too. The word is that he was wearing glasses but not goggles at the time.

The boat builder/fitter is busy fitting the rails around the back deck. He has also given his opinion on the cost of a new weed hatch. I look forward to the typed up copy. It is a "must do" job so there is little option but to have it done now while SONFLOWER is out of the water.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


Here is a picture of one of the Tooley's men who are busy busy busy taking SONFLOWER back to bare metal in places. There is dust everywhere and bright steel is showing in places. There is also a considerable amount of filler showing as well.

Clearly visible are the welds where the boat was extended about ten years ago. About twelve foot section was inserted to extend the craft to a little under 57 feet. One result of this extension was that the inserted steel has become a sacrificial anode to the original structure. It is this section that requires complete corrosion protection (new anodes) and rust treatment to arrest the pitting.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Now the waiting.....

No pictures...the camera gave a message 'that operation cannot be completed' and gave up.

The surveyor did a thorough job. SONFLOWER was duly hit with a chipping hammer outside and inside and declared sound enough to be insurable.

There are some advisory points like rust treatment, four additional anodes to be fitted, engine maintenance, bilge pump reinstatement.

However....the ballast in the boat is aparently unecessary and the counter is about four inches lower in the water than it really should be. This means that the weed hatch standpipe was designed to give four inches more freeboard than it has. This means that there is a potential risk of sinking if the back end of the boat gets full of water and the weed hatch joint seal leaks. The surveyor recommends that an extra four inches are put on the weed hatch or ballast is removed. The latter would mean taking up a lot of the floor as the 'ballast' in her is made up of great big precast concrete kerb stones. These have also kept bilge water back and made the bilge damp. A recipe for corrosion. And there has been some.

The good news is that the surveyor was confident that the boat will last my lifetime.

The painting isn't a waste of money then!

The waiting is for the report.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Big Day Tomorrow

It is out of the water SURVEY day tomorrow. This is the day we find out whether the boat is in good enough shape for the insurance company to take on the risk of her not floating 'til the next inspection is due in four years time.

It is also the day I have the priviledge of handing over a bunch of readies to the Marine Surveyor in return for the report to submit to the Insurance Company.

Of course, he could find some problem that would indicate that the boat won't continue to float for the foreseeable future.

Then I'll have to hand over even more readies to the boatyard to fix it!

Saturday, 7 March 2009


Yes, I have registered and started posting my tweets on Twitter.

I am very disappointed that Barack Obama (the second on a google search for Twitter) hasn't tweeted since before his inauguration.

Maybe I'll enjoy this new fad. Too early to judge.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

In Dock

Here is a picture of SONFLOWER high and dry in Tooley's yard. They have removed all the windows now and every removable fitting. Beneath most of them was the inevitable rust from 25 years of life on the water. Going back to bare metal is what a good paint job is about when there is rust in the steel and that is what has been promised. So far, so good.

In the last post I said there is always something more to do. I have added a couple if things to Tooley's list. One thing they added to mine was what to do with the cruiser stern? The previous owner had dogs and had a fence around the back. Tooley's found this to be rust ridden and did not want to put it back or repaint it.

We have children and grandchildren and do not want to worry about them slipping off the rear deck! We have agreed to to replace the mesh with steel bars. I will keep you up to date with what it turns out like.

There were another couple of boring things to do like replace the swan-neck bearing and re-dress the lower rudder post bearing cup because it was worn.

The anodes are good though!

Monday, 2 March 2009

To sign write, or not?

Today SONFLOWER entered Tooley's dry dock and is now resting on the bottom.

We don't have a photo but hope to take some snaps as the work progresses. There always seems to be something else to do.

We admired the paintwork nb Emerald Dream which was the boat getting the full works before ours. She looked beautiful. The sign writing on her particularly made me think that we should be having SONFLOWER sign-written rather than the vinyls I had intended to replace. I asked Tooley's to get me a quote. It would be silly spoiling a proverbial ship for the ha'pence worth of tar.

We were shown the windows new windows that arrived today.

Exciting isn't it?