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.

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.