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.

Friday, 31 August 2007

The Cost of Boating

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 30 August 2007

God loves a drunk

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Many a Slip........

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everybody.

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

Monday, 27 August 2007

Broken Indictor

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

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

Keeping it going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 20 August 2007

The wrong sort of. . . . .

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

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

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

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

Some Irishman's Law comes to mind.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

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

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

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

How do I know it was a hire boat?

Summer Pictures

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

After 31 lock-miles

Sonflower at Hatton Flight

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

Friday, 17 August 2007

There (but not back again) yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 13 August 2007

Fame at last

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


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 11 August 2007

The Summer Cruise

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

Simply, we have been cruising.

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

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

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

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