About Scholar Gypsy

Owner of Narrow boat Scholar Gypsy

Lazy Otter, Old West

A quiet weekend trip to the GOBA mooring at the Lazy Otter, on the Old West. After a bit of tidying up and hoovering in Ely, we set off after lunch. Paused at Fish and Duck for diesel and to hear of their plans for the marina. Moored up in a strong cross-wind which was fun. Early to bed as the clocks were going forward in the morning. Set off 0545 GMT (0645 BST) and back in the boatyard for breakfast and tidying up. Off by 1000.

Departing Ely – glorious warm spring day

Heading South on the Ely Ouse

Old West River

Stretham Pumping Station

Moored at the Lazy Otter  – GOBA moorings

Early morning at Stretham

Nearly back at base

Thames Tideway Navigators Club

A number of us went to a rather jolly meeting of the TTNC. Details available here.  I am reminded of the quote by Groucho Marx: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

Andrew Phasey spoke about the cruises that St Pancras Cruising Club has organised over the years, and Andy Spring and I spoke in more detail about the trip to the Medway last year. Various PLA speakers, ending with a lively Q&A session. A nice photo of Andrew here.

The meeting was held on the rather fine vessel DIXIE QUEEN, moored  near Tower Bridge.

Brandon Creek

Balmy weather. An easy trip to Brandon Creek, lunch in the Ship. Polished the engine room bilges in the afternoon, and dealt with one of the advisories from the recent BSS safety check.

Then back to Ely in the dark – an alarming encounter with a boat with no navigation lights. Waved at Polly and Mike who were just starting their epic voyage from Ely to St Pancras.

New CUBC boathouse

Approaching Brandon Creek

Polly and Mike on SPRIG O WILLOW

SPCC to the Backs – Take 2

The second trip for St Pancras Cruising Club members (and a couple of extras) along the backs in Cambridge. The record of the first trip (including an entertaining video) is here.

The long weekend started on Thursday, when I attended a local IWA meeting (first time since I was a Cambridge branch member over 30 years ago!) to give a talk about my experiences crossing the Wash. Then to the boat arriving 2230.

On Friday various maintenance tasks, in particular using bolts (with three nuts and washers each) to fix the box in the gas locker (to which the bubble tester is secured), filling water, emptying loo etc. Then a jumbo shop, and Evensong in the cathedral (Lady Chapel – very fine music). In the evening Christine, Libby, Heather and her friend Linda, and Polly arrived in stages.

Early start on Saturday – 0630. Polly was not able to bring her boat WILL O WISP due to mechanical issues, so she and Mike joined us for the day. I think this means we still qualify as a flotilla?

We added an extension trip to Wicken Fen, through Upware Lock. Heather tried to get us in on her NT membership card but this attempt at fraud was rebuffed. The lack of butter knife and marmalade spoon was commented on at breakfast, but otherwise the crew were well behaved. After 90 minutes at Wicken, we continued to Waterbeach, where Polly and Mike left to catch a train and Mark joined (plus bike). We cruised a bit beyond Silver St, turning in the pool just below the punt rollers, rather further upstream than usual. Wandered around Cambridge in the evening, before the crew went out for dinner at the Fort St George.

On Sunday I replaced the weed hatch tape. This had first been recommended some eight years ago, and it was now leaking a bit. An easy job. Also mended the water temp gauge – a very simple job as a wire was loose.

We were joined by Liz and Mick, and Andy and Jenny, for the Sunday trip – rather fewer tourists today. Then a brief excursion to the Long Reach, to watch some rowing, mooring up at 1500. Then Jane and I went to watch son Hugh play hockey for the University second team – beat Oxford 5-2 so all were very pleased. (see here

Finally, an easy run back to Ely on Monday morning, pausing in Bottisham Lock for breakfast. I was half way home before I realised I had left both my laptops on the boat…

I was a bit erratic about taking photos – there are more on the postings about previous trips on the Backs (November 2016, March 2016, October 2015, March 2015, October 2014, twice).

Captions are above the photos to which they refer.

New bolts to hold the gas locker box in place, and new bubble tester


Wicken Fen – Heather steering

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Polly on the landing stage at Upware lock


Bottisham lock – EA/Camcon boundary just upstreamdscf9290

Above Silver St – punt rollers on the right. Mark looking out for mudbanks.

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Darwin Collegedscf9299 dscf9302

Clare and Kingsdscf9304 dscf9305

Jesus Lock – Heather and Christine winding awaydscf9306 dscf9307

Weed hatch, before replacing the tape ..dscf9308

… and after. An easy job.dscf9310

St John’s Kitchen Bridgedscf9311

Mick and Lizdscf9313


Andy and Jennydscf9318

Early morning run down to Ely – navigation lights in use as there were a lot of rowers around.dscf9355 dscf9357 dscf9362

Batteries and the Lark

A three day trip to do various jobs on the boat, and then a trip to Jude’s Ferry at the end of the Lark. First the jobs …

Fitted two new domestic batteries – the previous pair lasted since 2013 so I suppose I should be reasonably pleased. The little box on top is a Sterling desulphator: not sure it does a lot. The new ones had a second set of auxiliary terminals – I’ve no current need for them.

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Tightened the stern gland, polished the engine room floor,
and adjusted the weed hatch.dscf9244

Installed the plaque from the 2016 trip to the Medway – rather honoured to get one of these as SG did not take part in the trip…


Inspected the  new bubble tester – the BSS check showed a small leak and so it seemed sensible to get one of these installed at the same time.dscf9271

And now the boating ..

Heading up the Lark, between Prickwillow and Isleham

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The Washes just before Isleham lock. Lots of geesedscf9250 dscf9253

A brief exploration of Lee Brook. Deep but a bit narrow.
I did not fancy reversing in the wind,  so I did not go very far!dscf9254 dscf9256 dscf9257

Approaching Jude’s Ferry – pub just visible in the gloom.dscf9258

Setting off the next morning. All four fenders were in use to protect the paint against the rather rickety (and slippery) jetty. Intermittent snow: quite cold but not unpleasant.dscf9264

The Pepperpot house near Islehamdscf9267

Quite a few Cambridge rowers out on the Ouse – using their new boathouse (will take a photo next time – officially opened in December). Rather gloomy so I put my new navigation lights ondscf9268

St Pancras Lock Open Day

I spent a few hours visiting St Pancras, in the middle of the stoppage there (new bottom gates, refurbished top gates), and helping a bit to host visitors to the Waterpoint, which St Pancras Cruising Club had opened for the day.

The view from the waterpoint …


Gasholder apartments (not all sold yet – see here)dscf9217

St Pancras basin, Javelin train in the backgrounddscf9220

The construction site for the new footbridge, which will end up just right of centre on the far bankdscf9222

St Pancras Station, and the Crick institute for biomedical research


And now inside and around the lock …dscf9223

Bottom stop planks. A bit of modern concrete, and unusually (sorry no photo) a bottom cill made from steel.dscf9224

New gatesdscf9227

Invert, looked in good conditiondscf9228

Looking up the lockdscf9230

Top gatesdscf9231

Top paddle culvertdscf9233 dscf9234

Looking down the lockdscf9236

Assorted workboatsdscf9237

Winter maintenance

Last weekend Jeremy had a day with his friends – see rather fine photos here

Then I spent him a day training him to

  • open up the engine compartment
  • change the oil
  • change the oil filter
  • change the three fuel filters
  • change the fan belt
  • check the ATF in the gearbox.

Here we are in our overalls, and with some of the rubbish we generated.

Then yesterday I upgraded my stern and steaming lights, as the ones we currently have are only in theory valid  for boats up to 12 metres. The new ones were much more powerful and – as LED bulbs – will consume less power. The stern light hangs over the rear doors, and the mast takes the place normally occupied by the Red Ensign.

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St Pancras CC go to Cambridge

At last, the weekend of the St Pancras Cruising Club trip from Ely to Cambridge and back. The Fenland flotilla consisted of two narrowboats: SPRIG O’ WILLOW, skippered by Polly, and SCHOLAR GYPSY.

Pride of place must go to to Richard Taylor for this timelapse video he kindly took of the Saturday trip. As you can see Polly and her crew are helpfully demonstrating a variety of techniques to use if you get stuck.


Here are links to some more photographs, taken by our visitors:


Returning to a chronological record, I arrived in Ely on Friday morning. A variety of tidying up tasks, including fitting the new front curtains and polishing the engine bilges. I also bought some rather fine doormat material from Cutlacks (£40 for a 1 metre square) which I then cut up to fit various spaces around the boat, and protect the carpet. Then to Evensong at the Cathedral before a rather large shop at Sainsburys. Christine, our first visitor, arrived about 2000 in her camper van (air draught 9’6″), having wisely decided not to use the railway bridge near Ely Station..



On Saturday at 0700 I moved round to the Cutter Ferry Inn, to await our visitors, arriving by train from Downham Market and London. Finished laying the breakfast table in preparation for the expected onslaught. It wouldn’t be a SPCC cruise without a passage plan – here is ours, which worked out pretty well as advertised…

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And we’re off – Tony (SPCC Commodore) and Elaine. Somewhere on the Cam, I think.


The Commodore’s pennant. If you look closely you should be able to see the three balls.dscf9054

Andrew and Colindscf9055

Kathleen and Elaine, keeping warmdscf9059

Frances steering us out of Bottisham Lock – we are now on Cam Conservancy waters.dscf9062

Baits Bite lock – just reopened after a stoppage, and with a slightly temperamental guillotine gate at the moment.


We had to wait a bit for the Cambridge Winter Head rowing regatta to complete the third division of races. We had our own marshal to shepherd us up the course, and keep out of the way of crews coming down for the next set of races. I had been in touch with the organisers beforehand, so this was all as expected. The course was a full 2,500 metres, with 236 crews taking part, and times ranging from 8:29 to 16:35 (results here)dscf9063

Arriving at Jesus Lockdscf9070

Here’s my recent  birthday present – a new megaphone – which I used for the safety briefing. Some claimed to be disappointed that there was no powerpoint. It all went well until I explained that the towpath was in the middle of the channel, under about three feet of water.


Group photo taken by a passing resident.


Locking up through Jesus lock. Fortunately we didn’t need to bother with the swinging footbridge across the lock.dscf9073

A competition for the silliest headgear. Di is a strong contender.


Magdalene Bridgedscf9076

Clare Bridge


Clare College, and Kings College Chapel next doordscf9078

Queens College. We have turned, and are waiting below Silver St bridge for Polly to turn around. This was a slightly longer wait than we had expected.dscf9079

Clare Bridge again – quite  a lot of punt trafficdscf9080 dscf9081

We tied up again below Jesus Lock, for Madeira cake (and Madeira), courtesy of Andrew and Frances. The visiting crew then made their way home, and I had a snooze.


On Sunday, son Hugh came for breakfast (and got a bit of mud on the carpet – well someone has to be first). SG had a completely new crew, including Andy and Gill, members of the excellent GOBA. Despite owning a plastic cruiser, they had been on a narrowboat holiday before, so we were very pleased to welcome them on board….dscf9082

The slackers at Jesus Lock. They are so slow to wind up that by the time you get them right up, the lock has filled and it is time to wind them down again. Christine and Polly doing the business.

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Andy, Andy, Roger and Bevdscf9085


The lowest bridge on the route:  St Johns Kitchen bridge (photo credit: R Squires). Not much room for error, especially given there was a bit of a crosswind. No paint was scratched, and no bridge was hit.


Trinity Bridgedscf9090

Clare bridgedscf9093

Turning just upstream of Silver Street bridge. In theory one can go quite a bit further, but I didn’t fancy getting stuck.dscf9094

Andy and Andy, just above Jesus Lock. For some reason I stopped taking photos at this point

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Having just dropped Roger off at Waterbeach (photo credit: R. Squires), and had a brief discussion with the fishermen occupying the visitor moorings. We got to Ely at 1740, ten minutes behind schedule. By this time it was properly dark, although there was quite a bit of light reflected from the low cloud cover.



Finally, for anyone who wonders why the Backs are only open to powered boats in the winter, here’s another video (thanks to James from NB Willow for pointing this out to me)

Floorboards and carpets

Near-final preparations for the trip up the Backs next weekend. I, and another St Pancras Cruising Club member who moors in Ely, are taking a number of SPCC visitors to Cambridge and back. Arrived in the fog at 1915 on Saturday night, just missing the fireworks.

The task for Sunday was to replace another rotten section of floorboard, remove the carpet tiles (about 15 years old, I think?), hoover the floor, and fit new carpet tiles (annoyingly I needed 41, so just breaking into the third box). I also painted and cleaned the stove (I did this first). A brief trip in the late afternoon sun to the Cutter Ferry, for no particular reason.

This will leave a number of tasks for next week:

  • fit the curtains on the front window (all the bits have now arrived from RCR).
  • fill the water tank
  • empty the loo
  • clean it – as it got rather dusty from the work on the bilges recently
  • work out where to put the hand scythe that I bought on a recent holiday to Herefordshire
  • apply mastic to a window and see if that stops the leak
  • work out where to store my new megaphone (birthday present)


I ended up lifting most of the floorboards in the original (1978) section of the boat – ie dinette and galley). To be honest, I think all the bilges here need a bit of work.

Looking back from the galley


Under the dinettedscf9037

Looking forward towards the galleydscf9038

New carpet in the saloon, and newly painted stove. Old megaphone still in situ.dscf9039 dscf9040

Looking back down the boatdscf9041

Old carpet tiles and floorboards awaiting disposal