Blacking, and no more singing

To the Lazy Otter boatyard on the Old West River, to pick up the boat after it had been out of the water for a week. Ken (and his welder) did the following:

  • jetwash and black the hull (not the base plate which was very clean – one of the advantages of a slipway over a dry dock is that I could get right under the boat)
  • remove the rubbing strake around the bows, plug a hole, repair some of the steelwork, and stick the strake back on
  • fit a new set of anodes
  • treat the inside of the hull under the side doors – a bit of rain damage discovered when replacing the rotten floorboards.

I also spent an hour filing down the propellor, in theory to deal with the prop song we have had for the last twenty years, at certain engine revs

So rather a lot of black photos, I am afraid.


Starboard bow, with the plugged hole under the refitted rubbing strake (the lower of the two)


The hole under the rubbing strake – photo by Ken.


Gas locker drain hole, port sidedscf9009

I had a good look along the side of the boat, to see if I could work out why we got stuck in a lock on the Chesterfield last year. No obvious reason.dscf9010 dscf9011

Good clearance under the hull – two substantial trolleys used to winch the boat out of the waterdscf9015

Rudder, rudder post, prop and weed hatchdscf9017

I filed down the propellor blades between the two tape marks, on the rear edge, to an angle of about 30 degrees, following the instructions here. I reduced the thickness at the edge by about 50%.


Rudder, prop and skeg.dscf9022 dscf9023

Ready to go back in the water. I moved the car to Ely while Ken put the boat back in.  He plugged the exhaust with a bicycle inner tube (inflated).dscf9025 dscf9026 dscf9028

A breezy day. NO PROP SONG!dscf9029 dscf9030

I turned around and stopped at the Fish and Duck for diesel and gas.dscf9031

Approaching Ely.dscf9033

Floorboards and old silicon

A crisp day in Ely, replacing the floorboard near the side hatch, which had gradually rotted away. Went for a short cruise to Diamond 44 (on the way to Littleport): lots of CUWBC  scullers and fours. Some quite heavy rain, and actually saw the water coming in at the top of one of the windows. Discovered that all the silicone sealant tubes I had – even the unopened ones – had cured and so were useless. So slapped a bit of gaffer tape on instead.

The view from the mooring


A rather large hole has appeared in the last few months


Old floorboard removed – well most of it.
I decided to leave the section on the right behind as removing it would mean dismantling rather a lot of other things.
The fore-aft steel beam is part of the work done when the boat was extended in 1994.dscf8936

New piece of marine ply, cut to fitdscf8938

New section in place – I  had to take it up again to put the ballast blocks back where they belong.dscf8941

Lots of rowers, north of Ely. I forgot to take a photo of the new CUWBC boathouse, which looks nearly finished and is already in use.dscf8946

Curtains and floorboards

A slow drive up from London on Friday night. Cruised to Little Thetford, arriving in the dark.


Spent most of the morning replacing the curtains. Also took out the grotty plastic curtain tracks and replaced them with chunky brass rods. Here’s the before …dscf8814

… and the after … dscf8823 dscf8824 dscf8829 dscf8831

Curtains made by In-Fabrics of Haverfordwest.


I then cruised on to the Lazy Otter on the Old West, where we are booked in for blacking and some welding work in November. Had a brief chat with Kenny, and also James and Amy on NB Willow who had spent the week in the dry dock.

dscf8836 dscf8840

One for the trainspotters. Containers en route to Felixtowe, near Ely Dock Junction.dscf8844

On returning to Ely, I decided to lift the carpet to look at the slightly squidgy floorboard near the side hatch. I rather wished I hadn’t: another job for the winter..dscf8846

Finally, I should note that when Hilary and Tony took SG up the Little Ouse in September, the engine reached its 5,000th hour. I really should sort out the tachometer, which has been  stuck for  rather a long time.


Sharpness recce

On the way back from South Wales, after passing over the (old) Severn Bridge, we did a slight detour to reconnoitre Sharpness Dock – one end of the Bristol Channel tideway trip. I wonder whether we will ever do it? Road access (B4066 coming in from the south/right on the photo) was a bit tricky, as most of the roads were private.


Looking upstream (from the CRT picnic area) to the ship lock gates – the inner water level was right at the top. This section also has a third set of lock gates – out of shot to the left – but not in use today.


This narrowboat looked very incongrous


The view downstream – low tide so rather a lot of mud. The Severn Bridges were out there somewhere. Piling on either side of the dock entrance.

DSCF8805 DSCF8807

Looking upstream from the upper swing bridge


… and downstream. We also drove over the shared rail/road swing bridge in the foreground – a very strange experience, but I don’t think any trains have been over here for quite a while, to judge from the vegetationDSCF8812


Here’s a nice drone video by Jay Clements showing the parts we didn’t quite get to, and also some of the Purton Hulks on the River Severn.


While I am about it, some photos (sorry on the phone’s camera) from a 2012 recce in Liverpool.




MV Balmoral: to Ilfracombe and Lundy

Yesterday Jane and I went on a mystery tour on a rather different sort of vessel – the MV Balmoral, a recently restored passenger excursion boat, built in 1949. There is lots of detail about the boat on the White Funnel website, and on the Heritage Steamers website. There is  more detail about the engines below.

I spotted her first when the convoy of narrowboats returned from the Medway in June – here she is near Coldharbour point on the River Thames.DSCF7941

Here (courtesy of is the route we took – Swansea (1000) to Ilfracombe, where most people got off  and a few got on, then to Lundy (arrive 1400), then back from Lundy at 1630, picking up some well oiled passengers at Ilfracombe, leaving 1830 and returning to Swansea at 2045. We left the car in the Park and Ride, and were ferried into Swansea Docks via a rather fine fleet of buses from the Swansea Bus Museum. (we went on the second and third vehicles in that photo). Here – and later – we were shepherded by some very friendly volunteers, who support the operation of the boat, run by a professional (and equally friendly) crew.


Getting ready to cast off  – the now-disused ferry ramp in the background.


Backing away from our berthDSCF8681

Swansea in the backgroundDSCF8683

Mumbles lighthouse, with the RNLI station just to the rightDSCF8684

Approaching Ilfracombe – weather rather overcast and the conditions were such (stiff breeze from the East) that it seemed unlikely we would be able to land at Lundy.DSCF8687

Getting the heaving line readyDSCF8688

Some decent fendering. There were three sections of the pier, at different heights to cope with the very wide tidal range. We arrived at low water, the lower section of the pier was completely submerged when we returned later.DSCF8690


Some of the local trip boats – including a disused lifeboat. I looked for the narrowboat that visited here recently, but could not see it (details here and here)

 DSCF8691 DSCF8692 Capstans and bitts. All the  air vents were helpfully labelled – the one on the right is for the crew shower.


The Ilfracombe Harbour Master came to see us off safely.


At sea – still the Bristol channel I think, the Atlantic is the other side of Lundy.


The red deck above is the roof of the engine room – very warm and cosy on the way back when it got a little chillier. You can see the engines through the portholes – more detail in this video …

Short video of our trip

Chatting to the bridge – later on when most people were inside we were invited in for a quick peek, and to listen to the horror stories about berthing the boat at Sharpness!




Approaching Lundy – run by the Landmark TrustDSCF8706

Docking at the new jetty. The Oldenberg had nabbed their preferred mooringDSCF8710

Balmoral backing away, to anchor for a couple of hours.



New lighthouse. Cornwall in the distance, perhaps


Old lighthouse – not a bad view  from the top though the windows were rather grimy


The church – a full set of bells – another plaque marked the 1905 peal.DSCF8728

The main habitation on Lundy – pub, shop etc. The door at the foot of the church tower had been left unlocked, so we sneaked an unauthorised trip up the tower (only mildly chastised)



Typical cottagesDSCF8735 DSCF8736 DSCF8737

Marisco castle


East side of the island – the west side was even more ruggedDSCF8740

Balmoral did come back to collect us …DSCF8744 DSCF8745

Embarking – dealing with the height differences between the boat and the pier was quite tricky – this was the lowest of the three levels on the boat that could be used.DSCF8749

Sailing back to IlfracombeDSCF8754

And finally one of the many videos from White Funnel themselves

Summer trip – Ely to Bedford and back

A relaxing ten day cruise, from Ely to Bedford, and then back via Earith, the Hundred Foot and Denver. Excellent weather. I met several very friendly Environment Agency staff, and chatted to many boaters, in particular on DREAM CATCHER and JUSTICE.

Lunchtime and overnight stops:

  • Little Thetford, Ely Ouse (EA); Aldreth, Old West River (GOBA)
  • The Waits, St Ives (Huntingdon District Council); Houghton, the island below the lock (EA)
  • Little Paxton Nature Reserve (GOBA)
  • St Neots (Town Council); Great Barford, the old lock island just upstream (EA)
  • Bedford Sovereign Wharf (EA); Bedford, near the head of navigation (wild)
  • Cardington (GOBA); Eaton Socon (EA)
  • Offord (GOBA); Brampton (GOBA)
  • Hemingford (HDC); Holywell (HDC)
  • Denver (EA); Ship Inn, Brandon Creek (EA)


Old West River – very windy conditions. No photographs of the rescue of a narrowboat at Stretham, that had come loose from its moorings and got wedged across the waterway.

DSCF8381 DSCF8387

GOBA moorings at Aldreth – some inquisitive cowsDSCF8389

The evocative causeway to the small and quiet village of Aldreth – one of the ancient causeways linking Ely to the outside world. One could imagine that this track had not changed since the time of Hereward  and William the Conqueror.DSCF8390 DSCF8392

The following morning, locking through at Hermitage Lock.DSCF8395

Earith, looking down the dead straight Old Bedford River. The middle sluicegate  was letting a bit of water down.DSCF8397

A tree in the middle of a field, followed by the same view on my previous trip in April, when I was not 100% sure whether going to the left of the tree was feasible.



Brownshill Staunch – almost no fresh water coming over the weir.DSCF8401

I saw four of these boats working hard to harvest the reeds – a company called Their website explains how they  harvest on the Ouse, Nene and Ivel. Molly the dog was on board, but does not feature in this photograph!DSCF8403

I moored at The Waits in St Ives, to explore the town. According to the town’s website this area is so named because barges had to wait there. The river used to be tidal to this point (and still is when the water submerges the staunch at Brownshill). DSCF8409

The bridge chapel at St Ives – unfortunately not open for me to inspect in person.DSCF8415

Side streetsDSCF8416

A statue of Cromwell – is there any town in the area that does not claim some connection with him?!


The rather fine moorings on the island below Houghton Lock – no access to  the land, so very peaceful. I attempted to walk around the island, but this was not possible!DSCF8426

An 0530 start in the morning. While the lock was emptying I went to have a look at the Mill, run by the National TrustDSCF8427 DSCF8428 DSCF8440

Breakfast at Godmanchester, riding to the mud anchor as there were no moorings free.DSCF8441

Brampton Mill – now a pubDSCF8442

St Neots – just below the Papermill lockDSCF8446

Birthday tea for Peter, between Roxton and Great BarfordDSCF8456

Another island mooring – next to the old lock just above Great Barford. This one did have a footbridge, as part of the Ouse Valley Way that now runs 150 miles from Brackley to Kings Lynn.DSCF8478

Birthday supper at the Anchor pub – half a mile walk across the fields from the mooring.


On Sunday morning, lots of trees for the remaining run up to Bedford, some encroaching on the navigation.DSCF8484 DSCF8486

The monster lock at Castle Mill, on the outskirts of Bedford. Water enters the chamber from the side, halfway down the lock. The concrete sides show how high the water level might go in flood conditions, though the EA data shows a range of less than a metre.DSCF8488

Bedford lock

DSCF8490 DSCF8494

Peter and Hugh have to leave to catch a train home.DSCF8495

The view downstream from the head of navigation at Kempston. I couldn’t easily get the boat this far — too many shoalsDSCF8500

It was  quite tricky to find a mooring near to the turning place….



A peaceful overnight mooring a few hundred yards downstream, with Bedford housing estates across the meadow.DSCF8505

A bit of gardening at Cardington, to remove more of the tree that had been blocking the navigation.  I had bought a tree saw in Bedford the day before, just in case …DSCF8508

Going down in Castle Mill lock …DSCF8515 DSCF8519

Great Barford bridge – easier going downstream!DSCF8525 Under the A1 at Tempsford – the inscription was dated 1820 (see the link for more detail)DSCF8540

Past the moorings at Little Paxton Pits – rather fine nature reserve with lots of dragonflies. We stopped here on the way upstream – very peaceful.DSCF8548

Offord Cluny church. The current abruptly stopped at this point, as nearly all the flow was being abstracted for Grafham Water  reservoir.DSCF8551

Offord Lock


Sorting out some of my crates of stuff, and concluding that I probably have too much gaffer tape, and silicon sealant, and old jubilee clips.DSCF8559

The following day, I paused at Hemingford to shampoo, polish and wax the paintwork. This photo shows before (on the right) and after DSCF8573

A glorious mooring at Holywell – fine pub, interesting church, with the Holy Well in the churchyard.

DSCF8585 DSCF8586


Main timings for this trip:

HW Kings Lynn 1250 BST (a weak neap tide)
HW Denver 1350, or thereabouts.
Flood at Denver 1220, or thereabouts.

Depart Earith 0845, there was a bit of an ebb current here but it seemed to peter out quite soon?
Manea railway bridge 1121
Hit a sizeable silt bar (next to Hundred Foot Pumping Station) 1129, but momentum took me over it
First tree partially blocking the river 1136 – hit the silt on the opposite bank.
Second tree 1152, ebb running at about 1 mph – hit the silt again

Meet the “flood” (under the 400KV pylons near Welmore) 1245, about 1.5 mph initially.
Denver 1345, 21.3 miles later.

GPS track here –  warning it is a bit boring, but you can see when the tide turned.So you may want to speed up the replay speed a bit …


A drizzly morning, turning into the
New Bedford River just before Hermitage Lock.


It was impossible to avoid some breaking wash for some sections.DSCF8597

Manea railway bridge – about 4.8 miles away.DSCF8598

and getting closer ..


This group of ramblers were rather surprised to see me.DSCF8601

A farmer getting about – the only other person I sawDSCF8603

Approaching the bird reserve at Welney – nearly low water, so running out of water. But we never stopped moving.DSCF8604

I expected to see some sort of tidal bore – but it took the day off today. From here on we were punching the incoming tide – more of a gentle slap, reallyDSCF8605

Welmore sluices, that let the accumulated water out of the washes. Rather oddly, the pumps were running (left of photo) – not sure why, unless it was to pump out the water being let in at Earith (see above). I think I am now in Norfolk.DSCF8607

Approaching Denver sluice from behindDSCF8611 DSCF8613

The view up the New Bedford from Denver – a misleading view, as only the first couple of km are as wide as this, with the rest MUCH narrower. DSCF8617

PLATINUM FOX (from the excellent Fox Narrowboats at March) leaving the lock at DenverDSCF8618


Safely moored at DenverDSCF8619

Sunset at Brandon Creek – junction with the Little OuseDSCF8627 DSCF8633

Piling works near LittleportDSCF8636

The view back to the north, as we approach ElyDSCF8641

The entrance to Ely, and the end of our journey. I think this now means I have done every inch of the Great Ouse system, in both directions. I still need to do Kings Lynn to Denver, though …


Round the World Clipper race – London 2016

An early start, to board MV ERASMUS at Tower Pier at 0715. We were going to cruise downstream to meet the clippers returning to London at the end of the 2015-16 round the world race, which started in London back in August 2015. More details of that race here – I don’t pretend to know that much about it…. And loads more photos and videos on their twitter feed here.

A selection of  my photos here – the rest are here.


First, a widebeam and a narrowboat (CHARLOTTE MAY, from Thorne), inbound from Limehouse (departing about 0700).



Then three more narrowboats  – the second locking at Limehouse. We passed them just downstream of Wapping. Only one name partly visible – NAUTI-LASS??




Business as usual on the river – a large crane barge on its way back to Leith (Edinburgh). I think it will have been working on the pier extensions further up river.


Our first sight of the inbound boats – twelve of them – tangling with the Woolwich Ferry.
They still had a mainsail up, though it wasn’t doing much as they were motoring dead into the wind.



DSCF8296 DSCF8298

Approaching the Woolwich Barrier. Three spans open for inbound traffic, with the yachts taking ECHO span and the accompanying trip-boats and other hangers-on taking DELTA and FOXTROT.DSCF8303 DSCF8307 DSCF8311 DSCF8319 DSCF8325

Turning head to wind, at Blackwall point, to take the mainsail down. Quite a task, even in very calm conditions.DSCF8328



And still the river continues as normal. The isophase light was flashing on span no 2 on Tower Bridge, but the tug decided not to enforce their right or way, and took span no 3.


Bang on time for a 1000 bridge liftDSCF8357


Milling about in the Upper pool, before a 1030 bridge lift and then locking in to St Katherine’s Dock.DSCF8364

Narrowboating in Norfolk: The Brecks and Grime’s Graves

A long if solitary weekend on the boat – arrived after work on Friday and left early on Monday – so this scores as four days on board. Short trip to Littleport on Friday, then an early start on Saturday in order to get to Brandon at about 1130 (first breakfast at Brandon Creek, second breakfast at Lakenheath). After lunch I walked up the non-navigable river towards Thetford, then cut north into the Brecks (more information here and here) to visit Grime’s Graves, managed by English Heritage. This is the only neolithic flint mine open to the public. I then walked back to Brandon through Thetford Forest and the village of Santon Downham.

On Sunday, a more gentle start. Replaced a cracked glass on the stove – liberal application of copper grease to make this easier next time (I hope). Paused to investigate the syphon at Hockwold, lunch at Lakenheath, tea at Brandon Creek, and supper near the mouth of the Lark. Listened to the Proms (Faure Requiem, a choir from some place called Kings). Evening cruise back to the marina, mooring 2215. Navigation lights deployed. Saw only two other boats moving on the Little Ouse – why is it so quiet?

Captions are above the photos to which they relate.

Leaving Ely


Littleport: these swans clearly wanted feedingDSCF8150

I arrived late so had to moor only half on the moorings, and blocking the water point …DSCF8153

… but I made amends by starting at 0500 on SaturdayDSCF8157 DSCF8161

Brandon Ouse, more swansDSCF8167

This house gets progressively more derelict every time I passDSCF8169

I decided to explore Lakenheath Lode – didn’t go all the way as I didn’t much fancy reversing out single-handedDSCF8171

The view back to the entrance – partially blocked by weedDSCF8172

Looking up the LodeDSCF8174

Breakfast at the very fine GOBA mooring on Hockwith Fen – on the Norfolk bank of the river.


Above the syphon – this now looks much more like an ordinary riverDSCF8182

Ely to Brandon and Norwich railway – I’ve been over here many times in the 1980s. If you look carefully you can see the TfL logo on the wagons – I guess they were off to collect ballast for the Underground?


Arriving at Brandon – we are too long to get through the lock (on the left). A surprising amount of water coming over the staunch, generating quite a currentDSCF8185

The un-navigable stretch above Brandon. Lots of stinging nettles, walking on the Norfolk bank.


The Brecks – definitely Norfolk now.


Grime’s Graves – not many people arrive by foot, I think.DSCF8191

You can just see the filled in mine shafts – dozens of these indentations (700 shafts, according to one source!). This photo from English Heritage gives a better flavour of the landscapeDSCF8193

Inside the flint mine – headroom about three feet, so hard hats mandatory. I left my sunhat behind somewhere underground…DSCF8197

The ladder back to the surfaceDSCF8199

The view from Santon Downham bridge – some EA weedcutters. They must have got there by land, as the river is blocked by two very large trees right across at water level. Downsteam view first, then upstream.DSCF8200 DSCF8201

Santon Downham church – a village wedding had just finishedDSCF8203

Walking back to Brandon through the forestDSCF8204

The boat was still there. I had minimized the number of bollards I was using, with the back of the boat hanging in mid-stream. I need not have bothered – I had the river to myself.DSCF8207

Heading downstreamDSCF8212 DSCF8215 DSCF8217

The syphon at Lakenheath / Hockwith. The sluices on the right let water down into the cut-off channel, which wends its way to the Denver sluice complex. The two sluices ahead are lowered in time of flood to stop water going down the main river channel. I moored on the right, just though the sluice. All of this was in Norfolk as the boundary follows the old course of the river, just to the south.


One of the cut-off sluices was raised by six inches – see the gauge. Surprisingly, none of them had been converted to electric operation.DSCF8223

The cut-off channel was built as recently as the 1960s, after the major floods in 1947 and 1953,DSCF8224

The syphon which takes the cut-off channel under the main river. Viewed from above … DSCF8227

… and from below. I didn’t get my tape measure out, but the difference in level must be no more than two feet. The concrete walls mean that the level in the cutoff channel could easily be above that in the main river.DSCF8228

The flow of water though the sluice, into the cutoff channel.DSCF8229

Another boat on the move – the only one I saw on the Brandon Ouse.DSCF8232

The washesDSCF8235

Back on the Great Ouse,. approaching LittleportDSCF8240

Between Littleport and Queen Adelaide – big skiesDSCF8243

Diamond 44 moorings – always very quietDSCF8247

Returning to Ely at Dusk, with the Captain’s Table restaurant boat following behindDSCF8248

Pope’s Corner

The day after the Olympic tour, a quick trip to Ely. Went to evensong in the Cathedral – fabulous (Howell: St Paul’s Service). Then a quick trip to the moorings at the start of the Old West. I was intending to go to the Lazy Otter, but it was a bit too far. On Monday morning set off before 5 in order to get back to the boatyard in time to catch the 0744 train to Nottingham! No other boats moving.

Leaving the boatyard


An unusual sight – a family of three herons, plus nest. DSCF8061

Pope’s cornerDSCF8062 DSCF8063 DSCF8064 DSCF8065

An 0450 start in the morning …DSCF8067 DSCF8068 DSCF8071 DSCF8076 DSCF8082 DSCF8083