No 15. Going Nowhere

So, all our plans are now on hold. We have taken the house off the market as we are all on lockdown. Nobody can view it and so no chance at all of a sale. Annoyingly though we did have a second viewing the day before we were all confined to home, but totally understand that now is not the time to be making big financial commitments.

The marina where the boat is currently moored is closed and as all non-essential travel is banned, we are adjusting to living without the prospect of going on the boat, not even on the distant horizon. I could argue that travelling to visit our beloved boat is essential for my mental health but I doubt that it would get me out of the fine now being imposed for people who flout the new ruling.

So, for now, we have to be content with watching canal boat vlogs on YouTube and dreaming about the day that we can start out big adventure. We are grateful that for now we have a safe and comfortable place to wait this out, we have all of our essentials and can stay in contact with our children and grandchildren via Facetime and the House Party app. Things could be a lot worse.

At least Rob can’t fall in for the time being!

Stay home and stay safe everyone and lets all hope that life returns to normal soon.

No.14: Up On The Roof

Newly installed on The Frog a Viking is “Keeping Guard” in one of the portholes – A lovely reminder of our Danish grandson Loki

One of the problems encountering continuous cruisers is that with no home mooring you cannot always find the facilities that are needed to keep the boat functioning. One wise piece of advice that we have heard is to never to pass a water point without stopping and topping up. We are lucky enough to have central heating on board which runs from the batteries which are charged whenever we are cruising. However, what happens when we moor up for a few days, batteries will quickly lose charge coping with hot water and all of the electrical applications that make daily life bearable? How would we charge our mobiles and I pads? One option is running the motor – which then acts as a generator, charging the batteries, However, we do not really want to have to do this unnecessarily: it’s a bit noisy, slightly smelly so could disturb fellow boaters. As it runs on diesel, we also think of our carbon footprint and only use when we have to.

So, with this in mind, we made a decision: we needed solar panels.

We did lots of research and lots of chatting to fellow boaters and there seem to be two basic types: rigid ones with a border, usually sitting on a bracket that enables the position to be pivoted; and flexible ones that are almost paper thin. If we went with the first kind, then they are permanently fixed to the roof, taking up a large area which could then not be used for anything else. So we opted for the flexible kind and decided to have them fixed to some rooftop storage boxes, so using the space for two purposes.

I found rooftop boxes for sale on Etsy, they were curved to follow the standard contour of a narrowboat roof but these were only supplied with a tarpaulin cover, kept in place with bungee cords. What we needed were ones that had 2 lids, one each side, hinged in the middle. I duly contacted the supplier and he agreed to make each of them to a specified size, 1200mm x 1200mm which would fit a solar panel of 556 mm x 1165 mm on each side and with the lids that we needed. 4 solar panels should give us the power that we needed to keep the batteries topped up while we are moored. Happy days.

Picture on Etsy and what we thought we would be ordering

Our trusty electrician at the marina ordered the panels and we were all set to have the boxes delivered and the panels installed in early March. That was until we were contacted in mid January by the manufacturer of the boxes to say that he had injured his back and would not be able to supply them and he had no idea how long he would be incapacitated for.

Panic!!

I have joined a buy and sell site for the Newbury area on Facebook and so I posted a request for any local carpenters who could create something similar, asking them to get in touch. Several people responded with recommendations, with the same two names cropping up. We arranged to meet both of them at the marina to discuss this and some other small carpentry jobs needed on the inside of the boat.

One man cycled 9 miles to come and talk to us and he seemed very keen to do the work. We did not pick him though as he did not produce the asked for quote when he promised and despite several attempts to reach him, he appears to have disappeared off the face of the earth.

The second carpenter, Gareth, seemed equally capable and actually provided the quotes when promised and so we got the box production under way.

This past weekend we made a trip up for the delivery of the boxes, which were eagerly anticipated and we were not disappointed. Such beautiful craftsmanship, made using marine plywood, adjustable rubber legs so that the roof would not be scratched, slatted inside to allow air to circulate and all finished off with white weatherproof paint. We are so pleased with the finished result.

One of the boxes before heaving up onto the roof

As the boxes each weigh in at 40kg each (88lbs for our North American followers), the job of getting them on to the top of the boat was a little tricky. The boat is moored alongside another boat, Annie, which is approx 3 feet away. No bank or jetty to stand on, just the gunwale and we know how tricky Rob finds balancing on this. Getting them to their resting point required some acrobatics and contortion-ism but luckily Gareth had brought along 2 strong helpers.

Underside of boxes are cleverly done with slats so allowing air to circulate.
In place awaiting solar panels.
Solar Panels fitted – All we need now is sunshine
Close up of one the Barden Sunpower 100W Panels

The Solar panels are each 100W in potential output – 400 watts in total. They are connected to the electrical system through the inverter. The electrician configured them so that their power will be used ahead of any battery with only the additional draw being taken from the batteries or shoreline, if attached. When the draw is less than the solar power generated, they will charge the batteries until full. The panels cost £160 each. Here is a link with more information on the panels in case you are interested:

http://barden-uk.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Barden_SPR-E-Flex-100-Datasheet.pdf

Whilst all this was going on, Rob decided that as the level of the water tank was so low, now would be a good time to drain it and give the inside a clean. The tank is situated in the bow and is basically part of the hull with a wall to contain the water. After turning on the kitchen tap and draining the last of it, there appeared to be some brown sludge in the bottom. During the normal process of filling up the tank from the shore we use a hose pipe and lift the lid, however it is impossible to stop bits of leaves, insects etc from entering. The side of the tank was also rusting slightly in a couple of places. Thankfully this kind of stuff settles in the bottom of the tank and so is not normally a bother. To make safe drinking water we have a large Britta water dispenser that we keep inside and top up directly from a shore tap. The water from the bow tank is used for washing dishes and showering.

We could not think of an effective way of cleaning out the stuff that had settled in the bottom of the tank until Rob had the brainwave of using nappies. Highly absorbent and easy to use. So, off we went to Tesco to get a packet, settling on new born size after much debating, our theory was that although there were smaller, you got more in a packet.

Upon our return, Rob decided that the easiest way to get this job done was to take off his socks and shoes and to climb in to the tank.

A hilarious sight, I’m sure you agree!

Like the new ‘Masthead’?

Having seen the sludge that came out of the tank and the fact that Rob did not wash his feet prior to this had made us realise that we need a water purifier/ filter fitted under the sink. Whilst we will continue to use the Britta jug for drinking water, the filter will make the water at the kitchen sink much cleaner.

Feels like we are almost there – just the b@**£y house to sell now! Damned storms and now coronavirus making it much harder to achieve this.

Can we please have some normality?

No.13: Life …. and other plans

‘Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’ is John Lennon’s heartfelt message in ‘Beautiful Boy’. This wonderful lyric accurately describes our current position prior to casting off.

The house is up for sale and while we wait for that to happen, the extra time at least is allowing us to get detailed preparation in place before our odyssey starts later in the Spring. Preparation takes many forms – including improving my skills of handling The Frog. Our last blog saw us cruising to Reading and back for a family meal – an opportunity to get more ‘cruising miles’ under my hat. Pip gave me a new one for Xmas and I’m dying to wear it. 🙂

On the return leg of this trip Robbie joined us for the first half. He walked the mile or so from his house and he came on board just in time for a cooked breakfast. We then cruised down to the next winding point in order to turn us around to face in the right direction and then back as far as Aldermaston Lock. Pip found Robbie’s extra pair of hands useful for all of the locks and road bridges, he made a big difference. He left us here, having taken the helm for a spell and we were joined by Sue and daughter Kat for another pub meal. By the time we finished it was after three and our plans to get back to Newbury by dark were looking very unlikely. We pressed on but quickly decided to moor for the night and to leave early the next morning for the marina.  Mooring points, however, were nowhere to be found with a high underwater ridge along the towpath side of the canal visible just below the water line. Every time we attempted to go alongside to tie up, the boat grounded on the bottom so we had to press on.

By the end of the summer the reeds have taken over, making the canal just wide enough to get through



By this time we had renegotiated the turf lock, detailed in the previous blog, and were approaching Monkey Marsh – where the CRT had allowed the reeds to grow very thick on both sides of the canal – leaving a channel a few inches wider than The Frog.  It was now so dimpsy that I decided we would not risk this stretch and we decided to moor just west of a small swing bridge, unusually on the ‘waiting’ mooring points – knowing we would leave early in the morning before any other boaters came by. Normally mooring on these waiting points is a definite no-no but there was literally nowhere else to stop. Our alarm was set to ensure that we got up in time to move off before any other boat came along.


Preparation for our year long adventure also includes kitting out and trying to think of everything we need – knowing we are bound to forget something. With limited space for storage we have to be very selective as to what we take and cannot take things ‘just in case’.

We have commissioned solar panels for the roof and these will be fitted later this month. I will give more info in a future blog for any ‘teckies’ interested in the panels chosen.  At this point I am trusting a very experienced marine electrical engineer who did a great job on our errant Inverter – see early blogs – to supply and fit them.  Four panels will be mounted on two rooftop storage boxes that we are having made by a local carpenter.  They are not cheap but we want them made to specific specifications so buying ‘off the peg’ was not an option.  They will be finished and painted and will hopefully look the part as well as giving a great bed for the panels and of course extra storage.  Stand by for pictures once they’re finished. Having all of this coming together is making it all seem very real.

This is the image we gave to our carpenter who assures us he can create something similar with solid lids to house the solar panels.

If you have read previous blogs you will already have ‘met’ Derek – who owns our Marina and came to our aid when the toilet blocked.  Derek is long suffering and his eyes are often seen rolling skyward as we ask yet another school boy question.  Our front well (the area in front of the cabin at the bow) fills with water whenever it rains.  On one occasion we arrived back at the marina to find the water about a centimetre below the bottom of the door to the cabin. Too close for comfort.   A lot of narrow boats have high wells with a water tank or storage below and a step down into the cabin.  This allows the boat builders to cut a hole on either side of the well allowing water to run out above the waterline.  The Frog’s deep well makes this impossible.  I was puzzled how water was supposed to run away – when I spotted a hole in the deck.  I asked Derek what this may be. The eyes went skyward again and he pointed out a small bowl and float pump sitting under the well deck just below the hole – muttering: ‘Didn’t you think to ask this when you bought the boat?‘ (expletives deleted to protect the innocent).  One screwdriver inserted in the hole and several leaves removed saw the water in the well run down into the bowl and trigger the float pump – a joy to see water leaving via another undiscovered hole on the port side.  My embarrassment continued however…..

I was concerned that maybe some of the water from the well had found its way into our hull.  I opened a hatch at the head of our bed just inside the stern door in a bid to explore where it may have settled.  Under this hatch was a big space – or at least what should have been a big space – but it appeared to be filled with a piece of equipment – not previously found!  Peter the electrician helped us pull the equipment out – to discover it was a tumble dryer!!!  This was puzzling.  What was it doing there? 

Further investigation solved the mystery.  In front of the dryer and under the bed were double doors – allowing access. Like many narrow boats the bed had originally been built across the boat and had to be lowered each night to full length.  In this orientation the doors were fully accessible.  The previous owners had obviously decided to turn the bed through 90 degrees to save the daily routine of folding the foot of the bed out prior to retiring – ‘trapping’ the tumble dryer in doing so.  Derek was beside himself with disbelief that we appeared to have bought this boat wearing a blindfold and a gag – only now slowly realising what we have – for  good and ill.   I placated him by offering him the dryer for his communal area free of charge. He accepted and stopped tutting. 

With the dryer gone I could see an inspection hole showing the hull below.  Water was lapping at the floor and about to breach – so again we found this just in time.  Derek lent us his wet vacuum and I emptied the cavity.  Peter the electrician identified a broken float pump which should have emptied this space automatically.  A repair and a new switch later and we replaced the floor – happy and slightly more knowledgeable following our misadventures. 

The saga continues with the Pooh Knife (not kidding) – next time!

The last word is Pip’s (nothing new there then):

It has been bought to my attention that I made an error in my last blog, in which I stated that some of the lock gates are original and over 150 years old. Whilst the mechanisms that raise and lower the paddles are sometimes originals, the lock gates have a life of around 25 years after which time they are replaced. Thank you to one of our eagle eyed readers who pointed this out to me and I am happy to say I am now better informed. I can’t promise that I won’t make mistakes in future, but I will try and fact check a little closer.

No.12 Getting into the SWING of things

Our first trip alone, out on The Frog, had us attempting to meet up with my brother Robbie and his family at a pub in Burghfield, near Reading.

Following on from our previous blog, and after a full day of cruising, operating many locks, swing bridges and our first encounter with a road bridge, we found a beautiful canalside pub at the lovely village of Woolhampton: The Rowbarge. Luckily we found a mooring just big enough for Rob to skillfully parallel park our 58′ boat in. After securing the mooring pins into the bank with our trusty lump hammer and ensuring that both the bow and stern lines were in place and not obstructing the tow path, we set off to explore the surroundings.

Woolhampton is a picutresque village which straddles the A4, the main road that eventually leads to London. It has a small railway station, bizarrly called Midgham station and not Woolhampton station as you might expect. Appartently it used to be known as Woolhampton station but it caused too much confusion with Wolverhampton station in the Midlands, some 125 miles away!! Travellers were unable to tell the difference and so it was changed to Midgham (a small village a mile away) . Seriously?

Beautiful old cottage, situated right next to Midgham station in Woolhampton

We waited patiently at the level crossing gates as a fast train en route to London went whizzing past us, giving such a contrast to our own extremely slow mode of transport.

Woolhampton is very close to the village of Bucklebury, that has become more well known in recent times as the village where Catherine Middleton (or the Duchess of Cambridge as she is now better known) grew up. I can’t see her getting stuck in with operating lock gates – a bit beneath her now as it does make one’s tiara slip so.

Following the road up towards the main part of the village we passed an old house with a clock built into the wall. It must have been an important building once if it needed to tell the village what time it was. It reminded us that there was another hour yet until we were due at the pub, giving us plenty of time to explore the village further.

One more hour until G&T O’Clock.

There were so many interesting buildings in such a small village that we spent most of the time craning our necks looking up at them all. Being situated along the main road to London, a lot of the buildings were once Coaching Inns that have now been turned into very desirable houses. A particularly nice one was an old bakery, established in 1875, with the original sign painted on its side, letting all of those who pass by know that fresh bread was on hand. How lovely that they have opted to keep this little bit of history unchanged.

The Old Woolhampton Bakery, though there was no sign of a New Woolhampton Bakery anywhere.

The Old Corner shop was certainly very old, a lovely tudor building, built in 1560. Sadly though, it was just after 5pm when we got there and it was closed.

Not a straight line to be seen in this lovely old tudor style building.

We had a lovely meal at the Rowbarge Inn that evening and returned back to the boat feeling very pleased with our solo efforts thus far.

The next day saw more road bridges, 3 in total, all involving stopping traffic and waiting while Rob slowly edged past the waiting mororists. The hardest one was directly after the Rowbarge as there was a lock to open just prior to the bridge. The sign on the canal bank advised boaters to first set the bridge to open prior to leaving the lock as there was not much room to manoevre between the two and there was a strong lateral current. Sound advice on paper but much harder to execute when it meant waiting until Rob and the boat had entered the lock and I had opened the paddles to empty the lock. As soon as it was emptied I had to open the lock gate and then had to sprint, windlass in my hand and not forgetting the bridge key, down the hill, over the road bridge to the other side to start the whole bridge opening procedure. Traffic stopped, gates lowered, bridge starting to swing open when I looked up to see that Rob was only just leaving the now empty lock. Time seemed to stand still as I waited for his slow approach to the bridge, all the while trying not to make eye contact with the now many motorists whose lives we were inconveniencing. Wanting the earth to swallow you up had never seemed more appropriate. Once he was through and I had closed the bridge and lifted the traffic barriers, I then had to cross the busy road, run up the hill back up to close the lock gates before I could rejoin the boat further up the canal. All of this certainly helps to keep you fit.

One more challenge came at a lock not far from our meeting point at The Cunning Man pub in Burghfield. A lot of the lock gates on the canal network are original and well over 150 years old. Some of the mechanisms are old and not as efficient as they should be. At this partiular lock, Rob motored in to the full lock, he is now so adept at it that I only need to open one of the pair of lock gates and he skillfully steers in with less than a couple of inches clearance each side. Once in, I swung the lock gate shut and started to go the bottom gates in order to open the paddles and empty the lock. As I was about to open them, I looked up to see that the lock gate, that I had just shut, had swung fully open. I dropped the windlass next to the bottom gate and ran back to close the top gate. Having closed it for the second time, I started to run down to the bottom when Rob shouted that it had swung open again. And not only the one on the side of the boat, but the other one too! Clearly the gates were faulty and would prove a huge challenge. Opening the paddles to empty the lock was not only futile but a huge waste of water if the top gates were not fully shut. We scratched our heads a moment and concluded that Rob would have to secure the centre line of the boat and come ashore to help me. I climbed across the lock gate to close the far one while Rob held the nearside one closed. I would then sprint as fast as I could to open the paddles quickly, hoping the the flow of the water out of the lock would keep the gate closed. This would have been a foolproof plan if the gate on the far side had not swung open, yet again. With both of us holding the gate closed, one on each side, at the top, meant that there was nobody to open the paddles at the bottom. Tying the gates closed was not an option as they are so strong and big that it was doubtul that a rope would hold them.

We could be stuck here for some time.

Getting into the swing of things. Literally.

Finally, our salvation came in the form of two ladies out for a stroll on the beatiful September day. They were more than happy to lean on one of the gates, while Rob secured the other one and I opened the paddles as quickly as I could.

Not sure how solo boaters would manage that one?

We ended our journey with a lovely family meal with Robbie and Sue, as well as nieces, nephews and even great nieces too. And a very well earned pint of local ale for Rob and a Gin & Tonic for me.

We needed those drinks.

Tomorrow, we had to do it all in reverse…..

No 11. Bridge of Sighs (not the one in Venice)

One of the benefits of having our boat moored at Newbury is the close proximity to my brother Robbie and his lovely family. Having family around is something that we have had to do without living in Cornwall and its what has prompted this big change in lifestyle and eventual relocation to be near to those granchildren who are in the UK.

Robbie lives in Reading, less than 30 minutes from our marina and18 miles by road. By canal it is closer, just 13 miles away but the canal planner said the journey would take just under 10 hours. The route takes in 16 locks and 11 moveable bridges in those 13 miles and that is each way of course. So getting there and back on our 3 day weekend would take some doing.

A challenge we just had to take up.

Mooring for Cunning Man, one of the many canalside pubs that are a welcome distraction for boaters

A family gathering at The Cunning Man, a pub just half a mile from Robbies house, was arranged for Saturday night. We set off as early as we could on a Friday morning in mid September, the sort of day that makes you think that summer will go on and on. It was warm, sunny with not a single cloud in the sky, perfect boating weather. The canal was calm, the blackberries in the hedgerows ripening nicely in the warm sunshine and there were lots of people up and down the tow paths taking advantage of the sunshine while they could, knowing how changeable our weather can be.

Within the first few minutes we encountered our first lock. Our routine is one we have more or less perfected. Rob points the bow towards the bank and as soon as it is within a stride, I nimbly jump off, windlass in my hand, giving the bow a bit of a push to get the boat back away from the bank. Not always very graceful but it works. At some point I know I will have to learn to control the boat so that we can share these duties, but a sunny day in peak season on one of the busiest canals is neither the time nor the place. Something we will save for another day.

We then press on and not too much further along is one of the many swing bridges that lie between us and our final destination (that sounds a bit grim, but you know what I mean).

The canals were built initially for transportation, following the contours of the land, but sometimes it encounters an obstacle that needs to be overcome. In this case, its a road that is in our way. Usually when roads are built then a simple solution is a bridge and there are some very pretty humpbacked bridges along our way. Humped bridge building, however, is not always possible and for some smaller roads or footpaths, the swing bridge was invented. These bridges are usually made of steel, are incredibly heavy and work on a pivot motion. Moving a tonne of metal would be impossible for one person, but putting it on a simple pivot enables these giant structures to move with relative ease.

This type of bridge, usually involving a footpath, will always be encountered closed to canal traffic and need to be opened to progress. The bridge is locked shut by a strong chain, attached to the bank. On the end of the chain is a large metal pin, round and threaded at the bottom, and square shaped at the top, the shape that fits my windlass exactly. This is then screwed into a hole on the bridge deck. A quick turn of the windlass should loosen it enough to then unscrew by hand and to be removed completely, leaving it lying on the bank. There is usually a large handle on the bridge, that when pushed, should start the bridge on its swing. The bridges are extremely heavy and once they’ve started moving they can be quite hard to stop. They take on a life of their own and it you’re not careful, they can swing so hard that they hit the ‘stop’ and start coming back, finishing up at their starting position. My first few attempts must have looked hilarious to all but me, as I curse at this inaminate object that is causing me so much frustration.

Having opened the bridge and controlled the swing so the bridge is fully open, Rob then steams through and I do it all in reverse. Though this time I’m pulling on the barrier to bring the bridge closed. Again, it swings all over the place and often takes several attempts before it rests calmly on the bank so I can line up the pin with the hole, which isn’t easy. A quick turn of the windlass and its all ready for the next boater, someone hopefully more skilled than me.

One of many swing bridges that have to be moved to allow us to continue on our journey

Not too much further along we encounter yet another swing bridge. This one proved almost impossible to move for a weakling like me, so Rob had to pull the boat into the bank, secure it with a rope and jump off to help move it. Even with two of us, it proved almost impossible to open. But not opening it was not an option as the canal was not wide enough to turn around and spending the rest of our days in the middle of nowhere was not our plan. With a final effort, we managed to get it moving, but as it was so heavy it soon took on a mind of its own. We spent a lot longer than 10 minutes on that one.

Next we went through a very unusual lock, Monkey Marsh lock. This is one of only 3 turf locks left in the country and is an example of the original ‘cheaper’ lock design from when locks were first built in the early 1700s. Instead of the sides of the lock being brick, here they are natural vegetation with a wooden frame built around the lock, enabling solo boaters to get on and off their boats. This design means that the lock is much larger than normal ones and uses lots more water and takes considerably longer to complete. Its easy to see why the design was changed. There is a large information board on the side and it was really interesting to read its history.

We had never encountered such a lock before and it took a while for us to figure it all out. Its always good to try new things and to challenge yourselves but we really didn’t enjoy this particular new thing. It took twice as long as other locks, slowing our journey down even more and I certainly would’t want to do it as a solo boater. On our way back we were behind just such a person and we were quick to help him out, not just to enable us to get under way a bit quicker but to make his life easier too. He was very grateful.

Another new thing that we met along the way were movable road bridges for more major routes. Some roads have bridges built to cross the canals, but this is not always possible in somer terrains and so the swing road bridge is an obvious solution. These are always mechanical which should have made them easier to use but the process involved in getting our boat past them is anything but easy, as I was about to find out.

Firstly, I jump ashore, taking my trusty waterways key with me this time, and not my windlass. Remembering to take the key is always the first thing that can go wrong. Approaching the bridge there is a large metal box with a key hole and instrument panel. There are several buttons on there and it’s important to do things in the right order. As the bridge involves traffic crossing it, usually in a tremendous hurry, the first thing to do is to stop the traffic. Turning the key enables the buttons to be pressed, without the key nothing happens. This is a safety measure, preventing numpties coming out of the pub from doing it just for a laugh. Key turned, next I have to press the traffic signal button. Firstly the traffic lights begin to flash, warning motorists that something is about to happen. An alarm then sounds, telling any pedestrians on the bridge that they only have a few seconds to get off. Keeping the button pressed, not only makes your finger numb but also causes the barriers to come down, basically stopping all traffic. Once that has completed, you then press the open bridge button, keeping steady pressure to keep the mechanism moving. The bridge then slowly, very slowly, starts to swing. It feels like it takes an eternity to open. I can feel the eyes of the drivers sat in their cars burning into my back as they wait to carry on their merry way. Slowly, very slowly it finishes its swing. Once the bridge is fully open then it is clear for Rob to come steaming through. Going less than 1 mph. I can only imagine the drivers cursing us and wishing that the boat would move a bit faster. Once he’s safely through and out of the way, then more button pressing to close the bridge, also very slowly, then raise the traffic barriers allowing motorists to once again carry on with their busy lives. Whilst waiting for Rob to steam past, I counted over 20 cars waiting on my side to cross, with almost as many again on the opposite side. This was one of the most nervewracking things that I have done, I was paranoid at doing things in the wrong order and felt terrible about inconveniencing so many people, just to continue on our journey. Though I suppose living where they do, they should be used to it.

The power that I can wield with just one little key!

I know we were once like those motorists, living life in the fast lane and always in a hurry. As it is impossible to do anything in a hurry on the canal it has made us slow our lives down and appreciated things as you go. Its all about the journey, not just the destination. I only hope that one or two of them enjoyed the majestic sight of our lovely shiny boat crusing slowly past them before their lives speeded up again.

I’m doubtful though.

Safety barrier to stop cars driving into the canal when bridge has been open.

We decided to call it a night at the lovely town of Woolhampton. The Rowbarge, a charming pub dating back to 1850 and conveniently situated right on the banks of the canal made the perfect place to stay the night.

Swing bridge with the Rowbarge in the background. Our home for the night.

Too much to fit into one blog so sharing the rest of our journey will have to wait until next time.

Thanks for reading.

No 10. Around the world in 80 days

As mentioned in previous blogs, we were very lucky to find a couple who were prepared to move our boat from Northampton to Newbury, mutually beneficial as we get a free boat move and they get a free boat holiday (normally costing about £1,000 a week in the height of the summer). A win win situation and we were so grateful to my sister in law, Sue, for putting us in touch with Neil and Jackie.

They came to meet us in Stoke Bruerne (see our tunnel horror blog). This was our first weekend out on the boat since completing on the purchase of The Frog. Neil had some experience with sailing yachts but neither of them had ever set foot on a barge until that day. How brave they were but they showed no signs of the terror I would have been feeling in their situation.

You may remember we planned a short trip with them down the Grand Union – taking in 7 locks in each direction (so 14 lock ‘experiences’ in all). We were amazed at how quickly and proficiently Neil got used to manoeuvring the boat in and out of the locks. He really was a natural, cautious but nevertheless, a natural. Jackie was enthusiastic working the locks and caught on very quickly with the order of events when approaching a lock as well as leaving. We were feeling very confident that our boat was in good hands.

Neil took to boat handling like a duck to water.

We studied the online canal planner tool as well as our canal guide books and worked out a route that took them up the Grand Union Canal towards Napton Junction, taking in Braunston Tunnel along the way (remembering to switch on the headlight!). Then on to the Oxford Canal, until The Isis Junction (named for the Romans not the terrorists). Then on the River Thames (non-tidal section) to Reading and then on the Kennet & Avon canal ending up at the final destination of Ham Manor Marina in Newbury.

Simples.

Canal Planner said that it should take a total of 62 hours or just over 8 days of steaming for 7 hours a day, covering 129 miles. Jackie and Neil are both retired and said that this schedule would not pose a problem. Jackie has grandchildren duties on a Monday every week but was able to outsource this commitment for the one Monday that she would be away. They would start their journey at the beginning of August and aimed to be in Newbury by 9th or 10th.

We all seemed happy with this plan and after a very brief moment of panic at handing over control of our treasured possession and our future home for 12 months, we gave them the keys.

Jackie kindly offered to add me her preferred list as we both have I Phones, this enabled me to track her phone’s movement so that we could easily see their progress. I have to admit that I became a little obsessive over the first couple of days, checking a few times every day. Not a good idea when all I became was frustrated at their lack of progress, worrying that there had been a mechanical failure.

What we had failed to take into account when planning this trip was 2 very vital points.

  1. The canals are extremely busy in August, with lots of people on holiday, most of which are completely inexperienced and consequently, very slow at locks.
  2. That it had been an unexpectedly dry summer and that canals had time restrictions. They close certain sections from 4pm until 9am every night by padlocking lock gates and so making them impossible to use. This causes long queues at the locks by boats waiting for them to be opened.

They bravely pressed on, taking all of the obstacles in their stride. Jackie rearranged her grandchildren duties and they never once moaned to us about the time it was taking.

They picked up my brother Robbie and sister in law Sue in Reading and had them for company while they sailed through the centre of Reading, right through the Oracle shopping centre (fulfilling a wish of Sue’s) and dropped them at Burghfield, just a mile from their house.

Oracle Shopping Centre with a canal running right through it.

Neil and Jackie finally arrived at Ham Manor Marina in Newbury 16 days after leaving. Some minor damage of a broken TV aerial, a few scratches, dented chimney and a chip out of the wooden trim from the cratch at the bow, all easily fixable. Considering that this was their first trip on a canal boat, things could have been a lot worse.

We are so grateful to them and it has made our lives so much easier having the boat at a closer location and we hope that they enjoyed their canal holiday, even if it was an extended holiday.

It has also given us a new appreciation of how impossible it is to stick to a schedule while boating. Something that won’t be a problem once we cast off this spring on our year long adventure. We have the luxury of not having to be anywhere at any given time and can really look forward to going where the fancy takes us.

Bring it on…..

No 9 – I can’t help falling in, love

Having allowed Rob free reign to do the last blog, its now my turn so you can expect more humour and less technical stuff. Whilst I agree that there needs to be some technical stuff for those of our readers that have never experienced how boats and canals work, so making future blogs make a bit more sense, but I’m a firm believer that humour can be injected into almost anything. A bit of laughter helps all situations and as things have a tendency to go wrong on a regular basis, its always good to laugh at yourself.

Many years ago I experienced my first canal boating experience with Rob. I had been on a few trips with my children in the past but this was our first shared experience. So we took a holiday with 4 of our 6 shared teenage children and set off to do the Warwickshire Ring. Mark, my middle one, was very adept at driving and steering the boat and so spent almost the entire week taking the tiller, we felt very confident in his hands. Early one morning whilst the children were all sleeping Rob decided to have his morning coffee outside in the lovely sunshine. Whilst enjoying the scenery, he noticed that the centre line on the roof of the boat needed tidying and that it needed doing now. He decided to walk down the narrow gunwale on the side of the boat to sort it out (pronounced gunnel). The gunwale is about 4″ wide and is very useful to enable access along the outside of the boat to the bits that can’t be reached any other way. So, Rob is walking down the gunwale to reach the rope, using the rail on the edge of the roof to steady himself, but for some unknown reason he has his coffee cup in the other hand. It was early in the morning and the sun had yet to burn off the dew and moisture on the boat and no matter how careful he was being, he missed his footing and ended up entering the canal with a huge splash.

Rob has never been a very strong swimmer and his immediate reaction was to thrash about wildly, gasping for air, mildly resembling someone about to drown. I sprang to his assistance but didn’t have the strength to pull him onboard, so I calmly suggested that he see how deep the water was while still holding on to my hand and the side of the boat. Shame he hadn’t done this before his mad panic, as when he stood up the water barely went past his waist! I really should have thought about his feelings before I burst into fits of uncontrollable laughter, but I really couldn’t help myself.

Luckily, the only thing damaged was his coffee cup and his pride.

Rob still cannot resist something that is out of place, not quite shiny enough or generally not 100% perfect. He is not as extreme as someone with OCD but he is fastidious about having things looking their best. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a slob and pride myself on having things clean and tidy also but nothing seems to match up to his standards. Sometimes I come close but he still cannot resist moving something ever so slightly or coming along behind me to sort something that I didn’t do just right.

Shortly after our boat’s arrival at the marina in Newbury we had a weekend up in the glorious sunshine and thought it was the perfect opportunity to give the boat a good wash and polish. We have several portholes that are encased in chrome and they look so much nicer when they’re polished and buffed so they glint in the sunshine.

Shiny paintwork always looks is best when the sun is shining.
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I needed some supplies and the marina has some shops very conveniently placed within a short walking distance. We have been able to get almost all of the things that we didn’t even know we needed until the very moment that you can’t do anything else without them. There is a huge B&Q, just behind the fence on the edge of the marina, perfect for screws, tools and all things hardware, next to that is a Dunelm for all our bedding and kitchen essentials and beyond that a Tesco for everything else.

I set off with my shopping bags and left Rob to use the hose pipe connected to the shore water tap, happily leaving him to his washing and polishing. I was gone about an hour as my list was long and I needed to go to all 3 superstores.

Upon my return I noticed that Rob was not wearing the same clothes as earlier. He looked a bit sheepish and then recounted his tale of woe to me.

He had been trying to polish the porthole on the starboard side of the boat, the only way to reach was to go down the gunwale. Annie, the narrowboat next to us was moored less than 3 feet from us so he thought that if he straddled the gap by having one foot on each gunwale as he walked down the side of the boat that this would ensure that he had extra stability. This would have been a very sensible plan as long as the sunshine didn’t cast shadows and make you think that the gunwale was wider than it actually was.

SPLASH

This time, however, I was not there to lend assistance and he was entirely alone. He did have a narrow nylon rope to hang on to though, the same rope that he had tried to grab to stop him falling in in the first place, stopping him going into complete meltdown. A quick stretching of his leg told him that the water was deeper than the last time he had fallen in and he could not touch the bottom. Rob quickly realised that he would have to haul himself out this time, and would need to move towards the back of the boat to do this. He admitted later that he was quite worried that he might drown and would not be discovered for sometime as he was in a concealed position.

After a short time of weighing up his options, he decided that he could use the boat alongside ours to give his feet something to climb up and so he placed his back against our boat and slowly inched his feet up until he was almost horizontal and the same height as the wooden jetty. He was then able to roll out. All of this was done with no one to see his crazy manoeuvres and he thought that he might get away with nobody knowing of his latest mishap. Until now.

Ouch! Maybe using a narrow nylon rope to prevent a fall wasn’t the most sensible thing to do.

A bit more than his pride was hurt in this latest mishap.

Never a dull moment!

Yet more misadventures for us to chuckle at, and whilst we hope that things will run smoothly for us, we hope we never lose the ability to see the funny side of any situation.