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Archive for January, 2009

Technical: Getting our Webasto Fixed

Posted by indigodream on 25 January, 2009

We have been really happy with our Webasto. It has been running for almost 3 years without any trouble and kicks out a decent amount of heat.  In November we noticed it had stopped by itself a few times, so perhaps time to get it looked at. We had the boat booked in to get serviced by someone a bit more expert before we went down to Excel so thought get them to look at the Webasto. JP Marine had a look at the boiler, told us it was normal for the them to stop every so often (we now know that is wrong) and ran some diagnostics on it which suggested that all was working well.

On our last day outside Excel our Webasto died. The burner had simply coked up,  definitely time for a service. We thought that JP Marine would be only to willing to help as they had run the diagnostics on it but we’re still waiting for them to come back with a quote. So we needed to find someone else who could service the Webasto, hopefully someone based near Limehouse where the boat is based at the moment. Now Limehouse is not exactly the centre of a thriving narrowboat repair area but there are a few truckie people nearby who are Webasto service agents so first thought was why not try them? Hopeless (“Can you drive down so we can have a look? Thermotop C, ooh what’ s that, you had better give us all the numbers you can find on the machine and then we will get back to you”).

We turned instead to Max at PR Marine  in Chelsea Harbour Tel: 07984 943754. The address bit was a bit scary but his charge for driving across London to Limehouse and doing the work seemed reasonable so we booked him in to do the work on Saturday. It all looked good ’til he rang on Thursday that his supplier could not get him the service kit – seems there is an issue getting them over from Germany. A quick call to those nice people at Kings Lock Chandlery – problem solved. They had 4 on the shelf but the service kit is eye-wateringly expensive.

r_rugby-25jan2009-008

Emergency Bow Hauling Teams practising?

Yes, our Webasto was badly coked up. One bit needed cleaning, the main burner needed to be replaced but we gather all is working well now. We haven,t been back to check as we went to watch a bit of rugby instead!

We had a good long chat at the Boatshow with the Man from Webasto who said “No No No you must NOT run the Webasto just for an hour as it will coke up. Give it a good burn, at least 2 hours”. So our policy this autumn of setting the Webasto to come on for just 1 hour when it is frosty is probably to blame :-(. We will know better in the future but not sure how much difference it will make – Max’s advice is to service every year. Mind you that is also British Gas advice on domestic boilers but we only get ours serviced every 12 years as all they seem to do is come look at the boiler, say it looks nice, have a cup of tea and go away.
Other nuggets of information on Webasto from the Boat Show:

The timer that comes with the Webasto is c**p, well perhaps that is unfair it is very good at doing what Webasto intended it to do, namely turn on the Webasto once at any time in the next 24 hours but that is nowhere near enough to be useful. BK Marine and now Kings Lock supply a 7 day timer which is much better but surprisingly it is not approved by Webasto. They are still assessing something with pretty LED lighting. As far as we are concerned the 7 day timer is the business and might now be sold as a 14 day timer.

Having been on Tony Brookes‘ engine maintenance course we have loads of filters on all our diesel lines. Even the Webasto has a sedimentor and an agglomerator. JP Marine were a bit sniffy about it, saying it is not recommended and wanted to remove our filters. The Man from Webasto this time said “Yes have some filters ” but interestingly he said Red Diesel is fine when it leaves the refinery, the problem is what happens to it afterwards. Based on our experiences on Dragonfly with the Mikuni, having filters is a wonderful thing.

The staff on the Webasto stand had a cut away Thermotop C and explained just how easy it is to replace the burner unit yourself. Only thing is that it is a bit tricky to make sure you have correctly bleed the system, and to do the job properly you need to make sure that the CO is set at 14%. Getting a Max to do the job is a goodie.

Whilst I was waiting for Max to turn up at Limehouse I chatted to one of the locals. Seems that the boats in the marina have had a rash of  central heating units going. The best story was of a guy with an Eberspacher which, to be honest, had never worked right. despite several people having looked at it.  An engine fitter fitter finally solved the problem – the fuel line was off a tee from the main engine feed and far too small a diameter. He put a proper feed in direct from thehis  tank, heater now works a treat.

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Escape from the Royal Docks

Posted by indigodream on 22 January, 2009

Tuesday 20th January

The dream by moonlight

The dream by moonlight

As often happens when we need to get up early, I was awake a little before the alarm just in case I missed it! 5.15am – it was dark but the sky was a deep, deep navy studded with the few bright stars brave enough to outshine the local street lighting. There was a half moon hanging above us and there was no weather to prevent us from moving on.

We’d all been pretty warm overnight under our various wrappings, though getting out from under the duvet was quite painful.The temperature had dropped into single figures in the absence of heating. We optimistically tried the Webasto again and were rewarded with clouds of white smoke billowing from the exhaust. We hadn’t realised at the time but our fellow boaters were quite concerned, thinking that our engine was spontaneously combusting!

City Airport just coming to life

City Airport just coming to life

Richard managed the near miracle of getting the dogs out of bed; considering that they wouldn’t normally get up before 10.30am at home this was quite an achievement. But we knew that once we set off, the dogs would be confined to the boat until we arrived at Bow Locks.

At 5.45 we left our moorings with the rest of the convoy and cruised down the silent docks. Now, you could argue that any body of water with 6 diesel powered narrowboats could never be silent. But there was such a stillness, a muting of our normal experience, as we cruised along darkly, marked only by our twinkling stern lights. As we set off, a thin layer of cloud covered the moon and completed the sense that we’d been transported to another land. As we moved along I was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of comfort, of home, of, of porridge? What? I shook my head and came back to the present and the delicious smell of golden syrup pouring thickly from the turrets of the Tate ‘n Lyle factory and spreading unctuously over the docks.

Waiting to lock out of the Royal Docks

Waiting to lock out of the Royal Docks

But although it’s unheard for us to be up and out that early, there was life in the dock – the shaded blocks of flats were randomly punctured by lights as commuters got ready for the daily toil on the railways. In the meanwhile, we cruised by unnoticed.

But in all fairness it was dim rather than pitch black on the water and we were in no danger of colliding with other members of the convoy or the ghost of the Navy warship being towed towards the lock ahead of us. As well as our stern lights, we had the headlight on and the light from surrounding buildings carried a long way over the water. This was especially true at City Airport which was brightly illuminated – from the yellow flashing lamps on every vehicle right through to the floodlights on the runway.

The airport was the reason that we had to set out so early. They really don’t like boats. They’d insisted that we had to get past the end of the runway before their flights started at 6.30am. So we ended up moored on an old dock wall just outside the lock for an hour or so. Funnily enough, where we moored for the hour was very near to the end of the runway, about a mile closer than we had been in our original mooring spot – go figure! I didn’t begrudge the early start though, well, not much, ok, I might forgive them one day…..

A new alien to go with the new Doctor Who???

A new alien to go with the new Doctor Who???

Richard, in the meantime, enjoyed every bit of it – he was entranced by the darkness, loved the reflections of the lights, the way Canary Wharf glowed in the distance, the strangeness of the moon etc etc. He seemed quite disappointed when daylight crept up on us while we were waiting for the lock. One of his great ambitions is to cruise up the Thames just before dawn and experience the thrill of being overtaken by a swell of rising sunshine from the East.

We put our waiting time to good use. The dogs had sensibly gone back to bed so they needed to be wrapped in blankets again. We needed our major stimulants, bacon rolls washed down with coffee; we chose a full strength coffee variety which soon slapped me into wakefulness. We checked the boat yet again and sorted our lifejackets (Blue and Lou were not impressed at being made to get up for this procedure).

Blue and Lou all wrapped up warm

Blue and Lou all wrapped up warm

I think this sequence of checks was being repeated in all of the boats, and for most of us, our craft were fine. But Fair Fa’s engine wasn’t at all well. Diesel first-aid failed to resurect the ailing mechanism and although they called an engineer it was obvious that they wouldn’t be fit in time to join us on the tideway. We were so sad to leave them behind as we cruised into the lock but we were already late and it was touch and go whether we catch the tide.

Here’s the plan, we needed to lock out of the Royal Docks on a rising tide in order to catch Bow Creek with enough water to get us into the Bow Locks. There was a backup plan of moving on to Limehouse instead but we’d need a fair bit of water there as well. Unfortunately the warship insisted on going out first and it took a long time to get them organised with their escort of tugs and various paraphernalia.

Instead of leaving on the rising tide we got out onto the Thames at around high tide. This meant we really were on a deadline and pushed our boats against the falling water.

Panacea dwarfed by the Woolwich Ferry

Panacea dwarfed by the Woolwich Ferry

We really didn’t want to end up on the mud outside Bow Lock but our anxieties were blown away by our enjoyment of the river. I’m sure that you’ll get fed up of reading about it – “it’s big” you’ll say, “it’s the Thames Barrier” you’ll add, “so what, get over it it” you’ll yell. Because I can’t ever imagine that we’ll tire of this trip and we’ll always be fascinated and amazed by this great river’s immensity. Just as Indigo Dream is a tiny mote on the river’s surface, so we are in its long history. This river has seen it all and will flow unheeding through the time and space long past our adventuring days.

But enough with the lyrical – there was less chatter on the VHF today so when the Woolwich ferries started out we had no idea what they were doing. But we just kept a lookout and we managed to dodge each other nicely. I wonder what the pilots of these huge vessels make of our tiny boats bobbing about? Maybe that’s why the VHF was so quiet – they’ve kept their riper comments for a private channel 🙂

Passing unseen under the gunwhales of the Caribbean ID

Passing unseen under the gunwhales of the Caribbean ID

This time we passed right under the Tate & Lyle ship being unloaded. Ok, I’ll say it again, it’s so BIG. It looked pretty large from the other side of the river but we had no idea, really.

Then back to the Thames Barrier. This time I’d resolved to look up at Barrier Park and wave at any onlookers. I was disappointed that the park was deserted and went back to saying ‘wow’ as we passed previously unnoticed wharves and pilings in the centre of the river.We waved enthusiastically at a huge boat going the other way but they must have thought we were a bit of flotsam and didn’t wave back!

One of my abiding memories came after we’d passed through the barrier. We’d been overtaken by a Clipper Ferry much earlier. They’re very fast and often produce a prodigious bow wave. We’d been protected by the barrier but as soon as we emerged we saw a long wave, only about 18 inches high, moving across the water towards us. Our straight line of narrowboats turned our bows to the wave as one, precisely angled, perfectly synchronised, like an opening louvre. The boats rocked gently as the wave passed under us then we turned, as one, back into the main current.

Turning into the waves - a memorable sight

Turning into the waves – a memorable sight

I was on the helm for most of the trip up the Thames and I know it seems obvious, but there’s a big difference in the feel of the helm compared to a canal. There’s such a sense of movement and depth beneath the keel. It wasn’t choppy on the river but the phrase ‘restless wave’ came to mind as the currents shifted and flowed beneath us.

I relinquished the helm by the O2 so that I could get some photos of the dogs looking at the stadium. Blue is a supermodel but Lou has to be dragged out by her collar. We still got some decent photos though – we have to plan for NEXT year’s calendar!

We turned reluctantly onto the Bow Creek – we LOVE the Thames. As we turned we suddenly became very aware of how low the tide had fallen. The water was rushing out of the creek at an alarming rate. The high tide mark was way above the water level and mud banks were emerging from the soupy water. We looked around for the seal but it wasn’t around today – I did think that maybe it had swum out with the tide. Those

Who pulled the plug out???

Who pulled the plug out???

agile waders were around again – until we hear differently our friend, Steve, (who came on the trip down with us) has identified them as Redshanks.

It’s funny. but I’ve always been aware of the changing tides and how rivers empty dramatically. I’ve monitored the Thames closely from my old office; I enjoyed watching the Severn drain away to leave a new landscape. But there was a visceral immediacy to the draining of the Bow Creek. I was so aware that the water might be running away faster than I could drive up the river and that any minute we’d be grounded and stuck on the mud until the next high tide. We gunned the engine but politely stayed behind Doris Katia and Barnaby who were in front of us. When we got to the lock, Doris Katia and Barnaby were already in and Panacea were due in next, but they were way behind and out of sight somewhere behind Fulbourne. There was no time to hang around so we made a dash for the empty space.

In all fairness, the lock-keeper was desperate to help us all to get off the Bow Creek before it drained down to nothing. He was opening the top paddles as the bottom gate was closing and as the lock reached capacity was urging us forward to the gate so that we’d be out as quickly as possible.

Then all of a sudden our adventure was over. There we were back on the Grand Union. Doris Katia waited for the others to lock through, Barnaby was bound the Lee Navigation and we turned towards Limehouse.

We were filled with a mixture of elation and exhaustion as we cruised back towards Limehouse Basin. To say we’ve enjoyed the trip is a completed understatement – it’s been amazing. Maybe all the more so because we’ve had the blog to look forward to afterwards!

We’d booked ourselves into the marina and how quickly we got back to the mundane. I felt as if there should be bunting, and maybe a small brass band, and definitely a round of applause to celebrate our valiant return. But we just moored up at the service pontoon and pumped out our bulging toilet tank.

Richard got back into the bilges and pumped out the last of the effluent while I packed up. I was pretty speedy as the boat was freezing without any heat but Richard was as reluctant as ever to leave, even though he was involved in a pretty filthy job! But the real world was calling and we had to go back to it.

Thanks again to Andrew Phasey and the St Pancras Cruising Club for organising this jolly.

Update:

We plan to cruise back to Uxbridge over the next few weekends but it all depends on getting a Webasto engineer to fix the heating. you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find one! For reference, Pedro, an engineer who regularly visits Limehouse Basin, doesn’t do Webastos but is apparently very good otherwise! We got through to Max of PR Marine based at Chelsea Harbour and he will change our burner for us on Saturday providing that the parts arrive on time. Burner Service Kits seem to be a bit elusive but fortunately good old Kings Lock Chandlery had 4 on the shelf and are getting down south by special delivery.

Vet Update:

Our vets were despondent – the credit crunch was finally taking hold as Blue and Lou hadn’t visited them in 2009 yet. They needn’t have worried. Last week we had our first visit of the year was with Lou who bruised her ribs when she cornered too sharply while chasing Blue and bashed into a garden bench. But the biggest bill of the year (so far!) belongs to Blue who has been badly bitten by a fox. In all fairness, Blue started it! But he now has 15 stitches in his face and is so bruised he looks as if he’s gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson. His poor old face looks so painful I can barely look at it. Goodness me, is there no end to these dogs’ misadventures……

Photoblog:

Waiting for the Navy boat to get out of the lock

Waiting for the Navy boat to get out of the lock

Finally in the lock

Finally in the lock

One Woolwich Ferry

One Woolwich Ferry

 

Fulbourne playing with the Woolwich Ferry (again)

Fulbourne playing with the Woolwich Ferry (again)

Approaching the Thames Barrier

Approaching the Thames Barrier

Getting burnt up by a Clipper

Getting burnt up by a Clipper

 

Through the Barrier

Through the Barrier

 

Blue AND Lou at the O2

 

You never know what's round the corner....

You never know what’s round the corner….

 

The front of the convoy entering Bow Creek

The front of the convoy entering Bow Creek

 

Back of the convoy still on the river

Back of the convoy still on the river

 

Bow Creek

Bow Creek

 

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Another day at the Royal Docks

Posted by indigodream on 22 January, 2009

Monday 19th January

We’d been told that the decision on whether we’d be going for the lock would be transmitted at 5am. Having seen the dreadful weather forecast Richard sensibly set the alarm for ten to five. Just as well, the 5am text actually postponed the trip by 24 hours. If it had been a goer then you might have seen the first naked helmswoman! Instead we leapt straight back into bed. It’s only there that I can indulge in my favourite boating activity – lying in a comfy bed under a thick duvet listening to the rain hammering on the roof and thinking ‘glad we’re not out in that!’ The dogs seemed equally happy not to have to get up so we were a truly contented crew.

We eventually emerged at around 10.30am and sat around drinking coffee and eating hot cheese and bacon baguettes (food of the gods!) until nigh on midday. What a life! Made all the better, of course, by a phonecall from a colleague who was spending his Monday morning toiling down the M5 for a meeting – I tried not to sound too smug 🙂

Don't they look like toy boats in this huge dock!

Don't they look like toy boats in this huge dock!

We had no plans for the day other than our usual vague desire to make Indigo Dream more habitable so we set out for a chat with the others in the convoy and went for an explore with the dogs. We were a bit frustrated to find that it was known LAST NIGHT that we wouldn’t go out today as the Royal Navy were not going so no crew at the lock – we wish that little snippet could have been passed on.

But after such a luxuriously relaxed morning we forgave the communication management and happily made the best of the day. By now the weather was dry and breezy and we wondered whether we could have gone out in the morning after all. But as we walked round the dock and eventually got to the river the wind was very brisk and there would have been the added complication of the torrential rain, darkness and poor visibility. We had no regrets!

The view from Barrier Park - Tug Major going upstream

The view from Barrier Park - Tug Major going upstream

We walked around the dock with the dogs scampering around joyfully and Blue finding every gap in every wall that led to a car park or other forbidden area (as per usual). We walked round the dockside and marvelled at how tiny the narrowboats seemed from the other side. We were fascinated by the old dock structures and by the ‘Millennium Mills’ – a vast derelict building. We wondered when it was built – too modern to be ad999 and way to old to be ad1999!

There’s a lot of modern housing on the south side of the dock and it’s completely obliterated any traces of the relationship between the dock and the industries it served. What were the transport links? Was it just horse and cart, train, truck? Where did all these goods go? Once more we needed a pocket historian to tell us these things.

Our walk took us away from the dock and in trying to find a path back to the very end of the dock we found Barrier Park instead. This was a fine and well-fenced park adjacent to the Thames Barrier with a magnificent view of the river. Dogs had a great time here – it was secure enough to let them off the lead and big enough to make it worthwhile. Blue had his usual ‘I’m so independent, I’m not with them’ rummage while Lou went back to her roots and raced round on her own imaginary track, winning all the medals.

Richard thought the barrier looked small (without any boat to give it some scale!)

Richard thought the Thames looked small (without any boats to give it some scale!)

We had one of those serendipitous moments here.  As we were admiring the barrier and commenting that this was the perfect location for taking photos of the narrowboats passing through when we saw some small craft approaching from the East. It was Tug Major, dutch barge Young Adam and another anonymous widebeam who’d locked out early afternoon. We took lots of photos and waved madly – but they looked like matchstick boats to us so we must have been nigh on invisible to them. We made a resolution to look out for the park the next day when we went through the barrier. We were surprised to see them, they must have locked out of the Royal Dock at low tide and were toiling upriver. With a vigorous headwind the wide-beam had to work very hard in order to make any headway. In the meantime, Young Adam surged past them all with power to spare.

A commanding view of London from the 'flying' bridge

A commanding view of London from the 'flying' bridge. Tiny blue blob in the corner is Indigo Dream

We walked back via the flying bridge by Excel. It’s so high you catch a lift up to it and it gives a panoramic view of the docks and City Airport. Dogs don’t like the lift but they did enjoy a high level scamper across the bridge deck. By the time we’d admired the view we’d been out for the best part of two hours but the excitement wasn’t over yet. As we passed by Excel we spotted the helicopter again. It was being prepared for being lifted onto a truck for the return journey (too much local air traffic for it to actually fly home). Oddly enough, it was missing its rotors but still had a torpedo/bomb in its cradle! We had a chat with the Fleet Air Arm transport crew and found one who was intending to take a narrowboat along the Kennet and Avon later in the year. As we know the K & A very well he was given advice and directions until he glazed over. Seriously though, I think he’ll have a wonderful time. He’s starting from Bradford on Avon and is taking out a Royal Navy narrowboat. We thought instantly of the Royal Airforce narrowboat we met last summer – at least it make more sense for the navy to have one!

The as-yet undeveoped Millenium Mill; The floating pavilion belongs to the environment agency

The as-yet undeveloped Millenium Mill; The floating pavilion belongs to Thames Water!

We also had a chat with the crew of the Barnaby, one of our intrepid convoy, who have done some very interesting cruising. They told us a little about their trip across the Wash and how great it was. Richard’s eyes lit up with interest and I groaned – I can feel another adventure coming on, but only if he can work out how to keep two greyhounds happy on a non-stop 12 hour journey!

We got back to the boat with two very tired dogs and settled in for the day’s real activites – cleaning and DIY. We’re weren’t feeling terribly focused and distracted ourselves with a mini-cruise across the docks to the water point at the sailing school. There aren’t many facilities on the docks but the sailing school did let us fill with water and dispose of our rubbish. We gave one of Fulbourne’s more entertaining crewmembers a lift across with their toilet bucket, as the sailing school also let our convoy use their disposal facilities. Shame they didn’t have a pump-out. The water pressure was low and we got the chance to chew the fat with the man from the sailing school, Fulbourne’s crew and the crew of the Fair Fa. It was probably the most genial fill of a water tank that we’ve ever had.

Possibly the only mode of transport that Blue and Lou haven't tried...yet!

Possibly the only mode of transport that Blue and Lou haven't tried...yet!

Back at the mooring I did two of my ‘must-do’ jobs by clearing out the food cupboard and sorting through the linen store. I got rid of a load of out-of-date cupboard stocks, some of which must have been out of date when I bought them. I must get in the habit of checking all sell-by dates not just those of more perishable items. I also re-packed the guest linen into vacuum storage bags. These are brilliant – not only do they reduce the pillows and duvets to about a third of their volume (you suck out all the air with a vacuum cleaner) but they also stay dry and fresh. When I disintered one vacuum bag of sheets they came out as fresh as the day they’d been laundered. Not bad for a bag of linen that’s been stored in an unheated cupboard for the best part of 2 years. I must buy some more, but where do we get these quirky items now that Woolworths has closed?!

In the meantime Richard got into the bilges and vacumed out a load of rather mucky looking water in a smelly engine compartment. He didn’t tell me at the time but he was a bit worried that we’d developed a leak in the hull and were slowly sinking. The stern was certainly low in the water. I’m glad he didn’t tell me, there are some things I just don’t need to know! As it happens there was a different explanation.

An immense view to take you away from the minutiae of the toilet saga!

An immense view to take you away from the minutiae of the toilet saga!

Yes, I’m afraid it’s another toilet saga – it seems to be the season for them! In our case, we hadn’t realised that our toilet tank was full to bursting – the green light was on and we’d made sure we got a pump-out before the big trip. Alas, we hadn’t factored in that we’d done the pump-out before having the toilet serviced and that the engineers must have run a load of water through to check the connections. Anyway, the result was that the pressure had blown a tiny hose connection which happened to be the tank gauge and the toilet tank had happily been discharging into the bilges – nice! The loss of tank gauge hose and the easing of pressure into the bilges explained why the red light warning of a full tank didn’t come on until Richard re-connected it. So, Richard had unknowingly spent his afternoon up to his ankles in sewage and there was more to come before we finally twigged what the problem was.

The prospect of a rapidly filling toilet tank when we were moored in a place with no pumpout facilties spread the first bit of gloom and despondency. The next bit came when we realised that the Webasto was not coming on and that the boat was getting colder and colder. We tried allsorts but by 10pm we had to finally admit that our heating was dead. This made us extremely gloomy – we were ok under our super-thick duvet but I was concerned about the dogs. We draft-proofed the boat (and no, we didn’t block the vents) padded their beds, wrapped them in their coats and pyjamas then covered them with two blankets each. You won’t be surprised to hear that they were absolutely fine!

With the prospect of a 5.15am alarm call on Tueday morning we went to bed feeling cold and less than happy – an extremely rare state on the Indigo Dream…….

Photoblog:

The sheer scale of this river is astounding

The sheer scale of this river is astounding

Dutch Barge Young Adam and an unnamed wide-beam braving the barrier

Dutch Barge Young Adam and an unnamed wide-beam braving the barrier

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A Day at the Boatshow

Posted by indigodream on 21 January, 2009

Sunday 18th January

We had a leisurely start to the day after waking up to blue skies, cool breezes and bright sunshine. There was not trace of last night’s tempest and, blessedly, no damage done to us or the boat. Blue, in particular, was tired after his disturbing night on board; Lou, of course, is always up for a day in bed. So after a brief walk, we went off to the boatshow with barely a twinge to our collective consciences at leaving the dogs behind.

Excel - bigger than my home village in Wales!

Shadows of ther old dock cranes stalking the vast Excel building

As Adam mentioned, there was very little at the show for the inland boater and it seemed much smaller than two years ago. It was also miraculously quiet considering it was the last day. Even so, it took several hours to walk round the show, research our wish-list of random parts and have a drool at the Bavaria yachts and other expensive toys. Bavaria make something like 2000 yachts every year and it shows in the very clever finishing. Obviously we would not want a plastic narrowboat, but if people like Bavaria were to build narrowboats that could be very interesting.

After a first run round, we went back to the dogs, measured up for a few bits and pieces then went back into the fray. We got some great ‘end of show’ discounts which made it all worthwhile. Richard’s boating DIY list is now that much longer as our search for the self-fitting gadget continues 🙂

As the show was relatively quiet we managed to have a good chat with some of the technical reps. The guys on the Victron stand were very helpful, great combination of good gear and good backup. Webasto was confusing as the new distributers from Kings Lock and the guy from Webasto were not quite singing from the same hymn sheet yet with some prodding both were very helpful – mind you we have found Kings Lock good to deal with in the past.

A miraculously co-ordinated marching band finished the show with a flourish

A miraculously co-ordinated marching band finished the show with a flourish

We were out to buy some new pmr radios but could not find any at all at the show. We talked to Icom about their new digital pmrs, very smart kit but they are simply too big. We went to the Redcar Electronics stand and asked them why no pmrs, got a bit of a tired end of show answer. We explained and told them that we had bought our vhf radio from them in the past. They woke up and offered a combined vhf and pmr portable for a remarkable £69 but again too big.

One top tip if you’re visiting the boatshow – it is terribly hot and stuffy in the exhibition halls. I get caught out every year when I wear warm clothes for the blowy walk to Excel then get faintingly hot in the show itself.

After a successful (and feet achingly long) day in the show, I couldn’t be bothered to wander around the restaurants just to be served another poor meal. The local Spar shop was surprisingly good and I was able to whip up chicken tortillas and finished up with a luscious GU toffee pudding. We also replenished our beer supplies (very important!).

No safety equipment up there, well, apart from the high vis jackets which mean we'll see them when they fall!

No edge protection, no harnesses, dismal lack of safety equipment up there, well, apart from the high vis jackets which mean we'll see them when they fall!

But by now we were starting to think ahead to the morning. We were due to move the boats at 5am but we had forecasts of winds of anywhere from 20 – 40 miles per hour. We didn’t fancy it but we were aware of the fact that we were in a convoy and that we’d likely stay or sink (!) together. We pressed our leader, Andrew Phasey, for a decision as we could nip home and get a day’s work in. But he wouldn’t let us off the 5am start – that’s when the decision would be made.

We’re not morning people so this made us groan and grumble but there was nothing for it. We couldn’t control the morning but we could, and did, decide to end the day with a good meal and slumped contentedly on the sofa with Blue and Lou while we watched Dancing on Ice on the telly – bliss!


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A night at the Royal Docks

Posted by indigodream on 21 January, 2009

Saturday 17th January

With our cruise back to Limehouse due to take place at an unearthly time on Monday morning we thought we’d spend some time on the boat soaking up the ambience of the Royal Docks, visiting the boatshow and generally pottering around.

Night scene at the Royal Dock

Night scene at the Royal Dock

We arrived at the boat mid-afternoon, just in time to welcome Adam and Adrian from Debdale. We haven’t had the chance to invite any of our blogging friends (if I can presume) onto the boat before. I was a little nervous looking around Indigo Dream’s grubby interior – Adam’s used to so much better when he gets to review lovely new craft for Canalboat magazine. I needn’t have worried – they were tactful and charming guests and a bottle of wine and canal chit-chat soon took care of a couple of hours.

It was such a thrill to meet them – especially Adrian who calls himself the ‘silent partner’ on Debdale’s blog. I was delighted to find that he’s far from silent in person! In his blog Adam is typically modest when he says he met Lou. It just doesn’t to justice to the event – it was love at first sight; well, on Lou’s side at least. She absolutely idolized Adam and he spent the entire visit tickling her tummy and stroking her ears while she lay next to him on the sofa, rested her head in his lap and looked up at him adoringly. We will publish the photos but they are on the camera we forgot to bring home with us!. Blue typically treated everyone with disdain!

As you’re aware. blogs come in various different shapes and sizes – Debdale’s is beautifully contained while ours is luxiuriously lengthy. Small wonder – I found out that in his non-blogging life, Adam writes professional articles averaging 90 words; in the meantime, the last training pack that I wrote came in at 60,000!

Adam and Adrian’s visit was definitely the highlight of the day. Soon after they left we found that we’d left the dongle at home and without it we didn’t have an internet connection – disaster! I volunteered to go home and fetch it – I had an amazingly effective trip home with all train connections working beautifully. Even so, I’d lost the shine off my usually sunny outlook by the time I got back. In the meantime, Richard’s task was to wear the dogs out on a long walk – they needed to run off the stress of yet another trip up on public transport.  I think I got the bargain here as it was pretty cold and gusty around the docks.

With our respective missions accomplished we set off to explore the restaurants scattered around Excel. We weren’t naive enough to think they’d be cheap but we we were surprised by the general lack of quality. The pub looked promising but the live band was deafening so we tried the nearby Italian restaurant – Zero Sette (70). Everywhere was packed with staff from the boatshow which may explain why we had a miserable meal – the service was chaotically slow, inefficient and we’ve never been to a restaurant before that managed to make a mess of garlic bread! The first portion was cold, we sent it back, their next attempt was luke-warm but they seem to have omitted the garlic. The main courses were tasteless, unless you count the taste of salt, the addition of parmesan at least elevated the flavour to that of salty cheese!

We did bump into the crew of Young Adam, the exhibition Dutch Barge who’d travelled down to the boat show in our convoy. We were pleased to hear that they’d had a busy show and had lots of interest in the barge. They’d also manage to order a palatable meal at the Italian restaurant though they’d apparently bombed at the adjacent chinese with their order of shredded jellyfish!

We were a bit out of sorts as we strolled back to the boat but we were relieved to get back on board just as the storm of the winter rolled over us. We offered Blue and Lou a walk but they peered out of the hatch and went straight back to their beds! No wonder, as the night wore on the winds increased to what must have been the forecast 38mph and we were in for a rough ride. The boat pitched and tossed in the wind, heeling over to bang against the dock wall then swinging back to allow the waves to thrash alarmingly around us. We were well tied and secure but it was still scary.

Blue cuddling up to Lou for comfort in the storm

Blue cuddling up to Lou for comfort in the storm

I think it’s the noise that bothered me most – apart from the general buffeting, the  sound of the water flowing so ferociously around us was akin to the sensation you get when you put your head under the water in the bath then let the taps run. When the wind finally abated at around midnight, it was replaced by absolutely torrential rain. I was left awake and wondering gloomily which would be wetter – abandoning ship and standing on the shore or just going down to the bottom with the boat!

This is where the mettle of the crew was tested. Me and Blue fretted and paced and jumped every time the boat moved in the roaring wind. Richard and Lou slept through the whole lot unconcernedly.

The storm abated in the wee small hours and I finally got some sleep, having resolved that if the forecast for Monday was anything like this then NO WAY would we be venturing on to the river.

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Technical: Magnets Galore

Posted by indigodream on 15 January, 2009

For our trip back up the tideway we are due to leave the Royal Docks at 6am, actually it is worse than that as the plan is to leave our moorings at 5am.  So we need lights.

We had previously bought some very dinky port and starboard navigation lights from asap supplies and fitted them before we set out.They are great as they are very small and discrete.  The stern light was a bit more of a problem, based on the speeds that the Clipper Ferries go on the Thames a big obvious stern light seems a good idea, we got a substantial light made by Hella  from the helpful Uxbridge Boat Centre but how do we fix it? Our curved solid back does give a fixing surface but a light would spoil our art work and also be liable to get knocked off in the back of a narrow lock.

So I looked for stick on magnets and found  a great range of stick on magnets at first4magnets, I settled for a pack of 10 magnets each 50mm x 10mm for £7.50 and they seem to be the business. The light sticks fine to our rear steelwork and slides off ok for storage.

Magnetic hooks

Magnetic hooks from first4magnets.com

They also do some great magnetic hooks.  Sorry you traditionalists but we keep ropes permanently attached to our mooring bollards which is very handy but hard to keep ropes tidy – hanging 2 ropes off our tiller pin may be a bit much ….. First4magnets have a range of magnetic hooks, some of which are a bit silly as they can carry a load of 110 kg! Understandably they come with a health warning about pacemakers and getting parts of your anatomy caught.  I went for the more sensible £2.25 ones and was surprised as to how powerful even these were. Coupled with some nifty garden tool storage hooks from Mortons the Padlock in Redhill they make perfect rope hangers and all with no drilling.

That said drilling is not so bad, just be careful what you use.

Self drilling, self tapping screws seemed a nice easy choice but to be honest they are trouble. The sort of screws you buy in the DIY sheds are simply too soft and don’t work well. Proper fixings made by companies like Fixing Point Systems are great – look for an “Fp” on the head. Superb hard steel, sharp drilling points but in my experience their biggest use is for drilling into relatively thin sections – 1 or 2 mm thick steels. I only had the naff screws, nothing decent so went looking.

There are some great shops in Croydon for this sort of thing. For those of you that know Croydon, Turtles has sadly closed but there is a great shop which seems to specialise in stainless steel screws – Capital Supplies Ltd, 87 Boston Road, Croydon, Surrey CR0 3EJ Tel: 020 8665 5520. I went there for a chat, they suggested that I drill and tap and they had all the bits. Top Tips: Buy drills just to use with taps. Keep those drills and taps in separate boxes, not rattling round in your tool box getting blunt. Use cutting lubricant. Turn the tap twice then back back to clear the swarf. Otherwise really easy so drill and tap definitely really easy to do.

Dog Update

The dogs have had 2 days in Richard’s office and 1 day on site in Bow. This no doubt means that copious quantities of sausage sandwiches have been consumed but they now look even more tired then Greygal‘s dogs!

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Boat Blog: Limehouse Basin to the Royal Docks

Posted by indigodream on 9 January, 2009

Thursday 8th January

We have a truly wonderful morning’s cruise today – words can hardly describe it but I expect I’ll find a few anyway!

When we woke up this morning we were surprised and relieved to see that it hadn’t frozen overnight and that temperatures were much milder than we expected. On the other hand, we may just have become used to the cold!

We were joined by our friend, Steve, proud owner, together with his wife, Margaret,  of nb North Star which is safely tucked away in her mooring on the Oxford so Steve decided to join our crew instead. Unfortunately Margaret couldn’t make it and Steve generously looked guilty for having such a good time throughout the cruise!

Bow Lock

Bow Lock

We set out from Limehouse Basin at around 7.30am for the short trip up Limehouse Cut to the Bow Locks. The sky was just lightening and Limehouse Basin looked quite magical. It’s even better at sunset! A BW tug had been through yesterday to break up the thick ice and had repeated the trip this morning, even though it hadn’t frozen overnight. This made for an easy but still slightly crunchy trip up the canal. A few early morning construction workers were amazed to see so many narrowboats travelling up this normally quiet stretch; they waved and

shouted encouragement (well I assume it was encouragement!) from their lofty perches of a half-built high rise.

The cruise was immaculately organised as always and we locked through Bow with three other narrowboats – our leader nb. Doris Katia, nb Barnaby and the ever faithful nb Panacea who we believe has supported this cruise for many years. The lock-keepers were very informative and helpful and we found another greyhound fan. A lady lockkeeper rescues greyhounds herself and is completely barmy for the breed – sound familiar? Blue and Lou were admired through the cabin windows – it was far too early for them to be showing any signs of activity!

Industrial Bow Creek

Industrial Bow Creek

The tidal Bow Creek is a wide and winding stretch of water offering alternative views of the distantly wealthy Canary Wharf and closely crummy scrap yards and other industrial remnants. As with all tidal stretches, it’s hard to imagine that this large waterway is down to a trickle in the mud at low tide. Today’s tide was quite high and we had plenty of water.

There were a few things of note here. Even though it’s so industrial, there’s a surprising amount of wildlife in the Bow Creek. The first you may be able to help me with. There are large flocks of birds here – they fly like swallows and are amazingly agile in the air despite the fact that they look like small ducks. When they land, they’re obviously waders. They have greyish plumage and red legs. I have so far failed to identify them – any ideas? But our wildlife highlight was the sight of the bobbing head of a seal (or maybe sea lion) not far from the creek mouth. We had to get our binoculars out as it had sensibly ducked under the water when we went past though it popped up just in time to give tug Major a fine show behind us.

Assembling the convoy at Bow Creek mouth

Assembling the convoy at Bow Creek mouth

Like the construction workers earlier, the seal seemed amazed to see the convoy of narrowboats!

We had a brief wait at Bow Creek mouth while the last of the convoy (8 boats in all) caught up, then we set out onto the enormous expanse of the Thames. This is only the second time that I’ve done this but the view you get as you cruise from Bow Creek to the other side of the Thames is my all time favourite. There’s the sheer immensity of a huge tidal river full of water, the surreal sight of the almost crystalline buildings of the Isle of Dogs, the looming bulk of the O2 Arena and the sudden change of scale as we noticed the gigantic craft moored and moving on the tideway.

The last time we did this trip we didn’t have a VHF radio. This time we did and it was extremely useful. Doris Katia, the lead boat, had taken responsibility for communicating with the Thames VTS on the convoy’s behalf but we listened in on channel 14. It was interesting to hear the ‘chatter’ on the airways but, more importantly, we were more aware of what

Crossing onto the tideway

Crossing onto the tideway

was going on around us. There was a substantial amount of water traffic, all much much bigger than us and it was tremendously reassuring to know what they were doing (so that we could take the appropriate evasive action!). I’ll tell you more about that later.

After the thrill of entering the tideway we settled down to cruising down a river that was as calm as a millpond. The air was still and there was a faint haze on the water which let us feel as if we were going back in time to when the river would have been busily smoky and full of industry. Although we were steering to the right of the navigation, the banks seemed a long way away. I can’t describe the sheer euphoria of it so I’ll borrow some words from a proper author – Kenneth Graham and the Wind in the Willows:  “Then suddenly the Mole felt a great awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror–indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy–but it was an awe that smote and held him”

Such an evocative riverscape....

Such an evocative riverscape....

Just as well I wasn’t on the helm. While I was looking around and going “wow”, the lads had picked up on the vhf that the convoy had  to stop while a huge ship turned into dock in front of us. In the meantime I happened to look back and saw a rather large barge heading straight for our stern! I was a bit concerned but they knew what they were doing and with a bit of jinking they overtook us on the right to get to their own mooring.

After all this big ship manoeuvering we got the all clear for the Thames Barrier and off we went. It’s a great piece of engineering and seeing a long line of narrowboats weaving between the piers was very impressive. Needless to say, we were utterly dwarfed by the barrier!

The next impressive sight was the huge Tate ‘n Lyle works on the left. There was a large ship moored there and we watched the loose cargo of something being scooped up into the air. I wondered if it was raw sugar – I always forget what an exotic product sugar is.

Approaching the Thames Barrier

Approaching the Thames Barrier

Passing the Woolwich Ferry was our next adventure. If you haven’t seen this before then you have two ferries that are easily capable of carrying a substantial number of cars and lorries. They tend to set off at the same time and cross each other in the middle of the channel on their way to the other side. It takes them minutes to cross then a lot longer to unload and load. As we approached both ferries had docked and were loading up – we thought we had plenty of time. But then the one ferry moved out. In theory we had right of way but who is going to argue with a craft that’s towering over 6 metres above us! This is where the VHF came into its own as we caught a transmission from the ferry saying that he was letting us past and would be crossing behind us. The ferry pilot opposite said the same so we knew we could keep going. Later on, we heard London VTS warning a big tug behind us that we were about to turn and then Tug Major saying that we would let them go past before turning so again we knew what was happening.

The waltz of the Woolwich Ferries

The waltz of the Woolwich Ferries

We turned into the lock slightly reluctantly; it was absolutely wonderful on the river, conditions couldn’t have been more perfect and there was a real temptation just to carry on until we got to the channel! They only used quarter of the lock today and we could still have fitted our convoy in many times over. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long for the lock and we slowly rose up to the level of the Royal Dock.

As the lock gates open there’s a remarkable vista. It may sound daft but there’s an overwhelming feeling of ‘flatness’ – the flat expanse of empty water and the flat length of City Airport’s runaway, barely 2 metres above the waterline. The aircraft were taking off and landing right next to us in a strange juxtaposition of old and new technologies. But there was a sweet irony as the instruction came over the VHF for us to pass down the dock as

Locking into the Royal Docks

Locking into the Royal Docks

far away from the runway as possible. Was this for our safety, no! It’s apparently because the sheer mass of steel packed into a convoy of narrowboats interferes with their navigation equipment 🙂

It’s hard to get a feel for the sheer scale of the docks but if I tell you that it takes around half an hour to cruise from the lock to the end of the dock then maybe that’ll give you an idea. We passed by the Excel exhibition centre with it’s displays of multi-million pound cruisers and, surprisingly, a range of shiny new narrowboats. We hastened by, Indigo Dream is looking a tad shabby by comparison, but if the owners of those new boats have as much fun as we’ve had then they’ll soon join us in the authentic shab brigade. Of course, we mustn’t forget the Royal Navy warship with its grim young crew glowering over the side.

City airport at the Royal Docks!

City airport at the Royal Docks!

It was with some regret that we moored up – what a magnificent morning we’d had. Steve was the perfect boat guest – his enthusiasm shone from every pore and it was thoroughly infectious. He was also a very competent helm and general crewman. He can come again!

The convoy ended with everyone crowded around Doris Katia and their generous crew who were handing out mugs of scotch and irish whiskeys. A tad too early for me but an evocative way to end the morning before we wended our way back home

Dog Blog

Blue and Lou treated the tideway with utter disdain. Our first challenge was to get them to stand up for long enough for us to get their life jackets on. With that task accomplished they both went back to bed and totally failed to be impressed.

Tideway? Bothered?

Tideway? Bothered?

They did take a quick peek at the tideway but once they established that there weren’t any cats, squirrels or rabbits on the water, yes, you’ve guessed it, they went back to bed.

But they’ve had a very stimulating two days. They’ve been on the train, underground and boat. They were exceptionally well behaved considering what an alien environment this is for them. After all these experiences, Lou was a bit out of sorts today. Blue, on the other hand, took it all in his stride and accepted all the attention with aplomb.

They were both relived to be at home. Lou couldn’t wait to get into the house and snuggle onto her favourite and familiar duvet. She seems in much better spirits now – there’s no place like home.

Photo Blog

We took around 200 photos during our trip and, unfortunately, this post format doesn’t lend itself to displaying that many photos.

We’ll work on that over the next few days and let you know when/where they’re available.

In the meantime, here are some of us and the dogs have a good time.

Blue enjoying the view

Blue enjoying the view

Steve the temporary skipper

Steve the temporary skipper

Blue at the O2

Blue at the O2

At the Thames Barrier

At the Thames Barrier

Tug Major

Tug Major

r_royal_docks_8jan09_033a

Get's a bit crowded at times ...

Get's a bit crowded at times ...

Fair Fa'

Fair Fa

Fulbourne

Fulbourne

Waiting for one of the big boys to cross

Waiting for one of the big boys to cross

Exhibit boat Young Adam

Exhibit boat Young Adam

Royal Docks Paddle Gear

Royal Docks Paddle Gear

View back down the docks

View back down the docks

The group celebrating a successful trip

The group celebrating a successful trip

Spar Shop Delivery

Spar Shop Delivery

Bow Creek at 2pm

Bow Creek at 2pm

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Boat Blog: Getting ready for an adventure

Posted by indigodream on 8 January, 2009

Wednesday 7th January

We started our preparations for our tidal adventure by travelling up to Limehouse Basin from Surrey.

“So what” I hear you cry, but we came up by public transport with the two greyhounds.

Blue and Lou on a commuter train!

Blue and Lou on a commuter train!

Actually, Blue and Lou are brilliant on trains – they’re calm and unusually obedient. Blue, who is normally the more nervous of the two, was fine today, while Lou, who is normally very bold, got a bit stressed. But we had our secret weapon – two fluffy blue blankets. Put a fluffy blanket on any floor and they’ll automatically do what greyhounds do best, lie down and relax. Of course, we had to be bit sensible, we travelled mid-afternoon so that they’d have plenty of space and the extensive research on dog-friendly tube stations meant that we had smooth transfers.

We got to the boat by 2.30pm-ish and were relieved to see some of the boats that were booked onto the convoy – Dutch Barge ‘Young Adam’, nb Fair Fa’ and nb Fulbourne. That meant enough boats had come through the ice to make the trip worthwhile. But Doris Katia, our leader, hadn’t yet arrived – they’d planned to toil through the ice during the afternoon with the remaining boats from St Pancras. It was still early though, so we settled down to do a bit of work and to prepare the boat for the transit. Richard finished the wiring for the stern light and did all the engine checks. We decided not to check the prop until after we’d picked up whatever garbage was going in Limehouse Cut the following day!

We love it here in Limehouse Marina – there’s such a friendly atmosphere. We chatted with Robyn, the marina manager, and Lou barked at her gorgeous dog, Biggles; we chatted with the driver of the BW tug who’d obligingly broken the ice in the marina; we chatted with the crew of the yacht that was moored in front of us. We had a thoroughly convivial afternoon which made our boating chores (like watching the water tank fill for half an hour) go all the more smoothly.

By now the dark was drawing in and the St Pancras boats still hadn’t arrived. But then we heard the crackle of  ice and there they were, nb Doris Katia, nb Panacea and nb Barnaby. We were also joined by Tug Major who’d come down the tideway and who would be our informal safety boat. So, the convoy was complete and, with BW’s assurance that they’d break us a route up to the Bow Locks, we knew we were on for the big voyage.

Andrew Phasey giving us a graphic briefing

Andrew Phasey giving us a graphic briefing

We met up with the various crews in the Cruising Association bar where Andrew Phasey, arguably ‘skipper’ of the Doris Katia and undisputed organiser of this trip gave us a comprehensive briefing. It was reassuring and supportive, though we fully understood that we were captains of our own destinies, in the form of our well-prepared narrowboats, functioning life-jackets and working VHF radios.

Afterwards, we stayed on in the bar and enjoyed a few drinks and some very good (and very cheap) food. When we did this two years ago I was too reticent to go and talk to the other crews, consequently I didn’t get to know anyone. This time I did a round of the tables, making a thorough nuisance of myself while trying to get to know the other crews. It was great to talk to other committed boaters and chew the waterways fat. Don’t ask me for people’s names though, I know all the people in the park by the names of their dogs, likewise everyone in the bar will forever be known by the names of their boats!

I was particularly fond of the crew of Tug Major who were really lovely. We had the common experience of owning shares in a boat and had a productive chat about the different ways of getting along with other owners! We also got acquainted with the skipper of  Fair Fa’, who was still smiling despite having had a horribly eventful year in 2008. We were kindred spirits because he has two gorgeous dogs (alas not greyhounds) and we we had a long chat about the highs and lows of sharing our lives with hounds.

A nightime view from Limehouse Basin

A nightime view from Limehouse Basin

It’s a bit pathetic, but by 9.30pm we were knackered so back we went to the boat. Not before time – you could hear Blue whining right across the marina. We got back to a rapturous welcome and Richard took them out for their constitutional. The heating had gone off while we were out – the Webasto seems to have settled on working for 67 minutes then turning itself off. Why? It shouldn’t be turning itself off at all; or at least it should be turning itself back on after a decent interval, Bah!

We wrapped Lou in her pyjamas and dived under our snug duvet. Richard’s not know for being romantic but he did warm up my side of the bed before I got in – aaah. Lou woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that she was hungry, she needn’t have, there was food in her bowl. Once she’d eaten that she got back on her bed and finaly settled once I’d rearranged her pillow to her satisfaction and covered her with a blanket. So much for the pyjamas keeping her warm all night. I

Lou in her PJs

Lou in her PJs

personally think she just enjoys the extra cuddles 🙂

Blue nodding off in his snug new housecoat

Blue nodding off in his snug new housecoat

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Boat Blog: Dancing on Ice (2)

Posted by indigodream on 6 January, 2009

Monday 5th January

As the forecast remained freezing we thought we’d move the boat down to Limehouse today rather than do the dash on Wednesday. I think we’ve done the right thing, the ice isn’t going to get any thinner;  the temperature’s going down to  minus 5 this evening and we had a job and a half to get into our berth at Limehouse as it was.

But I’m ahead of myself. We got to the boat around 1pm having left the dogs to rest at home in a warm house. We had a smooth journey up to City Road by public transport. This was a surprise – we’d had a blizzard in Surrey overnight and though there were only a few millimetres of snow on the ground that’s usually enough to bring the rail network to a halt.  We used our journey to scout for more dog-accessible underground stations on the way. I am gradually marking up a tube map with all dog-friendly stations. Our definition of dog-friendly being, of course, no escalators (they’re way too heavy to carry), though steps and lifts are fine. I’ll put a list on the blog someday if it will be of interest.

We were a bit alarmed to see that the boat that we’d left on an exact level with the towpath was now several inches below it. We did our usual paranoid owner check to make sure the boat wasn’t sinking! To our relief the pound had gone down by 4 – 6 inches,  we hastened to the lock to make sure that no-one had inadvertently left all the paddles open, sure enough someone had left a paddle part up (and the bottom gates were not closed). At this point, the canal was ice free and we’d hoped for an easier day’s cruise.

Alas, we soon caught up with the ice thought there was no rhyme or reason to its distribution. One minute we”d be in clear water, the next we’d be in an ice floe. There was one riddle which we totally failed to solve. Coming up to Old Ford Lock the ice was unbroken; below the lock it was well broken but there was no sign of a boat, moored or moving. Below the next lock, the ice stretched away in an unbroken sheet and it was virgin ice from there down to Limehouse. It’s a mystery!

There were many walkers and cyclists on the towpath but no other boats on the move. The people on the towpath were absolutely fascinated by Indigo Dream’s ice-breaking; phones and cameras were whipped out of back pockets and we were photographed and video’d every step of the way. One walker was agog as we tore through a long sheet of ice and actually changed direction to run alongside the boat to watch the show. Breaking ice makes the most extraordinary sound from the boat but I hadn’t realised how loud it was from the shore. Richard says it sounds like a pile of bricks or tiles being dropped onto a pavement from a  great height! The video’s from my phone so it’s not brilliant quality but I hope you get the idea…

Richard lock-wheeled the whole way to Limehouse which made it a very efficient afternoon. Sadly, every lock was set against us with all of the bottom gates left open and the odd paddle not lowered properly. We do wish that whoever went down before us had closed the gates – it made for a lot of extra work. I also wish that people wouldn’t use the canal as a landfill. We started the trip with the sad sight of a dead fox in the water and followed it up with every possible form of garbage. We were amused by the sight of a shopping trolley that had been rolled onto the ice and was sitting proudly on the canal surface. I had to laugh but my inner Victor Meldrew was going ‘grrrrr’ as we’ll probably have that round our prop on the way back!

We got to Limehouse just before 4pm and were faced by a sheet of solid ice. Getting to the berth was hard work with both of us using boat hook and barge pole to carve a path through to our berth. It took ages but we moored neatly behind a yacht that had been forced to stay on the visitor pontoon because they couldn’t break their way back to their own berth. Our adventures weren’t over though, the mooring of least resistance also put us out of reach of the shore power. Richard was fretting about the batteries so we turned the boat around, smashing yet more ice in the process.

We’ve been to Limehouse many times and have got to know Robyn, the marina manager, as well as many of the lock-keepers. There’s a great atmosphere here – the marina’s immaculately maintained and is friendly and welcoming. The staff couldn’t be more helpful and the resident boaters are an affable bunch; add to this the sense of history, impressive setting and lots of great eating places and you have the recipe for a really special mooring spot. No wonder it has a waiting the list the length of the Thames! We also found out that we don’t have to pay for mooring here because Packet Boat marina is also run by BWML and there’s a reciprocal arrangement. This instantly took around £100 off the cost of our adventure so it was good news on every front.

So we’re ice-bound in Limehouse until Wednesday. We’re keeping out fingers crossed that the rest of the St Pancras flotilla can make it through on Wednesday afternoon. Our next hope is that we can all make it up Limehouse cut to Bow Locks on Thursday morning to meet the tide.

Word check

I know I’ve used the word ‘Ice’ about a thousand times in these two blog entries – I can’t help it, it’s such a novelty for us! I did check the thesaurus for alternative words and it came up with ‘frost’ and haorforst’ neither of which I felt did justice to the crystalline shards being scattered by Indigo Dream’s bow!

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Boat Blog: Dancing on Ice (1)

Posted by indigodream on 6 January, 2009

January 2nd, 3rd and 4th

Well ok, we weren’t really dancing on ice, more like lumbering right through it.

We’ve had an interesting few days on the cut. Rarely, for us, we’re on a deadline – we need to get to Limehouse Basin by Wednesday evening in order to join the St Pancras Cruising Club flotilla down to the London Boat Show on Thursday. We’d allowed two days for the trip because of the short days but we hadn’t bargained with the ice.

Friday

Richard went up to the boat for some intensive DIY. We need to fix navigation and stern lights for our dark cruise along the Thames with the St Pancras Cruising Club. At this point, the marina was ice-free!

Saturday

We got to our home marina late morning on Saturday to find that the water was covered with ice. Luckily for us, someone had already been out – just as well. Moving through the ice just makes such a racket – it was a bit like trying to eat a packet of crisps at the cinema – Scrunnnch, oops, sorry, sorry, Crunnnch , sorry, sorry, finished soon, really sorry, crrraack. Well, you get the picture!

r_indigo-dream-dec08-001

I had this optimistic hope that the mainline would be clear but it was equally iced up. The only advantage was that the mainline had seen more traffic in the morning so we were able to move through the broken ice quite smoothly. Apart from the constant cracking and grinding of the ice it was unnaturally quiet on the canal – few boats on the move and those that were moored up were sealed up tight against the cold. We had a few curious curtain twitchers but no-one complained as we passed noisily by.

The good news is that I have finally worked out how many layers I need – I’ve previously got VERY cold on this stretch but this time I tried extra-thick socks, two pairs of fleece trousers, a thermal vest, t-shirt, thin jumper, thick jumper, thin fleece, super-thick fleece, balaclava, fleece headband and thick gloves. It worked a treat! I stopped worrying about style a long time ago but for this ensemble to work I had to let go of my dignity as well! Who cares, I was warm at last 🙂 In case you’re worried, Blue and Lou were bundled up in their warm coats and tucked up inside the boat with the central heating.

It’s funny but I’d been watching ‘record breakers’ on the telly the day before and saw a man break the record for wearing the most pairs of underpants in one go (137 I think!). Obviously the last pair of pants he put on was huge and I wondered what size of clothes I’d have to buy in order to fit enough layers on to be warm on the Thames? I may have mentioned it before, but it’s always degrees colder on the tideway and there’s always a thin wind.

It was a lovely day – crisply crystalline blue skies, blindingly pure sunshine and the cold creeping along the surface of the water, following the boat like a stalker. Despite the beauty of the day, the afternoon became a bit of a slog – the ice thickened up again once we’d turned off the mainline at Bulls Bridge. We did have a bit of respite at Willowtree Marina, where we stopped for diesel. The service here was very pleasant and there’s a good footpath nearby for the dogs to have a rummage while we waited for fuel. They accepted our self-declaration of 75% heating and 25% propulsion (actually worked out properly and not made up at all, honest, no really) which worked out at 92p per litre.

On we plodded until we got to the Black Horse pub. We’d hoped to get a bit further but though it was only 4pm but we decided not to push on to Perivale. Amazingly the canal at the Black Horse was totally free of ice which meant that we could actually get right into the bank to moor and there were proper mooring rings available. Of course, it’s also next to our favourite dog-friendly pub so what’s not to like, eh?

The Black Horse is close to Greenford Station so Richard headed back to ferry the car from Uxbridge to Limehouse. It didn’t take too long at all – the public transport seemed to be working in his favour. It was well worth doing and would save us LOTS of time on Sunday. In the meantime I took the dogs for a walk (still tucked up in their coats) – if you walk back along the canal the towpath is wide and well-fenced so it has the perfect combination of interest and security. When we got back I cuddled up to the dogs for warmth. The inside of the boat was actually toasting but it’s nice to get into a pack huddle. Well, I think it is, Blue and Lou weren’t so sure; even though I’d shed about 20 layers of clothing I still took up a substantial part of their sofa!

We had a curious problem with the inverter in the evening. I played a CD with no problem then the inverter just cut out with a ‘low battery’ warning. I applied the universal cure – turned it off and then on again. It came back on for a few seconds then cut out again. Even the optimist I tried this several times though the ‘low battery’ warning made no sense – we’d been connected to shore power then cruised for a few hours – the batteries should have been full to overflowing with power. We managed to confirm that by cunning use of a voltmeter. Our only potential explanation was a loose connection somewhere – Richard had done done a substantial bit or wiring for our cruising lights the day before and wondered whether he’d dislodged something.

By now it was too late to tackle the problem – we had lights, heating and the loo was working – nothing to panic about then! We just turned the inverter off and went down the pub. We contentedly watched championship darts on the big screen (not our usual choice of entertainment but it was surprisingly good) and stuffed our faces with decent pub grub. We can recommend the houmous starter – it’s lovely. Blue and Lou can recommend the sausages – they ate four between them! As always, the dogs got a lot of attention and towards the end of the evening they were ‘hijacked’ by four rough old blokes who’d been drinking whisky with beer chasers all evening and had got to the stage of singing sad songs and lamenting times past. This is rapidly becoming the nearest we’ll ever have to a boating local.

I persuaded Richard to leave the heating on overnight – just as well. With the heating on constant the inside reached a tepid 16 degrees rather than the furnace that he’d feared. We were all cosy though – me and Richard under a super-high tog duvet, Blue in his new housecoat and Lou in her natty new pyjamas. Funnily enough though, despite being snug in her PJs, Lou still wouldn’t settle until she’d been tucked up in a blanket as well. Richard says I’m too soppy, but he’s the one who covered Blue in a soft blanket later on in the night.

We were as snug as anything on board but I still found myself waking up a few times in the night. We have a useful gadget on board – an external thermometer which transmits the temperature reading onto a weather clock inside. As the night wore on the temperature on deck dropped to 0, then -1, then -2, then -3 – it made the bed seem so much more snug. By the morning the temperature had hit -4 degrees and we were frozen in. We went back to bed!

Sunday

We eventually stayed in bed until 9.30am when Richard thought that we should emerge from hibernation. He managed to persuade the dogs to emerge but I stayed under the duvet for a bit longer – it’s nice under there! He was doing a cunning recce to see if there was anyone on the move. The ice was pretty thick (half to 1 inch) and we didn’t fancy being the first to forge through it. It was the boating version of playing chicken. We were in a line of four or five moored boats and one of them looked like he was getting ready to move but when??? If he left too late then we wouldn’t have enough hours of daylight, but if we broke too early we’d be left with the ice-breaking.

We waited and waited, well, we drank coffee, ate bacon sandwiches and tested the inverter, which was now working perfectly! We also had to do a ‘paw police’ patrol prompted by suspicious bloodstained pawprints over the boat floor. The evidence suggested a full blue bandage arrest but extensive investigations failed to find the offending cut – phew!

In the meantime, we’d resolved that if the other boat hadn’t moved by midday then we’d have to go. By now the outside temperature had risen to a balmy 0 degrees and there was half a hope that the ice wouldn’t reform instantly as it was broken! But then came the sound we’d been waiting for – the loud crashing of ice as the boat in front broke free – hurrah!

We got going with our hastily retro-fitted ice-breaking device, yes, Richard at the front of the boat with the barge pole. I thought this was actually very helpful as big sheets of ice really do push back!

Our jubilation at having a trail of broken ice to follow was soon doused when we got round the corner. The boat in front was a small narrowboat and just couldn’t get through the next bit of thick ice. He signalled us past but, suspicious b*******s that we are, we hung back and Richard went to see whether it was worth us overtaking. The thought of mooring up again just 10 minutes after casting off was a depressing thought though, even if we could have broken through the ice to get back to the edge of the canal to moor! So we decided the with our big engine and greater weight we might be able to break through.

Off we went, crashing through the virgin ice. If I’d thought yesterday’s cruise was a bit noisy then today’s was a positive cacophony. I got so used to the sound of the ice that when we came to a bit of open water later in the day and heard the gentle gurgling of water running past the hull I thought we were sinking!

It was hard going through the ice – it’s easy enough to break through with the bow in a straight line, it’s the path of least resistance. But getting round the bends was another matter – pushing a boat broadside into thick ice which is pushing back is no picnic. My top tip is to turn early and shallow rather than late and tight! At one stage I thought we were going to be stuck but she came round with Richard’s sterling work with the barge pole. By the time we got to Perivale we were well fed up – it was very wearing and the thought of a few more hours of tedious ice-breaking didn’t appeal. But just as were about to give up, a little BW tug came storming up the canal scattering ice everywhere – he’d come up from Paddington and cleared a path for other boaters – hurrah again!

We made much better progress after this. Richard took the helm while I found warm jobs to do indoors and he enjoyed the attention of walkers as he pushed through the sheets of broken ice. Thanks to BW’s efforts, we were able to pull into Sainsbury’s at Alperton for some supplies before carrying on down the canal. The nearer we got to the city ‘centre’ the thinner the ice became and by the time we got to Regent’s Park the canal was just covered in a fine skim of unbroken ice. Richard delighted the crowds by breaking through it at speed, scattering glittering shards past the bow – the walkers seemed fascinated.

I’d been a bit worried about whether the locks would be ok in the ice but by the time we got to Camden there was relatively little ice around and had been well broken. Despite the cold, we still had a substantial number of onlookers at Camden top lock and Indigo Dream was extensively photographed. Blue and Lou had a good rummage round the locks. We’re a pretty slick team on the locks now so we got down the flight in next to no time, thought it proved to be one of those days and every lock was set against us.

The further along the canal we went, the less ice we encountered. I’d rung the lock-keeper at Limehouse earlier, partly to tell him that we might not get to them today and also to ask about canal conditions. He was remarkably relaxed about it, the lower stretch didn’t seem to have the inch-thick plate glass that we’d just toiled through back in the (relative) countryside of Perivale!

However, the conditions had taken its toll on our cruising time and it was obvious that we weren’t going to make it to Limehouse. Well, not unless we cruised on in the cold and dark to arrive at 7pm or so. We were ambivalent (we do like a challenge) but I thought the combination of cold and fatigue would make locking dangerous. We were within an easy afternoon’s cruise of Limehouse so we elected to stop at City Road basin. We’ll take an afternoon off tomorrow to do the last bit (that’s the joy of being self-employed). We used the last of the daylight to moor up below the lock where it was miraculously ice-free. Richard went off to get the car from Limehouse (!). We didn’t regret moving it there though, he was back within the hour to collect me, the dogs and a pile of bed-linen.

We had a great drive home and we’re all snug in the house now. It’s warmer here so Blue and Lou have taken their coats off an are happily asleep on their duvets. I have no doubt that we’ll be wrapping them in blankets later on though!

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