Indigo Dreaming

The journeys of the Narrowboat Indigo Dream

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Archive for January 6th, 2009

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.


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!


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!


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!


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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