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Archive for February, 2010

Boat Blog: Summer cruising plans

Posted by indigodream on 26 February, 2010

Tuesday 23rd February

With a month to go before we rejoin the ranks of the rootless vagabonds, we’ve been tossing around various ideas for this year’s summer cruise.

With the cancellation of the BCN challenge, we were left floundering with the vast richness of the cruising choices available to us. Luckily, Andrew Phasey, of the St Pancras Cruising Club, stepped in with typical ex-military efficiency and sorted us out with an offer of an adventure on the Tidal Thames. With the club’s cruising programme confirmed, we can now plan around the fact that we’ll be back in London in late summer.

If you’re coming south for the IWA National in Beale Park then why not join one of the St Pancras Cruising Club ‘convoys’ on the tideway. They’re planning two sets of cruises on the two weekends before the show – the Saturdays will feature a cruise to the Thames Barrier and Bow Creek; the Sundays will see the convoy going up the tideway to Brentford or Teddington.

Here are the dates:

Saturday 14th August – Thames Barrier Cruise

Sunday 15th August – Transit to Brentford/Teddington

Saturday 21st August – Thames Barrier Cruise

Sunday 22nd August – Transit to Brentford/Teddington

It’s a great opportunity to explore the tidal Thames in good company, cruising with boaters experienced in negotiating the tideway. We’re joining the convoys as one of the ‘experienced’ boats – Belgium here we come 🙂

So that’s our first milepost. But we’ve also been seduced by the cruising club’s cruise to Barking Creek in July – it’s a great chance to explore new waters and, of course,  I can’t imagine ever getting bored with the grand passage through the Thames Barrier!

That leaves us with 3 months between the time we vacate our winter home and the first of the Thames cruises. We used the ever-useful Canalplan, which has a very jolly setting – tell it where you are and how much time you’ve got and it will tell you where you can get to. Many of the places that it came up with are on the BCN, the Avon (Stratford) and the Kennet and Avon – all places that we’ve visited before. Actually, we’d be happy to visit them again, but Cananplan came up with some new waters for us – the trip up to Peterborough and thence to the Fens, Cambridge, Bedford – there’s a LOT of choice. Of course, we’re very obedient – in a recent comment, Lesley from Caxton TOLD us to come to the fens so we will!

Once we get back to London in July then we’re planning to explore the Lee and Stort between our Thames adventures and then a trip to the Wey, and possibly the Basingstoke Canal, if it’s open.

Now, this may be the most weather-dependent of all our cruises – there’s a fair bit of river work and if this rain continues (please, nooooooooo….) the extra flow may make it more thrilling than we originally planned! I passed over the Thames by train in Kingston yesterday – the river’s on red boards and it looked terrifyingly awesome. Of course, once you’re on the tideway it doesn’t matter – the tide cancels all and is a relatively predictable flow 🙂

Previous experience had taught us that since we escaped the fixed week tyranny of hire and share boating, our cruising plans have been more flexible than a conference of contortionists so we’ll see what happens…….

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Boat blog: a few visits…

Posted by indigodream on 25 February, 2010

Severely boring post (though not to us, of course!) – you have been warned…….:-)

Thursday 18th February

I went up to visit the boat today – it should have been exciting as I was expecting delivery of our new panel/cupboard door. As it happened it was a bit of a saga!

The boat had been fine on her moorings. We have new neighbours – there’s been quite a transit since the ice cleared away. I must thank passing bloggers who’ve been kind enough to post pictures of Indigo Dream on the moorings – it is very reassuring (well, it has been so far, pictures of her on fire or sunk may have a different impact!).

The batteries were down to 64% with the central heating running every other day. I ran the engine for an hour and brought them up to 75%.

At 10.30am the joiners arrived with the new panel – it looked very good – they’d made a totally new panel using the old one as a template (I’d expected them just to adapt the old panel). The new one was lacquered to a perfect colour match and the workmanship looked excellent. They’d made the cupboard doors wider and replaced the tall narrow single door with two short wide doors as per spec, BUT they’d left a horizontal panel between the two doors which split the opening into two, which was NOT what we were after. Luckily I spotted the problem before they’d carted it all the way down the muddy towpath!

I uhm’d and aah’d for a bit as to whether we could live with this design (it did look good) but decided to send the panel back for adjustment – we really do want a wide, tall opening with a ‘stable’ door. It wasn’t really their fault – something’s been lost in translation between what I explained, what the estimator understood and what the joiner actually made.

Of course now I’m worried that my latest explanation will be misinterpreted as well, so watch this space for the next installment…….

Sunday 21st February

It was Richard’s turn to visit the boat today to check the batteries and continue with the DIY. He’s done really well this year – the BSS has been a real motivator for snagging these ‘behind the panel’ niggles. The boat was very cold when he arrived – the central heating control had slipped off the top of the header tank (which we’ve been using as its temporary home while the cupboard door panel’s being fixed) and a connection had come loose. So, the central heating hasn’t been on since Thursday, fortunately there doesn’t seem to have been any frost damage. He fixed the connection so hopefully the heating will be coming on this week, though the forecast here looks to be rain rather than frost. The batteries were at 76% – 1% more than when I left them on Thursday!

Richard did one of those heroically fiddly jobs today – re-labelling the spaghetti junction of wires inside the electrical cupboard – the old masking tape labels were disintegrating. What a job well done – so much easier to copy from existing labels than re-identify the whole lot later!

Now that we’ve taken one panel down we’re storming. Today he took down a panel to investigate the wiring to the TV/DVD.

He’s come up with a new schedule of works for any DIY on board – week 1: investigate the job; Week 2: obtain parts; Week 3: complete the work. Works for me – in previous years our schedule has been – Step 1: list jobs; Step 2: go cruising instead!

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Boat Blog: Yet more DIY

Posted by indigodream on 13 February, 2010

Wednesday 10th & Saturday 13th February

This is a boat log entry so not very exciting!

Richard popped in to the boat on Wednesday just to check her out and adjust the heating for the forecast cold weather. We’ve been running it for one and a half hours a day – just enough to keep everything frost free and maybe help with the condensation. Running the heating took the batteries down to 65% by Saturday; running the engine quickly bought them back up to 98% and now the heating’s set for every other day. The condensation seemed a little better this week – the cabin bilges were damp but not wet enough to hoover out.

On Saturday Richard did a morning’s DIY. A few weeks ago, a local joiner took one of our panels away in order to install new cupboard doors. The job’s finished but we haven’t arranged a time for delivery yet. This is working to our advantage as Richard now has great access to the wiring panels inside the cupboard.

Today’s job was to finish installing some new ceiling lights to illuminate the stairwell and back cupboards. It’s one of those irritating jobs that we’ve been meaning to do for ages. It’s another hangover from our build – the stairwell under the back hatch didn’t have any lighting so when returning from the pub on a dark night you’d have to stumble down the stair and walk 10 feet down the boat before reaching the first light switch. Now, after today’s efforts, we can open the hatch, reach in and turn a light on before tackling the stairs – brilliant!

I have to admit that the BSS work has done us a favour – it MADE us take down panels that we’d otherwise never have bothered with, so we’ve been encouraged to mop up all these other jobs while we have access to the wires and whatnot.

I will chase the joiners next week – it’s time to put Indigo Dream back together again and get tidy. It’s not so many weeks now before we’re off on our 2010 odyssey, though we’ve not decided on our route yet. Our cruising plans may be hampered by work – I have been offered some training work up in Scotland which means I’ll have to swap the boat for a plane. My potential client asked whether I’d be willing to work every weekend for a few months – ah, no, I don’t think so….. 🙂

Richard came home just in time for the Wales/Scotland rugby match – my cousin and I texted each other throughout with gloomy musings about wooden spoons when a total miracle happened in the last 10 minutes -maybe I won’t have to cringe through this year’s 6-nations after all……

Local Snippet….

My latest mission was to find out more about the factory that wafts the enticing curry aroma across the canal. I found this very interesting photo which gives the names of the main business on the industrial park that essentially surrounds the moorings. So now I know that the curry aroma is wafted about by Spurway Foods. Interestingly, I found out the aromas from the factory have caused less delight in the past – in 2005 the company was apparently the subject of an odour abatement notice!

A quick search on the net show that they specialise in ethnic snacks such as samosas and bahji’s – most of the articles relate to their state-of-the-art packaging machines. I haven’t found out much about which ‘brands’ they produce but apparently they do produce snacks for some of the supermarkets. One of the articles hinted that they make ‘Taste the Difference’ Samosas for Sainsbury’s so I’ll have to check that out next time I go shopping! I did find out that Spurway are part of a much larger concern – the Kerry Group but I’ll stop there – the machinations of international business do my head in!

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Boat Blog: Back to Black Horse……

Posted by indigodream on 9 February, 2010

Sunday 7th February

I know, I know, you’re crying out for more Greygal but we just don’t have enough greyhounds on board to keep her interested…..

Plenty of room to turn!

We’ve had the most indolent weekend – after saying a reluctant goodbye to Greygal we went back to the boat to watch some truly woeful 6-nations rugby before going back to the pub for supper! The narcotic combination of fresh air and beer (or fresh air and sausages in the case of the dogs) worked its magic and we were all in our respective beds by 10pm.

We can thoroughly recommend these moorings – close to the pub, sociable during the day and very quiet by night (apart from the odd Heathrow plane roaring overhead). We slept so well – Indigo Dream’s bed is extremely comfortable and is arguably the boat’s best feature!

The temperature plunged overnight – what a shame – it was so mild yesterday with a bit of evening sun to brighten an already cheerful day.

Blue supervising the turn from lock 95 - very important job....

Most unusually for us, we were up early and underway by 9.30am. Now, the big question – can you wind a 60′ narrowboat below lock 95 using the junction with the River Brent? Richard chatted to a local walker who told him that the chimney sweep who moors two locks up regularly turns his boat there. Apparently the entrance is silted up but it should be ok to wind provided we stuck the bow into the river rather than the stern. It all worked well, Richard reversed the boat off the moorings and turned neatly without getting grounded.

I was onshore with Blue, having made a resolution to read some of the signboards along the way – I was too busy chatting yesterday to notice anything! There’s lots of information along the towpath – well worth a read if you’re the ground crew. I didn’t get much reading time – Richard soon handed over the helm – he can lockwheel quickly on his bike while I tend to bobble along on foot, daydreaming and looking at patterns in the clouds and whatnot….

We set off up the Hanwell, falling back into our old rhythm – this is the first time in ages that we haven’t had a crew! Nonetheless we reached the top in an hour and 10 minutes. The dogs had a great rummage up the flight. I was pleased to solve a mystery yesterday – where does Blue disappear to between Lock 95 and 93? Well, the canal offside is flanked by rough pastures – perfect for greyhound rummaging as they’re well-fenced with no roads nearby. Judging by the tracks in the mud it’s a popular dog-walking spot.

Catkins - already!

The canalside vegetation is at its season’s lowest, so now’s the time to look around the ‘built’ landscape. It won’t be visible for long – I was amazed to see catkins already exploding out of otherwise lifeless branches.

The built landscape here includes a high and very solid brick wall which flanks the canal on the towpath side. I’d always assumed that is was part of the young offenders unit, and so it is, for part of its length; the rest separates the modern Ealing Hospital from the canal. According to the informative signboard, the wall was originally part of the old county asylum. You can still see the old arch (now bricked in) which used to lead to ‘asylum wharf’. Interestingly, the asylum had its own market garden and was largely self-sufficient for food. The wharf was used for transporting coal in and surplus produce out.

I’ve done a lot of work for the NHS in my career and always thought that the fact that health authority offices were often sited in old mental health units was no co-incidence. The signboard made me giggle – “the former county asylum now called Ealing Hospital…..” – QED 🙂

Look down past the lock and you'll see the bricked in arch which used to take the canal to asylum wharf....

The other bit of ‘built’ environment are the two branches a little way past the top of the flight; the first is unsigned but is, in fact, the Maypole Branch – named for the Maypole margarine company. Apparently coconut oil was transported in and margarine transported out.  The branch is now used for mooring – it’s good to see it being used. The more I find out about the stretch between the Fox and the Black Gorse, the more I’m building a picture of the canal’s ongoing association with food production.

The other ‘branch’ is Adelaide Dock which now seems to house a load of BW boats. We know that 10 years or so ago there was a hire boat base there – I’ll look that up another day.

Some instinct made me check the fuel level today – just as well – the needle was nigh on empty. Thank heavens we didn’t run out yesterday – I’m not sure that Greygal and A would have been quite so happy if they’d had to haul Indigo Dream to the pub. We passed one battered cruiser today, being hauled along aimlessly by a very listless crew of three. It looked as if a few of the great unlicensed had shuffled around since yesterday – we wondered whether the enforcement officers had been around. It’s difficult to escape at the moment though – Victoria Park is closed to the East, there’s been a bridge stoppage to the North and the Thames has been on red boards for the last month (the water levels are coming down now) so the native population’s been locked in!

There a whole length of cut wood on the offside between bridges 19 and 20 on the Paddington Branch - how come the narrowboaters haven't snaffled it yet????

Greygal and A commented yesterday on how sad it was to see the boarded up and derelict cottage at Bulls Bridge junction (by bridge 21) – I think they’d be up for a restoration project if the owner was interested! We assume it belongs to BW, along with the  crumbling building a little further along. This was covered in scaffolding a couple of months ago and we though it was being restored; alas, the scaffolding’s gone and the building is now falling down. What a waste…..

We had planned to stop off at Tesco’s in Bulls Bridge to stock up on staples (we’re out of dog food – this is an EMERGENCY) but the lack of fuel took priority and we headed off to Willowtree Marina for diesel. For information, they open on Sundays though they do shut for lunch between 1pm and 2pm. We got there at 12.30pm and were served by the very pleasant man who runs the marina. We went for an 80/20 split as the heating’s definitely beating propulsion at the moment.

I found a good footpath off the service wharf at Willowtree. Walk along the wharf (away from the marina entrance) and there’s a little cut-through (originally found by Blue, of course) which I didn’t think led anywhere but does, in fact, link to the Hillingdon Trail. The very muddy footpath has a branch running parallel to the canal on the offside and another which heads ‘inland’. The path is well-fenced (perfect for the hounds) because it runs around a rough pasture which houses at least three lively horses. The dogs didn’t really need another rummage, but they’d have only got bored on board while the tank filled so we had a little exploration.

The former Lyone basin (not far from the Black Horse), as mentioned by Gilby in his comment a couple of posts ago. Shame it's not used for mooring - it would be a great spot.

The Hillingdon Trail would warrant a longer expedition – I’m not sure how you access the trail from the towpath side here – there aren’t any bridges in the immediate vicinity of the marina. Looking at the map, I guess that Bridge 19 would be the nearest access. Mind you, there’s no shortage of interest for the dogs along the whole stretch from the Fox to the Black Horse.

Another narrowboat caught up with us at the service wharf – I didn’t see the boat’s name but the crew were very complementary about Indigo Dream’s engine, which they reckoned sounded very smooth, like new, in fact. That’s not bad for a 4-year old boat with a few miles on the clock! Their compliments made them top people in our books.

By now the whole crew was hungry – the only provisions on board were milk for our lattes and a more than half-eaten pack of chocolate digestives and, as I mentioned, NO DOG FOOD. We made haste to Black Horse for lunch and Scotland/France rugby on the big screen. We forced ourselves to leave during the first half – we could have easily stayed there all afternoon but we needed to get home – the dogs were seriously tired and we were in a state of contentment so profound that the M25 was becoming increasingly unappealing.

So well-behaved though they do take up a bit of space.....

Luckily we had a good drive home and the dogs collapsed onto their beds – too tired even to eat whilst we caught the last of the rugby – definitely the match of the weekend. I kept them at home on Monday – not that they noticed – apart from 5 minutes of activity here and there they’ve been happy in their beds. As I mentioned in the last post – Lou’s not been well – her kidney infection was confirmed on Saturday so she’s now on antibiotics and strong painkillers. I was worried about her today – she was so still this afternoon that I thought she was on her way out, but she was just weary and too comfortable to move from her thick nest of duvets and sheepskins. I wrapped her up in a warm blanket – that’s one happy dog…….

Blue also likes to spread out.....

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Boat Blog: by our favourite guest blogger…..

Posted by indigodream on 8 February, 2010

Husband? Check. Greyhounds? Check. Narrowboat? Check.

So many crew and so much water! The flight was full to overflowing.....

Fantastic, Greygal is back in action and ready to go. But hang on a sec, what’s this? The husband is half a foot taller and bearded. The dogs are no longer Susie, Miffy, Monty, Arthur and Ranger but Lou and Blue. And the flipping boat’s turned blue. Oh no, hang on a sec, panic over – I’m on my Southern floating residence, not my northern one. That means I’ve got fed up of waiting to return to Sowerby Bridge and, in desperate need of a cruising fix, I’ve thrown myself upon the mercy of my good pals and fellow grey lovers, Sue and Richard of Indigo Dream. Phew, glad that’s sorted. And what a Saturday it was! Richard’s cunning plan meant a 10am pick up for me and A from the Fox pub at Hanwell, a quick drive back to the Black Horse moorings and a prompt get-away after the usual round of kissing and fussing (the dogs, that is). The idea was to end up at the Fox for a late lunch, allowing me and himself to fulfil a (yawn) work obligation later in the afternoon.

Greygal and the greys....

Now if you’re expecting one of Sue’s fabulous travelogues, you’re going to be disappointed because I don’t really remember much. There was lots of talking, lots of coffee being drunk, loads of choccie digestives being hoovered up, and I seem to recall taking the boat down through Hanwell Locks without incident – always a boon, that, particularly when it’s someone else’s pride and joy. Suffice to say that it was an epic few hours in the company of people (and dogs) who are truly simpatico – generous and friendly hosts, knowledgeable boaters, grey aficionados, my latte cup really did runneth over. A fine lunch at the Fox rounded off the perfect day in my book – think it was the sticky toffee pudding that did it. Thankfully, my fellow diners thought it would be impolite for me to go it alone in the dessert stakes so A followed up his sausages with chocolate sponge; Sue’s gammon had a banoffee pie in its wake; and Richard thought the New York cheesecake would fill the hole left by his burger. The dogs – so quiet and well-behaved  it made me immediately want to enroll mine in Good Citizen classes – were rewarded with four tasty if slightly small sausages. I’m not sure it was enough to get them out of their high dudgeon though  – someone who shall remain nameless had forgotten to bring their sheepskins so they were having to rough it on the floor on blankets! I ask you…the indignity…

I just wish I could have slowed the day down a bit, it was all over way too soon. But there are mutterings and plans afoot – could this be the year of the great greyhound meet on the banks of the Leeds & Liverpool? Could this be the year of the mini-Mersey convoy? Could this be the year when we actually volunteer to make the coffee? Watch this space.


There's a big bird's nest at the top of this transmitter. A (who knows about these things!) reckons it would be nice and warm up there.....

Always something new to see on the houseboats at Bulls Bridge - I'm sure this boat had a toy gorilla hanging there last time - the pheasant looks a lot more tasty!

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Dog Blog: Dear Baxter and Muttley…..

Posted by indigodream on 4 February, 2010

nb Matilda Rose
Some canal or other
Somewhere in England
Thursday 4th February

Dear Baxter and Muttley

We’ve just got the best news ever – we didn’t have to go to class tonight – thank you so much for your tips, we never thought they’d work so fast. And mum took the liver cake out of the freezer for the class – so now we have to eat it for dinner instead – it’s yummy!

We’ve been working on plan B all week – you know, hobbling about, giving the odd whimper – just enough to make mum think we was too ill to go to class. It’s a fine line – we really had to concentrate so we dodge class but still get our daily rummages – it’s been very hard cos she’s kept us at home twice so we’ve had to cut back on the whining, if you know what I mean…

Anyhoo, it came time to go and we was just getting primed to whimper and limp around a bit when mum started groanin’ herself and said she had a ‘raine. Rain? It wasn’t raining – what she on about? She’s curled up in her chair and we cuddled up to her for a fuss – it’ll make her feel better if she keeps busy rubbing our tummies. It’s good cos we don’t have to pretend to be sick anymore – clever eh?

Dad says we have to go back to class next week – he says we’ve paid in advance so we’ll finish the course whatever happens – back to Plan A and B and even plan, whatever comes after B…….

Thanks ever so much

Yours gratefully

Blue and Lou

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