Tuesday, May 27, 2014

We thought it was brightening up

Tuesday 27th May

Flowers Only 25 shades of grey today. Intermittent drizzle just to ensure that the river flow stays fast and the weirs remain furious. We set off after hearing tales of boat eating trees  and fierce flows sending craft to all the bad places told TugCrewto us by an adjacent moorer who was heading down towards County lock – Good luck!.  I’d forgotten how idiosyncratic the K&A locks are but nothing upset Jannock’s equilibrium. Having completed a total of eight today we’ve seen no evidence that the top gates always swing open on the K&A so the lass yesterday must just be too lazy to close them up. I do not appreciate inconsiderate boaters like her. (This statement has the possibility of stirring up a hornet’s nest ;^)

At Burghfield lock there were some CaRT/Land and Water workers upgrading the towpath.  As we were working through a couple of them came to do the top gates for us. It seemed that they were about to go down through the lock once we’d finished coming up.

We spent most of our cruising sharing with a young man named Owen aboard nb Goosemoor.  At 21 he’d spent the last eight months on a LockSharing rented narrowboat going about the system to see if he’d like it. Gap boating? We suspect he’s been caught by the canal virus. He’s having to return the boat to it’s owner, with some regret, as she’s put it up for sale. He’ll be back. He’s become very skilled in his travels. Since he was single handed and we had fridge contents to clear up we invited him to join us for our late lunch. A hot meal, enough stewed blackberries to stave off scurvy for a twelve month and the last of our coconut ice cream inside him he went on his way. We wish him luck, another lovely young man, one of the ones who rarely get noticed, they are out there!

Graham went off to fetch the car, on the DiBlasi, in yet another variety of drizzle, damp grey on the colour chart. The rain got heavier the further North he went and so created a new record for how wet he’s got on a car shuffle so far.

Don’t you just love Bank Holidays?


Monday, May 26, 2014

50 shades of grey

Monday 26th May

If it hadn’t got dark last night we’d have gone to our beds in glorious sunshine – if you see what I mean. This morning we are back to fifty shades of very wet grey, with added drizzle. We left our wonderfully peaceful mooring and cruised down through Whitchurch, Mapledurham and Caversham locks before making an emergency stop at Tescos in Reading – we’d run out of tea bags.

And so it was, after two failed attempts, we finally made it onto the K&A  using plan D(a) only a month later than plan A should have happened. There was a procession of boats belonging to Burghfield Island Cruising Club, who’d had a weekend out at Beale Park, so we knew we would be following a few boats up through Blakes lock and the Oracle narrows. There were two boats going up through Blakes when we arrived and they said that we could go through County lock with them. They had an advance party who were going to turn the lock after they’d passed through and then ring to tell us to set off. GrebeNestWe were assured that all three boats would fit into County lock and so we should all travel up together. While they waited on the upstream lock landing we managed to get through Blakes, sharing with a live aboard boater who owned “Dog of the day”

Brenda was busy taking pictures of a Grebe on her nest when the man and dog arrived behind us. The young chap observed what she was doing and addressed his large, stocky dog – the sort that swallows cats whole given half the chance (in Brenda’s mind). It was told to sit, stay and no woofing or he’d disturb the resting mum. The dog looked and did exactly that. Owner and dog had luvverly manners.

When the phone call arrived, we wereJurrasicGolf informed that there was a boat coming down and once we’d passed that we could come on up through the Oracle and into the prepared lock. Now County lock ate a boat last month (one of the reasons we failed to get access to the K&A after Easter) and isn’t calm waters at the best of times.

Thought for the day :- listen to experts but just consider that they may not be expert nor be right.

BubblesOne we had joined the procession, fighting it’s way up through the Oracle, the plan was for all three boats to share County lock. Brenda enquired whether we would all fit and was assured that we could. After two hefty whacks, a mild panic and disobeying orders to avoid being sucked into the weir stream, she managed to get all but the last 6 feet of Jannock into the lock. Clearly we would not all fit. Out she came onto the lock landing. Once through, off they went wondering if we’d manage, be safe, get out alive. It was easy, not that anyone hung back to make sure we were OK.

Onto Fobney lock, renowned for it’s bypass stream entering at 90 degrees toIMG_0179 the lock mouth, which after all this rain was also fierce. But we stuck to our own plan and it too was fine. Time for a cuppa now that we had replenished the tea caddy. As we were leaving the lock another boat had arrived below to ascend behind us. We offered to wait at Southcot for them to share. After about 15 minutes they eventually arrived and didn’t notice we were sat there with one gate open waiting for them. They pulled onto the lock landing and then we surprised to see me waiting by the open gate for them to enter.

As Brenda struggled to get a wet rope off of the lockside bollard, the woman on the other boat put hers onto the bollard on her side. Having seen that Brenda had taken her rope in she asked if Brenda was happy to just bang IMG_0177about in the lock. Brenda replied that she tended not to, just moving back and forward as necessary. She huffed and said that she’d only put her rope onto the bollard as Brenda had hers there so Brenda explained that it had been to hold Jannock into the side of the lock awaiting their arrival. She then tried to recover her rope but got it tangled in a bicycle, some wood, plant pots and assorted clutter.

I suggested that both boats should pull out of the lock together so that the crew could be picked up easily after closing the top gates. She assured us that there was no point in closing gates behind you on the K&A as they only swing open again. So Jannock edged out and she didn’t. Much to their annoyance, I closed my top gate and they had to hang back whilst Brenda found a place to pick me up from. At that point it was obvious that the gate I had closed did not swing back open again. We’d had enough of the rain so decided to stop at the Cunning Man moorings for the night so that we didn’t have to share another lock.

Another Sapphire experience

Sunday 25th May

Matt thoughtfully offered his services IMG_0148at sparrow-o’clock (that’s 9ish on a summer Sunday morning) to do a car shuffle with Graham, what could I usefully do for an hour. I love my new toy! I’d treated myself to a Karcher window vac. I clean windows and however I do it and with whatever I use they always look worse when I’ve finished than before. Jannock has 12 windows and they have secondary double glazing. They were so mucky. Some warm water, a blob of eco-detergent and my window vac and all 36 surfaces are gleaming. Just look at the colour of the water when I’d finished. It’s my best new toy. And all that industriousness done to the sound of church bells, a wonderful sound.

IMG_0156We shared most of the days locks with a chap and his two visitors on his 30’ Sea Otter. He was giving them chapter and verse on what to do and how to do it such that I thought he was a RYA instructor. As the day went on it became clear that he was actually quite a newbie boater; actions speak louder than words.

At Day’s lock, I had to take action. I thought that the last goose in the flock looked a bit odd. As we got closer it was clearly a spaniel chasing the geese with just her head above the water. The frantic owners were calling and calling but the daft dog’s instinct was stronger. The geese were moving into the weir stream which was running fast and it was clear that the dog was getting tired by still it pursued them.IMG_0159 I turned Jannock into the weir stream to get nearer to the dog and Graham tried calling it from the front deck and got it’s attention for a millisecond, long enough for the geese to move away. I manoeuvred between the dog and the weir and the geese moved behind Jannock. The dog was confused because it did not recognise Graham who was calling it’s name and then noticed it’s owners calling it from the opposite bank. Brenda then used Jannock to heard the tired dog back across the Thames to it’s owners. We weren’t sure of the chances of a tired spaniel surviving the weir so were happy when the owners finally hauled it out of the river onto the bank.

We weren’t sure of the chances of a group of canoeists near Cholsey. hey were spread across the river and kept crossing in front of our bows with little regard to us bearing down on them. In the end, having just managed to miss one pair, Brenda gave a loud blast on the klaxon which focused their thoughts on safety.IMG_0162

Goring sailing and rowing club had their safety boat out along a course, marked by buoys, that their sailors were using to good effect in a stiff wind. “Slow down and follow me” was the instruction we were given but he then positioned himself, and his little boat, IMG_0174right in front of Jannock so that I couldn’t see him. If I turned to see him along one side he would move back in front. We finally cleared the course safely just in time to see one chap clear our stern and then promptly capsize during a tack.

We finally moored up at Lower Basildon as the mooring at Goring were full-up. This worked out better as we had a lovely evening sat out on the bows in the sunshine taking our dinner in a most glorious location.


A ‘two coat’ morning

Saturday 24th May

IMG_0108Up and away by 08:00 as we needed to be in Oxford by lunchtime to pick up our guests for the trip to Abingdon. It was raining when I cast of and remained so all the way to Oxford, only the amount of water falling from the sky varied. We haven’t had a ‘two coat’ day for ages but today was a ‘two coat’ morning. It was past 10pm when this blog was written and the bathroom was still festooned with drippy wet outer garments.

At Drinkwater’s lift bridge I spotted a boat hook laying in the grass by the bridge. I wasn’t aware of any boats moving either way so just assumed that some-one had supplied it to assist single handed boaters to get through the bridge. When we arrived at Dukes lock it was empty with the bottom gate wide open so I closed it up and prepared to refill it ready for us to descend. A bloke walked up in a bright yellow jacket so I asked him if he was coming up through the lock. “No” he said, “Did you see a boat hook back at the last bridge?" He then set off to collect it once I’d confirmed it was still there. We passed through Dukes lock and found his boat sat in the lock under the railway bridge on Dukes cut.

I filled the lock and opened the Thames-side lock gate just as he returned with his boat hook. We then followed IMG_0120him through and shared all of the locks down to Clifton with him. He was single handed, delivering the boat from a marina in Worcester to new owners who were at Aldermaston on the K&A.

We picked up our visitors, Matt, Alice, Paula and Dave, from the moorings just below Folly Bridge and the rain finally stopped. Lunch was taken on IMG_0136the move between Ifley and Sandford locks, after which Brenda announced that she was about to put the slow cooker on for the joint of beef that was to be an evening meal for use all. I predicted we’d be in Abingdon well before the beef was cooked so we decided to continue on down to Clifton Wittenham to wind in the weir stream behind the Plough before returning IMG_0142back to Abingdon when dinner would be ready.

We dined on an excellent roast beef dinner prepared by Brenda in her ‘magic galley’ before spending most of the evening sat on the bank chatting. It was not balmy summer weather but at least it was dry. Our guests all left about 21:30, exclaiming that they’d had a great day on Jannock, just as the rain started again. Thanks for your company guys.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Duck pancake

Friday 23rd May

We came aboard as the day’s intermittent, but heavy, rain petered out. Once everything was stowed we set off North towards Thrupp in order to turn Jannock round again. This time we hoped to fill with water and empty the loo tank whilst we were there.

At Thrupp, Brenda opened the bridge and I took Jannock through and started the tight turn to get onto the wharf. It was whilst winding that we caught the attention of ‘Bad Mother Duck of the Year’. She is obviously used to being fed from the boats at Thrupp boat club and so she rushed across to Jannock’s stern bringing her brood of seven tiny ducklings with her. They came so close that I had to take the engine out of reverse so that they didn’t all get sucked into the propeller. We tried shooing them all away but they kept coming back. As we were approaching the wharf wall she took them down the side of the boat so we had to shoo them all out again. In the short time it took me to get back to the centre rope that I’d left on the wharf, after shooing them all out, she’d obviously taken them back again as the meeting of boat and wharf wall had a disastrous affect and only four of her ducklings survived not being crushed. I felt bad and even had to apologise to the gentleman on the Thrupp boat club welcome boat when I purchased a pump-out card from him. Water tank full and loo tank empty we then passed back through the bridge and moored for the night outside the pretty cottages. Many times we’ve wanted to moor here, for the pub, and it’s been full. Today – was we bovvered? Well, we got a space.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A very unusual Soddit cruise . . . .

. . .  for the following reasons:-

We started mid Friday afternoon.

Ian and Brian chose NOT to do any fishing.

We visited a pub.

The weather was wonderful.

Friday 16th May

We were on the road at 2pm and arrived at Jannock for 3. Once everything was Ian and Brian manning the locks offloaded from the car and stowed, albeit temporarily in some cases, we set off North towards Thrupp which is the first place we can turn round to head South again. For this cruise, Brian and Ian have decided not to bring their fishing kit as they want to do the upper Thames. Although you can fish on the canals all year, it’s currently closed  season on the river so – No Fishing ;^)

We worked up through the two locks, past Kidlington and up into Thrupp. My crew abandoned ship as they both wanted to work the liftbridge and left me on my own to pass through it, wind in the wide area beyond (without hitting anything, including the sides) and pass back through heading South again. Down we went through the same two locks to moor up not 20ft from where we had started. That meant I could hop in the car and go to collect fish and chips for our dinner from Smarts in Kidlington. Three pieces of fish and a large chips meant they cost a lot less than individual portions and we still had too many chips.

We then carried on down through the next lock and Dukes Cut out onto the River Thames where we moored for the night on the offside. Let the Soddit commence and we managed 4 games before retiring to bed at midnight. A little earlier than usual but we had started earlier as well.

Saturday 17th May

Ian's terrific Cuckoo picture This morning we awoke to bright sunshine accompanied by the call of the cuckoo. We noticed that it was sat atop a fence post not more than 50 ft from the boat. Both Ian and I took pictures but his SLR got a much better picture of it than my ‘point and shoot’ camera did. We set off at about 10am and made our way past Eynsham with no hassle and very little movement of other boats. The weather was glorious and it was shorts all round with the 30 factor sun protection being applied by all, not usual for a Soddit cruise. On through Pinkhill lock and past The Ferry Inn which was very busy. Along this stretch there are a few shacks that look like short term holiday homes between the larger properties on the offside bank. At one of them a group of men were sat on the bank fishing Newbridge which created bad feeling from my crew who’d left all their tackle at home. We moored for lunch just after the sharp Z bend prior to Northmoor and were considering moving onto the bank to eat but there were cows in the field so we stayed on the foredeck.

After lunch we continued on up through Northmoor lock and past the Rose Revived which was doing a roaring trade of lunches as well as the boat hire business being busy. There were electric punts and peddalos everywhere and none of the occupants were worried about a large lump of steel bearing down on them. Having finally cleared the melee’ we continued up through Shifford lock and into the tree lined twisty bit. It is really secluded and peaceful along here and IMG_0079so we decided that we’d try and moor for the night just before Shifford lock cut having turned round. As we approached Tadpole bridge Ian suggested we stop and go for a beer at the Trout Inn as it’s one of the pubs that sells Vale beer – as if we didn’t already have enough on board ;^)

I was at the tiller as we passed through Tadpole bridge as I decided to wind above and return back through to moor up as there was one space just big enough on the end of the mooring. No chance! The current was flowing fast and Jannock’s engine just could not force the boat broadside against it, so we returned back through the bridge in reverse and slipped into the mooring facing upstream. Even this was not straightforward as I tried to turn there first and failed with that as well. After a pint in the pub, we turned Jannock by pushing the bows out into the flow whilst holding the back rope on the mooring. She turned beautifully and so we set off downstream to find a mooring on the meadow above Shifford lock cut. Ian cooked a chicken stirfry using a lot fewer pans than he usually does. We then got another 6 games of Soddit played before dragging ourselves to bed.

Sunday 18th May.

The geese looking after the young. Another very peaceful night and a glorious sunny morning to wake up to. Back down through Shifford lock where the lock keeper took Ian to see the grass snakes in the compost heap – unfortunately it was still a bit chilly in the shade and so they’d all moved well into the heap for warmth. The Rose Revived was still closed as we passed and none of the day hire boats were out. We continued on as the sun got warmer and managed to share a lock with a cruiser and three touring canoes. The lads in the canoes were travelling all the way from Letchlade to Flood flotsam at Newbridge Wapping in a week. I hope the weather holds for them. On our way through Newbridge yesterday, we noticed a large item of flotsam wedge above the bridge. On the way down I got this picture of it. We were making good time going with the flow of the river and my crew wanted to see Farmoor reservoir, where our local water supply comes from, so we pulled onto the 24hr moorings and they went for a walk whilst I started my lunch preparations. Down through Eynsham lock and everything was Crayfish in the pan almost ready so we moored in a field to eat it. The water alongside Jannock’s bows was lovely and clear so we decided to see if we could attract any thing in the water by disposing of the spare veg and pork chop bones. No sooner done than the first crayfish appeared – it happens so quickly that I managed to catch it using the saucepan that had held the veg that I was getting rid of. The photo is proof that it is possible to catch a crayfish using a saucepan. Back down the river after lunch was over to enter Dukes Cut again. This time there was a boat in front of us and we had join a three boat queue for Dukes lock on the Oxford.

We had a great weekend and the weather was terrific.


Monday, May 05, 2014

A late update

May the 4th be with you ;^)

After another peaceful night we have had another lovely day – better than the meteorologists predicted. The countryside has been beautiful and we have decided that there is not a lot to beat a huge, mature horse chestnut tree in spring g04052014(004)reen and abundant with flowers.

Wallingford The section of river North of Wallingford suffered very high water levels over winter and there are plenty of casualties that have still not been recovered. 

We found ourselves in the midst of 4 large hire cruisers from Reading at Culham lock. They got split up and as we waited we got chatting to them. They were a school trip from Belgium who come to the river Thames every year, since 1980, visiting Windsor, Oxford, Henley and so in in varied programs. Brilliant! ; cheap hotel and no coach transfers to worry about. Two of their four boats were behind us and they were getting stressed as the lock appeared to be doing now’t. It was self service due to lockies lunchtime. A small boat full of champagne hamper hoorays, who were old enough to know better, turned the lock on the first Belgian boat as they had instant access to the controls whilst those boats tied up below had to walk up from the pontoons and cross a busy road to get to the lockside. Whilst on self service the lock fills very slowly. The “picnic-ers” were aware of the two boats tied up below and were out of order. The schools trip had to be in Oxford by Sunday evening so they were not best pleased at the hold-up.

The teens on the boat behind us were much taken by the three adolescent ducks who obviously hadn’t had a scrap of food since candlemas and were letting everybody know. I couldn’t bear it so I gave the kids some bread to feed the ducks with. Phew, everyone happy now. What lovely polite teenagers, the ducks just gobbled and quacked all the louder during the feeding melee that followed.

The lockie returned from lunch just as lock rage was becoming a piossibility. He was a bit of a jobs worth and could see I was talking to Graham on the radio as the lock is out of sight of the landing. He tried to insist that I go back to my skipper and tell him he had to move along the lock landing as the boats in front entered the lock. I assured him that it would be done, he wasn’t convinced and insisted that I go anyway to tell the boats behind us. I didn’t and everyone moved up anyway.

Once we were in the lock he wouldn’t allow Graham to use the centre rope to bring the boat into the side before deploying the front and back ropes (our usual practice that works very well) We had to do it his way and Graham had to stand on the front of the boat, not on the lockside like he usually does. Roped up and engine off he came and asked me “ are you alright with this dear?” Did the other lockies phone ahead and tell him that the old bat on Jannock couldn’t manage? As the wide beam school trip baot came in behind us I checked the bike (and rear bracket) were OK. Lockie looked at me and the other boat and announced that he hadn’t taken the bicycle into his calculations! Erm, it made no difference to what else he could get into the lock. Ho hum.

As we became quite pally with the Belgian school trippers, as they overtook us once outside the lock cutting we gave them a quick blast on the klaxon to say farewell. The best laugh we’ve had for days! The kids on the rear deck of the boat had just settled down to a sun kissed snooze. Some visibly jumped and most screamed, boys and girls alike. He he he.

AbingdonBridge As we moored for the night in Abingdon we became aware that the live aboard boater immediately behind us was burning dead badgers and oily rags in his stove and the wind was blowing the smoke into our back doors. We had moored in a long space so we pulled Jannock as far forward as we could to try and get away from the stench. Once we had re-tied he decided to loosen his ropes and come forward to join us. Bah!

We enjoyed watching the vintage aeroplanes and road vehicles going home from Abingdon (Dalton Barracks) airfield. The Matt and Alice came for supper – a lovely evening.

Monday 5th May

Another un-eventful day, and very pleasant for all that. Matt and Alice joined us again for the trip up to Oxford, which they could have done on the bus in a great deal shorter time. We hope they enjoyed seeing an alternative Oxford. As we passed into Christchurch meadow there was a small tour boat going downstream. The on board tour guide was looking at a guide book very studiously and giving the commentary “On the right there is a tree, next to it is another tree, whilst on the opposite bank over there you can see a tree” The guide book was consulted and he began again “If you look carefully to your right hand side you’ll see a tree, and another tree”. His passengers looked either amused or bemused. We wondered how the rest of the tour went on.PortMeadowFlood

We passed up through Port Meadow without any concern for sand spits as the water is quite deep at the moment and for a change, the wind was quite light as well. It still has a large patch of flooded area in the middle. We were told at Kings Lock that boaters were finding it quite a challenge yesterday with several going badly aground StormDamageby trying to cut the corners of bends. Smug! Alice and I decided we needed to know what breed the geese were at Kings Lock as we were rather taken with them and they were plentiful. Out came "’Twitchers Monthly’ and it was a toss-up between Greylag and White Fronted. Having decided that they were the same species we also decided they were interbreeding and that is why we couldn’t tell one from t’other. Both mate for life.

We passed into Dukes Cut and wound our way between overhanging trees onto the Oxford canal where we’ll moor up until the next planned trip. This blog post is late as we are having to use my phone to take photos and we could not extract them whilst on the boat so had to wait until we got home.


Saturday, May 03, 2014

Oh bu$$er!

Friday 2nd May

The bank holiday weekend starts here. The plan was to park the car in the Tesco car park, walk to Jannock and fetch her up to the moorings, offload all our stuff from the car to boat and then move the car to a longer term parking space before retiring for the night. What’s the use of plans then?

Arriving at the boat we found her high and dry, on a mud bank, and listing to about 30 degrees to starboard. With the aid of a nice guy from the boat next door we tried rocking and pushing her off but failed miserably. I then tried poling the bows round into the river flow hoping that once they swung round they would help to pull the stern off the mud. That also failed but it did remove the list. With Jannock sticking out at approx 45 degrees to the bank I decided to walk the stuff from the car and we would await a passing boat tomorrow for assistance.

Whilst I was doing a trip to the car, Brenda made one attempt to refloat Jannock. A cruiser displacing a reasonable amount of water came out of the marina and past. Ropes off, engine on and catch the water it put under our hull. No joy. Watch for the bow wave and try to use the depth of that. Still no joy. Switch off engine and tie up the ropes again.

Whilst I was walking back and forth to Tesco car park I decided to try using a lever. I placed the short boat pole between the cabin side, near the stern, and the bank. It wedged in quite nicely. Then, by tying three ropes together , I took a rope from the bows onto the bank and pulled the bows into the side of the river. This had the effect of pivoting on the pole and sliding the stern off of the silt. A quick push with the long boat pole and Jannock was free. Brenda was able to move up to the Tesco mooring whilst I walked up carrying the long pole, various ropes and mooring stakes etc.

I must admit that when we moored up I was worried about the flow increasing and the river level rising. I was not expecting it to fall by 6 – 9 inches during our week at home.

Once settled on the mooring, I went and moved the car to a long term parking spot whilst Brenda went shopping at Tesco. She has planned to do a Thai Green Curry this weekend and found that there is no curry paste in the larder. Whilst there her eye was caught by a bottle of Maltina. She loves anything malty, she was in a bad mood and it was on offer. 45p squandered and she has admitted that she could become addicted. Cocktails . . . . . a malteser (probably not on a stick) and a malted milk biscuit to dunk in a glass of Maltina. How decadent and sofistikated can a woman get?