Thursday, 19 April 2012

Drought.... what drought?

Thursday 19 April 12.30pm
I was inevitable I guess. Just as soon as Pat and I decide we would set out together the weather would change and it hasn’t stopped raining since we left Trent Lock on our mini cruise to Nottingham and back two days ago. Not sure what is going on in other areas of the country, but here in Notts it is has been torrential, with just the odd half hour gap, before it starts again. The roof sounds like there are 1000 woodpeckers up there tapping away. But has it got us down? Has it .....!
We are nice and cosy in a great mooring in the centre of Nottingham, a city we have got to know pretty well over the last year. What more could we want, a John Lewis and Waitrose about a mile away, god knows how many decent pubs, selling decent beer, a Sainsbury superstore just 100 metres away, and a bus stop opposite. It’s a five-minute hop into the city centre and I have my bus pass warmed up and ready to use.
Directly opposite us is our neighbour, a female swan on her nest. She hasn’t moved since we got here yesterday lunchtime, and there is no sign of her mate... Hang on, I’m a liar, he has just turned up and they have swapped over egg sitting duties. The view from the side windows of the boat is rather like turning on “Spring Watch” as we observe mother nature up close and personal. Hang on. They are starting to re-line their nest. I'll get my camera.

Our neighbours across the cut
Talking about TV brings me to the only issue I am having with the boat, and that is getting any sort of decent TV reception. I knew it was going to be marginal, especially out in the sticks, but here we are in a city centre. I know where the nearest transmitter is (I have downloaded an app and a compass to my phone) and I have turned our 12ft high aerial to face it, re-tuned the telly and still nothing. Luckily I spent a good part of the winter copying and accessing a huge library of TV and films, so last night we had a bit of “Ello Ello”, followed by the first episode of “One Foot In The Grave” and then a bit of “Downton”, a series I never watched.  We can download via my “Mi Fi” dongle, so if there are odd TV programmes we want to watch, we can via  i player, though a couple of times it had to refresh. Quite frankly, though, there is such a load of rubbish on TV, I am really not missing it. It just frustrates me that I cannot get it to work.
That apart all is well. We have a leak via the side hatches, which will need to be resolved where the rain has found its way in, but that is it. I had some engine issues over the weekend, when our pals Penny and Bob joined us for a day, where we were belching out black smoke and there was little acceleration. Mick discovered it was due to a luggage-label that the engine manufacturers had attached to the block, that was flapping and had got stuck to the air filter. So that was cut off and now The Cat’s Whiskers purrs very nicely thank you. Jan, the sign writer also managed to put our licence numbers on before we set off.

Jan adds our license number on TCW
It’s the First Mates birthday today and we decided to pop out last night for a bite to eat at one of the excellent pubs on this stretch of the cut for a steak each. I had a beer called Sunburst. I think it brewed at Banks. It was superb.
I am not minding meandering down the canal system in the rain. I can crouch under a large golfing umbrella, but I do not like cruising on rivers much. The rain is OK, but the wind really blows you about, and while I am a lot more confident on the helm, it is a bugger to moor, when it is hitting you side on.
I have been a bit snappy with Pat at a couple of the locks we have negotiated. She is still finding her feet, and  doing OK. All the boaters I have met have adopted a sign language to communicate with, so we will start working on ours, but I guess in a week or two, we will not even think about what has to be done. By then we will have our own system that will just roll out as I moor.
Today the forecast is for more heavy showers. At the moment the plan is to stay here for another 24 hours and make a dash back to Trent Lock tomorrow morning. By then we should have done our 50 hours. Mick can do the service and checks and then, rain or shine, we will head west into the sunset.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Launches, lunches and Man Overboard

What a great day. The boat was officially launched – I got to advertise the fact live to millions of BBC listeners and my bestest pal John, managed to fall in the canal (and he was sober).
The sun shone and a steady trickle of friends and family arrived throughout the morning, ahead of our 1pm naming ceremony. Mick represented the boatyard and by mid-day, nearly everybody was assembled around the radio, ready for me to fall on my arse, live to millions of listeners on the Graham Norton Radio show. Graham was very gracious, but I didn’t let him lead the conversation and managed to get across all the things that I thought were important, apart from, saying what the boat’s name was, which Graham reminded me of at the end of the interview.
With that out of the way I then said a few choice words and we opened the vintage bottle of Moet that my sister Carol had brought with her, donated by Mark and Lucy down in Brighton. We cut the ribbon, everybody cheered, and we crossed over to the over side of the canal to The Steamboat for a very comprehensive lunch, but not before everybody was given a “Cat’s Whiskers” T-shirt.  
Pat cuts the ribbon while I struggle with the Champers. The Spitfire waits in reserve

With Mick, one half of the team who worked their magic on TCW

John and Lorraine were the last two to leave and as Pat had not been out under an engine on TCW, we thought we would go on a quick cruise up the Erewash.  I untied her and John pushed off the bow, but forgot to let go. It was like watching in slow motion as I realised he had gone past the point of no return. I gave the bow thrusters a blast, but it was too late and he went in. So, in the space of a week, both his dog and John have been in the cut. So watch out Lorraine. I just wish I’d had a camera handy.
He was shivering so we put him in the shower, I found him some clothes to wear, and we got on with it. Just a short cruise up to the first winding hole and back.
Two of our other friends are staying over in the area tonight and Bob and Penny are joining us in the morning and we hope to cruise down to Shardlow and back.
We have had TV reception all week but at the moment I am getting nothing at all, so I think we might have a connection problem somewhere in the co-axial. I’ll get Mick to take a look on Monday.
Toodaloo folks

Friday, 13 April 2012

Pat’s back... Hurray

After 10 days of a bachelor existence I thought I had the boat more or less sorted out. That was until Pat returned on Wednesday. After picking her up from Heathrow and doing some chores in and around Welwyn Garden City we got back to Trent Lock around 7.30pm that evening and she proceeded to rip the place apart, despite just getting off a 24-hour flight. That’s my gal!
Yesterday (Thursday) was much of the same and basically everything has moved somewhere else. I never realised we had so much storage space under our bed, so we have been able to utilise that for larger stuff, that I was struggling with. The result is more room and the boat feels more homely. I finally worked out how to turn the immersion on (Mick at the boatyard said he had told me twice how to do it) so we now have lashings of hot water. Despite some cold nights the central heating is off and will remain off. Our friends on Jandai, Kingfisher’s last bespoke build, told me that a 13kg gas bottle lasts them around 10 weeks. Mine lasted barely 7 days, so we have been discovering the joys of lighting and running our multi-fuel stove and feeding it copious amounts of wood (that I had been storing for a year) topped up with coal. We keep setting off our smoke alarm, but I guess that’s par for the course.

Eileen from "Free Spirit" and TCW share Long Eaton Lock
With just a day to go now until the big launch, when our friends and family come up we are taking her back into the dock this morning. The boys still have a few small jobs to finish off. John has some shelves to add, a shoe rack to put in one of the wardrobes and I need to touch up the scrapes I have had over the last two weeks. All the boaters using the dock at the moment have laughed at my paranoid behaviour in this department but once we have got this weekend out of the way, I will go with the flow, and not let them bother me so much.
Will blog again on Sunday with the launch pictures. Don’t forget to tune in to Radio 2 at midday on Saturday to hear Roger on Graham Norton’s Saturday show, live from Trent Lock.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A Contact Sport

Firstly, thanks for all the texts and mails you have sent through. They are all very much appreciated.
Well, it’s been a funny old Easter. Normally I would spend it in the garden, getting ready for the growing season tidying up the beds and perhaps cutting the grass, but here I am, feeling a bit like “Billy No Mates”, tied up against Kingfisher Narrowboats  latest build beside Trent Lock, (see picture). This is a delightful spot though, and a big draw for boaters,walkers and cyclists in the area. Two pubs, a picnic area, and the lock itself ,on the crossroads of four waterways.

Captain Jolly Roger, not so jolly this weekend at Trent Lock
Since we returned from our snagging cruise I have been out just twice. Yesterday (Easter Sunday) my pals from St Albans came up to see me. Before they had even climbed on the boat, their dog fell in the water, along, I thought with all the post they had brought with them. I went nuts, but it was only the dog bowl that had fallen in thank goodness and Murray, the spaniel, was not bothered at all. My next door neighbour here at the lock, Jan, said later, that it was ironic that the dog should be baptised in the canal on Easter Sunday!
I decided to take them through Trent Lock and down to Sawley and back for a couple of hours. But it soon became apparent that something was not quite right, and any power I put on to the engine, resulted in big black clouds of smoke coming from the exhaust. I thought it might be something around the prop, but the tiller felt OK, and that is the usual indicator. So we turned round and came back after completing just a mile or so. Jan, thought it might be the prop, and on inspection, after my guests had gone, there were three carrier bags wrapped around it.
Today, Easter Monday, is another wet and cloudy day, and my visitors were Dave and Carolyn. Dave had been part of the snagging crew from last week and wanted to bring his Partner up to view the boat. When we saw a gap in the weather we poodled up the Erewash for a mile, to the first winding hole and I turned her around without having to use my bow thrusters, so some progress there. We came back down the lock and went along the Trent for a bit, before returning. It started gusting a bit and then I was glad of the extra oomph the bow thrusters gave as we swung into the lock pound.

All our heating, as well as cooking is on gas, and I wondered how long a large 13Kg bottle would last. That was answered in the rain last night when the boiler started beeping. It’s a simple job to change over, but I thought I would get a bit more than just over a week out of one. I guess the boys might have used it a bit, and I have had the central heating on very low, most of the time, to heat up the water, and that might be where the majority of the gas has gone When we are cruising the boat should generate enough hot water for most of our needs but stationary, I am still experimenting with the controls of the boiler.
I have felt a bit low this weekend. I think the reality of the whole enterprise finally sunk in on Good Friday and I started missing the cats and our home a bit. Having Pat the other side of the world has not helped either. I am not a solitary animal, and do not like my own company one little bit. I have got over that now, but for 24 hours I started feeling very sorry for myself. I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that I have taken a couple of chunks out of her all ready, but as one boater said to me at a lock in the week, "this boating game is a contact sport, don't be too hard on yourself".
As I said earlier John and Lorraine brought up our post yesterday and in it was our licence so we are now “Canal legal”. I have already had one British Waterways operative asking for proof of having licenced the boat, which is OK by me, as so many boats are on the system are unlicensed.
We have the boat’s official launching ceremony this Saturday, the 14th. Friends and family are coming up and it will good to see them all and show the boat off. At just after 12-noon I will also be live on BBC Radio Two’s Graham Norton Show, on his “Tune With A Tail” feature. His producer has said he will want to talk about the boat, and how we got to this point, and I have sent in some pix we took last week at Shardlow, which he has acknowledged and will give to Graham. So if you have nothing better to do on Saturday lunchtime, tune it to Radio 2 and you will hear my dulcet tones. What fun!

Miles 38   Locks: 28

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Underway at last

The Kingfisher boys were as good as their word – in fact they were a day earlier than promised. I turned up at the boat yard last Friday with a car bulging to the seams, and then a few hours later starting putting full boxes back into it. We just had too much stuff! This boating lark is going to be a sharp learning curve.
The following morning we set off on a four-day snagging cruise, with my two shipmates, Paul and David who had arrived during the day.
All is well my friends, and while I have already put a few tell-tale marks down the gunwales, where we have been bounced around in a few locks (16 so far), everything is working, shower, loo, central heating, stove etc. We can’t get any sort of signal on the telly, and as I write this Mick from Kingfisher is investigating the reasons. There is a small leak from the stern valve, which I am lead to believe is common and will sort itself out and we have a couple of sticky drawers and one that flies out at random, but we think that is because I have too much weight in it.
The first day I was naturally very apprehensive as we went through the lock at Trent Lock and made our way out on to the Trent for our journey west on the Trent & Mersey, but now I am much more relaxed and confident. I am really glad we had the bow thrusters installed and my ship mate Paul had been invaluable in imparting bits of knowledge on helmsmanship that I had forgot or never learnt.

The Cat's Whiskers gets battered in Stenson Lock

Looking quite professional in this one

So we travelled from Trent Lock to Willington, via Shardlow and back again. Everywhere we have gone the boat has had admiring glances. I think she looks great and so, it appears, does everybody else.

Tiller Boy
We are now back at the boatyard while Mick sorts out our TV. It’s been bucketing down all afternoon so I think we will hole up here until tomorrow and then complete our mini cruise by going up into Nottingham and back – about a six-hour cruise, although the weather forecast is for snow!
Miles travelled 30. Locks: 18