In 2008, we bought our first narrowboat. Lucky Duck was 48ft long, and we enjoyed four and a half years living afloat on it, learning about the world of the inland waterways, their history and the boats which were built for them. You can read the archive of our adventures here. Then, we got the historic narrow boat bug and so it was that in February 2013, we bought Willow, a 1935 ex-Severn and Canal Carrying Co. motor with a sound hull but a fit-out in need of completion. We’ve come a long way but there’s still a lot to do!
Amy & James (& ship’s cats Lyra and Thea)
Willow was first registered in Gloucester on the 18th February 1935, making her 82 today!
At Irthlingborough on the Nene
Willow really is a fantastic boat, we could not have asked for a better historic live aboard narrow boat. And we have lots of adventures to look forward to together!
It’s been quiet around here for a while. And that’s because we’ve been plotting something very big and exciting that we couldn’t reveal until just now.
It will be obvious to anyone reading our blog that we are a bit obsessed with canals and boats, old narrow boats in particular. Our love of the canal network has also never been fully satisfied by life afloat in the Fens and we’ve always sought ways to go boating as much as possible on the cut, on our boat or friends’ boats.
So when we were contacted by Brian and Ann Marie McGuigan (who many will know run coalboat Alton) asking if we were interested in an opportunity to make a living working on the canals up in Cheshire, we jumped at the chance!
Brian and Ann Marie had just taken on Bollington Wharf (on the Macclesfield Canal) and they were looking for some enthusiastic young(ish) people to join them running the place as well as helping out with the coal boats Alton and Halsall. Already signed up were our friends Jason and Charlotte who own Betelgeuse and now Bargus.
This offer came at the right time for us since my job in the Brecks finishes this summer and as I’ve said we’d been itching to leave the Fens. Over the past few months we’ve been going up to visit and refine our roles and business plan with the team which has been enormous fun, as well as getting stuck into yard work. Then after our wedding in May we’ll head northward to new waters and a new adventure. Willow is obviously going to come with us and we will be moored at the yard when we’re not off boating and exploring the canals!
The new Bollington Wharf team
The service moorings at the wharf, with Adelphi Mill opposite.
The wharf is in a great location on the beautiful Macclesfield Canal, in the heart of the lovely friendly town of Bollington, Cheshire. Do pop by and say hello – we have fuel and pumpout/elsan and lots more planned so watch this space.
We will be setting off on our grand wedding/moving north trip at Easter and as usual when we do a big trip we’ll be blogging about it. When we arrive, I will probably start a new dedicated blog about boatyard life.
Willow is a boat again! We came off dock this morning and then spent two hours putting the movable ballast back in. We also filled the ballast tanks and tested the new pumps. One click of the “Blow Main Ballast”switcg (although to be accurate it should really be “Blow Q Tank” apparently…) turns them both on and water is expelled at speed from each side of the boat. It’s quite dramatic!
We stopped at Bottisham so we could spend the afternoon with the Pippins (John kindly gave us a lift back to the Lazy Otter to collect the car) and go to Emmaus. As usual we got some good finds! I got a bike for £25 – a nice Dutch style one with hub brakes and gears whose only fault was that it evidently stood too close to a bonfire and the chainguard was melted! I’ve removed the guard and it’s fine. We also got a 1935 mug, marking the silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary making it the same age as Willow. Then a lovely dinner and a catch up which included tasting some Very Nice Gin!
Dreadful weather today but got another coat of blacking on before it really set in.
Also painted counter bands (not entirely convinced by the balance of stripes now with the black band in the middle but maybe I’m just not used to it.)
Then we went to Cambridge for plywood so James could get on with the flooring in the back cabin while I painted to cabintop.
I got started on the third coat first thing in the morning and soon after the marina owner came down to weld on Willow’s new Magnesium anodes – we didn’t bother with them before but thought it worthwhile in case we end up on a mooring with shore power in the next 3 years.
Then I got on with the blacking whilst James sorted the ballast tank plumbing. Originally, the plan was to drop a sump pump into each, but that would involve removing 34 screws that hold the lids down, which is a bit of a faff. We want to be able to pump the tanks out much more quickly, so are installing two self priming pumps and the plumbing for them, to fill and empty the tanks at the flick of a switch- handy if running aground, or coming up to a shallow section in, for example, the Middle Level.
After planning in some detail all the parts required, he drove to Cambridge with a long shopping list, purchasing bits from Machine Mart, Toolstation, and Screwfix, and then set to installing the flanges in the tanks, and the various pipework.
I also painted the stern and the cabin top but totally failed to take any pictures, sorry! Will post them up tomorrow.
In the evening our friend and boat neighbour Emma visited – she’s thinking about getting her boat blacked in this dry-dock next year. We finished off the day with a drink and another meal at the Lazy Otter.
In the morning we went to St Ives to buy paint and the anodes we’re having fitted as well as stock up on food.
I put a second coat of blacking on using a roller – so much quicker! – then sanding and painting the rusty spots on the cabintop.
James has been working on the back cabin, continuing with the battening, insulating and sorting the plumbing for our water ballast tanks.
It took all day but we finished the first coat of blacking. This coat was brushed on to get into all the nooks and crannies but the next two will be rolled. Why did we want such a long boat?
We did spot something interesting on the hull that we’d not seen before though. A numeral 3 scored into the hull just below the first guard iron roughly where the original cabin would have finished. We’re mystified as to what it was for. Gauging? Makers mark? Hull identification?
We arrived at Stretham Ferry dry-dock on Sunday night. It’s a pretty spot, albeit a bit too close to the A10.
Before we came out we had a bit of work to do. Our friend had her boat out in the same dock a month or two ago and at 2’6 had struggled to get over the cill into the dock. Willow is typically 3′. So we decided to empty the water ballast tanks, and remove all of the movable ballast in the engine room. Length was also a potential problem but there was nothing we could do about that but try it and see!
At 8:30 the yard owner came down to get Willow on dock. As he lifted the gate the cill looked awfully shallow! But the boat slipped quietly in with not a scrape on the cill. Phew. Length was the next challenge but we fitted in with a little room at either end thankfully.
Our friend and fellow boater Graeme, of Cambridge Jetwash, arrived just as the water was finally draining from the dock and he got stuck in with the pressure washer to remove the weed and loose paint. James and I both also had a turn at this oddly satisfyingly but mucky job. Graeme also pressure washed the cabin and even the canopy over the dry-dock!
James also ground off the lip which caught on the cill on the Northampton flight and nearly caused us to sink. We’ve been wanting that gone for a long time!
We had dinner at the Lazy Otter next door. Today now the boat is dry, blacking (and lots of other jobs)begin!
A bit of a catch-up required! We got to St Ives on Friday, having enjoyed another sunny day’s boating along the Old West River. We found a prime spot outside the Dolphin.
Saturday was damp and rainy so we had a day off to relax, read and go for a short walk to the Marina to buy a part for the shower pump.
In the evening the weather cleared so we decided to take out the inflatable canoe for a dusk pootle around Holt Island by the Waits in St Ives.
Today we went on dock at Stretham -more about that soon.
Today began with a visit to the only shop in Hilgay for supplies before setting off back down the Ouse. We planned to do the Lark today. A few years ago we made it to Prickwillow but no further.
We had glorious sunshine all day and thoroughly enjoyed the river Lark which just becomes prettier as you go upstream. It’s quite narrow and wiggly but despite meeting two EA weedcutters we had no major issues.
At the head of navigation, Jude’s Ferry, we can report that winding a 72′ narrowboat is quite easy, although shafting was required due to the wind being in the wrong direction.
The plan is St Ives tomorrow so we didn’t want to stay at the head but instead turned around and are now stopped for the night just by the junction with the Ouse on the GOBA moorings there.