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 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.
We can hardly believe it but we’ve had Willow over 3 years now, so it’s time to get it out of the water and blacked! Prior to going on dock next week we thought we’d have a few days out boating.
James single handed Willow for the first couple of days, stopping at Waterbeach & Ely then meeting me after work at Brandon Lock on Tuesday eve where I took the opportunity to show some colleagues around the boat. So for me, the “holiday” proper only started today.
I got up very early in the hope of seeing otters (it’s a prime spot) but sadly there were none. I think by 5:30am it was just a bit too light.
We set off along the Brandon Creek aka Little Ouse, and it’s lovely to see how the landscape alters, beginning in the Brecks with low hills, heathland and forest in the distance, then becoming more open as you reach the Fens.
After fuelling up at the Little Ouse Moorings and catching up on the latest with Natalie we continued to the junction with the Great Ouse and round the corner, up to the junction with the Wissey, new waters for Willow and for us.
We went as far as the Sugar Beet factory and turned in the wide just beyond (time pressure didn’t allow for a trip right to the end) before tying up at the lovely visitor moorings in Hilgay. It’s a beautiful river and a Hilgay a pretty little village to stop in. A trip to the excellent butchers is in order tomorrow morning!
A while ago I went to London to see a double bill of poetry, song and theatre about the famous “Idle Women” of the wartime waterways. Heather Wastie performed her fantastic Idle Women and Judies, and Kate Saffin her one-woman play Isobel’s War.
Both were fantastic, really bringing to life the stories of these incredible women who learned to handle working pairs of narrowboats and barges on the Grand Union and the Leeds and Liverpool Canals. But the most exciting moment for me came when Heather performed a new song she’d written, inspired by our very own Willow! She’d read my blog post where I wrote about the report by Molly Traill on the test run from Ellesmere Port to Birmingham with Willow and Ash, and used it as inspiration for her song!
You can read part of the song on Heather’s blog, which also contains the details of their upcoming tour of the Midlands, where you can hear the song(and join in yourself). Highly recommended!