Monthly Archives: July 2013

Put the kettle on

We wanted a kettle for our newly plumbed in stove, as we were using a rusty old camping kettle and we’d given away the one we had on the Duck when we sold the boat. We pottered around town, but actual stovetop whistling kettles are few and far between these days, and we could only find £70 Le Creuset ones and ugly modern things that wouldn’t fit with Willow’s style. Then, on a whim we went into TK Maxx and struck gold. A smaller sized (but perfect for our little boat hobs) Le Creuset kettle in a nice shade of Cobalt blue (matching all our Willow pattern) for £25. Normally that size of kettle is £50!

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Thames Sailing Barge Trust

For James’s birthday, one of the presents I got for him was a weekend out on one of the Thames Sailing Barge Trust’s boats.  Long time readers of our blogs may remember that three years ago, we spent a weekend sailing on the Thames Barge Reminder, on the Blackwater. We loved it and vowed to return, but they way it worked, with needing 11 other people to come along to share the cost, meant that we had never got around to organising it. The cost was also prohibitive (at £198per person for the weekend in 2010 it wasn’t something we could afford to do often!).

So, when I heard about the Thames Sailing Barge Trust (actually I followed a link on Twitter to their website) I was pretty excited. The Trust is a charity set up to run, restore and sail two Thames barges, Pudge and Centaur. They run charters similar to our trip on Reminder, but the big difference is that they also organise open weekends, whereby anyone (you don’t even have to be a member of the Trust, although we are now) can come along and sail. For an extremely reasonable £100 per person for the weekend, you just book in and show up. This means that you don’t need to sort out eleven other friends to share the cost with you, and additionally, it’s a great opportunity to make new ones! The cost includes accommodation on the boat on the Friday and Saturday nights, as well as all food (except for Friday night’s dinner). You have to muck in with the cooking yourself, but it’s not a problem, and is actually quite fun. I think this is extraordinarily good value for what is a wonderful way to spend a few days, and would definitely recommend it.


The boat we sailed on was Pudge, and it is based in Maldon, where we joined the rest of the crew on Friday night having caught the train and bus from Cambridge. We had a drink at the pub on the Quay and retired to bed. There wasn’t a full complement of  crew so James and I had a 4 berth cabin to ourselves. We were supposed to be setting off at 4am, but unfortunately there was a mis-communication and the skipper didn’t show up, so we had to wait until the next tide to set out. He was very apologetic and everyone was refunded half the cost of the trip, but to be honest it didn’t really matter. We were secretly glad of the extra sleep and enjoyed a nice walk over to the other side of the river for a pub lunch, before heading back to Pudge and casting off at 2:30pm, in glorious sunshine. We’d been promised terrible weather by the Met Office so this was a bonus!

The weather miraculously held for the rest of the afternoon. It was wonderful – a nice breeze, sunshine, good company – the rest of the crew were a mix of experiences and backgrounds but were a nice bunch who we got on well with (although I was the only woman!) We got involved in helping with the rigging and the steering (so many new terms to learn!), and I was chef’s assistant for the evening’s roast dinner. At about 8pm we anchored for the night, and just as we closed up all the hatches and sat down for dinner, the promised rain arrived!

In the evening we were entertained by the skipper on his melodion, which was a nice way to end the day.

In the morning James and I were on breakfast duty and we set off at about 8:30 am in more sunshine. The wind had picked up so it was a little more challenging but we both spent some time on the helm. We tacked our way back up the Blackwater, tying up on the Quayside at about 3.30pm, having enjoyed beautiful sunshine all day (despite more rain having been forecast!). We were tired but it had been a brilliant weekend. We’ll definitely be back, and would love it if anyone wanted to join us!

We arrived back in Cambridge at 8:30pm, and it was great to be able to come back and wash off the weekend’s dirt in our own shower on Willow!

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Categories: Out and About, Travels | 2 Comments

Fitout 35: The Gas Man Cometh

This morning, Tony Pope, the Gas Safe engineer, arrived to finish and sign off our gas system. James had already done a fair bit of it, and the gas locker end had not been altered. So, what we needed Tony to do was connect up the appliances (Paloma and oven/hob) and sign off the system as safe to use. He worked efficiently, using the parts we’d already bought for the job and supplying his own where we didn’t have the ones we needed. James helped, doing things like affixing the wall clips so that the process was speeded up. Soon the cooker and the Paloma were connected, but there was still a lot of checking to do. The system was pressurised with air first, and each joint covered with a soapy solution to show where the leaks were. All leaks were eventually fixed, and the system was holding pressure and safe to use! Whilst they were sorting the gas, I sealed up the shower cubicle with sanitary grade anti fungal, clear silicone, which was a satisfying job, ready for when we had hot water for the shower.

Once the system had been signed off, we made our first cup of tea on the newly plumbed in stove. I can’t wait to try out my shiny new oven, (already planning my first batch of Celebrations Brownies!) and have my first shower on Willow.

P.S for anyone local, we would definitely recommend Tony for gas work and boat safety inspections. We’ve used him for work on both the Duck and Willow, and have been very satisfied.




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Crane Fishing (and a Duck)

There was a dramatic incident at the Fish and Duck Marina at Pope’s Corner (a few miles downriver from us) recently. A large, eight wheeled mobile crane fell into the marina, ending up the wrong way up with all its wheels in the air like a bug. Thankfully no-one was hurt (the driver managed to escape) and no boats were damaged. The Cambridge News carried the story, and there was an extensive slide show on their website. The crane has now been removed from the water, by another crane, which managed to remain upright!

Spot the familiar boat in the foreground!


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Fitout 34

Significant progress today! We finally fitted the shower cubicle. It was supposed to be simply a case of putting it together and attaching it to the walls, but of course, nothing is ever that simple…

Having put the main frame together, we stood it up on the shower tray, and despite us both being short arses, we could peer over the top. The problem being that we’d lowered the tray to allow for a sensible amount of headroom, but the cubicle doors which came with the boat were bought to fit on top of the tray that wasn’t sunk into the floor! So, we had to think up a solution!

A trip to Mackays to buy other necessaries inspired us to go and see what the metal work/small engineering workshop round the back could offer. Truly this is a wonderful place, where any size or section of metal will be cut to size for you, while you wait, and small works carried out. For less than £30 we came away with the materials to extend the shower door frame, lifting it up to a sensible height. Using square section aluminium with thin flexible sheets pop riveted either side, the whole lot is now 180mm higher, and much more useful, so we now have decent headroom for showering and glass screens all the way up to the beam. A little more sealing is now required but we are getting there! The doors slide smoothly open and it all looks pretty good.





In between

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IWA National at Cassiobury Park

Normal service now resumes: no more of this rowing chat for a bit!

On Saturday, we got up late, having not been to bed until the silly hours. We pottered around, and finished off the day with a BBQ to belatedly celebrate James’s birthday. It was a lovely evening.

On Sunday, we took the train down to London to go the IWA National Waterways Festival at Cassiobury Park in Watford. We’d been planning to go anyway, since it’s rare that these festivals are easy for us to get to. But then we found that we’d actually won tickets (via a Canal Boat magazine competition I’d entered on a whim months ago) so we really had to go!

At Watford Junction, we met up with James’s brother (who lives nearby) and dad. We walked along the canal to get to the festival, past the few working boats and up into the site itself, which seemed to be far too removed from the canal. Unfortunately, apart from eating (the food was pretty good) there wasn’t a lot for them to do, once they’d looked around the stalls, so we said goodbye. For us, the best bit was seeing boaty friends who were there. Of the bloggers. we saw Jim & Sarah who were there on Chertsey, John (Halfie) & Jan from Jubilee, Kath & Neil from Herbie, with their grand daughter Grace, as well as Simon from Tortoise and Carrie from Blackbird. There were also a fair few HNBC folk there, and unexpectedly, we also saw Simon, Willow’s previous owner. It was really nice to catch up with everyone.

We came away with a lot of brass, as is to be expected when there are lots of stalls selling various boaty trinkets. A brass towel rail, about 12 curtain rail ends (all priced originally at £3.85 each, but we got the lot for £5), and a brass trivet which they lady on the boat jumble stall insisted upon throwing in with the rail ends!

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Bumps 2013: Night 4

City W6 (Amy’s boat): Down 1

Chesterton M1 (James’s boat): Up 1

The last night was a disaster for our boat: one of the girls caught some weed on her blade, let go (caught a crab), and we ended up crashing into the bank and being overtaken by the crew behind (who we’d caught easily on Thursday). So that was our Bumps campaign and hopes of Blades over! Ah well, that’s Bumps. Anything can happen!

James’s boat did very well, which made up for my terrible last night a bit. They caught X Press M1, much quicker than they expected, placing Chesterton M1 9th overall (the highest their M1 has ever been was 7th, the first year James coxed them in 2007. For a small club, this is excellent.

Additionally, Chesterton won the John Jenner trophy, which was brilliant. It’s a trophy awarded to the club with the most bumps when divided by the number of crews entered.

The after party went on long into the night and we retired early at 3:30am.

Photo: Will C


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Bumps 2013: Night 3

Amy’s boat (City W6): Up 1

w6 thursday

About to bump Champs 4 (photo: Will C)

James’s boat (Chesterton M1): Up 1

m1 thursday

The victorious M1, with their coach, Kate

More willow for the Willows, as we had another great night for both our boats. My City ladies caught Champs 4 very swiftly, and James’s M1 caught St Neots M1 much quicker than they expected. This means that they have avoided having to fight off the mighty City M3 for a second time. Tonight, they have X-Press M1 in their sights, a boat which bumped them some years ago, and revenge would be sweet!

Will C’s write up of M1’s row

Thursday turned into our make-or-break day: having escaped Sharks on day 1, and got Nines 2 easily on day 2, we needed to get St Neots or face Sharks again on Friday; and whilst I wouldn’t object to giving them another go, on the whole I’d say once was enough. We were one of the first boats to Stourbridge and waited around for W1 which was delayed by Something (always nice to see the old traditions maintained). We lolled around under cloudless blue skies joking about the marshalling. James H revealed that he had a cunning frustrate-the-Sharks plan: start badly, or not start at all, and let ourselves get bumped by Nines! Which would have given us an easy day on Friday bumping Nines back. Ingenious, and not something that would have occurred to me, but naturally we didn’t seriously consider it, tempting as it was.

No, we rowed for glory instead. John pushed us out on 45 (with no stream and no wind that made perfect sense, and he’d done it on Tues and Weds too) and Emma counted us down (I really should slip in some thanks to those two for bank-partying us, so here it is) and we set off perfectly aligned. The race plan was that St Neots would be a good deal harder than Nines, and we couldn’t really expect to get them before the Plough, or possibly on the Reach, but that we should go off hard and try to break them. Last year they were shockingly fast, but we knew that this year we had a faster start than them.

Although looking at the GPS trace I can see that our actual start wasn’t desperately impressive – peak 1:27 – we’ve hit 1:20 on other days.

We got one whistle fairly soon – after perhaps 15 strokes. We (well, I) regarded this as ours by right and, as planned, we really paid little attention to it – just keep it hard. Vague shouting from the bank not long after the A14 bridge suggested we’d closed to 3/4 length, which was welcome but not very important – we knew we weren’t going to close just yet. Then somewhere in the fog of going round FP things started changing as we closed in to 2 whistles, and then rapidly 3; this was unexpected but quite welcome (at that point I was going through my usual mental fight with myself, which this year took the form of: “yes this hurts, but its going to hurt a lot more if you let Sharks chase you down the Reach tomorrow, so lets not let that happen”). It got somewhat choppy but we kept it up (the trace shows that, as usual, we slowed a little round FP but then we picked it back up to 1:38 / 1:39 and held that) until the bump. Which came rather suddenly in the gut.

Actually there is some (poor quality but welcome) video that establishes the sequence: we’re half a length down round FP, within at most 10 strokes that closes to overlap, and within a couple more strokes we bump / they acknowledge, about at the “change sides here” sign.

Hurray for us. Bring on Friday.

My boat have an interesting night ahead, as the boat we need to catch is our City W5. Clubs aren’t supposed to catch each others’ boats (we’re supposed to be in speed order but it’s difficult to know who is fastest sometimes). However, we will not be holding back, despite the fact that the club will be due a fine if we do bump them!

Of our race last night, Emily writes:

It was a confident W6 who paddled to the start, keen to continue to build on our fist two bumps. Tonight we were chasing Champs 4, who were potentially a bit speedier than the crews we’d caught previously. Cox John was once again worrying about his socks, but caused himself some problems in that department by spilling red bull all over them.

It was another short row for us, though tonight we did have to go round a corner. We caught them just before grassy corner. Our attempts to row quickly home in order to boat swap were slightly marred by a diligent and enthusiastic marshal. As ever, we stayed cool.

We’re looking forward to a longer, chunkier race tomorrow.

Apologies that rowing has taken over the blog for a few days! Normal service will resume at the weekend! Tonight’s row will be followed by the epic Last Night of the Town Bumps Party at City, which normally goes on until dawn. We will see how long we last, but unlike previous years, we won’t be cruising off into the sunrise, it’s James’s birthday BBQ tomorrow, and we have the gas man coming next week, so there’s lots to do on Willow, and we’ll be staying put.

Next weekend we have something very exciting planned but we’re not sure yet if it’s  going ahead…

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Bumps 2013: Night 2

Amy’s boat (City W6): Up 1

James’s boat (Chesterton M1): Up 1


Lots of willow on Willow last night. It’s much harder to get a bump in the higher divisions, so James’s boat’s achievement was definitely something to celebrate. My boat enjoyed a second night of bumping too – great fun

Again, I’ll hand over to Emily to write up our row:

W6 were feeling more relaxed today, and were keen to build on our first bump from Monday night. Fate gave me a tap on the shoulder – well the head – when I was struck by a falling branch on my way to city (that did actually happen). Clearly the gods knew we should have foliage. Despite an absence of ducks on the row up to the start, our paddling didn’t quite live-up to the elegance and panache that we had come to expect of ourselves. All the same, we didn’t panic and remembered that we could
still get it together. And this time, we were prepared for the gun.We had another strong start and champs behind us were soon disappearing into the distance. Once again, whistles were soon blowing and cox John was calling us to focus and ‘City, Go!’ There was a moment of drama when the Nines 3 cox took a while to yield and, despite being before the Plough, there was a physical bump. It was on first post corner, at almost exactly the same position as yesterday. Boom. Emily A

and to Will, who described their bump on the Chesterton blog:

A glorious bump up against Nines 2. Actually it wasn’t really that glorious, more in the nature of Inevitable, Nines 2 having the misfortune of being a rather poor crew this year and we’re pretty good.

After yesterday, today’s race plan was obvious: us to get Nines 2 quite early, about where St Neots got them or perhaps a little earlier: before the end of First Post reach. But behind us, ah, the Sharks, who would surely know we had a slow crew ahead of us, and be out for blood, and therefore come up like a rocket.

The first part worked fine: we got a decent start, peak 1:20, and had only faded to 1:37 when we hit Nines. It got pretty choppy under the A14 bridge and closing in on them, but that doesn’t seem to have affected our speed much. The second part didn’t happen: City 3 didn’t gain at all off the start, and indeed when we last saw them they were being hard pressed by Tabs 3 (who blew up not much later). What we hadn’t thought of was that the Sharks knew we’d get Nines, and saw no reason to put themselves out pushing the start hard for no possible gain. Its nice that they were so confident of us.

Afterwards, to Queens for some club beer, tactfully leaving Nines (who were also boating from Peterhouse) to weep in peace.

Will C

Bring on tonight!

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Bumps 2013: Night 1

Amy’s boat (City W6): Up 1


Rowing to the start

James’s boat (Chesterton M1): Row Over


This week, we’re rowing every night, in the annual Town Bumps races. For anyone new to our blog, Bumps racing is a type of rowing race almost exclusive to Oxbridge rowing. Basically, all the crews line up along the bank at regular intervals, are pushed out into the stream with long poles, and then all set off at the same time, at a cannon. You then have to catch up with and ‘bump’ the boat in front. Literally sometimes. And all before the boat behind catches up with you. Crazy? Yes. Dangerous? Occasionally. Fun? Of course! Traditionally, boats who successfully ‘bump’ the boat in front wear willow in their hair, which seemed particularly appropriate this year!

My crew had a good race, bumping the boat in front fairly quickly. Our stroke girl wrote up the night’s action:

During training W6 had suffered from a tendency to row slower as soon as anyone started watching. Asking the  spectators who would inevitably be lining the Cam banks to close their eyes when we approached didn’t seem like a viable option, so it was with some nervousness that we approached the first day of bumps. We would be chasing Champs W3, a boat which included the boss of one of our crew, so the stakes were high.  We had to stay focused; we had to stay calm. We had to think of John’s favourite phrase echoing down the river: ‘Keep. A. Lid. On. It.’ Our row down, despite a delayed practice start due to an inconvenient family of ducks, had great control and concentration, and helped us to get into a winning frame of mind – seven’s flow of suggestions for Harry Potter themed calls trickled out, and cox John soon stopped worrying about his socks.Our station was a little too close to the canon for comfort (by the outflow), especially for those who had not experienced bumps before. Managing to remain unphased, though, we had a solid start despite the gun firing a few seconds earlier than expected. It seemed that we had barely settled into a rhythm and become used to rowing in Champs’ wake before whistles started sounding from the towpath, a noise which few of the crew could believe was connected to us. Unbeknown to the W6 rowers, there was some concern on the bank that Champs would bump out before we managed to reach them. Fortunately, we responded to John’s carefully rehearsed calls asking us to focus and to push on, and bumped Champs in time, at first post corner. It was foliage and smiles all round on the row home, and we’re all looking forward to racing in day two – when we’ll once again row like there’s no-one watching. Emily A

James’s crew were pleased with their row – one of the crew wrote it up here:

Brief race description: we’d expected the Sharks (City 3, behind us) to be fast but blow up after 500m. We’d expected St Neots to be OK, but not as good as last year. That latter turned out to be true: we got a whistle on them soon after the start. What we’d omitted to think of was how slow Nines 2 were; St Neots got them around the top of First Post Reach. Happily James (helped by John on the bank) saw them well in time to steer round with minimal loss of speed. That left us with plan B: row past FP and wait for the Sharks to blow up. Alas, they failed to comply, and after dropping back to maybe 2 lengths they began to gain ground around Grassy, to perhaps a length down at the top of the Reach. Still, its now far down the Reach (oh yeah) and they’d only closed to within 3-6 feet by the time we were safe and sound.

We were all very happy with the row: we felt we’d done well, and “defeated” (if we hadn’t been faster than them over the whole course, we’d done well enough to avoid the bump) a powerful opponent (you can read what they say about themselves at they’re hot). Will C

So we’re both going into tonight’s racing feeling confident, and looking forwards to racing.

Full results here. And Jet photographic caught the moment we bumped, and there’s a video here (from 1:00)

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