Monthly Archives: July 2014

Days 3 & 4: Ely – Ely, Ely – The Ship, Brandon Creek Junction

3 miles
14 miles

I was still at work on Wednesday, and afterwards, Amy and I took the train back to Ely. We visited the water point and sanitary station, before heading out towards the Queen Adelaide straight, intending to moor in Littleport that evening and have a fortifying curry in the Indian Gardens restaurant- our favourite- before a late morning passage through Denver and Salter’s Lode on Thursday.


Passing another historic boat in Ely- the stern end and about 20 feet of the GU “star class” butty Pavo, as the bow of the middle boat

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. I noticed a lot of coolant bubbling in the header tank on the engine, and it started streaming out, with the engine itself getting very hot. Very concerning, even if the temperature warning light didn’t come on- we don’t have the deluxe panel with the temperature gauge- and so we drifted in to the convenient pontoon of Isle of Ely rowing club to investigate.

The problem was a very large airlock at the top of the skin tank that cools the engine. If the metal vane pump which circulates the coolant isn’t fully supplied with water, it can’t suck and pump adequately and circulate the cooling water out of the engine, through the skin tank, and back into the engine again.

The engine, being very hot, boiled and spat out the first lot of replacement water poured in through the large fitting on the top of the tank, but after a bit we were able to top it up satisfactorily and a test run showed that the skin tank was now getting hot and taking coolant from the engine. However, we decided that we would be better off returning carefully to Ely, being particularly tired and a bit worried from the problem, rather than pressing on to Littleport. We wanted to ensure the problem was fully fixed before attempting the tidal passage- King’s Lynn is a very nice town, but I’d rather not see it from Willow…..

A check of the engine in the morning revealed that the coolant had settled to satisfactory levels- the skin tank was full, and the airlock was gone. After consulting with various engine experts online, I confirmed my thoughts that the engine has a metal vaned pump, rather than a rubber impeller which would have been damaged by overheating, and was confident we were ready to cruise on and ensure the problem was fully fixed before Denver. After a look around town, and visiting the library for some more books, we winded in a tight spot, having a waltz with the trip boat Liberty Belle which turned up at the worst possible moment and needed to moor where our fore end was, and headed out towards Littleport, to test the engine. It ran fine, with no more problems- although I’ve never checked the header tank so often before.

In places, the Queen Adelaide straight was completely covered with floating duck weed, and we were thankful for not having raw water cooling.



We only had a third of a tank of diesel, and most places between the Ouse and the canals are fairly expensive, and we knew our friend Alan who runs the fuel boat Bletchley on the Nene would be away; so we came to the ship pub, on the junction of Brandon Creek and the main river, and went down to the Little Ouse moorings to fill the tank, having checked with them they were open and had diesel.

After filling the tank, and catching up on the local gossip with Danny and Natalie, the owners, we carried on down Brandon Creek to wind- I didn’t fancy the reverse around several corners between moored plastic boats.

After about 30 minutes, we came to a place that looked wide enough- there’s no official winding holes- so in a spirit of “nothing ventured nothing gained” decided to give it a go. I reversed and shafted the stern end towards the piled bank, and dredged a channel through the soft mud, while Amy shafted the fore end around, assisted by the stream, slowly but surely. There’s always a worrying moment when the boat approaches 90 degrees to the river, and you find out exactly if where you have chosen is wide enough! The fore end pushed some reeds aside, and with a bit of shoving, we got around, and carried on back to the Junction to moor by The Ship pub for dinner.

The pub moorings, completely empty on one side an hour and a half before, were now fully occupied by three boats. A not too ideal spot was left right on the curved bank on the junction itself, and so we moored with the stern end hanging right out, but the fore end safely onto a mooring post, and set plenty of springs so we wouldn’t move about too much. We’re now in the pub, having enjoyed an excellent dinner, and looking out over the boat.

Denver and Salter’s Lode tomorrow!



Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Day 2: Waterbeach – Ely

Waterbeach – Ely

10 miles, 1 lock

Meeting up for a drink with Richard, who is visiting the area in his historic boat (converted BCN day boat, Squire) and then missing the train back to Waterbeach by a minute meant that we were running a bit late when we finally set off from the GOBA moorings towards Ely. Thankfully Bottisham lock was in our favour. It was a beautiful run to Ely as the sun set, and we managed to get a really good mooring just beyond the road bridge (I’d been concerned that we’d not find 72ft of space, as Ely is often very crowded). Our friend Richenda had almost given up on us by the time we arrived just before 10pm in the very last of the light, but we were in time for a drink before last orders at the Cutter!

I failed to take any pictures of the trip to Ely so here’s one of Squire‘s fantastic new paintwork!


2014-07-29 16.59.45

Categories: Travels | Leave a comment

Summer Trip Day 1: Cambridge – Waterbeach

Cambridge – Waterbeach

6 miles, 1 lock

Moored above Bottisham Lock (GOBA moorings)

A slow start over the next few days, as James has to be at work for a bit longer, but last night we officially set off on our summer trip, out of town to the GOBA moorings above Bottisham Lock. We walked over to have dinner and drinks with the Pippins, and then this morning we both commuted in to Cambridge. Depending on work, we’ll either go through Denver on Thursday or Friday. Thea is still unimpressed with the idea of boating but she did emerge from under the sofa briefly whilst the engine was still running.

2014-07-28 17.41.21

Setting off! All being well we’ll not be back til early September! Fore end is looking shiny – James painted it over the weekend.

<– I’m planning to keep the Where’s Willow widget updated where possible

As I was looking up the distance on CanalPlan, this very apt quote from Rolt’s Narrow Boat appeared on the Canalplan homepage.

On an afternoon of the last week in July the great moment arrived when we slipped “Cressy’s” mooring-lines and drew slowly away from the boatyard, heading northwards. Only Herbert Tooley on the bank and the blacksmith at the smithy door watched our unostentatious departure. Beside us on the aft deck stood Mr. Tooley senior in his Sunday suit and best bowler. He had suggested “giving us a hand” as far as Cropredy, such a childlike eagerness lurking beneath his deliberately casual offer that we had not the heart to refuse the old man. As we rounded the bend in the canal that had been the tempting limit of my view for so long, I looked back over the churning wake of our screw for a last glimpse of the familiar yard before the tall hedgerow beside the tow-path hid it from sight.

From Narrow Boat L. T. C. Rolt (1944)


Categories: Thea, Travels | 1 Comment

Summer Boating Plans

This week is Town Bumps week, the biggest race of the Cambridge rowing calendar, so we’ll be busy competing (James) and supporting (me – I’m not rowing this year, as I’ve got the wedding of a friend to attend and so I’ll be travelling on Friday and not able to compete). Once that’s over with and I’m back from the wedding, we plan to go boating on Willow – our first chance to do a proper cruise since we bought the boat – last summer we did a mini local trip but this year our plans are grander!

Although we’ve not settled on our exact route yet, here are a few places on our list, which we hope to visit this summer (we have all of August away, although I’ll be taking work with me).

Gloucester: Our ultimate destination is the city where Willow was based when working for the Severn and Canal Carrying company. We want to get a photo of Willow sister ship Oak.

2013-10-30 16.00.04

We’ll be going through Birmingham, both on the way there and the way back, so we’ll be making the most of all the different routes options through the City, opting for canals we’ve not traveled before, particularly the “Back of the Map” – the Dudley canals. One place we’ll definitely visit will be the Black Country Living Museum. I’m particularly looking forwards to the fish and chips cooked in dripping and wrapped in newspaper…

09082010519 8279842891_0ed0b45a5d_k


Whilst in Birmingham, we’ll try to get up the Cannock Extension to see one of Willow‘s other sisters, Ash.

Photo S Edgson

On our way back, we have one deadline, to be at the Alvecote gathering of historic boats on the August Bank holiday weekend. It’s the only one we can attend as long as James is still tied to school holidays. We’ve not yet been, but have promised various friends that we’ll be there this year to show off Willow!




Categories: Out and About, Travels | Leave a comment

Fender Bending

We commissioned Willow’s stern fenders (known as tipcats) last year, from an old boatman called Joe Hollingshead. Sarah E collected them for us and we picked them up from the November HNBC social. Next step was to soak them and then hang them up in the garage.

On Sunday, we decided to have a go at fitting them. This is not an easy job, particularly as Willow’s stern end is very pointy. The first one was relatively easy. With one end attached we used a heavy duty ratcheting puller to being the other end around, in combination with a bit of bashing from a sledge hammer.

2014-07-06 16.55.17

2014-07-06 17.56.38

The first one securely fitted, we set about bending the second tipcat into shape. Doing it in situ proved difficult, so we made use of the same puller, a mooring pin and a convenient tree.

2014-07-06 19.07.46 2014-07-06 19.08.58

This one was more difficult to persuade into the correct shape, so whilst it it also now attached we need to fettle them a bit more and keep tightening them. One suggestion has been to try switching them over so I think we’ll try that. But they’re starting to look the part.

2014-07-06 19.54.00 2014-07-06 19.54.22

Categories: Fitout, Maintenance | Leave a comment

Braunston 2014

I realise I’m a bit late with this one – it’s been a busy week on the river with lots of political goings on regarding the regulation of the “Riverside” area moorings in Cambridge and as Camboaters secretary I’ve been involved heavily in this, and there have been various meetings and press calls.  More here:

Anyway, we usually spend the whole weekend at Braunston but this year James was too busy with work so we just went on the Saturday. Bad choice as it turns out, it was tipping it down. Luckily the sun did come out in the middle of the day but not until after we’d spent a damp hour parading with the Herbies, the Moomins and the Briar Roses on Chertsey. It was far too damp for photos!

Once the weather improved, we went boating on replica tunnel tug Hasty, which is steam driven, and the owner handed James the tiller. He had great fun, but it was nervewracking at times because obviously with steam there’s a disconnect between steerer and engineer – speed and direction control get relayed by “ships telegraph”! Luckily it all went smoothly.

It was great to catch up with people – too many to list, but particularly our friends Jason and Charlotte who are in a similar position (and age) to us a year or two ago – looking for an historic boat (or two) to live on. Most such boats are not advertised so we introduced them to people who might be likely to hear if anything suitable comes up and have promised to advise them on the process, although they are doing all the right things already. It’s all about networking when you want an old boat, and it’s always great if we can get more younger people them as well.

We also came away with some goodies – the lovely Sarah on Chertsey had come across a beautiful Willow pattern tablecloth (thank you!) and we also got some useful hempex offcuts from Tradline and a little 5l Jerry can.

2014-06-28 14.07.31 2014-06-28 14.08.39 2014-06-28 14.26.10 2014-06-28 14.26.17 2014-06-28 14.26.48 2014-06-28 14.26.55 2014-06-28 14.40.22 2014-06-28 17.59.25 2014-06-28 18.01.33


Categories: Out and About | Leave a comment

Blog at