Monthly Archives: October 2014

Solving the Mystery of Lucky Duck

Our old boat, Lucky Duck was always something of a mystery. The builder was listed as Unknown in all the documentation we had for the boat, and we didn’t know anything about the history of the boat prior to 2004 when it was bought in a neglected state by John, from whom we bought it in 2008. Various respected and knowledgeable people of the boating world had looked at it and scratched their heads. But now the mystery is solved!

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Last week, I was contacted by Esther W, who had done a bit of detective work, searching for Elaine or Marie Louise, the boat which her father rebuilt in the 1980s, and which she had many happy memories of boating on throughout her childhood. A magnifying glass had revealed the BW index number on an old photo, and from there she’d been able to look up the most recent name of the boat. This led her to coming across our old blog, and to getting in touch with us to see if we knew its current location. As it’s moored two boats down from us on the Common we were able to meet them there last week (the current owners were both at work).

She has now sent me some photos from the 80s and asked her dad for more information about the boat and its history, which they are happy for me to reproduce here, to tell the Duck’s story.

Elaine was built in 1980 at Brierley Hill, on the Dudley No.1 canal (possibly by Delph Marine). She was originally 30ft long, with a cruiser stern. Then, in 1984, Esther’s father Anthony bought her as a family holiday boat. He was an engineer who worked for a boat builder’s himself, and he wanted something a little more traditional, so he embarked upon a major remodeling of the boat. First, he replaced the foreend, giving it wide rubbing strakes (we’ve never seen a fore end quite like it), to deflect the boat if it should hit anything. This photo, taken in Chester, shows the boat part way through the transformation, with the original stern but a new bow.


He also added the curved front doors, reclaimed from a house. The boat had no canopy in those days so the doors were on show all the time. By far the biggest job however was the addition of a new stern. Anthony extended the cabin to give it a traditional stern, and put a lid over the whole boat, with rounded corners above the bow doors. He added portholes and the side hatch


Painted a beautiful dark green and with all the brasses shiny (that was one of Esther’s jobs as a girl), the boat was admired all around the canals. They took it on many holidays and maintained it immaculately. Here are a few shots from family holidays:

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Their family kept it at Calf Heath and owned it until 1990 when it was sold on, and they lost track of it.

We are indebted to Esther for getting in touch and sharing the story of her family and the boat we know as Lucky Duck. It certainly is a one off -a very different and special boat, and it continues to bring joy (and adventure) to people thirty four years on. We had a brilliant five years living on it despite all our misadventures, and we’re happy that it’s still in Cambridge being lived on, and having been given a new lease of life by the new owners. As it’s such a distinctive boat, I wonder if we’ll bale able to piece together what happened to it between 1990 and 2004?

Categories: History | 6 Comments

The Odessa Files: 4

Ferry Meadows – Salter’s Lode

31 miles, 4 locks

An earlyish start from Overton Lake at Ferry Meadows meant a beautiful misty morning on the river, through Orton Lock and down to the embankment at Peterborough.

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Odessa meets some rowers! Lots more of them to come.

The lock didn’t open til 10:30 so we took the time to fill the water tank (alas the pumpout is still broken) before heading to Stanground. Tina locked us through and then it was onto the Middle Level. Luckily, with a moderately shallow water draft, and a powerful engine, Odessa made good progress through the drains. 2014-10-12 12.04.38

At Ashline Lock in Whittlesey. Designed by someone who once saw a picture of a lock and had certainly never used one! It’s awkward in every possible way…

Towards the end of the day we were treated to a beautiful Fen sunset, and arrived just after dark at Salter’s Lode, eight minutes after out planned arrival time! From here, Kate was to take over, so that was our delivery from Crick to Salters successfully completed in four days. Kate kindly dropped us off at Downham station and we made our way home. Over the next day and a half, Kate completed the rest of they journey herself, and Odessa is now our neighbour in Cambridge!

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A Family Visit

We left Odessa at Ferry Meadows on Saturday, and had a lovely day out on Willow with my family: my mum, my mum’s cousin Sue (who is basically like another aunt to me), and my little sister Milly. We ate cake, drank tea from my Willow pattern china, then went out to the Plough for a little cruise and lunch out. Despite predicted rain we had glorious weather all day, so we were very lucky!

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During the day I contacted the Stanground Lock keeper to book our passage through for Sunday. Then in the late afternoon we dropped my family at the railway station, and paid a few pounds to leave the car there until Sunday night, so that once we’d dropped Odessa off at Salter’s Lode and taken the train from Downham we would have an easier trip home! We got to Peterborough about six, had dinner in Wetherspoons then headed over to Ferry Meadows via taxi, pleased to find that the boat was still there!

Categories: Daily Life | 1 Comment

The Odessa Files: 3

31 miles, 14 locks Islip – Ferry Meadows

A beautiful day for boating, beginning with sunshine over misty water and far less wind than the day before.

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The sun burned off the mist soon enough, and the day turned out bright and crisp. At Barnwell, we stopped and filled Odessa‘s fuel tank as well as picking up a few bags of coal for Kate from fuel boat Bletchley.

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12th century church at Wadenhoe

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Fotheringay church

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Water Newton lock, our favourite Nene lock

At Alwalton lock moorings we saw our friend Richard, on historic converted BCN dayboat Squire, who has spent the summer exploring the Fens but is now on his way back to home waters of the Grand Union.

We’d arrange to meet Kate at Ferry Meadows just outside Peterborough, to leave the boat on the lake moorings there until the following evening, as we needed to be back in Cambridge for my mum, aunt and sister to visit. We’d said we’d be there at 7, and we were there by ten past! We’d never stopped at Ferry Meadows before so it was exciting to travel across the lake to the moorings in the dark! We’d decided that this was a better place to leave the boat unattended that the rowing lake moorings or the city centre (I had also contacted Peterborough Yacht Club but although they were happy to have the boat there overnight they said we’d not be able to leave the site!), and thankfully it was quite safe there until we returned the following night for the last leg we were doing to Salters Lode

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The Odessa Files: 2 (and a plug for Friends of the River Nene)

Northampton – Islip 26 miles, 20 locks

A 7:30am start from Northampton Marina then we were through the city in record time due to all the V-gate locks being in our favour. It was a very windy day, so we took to opening both of the top gates on the locks to make getting in that bit easier.

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The weather was very strange, with ominous black clouds looming, the drenching us with rain before disappearing as quickly as they arrived, leaving rainbows in their wake.

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The aim for the day was to get halfway along the Nene to Islip, where we hoped to try out the first mooring established by the newly formed Friends of the River Nene group. The group was only formed in September, with the aim of improving the facilities along the river. They’ve begun by securing access to and clearing three moorings so far at Islip, Ditchford, and Woodford with several more in the pipeline.

We (and Odessa) had the honour of being the first visiting boat to tie up on any of the Friends’ new mooring spots, when we stopped for the night at Islip.

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They’re not kidding when they say “no pedestrian exit” though, we were thwarted by electric fences and ditches in our efforts to go for a walk, so stopped on the boat instead.  Aside from that it’s a lovely mooring though, we heard lots of owls and very little else overnight, and it’s deep enough to get into the edge without needing a plank.

If you’re interested in joining the group, either join the Facebook group where you can download the form, or email me and I’ll send it to you. Cost is £10/year. The Nene is a beautiful river, but it desperately needs more moorings, so I’m very pleased that this group has been set up and is doing so well!

Categories: Out and About, Travels | 2 Comments

The Odessa Files: 1

Recently, Kate, a friend of ours bought a narrowboat to live on – her name had come to the top of the waiting list for a mooring in Cambridge. Unfortunately, the demands of her job meant that she didn’t have the time to move it herself. So we offered to move Odessa for her, from Crick to Denver where she wanted to take it the last leg herself. We reckoned we could do this 112 mile, 70 lock journey in 4 long days, all being well, and so it proved!

Crick – Northampton Marina 22 miles 31 locks

We’d gone up to Crick the night before so we would be ready to set off on the boat as soon as the boatyard had filled her up with diesel and the snags (toilet bowl leak being the major one!) had been fixed. We set off at 10:30, Kate happy at the helm of her new boat, through Crick tunnel, down Watford and Buckby locks.

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At the bottom of Buckby Kate had to head back to Cambridge, and we carried on to Gayton junction. We wanted to get to Northampton Marina in order to stay on our tight schedule. It was still light when we got to the top, and as we know the flight pretty well we decided to descend. The first few locks were all in water and we flew down.

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Then at lock 5, I was just commenting on how much water there was (mistake!) when I looked ahead and saw that pound 6 was empty. Dry in fact. Up I went to run water down from the Grand Union. When I returned a C&RT van can haring down the towpath, towards lock 12. I went down to find out what was going on and to let them know that I was running water down. I arrived to find some boaters getting a bit of a talking to from C&RT. The story came out that they had attempted to ascend the locks heading for Sheffield the day before, but got only up as far as lock 7 before they got stuck fast and had to call C&RT out. The boat is called Safest Haven but we have been told it is the back end of GU butty Pavo, normally based in Ely. Unfortunately it has spread, resulting in it being too wide for the locks. A crane and a lorry is their only hope of getting to their destination now. As it is only 40ft or so they had winded and started back down. By the time we came along behind them the following day, they’d only managed to get down to lock 12, and had flushed themselves out of every lock, draining the pounds on the way, and leaving all the bottom paddles open. When we saw C&RT arrive, Pavo’s crew had just called them out for a second time and the two blokes who attended were not in the best of moods, hence the talking to they were getting! C&RT basically told them that it was too dark to continue safely and ordered them to tie up.

We struggled down behind them, attempting to restore some order to the mess, and made gradual progress. By the time we got to them they had stopped between locks 12 and 13, and we were finally able to overtake. Thankfully a full moon improved visibility and we carried on with no further issues, arriving at Northampton Marina at 10pm. Our fourth visit to the marina in a year: we’ve got a bit of a habit of stopping there, it’s great to be able to book in and know you’ll find a safe place to tie up.

Categories: Out and About, Travels | 2 Comments

Sunshine and Chaos

We’d heard that nb Scholar Gypsy was heading up the Backs on Sunday, and decided to join them! It was a glorious day, so the river was very busy with punts. But all went well, we negotiated the hoardes and sucessfully turned in the Mill Pond (with a bit of shafting of the fore end and dredging with the stern end!

Outside King’s College, we stopped to wait for Scholar Gypsy to catch up, and I took the opportunity to photograph Willow in front of the iconic college view. There is also a tenuous link between Willow and King’s. Willow was built partly to fulfil Cadbury’s cocoa crumb carrying contracts, and George Cadbury was on the board of Severn and Canal Carrying. His son, Adrian Cadbury, who became Chairman of Cadbury’s in 1965, is King’s alumnus, who rowed in the Blue Boat whilst he was at Cambridge, and went on to compete in the Olympics. There’s an apocryphal link between the college’s colour, purple and Cadbury’s trademark colour being influenced by each other in one way or another, but it’s unlikely. However, the company has been a long term sponsor of the college’s rowing club.

On the way back as we were descending Jesus Lock, blog reader Chris introduced himself (hello!). It’s always nice to meet readers!

Anyway, over to the pictures.

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Categories: Out and About | 5 Comments

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