• Narrowboats across the Wash - Sunday 7th April 2013

    Where we are:-
    April 21st Llangollen Canal
    May 1st Shropshire Union (anti-clockwise)
    June - Gloucester & Sharpness ship canal
    June 12th - Bristol
    June 15th - Bath, R.Avon
    June 18th - Bathampton, Kennet & Avon Canal
    June 21st - Bath.
    June 24th - Bristol
    June 2014 to January 2015 - Gloucester & Sharpness ship canal


    Sunday 7th April 2013

    Why the Wash?

    The idea came from Mike Barrie (nb.Anastasia) back in 2012. I asked about his cruising plans for the New Year and he mentioned heading east and having a go at the Wash.

    Would you mind company, I asked, not at all, he said, and that was how easily it was decided. We were going to sea.
    from PB
    Photo courtesy of Paul Balmer – Waterways Routes

    My first job was to find a pilot.

    Boat club journals and boater’s blogs all pointed to Daryl Hill so after a little scouting around I tracked him down at Wisbech and made a booking for his first window after Easter (6th to 11th April 2013). Kings Lynn was my preferred destination but it’s nowhere near the easiest option when you consider the winding nature of the Great Ouse, the presence of sandbanks at Denver sluice and the shortage of stopping places if things go wrong. Not only that but mooring outside the Sluice wasn’t an attractive option to a party of boats arriving outside opening times.

    Taking the Wisbech route only adds a couple of days to the journey and has the advantage of floating pontoon moorings (chargeable) within a secure gated enclosure at the yacht harbour. And it’s good to know that the moorings are overlooked by the Harbour Master’s Office.

    Daryl Hill, our ‘Wash Guide’, as he prefers to be known, was happy to take up to three boats in one go but before we knew it the list of prospective Wash crossers had grown from two to six.

    The winter of 2012 saw the list diminish as contenders reluctantly declined due to commitments and health problems.

    This left Anastasia, Balmaha and No Problem in the party as Easter approached. Things didn’t look too good for No Problem at one stage when the new engine gave Sue and Vic concerns but everything settled down and confidence was restored in the end. It was also touch and go on the weather because east winds had battered the coast for months without a break and we needed calm seas with a relatively gentle force 3 or less.

    You’ll be going nowhere, said lock keeper Mike, until the swell has decreased or you’ll be swamped at the stern as you turn from an easterly course towards the coast at Wisbech. He had a point, a two metre swell off the North Sea, all the way from Norway wasn’t going to do any good when it came up behind a one metre high stern deck.

    The final week approached and we were in daily contact with Daryl, getting advice and preparing ourselves for what might happen if the weather didn’t slacken off.

    Suddenly the forecast changed from vicious easterlies to gentle southerlies. Nail-biting came to an end and plan-Bs were jettisoned as we received the call to assemble at the Boston Grand Sluice entrance at 6:15am on Sunday 7th April.

    You’ll be back here by 2pm if the swell is considered too high for your safety, said Daryl. Nail biting and plan-Bs went back on the menu as we funnelled into the lock entrance and waited for lockie Sam’s OK to hit the salty water.
    the start

    Boston’s lock has three sets of gates and even with the inner pair opened they couldn’t close the back set, hence our wait for the tide and river to level off before departing. She’s plenty wide enough for three narrowboats side by side but only 41 feet long.
    boston grand sluice

    Journey time is around 9 hours, possibly less on spring tides and maybe slightly more on neaps. One has to allow about two hours at anchor waiting for the incoming tide to take us up river at the end of the journey.

    Around 7:15am the front gates opened and we slipped out one by one into The Haven, Mike with Daryl on Anastasia then Sue, Vic and Paul Balmer (of Waterways Routes fame) on No Problem and lastly ourselves with cousin Roger (nb.Megan). Going down river at canal speed we passed the stump in silence, only cameras clicking to warn anyone we had a convoy heading for the sea.

    What looked like shrimp trawlers lined the sea walls and the usual urge to go buy one came upon me.
    fishing fleet

    Given a choice I’d rather have the Mary Angus and retain the deck crane, you could pull a small car onboard with that, in fact you could pull several cars onboard when the owners weren’t looking.
    mary angus

    Thinking it might be a good time to eat before we hit the waves I requested Cooky dish up the bacon sarnies. Daryl let slip that he was a fan of the humble bs so we took pity on Mike, a vegetarian, and delivered ‘packages’ to Anastasia by fishing net.
    grub up

    The pessimists predicted a two day wait for the swell to abate enough to allow a narrowboat out to sea so imagine our surprise when reaching Tab Tower to see a mill pond stretching as far as the eye could see.
    tabs head

    Pootling along at just over canal speed (4mph) we kept green cones to port and red cans to starboard as we headed away from the coast.
    keep green to port

    We left the coastline behind us as the haze descended onto the horizon and we realised we were all alone. No narrowboats coming the other way, no pleasure craft from the marina, just us and the occasional fishing boat on what was becoming a beautiful sea cruise.
    fishing boat

    A third of the journey done we began a gentle right turn around Roger Sand and headed into the sun. A slight swell and small waves bumped the boat’s side for a while but nothing high enough to wet the gunwale. We’d had worse on the Thames and Trent.

    Mike and Daryl were deep in conversation as we pulled out to take photos of Anastasia.

    Sue and Vic’s heads popped up and down from time to time as Paul B took turns at the tiller on No Problem. She certainly looked good cutting through the waves, a tribute to their recent engine change.
    no problem

    But what’s that on the horizon in front of us? Would we have company on the way home?
    Through the binoculars we could see a general cargo vessel of about 2000 tonnes, something V and I were familiar with when working the coastal trade on tankers.

    This was the EEMS DART, fresh out of Bremerhaven, sitting at anchor and awaiting Monday’s tide before entering the Nene, bound for unloading at Sutton Bridge.

    We took turns showing off our tiny boats next to her bulk but, like the Mary Celeste, she was deserted.
    I can only guess everyone was busy on Captain’s inspection, being a Sunday morning.
    eems dart

    Enough excitement for one day, we left deep water and headed southwest to tie up to a buoy on the edge of a firing range. No firing today and the seals are out on the sandbank, well they were until we arrived and they charged off into the sea. But lovely for us they came back to have a look at the intruders.

    We couldn’t have asked for a better day, although it was cool the sun was shining, the sea was so flat you could have played snooker and there was hardly enough breeze to blow out a candle.

    Swinging on our makeshift anchor we were fed by the cooks amongst us and refreshed by wine from the bar on No Problem.

    A couple of hours passed with stories and tales of a nautical and aeronautical nature and then all too soon we were off to Wisbech via Sutton Bridge.

    Crew had hardly put ropes ashore when familiar faces were spotted on the jetty – Mike and Jo from Sarah-Kate with a champagne reception !!
    Get that gate open and let them in….. break out the glasses and fill ‘em up.

    Big thank you to Mike and Jo for putting the final touches to a wonderful day.
    Photo courtesy of Paul Balmer – Waterways Routes

    Well we’ve done it, adventure over, the Wash has been conquered. Where shall we go next year? Actually Mike (Anastasia) has an idea but it will take a bit of research before we are sure we shall manage it.

    As we didn’t find the Wash information readily available I’ve included some notes that might help others in the future.

    Our GPS plot went like this. Leaving Boston (in the top left corner) we cruised northwest around Roger Bank and then south to pick up the entrance to the River Nene.
    Wash crossing track

    On the inbound tide we were made aware of tidal streams. “Crab this way, then crab that way” were the instructions on our approach to land. Tides rarely flow in straight lines when sandbanks are encountered especially in a bay like the Wash. Strong streams cut across intended tracks and local knowledge of the way tides behave is invaluable.

    Not all the buoys were present but this chart extract gives an idea of what signage to expect.
    wash chart

    It is recommended that narrowboats have a full tank of diesel, almost empty water tank, and the only clutter on the roof being the stuff that you are prepared to lose over the side.

    Life vests must be worn by all members of crew and all passengers.

    For convoys a marine band VHF radio is essential to listen for pilot’s instructions. Those without an operator’s certificate will just have to listen and wave arms to acknowledge. Pilot takes his own VHF and flares (no, not 1960s trousers).

    Walky-talkies can be a very useful addition for general natter between boats. That sort of thing might be “Look at that football on your right”. “That’s not a football that’s a seal”.
    Or, “Watch out for that green buoy, if you don’t change course it will hit you broadside in a minute”.

    An appreciation of buoy markings helps when deciding which side to pass if the tide catches you unawares. Apart from hazard buoys you'll see red cans and green cones though not always as many and as regularly spaced as you might expect.

    The anchor: bow or stern? No one insisted it was on the bow or on the stern. Between us we had a mix of both.

    It goes without saying that the diesel tank needs to be purged of water and diesel-bug just before the crossing and it helps (as in our case) to check the fan belts for splits and cracks. We carried out an oil service the week before and checked the coolant level in the days leading up to the crossing. Oh, and one shouldn't forget to tie a line to the life ring (as we nearly did).

    Clear shelves and tables of loose objects just in case the wind picks up and it’s a good idea to use that 'sticky matting' stuff on the stern hatch for keeping binoculars and cameras from sliding overboard.

    Speed: on a calm day the engine may not need to exceed 1500 rpm but one must expect to maintain cruising speed for five continuous hours on the outgoing tide and two hours on the final approach to land.

    1800 rpm might be necessary if the weather deteriorates (and for dodging buoys) but no one seems to expect more than 6 mph through the water, at the very outside.

    A GPS device with a coastal chart is useful because one is out of sight of m for some of the journey. Phone signals may be weak but we were never completely out of contact.

    Seals and sandbanks: the occasional black football floating a hundred yards away is probably a seal's head. At low tide they can be seen sprawled across the exposed sandbanks and though panicked by approaching boats they are curious enough to swim close enough for cameras with zoom lenses.

    Clothing needs to be wind as well as rain proof. Consider head, hands and legs if a cold breeze is expected.

    At 41 feet long Boston lock is too short for most narrowboats. It can handle three abreast but it's a case of waiting until the outgoing tide drops the water outside the lock to match the height of the river inside.
    At Dog in a Doublet (outskirts of Peterborough) the lock is more than long enough for narrowboats and can take three abreast. Coming upstream (from Wisbech) with the tide one should expect a journey of up to 3 hours. Daryl said it could be done in two and a half and by leaving Wisbech immediately the tide turned we made it to D-in-a-D in exactly two and a half hours at 1700rpm.

    Other considerations include tide times of six hour flood followed by six hour ebb. Like some other rivers on the east coast this rule doesn’t apply to the rivers on the Wash where it can vary by as much as three hours of flood followed by nine hours of ebb.

    Insurance: best to check with insurers well before the event that they will cover your expedition.

    Costs: One can halve the expense of pilotage if three boats share the cost.

    Everything is down to weather watching and I’d recommend two weather sites:
    XC Weather
    Find a fishing boat

    Mooring at Wisbech: for contacts and mooring fees see Wisbech Yacht Harbour
    We paid just over £20 for a 60 foot narrowboat for one night. There are 16 amp and 32 amp electricity sockets on the pontoons plus water taps.

    Wash Guide contact: Daryl Hill, mbl: 07909 880071

    In conclusion – if you’re in any doubt about doing the Wash I’d say go for it. It’s a doddle when the weather behaves itself and it shouldn’t be too taxing on a reasonably quiet summer’s day.

  • Saturday 12th January 2013

    Don’t get excited this isn’t a blog update, I’m only adding things of extreme worthiness as they come along.

    Christmas was brilliant, thanks to family and friends and some of them still writing cards after many years since we last saw them – thanks to you all.

    This update is to let you know that the new Iris DeMent album is out and well worth the spend. Her voice has gone up several octaves but it’s still brilliant, well I think so and I’m sure there’s one other person in the world who agrees.

    The album – Sing The Delta.

    Released last October but I had to wait for Santa to deliver it.

    Right now V is away at Mum’s, the boat is parked up out of earshot of anyone else (Barrow-on-Soar) and Iris is belting out at 100+ watts. The speakers are rattling, the wine glass is full and tears are falling.


    Next week we’re back to normal. Ipod and headphones are wonderful things aren’t they.

    V would like to point out she's away helping Mum, she hasn't left home!

  • Happy Christmas everybody

    Hearty Christmas greetings to all our readers, wishing you a stressfree (eh?) holiday and a sunny, prosperous New Year.

    Christmas Greetings

    ....and sorry, no blog update from us, far tooooooo busy.

  • Narrowboat Balmaha – G&S to Staffs&Worcs

    ============================ ==========================
    1st Oct. Birstall, (Leics Line)
    2nd Oct. Kings Lock, Aylestone
    3rd Oct. Kilby Bridge
    2nd week Oct. Market Harbro'
    3rd week Oct. Harbro', Debdale, Foxton
    1st week Nov. Kilby Bridge
    2nd week Nov. Barrow upon Soar
    Nov-Dec. Sileby, Barrow, Loughborough, drifting with the winds and tides.

    ============================ ===========================

    Wednesday 15th August 2012

    It’s time to leave, our summer cruise is over.

    With MiL onboard we paid our last visit to Sharpy. V wheeled Mum down the towpath to the old lock to see the river at high tide and I wandered over the hill to see what ships were in.


    The weather was perfect for icecreams on the way back.

    The only thing left to do was pay our respects to Purton’s hulks, smile and wave for the last time at Saul’s camera and buy up the last tray of sausage rolls at Gloster’s Sainsburys before drawing our summer cruise to a close.

    Once Claire and Ter had called in to pick up Mum we plonked ourselves on the wall at Gloucester dock and waved our fists at the seagulls for the last time.

    First in the lock at 8 o’clock on Saturday we savoured the distinctive local accents until they opened the gates and discharged us onto the River Severn.

    Keeping to a modest 4.5 mph we enjoyed the cruise up river to Worcester, V remarking how the colours along the way had changed since we were here in May. One more push and we made it to Stourport, to the good ol’ Staffs & Worcs canal.

    And that’s it, done, adventure over, we’re cruising canals again retracing our steps across the Midlands.

    This will be the last Blog for a while. We’d only be taking pictures that appear on a dozen other Blogs and repeating what’s already been written by Bloggers weaving their way to and fro across the waterways.

    So we’re hanging up the keyboard, putting up our feet and going quiet for a while.

    ============================ ==========================

  • Narrowboat Balmaha – Splatt via Gloucs to Splatt again.

    Weekending Monday 6th August 2012

    The sun brought out the plastic – big time.

    White boats of all sizes zipped to and from Sharpness in bunches of threes and when two bunches met up and hit the swing bridges it was time to pull over and let the blighters go past.

    I had to laugh when one old timer in his ancient narrer-boot refused to acknowledge them, let alone pull over.
    While he plodded along in the middle the retired captains took things into their own hands and started passing each other and him all at the same time. I know its naughty but I was willing one of the large cruise boats to come round the corner when I took this snap.
    plastic alley

    Have you noticed that people don’t take snaps any more. That must have ended when things went digital.

    Tuesday was nice, we had lunch aboard with friends Dick and Jenny. I say lunch but it was getting dark by the time they left. We had a row of empty bottles (orange juice of course) and more dirty glasses than plates to sort out before bedtime. We had an excellent time.

    Back up to Gloster (nowt wrong with that spelling is there?) for the weekend to pick up MiL for her summer cruise. We couldn’t compete with the cruise boat Edward Elgar, she had a sax blowing keyboard-ist singer fella entertaining them all evening. He was very good and it was tempting to join EE’s passengers applauding each number.

    I saved someone £60 this week. I was visiting the night-soil deposit when a motorist drove up to Llanthony Lift Bridge and stopped. He was about to start off over the bridge when I beckoned to him to wind down his window.
    Where are you going, says I.
    Across the bridge, as my Sat-Nav tells me to, says he.
    Oh-arrhh, says I, Oi wouldn’t be doing that unless you want to be paying the £60 fine, I continued in my best Gloster accent.
    llanthony Bridge

    Once the new bridge on St Ann Way came into use they disallowed Llanthony Bridge for the likes of private cars. And apparently the local gov’t makes thousands of pounds out of those of us still following an old version of Tom-Tom.

    On Friday we took to the roads and I’m hoping my good turn comes back and saves me a speeding ticket when my exuberance took us a little too smartly through a village north of Shepton Mallet.

    It was Barry’s funeral in Corfe Mullen so V and me trundled down to the south coast to catch the service. Terribly sad, he will be missed by a lot of people here and abroad. He had many relatives and friends in Bulgaria. One of life’s good guys, you don’t see many like Barry.

    As for us we’re having our last cruise on the Gloster and Sharpness Canal and hoping to catch a couple of sunny days where we can sit around the BBQ. If the wet stuff goes round instead of over then MiL might get a push along the tow path so she can appreciate the countryside with those excellent views of the River Severn.

  • Narrowboat Balmaha – Sellars Bridge to Splatt , via Bakers Quay.

    Weekending Sunday 29th July 2012

    Smashing weather all week, shame it coincided with V going across country to see the little ‘un. Didn’t see the point of having a barby on my own but on the other hand it was perfect weather for floor varnishing.
    Three generations apart, Gt. Grandma and Bethan seem to have connected.
    great grandaughter

    OK got the floor sanded and varnished (Ronseal Diamond Hard) and went to Gloster to test it.

    A million seagulls have sprogged and taken their offspring to the skies. Not content with bombing the cabin roof and sides they let go their slimy load so that it enters the back door and splatters the newly varnished floor.
    Now that we have shiny floors the white stuff comes off with a wipe, just wish it would come off the instrument panel and circuit breaker switches as easily.

    Lovely watching the pension cash lump sums going down river to the sea. How this sailing boat got under the bridges on the Severn I have no idea.

    Every bridge between Gloster and Sharpness will have to lift or swing for this beauty. She almost had me tempted until I remembered I hadn’t finished with narrowboats or been through the dutch barge phase yet.

    Sainsburys, at the Quays, have let me down, they’ve stopped doing jumbo sausage rolls at 2 for a £1. But at 59p I shouldn’t complain. I bought four, had two given me by other boaters, plus a real pasty (thanks Pam) so I shan’t starve.

    Popped out of town for a day to get my name off BW’s (sorry – CaRT’s) naughty moorers list and thought I was being offered a free boat wash at Rea Bridge.
    rea bridge

    As it happens they were pumping canal water over the bridge steelwork to cool it, to stop it expanding in the heat and sticking against the abutments.

    Thursday was good, I ate out. Dave and Margaret pulled up on nb.Hope and took pity on me being all on my own. Good food, good company and a good night’s sleep.
    nb Hope

    But wasn’t it a hot night!
    With the roof hatch and portholes replaced by flyscreens and a mozzie zapper glowing blue in the corner I was confident that nothing with wings and needle sharp tongues was going to get me. And sure enough, not a single bite in the morning.

    V returned on Friday’s train – hooray, with photos of little ‘un. Don’t they change quickly, it’s only been 7 weeks but already the wrinkles have gone, to be replaced by smiles. I’m talking about the baby, not V.

    I’m afraid I broke two rules this week:
    1. Watched Olympics opening ceremony.
    2. Mentioned the Olympics.

    Can I last two more weeks?

    There’s plenty to keep me away from the tele’ down here on the Gloster & Sharpness Canal. This project is in good hands and when she cruises she is so quiet.
    ex RN launch

    If anyone has information on this 100 year old ex RN launch then her owner would be glad to hear of it.

    Sunday was going to be a day of socialising and good grub but it was cancelled at the last minute, John and Jean from Hampshire pulled out when John decided to half pass a kidney stone.

    On the down-side this meant I had to go without a slap-up breakfast. On the up-side it meant I got double portions at lunchtime. Poor old John, don’t suppose the hospital grub is up to much but you probably don’t feel much like eating on those levels of morphine.

    Hope you pass it soon mate, otherwise they’ll be drilling in for it.

    Here’s another beauty on the G&S Canal.
    Runswick lifeboat

    On a sad note, lost a special friend earlier in the week. Barry was doing so well after his op’ and we thought his heart problems were all in the past but sadly it wasn’t to be.
    However, he knew where he was going and I’m looking forward to seeing him one day, on the other side.

  • Narrowboat Balmaha – Splatt to Sellars Bridge via Gloucs Dock

    Weekending Sunday 22nd July 2012

    To the west of Gloucester dock lies Alney Island surrounded by the Severn’s east and west channels. Historically used for grazing, shows and horse racing it has mostly reverted to meadow, wet woodland, marsh and ponds.

    Crossed by roads and rail it can be noisy at times but there are quieter corners where nature still holds a grip where the buzzing from bumble bees and the electricity sub-station remind you that this is a 21st Century nature reserve.

    Rabbits keep the grassy footpath to bowling green standards and nettles or brambles ensure you don’t trample the thistles and rare weeds.

    Telford has been here, as you’d expect, but surprisingly we couldn’t find a single plaque boasting an overnight stay by Charles III or James I.

    But it still made the important places book because the island was later made famous by Edward VII who graced it with his presence in 1909 when he popped down to the Royal (agricultural) Show.

    So what, I hear you say. Well, there's a disused lock on the island next to Llanthony weir, you know where I mean, it’s the nasty place you visit if you overshoot Gloucester Lock.
    old map

    Llanthony Lock, as it is called, is in water all 2 inches of it and is the subject of a restoration plan by the Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal Trust.

    Used between 1871 and 1924 this lock provided an alternative route from the lower Severn to Gloucester docks avoiding the G&S canal with its tolls.

    As you can see, apart from the odd tree and a few hundred cubic feet of dirt in the way, there’s a chance we’ll use this lock one day to get onto the River Severn. Can’t wait to get out there and get stuck on the sandbanks.
    Llanthony lock

    Incidentally, you don’t need to worry too much about going over the weir if you come down the Severn in flood and miss Gloucester lock, the overhanging tree branches provide an excellent escape route for any Tarzans amongst us.

    The sun came out on Friday and we had visitors – Chris and Graham.

    Graham (aka Richard Gear) and Chris go back in my books to Pig-Sty Hill youth club in Bristol, but Chris and V go back even further, to Colston’s Girls’ School where V learnt how to play hockey and do crosswords.

    Their visit fitted perfectly with the opening of Gloucester’s Food Festival so we toured the exhibits, in particular the tents selling booze and nibbles. Vendors smiling faces and enthusiasm almost made up for the fantastic prices – a good 50% higher than corner shops.

    Treated to Mojitos we settled on the grass in the middle of a crowd of chips and strawberry eaters listening to the PA from a nearby tent where two chefs described the “wonderful flavours going on”.
    Chris + V

    The sun was so warm and the artificial grass so soft that we lingered and caught the start of Keith Thompson’s warm up for Blues Week.
    Keith Thompson

    So this is summer (at last) and our first barby for many weeks. Dave and Margaret, cruising out of Saul, pulled in next to Balmaha to share burnt offerings and pass the night.

    A sure sign that summer is here and that the river has dropped to normal levels is the appearance of plastic by the bucket load. Sipping Pims and lounging half clad on ten foot thick cushions their carriages plough deep furrows in the canal, sending white crested waves towards the shore.

    Some of the bigger beasties must be destined for Sharpness Lock and warmer climes, there being so little room for them to play on west coast inland waters.

    If only I had studied harder and worked for a bank.

  • Narrowboat Balmaha – Saul to Splatt (G&S)

    Weekending Monday 16th July 2012

    As the Queen would say “We’ve had a birthday”.

    Mine was 2 weeks ago and now it is the turn of V’s sister Claire. Probably best if I don’t mention how many candles she’s burning.
    birthday girl

    For a treat Ter and Claire stayed at Tythe House (Bed & Breakfast), just two minutes from Splatt Bridge.
    On their second day the clouds got brighter and we all cruised down to Sharpness and back.

    It’s worth mentioning Ter and Claire’s B&B because if you check the reviews you’ll see plenty of praise for it. The owners Guy and Jane provide excellent rooms, in fact I’d put them higher than many 4 star hotels I’ve stayed in. If you are looking for a smart bed and breakfast and attentive hosts, close to the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, then I’d recommend Tythe House.
    Breakfast is full, flexible and top quality, rooms are immaculate and the service is friendly.

    With apologies for lifting the photo (I forgot to take the camera when we called in), this will give you some idea of what to expect.

    If pushed to give negatives I can only find one, the floors creak, and that’s my only comment. Would we stay there, yes, unreservedly.

    Our cruise to Sharpness from Splatt gave T&C a new perspective on large canals, in terms of depth and width.

    Boats dawdle or go flat out, they may take just about any course without upsetting anyone and anglers are hard pressed to find anything to scowl about.

    The variety of size and type of craft puts the G&S in the same league as the Trent and Gt.Ouse.
    Similarly the water is deep and clean enough to support lilypads and a host of plants that you don’t see on bog standard canals.

    Thinking about it I can’t remember when the prop' last fouled on a poly bag or we swung on the mooring ropes as a big boat passed. How spoilt we are.
    crane barge

    Low tide at Sharpness just after the new moon could have given us a view of the Severn Bore, but it didn’t, not even a tiny one. It was shy on the day and although we waited and waited we couldn’t make out anything higher than a ripple that the wind whipped up.

    You wouldn’t think this was the middle of July would you.

    Saul, Patch, Splatt and Sharpness are the limits of our travels this week. The deluge has had us battened down like most others but we’ve enjoyed it; the towpaths are reasonably puddle free and the feathered wildlife doesn’t seem to be bothered by it.
    Flies are on the increase as are my skills with the newspaper which is evidenced by blood splashes on the cabin walls. Spiders are multiplying at a similar rate and I’m onto them too, with the exception of the one that lives under the washing machine. My foot has missed him more times than I care to remember.

    With the VHF radio we get a fairly accurate picture of who is brave enough to cruise in the rain.

    Calls from the cruise boats to bridges asking for an ‘opening’ before the wind blows them in circles, shows their progress along the canal and announcements of which locks on the Severn are closed or on ‘indemnity’ spoils any ideas that boaters had of going further afield.

    But when river levels are high there’s nothing stopping you taking to the roads. Dick and Jennie came to our rescue on Thursday and whisked us away to Stroud for a beautiful meal in lovely surroundings, a town house with exposed oak beams, stone walls and stories of life as it might have been hundreds of years ago.

    The number of sunny days this week can be counted on one finger so that day was spent exploring the engine room. With 8,700 hours on the engine counter it was due for an oil change and one is beginning to wonder how many hours are left on it.

    By way of contrast we bumped into nb.Kathleen May, another Sandhills boat. She is at least three years older than Balmaha but has only clocked up 3,000 hours.

    Now in the hands of Stuart and Carol she is very well cared for, her pristine woodwork and distinctive marquetry telling us it was the same guys who crafted ours.

    We swapped boat stories and canal experiences and hope to see more of them when they take to the water full time. Poor Carol is only two weeks into a broken shoulder so cruising isn’t as much fun as it could be.

    With a fraction of the planned summer jobs done inside the boat we now need a long dry summer-autumn to prepare for the winter. We shall soon be thinking about new batteries and bottom-blacking, but as things stand we won’t be needing barbeque charcoal, we’ve hardly used our first 5kg bag of the year.

    All being well we’ll have another month or so in this area before heading north away from what has been a memorable waterway. Together with the journey to the southwest the Gloucester & Sharpness goes into our list of favourites. We haven’t exhausted what she offers and with her proximity to so many friends and family we are sure to visit again.

  • Narrowboat Balmaha – Gloucester to Saul

    Weekending Sunday 8th July 2012

    After all the excitement of family meetings we’re off to the country, away from Gloucester docks before the gulls turn our boat completely white.

    But first we called on Derek and Sheila on nb.Clarence for coffee and to muse over next year’s plans.
    As sometimes happens, while the girls talk about social arrangements like where to spend Christmas the boys talk about salt water crossings between canals.

    Talking of which, there’s a boat on the G&S with a notice in the window “Interested in doing the Severn? – Tfn: nnnnnnn”. What a good idea, why don’t we do more of that.

    But for now it was back down to Saul to meet up with John and Beth, friends from the 70’s.
    You can only do so much nattering in the boat so we took a chance with the weather and walked to the Severn, along the old Stroudwater Canal to Framilode. Sticky underfoot in places where the sun hasn’t reached but a pleasant walk, bordering on the humid.

    Conversation topics included aches and pains, things we did in the 70s and what the kids have got up to since we last shared news. Who cares if the body is packing up as long as the memory is still working.

    Saw some familiar faces during the week – like us, Terry and Pam (Roosters’ Rest) cruise up and down the cut making the most of the summer before it turns hot and dry.
    Roosters Rest

    I’ve noticed a pattern to the mooring wardens’ activities on this stretch of canal. Boat checks just after 8am followed by Gotcha Squad the following morning.
    It’s a bit unnerving seeing the Virago descend from nowhere, whop a notice on a boat and zoom off again.

    There’s no time to make a dash for it, they appear out of the morning mist before the sun has dried the cobwebs. The mooring warden’s job is done, today is the day of reckoning.

    It wasn’t us, I hasten to say, the guy in front got it this time.

    Funny old weather isn’t it. Can’t get up any enthusiasm to start a project and whatever we do involves going outside with a 90% chance of getting wet. This weather I would happily change our cruiser stern for a trad, at least I could get on and finish an overdue oil change.

    V and I have competitions to see who can find an accurate weather forecasting website for mobile phones.
    I favour Yourweather because they are so clever that they can grade the rain by light, moderate or heavy. It’s becoming uncannily accurate (almost 50% of the time!).

    I don’t know if you’re like me but there’s one sound on the canal that fills me with dread – the sound of strimmers. Long grass after rain and strimmers mean one thing, a day washing the side of the boat. Well not any more, all that is in the past, they’ve got clever and found a way to strim without stress – use a board.

    It’s the first time I’ve seen it, one man holds a sheet of ply between the strimmer and the boat and the grass stays where it belongs – off the boat paintwork.

    Full marks to this team. Now all we have to do is make sure they do it when we aren’t watching.

    We’re used to the cockerel crowing at Saul but there were some strange bird noises on the offside this morning.

    I counted seven of them but there may be more. Might have been the flooded fields that brought them out onto the pathway. Some people think they’re fowl but they’d make a change from sausages and burgers.

  • Narrowboat Balmaha – Splatt Bridge to Gloucester

    Weekending Monday 2nd July 2012

    It’s Monday evening and another week has gone. I know what where but it’s probably down to socialising (again).

    I’ve turned 60 for the fifth time and thanks to my lovely V I don’t feel the slightest bit older. Apart from a morning kip to go with the afternoon one I am just as active as I was at 59. The brain is as sharp as ever, in fact it’s improved since my primary school report, I’m now aware of my surroundings. Distractions still get the better of me but that could be the sign of being ready for a new career couldn’t it.

    For any clever dickies studying the picture who think I’m only ten because of the candles, we’re on a budget. Besides, my asthma could return if I really had to blow out a candle for every year.

    We’re still not out of cygnet season and here’s a piccy I’ve been trying to get since we arrived on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal – “carry mummy, carry”.
    carry mummy

    Low point of the week was reversing into the Gloucester dock pontoon moorings during a gale. We lost paint and sand from the gunwales and the number of stripes below the gunwales would put a zebra to shame. I had two afternoon kips that day.

    Jan came all the way from Bristol to see us on Sunday. V and Jan go back a long way, so far back that our earliest photo of them together has them wearing mini-skirts that would put hot pants to shame, I make that the 1860s at least.
    We had a lovely time with Jan, the food was good, usually is when we get visitors, and the time flew past.

    And today, Monday, we had bruv’ Colin and Christine with nephew Phil and Juliana. Pity it was damp but we did get a very short cruise in before the rain caught us. It was more of a burst than a cruise but it gives you the feel of the tiller and gives you a sense of what could happen (to a fibreglass cruiser) when it’s pushed instead of pulled.

    Lots and lots of talking. Chris reckoned the men put the girls to shame with the verbal, which is a compliment because girls can keep several conversations going at the same time.

    There’s several hours’ worth left to be said so another visit is in order.
    the clan

    Oh, just seen Clarence passing so we’ll be catching up on Derek and Sheila’s news tomorrow.

    The entertainment secretary says we’ve a social fixed during the week and then I get a week off to varnish the floors and portholes before the next visitors.

    And that is going to have to be that, we’re already into next week’s blog.
    Age hasn’t dulled the memory because I have always forgotten things quickly, it’s my way of keeping the best grey cells to last.


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