Saturday, 11 September 2010

Senior spottie?

In my new occasional role as semi-skilled senior (as in years) Streethay spottie I hauled an engine out yesterday. Well, not exactly out, to be fair. It's still sitting in the boat but I undid all the connections ready for the haul-out today.
All I can say after that is thank god I've got an engine room to work in on our own boat. Hunched up double in the engine hole trying to undo the engine mounts left me with knotted muscles that took some hours to untangle themselves. I'm glad I've got a simple old diesel to take apart too: no fiddly Morse controls, electrics and flexible driveline couplings to figure out.
But it's all done and I've notched up another skill. But taking apart is a whole lot easier than putting back together -- I'll be leaving that job to the professionals.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The one handed bowline and other stories

Star has had its own artist in residence these past few days plus a frontiersman, mountain rescue specialist and wine guru. All in the form of our great friends from Canada, Gerry (the artist) and Gordon (the all those other things).I have to admit we were a bit worried about inviting people to stay somewhere where the bedroom ceiling is a foot above their heads, the toilet is in the engine room and you have to earn your keep by operating locks and heaving on rope.But they loved it. And so did we. They came well prepared - carrying a big bag of food, a small bag of kit and some clinking wine bottles. We took them on a gentle cruise from Streethay up to Tixall Wide at Great Haywood.
Tixall is, the guidebook says, "noted for its kingfishers" and Gerry desperately wanted to see one. Sadly she didn't – because we all know that wildlife have learned to stay well clear of anywhere that the guides say they're supposed to be.
While Gerry sketched Gordon entertained us with tales of canoeing adventures in northern Canada and demonstrated how to tie a one handed bowline. This is a vital skill. One day I may be stranded on a mountain ledge with a broken arm. My only chance of survival will be Arnie Schwarznegger hovering above in a helicopter and lowering a rope which I have to tie round myself. But I'll be ok - I can do it now. So long as I break my right arm. If I break my left one, I'm doomed - I can only do the knot left handed.
On the way up we had a pretty decent round of pub grub at the Fradley Swan and then at the Plough, Huddlestone just south of Streethay we celebrated our final night with a magnificent meal.
All we can say is roll on next autumn and a trip over to canoe country.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Plastic fantastic - not

Streethay Ray asked if we'd do a little job for him today - move a boat from Kings Bromley marina back to Streethay.
It's a nice little trip, through three locks and Fradley junction so we said yes, even though the weather was very windy and rain was promised. Then he told us it was actually a little plastic cruiser with an outboard motor. "But I've never driven anything like that," I protested. "You were the editor of a boat magazine, you should be able to drive anything!" he laughed.
There followed two nightmarish hours! (After I'd spent some time trying to work out how to actually drop the outboard into the water that is.) First we bobbed around the windswept marina as I tried to get to grips with the steering, the controls and a boat with the stability and solidity of a windswept leaf surrounded by unyielding steel hulled narrowboats.
Eventually I lurched out onto the canal, see-sawing desperately at a wheel the sort of size you'd steer a racing car with – and down at crotch height too.
Gradually I got the thing under control, learning that faster was usually better than slower and that you needed to count to five after applying steering to find out what the likely outcome was. Which was fine except when a possible outcome of not applying enough steering was hitting an oncoming narrowboat or spearing a tree.
Generally though things were happening more or less as I intended them – except that every time I tried to relax a big gust of wind sent the boat spinning sideways and nothing would pull it straight again.
But we made it and tied up just minutes before the heavens opened. Apparently the boat's new owners reckon that if they find they like cruising they'll buy a narrowboat. Well all I can say is don't take it out on a windy day!

Shackerstone Festival

We allowed ourselves a day off from boat work to visit the nearby Shackerstone Festival by the side of the Ashby Canal. Main reason for going was to see the working boats - we'd watched a steady number of them come past Streethay en route to the event over the previous few days.
But we weren't prepared for the sheer scale of the whole Festival - to be honest it would put the IWA National Rally to shame to think that a village can organise something of this size every year.
Classic cars, classis bikes, traction engines, dog show, horse show, military vehicles, kids' motorbike display team and all the usual stalls too.
To top it off on the Saturday we watched a Mk IX Spitfire do aerobatics and on the Sunday the Red Arrows gave a display. Wow!
There was a pretty impressive collection of what a friend of ours likes to call 'crusty boats' too - 20 or more of them. They were great to see but, to be honest, I think some of them could have done more for the general public - after all they were there as part of the Show and not just as part of a rally to meet other old boaters, lock up and disappear to the beer tent. A few had informative signs out; some were happy to chat (I learnt more than I'll ever remember about steam power from the owner of Adamant) but I thought too many boats were either closed or empty. Maybe an hour twice a day when the owners were there to chat, run engines and generally do some mingling with punters would be good.
That little grouse aside, it was a great day. I spotted a rare Hesketh motorbike but my show favourite was the 1951 Nash Ambassador with Hydramatic transmission. Takes you right back to that great era of American cop shows, gangsters, dusty highways, Edward Hopper paintings and neon lit roadside diners.