Friday, 31 July 2015

Picking up the pieces

This post was originally drafted some time ago, but for various reasons did not get published. It has been updated at the end of July 2015.

We've owned Flamingo for some months now, and we had hoped to get quite a lot of work done by now. As is fairly obvious from our posts this year, we've had a number of other things to think about. This post is about the general progress we've made over the last few months and specifically the progress that I have been making slowly with trying to clean up and make the back cabin more appealing, without losing the historic material dating from the early 1960s.

The first month or so on Flamingo was assessment, a lot of cleaning, trying to find places to put things and our furniture, and I managed to get some primer/undercoat on the inside of the side door, and the back doors to the main cabin.

We had a sofa bed at home that really needed a new home, and we realised that it would fit well into Flamingo. However, when it is folded down the backrest becomes part of the bed, and it's quite uncomfortable, so we ordered up a new cushion in December, which I covered at home.

The cat flap is now removed and the header tank has moved elsewhere.
January, the second month of our ownership, was mostly just getting through - what with Alan's eye problems and his injuries from falling in the marina - and keeping the boat warm enough in very cold weather to make sure that the pipes didn't freeze. However, Alan managed to remove the old cat-flap and make a steel plate to cover the hole at the beginning of January, despite the problems with his eye, his shoulder and his broken finger.

February and a large part of March was making sure that Chalice was clean and tidy to be sold, and then making the journey of several days from her mooring to the broker. We took her to Dominic Miles at Rugby Boats, only about half a mile from where we moor Flamingo. We quickly got a reasonable offer, and, as the survey went through with no problems we had sold her less than two weeks after accepting the offer. This was a weight off our minds, as managing three boats really was far too much to deal with.

Since then we have tried to do as much as possible, while fitting around other engagements, Alan's various hospital appointments and even the occasional attendance at a festival.

Some time was needed to understand this, and a lot more!

Alan has done a lot with regard to assessing the electrics in the engine room, which bear little resemblance to the wiring diagram we were given by the previous owner. He has done sterling work with regard to getting the oily mess out from under the engine, although this still needs work. 

Attempts to clean engine bilge produced all these "free" tools and more!

Expensive but just not appropriate to the history.
Flamingo came to us with an overly massive and overly powerful diesel heating boiler installed in an otherwise fairly original 1936 engine room, complete with a massive additional modern gravity fed diesel tank on the bulkhead, and a very modern flue exiting the engine room roof.  This had all cost the previous owner a small fortune, but seemed highly insensitive to the history of this part of the boat, not to mention making access to some of the engine and much of the electrics near impossible.  After much heart searching about losing a secondary heat source, we decided we couldn't live with it, and it had to come out.  So we disconnected and isolated it from both the fuel system, and the otherwise coal fired central heating.  We managed between us to remove the heavy tank, but the boiler needed a visit from our sons to provide much needed muscle as Alan's shoulder has now been diagnosed as a 'type 3' sternoclavicular subluxation, and he has been told not to lift anything heavy (Hah! They obviously don't understand boating). 

Allegedly just the flue had cost a four figure sum to install.
Alan has also subsequently moved the header tank for the remaining simplified central heating system to the highest location, and been able to remove a vent that caused air to get sucked in, and stop the system circulating, and done further investigations of the arcane mysteries of the water heating system.  These are stop gap measures to get it to work acceptably, but the long term aim is to re-plumb it all entirely.

Back cabin before any repainting was started.
When the weather allowed I carried on with painting the back and side doors, as well as the back part of the main cabin, which was tired and rusting in places.  I have also spent some time assessing the state of the back cabin. When I first saw the cabin I was struck by how dark it was. The entire inside was dark scumbled, which I found quite oppressive. Because of this I had suggested to Alan that it was redone in a lighter colour. I have seen boats done in a wartime colour scheme of cream and mid blue, which I felt was light and practical. However, when the cabin was rebuilt in the 1990s, some of the early 1960s cabin was rescued and reinstated in the new, steel cabin. So, repainting the entire inside of the cabin would be obliterating some of the historic Willow Wren paint scheme - not an acceptable option for us.

Two cupboards, new scumble on left, old scumble on right
While washing and assessing the cabin I could easily see which was the 50 year old scumble, and which the 20 year old. I like the old Willow Wren scumble, unfortunately, I don't like the newer scumble, which was done with a fine comb, with a redder colour than the original, and is often in a worse state than the older scumble. The ceiling is in a poor state, despite being newer, and we had decided that it would probably be reasonable to paint that white or cream, which is what we have in Sickle's cabin, and lightens up the scumbled interior considerably.

1960s scumble on table cupboard
Then in March when we were visiting my mother she offered me a considerable quantity of dark blue material. It would be perfect for covering the three mattresses for the cross bed in the cabin, as well as for curtains. I also intend to make a cushion for the side bed, which at the moment is bare board. However, it is very dark, and I was intending to lighten the cabin.

Between the side bed and the cross bed. Old scumble in middle,
poor quality newer scumble on right and left
As I don't like the newer scumble I suggested to Alan that I repaint the new scumble as a cream, while retaining the older scumble. He was unsure, thinking, I suspect that it wouldn't really be an example of anything, either old or reconstructed wartime. However, it would retain the historic scumble and painting, and would allow a future owner of Flamingo to reinstate the scumble. It would also make the whole cabin much lighter and more appealing, and as it has to be a 'guest bedroom' this is important. It also makes more of a feature of the 1960s Willow Wren scumble, it is much easier to identify which is the old 'rescued' parts of the Willow Wren cabin.  I realised this when talking to someone about the whole of the boat - it is easy to tell the uninitiated which parts of the boat would have been there when it was working as a carrying boat - because the main cabin is separated from the 'back cabin' by a gap.

The ceiling will need to be stripped and repainted in a light colour
I would say that the old scumble is about 25% of the cabin. The table cupboard, and cupboard below, the bed hole, and the front of the side bed, the beams and little door separating the side bed from the bed hole, and finally the small cupboard above the side bed (which doubtless has a name, but which I cannot remember).  Broadly it is the stuff that was interior to the cabin, not against an outside wall.

I can understand Alan's concerns, however, I got him to agree that I would rub down some of the new scumble and paint it cream. If we didn't like it I agreed that I would find out how to scumble.

The side bed sanded down, carefully avoiding damaging the
old scumble at the front and to the left
It is taking a long time. Sanding down the 'newer' scumble by hand is difficult, particularly in some of the corners of cupboards, and my fingers have become very raw. However, while there is still a lot left to do, I'm very pleased with the results. The cabin is much lighter and I have been able to get rid of unappealing and poor quality areas of the woodwork.

The painting as it begins to emerge
Because I was getting very tired by the sanding I decided to give myself an 'easy' task and sanded down the panel at the opposite end of the cabin to the door. A shadowy pattern began to appear under the scumble. When I called Alan in to look at it he said, "It's a castle painting", and I think it is. Long since sanded down and obscured by the 90s scumble. I sanded it some more, and a few patches of colour were visible, but beyond that it is impossible to know anything about it. It has now been painted cream, too. I don't know who painted this landscape, or when it was done, although I suspect that it dates from the time of the other 1960s artwork in the cabin, and that it was probably painted over in the 1990s.

The shadow of a 'castle landscape'

Faint traces of the colour of the hill and the red frame

Overpainting the 1990s scumble.
1960s artwork and cupboard fronts on the left.
I have now finished repainting about half of the 1990s scumble, which has significantly brightened up the cabin, but for the meantime have moved onto helping Alan refit the main cabin. When I have got more done I will post some photos of the completed cabin.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Braunston 2015 - One of the best events we have attended.

(Boats Sickle & Flamingo - posted by Cath)

Saturday 27th July

"Sickle" photographed from "Owl" - Photo copyright Ray Thorp.
We should have been up early polishing brass, but instead decided to go and look at the stalls in the marina to see if they had any nice brassware before all the best stuff had gone. For once we managed it - we got some nice pieces. Alan got some old brass covered light switches for Flamingo's back cabin, a decent tiller pin, and something "horsey" that  will pass muster as a reasonable enough chimney chain for those of us not lucky enough (or extravagant enough!) to own one based on brass gas mask case links, (either original, or even replica).  I found a nice piece of lace that I didn't yet know what I was going to do with, but I knew that I could find some use for it.

During an enforced stall in parading, the coffees arrive just in time.
The parade started at 11am, and we set off on Sickle, because the morning parade was boats between the Marina entrance and Butcher's Bridge. It was hot and slow - slow enough for our friend, Polly, to catch up with us and jump on the tug deck. We spent ages in the queue, and passing the Boat House pub Polly suggested that she go in to get us coffees. A great idea, but the parade began to move again and she was still in the pub. I found myself holding Sickle against another boat moored outside the pub, Alan was saying "We have to go!" I was saying, "No, we can't leave her". I had visions of our friend running down the road with a tray of coffees trying to catch up with us further down the canal.  Fortunately she arrived with the very welcome coffees just after this.

Knitting just under way.
Polly had expressed an interest in learning to knit, so I had taken along some large knitting needles and super chunky yarn. I began to teach her on the journey around the parade, and by the time that we got back to Sickle's mooring she had several inches of knitting to show.

We headed off to get burgers and a drink as it was by now quite hot, and decided to sit outside the beer tent while listening to the musicians (these were not amplified, thank goodness - a big improvement on previous years when it has been impossible to even order beer) - and chilling with some friends. Our new knitter carried on knitting.

As Alan reverses Sickle round the turn he wonders how much harder with Flamingo!
We went into the Guild of Waterway Artists' tent, to see the paintings and drawings.  We were interested to see Dusty Miller, who has painted Flamingo based on a photo he took back in its working days. We were also keen to see Penny Taylor-Beardow as some months ago she had put a painting that she had done of Alan steering Sickle on Facebook.  Alan had a discussion with her about it then, so we were interested to see the painting.  We were not expecting her to give Alan a print of the painting, a very kind gesture.

[Subsequent EDIT by Alan]
I must have been having aberration when I added and captioned the "reversing" photo above = it clearly is of "Flamingo", and NOT of "Sickle"!   I blame the still worsening eyesight problems!

Some hours later on, back at Flamingo we decided to go off for food. I decided to go back onto Flamingo to collect something (now in the middle of the three 'Town Class' boats, as Stanton had paraded in the afternoon). I walked along the gunwales between the back cabin of Chertsey and Flamingo, and somehow tripped. I really don't know how, but I fell and knocked my right knee very hard on the steel gunwale. I was kneeling, with my arms up on the cabin tops. The boats were tightly tied together and well fendered, so there was no possibility of slipping between the boats, but I needed to decide how I got out of there - and I was in a lot of pain. Alan established that I wasn't in immediate danger and that I just wanted to be left to decide how to get up. Obviously, the potential problem in this situation is that someone rushes towards you and the boats rock around, not a good idea as the boats weigh many tons.

Once I got into Flamingo's main cabin I looked at my knee, which was already purple and swollen. Had I cracked my kneecap? I asked Alan to get our friend Polly in to look at it. She said it was unlikely to be seriously damaged, as I wasn't screaming and was able to stand up. We used an instant ice pack on it, and I was given anti-inflammatories and sent to lie down with my leg up. (Note: if you haven't seen instant ice packs, they are brilliant - a plastic bag that can be kept in a drawer until needed, then you squeeze the bag until a smaller bag inside breaks - some chemical reaction - at which point you have an instant bag of ice which will last up to an hour. Ideal for boats.) I fell asleep for a while, then woke up starving hungry - so we headed off for food, with me limping heavily.

I was asked by the people on the Narrowboat Trust boats if I had had my knee looked at properly. "Oh, it's OK, my friend looked at it, she is a nurse", I said.  "Er, a VETERINARY nurse", Polly countered. This seemed to cause huge mirth - I can't understand why.

Impromptu music session on Flamingo.
We had a pleasant meal in the pub, although other people were asking for refunds having waited for far too long for meals that didn't turn up. Our friend knitted and knitted until she ran out of yarn. As we headed back towards the boat I was called over to another table "Can we have a music session on Flamingo?"  This was at 10 pm, so I suggested that we got together sometime the next day. Unfortunately, several people had to go off at 8 am, so we decided to go back for a session there and then. On the way back we met others on the marina bridge, who had abandoned the beer tent because the music was too loud - they decided to come with us, stopping to get a guitar on the way. Other people arrived as well, I don't know where from.

Everything from Folk to Bowie!
We had a great time, playing on Flamingo until the small hours. Fortunately, little sound seemed to leak out, and what did seemed to have been well received by passing boaters on the way back to their boats.

This, for me, was the vision of what I saw Flamingo as being the first time that I saw her. A social space, somewhere to have friends on board, to drink coffee, beer or wine. To chat, or knit, or play music. As we move the bulkheads and the kitchen further along the boat it will become even better for this kind of activity.

Sunday 28th June

In the morning I found Polly's knitting and a yarn needle, and twisted it once into a mobius strip, stitching it in place.

"Flamingo's" first time on parade - Photo copyright Rob Manning.
It was drizzly and rainy at first, but the rain was predicted to stop at 11:00, and just as the parade started that is what happened. It was a quieter parade than on Saturday, with fewer boats, which was good, as it meant that it was not completely hectic for Alan's first time around the parade with a full length boat.  He had been a little worried about doing it so publically, especially as Flamingo doesn't reverse well. However, he needn't have worried, doing the whole thing well. There is even a short video on YouTube.

Photo copyright Ian Mulford

Photo copyright Ian Mulford

Photo copyright Ian Mulford.

Photo copyright Ian Mulford.

In the afternoon we could have taken Sickle out again, but my knee was very painful and swollen and we spent the afternoon sitting in the sun chatting with friends and drinking beer.

Alan with Penny Taylor-Beardow and "Sickle".
We went back into the Guild of Waterway Artists' tent, as we wanted to ask Penny we could take a photo of her and Alan, and the print that she had given him. We also bought a copy of Dusty Miller's print of Flamingo in her working days. Then we went back to Penny, and bought the original of the painting of Alan on Sickle. We had liked it so much when we had seen it, and we had talked it over during the day, and decided that we wanted to buy it.

Alan enjoys a trip out round the circuit where he doesn't have to steer.
In the evening we set off on our friend Mike's boat, Reginald, to go to the Boathouse, where we sat in the garden. Most food arrived promptly, but Alan and my vegetarian roasts just didn't arrive. In the end he went to ask, and was told that he should have been told that they had run out. We were compensated by being given a refund and a different meal, but it's not good. It's by no means the first time that the Boathouse has messed up on orders. As we left we realised that we were the only people in there other than the staff.  We travelled back to the mooring on Reginald in the dusk, with boaters sticking their heads out of their boats to find out what was making that noise - Reginald has a noisy single cylinder engine - HERE.

"Mike the Boilerman" reverses "Reginald" at Braunston Turn.

Our own PhotoBucket album of general boaty pictures from the weekend can be found here.

If anybody else captured us, particularly on Flamingo, we would love to see your photos - we really haven't seen many others, despite all the cameras pointed our way.

Monday 29th June

No great rush to get away in the morning. Breakfast at the famous floating "Gongoozler's Cafe". We then met up with Ian and his wife Becky who moor in the marina, and are always there for the festival. They offered to help us up Braunston Locks, and did a lot to speed us on our way, especially as my knee was still making life a bit difficult.

We carried on through the tunnel, and moored up at the top of Buckby locks. We were just deciding whether we would eat at the pub, when Fiddler's Green came past, with Alan's former colleague Steve, and his wife Claire, on board. So off to the pub to chat for the evening.

I got back to the boat, and suddenly thought, "what is this in my pocket?" It was the key to a card safe - I'd forgotten to pay the bill, and they had my credit card. I limped as fast up the towpath as I could to knock on the closed door of the pub - low lights inside showed that the owners were still up - and paid my bill.

Tuesday 30th June.
Descending the Buckby flight, on our way home.

Down the Buckby flight and back to our home mooring with a brief stop in Weedon for lunch. Then clear the boat and home. At Morris dancing in the evening the others looked at my swollen and purple knee, and declared that I most certainly wasn't going to dance.
Braunston to High House Wharf  (Flamingo only) Miles: 10.5, Locks:13

(Plus twice around the parade circuit, but that is so slow, we will omit it from the stats!).

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Two Boats to the Braunston Historic Boat Show - a First for us.

(Boats Sickle & Flamingo - posted by Cath)

"Sickle" & "Flamingo take a break from travelling together.
After Stoke Bruerne Alan and I and our son David took both boats up to High House Wharf Marina - Flamingo to her regular mooring, and Sickle to the towpath. Then we went home to go and deal with life again - washing, shopping, admin stuff, and for me and our son David, dancing out in Milton Keynes and again in Ivinghoe, the home town of our Morris side, New Moon.

We are nearly back at "Flamingo's" home mooring.

Thursday 25th June

"Sickle" passes its once closest relative "Theophilus" awaiting restoration.
We went back to High House to carry on with work on Flamingo, then on Thursday 25th June we set off north just after lunch, with both boats. Alan steering Flamingo, and I steered Sickle. Odin the dog was in the cabin of Flamingo, where he could be safe and comfortable. It was a pleasant afternoon and I found it extremely enjoyable heading North with our boats.

"Flamingo" heads up Bucky locks ahead of "Roger".

"Roger" slips into a lock alongside "Flamingo".
We had decided that with only two of us, and the dog, it would not be a good idea to work both the boats up the Buckby flight at the same time. This is because they cannot be tied together to work as breasted up, Flamingo has a full cabin and there are no points to attach to. So we left Sickle tied up at the bottom of the flight, and set off up the locks with Flamingo. At the second lock we were asked to wait for Roger, the wooden boat from the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust, and worked up the flight with their cheerful crew. Despite low water in the pound below the top lock we managed to moor there, and then Alan and I set off back to the bottom to get Sickle.

Both boats are of similar age, but constructed in different materials.
We finally tied up at just before 9 pm, but found that the New Inn stopped doing food at 8, so back to Flamingo to cook a quick meal.

Friday 26th June

 Our two historic boats share a lock for the first time in our ownership.
Being fairly tired we didn't rush breakfast and then set off through the top lock with both the boats. The first time that we have ever had the two boats together in a lock.

 Buckby top lock.

This gives some idea how much longer "Flamingo" is than "Sickle".
Then, across the summit, to the beginning of the Braunston Tunnel. At this point we had something of a dilemma. Odin has developed something of a phobia about tunnels. We are not going to make a fuss about this, but at the moment he needs someone around doing things in the cabin while we are going through the tunnel. This meant taking the boats through the tunnel separately.

First of two descents of Braunston locks.

"Flamingo" & "Adrastea" in "Nelson" Lock, Braunston.
We took Flamingo through the tunnel, and down the locks, sharing with the rather lovely Adrastea - not an historic boat, but paying fair homage to one.  Alan was deep in conversation with its owner, another Alan, who also opeates the fuel boat Bletchley.  We found a nice mooring on the outside of two other 'Town Class' boats - Chertsey and Stanton. These are both unconverted boats, and ideal for us, because Odin needs to be able to get from the 'gap' in Flamingo - between the cabin conversion and the engine room - to the towpath. Because all three boats were facing in the same direction Odin could cross over the 'back end' at the back of the cargo hold of these boats where there are planks. He quickly found a new friend, Rocky, staying on Chertsey.

"Flamingo" tied outside other "Large" GUCCCo boats.

Ron Withey (left) captained "Flamingo" and "Cygnus" throughout 1970.
We should have gone back fairly quickly to collect "Sickle" from the other side of the tunnel, but Alan got talking to Ron Withey, who came past on the towpath. Ron is the last Willow Wren 'captain' of Flamingo, and we have photos of him steering her in 1970, so it was fascinating to be able to talk to him. 

Alan heads alone into a rather smoke filled Braunston tunnel.

I bring "Sickle" past "Flamingo", "Stanton" & "Chertsey"
Eventually we  walked back up the flight of locks, over the top of the tunnel to Sickle, which Alan brought through the tunnel alone, while I walked Odin over the top to meet Alan on the other side. Then down the locks and moored Sickle next to the steam tug Hasty.

We then headed off to the Admiral Nelson pub with Odin and a friend who was in Braunston for the Festival. An excellent meal, and good company.

Stoke Bruerne to High House Wharf 
Miles: 20.2, Locks: 0

High House Wharfto Braunston
Miles: 21.2, Locks: 25

(Miles assume two different boat moves, and lock count reflects all but one worked twice)