A visit to Ely

On Sunday we went with friends to Ely. It is a convenient place for a group of us to get together.

Ely Cathedral 

The weather played its part in what turned out to be a good day. Saturday was wet, Monday was wet and windy, but in between Sunday was just a perfect November day - sunny but cold. 

We had morning tea at the award-winning Peacocks Tea Room, took a stroll around the town and the cathedral grounds and then had a roast at The Cutter; it never fails to impress. Our visit was rounded off by rummaging around the Waterside Antiques Centre.  

The river wasn't particularly busy and there were spaces on the visitor moorings. We recalled out visit to Ely on Albert in 2006 when we moored up in the town for several nights. It was August then and so much busier. During our stroll along the embankment we saw a Cambridge University eight out training.

Ely Visitor Moorings

A Cambridge University crew in training from their new boathouse at Ely


Out of the Dock

Today Albert came out of the dry dock at Yardley Gobion.  As is the routine at Baxter's Monday is changeover day for boats being blacked. At 9:00 AM we duly arrived at the dock and found Albert with a new coating of epoxy blacking and the dock being prepared for flooding. It should last us a few years. The stern gland has also been renewed; I thought it a wise precaution especially after our engine mountings failed in 2016.

Ready for the water


In it comes!

We tool Albert onto the moorings alongside the dock since moor work needs to be done on Albert. The chimney collar has been fixed and now looks very serviceable and much neater than the old hard-wood version.

New chimney collar
 The bathroom has been stripped of tiles, shower and sink. Some of the wood has also been removed. The next step is rebuilding and tiling. 

There was a shower there once!

Sink gone.

Half of the contents of our bathroom are now sitting in a wheelbarrow.

Our bathroom tiles and shower

Looking forward to the construction phase.

Blacking at Baxters Boatyard

Docking

On Monday we took Albert into the dry dock at Yardley Wharf. Baxters Boatyard are blacking Albert's hull with epoxy, but we are also having some other jobs done.

We had Albert's hull grit blasted and coated with epoxy-based bitumen at Debdale back in August 2013, The coating appears to have lasted well but we decided that coming up to 5 years it was time to recoat it. The anodes that were renewed in 2013 have still plenty of life left.

One of the other jobs is a repair on the forward chimney collar. A hard wood fillet was used to make the chimney vertical. The wood has, after 23 years, finally failed and become cracked. We had a few small water leaks over the last year that I filled with silicone sealant. A metal fillet plate is being made and fitted which should be a better solution..

We are also starting a partial refurbishment of the bathroom. The tiles have lost their surface and need replacement and various other items also need attention. A new shower tray, hand basin and shower valve are being fitted along with some new tiles. More on this later.

An Inland Voyage - Robert Louis Stevenson


I was browsing the web a few of weeks ago and came across “The Canal Boatmen 1760-1914 by Harry Hanson”; it turned out to be a good buy and one of my most fascinating recent reads, but that is another story. On the title page of Hanson’s erudite book, it was based on an MA thesis, was a quote which immediately caught my eye:

There should be many contented spirits on board, for such a life is both to travel and stay at home …. and for the bargee, in his floating home, travelling abed, it is merely as if he were listening to another man’s story or turning the leaves of a picture book in which he has no concern

Great quote – but by whom – Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage, 1878

Robert Louis Stevenson

At that point I was hooked – I just had to know more of An Inland Voyage. I quickly found that it was Stevenson’s very first book and well before Treasure Island. It chronicled a canoe voyage with a companion down the rivers and canals of Belgium and Northern France. RLS and his friend Sir Walter Grindley Simpson took a 200 mile journey in 1876 in two canoes named Arethusa (RLS) and Cigarette (WGS). 
Sir Walter Grindley Simpson

The canoes were wooden and it appears they were capable of being moved by sail as well as paddle. Although their trip was in the summer, their journey was plagued by bad weather. In common with much similar Victorian literature, RLS does not use given names in the book and refers to himself and Simpson by the names of their canoes.



I obtained my 1896 eighth edition in good condition from a well-known second-hand book web site and paid less than £10. I read it quite quickly, enjoying the narrative but I found, like some other modern commentators, that it is quite impenetrable in places. At one point I read over two pages before I realised I hadn’t a clue what was happening!

So is this book is a travelogue? – well no; it's more an evocation of boating as a way of getting away from everyday life. It’s full of philosophy, charm, wit and the occasional flight of fancy. Meeting local people is a continuing feature of many chapters. It is definitely short on detail and therefore not very helpful for others following the same route.

One or two sections really impressed me and made me feel that I was alongside the canoeists (in the rain). In particular I enjoyed the wonderful chapter describing the pair meeting a group of enthusiastic oarsmen from the Royal Sport Nautique club in Brussels. The travellers were so grateful for their help on a wet night but they found their hosts enthusiasm for rowing, and sport in general, so overbearing that it caused them to leave early next morning to avoid disgracing themselves at a promised rowing event. The RSN 1895 club is still operating today and appears to be continuing the traditions of friendship and enthusiasm discovered by Stevenson and Simpson.



Apart from the philosophical aspects, which could be termed Zen and the Art of Canoeing (borrowing from the title of the 1970s cult novel), only a few passages will stand out for the boating enthusiast. One passage early in the book particularly caught my eye. It was when Stevenson describes passing a train of boats pulled by a chain-driven steamer on the Willebroek Canal which runs from Antwerp to Brussels. He describes with wonderment how the steamer and its train moved “along the water with nothing to mark its advance but and eddy alongside dying away into the wake”. He must have been familiar with the turbulence created by paddle-steamers. This is a fascinating insight into the importance of the wide open waterways on Northern Europe and how technology was beginning to make its impact in the 1870s.

Warfare is another recurring theme in many passages in the book as the Franco-Prussian war had recently finished with government of France falling. Stevenson reports on several French communities where there was a significant military presence. Reading some sections, I also couldn’t help thinking about the horrors of the forthcoming World War that was to hit this part of Europe a few decades later; a lot of the towns mentioned in the book are unfortunately familiar as WW1 battlefields.

I will finish this post with a quote from preface to the first edition. The young writer Stevenson states:

It occurred to me that I might not only be the first to read these pages, but the last as well; that I might have pioneered this very smiling tract of country all in vain, and find not a soul to follow my steps

I understand that the book was not an immediate success, although he was paid £20 by the publisher, but it was the begining of a stellar writing career. There are many following his footsteps today as I will relate in another post.



CRT YouTube Videos - Sun Gazers

I am signed up for YouTube Videos from CRT. They are great to dip into and enjoy and remind you about boating when you are at home.

Today a really unusual video was posted by CRT about a couple who live near the Bridgewater & Taunton and are into solagraphy - photographing the movement of the sun across the sky.




I can also recommend subscribing to Mike Askins videos (mykaskin) . He has a wealth of material showing working boats.