Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Winsoming from Windsor to Hurley

Potential customers of our 17 foot pedal-powered boat, Winsome, sometimes ask us whether the boat is roomy enough to carry overnight camping gear on longer cruises. We assure them that it is whilst admitting, slightly shamefacedly, that we have never actually tried it. We have so far opted for overnight accommodation in waterside pubs and B&B’s on our occasional longer cruises. So, when summer arrived in the UK for
the first time last week, we decided to experiment with a 2 day cruise camping overnight.

We were keen to try an ‘un-Winsomed’ stretch of the Thames and so settled on launching at Windsor and pedalling 15 miles upstream to Hurley lock where we found we could book a camping pitch on an island.

We launched the boat at Windsor Leisure Centre.
Their public slipway (free) was excellent with plenty of room for parking and offloading and mooring alongside. The only people we saw were a couple of friendly Traffic Police having their morning break and they were keen to learn about Winsome.

Having launched, we had to park the car in the adjacent Pay & Display car park. The meter only allows you to pay for 24 hours (£10) but the carpark staff said that, as long as we paid for 2 days and attached two tickets to our windscreen, all would be well. Although that cost us a total of £20, we considered it cheap for the combined use of a Thames slipway and overnight parking.

Earlier experimentation had shown that our sleeping bags and mattresses (packed in Waterproof Dry Tube bags) would fairly easily stow in the fore and aft buoyancy chambers without overfilling them. We slung the tent under the engine ‘bridge’ under one side deck. That kept it well clear of our pedalling. The stove and cool bag went behind one seat and the food box and clothes bag behind the other. With the bulky stuff out of the cockpit or stored behind the seats, the boat didn’t seem unusually full at all.
At 11.30am, with everything stowed we pedalled off under Windsor Bridge. In the stretch by Windsor Racecourse, we encountered an Environmental Agency Boat floating midstream with a flashing blue light and a strange set of bubbles astern. As we passed, a couple of divers surfaced. Sadly, we discovered from the lock keeper at the nearby Boveney lock that they were police divers searching for a man who had gone missing after diving off a trip boat the previous evening. A sobering start to our trip.

We needed to make it to Hurley Lock (15.2 miles) by 6.30pm to collect the key for the island campsite before the lock keepers went off duty. We were therefore pleased to discover that we were easily averaging between 3.5mph and 4mph against the stream but a long wait at the first two locks reminded us why canal folks measure distances in ‘lock miles’ and why we couldn’t afford too many stops en route. The idle time at locks reduced our overall trip speed to 2.8mph.
Lock Entrance
Winsoming on the Thames on a glorious summer’s day is a delightful experience.
For a start, every bend in the river brings new interest – grand houses,
beautifully cut lawns, ancient churches and priories,
Bisham Abbey
famous bridges, impressive weirs and, best of all, some beautiful traditional riverboats.
Cliveden Boathouse
And inbetween you pass through silent wooded stretches with a glimpse of a mansion (in this case Cliveden) in the distance.
The only thing which spoils the experience is the number of high-rise, gas guzzling, white motor cruisers which thunder by (sometimes two abreast) in complete oblivion of the noise, fumes and disturbing wash they create. Do they leave such an ungainly wash because of their huge square sterns? We noticed that the traditional river trip boats with their elegant counter sterns created minimal wash despite being 2 or 3 times the size. Maybe, the Environment Agency could start to charge licence fees according to hull shape and engine size….

As on our previous Thames trips, we found the 7 locks (whilst time consuming) formed a timely break from pedalling.
Resting in Lock
We enjoyed putting our feet up, chatting to the lockkeepers, responding to the inevitable Winsome interest and passing the time of day with other river users. We’d still like to find an alternative to hanging onto the slimy green chains as the lock fills/empties. Getting wet gloves on and off is tedious and hooking the chain links with the boat hook or other hooked implement can be fiddly. The rush of water filling the lock looks alarming (from our lowly position) but disturbs Winsome’s equilibrium surprisingly little.
Lock Filling
We are more affected by the turbulence (and fumes!) created by the boats leaving the lock ahead of us. We like to nip out first, when we can, given that our initial acceleration is a lot faster.

Passing under Marlow bridge at the 12 mile mark, our legs started to feel tired for the first time. We became more aware of the hot sun and the strength of stream against us and our pedalling speed dropped below 3mph. We passed the famous Compleat Angler Hotel and thirstily eyed their attractive terrace restaurant. However, the pristine white table cloths, besuited waiters and well dressed clientele sipping champagne sent out a less than welcoming message to a couple of sweaty pedallers in shorts and sunhats. Instead, the crew produced a couple of chilled beers out of our onboard cool bag and on we sped, refreshed, to tackle the last two locks and last 3 miles of river arriving at our destination, Hurley Lock, at 5.30pm.

At Hurley, we camped on an island behind the lock (£7.50) and were delighted to be able to pitch our tent within feet of the boat.
Our “neighbours” (a large family from Reading) welcomed us, showed us the ropes, lent us their mallet and generally made us feel at home. A short stroll into the village brought us to the Rising Sun Inn where we ate and drank well before returning tired and happy to our camp.
View from Tent

Our second day dawned early (courtesy of the Heathrow flight path!) and we managed to have breakfast in the sun, strike camp, re-pack the boat and be ready for Hurley Lock when it opened at 9am.

As we turned for home, we immediately noticed the difference of pedalling ‘downhill’. With fresh legs, we found ourselves batting along at an easy 4.5-5mph, recording a 6.8mph maximum speed at one point (showing off probably). We certainly surprised the friendly Irish skipper of a narrow boat (also heading for Windsor) when we stayed ahead of him fairly effortlessly for the entire morning until we reached Maidenhead and stopped for lunch.

With the weather again so hot, we were delighted to discover that wrapping our water bottle in a wet sock (and dunking it over the side at regular intervals to keep it wet) kept the water at a pleasantly cool temperature for drinking. The wonders of evaporation.

Even though we were effectively retracing yesterday’s steps, we found that the return trip was entirely different.

Having left Hurley Lock at 9.15am and had a brief lunch stop, it looked like we’d be back in Windsor by 2pm. However, at our last lock (Boveney), we were waved inside by the keeper who informed us that the river ahead was closed and we would have to stay in the lock until it reopened. It transpired that the police divers had found the body they had been searching for and were currently recovering it. The news was sobering and we chatted about the tragedy with the crew of a trip boat who were sharing the lock. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to see how one could quickly recover a man in the water from such a large boat.

We eventually arrived back at Windsor Leisure Centre at 2.45pm and unpacked and recovered the boat, lashed it on the roofrack and were heading reluctantly for the M4 within 30-40 minutes.

Next time, I think we might try 2 nights camping and a 60 mile trip (downhill) if we can find a train or bus service to get us back to rescue the car. Winsome still has plenty of the Thames left to explore.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Winsome at the Saul Canal Festival

We spent last weekend demonstrating Winsome, our 17 foot pedal-powered boat at Saul canal festival near Gloucester.

The Saul Canal Festival & Folk on the Water Weekend is a fund raising event organised & operated by Cotswold Canals Trust Volunteers. All surplus funds are used to further the restoration of the waterways link between the Rivers Thames & Severn.

Conditions on Saturday were extremely windy. Because of her sleek hull shape, Winsome barely notices the wind as long as we are pedalling straight into it. However, we really struggled to make a U turn into the wind in the narrow confines of the canal at Saul junction – the minute we turned across the wind, the bow would catch the wind and spin back to leeward. This made life interesting with 20 ton narrow boats bearing down on us – sometimes from both directions. However, inspired by the Dutch tradition (see below), the crew deployed a paddle as a makeshift lee board whilst turning and the problem was effectively solved. Phew.

Dutch Barge

The afternoon saw us take part in the “Interesting boats parade” complete with tannoy commentary. Unfortunately for us, the parade moved at such a snail’s pace that a light boat like ours couldn’t maintain steerage way in the gusting 4-5 wind. With a crowd of other parade boats which were several times our length and weight, this was somewhat alarming.

Keeping in Line

We opted for being the last boat in line so we could drop back far enough to create open water and then pedal at a reasonable pace to maintain steady steerage way. Because I slightly overestimated the gap we needed to leave (according to the view of the crew), we ended up passing the parade viewpoint at a cracking 5-6 mph (into the wind) which clearly impressed the waving, cheering crowds ashore!

Royal Wave

We were pleased by the interest which Winsome attracted from cyclists, narrow boat owners and the occasional sailor. As ever, the experience of actually going in the boat created a new set of Winsome converts. Even in the blustery wind and rain showers, she continued to surprise and delight.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Whither Winsome?

Fans of Winsome may be wondering what happened to us. Well, we’re back and ready for a fresh Winsoming season.

In 2007, we covered 500 miles in our 17 foot, pedal-powered boat. As readers of this blog will know, we pedalled the Montogomery, Llangollen, Lancaster, Kennet and Avon, Gloucester & Sharpness and Grand Western canals, the River Thames, Cardiff and Bristol city harbours, the Norfolk Broads and Lakes Windermere, Coniston and finally Derwent Water. The boat and her sister ship also traversed Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal in aid of charity last August.

The new season has kicked off well with several sunny evening trips from our home port of Pencelli on the Mon & Brec canal a few miles along to our local pubs at either Talybont-on-Usk in an Easterly direction or Groessfordd to the West.

We are booked into the Saul Canal Festival (4th-6th July) and will be offering people the chance to try out the boat there. We also plan to attend the Green Boat Show in Norfolk again in September. Anyone who would like to try the boat is welcome to contact us.

We hope to visit Henley and Marlow this summer on a 2-3 day trip and are also looking at the possibility of pedalling from Dartmouth to Totnes if we can judge the tides right.

Look out for us.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Winsome on Derwentwater

At the kind invitation of the Camping and Caravanning Club, we took our pedal powered boat, Winsome, up to Derwentwater to take part in their Open Day for selling their Exclusive Holiday Lodges at Lakeside, Keswick. The photo show one of the residents kindly cleaning the jetty for us!
Holiday lodges

The weather was overcast but dry and the lake was calm and very inviting for pedalling.
Alongside Jetty

Unfortunately, very few lodge owners or visitors were around but, given that Winsome is named after my late aunt, Winsome Baty, we welcomed a visit by some of her other Baty relatives and friends who happened to be holidaying in the area.

Trying Winsome

Winsome returning

They enjoyed trying out the boat and chatting about the design. It's always encouraging when keen cyclists give Winsome the thumbs up.

Ready to pedal

Later we pedalled over to Nichol End Marina where we enjoyed some excellent home made soup and a reviving cup of tea.

After giving one of the lodgers a go in Winsome, things went quiet again and we couldn’t resist the pull of exploring the lake. En route, we chatted to becalmed sailors, dodged the steamer's alarming wake, amazed people with our speed (Winsome definitely moves faster on lakes) and enjoyed watching paragliders gradually descending from Cat Bells in the still afternoon air.

Southern End Derwent Water

Derwentwater is beautiful but maybe a little on the small size for dedicated Winsome pedallers – getting to the South end and back took not much more than an hour even with a detour to visit the Keswick jetties and boat hire. Still, the cups of tea at Nichol marina and the many tiny islands offer plenty in the way of exploration for the more leisurely, short hop Winsomer.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Return to the Thames

We had hoped to explore the Thames more this summer, but the river has been too high a lot of the time. We purchased our Thames licences for 2007, but only ventured onto the river at the Beale Boat Show in June. We have since discovered that the licence gives us 30 days on the Environment Agency rivers in East Anglia as well, so it could still turn out to be a good investment!

We arrived about 11 and found Dave - who runs the most amazing chandlery as well as supervising the slipway at Lechlade Marina. It's a good slipway for Winsome, with ample space to offload and assemble the boat. Unfortunately, like most slipways, it caters best for boats you can board from the slipway itself or while they are on the launch trailer. We can't do that, and ideally we like there to be a jetty or quay nearby where we can haul Winsome alongside. So we were quite grateful for the apparently derelict motor boat dragged up on the slip.

Lechlade SLipway

Dave said Summer 2007 had been a complete write-off for many of the marine businesses on the Thames. The marina and his chandlery had been flooded, and he feared that some rental businesses would go out of business as a result, having lost all their income. It has evidently been some time since the Thames flooded this far up stream, and to do so at the height of the holiday season must have been a blow.

We managed to get aboard and underway by around 11:30 and set off downstream for Radcot - about 6 miles and a couple of locks away. We were planning on lunching there and returning.

The weather was sunny but not hot, and we quickly made it to St John's lock, which is the first on the Thames going downstream. You can go at least 10 miles upstream from Lechlade (if you can turn round) so these upper reaches of the river are pretty placid. The lock keeper at St Johns was intrigued by the boat, and while we waited for the lock to fill told us how he had avoided the worst of the floods with a timely holiday.

Above St Johns Lock

It turns out he is primarily responsible for managing the water level via the weirs on the Thames for his area. Perhaps this is why the Thames enjoys the luxury of manned locks - the REAL job of controlling the river levels requires a level of staffing that gives the agency the capacity to operate the locks as well. It is certainly much more efficient and safer going through a manned lock.

St Johns lock is not particularly deep in canal terms, and has landing points above and below. We would not be able to port Winsome round the lock, though, because there is no clear towpath or the kind of quayside you could launch Winsome from. Indian canoes and kayaks could be hauled out, but the locks are generally so quick and efficient that it might not be worth the hassle unless the river is very busy. St Johns is the only lock on this stretch with a loo!

St Johns Lock

The lock-keeper told us that the next two lock we were to go through would not be manned that day, so I paid particular attention to the paddle mechanisms. When going into a lock witb Winsome, it's generally best for the bigger boats to go first because you don't want to be crushed from behind by a large boat being unable to stop. The water entering the lock does, however, create some turbulence, so sympathetic operation of the paddles can make for a smoother passage for smaller boats.

The bad news is that generally, boats emerge from a lock in the same order they went in, so it looked like we were going to be behind the motor boat that arrived just after us at the lock. But they generously waved us through, so that we had a free run down to the next lock at Buscot which was fortunately filling up with some boats coming up stream. I say "fortunately", because the general rule is that the Thames locks are left empty, which delays downstream traffic on an empty river.

Buscot Lock

Now we were operating an unmanned lock, but passers-by are always willing to help, and some of them seem to know what they are doing. When entering a full lock going down, you must shut the upstream gates and close their paddles before opening the paddles in the down stream gates to let the water out of the lock. You do this in two stages to limit the flow of water within the lock, but when the lock is empty you can open the lower gates and head off. It's polite to close the paddles before you set off, because they will need to be closed to fill the lock again. On this stretch of the Thames, you cross the lock by gangways on the gates themselves, so when you open a gate don't want to have to cross the lock again. In particular, you can often get away with opening only one of the gates until the boats have exited the lock, before closing it again and rejoining the boat at the mooring below or above the lock.

Locks work a bit like traffic lights, bunchng the traffic and normalising average speed on the river. On the Thames, Winsome isn't the fastest boat, but going downstream on this stretch she is quicker than the average cruiser or narrow boat. But not so much faster that she can get through the next lock before the arrival of the boats with which she shared the last one. The GPS said we were averaging about 4.5 mph down stream, and I was concerned that there was quite a bit more stream than we had noticed on our last visit.

Below Buscot

At the next lock, we caught up with a narrow boat who generously delayed his departure for us, and even waved us ahead. We felt obliged to put on a bit of a spurt so as not to hold him up, and so arrived at Radcot fully 10 minutes ahead of him.

Above Grafton

Waiting in Grafton Lock

Just in time for a leisurely lunch, but alas the Swan Hotel was badly overstretched and lunch turned out to be rather too leisurely for our schedule. Rested and fuelled on cider and crisps, we set off back upstream, but decided to use the slower running channel under the old bridge at Radcot.

The Swan at Radcot

Radcot Old Bridge

This turned out to be a mistake. A slow running backwater accumulates vegetation and the prop quickly picked up a clump from hell. This is a good time to be occupying the bow seat, from which you can sit back and take embarrassing photographs of the helmswomen clearing the prop and rudder from within the boat, just as the manual prescribes. Still, it could have been raining!

Clearing the prop

As we cruised back up stream, it didn't feel like harder work, but the GPS showed that we were now managing only about 3.9mph. I make that a river flow of (4.5 - 3.9 / 2) or less than a third of a mile per hour. Hardly a spate, though noticeably faster than we'd experienced here the last time we came. The floods had dumped quite a bit more vegetation in the river, and we picked up some more as we worked our way back up stream. You can often lose vegetation by back-pedalling for a spell, but we did have to stop and pull another piece off the rudder. Still, compared with our canal in the autumn, the Thames was remarkably free of crud. It is also spectacularly clear in this stretch, presumably as it starts to enter the chalk belt.

Our return trip was uneventful except for a poor execution of lock filling at Buscot. On our own except for the inevitable large crowd of admirers, I attempted to open the upstream gate before the lock had completely filled. This feels remarkably like the dreaded "lockgate jam" situation, which can happen but is thankfully rare. I was gently returned tothe paths of righteousness by a friendly and knowledgeable passer-by, so I won't make that mistake again.

Lechlade Bridge

And so we arrived back at Lechlade and enetered the marina at about 4pm, having cruised 12.3 miles on the GPS with an hour's stop for lunch. It wasn't quite as much exercise as walking the same distance, but it was certainly more interesting (for us). And it confirmed that Winsome really feels at home on the Thames. We wondered if the Cotswold Canal will be restored from Lechlade to Saul Junction on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal in our lifetime. But even if it is, alas, the number of locks may make the trip infeasible with our remaining lifespan.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Winsome visits The Green Boat Show

Winsome Green Boat 1

For the second year running, the Winsome pedal-powered launch took part in the Green Boat Show at Salhouse Broad, Norfolk on Saturday September 8th. According to its
website, this is “the only boat show dedicated to sustainable boating and green energy. The aim of the Show is to encourage ‘low carbon’ propulsion for boats – rowing, paddling, pedalling, sailing, electric and biofuel-powered – as well as to promote other aspects of environmentally-friendly design and construction.”

David Williams Green Boat

The Electric Boat Association plays a major role in the show.

Solar Flair
Salhouse Broad is a beautiful location with plenty of room for people to try out the various boats in a lovely, friendly and relaxed atmosphere. A warm sunny September day also helped add to the enjoyment especially with a floating ice cream seller on hand.

Floating ice cream seller
Coracle plus icecream

We travelled to Norfolk a day early so that we could enjoy some time on the Broads. We launched at Salhouse and pedalled first to Wroxham to get some lunch and visit the excellent chandlery there and then down to Horning and back to Salhouse (~10 miles round trip). The Broads feels tailor made for Winsoming – there are endless miles of waterways to explore, lots of places to land and enjoy eating, drinking, shopping.

This is not surprising given that The Broads is actually the home of Winsome – the whole idea of boat like this pedalled by two people facing one another was invented by David Williams of Horning some 40 years ago for his own personal enjoyment and he has recently built his 3rd pedal boat (Life Cycle) which he brought to the show.

Life Cycle

We were delighted that Winsome proved so popular once again – she was barely out of action all day with lots of different people keen to try her out.

Winsome Green Boat 4
Winsome Green Boat 2
Winsome Green Boat 5

The feedback, as ever, was nearly all positive, “that was simply magical”, “that’s the first time my husband and I have been in a boat together and not argued!”, “that’s so much more relaxing than canoeing”, “these seats are SO comfortable” and “what a wonderful way to exercise”.

Winsome Green Boat 3

We also learned that The Broads Authority are keen to promote this kind of eco-friendly boating and grow eco-tourism according to their chief executive, John Packman, who took time out to try out Winsome for himself at the show. Watch out for him running into the ice cream....

Sadly the show came to an end for this year and I leave you with this lovely shot of Mrs Jean Williams leaving for Horning in David's elegant electric launch.

Terrapin Electric Launch

Many thanks to David C. Williams and John Tate for the photos and Pam Williams for the video.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness

Passing Urquhart Castle

The Winsome blog has been rather quiet for a few weeks. This is because we loaned two Winsome pedal boats to a group of 4 enthusiastic Scotsman (Mike Byrne, Ross Wood, Allan Wylie and James Glass) who had decided to pedal 60 miles from Fort William to Inverness in aid of Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres.

Loading Up

They drove all the way down from Edinburgh to Pencelli to pick up the boats. Above are the team ready to drive back North with Peter Williams and Nick Newland (far right) who designed and built Winsome.

The Caledonian canal involves numerous locks which are used (as you can see) by boats of varying sizes with Winsome (at 17 feet) featuring at the smaller end.

Chance Encounter Caledonian Canal

It also involves traversing the length of Lochs Lochy, Oich and (finally) Loch Ness. Fortunately, the weather for the team was mostly settled and dry.

At Speed on Loch Ness

They overtook a genuine pedalo en route!

Overhauling a Pedalo

At night, the group beached the boats and camped loch side.

Unloading the Gear

Evening on Loch Ness

They crossed over to the far side of Loch Ness to take a closer look at Urquhart Castle.

Passing Urquhart 2

3.5 days later, they arrived at Inverness.

An excellent effort and a substantial sum of money raised in aid of a very worthy cause. They are still accepting sponsorship here. They tell us that next year's effort might involve lawnmowers so we assume that it will be a land-based affair.

Beached Winsome