Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Christmas 2014

On Christmas Eve we hired a car from Enterprise and headed down the various motorways to Poole arriving just before 5pm. 

Jess was lucky enough to have finished work early as it had been quiet and managed to get most of the Christmas Day lunch prep done. We had a lovely evening drinking Egg Nogg and playing board games.

Norman, the real Christmas tree

And Nancy, the present tree
Christmas Day breakfast was smoked salmon and homemade Belinis along with Bucks Fizz and then into present opening. We decided to go for our walk along the beach as rain was forecast for Boxing Day so she popped the turkey in the oven and off we went complete with Santa hats and beards for our photo shoot on the beach using Jess' new 'selfie stick'. We certainly drew attention to ourselves and made a few people smile and laugh.

Lee, Jess, Me and James

Me and James

Jess and Lee
Back home it was just the potatoes and parsnips to peel, everything else done including her lovely homemade stuffing. All feeling very full we had the Christmas pudding much later on after a few more board games and a couple of rounds of charades (which were in the crackers).

Jess' alcoholic Christmas cake 

Christmas lunch
On Boxing Day it was into Poole town centre then onto a couple of the retail parks, we were certainly making use of the hire car.

On 27th leaving James home to fit a new shower and after dropping Lee off to visit his Mum, Jess and I headed up to Berkshire to visit Mum, Lyn and Lee. Mum was dog sitting three dogs over the Christmas time so we booted up and headed off into the countryside for a walk, passing by the adult play park on the way.

Lyn at the park, we all had a go and it was great fun
28th saw us visit Castlepoint, a massive retail park just outside Bournemouth, I had forgotten the nightmare of trying to park there!! Afterwards another quick visit to Poole.

Monday 29th came round all too quickly and after dropping Jess off at work we headed back up the motorways to LJ at Fazeley, after dropping the car off at Tamworth.

Thanks Jess and Lee for a really lovely Christmas we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Alvecote to Fazeley

Going back a couple of weeks we set off from the Samuel Barlow pub fairly early and made good time to the top lock at Glascote not seeing another boat on the move. On reaching Glascote we could just make out tape all around the lock so we moored up on the visitor moorings and walked down to take a look. 

CRT had drained the pound between the two locks as the culvert in the top lock was blocked and they needed access to try and clear it. The culvert has collapsed and the bricks and debris were pushed and pulled from top and bottom to clear it. They soon re-filled the pound and we were on our way again.

Pound re-filled and we were on our way again

We stopped for a few days on the visitor moorings just before the junction, the huge fir trees have been cut down and it is now quite open and bright, we have never stopped in that section before as it has always seemed dark. Come Monday morning there was a bit of noise from the saw mill opposite, but nothing too bad. Whilst there we had a visit from Kev Maslin who was picking up a pen he had purchased, we spent a lovely hour or so with him. It was nice to meet the person known for all the lovely photos he posts on Facebook.

On 23rd December we moved around the corner opposite Peels Wharf ready for Enterprise to pick us up as we were hiring a car to get down to Jess and Lee in Poole for Christmas.

Opposite Peels Wharf

3.75 miles and 2 locks
Total 569.25 miles and 390 locks

Friday, 19 December 2014

Atherstone to Alvecote

Whilst in Atherstone we headed down to take a look at the market, it was a bit of a disappointment, guess there isn't a call for it at this time of year and also the weather wasn't that brilliant, I'm sure when we have been in Atherstone before it was quite busy.

Not a good day for the market
On Tuesday we left Atherstone in the nice sunshine, we were only through the first lock then there was a bit of a shower but not for long, the sun was soon out again and not a breath of wind.

Making good use of the old side ponds
We made good timing down the locks passing five boats on their way up, so a few were on the move.

One of the new gates, this flight was only re-opened a few days before

Last descent

And she's out and we're on our way, I did have to remind James to wait for me this time
After a bit of role reversal at the services, I did water, loo and bin and James finished washing up and made sarnies for the rest of the trip, we made it to Alvecote about half an hour before sunset.

James had a chat with the geese, he's good at talking goose - I'm not
Today (Thursday) we moved across the canal so we were outside the Samuel Barlow pub, we have the luxury of electric and a water tap outside the kitchen window. I'm sure the new batteries are enjoying getting fully charged and I am looking forward to dinner and a cider in the pub next door - and it's not far to stagger back.

Outside the Samuel Barlow pub, not far to go for dinner

7 miles and 11 locks
Total 565.5 miles and 388 locks

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Making of Tracey's Pen


Tracey's Pen

Purple acrylic and Titanium Plated Rollerball Pen

This was a bit of a special pen commissioned by Martin the Master Manufacturer of Stained Glass ~ (Martins website) for his partner Tracey.

We decided that only the best was going to be good enough and I set about talking to my suppliers about a top notch pen mechanism in premium plating. Martin had already chosen a first and second choice of pen blank just in case the worst should happen and I had a problem with the turning. I was pretty confidant as I hadn't had one fail so far this year - I was going to regret my last thought.

Saturday 6th December,  job one was to rough up the surface of the inner brass tubes and paint them a suitable colour for the blank. The red one (second choice) was a no brainer it was cherry red so had had to be similar for the brass tube. It's not vital that the tubes are painted but a proportion of the acrylic is a clearer colour that you can see through (I've recently made another pen that I purposefully kept the tube as brass to make the clearer green a more sea green to contrast with the blue). Inspecting the first choice purple now it was drilled out showed a higher proportion of clearer to more solid purple, and I wasn't sure how it would turn out. I chose a darker maroon colour. Next was drilling.

Monday 8th December. Both pens have the barrels glued up and have had a day to cure. The purple one doesn't feel right, far too much clear purple and the red one is only just a bit better. My supplier is 12,000 miles away in Australia, I can't send Martin a message asking for a third choice. Thinking cap time. We were going to pop in for a pint in the Greyhound in Hawkesbury Monday evening and I had loosely arranged to meet up with a fellow boater and FaceBook friend for a coffee on Friday. Plan B. We pulled pins and set off into the gales and drizzle. There is another supplier I have used before in Basingstoke... and they have a branch a couple of miles from the canal near Nuneaton.

Stopping for water en route

We made it to a suitable mooring by early evening and legged it in the non boaty sense to Axminster Tools. I had checked on the way that they had some options available to me. We looked at every single purple pen blank they stocked, most were too narrow for the pen style Martin wanted but they did have some excellent quality larger ones but they were a much darker purple but I should be able to lighten the finished pen up by painting the barrel white rather than purple. This really makes a difference as by the time I'm finished turning the acrylic veneer will only be about 1.5mm thick. We bought the best purple one along with another red one and went back to Lois Jane via Frankie and Bennys where we really needed a drink and something to eat. 

Made it to Axminster before closing time

Morning view from the rear deck near Nuneaton
Tuesday the 9th December. Back to square one, marking, drilling, painting, drying, gluing and curing - each drying stage needing 24 hours. Whilst waiting for the barrels to dry we moved a bit closer to civilization in Atherstone ready for tomorrows turning of the two original choices and the two new ones that Martin still didn't know about.

Friday 12th December. A much milder day that was forecast to stay dry but I'd still have to wrap up warm, I was going to be on the towpath for at least four or five hours. The original purple ones turned quite nicely indeed and the clearer acrylic looked almost stained glass like which I quite liked (and don't forget Martin is an Artist in Stained Glass!). I was actually looking forward to seeing what it would polish up like when on the final pass of the newly sharpened chisel - CRACK - a lump of it flew off and sank into the canal always to rest in Atherstone. Bugger.

Red sky in the morning - time to turn!

Purple One - before disintegration 

Purple Two

A quick stop whilst Mark and Callie from Calisto refuel
A quick brew and a warm of the hands inside and onto the next one. Purple two, which I was sure would be the new first choice. It turned beautifully and the white painted brass tube turned the blank into a very soft sugary purple/lilac. I was pleased with the result. On to turning Red One, which will still make a nice pen but the colours and patterns in Red Two looked like they may throw up something special when it was turned and polished.

I wasn't wrong. Red two turned into a fantastic bright cherry red pen I matched it to a Rhodium plated mechanism, 12 times the price of gold and the brightest, most reflective metal known to man (according to wikki). I sent Martin some pictures of the pens preassembled so he (or Tracey) could make the final decision and choose a pen to buy. 

Should be on the for sale blog soon #179

Tracey's pen was posted on Monday, received on Wednesday from the Facebook comments I think both Tracey and Martin were very happy with my work. Happy Christmas both from James and Debbie on The Pen Maker's Boat.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Hawkesbury to Atherstone

We made the move from Hawkesbury a few days earlier than intended as James needed to get some supplies from the Axminster shop on Bermuda Park in Nuneaton. As we moved across the canal to water up we noticed the canal was a very strange green colour, almost as if someone had put a dye in it.

We were soon on our way through Sutton Stop Lock and then the turn onto The Coventry Canal heading for Bridge 17 Gypsy Lane as Axminster is just up past the quarry works, not a particularly pleasant walk as its along a fairly busy road with no footpath. Purchases were soon made and then it was into Frankie and Bennys for dinner.

Moored just before bridge 17
After a nice peaceful night with nothing much around we winded and headed back just past Marston Junction. I needed to be in Coventry for Wednesday and it's just a short stroll from there to the train station in Bedworth, at just £2.80 return for me with my railcard it was a bargain.
Marston Junction is just behind us
We had arranged for Mark on Callisto to stop by with coal and diesel, unfortunately his diesel supplier had cancelled his order as they thought it was double booked as he only had a delivery the week before. As he was planning on going down the Ashby, where he had rearranged his delivery and then onto Atherstone we would catch up with him there. It is good to see that the working boats are getting the custom on the canals we always use them if we can.

Here comes Mark on fuel boat Callisto 
On Friday James reversed back to the junction where we winded again and headed to Atherstone for the weekend.

Moored in Atherstone

12.5 miles and 1 lock
Total 558.5 miles and 377 locks

Sunday, 14 December 2014


Deb mentioned in the last blog that she had done a bit of hiking up to the post office in Hillmorton to post a pen off for me. To cut a long story short (well fairly short anyway) from early next year we will be trading from Lois Jane as 'The Pen Maker's Boat'.

I make and sell bespoke ballpoint, rollerball and fountain pens from our boat. Each pen has its own unique number and corresponding blog entry on my new blog site ~ The Pen Maker's Boat and Facebook page ~ The Pen Maker's Boat Facebook Page Of course as well as some detail about the pen that's available there will be a certain degree of my usual waffle.

Here's a sample of one of the entries, I hope you enjoy reading it and of course there are the usual buttons on the blog to follow or share.

I look forward to meeting loads of old friends and making new ones at a floating market near you in 2015!


'Birchills' Oak and Chrome Ballpoint Twist Pen

EUROPEAN OAK - Quercus robur

Usually straight-grained, the heartwood of European Oak varies in colour from light tan to brown. Quarter-sawn pieces show attractive flame figuring. The wood is fairly hard, heavy and dense, clean but with the occasional knot. European Oak is a beautiful timber and with an oil finish, the grain will turn a deep golden brown.

This particular piece of oak (probably English rather than European) is just a little bit special though. It comes from the rear cabin side gunwales of Narrowboat Birchills. I was given a few off cuts by the superb craftsmen who were carrying out a little light refurbishment to this historic boat, in fact the guys had cut the whole back cabin off!

Birchills is an historic, ‘Joey’ boat with a small day cabin, built in 1953 by Ken Keay of Walsall, ‘Birchills’ it is one of the last wooden day boats made and was used to carry coal to Wolverhampton Power Station. This boat is double-ended and the mast and rudder could be changed from one end to the other. This enabled its use in narrow canals or basins where there was no room to turn the boat around.


The rotten parts of these rebuilt boats are usually used to stoke the fires that steam the new planks for bending to the hulls shape so half a day later this flakey gunwale would have been burned. I wasn't sure how deep the rot would have gone and how deep I would have to delve into this piece to find stable wood. The pens I make from historic boat materials have been thoroughly tested by me to make sure that they will give pleasurable daily use.

Having cut the power umbilical cord at Lime Farm Marina we were once again off grid. Debbie had just left for a long weekend away with her mum and as the light was fading I decided to turn right out of the marina and head into Rugby for a few days. It was a cold and damp trip and I was quite glad that it wasn't too long.

Luckily some of the pen turning process can be done inside the boat, it's really only the very messy actual turning part that has to be done outside. Whilst Deb was away I set about sawing up, then trimming down, marking up and drilling the remainder of the gunwale part of NB Birchills. The only part I have left now is a small piece of heavily tarred side planking. With the restoration work well under way it may well be another seventy years before anymore Birchills timber is available.

With Deb back and a few hours working at the Institute for Chem Eng accounts department under her belt we decided to pull pins and head the few miles to a more rural Hillmorton mooring spot. With the weather for Saturday looking at least settled and very possibly fine, the plan was to leave Rugby by 08.00 and have the lathe set up by 10ish.

This particular pen was turned on Saturday 29th November 2014 a short distance below Hilmorton locks. The towpath was just about wide enough for me to set up and the shavings from turning kept the path relatively firm.

  1. Birchills Oak and Chrome Ballpoint Twist Pen
  2. That's what this pen was made from
  3. Work in progress on NB Birchills new back cabin
  4. On our way to Hillmorton for the weekend
  5. It soon brightened up to be a lovely day

Sunday, 7 December 2014

On the move again

I arrived back at the boat on Monday 24th November, I think James had enjoyed his time home alone a bit too much! I had a couple of weeks part time work in Rugby so we stayed at Brownsover for the rest of the week, it was so handy for a stroll to the offices near the railway station. 

Moored at Brownsover, near Rugby
Saturday 29th November and we headed off for a weekend in Hillmorton, we winded at the bottom of the locks and moored up on the visitors moorings shortly after. It was very quiet, only two other boats there Saturday night. I had a walk up to Post Office to post a couple more pens and James was busy with his lathe out on the towpath turning a few more. (Details of the pen venture to follow). 

Lovely day in Hillmorton
After a Sunday roast chicken lunch (it's still very exciting to be cooking in my oven, sad I know) we headed off back to Rugby as I still had a week of work there.

On Friday afternoon we had a lovely visit from Dave and Allison (Free Spirit) and we all enjoyed James' bakewell tart and mince pies. 

Yesterday we were on the move again and left Rugby, it was cold and frosty as we left at around 8:30am. 

Just before Newbold there was a bit of very thin ice forming on the canal with a bit more just outside Brinklow Marina. On the approach to All Oaks Wood the ice was across the canal and a bit thicker, but it was at its worst on the approach to Hawkesbury Junction as we passed by Coventry Cruising Club. We arrived at Hawkesbury Junction around 2pm after a really pleasant wintery cruise.

Passing Lime Farm Marina

The ice just passed Brinklow Marina

Heading towards All Oaks Wood and a bit more ice

After we cut a passage through the ice

Moored up just before Sutton Stop Lock at Hawkesbury Junction

19 miles
Total 546 miles and 376 locks