We have a new toy: an inflatable kayak. We had one of these before and had loved the versatility: you can launch them almost anywhere. But the one we had was really designed for white water and surf… not much call for those in the East Anglian fens, where something that travels longer distances in a straight line was more desirable!
Like many people, I’m familiar with the vast River Thames that flows under the big bridge at Dartford, and the grubbily majestic Thames that passes the Houses of Parliament. I’ve even been fortunate enough to enjoy the rather spiffing Thames that flowed past us when we visited the Stewards’ Enclosure at Henley Regatta.
But until a couple of weekends ago, I hadn’t experienced the delightfully bucolic upper Thames, which winds past herds of cows, under weeping willows, and passes through locks manned by lock-keepers who still live in cottages on the waterside, surrounded by their beautiful gardens.
That, I think, is my favourite Thames. And I would have made a better video of it if I hadn’t been so taken up with enjoying and navigating it!
I remember in the early days of blogging, I was trying to persuade a good friend of mine that he would be capable of writing a really interesting blog, and his response was something along the lines of ‘Too busy living it to blog it!’ I wasn’t quite sure what to think of that. Was it an enviable, or pitiable, state?
My posts on Status-Q (now approaching its 21st birthday) have always been somewhat bursty and sporadic, and I notice that it’s nearly a month since my last one. I sometimes feel inferior to friends who produce impressive output every single week or even day (though I suppose many of them are not so much writing new content themselves as linking to valuable pieces elsewhere, which is something I generally tend to do a bit less because they do it much better than me!)
So blogging for me is something that generally happens when I have enough interesting stuff going on to write about, but not so much that there’s no time to write! My long-suffering readers just put up with the unpredictability. And this last month has been surprisingly busy, both with work and play, but a lot of the latter… so here are a few quick phone snaps and bits of news, to catch up…
Since the last post, Rose and I went on an RYA sailing course – the first for her and the second for me – and spent a few days living aboard a very fine 35ft boat. Here’s Rose at the helm, heading out to sea:
and we also enjoyed some night sailing on the River Stour:
And little boats…
At the other extreme we’ve been exploring the North Norfolk coast and its challenging tidal currents in our little inflatable boat with its electric outboard, getting up very early to set out with enough water from Morston Quay…
Popping out to see the seals on Blakeney Point:
before heading back inland towards Blakeney…
with the help of local signposts:
…and passing some of the pleasing local craft on the way.
Blakeney high street, which we had wandered down to a favourite restaurant the previous night…
was now our destination port…
and such is the height of the spring tide down at the quay that we could just sail into the carpark and tie up to a bollard there.
The quay soon became crowded with people enjoying jumping in to the warm, voluminous and fast-flowing river, which normally meanders much more sedately through substantial banks of mud and sand.
We walked back along the coast path to Morston, picked up the car, and brought it back to Blakeney, had a coffee and sausage roll for breakfast at the nearby cafe. After that, the rapidly-drying car park was once again full of cars, and we could roll up the boat and take it away.
Of course, if you’re staying in a campsite, but your car is full of spaniels, boats and outboards, then transporting a tent can be a challenge. I do have a roof rack I can put on the Tesla, but I wasn’t too keen on attaching a heavy tent to my glass roof, nor on the likely effects of the resulting aerodynamics on my range.
Then I remembered that I had once bought a custom-made bag to go on our bike-rack when I was using it with our old campervan. It turned out to be a great way to transport the tent.
When we got to the campsite we removed it and had a normal (albeit boat-filled) car for the rest of the weekend. As always when attaching things to my towbar, though, I did need to adopt a slightly unusual position when using a supercharger on the way home!
An old design with new opportunities?
Next to us in the campsite was a rather interesting folding caravan. We made friends with the owner and discovered that it was a Carousel Slimline, a jolly clever design originating in the 70s and produced, in Norfolk, until just a few years ago. They look like this:
The slimline version of the Gobur Carousel.
Now, if you’re thinking that it looks a bit, well, boxy, remember… that’s what you really want when you’re living inside it. Houses are boxy too. Flat vertical walls and high ceilings are desirable, but you normally have to compromise them because of things like aerodynamics when you’re towing behind a car at high speeds. Not with this.
We were rather impressed, and since the company was just a few miles from the campsite, we went and had a look. They even let me try towing one on the Tesla… which worked very well.
For those interested, I got about 3 miles per kWh on my 18-mile test, as compared to about 4 miles/kWh normally. If that was representative for longer journeys, I would still get over 200 miles before recharging, which is just fine!
Turning this trailer into a liveable space takes about 3 minutes, which is rather clever: consider, for example, the fact that the van contains a wardrobe, and kitchen units, and that the folding point is lower then the kitchen worktops… Here’s how it works.
Sadly, new ones are no longer being built, but some enterprising former employees have got together and have an impressive collection of models available which they buy, recondition, service, resell and so forth. We were both impressed and tempted, but have resisted that temptation… so far.
Here’s the thing, though: there’s a real opportunity for designs like this in the world of electric cars. These are both light and streamlined, and even the slimline one gives you a lot more living space then some other alternatives like the Eriba Puck, the GoPod or some of the sexy teardrop-shaped options on the market. There’s an opportunity for an investor here, I think, to keep a classic alive and to market it as the EV-friendly caravan option for the future.
Combining the themes of boats and electric propulsion, I’m in danger of boring some of my friends by telling them how wonderful I think electric outboard motors are. (I’ve put lots more on one of my YouTube playlists if you’re interested, though.)
But yesterday, my friend Douglas and I sailed our little dinghy down the River Blackwater from the very friendly and welcoming sailing club at Stone St Lawrence and round to Brightlingsea on the River Colne. On the way, we passed the old Radio Caroline ship, which will bring back memories to UK readers of a certain age…
We made it to Brightlingsea, with a little exploration of West Mersea on the way. It’s rather fun sailing 12 miles along the edge of the North Sea in a little 12-foot boat. (That’s nautical miles, of course, so 13-and-a-bit to you landlubbers.)
The harbourmaster kindly let us tie up on the jetty while we went and got a hot chocolate at a local cafe.
Then we headed back, which we knew would have been rather a slow sail because it was into the wind, so we were planning to use the outboard, and this was made really easy by a new accessory I had just got for it. Details are here for those interested.
In the end the wind almost completely vanished, leaving us cruising silently up a glassy estuary towards the sunset as the evening came on. A very pleasant end to the day.
It’s hard to believe that this has still, in general, been a normal working month involving lots of other things like trips to the vet, a family funeral, speccing out a solar-and-battery system for the house, lots of software development and some important deadlines for important clients. Fortunately, we’re going away at the end of next week to recover.
A few more peaceful images for your Sunday morning… (click for larger versions)
Boats on the swinging moorings at the Royal Harwich Yacht Club wait for the day to begin, and the tide to come in.
A cormorant dries his wings as the sun makes its appearance. But the fields are still shrouded in mist.
We head out in our little boat to see what the day will hold.
At Harwich, a row of lightships is moored in a line across the estuary. I wonder why they’re there; they aren’t even lit at night. It turns out they are brought here, from all over the country, for servicing. This is the MOT bay. Men go across from the white ship and change the lightbulbs.
Radio Caroline. No longer rocking. But still gently rolling.
That evening, the sun goes down over Harwich church.
A view from the gents’ loo at Shotley Marina.
All night, a gentle whirring and clunking reaches across the water, as the port of Felixstowe does its best to keep supplies coming into the country. (And exports going out.)
At dawn the following morning, the work is still going on.
I’ve just spent five days living on a small boat, in order to gain a certificate from the Royal Yachting Association that describes me as ‘Competent Crew’. I guess this is the modern equivalent of ‘Able Seaman’.
It was a splendid experience, which I’ll write about soon, when life is less hectic. In the meantime, I offer a couple of soothing pictures.
The Road Home: This the channel out of Bradwell Marina, just after dawn. A very East-Anglian sight at low tide. About 20 minutes later we had enough depth to creep out.
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Late last summer we were in Cornwall and spent a delightful day on the Helford river in a boat we rented for the purpose. It had a motor, which was very convenient, but having driven an electric car for the last 6 years, I was very conscious again of just how much noise a combustion engine makes, especially when it’s in the form of an outboard sitting right behind you. Since that day, I’ve been desirous of an electric-powered boat.
Well, today we were able to try out a couple of recent purchases. Our new vessel, Tiddler, is an inflatable that comes somewhere between a RIB tender and an inflatable kayak — and we paired it with an ePropulsion electric outboard, which is a marvellous thing that can be put in the back of the car without any risk of petrol spills. In fact we can just about get the boat, the pump, the engine, the battery and the oars in the boot of our saloon car without needing to fold the seats down.
It took some research to find a combination that would do that, but I was keen to try because it turns out that Teslas are ridiculously dependent on their very low drag coefficient for their range, and doing reckless things like putting something on a roof-rack or towing it behind has quite an impact, so keeping things inside is a good idea if you can.
Anyway, we had a rather idyllic but high-tech day, zooming from our house to the little harbour just over an hour away, along a highway that took us almost all the way, so the car did the vast majority of the driving. Then pottering around the estuary mostly in sunshine and mostly in silence, mooring near a famous waterside pub that we knew to serve excellent fish and chips, and then heading back home the same way. This simultaneously proved two things to my satisfaction: firstly, that most forms of transport can be improved with the addition of a good battery, and secondly, that despite all this technology there’s still nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
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It came to my attention, when renting a small boat last year, that I didn’t really know much about anchors: how best to use them, how long the rode (the cable) should be, and so forth. The little dinghy I sailed in my youth had a mud-weight, but a proper anchor? No, I’d never really had to use one of those myself, certainly not in any situation where it might matter. This gap in my knowledge was brought to mind again today as we listened to the audiobook of We Didn’t Mean to Go To Sea. Connoisseurs of quality children’s literature will understand the relevance.
Now, the wonders of modern life allow you to find out all sorts of things in all sorts of situations, and so it was that, relaxing in the bath after a hard day’s domestic labour, my thoughts naturally turned to things aquatic. I had my trusty iPad to hand, and so was able to watch a range of YouTube videos from people in exotic parts of the world explaining the different kinds of anchor, how long the rode should be for a given depth of water, why it’s important that the bit that attaches to the anchor should be a chain even if the rest of it is rope, and so on. Time passed, and I became simultaneously cleaner, more relaxed, and better-educated.
Finally, feeling that the bathwater was getting a bit cool, and it was time to move to a different berth, and I was now equipped to handle most anchoring situations I was likely to encounter before bed, I sat up, reached for the plug-chain, and gave it a tug. It seemed to stick for a moment and then came free, and I wound it in, only to discover a situation for which none of my training had prepared me…
The plug had remained in the murky depths. There was nothing on the end of the dangling chain.
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