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Topical notes and archive about the SBA and the world of steamboats

  • 07 Feb 2016 09:19 | Deleted user

    As Chantilly’s adventures at John & Françoise Tilley's hands terminated with her sale in 2015 (to France of course!) they have elected to compile their Funnel reports of her travels, hopefully as encouragement for those contemplating similar cruises or simply to while away the odd coffee break.

    Each article will be republished online throughout 2016 or you can download the full document here (10Mb).

    John writes:

    Although Chantilly has steamed a number of the better known waterways in France, there is still a lifetimes cruising left around the edges.

    The pin this year stuck in la Charente, navigable from Angoulême inland to Rochefort in the estuary-and then into the Bay of Biscay.

    As a plus the River Boutonne was stated to be navigable from the estuary for 30 km inland. This gave a projected cruise of about 200 km and 40 locks- comfortable for the 8 steaming days available.

    We reached Angoulême 20 hours from home, overnighting on board Chantilly in one of the comfortable ‘aires’ found on the autoroutes. Slight set back one, was that, although advertised in the carte fluvial as having a slipway, and full services, Angoulêmes didn’t agree and offered only a meagre slipway, rocky banks and a weedy river. Advised to try downstream at Chateauneuf, we found a splendid starting point with lock side facilities, including a restaurant private car park and a railway station opposite.


    The line, which followed the river for its length, was to be a boon for ultimate car recovery, but a bit of interruption to nocturnal repose.

    Our first steam was upstream towards Angoulême, to cover the bit missed. The Charente, as many French waterways, is only really used by English operated hire fleets, so 4 boats a day was crowded! It has a noticeable current, and for the upper half more than noticeable weeds. Our previous training for weed avoidance on the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal was not wasted! The water is astonishingly clear; and the weeds can be seen growing from the bottom in 10 or more feet of water, so careful navigation, and coasting with engine in mid gear thro’ the un-navigable patches reduced attacking the prop with the boat hook, to a minimum. This clear water gave a magical view of underwater life and no doubt gave the many fish a choice as to which worm to nibble.

    On the surface, we had a plethora of game birds, and coipu. These friendly fellows were happy to bask in the shallows with the ducks and took no heed of us. Kingfishers a plenty, sadly absent from our waterways this year, were so populous that they often hunted in pairs. Add to this the many often crumbling, mills and chateaux, gave an aura of wild, uncharted waters. The locks are occurring every 5 or 10 km and are large 30 m x 7 m with usually 1m drop, and all bar one are hand operated, self service although occasionally, one would meet a lock manned by enterprising youths to whom one tossed serious money in exchanged for respite from the 150 turns of each of the 4 paddles. We found the usual surfeit of gourmet cuisine, and some delightfully fruity Charentais wine, which despite the untold cubic ‘metres’ distilled into Cognac, still flows a plenty. Our journey downstream, at a very easy pace with the favourable current, took us to St Simon, now a quiet hamlet but until the early 1900’s, a major boat building centre of the 100 ton square rigged sailing barges, the Gabare.

    Sadly for the town, when boat building died, with the onset of steel barges, the termites imported with the African timber, didn’t, and many of the buildings are now suffering serious roof droop from the still thriving beasties.

    On next to Jarnac, a major hire base where we discovered slight set back two- the Boutonne was navigable, but only by canoe, and the lower tidal reaches to Rochefort were most unattractive to small boats, as one needed to travel the 30 km on a falling tide and wait in the mud till high tide, before the sea lock would open into the harbour. This effectively eliminated 3 days of our intended route. This fact turned out to be a boon, allowing us to explore the freshwater Charente in more detail, and spend time with a number of the many steam boat afficiados we met.


    Like Antoine, who spent a morning showing us his fascinating family Cognac distillery, and then joining us in Jarnac for a steam and bank side produce sampling, and meeting his best friend Pierre who was building a model of a steam boat- and Jean-Claude near Cognac who has made, in 20,000 hours over 14 years, a collection of the most intricate working steam models, marine plants, loco’s, road vehicles, including Cugnot’s carriage (1769), stationary engines and a few revolutionary devices of his own design- all to scale and from old plans making everything in house, including the steering chain links for a ¾” scale traction engine.

    Then there was Philippe in St Savinien at the end of our navigation, who with his Swedish wife Eva, runs a Swedish restaurant, and imports old ‘Peterson’ wooden motor boats from Sweden and, restores them.

    All of them, fired by thumbing thro’ our copy of the Index, and a data sheet on Chantilly prepared before in French, are now hell bent on constructing a steam boat.

    The cruise continued on thro’ Taillebourg, where the chateau overlooking the river was used for B&B by such notables as Richard the Lion Heart…on to Cognac, with its splendid new harbour, a well kept interesting old town, bristling with distilleries all housed in imposing chateaux. Then through Port d’Envaux, once an important port, now a quaint waterside village but still with splendid hostelries, on to St Savinien.

    Unable to continue by water, we entrained and visited our goal, Rochefort by rail. Here, the ‘temps’ ceased to be ‘beau’, and we had torrential downpours that found Chantilly’s canopy a little less than watertight (but a 60 KW boiler soon dries damp bedding). We then had a long days steam, 55 km and 2 locks back to Cognac, spent our last day steaming around with new found friends and, witnessed the hilarious local sport of water jousting, where the technique seems to be to upset and deflect the oarsmen before the jousters meet. Amongst the many attractions of Cognac was a most effective slipway, and a TGV station from where I was whisked, a breakneck speed back to Chateauneuf to collect car and trailer.

    Then end of our steaming, but not quite the end of our adventures, as at our overnight stop off at Chateau-sur-Loire, ‘F’ espied an ad for 3 old Vélo Solex mopeds ‘like Grandad had’, so after a phone call, we deviated early Sunday morning 50 km to Ponce where we met the family and accompanied by Dad in his night attire, we whistle along the county lanes testing their 20 cc capabilities to the full, did a deal for a 30 year old model in splendid original condition, popped it under Chantilly’s canopy, and returned with a really useful souvenir. A leisurely trip on an unspoilt waterway. 170 km and 30 locks of steaming- and we brought back some of the 150 kg of coal we started with; which sadly meant less need for the usual wine ‘ballast’ on the return trip!

  • 27 Dec 2015 12:29 | Deleted user

    During 2015 Philip Webster will be giving us a monthly update on his adventures in Banjo:

    Full of 'eastern promise', the weather here was perfect for a steam trip. Blue sky, warm sun and a light breeze, our hurricane type weather promised for tomorrow!

    Banjo seems to like these unscheduled rests, the outward journey against the tide, and again homeward bound, were completed very briskly, then to top it all the engine (Beryl 2), ran down to five P.S.I. ! The extra speed may have been helped by the shortage of crew. One was watching snooker in York, the other frog marched in to some retail establishment, ugh!

    Down to three and a dog again this week, just means we get to lunch a bit quicker! It almost seems a shame to pull her out when going so well, just two more trips then I can investigate those rattles! Steam boating has that wonderful quality of being interesting and enjoyable on the water or in the shed.
  • 30 Nov 2015 12:00 | Deleted user

    During 2015 Philip Webster will be giving us a monthly update on his adventures in Banjo:

    When the weather is fine, some say,

    it's fine to be a steamboat driver,
    Wind steam and sun make jolly good fun
    It's great to be out on the river.

    But when it gets cold and bones rather old
    we need a good friend like our Betsy
    She's warm , round and thoroughly sound
    And usually eats all we feed her.

    From sticks and coal to telegraph pole
    She gives us steam from her belly
    At eight bells, that's noon she'll whistle a tune
    To say they are open, lunch ready.

    The weather is anything but cold just now, hence the predictions of a hard winter. If comfortable we will continue steaming every Friday into the New Year , then pull out for refit. I have been tooling up for an attack on the  Stevenson's link. With the design parameters to hand and a little more understanding of how it works I hope to make a better job of the valve gear.

    Five brave men and a dog squeezed between Abigail and Kate and ignored the date. The weather turned foul but the strong wind helped the draught, and another tasted good with our dinner. (that is what we call lunch in Norfolk). We had to get back to BSC by three for a site meeting, (the flood defence works are now complete), we guess that the Gremlins cannot swim fast as the wind over the funnel gave us a record run home.
    What a difference this week. Blue sky and sunshine but cold northerly gives us a hint that winter is 'coming. The bonus of this is the extra wild life that joins us on the river. Yesterday we saw an otter with his lunch of bream, a hare having a bath, (a first for us), also ducks galore, cormorant, shag, grebe,but no coot, where have they gone. In my youth they had coot shoots on Rockland Broad, perhaps the shot too many?
  • 07 Nov 2015 20:26 | Deleted user

    During 2015 Philip Webster will be giving us a monthly update on his adventures in Banjo:

    The first Friday steam was abandoned, due to Golden Wedding celebrations, fancy having a 'do' on a Friday! However, steaming hours were compensated with an extra trip on Tuesday. Ian, who usually provides a good spread for lunch had just been 'let out' after a hip replacement and desperate to get afloat again. The last time he came we gave a tow to three young maids in a canoe. They had imbibed fairly well and looked in need! All went well, they passed a bottle forward and we responded with chocolates. At that time they were wearing life jackets, but with only a hundred yards to go the canoe inverted and the long haired blond was detached from her life saver. Fortunately she was not wearing a wig, and Ians demonstration of how to grasp a mermaid's tail' will stay in my memory for ever. She slid aboard like a wet fish, much relieved to be in our warm dry saloon.

    This month's activities seem doomed. It is not often that the Friday steam has to be postponed, or even cancelled, but, we all have the 'dreaded lurgie', or to be modern, man flu. It is years since I had an attack and find it most debilitating. However, being confined to the 'indoor shed', I am able to indulge in u-tube videos. Wonderful stuff of Thailand rice factory, powered by steam, saw mills in the US and the recovery of a steam dredger from it's last job, 50yrs. On! All wonderful stories, with explicit commentaries and NO background music or amplified applause!

    She steamed like a witch, the rest did her good
    The curry was great and so was the pud,
    The Gremlins lost out , no problems it seems
    Must be saving themselves for Haloween

    At least we finnished the month on a high, three weeks ashore is classed as 'cruelty to Norfolkmen'.

  • 01 Oct 2015 21:11 | Deleted user

    During 2015 Philip Webster will be giving us a monthly update on his adventures in Banjo:

    Still short of crew, so George and I had a day out on the razzle! George had not stoked recently and found several little alterations. These must have taken his mind off the job in hand as he had three goes at lighting the fire. Coffee at moorings and a short trip to Surlingham for a slap up lunch of liver and bacon.

    George and I are getting the hang of two man steaming. In spite of the adverse tides and strong head wind we completed our planned cruise to Lim's shop and enjoyed every chip. The fish added to the small celebration of the digital rev. counter, laser powered from the flywheel. The lollipop stick is a 'temporary switch depressant', that stayed put all the way there. We now know that 330rpm really is our cruising optimum. I am hoping this may be a significant step along the journey to a digital indicator, which, perhaps will tell me that the valve timing is correct after all?

    On Saturday the 19th. We acted as turn boat for the Triple 'B', setting the up river turn buoy and watching diligently for any misdemeanour’s. This sailing race, raises funds for the 'Waveney Stardust'(see August). This was the 25th. Time we have run this race which usually goes from Buckenham to Breydon Water and back. This year however the bridge at Reedham was undergoing a spot of maintenance and could not open. In order to enable the race to proceed we rearranged the route to include Brundall as the other 'B'. The weather treated us kindly and all the 29 entrants completed the course with no mishaps. The 'Catas -trophy' however was awarded to BSC, as the safety boat could not be started, dead starter. Just proves that steam is more reliable!

    Last steam of the month had a mission. We delivered a '25th. Triple B' mug to the Harbour Master at Reedham. He has quite a collection in his office, where they get well used by the visiting crews.


    George kept up a good head of steam on the way back, and in spite of pushing the tide we caught up some sailing cruisers(oh yes we did). They were enrout for Coldham Hall for the 'Yare Navigation Race', another classic event, twice as old as the 'Triple B'.

  • 06 Sep 2015 09:19 | Deleted user

    During 2015 Philip Webster will be giving us a monthly update on his adventures in Banjo:

    For many years, the first week end of August has been reserved as a charitable event for those less able to enjoy water sports. Banjo usually does several trips with 4 or 5 guests at a time. All went well until the last trip, when a small party of rather heavy helpers came aboard. As we passed another of our fleet, I gave the obligatory whistle and lots of waves. My shirt was wet so , thinking the whistle valve had a leak I stood up to inspect it, and got a wet bum. The bilge water shone prettily in the sunlight as it proscribed an arc from the flywheel to my seat! A bit of baling and load adjustment cured the immediate problem, but a higher bilge pump outlet has been arranged. A Plimsole line might be another addition, or a set of quay side scales!

    Yesterday we enjoyed what could be our last pint at the Burney Arms. Situated at the inner end of Breydon Water it is really only of use to the passing boat trade. This, nowadays is sadly insufficient to continue trading so the owner has applied for change of use to private dwelling.

    On our way down river we met the flood about a mile from Breydon. We also met two gin palaces who had enjoyed the unrestricted Breydon Water but had forgotten the speed restriction in the river!. Banjo sliced through the wash without hesitation, no green stuff over the bow this time. However, who should be following us, just around the bend, the Broads Authority patrol boat. To catch two speeders together made their day! If we had been in a canoe things might have been a bit fraught. Ironically our trip back to BSC was done in record time, with the tide flooding all the way Banjo took a little time  to cool down at moorings !

    There are very few things that interrupt our regular Friday steams, but a bulging sick bay and a leaking roof are two of them. My part was the carport roof, built 30yrs. ago to house the mobile home, (now scrapped), it works well as a winter maintenance bay. The canopy can be winched up and stored while machinery is lifted out. I had used a sort of corrugated cardboard sheeting, a new product at the time, but thirty years proved well past it's usable life span. The galvanised replacement will, I am sure last me out. I now know the real meaning of 'a cat on a hot tin roof'!

    The last trip of the month found the Burney arms still serving. Another minor achievement this month was the control of cylinder lubricant. Flow from the displacement unit is controlled by a needle valve, until recently. The sudden excess clogged the infeed pump filter, as well as everything else. A 'new', larger valve from the 'stores' allowed a bit of modification. The spindle reworked to accommodate a spring which bedded onto a brass jumper, (courtesy of George's stair rods). The resulting adjustment features control to acceptable level.

  • 01 Aug 2015 14:06 | Deleted user

    The month started with a sizzling heat wave. The Gremlins, unused to such weather decided a swim would be in order, inside Banjo. A sorry sight when we arrived Tuesday morning for a day's sailing. The tide would be flooding for the next four hours so we sailed away, looking forward to an evening baling! Joyfully, on our return we found Capt. Liberte had dropped in a mains electric pump, job done, except for the wet seats etc. . The heat wave worked for us then for by Friday, nearly everything was back to normal. Cruised up to Surlingham and lunch ashore and overtook the Albion, the wherry that tried to catch us on Breydon. We offered them a tow, naturally, but our thirst overcame chivalry!

    IF the battery had kept the pump a'pumping'
    IF the coal had not been used from starboard side,
    IF the leak had been addressed when first was noticed,
    Then the Gremlins would have missed their gala day.

    The low ebb proved no problem to the re-hashed trailer. The new axles with smaller wheels, the drawbar dolly and extension pole made recovery a doddle, home by coffee break and repair to the leaky plank half done. After lunch the fire tubes were given a birthday treat inside and out.

    Damage from the total immersion is a lot less than feared. A few rusty bits and a bit of mud is only to be expected, but electric rev counters do not like it! A mechanical model is to hand, but a higher mounting point is being considered. However, after stripping and a few days dry out we seem to have revs again.

    During this week's 'rest' I have made the helm's and engineer's windows open outwards. I hope now that they will be rain proof. The extra couple of inches freed up inside will also be welcome, Banjo is fairly slim amidships, 4'6” for two adults and an engine.

    The rainproof windows have had their test, and they are draught proof as well. We had the pleasure of following the fleet on the down river race to Reedham. The fore cast was for rain and wind so we had a good excuse not to sail! On the way back we had the pleasant company of the Club newly weds, Steve and Sara. The foul weather could have strained relations a bit, but a ride home in the warm dry saloon on Banjo, will, I am sure, be a pleasant memory, for all.

    The last day of the month and summer has returned. The record temperatures, high and low, plus the extreme rainfall and wind certainly tested the windows. Another job I should have done years ago.

    Our last trip of the month, with the 'guest stoker' restricted to 160psi, a pleasant cruise up river to Whitlingham for lunch aboard. An 'all in' with fruit and custard, home brew and coffee. Tomorrow we are steaming again, giving rides to disadvantaged club guests.

  • 31 Jul 2015 11:43 | Deleted user
    The National Trust’s Steam Yacht Gondola is sending out an SOS to ‘Save Our Sidney’, the sea serpent figurehead which gives Gondola her distinctive look. More accurately, a new version of Sidney will have to be created.

    Affectionately known by the crew as ‘Sid’, thirty five years on Coniston Water have taken their toll on him. Regular repairs, refurbishments and makeovers have kept Sid looking his best during this time, but there’s only so much filling and patching that can be done. The wood is now rotten to its core which means a new Sid now needs to be commissioned.

    The Gondola team is looking to raise £5000 to have Sidney re-carved in hardwood and decorated in gold leaf paint. The cost of replacing Sidney is unfortunately beyond the level that can be absorbed in Gondola’s general running costs.

    The origins of Gondola’s sea serpent lie with the connections to the 7th Duke of Devonshire, who was then-Chairman of the Furness Railway who commissioned the original Gondola in 1859. The Devonshire coat of arms adorn Gondola’s prow and Sid was added to the boat to represent the coiled snake emblem used by the Devonshire’s on the frieze of Chatsworth House.

    Suzi Bunting, Visitor Experience Development Manager for Gondola, says:

    "Sid not only represents our link to Gondola’s Victorian history but his forked tongue, according to maritime myth, is said to ward off bad weather. That’s some achievement in the changeable climate of the Lake District. Gondola just wouldn’t be Gondola without Sid so we’re working hard to ensure enough money is raised to keep him sailing across Coniston.”

    You can find out more on Ivan Corlett’s blog here.

  • 05 Jul 2015 18:52 | Deleted user

    During 2015 Philip Webster will be giving us a monthly update on his adventures in Banjo:

    May certainly left us with a roar, setting a bad example to June. Hopefully she will not continue in the same vogue for too long.  Our last trip up to Norwich tested the 'righting reflexes' of the three ex dinghy sailors aboard.  Banjo is fairly tender, and a savage gust amidships on the rigid super structure can feel a bit 'hairy'. We have never actually shipped any water but have experienced some uncomfortable seating.


     Our 'Steamy weak end' turned into an interesting experiment. My 'new trailer' idea proved to be impractical. I had hoped to use one trailer for my two boats, but I was wrong in my assumptions, further thought required. A few little improvements to Banjo in preparation for next Friday's trip( 12th.) to the Museum of the Broads at Stalham, an eight hour trip, including Breydon Water.  Looking forward to a Christopher curry en route.

    'We are enriched by our experiences', a reality often seen in adventure books. Our trip across Breydon Water was truly exciting and educational. When about half way towards Great Yarmouth the wind freshened and backed ten degrees. The water responded with a sharp chop, pushing green water over the fore deck and through the galley window! When the bell joined in the malaise with a 'ding  ding ding dong dong dong ding ding ding, prudence forced a bit of left hand down to travel on the other half, in smoother water on the windward side of the channel. A few cruisers looked a bit baffled at us steaming on the wrong side but suitable evasive action avoided any unpleasantness. The remainder of the trip was a delightful experience of steaming perfection, i.e. no breakdowns and a wonderful Chris curry of sausage and egg washed down with home brew IPA. Forty miles in nine hours including two stops, bliss.

    On Sunday (14th.) our haven for the week came to life with their 'Steam Day'. Cars, lorries, traction engines, and stationary models, complemented with the steam launches Banjo, Falcon, Garlandene, Lollipop and Ursula, . A great time was had by all, especially those on the steam bus ride to the pub  Saturday night !


    The trip home was equally delightful, but the tides could have been a bit more helpful. Our slightly longer passage, including an extended lunch saw us back with just enough light, steam and water, the latter going smooth and still on the last two miles. The longer lunch was due, not to over imbibing, but an adventurous search up a 'new' creek. Half a mile up this very narrow channel we saw a notice, 'pub 5 mins. Walk. It took ten, but was worth it. Upton Red Lion gets full marks for ale and food.

    The tide, weather and time was right , project for the last Friday in June was to wish Lydia Eva a happy birthday. At 85, she deserved a treat, we sang 'Happy Birthday' , much to the amusement of the crew. I knew the brass megaphone would come in handy !

  • 31 May 2015 19:46 | Deleted user

    During 2015 Philip Webster will be giving us a monthly update on his adventures in Banjo:

    May day, may day, what a … day! With our guest stoker shovelling coal into the boiler like it was going out of fashion, we stormed up the Yare, cutting ten minutes off the journey to Surlingham. Just around the corner past Woods End game over, the HP linkage parted from the weight shaft. A temporary fix with a short piece of six mil. Copper pipe (I wonder why that was in the tool box?) and a short plank, part of the sleeping arrangements and never used, and a piece of kindling, got us to the Broads Authority workshop. A scrounged six mil. Bold secured the broken arm  and good speed maintained whilst lunch of curry, rice pudding and peaches were consumed on the run home.

    To be fair, the broken arm has a long rusty side and a short shiny one, indicating that this was a disaster waiting to happen, the L.P. arm was replaced years ago. Perhaps the coffee table should be lifted off more often.

    In '95 she came alive,
     And steamed off very slowly.
    From gas to oil and finally coal,
    Four boilers, two engines and a whistle,

    We learned a lot, to do, and not
    The knots came one by one,
    From many hours of turn and cut
    Four boilers, two engines and a whistle.

    When freedom came and bonus rained
    A Leak from castings pleased us
    We gained some ground with boiler round
    Fourth boiler, second engine, same whistle

    The ducks we left behind at last
    Horizons Broadened weekly,
    The galley grew some kit as well
    Four boilers, two engines and a whistle.

    Now twenty years of steaming trips
    On Fridays mostly favoured,
    A mobile lunch for gentlemen
    And lots of chat of days gone by
    Four boilers, two engines and a whistle.

    I like it when it all comes together, as it should. Our V.E. day went with a swing, and a swig, or two. The menu was familiar, the center of Norwich reached in two hours, who could ask for more.

    I did not ask but was pleased to change duties as all worked well and Mr. Mate wanted a spell astern (new puppy fatigue!), No. 2 stoked and I had the rare treat of steering my boat! Mr. Mate usually steers as he is the only one that can concentrate long enough to steer a straight course, he says. I am never happy unless something is wrong and needs fixing, he says! i.e. I like to be busy. No. 2 likes stoking occasionally, No. 1 is in charge of the galley, and feeds us well.

    Like it or not we get one more each year, I make mine Ladies Day. It makes a good target date for getting everything working properly, and clean. All went well, a short trip around the Broad and lunch at the Beauchamp Arms, which is now under new management, who seem to know what they are about. The fire was a bit reluctant to burn, tubes must be cleaned, but a bit of extra throttle kept us moving with less interruption, to the chat, and wild life. Creeping through 'secret waters' we witnessed a family of newly hatched signets sampling the world .

    Next Friday 5th of June we plan to test the 'new' trailer, wilst awaiting the arrival of guests to our 'Steamy Weekend'. Then on Friday the 12th of June we will convoy up to Stalham to the Museum of the Broads 'Steam Day' on Sunday 14th. June.

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