I’m writing this on Monday evening, 22nd January, five and a bit days after arriving in Acton Bridge. It’s been a crazy few days, but returning to work today forced me to pause for breath and that in turn made me think it would be good to summarise the experience so far.

The run down from Northwich to Acton Bridge was great fun. I’d moved Bream as far as Saltersford Lock the afternoon before, then caught the bus back to Northwich on a cold and misty morning. Iris was moored on the island, just below the footbridge.

Matt and Mike were on board and we chatted for a while before Matt and I headed off for our 10:30 booking at the first swing bridge.

We passed under Hayhurst Bridge first, but that is plenty tall enough – once the mast has been lowered, so did not need to be moved. Matt pointed out that the mast is more than cosmetic, it allows the bridge operator to see where the boat is as his view is impeded by the swing bridge, so getting it back up after Hayhurst really did matter.

Town Bridge is much lower and CRT staff were about to swing it as we arrived. I’d not given any thought to VHF radio before this moment. I know the river well, but Bream doesn’t need bridges to be swung and the locks all have mobile phone numbers. Helpfully Matt had his portable VHF handset and was able to call up Town Bridge to let them know that we were were nearby.

The trick is to time your arrival just right so that you’re not waiting in the (moving) channel any longer than you need to, but also ensure that the bridge is open for the shortest time possible. You’re stopping the traffic on the main ring road through Northwich so it’s important to be on time and to not hang around.

From this point I took the wheel, all the way to Saltersford. It is of course a very different experience to a narrow boat, but felt surprisingly natural. She’s a bit slower to respond, but not hugely so and I negotiated the bends before the boat lift with no anxious moments.

The wheel is geared, which means it stays where you put it and consequently you don’t need your hands on it every second and the sort of micro-adjustments you make on a narrow boat are just not relevant here. I said to Matt that it reminded me of trimming a light aircraft, you set a course then leave it to get on with it until the next correction. Dipping out of the side door to take the above photo was no problem at all.

The same CRT team met us at Winnington Swing Bridge and confirmed that they would then go straight to Saltersford Lock, which was great news as the official booked time would have meant a two hour wait.

As we went down Barton Cut, I checked the GPS on my phone and was amazed to find that we were doing 5mph. The engine was barely above tickover to my ears, and the size of the boat means you have a totally different perspective of speed. Definitely something to keep an eye on!

At Saltersford Lock I handed her back to Matt and picked up Bream, from the lock landing. It was rather fun to have the river to ourselves and shoot photos and video as we passed each other a couple of times, Iris barely drawing breath as Bream struggled to keep up. We passed the spot where I’m planning to moor her shortly, and waved hello to the owner of the other boat that is based there.

At Acton Bridge we both winded (turned) to face upriver – something you should always do – and I pulled alongside after Matt had secured Iris at the visitor mooring.

We then spent some time going through the systems on the boat, particularly in the engine room. I videoed it all was we talked, for future reference and to avoid the need to take notes. I’m writing it all up a bit at a time as I need to understand things, and it’s already proved invaluable a number of times. I even started the engine for the first time, quite a feat as it is a compressed air start. Let’s see if I can manage it completely on my own, another time!

Rebekah came down by car to meet us and took this photo, with Bream just about peeking out on the outside, and now looking very small indeed!

I spend the next couple of hours photographing and videoing Iris from all directions. I then spent a bit of time planning my next moves, broadly speaking what was going to move from Bream, where it would go and what order it needed to happen in. Here’s a selection from that set, showing the main spaces.

On Thursday I moved kitchen things across, and also rearranged some bits of furniture that had been left on board. A lovely table that was in the wheelhouse was disassembled so I could get it down the stairs, and reassembled in the galley, with a smaller table that had been there previously moved to become a sideboard, and a chest of drawers moved into the main bedroom.

I put some throws across the settees, and with a couple of cushions they were very comfortable. I even managed to get the huge wall-mounted TV up and running, and watched a bit of a documentary, that was on my laptop. It was starting to feel a lot like home though by 10pm I was flaked out and fell into bed, back on Bream. I was definitely too tired to make the bed up!

I spend a bit of time on Friday morning looking at a couple of problems I’d uncovered. The central heating had gone off mid evening the night before, and I established that the batteries didn’t really have the capacity to keep it going for very long, certainly less than 24 hours. Not the end of the world as I was planning to replace the batteries anyway, but it needed a bit of thought in the interim.

I also struggled a bit with the gas cooker, which would just about light but had very low pressure on all four rings. I initially thought it was the feed from the bottles on deck, but lighting the grill proved that was not the case as that ran fine, so there must be dirt in the injectors on the hob. They’ve been unused for a while so perhaps not a surprise. It’s not a huge job to clean them but I don’t have the right tool so that will have to wait for another day.

On Friday afternoon I had my first visitor. It was lovely to see Eve and to show her around. I do think this will be a lovely place to welcome visitors into, once I’m sorted. I then had to go out for a while to do some jobs so not a lot more was achieved.

On Saturday I moved my clothes across and made up the bed. What fun to have a huge bed (it’s nearly twice the width of mine on Bream) and also it’s nice for it not to be high up. Sometimes jumping up into a bed at waist level is as much as I can do at the end of a long day, though having the microwave and fridge under the bed has been quite a talking point with visitors over many years!

I spent a bit of time looking at the electrics, partly to understand the systems but also as I’m wondering whether it will be feasible to power Iris from Bream while a larger battery system and generator are being sourced. The central heating is quite a beast, it works fabulously, but doesn’t half use some power when the burner jets are running. More experimentation is going to be needed on that front. It will mean a change of plan as I’d hoped to get Bream off the river in the next week or so, but that is starting to feel like it will be the best plan for now.

One bit of fun was that I discovered that the electrical systems can talk to my phone or laptop via Bluetooth. I can check the state of the batteries without moving from my chair and can even see what the solar panels on the roof of the wheelhouse have put into the system today. Very impressive!

Work has to be my priority for a few days now, but I do want to use any time I can to definitely prove that I can run Iris from Bream, as that will allow me to move on board completely. At the moment I’m hopping from one boat to another multiple times a day, depending on what items I need. Most of my stuff is over there now, with just the office and some cooking things, on Bream.

It’s been a good week. Not what I expected, but arguably that was in itself what I would have predicted!

I’ve barely mentioned the river itself, the views by both day and night have been stunning. We’ve had some really dramatic weather, with both boats bouncing around a bit in the high winds but this is a beautiful place to be based.