About Me

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After thirty years of hiring, I finally bought my own 50ft boat in 2005, which was built in 2001 by Andicraft at Debdale Wharf. I mostly cruise single handed and have no problem with that, although it does take a little longer than with a crew. My mooring is on the Wey Navigation, so I have a choice of routes on the Wey or the Thames.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Autumn Fly-Run



The Autumn Fly Run

 
I think I should explain the title here, for anyone reading this that is unfamiliar with the history of the canal system. Long before good roads or the railway, water was the easiest and most comfortable way to travel. Fly-boats were the express vehicles of the time; able to travel at up to 10mph and drawn by several horses for 24hrs continuously. The horses were changed at intervals of course, at staging posts along the way. Fly-boats had total priority over any other boat on the system and beware any other boat getting in their way, which could have the tow line cut through by a large knife mounted on the bow for the purpose. Fly-boats were used for perishable goods and passengers. The last remaining fly-boat in existence is Saturn, which is often displayed at boat rallies. Being without an engine of course, she has to be towed by motor or horse. The following account is not of course a true fly-run, but is the closest that I have done to it.
More info. at:- http://www.saturnflyboat.org.uk/flyboats.htm

The Narrow Boat Trust boats, Nuneaton and Brighton had completed a very successful autumn coal run and were at Uxbridge awaiting a crew change for the final trip to the winter base at Alvecote. That was the objective, but there was a possible block to the route at Atherstone, where the lock flight was due to close for several weeks for repairs on Mon 3rd November. Although this would not be a problem in the summer months, the nights were now closing in with only about ten hours of daylight in which to move, it was going to prove a challenge.

As captain, I had planned to cruise for nine hours a day, which would get us to Atherstone top lock about midday on the following Sunday, arriving at Alvecote late afternoon. My crew were Colin Wilks, Barry Ashmore and Maggie Young; all experienced in handling the boats, so we were in good hands and I did not expect any problems.

Colin and I arrived the day before the rest of the crew, did some shopping for the trip and prepared for the last pick up of coal the next day. Went to The Good Yarn, a ‘Spoons pub for a meal in the evening, as I had CAMRA beer tokens to redeem, which made the beer even cheaper!

On Sunday, we unloaded the coal to be picked up later and had to shop again with a list of ingredients this time – I must try and think ahead! In the meantime, Colin had dealt with the coal order and I started the food prep. Barry and Maggie arrived around lunchtime and we let go to try and get a few hours ahead of the schedule. At Batchworth lock, it was just starting to get dark, so we found a mooring about half a mile further up and walked back to The White Bear, where we took advantage of the Indian food available in the pub. This pub changed hands a couple of years ago and is now quite an improvement over how it once was.
Don't cut the corner!
 
Monday dawned and we made a start at 06.30 hoping to make Berko  (Berkhamsted) before night fall, which we just managed. I phoned Alan Cummins early in the day to see if he would like to join us, as this is his territory. There was no reply until much later in the day, so it was too late, but he did meet us in The Riser (The Rising Sun) later for a pint. Unfortunately, he was unable to come out the following day either.
Just what are you doing there Barry?


Let go at 06.45, heading for the summit at Cowroast before descending the Maffers (Marsworth) flight breasted up, with Maggie steering from the top lock. From there on we were singled out on cross straps, as we were unloaded and could travel faster that way. Eventually, we did all the locks across “the fields” as far as Leighton Buzzard and found a suitable mooring on what was the old water point, which had rings and bollards to tie up to. This was Barry’s old stamping ground, so he knew which were the best pubs to visit. We ate out again that night, as the range oven was just not getting hot enough and was behaving more like a slow cooker! On investigation later, it was found that the flues surrounding the oven were choked with rust and soot and in need of a good clean out.
Maggie does Maffers in the sun.
 
You gotta keep the crew happy.
 
We pulled the pins at 06.30, hoping to make Stoke Bruerne that night. Fortunately, John Gibbs aka Gibbo was waiting at the bottom lock with windlass in hand to assist us up the flight. Barry reckoned we should moor up in the ‘Long Pond’, as he called it; meaning the long pound below the last two locks. However, now being mob handed, we made it to the top and thanks to Kathryn Doddington supplying the info, were able to tie up on rings just beyond Sculptor, before eating on board and repairing to The Boat later. We did the seven Stoke locks in 45mins, which is good going in my book.

Ian Palmer joined us on the quayside at 6am, with shopping for the remainder of the trip. He had also volunteered to act as chef and I have to say he surpassed all expectations with his imaginative and excellent menus; his motto being, “You got to keep the crew happy!”

We headed off at 07.20 through Blisworth Tunnel and on towards Braunston. The late start was due to a temperamental starter motor, the pinion of which had to be rotated with a screwdriver to get the commutator in the right place to make good contact.

It was good to see Vicky Morgan and son, Ben at Buckby locks. Vicky, who is our only female captain, had taken time off from the Trust from just before Ben’s birth two years ago. She took advantage of Maggie’s offer to hang on to Ben, while she steered into Buckby Top Lock. We look forward to the day when Ben is old enough to start steering the butty – another five years maybe?

Braunston appeared after the second tunnel of the day and I had a brief chat with Nick Strivens, a previous member of the Trust, whose house stands right beside the top lock. Passing through the lock next to the Admiral Nelson, who should appear from the pub, but our newest Honorary Life Member Malcolm Burge, who chided me for talking to him instead of drawing a paddle. His boat was moored further back on the pound and we were relieved to discover he hadn't broken down, but was just changing his prop shaft in a pleasant rural setting with an excellent pub to hand. We were soon down the five locks, mooring just above Butcher’s Bridge and close to the marina entrance at 16.20 – a good result.

Maggie’s husband Mark was on the towpath waiting to take her back home, so It was goodbye to her and I moved into the motor cabin for a good night’s sleep on my own. Sorry Barry, but you do snore!

I knew that there were showers here and Colin offered to go into the office and buy some shower tokens. He returned, not only with free tokens, but also the offer of a mooring in the marina for the pair if we required. It transpired that he had approached Tim Coghlan, the owner, with a sob story about the poor, dirty, deprived and exhausted state of the crew and had melted Tim’s heart.

As is expected of the captain to go down with the ship, I also was last to get into the shower. Colin had been warned about letting the shower system recover for about 15mins after showering, as it went haywire if used too soon after, but that there was more than enough hot water available for one shower. I turned on the shower with confidence and washed my hair and soaped all over................and that was when the shower cut off! Waiting for ten minutes in that condition was not funny, but wait I did, before inserting the last token in the box. Still no water, either hot or cold and now no tokens either. That’s when the electricity went off again! Fortunately, the gents wash room had plugs in the basins, so I braved the cold public corridor, filled a basin  and rinsed the soap off with my socks, as I never use a flannel. The crew cried in their beer when I eventually caught up with them in the pub. Sympathy? You must be joking. On second thoughts, maybe they were crying because we were in The Boat House and not in The Admiral Nelson!

The engine started first time the next morning and we pulled the pins at 07.20, making very good progress up the Barby Straight, where there are few moored boats to slow down for. Hillmorton was a breeze and although I had to wait for another boat to come through one lock, we did the three in 23mins. I was also aware of the chance of hanging up the boat in the RH top lock on a steel plate fixed to the bottom gate, as advised by Barry previously. It seems that if the bow is not in the mitre of the gate and ends up between the steel plate and the lock side, the bow gets wedged in that position, so causing it to hang, which can have the effect of sinking the boat in the lock.

The stop lock at Sutton’s Stop (Hawkesbury Junction) appeared at 15.00, so it had been another fast day. Ian steered the motor successfully round the turn in one and we then reversed onto the mooring by the services, breasted up. As we intended to eat at The Greyhound  (where else?), our booking for Saturday had been given up in favour of Friday and as the restaurant was now fully booked, we had to eat in the bar and ended up sharing a table with a couple from another boat. They were of course, plied with NBT leaflets, as were more folks the following morning, who showed an interest in the boats.
What a happy band.
 
Ian takes us around The Stop. (apologies for poor pic.)
 
Steve Smith and Roger Hart joined up at 06.45 the next morning. BigRog, as he likes to be known, had been a volunteer lock keeper on the Atherstone flight of locks for some time and had met Maggie previously, when she suggested that he might like to join us for a day. He ended up steering either the butty or the motor for the whole day during his time with us and very soon got the hang of it again after so long away from a boat.
BigRog takes the helm.
 
"I provide gourmet meals for you two and you treat me like an 'orse!"
 
Above Atherstone top lock. "Maffi fixed this. No charge"
Nothing to do with NBT, but he is a mate of mine.
 
We arrived at Alvecote at 16.30, having done Atherstone locks in two and three quarter hours. We had made up a whole day on the schedule that I had planned for the trip, which was due to an earlier start on the Sunday, slightly longer days than planned and not least, smooth working by a slick and experienced crew.

Ian Palmer picked up the remaining three of us and took us home to his house, where we were all able to have lovely hot showers and a magnificent roast Sunday lunch, before returning us to Alvecote for the night. Not only that, but he again came out to the moorings and drove us all to Tamworth station the following morning.   What a star!

Monday, 13 October 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. The Thames - The Last Leg.


 

I pulled the pins the following morning and entered Isis Lock, the last lock on the Oxford Canal, where I took the opportunity to arrange the anchor, chain and warp on the stern deck ready for immediate use. I had only been caught out once on the Thames with a heavy plastic sack around the propeller, so I was not taking any chances.

Isis Lock - the final lock on the Oxford Canal.
 
The new river level indicator board, with LED's that light up.
 How much did this cost?
What was wrong with a simple green, orange and red indicator in the water?
Spend the money on clearing the silt from behind those bottom gates on this canal.
 
 
I did not have a Thames licence and was expecting to buy one at Osney Lock, but it was unmanned, as was Iffley and Sandford Locks. It was not until Abingdon that I eventually found a manned lock and could do the business. At Benson Lock there was a volunteer on duty, who so annoyed me by insisting that I had bow and stern lines on bollard, whilst he emptied the lock. He even had the audacity to quote the by-laws that had to be obeyed; obviously a ‘jobsworth’, even though he was not getting paid. Absolutely every other lockie on all the other locks were quite happy with a centre line alone. Maybe I should explain here that when the lock empties, there is no water turbulence to disturb the boat, whereas when rising in the lock there is turbulence, so bow and stern lines are essential. I seem to remember another blogger saying the same about volunteers obeying the rule book.

As I came around the corner near Tilehurst, I was confronted by what seemed like hundreds of sculls crowded together for the start of a regatta. There must have been well over a hundred boats there all across the river.

Where did they all come from?

I slowed down to a crawl and one of the marshals asked me to go down the centre of the river, which I eventually managed to do, once some of the rowers had moved across out of the way. Once clear of the crowd, I had to keep a good lookout astern, as a race ensued right up to Caversham. Bear in mind that these rowers have their backs to the direction in which they are travelling and they go very fast.
Caversham - that's where they came from!
 

When I got to Caversham Lock, there were already two boats in the lock and the crews, who were all pissed and they were not youngsters, were winding the hydraulic power wheels on the lockside. The power light was not illuminated, so the power had failed. I was not looking forward to doing this on my own, as it takes about 200 turns of the wheel to operate one end of the lock. Fortunately, two other boats arrived with much younger crews and I was excused the ordeal. I phoned the EA and reported it and shortly after a Teddington Lock keeper phoned to see if I had made some sort of mistake. After I had talked to him about it saying that I had done that lock many time before, he realised that I was not a novice hire boater. I have no idea what happened after that.

When I mentioned it to another lock keeper further down, he said that if you hold one of the buttons in too long, it causes the computer to crash; now that is something I did not know.

After Henley, where I was not going to pay £9 for a mooring, I got to The Flower Pot jetty and pulled in for an expensive pint of Brakspears at £3.90! At least they had wi-fi, so I probably got my monies worth.

The following day, I was in a lock with what appeared to be a Wyvern Shipping boat called Avonventuria, but there was no company name on it. I asked the skipper if it was an ex-hire boat, to which he replied that it was built for him and his wife and that he owned Wyvern Shipping Company at Leighton Buzzard. Maybe my suggestion that it was an ex-hire boat was rather an insult, as it looked brand new. He was talking about doing the Wey Navigation, so I gave him a map to encourage him.
The restored Pangbourne Bridge.

I arrived in Windsor at 4pm and moored as usual in the cut behind Baths Island, where my youngest daughter picked me up to go for a meal at her house. It was lovely to see them after such a long cruise and we had lots of news to catch up on.

The next day was windy and wet; not the best conditions for cruising the Thames, but the rain eased and for most of the time I was in the shelter of trees, so the wind had little effect. At Runnymede I spied some tempting logs left on the bank and after some hesitation, I turned and went back to collect the best ones.

At Cherstey Lock it started to rain, so the last leg of my journey to the Wey was a wet one. I cruised into the lower pound and moored up, before walking up to the lock keepers office. Both Dave the lockie, and Steve the lengthsman, were in there drinking tea, so I explained that I had come to disturb their reverie and would like to go through in the rain. Much to my surprise, they both said that the river section had gone into flood an hour ago. I thought they were joking, but not so; Town Lock was chained up and Thames Lock was about to go the same way. However, Dave agreed that I could pass through his lock and then have to moor up on the lay-by until the level fell. As it was now Monday I was not due to return until Friday, he agreed that it would be OK to stay there until then, with slack mooring lines just in case the river rose any more. Steve said that if it was raining in the morning, he would give me a lift to Addlestone rail station.

Well, that is a rather ignominious end to The Grand Canal Tour, which has been the longest ever canal and river trip for me on Stronghold. There have been some anxious moments and many more joyful moments. Above all was a great sense of achievement at having done some more of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, including the Barton Swing Aqueduct, and the Anderton Boat Lift to the River Weaver, as well as the experience of going into Liverpool, with all those historical docks and buildings. Chester and Ellesmere Port Boat Museum also feature highly on the list. Having set out in May with no particular plan in mind, this trip has surpassed my limited expectations, probably because several decisions were made on the spur of the moment, depending where I was at the time. Despite all these goals achieved, there is still more to be seen and done in the future.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. Thumb Twiddling in Banbury


Oh joy! How lovely to have a proper shower once again, without the chance of it running cold or the possibility of scalding the crown jewels! The accumulator needs to be pressurised, but as I don’t have a tyre pressure gauge, that will have to wait and it is quite acceptable at the moment.

I had to stock up on food and other essentials at Morrison’s and cook up a few meals, so I could happily fill a few hours. When I am at home, I normally cook up a meal for about eight people, then divide it up and freeze several portions. On the boat without a freezer, I was going to have to eat spaghetti Bolognese up to eight times in succession, unless I managed to eat out occasionally. Fortunately, I did have a few pub and restaurant meals to break the monotony.

I took Stronghold up to Sovereign Wharf to fill up the tank and containers with diesel in the meantime. Little did I know that the diesel would be only 70p/litre for the two days after Canal Day, as he made a reduction for boaters at the event. I will take note of that if I bring my boat next year.

Peter returned a couple of days later and we moved his boat up to the lift bridge, where he had a reserved mooring for the Canal Day, as Escape was the official IWA boat, from which all the organisation was based. His wife Anne, had cooked up several meals, which I was invited to partake of, which made a welcome change from Bolognese! We had a mini pub crawl one evening and then repaired to his boat for large night caps. He told me the following morning that he had had more to drink that night than he would normally consume in a month! Am I leading him astray?

Canal Day dawned bright and sunny, although there was a chilly wind. The previous day, it rained most of the day and the day after the event it did the same, so we had a very welcome window in the weather. This is the fourth time I have done Banbury Canal Day in October and during every one the weather has been glorious for the time of year. I was not on duty steering a day boat until 12.30, so had a chance to talk to a few boaters, but mainly Neil and Cath on Herbie. I had not seen them for a couple of years at least, but I always read his blog, which is often about technical matters, like mine.

I took over Cherwell Explorer at the appointed time and the return trip from the basin to Sovereign Wharf and then the winding hole back to Sovereign and back to the basin took an hour, dropping and collecting ten passengers at each place. As before, I had a crew member on the bow to talk to the visitors and to ensure their safety during each trip. Several times I looked along the boat and there were children craning their necks over the sides as we approached bridge ‘oles and I had to shout at them to keep within the profile of the boat. Trying to do that and accurately steer this Mickey Mouse of a boat, was not easy.

When I returned to the basin for the last time, there were still a few people waiting to get on, so I did half a trip to Sovereign and winded in the small marina basin, with the owner’s permission. Well, it was his idea! My lady crew person took the long shaft off the top ready to push the bow round, but it was not necessary.

 “Oh ye of little faith”, I said.

By that time I certainly had had enough, but it had been a very successful, safe and satisfying day. After a short respite, Peter and I went off to The Olde Rein Deer Inn for some relaxing refreshment and then into the Siam House next door for a Thai meal. He had the same menu as I did, which was WeepingTtiger; slices of sirloin beef with a spicy dressing. It was not as good as the same dish served up at the Thai restaurant on The Pond pub in Brighton, where it is cut into thick slices and comes out of the kitchen sizzling hot on a wooden platter. That is the standard by which I judge others. Their Pad Thai is also the best I have ever tasted, and I have had a few of those over the years.

It was time now to head south again once the rain had eased off, but there was more trouble ahead! I had run the engine for a few hours each day to keep the batteries charged and to provide hot water, but for several days, I had noticed that I was not getting enough power from the 12 volt system to charge up the laptop. Little did I know that one alternator was not providing the requisite 14 volts. My next stop was to be at Aynho, so I called in there and requested expert advice. They would have an engineer on duty the next day to have a look at it.

I had more boating conversations with Neil, after he helped me moor up in the cross wind and I was invited to join them at The Great Western Arms for a meal later along with Maffi from Thrupp. We had an oversized table for three of us, but we were also joined by Kiwi Ray (who lived not far from Barry in New Zealand) on Dragonfly and Tony and Chris from Arun, so there was plenty of conversation amongst the jolly boaters and a good time was had by all. Another sound night’s sleep ensued on Stronghold.
Very tasty tiger prawns........and all mine!

 I reversed up to Walker Boat Services by the winding hole and the engineer, known locally as ‘Magic Matt’ took out the old alternator and took it away for testing at Prolek Auto Services in Banbury aka Chris Cooling. After what seemed a very long time, he returned with a new one and fitted it, but the red warning light was still on and the rev counter was not working. Swapping the exciter wire over to the other terminal did the trick as the old alternator had no markings, so it was difficult to know what was what. The bill came to £207 with the alternator being £106.80 and the rest was labour at £39/hr.

I checked up on the alternator later and discovered that Matt had put one of his big boots on the new diesel pipe and bent it causing a slight leak. That is the reason I don’t like other people working on my boat. I had enough of that when I took my boat to that big boatyard in Brentford, when Stronghold was left in shit order after the work was completed. I did manage to get some compensation after about six months though, but I would never take my boat there again!

I left Aynho at 3 pm after waiting for a heavy shower to pass. It took me 3 hours to get to Lower Heyford, where I finally found a mooring at the far end of the line of boats and too far from the pub!

Horror of horrors the next morning, when the other alternator red light was on after start up! What to do now?

I had a visual inspection and found the earth wire had come off, so pushed it back on, but the light was still on. The spade terminal was a bit loose, so I crimped it with pliers and fortunately that did the trick and all was well again.
 
A sight for sore eyes - all showing 14 volts.
 

I was  caught up by a small Oxford Cruisers hire boat at a lock and we assisted each other through the lift bridges on route to Oxford, arriving there at 6pm; a total of eight hours from Aynho, with only a brief stop for water at Thrupp.

I phoned Peter and Anne and we met up later in the Old Bookbinders Arms for a very quick drink, as their car was illegally parked. Knowing that the pub was run by French people, I opted for moules farcie and frites, which was delicious and swimming in garlic.
 
A trial period for a new electric waterbus service in Oxford.
 

Here I am in Oxford and I cannot publish this because there is no signal.............UNBELIEVABLE!!!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. Plan B and the final problem solved.


 

It turned out that Peter could not make it to Lower Heyford, so I continued south as far as Aynho, where I moored for the night and paid a dutiful visit to The Great Western Arms.

I forgot to mention yesterday, that when talking to Bob Mitchell about engines, I showed him my tool for reaming the carbon out of the heater plug holes and he said “I can see that you have an engineering background. Would you like a job?” Something that I found quite flattering at my age!
 
 
 
My plan was to moor on the Thames, whilst at Banbury Canal Day, but that meant a Thames licence for more than seven days, probably fourteen days, which was going to be expensive. It was time for a rethink, so I phoned George Dickinson, the Enforcement Officer at Braunston, saying that I had suffered some delays due to engine problems and that my CRT licence ran out in three days time. He did say that action was not usually taken for a month after the licence expiry, but that I could also buy a short term licence on the internet for a week. This I had not even considered, as I was under the misapprehension that CRT licences were for a minimum of one month. I took the appropriate action, which cost me all of £21.

I knew that there were 14 day moorings at Banbury and that only the 48 hour moorings were restricted for the Canal Day moorers, who pay a considerable price for the privilege. I decided to wing it and return to Banbury hoping to get on a 14 day spot for the Sunday following. I need not have worried, they were very plentiful six days before the event and I bagged the one closest to the town below the lock.

With a lot of time on my hands now, it was appropriate to have another look at the water pump, which was still pumping air out of the hot tap; it was also leaking a little into the cabin bilge. On removing the pump, I found the leak to be from the water pressure switch, which I opened up to find a rubber diaphragm which pressed on the micro-switch, so shutting off the pump. It was leaking either through the diaphragm or around the periphery, which I tried re-sealing with an O ring. It still leaked, so was probably the diaphragm. There was not one in the repair kit that I bought in Uxbridge, so the only alternative was to buy a new pump.

Fortunately, I was close to Tooley’s  Boatyard, where I paid the usual chandlery price for something that can be had in a caravan shop or Amazon for far less. I fitted the pump easily enough and switched it on.
The paper towel is a tell tale for leaks.
 
 
Bingo! No leaks and no air bubbles from the taps and eventually the pump switched itself off. Problem solved at last, but was it? After running the water for a few extra times, there was this dreadful rhythmic banging from the stern end. The Pressure Relief Valve was opening and shooting water into the engine bilge! I baled it out and had a re-think. Obviously, the pump rated at 35psi, was producing a far higher pressure than the old one. It was time for more internet research, which I left for the next day.

Sure enough, Canal World Discussion Forums eventually came up with the answer. I searched for ‘water pump’ on the forum and there was a post from someone who had almost the same problem, which was only posted the day before. In the replies, was the answer to my problem. The new pump had a screw in the centre of the pressure switch housing, which allowed the pressure to be altered. I unscrewed it one whole turn and tried it and it worked without activating the PRV, as well as providing a good stream of water at the taps – job done at last! This was the final bug to be sorted on this boat and I was in good spirits.......
...........so I had a minor celebration, which has been kept since Fathers' Day!
Thank you Toody.
 
A CRT work boat came past early this morning and moored closer to the lock, for no obvious reason. I watched while they dragged the canal bed with a single grappling hook towards the lock. There were three guys on the job; one with the grappling hook, one with a keb (four pronged bent rake) and one to supervise of course! I heard later that they had removed a shopping trolley and three bikes as well as a concrete fencing weight. It seems that they do this every year before the Canal Day and then display it for all to see at the show.


I phoned Peter Darch to see if he had left Kidlington and was surprised to hear that he was two locks below Banbury, so I walked up as far as Grant’s Lock to meet him and Maffi. Sadly, Peter’s sister–in-law had just died, so as soon as he got to the mooring, he was off on the bus back home, leaving me to secure his boat just ahead of me. Maffi was moored behind him too, as they had travelled up together.

New spill rail from each injector and back to the fuel filter.
Plus new steel pipe from filter to injection pump.
 
New diesel return pipe in yellow. Jubilee clips at
each end are my idea for belt and braces security.
 
 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. Heading South with problems.


I returned to Stronghold after six days and found her to be covered in willow leaves from the tree above her mooring; so that’s why no one else moors there! I decided to leave ASAP after cleaning off the detritus and because the motorway was too noisy to stay any longer. Having returned the key and hoping that they will tear up my £50 cheque, I headed further into the basin to wind, which is where Coventry Canal Society have their moorings.

I made for Sutton’s Stop, where I had arranged to meet my daughter the following day, and moored just beyond the pump house, where it was peaceful. Sunday came and we all had a good old fashioned Sunday lunch in one of my favourite waterway pubs. What is always amusing here is that people sit outside watching the boats come around the 180 degree turn, which is virtually a blind corner, so there is always the chance of chaos; even more so when a full length boat tries to make it. If all goes well, then the steerer gets a round of applause, but if there is a mishap there is a great deal of laughter and tut tutting. The last time I came around the turn, I was towing the butty on cross straps and we got round in one; unfortunately, when it all goes well, there is no one to see it!
 
Just to prove that it can be done............

................and the pub is closed!
 
I winded the boat the next morning and headed off down the northern Oxford canal, after changing the washers on the leaking banjo fuel connection. I stopped at Newbold for the night and checked the fuel line for any more leaks, which appeared OK, but much to my dismay, there was a lot of diesel in the bilge now and it appeared to come from the rubber leak off pipe going back to one of the filters. It was then that I realised that I had forgotten to turn on the fuel return pipe tap to the tank, which had pressurised the whole of the fuel return system. To me, it was fairly obvious where the leak was, as one of the engine bearers was very wet. I used the Pele pump to remove 5 litres of diesel, which I then filtered through coffee filter papers twice, before returning it to the tank. With tap now turned on, the leak was minimal, but the rubber pipe needed to be replaced.

I moored at Braunston the next evening and phoned Calcutt Boats, who are BMC engine dealers; sure they could fit me in the following day, so it was another day spent hanging around before I could get on their wharf. I spent the time picking blackberries and sloes to make some sloe gin later.  
Sunset over Napton reservoirs.
 
 
The engineer found several small leaks in the fuel system and replaced the spill rail and another pipe into the injector pump, but did not think the rubber pipe would have burst, so that was not replaced; I should have insisted, as it continued to leak slightly after leaving. By then I was already up on the summit above the Napton nine locks and it was too late to return to Calcutt.
The infamous bridge 141 where the Trust boats
have ground to a halt over the years. Not this year though!
 

I moored at Fenny Compton for the night and walked into the marina the next morning to find Mitchell Narrowboats, where the Trust boats had had some work done last year. Bob Mitchell came out to have a look and said that he could fix it later, when he was able to get a new pipe. In the meantime, he suggested that I carry on cruising to Banbury and he would then come to me, which he did and finally resolved the problem, for a minimal fee of £18 for the pipe and only £10 for his time; needless to say I parted with a bit more than that.

So there was a hole in the pipe after all!
 

The remainder of the day in Banbury was spent shopping and at the launderette. I do enjoy this town, with moorings right in the heart of the action, although having to carry everything from Morrison’s is a bit painful.

It was time to move on, as my CRT licence runs out on Tuesday and I don’t think I can be off their waters in Oxford by then. My boating friend Peter aims to be at Lower Heyford on Monday evening, so I hope to be there for a few beers.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. My Lucky Day


 
 
I left Alvecote shortly after the Trust boats, with the intention of cruising a little way to charge the batteries and then returning to The Barlow. However, the winding hole was a fair way down and what with picking blackberries on the way, I decided that I may as well stay on the towpath to moor.

Picking blackberries on the off side to the towpath is a dodgy business, as not only is it shallow, but the boat continues to move slightly as is not easy to stop in just the right place. The answer is to cut ripe bunches off with secateurs and strip the berries off later. Another batch of blackberry and apple was then cooked up and the apples were the ones off the tree on the Middlewich Arm, which I picked about a month ago!

Atherstone locks were next on the agenda the following morning and surprisingly everyone was in my favour; the reason being that all the boats going north were returning from the Shackestone Family Festival – I did not have to refill one lock on the way, so made it to the top in 2 hours.

At one lock, I moored up and went up to the lock to see the oncoming boat through; it was Sue Cawson on Theo. She never looked at me whilst going down and left without a word. As I passed her in my boat I said    “A thank you would be nice.” She apologised profusely and said she was concentrating on the route. After which, she came and helped me though the lock and was most chatty.
Not many of these left on the cut,
or anywhere else.
 

I knew that Maggie Young had been to the festival and contacted her to see if we could meet up somewhere.

After some various alternative arrangements, we met up in Atherstone and I accompanied her down the first five locks to The Kings Head, where she was going to buy me lunch. When we moored up at the pub, it was closed for refurbishment – oh dear! So we left her boat there and walked into town to find The Larder.
http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g1041932-d4754476-Reviews-The_Larder-Atherstone_Warwickshire_England.html#photos

Now this really was something else! The inside of the cafe was like a small museum to the 1940’s, with memorabilia of the war, uniforms, insignia, Spong mincers, photographs and so many other things of interest. The photos on the internet link are worth a look, but they don’t really do justice to the place. I had a minced lamb pie and Maggie had Spam fritters, with beans on toast; both served on white enamelled plates. I can just remember eating Spam fritters as a child in the war, but I didn’t want to experience them again. We had a pint after that in the pub and then went our own separate ways. It was a very enjoyable experience to have someone to talk to and brightened up the day considerably. Cruised on to The Anchor, which I remember was the Everard’s pub we ended up in after the header tank blew a hole on Nuneaton last year. My pint of Tiger  was still as good as it was then.

I cruised on towards Marston Junction and was thinking about having a pump out, as the last one was before reaching Birmingham in May. I pulled in to Springwood Haven and asked how much was a pump out. £18 was the reply. “£18 says I! Well, I’m not that desperate!” “Well, we have to charge that much, because we have to have it taken away,” she replied. Star Cruisers in Nuneaton were further along and their price was £16, even if I did it myself, so I accepted that, but I had to pull alongside another boat with a shaft coupling problem, which also need a pump out. The proprietor then said that if we fight amongst ourselves, he would do both boats for £16 – a bargain! Of course the cheapest pump out on the system, as far as I know, is at Molesley Lock at Hampton Court on the Thames, which is £8.

At Marston Junction I turned onto the Ashby Canal, which has been on my ‘to do list’ for quite a while, as all the reports I have read say how lovely it is. For the first time in about 30 years, I saw two water voles swimming across the cut. They used to be seen frequently on the Grand Union Canal in days past, but sadly not evident now.
 
A horse that thinks it's a zebra?
 

I reached Stoke Golding, with the intention of paying another visit to the George and Dragon, where I had been before, but by car, for a tasting of the Church End Brewery beers. I was not disappointed. My mate Colin recommended an Indian restaurant at the back of one of the pubs in the village, which turned out to be The Three Horseshoes. Not much of a pub with only one beer pump on, but the restaurant was excellent and also very busy on a Wednesday night, which says a lot for any eating establishment.
 
A quiet day out.
 

Now that I had a reservation booked at the Coventry Cruising Club for the weekend, I had to book a rail ticket to get home and renew my prescription and everything else that has to be done in a few days. The internet connection was exasperatingly slow, so I did not get away from the mooring until midday.

I have to say that everything I have heard about the Ashby is true. There no locks on the 22 miles and it is so rural that I rarely saw people and never a village, except in the distance. Even Hinckley was hidden behind trees.

I cruised up to the terminus just above Snarestone the next day and the sun was out all day – it was superb. I passed Whitby and expected to see Blossom on Darley following behind; I was not disappointed. They seem to go everywhere together. I winded the boat at the end and returned a couple of miles to Shackestone, where the festival had been the weekend before. There were some festival boats still remaining on moorings here.  Had a pint in The Rising Sun, cooked a meal and retired to bed.
Cut end.
 

Very rural.

Charming stone bridges for some of the way.
 
A blast from the past at Hinckley.
 
When I arrived at Market Bosworth, I decided to have a look at the village centre and do a bit of shopping. It was ¾  of a mile and all uphill, so I had to have a pint in The Red Lion, but at £3.95 for a pint of Jennings Cock-a-Hoop was higher than Brighton prices! I did find a decent butcher though, so that made it worth my while. Another two hours and I was back in Stoke Golding but on different moorings this time on the offside of the cut, where there is a footpath to the village centre; even shorter than the previous walk up the hill to The George and Dragon.

It was now time to move down to Sutton’s Stop for an overnight mooring before going into Coventry Cruising Club for a few days, whilst I went home. It was an uneventful trip, although the turn at cut end into the Trent and Mersey was a total cock-up. For some unknown reason, the boat responded very poorly to the tiller, which is most unusual. Maybe there was weed around the blades, but she was very light at the stern end, because fuel was low and there were four bags of coal and 60 litres of fuel stored in the bow locker. I frequently thought there was weed around the blades on the Ashby and kept chucking back, but on checking the weed hatch, there was nothing to see.

I was early on the moorings at Sutton’s and an oil change and fuel filter change were overdue. As before, I try to take short cuts when bleeding the air out of the fuel system and it just doesn’t work, so it took longer than I expected. However, on re-reading the handbook, it is best done with the throttle wide open and two injector unions loosened, rather than one. This time the engine fired up on two cylinders, until I tightened up the other two. All was well once more. I intend opening up the first filter in the line to see how much muck is actually inside.

As usual on Saturday night, the Greyhound was rammed and I had a brief conversation with a couple of Asians at the bar. I was tempted to ask them if they had a business in the Foleshill Road, which is where all the Asian shops are in Coventry.
 
I cruised around the turn at Sutton’s and the stop lock had been left open for me, but the top paddle would not work, because the rack did not engage with the pinion. There was a convenient stick lying beside the paddle gear and I managed to wedge that behind the rack to engage it and managed to lift it to the top.
Just a short distance to go now until I came to the bridge over the arm, where the entrance needed a hairpin turn to get in. It would have been OK from the other direction though. I nosed the bow against the brick wall and swung the stern round until it was parallel with the arm and slowly motored in to be met by my contact Chris Deeming, who wanted to see my insurance certificate and charged me a £50 deposit for the gate key to get out in the morning. They are all so different, these boat clubs.
 
I think these Dickies boots are about 3yrs old,
 but have only been worn when boating,
so have had about 8 months wear.
I would have expected more.
 
 

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. Even More Visitors.


It was not long after Barry and Sandra left that there was a knock on the door and someone shouted my name; it was James from nb Gabriel, who I had last seen on the Staffs and Worcester. We had a quick chat and decided to meet up for a meal in The Star later.

I pulled the pins at midday and set off for Great Haywood, passing the Indigo Dreamers on nb Indigo Dream, fellow bloggers, who I met after the BCN Challenge. Maybe we will meet up one day for a pub session.  I also came across someone working a lock, whom I recognised, but could not place. His wife remembered though, that I had moored beside them for a short while at Stafford Boat Club.

I stopped to dump some rubbish at Gt. Haywood and found this on top of one of the bins.
Even the whistle works!

 
There is absolutely nothing wrong with it, so why do people throw things like this away? It will make a good replacement for the aluminium one that has a melted handle, that I left on the gas to boil dry. It is not the first item of value that I have seen in marina bins, although on the other occasions, tempted as I was, I had left the stuff in there.

In a while, I went through the two locks to Fradley Juction and turned right there to find a convenient mooring just a little way up, which is not too far from The Swan, aka The Mucky Duck. I took a chance passing the moorings above Shade House lock, as they were all taken and a long walk from the pub.

Having just returned from The Swan, I have to say that I am not impressed at all; the barman was more interested in clearing glasses than serving me and the fact that their kitchens were closed down last year by the Health Authority just adds to the lackadaisical attitude in there. Unless this pub changes hands, I don’t think I will bother when I pass it again.
 
I took rubbish to the bins before I left and on top of one bin was this portable electric drill, which actually worked and an old iron, which was covered in dust – both of which I took away with me. There was also a 100W solar panel, which appeared to have a diode missing at the back, but it was too big for my boat anyway. I find it amazing that people just dump these things which still work!
 
I knew from the NBT schedule that Barry would be at Alvecote the following Saturday, so I planned to be there to see him and catch up on the news of the Trust, as well as having a few beers in The Samuel Barlow.

I arrived late on Friday and Barry turned up the next day, so there was much talk of NBT business and a few jobs to be done on the boats, which had to be moved out of the marina, where they had been since the Alvecote Historic Boat Gathering. The pair were breasted up and Barry did a very good job of extracting them from a difficult and tight mooring. David Thompson arrived later to collect the range, which is going to be repaired. Graham Roberts and Bob Geeson were the crew for the trip to Awbridge and they arrived on Sunday. Once they were unpacked, Barry expertly demonstrated springing the pair off the berth to head off up to Fradley Junction for their first stop.
Barry springs the pair off the mooring and Graham
prepares to cast off the bow line.
 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. A Rendezvous at Last.


I left that mooring early next morning, as it was reserved for services by the boat yard. Now all the locks were downhill, but they were deep, so I bow hauled the boat out of them, to save climbing down the dirty ladder. I did try flushing out of one lock, but as soon as I closed the top paddle, the boat came to a stop and it was a slower process.

I was reading the blog of Barry and Sandra of nb Areandare, whom I had been in touch with by e-mail for several years when they were touring the canals on nb Nothern Pride. I realised from the blog that they had just passed through the Harecastle tunnel two days before, so I texted them and found they were still in Stone and would be there for two days. Although I had met Barry previously in Brighton I had never met Sandra, who also has a daughter living in Brighton, well Hove actually!
 
I was invited aboard AreandAre for a home cooked curry later and some of Barry’s homemade red wine– what a treat! We then adjourned to The Star of course, which was right on their doorstep, so to speak and a good night was had by all over a few pints. I had moored just below the top lock, having been told that moorings were non-existent further down, so I had quite a way to zig-zag back to Stronghold.
With Barry and Sandra in The Star.
 

Barry came past with rubbish to dump the following morning and said that there was now a vacancy behind his boat, so I made a move through the two locks to moor up close to Star Lock. He wants more storage space for his home brew kits and equipment in AreandAre, as they are trading as The Home Brew Boat, so he mentioned that the Epping range had to go. I know that Narrow Boat Trust motor boat Nuneaton needs one, so I took photos and dimensions just in case we could use it.
 

They departed their mooring about 13.00 and I have to say that I enjoyed their company immensely and hope to see them again soon.

CRT have just replaced fencing around a by-weir here and one of the guys asked if we wanted any of the waste timber, which was full of nails. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, I accepted and we put a load on the cabin top to be sorted and sawn up later. Fortunately, I brought the chain saw with me, but I can’t saw it up here in the middle of Stone.

I walked into the chandlery late yesterday to enquire about a new TV aerial and sure enough they had just what I was looking for; a Moonraker digital aerial, similar to the one that has failed. It was only a couple of pounds more expensive than Maplins and it would save me a lot of searching elsewhere, so I bought it on the spot. This is the one recommended to me by Steve on nb Israel Robertson a few weeks ago. Sure enough it produced an excellent picture as soon as it was tuned in. I then opened up the old one to find that the circuit inside had corroded due to the ingress of water over time. I had left it out on the cabin top now for some weeks, but assumed that it was waterproof, which it was not. I will not be leaving the new one out in the rain, even though it claims to be waterproof.
So this is what's inside! Note the corrosion of the printed circuit.
 

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. Long Straight Stretches


I spent time doing some washing as there is a tap nearby, so I started off late and only did 7hrs today through long stretches that I had done previously, so it was boring cruising with no locks to break the monotony. I did stop at Worsley to find the entrance to the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines, where canal mania began in 1765. I find it difficult to comprehend that there are 48 miles of tunnels inside that hill.
Entrance to the mines.
 
Note the colour of the water due to the iron oxides.
 
This pic just had to be done!
 
 
I reached the outskirts of Lymm and moored up at The Barn Owl pub, which has been converted from a boatyard building, where I had a good meal and Wainright’s bitter.

The following day started with blue skies, but things changed as the day went on until it rained on and off for the remainder of the trip until I reached Middlewich and moored just below the Big Lock.

I had a problem with my bow fender, when a weak link in the chain broke after pushing open a steel gate that had closed in my face after leaving the mooring. I had removed the fender, but knew that I would need it going up Heartbreak Hill the following day. Without the bow fender, I would need to stop in the lock and climb up the ladder with the centre line to hold the boat against the incoming water, which would be more time consuming than my usual method. I had been on the lookout for a CRT workboat that I could use, but none appeared, so I did the business from the bow of the boat – not easy, but there was no other way. I also had to make the bow hatch watertight if I was going right up to the cill, as so many top gates leak like waterfalls and I had had to drain the bow locker twice already on this trip. Let’s see if this works – which it did, I found out later.

A guy approached me at Wheelock with a card advertising a fuel boat called Alton, which used to belong to the Narrow Boat Trust some years ago, so we got into conversation about the Trust and coal runs etc. His name is Brian McGuigan and I bought 80 litres of diesel from him, which he wheeled along the towpath in containers in a wheel barrow. He also advised me on all the best pubs in the area, including the Blue Bell Inn at Harding’s Wood and the safest place to moor.

My usual Birmingham locking method did not work on the Cheshire deep locks, so I had to motor into the lock and leave the boat in gear against the cill before climbing the ladder and working the lock – not a lot of fun, but glad that I refitted the bow fender.

It has been a tough day, with 22 locks now done and four left to do tomorrow. Half of them were against me today, so double the work having to empty each lock and then refill it. Now moored 4 locks above Harding’s Wood Junction for a visit to The Blue Bell, which has unusual opening hours, as I found out when I got there at 6.45 and found that it opened at 7.30pm, so I had to go into the Canal Tavern opposite, which was full of yobs and loud music, so it was a quick one here until The Blue Bell opened. What an excellent beer pub it was too with six ales on tap and the landlord pulled a good half pint out of every pump to make sure each pint was fresh for the first customer of the evening. No music, juke box or pool table – just what a pub should be.

I had four locks to do before Harecastle tunnel, the next day and all was going well until the final lock, when the bow fender caught on something and broke the top chain, so both fenders were nearly in the water. I spent an hour climbing over the bow once again, but this time I could do away with the lower fender, which made things easier as there was less weight to try and support.

I arrived at the tunnel moorings with 45 mins to wait for the northbound boats. There were four boats to go south, one of them being a petrol engine cruiser, so he was allowed to go first as the ventilation fans would pull his exhaust fumes ahead of him. For this reason it is better to go last in a southerly direction and first if going north, so as not to get the fumes from boats ahead of you, as the tail enders will.
One and three quarter miles long.
 

I was also told about the man who died in the tunnel in May of this year. According to the story teller, the man was knocked off the boat where the tunnel roof changes profile, as it does in several places. Now all the changes in profile are highlighted in white paint, so the guy must have been quite high up on the boat for this to happen – maybe he was sitting on the stern in a high chair, as some boaters do. Not something I would ever do, as you have no control if the tiller swings round unexpectedly and knocks you off. It seems that there was a long gash on his forehead and the storyteller reckons that his wife reversed the boat several times and probably ran over him, causing severe damage from the propeller. He was an experienced boater according to his family.

I moored up outside a Toby Carvery (oh dear) and a boat yard, which is also a Black Prince hire base, but it was a pleasant sunny spot in Stoke-on-Trent.