I have been planning an extended cruise since last year, which included Canalway Cavalcade at Little Venice to start with at the beginning of May and then the BCN Challenge at the end of May.All the entrants for the Cavalcade were invited by Andrew Phasey of St. Pancras Cruising Club to take part in two cruises the following weekend through the Olympic Park and then Bow Locks to Bow Creek, around the Isle of Dogs, Deptford Creek and back into Limehouse the following day.
This was a chance not to be missed and my application form went off first class the next day.
After the BCN Challenge, I had yet not decided where I was going, except in a northerly direction. However, I had a good two weeks to get to Windmill End on the BCN for the start of the challenge and am hoping to get down the Aylesbury Arm and maybe the Wendover Arm as well, on the way to Brum. The Ashby Canal is also on the agenda, but probably after Birmingham. I have passed by all these minor waterways in previous years, when time has been of the essence, so now is the time to give them some attention.
The Grand Tour began on Wednesday 30th April with a false start immediately. The favourite place to wind the boat after leaving the mooring is outside The Pelican pub, where it is wide and deep enough close to The Pelican piling, but at one end there is an unknown obstruction which stopped the engine dead. A weed hatch exploration was begun and whatever is was down there was not easily moved, so Dave Murray, my crew for the day, pulled the boat further down the mooring, which cleared space for the propeller to rotate. Now we were properly on our way, so we thought, but Zavala, who were our boating buddies for the trip, were waiting in Town lock with little sign of activity. There was a red board posted there and the top gate was chained up. The River Wey, below the lock seemed calm enough, so phone calls were made to the National Trust and Thames Lock and Tracy the lock keeper appeared shortly with the appropriate key to release us onto the river. On arrival at Thames Lock, the dreaded red board was again in evidence for the Thames between Shepperton Lock and Sunbury Lock, after which there were only yellow boards, “Stream Decreasing”. We decided to go, knowing that once beyond the Shepperton weir, the going would be much easier. Brian and Margaret on Zavala went first and I knew that if we lost radio contact, something had happened. All went well though, with full throttle applied through the weir stream and then more slowly into the Desborough Cut. Speed was fast in the current and through Walton and we were soon into Sunbury Lock and paying for the £10 transit licence to Teddington. It was then midday and we had until midday the following day to complete the trip, if we so wished.
|Zavala at speed on the Thames.|
|Plenty of white water over the weirs!|
The next incident occurred at Kingston, when I pushed the throttle control too hard and pulled the outer cable out of its fixing in the engine compartment. On investigation, I thought a tension spring had broken as well and some time was spent looking for this mythical object, but on reconnecting the cable in the appropriate position, all was well and we were soon on our way again to Teddington, where we locked through about an hour before high water on one of the highest tides of the year, 7.1 metres.
|The crewman keeps a sharp lookout.|
After an hour, we were at Thames Lock at the beginning of The Grand Union Canal, where the water was level on both sides of the lock, necessitating a short wait to be able to get under Brentford Bridge and then through the gauging locks to a mooring. My crew man Dave, insisted on buying me a beer, before he made his way home. Being an offer I could not refuse, we repaired to O’Brians, where a welcome pint or two were consumed with a meal before he departed on the bus for Kingston. I made my way to The Brewery Tap, where there is normally home grown music on offer, but it was a quiet night and I became absorbed with a Daily Mail article on the gaffes made by the Green Party’s farcical shenanigans trying to govern Brighton and Hove, which is very close to where I live.
The following day, we planned to leave Brentford about 10am to tackle the Hanwell flight of locks to Bull’s Bridge. It had rained hard in the night, which might well have affected a later trip on the Thames, so we had made it in good time. There were two Black Prince hire boats moored there and as there was some movement on board at 9.30, we decided to move earlier and make the most of our advantage, otherwise all the locks would be set against us and would make for slow going. Progress was good in the intermittent rain, with Margaret valiantly preparing the lock ahead and Brian or myself closing the top gates of the lock below. We made it to Bull’s Bridge in 3 1/2 hours and had plenty of time to dry out and take it easy.