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.

Saturday 6 June 2020

My Maiden Voyage on an Historic Pair. 7

22nd May 2011

Heavy rain preceded another sunny day. I had previously collected the car from across the cut to go in the official car park and was able to easily offer Mouse a lift to Ricky station, with him praying that there were no engineering works to stop him getting his connection from St Pancras on time. That left Barry, Keith and myself to show the boats. Again it was another busy day talking to people interested in the pair and trying to make it as interesting as possible, without going on too long. It was encouraging to find some visitors really interested in how the boat families lived in such a confined space and worked the pair of boats.  I found also, that as time progressed  my introduction became better and more concise. I found it relatively easy to answer questions, having read so many books on the subject.

A late lunch cooked by Barry of bacon steaks, eggs and mushrooms was enjoyed by all, before we set to work to close up the boats at 4 pm. The information displays were removed and top planks positioned on the stands before the side cloths were unfolded and tied over the top planks to keep both the top planks in position and side cloths tight These were then covered with the top cloths and tied to the gunnels to keep the hold water-tight. This is a considerable amount of work and there is some skill in tying the strings to keep them taught and using the correct knots to do the job. It has to be done by at least two crew and as Keith left at 3pm, it was all down to Barry and myself.

Side cloths up and top planks secured.


Clothed up.

It had been a physically demanding, but very enjoyable week and of course there were periods to recover in between the activity when steering, or waiting for the boats at locks. Steering the motor boat involved about 90% concentration, but steering the butty involved only about 10%, because the steerer was only responsible for the direction of the stern. The fore end being entirely directed by the motor steerer. Like most activity on the cut, it is a case of learning the routine in a series of events and once that is grasped, moving on and learning a new technique. On this trip Trevor signed me off on double locks both up and down, as well as steering the motor and the butty in my training book, which every NBT crew member is issued with when they join. All the techniques are listed to be completed and when a book is full, the member is eligible to be proposed as a captain, provided that a first aid course is attended and a YHA Helmsman Certificate passed.

NBT Training Record.

Monday 1 June 2020

My Maiden Voyage on an Historic Pair. 6

21st May 2011
It was a very sunny start to the first day of the Ricky Festival, which brought out the crowds by the thousand. The towpath was packed most of the day with loads of people interested in the NBT pair and coming on board for a short tour of the butty cabin. I dressed for the first time ever in boaters Sunday best, complete with embroidered cotton shirt, corduroy trousers, waistcoat, spider belt and neckerchief, topped off with the obligatory bowler hat, much to the amusement and hilarity of the rest of the crew. Despite that, I persevered all day with several people wanting photographs. A lady selling raffle tickets was also in traditional dress, complete with bonnet, so Mouse photographed the pair of us together on the towpath. I don’t think any of us stopped talking to onlookers all day and it was pretty exhausting.

Sunday Best as traditionally worn to church.

Ready for the wedding?

Professional photographers photo. 
Not sure if it was ever published.
Pity about the wrist watch.

After we closed up invitations towards evening, Barry cooked up a delightful chicken and prawn stir fry, followed by fruit salad and cream before we departed for the beer tent. Horror upon horrors – all the draught ale was sold out! There was only Guiness, lager and cider remaining, so it was decided to repair to The White Bear, where a heavy rock group were playing at full volume making conversation difficult, if not impossible. All the same the beers went down a treat after all that talking. I was introduced to Mike Askin from nb Victoria, who was much younger than I had imagined, having watched several videos of his on You Tube, which I can thoroughly recommend for their content and technical production.
The day’s activities were highlighted by an event that cannot be omitted here. As Tesco’s car park was immediately opposite our mooring, it was easy to shaft the stern of the outside boat across the cut to go shopping, leaving the bow still attached. Trevor was the Captain of this trip and had left his car in their car park, so was shafted across to deposit all his belongings in his car before departing for home. Unfortunately, he overreached himself between boat and bank and took an unplanned swim! Sadly, no one had a camera available at the time.

My Maiden Voyage on an Historic Pair. 5

20th May 2011
Ricky Festival
It was a day spent preparing the boats to be shown to the public. I was allocated to the engine ‘ole and spent several hours Gunking the chequer plate deck along with polishing the brass and copper pipe work. Also on the agenda was clearing the mud box – not an easy and very pleasant task, but who was I to argue, being the newcomer and cabin boy. I should explain that the mud box is below the fresh water inlet in the hull supplying raw cooling water to the engine. Because  that water is sometimes muddy it collects in the mud box before its journey to the engine. The top is bolted on with about 8 bolts and a gasket to keep it very secure and prevent leaks of water into the surrounding space. Once the bolts are removed and the top taken off, the only viable way of cleaning out any mud at the bottom is by clawing it out with your fingers – as I said, not a very pleasant job.
Meanwhile the remainder of the crew where polishing the outside brasswork, sweeping the hold out, rearranging top cloths on the top planks and displaying the NBT explanatory posters. We did stopped for a brief lunch and finished about 6pm.
Mouse and I bought all the ingredients for a beef casserole, but had no container in which to cook it in the recently cleaned out coal range oven. We walked into the town hoping to find one in a hardware store, having already measured the internal size of the oven. I seem to remember that there was only one hardware shop and most of the utensils were plastic, but there were more than enough charity shops around and we discovered one with exactly the right sized dish and lid for £2.99 – bargain! The meal was in the oven by 4pm and the range was heating up perfectly, so in four hours we had a ready one dish dinner that was thoroughly enjoyed at the end of a hard day, before repairing to the beer tent for some well earned ale.

Thursday 14 May 2020

My Maiden Voyage on an Historic Pair 4

18th May 2011
Berko to Hunton Bridge
It was mostly an uneventful day of singling out between locks and breasting up for the locks. I should maybe explain that towing allows the pair to travel a little faster than being breasted up. If the boats were loaded, as they would be on a coal run, then they would travel either on a snatcher (up to about 40ft)  for the short pounds between locks or a snubber (about 70 to 100ft) for much longer pounds. The loaded boats are lower in the water which would impede the action of the motor propeller against the bow of the butty if on cross straps, but a longer tow line allows the butty steerer to keep out of the wash from the motor boat, by steering slightly to one side. At every double lock the towline is removed from the motor boat dollies by the motor steerer, which allows the butty to catch up the motor as they are entering the lock. While this is happening, the motor steerer is coiling in the tow line, which is then thrown or placed on the butty bow, allowing the butty free rein to steer into the lock alongside the motor boat, where both boats are tied together. Using the snatcher means there is less line to coil in at each lock.

Towing on a snatcher.

Towing on a snubber.

We eventually moored between Lock 72 and Bridge 162 at Hunton Bridge. Using a map of the waterways boats are located according to either bridge numbers of lock numbers, although there are some canals where the locks and bridges are named instead of numbers.
Janet left the boats here with her kit to cycle down the towpath to Watford and the train home. Having not been to Hunton Bridge before, no one knew where we could eat or drink, so we popped into the corner shop and got a good recommendation for The Kings Lodge Hotel with Hunters Bar and Restaurant. Dating from 1662 with an interesting historic ceiling and fireplace in the bar, I believe it was Henry VIII's lodge when he was hunting in this area. At the present time, all beers and shorts were on offer at £2.50 plus an excellent choice on the menu. Two servings of breast of duck and one sea bass later washed down with well deserved beer – superb after a hard day at the tiller! 

Another pub has re-opened there since writing this – The Kings Head, which serves a good choice of ales, but the food is not quite up to the same standard. It is also an historic pub with a minstrels’ gallery and other historical artefacts of interest.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

My Maiden Voyage on an Historic Pair 3.

16th May 2011
Fenny Stratford to Startops End.
I was awake at 6am ready for an early start at 8. Mouse was also up early and brought me coffee at 7.30. We made a start on time in sunny weather and were soon going up Stoke Hammond Three locks at Soulbury just north of Leighton Buzzard, where we stopped to shop at Tesco, right next to the convenient moorings. A little further south at Grove Lock, I spotted David B, from the Wey Navigations, exiting the pub with a pint in his hand. I am not sure which of us was more surprised, as he was unaware that I crewed a pair of working boats and I did not expect to see him north of London.
Eventually we were approaching Marsworth (Maffers) Bottom Lock towing on cross straps as usual, but it was decided to breast up going through the several double locks. The butty was let go and pulled in to the towpath side, slowing all the time, while I tried to wedge it between the motor bow and the bank to pull it to a stop, after which we tied the pair together. I should explain that the butty, being of lesser draught than the motor, always moors bankside where it is likely to be more shallow and it also gives the motor a better chance of moving the pair the following day with deeper water beneath the propeller giving good 'fan hold' as it is known.
We repaired to The Anglers Retreat at Startops End, for a pub meal at last and very good it was too, all being home cooked while you wait – no fast food here.
17th May 2011
Startops End to Berkhamsted.
Early breakfast cooked by Trevor and a 10am start up the eight Maffers Locks. These locks are within easy walking distance of each other, so whilst the pair were in one lock, the crew were ahead setting the one above, which makes for efficient travel between locks and only one person steering the pair. Most of the locks were in our favour anyway, which means that they were mostly empty of water and only required the bottom gates to be opened for the boats to enter – known as ‘an easy road’.

Working up Maffers.

Breasted pair exiting a Grand Union Lock.

Usually this section is very popular with ‘gongoozlers’ walking the towpath and I should perhaps explain what a gongoozler is. It is a term first defined in print by E.R. De Sallis in his book ‘A Handbook of Inland Navigation’ (1901) as an "idle and inquisitive person, who stands for prolonged periods staring at anything out of the common." It was derived from the Lincolnshire dialect ‘gawn and gooze’, to gawp at something and was probably coined by the navvies who dug the canals.
We stopped beyond the top lock to fill the water cans from the new type of tap enclosed in a stainless steel enclosure. It has been designed for a hose to fit on the tap and was most awkward to fill a water can without a short length of hose. All the water on a working boat is carried in the brightly painted Buckby cans on the cabin top and there is no provision or room for water tanks in a hold for commercial carrying.

Buckby Water Cans.

On reaching Berkhamsted (Berko), one of the crew was dropped off at The Crystal Palace pub to see what beers were on offer, before walking further to The Boat and The Rising Sun, so there was plenty of choice between them. Mooring just below the Rising Sun Lock, we ended up in The Riser, as it is commonly known for mild ale and Bateman’s Bitter after a recommendation from a guy on another boat. It was an excellent choice for beers, real cider and perry and snuff – 12 different types on the bar to sample, but no food. This was our treat after tackling the pair for a good clean up before we got to the show.

A busy day at The Riser.

Monday 4 May 2020

My Maiden Voyage on an Historic Pair. 2

Sunday 15th May

Blisworth to Fenny Stratford

I was awake at 05.30 to a lovely sunny start to the day. The fire had kept alight throughout the night and I could now add more coal from the coal box, which is also the back cabin step. It is an 18 ins drop from the top step to the coal box step – quite a surprise when I first encountered it!

Motor back cabin. The coal box is beneath my feet. 
Range to the right with drop down table further 
forward and bed 'ole nearest camera.

After tea, coffee and some additional shopping, just in case we couldn’t find a food pub later, the engine was fired up and we moved off towards Blisworth Tunnel with myself steering the motor accompanied by Mouse and Janet steering the butty with Trevor for company. We emerged about 40 mins later, having passed several boats without incident. There were no moorings to be had to display the pair at Stoke Bruerne, so we passed through two locks and moored in a long pound for a fried breakfast cooked by Mouse in the butty galley. As I washed and dried up, the others did several odd jobs around the boats.

                                                           Stoke Top Lock.

The Boat Inn at Stoke Bruerne.

Centre of Stoke Bruerne from Top Lock.

We set off again down the rest of the locks, with us all sharing steering of both boats and working the locks. The Stoke Locks are fairly close together, so the pair remained breasted up. After the locks, with myself steering the motor and the pair singled out (towing on cross straps), we approached a line of moored boats on the outside of a long bend. Being wary of trying to keep the pair away from the moored boats, I got out of the deep channel and begun to run aground on the outside (opposite to the towpath). Hoping to slide off the mud. I kept the boats moving, but was getting closer in towards the vegetation until I was forced to stop any further forward movement. Mouse went forward and attempted to shaft the bow off, but we were too stemmed up at that end to get pushed off. I then decided to drive the aft end off into deeper water and go astern, which of course caused a jack-knifing of the boats and forcing the butty stern deeper into the undergrowth. In the meantime, Janet was attempting to shaft the aft end out, but as I towed the butty further forward, she had to let go of the cabin shaft (boat hook), which was stuck in the mud. As soon as we were moving again, Trevor came forward from the cabin to hold an inquest into how this had happened – how was I supposed to concentrate on steering with him breathing down my neck wanting to know all the details. “Piss off and do it later!” I wrote in my log, although I didn’t say it at the time, but I told him in the pub after a couple of pints and we all laughed like drains. Another entry says that there is no gardening page in the NBT training manual, which needs remedying in future and that secateurs should be an essential part of boat equipment.
All went well after that incident until we moored up in Fenny Stratford just after 7pm and repaired to the Red Lion for a pint and food, only to find yet another pub with beer only on offer. So, it was back to the butty back cabin for pasta with a readymade tomato sauce and onions. Back to the pub for more beer (thirsty work is this historic boating with NBT) only to find that it was quiz night. It was not a pub that I would stop at in future (I wrote at the time), however I have been there many times since when on Stronghold. Canal pubs are very few and far between and advantage has to  be taken at every opportunity if you are a real ale lover.

The Red Lion, Fenny Stratford.

Saturday 2 May 2020

My Maiden Voyage on an Historic Pair 1


As so many other canal boaters in this pandemic of Coronavirus aka Covid-19 in March and April 2020, I am confined to the house, apart from daily exercise and shopping trips to the supermarket for supplies and to the pharmacy for any medical necessities. There is much that can be done in the house and garden, but I really have that annual urge to be boating on the canals and rivers of this land, more so as the weather improves towards summer. As I cannot write about my personal boating activities, I have been thinking about documenting my maiden voyage aboard Nuneaton and butty Brighton in 2011 from Braunston to the Rickmansworth Three Rivers Boat Festival. I will not take up space here describing the history of the pair of boats, because they can be found at https://www.narrowboattrust.org.uk/

I joined the NBT, as it is widely known the year before after meeting some of the crew on board the moored boats on the Thames at Oxford. I was towards the end of my Summer cruise on Stronghold and I pulled into the East Street moorings between Osney Bridge and Osney Lock for the night, where Nuneaton and Brighton were also moored up. I had intended just taking a photo or two, but got chatting to the crew of three and was given a membership application, which I duly completed. The following year I attended a work party on the boats at Alvecote for a Spring weekend, which gave me a chance to meet more of the crew and it was most enjoyable to be experiencing something entirely new to me, as well as meeting new friends with the same interests at heart. I had a lot to learn.

The Pair of Working Boats Moored at Osney.

The Voyage

Friday 13th May 2011

I had arranged to meet up with Trevor at 20.30 in the Tesco car park in Rickmansworth, so that we could travel together in his car. I moved my car into a quiet side road after loading bags into Trevor’s car and we set off for Braunston, 70 miles further north, where the boats were moored outside the marina. On arrival at Braunston we repaired to The Admiral Nelson pub, just in case they chanced to close early for lack of custom – we made a total of three customers even though it was Friday. Beer, I discovered later was to be an essential part of this trip. We learned that the pub had been taken over yet again by a tenant landlord, who had grand plans to keep the place open throughout the year. This place had been opened and closed more times than a pub lavatory door in the past few years. Finally, leaving at midnight, we left to find the boats, unload and go to bed.

This was my first experience of sleeping in a boatman’s cabin and it took a bit of getting used to! How was it possible for a family of two adults and several children to live, eat and sleep in a back cabin barely 6ft x 8ft?

Saturday 14th May 2011

Despite a late night, I was awake early and had a walk around Braunston Marina. Trevor was up and about when I returned and then set off to collect ‘Mouse’ from Rugby station. In the meantime I went to the Gongoozlers Rest for the full English. This is café boat moored just outside the marina and was very convenient at the time. Trevor had returned with Mouse and joined me for breakfast after an early start to the day. We cast off at 10.30 heading south for Stoke Bruerne, about 9 hours away, with Brighton being towed on cross-straps behind Nuneaton. The reason for this style of towing is that the pair of boats were empty of any cargo and so floated quite high in the water. The bow of the butty is extremely high, so the wash from the motor boat can travel easily beneath the butty boat and the steerer of the butty only has to control the stern of the boat, keeping it clear of other boats, bridge ‘oles and banks.

We were now approaching Braunston Locks, a flight of six  spaced fairly close together. As the locks are of double width, two boats can be in one lock together, so they had to be separated and go in the lock side by side, to be breasted up, or just breasted. This is done on the move by the motor steerer as the pair enters the lock or just before. Both cross straps are removed  allowing the butty to continue moving forward under its own momentum, but slower than the motor boat and to one side or the other. Once in the lock the boats are then strapped together side by side and the bottom gates are closed, usually by the motor steerer. The lock is filled by the crew at the top gates by opening the ground paddles and then gate paddles, if available. Once filled, the top gates are opened allowing the pair to continue to the next lock, still breasted.

Working Braunston Bottom Lock

The locks were busy with other boats locking up and down too. Mouse was steering the pair, but I was offered the chance to steer through the last two locks. Prior to this, Trevor had wanted to see if I could “walk the plank”. To get easily from one end of the boat to the other, the top planks went from the cabin top at the stern to the cratch close to the bow. They were 11 ins wide and balanced on the top of the stands, but held in place by strings at intervals from the gunnels. I had done this previously when on the work party at Alvecote, so knew that I was capable. After the locks we were to enter Braunston Tunnel, but the pair had to be singled out first. Mouse went forward and released the bow line and I released the stern lines. This allowed the butty to slowly fall behind until I could grab hold of one of the cross straps and attach it to the opposite dolly on the motor, before getting hold of the other one and doing likewise. Thus we entered the tunnel keeping well to the right and slowing to tick over as we passed about five boats going in the opposite direction. On making our exit at the southern portal, the pair was slowed almost to a stop to pick up Janet and her Brompton fold up bike at a bridge ‘ole, where the water is normally deep enough to get right up to the bank.

Cross straps from forward Tee stud on 
butty boat to stern dollies on motor boat.

The difficult part of steering a pair becomes apparent when meeting another boat approaching a bridge ‘ole. If the pair are brought to a stop before the bridge in mid stream, they are likely to jack-knife in the middle and block the cut. Bear in mind that the total length is over 140 ft and hinged in the middle. Signalling to the approaching boat to either stop or come ahead are the only alternatives and timing your speed is paramount to success. If the other boat does not come through fast enough the results can be very interesting. With Janet steering the butty it was down to her to keep the aft end clear of other boats and the bank and it was up to me to keep her bows clear of these objects. If I got it wrong, then she got into difficulty at her end.

We worked down Whilton Locks and what promised to be a lovely sunny start to the day was now clouded over with a chilly wind blowing across the cut, which affected the unladen boats and tending to blow them onto the muddy shallows when slowed or stopped.
It was decided that we were not going to reach Stoke in time for a meal out, so we moored at Blisworth and walked to The Royal Oak, only to find that there was beer but no food available. I have to say that despite being a Greedy King pub, the two pints of ‘Britain’s Glory’ went down a treat and made up for not stopping at The New Inn at Buckby, where we would have got some food. We returned to the pair and Mouse cooked up a one pan meal of minced beef, potatoes and peas, while we discussed the possibility of cooking apple crumble in the oven of the coal fired range. Meanwhile, I had difficulty lighting the range in my cabin, mainly because the kindling was damp, but a sprinkling of white spirit did the trick after the match was dropped in, causing flames to reach the ceiling before I could get the lid back on. The cabin eventually cleared of smoke and I had a warm and comfortable night with the cabin doors ajar.

Sunday 20 October 2019

Freedom of the Cut 2019 - 25

Meeting Old and New Friends in Mixed Weather.

Sunday 6th October

It was a day in the office sorting out my blog and trying to rescue pics from my phone and Bluetooth them into some sort of photo file on this laptop. Why the hell I have to jump through so many hoops to do it beats me, but I achieved my goal eventually with strict perseverance and much patience.

There are still several small jobs to be done, but at the moment they are on the back burner. The day finished with a pint in The Folly and some more photos of the interior.

Monday 7th October

A wet start to the day did not encourage boating, although it did dry up later, but still with grey skies. There are far less boats passing each day now, which is somewhat of a relief. I do need to get some exercise and could do with a walk either up to the village or up the flight of locks, but first there is a great deal of blog to be organised and then published and it took several hours to finalise.

I  did manage to get out for some exercise up the flight of locks and as Mike Askin once said to me, “Never approach a lock without a windlass,” so I took one with me, although I only used it once when I returned to the bottom lock to help a crew through. The lady who was locking could not lower the ground paddle and when I said, “Have you taken the catch off?” she did not understand what I meant, as they had come from Stockton, where they are all candlestick paddles and had not worked the rack and pinion paddle gear before. Sure enough, the catch or pawl was still in place.

I repaired to The Folly for the last time this year and got chatting to a couple of regulars whom I had seen there before. Dale was particularly jovial and was a continuous cruiser on nb Kingfisher and we seemed to hit it off straight away. Frenchy was the nickname of the other guy, who was much more reticent. They appeared to cruise together between Napton and Atherstone. I quizzed Dale about the watering hole they used in Atherstone, which was of course, The Angel Alehouse.

Tuesday 8th October

It was time to move on again today, but first there was a bag of rubbish to go in the tip and there were larger than usual blackberries to be picked before I parted, so it was rather late when I left.

The weather was sunny, but very windy and after a while I could see that rain was approaching, so donned the Driza-Bone just in time as it rained and blew really hard. After that the sun appeared again and was quite warm. I got into Braunston in two and a quarter hours non-stop along my favourite stretch of canal. I say that, because in some places you cannot see a house, pylons or cars, only sheep and I think this is why so many boaters moor up here in the sticks just for the peace and quiet.

Much to my surprise, there were very few moorings to be had in Braunston and I cruised through as far as Ladder Bridge, where I winded the boat and returned to the marina main entrance, but here there is a ledge which holds the boat out about 3ft from the bank, which I previously knew about. At that moment the heavens opened and there I was on the bank without any waterproofs on getting soaked. Having tied off, I ducked inside to change my clothes, but I could not remain here, so continued up the cut and found a spot in front of The Cheese Boat at the end of the permit holders moorings and that was it for the day.

Wednesday 9th October

A pleasant sunny morning greeted me, but there is no internet connection here, so I intend to move up opposite The Boathouse, where I know I can connect to BT and the pub opposite – spoilt for choice there! Chris and Linda on nb Mars passed by the moorings and had been out for a month cruising, but there was only time for a few words as they passed by. They were returning to their home mooring at the boatyard by the Bottom Lock.

I moved off the mooring up towards The Boathouse and there was a space opposite, although beneath a tree where roosting birds can decorate the cabin top overnight along with falling leaves. Firstly, I had to get some water and went to the services just beyond The Turn, where there was another boat, who admitted to awaiting an engineer to fix a broken wire on their gas boiler! Being a shared boat there was no way the two women were going to even try and fix it, so why did they have to wait on the water point? It was necessary to use my long hose, although they did move along the mooring a little to accommodate Stronghold. The water pressure was quite forceful and compared very well in relation to many others I had used, so the tank was quickly filled.

I reversed into The Turn and winded to take up the one vacant space, although there was now a spot outside the pub, but TV reception was poor, or even non-existent over there.

Thursday 10th October

The morning was showery on and off, but I had to move further up the North Oxford Canal towards Rugby and headed for The Olde Royal Oak, just south of Hillmorton. The trip was uneventful, apart from a connection dropping off the alternator, so I had to stop and fix that, before making some coffee and moving on.

In just over two hours, I reached the pub and there was only one boat there, so space for me. After some lunch, I tackled  wiring up the new inverter with lower resistant wire, as the previous cable was causing a considerable voltage drop and causing the inverter to complain with an intermittent  buzzer indicating low voltage. I had problems getting the bared wire ends into the three pin plug and whilst doing so, the boat was hitting the concrete bank, which I thought was a bit strange as there were balloon fenders down. Imagine my surprise when I looked out of the window and saw water between the boat and the offside bank. In other words, I was adrift at the stern and was close to the towpath. I rushed out to correct the problem and then much to my surprise saw Andy Clarke walking towards me up the towpath. I see him most years at Canalway Cavalcade and now here he was, with his wife controlling their boat a little further along. He gave me a push off and I then threw the stern line to another guy outside the pub, who pulled me in. I had also talked to him outside the pub on a previous occasion last year apparently. This time I tied up far more securely.

Friday 11th October

With an eye on the weather forecast, it was a case of shall I, shan’t I move up to Rugby? The sky was overcast and it had rained in the night and as it was not raining at the moment, I decided to go for it. All went well after tightening the loose connection on the alternator and it remained in place for the trip. The winds were very strong, but the nature of the canals is very often hedges line the towpath side, which breaks the wind considerably.

I pulled into Clifton Cruisers for a pump out and despite the outlet being on the offside and Stronghold being breasted against another boat, the guy was quite happy to perform the operation on the outside. The waste tank had lasted 57 days and was not obviously full, but I know from experience that they do a good job here for £15.

Onward towards the visitor moorings and it was strange not to stop here, as I could use the car to visit Tesco later from the home mooring. I made the tight turn into the wharf in one go, winded at the end and moored up with two lines, but a few minutes later Deb came along and asked me to move closer to Ragamuffin, so as to be able to fit a hire boat in the space behind me, which although a pain to move, made available a couple of convenient mooring pins.

I could now drive to Tesco and do a bit of necessary shopping as well as get some more blade fuses at Halfords.

Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th October

The weekend was spent at my daughter’s house in Coventry.
One interesting thing about the weekend was that at last I managed to pay a visit to The Rugby Tap after a suggestion by my daughter. I also discovered that it was accessible by No. 4 bus from the wharf with a short walk from the centre of town.

Having only been to one micro-pub before in Skipton, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was looking forward to this one. The number of ales on the stillage were 12 in total, but only 5 were on tap. The price and ABV were chalked on each barrel. The beer was drawn straight from the barrel so no gas or sparkler, as in most of the other pubs – just as I like it. There were also 6 ciders or perrys on tap from box containers as well as the usual alcoholic beverages of wine and spirits. The biggest surprise of all was that there was no bar! The landlord was sitting out there with the punters, although keeping himself to himself. There was no musak, fruit machines or other trappings of the modern pub, except for wi-fi. Conversation was king here. Food was limited to sausage rolls, batches (filled soft bread roll) and crisps. There was one universal toilet, that was also for the disabled. A quiet and friendly atmosphere prevailed, which made it easy to converse at normal level, instead of having to shout above the level of ambient noise in busy pubs – what a find this is and I am determined to go again.

No shortage of ales here......

.....or ciders!

The landlord, but no bar.

Monday 14th October

A wet start to the day, which continued intermittently all day. The fire had kept in all night, so the boat was still warm in the morning. Two hire boats went out and I wish them luck in this weather, as it is forecast to be changeable all week, although it eases up towards next weekend.

On further investigation into the blown fuses on the new wiring, I looked up the current consumed by the new inverter, which was 15 amps, so a 10 amp fuse in the fuse board was inadequate. With the smaller diam wiring casing a voltage drop to the inverter, it could not consume this amount of current, so the 10 amp fuse was OK. Now that I had increased the cable to 6mm, it could consume more current and therefore it would blow a 10 amp fuse  and a 15 amp was required – QED! But in fact that was not so, much to my surprise, because the 15 amp blew as well.

Later, I had to buy a 12 volt plug to fit the car cigarette lighter socket, because the old one had failed. I found a short one (they all seem to be short nowadays) in Tesco.. When I got back to the boat, it was plugged in and did nothing, so I tried all the remaining sockets on board and it still did nothing - how strange. By now  I had had enough of this pantomime, so went to bed still perplexed.

Tuesday 15th October

Having tried the 12 v plug in the car socket to no avail, it was time to get a refund, which was not a problem in Tesco. Now the search was on for a rather longer one and it is amazing how rare these things are, but I eventually succeeded in Halfords. I tried it out immediately in the car socket and sure enough it worked - hurrah! The mobile battery was down to 13% and it was virtually useless during that time, which made me realise how much I missed it. Back on board, I could now completely charge the phone and I then took a chance of blowing another fuse and plugged in the inverter, which remained on – surprise! Now why is that? There was still a big voltage drop in the 6mm cable, but it was working with the generator running. Voltage when off was 13.85, but dropped to 13 when under load. The inverter will only be used at night, when I can’t run the engine or generator. Hopefully, the problem is solved, but I keep fingers crossed.

For the first time in days, there was no rain and there were short bursts of sunshine indeed. The towpath here is extremely soggy and I can imagine how bad it will get in the winter.

Not having a ‘free’ internet connection was also winding me up and I fiddled about with settings on this laptop, until I wondered if I had buggered it up altogether, so I went into the office and asked Jan if I could try her wi-fi out and it all appeared to be OK. I was also hoping to pick up that connection on my aerial back on board, but no such luck, unless I can get a mooring closer to the office. I am sure I got a free connection a few days ago, but it does not even appear on the list any more. I may try the aerial at the stern, as sometimes only short distance can make a difference.

Wednesday 16th October

It was a bit of a late start, but then nothing really important to get out of bed for.
I checked over the engine this morning before starting up, but had to mop out a lot of rain water from the bilge first. I am still none the wiser as to how it gets in there, although there is a possibility that I have not investigated yet.

Having decided what I was going to eat this evening, I had to take a trip to Tesco once again for ingredients. Upon return, it was time to cook a dish that I often made at home – scalloped potatoes, but this time I had some changes in mind.

After preliminary cooking in the micro-wave, I tidied up and tried the wi-fi aerial up a mast at the stern end of the boat and although it was higher than before, there was little difference in the number of signals that I received, so that was a waste of time and rather disappointing. It looks like I am going to have to use my personal wi-fi router whilst on this mooring. However, I will still be able to pick up BT wi-fi when out cruising. Alternatively, I could cruise along to Newbold, about half a mile away, where I am guaranteed a BT signal, as well as a nearby pub.

Thursday 17th October

It was very cold this morning – below 10ºC inside the boat, although the fire had kept in overnight. These are the times that I could do with an automatic heating system.

I had been having a slight problem with one of the new LED strip lights and I was rather ambivalent about returning it, because although it worked, it sometimes dimmed without touching it. The outcome was to remove it and return to Midland Swindlers for an exchange, before having to rewire it all again. There was no reason that they would not exchange it, so that alone was a one hour return journey through the centre of Rugby and then another hour for the unwiring and rewiring. However, the new one appears to be behaving as it should.

For the first time ever, whilst at the chandlers, I bought a bag of logs, as the supply I had bought from home was now all burned and I found that a log on the fire was the best way to keep it ticking over during the day, when I needed only the minimum of heat. I read recently that the only secure means of keeping a wood burning fire in overnight in Canada, where it can drop to -25ºC, was to set the alarm clock every four hours to wake up and restock the fire with more wood. I would not be happy having to do that!

The next thing on the agenda was to drain the cooling water from the engine and refill with anti-freeze added – yet more water in the bilge to be removed. It was speedily done and the level will need final checking tomorrow.

Friday 18th October

Much warmer inside the boat this morning and the fire was still ticking over. I ran the engine for a while, but forgot to check on the water level first. It was very bright with the sun shining, but still chilly. Apart from packing up the stuff to take home, I had a window lock to fix and also wanted to pick some sloes from a well laden tree that I found a few days ago.

900 grams of sloes for sloe gin or vodka.

Just on the process of writing up this blog, when a hire boat arrived and hit my bow quite hard at an angle. Going outside I found one of the boatyard workers trying to steer astern but the boat was not responding very well at all. I told him that maybe he gives himself a few boat handling lessons, because he is one of the guys who gives tuition to first time hire boaters, but no apology was forthcoming. Because I was hoping to go up to the wharf later to unload the heavy gear into the car, he phoned Deb in the office and moored opposite, where I suggested. If this is the way they treat customer’s boats, then perhaps it would be wiser to only stay here for a year. I intend putting out fenders on the outside just in case of future mishaps. As someone else remarked these guys in the yard are not boaters, despite showing newbies how to handle their first boat.

I did manage to get Stronghold up to the wharf, by winding outside the arm and moving forward back up the arm, winding again at the end and getting the stern close in to the concrete with the bow well out at an angle. All the other moored hire boats were doubled up and there was only a short gap into which I could tie up. All the heavy stuff was loaded into the car, by which time it was getting dark. I returned without a headlight on and carefully tied up on my allocated mooring with the aid of a torch, before having something to eat. My daughter picked me up in the car later and I was whisked off to The Tap once more for a couple of well earned pints, as this was to be my final night for a few weeks and tomorrow I drive home.

I think of all the summer cruises, this has been the most enjoyable one with no pressure to get anywhere in particular and mostly just “simply messing around in boats” as Ratty once said. I had explored the Trent and Mersey down to Shardlow, which I had missed out on previous trips, so had now completed the Leicester Ring in stages. Stronghold mostly behaved herself and I had established a new home mooring, all of which was very satisfying. So I look forward to pastures new next year and will research previously unexplored canals in the meantime whilst in hibernation mode.

Monday 7 October 2019

Freedom of the Cut 2019 - 24

Loading in Braunston and return to Napton.

Thursday 26th September

Yesterday I drove here from home down south, which is 150mls distant and it took four hours with two stops. It is a considerable time since I drove that far and in a strange way I quite enjoyed the journey, although there were only two brief holdup s on the motorway. Once I got towards the centre  of Rugby, the GPS appeared to lose contact with the satellites, but fortunately I recognised where I was and could continue to my new home mooring, where everything was as I had left it, although the cabin top was now covered in leaves.

I had several bags of solid fuel and firewood in the car, which was too heavy to carry far, so the boat was reversed and moored on the wharf side, where I could transfer it all into the boat very easily. The mooring allocated to me was taken up by another boat this time, so I breasted up against nb Jigsaw temporarily, because I intended going out in a couple of days.

Mick Jones was now back from his Shroppie (Shropshire Union) cruise and I went for a chat and asked about further fuel supplies. Apparently, the fuel boat Callisto calls in about once a month. Thinking further ahead, I am hoping to go through Braunston shortly to assist with loading for the autumn coal run, so could almost certainly get a few bags then. Not that I intend attempting to lift any 25k bags, but could be of assistance with moving moored the boats out of the arm whilst loading takes place, before returning them after loading. I would be good to see some more of the NBT crew again and no doubt there will be some relaxing chat in the pub afterwards.

Workshops and paint shed at the end of Rugby Wharf.

The winding 'ole from the wharfside.

A hire boat on the wharf.

Reception on the right.

More permanent moores on the right. 
The original towpath is on the left

Looking towards the junction with the North Oxford.

I had to stock up the fridge and store cupboards for the next trip to Napton via Braunston and for the first time I could use the car to get to Tesco. I felt quite strange, having walked there so many times from the Rugby visitor moorings over the last few years.

After unloading and packing away the stores, I attacked the blackberries in the adjacent hedgerow, with the intention of making some jam this time, having already purchased some jam sugar with added pectin. Anyway, there were not enough blackberries to make a sizable amount of jam and I intend trying the main towpath tomorrow.

Friday 27th September

Heavy rain showers this morning and overnight, so no excursion for more fruit until things have settled somewhat. During a brief period of sunshine I tightened one of the alternator belts, which had been screeching on starting the engine like the release of high pressure steam whenever any revs were applied. That cured it, but it had been only a short time ago that I had previously tightened both of them. Bear in mind that this is the additional alternator that is attached to the LH side of the engine with a bolt on bracket, christened a ‘Dog’s Breakfast’ by the guys at Calcutt Marine and it really does need to be realigned so that the belt runs at right angles to it.

During a brief break in the rain, I set off down the towpath to find some blackberries and had a word with Mick in passing nb Ragamuffin. I had been invited in for coffee yesterday, but took a rain check and asked if it was OK later, which it was. Most of the cut near the entrance to the wharf was in a cutting and so very shaded and although there were few blackberries to be had, they were all on the small side.

I called in on Mick when I returned and stayed chatting for almost two hours about boats, techniques and mutual people we knew. Although he is a carpenter and joiner by trade, he was also a lock keeper on the Foxton Flight of locks for some time, so he was very familiar with the ways of boating. I quizzed him on several aspects of boating in this area and areas of Rugby.

Saturday 28th September

A considerable amount of time this morning was spent in making the jam. The berries had been layered overnight with the jam sugar, so as to start dissolving the sugar. It was tipped into a large saucepan and slowly brought up to the boil. The lemon juice was added along with the pips to increase the pectin and after several attempts with a chilled plate and additional boiling, it appeared to have set. I tasted it, only to find that it was very pithy and I think the berries may have been overcooked, so I strained it through a wire sieve, before bottling it in sterilised jars. When they had cooled, there was a good set to the jelly, but a far smaller amount than I had expected with the fruit. I have used small blackberries cooked up with Bramley apples, which were fine, but they had not been cooked for very long.

Moored up as I am at the moment, I have not been able to connect to any free wi-fi, despite one router which is marked as open. This morning however, I could connect to it for some strange reason – I wonder why?

Some more shopping was necessary again in Tesco, bearing in mind that I am about to cruise into the desert with only small corner shops available. After that, I had a car trip to Newbold and the Barley Mow for a pint of Landlord.

Sunday 29th September

I was time to set off again after doing a few necessary jobs, but rain was forecast and this time the met office was true to its word, because it rained on and off for the whole three and half hours of the trip south. I stopped to replenish the water tank at the Tesco moorings and left for Hillmorton after that. This time I was prepared for wet weather, donning the Driza-Bone Australian water proof and my reproofed leather hat.

As I was leaving the Rugby visitor moorings, I passed a couple walking along the towpath who said that they used to be on the Wey Navigations, but were now in Calcutt Marina. Their boat was ‘Winging It’, which I remember well and the names were Mike and Lorraine Skeet, who were also members of the Byfleet Boat Club. I told them that Richard Heaseman on ‘Lady Grace’ was also in Calcutt Marina and had been there for a few years now. When I told them one reason why I had left the Wey, Mike said the NT were too anal, which puts it in a nutshell.

Last year at this time Houlton Bridge was just having the piles driven in.
It leads to Houlton New Town on the outskirts of Rugby.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a volunteer lock keeper at Hillmorton locks, who followed me up the flight of three and assisted with all of them in the continuing rain. I was also followed by an army of teenage girls on a charitable trust boat, who also assisted, so I barely touched a windlass.

I arrived at The Olde Royal Oak (now The Waterside) and went in for a well deserved pint, only to find that there were only two people serving behind the bar and the queue for drinks was about eight deep. To add insult to injury, there was only one real ale on tap – I walked out in disgust and am determined to write to the brewers Greedy King with a strong letter of complaint. Although this pub had improved immeasurably the last time I was here a few months ago, after retracting from the Hungry Horse brand, it seems to have deteriorated back to the old standards of Hungry Horse where no one cares any more.

Monday 30th September

The day started well with warm sunshine, but an hour after letting go, it clouded over and I could feel the chill setting in, as rain was forecast for the afternoon.

I am intrigued to know the history of this terrace of 
buildings by the winding 'ole south of Hillmorton.

They seem to have the appearance of past stables.

I stopped to make coffee and a sandwich before Braunston and then carried on to Midland Swindlers, where I bought three LED strip lights to replace the current guzzling fluorescents above the sink and cooker. These are the touch dimming ones that I saw demonstrated in the Willington branch some time ago. Also on the list was a150 watt quasi sine wave inverter to charge the new laptop, in place of the 1600 watt main unit that I had been using up to now and finally 5 litres of antifreeze, as I had lost so much over the summer.

To my surprise, the moorings opposite the Boat House pub were all taken up, but there was a couple of empty ones right outside the pub on the offside, so I pulled in there for the night and will move across tomorrow if a space becomes free.

Tuesday 1st October

In previous years at about this time, I would be in Oxford or on the River Thames heading back to the Wey Navigations. As much as I liked Banbury and Oxford for mooring spots, I disliked the tedious travelling on the Thames for about three days continuously, with so few places to moor and the exorbitant fees charged by the greedy, rich riparians who owned the banks. Thankfully, I am now finished with that part of travelling home.

I began fitting the LED strip lights in place of the fluorescents beneath the galley cupboards; not an easy job as everything has to be done upside down and the bases of the cupboards were extremely hard plywood. Now I understand why screws with Pozidrive heads are so much better for a job like this, as they can be balanced on the end of the screwdriver when working upside down. I got so far and then decided to call it a day and went off to the pub, as my patience was running a bit short.

I have seen this boat around the system several times.

nb Alice is up for sale.......

.......along with Alice 2, which is the bow extension.

Wednesday  2nd October 

It was a very pleasant day, as forecast with a fair amount of sunshine. I did intend walking through the village to The Lord Nelson, but got bogged down with internet, blogging and replies to e-mails, which is so time consuming.  

I did at last complete fitting the LED strip lights, but had nothing with which to clip the cables to the underside of the cupboards, so had to hold them in place temporarily with sticky tape. I was very pleased with them and it was good to have some light above the hob, which I hope will not be affected too much by the heat and steam. They are easily removable from the two stainless steel sprig clips that hold them in place. Details can be seen here:-   https://www.midlandchandlers.co.uk/products/duo-270-switched-led-light-grey-surface-mount-vl-629 

 A good, even light above the working surfaces.

Excuse the dirty dishes in the sink!

Thursday 3rd October

I decided to move closer to the marina this morning and passed Ryan on nb Southern Cross at the water point. I should have stopped and got some diesel from him at this point, but we were too busy passing information across. However, in the marina I got rid of some rubbish, including waste oil, for which they had a special tank. A quick look around the launderette  for any surplus books, videos or other stuff which might be useful  and I was off to chase Southern Cross up the cut to fill up with diesel, but I did not have to go far, as Ryan was stopping at almost every other boat moored there. There were various comments from other boaters, such as, “Is he going to run out of diesel/gas/coal before he gets here?”

I winded in The Turn and returned to moor outside the marina ready for the NBT loading party on Friday.

Friday 4th October

I walked up the cut a little way this morning and could see Nutfield towing Brighton as they passed the visitor moorings. Walking back towards the Marina, there were two guys in flat hats waiting on the corner of the entrance and I asked if they were Friends of Raymond; of course they were and were also waiting to help load the pair. The boats reversed into the marina arm and then singled out, leaving the butty on the fuelling point for a short while. The motor was then moored up and the butty bow hauled into position alongside, whilst the motor was loaded. I felt guilty at not being able to help out, but with back problems, it was not worth taking a chance – by now, I could not lift a 25kg bag anyway. Later I was relegated to tea boy, which I have to say, seemed to be appreciated by the hard working loaders.

Loading at Braunston.

Both photos by Ian Norris.

From the arrival of the fuel at 10am it was all loaded by hand by 12.30 with the help of Friends of Raymond (not me, but the last wooden narrow boat to be launched at Braunston in 1958 from Nurser’s Yard). http://friendsofraymond.org.uk/the-friends-of-raymond

Stronghold was brought into the arm as the pair were being clothed up and Howard kindly humped my six fuel bags to my bow, where they were stacked in the well deck. I was told that Stronghold was now in the way of marina business by Graham the foreman, so moved back onto my previous mooring just outside, which was fortunately still free and had some lunch. Meanwhile, the pair were now clothed up and had moved out and moored just above the water point/stop house.

Now loaded and exiting the Marina. 
Howard Williams is steering the motor.

If you look closely, you will see that the inside 
towing strap has been removed whilst this operation is in progress.

Heading for the Stop House with 
Peter Lovatt steering the butty.

I was too tired to go to the pub with Howard and he felt exactly the same, so we called it a day. Bear in mind that I had only made tea plus a little bit of messing about on the boats – anno domini I suppose, whereas Howard had been humping bags of fuel all day, I so was entitled to feel knackered.

Saturday 5th October

It was that time again to let go for Napton and I wanted to be there before Nuneaton and Brighton ascended the Napton flight of nine locks, so as to be able to do some lock wheeling and help them up the flight.

However, the best laid plans often go astray and it was my turn, or rather Stronghold’s. The port side alternator belt was squeeling again as soon as I left the mooring, even at 1,000rpm, which it had not done before. Eventually I decided that there was no alternative than to pull in and tie up before investigating further. Imagine my dismay when I squeezed the belt together and the alternator almost fell off. It appeared that a bolt or bolt head had sheared off where the alternator bracket is bolted to the engine, so I just removed the belt and left it free. The engine was so hot and the bracket impossible to access by hanging over the engine to the port side. This alternator powers the fridge and inverter pair of batteries, so I could run without it for a while until it was fixed. Being  en route for Napton, I would pass Napton Junction soon and Calcutt Boats was about ¾ mile up that turn towards Stockton, so that was my decision to let someone else cope with it.

I have mentioned this lash up of a ‘dog’s breakfast’ a few time in the past and attempted to tighten it all up; bolts have sheared several times too and replaced with high tensile ones, but it will never be right unless the whole contraption is redesigned.

I phoned Calcutt and they said that their fitter may be able to do something today, for which I was thankful. I arrived at 12.30 and Ian the fitter came out straight away to have a look. He removed the alternator completely from the bracket and managed to bolt the bracket back on, explaining that is was only a temporary affair and really needed to be genuinely sorted out, but the new belt was now very tight indeed. I paid for an hours work and moved across to the lock waiting area before checking with the digital voltmeter, only to find that it was not charging at all. I had to reverse across and moor up again whilst Ian sussed out that a wire was not attached and that was the end of it until the next time.

I got to Napton and had to wind before reversing onto an empty mooring, of which there were plenty at 3pm. I wanted to buy another bottle of Apple Cider Brandy from the Napton Cidery, but it was due to close at 4pm and I had to hurry up the lane post haste, but made it with 10mins to spare. Imagine my surprise when the lady told me it was all sold out, even in The Napton Village Stores!

A little later as I was about to get in the shower there was a knock on the boat and someone called my name. I quickly donned a dressing gown and went outside to see Julia from The Locker Company on the Wey - what a surprise. It appears that Stuart and she had bought another boat to hire out from a marina on the T & M and were in the process of bringing it back to their base.

My eldest daughter and fiancé arrived in good time and found me along the dark towpath. After some help removing an old battery that I had been using for ballast, we repaired to The Folly for a meal, having booked some days ago and a good job I had, as it was heaving without even a vacant seat. The table was eventually vacated and it was ours for the rest of the evening. The meal was delicious and the requested extra crispy homemade double cooked chips even more so. I had to congratulate Mark and Caroline on it before we parted company.

Having a good time in The Folly.

What a good idea, to store your junk on the ceiling......

.....and even more. Landlord Mark with waistcoat, is holding 
court at the far end, keeping his regulars amused.