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 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.