Friday, 6 April 2018

Well stuck, and then rescued.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
Friday 6th April

Setting off
Well last night we decided to delay attempting to get "Flamingo" through Lock 9 of the Napton flight.  I'm very relieved we erred on the side of caution, and took that decision - we would not have wished to be trying to deal with last evening what we have ended up dealing with today!

No issues in Lock 8
We waited until early departers had left their moorings, and set of deliberately at a quiet point where nothing else was moving.  After a stop for "services" we set off up the locks.  The bottom lock (Lock 8) was passed fine, though the margins are a lot less than in many other narrow locks.

Going in?
Lock 9 was readied, and the decision was to drift in very slowly on no power, so that if we did stick we should not actually jam in, and should be able to reverse out easily.  It looked to be going well as the boat nosed in, but suddenly when the bows were only just past the open bottom gates, we stopped very abruptly indeed.  I still thought we should easily be able to reverse out, either with the engine, or by pulling on ropes.  How wrong could I have been!  After some time running the engine hard, and tugging, and trying to flush out with the upper paddles, it seemed fairly obvious we would not solve this on our own.

NOT going in!
Fortunately I had just enough phone signal to ascertain a CRT emergency number, and call it.  As expected the call taker knew little of canals or locations but took my details and promised to phone South East Waterways.  That call back, (from Milton Keynes, presumably?) came quickly.  Louise understood the problem and the location, and promised me a local team was nearby, and would be with us quickly.

The problem.
Good as their word, soon after Steve arrived.  He thought sufficient well timed flushing coupled with heavy reverse gear should get us out.  The brief version of that story is that it didn't, and very surprisingly, given how gently it had been jammed there, "Flamingo" didn't budge even a fraction of an inch.

From above
Very fortunately a CRT tug and hopper were in the same pound, and the enterprising Steve was able to make a few phone calls and seek permission to commandeer them.

More muscle required.
It was decided to use CRT's rope rather than ours - a good outcome, as after several violent attempts to "snatch" "Flamingo" out, (with two other CRT men sending down flushes of water), the rope broke in spectacular style.  I was very glad I had moved away from the stern by then, or I think it could have damaged me quite badly.

This rope didn't suvive.
The immortal line "we are going to need a stronger rope" eventually produced something much more substantial, but by now I was wondering just how well attached the "dollys" on the back of "Flamingo" actually were.  As the attempts to snatch us got progressively rougher, (with a bigger "run up" each time, I had visions of a large projectile launching itself at somebody, (by now I was not going anywhere near).

Much bigger rope.
Suddenly it occurred to me that whilst everybody had thought it best to keep the pound at maximum level, it was actually now a lot higher than when we stuck.  Observation showed the bow was being held low, and the back end therefore somewhat out of the water to compensate.  Steve and I agreed that lowering the pound a few inches might help, (though by now there was no certainty the tug could extract us at all!).

So another attempt was made with the water level in the empty lock now reduced.  Suddenly the boat was lurching up and down at the stuck point for the first time.  Not actually moving out, but at least moving, though when it jammed with one side high and the other low, it was momentarily a bit scary.  Then almost without further warning, we were suddenly pulled out.

There was a bit of further delay because the reduced level in the pound made it impossible initially for Steve to get the tug and hopper moored up sufficient out of the way.  Once clear "Flamingo" was reversed though the lock we had so hopefully gone through in the other direction more than two and a half hours earlier.

We now faced a considerable reverse back to the winding hole, round a sharp bend and past a long line of boats.  However Steve went the extra mile, (or perhaps half mile!), and worked patiently with us, until we were turned around and ready to leave.

The long reverse.
I simply can't fault the service we got once we had progressed to something we couldn't handle ourselves.  People were on site quickly, (though I can't believe the luck that a tug was available only a few hundred yards away).  Permanent staff and CRT volunteers worked courteously together to get the problem sorted, calmly and with minimum fuss.

And the turn.
However why this should be necessary in the first place is a quite different matter.  This lock has a growing history of such issues, and it is well known that many other historic boats that once could have passed it without difficulty no longer can.  This situation has existed for years, but it seems that because only a small percentage of all narrow beam craft are affected, there has never been sufficient priority to consider rebuilding the affected part of the lock.  Not only are boats such as ours excluded accessing one of the most popular and picturesque canals in the South, they are also denied through access to Oxford and the Thames, and hence can't do the popular "Thames Ring", (this had been our original objective, if we could get through).  Of course we will raise this as a formal issue with CRT, but they drag enough boats back out of this lock, it seems, that they must be well aware of it anyway!

Anyway, beaten and bruised, we decided only to go back as far as Braunston today, possibly for an unplanned for evening in the pub, possibly with friends.  We hoped nothing else could go wrong on such a short trip, and fortunately nothing did!

Long Buckby to Napton Bottom Lock to Napton Lock 9, then back to Braunston
Miles: 7.7, Locks: 2 (same one twice, once backwards!)
Total Trip Miles: 25.9, Locks: 15

New territory for "Flamingo" under our ownership.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
Thursday 5th April

So having started our trip out yesterday in fairly damp conditions, we were pleased to wake up at Buckby today with some reasonable sunshine.  We had gone to bed with concerns that the highly unsuitable 230 volt pump that our central heating pump relies on was trashing our batteries far too fast, and they might be depleted enough by morning to do damage.  Fortunately the situation was not as bad as feared, but the full time reliance on this horrible thing certainly limits our options with winter boating.  It had been planned to rebuild the central heating to use a less power hungry 12 volt pump last year, but this is another plan that had to be shelved because of Michael's accident.

The excellent tug "Lead-Us" owned by a former Willow Wren boatman
We made a fairly relaxed start, and unusually, given how busy the canals are, managed a passage of Braunston tunnel without passing a single boat coming the other way.  The descent of Braunston locks, mostly shared with another boat was very slow, largely due to the slowness of crews on the boats we were following.  We never seem to get lucky and get through Braunston locks quickly any more.  A hold up seems to be the norm these days, and although there are volunteer lock keepers they seem to never be anywhere in the flight but the bottom lock!

We urgently needed a replacement stove chimney, so I called at the chandlery at the foot of the locks.  However all suitably sized chimneys either looked unlikely to last, or were expensive, (or both!), so I pressed on to Midland Chandlers.  I'm not sure what I bought there will last any longer, (few of them seem to), but at least it was cheaper!

The stretch of the Oxford Canal that is shared by the Grand Union was passed fairly slowly, with lots of having to stop suddenly at obscured bridges - there really was quite intensive traffic, some of it hire boaters struggling a bit with the basics.

Finally we turned on to the Southern Oxford proper, and it came as a bit of a shock.  It is very much shallower and "muckier" than what we turned off from, and progress for the first couple of miles has been pedestrian, to put it mildly.  Once again we are forced to accept that whilst default time estimates using the excellent CanalPlanAC journey planner could easily be matched with our old leisure boat "Chalice", it is almost inevitable that any trip in "Flamingo" will be a lot slower than those estimates.

Braunston locks - nearly at the bottom.
We had intended to tackle Napton locks this evening, (and hence find out if "Flamingo" will go through them or not).  However we arrived tired, and later than expected, and decided to grab the one mooring that looked long enough for us while we could.  The broad plan was to walk up for a reconnaissance, and perhaps then take the boat up.  We watched a modern leisure boat descend through what is reputed to be the narrowest of the locks in the flight.  It certainly is narrow, but it didn't look impossible, even for an old boat, maybe some 3" wider.

Then the "Folly" lured us in, particularly as dogs could go inside, (with "well behaved owners", it said!).  The plan was one drink - the reality was multiple drinks, and another meal out we had not actually planned to buy.  Very good actually, and clearly doing well, with most tables having reservations on them, even mid week.

So the question 'will "Flamingo" fit through Napton locks?' is actually going to get answered a day later than originally planned.

The internet signal here is patchy, so it remains to be seen if I can upload this blog entry from here.

Long Buckby to Napton Bottom Lock
Miles: 12.0, Locks: 7
Total Trip Miles: 18.2, Locks: 13

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Finally actually boating again!

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

Wednesday 4th April

Anybody who even only slightly follows our boat travels will probably have realised we actually haven't moved either boat in many months - in fact our last move anywhere was at the end of July 2017.  This are pretty unusual circumstances for us!

Starting ascent at Buckby, as dogs go in search of copious mud!
After many boating plans got scrapped last year for various reasons we had hoped to at least attend the big historic boat gathering at Alvecote on August - this is our favourite event of the calendar, and plans were in place to take both boats - indeed we were already on them, loaded up with supplies, and about to leave.

Then we got the message that our son Michael had broken his ankle - though it took a while to realise how badly, and just how long the fall out from that might continue.  Obviously the trip had to be abandoned before the propeller turned a single turn.  Whilst we managed to spend small amounts of time on board since then, it has certainly not been possible to go anywhere.

Then we formed big plans to take "Flamingo" to the Easter Gathering at Ellesmere Port, an event we have not managed to attend by boat before.  However this is where it gets complicated!  Before Michael broke one ankle, he had already been on the list for surgery to sort out a problem in his other ankle, and they were not prepared to carry out that operation, until he had shown sufficient progress with the broken one.  Needless to say, when he did get a date for that operation, it was just before the Ellesmere Port event.  As he could not drive, and as he was likely to need people around for the early days following it, we had no choice to pull out of this next trip we wanted to do.

Old bloke with old boat!
Not wishing to give up entirely, our thoughts turned to maybe doing the Thames Ring, starting at about this time.  To achieve this we would need to pass through the very narrow locks at Napton, where many of the working boats of the same or similar design to Flamingo cannot get through, because some of the lock walls have moved slightly, reducing available width.  Still we though we would try - at least we would then know if "Flamingo" can pass down onto the Southern Oxford, or not.  However the latest blow to our plans is that the River Thames has remained firmly on "red board" warnings throughout the entire length from Oxford to Teddington, so passage would have been quite impossible.

So ultimately Cath and I were left with a choice of either going nowhere, and simply carrying on with working on "Flamingo", or of still taking a short trip somewhere.  Having made so little use of the boats we decided to do the latter.  The current plan is to go around to Napton Locks on the Oxford Canal anyway, and see if "Flamingo" is one of the "Town" class boats that can squeeze through, or whether it is not.  Popular money seems to be that we are more likely to fail than to succeed, but at least then we will know!

We worked out if we could be at the mooring and loaded up in time to get up the Long Bucky flight before dusk, then we could reward ourselves with a meal in the "New Inn".  So that's what we did, being a fairly damp first half day, although the real pain at the moment is that the tow-paths at the lock flights are in many places a quagmire, so boots, shoes, clothing, (and dogs), are all getting fairly covered in mud.

High House Wharf, Weedon to Long Buckby
Miles: 6.2, Locks: 6
Total Trip Miles: 6.2, Locks: 6

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Bathroom Progress 1

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

We managed to grab rather less than 2 days on board last week, allowing me to make a start on the bathroom rebuild.

In this case the pictures can largely tell the story so far, and further words probably don't add much, other than saying that things didn't always go as smoothly or as fast as I was hoping they would.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Seriously Gratifying Wanton Destruction!

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

Ever since I saw the oversized bath in "Flamingo" I have hated it, (see previous post).

We have already reclaimed about 3 feet of main cabin space by reducing the bathroom back to the size that it was before the previous owner decided to modify it from "very large" to "ridiculously large".  As a temporary arrangement we had simply moved the bath 3 feet further forward as well - it could be used as a large shower tray, at least, and we had more urgent tasks to attend to.

Now, however, we were ready to start a refit, and replace the bath with something not taking up such an excessively large part of our total accommodation.

We knew a great deal of damage had been done getting it into the boat.  The only way in had been through a side hatch, but it wasn't big enough, and quite a bit of the ceiling lining had been hacked away to make it possible - damage that was never repaired, and is still with us.  So I was not prepared to do further damage, or risk my repairing hernia operation to try getting it out in one piece.

So out came the angle grinder.  I knew ground up GRP would make a mess - and it did.  However I have to say this bit of wanton destruction was one of the most therapeutic things I have done in ages!

Goodbye bath - I hated you!

Friday, 2 March 2018

How any baths would you actually like, sir?

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

I have been trying to order a new small bath for "Flamingo", (see previous post)

The cheapest firm I could find with reasonable customer reviews said it was on 3 to 4 day delivery, so I ordered and paid for it, (payment number 1). They then told me they couldn't after all supply for 10 weeks, so I requested a cancellation and a refund.

I then contacted another company, and made very specific inquiries that they definitely had it in stock - no problem, they said.   So I ordered and paid for it, (payment number 2). They then contacted me and said they had managed to sell the one they had, between my asking and them receiving my order, (a couple of hours only), and could not get another in for for 6 weeks, so I requested a cancellation and a refund.

So far then, I had fully paid for two baths that were claimed to be available, but was nowhere closer to having a bath to install.

I tried contacting several other suppliers, but none had stock - it seemed these had to come from the factory, and the factory can not supply at the current time.

In desperation I ordered a completely different bath from a third company, (payment number 3) - it wasn't quite as suitable, but was cheaper and would do.

So I had somewhat of a surprise when this turned up on a lorry today, because it was the type I had paid for and had been told I couldn't have for months (twice). The van was from a plumbing supply company I didn't know to be involved, and the driver had no paperwork to give any clue as to which of the two companies who had said they could not supply had now actually managed to by an unexpected route.  (It couldn't be the final bath I had ordered, being the wrong type).

It took a fair amount of detective work, and quite a few phone calls to locate the company who's van had delivered.  Initially they insisted they do not deliver on behalf of other companies, but, after keeping my cool rather more than I felt like keeping it, I finally managed to get them to do enough looking on their systems to see that my company number 2 above had asked them to deliver directly to me on their behalf.

An apologetic man at company number 2 took several sharp intakes of breath, and kept muttering "it's supply chain you see", or "I don't know how some people actually manage to get themselves up, dressed, and go to work in the morning".  I said I sympathised, but now as potentially going to end up with 2 baths!

Anyway I now had the bath we initially wanted, but was told I couldn't have.  So I tried to cancel the third bath ordered.   I was told it was already dispatched, and we could face carriage charges of up to £80 as they attempt to retrieve it back to their depot.  I wasn't a happy bunny, but obviously they are the one company in three who had not got things wrong, and it seemed unfair to be cross with them when it was the other companies that had caused the problem.  Fortunately they have since rung me and said it had not got very far, and I will probably not be charged.

I would actually have liked to be a fly on the wall at company number 2, but I don't suppose I will ever know quite what went on here.

At the moment my credit card account shows I have paid for three baths, but I currently only have one.  I suspect I'll be making more phone calls!
Incidentally, purchasing a wash basin, mounted on a cabinet, (from a different company again), has fortunately proved far less problematic.  They said they had stock - they did have stock, and it has been delivered undamaged!

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Planning In Progress

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

When we bought Flamingo, without a doubt the most unsightly and messed about with part of it was the bathroom, (or more accurately the war zone claimed to be the bathroom).

The previous owner had decided to take the very oversized bathroom that was already in the boat when he bought it, and rip down bulkheads to make it even longer by about an additional three feet.

A very large bath had been put in.  I hesitate to use words like "installed" because it hadn't been.  Although never properly fitted, the side panel that went with it had already been smashed and crudely glued back together.

Where tiling had been ripped down we just had frayed plywood where it had once been, and black plastic had been taped over much of the damaged area.

There was no chance of heating sufficient water to fill a full sized bath, and, anyway, the main fresh water tank really didn't have the capacity to support that either.

There was no wash basin.

A bizarre underfloor heating system had been hand crafted from large bore copper pipe, and the main radiator circuit diverted to include it, thus destroying any natural flow assisted by gravity.

Some time back we had spent much effort relocating the bulkhead at the rear end back to where it had once been, thus still giving us a very large bathroom, but giving us 3 feet of extra kitchen space rearward of it, (ultimately the whole kitchen will be moved forward, to give more living space behind).  We had to decommission a radiator, (because it had been placed where we moved the bulkhead back to), and we also ripped out the underfloor heating.  Much ingenuity was used to get rid of most of the wall damage.

However because we were not ready for a full bathroom refit, we had temporarily reused the massive bath, but moved forward by 3 feet.  We couldn't really bath in it, but it could still be used as a large shower tray.  We have survived this way for several trips, and general living aboard at the mooring.

However we have now decided that refitting the new bathroom should be our next priority.  My previous post explains that we have already had to move the calorifier, (the hot water tank), to one corner of the bathroom.  Some space has been used up, as a result, but it was really the only way we could put back a system that worked, (and could be worked upon).

So thoughts have turned to how the rest of it should look.  We have decided to retain a bath, but a much smaller one - it can mostly be used as a shower of course.  I find modelling ideas in the free version of SketchUp to be highly useful for visualising how things will fit together.  I can rotate the model and view from any angle, taking in and out individual elements.  I can even "walk through" the bathroon if I choose.  What is reproduced here are of course just 2 dimensional images, but the whole tool is remarkably powerful.

We are happy we have a way forward.  Unfortunately actually getting our preferred parts has proved harder, and we have not been able  to order up our first choice of bath in a time frame that is acceptable.  So in fact the sketch-up images already need modifying, as the alternate choice of bath will not now be one with a seat in it.