Sunday, 30 September 2012

Stoke Bruerne "Village At War" - Day 2.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

"Purton" - also once on the BW maintenance fleet.
As reported already, we were not able to be on "Sickle" overnight, due to a family celebration, but as these events don't start particularly early, it wasn't going to be a huge problem to be back at Stoke for the start of "day 2".  We debated taking our new hound "Odin" with us, but decided that as neither boy showed any interest in coming as well, that might be a bit ambitious if we actually took the boat through a few locks on a very crowded day.  So, although several people had expressed an interest in meeting him, poor "Odin" was left at home.

We were surprised on arrival at about 09:45 to find the main temporary car park still padlocked up, unattended, with the scheduled start of the event just a quarter of an hour away.  Parking in Stoke Bruerne is always a bit of a challenge, and it took a fair bit of negotiation with an initially fairly intransigent steward to actually secure a parking place elsewhere.  We did wonder what less clued up visitors might have done, if arriving for the event, but encountering locked gates.

I think the Lister in "Southern Cross" smokes as badly as "Sickle's"
Sunday seemed unlikely to turn out quite as busy as Saturday - the weather, although fine, looked like being cooler and more overcast, and there was no Spitfire display to lure the punters in today.  None-the-less it remained fairly busy throughout, and traders and volunteers seemed to be reporting a very successful event by the end - good news, as a single day's poor weather can completely kill such things, cause them to return an overall loss, and put them in doubt for future years.

"Southern Cross" and "Bideford" turning around.
Cath's brother Chris, visiting the UK from his California hoime, was due to turn up, but once we  had established he was still elsewhere, we decided not to wait for him any longer before visiting "our local" for lunch.  The Boat copes quite well with the crowds - you can usually find a seat if you time it right, and the food isn't particularly slow to arrive, considering how busy they get.

Singling out the pair back on to "cross straps"
It wasn't just us who got "refuelled" - we also took advantage of "Sickle" being near the local fuel boat "Towcester" to fill the diesel tanks - or we might have done, had the tanks on "Towcester" not run empty as they tried to service us!  It did limit the bill a bit, at least, and should see us through several more trips, so not an issue.

"Southern Cross" tows "Bideford" past "Sickle"
We decided to set off down a couple of locks - the organisers are please to have old boats moving, and we are pleased to add to the display.  About this time Cath's brother Chris appeared, as well as a friend from Canal World.  Progress was quite slow, due to other boat traffic.  I'd love to see some of the very many photos that clearly get taken of us on such occasions, often using top notch cameras, but seldom do.  Perhaps we need to hand out business cards with an email adress on, and try and get people to send their more interesting shots ?  We are usually too busy to take much ourselves.

CRT chief executive Robin Evans put in an appearance.
All too quickly another event was drawing to a close.  We went to see what was still in the exhibition field, but most people had either gone, or were close to doing so.  We had an interesting chat with one of those displaying an old car though - it sounds like at this time of year they are doing a show nearly every weekend.  And I think the boat represents a lot of effort - at least we can sleep in that, rather than have to camp alongside it!

Waiting to go down the top lock.

"In the mood"!
"Sickle" and the US military.

The Pitsford Home Guard
"Comet" and "Sculptor"

"Laplander" steams past "Cyprus" and "Corona"

Pottering around Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 2.0,  Locks:4

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Stoke Bruerne "Village at War" - Day 1

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

We knew we were double booked for today, and needed to share our time between this event for the start of the day, and Cath's Mum's birthday party later on.  As we would need to drive home first, and collect our two son's, and our dog Odin, we would not be able to pack in too much at Stoke Bruerne today, and ideally would need to be away by mid afternoon.

We often take the boat down a couple of locks and back at these Stoke Bruerne events - it is easy to do with our short tug, and the organisers have in the past asked that some historic boats can move around a bit to add to the interest for visitors. However we reckoned that might be a step too far today, so decided to leave "Sickle" tied up on day one, and to just spend time enjoying the sights.

We chatted a fair amount to people showing interest in the boats, but then went off to visit the traders "Black Market".  We managed not to spend lots of money as we had done last year though.  We also decided to visit the Boat pub early for lunch, reasoning we could be easily finished long before a flying display by two Spitfires was due to start at 2:00 pm.  We easily managed to finish way before then, but not until the Spitfires had unfortunately started their flying some 40 minutes early.  We did still see a fair amount of it, and were surprised both how low they flew, and how many aerobatics were done.  Anyone not arriving until 2:00 pm would have been most disappointed though - it was all over by then!

We then visited the field with a large display of old vehicles.  These ranged from motor cycles, cars and vans, through lorries and buses, as well as very large numbers of military vehicles of many types.  A very impressive display, although I plead guilty to just soaking up the atmosphere, and not studying too closely exactly what each vehicle was.  The majority "felt" right for the World War II period, but I suspect one or two may have slightly post-dated the war, I'm not sure.

As I neither had a lens suitable for photographing fast moving Spitfires in flight, nor took hardly any canal related photos, today's pictures are largely of the vehicles ad other sights in that display field, but hopefully they give some idea of the efforts put in by those who bring along their immaculately presented vehicles, and immaculately presented selves!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Once More Back To Stoke Bruerne

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

We like the events at Stoke Bruerne, and like last year have already visited the main canal Gala earlier in the year, but particularly wanted to also repeat the rather charming "Village at War" event.

We had booked in to it some time back, but this weekend was also when Cath's Mum would celebate her 80th birthday, so a bit of "flexibility" and a fair amount of rushing about was to be required to put in an appearance at both!

Starting off up the flight - waiting for the coal boats in the next lock.
However the task for today was simply to get "Sickle" from her home mooring up to the event.  As Cath was working, I have to single-hand the boat most of the way, but then hope Cath can drive up in time to help me up the seven lock flight into Stoke.  (Although I will go through an occasional lock on my own, since I broke my pelvis I am simply not confident enough on or off the boats to do large numbers in a row without someone else there).

"Southern Cross" and "Sickle"
The problem with this single-handing lark is that with a large mileage to cover in a limited time, you can't actually really stop for food and drink, without introducing quite a delay.  So I tend to just go straight through, but I do get hungry, and normally I am such a coffee addict that after 4 or 5 hours I'm starting to get withdrawal symptoms.  In fact I had mistimed my journey a bit, and could have managed a break en route, as I eventually turned up at the foot of the Stoke Bruerne locks well before Cath was likely to arrive.

Trying to have a conversation over the Listers
Three coal boats were getting ready to go up - the local boats "Towcester" & "Bideford",b ut these were preceded by "Southern Cross" which also loads on behalf of the same business run by Julia Cook.  I went and watched "Towcester" and "Bideford" through the bottom lock, and it was explained that there was a plan to unload a ton of coal from one of the boats into a van whilst in a lock further up, but that there should be no great delay.

Eventually I decided I need to make a start behind them, if we were not to arrive at te top in total darkness, but shortly after I set off alone, not only did Cath arrive, but also Adam from "Briar Rose" who had offered to help me up the locks earlier.  Whilst "Towcester" and "Bideford" worked ahead of us, "Southern Cross" held back, so we could go up together.

This gives an idea how much "Sickle" was shortened!
I'm always interested in "Southern Cross" as it was owned and restored by the same family as "Sickle".  Even though the two boats are of different "Grand Union" types, ("Southern "Cross" being a Harland and Woolf built "Woolwich" boat, whereas "Sickle" is a W J Yarwoods "Northwich" one), the two restorations show considerable similarities, and I felt the boats looked "right" together.  Both even have similar Lister HA3 air-cooled diesels, (and produce similar amounts of smoke on occasions!), and when I normally struggle to hear much against the noise of one in a lock chamber, I can attest to the fact that two together makes conversation very difficult indeed.

We were fortunate it was nearly a full moon, and with clear skies, because well before the top lock we were delayed enough that otherwise it was well after night-fall.  Fortunately the largely reserved moorings at the top meant we had little difficulty to find a suitable slot for Sickle's modest forty foot length.

We have joked before that "The Boat" pub is as close as Cath and I come to having a regularly visited local.  Not wishing to spoil this tradition, we once again ate there, washing it down with the usual "Frog Island" (me) and Thatcher's cider (Cath).

Frankly by this stage I was knackered - although I'm able to move the boat around largely on my own for much of the mileage, "Sickle" does tend to make you feel you have had a good work-out!  None the less, we had made it, and now only had to worry about the fact we had a party many miles away to fit in as well as being at Stoke!

Fenny Stratford to Stoke Bruerne

Miles: 18.3,  Locks: 8

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Another update on Odin

This video's a bit old hat now - having been made nearly two weeks ago. Odin has made considerable progress since then, but, as part of the record, here is Odin at 16 weeks old:

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Big Two Boat Summer Trip Finally Reaches Completion.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

I remember boating back in the 1970s, after long distance carrying had ceased, but leisure boating was very much in its infancy, that it somehow seemed to be considered not the done trhing to start your engine up, and set off before (say) 8:00 am.  I can actually remember wanting to make an early start, and pulling or poling the boat the first bit, so as not to disturb those still in bed!

By the time we set off, nobody else was waiting to go down.
All that has changed over the years, and it is now not at all unusual to find significant number of boats going past well before those times, particularly where there are lock flights, and people think they may gain an advantage by being first way.  And so it was this morning, with quite a few boats moving before 07:00 am, there was no way we were going to be one of the early ones down the flight.

In fact by the time we set off, a lot of boats had gone ahead, but we were initially on our own.  With the back-pumps running, and water over the gates, the notices to wait and share locks seem a bit out of date, and certainly the lock-keepers at Stoke are now making no efforts to enforce sharing.

Actually the lock keeper at Stoke was far more intent on getting boats moving through quickly, and in minimising delays, (good man, and sensible in the circumstances!), so if a particular crew appeared to not be ready to move at their turn, he simply waved boats behind past!  So, when it looked like a couple of boats who were logically ahead of us, were not ready to get moving again, we got waved through past them.  This seemed to not meet the approval of one boat being overtaken, but of course one must do what the lock-keeper instructs!

So we worked along through the first locks of the flight.
It was genuinely fairly busy down the flight, and although one or two people seemed unhappy that the lock-keeper was additionally "turning" some locks to speed the flow, the reality is both that no water was wasted, and in fact he had still managed to get additional boats moving, and cause zero delay to those who were complaining.  Quite an interesting spectator sport, it proved to be, and we made better progress than it looked like we might at the start!  These guys get some stick - this one was adding value.

However, we were not so lucky later in the day, when we stopped for supplies at Wolverton.  A boat untied and left maybe 20 to 30 minutes before, us, but we caught it up after not that many miles.  Despite being clearly aware we were behind them, the crew then decided to look steadfastly only forward for several miles, whilst boating at a speed that is little more than Sickle's default "tick-over" speed.  It would have been desperately easy to wave us past, but I can only assume they felt nobody should reasonably expect to travel faster than their own sedate pace?  Eventually, after a very long while, we were let past, but there really is, in my view, no excuse for delaying people in this way, particularly on long lock-less stretches like this, where there is no question that those that go past are gaining any additional advantage by doing so.  It seems to me a common courtesy to let a faster boat past, if you only wish to travel slowly yourself.

Anyway, after that we progressed well, back to Sickle's home mooring.  We probably spent far longer chatting to people there than we should hav done, particularly as we still had a car to retrieve from Braunston.

So at this point, I think we can declare our extended big summer jaunt officially ended - staggeringly the two boats together have accumulated approaching 600 miles during the trip, and our combined mileage for the year for both boats now exceeds 1000 miles.

Stoke Bruerne to Fenny Stratford

Miles: 18.3, Locks: 8
Total Miles: 581.3, Locks: 336 (Worked)
(I'm treating the delayed return of Sickle as part of the overall summer trip with both boats).

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Very Slow Through Two Lock Flights

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

This was the second and final weekend allocated to completing getting "Sickle" back from Alvecote to her home mooring.  Again it involved "two car shuffles", but as the boat was now closer to home, fortunately not with the mileages we had to cover in cars last weekend.  Last weekend had also seen us mislay one of the keys to one car by the end of it.  The strong hope was that it would turn up on "Sickle" this weekend, and indeed it did.  We can be fairly dippy sometimes!

Working our way slowly up the Braunston flight.
Last evening we finally got to visit the Admiral Nelson in its latest reincarnation.  This famous canal-side pun has struggled in recent years, being through many different managements, often with longish closures in between.  We had not gone their on our wedding anniversary because the family are vegetarian, and whilst we could find options to suit, the menu had been too limited to feed our sons, but now we were alone.  The prices are at the high end for pub food, now, although not extortionate.  When I saw portion sizes, I was initially disappointed, but actually the quality of what was served was so good, I could forgive them this - far more interesting flavours than we have had in a pub meal in many years, I would say - really top end cookery.  So, if you are not obsessive with your meal needing to overhang the side of the pl;ate, give it a try, but if you prefer quantity over quality, you are probably better off at the Boathouse!  The wine pricing was bizarre, (to put it mildly!).  Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay were all priced at a not particularly cheap £15 for a 750 ml bottle, but at £4.50 for a 250 ml glass, (equivalent to £1.50 per bottle less).  Needless to say we ordered our wine by the glass, but I can also recommend the particularly well presented "Landlord" beer.

.......and equally slowly down the Buckby flight!
Our indulgence went one step further the next morning with cooked breakfasts at the Gongoozler's Rest floating cafe.  This probably cost us far more time than the meal actually took, because by the time we were ready to leave the Braunston locks were already busy, with a small queue waiting at the bottom.  This proved to be a classic "no point in rushing it" day from beginning to end.  It didn't matter what speed you and an accompanying boat worked your locks at really, because there were always slower ones ahead.  It just took a very long while to get up the Bruanston flight - actually 6 very easy locks, but often busy.

Cath sits crocheting waiting for the boat that never came!
At Buckby / Whilton locks, things went even slower, if that were possible.  The boat we came down most of them with was under the impression there were only three, and that they could turn and go back up again.  They panicked a bit when they realised their first opportunity to do so was just one lock from the bottom!  Unusually we had two boats wanting to turn around (or "wind") between the bottom two locks, one travelling in each direction.  The one we shared with did so fairly easily, but the boat that had just come up from the bottom lock seemed unable to do so, (or more accurately its steerer did).  Being good, we sat, now alone, in the bottom lock, waiting for them to complete, but it never happened.  Eventually they had still not managed, but there were too many boats now trying to get through, so we shared with a different one.  We wondered if they ever managed to turn ?

All this delay made us far far later into the long pound to Stoke Bruerne than we ever intended, so what should have been an early arrival there, actually turned into quite a late one.  We had planned to have all our evening meals in pubs, and had no food available to cook, so getting to the Boat was a priority.  No problem of course, and I love this pub, which we now laughingly refer to as our "local" even though we live nowhere near it.  Food is always OK, though certainly not as out of the ordinary as what we ate last night. 

Braunston to Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 20.3, Locks: 13
Total Miles: 563.0, Locks: 328 (Worked)
(I'm treating the delayed return of Sickle as part of the overall summer trip with both boats).

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Lots More Boats Moving Today - A Popular Canal

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Despite a few issues yesterday, we had progressed far enough that getting to our planned target of Braunston today should not be a major problem.  That said, I normally tend to be awake and up early enough, without an alarm, but today somehow slept through quite a bit later than usual - it was not going to be an early start!

Leaving the short Newbold Tunnel
If we thought we had had issues yesterday, today's problems looked far more serious! Cath had firmly believed when she had been shopping that we still had some filter coffee in reserve, but as soon as it came to coffee making time, it was obvious we had all but run out.  We put up with many basic necessities, even some deprivations, when boating with Sickle, but regularly made cafetieres of fairly genuine coffee are something we don't generally compromise on.  It would now have to be just tea, for a while, and that doesn't really hack it for me!

Moored (well almost) awaiting coffee supplies.
What you can never be sure of on the Northern Oxford, is just how many other boats may be out and about on their travels.  This particularly applies on a sunny Sunday, where the many miles of almost lock-free cruising attract out lots of people that are probably the type that only go out for a day, or maybe the weekend, but seldom go long distance boating.  Some of these prefer to amble along very slowly - not an issue if they allow those who prefer to travel a bit faster to come past, but it can be really quite frustrating when they do not.   And why, oh why, do experienced boaters make you follow them for miles along long straight stretches where passing is a doddle, only to finally wave you past just as you are approaching moored boats, (for which you should be slowing down, not speeding up!), or a blind bend ?

........and opposite a pub, but no time to visit it!
Added to the pile are "day boats", often hired out to people with zero experience, and apparently very little training given by many of the places offering these boats.  They can be seen weaving about on days like today, and will occasionally choose to place themselves diagonally across the cut in front of you, precisely at places here there is no apparent reason why they should!  Sickle's brakes were severely tested at one point today when the chap wearing the cheap plastic "Captain" hat, (why do so many go for this!),  decided to pull a stunt that really could not have been predicted!

Anyway we dodged and dived around most of the obvious hazards, and made surprisingly good progress, considering at one point we were at the tail of about a five boat convoy.  We made only one stop, near Rugby, to get that very much needed caffeine supply, (letting a couple of dayboats past during our stop, unfortunately!).

At Braunston one of those regular coincidences occurred - just as we had tied up, our friends Mike and Polly happened to pass on the boat "Reginald", so pulled up for a chat before carrying on.  In fact our departure by car from Braunston ended up a lot later than we thought it might be, and we still needed to go back to Alvecote for the other car.

Why do sheep that were random, all take off the same way for no obvious reason ?
Alvecote had already been the scene of some drama this weekend, because, after we had left it yesterday, there had apparently been a significant fire, which unconfirmed reports say may have been deliberately started by someone.  Not content with that, as we arrived there, an emergency ambulance was just arriving.  It transpired a boater we know had fallen into the hold of one of the working boats there, and badly damaged at least her leg.  Some considerable moving of boats and ingenuity was required to get things to the point the woman involved could be lifted from the hold of the boat by several strong men, and across the decked front of another boat.  Details of who was involved have not yet been made public by the family, so I'll respect their privacy here, but some subsequent inquiries have revealed she needed an operation yesterday because of a badly smashed knee, and is likely to need a very long recovery period.  We wish her well, and await some hopefully positive news about her progress.

Ansty (Northern Oxford Canal) to Braunston (Grand Union Canal)
Miles: 18.7, Locks: 3
Total Miles: 542.7, Locks: 315 (Worked)
(I'm treating the delayed return of Sickle as part of the overall summer trip with both boats).

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Starting to Bring "Sickle" Home Despite A Few Frustrations.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Reversing "Sickle" back to give "Greyhound" a "snatch" of the rocks.
When we were at Alvecote two weeks back, both attending the Historic Boat Gathering, and celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary, it had become very apparent that with Cath's work situation that trying to get both boats back in a hurry was just a step too far.

Fortunately the owners at Alvecote were perfectly happy for Sickle to stay berthed there securely for a couple more weeks, until we could fetch her home, independent of our hurried run South with just Chalice.

"Lamprey" first of a string of ex working boats we passed today.
The weekend moves that result, do tend to be more time consuming operations than might be imagined, largely because they more often than not involve not only delivering a car to wherever we hope to end the weekend, then driving on to our start point in a second car, but also involve driving from the end point back to the start point, once we have completed our boating, in order to retrieve the second car.  By the time we are talking about locations like Alvecote, these are not insubstantial mileages from our home, (and not insubstantial bills for both petrol and diesel!).

"Sickle" at Atherstone, having just passed "Tench".
However, we were at least able to arrive at Alvecote on Friday evening - a wonderful excuse to once more explore the superb food and drink at the Samuel Barlow.  Their resident "grumpy chef", (their description, not ours!), recognised the vegetarians from a couple of weeks back, and sent the waitress back to offer an option not advertised on today's menu - you do feel well looked after in the "Barlow"!

On Saturday we finally got to settle the bill for the hull blacking they had done for us on Sickle, but were then asked to help tow the Josher Greyhound back off an underwater obstruction that it had managed to get stemmed up on.  In practice once I had grappled with reversing Sickle the required distance, (she is much harder to reverse than an unshortened working boat!), pulling Greyhound off was easy, but, despite owning a tug, one doesn't often get involved in such things.

Empress, the last of the historic boats passed.
After that it should have been relatively easy, and fears of possible hold ups at the slow filling Atherstone locks subsided when we arrived to find no boats waiting.  However a few locks up, once more I went to use the gears, and got a sense of deja vu, as the wheel turned, but the gears stayed engaged - once more we had lost all control.  The reasons proved not to be too disastrous - a simple pin had sheared through - but a work-around temporary fix required some thought, as I had no spares for anything like this.  Eventually a "bodge" was rigged - quite adequate to get us going again, and we moved on, after a delay of (I guess) perhaps a bit over an hour.

A feature of the day was other working boats coming the other way - I failed to photograph some of them well enough, but we passed Lamprey and Canis Major near Grendon, Tench and Ilford in the Atherstone flight, and later on Whitby and then Empress.  Presumably most were returning from the previous weekend's event at Shakerstone - one we could not possibly squeeze into Sickle's timetable this year.

Completuing the 180 degree turn at Hawkesbury Junction.
The issue once you push on past the famous Hawkesbury Juction, (known to boatmen as "Sutton Stop"), and move from the Coventry to Oxford canal, is that much of it is either not easy to moor on with a deep draughted boat, or is near noisy motorways or alongside a major railway, (or any combination thereof!).  An obvious place to stop is Ansty, or it would be, if the same limited visitor moorings were not apparently occupied by the same boats as we had seen there both two weeks ago, and in many cases nearly a month before that.  Such visitor moorings are supposed to be limited to 14 days, but there appears to be little effort to move on overstayers, and hence such moorings are nigh on impossible for a casual moorer to even get a single night on.  We had struggled both times before, and again there was nothing, so I hoped to use a short length a bridge or so further up, that we had managed to get Chalice on two weeks ago.  No such luck - that bit was now also in use, and I knew there were few viable tying up places for several miles thereafter.

To tired to press on, and with the light fading, I made a bodged attempt to reverse back through a bridge, and was feeling pretty grumpy having to tie Sickle up in a spot so shallow, I could barely make the leap to the bank.  Fortunately though things improved when we took a walk to the local pub - yes they could do very suitable food.  So we settled to a very relaxed meal, and, although knackered, I managed to let thoughts of broken gear linkages, or boats that hog limited available moorings, slip from my head.  I even managed not to fall in, trying to get across the gap from muddy bank to boat, as we returned quite a bit later!

Alvecote (Coventry Canal) to Ansty (Northern Oxford Canal)
Miles: 22.0, Locks: 12
Total Miles: 524.0, Locks: 312 (Worked)
(I'm treating the delayed return of Sickle as part of the overall summer trip with both boats).

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Some Excellent Photos To Share

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

This post is out of sequence to when the event actually occurred, but I don't want these pictures to get buried in posts of over a month back.

On Friday 27th July Cath and I managed to find time to take "Sickle" down from her home mooring ready for the start of the Linslade Canal Festival.  This was a bit of a rushed job, as we had been dealing with a number of issues not related to "Sickle" and we nearly didn't get there.

Hence at the time we really took no photos, nor wrote up the trip.

However as we passed down from Stoke Hammond Three Locks towards Linslade we were being photographed, and it turned out that one of the photographers was Malcolm Ranieri, who specialises in transport related photography.  I there fore have just got around to contacting Malcolm, who has been kind enough to supply some of his images, and is happy that I show them off.

We think they are great, but we have just two worries.....

1) We now wish we had had a chance to tidy Sickle up before this trip, rather than after it (!)
2) These pictures are in our view good enough to rather shame our own rather more "snap shot" like approach.

Thank you Malcolm - much appreciated!

INCIDENTALLY:  In the main blog pages themselves you cannot make images like this large enough to fully appreciate.  But if you click on one, it brings up a gallery that allows them to be viewed as a significantly bigger image.

Fenny Stratford to Linslade
Miles: 8.5, Locks: 5