Sunday, 7 September 2014

Storming a tunnel, then pausing for a boat viewing.

(Boat Sickle & Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Friday 29th August. 

Not a lot to report, really.

If we are going North from, or returning South to, the home mooring for either boat then the Grand Union South of Norton Junction is the route involved.  As a consequene we normally travel the stretch we were on today many times a year.

Straight in for a very rapid passage of Blisworth tunnel.
What will always vary, though, is our rate of progress.  With a clear run, not stuck behind anyone, we can usually whip along quite fast.  However at other times rapid progress becomes impossible  This doesn't just apply in terms of catching up slower moving boats on the long lock-less pounds - it applies even more to passages through the lock flights, and even the long tunnels.

Today we wanted to make good progress, but had established that an historic boat that has now been on the open market a few weeks was still unsold.  It is normally in the area we would pass through, and as it might match sufficiently what we have been looking for for a while, I had arranged to view it as we passed through Blisworth.

In fact, on arrival at Blisworth a call to the owner established that it was after all still at Stoke Bruerne, and had not been moved North through the tunnel as they had planned. So, we set off again with both boats.

Now at this time of year, it is fairly unusual to get an unimpeded run through Blisworth tunnel, but as I approached there was a clear view through, with no other boat in it.  This is a situation to be exploited with "Sickle" - because of the "bow swings right when stopping" characteristic described in yesterday's posting, things can get interesting when you finally see past someone's blinding headlight that they are nowhere near their side of the tunnel, and hence you don't have room to pass.  But today nobody came in, and I could really ind the speed wheel right up.  Whilst this may sound a bit extreme, another advantage is "Sickle's" engine smokes less when worked harder, so you are less asphyxiated by fumes if you are not forced to go through a tunnel slowly.  I incidentally know how long I took, and frankly am doubtful of some of the more exorbitant claims I have seen from others about particularly fast timings - they certainly could not be achieved with "Sickle", and "Sickle" is a fairly brisk boat.

"It has fitted at least twice before", the owner tells us.
We stopped and easily found moorings for both boats in the "tunnel pound" at Stoke Bruerne.  The moorings here that are supposed to have been so problematic to find space in always seem to have more than ample space available.  We made arrangements to view the boat after a lunch at the boat - as the owner was working just a few days away, that worked well for all concerned.

We very much liked many of the elements of the boat we viewed - much of which would have worked well for us.  However quite a bit of it was in poorly neglected condition, (as we knew it would be), and to sort out properly looked a large and expensive project.  We took lots of pictures, and went away to think about it, and do a bit more research.

CRT might waste less electricity if they didn't run the back-pumps excessively.
A largely quick passage down the locks followed, although we were briefly delayed when someone tried to turn a 59' 6" boat below the second lock down, and got stuck.  Having turned "Chalice" at nearly ten feet shorter there recently, I was surprised near 60 foot was possible, but the owner assurred us he had managed it a couple of times previously, although the spot chosen had to be precise.  Anyway, on this occasion, he decided the audience saw too large, so we helped free him from his jammed position, and he moored up having not yet turned.

We have recently discovered that a spot a couple of bridges down from the locks provides a good overnight mooring, and, not wishing to press on longer, tied up there.

Weedon to Grafton Regis 
Miles:  13.4 (Chalice), 13.4 (Sickle), Locks: 7

Total Miles: 829.5, Locks: 527

Did I mention I'm no great fan of the Northern Oxford?

(Boat Sickle & Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Thursday 28th August. 

Working boats "Fenny", "Willow (and "Sickle") at Braunston Turn.
Popular though it undoubtedly is, I struggle to list the Northern Oxford amongst my favourite canals.  It does indeed have the opportunities for some pleasing interludes, and last night's rapid ascent of the three paired Hillmorton locks with two boats was such an interlude.  However there are many miles without locks, and often a lot of traffic, often involving slow moving boats, or boats in the hands of the inexperienced. 

Sharing locks again - ascending the Braunston flight.
Also lately it always seem to provoke some kind of "I'd rather it hadn't happened" moment.  Today, unfortunately was no different to that pattern.  After setting off with "Sickle" I encountered a number of meeting with boats at blind, or largely blind bridge holes.  "Sickle" can be challenging in such situations, because although she can pull up very smartly, her design actually makes stoppingin a straight line in shallow waters very difficult.  The direction the very large prop rotates will always result in the front end swinging left on a very quick stop, and it is very hard to compensate to stop this happening.  Of course if she usually swung to the right, it would cause far less problems, as that should be out of the path of approaching boats, rather than into their path!

Although Odin is swimming well he wears his life-jacket for locks.
So, there is always a balanced decision to me made about whether it is practical to fully stop, without the bow swinging across the cut, and into the path of oncoming boats, or whether it is better to try far less stopping, and to regain better control, and manoeuvre out of a tight situation.  Growing experience of this "difficult" boat has over the years meant I tend not to get it wrong very often.

Today, however, I got it wrong, and came through a bridge hole where I had sounded my Klaxon to find a boat largely stopped in the middle  but very close to where I was already committed to going.  I indicated my intention to go "wrong side" of him, knowing my bow would slew over as I tried to reduce speed further, and could still have recovered the situation, but he made no attempt to move, and hence I clipped him fairly firmly.

I knew it should not have happened, and wanted to apologise, and check no damage was done, but instead faced a tirade of abuse from the other steerer, who set off impatiently through the bridge, issuing a string of phrases based largely arount four letter words.  So if you are reading this sir, I still apologise, but your behaviour was completely uncalled for, and, in the unlikely event any damage was done, we have now missed the opportunity to discuss it calmly.

Did I mention I'm no great fan of the Northern Oxford?

"Nelson" lock at Braunston - both boats are taken in in parallel.
Anyway, on to even more familiar territory as we joined a busy Grand Union at Braunston Turn.  The Turn was particularly manic, with boats all over the place, and I was expecting one of the very delayed ascents of Braunston locks that we have come to accept almost as the norm   In practice things were not that bad, and our ascent of the locks relatively brisk.  This was of course our first foray back into double locks with both boats since we travelled up here many weeks ago, and the boats could now share locks, greatly reducing our workload.

David on "Chalice" leaves Braunston tunnel.
The passage through Braunston tunnel was also quite brisk - I steered "Sickle", and David took "Chalice" through, and I think we only passed one boat.  Long Buckby locks, (physically some of the harder Grand Union ones), were also navigated without too much difficulty.  The foot of Buckny locks, near Whilton, and several miles beyond, are not a pleasant overnight stay - the very noisy M1 ruins this stretch of canal.  So we pressed on to one of our preferred moorings - offside, high up on Weedon embankment.  Although the West Coast Main Line is right nearby here, it never seems intrusive, for some reason.  Once moored our friends James and Amy passed once more on "Willow".  Unlike us, they were heading for the Northampton Arm, and the Nene, so this was the last time we would see them on this trip.

Hillmorton to Weedon 
Miles:  16.7 (Chalice), 16.7 (Sickle), Locks: 13

Total Miles: 802.7, Locks: 520

A good day - and a "mini banter".

(Boat Sickle & Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Wednesday 27th August. 

A maybe slightly different view of Hawkesbury pump-house from most taken.
The run for home with two boats continued.  This is only being written up about a week and a half later, and although I have memories of fairly long boating days, the statistics don't actually seem to reflect it.

More standard view of this iconic place - Cath brings "Chalice" round 180 degrees.
Thinking back, though, I'm aware we did not start particularly early, and then needed to shuffle up to a water point at Hillmorton to refill Chalice's tank, which had taken a bit of a hammering at Alvecote, (we had had the whole family on board for a few days, and also offered showering facilities to others).  We also dispatched large amounts of waste, including the infamous "Duvet from Hell" that had graced "Sickle's" from deck since yesterday.

David takes "Sickle" into Newbold tunnel - Cath follows on "Chalice"
Once you are through the iconic stop lock at Hawkesbury, (known as "Sutton Stop" to boatmen), the early reaches of the Northern Oxford are not that attractive, but quickly give way to a far more rural setting, spoiled at times only by busy roads alongside, or motorways crossing high above.  Also for many miles the West Coast main line of the railway closely shadows the canal - the Pendolinos and heavy frieght are not really obtrusive when on the move, but can affect where you might choose to moor overnight.

James and Amy on "Willow" - a boat I once went to view in the 1970s!
We have decided already that when moving both boats together we need to exert a discipline of actually making proper lunch stops, and to not try simply boating right through the day.  I knew that if I could I would like to stop at "Stretton Stop" near Brinklow, as there is both quite a good chandlery at Rose Narrowboats, and I wanted to stroll down the Brinklow Arm to chat to the folks at Brinklow Boats.  In fact by Stretton on "Sickle" I had got some distance ahead of Cath and David on "Chalice", but managed to get moored up - albeit several feet from the bank.

Synchronized locking - both boats in bottom Hillmorton paired locks.
The chandlery at Rose Narrow Boats finally yielded the 20W-50 oil that few other people now seem to stock, and I was able to find Simon Wain at Brinklow Boats who gave me some idea about what steelwork on a certain old boat might cost, if we decided we had any interest in it.  So Stretton had proved to be a good choice of stopping point.

Synchronized locking - moving between bottom and middle lock pairs.
Next stopping point was Newbold, as I had some very urgent mail that needed posting, if it was not going to cost me money.  I wasn't quite sure whether we would be in time, but found eventually that the Post Office is located in the small supermarket there, and was still open.  So not only did I manage my posting, but we had the bonus of being able to top up some essential supplies.


Synchronized locking - now heading from middle to top locks.
Throughout the day we were leap-frogging with our friends James and Amy on their converted "Severner" working boat "Willow", and they came past us whilst tied up at Newbold.  They tied up short of Hillmorton locks, which we decided to carry on through, but apperaed with windlasses to help work us up the three pairs of locks there at great speed. 

Progress slowed, as we catch boat in front of us.
We had already arranged to meet another forum friend at the Old Royal Oak pub that lies just beyond Hillmorton locks, so James and Amy said they would also be along later for a "mini banter".  I was surprised to find that the Old Royal Oak is a "Hungry Horse" pub, with a "2 for 1" deal type of menu, so our expectations were not that high.  In practice there was a good vegetarian choice, the beers well presented, an area where Odin was allowed inside, and the staff were polite and helpful - don't always judge a book by its covers.  A pleasant evening with friends, and Odin got led away at one tage and apparently had great fun with a new dog friend that lives on a boat nearby.

Old bloke paired with old boat.
A good day!

Hawkesbury to Hillmorton
Miles:  16.5 (Chalice), 16.5 (Sickle), Locks:8

Total Miles: 769.3, Locks:507

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Back to two boats in single locks - and the duvet from hell.

(Boat Sickle & Chalice - posted by Alan  / Cath)
Very retrospective post for Tuesday 26th August. 

Waiting at Atherstone after we had caught up slower boats.
We were well positioned to start off up Atherstone locks in the morning, but, as we were just getting going, a number of other boats wishing to do the same turned up.

It is good to not be behind other boats, although not as much of an advantage as you might assume when working two boats together, because after you have been through a lock with one, it is inevitably left full, and hence needs to be emptied before you can go through with the second boat.  This may be achieved simply by emptying the lock again, if no boat is coming the other way, or, if one is, letting that pass through the lock, leaving it ready a it does.

Hartshill depot - full of character but sadly neglected looking.
The problem is that with only 3 crew on two boats, only one of whom (David!) feels confident to take large leaps, it is very easy to end up with the boats separated, and hence not easy for the third person (David!) to assist both steerers.  At Atherstone, many people stop part way up the flight, often overnight, so it is a fair guarantee that even if you are first boats in at the bottom, you will encounter others casting off ahead of you as you move up - these may well end up between the two boats you are trying to keep together.  This is compounded by people stopping for, and restarting again, after making shopping stops, or using the water point that is mid-flight.

Former working boatman Top Lapworth passes on "Nutfield"
Considering the volume of boats trying to move up the locks, we did remarkably well, often assisted by a crew behind that knew what they were doing, but to stop David trying to assist at locks that were not next t each other, and hence covering far too much towpath too many times, I had a couple of times to pull over to let boats thatr had started up between "Sickle" passing a spot, and "Chalice" doing the same come past.  It really didn't affect the overall timing much, and kept things a bit saner for us.

And Alice Lapworth in charge of "Raymond".
I thought the whole thing took a long while, (it is not helped by just how slowly most of these locks fill), but from reports by friends who came up an hour or two later, we actually got off quite lightly!

We desperately needed a major shopping stop, and although it is a long walk to Sainsburys at Nuneaton, it was our best choice.  It is amazing how much harder it is to walk at least a half mile back with full bags, versus carrying them to the store empty!.

In the struggle "man versus duvet" we finally start to win.
We were aware that the "Friends of Raymond" boats, "Nutfield" and "Raymond" were a few boats behind us at Atherstone locks, but they didn't pass us at Nuneaton until we had done our shop.  I have no idea if other "Friends" were on the boat, but the boats appeared to be in the sole control of former working boaters Tom Lapworth, and sister-in-law Alice Lapworth, (widow of Les Lapworth).  I have no idea exactly how old Tom and Alice are, but I thought it rather wonderful to watch.

Cath captures David and me at work on Sickle, whilst hanging on to Chalice.
Shortly after restarting "Sickle's" engine died very dramatically, leaving us heading at bridge hole, and needing some fairly enthusiastic fending off to hang on to chimneys and fittings.  The prop was clearly very badly fouled, and we were going nowhere.  We were not in a good place to deal with it, as firmly submerged debris, including obvious shopping trollies that we could not pull out were stopping us getting the majority of the boat to the bank.  Every time David and I got to the point we were ready to have another go at working on the problem, a boat seemed to approach from one direction or the other, and we had to spend ages pulling "Sickle" out of their path, then setting it up again afterwards.

Probably beyond further use as bedding.
Initially I thought the large layers of fibrous material completely obscuring and jamming the prop might be some kind of padded clothing, but it soon became obvious it was far larger.  However trying to rip it off with the cabin shaft was ineffective, as was lying face down towards the water, and trying to hack through with craft knives or a freezer saw.  I began to think someone would have to go into the water, when David finally started to unravel enough to see it was clearly a duvet.  even so, we could not free it, and the propshaft would only turn small amounts, either of which wound it back in again.  Finally, after maybe an hour and a half, David triumphantly oulled most of it off, still largely (and rather remarkably) a single item.  We reckon it was a "double" but not a "king size".

"Large Northwich" "Slough" - one of the more "got at" "Town" class boats.
I think by this stage we had all had about enough, (including Caty who had largely just hung on to "Chalice" for as long as it took, and tried to keep Odin occupied), but we decided that as the objective had been to try and get a good day's boating in that we would still press on to Hawkesbury.  By then nobody was in a mood for finding the best moorings amongst the very limited space still available there, and "Sickle" was moored in an available gap, whereas "Chalice" was stopped some way before the regular mooring spaces.  Thank goodness we had only found the "duvet from hell" - I think a proper sprung mattress would have been beyond our capabilities to deal with!

Atherstone Bottom Lock to Hawkesbury
Miles:  12.8 (Chalice), 12.8 (Sickle), Locks: 22

Total Miles: 736.3, Locks: 499

Friday, 5 September 2014

Starting the run for home.

(Boat Sickle & Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Monday 25th August. 

This was the final day of the event at Alvecote,  but is usually the case, some boats had already started to slip away.

Our son Michael had been with us for most of the weekend, but now needed to leave and return home.  The weather was not predicted as being great, but Michael was very keen to take Odin, who he had not seen for some weeks, for another decent walk before he left us.  Retracing some of a walk Cath and he had already done, we finally found lakes that looked fine for Odin to take a swim in.  He has not really had the chance since his dice with death, so we were initially a bit cautious - we need not have been!  Odin quickly proved that he was more than equal to a good swim, and, much like the time he had really first learned, was very obviously building up his distances, as he relearned exactly what was possible.  Soon he was retrieving sticks thrown a long way away, but still doing a few deliberate unnecessary detours for practice, before finally bringing them back to us.  Cath and I had seen him swim very competently before his illness - being a "Lab" he is a natural.  However this had been on another canal holiday, and Michael had not been there - so this was in fact the first time Michael had seen him at play in this way.  It is fantastic to see a dog that so nearly died now behaving exactly as if nothing bad ever happened - it so nearly ended very differently, and I'm not sure oating would ever have been quite the same had it done so.

We really should have taken some more pictures, but somehow failed to.

We couldn't resist the lure of the Samuel Barlow one more time, so had a final family meal there before Michael set off for home.

We ourselves left far too late in the day to reasonably tackle the Atherstone locks, (all 11 of which we would need to work twice), so instead went just the few miles to the start of the flight, ready to go up the locks the following morning.  It is the best place to stop anyway - although there is what appears to be very good moorings in the long pound two locks up from the bottom, there have been significant problems with levels dropping there overnight on our recent visits, and we did not wish to find "Sickle" grounded on the bottom, unable to be easily moved the next morning.

Alvecote Marina to Atherstone Bottom Lock
Miles:  5.0 (Chalice), 5 .0 (Sickle), Locks: 0

Total Miles: 710.7, Locks: 477

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Alvecote Hisoric Boat Festival - Saturday 23rd to Monday 25th August

(Boats Chalice/ & Sickle - posted by Alan)

This post just as a place-holder, until I can assemble some suitable photos, and (maybe) videos.

At Alvecote Marina

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Final approach to Alvecote for the Festival.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Friday 22nd August. 

OK, OK - so as we got around to "Festival Time", the blogging process finally fell apart!  No excuses really, other than once we had both boats back together, there was much to keep us occupied, and, (when moving again with both), no chance of getting any Internet stuff done except in evenings.

It seems we also lost the ability to take many pictures, as from this point on the cameras seemed to have yielded far less to select from, although, to be fair, we are struggling with battery problems in two of the cameras we regularly use.  (Don't you just love modern technology - the cameras still work fine, but the rechargeable batteries no longer do, and replacement "clone"  batteries seem to not be much use at all).

Anyway, for completeness, and our own records, we will try to remember what happened up to two weeks ago.

As reported "yesterday" Huddlesford has established itself as a good overnight mooring for us, and I am much taken by the pub, where the landlord is very friendly, (and offers you the choice of a beer in a "jug", rather than a straight glass, which I still prefer).

"Hampstead" slips gently past before our boating day begins.
We hadn't got far to go today, but before we were moving, some of the "historics" were, and coming past before we set off.  As a result we leapfrogged with some throughout the day.  "Hampstead" had a fair "load" of I'm not quite sure what, (it was under tarpaulins), and was hence moving quite slowly.  It was interesting to see what happened as we were waved past in quite shallow waters, but in the end overtaking was relatively easily achieved.

As we now knew "Sickle" had been delivered to Alvecote for us, we were quite relaxed on time, so chose to make a deliberate stop to fully empty toitets and waste bins, and to fully fill the frest water tank, so we would be well set up for spenging several days at Alvecote with "Chalice" not moving.

Probably the only other thing to note is that although we found a convenient towpath slot on arrival, it was opposite where all the winding of boats would take place repeatedly throughout the weekend.  Even the manoeuvrings going on on the day before the event were enough to convince us we were to vulnerable to getting hit. so when a friend moved their boat away from a space somewhat further up, we grabbed the opportunity to take it.  It had the added bonus of giving us just about the shortest walk we could have to the pub from "Chalice" - result!

Huddlesford Junction to Alvecote Marina (Coventry canal)
Miles:  11.0 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 2

Total Miles: 700.7, Locks: 477