Day 10, nearly there

Two consecutive days without disasters. I set off a  bit late this morning because it was grey and drizzly. It cleared about 08.30 but by the time I’d opened the roof started the engine and cast off, it was raining again. Not too bad though. As I set off a narrowboat passed me and I followed hoping we could go through the locks together. Then on a long straight I realized he was following another boat, so they’d probably double up and I’d be solo again. Then just as we approached the first lock,  the lead boat pulled over to a wharf to refuel.

The other boat was a hire boat returning to Napton with two young couples, one with a toddler and one with a dog and an older couple who were somebodies’ parents. With so many crew they did all the lock work and we’d finished the flight by 11.00. I stooped for a break then put in another hour, stopping for lunch before the final set of locks.

I set off again an hour or so later and after about 100m joined the end of the lock queue! There are two single locks with very short pounds between then a staircase of 3 then two more singles. Fortunately CRT volunteers were there in force orhanising batchea in each direction and doi g the bulk of the lock work for solo boaters. Queuing wasn’t really a problem for me, I’m not booked into Crick until tomorrow morning anyway, I just drank tea and read a book.

There were a lot of boats ahead of me also heading to Crick, including a pair or trad narrowboats (motor and butty). Fewer coming down, but one amazed me. A seventy foot boat crewed by a young couple. The woman was steering with a baby in a sling. The pound where I was waiting was only slightly longer than her boat but the locks were not in line so she had to shuffle to and fro to line up with the next lock. I made some complimentary remark and she replied, ‘We used to have a 45 footer which was easier, it’s only our second day with this, but we want another baby…’

Out of the top lock about 5.00  but stopped at the CRT lock keepers’ hut to top up water and empty the loo. Neither really needed doing but Crick organisers have warned visitors to arrive with full tanks and empty loos as facilities will be limited.

Moorings open at 08.00 tomorrow so I’ll set off early to beat the rush. Then spend the day making old Seren look a bit more presentable.

 

Day 9

Nothing went wrong today so this will a short post. Also just got low battery warning! Did remaining 9 Rothersthorpe locks without incident by mid morning then stopped at Gayton Marina for fuel and water, and to empty the loo.

Carried on to Br 41 had lunch then walked to town for bread milk etc.

The leisure battery hasn’t been holding charge very well right since the start, the inverter and fridge are putting a liitle more load on it that usual but not enough to account for the loss. The wiring looks OK and it charges up from the solar panel and the engine but each evening it falls to 10.x volts by bedtime. I checked the fluid level, and it is a bit low so I looked for deionised water in Bugbrooke, even trekking across town to the pharmacy, but they hadn’t any. Still, walking is good. Though maybe not so good when you’ve just done 9 locks.

Tonight I’m by Bridge 19 on the GU main line,  between M1 and railway. Both are sheilded by trees though so the noise is bearable. Not far from Buckby locks so will do those in the morning. After that is Norton Junction where I have to take the Leicester line, then the Watford locks, Watford as in Gap not in N London. I might save them for Friday morning.

Day 8 and another screw loose

Yesterday’s dose of ATF in the gearbox didn’t seem to make a lot of difference so before setting off I checked the oil. There wasn’t any, it was all in the drip tray under the engine and gear box. After a bit of a panic I looked at it logically and found that the drainplug under the geear box had unscrewed it self and was also in the drip tray. Screwed it back in with some ‘plastic gasket’ gunk and set off again to buy more ATF. Fortunately thw mooring is about a 15 min walk from a retail park with a Halfords.

The river through the wash lands is wide. Therefore shallow and weedy. Halfway to Northants city centre and the prop is fouled again. As before there’s no where to moor so I crept on until I saw a guy on a residential boat moored in a little backwater. He let me tie up alongside while I untangled the prop. Then in to town and stopped for lunch at the embankment.

Just one more river lock before the narrow canal so took off the fat fenders and fitted some skinny ones.

The canal locks seem tiny after the Gt Ouse and Nene and need a whole different technique, especially being single handed. The first one has CRT padlocks on one side that don’t work, fortunately the paddles on the other side were unlocked. Quite a few more after that had broken locks, but also broken locking mechanisms so they can be used without a key. After #13 the first of the Rothersthorpe flight there are no locks on the locks.

They are still hard work though, I gave up for the day between 10 and 9.

End of week 1

Well I have another tip to add to my piece on solo boating, carry more oil. But we’ll come to that.

Another bright sunny morning so I was awake at 06.00 and set off just after 07.00 thinking that if it was really hot again I’d have a nice long siesta after lunch.

I’d moored just below Woolaston lock so I was through there by 07.40. Then ran into weed that wrapped itself round the prop and brought me to a stop. I cleared it three times between Woolaston and Doddington locks. It doesn’t help that there’s nowhere to moor, both banks are lined with weed so approaching them is asking for trouble. I tried letting the boat drift while I got down in the weed hatch, but by the time I’d finished we’d drifted into the weeds anyway. So at Doddington I stopped on the lock landing stage to deweed for the third time and have a coffee break.

Above Doddington things improved and I got to White Mills marina about 10.00. Took on fuel and water and emptied the toilet. And picked up more weed just a few metres after rejoining the river.

It had been getting harder and harder to select a gear on Seren and then the whine from the gearbox got noticeably louder. I added what ATF I had and pressed on but it was obvious I needed more. My waterways sat nav suggested there were boat supplies to be had at the next lock, Coggenhoe. But it’s wrong, there’s just a mobile home site. Abloke in the sales office gave me directions to a garage, 40mins walk away.

Coggenhoe is closw to the river but on a small hill. Good for flood protection, not so good when you have to walk up the hill and down the other side at midday on a sunny day. When I got there it was by the next bridge over the river, but of course there’s no towpath alongside the river so I walked back up and down again. Then had a siesta.

Pretty uneventful after that, just one more case of weed then moored for the night on an EA mooring on the Northants Washlands.

At this rate I could be 2 days early but I’ll take the 17 lock flight on the N’hants Arm very slowly. I remember it was hard work last year and I had Linda working the locks then!

Day 6, quite relaxing

I talked to Linda (wife) last night and she suggested we meet up for lunch at the Watermill Tea Rooms at Woodford Mill. I reckoned it would be 2 hours so I pottered about and left at 08.30 intending to have 11’ses at the tea room then clean the boat and change into more presentable clothes. Actually I was there by 10.00 so I had a breakfast bap instead. Did a small amount of cleaning, washed a couple of shirts and sat about reading for an hour. Lunch was paninis, and pretty good. Then tea on the boat before pottering on my way so relaxed I didn’t log the time, or the time taken lock to lock.

Checking back it looks like I did 2 locks before lunch and 7 after making it a very sucessful day despite the leisurely start and long lunch.

Approaching Woodford Mill I’d had a boatowner working on his boat abouthe availibilty of diesel and sanitary stations. Another guy chipped in with advice about Wellington embankment but I didn’t think I’d get that far today. Turns out I did, but when I got there there was no diesel and the sanitary station wouldn’t open with my EA key. Fortunately neither is urgent, there’s a marina near Billing I should make tomorrow.

Wellingborough embankment would be a good place to stop during the day, handy for the town centre and shops, but there’s a busy road next to it and a Whitworths factory opposite that’s very noisy. So I pressed on almost to the next lock, Woolaston Mill, and moored up by a meadow.

Can’t believe the weather. 4 nights ago I was in my sleeping bag by this time 8.30pm trying to keep warm. Tonight I’m still in shorts and t shirt and wondering if it’s time to close the door.

Day 5 and a photo-op

Another chilly but beautiful morning.  Eldest daughter and family planned to catch up with me somewhere between Oundle and Thrapston. By lunchtime we’d agreed Titchmarsh Lock would be good. My print out from EA says there will be great welcome for visitors. What it doesn’t say is that visitors arriving by car can’t get past the locked gate because the site belongs to Middle Nene Boat Club. After some negotiations with members they agreed to let Sarah in.

Apart from the joy of seeing family after 4 days away,  I had an ulterior motive. I’m writing a piece for Waterways World about solo boating and need photos to illustrate it. Sarah’s husband Nick has a good camera and knows howto use it so he took some pics of me mooring and locking singlehanded. Much to the bewilderment of Milly ( eldest grandchild) who couldn’t understand why  anyone would want a photo without her in it.

Stopped at Thrapston bridge for the night. The old bridge is pretty quiet these days but there’s a muted roar in the bacground from the A14 bridge upstream.  Don’t suppose it will stop me sleeping.

Day 3 and it’s going well

Last night was very cold. I went to bed early wearing most of my clothes, with the rest on top of the sleeping bag.  Slept well though and woke early determined to get an early start. Today was bright and clear but still cold. Left Outwell at 06.30 wearing 6 layers of clothes and got to Marmont Priory lock at 07.00. Opened the top slackers (paddles) to fill it. Noticed the bottom ones were padlocked and assumed the EA key would fit. Doesn’t.  Waited ’til 07.30 then rang the lock keeper’s bell. Waited a bit. Rang again. Found phone number.  Voice mail. Left message. Tried again. Called Middle Level Commisioners’ office. Not open ’til 08.30. Keeper arrived 08.20. She’d slept through the ringing. And the phone calls. Left at 08.48.

After that things went surprisingly well. I got to Ashline lock about 12.05 just as a narrow boat was leaving. Better yet there were two more waiting to come down and their crews were happy to work the lock for me to speed things up. I was out in 10 minutes. One of the blokes off one of the boats said Stanground was about an hour and a quarter. He was right. I tied up at 1.30pm, an hour early. Had lunch then hauled the sunlounger out onthe bank for a kip.

Roused by the lock keeper at 2.30 and locked through. Stopped at the sanitary station in Peterborough. Last year when we brought Seren across from Pershore we stopped at the same place.  The sluice for Elsan toilets is part of a public WC, which was surrounded by temporary barriers. Eventually we realised there was access round the side where there was a gap in the barrier. Twelve months later the fence is still there and there was one guy with his head down an access point . I checked the sluice was accessible and found the door open. There’s a new sluice and a new drain and a one metre gap between them. No pipe. I emptied the loo down the pipe.

Went shopping in Peterborough.  Bread and milk almost impossible to find but could have my nails done and hair cut twenty times over.

Not a great place to stay long, but a mile or so upstream is the start of a long riverside park inc Ferry Meadows, Orton Meadows and tbe bit I’m in called Thorpe Wood which has its own arm off the river with a landing stage and pub. According to my itinary from Canal Plan this is where I should stop on the fourth night, so I’m a day ahead. But there’s a lot of locks on the Nene and the N’hants arm, so that’ll slow me down.

Day 2. Hardly boring at all.

Last year we brought Seren up the New Bedford river partly to save time,  we’d had enough by then,  partly because I’d missed it 30 years previous due to tides and a lock keeper who didn’t think we’d want to go that way. It rained the whole way and yes the NB is boring, especially the lower half. Today was different.

Left Earith at 10.00. Turned into the NB in the teeth of a strong northly wind. About 10.10 the engine overheated due to a leak in my DIY hot water system. Stopped the engine and pointed Seren at the bank. Not that I needed to, the wind spun the boat round and held it tight on the SE bank. I let the engine cool while I disconnected my dodgy plumbing, then refilled it and restarted it. Lost a few minutes but no harm done.

But the wind was holding us tight against the bank. Very tight. All my work with our lightweight boat hook got me about 10 metres along the bank but no further away. Then the prop fouled with weed. Cleared that and tried again until one last move brought us alongside a load of debris which miraculously included a 2.4m long pole probably dropped by a boater in similar straits. Almost makes up for losing the key yesterday. With a lot of punting I eventually got free then had fun trying to turn into the wind. So it turned into an hour delay.

The wind was hellish, on the exposed stretches, most of tne NB, it whipped up some fair waves and being gusty it made steering difficult.

Near Manea I stopped under a bridge and tied the front rope to a bridge support. Stopping anywhere else was impossible. Grabbed a sandwich I’d made earlier and made a coffee. Went to untie the rope and the very end got snagged leaving us blown backwards dangling on the end. At which point the engine control vibrated loose. So no power. It’s just a nut on the end of the cable, but what a time to choose. I found a spare and fitted it OK while we bounced around on the waves and swung on the rope.

Carefully motored forward and freed the rope. Pressed on, saw most of my coffee had slopped out of the mug. Next stop Salter’s Lode.

Got there at 3.30.Unbelievably calm in the lock after all the buffetting on the river.

Still cold and windy on Well Creek, not as bad as NB but bad enough. Stopped at Outwell for the night. Early start tomorrow the only time the lock keeper at Stanground will let me through is 2.30 and it’s quite a way from here.

Day 1

Long day. I left Kelpie at 09.00 and had one of those days. Every lock set against me except St Ives. Two were even worse than that because a bunch of young lads in a day boat kept leaving the slackers (paddles) open. Then I lost my EA key, probably at Houghton lock.Realised when I gotto Hemingford. Fortunately a couple I’d met at Houghton locked through with me and I got to Jones’ in time to buy a new key. Ten quid!

Still, made it so far. Just the New Bedford tomorrow and only one lock at Salters’ Lode. Time for dinner…

Update after dinner: Hot water system fail. Barrel gets hot but when it cools the water contracts and the barrel is squeezed out of shape. Then the lid’s seal fails and it leaks. I thought the pump would allow water to be drawn in but it doesn’t. A centrifugal pump might be better. And a stronger tank. Version 2…