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Day 10 – On a canal at last

It was pouring down this morning which wasn’t a surprise. It does make it difficult to get up much enthusiasm for boating though. If you haven’t seen Seren, let me explain. Unlike most GRP cruisers Seren has a front cockpit with a sliding roof, Perspex windscreen and PVC curtain sides. This gives her a low roofline for navigating narrow canals with low bridges and tunnels. Theoretically one can steer with the roof closed and stay dry.

In practice it’s tricky because the perspex windscreen has no wipers (it would scratch) and the inside steams up, but you can manage by folding the side curtains back and poking your head out for a clearer view when necessary. The big problem is locking. It’s impossible to get out of the side of the cockpit in order to handle mooring ropes, you have to slide the roof back and at that point the rain pours in. It’s hard to open too, especially under way so to be safe you have to do it some way out from the intended mooring. And get soaked. Then it’s hard to close and if you do you can’t get back in to move the boat into the lock.

So this is the best routine I’ve worked out so far for canal locks (going up):

  1. Don’t moor on landing stage, cruise right up to the lock and get off at the last minute. Tie the front rope to some convenient part of the lock gate.
  2. Switch off engine and if raining, close roof.
  3. Drain lock if necessary, open gates.
  4. Bow haul Seren into lock and tie front rope to bollard (or top gate).
  5. Close bottom gates.
  6. Open paddles on top gate, then open gate when lock is full.
  7. If raining bow haul Seren out of lock and tie stern rope to top gate. If not raining get onboard and cruise out, but still tie up as above.
  8. Close top gate.
  9. Climb on stern of Seren and depart.

Canal locks rarely have bridges, there are walkways on the gates themselves, but once you’ve opened a gate the only way to get to the opposite one is to walk to the other end of the lock. Well not quite the only way. On a narrow canal the lock is just over 7′ wide so when one gate is open there’s a gap of 3’9″ or so. Nick on Ebenezer was in front of me for part of the afternoon and being taller, younger and braver than me he climbed across the gap saving himself a lot of walking.

Normally you don’t have to reset canal locks, but you do have to close the gates as they are often old and leaky and relying on a single gate isn’t wise. Nick though had taken pity on the ancient mariner and was leaving the lock empty and the bottom gates open ready for me. Despite that I couldn’t keep up. I gave up for the day at lock 7 (ie 7 from the top of the flight) but Nick and Tony got to the top. Unless I set off early I doubt I’ll see them again before Llangollen.

The weather has blasted my schedule a bit, I’m about 2 days behind where I expected to be. Good job I allowed 27 days for a 21 day trip!

Day 9 – part 2

By recent standards today was a good day. The rain held until I got to Weston Favell Lock on the outskirts of Northampton. Then it poured and still is. I picked up several times but with a lot of back and forth with the gear lever managed to shake most of it off. I’ll check tomorrow morning before I leave.

Tomorrow we start on 17 narrow canal locks which will make a change from the wide river locks. Hope the weather improves though.

Day 9 Still on the Nene

The boat (Equinox) that couldn’t get through Doddington Lock yesterday morning did make it later in the day but Nick on Ebenezer and I decided to wait until today.

The rain stopped and the river has gone down quite a lot, even so there are advisory notices on the locks but we persevered through three locks to White Mills Marina. Filled up with diesel and water, and emptied the loo and bin. Put a load of washing on in the launderette so while that’s happening I’m writing this.

There is an area upstream known as Northampton Washlands, ie a vast low lying area of flood plain with flood barriers either end. During times of flood water from Northampton is stored there then released slowly. During such times the barriers prevent boats passing through. The manager at White Mills has phoned around trying to find out if the barriers are shut but no-one knows. Not even EA at Northampton Marina. There’s no advice on the EA app either. Nick has gone on ahead and will phone me.

Just discovered Equinox is going to Llangollen as well!

Day 8 - Nene, still

Day 8 – Nene, still

Last night was ‘interesting’. I was worried about relying on mudweights to hold Seren still against the wind and current so every time I woke I peered out of the window at the trees opposite to make sure they were still there. I needn’t have worried, by the time I came to lift the weights this morning they were well tangled in the weeds.

Seren may not have moved a significant distance but she surged back and forth and swayed side to side all night. And as she did the fenders hanging on the sides banged against the hull surprisingly loudly.

It poured with rain all night and this morning the river level was noticably higher, good news as it puts Seren’s prop further from the weed on the river bottom. There was a much stronger current too which had shifted some of the clots of weed floating around last night. After breakfast, and the discovery that the milk had gone off, I once more stripped and pulled the weed off the prop and shaft.

I heaved the rear mudweight onto the back deck, together with at least its own weight in weed. The front one I managed to get half out of the water and left it, and several kilos of weed, dangling. With the extra depth was able to pole Seren away from the bank and get her moving. She picked up some weed but we were able to make slow progress against the current to Doddington Lock. Passing a FOTRN mooring ‘Manor Farm’ with a narrowboat ‘Miss Molly’ moored there. From Llangollen according to the signwriting on the cabinsides

The guillotine gate was closed and I could see loads of hi-vis jackets on the lockside as I approached. I assumed it was EA closing the lock, but actually they were Amey staff. No idea why they were there but they were trying to help a bloke with a narrowboat in the lock. I tied up to the landing stage as they opened the guillotine. Turns out the narrowboat was trying to go my way, up river but the boater was unable to open the top gates against the flow of water over them. I backed away from the landing stage, he reversed out looking shaken and tied up.

There wasn’t room for both of us and Seren is short so I was able to turn her around and head back to Manor Farm I’m currently moored behind Miss Molly. Might go and introduce myself later and find out if they are really from Llan.

Which reminds me; I don’t use Facebook but at a GOBA meeting someone mentioned an FB group ‘Spotted on the Ouse’ so I had a nosey using fake ID. There was a post from a bloke with a tug-style narrowboat, Ebenezer, about to depart for Wales. Didn’t say where but Llangollen is most likely. I passed it moored somewhere near Wellingborough yesterday. I guess he’d decided to sit out the weather.

I suspect I’ll be sitting it out myself for a while.

Update; Ebenezer just passed. I shouted to the owner about the lock and suggested he stop here. I suspect he’ll be back.

Day 7 – Wet Again

It started raining again about 8.30 last night and was still raining this morning. I got all dressed up in several layers of warm clothes topped off with waterproofs and boots and set off.

Wellingborough was only one lock away from last night’s stop. There’s a riverside park with sanitary facilities for emptying boat loos, fresh water and bins. It was still raining and I wasn’t blocking access to the tap or Pump Out so I stayed.

Today is deadline day for GOBA News, ie the day when I work out who hasn’t submitted what they promised and start chasing them. It’s a free magazine for GOBA members, no-one gets paid so chasing people for work seems a bit harsh, but it needs doing. It was working out OK, getting some work done on a day when boating wouldn’t be fun. After 11.00 the sky lightened and the rain lessened and I was tempted, but decided to wait for lunch. Then it rained heavily again.

After lunch I got all dressed up again and set off. Last year when I went up the Nene I was stopped six times between Thrapston and Wellingborough with weed tangled round the prop. I’m a month later this year and a lot of weed had been cut, and the rain made the river deeper which helps. I was starting to feel that in my ongoing battle with the Nene I’d won one. And then I came out of Wollaston Lock into a section of river like a swamp with great clots of weed floating around and blanket weed spreading out from the banks.

Inevitably the prop fouled and with no power Seren drifted into the weedy bank.

Seren has a weed hatch at the back of the cabin, a sort of vertical shaft over the propellor. So I stripped to the waist knelt on the floor and started cutting and pulling weed away and throwing it out of the back door. Which meant leaving the door open and having the cold rain blow in on my back.

It took about half an hour. Then I got dressed, started the engine, selected forward gear and picked up more weed.

This time I poled Seren away from the bank as far as I could and deployed the ‘mud weights’ – basically lumps of concrete used on rivers instead of anchors. Then spent another half hour down the hatch, hoping that away from the bank I’d be able to avoid picking up more weed.

This time the River Nene wins. If anything the time taken to foul the prop was even shorter, about a second. So I chucked the mudweights out again closed the cockpit cover and retreated to the cabin. The heater is on, I’ve made hot coffee and just about thawed out.

Tomorrow I’ll flag down a passing boat and beg a tow to the next lock. There’s usually deep water at the landing stages so I can de-weed again and (hopefully) escape. For now it looks like a long night of radio and reading.

Day 6 - More manual labour

Day 6 – More manual labour

I’m officially a Friend of the River Nene, I paid £12 to join FOTRN (similar to GOBA) so I can use their moorings. Sometimes though I think the Nene and I are far from friends. Moorings, FOTRN or EA or other, are few and far between in the middle section but more plentiful after Pear Tree Farm where I spent last night. As a consequence I often face the dillema of stopping too soon when I could press on, or leaving it too late and finding the next mooring is hours away.

No need to open paddles at Titchford today

Today worked out OK I found a lovely meadow mooring at Great Addington at lunchtime and another near Wellingborough for the night. I wouldn’t normally stop for lunch I’d made sandwiches and a flask of coffee to keep me going but there were three more hand operated locks before lunch and I was shattered. I have a cunning plan for making a handle for them before I come this way again.

Somewhere on the Nene today

And talking of handles, I lost a lock windlass, the short throw one that came with the boat. At Higham Ferrers Lock there was a bunch of kids, aged 12-14 I think swimming and messing about. They got out and offered to help, so locking took twice as long as when I do it myself. They weren’t malicious just curious, enthusiastic and bit dopey.

Once we’d finally got the lock full and the gates open they started undoing ropes and pushing Seren away from the side. Before I’d got on. I used the windlass to hook a rope and pull it back, untangled the other ropes pulled Seren back again when one idiot pushed her off and in a melee I forgot to pick up the windlass. Shame really because it’s handy for some Nene locks where there is little space between the spindle and the lock beam.

Whitemills Marina tomorrow for Water, Diesel, Loo emptying – and a lock windlass. Weather permitting. Might make it to Northampton and get off this river, canals are a lot less hassle..

Day 5 - Still wet

Day 5 – Still wet

And frustrating. There’s a rule on the Nene that locks should be left with the top gates and paddles shut and the bottom (guillotine) gate open, ie up. That should mean anyone heading upstream like me can cruise straight into a lock.

Unfortunately someone had been before me and not followed the rule so the first four locks were set against me. By not following the rules the previous crew had:

Entered the lock, shut the bottom gate, opened the paddles to fill the lock, opened the gates and left, leaving the paddles open. Simples!

Following them I had to:

Tie up below the lock, close the top gates, close the top paddles, open the bottom gate, walk back to Seren and enter the lock, climb up the lock ladder and tie up Seren, close the bottom gate, open the paddles, open the top gate, get back on Seren and move her to the landing stage, get off Seren and walk back to the lock to close the gate on the near side, then walk down the lock over the bridge and back up the lock to close the paddle and gate on the far side, walk back to the guillotine gate and open it.

And three of the first four gates were the hand operated variety so I had to wind the gate up, down and up again each time. All in the pouring rain. I was not amused.

The bridge below Lilford lock

After Oundle things improved, it stopped raining and the locks were set right.

I cruised on to the Friends of the River Nene (FOTRN) mooring at Pear Tree Farm just below Titchmarsh Lock. Now for some GOBA editing…

Day 4 – Wet

Set off from Whittlesea early and got to Stanground about an hour before my 10.15 booking for the lock. Did some ‘housework’, tea drinking and reading. Carl and Samson, booked for 10.30 arrived just I was going in the lock so both boats being small we locked through together.

We stopped at Peterborough Embankment. They went shopping while I emptied the WC, took on water, emptied the bin and failed to re-fit the corner fender. Carl helped and it’s half-on which is better than nothing.

Last year when I went to Crick the WC emptying sluice was being refitted. When I came back three weeks later it was done. Today it is disgusting. The sluice room looks like no-one has cleaned it for a year and inevitably there are splashes. After a year, a lot of splashes. Even before I got in the smell was pretty bad. Coming out I realised why. Everything I had carefully poured down the sluice was now flowing down the path. I reported it to some council guys who were emptying bins and wielding litter pickers, the leader took a photo and promised to report it when they got back to the depot. Actual council workers, not contractors. I thought they’d all been outsourced. Hopefully they’ll do something about it. I’ll be back to check in 7 weeks or so!

While we were working on the fender it started to rain, and stopped around Yarwell about 6 hours later. I’ve stopped for the night on a ‘wild mooring’ ie a meadow without permission. It’s remote and hidden by woodland I doubt anyone will see me. Carl and Samson have pressed on to stop somewhere more civilised where they can arrange for someone to collect them. I’ll probably overtake them in the morning before they’ve returned.

No pictures today, everything has been grey, boring and wet. Hope it’s bright tomorrow morning Fotheringhay bridge is worth a photo or two.

Day 3 - Fenland

Day 3 – Fenland

Yesterday I passed a couple of young blokes on a little narrowboat (about 20′ with an outboard motor under the stern deck). Later they moored behind me at Denver, and asked my advice. Turns out they just bought the boat from Ely and didn’t know about Denver Sluice, or tides. They were hoping to press on but like me they had to wait until 10.45 this morning.

We decided to stick together for the Fenland section not least because I have a windlass for Ashline Lock, and they don’t.

The first section (Well Creek) is quite interesting with views across the fens. Most of the surrounding land is below the water level in the creek and we’d locked down quite some way at Salters Lode so it must be 304m below high tide level.

At Marmot Priory lock Carl and Samson (aka Black the Ripper, see YouTube) got their first lesson in lock working as the old lady lockeeper was detained somewhere and her even older husband has emphasema. The lock loweres the channel to something like ground level, but there are flood banks each side so not much of a view.

Fancy this job?

One exception though was a wind farm near March. It was really windy and most of them were working but a couple were stopped and one had two guys working on one of the blades, abseiling from the hub. See the little black dot on the photo? That’s TWO people.

Later, on Whittlesey Dyke we were heading straight into the afternoon sun. I tried to capture the view but got my hand in the way. Oh well.

I’ve stopped just past Ashline Lock in Whittlesey tonight. I’m booked into Stanground Lock onto the Nene at Peterborough for 10.15 in the morning. Carl and Samson are booked for 10.30 so I guess I’ll be seeing more of them as we cruise up the Nene.

Post edited 7th June to correct Samson’s performing name.

Bara Seren

Bara Seren

At home we have a breadmaker machine but there’s no room on Seren and not enough electric power either. Nor is there an oven, just a two burner hob and small grill. Access to decent bread is tricky on a boat trip so I was determined to make my own. And I thought it’d be a good time to experiment with sourdough.

There’s a lot of online advice about sourdough bread making some trying to turn it into an art form and others into a science needing precise measures and good temperature control. But for centuries nomads, migrants and settlers have made bread as they travelled so it can’t be that hard.

If you want to know about creating a sourdough starter, search online, this is about sourdough baking on a small boat. First make your starter at home a couple of weeks before you set off. Once it’s established you can feed once a week and keep it in a fridge. If you have a fridge onboard take the starter with you. If you’re going solo like me take a small amount of starter in a smaller jar than you’d use at home. Mine is 0.5l which seems OK.

To make a batch of dough the starter needs to be warmer than a fridge so early morning take some (about 2-3 tablespoons) and put it in a mug. Add tablespoon of flour and less than a tbsp of water. Stir it and cover it and leave it in the cabin. Replenish the starter with a similar amount to that you’ve removed and put it back in the fridge.

Lunchtime put a cupful of flour and the starter you prepared earlier (called levain or levan in pretentious sourdough circles) in a bowl. Add just enough water to bring it together. Mash it around with a spatula or knife. Cover and leave to work. Have lunch. Have a nap.

About an hour later tip the dough out on a floured table/worksurface. Sprinkle on about ½teaspoon of salt. Add a bit more water or flour to make a nice kneadable dough. Knead it.

In the absence of an oven you can bake bread in a Dutch Oven on the hob. A proper Dutch Oven is a wide, cast iron pan with a lid. For a small loaf a cast iron saucepan with a lid will do. Other pans probably not, they don’t spread the heat around so well.

Leave dough to rise as you travel on

Oil the inside of the pan well to stop the bread sticking. Place the dough in the pan, cover it and leave it while you go on your way.

Several hours later put the pan on the hob and have the gas on high until the outside of the pan is too hot to touch. Turn gas down low and leave it for about 50min – 1 hour.

The top of the loaf should feel springy when cooked, but will look disappointingly pale. Turn it out. If the pale top bothers you and there’s room under the grill then grill the top for a few minutes.

Next up, tonight I’m making sourdough pizza.