Day 52 – (much later)

The final day was rather uneventful. I went through the all the locks to Godmanchester with Nick, then U-turned onto the town moorings for lunch while he carried on. It rained on and off during the morning though I managed to dodge most of it passing through the locks during dry spells and closing Seren’s cockpit roof while cruising.

Linda had heard that the northbound carriageway of the A1 was closed between Sandy and the Black Cat roundabout which would have made it it impossible to collect me from Kelpie but by the time I arrived (about 6pm) traffic was flowing normally.

I’ve been home over a week now and still wake up each morning wondering where I am,

Day 51 – Teaching Ducks to Fly

I walked to the petrol station in Outwell shortly after 7.00 and it was already getting hot. Walking back carrying 10l of diesel in a steel can was getting hard when a car stopped and gave me a lift. So plenty of fuel to complete the trip.

The run from Outwell to Salter’s Lode was uneventful, but hot. I got here about three hours early then did some maintenance on Seren; greased the propshaft, cleared the prop (again), checked engine oil and water. And spent a lot of time sitting under a tree trying to keep cool.

Sometime after 12.00 the lock-keeper said it was time to go, it was a lowish tide and very little water coming downstream so he go us lined up when the water made level, me in front in the lock, three others behind. Then opened the bottom gate and told us to go out fast.

I tried but got stuck on mud and rammed against the tyre-wall. Managed to push free eventually and turned upstream only to see the next boat, bigger than Seren also stuck.

The I heard a clunk, I thought we’d gone over a piece of wood or something, but almost immediately Seren’s engine slowed like it does when there’s some thing on the prop. Not a great experience in the tideway halfway between Salter’s and Denver. I’ve never had the weed hatch open so fast. There was a bit a bit of weed but the real problem was plastic string. I hacked that off ASAP and was on my way.

Looking back I couldn’t see anyone catching me up, they other boats must have still been stuck at Salter’s. I assume they all got out but I went straight up the New Bedford River and they were all planning to go via Denver Sluice so I never saw them again.

The first third or so of the NB was great, tide pushing us up and the river wide and deep and free of weed. Hottest day of the year apparently today, 36° according to the BBC weather app. I had the cockpit roof closed to keep the sun off and thankfully there was a bit of breeze blowing in through the sides.

Around Manea it gets narrower and the weeds encroached from the side but it was still clear and deep in the middle so we motored on. By then the tide was slackening and soon the water was still. By Mepal it was starting to flow against us, but very slowly. A bigger problem was the weed. Loads of floating blanket-weed caught on fronds of bottom-growing weed, then every so often a floating island of weed broken free of the bottom. Inevitably I caught some but with plenty of bursts of reverse gear managed to keep it down to a minimum.

Over the last couple of months I’ve seen a lot of ducklings. In June they were little balls of fluff paddling along now there are a lot of half-grown ducks, many of them fledged but still not flying. Near Manea I cought up with one. It swam as fast as it could using paddle power then for extra thrust using it’s wings too in an ungainly butterfly stroke. Just like adult ducks though (and other waterfowl) once it got a safe distance from the boat it relaxed.

Then flapped a bit more, and relaxed. I was starting to think it’s die of exhaustion before it had the sense to go sideways into the reeds when I noticed it was flapping so hard it was lifting half out of the water. Next time it rose a bit higher. Then a bit more. Then right out of the water for a single wingbeat. Then for a metre or so. Each time it flew a little further and eventually lifted right off and flew way down the cut and into the reeds.

As the long boring slog went on I saw two more young ducks do exactly the same. I supose they are quite comfortable paddling around on a hardly used stretch of water, maybe it takes the threat of something like a boat bearing down on them to give them the incentive to fly.

Eventually I got to the landing stage at Hermitage Lock and cleared the prop before setting off for Brownshill. I caught up with a sort-of narrowboat. One I’d seen before on the T&M near Northwich. It’s narrow and 60′ long but doesn’t look like a narrowboat. The bow is bluff and low like a dumb barge and the stern square. It has narrowboat style controls at the back under a folding canopy, but also a wheel house at the very front with a sort of bay-window effect almost up to the bow. No foredeck to speak of. Even more surprising it’s painted to look like an Orient Express carriage. We passed through the lock together end to end (it’s only 12′ wide Brownshill lock but very long.) They are en-route to Bedford.

I’d decided to stop at the GOBA moorings just past the Pike & Eel. As I approached I recognised the boat already there, Ebenezer. And Nick recognised the sound of Seren’s exhaust (I must make it quieter). He left Llan a week before me but has been taking it easy having more of a holiday cruise than me. Surprising to catch up though.

As I was eating dinner we had a half-hearted thunderstorm but not enough to seriously lower the temperature. It’s still too hot and I’m being plagued by midges. Time to close the blinds and smother myself in Jungle Juice and fly-spray the cabin…

Day 49 – Peterborough

Oundle to Peterborough isn’t that hard but the extremely hot weather didn’t help.

The map shows an EA water point at Fotheringhay so that was my first target. Fotheringhay is a very pretty and posh village with plenty of mooring space. All of it chargeable, £5 per night, £2.50 short stop and even £2 to take a canoe out of the water. There’s a half mile stretch of signs setting this out.

Right next to the bridge EA own (or lease?) a tiny patch of land, about 3m long frontage on the river and maybe 5m back, on which stands their water point. Obviously it’s too short to moor anything longer than a kayak so whoever it is owns the moorings will gracioulsy allow one to over lap for as long as it takes to fill up. A sign warns that if you don’t move straight away you will be charged for mooring.

Just to make life even more tricky the plot is fenced and gated and there are no mooring rings or bollards just a steep, nettle-covered bank.

There was just one final flywheel operated lock and as I approached I could see official looking vans and people grouped around the guillotine gate end. Surely not another closure?

In fact much better, the guys were there to strim and mow the grass around the lock, but they aren’t allowed to do it whilst there is a boat using the lock, so hurry things up they did most of the lock winding. Great contrast to last year when contractors, not EA staff, strimmed long wet grass while Seren was in a lock and pretty much covered her. I told them about the Fotheringhay nettles and they said they’d go and strim there too. Amazing.

Closer to Peterborough, where the Ferry Meadows park starts there were groups of teens and families enjoying the river. Some of the teens are a bit clueless, one bunch of lads, seeing me approach spread themselves out across the channel so there wasn’t a gap big enough to pass. I knocked Seren out of gear so at least no-one would get mangled by the prop and drifted with the wind and current toward them. They parted and let me pass but then swam round behind making me very nervous about engaging forward gear again.

At a lock a bunch of teenage girls were sunbathing on the lock surround. It was one of EA’s ‘special’ locks where the landing stage is on the opposite side to the control box so as often do I pulled in on the ‘wrong’ side avoiding the girls and a walk over the lock. A couple came around to talk to me. They wanted to know if they could swim in the lock once I’d filled it. I pointed out I’d be putting the boat in then emptying the lock so it’d be dangerous. Then they asked if I could leave the control box open when I left so they could refill it. I felt mean in refusing but I’d feel worse if one had drowned. They took my refusal well and went back to sprawling on the grass.

Finally I turned into the cut leading to Thorpe Meadows where I’d arranged to meet Linda for a meal at The Boathouse. She got lost, apparently the signage is terrible and the meal wasn’t that good, but nice to see her. Loads of people, families, teens, young men and women (mostly Polish I think) were on the landing stage or in the water. Very friendly and co-operative though and they’d all drifted away by bedtime.

Day 46 – Sarah & Family Visit

I’d arranged to meet Sarah & family at Weston Favell lock, near Northampton Boat Club. Last year we organised a meeting at lock by a club and although the club had visitor moorings it had no provision for visitors arriving by car. This time I stopped on the Washlands Mooring which is accessible by the Nene Way footpath.

Only three locks to do and a few miles cruising but I left early hoping to clean up the boat a bit while waiting. The first three locks on the Nene are traditional with ‘pointing doors’ at both ends, manually operated and very heavy. The paddles (or slackers as they call them down here) are operated by an enclosed screw mechanism and very low geared taking 70-80 turns to open/close.

The weed that plagued me on the lower Northampton Arm was evident here too but with plenty of to-ing and fro-ing on the gear lever I got to the mooring without resort to the weed hatch.

Milly & Georgie were delighted to see me, and Georgie has lost her fear of the boat now and was soon at the helm poking all the switches and twirling the wheel. I haven’t seen them for seven weeks and Georgie has matured in that time. She was proudly demonstrating how she can unscrew the top of a bottle to drink out of it, and screw it on again. No need for a special drinking bottle. Apparently her new word this week is ‘literally’. She claims not to know the names of kids at nursery but dropped into the conversation that they had a story about Tutankhamen.

They were breaking their journey to the Peak District where they are going camping so after a brief picnic lunch they left and I carried on through another five locks (typical Nene type with guillotine bottom gates) to White Mills marina.

More weed of course and I realised the engine cooling water flow was lower than usual. The exhaust note changes (more bark less splash/burble) and the exhaust fumes (right under the helmsman’s elbow) become more noticeable. There was still some flow though so I crept on keeping a close watch on the temperature gauge. One of the locks, Whiston I think) had a great mat of weed piled up in front of the gate. I bow-hauled Seren through that and into the lock then on leaving let the wind and current take us out of the lock and away from the weed before starting the engine.

One reason for stopping at White Mills was to use their laundry, the other to do something about the cooling. I checked the impeller (OK) and blew through the various pipes. Disconnected the feed from stopcock and opened it carefully. Just a trickle, so weed in the opening under the boat. Fortunately putting a pipe on the stopcock and blowing hard eventually produced a stream of bubbles from under the hull. With everything back together the water flow looks healthier and the exhaust sounds more normal. Hope there’s less weed tomorrow.

Day 45 – Northampton Arm

The Northampton Arm of the Grand Union is an oddity. It’s narrow unlike the main line but apes some of the main line design details, particularly the locks. Most narrow locks have walkways, planks basically, on the downhill side of the double lock gates so when you open one you can stride across to open the other. On the main line GU the walkways are on top of the gates but on a wide lock no-one could step across anyway so it doesn’t matter. For some reason the people responsible for design on the Arm have chosen to copy GU practice, and make the locks a lot harder to operate.

To add to the trouble, when locking singlehanded it would help a lot if the ladder, the lock gate beam on the top end and the mooring bollards were all on the same side. On most locks they are. On the Arm they are distributed randomly. So, going down as I was today you can go into a lock and get off the boat on the side where the lock beam is, and find no bollards to tie to. So you climb over the other side to secure the boat, walk back to close the gate and realise that when you let the water out you’ll need to use the ladder to get back in the boat, but that’s on the opposite side to the mooring bollards.

For most of the first 12 locks that are all close together I bow-hauled through, it’s just easier than faffing about with inconvenient ladders, and as it was pouring with rain for the first six I was able to leave the cockpit roof closed. After lunch it stopped raining while I did down to lock 14, then started again.

Between lock 14 and 15 the canal is VERY weedy. From the boat you can’t even see the towpath it’s cut off by several metres of reeds, rushes, shrubs, even trees. The off-side is if anything worse. Where the reeds stop the water lilies begin. Pretty, but they have stems like rope. There’s a narrow channel of apparently clear water down the centre but look down and you realise that the weed growing on the bed of the canal is only a few cm from the surface. Close enough to wrap around the prop, and even when it doesn’t you can feel it dragging against the keel and rudder, slowing the boat and making steering tricky.

I know it’s not one of CRT’s more popular canals but it’s crying out for a bit more maintenance.

I eventually made it down to the Northampton Embankment on the Nene. It’s raining again and the forecast for tomorrow is more of the same. Joy.

Day 44 – Familiar Territory

I woke up early this morning but couldn’t leave until the Braunston Locks opened at 9.00. So I did some cleaning, swept the carpet, cleaned out the cockpit which gets messy with me climbing in and out all the time. Even cleaned the shower and handbasin. And the cooker. At about 8.50 I started the engine ready for the off and – it started raining.

Back inside to get all togged in waterproofs and boots that have been out of site for a couple of weeks. By the time I’m ready the lock is open and there’s another boat come up behind me, so we do the six locks together. (They’re wide locks on the GU).

Funny the effect accents have. Most don’t bother me at all as long as I can understand them but ‘Eshturee En’lish’ used by the guys on that boat got to me.

I asked one where they were going. He looked pained. Frowned, then called to his mate on the other lock gate, ‘Ere John wha’s tha’ place where we got the bo’ from? Lu’erwerf was i’?

‘S’righ.’

‘Oh so after these locks you’ll be going up the Leicester Line then while I go straight on through the Buckby flight.’

‘Dunno.’

We didn’t talk much through the rest of the flight.

Just as we got to the top the rain stopped. Of course the cockpit was soaked by then and I’d carried in grass and mud climbing in and out so it looks like it did fist thing this morning before I cleaned it. Since then it’s been alternating hot, cool, windy, still and humid. I’ve had on every combination of shirt, tee shirt, fleece, waterproofs, shorts, jeans, sun cream, sun hat on/off, sun glasses or normal glasses. Several times.

Shortly after the locks there’s the Braunston Tunnel. Like the Harecastle that marks the watershed between Trent and Mersey, Braunston is where you cross from the Trent catchment area into the Nene Valley. It’s down hill all the way to Peterborough from here. In fact beyond, the low point is in the middle of the Middle Level between Ashline and Marmont Priory locks. Then it’s uphill again to Tempsford.

At Buckby there were a couple of boats preparing to leave the lock and one waiting to go in, so I tagged along with them. The boat was called ‘Waterway Routes’ and the woman doing the largest share of lock work was wearing a ‘Waterway Routes’ logo on her sweatshirt. It turns out it’s her husband’s hobby/business. They publish waterway maps as downloads or GPS format for phones. They update them by cruising around checking what’s changed. They are on their way to London and plan then to go up the Lee & Stort making a video. See http://www.waterwayroutes.co.uk for more.

After Buckby it’s a long lock-free trip to Gayton Junction where I stopped for the night. I should have filled the water tank today but thought I’d get away with it until tomorrow. Mistake, it ran out making my after-dinner cuppa. I discovered there’s a CRT Service station about 200m away but I’m too idle to move the boat. I filled a 2l bottle, that’ll do for tonight and for a breakfast cuppa, then I’ll move.

17 locks down to Northampton tomorrow,

Day 43 – Back to the GU

From Hawksbury Junction to Braunston is 22 miles and three locks (not counting Sutton Stop I did yesterday. The Oxford canal continues to wind along the contour line, only occasionally resorting to cuttings and embankments and a short tunnel at Newbold just north of Rugby. From the canal Rugby appears to be a small village with a park down to the water. There are a few glimpses of roads and commercial development through the trees but you don;t get a sense of it being a big town at all.

Soewhere along the route between Hawkesbury and Rugby I passed ‘Equinox’ heading in the opposite direction. That’s the boat that got in terrible trouble on the Nene during the floods about 5 weeks ago. Tony (I think) was amazed I’d been to Wales and was on my way back. Didn’t have time to ask as we passed where he’d been.

The locks come in a group at Hillmorton south of Rugby, they had some CRT volunteers but I only got helped through one. They are all in need of serious work, the gates sway alarmingly on their posts and the paddles are incredibly hard to wind.

Braunston is one of the system’s busiest hubs with chandlers, marinas and hire bases grouped around the junction.

I arrived here about 5pm assuming I could go through the locks and find a mooring before Braunston Tunnel, but the lock opening hours are being restricted to save water. They closed at 4pm. I’m moored on the wharf of one of the hire fleets just below the first lock.

From here on I’m back on the route I took 6 weeks ago, GU to Gayton, Northampton Arm, Nene, ML and Gt Ouse.

No easy locks from here on, the GU are wide and heavy, the Northampton Arm are narrow but awkward with the bollards on the wrong side and the walkways on the ‘pointing doors’ on the wrong side of the gates so you can’t hop across the half open lock to open the other side.

The Nene is a slog. It’s pretty and I guess if you keep your boat on it and potter up and down between your favourite watering holes it can be pleasant enough but for the long distance voyager it’s 3-4 days of heavy locks that for some reason have to be left empty with the guillotine raised, whichever direction you are going in. I’m dreading it.

I got a text from Nick Sharp this evening, he didn’t stay for the Eisteddfod and set off home a week before me. He’s currently on the Nene around the area where we met during the floods.

Day 42 – 6 weeks!

Fairly short cruise this morning to waterpoint below Atherstone locks. A bloke on a narrow boat said his mate on a short Springer would be along soon and we could do the locks together. So we did. Still took all morning, I think we cleared the last one about 1pm. After that another long lock-free section down to Marston Junction (Ashby Canal) then about 3 miles further to Hawkesbury Junction where I turned onto the Oxford Canal via the Sutton Stop Lock.

Moored just past Sutton Stop, sandwiched between David and (wife?) who accompanied me through the locks earlier and their friend +1 +another (mother-in-law?) who is very old, crooked and unsteady on her feet. They’ve all gone to the pub at the junction to eat but I had stuff in the fridge to use up.

The fridge is still giving me grief. I’ve done a few measurements with the gear I have and come to the following hypothesis:

The fridge uses 0.6A at 220-240V running off mains (at Llangollen) or off the inverter.

To get 12V from the battery to 240V the inverter steps up 20 times the input. Therefore the current must go up the same. 0.6 x 20 = 12A

But the inverter is about 80% efficient so consumes more like 15A.

That’s more than my little meter can handle so I can’t check, I’ll buy an ammeter when I get home.

I suspect 15A is close to the charging current into the battery from the alternator (via split diode circuit) and solar panel (200W or about 15A on a sunny day).

So in the morning if I check the leisure battery voltage it’s usually around 10-12V. Start the engine and wait a while for the alternator to replenish the engine battery and the relay to close to start charging the leisure battery and it goes up to 12.x or even 13V. But that’s from the alternator and solar panel the battery state is still showing empty. (Or close to empty, it’s not very precise).

Now I can switch on the inverter and the fridge and it works. But if I have a prolonged period without the engine running (waiting at locks for example) the fridge goes off even though the inverter is still running and draining the battery. I need to repeat the morning routine to get it working again. Turn it off. Run the engine, wait for the voltage to rise and restart the inverter.

By the end of the day the battery state is showing a low charge, or if I’ve not had the engine on much, empty. I can run the fridge for a few minutes – ½ hour maybe, but then the volts tail off and the fridge stops working.

When I get a real ammeter (using a little multi-meter at present) I’ll check the alternator output and charging current into the batteries. I might need a more powerful alternator (I think it’s a standard car model and few people have fridges in cars). I might need another battery in parallel with the first to hold more charge.

Anyone reading this got any more ideas / info, please comment below.

Day 41 - Coventry Canal

Day 41 – Coventry Canal

About an hour and a half this morning to the three locks before Fradley Junction. If you go straight on there are a lot more locks but I turned at Fradley onto the Coventry Canal which is lock-free for 11 miles to Fazely Junction. Fradley had CRT volunteers out in force making it a stress-free operation.

The northern section of the Coventry canal is very rural. Tree lined for the most part, with reeds and iris on the tree-free sections. It’s twisty and quite narrow too so you have to keep a sharp eye out for boats coming round bends, through bridges.

Beyond Fazeley Junction there are two Glascote Locks and Glascote Basin, then before leaving Glascote, the Glascote Co-Op right next to some moorings. Very handy for a bit of shopping.

Suburban Garden near Tamworth

The canal gets more suburban around Tamworth but then passes through Pooley Country Park, past Pooley Hall and onto Polesworth village where I stopped for the night.

Day 40 Aston to Armitage

The marina office doesn’t open until 10.00 on Sunday and as usual I was up at 7.00. So after breakfast, feeling fit once again, I scrubbed the boat roof and side decks. Cleaned shower tray, replaced bathmat with clean one (and washed the the other)cleaned the cooker, emptied loo and filled water tank.

Left about 10.30 I suppose but didn’t check. Then ran into an hour-long queue at the first lock. Cleared that about about 12.30 and stopped for lunch. Locks have been easy all day, I only did five and had help for all but one so they went quickly. Two of them I shared with a couple who have a short narrowboat. While waiting in the queue the bloke explained that he normally does the lock work but he has a hernia so his wife was doing it. Maybe his is worse than mine but I’ve done >300 locks in the last 6 weeks many of them singlehanded. After the last one there is a long lock-free pound to Fradley Jnct. I hoped to get there by this evening but having lost time yesterday I didn’t. Maybe another hour or so tomorrow morning.

Lots of suburban developments along this stretch, the houses are nothing special but everyone with a canal frontage seems to have made a real effort to make the most of it. On the southern outskirts of Rugely there was a short private drive with about 5-6 houses on it arranged facing the canal with a shared driveway along the front. The residents had obviously agreed a ‘theme’ and put a row of large blue plant pots, different shapes and shades but all blue, along the canal edge and planted them up.

Someone (Tony?) said I should stop at the Plum Pudding for a pint. I passed it late this afternoon, but didn’t stop. Amused to see gentrification has hit Rugely, it’s now the Plum Pudding Brasserie.