Day 50 – Middle Level Blues

Yesterday I booked passage through Stanground lock at 10.00 so first I went to the sanitary station in Peterborough, possibly the dirtiest sluice I have ever seen and only a little over 12 months since it was installed. Then to Asda for some veg for a curry. From peterborough Embankment it’s about 10-15 minute cruise to the lock.

The middle level drains were constructed to drain the fens for agriculture. They are managed by the Middle Level Commisioners primarily to keep the area from flooding and to provide irrigation water during the summer. The system was made navigable initially for agricultural produce to be shipped out and things like building material brought in. Later vast amounts of coal were shipped in to power the steam pumps that kept the fens dry. Leisure boating is way down their list of priorities. It shows.

The central section from Ashline Lock at Whittlesea to Priory Lock near Upwell is especially tedious because there is nothing to look at except flood banks until you pass through March in a cutting, and nothing after that. Mooring is not allowed on the floodbanks and in any case you wouldn’t go within 5m of them if you could avoid them because of the weed growth spreading out from the banks.

I planned to stop at Fox’s Narrowboats in March for fuel, but their Diesel pump is broken. I suspect there is probably enough ikn the tank to get back to Tempsford but I daren’t risk running out on the New Bedford tomorrow. So I’m moored in Outwell tonight (by the chippy, the veggie curry can wait) and have found out there’s a petrol station about ½ mile away. First thing tomorrow I’ll walk/hitch with my fuel can.

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 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.

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.

Coralita as bought May 2017

Seren Goes to Crick

 

Coralita as bought May 2017
Coralita as bought May 2017

Seren is an 8m long 40 year old Trentcraft canal/river cruiser. We bought Coralita as she then was in Pershore about a year ago and brought her back to Great Ouse. She wasn’t in great condition and the previous owner had tried to change the layout then given up and tried to re-instate the original plan so he could off-load it and buy something better. But we bought it anyway because DIY work is nearly as much fun as cruising and it was the best thing we could afford.

 

I’ve done some DIY this spring but avoided the boat owner trap of completely gutting the interior and having an unusuable boat that takes so long to fix one runs out of time/money/energy. One of the bodges performed by a previous owner was to remove a window (with a jigsaw, roughly) and fill the gap with plywood and car body filler in order to make a private WC cubicle. I’ve replaced the bodge with a GRP panel and extended the compartment to make room for a shower and washbasin. No hot water yet, blog that when it works.

Recycled kitchen units for clothes storage and improved WC in the background
Recycled kitchen units for clothes storage and improved WC in the background

I’ve moved the leisure battery to make it easier to connect to the engine charging system so now both batteries are charged by the engine when the boat is in use, and kept charged by the solar panel when not in use. Put a fridge and an inverter to power it in the galley too, though long term that’s all going to get re-done.

So it’s nearly ready to go. The Crick Boat Show is held over the May Bank hols(26-28th May) but Crick is a long way from Tempsford Bridge by water so I plan to set off on Tuesday 15th. I also plan to blog the trip but you’ll have to wait and see how that goes.