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 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.