Day 15 – Progress is good(ish)

This should have been published days ago, but owing to unidentified tech gremlins it wasn’t. So here’s hoping it works now and I can catch up. It’s been an eventful couple of days…

Still 2½ days adrift but getting on well. I started on the remaining 11 Hatton Locks and as I left the fifth one of the day three CRT volunteers turned up to help. The remaining six were a doddle, I stayed in the cockpit and they did all the work opening and closing paddles and gates.

Then a nice long cruise in weak sunshine (better than heavy rain) through Shrewley Tunnel and on to Tom o’the Wood and Kingswood Junction.

My Canal Plan route continues up the GU Canal but when I was planning I decided to go left/right onto the North Stratford Canal into Birmingham, it goes through Edgbaston and is reckoned to be prettier than the newer GU route through Solihull. It came down to locks. On the GU they are large, if I’m by myself I only open one side but the paddles are big, hard to operate but fast. One the Stratford the locks are narrow which means I have to open both gates, which means walking up the lock and down again, twice. So I stuck with the GU. The next set of locks at Knowle were a slog, and it started to drizzle. Thankfully there are only five.

Next stop Copt Heath wharf where I bought some diesel. Seren’s fuel consumption (and tank capacity) is a mystery. Yesterday and the day before I put in 10l from a jerry can, before that I hadn’t filled up for nearly a week so I reckoned it must be nearly empty. But at Copt Heath we could only get just over 4l in the tank. I suspect foaming is the problem. I refilled the jerrycan with >9l so I’ll try putting that in sometime tomorrow.

Then on in the pouring rain to stop for the night at Catherine de Barnes Bridge.

Still having problems with the fridge. During the day with the engine running it works OK, but as soon as the engine is off the load on the ‘leisure’ battery is much too high and the battery soon starts to fade. My multimeter only reads up to 10A and it goes off the scale. I think the problem is the inverter but the only way to be sure is to plug the fridge into a proper mains supply and measure its current consumption. Transforming up from 12V to 240V one would expect a current increase of x20 so if the fridge takes 0.5A then the inverter will draw 10A plus a bit for inefficiency. But as far as I can see the fridge is taking more like 0.1A. I’ll organise a mains ‘hook-up’ in Llan (or Chirk Marina) and see how the fridge performs then.

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 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 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.