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 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 01 No Disasters Yet

Linda took me to the boatyard and stayed around a while until I got organised. Started the engine at 09.40 and set off. Weather fine until lunchtime. I stopped for a quick lunch at the GOBA moorings at Paxton then carried on, first in drizzle then in increasingly heavy rain. When I was packing this morning I put heavy duty waterproofs in the locker under the bed. Won’t need those up in June surely? Mid afternoon I got them out. And the workboots, thick socks and fleece.

I caught up with a young bloke at one of the locks, he works for Jones Boatyard and had been dropped off by the boss to bring an old cruiser back to the yard for sale. It’s been neglected a while and made even Seren look shipshape. He had trouble restarting it after every lock but we went through all the locks to St Ives together. I had hoped to get to Earith today as I did last year on the way to Crick, but I’d had enough of working locks in the rain so I’m on St Ives wharf tonight.

Two minor tech problems to report.

The domestic water temp gauge I installed on the dash had been showing 68°C all day (good) Then suddenly went to 88.8e. I guess the rain has got in. The actual hot water is fine though.

Then there’s the mapping. It seems to have stopped around Godmanchester. It relies on an internet connection to report my position and for some reason that was off. On mobile internet you’d expect it to be a bit flaky, but it should reconnect when the signal is OK. It’s fine now I’ve manually restarted it, but I don’t want to be doing that everyday, I have enough to do. We’ll see how it goes.

Next, emails and editing GOBA News.

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.