Day 47 - I've had better

Day 47 – I’ve had better

Now where shall I moor to remove weed from the prop?

Cruising slowly out of White Mills everything felt great. The water in the marina is clear and deep, Seren’s prop had been cleared, the cooling system was gurgling nicely. And then we came out onto the river. Or ditch. Shallow and very weedy. There are six locks from White Mills to Wellingborough and I was down the weed hatch seven times in that distance. Two of the locks, Wollaston and Upper Wellingborough were almost impossible to enter such was the thickness of weed that had piled up in front of the gates.

It took an hour to pass this lock

Downstream of Wellingborough the river was a bit deeper, the weeds further away. Only two more weed hatch operations during the afternoon.

The Nene locks are more varied on the upper reaches than I remembered. I mentioned the three ‘conventional’ locks in Northampton yesterday. After that there are eight normal Nene locks with electrically operated guillotine bottom gates. The Upper and Lower Wellingborough locks resemble thos at Northants though with better paddle gear. Ditchford Lock has a curved guillotine that rotates up/down in curved grooves in the lock walls. The only advantage I can see is that the lock tower is lower, below the level of nearby trees so perhaps it was installed to mollify some VIP who didn’t want his view spoiled. Higham Ferrars is another poining door lock and below that Upper Ringstead is the first of the notorious flywheel operated guillotines. Given that the fall in water level was about 0.5m raising and lowering several tonnes of steel lock gate seemed a lot of effort to little point.

Woodford lock is the next flywheel lock. I was just beginning to lower the guillotine when a bloke moored below the lock came to talk. He told me that the next lock, Denford, was closed, and there are already two boats down on the mooring. He himself was doing a spring clean before heading back up. I stayed above the lock for a hour or so until he came up leaving the gates set for me. I am currently moored just below Woodford. Tomorrow I phone EA and find out what’s happening.

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 17 - Weed (again)

Day 17 – Weed (again)

Cambrian Whaff Birmingham

After yesterday’s lock marathon (some people run 26 mile, I operate 25 locks) I was looking forward to an easier day. The Birmingham Level Main Line is wide and flat. It was built by Telford to straighten out the old Brindley designed canal. It’s typical Telford, deep wide cuttings, straight lines and monumental bridges. At the end just three deep locks connect it to the Wolverhampton Level.

Just before the end I noticed that weed was building up on the edges and corners. And then I picked some up on the prop. To make matters worse it was a mix of weed and plastic bag but I got it off and made the first lock. A granny and grandson were watching and the lad was pleased to ‘help’ open and close the gate while granny videoed him. Coming out of the lock the wind blew us sideways and I could tell from the steering we had a weed problem again.

Wolvo Weed is evil

This time we ended up in a sort of layby at the side of the pound. They were built to give boats room to pass going up and down, and to increase the amount of water in the pound available to fill the lock below. In those days they were dredged. Now it isn’t I was stuck 5m from the bank on mud with something on the prop.

The something turned out to be a piece of rope and more weed. That was bad enough, but worse still we couldn’t get off the mud. Eventually with a lot of poling, and it’s hard to pole in mud there’s nothing to push against, I got Seren facing the opposite bank and she managed to drag herself free.

Lock two was OK, but we picked up weed and some kind of stretchy fabric leaving lock three.

This time I had no power at all and hence no steering so we drifted sideways across the cut while I got the weed off. Three more times I managed to get to the bank and moor while de-weeding and at one point I bow-hauled Seren through a patch of weed which was easier than trying to get through, failing and having to get down the weed hatch again. At the moment I like Wolverhampton about as much as the Nene. And there are 21 locks in the Wolverhapton Flight for tomorrow.

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 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.