Friday, 31 August 2018

Water saving measure? - Hard to see it!

(Back with both boats being moved together - posted by Alan)

Setting off from Newbold.
Today we were simply continuing the steady progress back to our home mooring, and it was mostly a very straightforward day.














Waiting our turn for the middle lock at Hillmorton.
The Canal and River Trust have taken the decision to shut one lock in of each of the 3 pairs  of narrow locks at Hillmorton, supposedly as a water saving measure.  However, unless this is actually deterring people from using the locks altogether, it is very hard to come up with any rational argument that there will be water saving, and there are plenty of easily thought out scenarios where it can definitely cause additional water to be wasted, particularly where traffic in both directions is not balanced, as it wasn't today.


Finally through it!
What it is doing is introducing otherwise unnecessary queuing through the lock flight, and we actually had to wait a very long time with one boat at the middle lock.  Generally people were taking this with British stoicism, but I did witness one bit of "canal rage" where someone with more engine power than skill managed to reverse full tilt at someone else's boat, when there was not a lot of space foe a queue at the top lock.




So typical of the Northern Oxford
Our target for the day was Braunston, but it is always tricky arriving late in the day to find a space for a near 72 foot boat.  Cath went ahead to at least try to find a space for Sickle, but actually found one just long enough for Flamingo.  The canal was wide enough at that point that we could moor both of them breasted together,

Newbold to Braunston
Miles per boat: 11.2, Miles both boats: 22.4, Locks: 6
Total Miles both boats: 265.3,  Total Locks both boats: 107

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Generally towards home, but with a detour.

(Both boats being moved together - posted by Alan)

Leaving Ansty - as seen from Sickle
We  continued our journey home with both boats, but had arranged today with Brinklow Boat Services to take Flamingo down what remains of the Stretton Arm.  There is a troublesome pair of welds where the "cloth shaped" front part of the cabin joins the main "box shaped" accommodation cabin.  We had had these welds remade at Brinklow a couple of years back, but for some not easily explained reason they quickly failed again.  The cracks only form over a curiously short length, but because all the rain that lands on the "top plank" part of the front cabin runs back to that point, a lot of water was getting in, making reconstruction of the woodwork inside the boat at that point a fairly pointless exercise.

Work in progress on Flamingo - sister boat Otley on the inside.
The journey down the shallow Stretton arm is always a challenge.  Boats being worked on mix with boats being lived on and boats just being stored, and usually at least one will need to be shunted out of the way to get through. Sometime it is narrow boat Tetris!  Not wishing to make the congestion even worse, we managed to tie "Sickle" up at a point before the junction to the arm, so that only Flamingo need travel down ot.  We only had to get one boat moved, but there was a further delay whilst the guys at the yard shuffled some others to get a different one against the wharf to be worked on.

The same, but viewed from the other end.
Our welding was quickly attended to, although first I had to strip quite a bit of woodwork out inside, and then stand guard with bucket and fire extinguisher, just in case the unexpected happened, (it didn't!).  A decision was taken to leave the welds raised and linished off, rather than grinding them flat, to give the strength of additional metal - hopefully the cracking will not re-occur.  Dave, who did the work, is threatening to cut the whole front part of the cabin off if it re-occurs - perhaps because e once tried to buy Flamingo, and that is what he would have done with it anyway!

David assists the turning operation with the long shaft.
There is always an interesting mix of boats being worked on.  We were particularly interested in Otley - recently  purchased by a very well known historic narrow boat researcher.  It is the same "Large Northwich" type as Flamingo, but has now had the start of a cabin conversion that was being built on it by a previous owner removed  It will once again be an unconverted boat.






Threading our way back out.
More "fun" ensued as we then had to take Flamingo the remaining length of the arm to turn it, ready to come out again.  This passage is between smart well presented boats with barely a mark on them, and their owners are keeping a firm eye in case you do anything to change that situation!  There is little margin on turning at the end, and it is too silted to have much success using the engine.  We found it generally easier to use the long shaft, or generally pull on roeps.  (Well, I found it easier, as it was David on the shaft and ropes!).


Motorised butty Hampton suffered damage to its hydraulic drive and missed Alvecote.
Once back up the arm, I "hovered" in the entrance whilst Cath and David wet to fetch Sickle.  Once underway again, we would have liked to go on to Rugby but felt we might fail to find moorings for both a 72 foot and a 40 foot boat, after which there are few suitable deep moorigs for many miles.  So we decided if we could instead stop in Newbold that we would do so.  Space was available, so we called it a day there.



Cath motors Sickle past the end of the Stretton arm, ready for me to follow.
For our evening meal we went to the Barley Mow.  We were last there for the wake after the funeral of the well known historic narrow boat owner and steerer, Trevor Maggs, when it was completely packed out.  Tonight was a much quieter affair.  The food was very OK, and significantly cheaper than many of the canal-side pubs we have visited on this trip.






Ansty to Newbold (Oxford Canal)
Miles: Sickle 7.7, Flamingo 8.4, Miles both boats: 16.1, Locks:0
Total Miles both boats: 242.9,  Total Locks both boats: 101

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

A Short Day

(Both boats being moved together - posted by Alan)

Typical of the start of the Oxford - the modern bridges are often nor pretty.
We made a deliberately late start this morning, as David wished to visit a shop in Nuneaton that didn't open until noon, and that was little over an hours boating from our overnight stop.  The sole unusual happening before Nuneaton was that overhanging and very low-hanging  branches, (of which there are too many on the Coventry!), managed to sweep my stern rope off the top of the back cabin, and deposit ut into the canal.  We were by no means certain it would not have sunk to the bottom, but after a long and noisy reverse, we found it still afloat, and managed to retrieve it.  At least it will not end up fouling somebody's propeller.

This picture totally fails to show the mass of boats that soon surrounded me!
The canals have been fairly busy much of the day, but it was at Hawkesbury Junction that real mayhem started.  I had to stop just after the old stop lock on the Coventry before attempting the 180 degree turn onto the Oxford, but other boats then completely blocked the old stop lock behind me.  This meant boats that had turned from the Oxford onto the Coventry had nowhere to go, but were also blocking the area I needed to move into before attempting the turn.  Then just as I was ready to go, the steerer of a boat about to come through the bridge told my crew he was heading to Coventry, (so not into the already log-jammed bit of cut).  He was giving us duff information, and actually also turned towards us into an area where there was already no space.  I gave up, and started my turn, despite nowhere to put my back end to have a chance of getting around cleanly.  Needless to say I didn't get around in one!

Cath was round OK, but the other boat didn't do what they said they would.
We are booked to go with Flamingo down the Stretton Arm tomorrow to Brinklow Boat Services, to have another attempt at a welding job that did not succeed last time we were there.  There are few opportunities on this stretch of the Oxford to moor deep draughted boats against the edge, but needed to find a spot before Stretton that would mean only a short additional run tomorrow.  We managed to get in at Ansty, which is quite unusual, though given the state of the bank we have tried to put stakes in to we nay not still be moored by the morning.

Cath worked out what looked like an an excellent circular walk for the dogs, mostly on footpaths mostly through fields.  However the fields had mostly been ploughed, the footpaths  were mostly hard to guess, and there were only about two signs all the way around  We did get back, but could have done with a sherpa!

Springwood Haven (Coventry Canal) to Ansty (Oxford Canal)
Miles per boat: 11.3, Miles both boats: 22.6, Locks: 2
Total Miles both boats: 226.8,  Total Locks both boats: 101

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Homeward Bound

(Back with both boats being moved together - posted by Alan)

We have had a cracking time at Alvecote, but I must admit very few pictures got taken so it isn't that easy to do posts about the actual event.  I might try and do it retrospectively, but for now will just concentrate on the first day of our return trip.

Cath was working Sickle up the locks largely on her own
In true Fincher style we left far later than planned, and having largely got through the weekend with no "navigational errors", I managed to make a spectacle of myself by getting caught by the cross wind in the marina, and ending up with Flamingo resting on the bows of other boats, rather than making a neat exit.  Needless to say many old hands were watching, proving the old adage that the more you are observed, the more likely you are to cock it up!


I was following with Flamingo, seldom more than a lock behind.
Generally our standard way of working now is for Cath to lead with Sickle, and me to follow on with Flamingo.  This works well, ut as Sickle is the faster and more maneuverable boat Cath does need to watch she has not got too far ahead of me.

We moved along well, but were not surprised to find a queue of  boats at the foot of Atherstone locks.  Sometimes this would represent a big delay, but most of the crews were people who were working fast and efficiently, and it cleared relatively quickly.

Just short of halfway up, and about to moor up to go shopping.
The big difference from our outward trip with both boats is that we now have David with us.  This doesn't change much when we are on long lock-free lengths, other than we can summon him to assist if we need to stop and tied up.  However it means locks can be tackled far more easily, and we can go up flights with both boats at the same time.  Today at Atherstone this involved David on a bike, with both dogs in pursuit, as he raced to try and set up locks for both of us.  Cath did a reasonable amount on her own with Sickle, me rather less so with Flamingo.

Restarting after our shopping.
Half way up we tied up for a while and went shopping for vital supplies.  After the stop nobody else seemed to be moving, so all locks had to be "turned" twice, but with David working hard we got to the top quickly.

We then covered a few more miles leaving Atherstone and passing through Mancetter.  This stretch has a surprising number of bends that are tighter than they look, and it does feel like a bit of a work-out sometimes.  We had tied up at Springwood Haven on the way out, so aimed to do the same on our return.  Ut has proved to be surprisingly full up here, but we found a stretch that would accommodate both boats without much problem.

Same lock, different boat.
We had an evening meal on the boat - something that happened little at Alvecote, where the food in the Samuel Barlow regularly proved to be too much of an attraction!

The dogs meanwhile seem to be completely exhausted by David insisting on them covering all his mileage lock-wheeling, and both are now fairly motionless in their respective beds.

Alvecote to Springwood Haven (Coventry Canal)
Miles per boat: 10.3, Miles both boats: 20.6, Locks: 22
Total Miles both boats: 204.1,  Total Locks both boats:99

Thursday, 23 August 2018

I'm fixing a hole where the rain came in........

(Now with just Flamingo- posted by Alan)

Taking an eternity to fill with water - "Pinner" is opposite.
Our day started earlier than intended - far far earlier than intended!  At something like, I think, 3:30 a.m. Cath woke me and placed a corner of the duvet in my hand - "Why is it getting wet here, when it doesn't usually?" she asked!   It turned out that it was raining, and there was a very regular drip of water from the air vent above nor very far from where her pillow is, and now part of the mattress as well as the duvet was quite wet.   She had layed there for quite a while, still part asleep, processing the idea that getting wet in bed isn't a normal situation!

Typical Birmingham & Fazeley bridge.
The relevant area of the sloping cabin side was away from the towpath,it was raining steadily, and there is nothing to hang on to if you do climb on to the gunwales to inspect it.  Despite Cath's considerable concerns, I got dressed and went outside with a lantern.  I could see nothing obviously wrong, so the best I could come up with was to split a rubble sack down its side to produce a fairly large and strong plastic sheet, them to cover the affected area, holding it down with weights and the single magnet I had available.  Shortly after it stopped raining, but we both struggled to sleep after that, and I awoke feeling well tired.

Typical view from behind if you are the tow-path dog walker.
Still bleary eyed, we put the boat onto Fradley services, to do the loo, dispose of rubbish, and fill the water tank.  The single available tap must be one of the slowest on the system - there is almost no water pressure at all, and it would clearly take a while.

Whilst filling I looked again at the problem of rain getting in, and concluded that where a vent hole is covered by a metal shroud, water must be getting between the shroud and the boat - I suspect the sealant used has broken down, and there is probably a lot of rust underneath, but it will be a significant task to get it off for a full fix.  So I raked away any flaking material around the join, and put a bead of silicone sealant over it - hopefully enough to keep the bed dry until we are back to our home mooring.

Even after addressing the problems with the cabin vent, the water tank was nothing like full, as other boats waited impatiently - we don't even have a very big tank - this certainly is a tap to avoid in future!

Several of the loves of my life - wife, two dogs and one of the boats.
Eventually we got going, but not until the morning had virtually ended.  We had one lock to do, then made the turn onto the section from Fradley Junction to Fazeley Junction - the guide shows this as 11 miles, and there are no locks.  I get a bit distracted om long sections with no locks, so we made fairly regular changes of steerer.  At one point I did quite a long stint on the towpath to give the dogs a good walk.

Once through Fazeley Junction there are just the two slow filling locks at Glascote to do, and by here we were in a queue of several boats, so these locks took quite a while.  On arrival at the marina I needed to do quite a long reverse back, and, as always seems to be the case when I have to do this, the winds were starting to build up.  I was quite relieved to make it fairly comfortably onto the mooring - you are under the gaze of many people far more experienced than you are, and there is real pressure not to cock things up completely!

We are here, and earlier than any rough plan we might have had.

Fradley (Trent & Mersey Canal) to Alvecote (Coventry Canal)
Miles 14.9, Locks: 3
Total Miles both boats: 183.5,  Total Locks both boats: 77

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

A straightforward day, but why the many bikers?

(Now with just Flamingo- posted by Alan)

The locks are shallow, so ot's easy to wait in the mouth as they empty.
Being somewhat ahead of any plan, (if there ever was one!), I think we have now decided that we may well get to Alvecote on the Thursday evening, rather than on Friday, and we have adjusted our days with that in mind.











What a place to live!
The choice today as either a very short day to Alrewas, or to go up a few extra locks snd milrs to Fradley.  The only risk with Fradley is that it is very popular, and finding a mooring for a 72 foot boat is not guaranteed.  We decided to go for it anyway, and were rewarded by finding a suitable mooring one lock down from the junction. 







These tiny bridges at the lower end of a lock are a feature of this canal.
The only downside for this spot is that it is alongside the minor road that leads up to the Swan, and other buildings at the junction.  For some reason we haven't yet fathomed there is a continuous flow of motor bikes in both directions along this road, some of them accelerating to considerable speeds between the speed bumps.  These mostly seem to be "older" bikers, and although they are parking up and congregating near the pub, few of them actually see to be patronising it.  There is nothing else obvious to draw them there, other than each others company.  (No I wasn't brave enough to ask any of them why they are there!)

Same lock. same house, different aspect.
We walked the dogs around the nature reserve around he reservoir.  Odin went swimming, which as I think it is canal water, maybe he should not have done.  We then adjourned for a meal in the Swan.  This has received very nixed reviews in recent years - some seem to love it, others seem to hate it.  Our experience was good, and the prices we reasonable both for food and drink.  Based on tonight's performance, we would go again.


Bigger, but still attractive bridge.

And anyway it leads immediately into another of these.



















Passing through the last such bridge, and into the last lock of the day.

Shobnall to Fradley (Trent & Mersey Canal)
Miles 9.7, Locks: 9
Total Miles both boats: 168.6,  Total Locks both boats: 74

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

And now back the other way.

(Now with just Flamingo- posted by Alan)

Downhill through Shardlow Lock, before coming back uphill through it.
We have been determined on this break to try to be relaxed, not to rush, and particularly to avoid very long boating days - we have got a bit burnt out of late, and needed to slow down.  On that basis even coming as far as Shardlow had probably been more we planned to do, but at no point have we felt rushed.  However, now it was definitely time to turn around and retrace the route we have just done.





Turning at Shardlow - Conversion to a pub has rather spoilt this iconic warehouse.
The first debate of the day was "where is the winding hole", (a widened part of the canal where a full length boat can be turned around).  The Nicholson's guide reckons it is just below Shardlow lock, whereas another historic boat owner we got talking to last evening reckons it is at a basin through the next bridge, near the premises that still carries remnants of the famous boat building firm Dobsons.  We elected for the former, and got round OK, though there is large amounts of mud and the boat didn't turn well.

Two things we knew we had coming today were....

1) Having to get back through both the locks that we grounded on the bottom of when coming the other way - the wide Aston lock, and the narrow Dallow or Dallow Lane lock, (it seems to carry both names).

2) Working uphill though locks that are 11 feet, or in one case over 12 feet deep.

One of the deep uphill locks.
At all these locks we made a point of taking the dogs off the boat, so they would not be scared by any excessive banging about or engine running.

First was Aston lock, where I reckoned I needed to go in hard under power.  I reckoned the sludge itself would slow me and I was unlikely to strike the cill or gates hard at the far end.  This proved to be right, and I forged in under far more power than would normally be wise.  This one was out of the way quite easily.

None of the three big uphill locks presented any problems, but they don't half feel huge when you are at the bottom of them.  The rather shallow looking top gates have large paddles in, covered by lifting flaps designed to deflect the water downwards to some extent, but not enough to avoid a full length boat in the lock.  It is therefore necessary to wind only the ground paddles first, (which are actually quite mild and slow filling) then wait really quite a long while before you can start to open the gate paddles.  We managed to open them small amounts long before they could be opened fully, and it certainly sped things up.

Passing the newly restored "Pinner" - the same class of boat as "Flamingo"
We were of two minds whether to stop again at Willington, as we had in the other direction, but the pubs there are lackluster, and the tiny shop did not meet our needs.  We had not realised that there are almost no accessible shops anywhere from Burton on Trent, and including Shardlow, and supplies were getting very thin.  We therefore pressed on to Stretton, in Burton on Trent and Cath easily found the rather small, but very usable Co-Op.  On the other hand we had pulled up on the moorings at a Harvester "restaurant", and a quick look at both the menu, and the place itself, gave us a very good reason to move on again!

Steerers view entering 12' 4" deep Stenson lock.
Dallow, (or Dallow Lane) lock proved to be far harder to get back through than Aston.  Again I reasoned I needed to power in hard, but the first attempt I chickened out, fearing that if I wasn't brought to a standstill by the gravel and other matter in the lock I might end up striking the top gate far too firmly.  This was a mistake, as I was brought to a halt long before we were far enough in to shut the bottom gates.  For a while I could move neither forward nor backwards.  When we tried to flush in water from the ground paddles to rais the front of the boat, the fact there was really nowhere for that water to get under the boat actually flushed us out backwards, even though I was under full ahead power, but at least we were unstuck.  So I threw caution to the wind and motored back in with a large run up.  This actually felt quite scary, but in fact I judged it right, and we were brought again to a halt, but now able to shut the bottom gates, and work through the lock.  This lock really is a total disgrace, and has apparently been in this state for some years.

On the way down I had spotted Shobnal Fields, a large area of parkland, playing fields, and with a mass of indoor and outdoor sporting facilities, and it had looked a good potential overnight stop.  So it proved to be, we got easily to the side, and there are well designed rings, so mooring up was a doddle.  The dogs absolutely loved it, and Max in particular ran around far more than I have seen him do in ages.  Trying to keep them away from dozens of other dogs, or out of the several football matches in progress was a bit of a challenge to me, but it was really good to see them both so active.


Shardlow to Shobnall (Trent & Mersey Canal)
Miles 15.7, Locks:7
Total Miles both boats: 159.0,  Total Locks both boats: 65