Saturday, 20 May 2017

Easier and More Manageable

(With both boats - posted by Alan)

Starting off for the day - first lock.
Well, in brief, if you don't want to read a fuller explanation, our plan, (or more accurately our plan that had to be frequently re-written), kind of worked out in the end.  We put in enough extra effort yesterday that today was manageable.  It was only actually only about four less locks today, and a similar mileage, but it just felt easier and less pressured throughout, even when for the final locks towards our destination things got very congested, and at least one other boater lot his cool really big time.  The latter was such a bizarre incident that if I retold what actually happened here, I don't think any single person not actually present at the time would believe me.  So I'll not try to explain, but talking to some of the "locals" afterwards, it appears this is not actually unusual for the person involved, and such outbursts are well known.  Perhaps it is a good thing that these days we only rarely venture this far down the GU!

David on Sickle
There's mot a lot extra to report really.  I do actually think that when we are concentrating on getting our act together we are doing considerably better with boating both boats together than when we first tried it.  Cath in particular is saying she feels far more confident going ahead with "Sickle", and I can see that she us far more adept at getting it on to difficult lock landings, and getting off and tethering it, whilst she starts to set the lock.  I for my sins did not repeat all the errors I made on the same trip last year, particularly at the several 90 degree tight bends through Cassiobury park.  I may still have been far from perfect, but equally nothing got hit - even the small moored "plastic" boat at the final bend, which has to have been in one of the most suicidal locations I have ever seen anyone choose!

Cassiobury Park - pretty as ever
Max (left) and Odin
David repeated his trick of cycling between locks whilst around the Iron Bridge area, with both Max and Odin in hot pursuit. The new slimmed down Max is now able to compete with Odin on fairly equal terms, something that seemed impossible a year ago, when the still very much fatter Max couldn't really hack it.  David was surprised initially that Odin seemed slower than last year - until he realised that last year he was riding a small folding bike, but this year was on a full sized mountain bike!

Assisted through Cassiobridge Lock by helpful CRT man Steve.
Kings Langley to Batchworth
(for the Rickmansworth Waterways Festival).
Miles per boat: 6.9, Miles both boats: 13.8, Locks: 13
Total Trip Miles: 128.3, Locks: 69

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Hard Work - And More Rain.

(With both boats - posted by Alan)

First lock of the day
Another day that hasn't exactly gone to our original plan, (although as time goes on and on, I'm becoming less convinced that you could really call much of what we do "planning!).  Because we decided not to continue in yesterdays heavy rain, we realised we would have to work harder on the last two days of the trip to Ricky.

Travelling breasted up in Berkhamsted.
We decided we would try and split things today to do considerably more than half the remaining miles and locks, in a bid to make tomorrow more relaxed.  It has only partially worked,  We have certainly managed to do more than half, but equally not massively more, and tomorrow is still likely to be quite hard work.

Passing Sickle's twin, Tycho.
Using our favoured planning tool, CanalPlanAC, still set to speed estimates we would have used for our old leisure boat "Chalice", suggests today's travels could be achieved in under 6 hours.  However the engine hour counters indicate we travelled closer to 8 hours.  It seems we need to add maybe 30% extra to give more realistic timings appropriate to travelling with "Sickle" and "Flamingo" together.

"The Riser" where we performed two days ago.
Until today we have been fairly successful in breasting both boats side by side where locks are very close together, thus freeing up a steerer and adding a second person to work locks.  I decided to try some longer pounds the same way to see how we fared.  Unfortunately the answer was often "not very well".  Levels were severely down in some pounds, meaning insufficient channel for two deep draughted boats forming a single "boat" 14 feet wide.  This was exacerbated by excessive offside vegetation, often not permitting us to use what channel there was.  We quickly lost a fair amount of time going aground so reluctantly decided to double up only where distances between locks was very short. This meant David had to do the vast majority of the intensive lock work. There is also considerable effort expended if you keep roping the boats together only to fairly quickly separate the again.  We continue to experiment to find the most effective balance for us.

Winkwell swing bridge
Exhausted, and with tempers somewhat frayed by about 2:00 pm we stopped for a late lunch and to look for some energy.  It struck me we had not got that far since racing yesterday to beat the lock stoppage that should be ending about that time!

Well and truly raining again by Apsley
We soon decided to get going again, but had already by now cut back ideas about where we hoped to end the day' boating.  As the afternoon pressed on, the rain set in, intermittently at first, but  fairly well established by the time we tied up.  Although there is very adequate depth where we moored, there is nothing to tie up to, and the towpath is impenetrable to stakes, as it seems to be solid concrete only a few inches below the surface.  People have left loops of very insubstantial rope, (twine might be a better word!), passed through some of the small holes in the relatively unusual style of pilings here.

Trevor Maggs on Corona - stll in the rain.
So we now have two very heavy boats attached to not a lot more than "fat string".  However it was soon well tested as veteran boater Trevor Maggs on Corona came past at his usual very brisk pace.  The "string" loops survived, so we are probably OK until the morning.  Trevor is a bit of a legend, now well into his 80s and still handling the working boat he has owned since the 1960s he has, I believe, made the journey from Rugby to Rickmansworth and back every single time the festival has been held.  He doesn't hang about!

Berkhamsted to Kings Langley
Miles per boat: 7.0, Miles both boats: 14.0, Locks: 17
Total Trip Miles: 114.5, Locks: 56

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The unexpected (and unwanted) things you can find out in a pub!

(With both boats - posted by Alan)

Both boats have been moored on the moorings at Cowroast on Tring Summit for rather more than a week.  This was all part of a master plan that intended to achieve all the following:

It rained more than a little.
1) To allow us to be available to drive son Michael for a medical procedure where he was not allowed to drive afterwards.
2) To allow me to attend my GP surgery for some tests.
3) To allow us to attend and perform at a friend's wedding last weekend, involving getting to the Ludlow area whilst our main car was still where we commenced this trip, (don't ask!)
4) To perform with new Moon Morris at the Rising Sun pub, canal-side in Berkhamsted, last evening.
and (rather optimistically !)
5) To allow us to spend time on the boats doing further painting to spruce them up a bit.

The lock where work was due - still raining hard.
When all the above was done, we would recommence our trip to Rickmansworth. However, whilst in the midst of "number 4" on the above list, we got chatting with some people in our audience who were themselves boating on the Grand Union.  All seemed well until they told us they had raced up through a huge number of locks to be able to beat the one day stoppage just about to happen at "Gas" locks in Berkhamsted. "What one day stoppage?!?" exclaimed the Finchers!

Strange spider-legged crane - presumably to put the stop planks in?
Well, I thought we had checked, but clearly not recently enough!  The locks were to close at 11:00 am  the very next morning, and not reopen until 2:00 pm the following day.  If held up by this, we would be put under far more pressure to get to "Ricky" in time than we wanted to be.

There was little incentive to get going in this much rain,
A conference of war was held, and clearly the only way we could beat the stoppage was to make an urgent change of plans and get ourselves installed on the boats last night, ready to move off early today.  So we raced home, threw a few essentials in bags, and did just that, (much to the consternation of our other son!)

Although I was walking the dogs here, so still not staying dry.
We had a good run this morning, and got through in time, but then faced trying to deal with the consequences,  We had had to cancel a groceries delivery, as nobody would be at home to receive it.  The only available car needed retrieving from where we had left it - a bus ride for me - should have applied for a bus pass now I'm state pension age!  We had not been able to take clothes and food we would need last night - only enough to get through the next half day - all this needed sorting.

Half way through the stoppage there is little evidence of much work done.
The bottom line is that, although we might have got a couple of hours more boating done today, we are still in Berkhamsted - a decision heavily tempered by just how much it was raining and the fact it looked set in.  Tomorrow looks better, and by being the "right" side of the stoppage now, we have reclaimed to whole of the morning and up to 2:00 pm instead of having to wait for the stoppage to end.

A final comment is that the Rickmansworth Festival is a fairly major waterways event, attracting boats from long distances away.  CRT's decision to do this stoppage at this time more or less guarantees a lot of those boats visiting from the North may get caught up in it.

Cowroast to Berkhamsted
Miles per boat: 2.7, Miles both boats: 5.4, Locks:7
Total Trip Miles: 100.5, Locks: 39

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Good bits and bad bits.

(With both boats - posted by Alan)

Approaching middle Seabrook lock - two boats, but one engine and one steerer.
Slow steady progress today.  If the waterway in the area we had travelled through were kept properly maintained, it would have been a delight.  This is throughout a picturesque part of the Grand Union, but a length which these days feels increasingly neglected by British Waterways and its successor, the Canal and River Trust.

Cath following me - sometimes dictated by how we close up the locks.
Many of the lock gates are in such poor repair that even if boaters follow instructions to close gates at both ends of each lock, much water is still lost through them due to severe leakage.  Unfortunately though, often boaters either don't close all gates, or if they do, they don't stay shut as you boat away from them.  If the one set of gates holding the water back is also the leakiest set, then water losses can become very major indeed.

This looks somewhat  like an "artists impression", rather than the real thing!
If water is continually lost through leaking gates, then unless topped up, the water level in the pound above the lock falls.  If that pound is a short one, because two locks are close together, then it doesn't take long before levels are severely down to the point where deep draughted boats like Sickle and Flamingo struggle with insufficient depth.

At least we saved the crane (and the carpenters workshop) - could have been worse!
We didn't travel far before we hit the first issue.  At the two locks at Ivinghoe, the water level in the pound between the locks was down a full twenty inches.  That's a lot, and we know that's the right number, because David measured it.  This is because the bottom of the two locks leaks so badly, (and has for several years, so it has not been treated as a priority fix).  We did eventually get through, but had we stuck firmly aground anywhere we would have been far too far from the bank to get off and do anything about it.  If CRT can't actually repair the gates, then they need far more people allocated to water control duties to be on hand to top up pounds from which the water regularly goes missing.

Working hard on the trickiest of the Marsworth pounds for breasted boats.
Towards the end of the day we went through the 7 lock flight at Marsworth - a flight I always considered a delight to boat through when I returned to boat ownership about 12 years ago.  Now unfortunately they are regularly very much less of a delight to work .  The gates at many of the locks leak appallingly, and the levels in the pounds (particularly at the top of the flight) are regularly alarmingly low.  Again CRT seem not to have the resource to either fix things (the best solution, obviously!), or to at least keep putting water in as it leaks away.  The latter should not be too hard, as a series of by-washes at the locks should make it possible to run water down from the top until most levels are restored.

Easier, but need to go round tight on the very outside of the bend.
The day ended with a passage of Tring summit, where fortunately levels were pretty good.  We moored the boats in not quite enough water at Cowroast - if the levels drop there, I suspect it may be a major fight to "unstick" the boats from the bottom, and continue our journey.

Waiting for david to get second gate open - hard work for lock wheelers!
But I headed this post "good bits and bad bits", so what you may ask were the good bits?  Well, actually we have got pretty slick at working the two boats breasted together to form an irregular object 72 feet long and 14 feet wide.  We did OK down Stoke Bruerne a couple of days ago, so I decided to see how we would get on at other places.  We couldn't try at Ivinghoe, because the levels would have defeated us, but through the three locks at Seabrook, which incorporate some bends, all went swimmingly.  I had apprehension about the Marsworth flight, as (particularly) the pound with two sharp reverse bends is fairly well known, but we got through all of it with a text book performance, even managing the pounds that were well over a foot down.

How can gates like this hold water? They are as shut as the top part allows.
The sole problem proved to be a lock with debris behind both bottom gates.  Fortunately David had warned me that the gates were not fully opening, and my cautious approach meant we could get the boats reversed back, and singled out to go in one at a time.  I suppose that's another one for the "bad bits" list - in an ideal world CRT would remove accumulated debris that prevents lock gates fully opening.

Slapton to Cowroast
Miles per boat: 8.1, Miles both boat: 16.2, Locks: 15
Total Trip Miles: 95.2, Locks: 32

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Taking Longer Than Plan

(With both boats - posted by Alan)

Our previous boat Chalice looking very well cared for.
One of the main discoveries of this trip South down the Grand Union continues to be that we are simply unable to make the kind of progress we have in the past, and the actual boating time each day takes a lot longer than the canal planner indicates, (we use CanalPlanAC, an excellent free online resource).

Setting off in to "Three Locks" (Chalice in background)
Admittedly I have not tweaked my settings to try to allow for the fact we are now travelling in two ex working boats rather than one modern leisure boat, but i am still surprised that in the past we have managed to equal or better the planners timings, but now are coming nowhere close to the suggested timings.

We actually reckon we are starting to work quite efficiently much of the time.  we are making good progress along all but the shallowest pounds, provided there are not large numbers of moored boats.  The three of us are also fairly slick at the broad locks, and in flights tying both boats together frees up 2 people, so one can set ahead, as the other largely works the boats through the current lock.

"Three Locks" - Waiting for down hill boat.
Yet progress is still a lot slower than we had hoped, and we are perhaps taking 25% to 30% longer than we might have hoped.  Clearly if we are going to rely on a planner, we will need to adjust our "speed" and "time per lock" settings to something that better reflects our actual progress.

However we are now seriously thinking that the slow progress is only in part down to us.  We are now maybe only travelling this stretch a couple of times each year, but, although it is hard to be exact, there seems to be an increased number of moored boats each successive time that we do so.  We are now repeatedly travelling larger and larger distances on tick-over, often only able to briefly raise our speed for a minute or two after we have passed one cluster of boats before we reach the next.

Ready to pass the many hire boats tied up at Linslade.

Many of the biggest and most awkward to pass boats, (many of them very wide wide-beams), are moored on the outside of bends, or obscuring a clear line through bridges.  This is survivavble with Sickle, but can be a nightmare with Flamingo - bends it should be easy to get around become very hard, because you can't put the boat into the most ideal bit of water.

Grove Lock
It's starting to sound like I'm on a roll, so I will stop for now, but I suspect this pattern will repeat every single day of this trip.  Obviously nobody has a right to an uncluttered canal to use as their own personal plaything, but certainly canals like this stretch of the Grand Union are getting more and more crowded, making the whole experience of travelling it less pleasurable than in the past.  The one bit of good news is that not many of these boats seem to actually move very often or very far - just as well really, because if they all suddenly did, it would be grid lock!

Fenny Stratford to Slapton
Miles per boat: 12.1, Miles both boat: 24.2, Locks: 9
Total Trip Miles: 78.9, Locks: 17

Friday, 5 May 2017

New Approach To Working Lock Flights With Both Boats

(With both boats - posted by Alan)

The "long pound" - two locks down at Stoke Bruerne
We started rather later than we had hoped to.  To steer Flamingo I have to stand in David's bedroom, so if David is slow to rise, things don't necessarily get going as fast as we really need them to.  (David's alarm apparently did not go off for some reason).

Getting practice at lining the pair up with the lock.
We started off with our first lock flight with both boats since they have both had all the work done.  Up until now when we have breasted the boats together to work through such a flight, we have always used Sickle as the towing boat.  There has been good reason for this, as Flamingo lacked power, particularly (and most importantly!), stopping power, whereas Sickle had power in excess.  However because the very much lighter and shorter boat was dragging the much heavier and longer one, the pair has always tended to go up the canal with both boats travelling somewhat askew, and not lined up with the route being taken, which made getting through bridges and into the locks harder than it otherwise would have been. (It also looked odd in photos!)

David was rushing about on one of the bikes, dogs in pursuit.
Cosgrove gives some respite from the lock-less miles.
Now Flamingo's propeller is modified, and both pulling and stopping power improved, we decided to try using Flamingo as the towing boat for the first time.  This proved to be a satisfactory arrangement, and with Flamingo towing Sickle, we no longer travel crab like up the cut.  Flamingo is still a fairly slow stopper, and at first my worry was that if it was trying to stop two boats rather than one, it might not be good enough.  I tried each lock very cautiously at first, but soon found a comfortable speed of approach where stopping both boats was not an issue.  This is very positive, and I think we will continue to use Flamingo as the towing boat when breasted up for lock flights.

We stopped for lunch or Cath and I would have had no break whatsoever
Once Stoke Bruerne is out of the way, there are many miles of canal with only the quite shallow lock at Cosgrove, until you reach the much shallower still one at Fenny Stratford.  I have to say this is a stretch I have done more often than most - we used to keep Sickle at Fenny, so always travelled it to go anywhere North of there.  I'm now not that keen on this stretch, which has large numbers of moored boats throughout much of its length, and you an never go very far at a decent speed before slowing down yet again for further moored craft.

How do you caption this?  - Go and Google it!
We had hoped to get further than Fenny, but ran out of time.  Admittedly we started later than planned, but even so the elapsed time we took was far more than the canal planner estimated.  When we could go a good speed we generally did, so the only explanation we can come up with for taking a lot longer than CanalPlanAC predicted was that much of the day was spent at tick-over, not a full cruising speed.

Cath led all day until the very end, when I passed so I could moor first.

Stoke Bruerne to Fenny Stratford
Miles per boat: 17.6, Miles both boat: 35.1, Locks: 8
Total Trip Miles: 54.8, Locks: 8

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Finally We Are Out With Both Boats Again

(With both boats - posted by Alan)

Finally after all the engineering works of the last year or so we are in a position to take both boats on a trip together.  Flamingo now has a fully rebuilt engine, a remodelled propeller, and much improved controls.  Sickle has had a complete engine swap, actually to an older and less powerful engine, but now the same type as in Flamingo, and still more than adequate.  This will be an excellent test to see how they both perform.

We have David with us - just as well, as I dropped a very large sheet of steel on my toes a couple of days ago, and can barely walk, let alone leap across lock gates.  (I suspect I may have broken a toe, I'm not sure, but have not had it investigated, as I know they don't actually do much with them even if they are broken).

Today I steered "Flamingo", and Cath steered "Sickle", other than through the tunnel where David took over.  Both boats are performing well at the moment, and it is a pleasure not to be looking any more through a fug of exhaust fumes.

The day concluded with an excellent meal at Spice of Bruerne - we got "posh" today and ate in, rather than a take away, which we had somewhat  got into the habit of.

Sorry - no pictures today - I will try harder tomorrow.

High House Wharf to Stoke Bruerne
Miles per boat: 9.8, Miles both boat: 19.7, Locks:0
Total Trip Miles: 19.7, Locks: 0