Sunday, 1 April 2012

A Good Day - The "Cunning Plan" Is Working.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan - with little bits from Cath)
We awoke to find the front deck covered in frost, and the little Epping range nearly out, it was cold, but turned into a glorious sunny day.

This was the kind of critical day, the progress of which would determine how well we could stay on schedule for a planned arrival at Calf Heath, before next week-end.

Ascending the Buckby flight.
We were already well aware that the limited opening hours at the Buckby flight of locks was going to halt us last night, and they were not going to be unlocked until 10:00 a.m. today.  The critical part was whether we could avoid enough hold ups to guarantee we also passed through the Braunston flight today as well, with last entry to these from the top stated at 2:30 p.m.  This would be easy enough if all went well, but if faced with volunteer lock keepers being trained, (slowly!), and strict enforcement of waiting long periods at each lock, or if there were long queues, the plan could have failed.

We need not have worried.  We were first boats up the Buckby flight, with the padlocks taken off dead on 10:00 a.m.  Working efficiently with another boat, we were obviously quicker than the boats we were told had started from the top a bit before us, because, by the middle lock, we had still not passed them.  We eventually met them three locks from the top, (our fifth going up). However, as we were setting off there was a row brewing with the boat crews behind us, as to who had been there first. One crew said that they had been waiting since yesterday afternoon, but as they had been waiting in the marina next to the lock flight the other crews didn't think that it counted as waiting at the bottom of the flight.

Braunston locks are a much easier prospect than those at Buckby

Although we needed “services”, we had decided not to stop for water, loo emptying, etc, until we had passed Braunston, so pressed straight on.  It doesn’t seem to matter how far ahead the boat in front is in these long tunnels, or how restrained I try to be, I always seem to catch them up, and end up having to drop “Sickle” in to neutral gear, to avoid “running them down”.  Sickle is frankly excellent when in tunnels alone, but often a bit too quick, even in tick-over, if restricted to the speed of others.

There were only two boats ahead to go down Braunston locks, and by the time it was our turn, another North-bound boat had turned up behind us that we could share with.  Operations here were being controlled by a BW lock-keeper at the top, who was strictly enforcing that each filling or emptying of a lock was with boats in.  Although this meant some moderately long waits, as, for example boats had to reach you through a couple of locks, before you could go down, in practice it was all very controlled, and progress was fair.  Again we were with a competent crew, although it has to be said that, eventually, when setting locks ahead was required, because no more boats were coming up, it was Cath doing most of the work.

Hillmorton, with Sickle's hull looking rather scruffy!
We boated on through Braunston (with an enthusiastic wave to our friend Polly who was 'breakfasting' in the floating cafe) – there are always interesting old boats here, including “Vesta”, the tug I would like to own if I didn’t have “Sickle”, “Angel” my brother’s old Butty, and “Renfrew” and “Betelgeuse” at Pete Boyce’s yard, just before “the turn”.  We stopped at the “facilities” just onto to Northern Oxford, and had a fair bit of a “sort out”, but in the meantime several other boats had headed up the Oxford, one of which was to slow our progress very significantly for many miles later on.  There was no excuse for their behaviour, really, as at places like “Barby straight”, you could easily wave faster boats past you, but the lead boat seemed happy to slow those following down to their preferred speed.

Passing Badsey outside her owner's Bistro at Hillmorton locks
Before Hillmorton the slow boat pulled over, and things speeded up, and by the locks, only we intended to go down, so got a straight run through with no delays.  This is somewhere, with one set of locks out of action, that could have been another hold up.  The passage between the lower pairs of locks was “interesting” though, particularly as we only just bounced through the bridge hole in that pound.  I had expected trouble, and doing it very slowly seemed to just get us over the hump.

We decided with a clear run to see if we could press on around Rugby, and by now I was in my element, actually feeling like I had the measure of the boat for once, staying in channel, and hence seldom fighting with “Sickle”.  It was quite chilly by now, but I had a real blast to blow away the cobwebs after what had been some quite slow bits in the afternoon.

We moored at Newbold, and decided to have a pint.  Whilst I can recommend the pint of guest ale I had, the fact there was no “real” draught cider, and the fact we paid fairly high prices to sit on ripped dirty seats make it somewhere I’d be unlikely to rush back to.  Cath has been getting more adventurous with cooking using only our tiny Epping range, and a delicious meal based on stuffed peppers and stuffed mushrooms was the result.  I’m amazed at what she can already pull off, but then I’m the sort of “cook” who would consider I had done well if I managed to heat a tin of beans on it!

Bottom of Buckby Locks (Grand Union) to Newbold (Northern Oxford)
Miles: 17.2, Locks: 16

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 49.6, Locks: 24

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