Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Held up by a "Spot of "Bovver"

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

We decided to get going reasonably early, which, considering how the day panned out, proved to be a good decision!  Having knocked the 11 Atherstone locks on the head last evening, the plan today was mostly to just cover miles, with just a couple of locks to do.  We badly wanted to reach Fradley Junction, because we were hoping to find both shower and launderette facilities there, as well as us thinking we were due for another pub meal in the evening.

Passing "Jaguar" at Grendon dock.
As you progress up this stretch of the Coventry, you pass both Grendon and subsequently Alvecote, both of which can always be expected to yield a working boat or two, (or ten!), most usually those associated with the South Midland fleet, but often others.  At Grendon we noted the Josher "Tench", owned by former owner of Sickle, Matt Parrott, wonderful repainted into a Fellows Morton & Clayton livery.  As expected not many of the "fleet" were at Alvecote, presumably because there are about to be big historic boat gatherings at both Ellesmere Port and Droitwich.

Sickle is throwing a lot of exhaust our way, and neither of the exhaust stacks, ("pipes"), that we currently have is suitable to throw it upwards, and still be short enough to pass under the low bridges on these canals.  I stopped at Alvecote to see if we could rectify this, but apparently "pipes" for 3" diameter exhausts differ from the more modern narrower bore items, and need making to order.  So, after a brief chat with Sam Noon, who was busy making a set of side cloths, we pressed on with no pipe on. as this seems to be the best compromise  to avoid excess exhaust in our faces.

Deep joy!
It was all going pretty well until Tamworth, where the amount of "flotsam" in the canal suddenly increased, and the "bottom was too near the top" in many of the bridges.  Suddenly Sickle's engine laboured like hell, but was producing very little forward motion, (and even less attempt at stopping!).  Clearly we had picked up a "blade full" on the propeller, but all normal attempts to throw it off by judicious use of alternate forward and reverse gear produced no improvement, (perhaps because "reverse" seemed to have gone missing!).  We laboured on to the two locks at Glascote, where I attempted to clear the blades with the cabin shaft, (old working boats like Sickle lack the concept of a "weed hatch" - a removable cover that allows access to a fouled propeller from above - on Sickle you only have the option of trying to reach under the counter stern in whatever way you can).  We got a fair amount of old rope and plastic off, along with the all too common pair of jogging bottoms, but there was clearly stuff that was going to be far harder to shift.

A present from the good people of Tamworth.
We pressed on at reduced speed to Fazeley junction, to allow Cath to shop, whilst I refilled water supplies, and tried again to clear the prop.  Attempts to pull stuff off with the cabin shaft failed - whatever it was there was simply too strong to be pulled away.  When I did manage to get hold of the end of a piece of underwater rope, it could not be wound off by hand turning the propeller shaft, as rotating that either way was winding it on, implying it was "knotted" not just "wound" on.  With Cath now hanging in to the shaft pulling a loop of the offending rope, I was able to reach under and sever some of it with an old break knife, but still only small pieces would come off.  I eventually found that hung over the edge, with one side of my face in the canal, I could reach under just far enough to start to untangle stuff, and pull it off by hand, albeit at full stretch.  Finally it felt that most was off, and I could clearly feel the whole blades with nothing hanging off them.

Finally reached Fradley Junction - The best mooring there!
This, of course, is the point on any other boat you would go and take a shower, but, Sickle doesn't have running water, let alone showering facilities, so Cath rinsing through the bit of my hair I had had to give a dunking was the best we could achieve.  A bag of wet clothes meant the launderette at Fradley was even more in demand, but the whole episode had cost us well over an hour.

View from the pub window
What came of the blades would have simply stalled Chalice, but Sickle is made of sterner stuff, and had managed to keep going.  However the difference once it was removed was spectacular, and we fair shot away from Fazeley, onto what is a very curious stretch of canals.  For historic reasons, the first half of the Fazeley to Fradley run is part of the Birmingham and Fazeley canal, that we had just joined, but after that switches to a curious "detached" portion of the Coventry, again.

We made good progress after this, and took a decision to try and get on the very restricted mooring space right by the junction with the Trent & Mersey.  This worked, meaning we were best placed for all facilities, and the pub - result!

Newbold to foot of Atherstone Locks
Miles: 19.4, Locks: 2

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 93.6, Locks: 38

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