Saturday, 30 June 2012

We Do Stop At Stoke Bruerne Rather A Lot!

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Cath had a lot of school work stacking, so really our plans had to revolve around two things.  Firstly quite a lot had travelled to "Sickle" with us, so she could spend time in the "back office" working on it, whilst I steered much of the long lock-less pounds involved in getting the boat back to its home moorings.  But, additionally, we really needed to get back relatively quickly, as well, to allow her further work-time at home on the Sunday.  As we had already climbed Braunston locks yesterday, passing right through Stoke Bruerne, and the lock flight there, and some further distance to home was certainly possible.

That said, we were not in an enormous rush to get away and into Braunston tunnel this morning, or at least not until we saw the two Union Canal Carriers boats we had seen packed with noisy parties of school children approaching a lock or two down the flight.  "Sickle" is not the easiest boat if you have to follow slow-moving, inexperienced, crews through the long Grand Union tunnels, so we  decided to get going.  At the moment my passages through Blisworth or Braunston tunnels tend to be either "textbook", or "something happens", and Braunston proved to be another "textbook" passage, quickly made, where the passing of boats was as good as it can be, and progress rapid the rest of the time.

Steady passage down Buckby locks.
Buckby locks have always seemed harder work than other flights on the Southern Grand Union, but at these times we seem to nearly always share, with the pace often dictated by boats coming the other way, or other boats ahead, and, as for some other recent passages, they seemed somehow less effort.  Above the bottom lock BW were hard at work on new piling work at the lock landing, but had conveniently left a line of their work-boats that I could breast "Sickle" against whilst there was a fairly long wait for the lock.  Only just over 10 years ago, now, "Sickle" might have been actively involved in such activities herself.

Somewhere just before Stowe Hill we got caught by an unexpected grounding.  I was passing a part where boats were already moored tow-path side, and approaching where there are permanent moorings on the off-side.  A boat was coming towards, very much in the middle of the available space, and, whilst I could have pushed ahead, I decided to wait before the boats moored my side.  Although not very close to the bank, and although I had not been aware of riding up anything, as we tried to move off, we were very firmly stuck.  Sickle doesn't currently have a "long shaft", (a big "boat pole"), just a "cabin shaft" of less than 8 feet - not long enough to really push on either the side, or the silty bottom, in such cases.  Surprisingly we have never got stuck like this before - "Sickle" is remarkably good normally at sliding off shoals on the bottom, or has sufficient reverse power to come off on the engine.  Today the engine was no help at all, as we pivoted on something probably about 10 feet forward of the back of the boat.  Eventually we managed to get her diagonally across the cut, back end still stuck, and throw a rope to someone on the tow-path side, and then the engine did push us off forwards.  I've still no idea what we were lodged on, but it was definitely solid and unforgiving!

"Sickle" looks at home amongst BW work boats.
The rest of the passage was fine, until Blisworth Tunnel.  As I said, these either go very well or"something happens", and this was to be a "something happens"!  I am well aware that in some tunnels the vertical exhaust of a powerful engine can disturb muck off the roof - it happened very badly to me once maybe 40 yeras ago.  However we have been passing both the two major tunnels here for a while with a moderately tall pipe, having no "cutter" - the brass hoop that will deflect  much of the exhaust forces sideways.  It has never been an issue - until now!  Today though from the very start, muck was raining down into my face, and getting not just on my glasses, but behind them, and severely in my eyes.  I was struggling to see.  Slowing off didn't help, but examining the exhaust smoke, it looked normal.  I was aware of muck landing all around me.  Then we has to pass a couple of boats where I would say those on board crews were "well oiled".  They were following each other closely, and on the second one someone had a very bright spotlight, with a near pencil beam.  They chose to swing this around, and straight into my already half blinded eyes, shortly before we had to pass each other.  I have no idea if they were being deliberately malicious, or were just to ill-informed to see the dangers, but I ended up shouting more than a few choice words at them.  Very disappointing behaviour, that could cause someone to have a major bump.

On arrival at Stoke Bruerne, I was not quite looking like a Black & White Minstrel, as I took my specs off, but it was not far off!  The cabin roof, my clothing, and everything backwards of the exhaust was coated in a black grit.  I hoped I could use the toilet facilities at the museum to clean myself up, but they were already locked.  I therefore sneaked into the pub, making sure I left their wash basins as I found them - which took a bit of cleaning up too!  Discussionswith Mike, who operates the trip boat, concluded that the recent wet conditions, and the much increased water through the tunnel brickwork, has loosened much of the muck that is always up there, but which normally stays put.  Today "Sickle" had managed to dislodge much of it, although on our passage northbound just a few weeks earlier, we had been fine.  I'll always use a "pipe" with a "cutter" in future, I think!

Now raining, and having cleaned the boat as best we could, we decided a meal in the Boat was in order - excellent as always, as was the beer.  In fact we then decided to actually explore the village, and walked around the church, (sadly locked), and the older graves, (the presumably local  stone used has not survived well, on most).  Very pleasant, other than who lets their dogs foul such a place without clearing up - dog mess seems to be everywhere now.

Although we had thought we would progress at least down the locks today, we decided not to in the end.  Cath had at least managed to get quite a lot of school work done - even whilst I was having my tunnel shenanigans!

Braunston Top Lock to Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 19.5,   Locks: 7

Totals for Stoke Bruerne & Braunston Trip 
Miles: 68.2,   Locks:42

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