Monday, 16 May 2016

Bloomin' Hard Work

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

Three Locks
What a day - and not always in a good way!

We knew we needed to make good progress today, to avoid excessive pressure the next day, by which time I needed to get to Berkhamsted for a scheduled nurses appointment.  However we looked to have enough time if not severely delayed, and made a reasonable start, but  little knowing what lay ahead.

Very drole!
Our first locks of the day were what is generally referred to as  "Soulbury Three Locks", but which working boatmen actually knew as the "Stoke Hammond Three" - not unusually for names of canal features they are not actually that close to the places bearing either name!   Here we saw our first volunteer lock keepers of the trip, and very good they were, and we progressed quickly up to the picturesque "Jackdaw pound", that leads down to the outskirts of the paired towns of Leighton Buzzard and Linslade,  En route we passed the fuel boat Ascot travelling breasted up with its butty "Beverley", (actually a former pairing with our "Flamingo") .  Unusually the owner had the motor boat on the right of the pair, so in order for him to stay in deep enough water, the butty was well to the centre of the canal.  As we passed, although still a massive way from the "off" side, "Flamingo" tilted heavily over as it explored the surprisingly shallow waters.  I should have taken this as a warning for the rest of the day, but didn't think too much about it at the time.

Passing breasted working boats in the Jackdaw pound.
In Leighton Buzzard we needed provisions, but unusually all the visitor moorings from the supermarket to the bridge were taken.  This was not a problem, as we needed to fill the water tank and empty toilet cassettes, so we went through to the service area, and Cath had ample time to do a quick top up of provisions, whilst I attended to things domestic.  If CRT are paying any contractor to clean the sanitary station at Leighton Buzzard, then they are getting a poor service for their money.

A heron at Ivinghoe locks contemplates a relative lack of water!
We had just entered Grove lock, and started to fill it, when we saw that a boat we had seen in Leighton Buzzard was now following us, so we quickly stopped the process, reopened the bottom gates, and let the other boat join us.  This was about the point life started getting hard!

Delightful lighting effects near Cheddington

In the notoriously bad pound between Grove lock Cath had gone ahead to set Church lock, when I was not paying enough attention to where there is enough channel for a deep draughted boat.  By the time I realised I was grounding, I was particularly impressively stuck!  I was many yards from any bank, (in fact not actually that far off centre of the cut), but it is incredibly shallow on the non towpath side, and, as I was to discover the bottom is covered in hard slabs, and not forgiving at all.  No amount of poling or use of the engine would free me at the back, although the front was swinging free, but fortunately Andy on the other boat was able to eventually get to a position where he could help drag me off.  I'm extremely grateful for his efforts, and the delay was considerable.

Swing bridge near Cheddington
Hoping things might improve they never really did after that!  Above Church lock the long pound to Slapton was maybe nine inches down, and trying to work out where any channel was in the middle proved hard.  I could be close to where you might assume it to be, but was intermittently switching from grounding on the left, with boat tilting to the right, to a grounding on the right, and tilting to the left.

Thereafter every pound to Marsworth, yes, every single pound was down by anything between six inches and a foot.  Hence even if we could plough slowly along them, we could seldom get the boat anywhere near the side at locks, causing much complication with the dogs, and continually increasing the delays.

At the bottom lock of the Marsworth flight we caught a boat towing another, so had to wait for them to lock through.  As the pound below these locks was also well down we had not been able to get to the edge, so having reset the lock, I was alarmed to return to the boat, and find it now tight against the bank.  Unfortunately the flush from emptying the lock had temporarily raised us up, washed us over to the bank but then dumped us down on more solid material again once the flow stopped.  Once again we had become well stuck, and we hadn't even been going anywhere at the time.  Again we are grateful to local boat owners who arrived with poles to help with the inevitable pushing and shoving that followed.

The ever delightul Marsworth, but impossible to moor Flamingo.
Our plan had been to moor in the long pound beside the reservoirs between the two bottom locks of the main Marsworth flight, but that pound was itself about a foot down, and wherever there was a potential space, I couldn't even get within a boats width of the bank.  We simply don't carry a plank that long!

So, completely knackered, and having already taken hours longer than expected we were forced to carry on up the next six locks at Marsworth to Tring summit, with sunset arriving and passing as we did so.  Every pound of this flight was missing nine inches to a foot of water, with the worst ones at the top.  I could not have got up it on my own, as I could not have got on or off the boat, but with me staying on, two of us did eventually get there.

Completely trashed by now, we moored at the first spot available in failing light, and somehow Cath still managed to produce a delicious meal.  There has been much criticism of maintenance standards on the Southern Grand Union in recent months, and, until today, I was not sure how exaggerated they were.  If our experience is typical, not one single pound anywhere between Grove Lock and Tring Summit had enough water in it for deep draughted boats. I make that maybe 17 different pounds, totaling 7 or 8 miles.  If the rest of the trip is like this, I think I could quickly tire of historic boat ownership!

Stoke Hammond to Bulbourne Junction
Miles: 14.2, Locks: 22
Total Trip Miles: 45.5, Locks: 32

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