Thursday, 9 November 2017

For those who don't know - why there has been no blog since August

(Posted by Alan)

OK, I know we are not really very good at keeping the blog up to date, but at least this time I have a fairly good excuse.

The year had already not gone to plan from a boating viewpoint.  The temporary failure of the gearbox on "Sickle's" replacement engine early in the year meant we had to abandon plans to continue taking both boats together around a series of festivals, and instead just do much of what we had planned at that time with just "Flamingo".

However August was meant to see us at least a bit back on track, and the plan was to take both boats to our favourite festival of the calendar, namely the historic boat event at Alvecote.  On the last day we could set off without a big rush to get there, Cath David, I and 2 large dogs travelled up to the home mooring, with two cars well filled, and loaded up the boats.  Only because of delays due to road closures had we not already set off, when I took a call from our other son, Michael.

Before dislocation dealt with
"Hello Dad - I've broken my ankle playing five a side, and I'm on my way to A&E".  I don't think any of us immediately realised quite how momentous those words would turn out to be, but the immediate result was we had to throw as much stuff as we could into one car, (including all of us and the dogs), and set off for Watford General.

Realigned, but still swollen.
The reality, as things unfolded is that he had sustained a very bad 3 part fracture, (a "trimalleolar" fracture), and that once they had manipulated it to get everything back roughly in line, he had to lay with leg heavily elevated for 6 days before the swelling had even subsided sufficiently to allow them to do the necessary surgery.  He then acquired 2 stainless steel plates, and necessary fastenings, apparently enough to guarantee setting off airport body scanners. It rather looks like parts purchased from Screwfix.

2 plates and lots of screws
Although discharged quite soon after the operation, he has not  been given permission to try any load bearing on it until the very last few days.  So for around 11 weeks he has been largely unable to do very much for himself, requiring crutches or a walking frame to get about at all.  Obviously throughout he has remained unable to work, (and even when he can return, will not yet be OK to drive).

Same time, different angle
So this has very much taken over our lives, and not only did Alvecote not happen, we have until recently been unable to get to the boat to start to reinstate the heating and hot water system, most of which we had scrapped earlier in the year, assuming we would have time to put it back before the weather got too cold to be on the boat without heating,

Fortunately Michael's improving situation has allowed us three brief trips to "Flamingo", during which time we have often been cold, but the weather has been unseasonably mild, and I have been able to make much progress on the revised plumbing, to include a new calorifier, (effectively the equivalent of a domestic hot water cylinder), and revised radiator layout.  Of which, no doubt, more to follow in a subsequent posting.

Anyway - that's why absolutely no boating has happened since I last completed a blog post.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Another back to home mooring trip.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
(retrospective post for Sunday 30th July to  Tuesday 1st August)

Cath enters Cosgrove lock.
Our stay at Linslade for the festival had been brief.  In truth we were fairly fully tied up performing with the band from our Morris side for most of the day, (New Moon Morris), and spent very little time with Sickle.  It was a good decision to not bring Flamingo down as well, because it is a significant trip, and the end result would not have justified the substantial effort involved.

Someone looks happy.
Because David needed to be at Linslade for the festival for the New Moon performance, we had actually all come up on Saturday for the day from home by car, and returned home immediately after the festival.  The second advantage of this was that far more instruments did not need to be stowed in Sickle's cabin than it can reasonably accommodate.  So in order that we could continue our journey on the Sunday, without abandoning a car in Linslade, we got Michael to deliver us up there.

Two generation of Grand Union ice breakers - on the left is Snowdrop,
As it is really a good 2 days boating, and as we were not able to start or end the first and last days particularly early or late, we elected to take a more relaxed 3 days, which would also allow an overnight stop in Stoke Bruerne - one of our regular haunts.

Leaving the top of the Stoke Bruerne flight.
It was a good trip throughout, with fine weather and no real issues.  In particular both Sickle's gearbox, and the mechanism controlling it continued to work as they should.  The replacement engine handles and gets us along well, but at times is making more smoke than we really think it should be for an engine claimed to not have had much in excess of 300 total hours on the clock.  Where possible I am deliberately working it harder, in case it needs a good work out to get things better bedded in - as a result we made a fairly spirited passage through Blisworth tunnel.  Doing this is at least certainly not making things worse, but the jury is out on whether it is actually improving them.

About to moor for the night at Stoke Bruerne

Linslade to High House Wharf, Weedon
Miles: 36.6, Locks: 14

Friday, 28 July 2017

Unusually we are boating with just Sickle again.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
(retrospective post for Thursday 27th and Friday 28th July)

Marsworth locks - it's sometimes easier to rope boat out, if shutting gates.
Our ambitious plans for the year to date would have had us visiting all the following events with both boats in this order - Rickmansworth, Foxton, Braunston and Linslade.  The problems with Sickle had already meant that she had not made it to either Foxton on Braunston, and we now decided that we would further cut back plans, and not bring Flamingo down to the Linslade festival either.  All this was disappointing, but we had lost a lot of time because of a number of things, (not just Sickle), and to do separate journeys to Linslade with each boat, (one being South of it, the other North of it), would further eat into time we might be getting on with work on the boats.

Coming down Marsworth - still one of my favourite lock flights
Currently Cath and I have not worked out satisfactory ways of overnighting on Sickle with both dogs, so anything more than a day move of Sickle requires leaving them at home in the care of our sons.  Wherever a trip takes place with a different start and end point, the issue of transport and car movements usually arises.  We decided this trip could be tackled by driving to the start point at Cow Roast, leaving a car there, then, on arrival at Linslade, using a combination of bike and train to retrieve that car, and bring it back to where the boat was.
Once upon a time only Cath would have been pictured doing this.
It was excellent weather for boating, and was a great pleasure to both be using Sickle on her own, (quite unusual at the moment), and to travel a length of canal that once upon a time we travelled all the time, but which, since basing the boats further North, we now only boat on much less frequently.

We took turns to steer, and I got to work quite a few locks.
In order not to have to cook on the boat, (it was far to warm to have the coal fired range alight!), we arranged to moor overnight at Cooks Wharf, and walk in to Cheddington to eat at the Old Swan pub.  (Once upon a time we would have avoided this after dark, but a few years ago a continuous footpath was added ro the road where previously there was none - a great improvement in safety). This pub seemed on its last legs only a few years back, (spending some time closed down), but is currently undergoing a massive resurgence in popularity.  The food is quite expensive, but definitely a notch or two above standard pub meals, so worth treating oneselves once in a while.

Shame about the electricity pylons!
It was a real pleasure to be boating with our rather special tug again, although I'm still not used to Sickle now having a two cylinder beat to the engine, replacing the three cylinder noises I have been enjoying for years.  Performance is still lively, and more than adequate, but you have to remember to not try pulling some of the show off stunts she was capable of with the even more powerful engine,

Our steerer usually closes the gate they have entered the lock through.
All too soon we were at Linslade.  It is a long while since I have done more than lock wheel on a push bike, and although no large cycling mileages were involved in my attempts to get first from Sickle to Leighton Buzzard station, and then from Tring Station to Cow Roast and the car, I was struggling by the time I finally got there.  Clearly I need to work more on my fitness!

Cow Roast to Linslade
Miles: 11.2, Locks: 18

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

A Short Proving Run

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
(retrospective post for Wednesday 5th July)

Waiting for "Bushes" lock in Northchurch.
This was only  short move, but an important one!  With David's help we had completed repairs to the mechanism that operates the gear change which had caused Cath and I issues on the way into Berkhamsted.  We were now so far adrift on any original plans for this period, that taking "Sickle" up to its Northamptonshire home mooring made little sense, if we were coming back down to the Linslade Canal festival not many weeks later.  However our friend Jim's mooring was not currently in use, as his boat is having major renovations elsewhere, so we were offered the loan of his mooring until we needed to move on to Linslade, (thanks Jim!).

Entering Dudswell Bottom Lock
This short run was a vital stage in checking that our repairs were up to scratch, in anticipation that the journey on from Cow Roast had the possibility of being trouble free.  With that in mind, David and I were the crew for this trip, and we travelled with lots of tools, just in case.

The trip was completed without incident - this was a good result, of course, although only much longer runs will ultimately establish whether we might still end up with more problems.

Berkhamsted to Cow Roast
Miles: 2.6, Locks: 7

Monday, 26 June 2017

Another brief run back to base.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
(Retrospective post for Monday 26th June)

After another very enjoyable Braunston gathering, this was simply a quick run over familiar territory to get "Flamingo" back to its home mooring.

I could tell the story of the water can and the overhanging trees down the Buckby flight, but lets gloss over that brief incident!

Braunston Locks

Braunston Locks
Buckby locks

Buckby locks

Monday 26th June

Braunston to High House Wharf, Weedon
Miles: 10.5, Locks: 13

Friday, 23 June 2017

So 45 Years later on, where exactly is the precisely same bit of the Grand Union?

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Some 45(-ish) years ago, I took a couple of photos of the British Waterways maintenance tug "Sickle", little expecting that one day I would own it.  (Had I known that, I would certainly hve taken more, despite the cost of film and processing it).

The pictures were taken just South of the railway bridge that carries the West Coast main line across the Grand Union below Winkwell bottom lock.

"Sickle" ventures down that way less often now, but when she does it is always in my mind to take a "now" photo to marry up with then "then" photos I have had since about 1972.  However I never seem to have those photos easily to hand and my memory plays tricks with the exact location and the camera angles used, so I'm left guessing when I try to take an equivalent.

It's made worse that s much additional vegetation has grown up that fences in the original are no longer obvious today.

Anyway, all these photos were taken very close to the same place, but two of them about 45 yeras before the other two.

This I think is actually quite close to being the same spot......

.......though the vegetation and trees are quite different.

I needed to do better with this one......

.... as the railway line should be just in frame on the left

Sickle has had two new super-stuctures since the old photos, but now looks broadly similar again, although the back cabin was wooden then but is now a replica of its origial one by Yawoods in riveted steel.

Steering in the current pictures is Cath.  Back in 1972 the steerer was former working boatman Alf Best, with Tom Sibley, (another ex working boatman) sat on the roof.

Moving Sickle - Not Quite Out Of The Woods Yet!

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
(Retrospective post for Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd June)

Hunton Bridge
Finally we got to move "Sickle".  The gearbox had been removed at Cassio Bridge, and taken away to  repaired by the person who sold us the engine.  The actually problem had proved to be exactly what the experts though it must be - a very large nut that holds all the mechanism onto the main shaft had come loose by several turns, even though it is meant to be locked in place.  No damage done, but that is probably only because I refused to carry on with it, once the problem first arose.

Nash Mills
The gearbox had been refitted several days previously, but this was the earliest we could collect the boat, and still at least take "Flamingo" to the events at Foxton and Braunston - we had originally planned to take "Sickle" to both as well.

They have painted it, but it is still "unusual"!
The first day of this two day trip passed largely, (but not entirely!), without incident.  However on day two, we were bugged by the same problems of severely depleted water levels South of Berkhamsted.  Once again the pound between Bottomside and Topside locks was down so far as to be almost unnavigable in a deep draughted boat.  Once again the level was a full twenty inches low.  A foot can be survivable, but when nearly 2 feet if water is missing, problems are inevitable.  There is one bridge in that pound.  We stuck firm approaching it, and had to let some water down, knowing, as usual, that all the water you take from the next pound may cause further problems there.  Eventually we bounced slowly through the bridge, only to get stuck again on the other side.  Once freed from there, I thought we could get to the lock, but we grounded firmly maybe 100 yards from it, despite being mid channel.  quite a large additional flush finally saw us into the lock.

Approaching Winkwell Bottom Lock.
Thinking our troubles were over, and we had only three more locks to get into central Berkhamsted, we then hit issues with the bevel gear mechanism that works the gears.  This is not, I hasten to add, the gearbox itself, which had just been repaired - it is a "highly bespoke" separate gearing mechanism unique to "Sickle", and perhaps less robustly engineered as would be totally ideal.  The mechanism was now part jamming and sometimes jumping - that much was obvious, but I couldn't at the time work out why.  We managed to creep on to Berkhamsted, but were now long overdue on plans to drive up to Braunston to rejoin "Flamingo" for the historic boat gathering there.  Not for the first time "Sickle" would have to wait for me to investigate what had happened now!

Winkwell Bottom Lock.
Winkwell Swing Bridge

7 courses of brickwork that should be covered by water!
Stuck mid-channel and going nowhere - pound about 20 inches down.

Stuck mid-channel and going nowhere (2)
The Rising Sun, Berkhamsted - "Sickle" is misbehaving again, though.

"Sickle's" twin "Tycho" is once again advertised for sale.
Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd June
Cassio Bridge (Watford) to Berkhamsted
Here to There
Miles: 11.7, Locks: 27
Total Trip Miles: 2.0, Locks: 2

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Moving between Festivals.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
(Retrospective post for Monday 19th and Tuesday 20th June)

This was simply a move from the Foxton Locks Festival to Braunston, ready for the Historic Boat Gathering there the following weekend.

A good run, with nothing notable, other than the Leicester summit from Foxton Locks to Watford Locks can be fairly slow going in a deep draughted boat.  The return trip confirmed what we thought n the way up - the Southern half generally seems worse than the Northern half.

Good deep overnight mooring on rings near Welford Arm junction.

Back down the staircase locks at Watford

Looking down the staircase

They empty quite fast.
Bottom lock of the staircase.

On into single locks at the bottom.

They are pretty locks, but sadly there is an ever present din from the M1,

Last lock of the flight, and last narrow one of the trip.

Monday 19th and Tuesday 20th June
Foxton to Braunston
Miles: 27.0, Locks: 13

Friday, 16 June 2017

Up the Leicester branch of the Grand Union to Foxton Locks.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
(Retrospective post for Wednesday 14th June to Friday 16th June.

As promised, at least some pictures from the period from early June until mid August when the blog has remained unupdated.

This trip should have featured both "Sickle" and "Flamingo", but the failure of "Sickle's" gearbox after we left the Rickmansworth Festival meant a complete revision of our plans, at it was left South for several weeks until repairs could be carried out.  We had hoped to take both boats to the Foxton Locks Festival, and then onwards from there to the Braunston Historic Boat Gathering.

We could now either still take both boats to Braunston, but cancel plans for Foxton, or could do both Foxton and Braunston with "Flamingo", but make no attempt to get "Sickle" to either.  Having not been up the Leicester in many years, we elected to do the latter.

Given that Cath and I have not been up the Leicester in years, and that the last time I did it in an historic bit was about 1971, I'm surprised how few photos we took.  I suppose that is because there are few locks, and much of the time was spent crossing the summit, (often very shallow!), so unless someone got off with a camera, most of it goes unrecorded - a lot of our photos do feature locks, of course!

We were made to wait a very long while before being allowed into Watford locks.
Not that Cath is one to miss a chance for music practice!
Finally we are allowed in.
Ordinary locks at the bottom before coming to the staircase.
Max and Odin are being encouraged to wait quietly at locks.
Approaching the staircase.

Steerer's view.
On our way up the staircase.
Ascent can be quite brisk once you are finally in the staircase.
The pounds to the side carry out the function those not present between the locks.
At Foxton, having failed to take photos on the long summit.
At Foxton looking towards the lock flight.

Wednesday 14th June to Friday 16th June
High House Wharf to Foxton Locks

Total Trip Miles: 29.3, Locks: 14