Friday, 6 April 2018

Well stuck, and then rescued.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
Friday 6th April

Setting off
Well last night we decided to delay attempting to get "Flamingo" through Lock 9 of the Napton flight.  I'm very relieved we erred on the side of caution, and took that decision - we would not have wished to be trying to deal with last evening what we have ended up dealing with today!

No issues in Lock 8
We waited until early departers had left their moorings, and set of deliberately at a quiet point where nothing else was moving.  After a stop for "services" we set off up the locks.  The bottom lock (Lock 8) was passed fine, though the margins are a lot less than in many other narrow locks.

Going in?
Lock 9 was readied, and the decision was to drift in very slowly on no power, so that if we did stick we should not actually jam in, and should be able to reverse out easily.  It looked to be going well as the boat nosed in, but suddenly when the bows were only just past the open bottom gates, we stopped very abruptly indeed.  I still thought we should easily be able to reverse out, either with the engine, or by pulling on ropes.  How wrong could I have been!  After some time running the engine hard, and tugging, and trying to flush out with the upper paddles, it seemed fairly obvious we would not solve this on our own.

NOT going in!
Fortunately I had just enough phone signal to ascertain a CRT emergency number, and call it.  As expected the call taker knew little of canals or locations but took my details and promised to phone South East Waterways.  That call back, (from Milton Keynes, presumably?) came quickly.  Louise understood the problem and the location, and promised me a local team was nearby, and would be with us quickly.

The problem.
Good as their word, soon after Steve arrived.  He thought sufficient well timed flushing coupled with heavy reverse gear should get us out.  The brief version of that story is that it didn't, and very surprisingly, given how gently it had been jammed there, "Flamingo" didn't budge even a fraction of an inch.

From above
Very fortunately a CRT tug and hopper were in the same pound, and the enterprising Steve was able to make a few phone calls and seek permission to commandeer them.

More muscle required.
It was decided to use CRT's rope rather than ours - a good outcome, as after several violent attempts to "snatch" "Flamingo" out, (with two other CRT men sending down flushes of water), the rope broke in spectacular style.  I was very glad I had moved away from the stern by then, or I think it could have damaged me quite badly.

This rope didn't suvive.
The immortal line "we are going to need a stronger rope" eventually produced something much more substantial, but by now I was wondering just how well attached the "dollys" on the back of "Flamingo" actually were.  As the attempts to snatch us got progressively rougher, (with a bigger "run up" each time, I had visions of a large projectile launching itself at somebody, (by now I was not going anywhere near).

Much bigger rope.
Suddenly it occurred to me that whilst everybody had thought it best to keep the pound at maximum level, it was actually now a lot higher than when we stuck.  Observation showed the bow was being held low, and the back end therefore somewhat out of the water to compensate.  Steve and I agreed that lowering the pound a few inches might help, (though by now there was no certainty the tug could extract us at all!).

So another attempt was made with the water level in the empty lock now reduced.  Suddenly the boat was lurching up and down at the stuck point for the first time.  Not actually moving out, but at least moving, though when it jammed with one side high and the other low, it was momentarily a bit scary.  Then almost without further warning, we were suddenly pulled out.

There was a bit of further delay because the reduced level in the pound made it impossible initially for Steve to get the tug and hopper moored up sufficient out of the way.  Once clear "Flamingo" was reversed though the lock we had so hopefully gone through in the other direction more than two and a half hours earlier.

We now faced a considerable reverse back to the winding hole, round a sharp bend and past a long line of boats.  However Steve went the extra mile, (or perhaps half mile!), and worked patiently with us, until we were turned around and ready to leave.

The long reverse.
I simply can't fault the service we got once we had progressed to something we couldn't handle ourselves.  People were on site quickly, (though I can't believe the luck that a tug was available only a few hundred yards away).  Permanent staff and CRT volunteers worked courteously together to get the problem sorted, calmly and with minimum fuss.

And the turn.
However why this should be necessary in the first place is a quite different matter.  This lock has a growing history of such issues, and it is well known that many other historic boats that once could have passed it without difficulty no longer can.  This situation has existed for years, but it seems that because only a small percentage of all narrow beam craft are affected, there has never been sufficient priority to consider rebuilding the affected part of the lock.  Not only are boats such as ours excluded accessing one of the most popular and picturesque canals in the South, they are also denied through access to Oxford and the Thames, and hence can't do the popular "Thames Ring", (this had been our original objective, if we could get through).  Of course we will raise this as a formal issue with CRT, but they drag enough boats back out of this lock, it seems, that they must be well aware of it anyway!

Anyway, beaten and bruised, we decided only to go back as far as Braunston today, possibly for an unplanned for evening in the pub, possibly with friends.  We hoped nothing else could go wrong on such a short trip, and fortunately nothing did!

Long Buckby to Napton Bottom Lock to Napton Lock 9, then back to Braunston
Miles: 7.7, Locks: 2 (same one twice, once backwards!)
Total Trip Miles: 25.9, Locks: 15

New territory for "Flamingo" under our ownership.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
Thursday 5th April

So having started our trip out yesterday in fairly damp conditions, we were pleased to wake up at Buckby today with some reasonable sunshine.  We had gone to bed with concerns that the highly unsuitable 230 volt pump that our central heating pump relies on was trashing our batteries far too fast, and they might be depleted enough by morning to do damage.  Fortunately the situation was not as bad as feared, but the full time reliance on this horrible thing certainly limits our options with winter boating.  It had been planned to rebuild the central heating to use a less power hungry 12 volt pump last year, but this is another plan that had to be shelved because of Michael's accident.

The excellent tug "Lead-Us" owned by a former Willow Wren boatman
We made a fairly relaxed start, and unusually, given how busy the canals are, managed a passage of Braunston tunnel without passing a single boat coming the other way.  The descent of Braunston locks, mostly shared with another boat was very slow, largely due to the slowness of crews on the boats we were following.  We never seem to get lucky and get through Braunston locks quickly any more.  A hold up seems to be the norm these days, and although there are volunteer lock keepers they seem to never be anywhere in the flight but the bottom lock!

We urgently needed a replacement stove chimney, so I called at the chandlery at the foot of the locks.  However all suitably sized chimneys either looked unlikely to last, or were expensive, (or both!), so I pressed on to Midland Chandlers.  I'm not sure what I bought there will last any longer, (few of them seem to), but at least it was cheaper!

The stretch of the Oxford Canal that is shared by the Grand Union was passed fairly slowly, with lots of having to stop suddenly at obscured bridges - there really was quite intensive traffic, some of it hire boaters struggling a bit with the basics.

Finally we turned on to the Southern Oxford proper, and it came as a bit of a shock.  It is very much shallower and "muckier" than what we turned off from, and progress for the first couple of miles has been pedestrian, to put it mildly.  Once again we are forced to accept that whilst default time estimates using the excellent CanalPlanAC journey planner could easily be matched with our old leisure boat "Chalice", it is almost inevitable that any trip in "Flamingo" will be a lot slower than those estimates.

Braunston locks - nearly at the bottom.
We had intended to tackle Napton locks this evening, (and hence find out if "Flamingo" will go through them or not).  However we arrived tired, and later than expected, and decided to grab the one mooring that looked long enough for us while we could.  The broad plan was to walk up for a reconnaissance, and perhaps then take the boat up.  We watched a modern leisure boat descend through what is reputed to be the narrowest of the locks in the flight.  It certainly is narrow, but it didn't look impossible, even for an old boat, maybe some 3" wider.

Then the "Folly" lured us in, particularly as dogs could go inside, (with "well behaved owners", it said!).  The plan was one drink - the reality was multiple drinks, and another meal out we had not actually planned to buy.  Very good actually, and clearly doing well, with most tables having reservations on them, even mid week.

So the question 'will "Flamingo" fit through Napton locks?' is actually going to get answered a day later than originally planned.

The internet signal here is patchy, so it remains to be seen if I can upload this blog entry from here.

Long Buckby to Napton Bottom Lock
Miles: 12.0, Locks: 7
Total Trip Miles: 18.2, Locks: 13

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Finally actually boating again!

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

Wednesday 4th April

Anybody who even only slightly follows our boat travels will probably have realised we actually haven't moved either boat in many months - in fact our last move anywhere was at the end of July 2017.  This are pretty unusual circumstances for us!

Starting ascent at Buckby, as dogs go in search of copious mud!
After many boating plans got scrapped last year for various reasons we had hoped to at least attend the big historic boat gathering at Alvecote on August - this is our favourite event of the calendar, and plans were in place to take both boats - indeed we were already on them, loaded up with supplies, and about to leave.

Then we got the message that our son Michael had broken his ankle - though it took a while to realise how badly, and just how long the fall out from that might continue.  Obviously the trip had to be abandoned before the propeller turned a single turn.  Whilst we managed to spend small amounts of time on board since then, it has certainly not been possible to go anywhere.

Then we formed big plans to take "Flamingo" to the Easter Gathering at Ellesmere Port, an event we have not managed to attend by boat before.  However this is where it gets complicated!  Before Michael broke one ankle, he had already been on the list for surgery to sort out a problem in his other ankle, and they were not prepared to carry out that operation, until he had shown sufficient progress with the broken one.  Needless to say, when he did get a date for that operation, it was just before the Ellesmere Port event.  As he could not drive, and as he was likely to need people around for the early days following it, we had no choice to pull out of this next trip we wanted to do.

Old bloke with old boat!
Not wishing to give up entirely, our thoughts turned to maybe doing the Thames Ring, starting at about this time.  To achieve this we would need to pass through the very narrow locks at Napton, where many of the working boats of the same or similar design to Flamingo cannot get through, because some of the lock walls have moved slightly, reducing available width.  Still we though we would try - at least we would then know if "Flamingo" can pass down onto the Southern Oxford, or not.  However the latest blow to our plans is that the River Thames has remained firmly on "red board" warnings throughout the entire length from Oxford to Teddington, so passage would have been quite impossible.

So ultimately Cath and I were left with a choice of either going nowhere, and simply carrying on with working on "Flamingo", or of still taking a short trip somewhere.  Having made so little use of the boats we decided to do the latter.  The current plan is to go around to Napton Locks on the Oxford Canal anyway, and see if "Flamingo" is one of the "Town" class boats that can squeeze through, or whether it is not.  Popular money seems to be that we are more likely to fail than to succeed, but at least then we will know!

We worked out if we could be at the mooring and loaded up in time to get up the Long Bucky flight before dusk, then we could reward ourselves with a meal in the "New Inn".  So that's what we did, being a fairly damp first half day, although the real pain at the moment is that the tow-paths at the lock flights are in many places a quagmire, so boots, shoes, clothing, (and dogs), are all getting fairly covered in mud.

High House Wharf, Weedon to Long Buckby
Miles: 6.2, Locks: 6
Total Trip Miles: 6.2, Locks: 6