Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Whitsun Break - Chalice and Sickle Meet

(Boat Chalice, initially, joined by Sickle later - posted by Alan)

Today's task was to get up to Whilton, where Sickle had been left, get one or two things sorted, then commence moving south with both boats.

Small Woolwich "Planet" - Not one I ever recall seeing before.
We had deliberately left a couple of locks to do, and these were quickly despatched.  One thing we had been considering was how both boats would get moved back South through Blisworth Tunnel.  For no particular reason Alan has generally taken the tiller in the longer tunnels, and nobody else has much recent experience of them, (David chooses to steer only infrequently anyway).  We decided David should take Chalice north through Blisworth, to build up his skills.  I found sitting on the front for a change quite fascinating.  You see all kind of detail, side culverts, signs, etc., that you miss as a steerer.  There are at least 3 different things in the tunnel marking distance through, as it turns out.  David did very well - without the lapses of concentration that often leave me fighting to stay away from a tunnel wall!

Trevor Maggs' "Corona" looking fantastic after a recent repaint.
It proved to be a bit of a "working boat spotting" day, so I hope people will not mind a selection of pictures of some of the more interesting boats passed.

I guess some of the boats already congregated at or around Stoke Bruerne will be attending the Gala Day there, the weekend after next.  There are usually a selection of interesting boats, but there were ones I have not seen before on this passage through.

"Large Woolwich" Butty "Bordesley" in superb BW colours

"Lone butties" was also a bit of a theme.  Several boats are now around that look immaculate, externally at least.

"Little Woolwich" "Cygnus" - yours for just shy of £30,000!
The butty "Cygnus" has been up for sale for a while.  It looks good, but is quite a lot of money!

Having just turned Sickle, Chalice is still pointing North
Not a lot else to report, really!  To get from Blisworth to Whilton is just a case of doing the miles, and occasionally dodging other boats in blind bridge holes!  Anyway, first objective achieved when we got to Whilton, and found Sickle still in good order.  We did a bit of sorting ourselves out, moving stuff between boats, for example, or proving we could start Sickles "Lister" diesel.  We then went and bought various things at the Whilton Chandlery, (why do I always walk out of these places having bought something expensive I didn't go in for?).

Environmental disaster caused by misfuelling an unfamiliar range!
We came to the stark realisation too that we have done far more miles on Chalice's last engine oil change than strictly we should have, (not quite as bad as it sounds, as we lost lots of oil in a recent incident, so a fair amount of replacement oil had gone in),  We decided to change the oil there, before starting the move South.

Both boats at Whilton, ready to head South.
Eventually we moved off for our first short stretch back Southwards.  David and me on Sickle, and Cath on her own on Chalice.  We didn't go far, planning to stop at Weedon, but it was our first ever case of moving two boats at once.

Long Pound, Stoke Bruerne
to Whilton then back to near Weedon
Miles: 17.1, Locks: 2

Total Miles: 49.4, Total Locks: 23

Monday, 30 May 2011

Whitsun Break - Day 2

(Boat Chalice - posted by Cath and Alan)

We got away from the Globe at Leighton Buzzard rather later than we had hoped - failing to wake up for the alarm did not help.  However, we knew that it was a day of mostly miles, with few locks, and that we would just need to keep going until we got far enough to be within striking distance of Whilton the following day.

Working through Three Locks
We got to Soulbury, Three Locks, aware that we were being followed by another boat, but a Springer, moored nearby, announced that he would come down with us.  The other boat arrived soon after and was told by Mr Springer that they would have to wait.  Mr Springer didn't tell us until he was in the top lock that he was winding in the wide pound immediately below the lock.  His right I suppose, but we ended up waiting in the second lock for Mr Springer to wind, and for the following boat to get down to us, while another boat coming up waited for the middle lock that we were in.

Rain was very much a feature of the day!
We could have worked through, however, as we approached the lock I recognised the BW man who was setting the lock for us - he used to work on Sickle, when it was in BW ownership, so I called out to him and asked if he had heard the news of our recent purchase.  Oh, yes, he knew, the Towpath Telegraph had been working well - so we took the opportunity to ask him if he would be at Braunston to give us a few tips.

After that we carried on with the pleasant cc'ing couple who had been behind us from the Globe onwards, although they pulled over when they got to Campbell Park in Milton Keynes. 

Even the mooring rings at Wolverton could have been better thought out!
It was a dreary day, raining almost constantly from mid-morning onwards.  We made a shopping stop at Wolverton, where the new development provides slightly better moorings, and a more direct bridge to the shops than previously.  On the face of it, the re-use of buildings from the old railway carriage works here looked promising, but sadly the development has been done in a way that preserves little more than the facade, and once inside, much of it is roofless, some of it no more than car parking.  An opportunity missed to hang on rather better to some of the rich history surrounding these works.

The "Long Pound" looking up towards Stoke Bruerne village.
After a late start, we had planned to go no further than the foot of Stoke Bruerne locks, but we made good progress, and decided it would be rather splendid to get far enough up the flight for an easy walk to "The Boat" for a pint or two, and our evening meal, (it's a dog friendly pub, and we like those Charlie can go to with us).  We made very good progress up the locks, nearly catching up the Narrow Boat Trust boats Nuneaton and Brighton.  We had not realised these were now ahead of us again - they could only have passed us whilst we went shopping in Wolverton.  We had already decided we would moor in the very pleasant "long pound" near the top of the flight,  We could stop a bit earlier today, and would then at least have a couple of locks the next day, on what would otherwise have been a lock-less day.

Boat "Chalice"
Cook's Wharf
Globe Inn, nr Leighton Buzzard
to "The Long Pound" Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 24.4, Locks: 11

Total Miles: 32.3, Total Locks: 21

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Whitsun Break - Back with Chalice, for Starters.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

Although the plan is to soon continue Sickle's journey, it's half term week, and three of us will not really fit in to Sickle.  So today we are out for the start of a trip in Chalice, but planning to head off towards Sickle's current location.

Our late starts are notorious, but today's probably beat all records!  We had already decided not to rush off yesterday, (we went to the "Wendover" canal festival at Boxmoor instead), but hoped to get going mid morning today.  In practice it was already well into the afternoon.

Waiting as Narrow Boat Trust get going again after being aground
We finally managed to get going, but as it turned out, just in front of the Narrow Boat Trust boats, Nuneaton and Brighton, something that initially seemed to meet with the considerable disapproval of some of their crew.  I'll not elaborate here, beyond saying they were neither the best of diplomats, or ambassodors for the causes of canal heritage, or working boats.

Our decision to let them go ahead meant slow progress for a few locks, but eventually after we had had to wait some time for some southbound boats to re-group at a lock, we were on our own, and back into a more regular pattern.

Waiting for Church Lock to be available
We thought initially we were not going to make our planned overnight stop in reasonable time, but eventually did so with ease.

We have only so far been out in Sickle for two weekends, but steering Chalice again today, I really was stunned at the total difference between the two boats.  Chalice is about as light on the tiller as you can imagine, whereas Sickle really does give you a major work-out.  One way however that Sickle benefits, we could have done with today, as she is very little blown off course by cross-winds.  Chalice's high cabin sides, on the other hand, act like a sail, and as soon as you try and stop mid-channel, there is a very good chance that prevailing winds will quickly start to propel you sideways towards a bank.

Approaching Leighton Buzzard lock
The menu choices had changed at the Globe Inn - in my view perhaps not for the best, although still of a very acceptable standard.  My beer tonight, (Speckled Hen), was a decided improvement over our last visit, too.

Boat "Chalice"
Cook's Wharf
to Globe Inn, nr Leighton Buzzard
Miles: 7.9, Locks: 10

Total Miles: 7.9, Total Locks:10

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Moving Sickle - Second Weekend, second day.

(posted by Alan)

The objectives of the day remained broadly the same:-

1) Make all reasonable progress.
2) Find a solution to no tunnel light before we got to Braunston tunnel
3) Arrive somewhere that we could reasonably cycle to a station from, and get home.
(Cath had to be at work early next morning, as usual).

Had we been doing this days boating in CHALICE, it would have been different for all kinds of reasons.  Strong winds we were promised, and very strong winds we got.  CHALICE is a relative light-weight in the narrow boat world, and had large tall cabin sides.  She would have blown all over the place, and been very hard work.  SICKLE, on the other hand, is heavy, deep in the water, and her low hull and small cabin provide far less for the wind to blow on, particularly as much of her is no more than a "moving patio".  So whilst other boats were blowing around, SICKLE was largely fine, and our major concerns about the wind were limited to either making sure we were not blown off the deck, and that we didn't lose our hats.

Curious lights in Newbold tunnel.
We had a short tunnel to do early on - Newbold.  This has had some curious lights installed in it in relatively recent years, although a photograph never quite captures the incongruity of the situation!  This tunnel is short enough that not having a tunnel light on SICKLE was a non issue.

Between Hillmorton Locks - Narrow boat BADSEY in the background.
Apart from the stop lock at Hawkesbury the Norther Oxford has only 3 other locks, (or more accurately 6, as at each descent there are two  paired locks, and you can use either).  These are at Hillmorton, near Rugby, and often some of the busiest in the country.  today there was little waiting, but there was a very shell-shocked looking woman on a hire boat who had just fallen in.  Her husband looked bewildered, and not over-sympathetic to her obvious distress.

Entering a Hillmorton lock.
The run into Braunston to join the Grand Union was uneventful, although more modern boats were clearly getting badly blown around.

At Braunston we could pull up immediately outside the big chandlers to investigate the tunnel light situation.  Not a chance of a suitable bulb, so instead we bought what was designed to be a hand-held spot-light.  We held on whilst I lashed up a connection to SICKLE's electrics, and a couple of elastic luggage straps proved adequate to lash it temporarily to the mast carrying the existing lamp.

 We were now ready to tackle Braunston locks, (our first broad ones with SICKLE).  Or at least we should have been had the engine not died as I was approaching the gates at some speed.  I asked Cath to urgently check SICKLE's progress with a rope around a bollard, but she rather misunderstood, and didn't let the line "run" at all.  There was the inevitable pulling heavily over to one side, before an enormous twang left us with two bits of frayed rope in lieu of the whole one we previously had.  No damage done, (other than to rope!), but SICKLE's progress was at least abruptly halted, and a lesson learnt, hopefully.

A quick trip to another chandlery supplied the (very expensive!) paint to allow repairs to SICKLE's current colour scheme.

Sharing Braunston locks.
We then shared the locks with a crew taking a brand new share boat to the Crick show.  They were very efficient, and I hope I managed not to add any scuffing to this smart and very expensive boat.

We gave them a considerable head start into Braunston tunnel, as we met some friends moored at the top of the locks.  When we did tackle the tunnel, the temporary light arrangements were fine, and SICKLE certainly seemed to zip through at something of a record pace.  we were very clearly a lot faster than the boat that went in first, and had nearly caught it by the end.

From Near Brinklow (Oxford Canal)
Miles: 18.5, Locks: 16

Total Miles: 80.3, Total Locks: 39

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Moving Sickle - Second Weekend, first day.

(posted by Alan)

We are limited to weekend moving of SICKLE if we are to both be involved, due to Cath's job.  Although we are not certain exactly what moves we are planning before we try to get SICKLE to events in June at Stoke Bruerne and then Braunston, we do know we want her a lot closer to our home.  It is obvious that certain items need attention, and it would not be feasible to keep travelling as far up as the boat currently is.  So the objective of these first two week-ends is simply to progress as far as we can with an untried boat.  As neither of us has recent experience with a deep draughted boat, we realise plans may need to change, depending on progress.

Another constraint is trying to do what we can by train to avoid the use of two cars, and positioning moves.  If either of our sons were drivers, life might be simpler!

So, like last week, it was the 05:30 alarm, quick baths and a comfort break for Charlie the dog, then off to the station on bikes.

SICKLE has been at Atherstone for a week, but a kind person called Carol has been keeping an eye on it, for which we are most grateful.  As we had battery charging problems last week, and as the battery may have suffered, we wondered if the engine was going to start.  I failed the test of trying to hand crank it, so in the end pressed the button, and, thankfully off it went.

Progessing up the Atherstone flight of locks
We were seeing a steady procession of boats starting off up the 11 Atherstone locks, but precious little coming down, so we took up our place in the line.  These are slow filling locks at the best of times, and it only needs a slow person or two in a queue to really start to impact on time taken.  It ended up being a rather slow start to the day, but not so slow as to be a disaster.

Amongst the waits, I sorted a few things out, including setting up computer and Internet.  I also checked something I now really wish I had checked last week.  The bloody tunnel lamp doesn't work - not ideal if we have to tackle Braunston tunnel tomorrow - one of the longer and busier ones.

Making the turn at "Sutton Stop" - Easy with just a 40 foot boat!
Once clear of Atherstone locks, with the sole exception of one very shallow stop lock later, we knew it was just a case of trying to tick off the miles.  People had said how shallow it gets around Nuneaton, and it wasn't great, with a fair amount of grinding over stuff in bridge-holes, but equally it wasn't half as bad as some have suggested, even though SICKLE sits fairly deep in the water.  I did wave a more shallow draughted boat past us, though - in CHALICE I'm not sure this courtesy has ever been necessary, so we definitely need to adjust to how different SICKLE is.

Nearly round, and now on the Oxford
Whilst Cath did a steering stint, I diagnosed the headlight problem.  Just a blown bulb, but it's a "historic" kind of big old fog lamp with a bulb you wouldn't exactly expect to replace at Halfords!  Unfortunately tomorrow is Sunday, and I'm not sure who we can get to that will be open, but I have little hope of replacing this unusual bulb easily.  I rather fear we will have to spend out on a modern headlamp as a workaround to allow us to start tackling the tunnels.

TAYGETA -We last saw this at Anderton, nearly 2 years ago.
Passing "Stretton Stop" late in the day, Cath noticed a working boat down the arm, and asked me what it was.  I immediately recognised some distinctive modifications made to TAYGETA, so this was another "Middle Northwich" motor - one of the other 7 built with SICKLE, but in this case still full length.  I nipped back to take some quick snaps.

Steady progress on the Ocford
It's getting dark much later now, so we could have pressed on, but we were both exhausted.  When we saw a good mooring, well away from road and railway, with proper piled edges, that was our invitation to stop!  Much of this canal had curios angled sloping edges, making convenient mooring actually near the bank impossible, as the bottom of the boat grounds long before on the sloped sides.

Atherstone Bottom Lock (Coventry Canal) to Near Brinklow (Oxford Canal)
Miles: 21.1 Locks: 12

Total Miles: 51.8, Total Locks: 23

Thursday, 19 May 2011

So what type of boat is Sickle ?

For those interested in SICKLE's origins and early history, I'll try to give some background here.

This is tricky, as the level of detail that an enthusiast might seek, will quickly bore someone who thinks they are all just big old black canal boats!  I'll try and steer a middle course, assuming that the real enthusiasts will already know most of it, but that will be other people who might wish to learn a bit more about the history of our boat, and how it fits in amongst other boats with a similar origin.

In the 1930s, a massive program was under way to try and improve the Grand Union Canal from London to Birmingham with a view to trying to revitalise trade on this canal.  Alongside that initiative, a new company called the Grand Union Canal carrying Company was formed, and after taking over a number of already existing narrow boats, it started an ambitious plan to build large numbers of brand new boats in anticipation of all the new carrying contracts they hoped to secure.

The new boats were still built in line with the then traditional methods, and basic layouts, but also standardised on what were then modern 2-cylinder diesel engines, and provided new facilities like electric lighting.  The boats were built theoretically able to carry larger loads than on many existing boats, although ultimately the depth of water available on the routes actually meant that the bigger boats were never loaded near to their theoretical maximum.

These are all "Small Woolwich" boats - "Star" class boats built by Harland and Wolff
Ignoring some earlier types, a total of 174 pairs of boats were built, (so just short of 350 in total), being a roughly a 50/50 split between boats known as "Star class", (on account of being named after astronomical features like stars, moons, constellations, etc.), and "Town class", (as these took place names, although in practice what constituted a "Town" was actually often a bit spurious!).

Whereas TOWCESTER is a "Large Northwich" "Town" class buit by W J Yarwood
What distinguished the "Stars" from the generally slightly later built "Towns", was that most of the former had a hull side depth of 4' 2", whereas the latter were built 4' 9" sides, which gives them a significantly different appearance.  Both classes featured a mix of boats built in wood, by firms like Walkers of Rickmansworth, or boats built largely in steel or iron, (although most of the "metal" built "Stars" were actually of composite construction with metal sides, but wooden planked bottoms).

Steel or iron boats were either built by Harland and Wolff at Woolwich, or W. J. Yarwood and Sons at Northwich on the River Weaver.  This has led to the boat types having nicknames like "Small Woolwich", (a smaller sided "Star" class boat built by Harland and Wolff) or "Large Northwich", (a deeper sided "Town" class boat built by Yarwoods).

TAYGETA (left) is still a full length Middle Northwich boat
However 8 pairs of the "Star" class boats differed slightly from the other "Stars".  These were all built by Yarwoods of Northwich, in all steel, but with 4' 6" hull sides, being part way between a more typical "Star" and a "Town".  But additionally the boats were built with a slight 'V' shape to the bottom, as well as having very rounded "corners", (known as "chines"), at the point that the sides would normally join to the bottom in a more angular way on other boats.

SICKLE is one of these relatively unusual "Star" class boats, and gets the nickname of a "Middle Northwich" type, because of her "mid-depth" hull sides, and being built at Northwich by W.J Yarwood and Sons.

She was delivered as Grand Union Canal Carrying Fleet Number 84 on 17th March 1936, along with the unpowered butty boat SARPEDON, (GUCCCo fleet number 350).  All the new GUCCCo boats had an originally intended pairing of a motor / butty boat combination, although not all were even delivered as the intended pairs, let alone continuing to work together as such.  The fact that SICKLE and SARPEDON were both inspected and health registered as fit for occupation by their crews at the same time suggests thay may indeed have been paired for a while.  They were registered at Rickmansworth on 21st September 1937, with the consecutive numbers 187 & 188.
This massive creation of a new narrow boat fleet by the GUCCCo was in many ways a success, but the one problem that was never properly resolved was being able to recruit enough suitable crews who would be prepared to do the work, and live in the confined conditions.  History shows there were never anything approaching enough crews throughout the time these boats operated, so from an early stage, it was not unusual for large numbers of the relatively new boats to be laid up idle.

It would probably be difficult to establish the degree to which SICKLE was actively used for carrying work after she was commissioned, but she could not have been a carrying boat for very long, because in 1942, four of the eight "Middle Northwich" motor boats built, including SICKLE, were taken by the Ministry of War Transport, (MOWT), to be converted for use as ice-breakers.

SICKLE has been this length for over 90% of her life.
SICKLE was cut through, and a large centre section of her hold removed, before rejoining front and back halves to produce a boat reduced in length from 71' 6" to just 40 feet.  The bows were heavily reinforced for the intended use of smashing through ice, and a massive and very solid 5 foot long ram added to the front of the boat, to assist in breaking the ice.

A little over 6 years into her life, SICKLEs carrying career was over, and a new, and much longer, phase of her life had commenced.

Tycho at Long Buckby.  Photo: Derek Reynolds
I am editing this post to add some pictures kindly supplied by Derek Reynolds.  Derek is owner of Tycho, one of the other boats converted to an ice-breaker at the same time as Sickle, and the only one that has retained its ice ram.

So far as is known Sickle's ram would have been near identical to that on Tycho, but the date of its removal remains a mystery, other than a claimed 1957 photo shows Sickle without it.  Curiously Sickle had a different layout for the raised bar and its supports - these were used to allow teams of men to rock the boat to aid the ice-breaking process.
Rear ends compared.  Photo: Derek Reynolds.

When Sickle's previous owners were restoring her, relevant dimensions for the cabin were taken from Tycho.  Both boats have appeared together at the Braunston Historic Boat Show, and some posed photos show the two compared.  These are the only two boats to retain their tug style layout, without extra cabin space added.

Front ends compared.  Photo Derek Reynolds.
Sickle's ice ram was fairly crudely torched off whenever it was removed, and the resulting stem post is very uneven.  The extra horizontal plates that helped brace the ram are still in situ.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Moving Sickle - part two - Sunday

(posted by Cath)

Morning at Fradley
We woke soon after 7, before the alarm went off, and got up fairly soon after.  The range was on, so we got the kettle on to make coffee, and began to make porridge.  We did a number of domestic tasks, got some water, then got going.

Huddle ducks - at Fradley


It was a day of mostly lockless miles, we took it in turns steering, while talking things over, the only two locks we met were at Glascote, near Tamworth.  A brief stop at Fazeley Junction to buy some fresh milk and some more bread - we are finding ourselves fairly hungry, and bread and jam, or bread and marmite are welcome snacks.  With no fridge or coolbox there's no butter, it's warm enough that it would be liquid.

Glascote Locks


We passed a number of working boats moored up at Alvecote and at Grendon.

We eventually tied up in the evening, very tired.  We checked everything, locked up, and cycled off to the nearest station.  A long journey home, and we pushed up the hill to arrive back, very tired, at 9pm.  We were also very hungry so we quickly organised a big pile of potato wedges, with baked beans, peas and cheese. Then to bed.

I've spent all week thinking about this trip, and counting the time until I can go and do it again next weekend.

Fradley Junction to Atherstone
Miles: 19.1, Locks: 2

Total Miles: 40.7, Total Locks: 11

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Moving Sickle - part one - Saturday

(posted by Cath)

SICKLE was moored at Penkridge, on the Staffs & Worcs Canal, north west of Birmingham. We live in Hertfordshire and need the boat to be moved south. Canal Plan AC, the route planning software for canals said that we needed to go north east, to Great Haywood Junction, and then turn south, on the Trent and Mersey Canal.

The alarm went off at 5:30, at our Hertfordshire home, we crawled out of bed, we took turns to take a very quick bath, while we made coffee and took Charlie for a quick walk (knowing that our sons would not be up for a while). We ate a very hasty breakfast, got on our folding bikes, and headed off to the local station. We had pre-booked cheap single tickets, and were on the station platform in good time.

It was a two hour journey to Stafford, and then a short trip to Penkridge. I had taken some A level coursework marking to finish off, and some crochet, as the former owner of SICKLE had reclaimed his granny's crochet rugs and I need to make some new ones. I made myself feel throughly sick marking while travelling backwards, and arrived at Stafford very queasy. We stopped very briefly to grab some milk, bread and cheese at the Co-op, and then cycled to Teddesley Boat Services, a mile or so from the station.

On the Staffs & Worcs - waiting for a lock
We quickly finished off the last few bits of the formalities of our boat purchase, and started her up. I have never steered a traditional working boat, with traditional controls, and Alan hasn't done it for nearly 4 decades, so we were a bit nervous as we set off into our first lock, right outside the mooring. However, we began to get into the swing of it as we headed off through a series of locks. We began to realise that people were going to notice this boat, not just because she has a fairly noisy engine (air cooled, the side hatches of the engine room were open), but because she really does look a bit different.

In Tixall Lock
After Tixall wide, we turned right, onto the Trent and Mersey, a section of canal that we have never done before.

After a little while, once we had got through a few locks I started to try to steer SICKLE. It's a very different prospect to steering CHALICE, if you get out of the channel it is very hard physical work, as SICKLE is deep drafted, and has a much larger prop than CHALICE.

Speedwheel (small brass wheel on the left) and gears (red)
- both positioned just right to knock your
head on when getting in or out of the back cabi

We had a few interesting times when I tried practising reversing, since this involves reducing the revs on the speed-wheel, then using the gear wheel to change to neutral, before putting it into reverse, which takes a bit of getting used to. Then you can crank up the speed again, while pushing the tiller to the right to stop the front of the boat swinging left. Not surprisingly, I had a couple of embarrassing moments trying this out.

The very narrow Armitage Tunnel

 Later on we got to Armitage 'Tunnel' a former tunnel that has been opened out - we didn't read in Nicolson's guide that you needed to check the route was clear until we had got through it - not knowing the route we hadn't realised quite how long it was.

Shortly after this a boat side hatch flew open, a man stuck his head out of the hatch and shouted "Alan Fincher!?". It turned out to be the Canal World Forum member who provided us with a sink for CHALICE when we were fitting the kitchen last year.

Fradley Junction - "The Swan" behind SICKLE

As the day carried on, it first got progressively more overcast, and by the time we wrre completing the final few locks, it was raining heavily. We found a mooring opposite the Swan pub - known in canal circles as "the Mucky Duck". I gathered up the remains of my marking, and we headed for the pub. I spread the final piece of marking out and we ordered a hot meal.

I managed to complete my marking, and uploaded most of the marks to the on line system, when my phone decided that it wasn't going to upload any more. Back at the boat I was very tired, my back and arms ached, I had been up since 5:30, we had travelled over 21 miles, and I had been working hard to meet coursework deadlines for some time - it's a difficult time of year for teachers. I have to admit that I got very grumpy, especially as I was now in a panic about getting my marks uploaded to the exam board. However, Alan managed to get a signal, and I used his laptop to finish and press the final SUBMIT button.

I slept like a log.

Footnotes by Alan.

Cath has forgotten to mention that when we picked up the boat, and started the engine, the red alternator light stayed firmly alight.  This is usually indicative that you are not charging the battery, but the seller insisted on this boat it is what should happen.  Dubious, we had little choice but to set off, but it quickly became apparent the battery was not being charged.  So, amongst trying to learn a new boat, whilst Cath was steering, I was amid the clatter in the engine room, trying to work out what we needed to do to actually be able to guarantee some lights in the evening, and to start the engine next day.

We also practised lighting up the Epping range - again something completely new to me. Remarkably easy to control, as it turns out!

As Cath implies, an exhilarating day, but sleeping was never going to be a problem!

Teddesley (near Penkridge) to Fradley Junction
Miles: 21.6, Locks: 9

Total Miles: 21.6, Total Locks: 9

Friday, 13 May 2011

Sickle it is, then!

2010 was not a classic year for us, certainly in boating terms.  Early in the year, I had taken a bad spill from a bicycle, smashed my pelvis in three places, and had an enforced hospital stay as a result.  It was some time before I could climb on to, (or in to), a boat, let alone jump on and off, and work locks.

We did manage to start building up the boating a bit, and by late may actually tackled the Thames through London for the first time.  By the summer we also tackled a trip up the Lee and Stort, again repeating the Thames from Limehouse, but then felt we could leave CHALICE unmaintained no longer, and much of the summer was spent painting her.

Our hopes of making up with a trip in the October half term ended when my Mum fell ill, and sadly Mum passed away just before the New Year.

So we were fairly determined to make 2011 different, unless circumstances overtook us. (I managed to get cataract surgery out of the way at a time I couldn't really be boating!).

So nothing, even the search for our new boat, was going to stop us doing our planned ambitious Easter trip.

SICKLE up for sale
Just before then though, SICKLE appeared for sale on "Apollo Duck", a site used by many to advertise boats privately.  This was completely unexpected, but the price seemed high, and we had already decided we didn't want to go the "second boat" approach, hadn't we ?

So we set off on our big Easter outing, (trip reports here, in the CHALICE blog.  ).

SICKLE's back cabin.
However, 3 weeks later SICKLE was still advertised "for sale", the price now rather less.

It couldn't hurt to go and view her could it ?  Once we had shoe-horned ourselves through those small back doors, and intrusive controls, into that tiny cabin, then we would convince ourself it was madness, would we not ?

Of course, I guess we knew the risks involved (!), and we both came away absolutely loving the boat, but still seriously doubting our sanity if we were to make an offer.

But at the same time, something rather momentous happened.  What appeared to be a phone call from a close friend, someone actually in my class throughout secondary school, proved not to be what it seemed.  It was actually his sister, who had the difficult task of telling me that Mike had had a massive coronary just two days earlier, and had died about a day later.  I had been out drinking with him just before we went boating at Easter - he was just back from a stay in France with his sister.  This news came as the latest in a long line of people that Cath or I knew, many about our age, who had died unexpectedly within the last few months.  In once case it was my former senior manager, seven years my junior.

SICKLE's bed hole.
We had talked increasingly after each of these events about how, if you don't just go and get on with it, you may have things in your life you always badly intended to do, but never managed, because events overtook you, and circumstances would then rule them out.  Mike's untimely death was the final straw, and we both decided to throw caution to the wind, and make an offer on SICKLE.

We quickly reached an agreement with the seller, and went up the next weekend to hand over a deposit, and finalise the deal.  We then went through some very fraught moments, that I'll not bore you with, trying to release the cash in time, (why do banks make you jump through hoops, and pay more money to access what is yours !).  We went through a few more anxious days where the money was paid, but we still had no boat, (I had a further hospital appointment in connection with checking out some eye problems), but a week after we had finalised the deal, we were ready to go and collect our new boat.

I last steered a heavily draughted boat in the 1970s, and have not used separate speed and gear wheel controls since.  Cath had no relevant experience of working old boats at all.  Would we make complete idiots of ourselves within the first few miles ?  We were about to find out!