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

Friday, 29 June 2012

Making A Start Back From Braunston

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

"Lamprey" & "Sickle"
The first thing to do is to acknowledge the help of Richard Powell, now offering his services to boaters as Primrose Engineering.  Richard not only managed to be at Braunston on the day that we manage to break Sickle's gear change mechanism, but even to be walking past the boat just after it had been removed, and was lying on the bank whilst we were working out what to do next.  Richard took the parts away on the Sunday, and by Wednesday I was back in Braunston to meet him, and refit the repaired parts to the boat.  I think we both acknowledge that the breast drill mechanism that has been used for the purpose is not really up to the rigours of the very heavy gear changing on "Sickle", but Richard has effected a repair considerably better than the original (just about!) welded method, and got us going again, whilst we contemplate what might be done as a more long term improvement.

As ever, because we needed to travel with two cars, and leave one at another location, we were not at Braunston particularly early tonight, and whilst we had thought we might get through the tunnel that evening, it quickly became apparent that we were unlikely to do more than get up the lock flight.
I was shutting the single top gates we used to exit.
Whilst we were sorting ourselves out, we unexpectedly saw Sarah come past on the Josher "Lamprey", but we were not ready to go, and were facing the wrong way.  However, by the time we did get to the bottom Braunston lock, we could see Sarah still setting the next one, (she was single-handing the boat), so we waved until she realised we could catch up,and share the effort.  We seldom seem to share locks with another historic boat, so it is an unexpected pleasure when it does happen.  Sarah is keen, so despite being on her own, still manages to largely do everything on her side of the lock.  I don't think I could handle a 70 foot working boat alone, but then Sarah has youth on her side!

Good backdrop of trees at the top lock.
We had hoped to get to the relatively recently re-opened Admiral Nelson, and sample their menu.  However on the way up the flight we found out food orders would end before we were likely to get there.  So we ate on the boat, but then walked down to see what beer was on offer.  As it was close to 10:30, I thought it would be near closing.  How wrong could I be !  It was heaving with people, and very lively.  In fact by 11:00 it showed no sign of thinning out.  The beer was good, and we just chilled for a while.  OK, it was a Friday evening, but this looks a good omen for this much troubled, (and much closed!) pub.  Assuming it is not completely dead during the week, or in winter, it looks to have a chance.  We'll have to wait until next time to try the menu, though!

Braunston Marina Entrance to Braunston Top Lock
Miles: 1.0,   Locks: 6

Totals for Stoke Bruerne & Braunston Trip 
Miles: 48.7,   Locks: 35

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Braunston Historic Boat Show 2012 - The Sunday

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Well after yesterday, when we got sent off "parading" when we weren't expecting to, that wasn't going to happen again, was it ?  No, of course not!  As far as we could find out, we had time to sort ourselves out, and should be parading in the afternoon this time.

Ex Blue Line "Stanton", "Renfrew", "Nutfield" & "Raymond".
So I set off for a wander around the other boats, and quickly found an attempt being made to line up all the former Blue Line boats present, for a photographic session.  This turned out to be both amusing and frustrating, and was at times a little bit Keystone Cops.  With the three motor boats more or less where they needed to be, repeated attempts were being made to drag the butty Raymond further back to complete the line up.  Unfortunately nobody seemed to want to convince the chap holding the rope at the front that his main task was anything other than to try and stop it moving.  Each time some backwards progress was made, he duly tugged Raymond forward again back to where it had started from.  Of course what is going wrong is usually obvious if you are just an observer, but not always so if you are a participant.

Happy owner of 100 year old "Hampton".
This out the way, it was time for these, and the other boats on display in the arm to set off on to the main line on parade.  Cath meanwhile had gone shopping, and to pick up a book she had reserved.  It had to happen of course, and engines were being started in the tug line up - we were again going off at a different time to what anyone expected.  With no sign of Cath, and other boats between us and the bank, wanting to go, I had little choice but to start up and set off, and hope she would work out where I was, and I could somehow pick her up, (Preferably before having to reverse around Braunston turn, where it is nice to have assistance on the boat).

I had obviously been asked to hold back (Photo: Ian Mulford)
She did find me of course, and only causing the mildest chaos, I was able to avoid oncoming boats as I crossed their path to pick her up, (I was on the non tow-path side, of course).

This slow progress around what is little more than a 1 mile circuit still amuses.  Sometimes you actually get going for a bit, but more often than not, you are either tickling along very slowly indeed, or simply trying to hold a position, without going forwards or backwards, whilst those in front sort themselves out.  Today it was quite windy, so staying in position was a bit harder, but still not too bad.

My two favourite tugs! - "Vesta" & "Sickle"
In fact, again we were round relatively quickly, compared to previous years, although I didn't time it!

Back on the mooring, I again had time to explore, and look at boats.  We walked back up to Braunston Turn, and as well as taking photos, I tried with no great success to use a simple video camera I had managed to buy a while back, but never really used.

Waiting for "Vesta" whilst reversing around Braunston Turn.
Later, back at the boat, it became apparent that the reduced numbers of boats, and the speeded up parades, meant we should have a chance to go around again, so off we went.  Almost immediately things went wrong, the wheel that controls the gears on "Sickle" went limp, and stopped working anything.  I was stuck in "ahead" gear, and moving towards the wooden butty "Raymond".  A dash to the engine room allowed me to operate the gearbox at the box, and at least stop the boat, leaving us in everybody's way, although crouched inside, I had no idea what I was pointed at!  It was quickly apparent a weld had failed on the gear change mechanism, and we were going nowhere.  Fortunately our friends Mike and Polly were next along with Mike's boat "Reginald", and Mike was enlisted to drag us back to safety.

"Sextans" - Sister to "Sickle" but now 50 feet long.
Fairly quickly, and with the help of Jim from "Owl" and "Hampton", the failed parts had been spannered off, and were laying on the bank.  But who could fix it ?  It just so happened that our friend Richard wandered past, and, yes, he is just a man to enjoy such challenges.  Having assured him that a fix didn't eed to be actually today, he wandered off with various bits of shafting and levers, plus now un-welded cast iron bevel gear, to contemplate the problem.

Gear mechanism, showin failed weld.
So, this year, that second Sunday parade still didn't happen for us, after all, although it did for others.  Later in the day, when most of the public had gone, some further friends, Sarah and Jim from "Chertsey" turned up and joined Mike and Polly on "Reginald".  Just as we had done with "Sickle" the day before, shortly after they set off for the short run to the pub.  We looked wistfully on, but knew Cath had heaps of school work still needing attention.  It's not envy I feel at such moments, just a slight disappointment that our life-style places restrictions that mean sometimes we have to do things other than boating.

At Braunston
Miles: 1.2,  Locks: 0

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Braunston Historic Boat Show 2012 - The Saturday

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

When we delivered "Sickle" to Braunston a week ago, there was still little indication of what this years event was likely to be like.  When the water shortages and restrictions were at their peak, some months back, there were even question marks about whether there would be a Braunston Historic Boat Show at all in 2012.  It was already obvious that there would be far less boats attending than last years record of well over 100 - some would have been put off by the restrictions, some would be going to an alternate event being held at Northwich, and some might just have found last year's chaos a few boats too many.  A couple of weeks ago it had been indicated to me over 60 were booked in, but anywhere between about 40 and 80 would not have surprised me.  In the end the final count seems to have been around the 50 mark, though I wasn't counting this year, and, anyway, it depends if you include boats in the area, and on view, but not necessarily participating directly.

So this was to be a smaller event - not something that worried me personally, in fact I think I thought it might improve it.

Parading - passing the main spectator areas.
Friday evening should have been a time to gather and chat, and meet with fellow boat owners, and other enthusiasts - there is after all a beer tent with a wide selection of ales.  However, like last year, the organisers seem to think a "well amplified" band is called for.  There was nothing wrong with the band in question - in fact anywhere else I might have appreciated them, but here I wanted to hold conversations - impossible in the tent, and I was still drowned by sound, standing in the rain outside.  Some may appreciate this entertainment, but the large numbers of boat owners defecting to the Boat House the following night must surely be a message that many would prefer there are no loud bands.

"Hampton", "Owl" & "Camel"
Saturday should have been more organised than last year.  We picked up our boater information pack, which made it clear we were in the afternoon parade.  So plenty of time to clean the boat up, and polish brass, whilst watching the morning parade, then ?  Not so, because by 10:30, everybody around us was starting engines, and getting ready to parade - so much for plans!  So there are a number of photos in circulation of us, on the move, still trying to polish the most tarnished brass, whilst various things are not in the places they should have been, (or are in places they should not!).  Still great fun was had, and the fact they had decided to release all the tugs towards Braunston Turn when all the full length boats sent off from the arm were still not coming back, guaranteed total chaos for a while along the stretch near the Boat House.

"Sickle" has acquired some cans since the last "Braunston".
However, once through that, things became smoother, and the complete circuit was completed in a merest fraction of the 5 or 6 hours it took some people last year, (when we didn't get to parade at all on Saturday, because the morning parade didn't really end until the afternoon one should have begun!).

The day became a bit of a blur after that, except I remember talking to loads of friends, many from canal World Forums, as well as meeting many further people from Canal World in the flesh for the first time.

Laura Carter, (in front of cabin), was Renfrew's former steerer.
We decided the, (rumoured to be louder), band to play the beer tent that evening was not for us, as did many others, so an extended meal and drinks at the Boat house was planned.  "Could we take people there by boat ?" we wondered, so set off with "Sickle" to see what the mooring situation looked like.  Part way there we met many other owners walking towards it, who thumbed a lift.  I think we had 13 on the "floating patio", making sure they didn't all stand on the same side at once!  "Can you pick us up about 9:00" said one, as we deposited them, and went back for the next party.  The next group was a bit smaller, but still big enough that negotiating a table big enough for us all proved impossible.  We spent a very enjoyable meal with Peter & Laura - owners of the lovely "Stanton".  I'm always fascinating to hear tales of how people got into "old boats", particularly where they have taken one on and restored it - we often feel cheats with "Sickle", as most of the work was already done!

It was dusk as we left the Boat House, and if we were taking Sickle back, it would be in fading light.  "It's OK - we know the way well enough!" someone said, so off we went.  I was less certain about making a passage through the private Braunston Marina at that time, to leave "Sickle" facing the right way, but talked myself in to it.  As I was about to swing in, everybody was yelling "there is a boat coming out!".  I thought they were joking, but made a sudden change of plan not to go in, when I saw "Slough", coming out!  Slough is a very short working boat conversion, but with much projecting pusher tug apparatus at the bow - definitely best avoided!  We found another way of doing thing, before tying up in the near dark.  Overall a fun evening, at the end of a fun day!

Circuits around the environs of Braunston
Miles: 3.6, Locks: 0

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Braunston Bound - Then home to party.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan/Cath)

The plan today was simple - complete the rest of the trip to Braunston, then get home in time for Alan to be out again for his reunion with old school friends.

Buckby locks hardly look like there have been water restriction!
There is nothing out of the usual to report, really - there is a long lock-free stretch until you get to Whilton and Bucby locks, followed fairly soon by Braunston tunnel, and a further flight of locks down in to Braunston.  With the restrictions on lock opening hours now lifted, one no longer has to worry about being at a flight by "lock out" time, but obviously we still wanted to make good progress.

Traditionally we have always thought of the seven Whilton & Buckby locks to be harder work than most on the Southern Grand Union.  At approximately 9 feet each deep, they are significantly deeper than others that are in flights, the paddle gear is not the best maintained, and many of the gates will blow open at the wrong times if you get unlucky.  However I don't know if we are fitter, or just more effective at what we do, but these locks no longer seem that bad.  That's easy for me to say, as I largely worked the boat, whilst Cath did the majority of gates and paddles, although often I was sending her ahead to set the next one, whilst I did most of the top gate work.

Between locks at Braunston
The tunnels are OK in "Sickle" if you can go at her speed, but less pleasurable if you catch someone up in them.  I therefore let a boat ahead of us go into the tunnel, whilst I pulled up to give some space in between.  not enough, it seems, as by half way through, I had caught them.  Not a real slow crawl, but slower than easily tackled in "Sickle".

Braunston locks are not deep, and always seem easy compared to some of the other flights.  We ended up sharing locks, and were soon down them.

This will look a lot busier in a week's time!
At last year's Braunston event Sickle was not moored with most of the other tugs - a feature of the show is tugs strung out many abreast near the marina entrance.  This time it was possible to leave her much close to where the "tug-epicentre" would be.

All too quickly we were packing up, loading up the car at Braunston, then heading to retrieve the second car.  I did make my evening event too, which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite being very tired by then.  I met quite a few class-mates who I last saw over 40 years ago - astonishing really.  One of them, it turns out,lives right near the canal in central Birmingham, not far from Gas Street basin - now there's an excuse to look him up, next time we are in 'Brum'!

About 1 mile from Bugbrooke to Braunston
Miles: 14.0, Locks:13

Friday, 15 June 2012

Braunston Bound - Making a Start

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

For us plans are often never written in stone, and the exercise to move "Sickle" from Stoke Bruerne to Braunston was an example of our "fluid" approach to these things.  It had been anticipated I would travel up in the week, and start the move, particularly as I desperately still wanted to be at a reunion of old school friends on the Saturday evening, (we have these only about every 10 years).

Picturesque Stoke Bruerne, (yes, we are facing the wrong way!)
But we realised with lock restrictions now lifted, we could set off on the Friday evening, get a few miles in, and then complete the trip to Braunston on Saturday, in time for me to be home for that evening.

A good revised plan, but it involved taking two cars to Braunston, leaving one there, before travelling back to Stoke Bruerne.  In practice we did not start uintil nearly 8:00 pm.  A further complication was that you can't easily leave a car at Stoke Bruerne - there simply is no suitable parking in that small village.  So I set off alone through Blisworth tunnel, (I'm getting quite used to that!), whilst Cath moved the car up to somewhere "parkable" ready for me to pick her up.

Poor attempt at photographing some great skies.
The weather forecast for Saturday looked pretty dire, but what boating we had on Friday evening was done during a fine end to the day, with some spectacular red skies, that my automatic "point and shoot" cameras really refuse to show in any of their splendid glory,  (We are resolved to get a better camera, with more ability to set exposures and apertures manually).

It really was getting dark long before we reached our planned stop at Bugbrooke.  About a mile short, we decided we had done enough, and moored up in failing light, in a pleasant but remote location, having eventually found a spot where we could at least get the deep draughted "Sickle" somewhere near the bank.

Stoke Bruerne to about 1 mile from Bugbrooke
Miles: 6.5, Locks: 0

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Stoke Bruerne Canal Gala - Sunday

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

(Now) ex-hire boat we hired twice before buying our own.
Last year when we visited the same gala, we had a nice fine Saturday, but the weather turned terrible on Sunday, which ended up as a virtual wash-out, with a very low visitor count.  It must be nerve-racking for the organisers of such events, which contribute (or don't contribute!) large amounts of the funds for whatever it is they are held in support of.  I know when I spoke to an organiser in the week, they felt they would be lucky to get one good day.  In practice we woke up to a fine day - a little chilly, (the range has been on continuously in June!), but definitely far better than initial predictions.

Ian Tyler - "Sickle's" former "skipper" on the tiller.
One thing about these events is that you can just chill, and let the day wash past you.  If you are at the boat, lots of people want to chat - if you are not, you may well be chatting with the owner of a different boat!  Today "breakfast" proved to be a late cup of coffee, and slice of cake in the museum cafe.  (I say it was "smallish" pieces of cake - Cath says very large ones - our expectations tend to differ in such matters!).

Mike Askin joins the party on "the patio"
Once again we started finding other canal friends turning up by car or motor bike for the event - not really the ones we expected today, so making it even more of an impromptu kind of affair.  We normally try and take the boat out at east once whilst the main show is on each day - the organisers like to have some of the old boats moving, and the lock-keepers seemed happy that we used some of the locks when doing this, despite restrictions in place, (I don't actually think we were using any water really, as most of it might otherwise have flowed over the top of gates, as it was for much of the day!).

Between the top two locks
However the restrictions do mean the locks close early, and we suddenly realised if we didn't grab a lunch, (provided by "The Boat" again!), we might not take a trip out.  In fact we had bags of time, but timed our departure with "Sickle" just as the pirate display, (yes, honestly!), was getting under way, so had to negotiate around the pirate boat, and swash-buckling pirates.  As we headed down the first lock, there was a display of pyrotechnics behind us!

(From the left) Me, Ian (steering), Tina, Tim, Julie & Mike
We had invited Ian Tyler and his wife Tina on board.  As Ian was the regular steerer of "Sickle" for many years when she was on the BW maintenance fleet, (in Herts and Bucks  on the Grand Union), he obviously has far more experience than either of us, so was invited to take the tiller, whilst Cath, myself, and others worked the locks.  Before long we had also picked up Julie and Tim, (both known via Canal World), and finally Mike Askin (owner of "Victoria"), so we headed off with people stood all around the floating patio.  We enjoyed it, and I hope Ian had fun with his former charge, (he asked me at the end if he had passed the competence test!).

Hang on!  They have taken our boat!
All too soon we were tied up again, and, after a lot more chat, people started to drift away, (well Cath had already drifted back to the knowledgeable experts in the craft tent!  I'm always surprised how long it finally takes us to shut everything down, clear up and pack up, but eventually we were ready to set off home, quite tired, but having had a thoroughly good time.

We like Stoke Bruerne, perhaps because we can't go anywhere to the North without passing through twice, but we particularly like the informality and scale of their various canal based events.

........ Oh, and I haven't yet mentioned that despite the direness of the weather forecasts, it only started raining very lightly just as we were packing up!

Short trip out at Stoke Bruerne
Miles:2.0, Locks: 4

Total Miles: 22.4 Locks: 16

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Stoke Bruerne Canal Gala - Saturday

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

The weather for this weekend had not looked at all good from the forecasts, (or indeed what we suffered on the way to it!).  However by this morning the rain had gone, but initially quite a lot of the winds had not.  Volunteers had been requested to help erect tents and awnings in the morning, and I duly turned out, but was largely faced with really quite unsuitable structures - lightweight "gazebo" type things that looked like they had just come from B&Q.  There was also a distinct lack of suitable pegs, and for a while there looked a strong possibility that once all the exhibitors were set up in the craft "tent", (I use the word "tent" with reservations!), that they were going to quickly seen it blowing away, taking their crafts with it.  I was reduced to finding bits of old pallets in a skip, and improvising "pegs".  It (and others) did stay put all weekend, but how much that was due to my efforts, and how much due to the wind calming down , I can't really prove.

Off down the locks - forum friend Lisa sat on the deck.
We like the Stoke Bruerne events.  As my comments about "marquees" demonstrate, perhaps not the tightest organised, but a lot of enthusisatic volunteers, and a general very relaxed atmosphere.  There were less historic boats, (and also, I would say modern boats), attending than last year, but still a good spread.  We were soon visited by quite a few people who knew who we were, and we "knew" via the Internet, but we had not yet met.  I'll not attempt to list everybody who turned up, as I don't want to embarrass myself by inevitably forgetting some.

We also had several turn up who we already knew rather better, having met them several times at previous canal related events.  Cath wsa in very "chilled" mood, and initially had no great desire to take the boat for a spin, but the arrival of friends from the forum prompted us to plan to "just take it up to the locks".  However, as a boat was just going down on its own, we decided to share locks and travel down with them for a bit.  In fact our return trip back up a couple of locks "set" them ready for boats just about to go down, so we were able to use locks for o additional water used over what would have been.  In fact with water continually flowing over the gates in this flight, it seems to me that most of the time lock operations are only causing a pause in the flow of that excess water, and not actually using much extra - indeed the volunterr lock keeper told Cath that there was no shortage of water down the locks at the moment - although the restrictions continue, of course.

A different Alan takes the tiller.
We let one of our forum friends have a go at the tiller of "Sickle" - we didn't really think of it soon enough, but he still seemed pleased to have had the chance - "it's very heavy on the tiller" he said - yep!, anyone who does full days with her will know this!

The weather held throughout the day, and towards the end of the afternoon, I lost Cath to the craft tent, where she was having long discussions about the finer points of crochet, rug-making, lace-making and other crafts, both in terms of going it now, but also much of the history that surrounds these industries.  This allowed me to go and talk engines with a few people!

The rather lovely "White Heather" fresh from Thames pageant.
Whilst we tend to treat "The Boat" at Stoke Bruerne like a local, (and eat there several times during a weekend event), the village also has lock-side "The Spice of Bruerne" Indian restaurant.  We rarely eat Indian when we are out, but this place really is worth a visit if you have not tried it.  You are very attentively looked after, although despite some sensible discussions with the waiter to try and avoid "over-ordering", I think we did perhaps set ourselves a bit too much of a target to clear all the bowls completely.

A thoroughly excellent day, but we were concious last year that after a fine Saturday, we had got completely rained out on Sunday.  This year the forecasts look set for exactly the same to happen, but as we went to bed the Sunday forecast seemed considerably better.

Short trip out at Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 2.0, Locks: 4

Total Miles: 20.4 Locks: 12

Friday, 8 June 2012

More Indifferent Weather - But Improving, Hopefully.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

What a night!  It was forecast to be a bit windy, but nothing like what was actually thrown at us which was, frankly, pretty wild.  We were moored at a relatively sheltered location at Cosgrove, but again treated to  high winds whipping up the canal surface, with the resultant waves constantly lapping under the counter at the rear of "Sickle".

Stoke Bruerne Bottom Lock
Cath is often, if tired enough, able to sleep through such things, but unless I'm totally exhausted, I seldom do as well.  It must have disoriented me more than a bit, I think, because when I went for a "comfort break" it was already light, and I instinctively tried to revive the range fire, and put on a kettle for coffee - only when the kettle came to the boil did I actually consult my watch to find it was not even yet half-past-five!

Passing the Mikron Theatre's boat "Tyseley"
By seven I gave up the struggle of trying to sleep, and started to make trips along the branch-strewn tow-path to refill the water container, and to dispose of rubbish and empty the toilet cassette.  Poor Cath continued to try and sleep on, as I barged around the limited confines of the cabin.  Needless to say, when I did want to make coffee properly, the cabin range was ashed up, and would not easily revive.  It's the only way to boil a kettle, so breakfast was a bit delayed.

We had agreed with the owner of "Tug No 2" that we would travel together, as he was on his own, with the Stoke Bruerne locks to do - of course with the water shortages we are being encouraged to share, so this made sense anyway.

Cath was still relaying the car forwards, so I was again on my own with "Sickle", whilst she drove up to Stoke with the bike, before cycling South to meet me again.  It was still a wet and very windy morning, and I don't think Cath much enjoyed riding on a slippery grassy tow-path, with the wind coming in gusts, on a bike that has road tyres.  Even "Sickle", normally unaffected by cross winds, was travelling "crab-style" at times.

"Woolwich" bows to left, "Northwich" ones to right.
Anyway we were straight into the Stoke Bruerne lock flight on arrival.  It occurred to me that since we have had "Sickle" we have never once shared locks with another historic boat.  Both "Sickle" and "Stewarts and Lloyds Tug No 2" are ex Grand Union Canal Carrying Company full length working boats, both shortened many years ago to make 40 foot tugs.  They make an interesting comparison.  "Sickle" was build by W J Yarwoods at Northwich, whereas "Tug No 2", was built (as "Algol") by Harland and Wolff at Woolwich, (hence the informal "Middle Northwich" and "Small Woolwich" descriptions often used).  Whilst both Yarwoods and Harland and Wolff were given a similar brief by the GUCCCo, each made their own interpretation in terms of the final build, and a "Woolwich" boat has many differences in construction and apperance from a "Northwich" one.

I'd like to add a word for the volunteer lock-keeper at the flight, who was helpful, without over-interfering.  Some of these volunteers have received poor press from some people, so I think it important to say when they are doing an effective job.

Back ends differ too - extra "guard" on counter of "Sickle"
As we ascended the flight the weather started to improve, and by the top I had shed my heavy raincoat.  We were directed to a suitable mooring by the "harbour-master", (goodness knows why that term is used for inland waterways events!), and we were soon both moored up, and in "The Boat" for lunch.  I suspect it will not be our only meal in that establishment this weekend.

I thought I had been terribly good, and got a blog post done very swiftly on arrival.  Unfortunalely "Blogger" somehow "ate" nearly all my typing, and I lost it.  I needed further refreshments at the beer tent, before attempting it all again.  Personally I'm sure the first version read better, but I had drunk less when I wrote that!

Cosgrove to Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 6.6, Locks: 7

Total Miles: 18.4 Locks: 8

Thursday, 7 June 2012

It Rained - Then It Rained Some More, (Lots more, in fact).

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

We've not had "Sickle" back "home" again for very long at all - and it's time to start the next trip.

Waiting for Cosgrovve lock - should have shut that hatch!
We are off to the Gala at Stoke Bruerne this weekend - quite why I wasn't initially sure, given the look of the weather forecast before we left - although, re-checking this evening, perhaps Saturday may after all be quite reasonable, (we live in hope!).

Anyway we really need to be there tomorrow, evening, (Friday).  In normal circumstances, being only a day from "Sickle's" home mooring, we would have travelled on Friday morning, but the restrictions on lock usage are still in place on many of the flights on the Southern Grand Union, meaning you can't go into them any later than mid-afternoon.  Hence, once again we are boating in the rain today, to place ourselves comfortably near, for a leisurely day tomorrow.

"Tug No 2" actually offers considerable extra living space.
Just to make sure everyone got thoroughly wet, we need to have a car at Stoke, but didn't want to have to use two cars.  So, while I set off alone with "Sickle", Cath drove a car up to Cosgrove, and then started to cycle back down the canal towards me.  I reckoned that by the time we met she would have covered a few more miles than me, and that prediction proved pretty accurate.  It seems odd to be lighting the cabin range well into June, but today its warmth is much appreciated!

Inevitably just as we got to the one shallow lock at Cosgrove the heavens opened - it could have been a good idea to pull the cabin slide over as you got off the boat, Cath!  Anyway that has left us close enough to Stoke Bruerne we don't need to get any wetter today.  We are moored just in front of one of my other favourite tugs, on its way to the same event - Stewarts and Lloyds "Tug No 2", which stated life as Grand Union Canal Carrying Co "Algol", but has for many years been cut to a similar 40 foot length to "Sickle", (another boat I first photographed, and coveted, almost 40 years ago).

Fenny Stratford to Cosgrove
Miles: 11.8, Locks:1

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Remembering We Have Another Boat

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

The record shows that "Chalice" has moved once so far this year, but not since the very first two days of the year.  It really is quite exceptional for her to have lain inactive for so long, but the recent decision to do our extended trip with "Sickle" has meant that other than some basic checking from time to time, "Chalice" has just stayed tied up.

First lock with "Chalice" in a lot of months.
This is Cath's half-term week, and we had hoped to get external work done on both boats, but it seems the week is doomed to largely be wet throughout, and that simply isn't going to happen.  (I suppose the good news is that the canal still desperately needs all the rainfall we can get!).

Anyway it is so long since "Chalice's" engine was last fired up that I wasn't even sure it was going to without a bit of a fight.  I need not have worried - the battery still seemed in good order, and the engine started into life with very little effort.

Mike on his way to Stoke Bruerne Gala with "Victoria".
The other thing I had forgotten is what very, very, different boats "Chalice" and "Sickle" are.  Despite only being a 50 foot boat, "Chalice's" cabin, and particularly roof area, seems massive after time spent with "Sickle".  The back cabin is very much taller above the steerer's position too, making you feel far more "surrounded by boat".  With a lot less power, "Chalice" doesn't romp away as you first start to move, but it is far more important to remember that she also has nothing like "Sickle's" capacity to pull up in just a few feet.

"Towcester" on one of its regular fuel delivery runs.
Anyway, the objective was just to go a few miles and put a bit of charge in the batteries, whilst enjoying a pub lunch in the middle.  Well that's quite an easy objective, and we had no trouble meeting it.  The weather turned a bit damp, but not excessively so, and, despite being laid up for many months, "Chalice" performed impeccably, and threw no surprises at us.

Thoughts are starting to turn to where any big summer holiday may take us!

Marsworth & Back
Miles: 2.7, Locks: 4