Sunday, 3 July 2011

Bringing Sickle "Home".

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Evening of Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th.

Interesting boats still present after the show.
One of the things we are having to get used to is trying to move boats in school term times.  Our boating pattern with Chalice has always revolved around Cath's working life as a school teacher, so almost been exclusively school holidays and weekends.  We did use to manage the odd weekday jaunt, or long weekend when Cath was still not working a full timetable, but for a couple of years now she has been full time for the first time in over 20 years.

"Mimas" and "Victoria" behind "Sweden"
The original plan, (hatched a week or two back), to finally move Sickle close to where we live, meant that I would accept an offer from Jim and Sue on "Owl" to travel with them, otherwise single handed.  However Cath decided she really didn't want to miss the trip, so once it was apparent she would also be spending a day on strike, we decided we would instead travel alone, (needing some suitable car positioning moves).

"Zodiac" - like "Sickle" a "Middle Northwich", but still full length.

Approaching the top of the Braunston flight on a sunny evening.
So on Thursday we set off with 2 cars, leaving one at Stoke Bruerne, then forward to Braunston with the other to collect Sickle.  Although the vast majority had now departed, there were still a significant number of working boats on line there, as we moved off top lock up towards the tunnel in lovely evening sunshine.  This time I was determined to put in a better passage through the tunnel, and Sickle blasted through with no problems, passing two boats cleanly, but otherwise nicely down the middle, rather fast!

Poppies on Braunston tunnel foot-path.
We moored just beyond the East end of the tunnel.  Although tired, I woke early, and, not being able to get to sleep again, went for a walk over the tunnel, which I have never done before at Braunston.  As I found an air shaft, the sound of at least one early morning boat passing through the tunnel could clearly be heard.

This air shaft is brickwork is nothing like as old as the tunnel.

Clear view through the tunnel, even with a boat in it!
Much nonsense appears in canal books that can only have been written by the very unobservant, or those who have not actually visited the locations, and are just repeating th errors of others.  It is popularly recorded that you can't see through Braunston tunnel from one end to the other, due to the notorious "S" bend - a construction error.  Anybody who has tried on a clear day when the tunnel is not full of fumes can actually tell you that you get a very clear view right through, only slightly chopped to the sides by the bend.  But still the story gets published!

Buckby and Whilton locks were passed with relative ease, for once.  It always helps if you are largely on your own!  There is not a lot to say about the long run down to Blisworth tunnel, other than we had forgotten to take any guide, and, still after many trips, I never quite know what order I expect things to appear in.

I suppose after a good day so far, something had to go wrong.  We were blasting our way through Blisworth tunnel, Cath sat on the decking forward of the engine room, when I became aware that as well as copious smoke from the exhaust, rather more seemed to be coming from the engine room doors......  Somewhat freaked by this, and at some speed, I lost concentration, and hit the side rather firmly.  I decided I'd rather deal with whatever the problem was outside the tunnel than in it, so pressed on rather fast.  Emerging the other end, Cath, who had been unaware of the smoke, was very shaken by my sudden loss of direction, not helped by my suggestion we might have a fire!

In practice I have no idea what happened, as there was no obvious signs of a fire of any type, nor particularly any over-heat.  I'm aware I worked the engine as hard as we have done so far, and just think this resulted in a lot of oil on the outside of the engine getting rather too hot.  There are no obvious signs that anything else was wrong.

We locked down the Stoke Bruerne flight, before packing up for the day, to collect the first car from "the Boat" who had given us permission to park it there, and then retrieving the second from Braunston.

Saturday 2nd July. 

Just a day at home on Friday, to allow Cath to work, and we motored back up to Stoke Bruerne that evening, again negotiating to use the Boat pub for overnight car parking, (well it's in their best interest, as we could then enjoy a few drinks!).

Saturday morning I set off alone South from the foot of the Stoke Bruerne flight, whilst Cath collected the car, and moved it a bit further down to Cosgrove, before cycling back to meet me.

Again this was going to be a day of many more miles than locks, although we did want to progress as far as easily possible, without pushing it too late.  I think the short form of things is "a fairly long day, but nothing out of the ordinary happened".  We are getting better at knowing where the deepest water is to accommodate Sickle's reasonably deep draught.  With Chalice it's nothing like the same issue, and one seldom notices being seriously out of channel, but get Sickle in the wrong bit, and it becomes a wrestling match.  There are some good deep bits on this stretch, and Sickle can fly along, if conditions permit it.

Silly posts - typical of the many places they have been "installed".
One sees a few of BW's more pointess ideas on this stretch.  Cosgrove Lock sports the silly wooden posts inserted alongside some areas where cars may drive a few years back.  They were never properly installed in anything, and started falling out more or less from new.  They certainly wouldn't stop a runaway car, and generally get in the way when trying to work the lock.

View from Wolverton trunk aqueduct.

Is anyone seriously going to risk a "handrail" here ?
Further south in the Leighton Buzzard area, there survive two derelict swing bridges, completely overgrown, and to my certain knowledge not operable for 40 years at least, and presumably a lot longer than that.  They are on the non-towpath side, on private land.  Almost unbelievably one now sports a "BW Aware" label, telling us that the "handrail" (it doesn't have any!), is not secure, and should not be used.  What in the name of heaven are the people who dream up these labels actually smoking ?  Meanwhile more and more unguarded holes appear in the tow-path that could easily break ankles, and yards and yards of red plastic netting go up to keep us away from other genuine hazards, that there seems to be no intention to fix.

We contemplated working right through to Slapton, but it was getting late so instead stopped above Grove.  All very pleasant, but unusually Cath suggested we went and had drinks in "the Grove Lock".  After paying a stunning £9-20 for a pint of Pride, and a large glass of stock white wine, I hardly think we'll be rushing back there next time!

Sunday 3rd July.

One final push required to get us as close to a "home" as Sickle currently has.  We are still without a definite permanent mooring, but had been offered the loan of one at Cow Roast, so today needed to go the rest of the way up to, and across Tring summit.

Cath with "Sickle" in the Seabrooke locks.
This is familiar territory to us, and I think we were starting to feel more confident with Sickle, including when sharing locks.  Cath and I took turns on who steered, and who worked gates and paddles, and we ended up sharing with a day boat crew who apologised for being "novices", but were actually far more switched on than most.  I understand their main interest is with sea going boats, but they seemed comfortable enough adapting to the canals - they just needed to back off from the rushing around quite so much, I felt!

Alan with "Sickle" half way up the main Marsworth flight.
I have known Sickle on this stretch for over 40 years, so there seemed to be something rather special about bringing her "home", including past the historic Bulbourne workshops.  There she had been pulled out in 2000, surveyed, and the order given by BW to scrap her.  Fortunately, although another bonkers idea by BW, it is one that didn't come to fruition.  I suppose it's actually better they waste money on pointless wooden posts and equally pointless signs, rather than scrapping something as historic as Sickle!

Our friends Jim and Sue were still at Cow Roast, having brought "Owl" back from Braunston.  They helped ensure we tied up where it was agreed we would.  Most helpfully they then gave me a lift home, avoiding the need to cycle - much appreciated, as it was hot, and I was bushed.  Cath and I then drove to Cosgrove, to get the other car back - as I said previously, getting used to car positioning moves is a bit of a pain - particularly as the antiquated sat nav I was left with to used thought it acceptable to plan me a route through the old horse tunnel under the canal - as it is less than 4 feet wide, I'm sure, it seemed optimistic to try getting a Volvo through it!  If only one of out two adult sons would take the plunge and learn to drive we could avoid the two car moves we are currently having to think about quite hard.

Braunston to Cow Roast.
Miles: 58.8, Locks:45

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