Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A VERY Long Day!

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan/Cath)

"Chalice" passes "Badsey" and my brother Pete's old butty "Angel".
We had little idea what today might hold.  Despite the fact Hillmorton locks have in the past been very busy, it certainly didn't look that would be the case if we made a reasonably early start.  However, later in the day, once off the Northern Oxford, and back on to the Grand Union we would encounter the lock flights at Braunston and Long Buckby.  These are are both completely unpredictable at potentially busy times.  Sometimes you can slip through relatively quickly, but at other times they can turn into a frustratingly slow crawl.

Wrong priorities - enough water is more important to boaters than poetry!
We were right about Hillmorton - nobody else was yet ready to go up.  What was disappointing though was that at the start of the day the intermediate pounds here were significantly down in level.  At least nine inches was missing from each pound, perhaps rather more than that from one of them.  It was not going to cause Chalice any problems, but it is sad that CRT cannot allocate enough staff to water control duties, and that things regularly get in this state.  If there is not enough water at the start of a day, volunteer lock keepers in particular don't seem very adept at trying to replenish pounds whilst lots of boats are using the locks.

The problem with push tugs is the time necessary to rejoin them at each lock.
We made reasonable progress after this down the Northern Oxford, but by the time we joined the Grand Union at Braunston Turn things were getting very busy, and the junction itself resembled dodgems!  At the Braunston lock flight there was a queue, but fortunately not a big one.

However progress up the flight was painfully slow.  It didn't need to have been so, but a number of things were not helping, including.....

1) Low pounds for much of the way up.
2) A single volunteer lock-keeper insisting on working a lock in the middle of the flight in a certain way, whilst there was no equivalent control at any of the other five locks.
3) A general reluctance by people to actually move their boats in or out of locks, even when gates were fully open, and they could have got going.
4) People "turning" locks in the face of boats coming the other way, even though it was not advantaging them at all, because all it meant was they might join the next queue slightly sooner than they might otherwise have done......

....... and breathe........

One of the periods of waiting at Braunston locks
Surprisingly the tunnel was remarkably clear both of boats and fumes, with a straight view of the other end from the moment we went in, (despite all the books that repeat the myth you can't see through it!).

At the locks at Long Buckby & Whilton, we did rather better, although once again low pounds were a common feature - is it really impossible for CRT to keep levels up in locks like these, given they are all supposed to be back-pumped?  The people we shared with were happy to let us on our way first at the bottom of the flight, after which we pressed on determinedly.

By now we were starting to work out if we could possibly reach Stoke Bruerne - something that had seemed highly unlikely whilst crawling through Braunston locks.  It might certainly be getting dark, but as the final two miles are mostly tunnel, darkness doesn't affect that bit of the trip.  Fortunately someone is monitoring Stoke Bruerne visitor moorings since the changes made by CRT, and consistently reporting a surprisingly low occupancy.  So we knew if we slipped through the tunnel late we would have no trouble finding a mooring.

In fact we made remarkably good progress, and it was still part light as we exited the tunnel, and quickly found a mooring.

After more than 12 hours of boating we now wanted an easy life, and this was provided by another excellent take-away from the Spice of Bruerne restaurant - not forgetting of course that the time they take to prepare your meal is ideal for slipping over to The Boat for a drink.  We managed to avoid the considerable over-ordering we had done on the outward trip, and now have a fair idea how much to buy for a hungry crew of three!

Below Hillmorton Locks to Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 28.4 (Chalice), Locks: 16

Total Miles: 403.9, Locks: 220

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