Sunday 18 September 2011

North to Fenny

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

After a couple of months at Cow Roast, (thanks to Mike for a loaned mooring, for much of that time!), it was time to shift Sickle further North.

The plan was to drive to Cow Roast, but to take bikes, so we could go back there afterwards, and collect a car.

The move we wanted to do was more than a day, without going mad, but looked easily done in well under two.  Leighton Buzzard was an obvious overnight stopping point, to allow us a choice of places to go and eat, so we didn't need to worry about cooking.  The weather forecast didn't look too bad for the Saturday - just maybe a bit of light shower.

I rather enjoyed Tring summit, feeling I am starting to get more of an idea where the best channel is, and choosing engine speeds that mean we make good progress, but don't wrestle needlessly with the boat.

Approaching the middle lock at themain Marsworth flight.
We nearly always enjoy going down the Marsworth flight, and doing it on a sunny Saturday with an interesting boat, you get a lot of attention.  Normally it is when you are distracted by someone admiring your boat that you then do something not very clever in front of a large audience!  Today we managed to avoid that, I think, but with all the locks against us, Cath was buzzing backwards and forwards on the bike, and I think we learnt a bit about how to get along faster, as I was trying to climb on and off to do lock work too, but actually probably doing not a lot that speeded us up - sometimes its probably better to stay at the controls more, and leave it to her.

The sunshine gives no hint of weather to come.
By the bottom of the flight we had caught another boat which waited for us, and we then shared several locks with them.  It was a very new and expensive looking narrow boat, but was wheel steered from a seated position.  The couple in charge were very friendly, but the man explained to Cath that they were now taking the boat to brokers to sell it - it never ceases to amaze me how much people spend for a life on the water, only to offload the boat before not very long at all.  Although they had boated a fair bit, the lady really hadn't got to grips with the wheel steering, and her husband was obviously very frustrated as she relied heavily on a bow-thruster for just about every move.  This made my life a bit tricky, as I was asked if I  "shadow" her into locks to help guide her in, but she had a habit of heavy use of bow-thruster at critical moments that sent me off course, and into the walls of the lock approaches!

However our partnership was quickly ended by a "systems failure" on Sickle.  The "speed wheel", (basically a brass wheel, which is the engine speed control), had become stiffer and stiffer, and I was having trouble winding it away from "minimum".  Suddenly I was holding most of it loose in my hand, leaving a stump that I couldn't turn at all!

The brazing between the two brass parts had failed, and at first I had little hope of effecting a fix.  But when I realised we had an electric drill on board, I tried to drill through the two parts and bolt them together, (not elegant, but needs must!). It took several hours to solve, as the battery powered drill went flat, and the only available drill bits quickly blunted or broke.  A second stroke of luck was a small and never used inverter on board, which allowed me to produce enough 240 volts from the boats 12 volt battery to recharge the drill just enough to complete the bodged repair.

The threatening clouds start to hang low.
We were now very much behind schedule, and hope of reaching Leighton buzzard before dark has now all but gone.  Then "the weather" started!  First dark clouds started to obliterate most of the daylight.  These hung onimously very low over nearby hills, and lightning could be seen in the distance.  Then came the rain, though never quite as much as initially looked inevitable.  When lightning overhead produced an almost immediate crash of thunder I decided the time had come to at least fold up the umbrella!

By now we had been watching a rainbow at least 15 minutes.
Then on the long pound from Slapton Lock to Grove Church Lock, we were treated to probably the best double rainbow both of us agreed we had ever seen.  I so wish we could have photographed it properly, but only a small part filled the cameras widest angle of vision, the camera was getting soaked, and then the battery started to die!  The pictures fail to capture its magnificence, so you will just have to trust us!

At Grove in failing light.
By Grove Lock, (the last one before Leighton), it really was getting quite dark, although again my photographic "prowess" has managed to produce a picture that implies it was still quite light!

I decided not to put on the tunnel light, and to try and let my eyes adjust to the failing light, but long before arriving at the town centre moorings, had to call Cath out on to the front deck to help me spot what was what.  I do like boating after dark sometimes, but after a longer and more tiring day than planned, by the time we moored up I was bushed.

We went to the same restaurant as we had done when we visited the Linslade Canal Festival, and once again enjoyed an excellent meal.

We decided not to hurry off the next day, but instead to wait and get a few things at the canalside Supermarket.  With only a further 5 locks up to our destination, Sunday was an easier day than Saturday had been.

Destination Fenny Stratford.
Or so it should have been!  We miscalculated planning our setting off for Bletchley station by bike, resulting in a bit of a rush to catch the train to Tring, which are fairly infrequent on a Sunday.  I thought we had fully made it, as we settled on the train.  Only then did I realise we must have left the single key for the car we were returning to on Sickle!  David was not too impressed to receive a call to turn out on his bike to Cow roast with a spare key, but duly did so, and we finally arrived home after a weekend of enjoyable boating, but where we could have done without one or two of the things that happened!

Cow Roast to Fenny Stratford
Miles: 20.3, Locks:24

Sunday 4 September 2011

Putting Some Charge In Sickle's Battery, (lame excuse to go boating!).

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Approaching Dudswell bottom lock.
While we have been off boating with Chalice, Sickle has remained tied up for over a month.  It has rained a fair bit, and when it does her hold starts to fill up.  An electric pump will get it out again, but this runs off her battery, also needed to start the engine.

And entering Dudswell bottom lock

So what better excuse, when you have just returned from a long trip in one boat to go boating in the other one - Sickle's batteries needed charging, (honestly!).

And descending Dudswell bottom lock.
Cath was returning to work after the weekend, but we reckoned we could take Sickle in to Berkhamsted on late Saturday afternoon, then bring her back on Sunday morning.  In the meantime we had arranged a drink and a meal with some friends.  As Sickle was pointed  North, I took her up to the former buffer depot at New Ground, and turned her to point South.  I used to do this regularly with a boat I owned at Cow Roast in the 1970s.  What a difference 40 years has brought - back then you could just motor down there, turn, and be back soon after.  Now almost entirely the whole length is lined with moored boats, mostly local live-abaoards, but some from further afield, and many are very poorly tied up on slack lines.  Sickle doesn't "crawl" easily, due to a big engine and large "blades", and very irritatingly has to be regularly taken out of gear in order not to draw the more poorly tied up boats around as she passes.  That short trip is now not a lot of fun, to be honest!

Approaching "Bushes" lock in Northchurch.
Saturday late afternoon and early evening brought us pleasant but cool conditions, and it was good to be using Sickle again, although she handles so differently from Chalice that the first mile or two is still a bit of a shock!  I was genuinely surprised on bits of the trip to Berkhamsted just how far from the bank I could be, even on the towpath side, and still end up aground.  If the person who motored past me just above Gas Two is reading this, and wonders why my boat got dragged into the path of his whilst I waited patiently (static) on the mud for him I'd be happy to explain, but you could have chosen a better path and speed, sir!

Returning through "Gas Two" on Sunday before the rain set in.
Our friends has walked out some of the way from Berkhamsted, and met us for the final few locks.  Berkhamsted has now become such a popular "temporary" mooring for so many boaters, (some boats to my knowledge having remained on "visitor" moorings there for over a year!), that finding a spot for even a 40 foot boat that late in the day was a bit of a challenge.  Fortunately there was just one space we could squeeze into without working on further than we wanted to, (just as well it wasn't Chalice we were on - it would not have fitted).

After a pleasant evening in the town, and a generally quiet night, we set off back on Sunday, quickly catching a boat that had gone ahead of us.

Sharing "Bushes" lock on the way back up.
The fact that some rain was forecast for around 10 o'clock came nowhere near the reality of what actually happened!  By 11 o'clock, it was absolutely lashing down, and Cath and I had travelled with well less than adequate clothing, both our coats failing the "waterproof" test after about five minutes, I'd say.  I can't actually recall getting as wet boating in a very long while, although there are no pictures, as I doubt the cameras would have survived the deluge.

We tied up a rather wet Sickle, and went home very cold.  I think a trip to do some drying off of things is now quite an urgent need!

Edited further to add:

It occurs to me also, that this is the first time Sickle has operated south of Tring summit in our ownership, placing her firmly on territory where I and my brothers know her firmly from as long ago as the early 1970s.  I never photographed her in Berkhamsted then, but my brother Mike did.  Some time we must try and do "then and now" photos, attempting to put Sickle as close as possible to locations we photographed her then.  Here she was tied up at the old gas works site, a firm favourite for tying up BW maintenance boats at the time.  I rather have a feeling that these days a lot of bushes might stop you tying Sickle against the bank, but I'm not sure without checking again....

Sickle in Berkhamsted, early 1970s [Photo: Mike Fincher]

Cow Roast to New Ground Buffer Depot to Berkhamsted to Cow Roast
Miles: 7.0, Locks: 14