Saturday 31 March 2012

Stoke Bruerne to Whilton

(Boat Sickle - posted by Cath)

The canal reservoirs in the South are at about half the capacity that they were at this time last year –some are virtually empty. There are restrictions on the hours of usage of the major flights of locks to make people share locks, and so that boats going up swap with boats going down. There have been teams of volunteer lock keepers recruited.
We spent the night at the bottom of Stoke Bruerne Locks waiting for the flight to be unlocked in the morning.
Heading up Stoke Bruerne Flight
 At five to ten the BW man arrived to unlock the gates. So, we set off immediately with another boat that had arrived behind us an hour or so earlier.  As we started off up the flight a BW trainer with a team of volunteer lock keepers arrived having walked down from the top.  They shadowed us the whole way up the flight, with the trainer explaining how to work the locks, how to let water down into a pound that is low, and all the other things that the volunteers will need to know while they help in their role of tackling the drought conditions. 
Training the volunteer lock keepers

The trainer explained clearly and patiently, but we were surprised that none of the volunteers actually seemed to know very much already. We had made the assumption that they would all be experienced boaters, but clearly not. Locks can be dangerous places, so the volunteers will need to work calmly and safely, but we and the other boater travelling with us were surprised at how slowly they were being trained to do things. Paddles were going up very slowly, it seemed to take ages to get the gates open and the boats out of the locks. It is a difficult thing, BW has to make sure that the volunteers are trained to work safely, but we could see potential arguments developing in the future with experienced boaters being told that they can’t work locks as quickly as they are used to doing.
Into the tunnel – this time I stayed in the cabin, instead of sitting on the tug deck with a lantern. I got the washing up done, then washed down the ceiling and a lot of the cabin walls. I felt very virtuous, like a real boatwoman.
In Blisworth, a provisioning stop
A quick stock up of milk, cheese and butter at Blisworth, then on through many miles of lockless canal. I put a couple of baking potatoes into the oven, turning them occasionally, and checking their progress. After two hours we had some of the best baked potatoes I’ve eaten in ages.
We took turns at steering, with Alan getting a cheeky ‘Slow down!’ from Dominic Miles at Stowe Hill Wharf. Shortly afterwards a small boat did a U-Turn in front of Sickle – sticking his arm out and just turning across our bows. Obviously he doesn’t have much idea of what it’s like steering an old boat, but Alan managed to pull up in time, and avoid hitting him broadside.  In Weedon we passed another friend from the Canal World Forum, Keith (Jelunga).

In the queue for the locks at Whilton

We stopped at the bottom of the Whilton/ Buckby flight of locks, immediately behind another boat on the lock landing. Once tied up I got busy cooking, although I haven’t completely got the measure of the stove yet. I didn’t have it quite hot enough and the food was a long time before it was ready. 

We only have one battery, which we cannot allow to run low in the evening with running lights, etc., otherwise we won’t be able to start Sickle in the morning, so we don’t stay up late. To be honest, I am tired after a very busy term, so I’m likely to just fall asleep on the side bed, and have to get up to go to bed later. However, we were surprised that as we were midway between the West Coast Mainline and the M1, each only a couple of hundred metres either side, that it was far quieter than we would have predicted.

Stoke Bruerne Bottom Lock to Whilton Bottom Lock
Miles: 15.6, Locks: 7

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 32.4 Locks: 8

Friday 30 March 2012

Another Adventure Begins, (in which I find myself surprisingly "famous"!)

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Well, as it very much looks like many boating plans may not happen this year due to the severe problems with water shortages, we are determined to try and get some trips in whilst it is still a possibility.

Crossing the recently refurbished Wolverton trunk aqueduct
We have had a long standing invitation to a big celebration event North of Birmingham at Easter, and had planned to do a “standard” trip with the comforts of “Chalice”, and a third crew member.   However time restrictions have prompted just the two of us to set off instead with “Sickle”, (a.k.a. “the Floating Patio”), the rationale being that she was a day closer to Birmingham to start with, and we expect to lose at least a day over “standard” times, as we keep reaching locked flights, and have to wait until the middle of next morning before we can continue.

Cosgove - the only lock possible on our first day
So I set off today with “Sickle”, and once Cath had finished work she used a combination of bicycle and train to join me at Wolverton.  We were then able to carry on only as far as Stoke Bruerne locks, which had already been locked up many hours earlier.

What I had not expected was the minor stardom I seem to have achieved by my attempts to get elected to the Canal and River Trust Council.  At least 4 times today somebody suddenly appeared on the bank, or at the hatches of their boat and said something along the lines of “You must be Alan – I voted for you!”.  So thanks to those of you that I did work out who you were, (most), but also at least one I couldn’t make out over the roar of the mighty Lister, (the lady from CWDF at Linford, I think it was).  I’m very touched by the number of people who have congratulated me on my efforts, and encouraged me that I should go for it again next time.

Speciality of "The Boat"
That said, we are used to slipping around the system fairly anonymously, but I guess “Sickle” is distinctive enough that even if lots of people have no idea what “Alan” looks like, they can fairly easily associate us with the boat.

As for “associate us with The Boat”, that also sounded like a good idea!  With only a single battery that provides both starting and “facilities”, coupled with early finishes, we can’t afford to be on board using too much electricity.  So, after arrival at the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne flight, and getting sorted, we walked what I guess is about a mile each way, and did indeed enjoy an excellent meal at “The Boat”.  I can recommend the “Hobgoblin”, at the moment – it was spot on!

Fenny Stratford to Stoke Bruerne Bottom Lock
Miles: 16.8, Locks:1

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 16.8, Locks: 1

Sunday 18 March 2012

Few Objectives Actually Achieved......

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

One of the inevitable consequences of two busy people, owning two narrow boats, each kept at two different locations, is that if you are not terribly organised, what you need to actually be at any particular location, (home, Chalice or Sickle), at any particular time has a good chance of being somewhere else.  The scope of what this covers is enormous, but certainly includes clothes, bedding, food, drink, tools, bicycles, sacks of coal, and all manner of other things that could make this list go on a long while.

Would one of these add useful accommodation to "Sickle"?
The impending severe restrictions on canal movements in the South east, due to water shortages have caused us to rethink any plans for Easter.  Chalice will now stay "at home", while we try to get out and about with Sickle, instead.   At this point shuffling around of all kind of things is required!

So today's plan was to travel first to Chalice, returning a few items there that we'll not need, but pick up quite a few things to transport to Sickle, as well as to start to tackle some tasks at Sickle that are long overdue, and really need looking at before we set off.

I guess it could look a bit odd pushed by Sickle, but.......
Considering we are not normally the world's most organised people, we generally do quite well at such logistics, but today was not to be a good day!

A search of all locations has failed to turn up the antenna without which we can't use mobile internet on Sickle.  How you lose a foot long antenna on a magnetic base, I don't know, but currently we have!  The plane that I had laid out in the hall, required to reduce the swollen deck boards on Sickle to the point they can be removed without a crowbar proved not to be with us on arrival.  You can improvise some tools, but a plane is not one I can make an acceptable substitute for.  Nor had I managed to bring any of the materials needed to clean up the poil spills around Sickle's engine, or to go leak hunting.

Tied up for the pub lunch, after other plans foundered.
All the above was annoying, but survivable, but we had rejected the need to take fire-lighters to Sickle - I felt confident we had some left.  Needless to say we did not, nor did the fruitless search for them find the missing antenna, (or a viable substitute for a plane!).

So, what can you do!  Well, the good news is that the engine started straight off, so we set off to find the nearest pub that does food, (the one at our moorings doesn't, so there is always an excuse to take a trip).

Maybe next weekend we will go and try again to do all the things we thought we might do this weekend!

Miles: 3.2, Locks:0

Monday 12 March 2012

Sadly not to be....... (Well this time, anyway!.....)

(posted by Alan)

Apologies that this is verbatim as posted elsewhere, but it has been a long day!

(I refer, of course, to the results of the Canal and River Trust Council elections, announced today....... )

Well, it seems it wasn't to be - a shame really, as I would really have liked to take this on.

Actually though, for myself I am pleased to have fared so well in what I never felt was going to be an even match with the candidates being promoted by the boating associations. I made it to 8th position out of 33 candidates.

I did considerably better than two of the IWA candidates, the NABO candidate and the AWCC candidate, (and am frankly not a little surprised by this!).

I have been overwhelmed by the number of people prepared to place me high on their list, who I have never had the opportunity to meet, and who would not have heard of me before this election. To get over 330 first preference votes is much appreciated, and I'm very sorry I can not represent those prepared to have such confidence in me.

My sympathies to the other independents who tried hard, and were making the right noises. Maybe see some of you again 4 years from now!

Once again, my extreme thanks to those who have supported me, (and, I should add, some who have taken a particular interest, and offered specific advice).


Sunday 4 March 2012

Final Week of Voting in the Canal & River Trust Council Elections

(posted by Alan)

It is the final week for voting in the CaRT Council elections. Voting closes at 12 pm on Friday 9th, if you are voting by Internet, but as they have only provided a second class envelope for postal votes, I'd suggest they need to be sent within the next couple of days. (Particularly given how long the postal packs took to get to some of us!).

I know many will have cast their vote already. Also some, I'm sure, think it will make no difference to anything. Having heard two of the trustees, (John Dodwell and Jane Cotton), speak yesterday, they emphasised the vital role that the Council will play. Effectively the trustees are ultimately answerable to Council, who can veto poor decisions, and even dismiss unsatisfactory trustees.

So it really does matter that you elect members to the four "private boater" places on Council that you feel will be able to best represent you as a boat owner for the next four years - quite possibly the most important for this new charity.

A reminder too that casting any number of preference votes can never disadvantage any candidate that you have placed higher in your preference list. Your transferable vote will only transfer to one of your lower preferences if a higher preference doesn't need it (because they have enough already), or cannot use it, (because even with all available votes they can never get enough). The more choices you place in order, the less chance that your vote is wasted. There is no logical reason to stop your ranking after 4 choices, and doing so may mean that none of your first 4 choices can actually benefit from it, but the person who would have been your fifth choice may have lost a vital vote from you.

Please vote if you are eligible to do so. This is important to the future of boats and boating on our waterways.