Sunday, 7 September 2014

Did I mention I'm no great fan of the Northern Oxford?

(Boat Sickle & Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Thursday 28th August. 

Working boats "Fenny", "Willow (and "Sickle") at Braunston Turn.
Popular though it undoubtedly is, I struggle to list the Northern Oxford amongst my favourite canals.  It does indeed have the opportunities for some pleasing interludes, and last night's rapid ascent of the three paired Hillmorton locks with two boats was such an interlude.  However there are many miles without locks, and often a lot of traffic, often involving slow moving boats, or boats in the hands of the inexperienced. 

Sharing locks again - ascending the Braunston flight.
Also lately it always seem to provoke some kind of "I'd rather it hadn't happened" moment.  Today, unfortunately was no different to that pattern.  After setting off with "Sickle" I encountered a number of meeting with boats at blind, or largely blind bridge holes.  "Sickle" can be challenging in such situations, because although she can pull up very smartly, her design actually makes stoppingin a straight line in shallow waters very difficult.  The direction the very large prop rotates will always result in the front end swinging left on a very quick stop, and it is very hard to compensate to stop this happening.  Of course if she usually swung to the right, it would cause far less problems, as that should be out of the path of approaching boats, rather than into their path!

Although Odin is swimming well he wears his life-jacket for locks.
So, there is always a balanced decision to me made about whether it is practical to fully stop, without the bow swinging across the cut, and into the path of oncoming boats, or whether it is better to try far less stopping, and to regain better control, and manoeuvre out of a tight situation.  Growing experience of this "difficult" boat has over the years meant I tend not to get it wrong very often.

Today, however, I got it wrong, and came through a bridge hole where I had sounded my Klaxon to find a boat largely stopped in the middle  but very close to where I was already committed to going.  I indicated my intention to go "wrong side" of him, knowing my bow would slew over as I tried to reduce speed further, and could still have recovered the situation, but he made no attempt to move, and hence I clipped him fairly firmly.

I knew it should not have happened, and wanted to apologise, and check no damage was done, but instead faced a tirade of abuse from the other steerer, who set off impatiently through the bridge, issuing a string of phrases based largely arount four letter words.  So if you are reading this sir, I still apologise, but your behaviour was completely uncalled for, and, in the unlikely event any damage was done, we have now missed the opportunity to discuss it calmly.

Did I mention I'm no great fan of the Northern Oxford?

"Nelson" lock at Braunston - both boats are taken in in parallel.
Anyway, on to even more familiar territory as we joined a busy Grand Union at Braunston Turn.  The Turn was particularly manic, with boats all over the place, and I was expecting one of the very delayed ascents of Braunston locks that we have come to accept almost as the norm   In practice things were not that bad, and our ascent of the locks relatively brisk.  This was of course our first foray back into double locks with both boats since we travelled up here many weeks ago, and the boats could now share locks, greatly reducing our workload.

David on "Chalice" leaves Braunston tunnel.
The passage through Braunston tunnel was also quite brisk - I steered "Sickle", and David took "Chalice" through, and I think we only passed one boat.  Long Buckby locks, (physically some of the harder Grand Union ones), were also navigated without too much difficulty.  The foot of Buckny locks, near Whilton, and several miles beyond, are not a pleasant overnight stay - the very noisy M1 ruins this stretch of canal.  So we pressed on to one of our preferred moorings - offside, high up on Weedon embankment.  Although the West Coast Main Line is right nearby here, it never seems intrusive, for some reason.  Once moored our friends James and Amy passed once more on "Willow".  Unlike us, they were heading for the Northampton Arm, and the Nene, so this was the last time we would see them on this trip.

Hillmorton to Weedon 
Miles:  16.7 (Chalice), 16.7 (Sickle), Locks: 13

Total Miles: 802.7, Locks: 520

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