Monday, 16 November 2015

Essential Equipment on your narrow boat

What is essential and what is merely convenient? Some things that seem not to be essential become so if there is an equipment failure or an unexpected problem.
Here's my attempt to describe the essentials. At the least it should provide you with a starter kit list.
I've divided the kit into food (dealt with in separate blog entry), tools (which may seem a very short list but could be almost endless), boat essentials, general and clothes.

Tools
multi-meter
standard tool kit including screw drivers (slotted, philips and electrical), adjustable spanners, gaffer tape, sealant, stanley knife,  ptfe tape, bulbs, fuses, superglue, oil, pencil …
if using logs for fuel, include saw and axe; secateurs and a small folding saw are valuable for clearing overhanging branches

Boat Essentials
Much of this should be permanently on board - but check frequently to be sure and renew if necessary:
windlass
fuel, gas, water and wood
two long poles - one with a hook
keys - BW, starter, boat doors, pump-out - all on a float (and check that it does, indeed, float!)
water hose with connectors
dipsticks to measure water and fuel levels
spikes, piling hooks, club hammer (painted in bright colour so it doesn't get lost)
ropes for mooring, centre ropes long enough for solo boating, spare ropes,
spare light bulbs and tubes for internal and external lighting
painting gear with brushes, small sponge rollers, paint (bitumen, undercoat, top coat, anti rust, red oxide), sandpaper (wet and dry), white spirit, tins and jars
oil, WD-40, multi-purpose cleaner
fire extinguishers
first aid kit
guides and manuals
life jackets
life belt
head lamp

General
radio
phone
matches / lighter
brush, mop, bucket, sponge, environmentally friendly washing up liquid
loo roll, kitchen roll
torch
batteries and chargers for all devices
umbrella
suncream, polarising sunglasses, toiletries
binoculars, camera
blu tak, pen and paper, boat log, sellotape
pans, kettle, cutlery, sharp knives, bottle opener,  mugs, plates, bowls

Clothes (in a flexible waterproof bag)

(I pack for the worst weather and am rarely disappointed ...)
two full sets of warm clothes
full set of waterproofs - trousers, jacket, hat, shoes or boots
cap with peak or brim
bedding - sheets, pillows, blankets, duvet/sleeping bag

Right, that's my list - what's yours?

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

General maintenance of a narrow boat

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Poor maintenance leads to breakdowns and system failures
Causes
Poor maintenance could be carelessness or lack of skill and knowledge. I am fortunate in having a boating partner who is a very careful engineer. However if I was alone I'd have to invest more in learning some basic skills as well as employing an engineer for regular servicing. It simply can't be skipped.
Solutions
Maintenance is ongoing but can be divided into:
  • continuous (battery levels, check engine noise etc), 
  • daily (bilges, weed hatch, grease gland etc), 
  • per journey (fuel levels, pump out, gas supply, food and water etc), 
  • monthly (pumps, oil, etc) and 
  • annual (winterising, anti-freeze, draining water etc).
Start with a survey by a qualified marine engineer, which is also the opportunity for you to look over the boat inside and out, and accept a thorough and informed report. Act on it! Learn basic skills and employ them in a regular regime.


Every boat must have a current BSC - Boat Safety Certificate, renewed every four years. Most problems can be avoided by regular inspection and maintenance and the BSC reinforces that. Start with a thorough survey of the boat in dry dock by a qualified marine surveyor - local names and contact details are in waterways magazines and from your local marina. The £500 or so paid then could save you thousands if you avoid buying a boat with problems or you can forestall likely problems. It will also inform you of future tasks which could improve your boat's safety and comfort.

If you know what you are doing you will probably enjoy maintaining your boat in top condition. If your interest is more in the enjoyment of sun and water, birds and bridges, you may have to push yourself in to a basic routine and supplement this with regular maintenance by a qualified mechanic.

You might even decide to choose a marina on the basis of on site engineering facilities rather than lovely views and landscapes. You should then back that up with a subscription to Canal and River Rescue, the AA of boating.
Make sure you have the bottom of the boat blacked every 3 to 4 years and use this opportunity to check its condition.
Always wash hands after contact with canal or river water - see Weil's disease.
Be careful around moving parts and the heat of the exhaust. Whenever practical when dealing with or moving near the prop, ensure engine is turned off. For double certainty place keys in your pocket so no-one else can start the engine.

And don't venture alone into the water tank! It may need a layer of paint with potable bitumen but fumes and dust in a confined space can be hazardous. Who would hear your cries for help if you got stuck down there?

Several websites have detailed what should go on to your personal maintenance list so I'll refer you to them (below). We recommend creating a personalised handbook for your boat - it will provide information for anyone wishing to use your boat, will push you to answer questions and find out answers to be collected together (local phone numbers near your moorings, local shops and pub opening times as well as details of your boat's plumbing, what is always stored there and what should be removed in winterising ...). It would also list your regular and essential maintenance issues.

View these sites for more on regular maintenance:
Practical Narrowboat Maintenance
Boaters Handbook
Narrowboat Info
The Fitout Pontoon
Canal Junction


Boat tilts in a lock

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Boat tilts in a lock
Cause
Caught on cill (see Boat caught on a lock cill) or mooring rope is too tight.
Single handed boaters are most vulnerable as they will need to leave the boat tied up in a wide lock while they open the paddles. A longer than usual centre rope might help here, so the solo boater can hold on to the rope while attending to the lock mechanism. Failure to watch centre rope and tying it too tightly will cause the boat to tilt and tilting can lead to a serious danger.
Solution
There are three solutions:
Loosen centre rope, close paddles. In emergency cut centre rope.
If it is not yet an emergency untie the centre rope immediately.
Closing the paddles will decrease the urgency but will take a minute or so to take effect.
If the rope has been awkwardly wound or tied around a bollard it may now be too tight to undo, in which case cutting it may resolve the issue.
If you have crew, one person should deal with the rope while the other closes the paddles.
Avoidance
Crew must pay attention at all times in locks, whether on board or at the lock gates. Simply looping a rope once or twice round a bollard in a lock and crew holding it while paying it out, either on or off the boat, should suffice to keep it stable. For wide locks go in with another narrow boat. This will share the locking load and tend to keep the boats parallel.
Use the engine to keep the boat steady in the lock while watching for water surges. Open paddles slowly and in stages to minimise surges. Be particularly careful if you have loads such as coal - or even passengers - on the roof, as this makes the boat less stable.
Use a Boatman's Hitch or a Round Turn and Two Half Hitches to moor up.
Single handed boaters might also consider an extended length of centre rope and carrying a sharp and stout knife for emergencies.
You don't want this to happen ...


Also think about your moorings in case of flood. Ideally you'll have a marina or a floating jetty to even out the highs and lows of water level. However if you are in an area likely to flood, care must be taken to allow for water levels, not tying moorings too tightly and placing mooring ropes at 45 degrees to the bank where possible. This allows the boat a little more flexibility to rise. This picture is from a boat that was moored on The Ouse at York in 2012.



Engine runs but prop doesn't turn

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Engine runs but prop doesn't turn when gear lever engaged
Cause
Broken cable to gear box, or broken drive plate, or gear box.
Possibly failure of prop shaft coupling.
Solution
Switch off, moor up. Check oil level and top up if necessary. Try progressing at half power. If all fails call for help and probably suggest bringing a new cable (and hope it's only that ....)
Avoidance
In regular maintenance ensure gear lever cable runs freely. Lubricate as required.

Fire or Smoke

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Fire or Smoke
Causes
Causes include engine problem, wood stove, gas cooker, electrical or general domestic reasons.
Solutions
Evacuate first and foremost. Life is more important than a boat.
Alert adjacent boats if possible to prevent fire spread.
If safe to do so, turn off fuel, gas, electrics at source.
The cause will dictate the solution - whether water (only for paper and wood fires), dry powder fire extinguisher (for solids, liquids and gases) CO2 fire extinguisher (for electrical fires) or to use fire blanket to smother flames.
If the cause is electrical, power must be turned off before acting further.
If it is safe to remove a burning or smoking item hold it at arm's length and walk carefully backwards (so flames are away from you as you move) and drop (don't throw) into water. Opening doors and windows can increase flames rather than disperse smoke.
Avoidance
Have main fuel tap and gas supply clearly marked so they can be turned off in an emergency. Install gas, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors - and check them regularly. Have appropriate fire extinguisher(s) clearly positioned safely near most likely sources of fire - eg near the engine room though not in it. Check dates and replace when they expire.
Ensure door on wood stove is a good seal with rope in good condition. Ensure stove flue is in good condition especially where it joins the stove. Keep inflammable materials well away from stove. Keep fire blanket readily available.
Have gas pipes and devices checked by a qualified gas fitter. Switch off gas at the bottle when not in use. Keep gas cylinders outside the boat in ventilated lockers. If working with an external mains appliance such as an electric drill always use an RCD (residual current device) circuit breaker to prevent electrical shocks and always use appropriate fuses.
Don't use candles or cigarettes in the boat. Avoid food using inflammable fats. On older boats especially check foam on beds and soft furnishings to ensure they are flame retardant.

Ensure you have an evacuation procedure and that exits are clear.

Theft, attempted theft, or vandalism

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Theft, attempted theft, or vandalism. Incidents include arson, theft, stone-throwing at windows, untying moorings.
Cause
Mooring in urban areas can be a temptation to thieves and vandals. Isolated rural moorings give thieves and vandals confidence of not being seen and having more time.
Solution
Photograph the scene in detail. Repair damage, report loss to police and give them a list of anything missing, with photographs and serial numbers where possible. Get a crime number from police. Give all information to your insurance company. Replace anything safety-related.
Avoidance
Always lock boat, close all windows, remove valuable items and tools from view and/or lock them in a hidden compartment where possible. Hide power leads too, which could be indicators of desirable electrical equipment.
A metal plate covering the gap between doors may discourage casual intruders.
Be selective about moorings. Take careful note of comments in Waterways World, in guide books or by lock keepers about areas frequented by vandals.
Mark belongings with security coding or smart water.
Record serial numbers of expensive items.
Regularly check home contents and boat insurances.
In the event of trouble-makers attempting to board or throwing items from the towpath or from bridges keep a phone and camera conspicuously (though safely) ready to record and report any incident.

Man Overboard

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Crew member falls overboard
Cause
Lack of attention, loss of balance through hitting an obstruction, slippery deck ….
Solution
Don't panic, don't jump in – and don't let others jump in. The water is very cold even in summer and the water depth is probably unknown. Keep sight of the person in the water at all times.
On narrow canals and slow, shallow rivers turn your engine off. It is crucial to avoid the rotating prop from coming near to the victim so don't reverse the boat if the person in the water could be dragged into the propeller.
Throw a line or a lifebelt, attach and hold on to the end of the line and tell them to try to stand up – if it's a canal they might be able to walk out.
Steer the boat slowly to the bank, using pole if necessary, and get one of your crew to help the person to shore.
On wider or deeper waterways throw a lifebuoy or line and steer your boat carefully to approach the person in the water. Keep a constant watch to ensure your propeller is well away from them. Stop the propeller immediately by selecting neutral gear if there's a risk of them getting close to it. Pull them to the side (not the stern) of the boat and help them aboard with a ladder, rope or pole. [from The Boater's Handbook]
Avoidance
Keep lifebelt and rope available, obvious and in good condition. Keep decks clean and clear of ropes and other obstructions, including autumn leaves. Wear non-slip soled shoes. Use a non-slip surface on the gunwales.  In tunnels and bridges keep within the form of the boat. Skipper should make all crew aware of protruding branches where the canal narrows
Be prepared. Make sure everyone on the boat knows the drill – and knows where to find the lifeline or lifebelt. In case it's the skipper who falls overboard, the crew should also know how to stop the propeller and steer the boat. Practice the drill. It's better to learn it before an accident happens.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Cast Adrift

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Boat cast adrift.
Cause
Mooring pins have come loose, casting boat adrift. Soft ground on towpath, pins not hammered in far enough.
Or tying to canal edging which has rotted away.
Or vandals have detached the mooring ropes.
Or passing boats travelling too fast have loosened your pins.
If you are drifting because of engine trouble read this blog entry.

Solution
Try to pull back to your moorings using the remaining mooring rope, if possible. Reclaim your mooring pins. Try again with double pins where one is at an angle to the other giving mutual reinforcement. Use firmer ground. Mooring ropes should extend from bow and stern at about 45 degrees.
If the boat is adrift and you are left on the towpath, if possible stay near your boat and wait for another passing boat to pick you up and transfer you. This gives you the chance of warning traffic of your stray boat, which may be an obstruction.
If your boat is causing a serious obstruction, such as blocking a lock or weir, contact CRT immediately.

Avoidance
Tie up to bollards, rings or secure edge shuttering  whenever possible.
If using pins hammer them home firmly and use double pins if necessary. Make sure the ground is firm - it can be weak near the edge. Move to a firmer ground if possible.
Piling hooks, also known as "nappy pins" slot into the shuttering and straight pins can have the mooring rope looped around them and slipped into the shuttering.
To discourage vandals once mooring is secure, tie end of mooring rope back to the boat.
Slow down when passing moored boats.
Don't tie up to trees, use centre line for mooring or cross tow path with ropes.
Do Fasten white cloth or half tennis ball or plastic bag to pins to make them obvious to passing walkers or cyclists.

Running aground

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem 
Boat comes to a halt though engine still running and propeller still working
Cause
You've run aground
Solution
Prepare to push - hard. Check water level in the canal. It may be generally low or there is a particularly low spot. Test this by prodding with your pole, remembering that you may be poking into deep mud or silt. Having identified the area first try reversing while a crew member pushes from the bow with a pole. If this doesn't work but the boat seems to pivot, switch the engine off and use two pole, bow and stern from the same side at the same time. If you can reach to shore and a firm edge always prefer that to a soggy canal or river bottom. Don't get into the water.
Avoidance
Check water levels by eye and by examining the wash from the prop (more vigorous in shallow water). Keep to the mainly deeper central channel whenever possible. Keep clear of sharp inner corners on rivers, where silt accumulates. Always carry two long strong  poles. This one has a flared end which is very effective for muddy conditions. See more at Boat Poles and hooks.

When put under pressure (just when you need it most), one of our poles revealed a hidden area of rot and broke!


Engine won't stop when ignition turned off

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem  
Engine won't stop when ignition turned off.
Cause
Most likely cause is a failure of the stop solenoid in the injector pump, which cuts the fuel supply. 
Solution
The best (and probably only) remedy is to turn off the main fuel tap.
Avoidance
Make sure you know where the main fuel tap is. It's not always in an obvious place. If in doubt ask a qualified mechanic and label it clearly so it can be seen in an emergency.

Engine has poor performance

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem 
Engine has poor performance, starting problems, smoky exhaust, sludge around fuel filters, clogged fuel pipe and pump.
Causes
Water in the fuel or diesel bug
Solution
Water will fall to the bottom of the fuel tank and so the best way to remove it is to use a pump and a length of pipe. Lower the pipe to the very bottom of the tank, and pump out all water and any fuel that looks cloudy. This is the area where the diesel bug creates mould or growth. Dispose safely of all contaminated fuel.
Avoidance
Buy fuel only from reliable sources which have a high turnover of fuel. Check fuel filters regularly. Ask supplier to test your fuel from your tank. If necessary ask them to "polish" it and filter out all contaminates.


Holding Tank Smells

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Holding tank smells
Cause
There are two types of toilet - one which pumps into a holding tank and the other which is encased in a removable cassette. In this case the holding tank is full, breather pipe is blocked or sewage is not being digested.
Solution
Short of converting to cassette toilet, first pump out the tank. Wash it through with water and pump out again. Add "blue" digester or similar chemical. Identify breather tank and ensure it is clear. Check under floor boards and round toilet to ensure there is no overflow. Clean thoroughly if in any doubt.
Avoidance
Pump out regularly. Install an external gauge to measure how much is in the tank. Use local conveniences where possible ....

Incidentally the "blue" in this picture should be in the tank rather than in the loo itself.

Boat caught on a lock cill

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem 
Boat caught on a lock cill or other large obstruction in a lock, such as a hay bale.
Cause
Lack of concentration allowing force of water in lock to move boat onto cill when lock is emptying - and lack of observation that it has begun to tilt. The cill is a ledge on the lock doors. If the boat is caught on it it could tilt and sink or drop and crash.
We also know of a boat caught on a submerged hay bale in a lock.
Solution
Close lock paddles immediately. Start to fill lock slowly. Wait till lock is filled and boat is level to move boat away from cill. If the other end of the boat is too low, filling the lock could submerge that end with dreadful consequences. Call for help immediately.
Avoidance
Pay attention to cill markers and avoid them. Fill or empty locks in a controlled way. Watch out for obstructions at all times.

Read this report of the flooding and sinking of narrowboat Barbary Partridge, by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch.

Engine vibrates more than usual

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Engine vibrates more than usual
Cause
Unbalanced prop, or loose engine mounting.
Solution
Moor up, switch off and access prop through the weed hatch. Remove anything wrapped around it. Replace hatch lid.
With large spanner turn to ensure each engine mounting nut is tight. If problem persists take it in for a service to get the prop and engine mounted in balance. Check condition of the prop at the same time.
Avoidance
Listen to your engine while underway. Differences in engine tone may be caused by narrow canals, deep cuts, water flow, sympathetic vibrations at certain speeds, or something more serious with the prop or the engine. Monitor continuously.

Pools of water internally near window

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem 
Pools of water found internally near window
Cause
Either condensation or leakage.
Solution
Condensation may form on cold windows - worse at night with warm bodies sleeping and giving off warm air, or otherwise when it's warm inside and cold out - and moisture is formed on windows and drips onto walls and floor. Mop up immediately. Make sure air vents and "mushrooms" are clear as a movement of air is essential to reduce condensation. There may be a small hole at the bottom of the window, internal, by the seal, which is intended to allow water to drip outside. It will get clogged up with moss so use a paper clip to clear it - if you can find it.
It's possible, at some expense, to fit double glazed windows, and a cheap alternative is to use film (cling film or something more substantial, see Wickes Seasonal Film) across the existing window frames. Cat litter is great at absorbing damp areas if that remains a problem (though tripping over cat litter becomes a further problem ....).
If the leak is from outside, ensure window seals are effective. Fill any gaps with waterproof mastic. If the problem remains unscrew window frame and apply rubber seal or mastic before replacing.
Remove bedding and food from immediately below the window.

Avoidance
Ensure vents and windows are open to allow circulation of air. Air the boat regularly.

Water won't pump away

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem 
Water from eg shower tray won't pump away
Cause
Failing pump, blocked drain pipe or blocked pump filter.
Solution
If pump sounds as if it is working but water still doesn't pump out, switch off, take off pump housing and take out the filter. Clear of debris. Re-assemble. To clear pump  use a manual plunger and briskly pump up and down. Finally, if necessary, poke stiff wire down the drain hole from the outside.
Avoidance
Clean pump filter as part of regular maintenance.

Solid fuel stove gives out smoke into the boat

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Solid fuel stove gives out smoke into the boat
Causes
Did you take the lid off the external flue?
Otherwise look for failing seals where the flue joins the stove, or blocked chimney. It's possible but unlikely that wind is blowing down the chimney. It's also possible that a substance such as wax or polish on the stove top is burning off.
Solution
Open doors and windows to clear the smoke. Ensure cap is removed from chimney. A rotating cowl and a taller flue can help disperse smoke if it is a recurrent problem. If you routinely have the fire on while travelling, consider a short chimney while underway (minimises hitting bridges and overhanging trees) and replacing it with a taller chimney when moored up.
Remove chimney (that's the outside section) and check it is clear. Check for blockages in the flue (that's the interior section), by eye or with a stiff wire. Ensure fire rope around edges of stove door  provides a snug fit when door handle is firmly closed.
If not, replace with approved fire rope and glue.
Experiment with lighting paper, kindling, logs and smokeless fuels. Start with ash tray open, then air vents open and finally adjust to a burn or a glow as required.
See also How to Replace the flue on a Morso Squirrel.


Avoidance
Remove external chimney cap before lighting fire and store safely. Keep wood fuel dry. Provide a supply of newspaper or lighter blocks. Keep all fuel away from contact with the stove. Clear stove and ash tray as part of regular maintenance. Never place items that could burn or melt (eg candles) on the stove top.

Interior lights dim or fail

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Interior lights dim or fail
Cause

Batteries failing.
Solution
Check battery charge levels with volt meter. Replace failing batteries asap and dispose of old batteries safely.
Avoidance
Install permanent battery level indicator and check regularly. See blog entry on battery condition monitor. Always switch between starter battery and consumer batteries, charging both together but using starter battery only for starting the engine.
Battery switch, using 1, 2 or both

Identify any appliance consuming significant battery power and use sparingly. Avoid toasters! switch off fridge at night.  Consider a wind or solar generator to top up regular running of the engine under load.
Battery condition monitor by ASAP

Progress is slow underway

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Progress is slow underway and increasing engine speed doesn't help. Tiller may judder or vibrate.
Cause
 Probably weed or other obstruction on the prop.
Solution
A quick reverse thrust might help. If not moor up and switch off engine. Remove weed hatch cover and feel for obstruction. Weed should be cleared by hand or with the help of a serrated knife,  and disposed off on the bank. Wash hands and arms before proceeding.
This is the biggest thing we ever had jammed in our prop
Avoidance
Minimise risk from large areas of weed by setting prop to neutral before approaching the weed. Note that even when weed has been cleared (see picture below) for some time afterwards loose weed is very likely to entangle your prop.

Weed clearing on The River Nene. Thank you weed clearer!

Engine won't start

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Engine won't start 
Causes
Several possible causes.
A Engine makes no attempt to turn over – may be faulty starter motor solenoid, starter motor or no electrical supply to the solenoid. The latter can be checked with a multimeter. If a click is heard from the starter motor, but it doesn’t engage with the flywheel, it may be a faulty gear mechanism, similarly if the starter motor can be heard rotating but the engine doesn’t turn over. If the batteries are completely flat, it will show up on the battery condition monitor.
B Engine turns over slowly but won’t fire – probably low battery (confirm with battery condition monitor). Could be general damp or a faulty alternator. Possibly discharged battery.
C Engine turns over at normal speed but won’t fire – could be that glow plugs not energised for long enough or a failure of one or more of the glow plugs or their power supply (this can be checked with a multimeter).
Could also be a fuel problem (no fuel, blocked filter, air lock in fuel system) as in this blog entry.  Generally speaking, if a diesel engine has a correctly timed fuel supply to the injectors and it’s heated by either the glow plugs or residual heat in the cylinders, it will fire.
Solutions
First allow at least ten seconds for diesel plugs to heat up before starting, in neutral, with high revs. For an obviously damp engine use a dry cloth over any damp surfaces then spray area with WD-40. The recurring problem is more likely to be caused by alternator, faulty leads, plugs etc which may need replacing.
Once started make sure battery gets a full charge, leaving it to run, in gear and under load, until the battery condition monitor shows a full charge. 
Check battery charge levels with multimeter. Clip your meter across the battery terminals and take an immediate reading. If more than 12 volts battery is probably OK but if less, battery may be undercharged.
If domestic batteries are discharged but starter battery is OK switch to starter and start engine. Then switch to "charge both" with engine running until batteries recover. If they do not recharge and hold their charge, replace asap.
If all batteries are discharged try to get a start from another boat by connecting their battery to yours with heavy duty jump start leads. If mains supply is available use a mains battery starter.
Avoidance
Install permanent battery level indicator and check regularly. Always switch between starter battery and domestic batteries, charging both together but using starter battery only for starting the engine. Keep engine compartment dry and well vented. Clear drains. Clear bilges with pump and finally sponge and cloth to limit condensation in the engine compartment. Start from time to time throughout the "off" season and leave under load in gear for a while to recharge batteries.

Standard ammeter showing charge slowly moving back to zero
See also blog entry on Battery Condition Monitor.
 

Water in the cabin bilges

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Water in the cabin bilges
Causes
Could come from a pipe leak, hull leak or rain entering from above.
Solution
Open the floorboarding to determine the extent and the source of the water. It is important to deal with this as soon as possible or damp will pervade the whole boat. Concentrate on pipe work and pumps as a likely source. Replace split hoses, pump gaskets or leaking pipes as a matter of urgency. Mop up residual water (a bilge pump if you have one there, then sponges followed by disposable nappies) and leave floor boards open until completely dry. If possible moor up in sunshine and leave doors and windows open to assist fast drying.
A really serious leak in the hull could come from corrosion or from hitting a rock. Obviously that needs fixing straight away, so don't delay and head, if possible, in order of preference, for a boatyard (so they can fix a plate over it), a slipway (so you can be hauled out of the water), canal side near a road (so your emergency team can get to you) or at least a towpath. Don't sink in mid canal, which is where the water is deepest, the difficulty of saving the boat is greatest, and the inconvenience to other users is greatest. If water is clearly pouring through an identifiable hole you might shove a bung in it to delay the inevitable. A stick for a small hole, Araldite or even a cloth dipped in Vaseline could gain you an extra minute. If you're interested, look up the word "careening" in the fashion of Captain Cook and his ship The Endeavour. It worked for him.
Avoidance
Check bilges from time to time. Ensure boat is fully winterised by draining water tanks and systems before the frost sets in. Air the boat thoroughly even when not in active use and don't keep loose bedding onboard. Consider a bilge pump that can suck up residual water, also remembering that for a serious leak the best bilge pump in the world is a terrified man and a bucket!

Water in the engine bilges


This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Excess water in the engine bilges
Causes
Hose leak, weed hatch, hull leak or rain entering from above. Condensation could be a contributory factor.
Solution
Check that it is just water. More than an acceptably small amount of anti-freeze or diesel could indicate a different source of the leak.
Use bilge pump if necessary, finishing with a sponge. Check all hoses and replace where necessary. Tighten weed hatch and check gasket, replacing if necessary.
A hull leak is unlikely in a modern steel boat but would be very serious requiring professional and expensive work in a dry dock. Seek assistance.
If caused by rain from above, clear all drain holes and gutters, but otherwise seal any gaps around the access to the engine room leaving air vents free. A firmly secure tonneau (this one is from Canvasman) covering the stern should also eliminate rain in the bilges.

The bilge pump will not extract the final half inch of water, for which a sponge (and rubber gloves) will be necessary. Disposable nappies are also excellent for soaking up the last half inch. Accept that a small amount of water is likely to come into the engine bilge and mop it up from time to time.
Avoidance
Keep drain and gutters free of debris.
Check weed hatch and double check for tightness after use, replacing gasket if necessary.
Check bilge pump from time to time.If it is automatic it should switch on when it senses water ingress, but remember that this depends on battery power, so heavy rains could drain your battery unless you have a solar panel to top them up. Where possible, personal inspection is the best solution.
Ensure boat is fully winterised by draining water tanks and systems before the frost sets in.
Check anti-freeze too.
A thin mat in the bilges can soak up oily water and keep the engine compartment clearer.

Water over-heating

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Water overheating - temperature gauge too high (eg over 80 degrees)  
Causes
If the red ignition light comes on the fan belt isn't doing its job.
It could be an air lock in the cooling system.
Water level is too low and/or engine running temperature is too high.
Possibly caused by travelling at excess speed.
Overheating can also be caused by a leak in a coolant hose,  a fault in a water pump, a loose fan belt (pull to check tension; a constant squeak also suggests it is worn) or a failed head gasket.
Solution
Switch off ignition and remove key. Moor up, using a pole to the bank if necessary.
Carefully unscrew bolt on top of water tank while covering it with a cloth to prevent boiling water spraying out. Wait for the engine to cool down then add water slowly. When full (check with a dip stick) restart engine and run engine in gear for a few minutes to check against recurrence.
Check water level regularly and if it lowers again look for leaks in hose. Replace where necessary. 
If despite filling up overheating continues look to replace hose, tighten or replace fan belt, pump,  or gasket.
Avoidance
Check water, oil and fuel levels routinely. Check fan belt tension. Always carry a spare fan belt and know how to replace it and tension it.

Engine stops suddenly

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Engine stops suddenly when in gear and won't restart.
Cause
A major mechanical failure in a slow running, low stressed diesel engine is relatively rare - a fuel system problem would be the most likely internal cause of an engine stopping suddenly. It could be: A. Something wrapped around the prop
B. Fuel starvation
C. Mechanical engine problem.
Solution
A. Put engine in reverse, which may clear weed on the prop. If not, switch off ignition and remove key. Moor up, using a pole to the bank if necessary. If you have a cabin hook (short pole with hook on the end) this may pull away the weed. If not, remove weed hatch cover and feel for obstruction. Weed should be cleared by hand or with a serrated knife and disposed of on the bank. If the obstruction is large, such as a log, lever it off carefully to avoid damaging the prop blades. Have the blades checked as soon as possible. If fishing line, cut it off with a sharp blade. Don't forget to replace the weed hatch securely! If it is an engine problem such as an oil filter or ignition problem switch off ignition and call for assistance.
B. 1 Check fuel level with dip stick. No fuel? Fill up! 
2 Contaminated fuel could be the dreaded diesel bug which can usually be checked and sometimes cured by filtering and cleaning at a fuel filling point. 
3 A blocked filter might be fixable or replaceable if you can find the culprit.
4  Injector pump failure, broken fuel pipe would also starve the engine of fuel.
C. A mechanical problem could be broken timing chain, broken con-rod, broken crankshaft, camshaft, valve stem. Call a qualified mechanic.
Avoidance
When underway always try to avoid floating objects. Logs, weeds and shopping trolleys are hazards. Minimise risk from large areas of weed by setting prop to neutral before approaching the weed. If trapped in weed use pole to escape the area before mooring up, clearing and restarting. Fuel problems usually are avoided by regular servicing by a qualified mechanic. Also keep spare filters available and keep an eye on fuel levels using a dip stick. 
Fishing line wound round the prop could start to accumulate more debris

Narrow Boat Problems

Want this to happen to you?


Of course not! Here's something to help.

The pleasures of narrow boating are tremendous. The gentle progress through the landscape, the time to contemplate, views of wildlife, visits to pubs ... all these are great reasons for taking to the water.
Another side, however, is problems that can occur, many of which you will not have faced before and for which you may be unprepared.
We've faced a few of these over the last 7 years (see previous blogs on grounding, weed, jammed prop etc), so we've decided to share possible problems - and their solutions - with you. We hope you will be able to plan ahead to avoid the worst that boating can throw at you. We've experienced many of these problems and we wouldn't like you to endure them too.
This page is the list of contents, linking to separate blogs on different topics and updated as we go, all with sections on Problem, Cause, Solution and Avoidance, including the following:

1.  Engine stops suddenly when in gear and won't restart
2.  Water overheating
3.  Excess water in the engine bilges
4.  Water in the cabin bilges
5.  Engine won't start
6.  Progress is slow underway and increasing engine speed doesn't help
7.  Interior lights dim or fail
8.  Solid fuel stove gives out smoke into the boat
9.  Water won't pump away
10. Pools of water found internally near window
11. Engine vibrates more than usual 
12. Boat caught on a lock cill
13. Holding tank smells
14. Engine has poor performance - smoky, sludge ...
15. Engine won't stop when ignition switched off
16. Running aground
17. Cast Adrift 
18. Man Overboard
19. Theft or vandalism
20. Fire or smoke
21. Engine runs but prop doesn't turn
22. Boat tilts in a lock

And then there's General Maintenance! Don't let it put you off!
Perhaps you could contribute your own Narrow Boat Problem - with cause, solution and avoidance strategy. Just write in the comments box below.
Meanwhile you should also look at advice from ...
The Canal and River Trust Handbook for Boaters,
Practical Narrowboating Maintenance
and
Canal Junction.

If you have any doubts about coping, make sure you have a subscription to River Canal Rescue, the AA / RAC of narrow boats.

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Montgomery Canal

The Montgomery Canal meandered for 35 miles through Shropshire and east Montgomeryshire (now part of the modern Welsh county of Powys). It joined the Llangollen Canal at Frankton Junction and ran south west to the market town of Newtown. The northern section opened in 1796 and the last section to Newtown was completed in 1819. Its primary purpose was to transport limestone from the quarries at Llanymynech and the coal to convert the limestone to quicklime in canal-side kilns for use as a fertiliser, although it also carried other general cargo such as timber and building materials. Like many canals, competition from the adjacent and still open railway sealed its fate and it closed in 1936. However, some sections have been restored and reopened as a navigable waterway while other sections contain water but are unnavigable except for canoes. Other sections are dry, although a well maintained towpath runs along much of its length.  More information can be found on the CRT website.


Three of us walked the final eight miles from Garthmyl to Newtown.  Although most of this section contains water, the rebuilding of the A483 with low over-bridges has prevented it being navigated by large craft. Despite this, some of the locks have been very well preserved and new gates have been fitted to some of them.  It makes a very pleasant walking or cycle path.

We lunched at the friendly Abermule Hotel, half way between Garthmyl and Newtown, and which is reached by crossing a spectacular iron bridge across the River Severn, which runs close to the route of the canal. The bridge was cast in 1852 by the Brymbo Iron Foundry of Wrexham, which also cast some of the smaller iron bridges over the canal.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Annual Engine Service

As it's nearly four years since the antifreeze was changed (see 5th December 2011 blog) and as it only has a recommended life of 2 years, we decided it was time to drain the water system and refill it with Triple QX Blue Antifreeze obtained from Euro Car Parts in Cambridge, which used to be Unipart. The cooling system has a total capacity of about 31 litres including the swim tank, so 15 litres of antifreeze gives almost a 50% mixture - good enough for the harshest of English winters.  As before, the system was drained by disconnecting the bottom hose from the swim tank and draining the system into the engine bilges, from where most of the coolant can be pumped into containers using the bilge pump.  The last few litres have to be sponged out, wearing rubber gloves to avoid skin contact with the ethylene glycol.

We poured the 15 litres of new antifreeze into the filler cap (using a length of rubber hose attached to a funnel) and then topped it up with about 16 litres of water.  Running the engine for a while allows the antifreeze and water to mix thoroughly and gets it warmed up for the next job - changing the oil. It's important to check the water level after running the engine for a few minutes, as further topping up may be needed. Also the bleed nut at the top of the swim tank must be used to release the air lock that is created in the top few cm of the swim tank.

Changing the oil and oil filter is very easy on the BMC 1.8 engine, as it is fitted with a sump pump that enables the oil to be pumped out into an old oil container for subsequent disposal at the recycling centre, along with the old coolant. So far, so good!

The next job was to change the fuel filter.  This is when the fun started!  For the past 5 years I have successfully bled the new fuel filter by slackening the unused blanking plug (behind the copper pipe in the above photo), followed by the union nut at the very top of the filter housing, as described in the Calcutt BMC Engine Operator's Handbook, which can be downloaded from their website.  However, for some inexplicable reason (short memory and the end of a long day), this year I followed the instructions in the BMC official engine manual.  This manual makes no mention of bleeding the top union nut on the filter housing, but instead recommends bleeding the fuel line from the filter to the injector pump at the point where it enters the pump.
When I subsequently started the engine, it ran for a few seconds and then died, as the slug of air still trapped in the top of the filter housing worked its way through to the injectors!  That meant the whole injector pump and the high pressure fuel lines to the injectors had to be bled. This is not an easy job, which on this occasion was made even more difficult by one of the bleed nuts (on the injector pump anti-stall valve) shearing off as soon as I went anywhere near it with a spanner! I removed the whole of the anti-stall valve assembly, shut off the fuel valve at the tank and went back to base in a somewhat frustrated mood.
The next morning I 'phoned Calcutt Boats and ordered a new valve assembly, which arrived first thing in the post the following day (really great service, Calcutt - thank you). This morning we returned to Patience, fitted the new valve assembly and systematically bled the whole fuel system, including the high pressure pipes to the injectors. The engine still stubbornly refused to start, so the whole procedure was repeated.  After heating the glow plugs for 30 seconds, more than the 20 seconds normally required for a cold start, and cranking it for a while, the engine finally spluttered into life - hooray!

The final task was to inspect and adjust the tension on the alternator drive belt.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Ten Things I Have Learned About Narrow Boating

The original purpose of this blog was not so much the diary of events that it has become, but to describe how we use a boat and what lessons we learn as we go along.
Now, six years after first dipping our toe in the waters I wrote down these ten things I've learned in the process. If you're new to boating I hope they are useful. If you're an experienced boater I hope you agree.
1. Make sure you learn some basic engineering / maintenance skills - or, like me, have a boating partner who is skilled in practical engineering. It's not all swanning about through green avenues of trees and light twinkling on the waters, more's the pity. It also involves anti-freeze, oil, sludge, battery charging, air locks and odd things wrapped around the prop.
2. Solo boating requires special  skills and techniques. Learn about boating first with an experienced crew before attempting lock flights on your own. A longer than usual centre rope can help by holding on to the rope while working the lock gates. More info at Canal Boat - Going It Alone.
3. Cultivate a tick-over mentality. Go slowly. Really slowly. 4 mph is an absolute max when cruising, far far slower in locks, at blind corners, near moored boats etc. If your wake is breaking on the water's edge you're going too fast. No doubt a helpful liveaboard boater will be out on deck shouting at you before long.
4. There is no brake. You can only progress cautiously then engage reverse. Even in an emergency give it a moment when shifting from full steam ahead to full speed astern if you don't want to lose your gearbox. Narrow boats often misbehave in reverse, which may mean you swing around more than you'd like and steering backwards is a guessing game, but reverse gear is your only means of slowing or stopping.
5. Effective steering is only possible when you are under way and the engine is in forward gear.
6. Canals and especially locks are full of hazards. Always be aware and think how you can avoid risk or escape from a problem. Ask yourself and your crew how you would cope with running aground, getting stuck on the lock cill, become adrift with engine problems, man overboard ....
7. The centre rope is your friend. Use it to pull the boat to the mooring or keep it in place in a lock. A single mooring rope at bow or at stern will leave the other end waving around. The centre rope will pull in each end equally. Make sure centre ropes on both port and starboard are immediately available at the tiller. Extend them if boating solo.
8. Wear suitable clothing before you set off, anticipating imminent weather changes. Waterproofs, non-slip shoes, warm clothes, hat with a brim or peak against direct sun or rain. Plus a complete set of clothes to change into if the first set become wet.
9. Share the load. Alternate steering and locking, all crew need to know what to do.
10. Always greet oncoming boaters and thank lock keepers (usually volunteers) and any fellow boaters who help with locks. But beware a gongoozler who offers to help in locks, they could be very valuable but you shouldn't rely on them.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Newbold to Norton

Wednesday 23rd. There is a superb view of Venus (the planet, rather than the unclothed goddess) at 6am and at 9am in bright sunshine (at last) we set off down the Oxford towards Braunston and, we hope, Norton Junction tonight.
Passing a boat called "There and Back Again" and recognising the title of The Hobbit, I thought that could be a good title for a boating blog. After all, it's what we do.
It's a good day for boat names: I spot "Drawn to Water", "Still Thinking" (get the pun? and just "Eventually" which is very existential, I think .... And while I'm musing, or locking up the Hillmorton Locks, John tackles the shower, which does not drain properly, and discovers the fault is a blocked filter (all that hair we've lost while boating ...).
At some point I shall write a blog entry about the virtues of having an onboard engineer and shall praise the number of things he has fixed as well as those he has avoided by his maintenance regime and his risk avoidance strategies. Later he will perform annual maintenance on the engine, while in our marina - of which more later.



Arriving at Norton we find a terrible crumbling towpath between bridges 9 and 10, where netting has been erected to warn of holes and weak edges. Nevertheless we find a spot that just works - and unlike the moorings on the Leicester line we can receive TV signals.
In the evening a visit to the New Inn to encounter the UK's biggest pub bore, spouting loudly across the room throughout our meal, meaning we have to move seats to a quieter area next to the skittle game.

Back on board we seem to have entered a parallel universe as the TV news features Prince Harry laying a patio and various improbably dressed rugby fans speaking incomprehensibly in Scots and Japanese. The new Lib Dem leader looks like a young Brummie footballer sporting cropped hair, unfeasibly expressive eyebrows and a line about being brought up in the shadow of the gas works that sounds like Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen.

Thursday 24th. Shooting through the Watford locks in good time we head on untroubled towards Welford with good weather and nothing to slow us down. The journey home has to be by road via Snarestone to pick up the second car. Rush hour plus problems on the A14 provide an unsatisfactory way to end a great trip. We recommend The Ashby Canal!

Back down The Ashby 2

Tuesday 22nd. Overcast with occasional rain showers. This is not how it's supposed to be! We pass Charity Wharf with its bizarre collection of mad dummies and decaying boats. Funny how these don't feature in Waterways World ....
We reach the Marston Junction, a place of many pylons, between The Ashby and the Coventry canals and make a very sharp turn into the Coventry for a few miles before reaching Hawkesbury and another big turn into The Oxford.  I'm singing Paul Simon "I hear the drizzle of the rain, like a memory it falls ..." and I'm feeling full of reminiscence, but the canal pulls me on. A pair of swans with an extraordinary eight cygnets all shimmy alongside in a long string and I'm back to concentrating on the water ahead.

Our continuing journey to Newbold is peppered with brief heavy showers followed occasionally by a blast of sunshine to warm our backs and light up the cut, revealing the first autumnal hints which hide invisibly when it rains. At one stage the rain falls so fiercely it peppers the surface water making it look like a rough and muddy farm track.
But it's the equinox and evening brings calm and golden rays. Mooring at The Barley Mow next to the Newbold tunnel we are alarmed by a threatening clunk from somewhere down in the bilges. Turns out there is a protruding ledge at the moorings and, concerned that this might damage the hull, we tie the gangplank to the side to act as a large fender. It works well and, thanks to a couple of pints and a good meal at The Barley Mow, we sleep undisturbed.

Back Down The Ashby 1

Monday 21st. Patience has been moored quietly at Snarestone for a week while we rest up at home, but now it's time to head back down the Ashby and get Patience to her moorings at Welford.
Leaving one car at Welford we go on to Snarestone, arriving at midday, unload the car and off we go, leaving the tunnel, the newly opened extra mile and The Globe behind. It's raining heavily but there's nothing to be gained by mooring up (though The Globe is tempting) so we trundle on, pausing only to pump out our foul tank in a nearby marina between bridges 42 and 43. Foul explosions averted, eventually the clouds clear and the sun starts to dry us out as we slowly retrace our path down The Ashby towards Braunston.

Approaching a bridge we spot eight people in a newly hired boat struggling to avoid us, the bridge and everything. Five of them are on the tiller, which presumably is part of the problem as they career across the canal. Whatever advice they've been given about steering seems already to be lost. Note - take especial care where hire boats start out. And to new hirers: it looks easy but it takes a bit of practice!


Elsewhere, on what is the most peaceful and beautiful northern section of The Ashby (eg bridge 20, pictured), I spy a solitary fox on a field edge 50 yards from the boat. Unaware of us he basks in the sun, trots up and down a bit, red pelt glowing in the afternoon sun. As a poultry keeper I have a special loathing of the fox, but here, basking innocently in the afternoon sun (and therefore nowhere near my hens) it is a sight to see.

At 6.30 we arrive back at Lime Kiln, mooring up just yards from where we were on the way up, by the water point near the bridge (15).  Again a lengthy boat or two has taken the quieter section opposite the pub car park, but we're happy to have made the distance, survived the rain and to be well fed at Lime Kilns.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Westward Ho!

Home from retrieving Patience from Snarestone and bringing her home to Welford, while I organise my diary, it's good to look at our explorations so far, from 2009 to 2015.


See how the yellow lines are spreading as we find new canals to explore.... (click on the map for a larger version)

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Up the Ashby Part 4. Snarestone and beyond ....

It is a very peaceful, warm and sunny day on this, our last piece of the Ashby from Shackerstone to Snarestone.
Buzzards wheel, spiral and slip-slide past each other high above us; a statuesque heron takes off like a pterodactyl as we disturb his solitary post; two kingfishers shoot out from the trees, flash blue fire as they sprint up river then shoot back into the undergrowth. Everywhere there are pigeons, magpies, squirrels, ducks, moorhens, walkers, fishermen, boaters and cyclists.


And soon we see the Snarestone Tunnel - shorter (250 yards) than those we've passed through this week, and narrower - this is for one way traffic, so watch carefully before entering ....
and so we reached the winding hole we'd looked over when making our recce earlier in the year.
But from our neighbouring boater we learn that the Ashby Canal Association has just opened a further stretch, only a week ago, and we would be in the "First ten" boats to boat it. How could we refuse? So the kind gentleman opened the swing bridge for us and off we went into the unknown - all brand new 500 meters of it.
The bridge (below) is still being completed, though it looks like it's only the coping stones yet to be placed,

the winding hole is just 50 feet (Patience is 45) and there are diggers at the very end (above) showing the way to future expansion, but this is currently the end of the Ashby.

Plans abound to join it up 4 miles further north to Moira.
So, back through the tunnel and we moored up 100 yards downstream where Patience will stay until we pick her up again next week for the return journey. Thanks to The Globe, an attractive and refurbished pub ideally situated for visitors to Snarestone and The Ashby.


We covered a total of 69 route miles and 18 locks, including 47 completely new route miles for Patience from Braunston Junction to Snarestone on the Oxford, Coventry and Ashby Canals. And after a brief respite, back we shall go!

Up the Ashby Part 3. Bosworth to Shackerstone

Leaving Lime Kiln, through Hinkley, past quite a few wharfs old and new, to Sutton Cheney where there is an extensive café and moorings and a path to The Bosworth Field Experience. This comprises a pleasant woodland walk to an interpretation centre where children try on armour and press buttons while adults read explanatory boards with great seriousness, trying to make sense of why one distant "royal" relative should believe himself to be more kingly than another .... We browse the extensive family trees and then we find that the battle itself probably only lasted an hour, and that the site of the battle remains unclear. So, somewhere near here a battle took place in which Richard III, recklessly charging forward, was killed and Henry VII was crowned in his place.
So, well done Bosworth Field Experience, to have made so much of genuine interest from a site which has few notable physical features -  and yet a king died here in the final battle of The War of the Roses and the ascent of the Tudors to the throne changed the history of England. More here.

The Ashby continues through a pleasant autumnal landscape with harvesting on all sides. It is rather shallow, and we witness four groundings on the west / towpath side, avoiding it ourselves by good luck and by holding to the central channel wherever possible.

We moor at Shackerstone, where there are lovely moorings between bridges 51 and 52 (see photo) and John is able to visit the Battlefields Railway Line - unfortunately not running today; we are told its steam engine is out of action. The station is locked up and we can't even reach the platform, but it looks an attractive spot. Only four miles to reach Snarestone and the end of the canal.

Up the Ashby Part 2 Hawkesbury

Stretton is a tight little toll point on the Oxford with a swing bridge and lots of moored boats.

Hawkesbury Junction  and then Marston Junction are key points on the route from Braunston to the Ashby. Both have acute angle turns, with Hawkesbury being 180 degrees and it is at Marston that the Coventry Canal meets the Ashby.





We saw a water vole which recklessly tried to cut across us and only just avoided getting entangled in the prop. From here the way is green with overhanging trees and steep gardens descending to the canal, cluttered with steps, benches and curious figurines.
One place, Charity Wharf, was the most cluttered and absurd place I've seen - a junk yard of dummies, children's play equipment, bits of boats and cars and washing machines. Very weird. Very "Steptoe-by-the-canal".
Lime Kiln Bridge, near Hinkley, is our mooring for the night. The pub, across the main A5, is busy, the moorings are full and we can hear the cars at night, but it's a serviceable stopping place. I'm struck by the sign on the large jar of pickled eggs: "May Contain Eggs". Good to know the Health and Safety Police are active hereabouts.
Good to know also that Mr Engineer is on top form, diagnosing a rattle from the engine as a loose mounting and successfully taking two spanners to it.

Up the Ashby. Part 1, widening the tunnel at Braunston

The plan was to leave our base at Welford and reach Snarestone at the top of the Ashby Canal by the end of the week. We could then leave Patience at Snarestone, return home for a week, retrieving Patience to take the return journey to Welford. This would require some safe car parking, and the generosity of our wives in taking and collecting from the further ends of the canal system.


The first stretch from Welford to Norton Junction, through the Watford flight (pictured), is old territory for us now, and we sped through in good time, mooring at Norton and surviving the perilous walk in darkness across the lock gate from the pub.

Day two, through Braunston, was a little less successful, as the uneven sides of the Braunston tunnel and oncoming boats nudged Patience into the crumbling wall of the tunnel, scraping off a navigation light at the bow and a piece of brick at the stern. Apparently the chandlery at Braunston do a regular line in green navigation lights; I was obviously not the first boater to have scraped against the tunnel walls. Nevertheless there was little damage done - it certainly sounded worse than it looked.


So through Braunston with its busy waterfront, proud metal bridges, shop full of excellent boating literature (I bought Rolt's "Narrow Boat" here) ...

and eventually moored up at Newbold on Avon, where the Barley Mow is right next to the moorings and Rugby (and rugby) always seems not far away (they portray the game even on the underside of their canal bridges).

This north section of the Oxford canal is interesting and new to us, and to highlight the sinuous route of canals John points out that at a point just south of the Hillmorton flight on the Oxford Canal east of Rugby, we were only 4.5 km (3 miles) as the crow flies from a point just north of Crick on the Leicester Arm - but about 17 miles by canal. See the red line below. And we passed Crick two days ago ....

However my favourite contrast between routes is between our original mooring at Stretham on the Ouse near Ely and Ware in Hertfordshire on the River Stort. I drove between them in an hour, (48 miles down the A10), and used Canal Planner to show that it would take SIXTEEN DAYS by boat, (230 miles, 7¾ furlongs and 162 locks) , having to go up the Ouse, through Denver Sluices, along the Middle Levels, River Nene, the locks at Northampton, the Grand Union down to the Regent's Canal and finally up the Lee and Stort (see map below). The sooner The Ouse is connected to the GU joining Bedford and Milton Keynes the better!

But now we're about to reach the Ashby ....

Friday, 28 August 2015

Welford to Foxton

Following a few days of grim weather it took some optimism to go for our long-planned 2 day trip from Welford to Foxton with our wives.
As luck would have it the weather was excellent despite warnings of dark clouds and showers and we picnicked along the way at a couple of peaceful spots on the Grand Union where the trees thin out to show rural views of golden harvested fields in the Nene Valley.
Foxton, still popular with gongoozlers, provided a good evening meal and an excellent mooring.
However do beware the ponds feeding into the locks at Foxton. A recent story published in the Leicester Mercury about a woman who slipped in to one of the ponds while the locks were filling does not bear description here. Just be very careful.