Thursday, 11 April 2019

New season's maintenance

The weather may be up and down, blowing and snowing followed by warm sunshine, but the general trend is warming and that means time to give Patience an airing.
Today was our second maintenance day of the season, plus we took a couple of walking pals out for a short trip to the end of the Welford Arm and back. With a walk in the morning, the usual excellent lunch at The Wharf and a couple of hours going there and back, the pals proclaimed their delight "with child-like enthusiasm."
But today was scrubbing the roof (pale, non-slip but harbours dark dirt) and treating the fore-deck with red oxide in preparation for a re-paint. The water tank, recently given its annual coat of potable bitumen, was filled a little with chlorine to clear the pipes, and now is half-full, ready for any journey we might take.
It's still cold in the evenings, but we have a beautiful new stove and lots of fuel, so we are ready for anything. Spring has sprung at Welford Marina.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Curious Boats At Bow

In mid January four of us broke our usual pattern of monthly walks in the East Anglian countryside and took ourselves to Bow and Limehouse. Very flat walking, lots of interest and lots of individual boats. Do visit the Ragged School Museum and The Grapes pub.

What do you think of these quirky boats?

 This is the same boat photographed from each end. It's a lifeboat from a sea going vessel and there are quite a few around, especially in the London area. Usually painted orange so they can be more easily found at sea there is also one famously painted in blue.
And this small sculpture was being used to moor a narrow boat. The two chaps are doing a good job.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Annual Engine Service

Having taken Patience out for the last significant cruise of the season and with the autumn evenings drawing in, it is time to give her engine its annual service, including this year, replacing the antifreeze.

The first task was to drain the cooling system, with the engine cold, and refill with a 50/50 mix of blue ethylene glycol antifreeze and water, see earlier blog for more details. This year I was able to buy a single container of 20 litres of Triple QX Blue Antifreeze from Euro Car Parts in Cambridge for a lower price than three separate 5 litre containers. That not only saved us money, but allowed us to get the mixture right up to 50% and also keep two or three litres spare for topping up.

Then, with the engine warmed up, I changed the oil and oil filter. The sump pump on the BMC 1.8 litre engine makes this a relatively quick and easy task compared to changing the anti-freeze!

I then replaced the fuel filter, which should also be done with the engine warmed up, as it makes for easier starting after the swap. This is rather a messy job, as it is impossible to avoid all the fuel in the old filter going down into the engine sump. The old filter looked to be nice and clean, which suggests that the fuel is also in good condition. After reassembling the bowl with the new filter and sealing rings, I was very careful to make sure I bled the fuel filter of any air before trying to start the engine. Air in the system has caused headaches on previous occasions, see earlier blog.

As the tappet clearances had been checked earlier in the year, I left these for another time, but I did check the drive belt tension, which was fine.

Finally, it only remained to take the old oil and antifreeze solution down to the local recycling centre, who seem increasingly reluctant to take antifreeze solution, especially when you are trying to offload about 32 litres of it!

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Weedon Weed

We took Patience for her last trip of the season, heading for Weedon to see the fire engine collection. Unfortunately that seems to have moved to Hampshire since we last visited. More details here.
Nevertheless we set off on a cold morning, warmed by the sun as it emerged and with the leaves turning and falling into the canal our passage to Crick was very tranquil - with one exception.
John noticed that the ammeter wasn't showing its usual reading which suggested the batteries were not being correctly charged. After a while scratching our heads and pondering awful possibilities the fridge, briefly silenced, started up automatically and the ammeter now gave its normal reading.
What happened was that because the fridge was left on when the battery was switched off, when we switched the batteries on again the fridge safety switch had been triggered to protect the batteries being run down. After 15 minutes it started up again on its own and we have solved the mystery. Our fridge is too clever for us!
Next day, even colder and now overcast, we go through Crick tunnel and join the queue at Watford, noting that water shortages are restricting opening hours to 10am to 3pm. No problem for us this direction, but we'll have to take care coming back up. Through the heavy double width locks at Buckby and we pause at Whilton Marina for a valuation of Patience while we consider whether our time with Patience is drawing to a close. Mr Steele is very optimistic about her and of course we know she's a reliable boat. Maybe after nine years of ownership it's time for a change.
Further south there are obvious signs of towpath work: grass mixes with leaves and twigs across the canal. And it is this, we think, that causes us to slow down as we approach Weedon. The first warning sign is when, after keeping up with an elderly lady stumbling down the towpath, we find we are falling behind. even accelerating while the prop goes round faster our progress gets slower. After a bit of a panic, revving the engine back and forth a few times and clearing a few stray weeds from the prop, we set off at a regular speed, convinced it was weed at Weedon. Shortly afterwards I spy a sign saying dredging is to be carried out in the area, which seems to confirm that the cause was weed plus shallow water. Beware the area around Weedon!
We feed well at the Chef and Brewer, other pubs seeming to be short on food, and next morning set off before breakfast to ensure we can pass through the flights at Buckby and Watford in good time given their restricted opening.
Our previous diagnosis is confirmed as we pass sluggishly through a mile or so north of Weedon before picking up speed again.

Here Nebulae is twinned as both boats head through the double width locks at Buckby.
We arrive at Watford bottom lock at 12.30 and start up at 1pm. The lock keeper says that last entry is at 3.15 but that yesterday it was so busy that people arriving at 2pm didn't make it through and so didn't start in until 10am this morning! And there's nothing to do overnight at Watford top lock!
Here we are at the edge of the pound half way up the Watford flight.

Fortunately we emerge and arrive at Crick for 2.30 where we rest overnight.
Next day is easy travel over familiar territory and we pass the Welford arm to pop in to North Kilworth for a top up of fuel and a final pump out for the year. The new marina is filling up with boats, but Welford is still our home and it's with some regret that we load up the car with perishables and bedding before winter maintenance.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Foxton and Market Harborough again

Terrible recent stormy weather changed our more adventurous plans so we aimed to go out for 3-4 days in a window of sunny opportunity. And so, in warm sunshine though amidst chilly winds and cool mornings, we set out from Welford for Market Harborough.
We are quickly down the Foxton locks in an admirable 40 minutes, mooring at the bottom and eating in the evening at Foxton Locks Inn.
Next day we are up promptly and off to Market Harborough in bright sunshine, though it's still chilly.  We note the pedestrian swing bridge is still broken, push aside the swing road bridge and continue down the Market Harborough Arm. The trees are turning to autumn gold, the canal is full of substantial branches brought down by the strong winds and spying floating logs ahead makes me think of spotting crocodiles in the Zambezi River (there are more hippos than crocs on the Zambezi: Ed).
One of the timbers attaches itself to us but John bravely fights it off with our boat hook and we are saved. Nevertheless the canal is awash with green shade and sparkling sunlight: ideal idle boating.
After an uneventful stroll through Market Harborough (see recent references in our blog here and here) we head back and moor up at Black Horse Bridge, anticipating a pleasant meal at the Black Horse Inn. Frustratingly there is a large sign proclaiming NO FOOD TONIGHT so we trot back down the hill, in gathering gloom we move our moorings nearer to Foxton Locks basin and return to Foxton Locks Inn for a second night.
On the third day, with no time for reflection, we climb once more up the scarred and leaking locks of the Foxton flight (yes it's two staircases of 5 locks each but it's convenient to call the whole lot a flight.) The homeward stretch is very pleasant, pausing for advice at the old North Kilworth boatyard.
We note also that the new marina at Kilworth is now open for mooring and not overly expensive for annual mooring, compared with Welford, if you don't take the £600 Services package. However do note that if you don't want electricity, laundry etc but you do want water, it seems you'll have to buy into the package - an expensive way to buy water.
Happily home at Welford (and with free water ...) we take the opportunity to wash and polish dear Patience, leaving her burnished and shining - at least on the port side. Next week, weather permitting, we may polish her starboard.

Foxton Locks looking down

Foxton Locks looking up

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Relaxed return

The out bound journey is chronicled here. The return to Welford from Napton boasted new crew, with wife Jenny and brother in law Peter tackling the locks while Duncan was at the helm.
Dropping off the second car at Napton was made easy by the good people at Crossroads Garage (thank you!) on the Shuckburgh Road at Napton, who let us park for a few days in their forecourt in return for a donation to Air Ambulance, while we took to the canal. Our temporary mooring was by bridge 110 just 5 minutes walk away, so we carried our stuff and set off straight after an onboard lunch.
And so just a couple of hours later we made our entrance to Braunston. Torn between mooring in the main line or knocking off a few locks to make tomorrow's work easier we first took in the sights of the marina then compromised and went through three locks to moor above The Admiral.
AS a useful aside it's worth pointing out that some of the Braunston locks have ground paddles as well as gate paddles. The former are very stiff and hard to work. For those unaccustomed to them the idea is to avoid a surge of water by opening the ground paddles gradually - ideally the paddle opposite the boat first, if there is only a single boat in the lock. You then reassess the situation before completely opening the ground paddles. Don't use the gate paddles until the boat is above their level. This should avoid water in your bow. Here's a gate paddle when the water was very low at Braunston.

Unfortunately The Admiral is not currently serving cooked food on Monday or Tuesday so apart from a few drinks we couldn't give them our custom; otherwise we found ourselves in a good spot.
Lock Keepers' cabin, Watford flight top lock

Next day was a bit more like hard work, with the remaining three locks and the tunnel at Braunston, then turning at Norton junction, the usual queue at Watford locks followed by the staircase, and finally Crick tunnel to moor at Crick itself. A full day.
An evening meal at the Red Lion (excellent fish crumble) finished off a good day.

On our third day we headed straight up the Leicester line and down the arm to Welford, finally driving back to Napton taking both cars back home.
We all enjoyed a relaxed three day trip in very good weather (no rain) and I think we converted Peter to narrow boating. He'll certainly be invited again!

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Plans go awry

It seems to have taken an age to plan, discuss and execute this simple trip, but what with constraints on time, crew and other events the out and back trip to Warwick from Welford seemed easy enough....
The original plan was to go to Stratford on Avon, delightful town with wonderful if busy waterside moorings. That was before I realised that it would be 5 days 3 hours and 94 locks. Each way.
Little wonder John was less than thrilled at the prospect (for retired English teacher Duncan the sparkle of Stratford rather outshone the pain of 94 locks at first - but the truth sank in after a bit of thought.)
So we thought let's try Warwick - grand castle and all. At 41 miles and 39 locks it looked a breeze in comparison. Three days, easy!
And then we noticed that the last 8 miles included 20 locks, which is not so appealing, so we looked for an alternative terminus. And that's how we ended up in Napton, a mere 27 miles and only 14 locks, achievable in 3 days or two at a push.
What should have been a straightforward cruise started with a slight delay as we had to drive to our starting point at Welford (we rarely leave Welford before 11 am) and so we moored at Crick as the most convenient spot (good pub, the Red Lion, Crick - very good fish pie) leaving the tunnel and the Watford flight till tomorrow.
All was well until the next morning when an attempt to start the engine showed a completely flat starter battery. Batteries these days do have a tendency to go flat very suddenly and though there had been some evidence on our battery condition monitor it was not at all clear.
Fortunately we have three batteries, so switching to the other two got us going immediately. But now what to do? Retreat to our home mooring a day away or go on to Braunston a half day on, through locks and tunnels? We opted for Braunston and its excellent chandlery, phoning ahead to ensure they had a suitable battery in stock. We would be there by lunchtime.

The Watford flight was slow going, with a stream of solo boaters needing assistance going up and leaving us waiting at the top. Then the Braunston tunnel had eight boats coming up towards us so we proceeded with caution having previously lost more than one navigation light in the tight pinch points.
Finally to the top lock at Braunston - only to find that the lock gate was jammed shut and they were having to drain the lock and the pound to get at something jammed under the gate. This took nearly two hours of hard work before poking and pushing, bouncing and pulling extracted a large log and allowed the pound to be filled again. Well done the men from CRT, especially Brian with his metal spike, floppy hat and his alluring waders.

The Pound beginning to drain. Note the mudflats to the right.
Now we were nearer tea time than lunchtime, so it was 4.30 by the time we reached Midland Chandlers at Braunston. Fortunately they are open until 5.30 and while John did the hard work of removing the old, installing the new, and checking the other two (in surprisingly good condition despite being 9 years old!) I wandered around the shop and selected paint and boat wash. John certainly deserved a pint at The Boat House and another at the Old Plough that evening.

John works on the batteries
Note that The Admiral Nelson, a popular lockside pub, does not currently serve food on Mondays or Tuesdays. Beware! Try the Old Plough in the village instead!
And so we came to Napton on the Hill, to the winding hole at Bridge 111, next to where there was until recently a pub - The Bridge at Napton, now sadly closed. Winding here and mooring near bridge 110 we were near enough to The Kings Head on the main road where, to cut our brief but eventful journey short, we caught a taxi to Leamington and thence home by train.
Our return journey will be in the next post, while Patience recovers.