Friday, 24 April 2015

A Whirlwind of a Blog

Hi There

Well it's fast forward time as the more upto date I think I'm getting with my blog the further back I seem to get. So here we go, we're setting off from Stratford-on-Avon on a whirlwind trip of our last 26 days during which time we've cruised for 38 hours, yes we've busted all our records and have averaged an hour and a half a day compared to our more leisurely hour a day, during which time we've covered 61 miles. This trip has been a bit lock intensive though, having done 101 of the buggers, although largely singles and quite a few on close flights that speed things up. In terms of lock miles per hour we've managed 4.26 compared to a normally recognised 3 so we've cracked on pretty well.

For the non boaters out there, a lock mile in cruising terms gives you an idea of how long a stretch of canal will take you to travel along it by simply adding the number of miles and the number of locks then dividing that number by three. So a simple example (so I don't need a calculator) would be that if you planned to travel for 3 miles during which you'd encounter 9 locks then you'd do 3+9 = 12 and divide that by the rule of thumb 3 lock miles per hour 12 / 3 = 4. The 4 being the number of hours you'd expect to take to travel those three miles and nine locks. Just having checked my log, our average annual lock miles since we set off on our journey in 2012 have been 2.7 in 2012, 2.7 in 2013, 3.0 in 2014 and 3.9 so far this year.

From the above you'd have now learned three things. Firstly lock miles, secondly that I can do 3+9 / 12 without a calculator and thirdly and more importantly is why I can't get up to date with my blog as at the top of the page I was promising to set off from Stratford-on-Avon on a whirlwind trip, yet I don't even seem to have got as far as casting off!

Anyway, we're off this time (honest) and a few pictures from our trip up up the Stratford-on-Avon Canal.

Pretty distinctive bridges on this canal and although you probably can't see by the photo, both halves of the bridge raise up (or would have done in the olden days) that I've not seen elsewhere on the system we've been on so far.

Me on solo lock duty as David Baily's at it again. Shouldn't complain though as my blog starts out with Nicky's camera to choose the photo's around which I then base it.

Oh bloody hell, I've got to make a decision, don't like them, but hang on, memory to the rescue, we've been to Warwick, so problem averted, it's left to Birmingham for us and up the Grand Union Canal.

We'd moored on the outskirts of Birmingham with the plan of travelling through it in the one day and some eight hours of cruising and no, I wasnt looking forward to the prospect of a normal weeks worth of travelling in one day. Luckily spoke to a boater though who had just come through and told us about a 'secure' Canal and River Trust mooring point next to Star City near Salford Junction. 'Secure' as in a chest high gate that some lads vaulted over that evening and hung around, but we weren't leaving the boat unattended so no problem there. The Boys gave them a good old barking at and whereas we'd normally tell them to keep quiet we just let them get on with it. It was a useful stopover though that split our travelling into a five and a three hour day that was a bit better.

So we're now on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal and aiming for Fazeley junction that we've passed through before but on another canal so this will be an up and double back trip.

Looks like someone didn't have enough land, so built an extension, over the canal.

Through we go.

Whilst on this section of canal up to Fazeley there were quiet a few nice mooring points, the best of which was next to Kingsbury Water Park where there was hundreds of acres of lakes and plenty of walks for The Boys.

So fast forwarding as promised and we've made it to Fazeley Junction, doubled back and now back into Birmingham

We're on The Birmingham Canal Navigation's (BCN) now and oh bloody hell, what's with the signs and multiple multiple choice at that this time. Don't even recognise the names, just know we're keeping to the right so I guess we're going to Perry Bar and Tipton I suppose!

Slight digress here, although a bit related to this last point point of not knowing where I'm going, but a chap asked me when I was in a lock the other day where I was going. I thought about this question and simply pointed ahead of me and said 'that way'. Clearly not content with that as an answer he persevered and asked, but where are you aiming for. There was nothing for it, I was under pressure now, clearly had to come up with something better than 'that way' so consulted the Nicholson's Guide, found where I was, had a look what was ahead and said confidently 'Page 59' and that was the end of that conversation!

Digress over and now travelling under Spaghetti Junction as most have never seen it before.

Can't obviously do a blog without a couple of sunset photos, with this first one taken just a few miles further on from Spaghetti Junction.

And a final picture for this blog, travelling up the Rushall Canal section on the BCN having negotiated seven of the nine locks of this section with no or limited water and planning to moor up above the final two locks. And moor up we have for the last four days with fields with horses on one side and a yellow carpet of rapeseed on the other.

So, finally at last, you are up to date with our travels with this blog actually being typed where we are sat for once so no nagging feeling that I should be blogging for a while yet. . .

And so in signing off, 

Day 808 in the Badger Sett Narrowboat - 1592 miles, 847 locks and 825 cruising hours further on from when we started.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The River Avon

Hi There

Well after the 'excitement' (aka A mishap and a close shave in my previous post) of our day travelling upto Tewkesbury and onto the River Avon, let's hope we have a nice uneventful spell.

Firstly some news for you, Nicky's leaving me, but the worst of it is that she's only going back home for a holiday and will be back . . . . Therefore, we want to be off the river before she goes so we are making a pretty quick dash to Stratford-on-Avon. Well I say a dash, but we've still got two weeks to do forty-two miles, but a dash it is in our book based on our normal travel regime. The River Avon isn't part of the Canal and River Trust so we needed to get an additional licence to travel on this waterway, the cost of which differs for varying periods and we opted for the two week one at £60 which I didn't think was too bad. A word of caution though, if you travel outside of the season then none of the sanitary points are open, although we did luckily find one midway that seemed to be getting ready for the season so managed to sort ourselves out. The thing I would recommend though is purchasing a little booklet that they do, about £4.00 I think it was, that tells you where the mooring places are, a bit about the places on the way, but probably more important, was the navigation notes about shallows, bridges, and diagrams of locks, the approach route, weirs and their flows all of which were useful.

Now I have to admit that we weren't sort of looking forward to the River Avon as we hadn't been too keen on the small stretch of the river Severn that we'd done (Worcester to Gloucester) as recognised/safe mooring points were sparce and resulted in quite long travel days and therefore missing out on a lot of the surrounding area that you just end up cruising past. I have to say though that it didn't probably help that the weather was pretty windy and wet as these made it seem a lot bleaker than maybe it would on a summers day. Well be doing the upper part of the River Severn later on in the year though so watch this space.

But back onto the River Avon and concerns rapidly disappeared as moorings were frequent and nice as well.

Weather wise, pretty much couldn't have been better as you'll see by the photos, with only a few overcast days and not much rain about either.

Now you'll remember above that we were hoping for a nice 'uneventful' spell, but that wasn't to be. For the boaters of you out there, particually the all year rounders, you'll have the Stove going 24/7 as your main source of heat. It therefore becomes a problem when you manage to break the glass door and won't be able to use it until fixed. How I managed to do it I'm still not sure as I open and close it many times a day, but somehow this time I must have let the handle drop against the door a bit harder than usual or it had swung round and actually tapped the glass, but the end result was it was cracked. Not just a little crack though, I'd managed to do it in style and the pane was split into about four pieces although luckily still held in place by the glass clips so the fire and smoke was at least still contained.

I managed to find a stove place on the Internet that was in our general area and whilst they didn't do glass they did recommend a glass place in Evesham where we had just travelled up from the day before so at least it was close(ish) by. We were also lucky that we were moored at Bidford-on-Avon (the picture above as it happens) and whilst I'd been on the phone to the glass place, Nicky was on the Internet and found that a bus was leaving in about ten minutes to Evesham.

So off I went, caught the bus, found the glass place, got my two pieces of glass (got a spare piece whilst I was at it as we'd been ideally placed and managed to sort the problem quite easily this time, but should it happen again and we were miles away from anywhere then it would be another story). Also managed to get some glass seal tape from a chandlers as I wasn't sure what condition the existing one would be in and headed back to the boat. Changed the glass, old seal was okay(ish) and would have seen us through, but changed it nonetheless and whilst the stove was cold took out the firebricks and gave the chimney s sweep as well. So to cut a rather long story quickly short, about five hours after my accident, the stove was again alight and heating up the boat.

Now whilst our stove is our primary source of heat, we do have diesel fired central heating and radiators in the boat, so we wouldn't have exactly gone cold although the stove is better as its a dryer heat compared to the rads. There's a cost implication as well as the diesel burner uses about half a litre an hour and as we work on the basis of a litre costing about £1.20 then that's 60p for an hours heat that doesn't sound too bad said like that, but try that for eighteen hours a day (£10.80) seven days a week (£75.60) and compare that to our stove with a combination of wood and coal that comes in at somewhere between £17 and £23 a week and there's good reason to steer clear of it as much as you can.

So a happy ending and the peace of mind of having a ready to hand spare should I manage to break it again sometime!

So it's the next day and we're setting off from Bidford-on-Avon and negotiating the archway through the bridge (complete with arrows so you go through the right one) and whilst it might look a bit tight, we saw a wide beam come through the day before so our mere 6' 10" beam will get through fine.

As I mentioned above, we were lucky with the weather, particularly the rain and all the water level markers along the way were on green. Green being fine to travel, Orange be aware and look for somewhere to moor up and Red just dont move. That said though, you still had to be wary of the weirs even at these safe water levels and it didn't take much if you got distracted to find yourself going where the flow wanted you to be.

Okay, so we almost made it without incident and we're about two days travel away from Stratford-on-Avon and it rained one night, pretty hard and pretty long, but just a nights worth but enough to put the water into the Orange section of the level the next morning. So we thought we'd just take The Boys for their walk and see what it was like in a few hours time. A few hours time equals Red, so I guess were not moving today. 

It was back into the orange (and dropping) the next morning so we set off, but found it pretty hard going against the flow so moored up again after the next lock for the night where the level was well into the red. Now here's the thing that I find strange, the water level markers are placed in the river section below the locks, but not above so you set off when it looks okay, by the lower marker, to find the water above the lock is in the red 'once' you've travelled along that section. Fine if you're travelling down river, but clearly not up!

So having now lost a couple of days we needed to do the final stretch in one go to get us to Stratford-on-Avon in time to moor up and get Nicky on the train the next day. The river by this time was green markers all the way, but it just goes to show that one nights rain cost us two days so it's just as well it didn't rain longer or heavier.

Last weir and only one more lock and that'll be us tieing up for the day.

So we're now in Stratford-on-Avon, well I lie slightly as I'm still behind with my blog and were actually up on the Birmingham Canal Navigation's (Tame Valley Section) at the moment, but when we were in Stratford-on-Avon this was my home for nine days whilst Nicky went back to Jersey. 

Whilst it's designated as a 48 hour mooring in the basin I'd contacted Canal and River Trust about staying on for an extended period and they kindly didn't have any objections so I was settled in a good location, close to shops and access to good walks for The Boys.

Well that's me for now, one more catch up blog should see me back on track and you fully up to date with us.

And so in signing off, 

Day 803 in the Badger Sett Narrowboat - 1585 miles, 827 locks and 819 cruising hours further on from when we started.

Friday, 3 April 2015

A mishap and a close shave

Hi There

Well, slowly but surely, I'm getting up to date with our meanderings.

The lift bridge into Gloucester Docks wouldn't be ready to open till 9 o'clock, after which the bridge operator come lock keeper would then let us out onto the River Severn so we could make our way back to Tewkesbury and onto the River Avon.

So, firstly 'The Mishap', or should I call it 'My Phones Dunking in Gloucester Docks' . . . . . . I'll just start off by setting the scene for you first.

There was a sanitary point right before the lift bridge, so we moved up from our previous nights mooring a few hundred yards back to empty the toilet cassettes (we've got three and as we don't move very far very often they are useful to have and we find that we don't have to travel in order to find a sanitary point, but can just sort ourselves out when we happen across them) get rid of the rubbish and top up with water. The water was the first thing in mind as we hadn't topped up for about nine days so it was going to take a while and we wanted to be filled up before the bridged opened, so I was in water filling tunnel vision mode as we moored up at the sanitary point. Nicky jumped off with the centre rope and secured that and I jumped off and secured the back rope. Now there is a bit of a clue here as to 'what happened next', anybody spotted it?

So remember, I'm in water filling tunnel vision mode here, which is probably an evolution based thing as apparently us blokes can't multitask although I always look at it as me doing one thing well whilst Nicky does multiple things badly. Take making a cuppa for example, (I know I digress, but bear with me) I set out to make us a cupper and enter my 'cuppa making tunnel vision' mode and stand poised waiting for the kettle to boil before springing into action and completing the primary task in hand. Nicky on the other hand puts the kettle on and then multitasks and so in setting a number of parallel universe alternatives in addition to the real world task of just concentrating on my cuppa.

So parallel universe alternate one is that the kettle boils, starts whistling, starts screeching and eventually I run to put the kettle out of its misery. End result - I end up doing my own cuppa.

So parallel universe alternate two is that Nicky's multitasking is close to hand, which is good news for the kettle, my ears and the water successfully makes it into the cup, BUT along comes multitasking mode elsewhere resulting in parallel universe alternate two splitting into alternate three and alternate four.

Alternate three being the cup sits there until completion of multitasking mode. End result - I end up with a cold cuppa.

Alternate four being that I take over. End result - I end up doing my own cuppa.

So hopefully this goes someway to explaining this multitasking phenomenon and more importantly, why it doesn't work and therefore demonstrating why men are clearly superior in having managed to evolve into the beings we are.

Anyway, digress over, remember I'm in my water filling tunnel vision mode and the boats alongside, I've got the hose out, opened up the water tank, fitted the hose to the water point, turned it on, let the water run through for twenty seconds, leant into the boat to put the hose into the tank and then moved back onto the pontoon, onto the pontoon, onto the pontoon, bloody hell . . . . . where's the pontoon . . . . . splash.

The clue above for anybody who didn't spot it and I'll repeat it for readers ease 'Nicky jumped off with the centre rope and secured that and I jumped off and secured the back rope' . . . . . yup, the front rope hadn't been secured so as I'd leant into the boat to put the hose in the tank the momentum had caused the front of the boat to drift (unbeknown to me) out from the side and hence nothing to stand on when I stepped back and therefore the resulting splash.

So I'm now floundering in the water and struggling to get back in into the boat, Nicky's inside somewhere, the waters dredged quite deep in the docks and canal here unlike normal canals that you could just stand up in, here you can't, but luckily we've been wearing our lifejackets, but of course you don't bother putting on a life jacket when you're only moving a few hundred yards do you so here I am in the water in floundering mode minus life jacket. Luckily Nicky then came out and with much screaming, concern and rushing to my rescue - NOT (would have done if it had been one of The Boys that had fallen in) she checked her makeup, flicked her hair, totted towards me with a look of 'are you meant to be in the water ' before finally grabbing a handful of my jeans and giving me a wedgie in the process of rescuing me and dragging me up onto the pontoon.

Now I know this has dragged on a bit and you may have forgotten by now, but what's this got to do with 'The Mishap aka My Phones Dunking in Gloucester Docks' , well simple really, the phone was in my pocket and still lives to tell the tale after being opened up and dried out.

The title of this blog was 'A mishap and a close shave' and don't be lulled into a false sense of security thinking that that's all over and done with, no, the close shave is yet to come. . . . . .

So moving swiftly on, I'm now dried and changed, everything is ship shape, I've got my life jacket on . . .  the lift bridge opens, we move through into the Docks, into and through the lock and we're onto the River Severn and heading for Tewkesbury. Not a very nice day though, very windy, pretty much head and side on all the way, the water level was quite high and close to its mark that would have closed the river to boating so we've got a strong flow to contend with, but we're on our way nonetheless.

Here's a picture (yippee I hear you say, a photo at last) of the trip up and whilst you can see the water is quite choppy, it doesn't probably do it justice as to how rough it really felt. We did the trip down from Tewkesbury to Gloucester in two and a half hours, this return journey took us four, although all things considered, pretty good I suppose.

So, the end is in sight, we've gone through the last lock on the River Severn and we're moored up on the landing stage at the Tewkesbury lock that'll take us onto the River Avon. The lock keepers at lunch so its cuppa time, can't remember whether I bit the bullet and did it myself though or risked Nicky's multitasking alternate universe mode, but I remember enjoying the end result.

Lock keepers back from lunch so we're ready for our final phase of today as we're just going to moor up directly outside of the lock once we've gone up and through. The landing stage isn't ideally situated for easy access into the lock as its at right angles to the entrance, add to that the flow of the River Avon is coming at you head on and will therefore be broadside onto you as you turn and aim for the lock and add to that the strong wind that's side on and making it difficult to get away from the pontoon yet alone get the back out so we can turn into the lock.

I thought the best plan of action would therefore be to go past the lock, give the engine a bit of wellie whilst hard over to try and bring the back out against the wind, that would result in the front coming round and the boat then being broadside to the flow of the River Avon and drifting sideways(ish) back towards the lock and then trying to judge when and how fast to go forward to get into the lock so I don't get there too early or even worse, miss it altogether and in the back of mind I'm thinking I'm a bloke who can't multitask!

Surprisingly, it went pretty much as planned and when the bow got into the lock I put the engine into neutral, a nudge of reverse to take some speed out of the momentum and then into forward again to get some steerage, only I'd lost forward. I had reverse, I had forward and reverse in neutral, but forward definitely wasn't playing ball. Anyway, I'm far enough in the lock for it not to be a problem and the lock keeper just pulls us in the rest of the way and then we both pull it out once we've gone up the lock and moor up as planned.

Now I just need to get my tools out, get into the engine bay, work out what's wrong and fix it. Alternatively, I could just call River Canal Rescue and then have a cuppa, well that sounds like a much better idea. Have to say, I think River Canal Rescue offer an excellent service for a very reasonable price and within two and a half hours (and the guy who came out was an hour away to start with) all was fixed.

So as to the 'close shave', well the problem was that the screws holding the gear/throttle leaver in place had vibrated loose over several years and when I'd put the engine into neutral whilst going into the lock, it had decided to pop out that bit further so that I couldn't re-ingage forward. Had I been in forward and couldn't get into neutral then I'd have had a good bash (sorry for the pun) at breaking the lock keepers gate and probably worse, what if it had happened anytime in the previous four hours whilst heading up the River Servern as this would certainly been an anchors away blog title.

Now whilst I suggested at the outset that this post would bring you up to date, well its taken so long to do this one that your not much further forward with our travels and the River Avon post is going to have to wait a while longer as yes you've guessed it, I'm in desperate need of a cuppa. So Nicky, get in that kitchen, or on second thoughts, I'll do it myself.

And so in signing off, 

Day 787 in the Badger Sett Narrowboat - 1542 miles, 771 locks and 795 cruising hours further on from when we started.