Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Belated update - Friday 10 October - Going Tidal!

The Friday morning of the journey began with a little drama. I sprung out of bed early, all set to get up to Cromwell for 8am in order to make the tide up to Keadby. I had booked in with the lock keepers, but knew that I needed to set off before daylight in order to make it.

I made a coffee, checked the map, then went outside to start the engine. I turned the key as normal, but instead of hearing the engine sputtering into life, there was just a little "click". Maybe I had forgotten to warm the diesel coils. I tried again. Still nothing. Argh!

I quickly remembered at this point that my battery voltages had been lower than normal when I checked the multimeter on Thursday, but I had put this down to the fact that I accidentally left my inverter on for most of the day. I checked the battery voltage once more - 10 volts. That's why she wouldn't start. Fortunately, I carry a charged, spare battery for my headlight (long story) and with a set of jump leads and a little effort managed to get back up and running - phew. Sadly, this drama had taken around an hour, it was now daylight, and I had missed my slot for getting to Keadby in time for the tide. A quick phone call to the lock keeper later, my plan was changed to cruising just Cromwell-Torksey on the Friday, then Torksey-Keadby on the Saturday morning, leaving at first light. I quickly calculated that, assuming no further drama, I could still complete my journey in time so wasn't too annoyed.

The tidal river was pretty uneventful really. The sheer size of the river was awesome and took some getting used to, and I enjoyed cruising my boat on the moving water, trying to steer a perfect line down the channel to go as fast as possible, and keeping away from the mud flats and gravel banks so that I didn't get grounded. Steering the boat into the entrance of Torksey lock was interesting, as I was moving quite quickly, and the entrance is tiny in comparison to the river. Still, with a little caution and a lot of full-power from my engine I made it in safely. This is something which I quickly picked up on the moving water - there are times when you have to use a lot of power to make the boat go where you need it to. My little engine could only just make progress against the current, so it was important to get things right first time!

On arrival in Torksey, I checked the battery voltages once more. They hadn't charged. I tried to restart the engine, and couldn't. My knowledge of boat electrics is somewhat limited, but I had a look around in the engine bay to see if there was anything obvious broken. There wasn't. I started then engine with the jump leads once more, and confirmed that the voltages weren't changing. The batteries definitely weren't charging. The alternator and battery management system all appeared to be connected OK - the connecting wires were still there and in one piece. I realised that I could probably restart the engine using the jump leads again to continue my journey, but really didn't want to do this because if the engine had stopped for any reason (e.g. weed round the propeller) I might not have been able to restart it. On moving water, that would not be much fun. I wasn't ready to use my shiny new anchor! Also, I needed to know what the problem was, and so eventually called Oliver from Thorne Boat Services out.

Oliver arrived in just over an hour, and quickly spotted that my alternator only had one connecting wire where it should have had 2. The other wire had disconnected itself, presumably from all the engine vibration from the past few days' cruising. He reconnected it, and my batteries began charging back up. Perfect!

The lock keeper had told me that I needed to leave Torksey at first light in the morning in order to get into Keadby lock before 11:30 - otherwise the water would be too low and I wouldn't be able to get into the lock for all the silt, and would be stuck outside until 3pm. In view of this, I got an early night. All the fresh air is rather tiring.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Battery gone

......and I'm tired! Will add more photos and updates soon.

Belated update - Thursday 9 October

We were finally allowed out of Redhill lock and onto the Trent at 9:30am on Thursday morning - somewhat frustrating, having jumped out of bed at 6:30, but still far preferable to wasting yet another day sitting around staring at water level indicators.

The first thing that struck me about the Trent was the sheer size of it - from the onset, it was far far wider than any waterway that I had cruised on before and the moored boats were far bigger than any that I had passed until now. From here on in, the water just got wider, the boats and locks got bigger, and the current got faster.

Despite being allowed onto the river, Thursday got off to a slow start. We made very good time down to Beeston lock, due to the amount of water on the river. By this point, I had begun to learn to keep the boat sitting on the channel (fastest/deepest part of the river) to get an extra couple of mph for free. This is quite fun, until you get it a bit wrong on the corners and the sweeping current causes the boat to list like crazy. OK, it's fun then too......but I don't really want to sink Muddy Waters! Sadly, we got stuck for 1.5 hours at Beeston lock, waiting for the BW men to clear loads of debris from the lock that had been washed down by the floods of the last few days. Still, the time wasn't wasted - we went into the chandlery there and kitted ourselves out with lifejackets. On the canal lifejackets feel like overkill, but on moving water they are definitely a good idea, as those currents are strong, and I can see really easily how difficult it could be to get back to the boat (or out of the water at all in most places) if you were to fall in.

We finally got through the lock at Beeston with another narrowboat on it's way to Lincoln, and then followed the canal through the centre of Nottingham. On arrival at one of the locks (castle lock?) , I was slightly intimidated to see a big crowd watching us work through the lock. It turned out that their office fire alarm was going off, and the bit of car park by the towpath was their assembly point. They took photos of us, so we took a couple back of them and then turned our attention to working the lock nicely.

After the Nottingham canal, we rejoined the Trent and followed the navigation all the way to Newark, tying up in the dark on the BW moorings near Newark town lock. These moorings were rather odd as they were up against the pavement which reminded me of a harbour wall - the roof of my boat was on a level with the towpath. It turned out that the bar we spotted next to these moorings was a Pizza Express. We were both too tired to venture further, and so ended up eating there before returning to the boat and passing out at about 9pm!

Friday, 10 October 2008

A little drama, but I'm still alive!

The last couple of days have been eventful! A couple of moorings with no mobile signal and then an electrical fiasco today which resulted in an engineer callout to sort a problem with my alternator meant that I was cut off from the world for a couple of days. OK, slight exaggeration, I have been using my mobile in places but couldn't get on the internet until now.

I just posted a quick update that I wrote yesterday morning, and will add the photos etc as soon as I can-probably tomorrow night.

I have made it onto the tidal part of the Trent, and am currently sat on the safe haven of floating pontoons at Torksey lock, waiting for daylight in the morning to catch the tide up to Keadby. Just praying the electrical drama is now over so that I can start my engine!

Connection time is limited to my laptop battery life right now, and my connection is painfully slow.

Proper update coming ASAP.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Finally back on the move

Yesterday, I sprung out of bed at about 6am to make some coffee and check on the water indicator marker before sunrise. By this point I was fed up of waiting and praying to the weather gods, so fortunately the water was right on the line between red and amber. With no wind, I decided to go for it.

I set the lock ready, so that as soon as it was light enough (about 7am) we could set off. The journey from Cossington to Sileby was beautiful, but uneventful. The morning mist on the water reminded me of quiet mornings walking from boat to car in Rugby last winter. Though flowing, the river looked impressively still. It is hard to believe that this was the same river that we had been waiting 2 days for.

On arrival in the lock at Sileby, the water indicator was again on the amber/red border line, however this time there was a rather serious looking weir off to one side, creating some turbulence and white water in what was to be our path just the other side of a lock. I don't think I would want to moor at the top of that! Not ideal territory for a narrowboat, really. An estuary tug went down, and was absolutely fine. Watching someone else go first allowed me to see where the current took the boat, and I then followed. The ease at which we travelled down that stretch was an anticlimax really, after the build-up and excitement. Whilst deciding whether or not to go, I took some interesting photos of the white water.

The rest of the day was given over to cruising through Loughborough, Zouch, Kegworth, and down the remainder of the River Soar to Redhill Lock, the last lock before the Trent. En route we managed to get filled with diesel (just to be sure on the river), fill the water and empty the loos. Having come through the last couple of flood warning lights (on green) it was rather a disappointment to be met by the red light of doom at the last hurdle before the Trent! Still, at least we got a decent day's cruising in at last.

Mum and I moored for the day at around 4/5pm, taking one of the last spaces available in the shadow of Radcliffe power station. We wandered over to the marina opposite and bought a rather hefty anchor together with the necessary chain, rope and connectors in preparation for the Trent. Unfortunately, the marina is a 5 minute walk away over 3 bridges, and anchors and chains are rather heavy. Still, the exercise did me good.

Last night I swapped crew - my little brother arrived, and mum left in his car. We're all set for another full day on the water today - the weather is looking good, so fingers crossed for the water now too.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The water's dropped 3 inches, but it's windy now

Frustration! Water level was 8 inches when we arrived, and is now 5 - fingers crossed it will drop enough this afternoon. The wind, however, has picked up and is rocking the boat enough that I wouldn't want to move on a canal, never mind moving water.

Apparently BW told the people on one of the boats stuck here that they guess the level should drop enough by about 3pm, but I guess that depends on whether is rains more or not.

On the positive side, I am getting loads of time to play with my camera and read books, so perhaps when we do get moving again my photography will improve a bit. Time will tell!

A little progress, and then stuck again

It's getting frustrating now! Last night, the water began to drop and so mum and I made about an hour's progress down to the Hope and Anchor pub near Syston. The pub was less than exciting, and so we just had one drink before heading back to the boat to get an early night, in the hope that we might be able to make decent progress with an early start in the morning.

This morning, the water level had dropped at least a few inches, so we moved fairly quickly down to the next lock as soon as it was light enough. We made it on down as far as Cossington lock, but the water indicator here is again far too high to proceed, so we are tied up right next to a rather impressive-looking weir playing the waiting game once more.

Another boat here has been waiting 2 days for the water to drop. Apparently it was 11 inches into the red this morning, and now it is only 8, so I haven't given up hope of moving further today just yet.

All this waiting around is somewhat frustrating - I'm going to really need the weather, tides and lady luck on my side now to have any chance of making it to Sheffield! In fact, I know for a fact that I can't actually get right into Sheffield yet anyway, as the final lock flight of my journey (Tinsley) is still closed due to a broken pump.

It feels good to have moved a little bit this morning, but is very annoying having to sit around when I want to be out cruising

Once again, I have been playing with my camera to pass the time.

Monday, 6 October 2008

The water has risen, even though it's been a nice, dry day here :(

Photos of Leicester, the Weir, and Birstall

1:15pm and we're still stuck in Birstall, Leicester waiting for the water level to drop on the river. The morning wasn't a complete write-off as we cooked a tasty stew for lunch and walked down to the marina at Thurmaston lock to buy a bilge pump with built in float switch which I have now fitted.

It turns out that the lock we were hunting for in the dark last night was just on the other side of a bridge that we had walked right past - oops. These things are easier to spot when it's light. It wouldn't have made a difference anyway as the water there is still 6 inches above where it needs to be.

Urban sprawl and flooded rivers

Sunday got off to a bit of a slow start, mainly because the weatherman was right and it poured with rain. Nathan and I tucked into a hearty English breakfast in bed, before wrapping up in our waterproofs and braving the elements of urban Leicester.

Cruising towards the city, the waterway began to widen. The locks got stiffer and heavier, and the more built-up surroundings made an interesting change from the rural canals of the previous few days. It is a shame, but the waterways of Leicester really do feel to be somewhat neglected, navigations that time forgot. We encountered more broken lock paddles on the route through the city than I have seen in my entire boating career to date!

Suddenly, we rounded a corner and it felt like we were on the sea. This was certainly the most open water that Muddy Waters has seen since I owned her, and it felt fantastic. Words cannot express how beautifully she swam through the deep water, gliding along at a decent pace, breaking through the water so smoothly and silently. Nathan popped indoors for a while to check on the food / fire, but I called him back pretty quickly. Just outside Leicester City football club, approaching Freemans Meadow lock, I saw the most exciting (if somewhat frightening) sight that I have ever seen from my boat. We were cruising along the top of a HUGE weir! The Nicholson guide says "The canal and River Soar meet just above Freeman's Meadow lock, where there is an enormous unprotected weir. Care is needed, especially in times of flood. KEEP WELL OVER TO THE TOWPATH SIDE." It certainly isn't wrong. The photos aren't great, mainly because I was concentrating on keeping my boat well away from the edge!

Heading North out of the city around lunch time, the high water warning markers which had indicated "Green, safe to proceed" along the journey so far suddenly showed Red, and we had to wait in a lock for an hour or so for the river level to drop. The boat that we eventually went down the lock with had been there since 9am and the crew were somewhat frustrated about being held up. We took the opportunity to devour the roast lamb which Nathan had been preparing as we cruised and change our clothes as we were soaked from a morning out in the rain.

Eventually the water level dropped until the amber marker was just showing, and so we set off somewhat cautiously down the river. I didn't enjoy this section of the jouney, as the current was still rather strong and steering the boat became a little too challenging for comfort under one particular bridge. No harm was done, fortunately. We arrived at Birstall lock to discover that the high water marker was most definitely in the red area still, and so tied up to wait for the level to drop once more.

Replacement crew (my Mum!) arrived on Sunday evening, along with a rather tasty seafood risotto which Dad had invented for us (recipe to follow), and Nathan and I took her to the Mulberry Tree bar which we discovered located conveniently close to where we had tied up. All that I can say is that I hope that we do better boating than we do in pub quizzes!

After a brief return to the boat to eat the remainder of the chocolate fudge cake which Nathan had brought down as a birthday surprise for me, Mum went to bed. Nathan and I weren't ready to sleep, so instead ventured off into Watermead country park, in search of the next lock to check the water indicator there.

Lesson 1: Venturing into unknown country parks in the dark with a torch whose battery doesn't last very long maybe isn't the best idea in the world.
Lesson 2: Such country parks tend to be rather muddy after heavy rainfall.
Lesson 3: Ballet pumps aren't the best footwear for these kinds of adventures
Lesson 4: Maps and compasses can be quite handy sometimes

We got a little lost, but made it back to the boat safely after just over an hour. We didn't manage to find the next lock or check the water level, but looking at the map this morning I suspect that we walked pretty much past it and didn't notice!

Mum and I are now sitting on the boat by the lock, still waiting for the water level to drop. Somewhat frustrating, as the sun is shining, there's a little bit of mist lingering over the water, and it's exactly the kind of morning that I would love to spend out cruising.

We've already had 4 cups of tea, a boiled egg with soldiers and a homemade scone each already (it's only 9:30am) and are both hoping that the water drops soon as the sunshine and blue sky are taunting us stuck here. Fingers crossed...

Just off to the shop, will upload photos later.

Photos - Fri/Sat

Belated photos from the weekend - I finally found a spot with decent mobile internet coverage.


Saturday, 4 October 2008

12 hours of blood, sweat and tears

This morning we scraped ourselves out of bed just before the sun rose, whilst it was still around 4 degrees outside and set off towards Foxton locks. With 177 miles and 91 locks to go, we needed to cover some ground in order to have a chance of making it to Sheffield in time. The weather was better than the forecast had predicted, in that it wasn't tipping with rain. The wind, however, was rather strong and made for some interesting steering.

Nathan put me to shame and took the tiller for the early part of the journey, steering the boat through Husbands Bosworth tunnel without so much as touching the wall. The boy is a natural!

We made good time up to Foxton, arriving early enough to not end up queueing for the staircase locks, and were heading towards Leicester with full tanks of diesel and water and 10 bags of coal on the roof before lunch time - much earlier than I had anticipated. The wind made reversing and turning the boat rather interesting, but we escaped unscathed and wound our way through the reeds towards Leicester. Saddington tunnel became rather fun when the torch battery ran out, and I completed the second half of it in complete darkness, lining up the vent on the front of the boat with the tunnel exit in the distance in order to steer a (reasonably) straight line.

On the map, the locks heading towards Leicester appear to have small gaps in between, at least enough to catch your breath and have a cup of tea, however in practise they are really close least, all of them except the ones where I said to Nathan "it's OK, you bring the boat and I will walk to the next locks, it's not far". Unfortunately, it was quite far (about half a mile maybe) and I ended up running alongside the boat, unable to back on for all the reeds growing alongside the towpath. Still, I guess the exercise did me good and it gave us something to giggle at for a couple of minutes.

Pressing North towards Leicester, it became clear that we weare heading towards an urban area as we needed a British Waterways key to unlock the anti-chav devices on the paddles of the grafitti-covered lock gates. Even the sheep didn't have much respect for them (see photo).

The wind continued to blow, and we worked our way down the seemingly never-ending chain of locks until darkness, finally mooring near Wigston in Leicester as darkness fell. Within minutes of mooring it began raining quite heavily, and so we were both glad that we had stopped when we did.

Feeling rather hungry I managed to burn the sticky lemon chicken which I was cooking for dinner, but we were both so hungry it didn't really seem to matter. Our muscles are aching, our feet are sore, but we now have only 156 miles and 66 locks to go.

Fingers crossed that the weather man gets it wrong again tomorrow, as he says it's going to rain heavily all day tomorrow. I'd rather have the wind!

Anyway, that's enough for one night, we have a bottle of wine to finish before bed, and the river Soar to explore when the sun rises tomorrow morning. Oooh and maybe a bacon buttie.

Friday night - takeoff!

After leaving Gap and making a brief call at Hillmorton, Nathan and I set sail Northwards.

The cruise to South Kilworth took about an hour, leaving plenty of time to chop firewood and check the route to the pub on the map before darkness fell. The path forked, and all we needed to do was take a left turn along a bridleway...what could possibly have gone wrong?! Personally, I blame my mum, as whilst chatting to her on the phone about the plan for the coming few days, we managed to miss the turning and walk round 2 sides of a triangle. Fortunately the walk was worth it as The White Hart in South Kilworth had locally reared 12oz Ribeye steaks on their specials board and some rather tasty Wythcwood brewery Big Bertha on tap to warm us back up.

The walk back to the boat afterwards was fairly uneventful, as we managed to find the right path and stumble along it in the dark back to the safety of Muddy Waters and build a fire.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Last minute mission extension

Wow, I have just managed to secure myself a winter mooring in Sheffield basin, which means I need to cruise slightly further up the tidal Trent than initially planned. So we have moved back slightly in terms of progress.

The mission now stands at 180 miles and 91 locks! More miles, less locks, but canalplan now says 8 days again. And the weatherman is still bringing bad news. Will I make it? Stay tuned to find out!

Thank you to everyone at Gap for the nice messages, card, wine and money - I will likely put it towards my anchor or some more wine for the journey.

Let the adventure begin!


Thursday, 2 October 2008

A smell of adventure in the air

Tomorrow is my last day in my current job, before I move on to pastures new. Tonight was probably the hardest of all my evening cruising missions so far, despite not involving any locks, tunnels or other obstructions to delay my progress. It was also the most enjoyable in some ways.

After work, I drove to the next mooring spot, about 5 miles further North, and then cycled back to the boat. The thinking behind this was that I would rather cruise as the light was starting to drop than cycle on the roads, and I knew that I was pushing it for time as I was aiming to cover almost twice the distance I had managed last night.

Things started well - 45 mins to walk/cycle back to the boat seemed reasonable, considering that the towpath in some places wasn't really wide (or safe) enough to even walk along, let alone cycle.

Upon my return to the boat, I discovered that my mooring pins had been ripped from the ground, presumably by a passing boat going a little too quickly. Still, no harm was done and the wind was blowing in the right direction, pushing my boat against the bank.

I set off cruising, and made reasonable progress although the canal was quite overgrown and weeded up in places. The light began to drop, reminding me of the beautiful sunsets I have seen from these villages in the past. I took a few photos, and remembered the tree in Yelvertoft which I took a photo of last winter when it was bare of leaves, sitting against a pretty purple skyline. Today, that same tree is covered in greenery. I took a photo anyway.

As it got progressively darker, I realised that time was very much against me, again. The more sensible part of me realised that I could just stop, tie up, and continue to my car at sunrise before work, however there didn't seem much fun in that and the new box of firelighters was in my car. Also, the weather man isn't promising nice things for tomorrow morning, and so I suspect that a half-hour cruise at 6:30am might not seem too appealing.

I eventually arrived at my pre-determined mooring at 8pm, around 45 minutes after it had become what most people would class as "dark". The canal here is so deserted that it really did feel like I was cruising into the wilderness, miles from another soul. In reality, I'm only a mile or so from the nearest village, but it feels further.

There was a minor drama as I came to moor up, as my centre rope came loose from the cleat which attaches it to the top of the boat, whilst I was stood on the bank. Fortunately there was nobody around to see me fly backwards and land on my bum, so I got up pretty quickly and managed to jump back onto the boat and reattach the rope. Mental note to self: attach rope properly before going near rivers.

The fire is now lit, the lamb stew has been eaten (well, some of it), and the rain has begun pattering quite heavily on the roof. I'm glad I didn't plan on walking far before work tomorrow.

For the next week or so rain will be no excuse not to cruise, but right now I'm glad that I am curled up on my sofa, watching the flames in the fire and sipping a glass of red. It's a hard life, but somebody has to do it.

I hate the BW mooring tender process

It's official, I hate it. Just lost out on the mooring I really really wanted up North, for the sake of a pesky £65. Not £65 a month, no, just £65 per year! Gutted.

Moorings are serious business. There has to be a better way of deciding who gets them. The amount I tendered was significantly higher than the guide price, but I would have happily gone up another £100 if I had known that it would be required in order to secure the mooring.

Worst of all, there are no other moorings up for tender in the area I need to be in, so I can't even have another go yet. Looks like I will continue towpath surfing for a little while yet, then...

BW are never going to read my blog or care what I think, but I really don't think tenders are a suitable way of distributing moorings. The idea behind it all is clearly to push the prices up and ensure that boating becomes an elitist rich-man's game, and that really isn't what it should be about.

Anyway, end of rant. I didn't get my mooring, and am somewhat annoyed as I lost out by such a small amount.

2 long miles

The journey from Crick to Yelvertoft is relatively short (2 miles) by water. For reasons that escape me now, I decided last night that it made more sense to cycle back from Yelvertoft to Crick by road rather than following the canal. Perhaps I remembered the long, straight road that links the two being shorter than it actually is, but it was a LONG ride back, with the dark fast approaching and time not on my side. It's a good thing I have lights on my bike. Still, 2 more miles chipped off the total - only 156 more to go now!

Last night wasn't an easy one; I also ended up lighting my fire with kindling and BBQ lighter fluid as I had run out of firelighters. On the plus side, I managed to cook a rather tasty-looking lamb stew on top of the fire once it finally got going, and plan to eat it for dinner tonight - yum.

More items to add to the list of stuff I really should own for this mission and don't: Firelighters, bike pump, reflective cycling stuff, anchor, engine oil. stern grease, diesel, coal, lifejackets....

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Light at the end of the tunnel. Twice, in 2 days!

Following on from my success in Braunston tunnel on Monday, I continued my journey yesterday from Norton junction, up through the staircase locks at Watford, and then on through the 1528yd tunnel to Crick.

The journey up the Watford locks wasn't the most pleasant. I had a brief wait to allow another boat down the flight before I could begin my ascent, and then the heavens opened leaving me to work up the locks in the tipping rain. By the time I reached the summit I was more than ready to go inside and make a warm cuppa, but with time and daylight against me decided instead to push on to Crick.

Given that my torch ran out of power in Braunston, I was more than aware that the same would happen in Crick tunnel but decided to go for it regardless. This time, I didn't brush the tunnel walls once - an achievement, considering that it was this very tunnel that had destroyed the corner of my cratch cover last time I passed through and had contributed significantly to my somewhat-irrational tunnel phobia.

There are now only 158 miles and 89 locks to go, and the only tunnels left are relatively short in comparison to the two which I have just completed. Hopefully the tides and weather will be in my favour. The forecast still doesn't look promising, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.