Friday 7th March 2014
Part two of the story: now for yesterday's excitement. I got up at 0630, determined not to repeat the previous day's battle with the clock. I set off from the long pound at Stoke Bruerne at 0715, but it was 0815 before I'd cleared the top lock. I was pleased to see Kathryn of Leo No.2, and we exchanged pleasantries before I got under way again. She warned me about the torrents of water gushing from the ventilation shafts in the tunnel, so I was prepared to put my hood up. I had a torch with me so I could look at interesting things in the tunnel.
The first interesting thing I saw was, well, the absence of a thing. The absence of the boat shaft, to be precise.
Immediately I knew where it was.
Kathryn has persuaded BT to reroute enough cables to enable the pole to be lowered, allowing flags to be flown for the first time in about 30 years
As I said yesterday, I bow hauled Jubilee up the locks. The only lock where I couldn't do this was the top lock, where there is a footbridge for gongoozlers. This would have got in the way. I therefore had to motor the boat in, and then climb out of the lock using the ladder in the wall. As I did so I was aware of a wooden clattering sound, but, at the time, I assumed that my foot had caught the plank as I stepped on to the ladder.
This was not the case. What had happened, I now realise, is that the centre rope had caught the shaft as I was scrambling up the ladder, flipped it off its cradle and sent it down the side of the boat into the lock. You might have thought that I would have heard it go, but the white noise of the water leaking through the top gates would have obliterated a small "plop".
And now I was in Blisworth tunnel, beyond the point of no return. One moment I was blissfully unaware that anything was wrong, now I was only too aware that Jubilee's expensive long shaft was floating in Stoke Bruerne Top Lock.
Had I but known it, the shaft was there when I took the above photo.
I had to keep going, of course. As I steered through the waterfalls in the tunnel I had plenty of time to consider what to do next. What I did was to continue to my destination, the boatyard at Gayton Junction, just on the Northampton branch. Here I talked Steve from the Grand Junction Boat Company through what I wanted him to do. Then he phoned Kathryn (at Stoke Bruerne) for me, but when he handed me the phone I found I was speaking to an answerphone. I left a message, asking Kathryn if she would be so kind as to have a look in the lock and see if the shaft was there.
With the boat handed over, I had to get to Wolverton Station in time for the 1237 train. For various reasons - southerly wind; relative proximity of stations - I had decided to go to Northampton and pick up the train from there. I set off in drizzle, and cycled 1/4 mile.
Then I stopped. And looked at the time. It was only 1020. I would surely have enough time to revert to plan A and cycle to Wolverton, a distance of 14 miles. Even with a headwind I could exceed an average speed of 7 mph, couldn't I? Yes, of course I could (barring punctures). And I would be able to call in at Stoke Bruerne to see if there was any sign of the missing shaft.
I suppose it was about five miles to Stoke Bruerne; it seemed to take quite a while. At last I was there, and cycled right to the top lock.
I looked over the edge, and there, floating in the empty lock, was the boat shaft!
Had no other boats passed through the lock since me, three hours previously? Apparently not, although the lock being empty mystified me. Perhaps the bottom gates leak more than the top ones.
Two people were walking past the lock and were just about to disappear beyond the road bridge. I called out to them, asking if they were boaters. They were; I explained my predicament; they said they would help.
I'm extremely grateful to Martin and Sue of nb Purity. Martin walked back to their boat to get his windlass while I filled him in on the background and my need to catch a train. Martin said he would fill the lock, fish out the shaft, and put it on his boat. He would then drop it off on Jubilee on Monday as they were heading in that direction anyway.
What a great example of the helpfulness of the boating community.
One thing I neglected to do was to see if Kathryn was in. I don't have her phone number so that was the only way of letting her know I'd located the missing item of boating equipment.
So now it was back to the bike for me, and a determined load of pedalling to Wolverton. At least the route was easy, requiring no stops for map reading. It was the A508 all the way to the big A5 roundabout, then through Old Stratford and on to Wolverton. Amazingly I got there with an hour to spare! The dread of missing the train must have spurred me on. I had time, therefore, for an excellent "Western Breakfast" at the North Western in Stratford Road.
At the station I discovered that the train would be delayed by nine minutes owing to a "preceding slow train". Now, if only that had happened to the very first train of this excursion!
The rest of the journey home went smoothly, I'm glad to say. When I got in I found a message from Kathryn saying that she'd searched from the top lock to the next one down, including the dry lock, without finding the shaft. Oops! Well, thank you for looking for me (more community spirit), and I'm sorry you wasted a chunk of your time.
Next time I need to move the boat I'll try to ensure that I can do it in a much more relaxed way! This was all a bit too hectic.
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