Friday 31 August 2018

Steam trains, boats, planes and parachutes

Not such an exciting day as yesterday: the anchor stayed unused (but ready if needed). We had another early-ish start and kept going until (almost) sunset.

We left March at 0820 and continued along the old course of the River Nene. At Floods Ferry the old course of the Nene bears left; we took Whittlesey Dyke to the right.

nb Salar was leaving Ashline Lock as we approached; they opened a paddle for us while we were securing the boat to the lock landing. nb Annie and Walt were behind us; they also helped and we were soon under way to our 1430 appointment at Stanground Lock. We were ahead of schedule, actually arriving almost an hour early. I had been expecting to have to wait on the lock landing but the lock keeper waved us in. Everyone had been early, she said, and she was looking forward to being able to run some more water into Whittlesey Dyke to keep the level up. She must have been doing that before we got there as our speed had been dropping with the flow against us.

We stopped at Peterborough to fill and empty, and decided to carry on another three hours or so as we had time in hand.

Today was not without interest. As we left Peterborough we heard a steam train whistle; at Orton Lock we glimpsed the source of the evocative sound travelling along the Nene Valley Railway.

That's the Union of South Africa loco behind the wooden buildings.

At Water Newton Lock Jan pointed out some objects in the sky. They probably look like dirt on my camera lens - or on your computer screen - but those specks on my photo are what I'm talking about.

Parachutists, at least eight of them, were spiralling slowly to the ground behind the trees.

Some were tandem jumps.

When I turned back to look at the lock the low sun was making the scene very picturesque.

At the end of today's journey we tied up alongside another boat at Wansford Station, where steam trains were running until after dark. This was an excellent spot for watching the train passing over the bridge above us.

My camera and I were struggling to take decent pictures in the gloom. I'll leave you with this shot of the train at night running towards Peterborough.

Tomorrow looks like being another long day: we're aiming for Oundle.

Thursday 30 August 2018

We had to drop our anchor ...

… and it did NOT hold.  But I'll start at the beginning of this exciting day.

My alarm went off at 0459 so I would be sure of a 0600 getaway.  This was the time suggested by others in our little convoy; I had wanted a later start so we would meet the tide further up the river, but I went along with the prevailing opinion.  It later transpired that the later start might have been better, but that's water under the bridge (literally).

At 0620 we passed under the road bridge marking the start of the New Bedford River or One Hundred Foot Drain.

There were six boats in our convoy: two in front ...

and three behind.

Everything was going well. I had cranked up our revs to about 1400 rpm (300 more than our usual cruising speed) and we were making about 5 mph.

Until, that is, we entered a narrow section.

Our speed reduced and the boats were churning up the mud. The engine must have been labouring because the over-temperature alarm went off. We reduced speed and opened the hot taps to drain off some of the heat. After a couple of minutes the alarm stopped and we gingerly increased speed again. This happened two or three times.

Around the same time we met the incoming tide, bringing with it lots of weed.

Our speed dropped even more until we stopped making any forward progress.

When we started going backwards we struggled against the tide for five minutes before I decided it would be sensible to drop the anchor so we would stop going backwards. We could also cut the engine and let it cool down.

So I lowered the anchor over the side and into the water. This was the first time it would be tested. As soon as the anchor touched the bottom it pulled hard on the chain and the warp (the nylon rope) connected to it. I was not expecting the force of the pull; consequently the warp tangled and formed a knot shortening it by a few feet. The end was (of course) already attached to the T stud on the boat, and everything immediately went taut.

What really surprised me was the realisation that the anchor - a really heavy one - was dragging along the bottom. Who knew? I thought the whole point of an anchor was to secure the boat in an emergency, but this was not working. It did, at least, considerably slow our backward progress, so we switched off the engine and suggested to Bob on Bimble, who was also going backwards, that he tie up to us. This he did, and he dropped his own anchor.

We were still going backwards but after a while we stopped moving. The anchors must have just been sliding along the mud until the flow lessened.  I estimate the flow was about 6 mph at its peak.

I made coffee and had a look down the weed hatch. There was a considerable amount of weed round the prop and the top of the rudder.

After about 45 minutes we thought we should try to get going again, so I pulled Bob, who was single handing, forward on his centre line so he could weigh his anchor. Then he was off.

We motored forward and I pulled up our anchor. It came up easily, which was a relief. Then we got under way and were surprised that we were very soon able to make 5 mph at about 1200 rpm. The tide had evidently turned quickly. I phoned the lock keeper at Salter's Lode again when we were approaching Denver (we had phoned him when we were stuck). We had seen Bimble ahead of us reverse onto the pontoon by Denver Lock; Paul at Salters Lode said we could come straight to his lock. So we kept going and turned into the lock entrance as a boat in front was just going into the lock.

I won't go into details about any perceived queue jumping. We continued on the Middle Level to March, where, at gone 1830, we tied up against a friendly hire boat.

The end of a long, interesting day!  Oh yes, if we'd left Earith later we would have met the tide when it had come further along the drain.  Then it would have had less effect and we might have been able to push against it.

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Preparing for tomorrow's tidal journey

I was ready with the camera for the view of the church as we left our mooring at Hemingford Grey this morning.

We had plenty of time today as we only had to get to Earith, about four hours' cruise. We decided to stop, therefore, at St Ives on the way. As we approached we had this sight of the town over the flood plain. I don't think the sky was really as dark as this - I must have misadjusted the camera.

We turned into the backwater at St Ives for water, then winded at the marked turning point before tying up for coffee. We got round all right, but anything much more than our 55 feet would have had problems.  Coffee turned into lunch after some shopping in the town.

The reach below St Ives Lock was very rural, as most of the river is, and we saw two or three kingfishers. This one obligingly stayed in place on a branch as we went by; this blurred effort was the best photo I could get.

I'm sure these heiffers (if that's what they are) were in the same place when we came upstream a couple of weeks ago.

Having descended Brownshill Lock with another (50') narrowboat we soon arrived at Earith and the 48 hour moorings at Westview Marina. I had previously noted the existence of a curry house/pub combo in the village so I walked up to check it was open. Having done that, and obtained a menu, I came back and organised a drinks party on the pontoon for the five boats including us who are going down the New Bedford River tomorrow. The crews of two of the boats didn't join us so here are Marjorie (nb Constable), Jan, Dave (nb Constable), Stephen and Gwyneth (both nb Chyandour).

Drinks over, we all went to the Crown as previously recce'd and enjoyed a decent curry.

Tomorrow we all have an early start as we need to be at Salters Lode Lock around the time of high tide there, which is 1030. Salters Lode is more than 20 miles downstream, so Stephen has calculated we need to leave here at 0600to be sure of being able to pass through Salters Lode on the level, i.e. with the gates open at each end of the lock. I think 0600 is too early, not because I want a lie-in, but because I don't want to meet the incoming tide too late in the journey when the flow will be large. We are always one of the slowest boats on the river as I don't feel the need to push the engine too hard, so I am expecting to drop behind the convoy. We will see what happens. I am looking forward to the excitement, despite people's dire warnings about the boredom of mile after mile of dead straight river with banks too high to see anything beyond.

Watch this space tomorrow to find out how we got on. Now I have to tear myself away from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier Book 2 which is tonight's Prom concert and get some sleep.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Three into one does go

We got to St Neots Lock exactly at 0930, our booked time there, and found EA staff opening the lock for us to go straight in. A good start. At subsequent locks, though, we found other boats in front, but with no great delays.

Steaming towards us on one reach was this, er, steamer.

At lunchtime we stopped just downstream of the old bridge at Huntingdon, the same mooring we used on our way upstream a couple of weeks ago. After a light meal we walked into Huntingdon and found it a pleasant place. Much of the High Street is pedestrianised. The Falcon coaching inn has an inviting presence …

… and an aeroplane seems to have missed the runway.

We called in to Hartford Marina for diesel, not having had any telephone response from Westview Marina where I had originally planned to fill up.

At Houghton Lock we caught up with nb Annie and Walt and waited for a couple of boats to go down. Just before the lock was ready for us to go in another narrowboat arrived, so we shuffled across to the "D" part of the lock and waved them in.

The photo proves that three narrowboats (two at 55' and one at 58') can fit into this lock.

Not much further on we stopped at Hemingford Grey where we tied up on the visitor moorings. While Jan was finishing cooking the tea I walked into the village, which has a good number of interesting old houses.

The church was open so I had a quick look round before returning to the boat. After tea we both walked round the village and the church - still open for a music group rehearsal. Then my cousin Victoria and her husband David met us at the boat before we went to the Cock pub for a drink. It was good to see them again, especially as I'd given them almost zero notice of our impending arrival in their area.

Now the exertions of the festival are beginning to take their toll and I must to bed.

Monday 27 August 2018

An action-packed last day of the festival

The weather forecast for today was dry - and dry it was. There was even some sunshine, and the crowds came back. I was busy all day, first setting up the rope throwing area, then a stint behind the bar from 1040 - 1300, finishing off with manning the rope throwing from 1430 - 1700. At lunchtime Paul Balmer came on board to provide the latest version of his Waterway Routes maps and to give me a mini-tutorial in more advanced use of the Memory-Map system. Tomorrow we shall be on the move once more, after more than a week at St Neots.

As is usual at festivals many boats had been decorated with lights and bunting. This was our view looking back …

… and this the view forward.

This year I seemed to spend little time at the Boaters' Christian Fellowship stand as I was doing so many other things on site. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing as there were enough other BCF members there, and I was wearing the BCF logo while doing all those other things. One task I didn't get involve in was bin emptying.

After tea, we went to the entertainments marquee where we took part in a home-spun musical evening, with the bar handily next door.

Jan played along on violin while I tootled on the recorder. Jan persuaded me to perform my party piece: simultaneous whistling and humming in harmony. I don't know what the audience thought; perhaps they couldn't hear me. They were polite enough to applaud when I'd finished, anyway.

Tomorrow, as I said, we will be leaving St Neots to go to St Ives as we start our "rush" to get off the Environment Agency waters before our visitor licence expires. Better get some sleep.

Sunday 26 August 2018

Wet day at St Neots IWA Festival ends with a bang

No post yesterday for technical reasons, sorry. What did happen yesterday? Ah yes. There were several unexpected heavy showers of rain and one of hail. Still, there seemed to be good numbers of people around for the first day of the IWA Festival of Water at St Neots, Cambridgeshire, on the River Great Ouse. I helped out on the rope throwing activity as I did last year at Ilkeston. I also did a couple of stints serving behind the bar.

Today rain was forecast and it certainly came - on a strongish breeze. This drove the crowds away, together with most of the stall holders. I watched the F1 Grand Prix on board, returning to the festival site at 1600 to find it almost deserted save for the entertainments marquee.

This evening we went for a curry with David and Mary at the Nawab Lounge, enjoying their superb value "banquet night" meal for £12.95 each. (Starter, main, side and rice/naan.) The food was very good but the service was a bit slow. We were wanting to see the illuminated boat procession and time was running short. Fortunately we finished just in time to see the boats, some of which had been festooned with hundreds of lights.

This was one of the best.

Crowds of people looked on from the bridge as the boats winded just below it. Other boats sounded their horns and klaxons.

With precision timing, as soon as the procession was over the firework show began.

The blustery weather had been easing off during the evening; by the time of the procession the rain had stopped and the wind had died down, leading to perfect viewing conditions. The forecast tomorrow is dry, so perhaps the crowds will return.

Friday 24 August 2018

Testing the depth of the river

David and Mary joined us on Jubilee today to stay for the festival. This is one of the few IWA festivals they have attended without Kew. David being David, he dived straight in.

As he demonstrated, the River Great Ouse is not very deep here, even in the middle of the channel.

A vehicle familiar to me from my work days, a satellite truck, appeared on site near our boat in the afternoon. There was to be a live transmission as part of Look East. I didn't know the reporter, who had joined after I left, but it was good to see Steve Hubbard, the cameraman, again. There were two interviews as part of the live: one with someone from the IWA and the second with Alison Smedley. Alison talked about their historic boat Sandbach, but from inside a modern boat. Unfortunately no pictures of Sandbach were floated over the interview, so viewers would have been given a bit of a wrong impression. Oh well. It was three minutes of publicity for the IWA and St Neots Festival of Water.

In the evening we took part in the traditional quiz, compered as always by Martin Ludgate.

We came third equal out of about 20 teams, not a bad result.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Ditching, curry

One job I did for the IWA today was to rope off - at my suggestion - a ditch on the site. Jan had spotted the hazard while walking along the line of moored boats last night.

I did more helping with putting up marquees, and assisted with erecting the stage in the entertainments marquee, not finishing until gone 1830. Jan helped to set up the woW (Wild over Water) children's activities tent. We walked into St Neots town and got a takeaway Indian meal from the Nawab Lounge. We ate it on board: very good. We might return for a sit-down "banquet" on Sunday.

From the bridge I snapped the boats which have arrived so far. Jubilee is hidden by the trees to the left.

Looking at the top photo again, the ditch could have made a good showcase mooring had it been slightly wider and deeper. Oh - and longer.

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Volunteering at St Neots

I spent much of today helping set up the IWA festival site at St Neots: shifting Heras-type fence panels and blocks, unloading a van, moving tables and chairs etc. Yesterday I helped with marking out pitches. No photos, sorry. I'll try to take one or two tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I was rather taken by the decorated pigeon box ...

… on a boat by Barford Bridge.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

A few more 1970s boating pics

We've realised that the dates on the back of the photos in my parents' album are probably wrong. Our first canal holiday, we think, was not in 1978 but 1975, making me 17 at the time, not 20.

David would have been 12.

I can't remember my father looking like this.

David seems to have spent a lot of time on top of the boat.

Two questions. Can anyone identify the Wyvern boat? The location of the two bridges? It's on the GU between Linslade and Weedon Bec (probably). I don't know the answers.

Monday 20 August 2018

A life-changing week 40 years ago

This is what started my love of canals: a holiday with my parents in 1978 1975 on a Wyvern hire boat.  We went north on the Grand Union from Linslade to Stoke Bruerne and through Blisworth Tunnel.  I remember we went to Weedon and moored by the church.  In those days you could see the church and the railway viaduct beyond; now the trees have grown to obscure everything.

Visiting my parents today I asked if they had any photos of that holiday; they came up with half a dozen. I don't know where this one was taken.

This is me steering through Blisworth Tunnel at a third less than a third my present age. It must have been wet then too.

The colours of the prints have gone a bit funny; I'll photograph them again in daylight tomorrow, when we'll try to identify the people in the top photo.

edited to correct date