Monday 27 July 2020

Using the macro setting on my camera

Before I get onto that, here's one for Nev. Alice B tied up in front of us at All Oaks Wood a few days ago and looks like a very nice boat indeed. The names on the cabin are those of R A and G A Redshaw, who were the previous owners of Nev's boat Percy. Here they are just setting off towards Hillmorton.

Today we got the diesel and gas at Fazeley Mill Marina, winded at Fazeley Junction and moored up.

During the initial, strict, phase of lockdown I discovered how to take big close-ups with my camera. These next two photos are of dandelions on one of our lockdown walks near our home in Norfolk.

And this this bee was on a balance beam at Atherstone Bottom Lock.

Sunday 26 July 2020

Balance beam repair

I was slightly concerned last night that our choice of mooring perhaps wasn't the best, as a satellite image showed we were right next to Aldi's distribution centre in Atherstone. In the event it was absolutely fine.

At Atherstone Bottom Lock the towpath side bottom balance beam had been repaired with angle iron and bolts.

As we travelled vaguely west towards Fazeley I was aware that I had seen no trains at all on the line which runs approximately parallel to the canal. At the railway bridge (50B) I realised why. There were workers on the line.

We got to Fazeley Mill Marina at 1655 hoping to be able to get diesel and gas, expecting it to be open until 1800 as per the website, but were told that it shuts at 5. We are now outside ready to get topped up in the morning.

Saturday 25 July 2020

Something vulgar in Nuneaton?

After yesterday's excitement all we did today was about four hours of boating, including seven locks, and visiting Aldi and the Co-op in Atherstone. On the way I managed to get a photo of a curious fingerpost sign in a canalside garden.

Yes, Fradley is in the direction indicated, but "Vulgaria"? Is a Nuneaton resident having a swipe at Bedworth? or Coventry? (see below)

After tea I made a second foray to Aldi on my own, and got caught in a thunderstorm on the way back to the boat. We had tied up below Lock 7 so I had plenty of time to get pretty wet.

I've just looked up Vulgaria. It seems to be a Hong Kong comedy film from a couple of decades ago. The sign is still a mystery to me.

Friday 24 July 2020

Replacing gearbox control cable after it broke (and suffering another breakdown)

At Brinklow CRT is getting round the landslip problem by literally getting round it. A temporary floating walkway has been constructed over the edge of the canal bypassing a not that huge pile of rock and earth on the towpath.

Everything was going swimmingly for us until Sutton Stop. As we entered the stop lock I suddenly found that I could not disengage astern gear. All I could do was kill the engine. We descended the lock and I pulled the boat out onto the lock landing on the right, where we would be out of the way. The Morse control lever felt most peculiar; it didn't take long for me to diagnose a broken cable. The photo below shows a short length of inner cable (running bottom left to centre), still connected to the gearbox lever on the left, and the outer cable (on the right) now hanging free.

Within three miles of where we were now stranded live two sets of friends. The first were on holiday in Suffolk. The second had gone to Baddesley Clinton, fortunately not by boat. Stephen drove back while we had lunch, then took me to Springwood Haven where I bought a replacement cable (having removed the old one and measured its length). Back at the boat I fitted the cable. It was two inches shorter than the original, but there was plenty of slack so that was not a problem.

I had not done this before, so I discovered that what holds the outer in position at each end is a toroidal channel in the metal part next to the black plastic sheathed flexible part. This channel at the gearbox end is held by a brass clip secured by two bolts, lock washers and nuts. The clip has a protruding ridge which engages in the channel. At the Morse control end the channel is held in position by a small brass U-shaped pin. The protruding parts of the U are of unequal lengths. This pin goes through holes in the hard plastic "socket"; the longer part of the pin is bent over to stop it falling out.

The photo below shows the back of the Morse control; the two thick black cables are the throttle (going into the red housing) and the gearbox (black). The U-pins are inserted from the left in both cases; I have already removed the gearbox cable one.

At the gearbox end the inner cable screws into a brass piece which pokes through a hole in the lever and is prevented from falling out by a split pin. The photo shows me inserting this split pin.

Here is the gearbox end of the cable all fitted. The brass clip with its détente can be seen to the left.

I am very grateful to Stephen for his advice, especially on measuring the distance the inner extends from the outer at each end on the old cable, and making sure the new cable's measurements are the same. I did this and found everything worked perfectly when I started up again.

Interestingly - and could this be the cause of the failure? - the cable shows it has partially melted where it ran against the (fibreglass bandaged) exhaust. The new cable presses against the exhaust in the same way and cannot be rerouted as it is close to the gearbox clamp. I need to insert a thin piece of something heat resistant to protect it. Ideas, anyone?

We thought that was the end of the excitement for the day but, just an hour later, the engine began losing power. Yes, we had run out of diesel! We always have a full jerry can on board so in went 20 litres to get us out of trouble. We had stopped by a long stretch of piling just south of Marston Junction. Very handy again.

Before this emergency top-up (and I know, the jerry can is now empty) I sucked out a lot of crud and water from the bottom of the tank. It separates from the diesel immediately in the jam jars I put it in; I'll provide a photo later.

Thursday 23 July 2020

Contractors dump towpath vegetation in canal

We had no internet connection last night in Braunston, hence no post yesterday. We set off from Elkington in the morning and arrived at Watford Locks at about 1215. There were boats going down so we hoped we might be able to tag along, but we were asked to wait as there were five boats to come up who had been waiting a while. So we had lunch.

At about 1345 we were able to start down the locks. There was a delay before we could exit the bottom of the staircase: a hire boat had come up - unbidden - into the tricky pound and thought it could enter the staircase when we came out. Er, no, there are a few boats coming down behind me! Eventually the crew managed to get it tied up and we could then empty the lock and proceed. One crew member said she had read the notice detailing how the locks work but hadn't seen anyone. With all this going on I was surprised none of the three volunteer lockies came down to investigate.

After all that we had a fairly uneventful run down to Braunston, sharing the Braunston locks with a very pleasant single hander on Grand Hearn (or something like that). We ate at The Old Plough, taking advantage of their steak meal for two with a bottle of wine for £25.95.

This morning we were under way before 9 o'clock. We stopped for lunch and a Tesco shop (last maskless day!), then continued to All Oaks Wood where we tied up just as it was starting to rain.

At around the Armada Boats place there was suddenly a lot of foliage floating on the cut. Here are three people apparently responsible for it.

CRT's contractors had been cutting back the towpath vegetation and allowing it to fall into the water.

This wasn't just grass cuttings - this included tree saplings. I had to clear the bow of accumulated debris a few times, and shake off stuff from the prop as we went along. I was relieved when we left the cutting area. This cannot be the correct way of doing things.

On a lighter note … someone clearly has an unsinkable faith in a strong name for their boat.

Tuesday 21 July 2020

Masking up on boats

As predicted, we were lowered back into the water this morning, having been out for less than 24 hours. When I went to pay it took a long time for the office staff to work out the bill, which had gone up a whopping 17% since two years ago.

I was going to clean the drips of bitumastic off the prop before it got wet, but I forgot, managing to snap this photo as the boat was being moved.

I don't suppose it will affect things too much before it wears off.

As I was reversing out of the lifting dock Gwendoline May came out of the marina. This boat is used for helmsman training. It looked very incongruous seeing the party on the back all wearing masks.

That's all of us in just three days, though (shops, not boats, I'm glad to say, but I'm not looking forward to it).

We were very quickly up Foxton Locks, arriving at the top at 1100 - coffee time. We carried on without stopping, tying up at Bridge 37 to rendezvous with Ally, Josiah and Micah who drove to see us.

Monday 20 July 2020


Today was B-Day: blacking day. The first - and slightly scary - step is to lift the boat out of the water.

Next, Dean pressure washes off the crud from being in the water for two and a third years.

The conditions were perfect for drying, so the first coat of the bitumastic blacking went on very soon.

We went for a walk across the fields to Gumley, where we ate our sandwiches, and then to Foxton, where we saw the gongoozlers crowding towards the top of the flight watching a boat make its ascent. The locks were otherwise very quiet, with no boats waiting at either end.

We walked into the village where we saw that the church was open for private prayer, so we went in. It was the first time we'd been into a church building since the start of lockdown in March. Continuing down Swingbridge Lane, over the canal, and through to the other side of the village, we took the footpath across the fields back to Debdale Wharf. Here the second coat was already being applied.

After tea I repainted the red tunnel band and treated some of the rust on the gunnels with Fertan. Painting these will have to wait until we're afloat again as I reckon we'll be put back in the water in the morning.

Sunday 19 July 2020

Pointless CRT notices?

Now we have been allowed back on the waterways we have spotted many blue CRT notices at bridges - warning of "bridge ahead" and "take extra care".

In my opinion the notices spoil the canal landscape. I hope they are only a temporary coronavirus-related thing, because the bright blue really does not fit in. The signs ask cyclists to dismount, but in tiny print. I can't see any cyclist doing that.

I mentioned the weed yesterday; there's also an attempt by rushes to take over the Market Harborough Arm.

If that's what they are.

We're now back at Debdale Wharf hoping that our long-awaited blacking will get under way tomorrow.

Saturday 18 July 2020

Sealing the mushroom vent

I'm sure there's more weed in the canals now than in previous Julys. Some of it gets round our prop. And that will be because there have been far fewer boats moving around to keep the growth down. The extra weed helps to clarify the water: I can actually see the blades and weed wrapped round the prop shaft when I lift the weed hatch - sometimes fish too.

We moved the five miles or so to Market Harborough this morning. After shopping - including a trip to Screwfix for me - I sealed down the mushroom base with Sika Sikaflex EBT+. I hope it will allow me to remove the base in the future should that be necessary.

This is the scene after I treated the rust and painted with Hammerite, before applying the sealant.

After watching the F1 qualifying highlights we went for another walk into the town, going along the towpath to the alleyway to a residential street first.

I have never seen the permanent moorings empty before. Where has everybody gone?

Tomorrow we return to Debdale Wharf ready for blacking (take two).

Friday 17 July 2020

Pub excludes non-regulars

We walked to Smeeton Westerby this morning, another pleasant village. We were surprised to see a sign at the King's Head pub ...

… reading, in large capital letters, "REGULARS ONLY".

We are on the edge of Leicester lockdown territory, further highlighted by the Foxton Locks Inn requiring ID and proof of address before allowing prospective customers to be served.

We left our lovely quiet spot at Saddington - untroubled by passing boats as there weren't any - and returned to Foxton. This is the canal end of the (unnavigable) feeder from Saddington Reservoir.

Some time ago there were CRT notice alerts about a landslip closing the canal at Debdale Wharf. This must be where it happened. No wonder it took a long time to clear; it must have provided quite a log bonanza for someone.

We tied up at Foxton on the one day mooring opposite the bottom lock and got a surprise visit from a couple of fellow BCF members, Mike and Lesley of nb Ottawa. They had moored above the locks and walked down to join us for drinks. Here's a rare shot which includes me (I asked another boater to oblige with my camera).

Tomorrow we'll return to Market Harborough for a day; I'll get some Sikaflex sealant from Screwfix for the mushroom. I put two coats of Hammerite on the treated rust this afternoon in perfect conditions.

Thursday 16 July 2020

Blacking delay and mushroom maintenance

Today started with a disappointment. We were told that our blacking wouldn't start until Monday, a delay of four days, as the crane's motor had had to have new brushes fitted. We therefore continued down the Leicester Section for a bit, stopping between Saddington and Smeeton Westerby.

After lunch we had a very enjoyable walk , finding the footpath that goes under Smeeton Aqueduct. This was built, as far as I could tell, as a cattle creep.

In the field just the other side is this boundary marker: GJC standing for Grand Junction Canal unless I am mistaken.

A feeder from Saddington Reservoir helps to keep this long pound topped up. This control paddle is near the reservoir end.

We looked round the pleasant village of Saddington, then took the quick route back to the boat along the road. While Jan was cooking tea I removed a mushroom vent to have a go at addressing the rust which was causing it to leak. The base of the vent was secured by four brass screws, three of which came out easily enough, but one sheared off and will need to be drilled out. Slight problem: I forgot my drills. A trip to Screwfix in Market Harborough is called for. Meanwhile I have scraped, wire brushed and Fertan-ed ready for painting. I'm not sure what to use as a sealant - ideas anyone?

Wednesday 15 July 2020

You can't moor here - it's reserved

When we arrived at Market Harborough yesterday we didn't tie up - as we usually do - as close to the boat in front as possible. This was because the owner had set out chairs and was fishing from the bank. As I mentioned yesterday there was plenty of space, so we didn't create a problem. We just left a gap. Thinking about it now, perhaps the thing to have done might have been to leave a boat-length's gap. That way, if the moorings did fill up, the angler would have had no option but to cede to a potential moorer. (And it wouldn't have been me having to ask him to give way!)

When the boater/fisher moved to the services block in the basin he did something I can't remember ever having witnessed before. He arranged his four chairs along the bank to "reserve" his mooring. I stayed well out of it!

We did a substantial food shop in the town, had lunch, and moved back to Foxton Junction where we took on water. The water point we used was the one by the swing footbridge (much, much easier to swing than the road bridge) - but the tap handle had broken off. I used a pair of pliers to operate it and all was well.

We then moved down the Leicester Section and tied up at Debdale Wharf, where we should be getting blacked over the next couple of days.

After tea on board we went for a walk along the towpath and heard, then saw, this wren.

It will be a while before we get lifted out for blacking as there is currently a boat on the stands next to the wet dock. It looks pressure washed but not blacked. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Slow progress at Foxton

After a slightly earlier start than usual we arrived at the top of Foxton Locks at 1100. We appeared to be fifth in the queue of boats wanting to go down, but said boats were spaced out so much that you could have got another three in front of the boat we were behind.

Boats - presumably the first allowed onto the flight - were already in the upper staircase coming up, so I thought it wouldn't be long before we'd be under way.

Wrong. We didn't start down until 1315. I have never known it take so long. A volunteer lockie told me that now leaks from the lock chambers had been repaired there was "too much water" and the sideponds were at risk of flooding. The same volunteer tried to get me to open the top lock top gate before he had filled it. Hmm. I think he was a bit embarrassed when I pointed out that it would be a bit difficult.

Things progressed reasonably smoothly once we entered the flight. At the bottom Jan turned right onto the Market Harborough Arm while I operated both swing bridges. The road swing bridge was heavy to get going - I don't remember it being so before.

There were just three visiting boats at MH; we tied up in a gap between two of them. We both enjoyed a mixed grill at Wetherspoon's and are saving the shopping trip for tomorrow.

Monday 13 July 2020

Crick's new footbridge

Yesterday's sunshine has been replaced with more rain, but not all day. This morning the pair Adrastea and Nebulae came past.

I'd love to have a go at steering a butty one day.

As we entered Crick we saw the new footbridge. The road bridge has a pavement of sorts, but its width reduces to not much more than a kerb's worth. The lorry crossing shows perfectly the need for the footbridge.

We tied up just before Welford Junction; tomorrow brings the gongoozlers' paradise of Foxton Locks, then it's Market Harborough for us.

Sunday 12 July 2020

A falling in

This morning we went to church in Doncaster without leaving the boat. Virtually, of course. After that we turned left at Norton Junction and headed for Watford Locks.

On the way I spoke to a couple on the towpath who asked the way to the locks; I pointed them in the right direction (they had been going the wrong way). Not long after that we passed a boat mooring outside Watford Gap Services: a man was hammering in a pin close to the edge of the bank. His boat obscured what happened next, but I heard a shout and saw that the lock hunters were right there and pointing to the water. The worst I thought was that the mooring pin had fallen into the cut; as others were there I carried on.

At the locks the couple were watching proceedings. I asked them what had happened with the boat at the services and was surprised to learn that the boater had fallen in! He had just stepped in, according to the witnesses, and got wet up to the top of his thighs. Had there been more commotion I would have stopped - perhaps I should have done so anyway - but it had looked and sounded to me as though one of the walkers had been surprised by the hammering.

As usual, Jan steered and I worked the locks, being mostly left to it by the lockies.

Above the locks a number of birds of prey were circling.

Are these red kites?

Before Crick Tunnel I tried the TV reception again and actually got a signal. We pulled in and tied up ready for the F1 GP highlights later. At 6.30 I switched on, only to find that the signal had disappeared. Repositioning the aerial didn't help much, but I was eventually able to watch, with the pictures and sound breaking up badly most of the time. Grr.

Saturday 11 July 2020

Social distancing? Social gathering, more like

After breakfast and a nip into Tesco for the paper we reversed back to the waterpoint on the offside. Topping up took only a few minutes as the pressure was excellent. That's the one at Brownsover.

We continued on our journey, stopping just past the M45 bridge for lunch. Stephen and Gwyneth came past on Chyandour; we would pass their locked up boat in Braunston later.

I wanted to watch the F1 qualifying highlights so we tied up just below the Admiral Nelson pub. The outside tables were heaving, with no distancing in evidence.

Unfortunately for me, I couldn't get any TV signal, so we continued up the rest of the Braunston locks and tried again at the top. Still nothing. So we went through the tunnel … no joy here either. By this time the programme was well under way. Eventually we tied up for the night just before Norton Junction. I'm beginning to think there might be a dodgy connection in the cable somewhere, or perhaps water has got in to the external aerial causing corrosion damage. Tomorrow we only have to get to Crick (to keep to schedule) so there should be plenty of time for investigation. Grands prix are the only thing the TV is used for, that's why the reception problem has only just surfaced.

After tea we walked to the junction and back; I took one or two sunset pics.

This is the view from the boat.