Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Well, that was summer then!

Monday it rained, on and off, often heavily. We went shopping - wow! But we were running out of food, so I guess it was time well spent. Otherwise, we stayed in and passed the time playing games, reading and so on. Oh - we did walk for an hour, which was good, and very well timed with regard to the rain!
This feathered fellow is one of about twenty young drakes who flock to Kantara, hoping for food as soon as we open the side hatch. This one seems, more than the others, to have adopted us, and he's often with us on his own, swimming up and down close to the hatch, and looking up hopefully at us whenever we appear.

Today, the weather was much the same, so... we stayed in.
When the evenings are dry, we do get some beautiful sunsets.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Time and weather

Time: Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Still wishing we were out on the cut, but nonetheless glad to be doing some of those little jobs which accumulate while you're cruising. The second and final coat of paint has gone on the foredeck, various bits and pieces bought, cleaning done, cupboards and drawers tidied and rationalised. We've not been idle - well, not all of the time!

There has also been time for catching up with TV, videos to watch, books to read, and walks. It is good not to be under any kind of time pressure.

Weather: Getting wetter
It seems we may have had the best of the weather now, for the time being. It's still warm, and we see the sun quite a lot, but we are subject again now to some sporadic, heavy rain, and more is forecast for the next week or so. Let's hope it doesn't make us postpone that Oxford Canal trip. If the weather is anything like as good as last year, we still have three months of cruising possibilities ahead of us.

If the weather's good enough tomorrow, we'll be out to revisit Canon's Ashby, visited last October, but needing to be seen in the summer. Hopefully, Colin will be able to fit our thermostat this week, and we'll be free to cruise again soon.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Chipping away at the to-do list!

Yesterday and today were hot, sunny, and very beautiful here in the marina. It is annoying that we have to wait here for the thermostat to be fitted, but we are using the time to get a number of jobs done. Yesterday not many, but we did get to see "The Amazing Spiderman" and enjoyed that a lot. Air conditioning, too, and just another nine with us at that screen.
Peter Parker finds a clue that might help him understand why his parents disappeared when he was young. His path puts him on a collision course with Dr. Curt Connors, his father's former partner.
Today, I did a number of tidying up and rationalising tasks, while Grace fitted a new, carpeted board on the bedroom side of the engine room bulkhead. The steps she carpeted the other day stand against this panel, and the whole thing looks so much better than it did. 

Then we got the foredeck painted, and holes cut in the deck matting so that we have easy access to the filler for the water tank, and to the hole used to support the single leg of the small table which can be set up on the foredeck for al fresco dining.

Oh, and we're boating legally now! Our license arrived this morning, and we 
can at last display it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jobs done

Having told us he'd arrive "first thing" this morning, Colin came late afternoon - after delays! - to look at our thermostat. His first instinct proved correct, and he identified a faulty unit which was stuck open. He'll order a new one, but we're not likely to have it fitted before a week has passed. In the meantime, we have a number of jobs we want to get done, and made a good start on the list yesterday.

We fitted a new seal to the lid of the weed hatch for the bowthruster. The lid took a great deal of effort and leverage to come off, and the seal was badly damaged as a result, as expected. Replacing it was simple. Oddly, the weed hatch does not give me access to the propeller at all. I expect people with very long arms and possibly more than one elbow per arm would be able to feel down the hatch, bend 90 degrees and feel along the thruster tube a foot or so to the prop. I am not built that way, so I'm hoping I'll never be in the position where I wish I were. There is a grille over each end of the thruster tube, which should keep weed and suchlike out. Fingers are crossed!

We put new carpet on the steps up out of the bedroom to the engine room. They look so much better now. This afternoon, we'll buy a new board to put behind those steps (it covers a bolted hatch in the engine bulkhead), and carpet that, too.

I removed the awful, plastic carpet pads on the forward gunnels which have passed for step mats in the past. The resulting damaged paintwork and gluey mess which had to be cleaned off made the job tedious, but we have new, rubber mats ready to put on, and the paintwork is sanded down ready for a new coat or two. We'll paint the foredeck at the same time.

These, along with a fair bit of cleaning and tidying which cropped up along the way, amounted to a good day's work. The weather was great, and my face took on a deeper shade of brown. I think it's fading my hair, too!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An afternoon at Foxton Locks

The weather yesterday was fantastic - totally clear skies, and a gentle breeze to keep the temperature down a bit. Just right for a bit of sight-seeing. So, after waxing and polishing the remaining side of the boat, we drove off to Foxton Locks, having visited in a hurry once before, and seen that it looks worth spending some time there. We're expecting Colin to arrive any moment, to take a look at our engine thermostat, so we weren't about to go out in the boat. Hopefully, we start our next cruise tomorrow.

Foxton Locks is a double staircase of five locks each, in a beautiful setting which also incorporates two pubs, a couple of shops, a cafĂ© and a museum. It seems to be a very popular spot for visitors. The pubs were full, the shop busy, and the tour boat (£3 a ride) attracting good numbers. Families wandered the site, enjoyed the beautiful panorama from a viewing platform, sat in the sun, and watched the boats. We thoroughly enjoyed being gongoozlers for a change!

Of great fascination is the remains of a boat lift. Built in 1900 because canal traffic was too great for the locks to cope, the lift carried boats sideways up the hill in huge steel bath-like structures. This only took around 12 minutes, compared with the 45 to 50 minutes for the locks.
The boat lift in action
Unfortunately, the lift was built just before the canals started to suffer from serious competition with the railways, and it was closed after just 11 years, and demolished in 1925. However, there is a project now to rebuild the lift, and to have it working, lifting boats again (and lowering them!) as it did all those years ago. Click here for more information.

It was a really good afternoon out, with a pub lunch and a leisurely stroll around the whole area, although we gave the museum a miss.

Today, the weather is again hot and sunny. Getting back out onto the cut is a very attractive prospect.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday 22nd July

Another beautiful day! Hot, sunny, but very windy! Moody Cow has vacated her mooring to cruise, so Grace and I moved Kantara sideways into her mooring so that I could more easily wash and polish the starboard side from the pontoon.

You'd think it wouldn't be a difficult task, would you? No engine required, simply cast off the ropes and lead her across from the bow, giving the stern a hefty push to drift her the eight feet or so into the empty space. The wind was strong though, and we'd seen a number of craft having problems coming and going through the marina entrance, and it was that wind which resisted our attempts to move Kantara, threatening at one point to pull me into the water as I tried with all my strength to haul her in.

We succeeded, though, and I got the side of the boat washed and polished - I'll polish the port side tomorrow, and the job'll be done. Getting Kantara back to her proper mooring couldn't have been easier - we had the wind on our side this time! We simply cast off, and she drifted quickly back to our pontoon in a matter of seconds.
The polished Kantara!
Not only is Moody Cow out of the marina, but so is Jasmine, next to her, Wenders next to her, and At Last next to her, so we have a lot of empty space next to us at the moment, affording views we've not had before.

 They're not spectacular views, but they do give us a lot more natural light.

The boat nearest to us on that side is now Jimsonweed.
This boat was formerly part of a hire fleet, all of which were named after canalside plants. Jimsonweed (or Jimson Weed) is, apparently, one such plant, but when I first saw the boat, not knowing of the poisonous plant after which it is named, I laughingly assumed it used to belong to a bloke called Jim who smoked a lot of whacky baccy! Ironically, the plant is "a powerful hallucinogen and deliriant, which is used spiritually for the intense visions it produces." (Wikipedia)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Marina life

Today is the second dry, sunny day in a row, and boaters are out and about - short weekend cruises, washing their boats, fiddling with engines or doing other jobs. Occasional glances are thrown at the sky, which has a number of huge, fluffy clouds, but it's warm and bright, and I'd be surprised if it rained today. The five-day forecast says no rain for the foreseeable future, but I've lost faith in weather forecasts.
So, we've been busy doing a number of jobs on Kantara.

I'm in the process of cleaning and polishing her - a 59 foot narrow boat makes cleaning a car seem easy!

Grace is fixing the radio/CD player - there is a problem with the wiring.

There are routine jobs to do on the engine before we cruise again, and we're working our way through them.

We have a mystery puddle of water in one bilge in the engine room. It's not coming from the engine, or from our domestic water tank, and it's not coming through a pin-hole in the hull, so it has to be rain, although we can't work out how it's getting down there. It's not serious, though, and is not threatening to sink us!

I've refitted the satellite TV dish on the mast on the roof, and we now have two interchangeable antennae there, too, for our broadband connection - our signal here in the marina is the worst we have experienced anywhere.

We've tested the 230v generator daily, and it's working fine now - at last!

We also have non-slip step mats to fit onto the fore gunnels, to replace the rather awful bits of carpet which were there, and which are used to step safely on and off the boat. This job will also entail some painting of a few areas on the hull.

I will fit new sealing strip around the weed hatches fore and aft. Both of these, particularly the one serving the bowthruster, are in danger of falling apart if the hatches are opened, and that would be worse than inconvenient if it happened out on the cut.
Colin's coming to test the thermostat on Tuesday. Depending on what he finds, we may well be off on another cruise on Wednesday, taking the Oxford Canal down into Oxford itself - a 222-ish lock/mile return trip which could take us three to four weeks, that depending on the weather, and how many times we stay put for the day, for whatever reason. It looks like a good trip, and we're looking forward to it.
Reflection in the canal
Schools broke up for the summer holidays this week. I have now NOT been a teacher for a whole year! I loved my job - well, most of the time - but I'm loving canal life, and missing teaching less and less each week I am away from it. I have a number of friends still in the job who envy me a great deal, and I have to say I feel really blessed to be where I am, doing what I'm doing, and sharing it with Grace.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Back on Kantara

Well, we actually went back to St Albans on Sunday, and returned late today. The weather over the past few days has been largely cold and wet, but it did ease off long enough for us to do a lot of pruning and cutting back in the garden yesterday, and today for us to take all of the cuttings to the recycling centre. We returned to Yelvertoft in bright sunshine late this afternoon - it was really lovely. OK, we had heavy rain and thunder later, too!

We now have quite a list of jobs to do on Kantara, before taking her out for the next cruise. The latest news regarding flooding tells us that we would still not be able to pass the flood lock at the top of the Soar, above Leicester, so perhaps we'll do a completely different route next. The Oxford Canal, perhaps. We'll decide once the jobs have been done.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Back at Yelvertoft

On Wednesday morning, before I was awake, Grace had the rare pleasure of seeing a family of four jays, sitting in nearby trees. I've only ever once seen two jays together, and I've probably not seen more than ten in my life. I was sorry Grace didn't wake me.
Wednesday and Thursday were days of simple, enjoyable cruising, and largely in good weather, with the worst rain coming after we moored for the night. Two of the six double-width locks of the Braunston Flight we shared with another boat, making the whole job a bit easier. After that, we ascended solo.
Braunston Flight - The Admiral Nelson pub
I spoke with another boat-owner who had also set out, with her husband, to cruise the Leicester Ring, but going the other way around from us. After I had explained that we were aborting progress because of the flooding of the Trent affecting the Trent & Mersey Canal, she told me that she had had to turn around in Leicester, where the River Soar was flooding and causing problems. She and her husband had tried the Ring last year, and failed because of low water levels. This year they've had to give up because of too much water!
Napton Junction
After the locks came the 2042 yard long Braunston Tunnel, a left turn at Napton Junction and an overnight mooring at a peaceful spot a couple of miles further on. As often, we moored just in time, before the rain came down with a vengeance.
Staircase locks at Watford
We started off late on Thursday morning, with few miles to do before arriving at Yelvertoft. The weather was really good, and we saw few other boats moving on the canal. It was all very peaceful. Watford Locks delayed us for perhaps an hour, but we were in no hurry. Some poor folk's boat broke down in the top of the staircase, and had to be taken back up by hand before we could ascend. One of the lock keepers there, hearing that we were on our way back to Yelvertoft Marina, told us that he had heard many very good reports of the marina. We are certain it's the best we could have found in this area.
Moorers' Lounge at Yelvertoft Marina
Four more warm, sunny miles, and we were back... Grace said "back home", but then we laughed, realising that we'd been "home" all of the time. It's a really good way to live! Grace slid Kantara effortlessly into her mooring, and we tied her up. 82 miles and 34 locks.

We ate at The George, which has become our regular pub restaurant now, with excellent food served by friendly, cheerful staff. Later that evening, we had the heaviest rain we had experienced in the past two weeks.

This morning, we awoke to a schedule of jobs to be done - mostly cleaning, and washing clothes, now that we had mains electricity again. Sam came to look at the faulty generator, wiggled a few things and made it work again. To be fair, he did say he had no idea what he'd done to put it right, so we'll have to use it daily, and see if it keeps going.

Tomorrow, we go back to St Albans, to get a few things sorted out there.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday - almost back at the marina

Of course, when I say "almost back", this is said in canal terms - that is, we'll be there in a couple of days!

My camera batteries have died, and I keep forgetting to recharge them, so I have no photos for today. We left our mooring this morning in dry weather, but cooler, and always some threatening clouds in one or other part of the sky. Nonetheless, it was a good cruise. Hillmorton Locks were a bit slow, on account of one of the centre pair being closed for repair, and a certain amount of queuing resulting. But we arrived at a lovely spot just a couple of miles north of Braunston for an overnight stop, and it was only then that the rain came down  - very heavily.

Sam Matts rang this morning about our failed generator. He wants to bring someone from the company that serviced it, to look at the problem in situ. I just hope they can put the problem right straight away, without having to take the flipping thing away again.

Sunday and Monday

Another hot day, with blue skies and white puffy clouds to greet us when we awoke. After a latish start, we continued for only a few miles until, suddenly threatened by imminent downpour, we moored up. And we were glad we did, for the rain was torrential and long-lasting. We stopped for the night.

Again, the weather was good to us, without even the downpour later in the day, and we cruised down to the outskirts of Rugby, where we moored for some Tesco shopping. We'll stop here for the night. It's been good that, so far on this return journey of ours, we've been able to avoid mooring in the same places as we moored on our outward trip. It's odd, but the canal looks quite different, too, going the other way along it.

We passed through Newbold Tunnel, a couple of miles before we stopped. It's only 250 yards long, but someone has contrived to install lights along its length, which throw bands of colour across the roof. It must be even better after dark.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Friday and Saturday - days 9 & 10

“the canals are unlikely to be in much danger” were my last words in my last post. I was wrong.

I have been hugely impressed by the Tweeting of The Environment Agency, who have been keeping followers fully apprised of the flood warnings and alerts around the country. (At 6.30pm today, they had 138 flood alerts and 54 warnings in place!) But it was the website Waterscape which informed us yesterday that the River Trent - a few days north-east of where we are - is flooding, and that an adjoining canal lock is closed through which we need to pass in order to continue our journey. Of course, there is no saying when it might be opened again. If we were to continue, we might find the problem has gone by the time we reach that point. We might find it is still closed, and have to wait any number of days for the flooding to subside.

In the light of this news, we have decided to cut our journey short, about-turn and return to the marina. We still have the license problem to sort out, and the generator to get fixed (see recent posts for both), and we do need to be accessible to Colin so he can fix our failed thermostat. It seems the most sensible thing to do is to return to Yelvertoft, get all of the problems sorted out, and then complete the Leicester Ring by going the other way around it, and taking in the GU Welford Arm, the GU arm to Market Harborough, the Ashby Canal and the arm of the Coventry Canal which terminates in Coventry itself.

We don't see this as any kind of a failure, nor even much of a disappointment. It's simply being pragmatic.

So, tomorrow, we drive up the the nearest winding hole, and start on our way back.

Oh – and today, it rained. 24 hours of solid, heavy rain until early evening, when we were treated to blues skies and sunshine. Weird stuff, weather!

Saturday in one sentence!
We had good weather today, so we cruised up to Nuneaton, weren't impressed, bought some supplies, turned around at the White House winding hole, past Wood Bridge 27, and headed back past the spot where we had moored overnight, on to Hawkesbury Junction, back onto the Oxford Canal, and are now moored at a quiet spot for the night.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Thursday and Friday - mixed weather

And yesterday, Thursday, we woke under blue skies! It was warm, it was sunny, it was... unbelievable! So we unpinned and moved on with as little delay as possible. And it was great! The countryside was green and lush, the birds were out in full force, singing loudly, and we wound our way through some beautiful scenery. There were no locks, apart from a very shallow one – no more than about ten inches – at HawkesburyJunction, where we left the Oxford Canal and joined the Coventry Canal. The Junction is charming, with several old Victorian canal buildings still in pretty much their original condition, including a pump house, a lovely pub and a tiny police station.
Disused pumping station

Police Station

The shallow lock at the end of the Oxford Canal
Oxford Canal on the right, Coventry Canal on the left
Moving on up the Coventry Canal, we passed the town of Bedworth and found a good mooring in countryside just a mile or so south of Nuneaton, and tied up for the night. Tweets from the Environment Agency were warning of heavy rain and flooding in parts of the country not far from us, so it looked likely that we would be here throughout today. Waking this morning to heavy rain, it looks even more likely now!

Our generator is still not working, and we're waiting to hear from Sam as to when he's going to come and fix it. The makers of the unit have suggested what the fault might be, so I'll send Sam the details and hope they're right. We also have a problem with our British Waterways License, renewable annually. When we bought Kantara, she had a license valid until this month. Since we are new owners, we cannot simply renew the old one; we have to apply for one. So, we filled in the sheaf of papers while we were back in Yelvertoft, and sent them off. Youngest daughter Jess contacted us yesterday, telling us that a letter had arrived from BW telling us that they needed both of our signatures, where we had only given one. And now, with no postal address for Jess to send that letter on to, we are in danger of having no current license, and possibly having to pay a £150 fine for late application. I shall contact them today, and see if I can talk them into accepting the lateness without fine. It must happen a lot, surely, when the “customers” are likely to be out on the cut?

At our new mooring, we were joined by a family of swans who spent a good half hour swimming up and down the length of the boat, eating the mossy weed which grows just below the waterline on canal boats. Stretching their necks down, upturning with their tails in the air, pecking madly at the hull, they made a funny sight – and quite a noise, too! We'd experienced ducks doing the same thing, one night back in the marina, when we had been awoken by the very strange sound they were making. True to form, these swans were back at around 5:00 this morning, noisily breakfasting!

If the rain stops later, we may well go on into Nuneaton and look around, and there are good moorings just outside the town if we decide not to go any further than that today. We did consider turning around and going along the Ashby Canal which branches off east just a mile back. It's 21 miles long, through idyllic countryside, with lots of sites of medieval villages. At the end, one has to turn around and go back, the original connection through to the original terminus having been unnavigable now for decades. We decided not to do this diversion, however, for various reasons. We'll just wait and see what the weather does. We're thankful, at a time when so many people around the country are suffering awful floods, that out home is floating, and the canals are unlikely to be in much danger.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012


It rained during the night. It was raining when we woke up. It rained through the morning, on and off, on and on. So we stayed put. We got a number of little jobs done on the boat, so that was a bonus. But we have a number of niggles which are giving us some grief, and there seems little we can do about them, more than we have.
The 230v generator which failed before Christmas, and which was “being repaired” for something like six months, has failed again. We cannot use our washing machine, nor our vacuum cleaner. Clothes have to be worn for longer than normal, and floor cleaning is rather more tedious. We can survive without them, but the time will come that we need to wash clothes, and I suppose we will have to find a laundrette when that time comes. I've notified Sam Matts, who was responsible for the generator, and he's “working on it”. I'm hoping he'll come up with a solution, and we'll be able to meet him somewhere on the canal for the thing to be put right.
The second niggle has been going on now since September. We get our mobile broadband connection from Three, but, although we usually get a good strong signal from them, we often lose our Internet connection. Frankly, they are being incredibly dense about it, and keep contacting me and asking questions they really ought to know the answer to by now. Unlike Option, who have dealt with a fault with our router with huge efficiency, they just can't get the hang of communicating appropriately with their very angry customer. I have often been unable to receive mobile phone calls whilst in the boat – it is, after all, a steel shell which tends to block radio waves. Nonetheless, they keep trying to phone me, and do not get the idea that I really would like to communicate with them across the Internet, as Option did to such great effect.
The third niggle is that the thermostat in the engine has failed, resulting in us not getting hot water either as hot, or as quickly as we should when the engine is running. Colin has agreed to look into this for us, but he's on holiday at the moment.
The fourth niggle is the plastic deck tiles we bought via Ebay. They were fine to start with, but, come the hot weather we had some weeks ago (remember it?), they got very soft, buckled and distorted to the point where they became dangerous. I contacted the supplier and eventually discovered that they had gone bankrupt. I told Ebay and... well, nothing yet.

At around 4:00 this afternoon, the sun came out, and stayed out for several hours before the rain came again. I went for a bit of a walk under a blue sky punctuated with huge cumulus clouds. It was good!
Tomorrow, we'll move on. Fingers crossed for dry weather. I've stopped looking at the forecasts, they're so unreliable!