Friday, September 28, 2012

Farewell Cropredy, hello Banbury!

Wednesday, a man from a boat repair company contracted to CRC came to look at the fuel leak problem. He confirmed the previous engineer's diagnosis and said he'd get a replacement unit ordered for fitting within the next couple of days. He tied a couple of rubber gloves over the leaky pump – an old trick he'd learned when working with Ford diesel engines – adjusted our stern gland at my request – the drip into the bilge was still too fast – and told us we could move on as far as Banbury, where he would meet with us and fit the pump.
The "two-glove fix"!

 Thursday, we at last left Cropredy, and made our way down to Banbury, a journey of just 6 lock miles in lovely weather and through beautiful countryside. Banbury moorings are very good. Narrow boats line both sides of the canal alongside a fairly new shopping centre. The towing path is not a useful thoroughfare for non-boaters, so the moorings are generally quiet. We slept feeling entirely safe and secure, and woke to a very quiet scene again.

Friday - John, the boat engineer, did say that his company, Tooley's, would contact us before 4:00pm yesterday, to let us know when the new pump would be fitted. They did not. Nor did they this morning, so I rang RCR and told them and, finally (and not without a great deal of confusion on the part of the guy on the phone who thought at first he was talking to another customer) Tooleys rang. As I write, we are awaiting a further call for confirmation of timing.

We, however, are getting very short of water. There is a tap just a few hundred yards down from where we are, but we would then have to find another mooring below that which is accessible to an engineer.

I have just got a call from Tooley's who tell me that they are having problems finding a replacement pump. Since the leak is only slight, and has had John's temporary fix applied, we have decided to move on now, and let Tooley's come out to us when the part is finally located. This means that we will be able to get the water we need, and that the batteries, which have been running on empty for some time (the solar panels have had very little decent light since about 3:00 yesterday afternoon) will get recharged.

Equally important, it means we can be on the move again!

We moved on just a few miles towards the end of the afternoon, and moored up at a beautiful, quiet, open spot between two lift bridges. The sun even shone on us for a while!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Still at Cropredy

Yesterday, the UK had one month's rain in just the one day. Cropredy got its share, with high winds to boot, so we weren't going anywhere. We battened down the proverbial hatches and amused ourselves in dry, warm occupations. I lit the bubble stove for the first time for months, and we were very cosy.
Today I phoned River & Canal Rescue to see if our fuel leak was eligible for a breakdown callout. It was, and one of their engineers came out to assess the job. He couldn't do anything there and then, so another engineer was booked to do the job tomorrow afternoon. The wind is very strong anyway, and cruising may well be not too much fun in that, so we're happy to wait until then. We have a small Spar shop five minutes walk away, and essential services, so it's not a problem.

This is real boating!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Short stay in Cropredy

My birthday got off to a dull start weather-wise, and it started to rain heavily just as Naomi, Steve and Jess arrived. But no matter! We had a really good time together, catching up with news and exchanging stories, and much of it over a good Sunday lunch at the pub. It was a pity that Eddie wasn't able to be there too. “The kids” left in heavy rain, and Grace and I settled down to an evening of games, reading and TV.

Monday morning made it very clear that the rain was here to stay for a while, but I found a dry moment in which I could do a few checks on the boat. The stern bilge had not collected any more water, neither had the rear starboard bilge, which had on past occasion got quite wet for reasons we could not fathom, and this remains a mystery to us.

I discovered a couple of days ago that there is a slow leak of fuel from the top of the diesel hand pump. My attempts to stop this have failed so far, so today I will be contacting River Canal Rescue (the AA of the inland waterways), to see if I can get any help. It doesn't constitute a breakdown, since we can still move, but I'm not entirely happy with continuing very far while the diesel is leaking. Of course, if it were petrol it would be a total no-no!

Whatever the outcome of my contact with RCR, we'll be here for at least another 24 hours because of the rain. We have absolutely no need to travel, and no desire to get wet unnecessarily! When the rain does let up, we'll move on towards Banbury where, we are told, there are very good visitor moorings (“outside Marks & Spencer”).
I hope to find a dry hour while we are here in Cropredy for a stroll around the village, but for now...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

On down to Cropredy

Moving on, on day 5, we found the canal even more winding, and with extremely narrow stretches. The most notable of these is the Fenny Compton Tunnel, which is, however, no longer a tunnel, having been converted to an open cutting in 1868. The result of this conversion should have left a passage wide enough for two boats to pass, but now that vegetation has been allowed to grow along its banks, there is room only for one boat at a time to pass through in places.
The twistiness of this stretch is highlighted by two quite extreme hairpin bands – very difficult for 70 foot boats, one would imagine.
We stopped at Fenny Compton for services, and to buy the last bottle of milk from the shop which is run there in a room in The Wharf Inn.

The weather was warmer than the past couple of days, and it rained on us a few times, but not enough to be a problem. We moored overnight between bridges 143 and 144, another very quiet and beautiful spot.

It's my birthday on Sunday, and I received an email from Naomi today asking if the three of them – her, Steve and Jess (Eddie will be working) – can come to see us that day. We agreed to be at Cropredy to meet them. What a lovely birthday present!

Day 6
We set out earlier than normal under a bright blue sky and warm sun. The descent of Claydon Locks was smooth – once again, most other boats were travelling in the opposite direction, and found the locks waiting ready for us.
The same was true of the next four locks, which took us down into Cropredy where we have moored up, ready to greet Naomi, Steve and Jess when they come to visit tomorrow. We looked at the local pub restaurants, and booked a table for lunch at The Brasenose Arms, and bought supplies at the village store.

Cropredy is the venue of the annual Fairport Convention, founded by the members of that folk group over 30 years ago, and still organised by them. How the village copes with over 20,000 visitors over those three days I cannot imagine. We're considering bringing the boat here next year for the Convention. It sounds like a lot of fun!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Day 4

Thursday got off to a dull and windy start, but we had washing to do, so we didn't leave our mooring until after lunch. We could have run the washing machine while we were on the move, but we were feeling a little pessimistic, and didn't want to leave the washing machine to get on with its job unattended – just in case it decided to go wrong, and leak water into the boat! So we just ran the engine for an hour or so, and ran the generator – you know, the one with the history! – and played Scrabble.

Setting out as late as we did, we didn't go far. The canal continued to be very winding and narrow, and at bridge 122 the right-hand bend was so severe that Grace could not take Kantara around it without a bit of reversing. We moored just before bridge 123, over which ran a footpath to the little town of Priors Hardwick.
Before supper, I took a walk into the town, knowing it to be rather strange in that many of the houses there are uninhabited.

I can't discover why that is. They're not derelict, despite their years, they're just... empty! What's more, I walked through the town at around 5:00pm, and there was no-one around except a man I spoke with (who might have been the gardener responsible for the fabulously colourful gardens around a very expensive-looking house, or the retired rock star who owns it),
and one woman in her front garden with whom I exchanged greetings. The place was otherwise empty. I looked in at windows as I passed houses, and they all seemed to be empty.
The one hotel (there was no pub!) was strangely silent,
the church doors were open, but there was no-one there.
There was no shop. I almost expected someone to step out from nowhere and demand to know what I was doing there! It was very strange!

We seem to have the knack of finding really lovely places to moor overnight, although this is usually after cruising on for some time beyond when we would have liked to stop. It very often happens that the towing path is lined with all sorts of plant life along the water side, making mooring difficult at best. Or the bank is too narrow to use mooring pins without them obstructing the path of walkers. Or the bank has been reinforced with bags of cement which render the use of mooring pins impossible. Thursday's mooring was at the first stretch of "armco" we came to, and proved to be the most remote, peaceful spot we have ever chosen.

Armco - well, that's what we call it!
The hook we use to moor onto the Armco

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Day 3 to Oxford

Wednesday was beautiful. The light had an amazing warm yet bright feel to it, and the sky was a fabulous shade of blue. It was cold again, though, and exposed stretches of canal were quite windy. But the countryside of the Oxford Canal is charming, and cruising was a delight. Thinking that it's about time – after years of canal holidays, plus the past year of boat ownership – that I learned how to drive the boat, I took the helm for a while. I was not going to let Michelle and Mike out-do me! However, the canal became very winding, and narrow and shallow in a number of places, so I handed control back to Grace.

We moved on down to Napton Junction (Wigram's Turn Marina), and stopped at Napton Bottom Lock for services before ascending the first seven of the locks, these all in the space of a little over a mile. Again, we seemed to be the only boat going up, with numerous craft descending, and we found all of the locks empty and ready for Grace to glide Kantara straight in.

We stopped for a late lunch after lock 14, but then decided to stay for the night.

We have had a minor problem with our propeller shaft gland dripping too much water into its bilge. This can usually be dealt with by using the bilge pump, but we found that afternoon that the bilge pump was not working. Looking into the pool of water in the bilges, it was apparent that it had a lot of grease in it – grease is pumped manually into the stern gland to slow the dripping of water – and the bilge pump, too, was quite covered in a film of it.

Removing the pump and dismantling it, we washed it in hot, detergent water, and baled the water out of the bilge manually. The pump was then put back together and tested, and successfully pumped the bucket of hot water empty. I tightened the two nuts on the stern gland and, as I write, there has been no further dripping. The problem I have with these two nuts is that it is easy to over-tighten them to the point where damage is done, and I have no way of knowing how tight is right. So we proceed with care. If the propeller shaft becomes too hot to touch, then I will know that I've tightened the nuts too much. I hope it won't come to that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cruise to Oxford

Monday morning was cloudy and windy, the sort of wind that makes one wonder if it's worth trying to get out of the marina, but it wasn't raining, and the weather prospects were good, so we set out, perhaps an hour or so later than we should. Grace almost effortlessly pulled away from the service platform and out of the marina despite the prevailing wind.

It soon became evident that there are far fewer boats out on the cut now, but we had a wait of 90 minutes or more at Watford Locks, with the lockies there preferring the nine ascending boats over us. Never mind, we're in no hurry, and some of the boats at the bottom of the locks had to wait over two hours. Because we were leaving later than planned, Grace had made sandwiches while I drove to Crick for some milk, and we ate lunch on the move. We moored overnight in a wooded spot just north of Norton Junction.

Tuesday got off to a bright and sunny start, but it was very chilly, and I wore more clothing than at any other time in the past year. Clouds built as we cruised, and rain threatened. Moving down to Norton Junction, we turned right to Braunston Tunnel where three men in a boat – a strangely common sight on canals – failed to keep to their side of the tunnel, and collided with us fairly impressively. No major damage though – at least, not to us.

The weather improved considerably at the other end of the tunnel, and was warm as we descended Braunston Flight. We went with another boat, named 42 (The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything), and this, plus the fact that all of the locks were in our favour as we approached them, meant that the descent was smooth and fast (although we were in nothing like the hurry the skipper of the other boat seemed to be in!). At Braunston Turn we headed up the Oxford Canal, mooring just past bridge 100 for the night – a beautiful open spot with a huge sky above us. The night sky was amazing, with no light pollution to spoil our sight of the ceiling of stars.