Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cruise with Christine and Mike

We've been really busy since Christine and Mike left us on Wednesday morning, and I've not had time before now to type up an account of their cruise with us. But here is is - eleven days in one post!

On Monday morning, we set out at about 10:00. The weather was beautiful, and there were a good number of boats on the move. Unsurprisingly, we had a delay at Watford Locks - around two hours - but that gave us time to chat with a fascinating youn g man(with riveting pale blue eyes!), boating solo, and exchange stories with him. We met Ruth there, too, from NB Ruby, with her business partner, on a day's familiarisation course led by an ex-BW instructor. Ruby, very recently bought and moored close to us at Yelvertoft, is to become their office. Ruth was really chuffed that her instructor had told her she's a natural at driving the boat. We saw them again later, after they had winded and were on their way back to their mooring.

After lunch outside Weltonfield Marina, we turned right at Norton Junction and into Braunston Tunnel. Amazingly, this was empty of other craft, but this was explained when we arrived at Braunston Top Lock. One of the flight had been closed for an hour or so, and emptied for maintenance. It was just being opened as we came along. All upward traffic had been held up, hence the empty tunnel. We descended as far as Bottom Lock, mooring up for the night without going down.

Tuesday started with a longish wait to descend the bottom lock. The boater coming up into the lock before our descent was the first of a number of really sour, grumpy characters we were to meet on this trip. I'm glad to say, however, that we met many more friendly, interesting people.

We carried on through Braunston, waving to Lee as we passed Roy's workshop, and bore right towards Rugby. We had lunch in a very noisy spot in Hillmorton, between bridge 73 and the un-numbered railway bridge, then moved on down Hillmorton Locks, where we met Nick and Margaret of NB Jasmine, with a friend. Nick related how he'd nearly sunk Jasmine by catching his button fender on the prow under a top gate timber. As the water filled the lock, the bow was held down as the stern rose, flooding the well-deck before the women working the locks noticed what was happening and emptied the chamber again. Lessons learned!

Next stop, Tesco's, where we quickly did some shopping. We moored for the night past bridge 51, just before Newbold Tunnel. Mike had spent most of the day at the tiller, and was making a good job of it.

We all slept in a bit on Wednesday morning, because of a number of disturbances during the night, so we left a bit later than desired. Nonetheless, we made good time as we progressed, with Mike driving a good bit of the time again. The weather was sunny and warm. We had lunch after bridge 5, then moved on to Hawkesbury Junction, where we took on water and disposed of rubbish.

I met there one of the volunteer lockies from Watford Locks, whom I'd seen on several occasions, and chatted with a lot. He was out in his boat; I nearly didn't recognise him out of uniform and context.

After turning right onto the Coventry Canal, we arrived at Marston Junction at around 6:00pm. Because of a hire-boat coming out of the Ashby Canal and turning left towards us, Grace found herself with a very difficult right turn into the narrow opening under the bridge, and this was made worse by an unfavourable wind and shallow water. I jumped off the bow and helped the boat round with the front rope, and we turned into the canal - new territory to us all.

We moored very soon, after bridge 2. It was a lovely spot, and the weather was still fine.

Thursday morning, too, was beautiful as we moved off up the canal. Missing my exercise bike and the locking, I took a brisk walk along the towing-path for the first hour. It's delightful countryside here, and has the advantage of being away from the railway we'd been close to for some time.

We had lunch at a peaceful spot just past the Ashby Marina, and met there a canal artist and her husband, who had been selling her work at the weekend's Snarestone Festival, from which we'd seen several old working boats leaving. We moved on, stopping next for services at Sutton Wharf. The canal was rather shallow in places now, slowing our progress, and making it hard to draw alongside banks for mooring.

Looking for overnight mooring, we made the mistake of passing a long stretch of armco mooring with a bright,open aspect, in favour of moving on to the Battlefield moorings, close to the site of the Battle of Bosworth. These moorings offered a good, plastic (fake wood) bank edge against which to moor - very nice - but no rings to tie to, so we had to use pins in stony ground which didn't really feel very secure. But we really had little option.

But it had to happen...

Half an hour later, a hire boat sped by (no exaggeration!) both pins got pulled out, and Kantara got sucked out into the middle of the canal. We weren't going to try mooring there again, so we followed the offending boat a few hundred yards up the canal, and moored in front of them.

I had a little word with the driver, who was duly apologetic and apparently totally ignorant of the issue of passing moored boats. He said he hadn't realised we weren't actually moored, and seemed shocked when I said that we had been until he un-moored us. He was an elderly man, with two elderly women on board, and his mistake was made out of ignorance and inexperience - it was their first canal holiday, so I told them not to let it spoil their enjoyment. I did, however, also point out how he had moored with an unnecessary, unusable gap between him and the boat behind him, and how that reduces the available space for others wanting to moor. He apologised again, rather shamefaced, and we parted amicably. I hope he learned two lessons.

We calmed ourselves down with a glass of wine, a good meal, some more wine, and a game of poker. Then I realised that I'd left one of the recovered pins behind on the bank opposite where we'd been unmoored. Since donating a mooring pin to a boat we rescued from a similar fate back in June, we don't have any spares, so I couldn't leave it there.

On Friday morning, I went back to retrieve the pin, then we set off in weather duller and cooler than previously. We learned the day before that part of the reason for the shallowness of the canal is down to the filling of the next quarter mile of restored navigation, which had started on that day, and would continue for several more days. So cruising was slow, manoeuvring challenging at times. But there wasn't much traffic on the Ashby, to our surprise. We only covered two miles in our first hour, but battled on to the end of the navigation at Snarestone.

We went to look at the new section of the canal, now slowly filling with water from the canal behind it. Then we browsed the "gift shop" and the "bric-a-brac shop" run by the Ashby Canal Association, and went back to the boat for lunch.

With no shops in the area, we were now quite low on food for the four of us, so lunch was rather limited. We used the services right at the end of the canal, winded, and set off back down the Ashby. The weather was much warmer now, and sunny. Mike was at the helm again, loving to take every opportunity given to him, and becoming quite proficient.

We moored overnight below bridge 57.

Saturday had a cooler, cloudier start. In need of food supplies, we headed for bridge 23, where there's a Farm Shop, well-stocked with fresh and frozen meat and pies, veg, bread and milk - but not tea, which we had totally run out of. We bought bread and milk, potatoes and some lovely fresh lamb cut into four huge "portions" which would be further cut to provide eight sensible portions! Mike also stocked up on cake and biscuits. We had lunch, and moved on.

Don't ask why, but I only took three photos that day, and those all of teasels!
This return journey down the Ashby was somewhat faster than the journey up. The weather had improved mid-morning, and there was now a strong, albeit intermittent, sun. We had discovered a slow gas leak from or nearby the cooker the night before, so I contacted Roy, and arranged for us to have a visit from the gasfitter as we passed through Braunston. We were now only turning the gas on when it was needed.

On Sunday, the leak seemed to be worse. Mike and Christine started the day walking the towpath together for the first few miles, and they stood on the bridge at Marston Junction and watched as Grace took Kantara left out of the Ashby onto the Coventry Canal again.

We stopped before turning at Hawkesbury Junction, to avail ourselves of the services. Then we turned left onto the Oxford Canal and moved on. Mike somehow got left at the lock, and carried on on foot to bridge 5. We had lunch at bridge 27.

As we prepared to move away, a passing boat got caught by the wind, the skipper lost control, and it crashed into us. It was a hard impact, but fortunately no harm was done. Traffic on the Oxford was quite considerable now as we moved on towards Stretton Stop.

In that traffic was a canoe for two, the users of which seemed to come straight at us as they approached. I steered the boat as far to starboard as I could, but they responded by trying to go down the too-small gap now on that side. I stopped quickly and waited as they heaved the canoe around our bow and paddled past on the correct side. I pointed out that they have to pass to the right of oncoming craft. Apparently, they didn't know that, and it was my fault they nearly got crushed, because I didn't call out down the 59 foot length of the boat to let them know they were doing the wrong thing!

Time was getting on now, and we wanted to moor for the night, preferably below the Newbold Tunnel, hoping to eat at The Barley Mow, but there were no available moorings there, so we carried on down to Rugby. We were surprised to find the stretch between the aqueducts and bridge 58 totally free of boats, and we moored right down at the end of it, close to the bridge. 

It was now quite late, and getting dark, so Mike and Christine treated us to a meal at the nearby Harvester, after which we played cards until bed-time. It had been a long day, slowed by winds and various delays en route.

On Monday, we awoke at 7:00 to heavy rain, but this had stopped by the time we got underway, and by the time we arrived at Hillmorton Locks, the weather was pleasant. Mike did most of the driving, and navigated the locks with flair. We had something like a 50-minute wait at the top of the flight; there were several boats on the way up, but one of the top pair of locks was closed for repair, and the remaining one was a slow filler. But at least we didn't get wet, waiting.

We moored for lunch shortly after the locks. During lunch, I got a text from Roy, unfortunately delivered late because of poor signal, saying that the gas fitter would be at Braunston at 5:30 to check our leakage problem. We had to get a move on!

It started to rain again as we moved off, then stopped, then came down really heavily. Mike and Grace at the stern got rather damp, but only for about 20 minutes or so before it stopped.

We had a strange experience as we approached Braunston Turn, coming around the corner past the numerous boats moored up between bridges 90 and 94/3. With little or no space for two boats to pass between boats moored on both sides, a hire boat and Kantara came head-to-head. Grace stopped her, but the other boat made no attempt even to slow, and rammed us head-on. Grace pulled over to starboard and leaned the boat against a moored craft, leaving just enough room for the other to pass. Instead, they made a good deal of fuss reversing as far as the junction, where there were no moored boats, and waited. Grace smiled and passed them.

We breasted up against Wells Fargo. Mike and Christine went for a walk around Braunston, and we waited for Carl, the "gasman". He arrived early, found the gas leak under the cooker, tightened the offending joint, and pressure-tested the system. All was well again. We moved the boat across the canal, to moor on the towing-path side. The weather was cloudy again, but mild and still; a pleasant evening.

Tuesday morning was beautiful, too; misty, with the sun breaking through very slowly.

We moved out of Braunston, went solo up the Braunston Flight in good time, with Christine and Mike locking. There was little traffic, and navigating the tunnel was similarly quick. 

We stopped for lunch just before Watford Locks, then had an hour's wait at the bottom before ascending at a good speed. It was a lovely, sunny afternoon. Mike did most of the driving again. Crick Tunnel was uneventful, and we arrived back at the marina in good time - our speed was such a contrast to what it had been on the shallow Ashby Canal! 116 miles and 34 locks.

On Wednesday morning, we said goodbye to Christine and Mike after a thoroughly enjoyable cruise with them. Thanks for joining us for a really good trip, guys! We had a great time.

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