Saturday, March 19, 2016

And we're off!

On Wednesday morning, the leak behind the Alde wasn't too bad, and we'd been running the Alde all night, to give it plenty of opportunity. Clearly, this is something that we'll have to get fixed, but for now, we had a small peppermint lozenge tin there to catch the drips, and we'd check on it from time to time. So now there was nothing to stop us. We set off at around 11:00 with various friends and other boaters waving us off, and several, no doubt, watching to see how well Grace steered us out of the marina exit in what was quite a strong cross-wind. She did it perfectly, and we moved off down the canal under a grey/blue (or was it blue/grey?) sky, the air chilly around our ears. It was great to be on the move again.

Crick Tunnel was unusually wet. Water falling from the roof, that is. We've just recently bought a dash-cam for the car, but I did have it in mind also to use it on the boat, and it was filming the whole of the day's trip from the inside of the front cratch window. Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me that the window would get wet as we went through the tunnel; consequently, there are drops of water in front of the lens in most of the film.

We were welcomed with an enthusiastic wave as we approached Watford Locks. John is a volunteer there, and has been for a few years, and we've got to know him quite well. He loves to stop for a chat. There was just one boat coming up the flight, and another following us, and the lockies were preparing ahead of us as far as they could, so our descent was fast. But it's so noisy here! When the Romans built Watling Street through what we now call the Watford Gap, they would have enjoyed peace and quiet on it. It would have been just as quiet when the canal was cut through, centuries later. The railway, not much later, wouldn't have been nearly as thunderous as it is modernly. But now we have the M1 as well! It's such a shame.

We had lunch on the fly. The boat was snug and warm inside, and it was tempting to stop and eat down there, but we wanted to reach a decent mooring sooner rather than later. It really was rather cold. Our plan was to moor just below Buckby Top Lock, a quiet spot we've used before.

We have a neat trick with the central heating system, something we discovered to be a by-product of the design, rather that part of it. The Bubble stove has a back boiler which feeds the radiators as well as the calorifier, where it heats water for our domestic taps. The calorifier is essentially a heat-exchanger, and this tank is fed with very hot water from the engine, too. It follows, then, that we can open the flow-valve for the Bubble, switch on its pump, and heat the radiators from the engine while we're on the move. This keeps the interior nicely warm without the need for burning gas or oil. Useful!

The fields to either side of us were dotted with hundreds of lambs, gambolling and frolicking as only lambs can. Something we'd not seen before was the numbering of the mother and her offspring, the same digits painted in blue on their sides. Clearly, some canny farmer has at last realized that all sheep look alike, and this is a way to make mother and offspring easily recognizable to each other.

There are a significant number of hire boats out, to our surprise. One Alvechurch boat approached us on a bend. There was plenty of room, but the poor guy at the helm wasn't sure what to do, and panicked. Grace had brought Kantara to a halt, but the other boat didn't even slow down. Nor did he turn the bend. He just kept going until he hit the bank very hard and bounced off, back to the middle of the channel. He and his wife looked rather embarrassed as we passed, but we greeted them with a cheerful “Good afternoon!”, and the skipper managed a smile.

Coming to the top of the Buckby flight, we descended the first lock alongside NB Kristie, but didn't continue with them beyond that, mooring instead just around the bend below the lock. It was an overcast, chilly evening, but we were out cruising at last, and very glad of it!

Thursday was altogether brighter, sunnier and warmer from the start. There were more boats on the move, we thought. I heard from a fellow boater the evening before that Stoke Bruerne Bottom Lock is being repaired, and won't be passable until some time on Saturday. This will slow our progress a bit, but it's a good place to spend time, so we won't mind. We continued our descent of Buckby Locks, solo all the way down, and I was glad to be doing the locking, and walking from lock to lock. It was warm and still. Daffodils lined the hedgerows and verges. Birdsong filled the air. Perfect.

The locks were straightforward enough until we came to the second to last one (don't remember what number that is). As the chamber emptied slowly, it became quite clear that neither of the sluices were fully closed, despite the paddles being right down. I checked them, just in case. The sluice in the wall on the towing-path side was the worst, but both continued to pour water into the chamber at such a pace that we didn't think it was going to empty enough for me to open the bottom gates. Eventually, it did, and Kantara made her way to the bottom lock.

The problem here was at least in part caused by the previous lock. I found the top gates closed, the chamber full, and the pound above it so full that water was pouring over the top gates into the chamber. Against that weight of water, I found it difficult to open the gates to let Kantara in. Once she was in, opening the bottom gate paddles started to lower the water in the lock. But then the lock above us, refilling from the faulty top paddles, started to overflow at an alarming rate. The level of that pound rose to the point that the water again started to overflow the top gates and refill the chamber. Kantara rose slowly, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I was joined by one of the crew from a pair of boats who were now in the faulty lock above. It took him a while to grasp the situation, and it was amusing to watch him try to open a bottom gate against a huge weight of water. The time came, though, when the level of the top pound had dropped enough for it to stop filling our lock, and allowing the water to fall again. The bottom paddles were fully open, remember.

All seemed fine at last. The two boats left the lock above us and chugged down to wait to enter our lock in their turn. The lock they'd left would have to fill up again before it could overflow the gates, reflood the pound below them, overflow our top gates and repeat the problem. All was well.

Until it became very obvious that the crew of those two boats had failed to close either of the bottom gates. So yet again, the water rushed over the top of our top gates and... you get the picture.

Eventually, after half an hour in the bottom lock, we escaped and continued a now lockless journey to a lovely mooring opposite some very grand houses just around the corner from Stowe Hill Wharf. It was a beautiful, mild evening.

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