Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The day before the festival, and things are hotting up!

Friday morning at Pelsall, and a sunny sky greeted us. The sun shone brightly as more boats arrived, more campers, more traders and other exhibitors. A steward arrived with a festival brochure for us, which includes a full programme. We were going to be having fun!

As we wandered around the site, we saw a number of boaters decorating their craft with bunting, flags, lights. We didn't know about this tradition, but we were glad to see we weren't the only ones. Many of the stalls were soon ready for trade – craftwork of all sorts, clothing, boating bits, bric-a-brac, food and confectionery. We registered our presence at the IWA tent, in exchange for which we were given a goodies-bag, and wristbands for admission into the evening events. Then we went into the village to buy food, and patronized the charity shop, buying some DVDs, and books for Grace, who gets through books at an incredible rate.

After lunch, I got down into the engine compartment and finished cleaning up the oily, dieselly mess in the bilges. It was good to be rid of it. The smell was hanging on for too long, and it wasn't pleasant. I found a mystery object under the engine, looking strangely new, yet clearly nothing to do with the work done down there recently. I couldn't imagine that the engine would be running so smoothly if it were something that had dropped off. I took a photo of it, and sent it to Ian for identification. He came back later with a reply that he had no idea what it was. And he's had 30 years' experience of engines!
As I write, a man in a neighbouring boat is singing Fiddlers' Green in a dull, tuneless voice. I'm hoping he's not going to be taking part in the open mic event on Sunday evening. He really ought to listen to Said the Maiden's version.

At 7:00, we went to collect our supper, which we'd paid for in advance when we booked. It was a “special”, prepared for boaters by one of the catering companies on site throughout the weekend – faggot in gravy, with mushy peas, and potatoes baked in duck fat. Absolutely delicious, washed down with a pint of porter for me, and scrumpy for Grace. We sat and chatted with Janet and Stephen, and swapped stories. They'd arrived in a camper van. Lots of people have, and there's a good number in tents, too. It's good to see just how many non-boaters there are.

From 8:00 till 11:00, there was a quiz. The four of us joined another couple to make up a team at a table in the events marquee. Tony and Enid are boaters, been on the canals for 25 years.

We've been to better quizzes. Three of the six rounds were about canals, so those who weren't boaters were seriously disadvantaged. One round was all about the Olympic Games, and none of us had been particularly interested in them. So we did badly. But it was all a bit of a laugh, and we enjoyed meeting new people. And the porter and cider were excellent – and only £2.50 a pint, too!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Pelsall Bound

Thursday started misty and mysterious. The canal was peaceful, and everything smelled damp and perfumed. We set off for Sneyd Junction with time to spare. We needed to use the services there, as well as meeting Ian.

The beauty of this canal is different from that of all the others we know. It's lined on both sides with reeds and rushes, and lilies yellow, white and pink. The countryside stretches are wooded with occasional parkland. On this misty morning, the colours are many subtle shades of green and brown with highlights of purple and yellow.

Ian arrived shortly after we'd pulled in at Sneyd Junction services. He identified the leaky fuel problem, and out it right fairly quickly. He told us some tales, too! Then off we went again, Pelsall-bound.
Old working boat and butty on their way to the festival
There is problem with all of the plant life, in that it makes the channel so very narrow. Fortunately, we only met one boat in the miles before Pelsall (and that was in bridge-hole!), but this canal is single file only, with passing places. And the reeds grow in clumps, and these break up with time and motion, sending islands of the stuff floating away across the water. Add to that the cast-offs of the locals – wood, tyres, shopping trolleys, carrier bags, a door, two windows and a toilet seat, then navigation becomes a slow slalom, made slower by the shallowness of the water. My full-time occupation is to keep an eye out for hazards on the starboard side while Grace watches to port, and there are frequent shouts of “Island ahead, skipper!”, or “Watch out for the crocodile!” (codeword for any Unidentified Floating Object). 

But frankly, the visual experience of the Wyrley is well worth the annoyance of the rubbish in the water, a huge tangle of which I had to remove from the propeller, and another mess of which got sucked into the bow-thruster. Fortunately, it got thrust out again later.

It had started to rain, and this became very heavy as we arrived at Pelsall Common. We moored at the first available space, and were soon attended by the “Harbour Master”, who directed us to our designated space right next to the main common area, breasted up outside NB Valiant No. 7, owned by a very friendly Sue and Trevor.

We were drenched. Lots of boaters were, but there was already a good festival feeling, a joviality that boaters have in the rain.

A week ago, we were afraid that we were going to have to miss the festival because of the time we lost, broken down in Audlem. But here we are now, a day early!

The Wolverhampton Flight

We had intended to start early today, to get to the Wolverhampton Flight and complete its 21 locks before lunch. And also to avoid as many other users as possible. But we overslept, and didn't leave our mooring until 9:00. There were very few other boats around. A good sign, we thought.

There was an old boat moored under the M54 bridge, and all sorts of tools and boxes and unidentifiable stuff stood on the concrete bank next to it. We passed slowly, as one does, and were startled by a very loud, deep voice in some alien language. A troll under the bridge, surely? And this thought was supported by the appearance from the boat of a huge hulk of a man, who walked down its length towards us. He bellowed again, totally unintelligibly, and stood and watched us retreat. We sped off, listening for strains of “I'm a troll, fol-de-rol, and I'll eat you for supper!”

Bridge 4, Pendleford Bridge, marked the start of an urban scene. The graffiti said it colourfully. Drab factories spread out to our left, and a noisy road ran alongside to the right.

It's 4½ miles from the fantasy-sounding Brewood to our right turn at Autherly Junction, and after another ½ mile, we took a sharp left turn at Aldersly Junction, bringing us immediately to the bottom lock of the Wolverhampton Flight. We waited for a boat ahead of us to go through the lock. Another boat waited behind us. So much for avoiding other boats!

The crew of the boat ahead alerted me to the need for the anti-vandal key at each of these locks, and I suggested that they leave the...

OK, this is going to get complicated! We now have two very different types of lock. The wet kind with gates that we use to ascend the canal, and the type with a key (in this case, the anti-vandal key) which is used to stop vandals from raising the paddles and flooding the place. To avoid confusion, the Locks which fill with water will be spelled with capital “L”. The other type will have a lower-case “l”. Sorted!

The crew of the boat ahead alerted me to the need for the anti-vandal key at each of these Locks, and I suggested that they leave the locks open for me, since I was going to be so close behind them. I, too, would leave them open for the boat behind us, and that crew would decide whether or not to leave them, too. There was no sign of another boat at the time. As it happened, the young lady doing the Locks took it into her head to close all of the locks next to which there was a sign reminding her to do so. This was almost invariably at one of the top paddles and one of the bottom ones – half of the locks! Over the total 21 Locks, it slowed me down, and the boat behind who had to wait for me.

The Locks went easily enough otherwise, and they took us 4 hours. There were occasional delays while we waited for another boat to descend the next Lock above us, and I had to empty almost every one for Kantara to empty. And it follows that the woman from the boat behind us had to do the same. But the locals were friendly, the boaters all in high spirits because of he weather. Lots of those coming down the flight spoke of meeting several others on their way to Pelsall.

 Three old guys sat at the side of one Lock, talking loudly and with considerable animation. All of them were recovering alcoholics, boasting with great pride how long they'd been “dry”, and encouraging each other to keep it up and never look back.

Three young men at Top Lock sat drinking cans of Coke and discussing what I first took to be philosophy, or perhaps advanced maths. I was impressed.

“What you have to do,” said one, “is decide how many unknowns there are, and then determine the time factors involved.”

In the minutes it took me to see Kantara up through the Lock, it became apparent to me that they were, in fact, talking about a computer game. It was the “And there's one that has hands like huge crab's claws, and it rips your head off if you don't get it right” that gave it away.

Sirens welcomed us into Wolverhampton. Sirens and flashing blue lights. We hurried on out towards the countryside again, to find somewhere to moor, to eat – we'd only had a piece of cake since yesterday's evening meal – to drink, and to spend the night.

Turning left onto the Wyrley and Essington Canal (aka the Curly Wyrley) we hoped to find a mooring soon. The canal was worryingly unkempt. We wondered at first if we'd wandered onto some disused backwater out of which we'd soon have to reverse. It's badly overgrown, it has narrow passes barely wide enough for a narrowboat because of that overgrowth, and it's appallingly littered.

There were three official Visitor Moorings. The first was very clean and tidy, but offered no form of security, was far too close for comfort next to a multiplex cinema and a MacDonald's, and had no other boats there. The second was very secure but unapproachable because of too-shallow water and too-numerous shopping trolleys. At the third, locals had added their own colourful comments to the RCR signage.

Back in the countryside now, lilies, rushes and reeds made the banks impossible for mooring, beautiful though they were. But eventually, far later than we'd hoped, we found a lovely, remote spot east of the Adam and Eve Bridge. Eight hours after we set out, we tied up for the night.

I phoned Ian Skoyles. Fuel was still leaking from the injectors. He agreed to meet us at 10:00 the next morning at Sneyd Junction, to fix the problem.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A day of sun and scenery

I checked the engine first thing this morning, as I usually do. There was no new gunk in the engine, the oil level was fine, but there were signs of fuel leakage from the injectors. It's not serious, but not desirable, either. I cautiously applied a spanner to each of the appropriate nuts, and did tighten some a tad. But there are copper pipes involved, soft metal, so I don't want to risk buckling one of them.

It was a day of sun and scenery. Being on the move again was wonderful. It was a week ago today that we broke down. Our enjoyment today was marred a little by having to trail behind some very slow boats. We don't speed. 3 mph is fine for us, but NB Sandpiper was just crawling along at lazy duck speed. I think there might have been problems with the boat, so I'm not unsympathetic, and eventually they did move over to let us pass.
Later, it was NB Hare (sic) of the Dog which headed a very slow convoy past about a mile of moored boats. Now, passing slowly is the polite thing to do, but he was going so slowly that Grace had to keep bringing Kantara to a halt to avoid collision. With the boat name in mind, we thought the slow, weaving passage of Hare of the Dog might have an alcoholic explanation. Eventually, he moored up, and the rest of us passed him gratefully.

In one of the beautiful narrow, wooded cuts, we spotted from a distance some kind of problem on the canal. There was a confusion of boats, apparently congregated together, stationary and pointing in both directions. We pulled over when we reached them, and discovered that a large tree had fallen across the canal. It was 12:00, and the first boat to be stopped by it had been waiting since 9:30. CRT staff had arrived very quickly, with chain saws and other tools, and had been working hard to cut the tree up and move it out of the way. In fact, they'd just finished, and needed only to remove the larger pieces of wood out of the water so that boats could pass safely. We didn't have to wait long, and the mess of about a dozen boats sorted itself out and we all went on our ways again.

This really is a beautiful canal. I've said it before, I know. The variety of scenery is striking. New to us are the long stretches of dark and narrow, deep cuttings, wooded on both sides and beautifully dappled by the sun. Sheer cliffs loom above us. Cowley Tunnel had originally been 690 yards long, cut out of solid rock, but all but 81 yards of it had to be opened up early in its construction because of faults in that rock. What an amazing bit of engineering, though!
It had been a longish day. After the single lock at Wheaton Aston, we moored at Brewood, ate at The Bridge Inn, and had an early night.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Back on the move again!

Monday, and we're moving on again – at last! Two final locks took us off the Audlem Flight, and Kantara chugged her way happily through them, though she was emitting more exhaust than usual. It's to be expected, Ian had told us, and it could continue for some days. It's pretty bad for Grace when she's down in a lock, because the smoke has nowhere to go until the boat's risen to the top where it gets blown away by any breeze.
Shortly after those locks, we were climbing the Adderly Locks, five of them, then on through more, beautiful countryside. At Market Drayton, we stopped for full services (sigh of relief! - we were very short of water), then moved on a few hundred yards to a visitor mooring where we munched our lunch, and restocked our fridge at a nearby Asda.

Tyrley Locks were next, very similar to the previous flights – not very deep, and with culverts emptying excess water from above the lock out into the pound below, causing strong currents, and making entry to the lock a challenge each time.

Within a mile of Tyrley Top Lock, the canal enters a deep cutting. There's a warning as you enter that there's a danger of falling rocks (they don't mention trees, but there's a very real and present danger of some of these falling, too), and a directive not to exceed 2 mph. Another interesting feature is that most of this mile or so is only wide enough for one boat, with passing places for those awkward moments!

We moored at Goldstone Bridge, the Shroppie Ledge being a hindrance to us for the first time. There's a lot of craft here.
Interesting mooring!

We've done 22 lock miles today! If we keep up this pace, we'll still get to the IWA Festival!