Intent on getting to Yelvertoft today, we left Butcher's Bridge just after 8:00. Our exhaust emissions have been increasing day on day for the past week, blue and smelly. I had thought this would indicate worn piston rings, but the oil level's not dropping, and the engine starts without problem, so I guess that rules out piston rings. What it is eludes me. The smoke's been a real problem to Grace when she's been at the bottom of a lock, and the exhaust's had nowhere to go. And we had locks today, two flights of them. Grace wrapped a scarf around her face, and we started the locks.
Braunston Locks, six of them, double width, which we ascended solo. Then Watford Locks, five in a staircase with two normal locks below and one above. We know these well now, of course, and navigated them all in good time.
Braunston and Crick Tunnels supplied a good draught of air, which kept the exhaust fumes away from us, but the smoke was something of an embarrassment as we passed moored boats along the Crick Visitor Moorings, boats with their doors and windows open and people sitting on their decks. Profuse apologies were offered to all as we smoked past. One elderly boater who'd shared locks with us some time in the past said, "She wasn't smoking like that when I saw her last!" To which I answered, "She's never smoked like this before. She gave it up when she was young."
Back in the marina, Grace sped Kantara into her berth, and turned the engine off immediately. All was silent. Twelve boats from our pontoon are out on the cut. All around the marina, there are empty spaces. A tangible peace rests over the water.
Karen and Carol were the first to greet us. Nothing exciting had happened here while we were away, they said. Frank and Millie came to say hello, too.
We've had a great cruise. Been places we'd never before been to, seen all sorts of new things, met loads of people, had challenges and overcome them. Enjoyed nearly all of it. It was a lot of fun. But there was something good about being back, too. We realized that having deadlines to meet - at Liverpool and at Pelsall - had put pressure on us, and we couldn't be as relaxed as we would have wanted. Next year, we said, we'll not impose any deadlines, any schedules upon our cruising. We'll just go, and be, and do as we choose, one day at a time.
We'd been out for 71 days. We travelled 452 miles, and been through 242 locks, 44 moveable bridges and 23 tunnels.
Now, we prepare for two visits from friends, all of whom we'll take out for a few days. Before then, we have to cure the smoking engine, wash and clean the boat inside and out, get the washing machine fixed, and probably get the packing in the stern gland replaced. In a relaxed sort of way!