Sunday, July 23, 2017

Home from home?

Ever since moving onto Kantara, I've looked upon the house as being our home from home ("a place where one is as happy, relaxed, or comfortable as in one's own home" - Oxford Dictionary) although the longer we were on the boat, the more I found Kantara to be the most comfortable. But the way this year's been going, I've been feeling that I'm homeless, bouncing between the boat and the house the way we have been, without any sense of being settled.

Last Thursday was the start of our second consecutive week in St Albans, and we're here until at least Friday of this week. Looking after the garden and Naomi and Eddie's cat, Samson, while they were on holiday has been simple enough, and we were glad to do it. I love being in the garden, so watering, weeding and eating some of the produce was great.

It's my numptiness, which resulted in us having various routine appointments this week instead of last week, that has delayed our return to the boat for the additional week. What we do once we're back is undecided. I think we're beyond the idea of planning anything. What we do know is that Roy and Lee will be with us on Monday to replace the perished engine hoses that the CRT man identified... whenever that was; time at the moment is even more elusive than normal. We know that painting has to be done on the boat. We know that Christine, Mike and Dorothy will be joining us on September 9th for a couple of weeks of faring. I know I have to finish my second "Feet" book. Soon.

Apart from that, don't ask me!

It was good to get out of the house yesterday, and get a bit of a break. We visited the boat, and spent a mere ten minutes aboard while we collected a bunch of things that would make the coming week a bit more productive. We then drove to Claydon, in Bucks, a National Trust property we'd not seen before, then, after a few hours there, on to Goring in Oxforshire, to pick up Jess after an afternoon gig there. The driving in itself was really pleasant, the journeys largely very rural,

I won't go into the details of Grace's laptop computer dying on her last week, and the very-near-loss of all of her files. If I did, you'd think we were feeling sorry for ourselves! (Only a bit, honest!)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Limping back...

I didn't mention that when we broke down on Saturday, a group of women came along the towing-path and immediately showed great concern over our plight. I was just stealing myself to launch off the side of the boat, over tall stinging nettles and onto an invisible bank at the time. After my breathtaking jump and perfect landing, I looked up into the face of Jane. Jane and her husband Michael are old friends from when we lived in St Albans. Michael was our minister at the Baptist church there, but had left to go to Poland to teach in 2005, and returned four years later to take up the pastorate of Rugby Baptist Church, where we met up again in 2012. They live in Hillmorton, quite close to the place where we broke down.

Jane and her friends, having been assured that there really was nothing they could do to help, apart from telling us the nearest road bridge for the RCR man to drive to, went on their way. Later, I got a FB message from Michael offering us whatever help we might need; beds for the night, for example.

" I suspect this is not like calling out the AA?" he asked.

"RCR arrived quickly, the problem was sorted out, and we were on the move within a couple of hours." I replied. " It really is very much like calling out the AA - only wetter!!"

It had been a nice coincidence.

Talking of coincidences...

It was later that day, while we were moored and recovering, that Michelle and I had our "Hippocampus" moment. Do read about it if you haven't already! We're still amazed.

On Sunday morning, with Grace and Michelle still in a lot of pain, we carried on to Hillmorton Locks, which we ascended solo, though with a bit of help from a vollie at the bottom lock. We moored above the Admiral Nelson lock at Braunston. Another light day.

Sunday had been hot and sunny. Just the three Braunston locks had been a sweltering experience. Monday was cooler. We finished the locks in tandem with NB Mister E,

did the tunnel in style and a lot of drips, turned left at Norton Junction

and ran into a hold-up at Watford Locks.

The 45 minutes was enough time for us to have a bite to eat, after which Michelle got out to do the locking on this final flight. The rest of the journey was frustratingly slowed by a boat in front of us which was travelling so slowly that even our tick-over speed was too fast. He was well aware of us, but made no attempt to let us past for ages. Sorry, but, in the circumstances, we were a bit annoyed. Eventually, he stopped for us, and apologised as we overtook.

"I only go slow", he said.

Back at Yelvertoft, we had a very welcome dinner at The Wheatsheaf, and Michelle drove back home on Tuesday morning. We all agreed that, despite the injuries and break-down, we'd had a really good time together.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Getting hotter....

It was but a short taste of the Ashby, but Michelle loved it, so it was worth it. The next morning, we winded just after Basin Bridge and headed back whence we'd come. Michelle's knee was a bit better now, but our thoughts of visiting Coventry were dashed when Grace stepped into a space which had previously not been occupied by the end of the tiller and now was. She'd almost certainly cracked her rib, and was in a lot of pain.

It soon became clear that this was going to slow our return to Yelvertoft. There would be things that Grace normally did from the stern that she couldn't do now, so I was going to have to do those as well as my normal routines at the bow - handling stern and centre lines, stern mooring, closing lock gates, that sort of stuff. And she'd need to lie down and rest from time to time, too. Then Michelle twisted her getting-better knee, and that ruled her out of doing too much as well. Coventry was struck off the itinerary.

We carried on to Hawkesbury, filled up with water, and went looking for a mooring. There wasn't the smallest space available this time, so we moved on another mile to Caters Bridge 11, moored, and lazed and watched Wimbledon for the rest of the afternoon.

At this point, my photos become scarce. I guess my attention was on the injured crew now.

The next day, after a bad night's sleep, Grace's ribs were worse, and so was Michelle's knee. We would have to shorten each day's trip now, to allow time for them to rest. Fortunately, Michelle had the whole of the following week off work, so there was no hurry for her to get back.

Continuing through Ansty (why can't boats moor there??) and Stretton Stop, we moored again at Easenhall Bridge 34. Lunch, rest, Wimbledon. Sun, peace and quiet.

Down in the engine compartment, I noticed that the bilge water below the stern gland was deeper than it ought to have been. I'd been pumping it out daily, and that was fine, but I really needed to tighten the gland nuts a little to slow the drip. Also, there was a small amount of coolant in the bilges. I was aware of it, and watching to see if it increased. And we were both keeping an eye on the temperature gauge, too, but I couldn't find where the water had come from, so there was nothing else I could do but monitor the situation.

This decision was to backfire on me later.

We were alarmed by a boat that was reversing in to moor behind us. Not that the reversing was a problem, but rather that there was a very loud bang from the boat, and its engine stopped abruptly. I hopped out to help them back up to the bank. They didn't know what had caused the noise, but thought it might have been a log caught in the propeller. That could be very difficult to remove!

But they must have done it fairly quickly, because they left the mooring the next day, quite some time before us. Newbold Tunnel next, a lovely, sunny day, and a beautiful canal. We were pleased to see Nikki and Ralph on NB Miner Bill coming in the opposite direction, fellow tweeps whose boat we've seen more than once before, but whom we've never met. The meeting was brief, of course, but it's always good to see the faces of Twitter or Facebook friends.

At Newbold Quarry Park, we stopped. We'd been meaning to visit for years. There's no real mooring for boaters who want to visit this park, but we managed, with the help of passing boats that lifted us aground in their haste. Michelle and I wandered through the park for a while, very pleasant but nothing special. We were glad we spent the time there, though.

After lunch, we drove on to Rugby. Michelle sat and read under the shade of a tree while Grace and I did a quick shop at Tesco. Just 20 minutes after we left that spot, an alarm sounded from our gauges panel. The engine was overheating. Both of us had failed to check the temperature since Newbold. Grace steered Kantara into the reeds on the bank, and turned off the engine. Mooring was a challenge. The bank was badly, unevenly eroded, so there was no straight edge. Additionally, there were reeds and weeds galore that hid the water's edge very effectively. There was nothing for it - I had to jump! With the centre line in my hand, I launched myself as far as I could towards the towing path.

I landed on solid ground. Mooring pins had to be driven in amongst stinging nettles and other offensive plants, but a fairly secure mooring was made. There was no getting off for Michelle or Grace, however, so down came the gangplank from the roof - the first time it'd ever been used. Now I had to check the engine. It was hot! But there was really nothing I could see to suggest the reason for the overheating. The pool of coolant in the bilges was not significantly bigger. The water level in the header tank was fine. The domestic hot water wasn't hot, the skin tank was cold, and the filler cap had blown off the header-tank. I could only think that the water pump had gone. Time to call in RCR.

Steve the RCR man arrived within 40 minutes. He discovered fairly quickly that the fan-belt was loose, so the pump wasn't being turned. I was almost right, then. I pointed out to him that the belts had been checked by the RCR man who'd done the annual service back in November. Steve tutted.
He then discovered that the caps for the radiator and the header tank had been swapped, so the pressure cap was on the header tank and the simple cap was on the radiator. This explained to Steve, though not to me, why the header tank was still full. I shrugged. The RCR man had removed the caps back in November, I told him. Steve tutted. What was the name of the idiot who made these mistakes? I went in and got him the paperwork for that job. Steve looked at the signature.

"Oh!" he said, rather alarmed "That was me!"

Embarrassment ensued.

To his credit, having discovered the fan-belt tension issue, Steve then investigated the coolant leakage, and found that the rubber hose feeding the calorifier with hot water from the engine was split. I'd not found that when I was checking for the leak. He cut off the end of the hose with the split in it, refitted the good(ish) bit, refilled the system, tested it all for some time, and urged me to get the in and out hoses to the calorifier replaced. With that, he made his merry way back to his van half a mile up the towing path.

We moved on a short distance to a decent mooring, grateful for the work done.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Ashby Canal in fab weather

Fab weather is what we awoke to on Wednesday, and fab weather is what we had all day long. Michelle's knee wasn't sufficiently recovered for her to do much walking, so we decided against going to Coventry, turned right out of Hawkesbury Junction onto the Coventry Canal, and set off towards the delightful Ashby Canal.

We'd been warned that the water was unusually shallow there. Would we get far? we wondered. It would have been good if we could trip down to Coventry on our way back, Michelle's knee allowing. Time wasn't critical, so it was a matter of wait-and-see.

The boatyard at Bedworth looked tidier than usual. There was definitely less junk there, and more intact boats that looked as though they were there for work to be done on them. The dressed mannequins that line the bank were fewer, and less of a feature.

Marston Junction, and the start of the Ashby. We were a little dismayed to see the Norwegians turning in ahead of us, but we passed them later as they pulled over to moor. Travel might well have been even slower if we'd ended up behind them!

The canal was shallow, though we didn't think it was more so than usual, and it made passing oncoming boats difficult at times. Bank effect was a frequent occurrence. But it was all very beautiful, peaceful, serene. Lots of boaters were enjoying it with us.

We stopped before Bridge 3 for a relaxed lunch.

And at the end of the day, we moored below Basin Bridge 22. The only disturbance was the distant barking of dog kennels.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

A conversation with Paul

Paul’s curious. "So why do you like living on a boat so much? I mean, not many people choose to do it, do they?"

Where do I start? I pause a moment to think, to sort out the major from the minor.

"Well, the pace of life has got a lot to do with it," I tell him. "Time changes when you're on the water. We have a clock that only tells us what day it is. Hours and minutes don't mean so much. And when boaters say "Good morning" to you, it's not necessarily because it’s morning, but simply because they haven't had lunch yet. We cruise at less than four miles an hour. We do everything at a leisurely pace."

He makes to speak again, but hesitates, so I continue.

"But it's not just that. The boat itself makes a lovely home. And she's got character. Most houses have numbers. Boats have names. And gender!"

He butts in now, pulling a face that suggests doubt. "A lovely home? Really? But it's so small! So cramped!"

I smile. I understand the objection. "But you know, Paul, she's perfectly big enough for just Grace and me. She has all we need for a very comfortable life. OK, it's a rather more minimalist lifestyle than yours, and more than we used to have, too, but that's not a bad thing. It's actually very liberating in a number of ways. We don't accumulate a lot of "stuff". We have everything we need, and just a few things that are simply good to have around but aren't essential. There's no clutter, and no attic full of things that haven't seen the light of day for years. Waste is minimized. Recycling and repurposing become natural."

Paul doesn't look convinced, but says, "OK..." I pause, but only for effect. There’s no stopping me. I could talk about boat life for weeks.

"And then there's the actual boating. The travelling. Taking our home with us to visit different places. And it's not the being there that's most important. It's the journey itself. It's not like being in a car, where the journey is just the means to the end – the arrival at your destination. We wake up in a different place most mornings. We park our home each day in beautiful countryside, tiny villages, or in busy towns and cities."

"That sounds good", he says.

"I think you've only seen a few stretches of canal, Paul. You should see more. They're wide, they're narrow, they’re straight and they’re winding. They cut through farmland, woodland, moorland, meadow and pasture, through hills and on the sides of valleys. They're overhung by trees, or they give us wide vistas across broad valleys to distant hills. They take us through industrial areas, major cities – pretty much every kind of environment you can find in the UK."

I pause for breath, and Paul gets a moment. I think he's beginning to understand.

"I suppose you get to see a lot of wildlife, don't you?"

"Oh yes! We’re very close to nature all of the time. We see, hear and smell her. Birds – ducks and geese, of course, and swans. Coots and moorhens, too. Grebes and cormorants, gulls and terns, herons, buzzards, kestrels, red kites, owls, swallows and martins, reed buntings, reed warblers, robins, tits, chaffinches... " I've run out, though I'm sure there must be more I could name. Most of the common garden species, for a start.


"Yes, and kingfishers, though not nearly as often as we'd like. And the animals – cows, sheep, horses, pigs, donkeys, deer, foxes, rabbits..." I tail off. I've seen lots of those tiny, fast-scurrying creatures, too. Probably voles, but difficult to identify. I don't mention them.

"Even alpacas and water buffalo!" I add.

Paul laughs. “Really??”

"Yes, really! And travelling as slowly as we do gives us so much time to appreciate all the plants, flowers and trees, too. To watch them through the seasons, to enjoy their reflections in the water, and the way the sky and the sun play in them, too. Sunsets on the canal can be truly astounding."

He nods. He's seen my photos.

"Don't forget the people on the canals, though", I continue. We meet some really lovely folk. And yes, of course there are lovely folk everywhere, but on the water we have so much in common with each other. And people are far more relaxed, too. We have time to stop and chat, and that's not often true away from the water.

Paul nods again, considering. He says nothing. I think he's expecting me to say more, but he's got the picture, so I'm silent, too.

"You know what, Roger?”

“What, Paul?”

“I think you ought to write a book about it."

I smile, and reach down for my Kindle. "Well, actually, Paul…"