We spent a few days at home and cleared the boat as much as possible, ready to be transported. We still needed to tackle the washing machine, of course, which involved a good deal of heaving and shoving and a lot of ferrying back and forth.
With only a few millimetres to spare, getting the old one up the companionway to the rear deck was quite tricky, even with the two of us. Then it was too wide to go through the gap in the stern rail so we still had to lift it up, chest high, over the rail and onto the pontoon. From there we could at least get it precariously balanced on a sack barrow to move it to the car park, before heaving it into the back of the car.
COVID has even made life more difficult here, as we couldn't just take it to the dump directly. The tips are open at least but you have to make an appointment days ahead, only one person is allowed out of the car and the staff are not allowed to assist you in any way. With no slots available before we needed to leave we had to take it home and offload it into the garage there, which gave me a chance to practice manhandling it out of the boot and onto the barrow all on my own. Difficult but just about doable and a bit easier once I had dismantled it and removed the big concrete blocks bolted inside.
The new machine was delivered to the house, as arranged. Being smaller and a little lighter it was slightly easier to handle but it is still amazing how heavy these appliances are. We got it up to the boat and in position. As far as the fitting was concerned we only had one issue. The outlet hoses are connected right inside the carcase of the machine. You are expected to never disconnect it and only direct where it discharges its waste at the other end. In our case the outlet hose on the old machine was secured to a skin fitting in the hull which was completely inaccessible. Our only sensible option was to cut through the hose on the old machine and join the new and old hoses together with a connector and a couple of jubilee clips. A tense, anxious test run didn't show any leaks so fingers crossed that bodge will hold up.
Having completed preparations on the Sunday we had to get to Whilton Marina by Thursday evening for an early morning lift out on Friday. It isn't far, a couple of days at the most, so we planned to leave on Tuesday to give ourselves a day in hand. We had, of course, planned how we would take the car with us, so we could drive home once we left the boat. Monday, then, was a good opportunity to go and meet Sue's sister and brother-in-law for lunch at a rendezvous on neutral ground half way between their home in Cambridge and ours in Warwickshire.
On a fine, sunny day, travelling up a long, straight, clear, dry country road, we were suddenly confronted with a silver Volkswagon pulling straight out of a minor crossroad into our path. There was time to swerve a little, avoiding smashing straight into his passenger's door, before we mounted the corner, crashed through an iron fence and landed in a field with the fence embedded in the bottom of the car, the inflated air bags in our faces and the horn jammed on full blast for several minutes. No lunch, then and a bit of thinking to do about our travel plans for the next day.
The ambulance came and gave everyone a clean bill of health, the police came and insisted on arranging the recovery of the vehicles themselves and the insurance company took the details. Bracken didn't seem to notice except there were a lot of new people around for her to jump on. Good news, though, while we stood around in the smoking ruins for an hour or two and waited for everyone to do their thing it wasn't raining!
Eventually, the nice policemen, each aged thirteen and threequarters, took us back to their nick in Daventry, from where we caught a taxi home. Once there, we booked the ever-reliable John's Cars to collect us and take us to the boat the next morning so that we could start our journey as planned.
Back To The Start
The trip down was the reverse of the maiden voyage eighteen months ago, when the boat was first delivered to Whilton Marina to be craned in.
Tuesday was a lovely, sunny day all day. A really nice, straightforward cruise for about four hours, to moor half way up Braunston Locks, was only slightly marred by trying to organise the temporary replacement car, given that we weren't at home to receive it. In the end we tied up all the paperwork on the move and they agreed to deliver it to us at The Admiral Nelson in Braunston, just below where we were moored. We agreed a time about an hour later than we calculated we should be arriving there. We stayed on schedule so, as they then actually delivered the car an hour early, that worked out perfectly! Time for a couple of pints and an evening meal, dining out to help out, in the evening sun.
Wednesday was miserable. Dull when we woke up, it started raining before nine. Waiting it out until eleven just meant that it had got a lot heavier. We wanted to make some ground, so we tackled the last three locks and I took the boat through the tunnel while Sue and Bracken took the car to meet me up at Norton junction. By that time, one and a half hours after we started out, we had had quite enough and moored up for lunch and the rest of the day. The continuing rain did give me a chance to drive over to Northampton, where they had taken the pieces of our own car, to retrieve various items of personal property from the wreckage before it disappeared into the system forever. No-one who saw it thought for a moment that it would ever be coming back.
COVID 19 - Disaster or Dividend?
Clearly, having their businesses locked down from late March to early July must have hit the boat hire business hard. In particular they will have missed quite a bit of trade in the Easter holidays. Having said that, in recent years, we have found that when we pass the hire fleet bases at least a third of their fleet seems to be lying idle, sometimes a lot more. Since general navigation was allowed in July we haven't seen the canals as busy in years. Some of this is pent up cruising from private owners who lost half their summer season but every boat in every hire fleet seems to be out on the cut. Looking at their websites prices also seem to have enjoyed some bumper inflation. It does make you wonder if the final year's accounts will show that 2020 was a terrible bust or a bit of a boom.
To judge by some of the interesting sights we have seen there are some people, who presumably (ahem) missed the boat, who have chosen to make up their own flotation vessels:
The Last Leg
Against this booming backdrop, Thursday was much nicer and in consequence was very busy.
We set out fairly early, for us but still found a traffic jam at Buckby Top Lock, just around the bend. We hovered around for a bit and soon enough we were paired up with "Dragon Lady", a liveaboard couple with a permanent mooring in Gayton Marina, to drop down the next seven locks. The hire boat in front, turned out to be surprisingly slow. For some reason large numbers of crew, all eagerly helping to work the locks, equated to slower passage than just two of us but it was pleasant enough, waiting in the sunshine, chatting about this and that. We made steady progress but this turned out to be our slowest transit of this flight ever (yes, we do keep a record!).
The only issue this morning was the rising wind, which forecasters had warned would be gusting at fifty to sixty miles an hour by midday. Arriving at the bottom of the last lock about ten to twelve it was clear they were, for once, quite accurate. The entrance to the marina is just beyond the locks so we let "Dragon Lady" go first, to let them get out of the way, so we had a clear run to turn across the canal and try to manoeuvre onto a berth inside.
By road, Whilton Marina was barely five minutes from where we had moored. On Wednesday afternoon, on the way back from Northampton in the rain, I had called in there to check what we should do when we arrived. I half expected some blank looks and head-scratching but no, they knew exactly who we were and why we were coming in and when the truck was expected to be there. That Whilton were efficient and helpful was not a surprise but I was relieved that Aintree also seemed to be on the ball. Dave had even rung me from there specially to confirm that we would have the boat in on time.
We had had to keep a few things on board for the trip this week and various loose items of equipment had to be on the boat on the way down as well. Having tied up, after a nice lunch in the sun at the Whilton Marina café, I headed up to get the hire car from where we had left it at Norton junction and we spent an hour or so clearing everything out or tying it down. Then we left the boat there and went home for the night, leaving the keys with the marina office in case we didn't make it back in time in the morning.
We wanted to be back to see her taken out, if only out of curiosity. Everyone had consistently said the transport would be there for the crane-out between eight and nine o'clock so we set the alarms and dragged ourselves over there for just after eight on Friday morning. When we arrived the whole site was deserted. No-one in the office, no-one in the workshops or dry docks and no truck. As we waited by the boat the weather was constantly changing from grey, to sunny, to soaking wet. The one constant was the wind, which was even stronger in gusts than yesterday. We wondered if it might make them think twice about suspending an eighteen tonne narrowboat from a crane and I certainly resolved that I would let them do the driving across the open water of the marina.
A few people began to arrive about nine, another truck arrived and left with someone else's boat and it all went quiet again. Finally, just as we had decided we needed to leave, the truck arrived, so we stood back and kept out of the way as the scene suddenly burst into life. In twenty minutes the boat was out of the water and on the flat bed, our first view of the underside and propeller for eighteen months. We had set up a video camera to film the whole thing so we didn't take any photos. Sadly, on playing it back we found there was no footage. Perhaps we'll try again on the way back in, then.
Despite a layer of green slime it looked remarkably sound. We couldn't see any nicks or dents on the prop and the hull below the waterline seemed to have fewer scars than above. The main thing of note was that the anodes, sacrificial lumps of magnesium bolted on to the hull. They absorb galvanic corrosion from stray electrical currents in the water which reduces the impact on the steel hull but they then have to be replaced every few years. Ours are already quite corroded so we need to keep an eye on their future progress.
A few minutes later, for the second time this week, we watched an expensive and precious asset disappear on the back of a lorry. Hopefully, this one should be back!