New Coat For Old
When we waved her off on the lorry on 21st August “Parting Shot” was expected to be gone for two weeks. To be honest we assumed that would probably become three. In the end, it was six weeks before we were back at Whilton Marina waiting for her to arrive to be craned back into the water. That delay was frustrating in itself, the steady ticking by of a gorgeous Indian Summer through the month of September rubbed salt into the wound, the return of heavy rain and fierce winds buffeting the car as we awaited her arrival made it worse still and arriving two hours late, with no explanation or update information on their whereabouts in the meantime, was a final turn of the screw.
Nevertheless, the wagon arrived and the boat was back in the water within about twenty minutes. It has to be said that Aintree seem to have been as good as their word, All the paintwork, including the roof, hull and blacking have been re-done and she looks like new again. The sign-writing has been reinstated on the new paintwork and while we can spot a couple of differences here and there, no-one else would ever know. All this and we have not been asked to pay a penny. Perhaps that is as it should be but we did wonder if that might be a sting in the tail. In fact, the only down side is that we are each now terrified of being the first to scratch the new paintwork!
Stocking And Snagging
To prepare the boat we had removed everything we thought was perishable, breakable or valuable. We didn’t do enough, however, as everything left on board had fallen over or flown out of the cupboards in transit and one or two breakables we had missed had been exposed, mainly by breaking. Despite the fact that they had not removed the window frames a fine black dust had seeped its way in and covered every surface and as we went around checking things out there were a few things we could see needed fixing. Overall, then, there was quite a lot to do to put everything back on board, re-stock with food and drink and fix the niggles. Fortunately Whilton were happy for us to stay on their pontoon over the weekend, which also gave us electricity and water on tap.
Storm Alex wasn’t very helpful and we spent a good part of Saturday morning looking for anything we could do inside in the hope the weather would blow over. In the end, though, the outside tasks had to be done, rain or no rain. With the boat cleaned and all the running gear installed we still had to make a run into Daventry to shop for supplies for the cruise ahead. In the end most of the work was done on Saturday. A quick run over on Sunday morning with the last of our clothes and bedding and we were back in time to meet Mike and Lesley Fielding for lunch, on their way back from their latest trip out on ‘Charlie Mo’ to Milton Keynes and Welford.
We have ordered a pram hood, which is fitted over the stern of the boat. This can be erected when we are moored up to provide an extra covered area protected from the elements and collapsed when we are cruising so that it doesn’t foul the bridges or interfere with driving the boat. We had asked them to do a minor alteration on the existing cratch cover that protects the well deck while they were making the pram hood. The fitter had promised to bring that to Whilton on his way back from a job at Milton Keynes on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, with many apologies, he told us that his van had broken down and he wouldn’t be able to get out to us until later in the week, at which point he would fit the pram hood as well. It was only slightly suspicious that, on this wet and windy Saturday, he only told us this when we sent him a message mid-morning to confirm we were at the boat ready for him and asking him to let us know when he would be there. This let us down rather badly as it meant we had no cover over the front of the boat with a lot of rain in the forecast.
With so much time lost this year already we were determined to get some cruising in before the winter. A couple of possible plans had been considered but we had finally settled on taking in the Leicester Ring to bring us round back towards Warwick from the other direction to reach a new mooring we have taken for the winter at the top of Hatton Locks. This route takes in sections of the River Soar which can often be in flood and deemed unnavigable so whether we actually make it round or have to come back down the way we went remains to be seen.
Every long cruise starts with a taxi ride to the boat and we got there by about ten thirty. We hung around for a while dodging the rain and rearranging all the gear that had dislodged itself in the engine bay. By twelve thirty we were ready to go and we found a gap in the weather to get out of the marina and onto the canal side, where we needed to fill up with diesel before immediately starting up Buckby Locks. Amazingly we managed to get through this without bashing the paintwork and we began to be a bit less nervous. We had a few showers on the way up but nothing too bad, just enough to keep us damp. For the first couple of locks we were on our own but for the next four we were accompanied by a couple on a week’s holiday in a Canal Boat Club hire boat, with a completely unpronounceable name, that they had picked up at Gayton Marina. They knew what they were doing so we were able to pass the time with a chat and halve the work between us without worrying about what they were going to do next.
After about three hours we stopped short of the final lock in good time, to get the stove going and dry us out. That was plenty for the first day.
The first part of this trip round the Leicester Ring starts, naturally enough, by going up the Grand Union Leicester Line. We seem to end up spending a lot of time cruising in this area and it feels like home. The landmarks are familiar and we know good places to moor and access all the services we need. As a result we had not bothered to make any plan, as such, for this section. The only constraint, and we always seem to find one, was that we would need to be somewhere accessible to meet the guy who would be bringing the covers out to be fitted, which we were now told would be Thursday morning.
Tuesday was quite a short trip, about three and a half miles but taking in eight locks on the way, seven of them being the Watford Flight including the staircase, which requires you to book in at the start of the flight and wait in the queue to go up. It was a fine, dry morning, sunny eventually and when we did get to Watford we found we were next up and went in almost immediately. A good day today. We moored up soon afterwards and only as we went inside did it start to rain, the first of several showers during the afternoon but we weren’t going anywhere.
On Wednesday morning we set off straight through Crick Tunnel and moored up there for an hour or two to take Bracken for a good walk over Crack’s Hill before moving on in the afternoon. It stayed dry all day with some nice spells of sunshine and we moored up eventually at about four o’clock. We had only covered ten miles that day but with a couple of service stops on the way as well it felt like a long day for us.
When we did stop we were just one short hop from the next bridge where there was a road and somewhere to park and to moor. We only needed half an hour to move up there when needed so we sent the location to the guy fitting the covers. Unexpectedly he replied to say he would be there for nine o’clock, so we would have to get going much earlier than we would normally in order to meet him there.
We managed the early rising and the heavy rain that had been lashing us all night and was still going when we got up at seven thirty suddenly stopped five minutes later. We got the boat moved and moored up again without getting wet and the fitter arrived on time and got to work. Somehow we had imagined that having taken the templates and made up the covers back at the workshop the actual fitting would take a couple of hours. The rain came back in and we sat inside the boat as the hours ticked by. Obviously, it was worse for the guy working outside but it did seem to drag on. Eventually, the weather cleared enough for me to take Bracken out for a walk. We discovered that Northamptonshire’s fine, rich soil is some of the stickiest in England once it has been exposed to a bit of rain but Bracken seemed to enjoy it. When we got back about half past two the fitter had left half an hour before but had taken the two side pieces with him as they didn’t fit properly and had left Sue with no instructions for how to work the pram hood. It looked very good erected but we couldn’t move the boat with it up and we ended up a bit disappointed that perhaps we had made a big mistake. Collapsing and storing the thing was looking like a major headache. Everything was wet and muddy and we wanted to move on a bit so we ended up dismantling it and stowing it in the well deck for the time being. At least we had the cratch cover back now! In fact, we only moved on about three miles, away from the road and just past Welford Junction, where we had been in July.
Friday was a bit colder but quite sunny, which makes all the difference. It stayed dry and sunny and by midday was even pleasantly warm, which lasted through the afternoon although we had three or four showers from about two o’clock. We moved up towards Foxton Locks and moored a little bit short of the busy visitor centre and country park in time for lunch. We only covered about six and a half miles so perhaps we are getting the hang of slowing things down. In the afternoon we did a few chores around the boat and then went down and had a walk around the locks and the remains of the inclined plane there. We had seen them before but it is always interesting, with plenty going on. By lurking under a bridge as each shower came over we stayed dry and had a really nice walk as the sun came out in between.
We planned to spend a night or two up the Market Harborough arm but first we had to negotiate Foxton Locks. Ten locks arranged in two groups of five with a pound to allow boats to pass in between the two groups. Each group of five is a staircase, so as one lock chamber empties it fills the next and so on. As with Watford Locks, Foxton has lately been closed to any unassisted passage so you have to book in with the lockkeepers on arrival so they can manage the queue and the opening times are restricted. We moved up first thing on Saturday morning (about ten o’clock) and found ourselves close to the front but with a bit of a wait while a couple of boats came up. Fortunately there is a café at the top so we could indulge ourselves with a bacon roll and a coffee while we waited.
The passage was uneventful but as we went down, the notches in the cills caught my eye. All lock chamber floors are a good way below the bottom of the top gates so that the boat can descend to the next level. There is a stone cill beneath each pair of top gates and everyone is warned you must keep forward of this or you risk snagging the stern and ultimately flooding and sinking the boat. Coming up through the lock, of course, this is not a concern. For some reason, in this flight in particular, when you look back over the stern at the cills, you can clearly see how hundreds of boats a year going up and casually driving their prow forward into the stone over many decades has worn it away into a deep v-shaped notch
With the café at the top, the country park, two pubs at the bottom, large car parks and heavy promotion from CRT the greatest peril of Foxton Locks is the sheer number of gongoozlers on hand. Their constant presence inevitably turns the simplest task into a test of skill and expertise that you can’t help but fail. The passage down the locks is pretty constrained so you can’t go far wrong. What they are really waiting to see is the turn out of the locks across the junction and over to the Market Harborough arm opposite both pubs where you need to stop on a sixpence to avoid crashing into the closed swing bridge that bars your entrance. Today was a good day we managed it without getting blown off course, crashing into the side or spinning in a circle and were ready to take on water and then open the bridge to head off up the arm.