Cruising For A Blacking

The Way To Springwood Haven

Having decided that Archie was up for the journey to get the boat blacked we set off on Monday 25th April. We needed to be at the marina first thing on Tuesday 3rd May, following the Bank Holiday. The yard was at Springwood Haven, an ABC Marina near Nuneaton. When you look at the canal network it is located on the opposite side of a ring, so it is much the same whichever way you go. We opted to go anti-clockwise and complete the circle on the return trip, so we started by heading down the Grand Union and back along the North Oxford and Coventry canals.

Starting Out The Hard Way

Going in this direction takes one straight into the famous Hatton flight, twenty-one locks over a couple of miles. We were lucky to find lock keepers on duty who were setting each lock ahead of us for most of the flight, which really helped. We also shared  the last eighteen with "Jubilee". Their skipper had a bike in play so that also helped speed things up, at least until he got a puncture at Lock twenty-nine. We got through the lot in a very respectable three hours five minutes in fine, sunny weather most of the way.

Looking Back At The Hatton Challenge

We moored up at the bottom and I walked all the way back up to the yacht club to collect the car. By the time I got back we had definitely had enough and strolled down to The Cape pub for a drink before dinner. It was quite busy with only a few seats in the bar that allowed dogs. Taking Archie in there set off a fierce reaction from a large spaniel at the next table and we thought we would have to leave. The owner quickly took the dog out, walked it in the garden for a couple of minutes and brought it back in quiet and friendly as a lamb. Apparently, it does this all the time. If it in a place it kicks off like the Hound of the Baskervilles if another dog should come into the room. If the other dog is already there, however, it doesn't react at all. They turned out to be first time boaters from the sixty-eight foot hire boat moored on the water point opposite. They had no idea that this was a bad thing nor even that it was a water point! They seemed a nice couple though and we enjoyed a chat for an hour or so.

A Busy Few Days

While the purpose of our trip was simple, the next few days were busy in a number of ways..

Tuesday was fairly easy, a couple of locks close to our overnight mooring. Then I walked back to get the car and took it to the other side of Leamington Spa at a place called Radford Semele. Sue took the boat along the long, level bottom pound through Warwick and Leamington Spa and I walked back along the towpath to meet her. Moored up by midday we did some maintenance in the afternoon and took Archie up to the Recreation Ground at Radford for some exercise and training.

The next day was a bit tougher. I moved the car up a way and we set out through a series of individual locks starting with Radford Lock, passing "Rainbow Unicorn III" on the way in. As we left the lock we could see activity in a field on our right. We couldn't make out what was going on but it seemed to be a very structured activity so we think it must have been some sort of archaeology.

Archaeology Or Agriculture?

On the way up, between Wood Lock and Welsh Road Lock we had a lovely view of the devastation being wrought be HS2 in digging a tunnel through Long Itchington Wood.

HS2 - A Bright New Future?

At Welsh Road Lock we had to meet up with the engineer who had carried out our BSS (Boat Safety Scheme) examination. This is like a boat MOT and it wasn't strictly due until next March. We had it done early to see if there were any differences between the BSS requirements and what the boat builder had self-declared as being compliant with the Recreational Craft Directive. We wanted to ensure we would have plenty of time to address any discrepancies and work out who was going to pay for that. There were a few points raised, which was no great surprise. However, Aintree Boats stepped up immediately and had arranged to come and fix them. Now we needed to get the changes signed off. He was delayed so we had a bit of a wait but he turned up in the end and signed it all off without a murmur. At four o'clock we still had to get through the Bascote Locks, a couple of miles from our house, moor up beyond them, go and collect the car, bring it back to the boat to pick up Sue and Archie and then drive home.

Bascote Locks include a staircase of two locks together at the top. We found a boat coming down and the whole of the bottom lock towpath and surround were flooded. It was a bit of a puzzle at first, as they swore the bottom chamber was empty when they opened the paddles between the two to drain the top lock. Then a gongoozler who had been watching for some time told us that they had done that but had also left the top paddles in the upper chamber open. Of course, water from the pound above had just kept flowing into the top and then down into the lower chamber and over the sills until someone persuaded them to drop the paddles. It made a mess and the pound above was already low on water but we did get through OK without much delay.

The focus for Thursday was all about Archie. He had made it clear on Tuesday night that he didn't like sleeping in his crate on the boat and we let him just have his bed in the corner. He seemed happy with that and by and large was good as gold. Today we had a session with his personal trainer (I know!!!) to meet us on the boat and travel a little way together so that she could assess how he was doing with boat life, before we moored up again nearer the house . She declared that he seemed every bit as content as we thought he was, gave us a few tips and challenges for the next week and left us to it. We had plenty to keep us occupied before Puppy class in Cubbington at six o'clock so we decided that we would eat at The Two Boats on the way back, while checking on the boat which was moored a couple of hundred yards away. Mike Fielding and Lesley Fielding will be amused to hear that it had shut at five-thirty that day due to staff sickness! They have often complained to us that whenever they come through Long Itchington, with its many pubs, they always have trouble finding somewhere to eat. On this occasion we diverted ourselves to the Buck & Bell for one of their famous Buck Burgers.

Setting off on Friday morning, with the car now safely tucked up in our garage, we hooked up with "LingaLonga" who were just coming past as we were preparing to leave. With their help we got through the last thirteen locks to the junction with the South Oxford canal in good time and were moored up at a favourite spot near Flecknoe by about two-thirty. A cold, grey start turned into a glorious sunny, afternoon and we were in good time for a courtesy visit to the Old Olive Bush in Flecknoe, a twenty minute walk away, before dinner.

Back At Flecknoe - A Favourite Spot

A Smooth Run In

By now we had broken the back of this trip. There were few locks left to get through and no real obstacles. It was Bank Holiday weekend and we had feared that we would find a lot of extra traffic but it wasn't all that busy, as far as we could see, so we began to feel we had plenty of time.

On Saturday, in brilliant spring sunshine, we went up through Braunston and turned left onto the North Oxford canal to pass through Hillmorton Locks and moor up for the night beside the golf course just short of Clifton and Rugby. We had stopped at the café by the bottom lock for a sandwich on the way and that was busy but the locks, themselves, claiming to be the busiest on the system, seemed quite quiet.

The only issue was the family coming up in a dinghy and a couple of canoes. They were all over both sides of the canal, with at least two of the craft being handled by very small children on their own. We had to stop dead to assure ourselves that they weren't completely underfoot. At one point 'Dad' was shouting and waving us on but we couldn't see them under our bow and he didn't seem to understand what an eighteen tonne steel boat would do to them or the extent to which the boat could easily make up its own mind where it went. Meeting the lock keeper around the corner he seemed furious as he had told them not to use the lock and could see they had no idea what they were doing.

Once we were moored up we watched the Women's Six Nations Grand Slam decider between France & England. It should be no surprise, of course, that it was a thoroughly good game and all the better for ending in an English victory 24-12. Would that the Men's game was going so well!

Sunday got us as far as Hawkesbury Junction with the final lock of our trip, just a very short fall as it was a stop lock between canal companies, then the basin in front of The Greyhound and the sharp one hundred and eight degree turn through a footbridge and out on to the Coventry Canal. It was a colder, greyer day with a little light drizzle now and then, so our flawlessly successful manoeuvre naturally went unnoticed. We have had previous, far less successful attempts, in either direction, that always seemed to be performed before a crowd of enthusiastic gongoozlers who would appear to have been enjoying the pub's hospitality for some hours. Today the frontage was deserted and our fine pirouette was met only with a grey, damp silence. We did call in that evening and it was very cosy inside with a tightly packed crowd but we found a table and Archie settled down and ignored all the feet shuffling past his nose.

The final stretch was along the Coventry, past the junction with the Ashby Canal and on through Nuneaton to moor up just short of the marina ready for the next morning, eight miles altogether in two and a half hours. We strolled down that afternoon to see if all was in order and get any last instructions. The staff were very friendly and helpful, entirely captivated by Archie and very efficient. They had a very well-stocked shop and chandlery as well as the usual fuel and services. It has to be said, however, that their prices were not cheap.

Abandon Ship

We took the boat down on Tuesday morning and moored up on their canal side service dock. They have a classic tight and awkward marina entrance so I elected to let them take the boat in and we went and watched it being winched up the slipway.

Positioning For The Slipway

Once it was out of the water we were able to have a look at the condition of the hull, the previous blacking and the propeller blade that I had identified was bent. The hull looked fine with a few impact points that would need rust treatment as part of the blacking. Next time we should certainly be able to leave it a few more years before going through this again. We decided the propeller wasn't that bad and they could probably straighten it out, which would save buying a new one at six hundred pounds or so, plus the fitting.

The Bent Propeller Blade

And What It Should Look Like

Springwood Haven were happy for us to stay on board while they did the blacking. I can't imagine it would have been very comfortable, however, particularly while they were working on it. We and Archie would have to access the boat via a very tall set of rickety steps and would have had to find somewhere else to go during the day. We opted for the healthy option of a walk to Nuneaton Station, a train to Rugby and a taxi to get home, all of which worked pretty well. It also meant we could get the car and go back the next day to collect heavier things we wanted to take home for repair or cleaning or just because we had found we didn't need them on board.

The whole process was due to take a week so we left them to it.

Posted in Archie, Cruises, Parting Shot, Short Trips.

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