10 Aug

Week 12 – Slow Boat To Liverpool

Fettler’s Wharf Marina

Hang On . . . . What happened to week 10 & 11?

We had planned to spend two weeks on dry land, slightly enforced by an appointment for the developer to do their five to seven month snagging at the beginning of August.

We checked in at home, collected the car, then headed down south where we had a dental appointment, arrangements to meet friends for a couple of very enjoyable nights out, plans to celebrate Nick’s birthday and to run a few errands before heading back home.

Loading and Unloading

When leaving the boat in the marina near Preston we had made a decision to do a run back up there, in the car, with things that we could do with but couldn’t carry by train and to remove things we now realised were just not needed on board. Accordingly, we had a list of things to look for and secure before we made that trip. Some items were easy to get with a trip to places like B&Q. Others would need to be ordered in or collected from individual suppliers so there were some complicated logistics involved to make sure we had everything needed to take with us delivered or collected in time

Among the most significant of the items we planned to bring home were our two bikes. We had found that, particularly with Bracken now in the mix, we really weren’t going to use them for fun and at the same time they caused a few issues from time to time. We decided that a small folding bike would meet our requirement for a form of transport to use in emergencies and be easier to manage. We did look at new models but while passing our old estate in Caterham we spotted Ross Cycles shop just across the road and thought why not try them? They are a small independent trader and don’t generally deal in folding bikes. However, the day we walked in they just happened to have taken one in second hand; one careful lady owner, a range of upgrades & accessories, sold fully serviced and in the sale. Kismet surely? A short test ride round the airfield later and we closed the deal.

We had Sunday to gather our various acquisitions together before setting out on the three hundred mile round trip on Monday. As Mike and Lesley Fielding were back from their own cruise around the Midlands we were able to meet up with them at the Stag in Offchurch that evening, to swap stories and compare experiences.

As part of preparing for the trip we had arranged to call in to buy a couple of fenders from a floating trader in Great Haywood and to collect some blacking and paint from the excellent chandlery in Stone. According to the map these were in a direct line between our house and Rufford. Normally there is an unseen complication waiting to cause problems when such things seem to align. In this case, not a bit of it. The weather and the traffic were by and large benign, both of the stop-off points were about where we expected to find them and had the goods available and ready for us and we were at the boat by lunchtime. A couple of hours to load and stow what we had brought and to pack and offload the things we were taking back and we completed the return journey in time to be home for six o’clock and a drink at our local pub, the Buck & Bell.

Builders & Snagging

The builders weren’t due until Friday. We had another engagement on the Saturday afternoon and we had already decided that, on past experience, we didn’t want to try travelling by train on a Sunday, so we seemed to have time on our hands. In fact, we had plenty to do, catching up on all the little domestic stuff that somehow gets forgotten once on the boat. Things like Tax Returns and renewing our passports. We had also arranged to have a session with a local dog handler, to look at alleviating some of Bracken’s anxiety on the boat along with a couple of other issues and of course, she was booked in to have her coat clipped.

The builders themselves had just a small amount of work to do and we had booked that date in for Friday, first of all, way back in June. They needed to arrange a plumber as well and had agreed to bring a landscape contractor round to discuss the lack of drainage in the back garden. We had managed to get all of these booked in for the same day. Needless to say it was rather a disappointment to get a phone call on Thursday afternoon to say that they wouldn’t be able to get to us for the work on Friday and their Customer Relations manager had some personal issues and wouldn’t be able to attend either. That just left the plumber and the landscape contractor. Just to prove that they really hadn’t been paying attention when we had discussed these arrangements initially, their suggestion was to re-schedule for next Tuesday, when we would be a hundred and fify miles away.

We agreed a new date for the decorative work, the plumber duly turned up fairly early and was there for thirty minutes at the most, by which time the landscaper had been and gone. We unexpectedly had the rest of the day to ourselves and had to wonder if our journey was really worth it.

A Side Trip To Oxfordshire

Our last engagement before we returned to the boat was a visit to see Jen’s partner’s parents in Steventon, near Abingdon. They have a lovely house there, where they treated us to an excellent lunch involving far too much salmon and frangipane cake, before showing us around the village. It is a beautiful place and has a lot of history imprinted on it. Many of the houses are very old, including a couple of cottages that formed part of the Priory and are now owned by the National Trust who let them out to tenants.

The North Star, a sixteenth century pub offers a real step back in time. A couple of low ceilinged rooms, traditional high backed settles and plain tables, with service straight from the beer store or else through a hatch into the ‘lounge’ bar. There is no bar as such. This might once have been its main claim to fame but it seems to be more renowned now for ‘direct action’. A lovely story from 2003, recounted over lunch, described how, having been refused a drink by the barman on New Year’s Day, it’s new owner fetched a JCB and wrecked the building while a number of customers were still inside. This is not the only example. An article pinned to the board by the servery tells how the villagers, having watched turf being laid all day, swept in and tore it up in the evening because they believed it infringed their right of way. On the wall of an outbuilding was hung a bicycle. On closer inspection it turned out to be parts of several bicycles. We were told they had recently been dismembered and mounted by the landlord, armed with a chainsaw, but we were unable to get to the bottom of what offence they had caused him.

Return To Rufford

After record temperatures while we were in Surrey, the torrential rain and high winds during the next week, dying down towards the weekend, seems to have set a pattern for a weather cycle forecasted to be repeated over the next few weeks, covering most of August and seemingly targeted directly at the North West of England. Most particularly, of course, we were following events in Whaley Bridge from the first of the month. We had been barely aware of this town and completely ignorant of Todbrook Reservoir until our visit to the Peak Forest Canal at the end of June. Having been there so recently the evacuation of the town and the work going on to prevent the collapse of the dam was fascinating; a month earlier we had been moored effectively at the foot of that very dam.

Notwithstanding plenty of bad weather our trip back to the boat on Monday was dry and largely sunny. Our first train, to Wolverhampton, was crowded and the second, from there to Preston was even worse. Still, they were more or less on time so we missed no connections and the final two-carriage hop from Preston to Rufford was both punctual and comfortably spacious.

A brand new Virgin train, completely empty . . .
. . . . our slightly humbler carriage awaits

With no lunch en route it was time to sample the delights of tea and cake at the Boathouse Brasserie in St. Mary’s marina once again.

One of the residents had tipped us off to Steak Night at the Hesketh Arms so we decided to try that in the evening. A little disappointing – fillet, rib-eye and the mixed grill were all off when we got there. Still, they rustled up a couple of sirloin steaks with a free bottle of Merlot and it was still sunny enough to eat outside.

Marking Time

We now had a booking to go into Salthouse Dock in Liverpool on Monday 12th August. It would take us a couple of days to get there, in theory, but we weren’t really sure how safe or pleasant mooring would be the closer we got to Liverpool, outside of that CRT managed haven. There are also more restrictions the nearer you get to the city. We would need to time our run carefully.

Our plan was to stay around the Rufford Arm until the Saturday morning and then stage at a place called Haskaynes Bridge on Saturday night. We had been told that there was safe mooring by the CRT offices in Litherland, an hour or so from the Liverpool link itself, so we would moor there on Sunday night and drop down into the docks on Monday afternoon (the link doesn’t open for inward passage until 13:00 each day). As we watched the forecast, however, the prognosis of impending doom grew ever stronger for Saturday. A minor modification then, get closer to Litherland by Friday and be able sit tight and ride it out on Saturday.

Slightly tight for reversing out

Tuesday started fine as we prepared to leave Fettlers Wharf but with a very unwelcome stiff breeze. Of course, the rain began as we were ready to cast off and we feared the worst. On this occasion, however, a short shower was all we got and by the time we had reversed out of a very tight space where we were moored, taken on fuel and been blown out into the canal it was a fine, sunny day that continued all afternoon. Two hundred yards from the marina was the first lock and just beyond it a lovely stretch of bank to moor up in the sunshine. Enough for one day.

Tuesday night outside the marina

While we were here we got the latest update from the developers about the issues with the garden drainage. The meeting with the landscaper had gone unexpectedly well. He acknowledged the issue immediately and proposed a solution he said he would recommend to Bloor Homes. After an exchange of e-mails today it became clear that he had made the recommendation but Bloor had decided to take refuge in some warranty clause that said they were not obliged to rectify any issue that is more than three metres from the building. A disappointingly nit-picking conclusion to a transaction that had otherwise been, by and large, very positive. Our only recourse now is to appeal to the NHBC who issue this guidance but we don’t expect to get much change from that.

The next day was another short hop. With impeccable timing, after a largely sunny but very lazy morning, we set off five minutes before a cloudburst. We pulled in on the landing for the next swing bridge and went below to wait it out. The rain passed in about ten minutes, although we were already drenched, and we were just gathering ourselves to carry on when another boat suddenly appeared. Here we were, plainly in the wrong, blocking the landing, so we had to scramble to get outside, apologise and offer to open the bridge for them. On the plus side, though, we could follow them through and had an extra crew with whom to share the next two locks and related hard labour. By the time we were through those and found our mooring spot, half way to the next lock, the sun was shining again and once again it was a relatively fine afternoon, apart from a very strong wind. I even set about spending the afternoon touching up the paintwork on the hull. This was when we discovered that the owner of the boat moored next to us in the marina, who had been repainting his own craft, had managed to splash spots of white, gloss paint over our coachwork. So now the first job became removing his paint before applying our own.

Wednesday night near Moss Lock
With the view from our saloon

Thursday had been advertised as this week’s good day, a forecast that for once proved to be entirely accurate. We hoped to take advantage of it by moving up through the junction onto the Leeds & Liverpool main line and getting as far as Haskayne Bridge for the night. We laboured up through the first three locks and had wound up the one working bottom paddle on the fourth, which was extremely stiff, when an entire squad of volunteer lock keepers suddenly emerged from their little hut under the bridge. I might have thought that, with four of them on duty, they could have spread out on the flight a bit more but we were grateful for any help we could get. They let us through the swing bridge and we rounded the junction to be almost immediately confronted by the “Rose of Parbold” once again.

The ever-present “Rose Of Parbold”

A Lack Of Thrust

On the way up Sue had tried to use the bow thrusters and they did not seem to work at all. Not even a beep when switched on. I had once been rather sceptical about the value of bow thrusters but given predicted high winds and a planned navigation through Liverpool Docks we felt that it would be a good time to have the bow thrusters operational, so we really wanted to get this fixed even though, at this point, we also wanted to keep moving.

After some rummaging around in the manuals, and some phone calls with Aintree Boats and Lenny the Electrician, we eliminated the 5 amp car fuse and the 100 amp mega fuse, to arrive at the 250 amp ceramic main fuse, which even I could see was clearly burnt out. Of course, this is a specialist fuse from Vetus for which we had no spares, so the first challenge was to locate one. While we proceeded to Haskayne Bridge we made calls to a few places that Lenny had suggested, none of whom answered their phones, although a couple did call back later. Twenty minutes after we had passed the entrance to Scarisbrick Marina they, too, returned our call and could confirm they had one fuse in stock.

Having moored up, the bank was low enough, and the water clear enough, to be able to see the mouth of the lateral tube the bow thruster is housed in, sitting six inches below the waterline. Weeds protruding through the grille offered an explanation for the blown fuse. If the propeller gets clogged it will blow the fuse rather than burn out the motor. Cue half an hour or so on your belly, poking around underwater to try and tease out the weed like so much wet spaghetti. At nearly seven o’clock we had had enough for one day and headed for The Ship Inn for a well-earned pre-prandial drink.

The forecast next morning made it clear. If we wanted to get to where we planned to moor over Friday night and Saturday we should do it in the morning. However, Scarisbrick was by far the nearest place to get a fuse, even though it now lay behind us. Time for the folding bike to earn its keep already, but first to dismantle the burnt out fuse.

I really shouldn’t be encouraged to get involved with the random vagaries of electrickery. Lenny hadn’t mentioned that just isolating the bow thruster battery and motor would still leave one lead fully live. As well as generating sparks from the spanner, my ring and the lead itself, as each made contact with the metal hull in turn, it appears that this could have blown another fuse on the charging lead. However, I wouldn’t be able to tell that just by looking at it.

Arriving at the marina I found that the only person in the office had gone out on a job and wouldn’t be back until the afternoon! However, all was well as he had left the fuse with the tea shop in case I turned up. Lucky I went in and spoke to them then. Returning, triumphant, to the boat we followed Lenny’s latest instructions to remove the grille from the bow thruster tube and got as much weed out as we could reach. Of course, we couldn’t fix the grille back on as it had only been held in place by cable ties. I fitted the fuse, reassembled the fuse boxes and battery cables, closed the circuit and tried the ‘on’ switch. The usual steady beeping to indicate it was ready, entirely absent yesterday, was most reassuring. A very tentative touch on the starboard thruster blew out a little weed but it kept working. An equally cautious touch to port produced much the same result that side. Things were looking good, but if I had blown the second fuse all that would happen is that the battery would run down. I was supposed to talk to Lenny so he could explain how to check but he was at a funeral until later, so we left it at that for now.

One o’clock already, so we had to get going. With pinpoint accuracy, as we cast off the last mooring line, the first raindrops fell. This had been forecast as the start of a prolonged period of rain for the rest of the day but despite being quite unpleasant, it stopped after ten minutes or so and the rest of the afternoon was largely dry and even sunny at times. The odd light shower quickly passed and it was a decent evening by the time we moored up out in the countryside at Melling. On the way up, Lenny had phoned in from outside the crematorium and talked me through checking whether the charging circuit was now shot. Result! All was well and we should be able to use the bow thrusters as normal. We were now poised for the run down to Liverpool, once tomorrow’s predicted torrential rain, flooding and gales had passed us by.

In Melling to ride out the storm
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