Thursday, 24 May 2018

It's Tixall again

It's about two and a half hours from Deptmore top to Tixall Wide, so we planned to leave at eight, thus arriving in time to shop for bread before lunch. In the event, we were ready a bit earlier than that, but had to wait just a little as an ex-Challenger boat came by just as we were getting ready to let go.

This was a judgement on me for saying airily to Sheila, when asked if she should go ahead and set the lock before I pushed off, "Oh, no, we'll hardly have to queue for the lock just now." As it turned out, her help wasn't optional anyway. I'd thought I was sorted and waved her off to the lock, then found I couldn't get Sanity Again unstuck from the towpath.

I should explain that the weather has been utterly different today, cool, cloudy and very gusty, with the gusts on the offside bow. Sheila had shoved the bow out and I the stern, as usual, but just as we started moving forward, the stern found a lump of silt off the towpath, the boat stopped and the bow blew back on. I had a couple of goes at reversing off, so that the prop wash blew down between the boat and the bank and shoved the stern into the middle, but, every time it happened as we turned to boat away (as the Tremoloes nearly sang), it was squidge onto the mud and swing back in.

So I called Sheila back and with her holding the bow out, finally managed to depart. By now the other boat was out of the lock and her lockwheeler kindly nipped back and lifted a top paddle for us.

After all that, things went pretty much to plan. Once past Stafford Boat Club, Sheila got the washing machine going again (there'll be a limit to how much washing she can do here at Tixall for four whole days, even starting with a full water tank) and we plodded our way round Stafford. It's much in need of dredging all along there. Any attempt to do more than about 3 mph just leads to a shaking tiller and churning mud.

It was jolly cold on the stern, too, but we made it in the expected time and by 10.15 we were looking for a mooring here. There are a lot more boats about now than when we came this way a few weeks ago. Radford Bank moorings were chock-a-block and although there were plenty of spaces here on the Wide, about half the towpath was occupied.

We're tied about halfway along, at a spot where the hedge isn't quite so high but is still sheltering us from the wind, so both the whirligig and the solar panel can do their stuff. It used to be that phone signals were poor to non-existent at this end of the Wide, but I've got good 4G here on both Vodafone and 3.

After a coffee, we walked to the junction and visited the Farm Shop to get the necessaries for lunch.

We've had a quiet afternoon watching the other boats go by and a friendly and polite fisherman trying to defend his stretch of towpath from marauding would-be moorers. He's managed so far, but I've warned him that the pressure on him will become quite intense tomorrow.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A bit more boating excitement

We had a pleasant evening meal in the Boat last night. Dave Miller had described it as "OK" and that was a fair judgement. The beer was very good, the state of the decoration is clean but basic and the menu very short but all home cooked. It was burger night, two for £13, so Sheila had the pulled jerk chicken and I had a "Kiwi burger".

This latter proved to be a fairly normal beef burger of good quality but with a fried egg added. I'd thought it was the Aussies who went in for steak and eggs, but there you are.

On the way back to the boat, we thought that it was a little odd that the Filance lock was still mostly full despite the leaking bottom gates, but the top paddles looked OK – at least the nearside one was fully down and Sheila wasn't keen on me crossing the top gate for a close look at the offside one after a couple of pints of Timmy Taylor's Landlord, so we left it.

This was a mistake.

After a rather broken night (mainly down to too much salt on the fries, I reckon) I got up at six to make some tea and found the boat well heeled over. After making the tea, I slipped some clothes on and checked the situation out. The bow was still floating but the stern was aground. I walked down to the lock with a windlass and, sure enough, the offside paddle was up just a few clicks. The pound was now down about 18", so we got dressed and decided to eat breakfast on the water point.

So there we were at seven, shoving away at Sanity Again who fortunately was not too hard aground on the silt to be immoveable, eventually. Once she was floating again, Sheila started up and boated down to the lock. Having closed the paddle properly before, the lock had now drained out which shows how bad the leak was on the bottom gates. Indeed, it's quite a long pound from Filance up to Otherton so 18" represents a lot of water gone to waste.

After that, things were reasonably straightforward. It's a good pressure at Penkridge services, so we just had time to eat breakfast whilst we took on half a tank (about 380 litres) of water.

On we went, plenty of water down here, of course, arriving at Park Gate at half eight. I wanted to get a couple of spare rubber bump stops for the stern doors, so we tied above the lock and Sheila got the washing machine going. At nine, Midland Chandlers opened and I walked in to find Paul from the Mercia branch there – the MC staff are shuffled about this week because of Crick Show.

Purchases made, we had a pleasant run through Acton Trussell to our usual mooring above Deptmore lock. It's very sunny today but quite breezy. An extra advantage of the fly screens is that the mesh moderates the draught, so we've got one side hatch open and screened and it's just pleasantly cool in here.

Tomorrow, on down the lock and round Stafford to Tixall for the weekend. We won't be leaving there until Tuesday now as we are entertaining Richard Parry for a day's boating from Great Haywood to Stone that day. Hopefully, he'll see it as a holiday after his exertions at Crick.

Should I mention the new logo?

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Sorted screens

Another leisurely start, in fact a two Killer Sudoku start, then a further trip into town for shopping. It may seem we've been doing a lot of that, but our next opportunity for serious supermarket shopping will be Stone in about a week's time on present planning.

We'd not been long back at the boat when Dave Miller from Cabincare rang to say he'd finished our flyscreens and to ask could he come round straightaway to fit them. It took him perhaps 45 minutes to do the four screens and they are just fine.

Each one is in a cassette, in the case of the side hatches screwed to the face of the frame. This is the saloon hatch.

And this the dinette

The actual screen is a fine black mesh, easily seen through.

The Houdini cassettes are fitted inside the existing frame so as not to reduce headroom. This is the galley

And this the bedroom. The screen is on a spring roller – a quick pull on the handles and it slides back into the casing.

We've been relaxing after lunch. Sheila is making great progress with the replacement porthole doilies and we had a call from Elanor. She had been doing one of her periodic visits to the marina to check out the lodge and to collect our post. She'll meet us at Tixall this weekend to deliver some beer supplies and the accumulated post.

Tomorrow, off we go again, heading for Deptmore after refilling the water tank here.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Spending a couple of days at Filance

It's been both a pleasant and a productive day here at Filance. First thing this morning we went shopping again, this time using the road which runs down from the Cross Keys, Filance Lane. It's not much longer than yesterday's route and is a good deal easier with the wheelie basket. The towpath here is basic grass with a rut down the middle, not very friendly for wheels.

We got a good load from the Co-op and duly headed back the way we came. After coffee, we had a call from Dave Miller of Cabincare, checking where we were. He arranged to come straight over and was with us just after eleven. He's very efficient and soon had the side hatches and Houdinis measured up. He quoted a bit over £500 for four flyscreens in cassettes fitted to the existing frames.

This being much what we'd anticipated, we agreed the deal with him and he went off to check his stock of framing. A little later he rang to confirm that he had enough stock to do them all straightaway and will be back tomorrow afternoon to fit them. His stuff has a good reputation for quality so we're looking forward to seeing them in place. We certainly can't complain about the level of service!

This afternoon, we took a walk down to Penkridge lock to dump rubbish and recycling. There were several boats heading up or stopped on the water point and we did a bit of huffling as the chance presented itself. On the way back, we stopped to help a woman with Filance lock bottom gates. Once open, her husband motored into the lock but stopped when most of the way in.

The pounds are still very low, so I thought he'd grounded on the bottom cill, but no, he was boating with his fenders down and the large ones at the front had jammed. There followed a bit of rocking and revving and he finally managed to back out enough to lift the fenders, after which all went smoothly.

I honestly, truly, really don't know why so many people boat along with their fenders dangling. It's not hard to arrange to take them up, one way or another, they really don't provide any extra protection to the rubbing strakes as they swing to and fro and there's always the risk of them jamming in a lock or other narrows.

If the boat had been going down the lock, it could have got really serious, with the boat suspended and canted over in the chamber, making it very hard to refloat without swamping it. In any event, sooner or later a fender gets ripped off and then lurks under water with its rope waiting to wrap itself round someone's prop.

Sorry, rant over...

So, we'll stay here tomorrow – expect just a short blog but hopefully some photos of the new flyscreens – and then head for Deptmore on Wednesday and Tixall on Thursday, staying there for the Bank Holiday weekend, I expect.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Tricky trip to Filance

Actually, most of it was straightforward, an eight o'clock start, myself steering and Sheila locking. She had to turn Brick Kiln and as I slotted Sanity Again into the lock, a towpath walker stopped and had a long conversation with her. It was to the effect that the pound below was very low, so low, in fact, that the GRP cruiser coming along was struggling. Her lockwheelers arrived as we got the gates shut and the lock emptying.

The pound was indeed well down with substantial muddy beaches showing on the offside. Once the bottom gates were open, I set off to get out but soon stopped dead. The radios came into their own here, allowing me to ask for a flush from the top paddles. With them drawn, out we swam and I signalled to drop them only to run hard aground immediately below.

More flushing was needed, after which I was able to make a snail's progress down the centre of the channel. From time to time, sinister grinding noises would occur and once the boat leant over a shade as she slid across something on the bottom.

When Sheila got to Boggs Lock, it had emptied itself through the leaking bottom gates so she waited until the boat's bow was almost on the top gates before drawing the top paddles and refilling the lock. As so often, there was better depth immediately above the lock and we were still floating when the lock was full.

Now came the tricky, not to say dangerous bit. With just a short pound behind me, the risk was that Sanity Again would get most of the way into the lock, stick with her back end on the top cill and sit there whilst the water draining through the bottom gates lowered the pound so much that she submarined and sank.

I gave a sigh of relief when we were fully in the lock and I could use the cabin shaft to hold her forward of the cill. Sheila took over that task whilst I dropped the offside paddle. With the top gate closed, the bottom paddles could be drawn by the lockwheelers who had appeared from a boat below.

The rest of the run was comparatively straightforward. Sheila walked the lot as we went down Rodbaston and Otherton locks and then she scouted the moorings by the Cross Keys above Filance. We've come through the bridge onto the 5 day moorings between there and Filance Lock. It was now ten o'clock.

After a coffee and a chance to relax, we went into the village, walking along the towpath to the bridge just above the lock, then straight down that road into the village centre. A raid on the Sainsbury's Local got all the urgently needed stuff like bread and tomatoes – we'll go back tomorrow morning to the Co-op for other supplies.

We've spent the afternoon relaxing on the bow (I nearly said 'chilling out' but that would be completely misleading). Folk wander past and there's been a lot of boat traffic, so plenty to keep us entertained. Reading Number One just now, I reached a bit where Foxon reports spending the night at Filance, arriving just in time to get a drink at The Cross Keys. It's great to have such a sense of connection with the carrying days.

We'll probably be here for a few days, depending on what we decide about fly screens.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

A sorting out sort of day

As planned, we've spent today on the mooring below Gailey lock. It's another warm sunny day, the first part of which was spent inside with the engine running and the washing machine churning away. I took the opportunity to catch up with a load of entries for the Owners' Group Pub Guide. These took a bit of time because some of them involved creating new sections for waterways that hadn't previously featured and I was very rusty on the routine for doing that.

However, it was all sorted before lunch and the new version of the Guide uploaded to the Owners' Group site. After lunch we had a bit of Bill and Ben time – those who are decrepit old enough to recall Watch with Mother will remember that every episode of the Flowerpot Men ended with the words "and they all dozed quietly in the summer sun".

There followed another walk, again to Rodbaston Lock, there not being much else in the way of route options here (unless you fancy a stroll beside the A5 or wandering back along the canal past the lines of moored boats). There was quite a lot of traffic, so we had a few opportunities to assist at the various locks and plenty of chances to chat.

Back at Gailey, we went on to the Round House shop for more ice cream. I also bought one of the Working Waterways series of paperbacks I'd not got, namely Tom Foxon's Number One. These accounts of life on the cut at the end of the carrying days are quite intriguing – as long as you don't fall into the trap of trying to emulate their methods on a system that's just not robust enough to take it any more.

Tomorrow, we'll make an average start for the two hour run to the Cross Keys pub above Filance lock.

Friday, 18 May 2018

It must be summer

It's been another glorious day's boating, though a comparatively short run, even by our standards. We set off between eight and half past, Sheila steering and your correspondent doing look out on the bow, mostly, as well as sorting things below decks. This is the last really rural section of the Staffs and Worcs heading north – nothing wrong with the rest of it but it's never far away from "civilisation" from here.

It is, of course, a Brindley summit (Compton is said to be Brindley's first attempt at a narrow lock) and, like the South Oxford, it winds about slavishly following the contour. Not long after we set off, I pointed out the stacks of the Four Ashes incinerator, looking to be about two fields away. Only an hour later, we were actually passing them, they having approached and retreated off and on in the interim.

After zooming past the chemical works with their fierce No Stopping, No Mooring signs, we arrived at Gailey top. There was a boat already on one of the water points, the one furthest from the lock, but as we pulled onto the other one, they left and we were able to pull back out of the way of the activity lockside. It's not bad pressure, but we had plenty of time to dump rubbish, drink coffee and so forth before we had a full tank.

Sheila worked me down the lock and we've tied on the nice open moorings below for a couple of days. This afternoon we took a walk along the canal past Brick Kiln and Boggs to Rodbaston, just for the exercise. There's a bit of traffic about, but nothing too dramatic.

Tomorrow, we'll run the engine and do a wash load as the section from here to the Cross Keys above Penkridge won't give us time to do it and we don't want to run the engine in Penkridge any more than we have to.