- Mac & Jacquie Court
- 70 now and our five wonderful years aboard our narrowboat Skyy seem along time ago. Jacquie, allowed me to build my replica three wheeler kit car, which was a great success. Now it's time to start on a bigger project and that is to make a good Triumph Stag even better, here goes.
Wednesday, 28 April 2010
After the exertions of Sunday and having found such a peaceful mooring we decided to stay put for a couple of days and catch up with chores, like washing of all the volcanic ash and then polishing the starboard side of SKYY, whilst Jacquie gave the insides a thorough clean, but not before catching up with the blog and emails. In between all this activity we heard a toot on a boat hooter and looked out to see ‘Retirement No problem’ coming towards us. Great to see Sue and Vic, closely followed by ‘Moore to Life’; one day we will going in the same direction and be able to have more than just a few passing words.
Monday, 26 April 2010
Time to move on, Wolverhampton and the flight of twenty one locks lay between us and the rural delights of the Shroppie. Surprisingly the water is very clear and clean and shoals of little fish could clearly be seen, but apart from that on the approach to Wolverhampton there was not much to delight the senses. Surrounding the canal on both sides are old factories and warehouses, but great swathes of it is now nothing but rubble as much has been demolished. Right in the centre, by the railway station, just at the top lock there is a lovely BW cottage and on the other side a garden and a small boat yard makes quite an attractive scene
The locks are all single, but with double bottom gates, neither Jacquie or I like crossing over from one open gate to the other side. Jacquie is happy to walk around the lock to open the other one, but I prefer to use the boat hook to either push open or pull shut the gate. When I cycle down to the next lock with the boat hook under my arm, Jacquie says I looked like her knight on a charger about to go jousting, should have gone to Spec-Savers I say.
A few spots of rain and soon we were at the bottom of the locks at the very attractive Aldersley Junction with the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. Less than a mile later and we turned left through what was once a white painted bridge, where a stop lock lead us onto the Shropshire Union Canal. We moored for the night before the M54 intruded onto the tranquillity of the canal.
There are in fact two separate experiences here. The Dudley Canal Tunnel Trust, which takes you by electric boat deep into the Dudley Tunnel complex and the living museum, both excellent. Jacquie was dubious, but enjoyed them both, but did decline the walk into the drift coal mine.
It is possible to take your boat through the Dudley Tunnel, but it would first have to pass under a height gauge, which ours certainly wouldn’t and then it would have to be towed through by an electric tug. What is different about this tunnel is that it was a mine for limestone with numerous shafts going off from underground basins, long before it became a through route. We passed through massive caverns with the knowledge that there were vastly bigger ones a 100ft below us. Our guide was informative and dryly humorous in a typically Dudley manner and managed to persuade a couple of chaps to try legging the boat through the tunnel.
Back into daylight and into the Museum, which is an urban Victorian village peopled by friendly staff in period costume, either cooking in the kitchens or making nails or chains, or running the local shops and a bobby on the beat is trying to stop somebody jumping of the bridge completes the image. Many of the building have been reconstructed here prior to demolition in their original situations, but you would never know, it has been done so well and in reality it would take more than one day to take it all in.
Supplies were running low and the internet told us that there was a Tescos less than a mile away. After we had rested a little, a fifteen minutes walk got us there and a three minute taxi trip brought us back to SKYY loaded with all the necessities for life afloat.
The whole of the area surrounding the end of the Netherton Tunnel is now landscaped park land, with many lakes and pools and evocative names, like Bumble Hole and Boshbiol, Not so many years ago the place was full of coal mines, brick kilms, foundries, furnaces, boat yards and railways. One major claim to fame was that the anchors and chains for the ill fated Titanic were forged here. The lakes have been formed by mining subsidence, otherwise the only other obvious testament to all this activity is the huge empty engine house and chimney for the pump that kept the mines dry.
Whilst we were this end of Netherton tunnel we decided to explore the remains of the Dudley No 2 Canal. There is only about two and a half miles before reaching the end of navigation at Hawne Basin, Halesowen. Gosty Hill tunnel, 577 yards long, or in local literature Gorsty Hill Tunnel, had to be passed, however Gosty is far more appropriate what it lacks in length it also lacks in height. The high North Portal gave no cause for concern, but soon a grim picture of Dracula indicates much lower headroom and I did for moment wonder if our top box would clear, fortunately it did, but not by much, the thought of having to reverse out was not something I wanted to think about.
I wouldn’t recommend this route to the faint hearted or the claustrophobic, you have to return this way, although as we knew we had clearance the return journey seemed much quicker. There is a lively boating community at the end, but we only stopped briefly for lunch. Back through the Netherton Tunnel and a left turn and we were on our way to Tipton, approaching the Factory Locks exactly as two BW men were about to padlock them at six o’clock due to water conservancy caused by the draining of that big reservoir, the name of which I can’t remember. They agreed that this was not a healthy place to stay the night and happily they quickly assisted us through the locks and ten minutes we were tied up right beside the Black Country Museum, protected from the scary outside world by a gate secured by a BW padlock.
The wind had dropped and the stove was behaving perfectly with its new chimney hat as we left Birmingham City, destination The Dudley Black Country Museum. We left The Birmingham Level Main Line at Smethwick Locks and climbed up to the old Wolverhampton Level. Almost immediately the Engine Branch left us on the left and crossed the Main Line on an Aqueduct. The main line ran parallel with us but in a 40ft deep cutting. Apparently at the time this cut was being digging dug, it was the biggest earthworks in the world and it still very impressive.
The M5 provided a roof over us as we crossed the Main Line via the Stewart Aqueduct, eventually we left the shadow of the motorway and carried on through a mix of industry and housing estates, when the phone rang and it was Pete the RCR engineer who said he had our alternator and if we could get to the south end of the Netherton Tunnel, he could fix it that evening.
It’s a strange experience when you cross over another canal via an aqueduct, but even stranger when you look down and see the entrance to the tunnel that you will soon be travelling through. The Netherton Tunnel is on the Main Line level so we did a U turn and retraced our steps to Bradeshall Junction, dropped down three locks, did two left hand 90deg. turns and was soon entering the tunnel. A big tunnel, 3027yds., long, wide enough for two boats to pass, a tow path on each side, gas lighting, in fact it was the last canal tunnel to be built. April 1856 work started and completion was in two years and seven months and the maximum error of alignment was one inch, an amazing achievement even by today’s standards.
Pete was waiting for us at the other end. He had promised a safe and attractive mooring for the night and the surrounding of Windmill End were exactly that. Forty minutes later and the new alternator was fitted and producing a fat healthy charge, fortunately the old one had been intermittingly producing enough charge to keep the batteries topped up, but we could relax now and turn the TV on.
RCR called first thing to confirm that they had ordered the new alternator from Beta Marine and I thought all our problems were fixed, but not so. The loo tank was full to the brim, or at least the little red needle indicated so, as did the full toilet pan. Sherborne Wharf in the middle of the Oozells Street loop provided the service at a remarkable cheap £9 and also a replacement coolie hat for the chimney, but still no amount of pushing the flush button, with the water supply turned off of course, would empty the pan. The pump out hose was passed through the bathroom porthole and emptied the pan, but it was still blocked.
Jacquie sensible took herself off to Birmingham’s shopping centre whilst I rolled up my sleeves and donned the black rubber gloves. It didn’t take too long to separate the loo from the bulkhead and the macerator from the porcelain pan. When I removed the end plate the problem was apparent, four and a bit years of accumulated ‘stuff’ completely clogged the blade and filter, it was amazing that it hadn’t stopped working before. I did think afterwards that I should have taken photographs to illustrate ‘Mac’s guide to unblock a Vetus macerator’, but I feel that you are probably glad that I didn’t and I will spare you the details.
By the time Jacquie returned the loo was back in place, disinfected, tools put away and I had showered. And the loo, well that is almost up the airline standard, you don’t want to be sitting on it when you press the button, a slight exaggeration, but it does work first time every time now, A good days work.
Tuesday, 20 April 2010
I wasn’t going to tell anyone, but when Jacquie was about to enter Ashted Tunnel, yesterday, which is a narrow, one way working tunnel, the coolie hat on top of the chimney got knocked off and splashed into the canal, fortunately the chimney was much more firmly attached and Jacquie backed off and removed it before proceeding back into the tunnel. Also whilst unravelling the lead from between Duggie’s legs whilst in the final stages of entering a lock Jacquie stopped the boat by using the bow of the boat and the gates, upsetting quite a few things inside, but luckily no breakages.
This morning just after I stoked up the fire, I thought I could smell a bit of smoke, the strident tone of the smoke detector confirmed there was indeed some smoke. Almost immediately another warning ping joined in, telling me that domestic alternator had cut out. By the time I had revved the engine a bit to get alternator charging again, the CO alarm started beeping. Poor Duggie, he didn’t know where to hide.
A very blustery wind could be seen to be pushing smoke back down the chimney and with no coolie hat to stop it a back pressure was temporarily building up in the stove. Also yesterdays jolt must have loosened the joint between the flue and stove, but a rake out and application of fresh fire cement stopped the CO monitor from sounding off, but still whenever there was a particularly violent gust of wind the smoke alarm would be triggered, solved that one by taking it down.
The Alternator is a different matter, the first time it dropped out was whilst we were in Braunston, waiting to have our bottom blacked and I was running the engine to heat the water and charge the battery, it started to charge OK the next day, but I did in fact phone Beta to enquire about a larger replacement alternator, should the need arise. A very helpful gentleman confirmed that a 100ah would be a bolt on replacement for my 70ah.
Since we started our cruise, every now and again the warning pings and a change in the engine note confirmed that the alternator had dropped out, but a quick increase in revs got it going again. Today whilst running the engine this kept happening and eventually no amount of revving would get it to charge.
RCR to the rescue, they are going to order the 100ah alternator on my behalf and when it is delivered, hopefully the next day, the engineer will call to confirm our whereabouts, probably The Black Country Living Museum and come fit it. Problem solved I hope. I will keep you posted.
Twenty four narrow locks and thirteen miles, lay between us at the centre of Birmingham, so a relatively early start was required and by nine o’clock we were on our way.
During the first eight, lock free miles the surroundings gradually changed from rural to suburban, although shielded from the canals by trees, but eventually the factories, warehouses and railway bridges crowded in and the Camp Hill, down hill, flight of six locks came into view, immediately proceeded by a very smart BW Sanitary Station, laundry, showers, loos, rubbish, water, elsan disposal and lock keepers who advised me that this was a safe place to overnight before doing the locks, however I still feel that Catherine De Barnes was a much pleasant mooring. Immediately after the locks we forked left at Bordesley Junction and after a sharp right turn onto the Digbeth Branch and under the Curzon Tunnel, we rose up the four Ashted Locks, the last one set immediately after the 103 yds Ashted tunnel, all rather dark and gloomy, but some interesting graffiti brightened the way.
We joined the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal at Aston Junction just after a strange double lock gate arrangement, which must have been to stop the Grand Union Canal Company getting any water benefit from the B & F Canal. Soon the first of the thirteen Farmers Bridge locks loomed up ahead of us. We were back on familiar territory here and soon got into a routine of setting up one or two locks ahead whilst waiting for SKYY to rise up and exit the current lock. Much of this passage is covered by the roots of the high rise buildings and long damp tunnels. The last time we came this way I commented on the huge number of empty cider bottles and tins floating in the cut at Snow Hill Bridge. This time on top of the bridge was a motley crew of the consumers of the cider and one of them decided to join us and offer his expertise in helping us to lock through. A couple of locks and a couple of quid later and he fell back and we happily continued on our own, eventually emerging into the sunshine at Cambrian Wharf.
After eight and bit hours of non stop cruising, we turned towards the Mailbox and the amazingly, to our minds, ugly The Cube before turning round and mooring up in the very quite Oozells Street Loop. A well deserved walk for the patient Duggie was followed by a nap, before dinner and a couple of episodes of 24 and then two healthily exhausted boaters went to bed.
A lazy day, reading the Saturday papers before we took the little lock free hop to Catherine De Barnes, in readiness for the trek into the centre of Birmingham tomorrow. The guide book says that this is the last mooring opportunity before the city and we took it at its word. It was indeed a pleasant enough place, just far enough from the M42 for the road noise not to intrude and with all flights grounded because of the ash cloud, no noise from Birmingham airport either.
Sunday, 18 April 2010
The outside thermometer registered only 2 deg. at eight o’clock but the sky was clear blue and by the time we cast off a couple of hours later the temperature was rising. The sun was soon blocked out as we entered the short but very wet Shrewley tunnel and a couple of miles later we passed Kingswood Junction. A week to the day, two years ago we turned left here and headed towards Stratford upon Avon, chums Kim & John were with us then on our maiden voyage and we have missed them this year as we retraced our journey, but now it’s all new and the first person we saw on a boat after the junction did say that the natives were quite friendly.
We kept going passed a couple of packed pubs, the garden were full of families enjoying what must be the warmest day of the year so far, when the rise of the five Knowle Locks hove into view. These lock have short, but very wide pounds between them and I made a complete hash of it, after leaving the first lock and getting battered all over the place whilst waiting for the next lock to empty. Jacquie thought she could do better, so I offered her the tiller, did I laugh as she did a full 360 deg. pirouette and still couldn’t get SKYY lined up with the entrance to the lock.
The secret we realised, is not to leave the security of the lock until the one above has finished emptying and the gate is open allowing SKYY to move straight from one to the other. This does entail walking to and from locks getting them set. The downside is that the few gongoozlers are then denied witnessing the comic antics and to what I hope was my good humoured instructions to Jacquie from the lock gate.
We found a sunny spot to moor just after the locks and lit up the barbeque for a late but tasty lunch, the first of many al fresco meals, we hope and a walk into the delightful village of Knowle finished of day.
Nine o’clock and we are on our way, the first two of the twenty one locks we do on our own, when I spy behind us, somebody on a bike who alights and starts to wind up the paddle gear. We decide to wait for them to catch up and never a better decision taken. Mum, Dad, married daughter and a small grand son in a life jacket soon came alongside on N.B. Astralis and after I unloaded the bike from the back of SKYY we made short work of the remaining nineteen locks between us, arriving at the top lock by twelve thirty. The weather was warm and I must say that we were both exhausted when we got there, we found the first mooring spot and took in easy for the rest of the day.
All of the locks from Napton right up to the Knowle flight of five locks, on the outskirts of Birmingham are all double locks with the same type of paddle winding gear. These locks were state of art, circa 1932 when the all of the single locks became redundant when the new double locks were built along side them; this shortened the passage time between London & Birmingham to sixty hours, that still seems an amazingly short time, but the locks fill and empty very quickly allowing us to get through each lock in less than thirteen minutes and without doubt the professional boatman would have been much quicker.
In the evening we met up with friends John and Angela, who live in nearby Dorridge and had a good meal at the Waterman pub.
No repeat of my partial ‘Full Monty’ act of yesterday as the weather stayed overcast and chill wind was blowing, even Duggie kept his coat on whilst he was on watch. We didn’t actually get started until gone twelve o’clock, but we made short work of the Fosse Locks and the Radford Bottom Lock, the canal skirted around the back side of Leamington Spa and almost immediately Warwick, wher a large Dutch Barge was being fitted out. Our favourite town is Leamington but there is no welcoming invitation from the canal.
We moored for the evening just passed the two Cape Locks in readiness for the Hatton Flight tomorrow. The tow path was full of serious joggers, obviously preparing for the London Marathon, and hardly a smile to be seen, maybe because there so much dog mess here, much more than is usually seen in rural areas.
The Cape of Good Hope pub gave us a warm welcome for a quick pre-dinner drink and the landlord even rewarded Duggie with a biscuit.
Thursday, 15 April 2010
What a cold damp start to the first day of our grand six months cruise, at least we were warmly waved on our way by Val and Jean from N.B. Rune at 9.15am. We had previously said bye bye to all the crew in the Marina Office and many other moorers and we shall miss all our friends there, as I am sure Duggie will miss his doggie chums, but we will return!!
The sign at the exit from the Marina gave us three choices, but we chose Warwick and in forty five minutes we were through the three Calcutt locks whilst occasionally shafts of sun light pierced through the dark clouds. The first items to be discarded was the beanie hat and the gloves, followed by the waterproof jacket and trousers, gradually the two fleeces were thrown down into the boat and the fur lined rigger boots were swapped for deck shoes. Don’t worry, this was not a re-enactment of ‘The Full Monty’ T shirt, shirt and jeans still remained upon my person. Hey this was more like it, blue sky a few clouds, it was looking good. The Stockton flight of eight locks were soon behind us, helped along by plenty of crew from two other boats.
The dodger was doing such a good job of keeping Duggie on the stern, that to satisfy his curiosity of what was actually happening when we went through a lock; we put him and his pad on the hatch. He rewarded us by raising our anxiety level to red alert, by casually wandering the full length of Skyy, eventually straddling the cratch cover. On his safe return he was anchored by his lead and he seemed happy with this compromise.
We stopped for a lazy lunch and snooze just before the Two Boat Inn, before joining another boat for five more locks until a sunlit stretch of Armco between locks 19 and 20 invited us to moor up for the evening and Duggie was taken on a foray to collect firewood, at least that’s what we think he was about.
Monday, 12 April 2010
Almost two years to the day we would be going back into Tim’s dry dock by the side of the bottom lock at Braunston for SKYY’s bottom to be jet blasted and re-blacked, but before that our new rear wind breaker or dodger would be fitted by Fraser of AJ covers.
Late afternoon on Bank Holiday Monday we cruised to Braunston and moored immediately before bridge 1 and arose early on Tuesday morning, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Frazer. They were obviously very busy after the Easter holiday, but he eventually dropped off the canvas and promised to return within the hour, along with Cath, to fit it. He was as good as his word. It fits perfectly, looks very smart, but most importantly Duggie can’t jump over it, or squeeze under it and will be safely contained on the stern whilst we cruise. From our previous experience of having the hull jet cleaned, I realised how filthy everything became, so I immediately un-popped the dodger, rolled it up and stored it inboard
Eight o’clock on Wednesday morning we motored up to the wooden bridge that crosses over the alternative entrance to Braunston marina, turned SKYY 180 deg before reversing up to the first lock. Jacquie had the lock set, and in and upwards, before backing out and awaiting for the freshly painted boat to emerge, before we slipped into the dock.
Tim lowered the gate into place, opened the sluice at the other end and SKYY gently settled down onto the wooden beams set into the bottom of the dock. Once Tim had climbed into his waterproof kit he was down the ladder and within the hour had jet blasted the hull clean. I now set about washing the roof and the cabin sides before the fine mist of mud, algae and weed that had been sprayed everywhere, dried on. Two years ago I hadn’t done this and it wasn’t until we emerged into the snowy sunshine that I saw the contrast between the shiny black hull and the filthy superstructure.
The first coat of bitumen went on the next day and when it was touch dry I climbed down into the dock and sanded down the red paint on the stern and touched in the bare metal with red oxide. Friday morning and Tim applied the second coat and when that was dry I got a coat of red paint onto the counter and decided to apply, by roller, another coat of bitumen just around the water line, for extra protection and from my own tin of bitumen I should point out.
Saturday morning and Tim let the water back into the dock and out we came, clean and shiny to another beautiful day, Jacquie and Duggie stayed on board until the junction and then walked back to collect the car and drive back to Wigrams Turn, whilst I enjoyed the warm sunny cruise back home and marvelled how many boats were out and about and all determined, or so it seemed to me, to scratch my shiny hull.
We had been so much more comfortable on board, than we were two years ago. Firstly we now had the stove to keep us warm, secondly I was able to plug our shoreline cable, via a connector that I borrowed from neighbour Simon, into the mains electric supply, this time the immersion heater kept the water hot and we could keep the lights on and use the DVD player and TV with no fear of running the batteries flat. Also last time we had no internet connection, but as mentioned before, T Mobile must have beefed up the service as we had an excellent connection so much so we were able to watch the first episode of the new Doctor Who on the BBC I Player. Finally, although SKYY was in the relatively dark Victorian dry dock, we were able to escape into the very pleasant spring sunshine and sit alongside the lock eating our lunch and drinking coffee and watch the cute little lambs gambolling about in the adjacent field. Oh I nearly forgot to mention the number of boating friends and acquaintances that we bumped into during these few days, it is amazing that after only two short years afloat how many people we have got to know.
Only a couple of weeks before we start of on our six month, grand trip up North and good chums Cecilia and Clive drove up on Wednesday, from North London to spend a couple of days with us. The day was wet and windy so we enjoyed the company, conversation, chocolates and wine and delayed setting off until the sun shone on Thursday morning. Clive owns a proper sailing boat, but was amazed at the amount of activity on the canals and they especially enjoyed the activity around Braunston. Fortunately Val & Jean from N.B. Rune, close neighbours of ours at Wigrams, were just vacating their ideal mooring spot close to the entrance to the marina and we gratefully took over their space. The picture of the intriguing caravan was taken in the car park at Braunston Marina; even by narrow boat standards it is very compact.
The return journey to Wigrams in the afternoon wasn’t as wet as we expected but just as we turned into the marina the rain poured down so we cruised up to the quay side so that Cecilia and Clive could alight right next to the car park and after a quick farewell we headed back to our pontoon.
Good Friday and the marina was buzzing with holiday makers turning up to take over their Black Prince boat for a week or two and many private owners coming to check out their boat after the ravages of this winter, we just kept our heads down.
Now for the Family; my Sister Dawn and her son and his wife Dene and Bryony and two children arrived mid day Easter Saturday. The sun to our surprise was shining bright and we immediately headed out towards the Folly. Dene and Bryony’s son, James, is a very keen fisherman and as soon as we had moored up he got his rod and net out, but to no avail. Abby, their daughter and Duggie got on as if they had been together all their life. A walk to the locks showed how busy it was and confirmed our earlier decision not to try and give a locking experience to the family, Instead we bought ice creams and watched the queue of boats work their way up and down the first lock, whilst Duggie sought out a Scottish Deer Hound to wrestle with.
As soon as we got back to our marina, having dodged the rain clouds, that had been bubbling up all afternoon, there was lots of waving as we said goodbye, having thankfully persuaded Abby that maybe she would be better of with Mum & Dad rather than staying on SKYY with us, although we know that it was Duggie that was the attraction, but a very enjoyable day for all.
Again thank you to Colin and Denise and their Mini Schnauzer Pip and to Carol and George and their Patterdale terrier Molly for their supportive comments regarding the Dog Blog, but hopefully the balance between boat and dog blog will be about right once our adventure gets underway.