Saturday, 1 October 2016

Hanging in Stoke

Well we've been just over a week in Stoke and the weather hasn't been particularly kind, it's certainly not painting weather. We have moved around the Stoke moorings a little trying to find the sun for the solar panels as well as a good place to paint. Currently we are moored near the Festival Park Marina. I do remember this being a 48 hour mooring but now there is no CRT mooring signage on any of the Stoke moorings thus making them all 14 day moorings, possibly because there are so many moorings available.

I had planned to touch up the bow and stern of the boat but that is just not going to happen now as the bad weather continues. We have had a few nice days but plenty of wind and rain too. I have managed to get the cream coloured strip on the bow completed and ready for the art work but little more.

I've also completed the cream strip on the swan neck after having it re-engineered, red and green to go yet.

In between rain storms there are other jobs to be done in preparation for winter. Yesterday (Friday) was washing and polishing day, Serafina's second polish for the season. I don't get too carried away, since it's like polishing 3-4 cars polishing one 57' boat, a couple of polishes a year is enough! Lots of little niggly jobs too that can only get done when you are in the one place for a length of time with plenty of facilities.

This is also the time to get some Christmas shopping done. The Wedgwood/Royal Doulton Outlet Store is only a short walk from the canal so these days there is always plenty of Wedgwood and Royal Doulton gifts under the tree! It's handy to get Wedgwood to forward the gifts straight home rather than have to carry them with us, it was around £35 to get them back to Australia.

Rachael and I have both managed to do a lot of walking, with several retail parks and Handley (City Centre) all within easy walking distance. Currently the biggest challenge I face is keeping the batteries charged without increasing their memory, thus dropping more Ahr.

Even now as I write this blog just after midday, it is 10° and pouring rain, we have the engine running to charge the domestic batteries and we have the heater on.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Serafina High and Dry Again as we Arrive Back in Stoke

This year we gave ourselves plenty of time to get a few things done on Serafina before we depart back to Australia for summer. Top of the list was to get the main shaft between the tiller and rudder repaired. It had been damaged coming out of lock on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal nearly three months ago and we have persevered with it up until now. I had talked to a few boat engineers during this time but none of them had instilled the confidence in me to let them 'at it'. I shopped around and the guys at The Canal Cruising Company in Stone sounded like they knew what they were doing, for the right price too. So by late Monday afternoon Serafina was high and dry for the second time this year, ready for work to start first thing Tuesday morning.

We were set up with an access ramp and shore power and were set for the evening. While we were on shore power I talk the opportunity to try and get a few lost amps back from the batteries. Since installing the new batteries the battery management system tells me we have lost around 60 Ah. By switching the battery charger off and on a few times during the evening I managed to fool it into charging down to -45Ahr.

At 8:30am were could hear some banging on the stern, they were starting to remove the rudder so the tiller could be removed. Unfortunately Liverpool Boats require dry docking to do this job, many boats can be done in the water thus avoiding the extra costs of the using the dry dock. It only took half an hour and the rudder, shaft and swan neck had been removed, the shaft and swan neck are one piece.

The rudder shaft was repaired, it had been bent back and also twisted approx. 20° from centre. And while Serafina was apart the swan neck was being re-shaped so it sits further back on the stern of the boat. Below is the finished result, previously the centre part was almost vertical and encroaching right over the stern deck. Now all it needs is a splash of paint!

Swan neck re-shaped
Rachael and I headed over for lunch around midday and we were back by 1:00pm, just in time for Serafina to be re-floated. Filling the dry dock was a much quicker process than emptying it. The planks were taken away one-by-one and in fifteen minutes we were back to canal level.

Since it was so early we decided to head off from Stone locking up the hill, two more Stone locks and then the four Meaford Locks, all had to be emptied before we could enter which slowed us down just a little. We arrived at Barlaston around 4:30pm to find it rather busy with around a dozen boats moored there, still plenty of room for us though.

A late start on Wednesday with only an hours cruising and one lock to do. We were meeting our cruising partners from last year, Kevin and Carole form NB Dunslavin in Hem Heath for lunch at the Toby Carvery Pub. Just as they arrived at 1pm so did the tree contractors who wanted to cut down a dead tree next to where we were moored. So, I put Kevin straight to work and we hauled Serafina out of tree felling range and re-tied her. When we arrived back later in the afternoon for afternoon tea the tree was a pile of small branches and 50cm logs.

A fine sunny morning greeted us on Thursday after Wednesday afternoon degenerated into a rain storm around 5pm. A late start again since there was no long cruising to do...or so we thought! We came to the bottom Stoke lock and stopped behind an empty boat. Rachael went up to see what was happening and found the owner helping another boat, she was traveling with, through the lock. Nothing strange about that! Then the first boat moored at the top of the lock and came and helped her through the lock while other boats continued coming down. I overhear a conversation between one boater coming down and a boater from the moored boat, "why aren't you going on to the next lock?", she says "we want to help her through the lock". Boater coming down says "there are plenty of people here to help", the answer was "no". When they left there were three boats above the lock. The next lock had been emptied and re-filled several times while the boat stayed on the lock landing. When we arrived at the next lock, behind the same boat, the same process started again. This time I had my say but they couldn't see that they were slowing all the boats behind them, at least she told the front boat to go on to the next lock. I expected to go through this lock and get around to the next and it would be almost ready to empty and go in. No! The first boat had gone around the corner and simply waited at the next lock landing for the second boat because when I went around I again moored behind the same boat, went up to the the lock and the front boat was still coming up the lock. This happened through all five Stoke Locks, what normally takes us an hour and half at worst took over three hours! These boats were heading for Birmingham so I'm sure there will be plenty of conflict to come if they repeat this performance!

We did have time at the Stoke Top Lock to chat to the CRT volunteers who told us that this lock at over 12ft deep was the deepest on the system. It wasn't until the sides of the lock were increased by a couple of feet. The photo shows the previous level of the sides on the right.

We cruised out of the lock and on to the Stoke moorings directly in front of us, we had left Stoke in mid-May. We now have nearly two weeks to finish off some painting and prepare the boat for winter.

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Oxford, The Covenrty and Finally The Trent and Mersey

I had to hold off on this post for several days as we were running out of data on the wifi, we did in fact run out of data. If it wasn't for the horrendous cost of extra data it wouldn't have been a problem. Anyway here we finally are with a few extra days to catch up on in the blog.

I left off the last blog at Rugby on the Oxford Canal which, for us, seems an age away since we are now moored in Stone on the Trent and Mersey Canal having passed along the Coventry Canal in between. Rachael homed in on the shops at the new retail park and we managed to waste spend several hours covering most of the shops in the park. The owners have so graciously placed a nice entrance to the park off the canal with a nice map beside. The only thing that was missing was the neon sign saying 'come shop here'. We followed up our shopping experience by crossing the canal at Bridge 58 and having lunch at The Harvester Pub and Restaurant. We came across a Harvester Restaurant earlier in the  cruising season when we were over near Highclere Castle near Newbury where we had an excellent experience. Lunch at the Rugby Harvester was no different and only a 5 minute walk from the canal.

So after filling up at Harvester we decided to move off the mooring and head for Hawkesbury Junction, the junction of the Oxford and Coventry Canals. It had been a lovely day for cruising, we stopped along the way to fill with diesel and empty the holding tank. Late in the afternoon the weather closed in with a thunder and lightning display, fortunately the rain held off until we moored just half an hour cruising time short of the junction. Mind you, we did try to moor an hour before but it was too shallow and we were unable to get the boat to the side. Re-launching the boat I managed to slip and place one leg thigh deep in the canal. I finished the journey with a wet left leg!

Misty morning on the Coventry Canal
First thing I did in the morning was check the fuel, oil and coolant. Our stop for diesel yesterday had managed to fill the tank with lots of diesel, lots of water and lots of dead diesel bug, first time hadn't checked the fuel before allowing them to fill the tank! It was a short run to Hawkesbury Junction and as anticipated there was little room for mooring; a good decision to stop short of the junction the day before. There was a queue for the stop lock (a one (approx) foot deep lock used to stop the flow of water from one company's canal into another's) so we pulled over to fill the water tank. Noticed a bit of work going on at the junction, looked like a demolition. There are several very old 'huts' around that seem unused.

We cruised passed Charity Dock, I'm not sure what they do here but it looks like a car wrecker mixed in with a boat wrecker. Whatever it is it's a shambles!

A bit of everything here at Charity Dock

We cruised on to Hartshill where we moored for the night. There was plenty left in a beautiful day to start the painting. The gas locker lid was the first to feel the sander! It then got two coats of light undercoat; I'm changing the colour. The top of the sign post made for an excellent bench.

Next to get the sander was the bow, top and sides. Someone had done a pretty average job of painting the sides in the first place.

Nearly ready for a new coat of paint
All was going well until it quickly clouded over late in the afternoon, then we got the thunder and lightening show and there was just enough time to clean up and pack up before the rain came down and that was the end of the painting for the day.

We headed off from Hartshill nice and early and arrived in Atherstone an hour later. A quick dash to the off license for milk and bread and we headed off, working our way down the Atherstone Lock Flight, nine locks in total and quite a pretty flight. We had help with the first lock from CRT volunteers, the rest was up to us.

Nearly to Polesworth and there are not too many crops still in, the only one I've seen lately is corn (?) or at least that is what it looks like to the untrained eye!

We finished the day on a semi-rural mooring just passed Alvecote Marina, a half hour cruise from Tamworth. The stretch of canal between Polesworth and Alvecote is a most enjoyable hour of  forest cruising.

Once again off early and hoping to get a mooring at Fradley Junction, when we arrived late 'ish' there was not a mooring to be had! Even around the corner on the Trent and Mersey above the second lock! We had little choice but to continue of up three locks before mooring just passed the lock landing on Lock 20. This was our first chance to find a suitable mooring spot, the edges are in very poor condition from the boat wash.

Moored just above Lock 20
Heading for Great Haywood on Saturday and Rugeley was chaotic to the point of a traffic jam at Bridge 86 where it took quite a while to sort things out between half a dozen boats coming and going in all directions. There is never a lot of room to move at the best of times here anyway! Most boats wanted to moor, with no room to do it, others, like me, wanted to continue on through. Eventually it sorted itself as it always does! My speed was clocked on the way out of Rugeley! Four MPH, right on the money!

No problems getting a mooring at Great Haywood, we were in rather early. It's amazing that after spending so much time up north almost devoid of boats, you forget how busy the canals can get, the Four Counties Ring being one of the busiest. We moored right near the bridge across the Trent to Shugborough where they had a circus set up in the grounds. Throughout the afternoon we had background music for the mooring, nothing too loud and pleasant enough.

Heading out of Great Haywood on a cool but sunny Sunday morning we came across a sculptor working hard at a bust of what looked very close to Lady Diana Spencer.

Lots of hire boats along the way, one in particular going too fast and cutting a blind corner, not counting on Serafina being on the the other side. It ended up being a gentle head on fender to fender but I'm sure he learnt a valuable lesson. We arrived early into Stone, around 2pm, and took up a mooring in the 48 hour moorings, we have booked an appointment with the boat doctor here in Stone, Serafina needs a little TLC.

Monday, 12 September 2016

A Private Mooring at Marston Doles...Bring in the Excavator?

Friday afternoon we moored in Fenny Compton in the 14 day moorings, the 48 hour moorings were full at the time we arrived. Plenty of time to tie up and tidy up before making our way to The Wharf Inn, 300 metres around the tow path. We got a few drinks and sat down just in time for the entertainment, a 70ft hire boat was attempting to wind, he gave the boat moored on the private mooring quite a few decent whacks before getting pulled around by the bow rope. We had our dinner at The Wharf, Rachael had the cheeseburger, chips and salad and I had the steak and stilton pie, chips and salad both were ok! say 7/10.

Well the sun didn't show it's face until very late in the afternoon on Saturday. It started pouring rain around midnight and didn't let up, it was only the intensity that varied. I went for a walk into Fenny Compton Village, sick of being couped up all morning, a two mile round trip in light rain...very refreshing. There were very few boat movements today, mainly hire boats on their tight schedules. We had dinner at The Wharf Inn again on Saturday evening, the meals are nothing extraordinary, just your average pub fare.

A 9am start on Sunday as we headed out of Fenny Compton, this stretch of canal is flat and a little boring until you get to the Napton Lock Flight, one of the picturesque (I think) parts of the system. There were several of these concrete bunkers along the way, a hangover from WWII, not sure this one was in it's original position there wasn't much cover for it. The others we've seen are usually well concealed even though we are talking 70 years ago.

Passed a boat that regularly shows up on blogs, I don't think he has much water available to him. There was a sign on the fence just before we got to this boat advising that there were moorings available however, the off-side canal edge didn't look terribly hospitable for mooring. I wonder if the farmer just digs you a mooring?

Reaching the top of the Napton Flight (9 locks) there was a queue, just the same as when we came up the flight a fortnight ago. We were number four in the queue so there was plenty of time to do some polishing before our turn came up. We were fortunate to be going the 'right' way, it was a lot busier coming up the flight than down! There were a lot of hire boats so Rachael went ahead to the locks to organise things, many of the hirers haven't operated locks before so they can be a little disorganised.

Heading down the Napton Flight
After reaching the bottom of the Napton Flight we filled the water tank, the Napton taps are quite slow so it was a good half hour before we packed up the hose and moved around the corner on to the Napton Visitor Moorings. We didn't mind the long fill we were entertained by several artists singing at The Folly Inn, just behind the hedge. Once tied up we locked up and headed over to The Folly for a drink and more entertainment on the lawn.

By the time we got back to the boat, around 6pm the moorings were full, many of the boats preparing to go up the locks tomorrow.

We got away around 9am this morning and reached Braunston just before lunch, passing Napton Junction and the turn on to the Grand Union proper, along the way. We tossed up whether to go back to Stoke on Trent via the Oxford or the Grand Union, we decided the Oxford. We dropped into Midland Chandlers to pick up a few bits and pieces but walked put empty handed, we never seem to have much luck there. Cruising past Bridges 81 and 82 I managed to snap a photo of the signs that have been erected and by what I could see through the hedge and hear there is a lot of heavy machinery getting stuck into a new marina. Looks like a big one too! Sorry! best photo I could get.

Only three locks today, the duplicated locks at Hilmorton. I got to do the honours, Rachael found the gates heavy and the ground paddles hard work.

We finished off the day mooring at Rugby in the moorings just passed the footbridge. Not the best moorings in the world, they need dredging and the sides need re-alignment, it's hard to find where the real edge is. These moorings are nice and close to Tesco Supermarket though so we had a chance to do a good shop with a short walk to the boat with shopping bags. My backpack had to go back to Australia with my daughter, she needed the extra room.

Another day planned in Rugby for tomorrow, Rachael spied the retail park that was under construction last year when we came through has now been completed, I guess there will be several hours lost there.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Heading North on the Oxford Canal

We did get into Thrupp nice and early so there were plenty of moorings available. By dinner there was not a mooring to be had with the bulk of the boats heading towards Oxford.

A couple of days in Thrupp gave us some time to catch up on a few jobs that needed doing. I managed to finish the polishing along one side of Serafina and replace the foam around the weed hatch. There was also plenty of time to have lunch and a few drinks at The Boat Inn.

We pushed off on Tuesday morning heading for Heyford. We made such good time and it was a lovely cruising day so we continued on, but not before we picked up Rachael's handbag from The Bell Inn. She had left it there while on our way to Oxford. We didn't tie up, Rachael held the centre line while I nicked up to the pub to pick it up, five minutes and we were on our way again.

Came across this boat on our way, looks like it's for sale but the stove might need a little work or even replacing.

We spent the night moored at Aynho, just before Bridge 189, we've moored here before it's no too bad apart from the odd train.

On Wednesday we arrived at Aynho Weir Lock just in front of a hire boat. This lock is a diamond shape and can fit two boats in so we obliged. While it was filling they asked us if we knew where the next winding hole was which happened to be 10 minutes along the canal and just through the next lock, they were happy with that. After we exited the lock and continued on they were not to be seen. We emptied and went up through the next lock and they still hadn't appeared. My only guess is they tried to wind in the small water course just outside Ayhno Weir Lock. I'm not sure if they are still there but I certainly wouldn't have tried it! The locks weren't in our favour, this was the third lock in a row we were getting set to empty so we could go in.

Banbury Lock was busy! We were the fourth boat queuing at the bottom so I decided to top up the water at the Services rather than go through the lock and fill in the pound at the top. There was plenty of time to get some water into our tank and not even lose our spot in the queue! Banbury is one of our favourite moorings, there was plenty of space right next to the shopping centre as directed by Rachael. The weather here was great once again and there was plenty of time to take it easy and have a good wander around town. There is always shopping to do! and I always have odd jobs that require doing around the boat.

The fine lady riding a cock horse
Banbury Cross
Friday started off with the sun beaming through the porthole and we set off at 9am in bright sunshine which lasted most of the day. We struck the odd shower on our way to Fenny Compton as well as beating our way through the 'Amazonian like' under growth just before you get to Fenny Compton. I think the CRT mowing contractor must be waiting for the off season to do the whole Oxford needs it!

Just a little overgrown!
The sunshine is out again as we have moored in Fenny Compton where we expect to stay for a couple of days, the weather outlook for tomorrow is for heavy rain but that could the weather! Dinner tonight at The Wharf Inn, I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Heading South to Oxford with Visitors

We are currently moored in Thrupp, arriving back here late this morning after an early start from Oxford.

On Sunday we picked up our family visitors from the airport and brought them over to our mooring in Banbury. They enjoyed the closeness of the moorings to the shopping centre and added quite a bit of extra ballast to the boat.

While we had the rental car for another day we headed into Birmingham, to Cadbury World at Bournville.

The shopping and chocolate over we headed off to Lower Heyford. We put our visitors to work, one on the tiller the other working the locks.

We finished off a long day with drinks and dinner at The Bell Inn. Our next day was a lot shorter with us arriving in Thrupp just after lunch. Our mooring this time three metres from the back door of The Jolly Boatman Inn where we spent the afternoon.

It was great having an extra hand on the locks and lift bridges as we made our way into Oxford, only a three hour trip from Thrupp. Shopping was again on the agenda as well as taking in a few of the sights of Oxford which centred mainly around the university. We were here early last year and they were talking about an upgrade to the moorings at Oxford. It seems they may be getting underway and if it comes to fruition then it will be great.

 The last day of our mooring in Oxford we took our visitors to London by train and gave them a whirlwind sightseeing tour before putting them on a train to Heathrow.

Buckingham Palace
Victoria Memorial

Big Ben

Heading out of Oxford this morning I thought how nice it would be to have that proposed new winding hole rather than having to go down Isis Lock to wind in the Thames then back up through Isis Lock to head back north. While cruising down to Oxford I noted how overgrown the off-side (particularly) of the canal was. Many of the boats coming towards me were very reluctant to move over into the trees, for good reason. The plan worked well and it was a good hour before we met our first boat. I did spot this interesting steering contraption on the back of this boat. I get the impression from the condition of the boat that the steering contraption doesn't get too much of a workout.

I finished the day washing and polishing  one side of Serafina, the Oxford Canal is rather overgrown in several places.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

On the way to Oxford

We have finally slowed down and put in a nice short day! We have been moving 'at speed' over the last few days, not something I like doing. The cruising also included doing something I thought I  would never have to do and that is arriving on to a mooring in the dark.

We left Market Harborough early 'ish' on Monday arriving at the bottom of Foxton Locks well before lunch. I made the trek up the hill to check in with the lock keeper while Rachael stayed with the boat, for some reason they were all up the top with no boats. The word from the lock keeper was to go straight in to the bottom lock. It's the first time we've had a cheer squad to get us into a lock!

No boats coming down and one other boat followed us up the two five-lock staircases. There was plenty of help for Rachael with the gates along the way and plenty of CRT guidance as well.

Foxton nearly done
 Bronze statue of Dolly the canal horse at the top lock
We ended the day on a nice rural mooring just before Husbands Bosworth Tunnel (1170yds).

On Tuesday the cruising was going along nicely, the views of the surrounding countryside were picturesque England, right up until we met the boater moving at 'tick-over' that was oblivious to all that surrounds him. I had plenty of time to take this shot to remind me that autumn was coming, the tow path is covered with leaves, not long before we head home.

We cruised past Crick Marina, no one we knew was home.

And then we got to Watford Locks where we took our place at number six in the queue. Once again we found the lock keeper, this time at the bottom of the locks and put our boat name down and waited, and waited...four hours before we moved into the top lock. Rachael and I locked up Serafina and took our windlasses to help speed up the process a little.

Queuing around the bend as some boaters take in the sunshine.
Watford Locks from the top
With four hours out of our day we decided to keep on going heading into Braunston Tunnel (2042 yds), our third tunnel for the day. We passed one boat just after the half way point and met a second head-on, on my right hand side, his left. Fortunately we had both slowed to a snail pace. It was a hire boat and the faces on the people on the bow deck was priceless.

We hit Braunston Locks rather late and we were tempted to moor in the pound with two locks to go but I was certain at this time of year we would easily get a mooring at Braunston, even if it was 8:45pm. I was wrong, we continued through Braunston and turned at the junction towards Napton.

We grabbed a spot 200m after the junction, we knew the moorings were shallow, but any port in a storm (or the dark). We managed to moor almost behind the boat we moored behind last year at the Braunston show. Only difference here is Serafina has done around 1000mls since, this boat hasn't moved.

We  slipped off the mud of our shallow Braunston mooring to start our Wednesday ready to take on Napton Locks, we are starting to get used to narrow locks again after being up north where the locks are mostly short and wide. We were heading back to Oxford, we were only there on the boat a year ago. We passed the windmill at Napton on the Hill, this is the closest picture you will get from me. I think I'll leave it to Tom from NB Waiouru to go up there and get a closer shot!

The Water Buffalo herd were still there, I think the herd has grown since last year.

When I get a chance I'm tempted to try a selection of the farms' produce, steaks, cheese and ice cream, the locals tell us it's a dairy herd! May call in to the farm on the way back.

We had a close call on the second last lock of the day when the bottom gate paddle wouldn't rise further than 100mm, the other gate paddle was taped up as inoperable. It took around thirty minutes for the lock to empty and we could get a boat out so we could go in, we called CRT to report it while we waited! Our lock fill took around five minutes, the top gate paddles were working nicely thank-you. We finished the day at Fenny Compton on the first visitor mooring near The Wharf Pub. Not a problem on a Wednesday night but I would think twice if it was a Friday night! We also remember there was a lot of entertainment here last time as lots of hire boats try to wind (turn) with another two boats on the water point in the turning hole. We took our seats and drinks at the pub and waited but no boats turned up...damn!

Today, I hauled Serafina back a boat length on to the water point and filled with water. I had started the engine fifteen minutes earlier and Rachael had started a wash so we could the most benefit out of the water fill. It was a nice fast fill and the wash was on the spin cycle when we left to ten minutes around the corner to fill with diesel at Fenny Compton Marina. We had done most of the hard yards earlier in the week so after we ploughed through the undergrowth just after Fenny Compton without scratching the boat we knocked over the next nine locks rather quickly. There were very few boats heading towards Oxford and lots going the opposite direction. They were queued at Napton yesterday and they were queuing at Claydon Locks today.

We arrived in Cropedy just in time to tie up and wait out a heavy rain shower. Hoping to get a mooring at Banbury for the long weekend we completed one more lock and took up a rural mooring just above Lock 27. It's only a short run from here into Banbury tomorrow.