Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Our 2015 Cruising Season

We have been home nearly six weeks now, so I guess this post is long overdue. I like to do a round-up of the year's cruising but meeting an avid blog reader last week reminded me that I need to hurry up and write it!

It seems that some of our blog readers felt 'dumped' by the last post so this post should round things off nicely for this season and lead us into the 2016 season.

Rachael and I like to go via the USA on our way both from and back to Australia, on the way home we had the flexibility of staying a few days, which we duly did. We made a little side trip to Las Vegas for six days to finish off the shopping. Rachael took the chance to get way ahead with the Christmas shopping and even with the poorer exchange rate, around US0.72 to AU$1, there were still plenty of bargains to be had. We finally arrived back in Melbourne on 10 October, which gave me a few days before I started work again.

This season I didn't keep a tally of various statistics, I found using the Canal Trip Planner to verify my stats for last year nice and easy and pretty accurate. So, this year I retraced our course and popped out this statistical analysis of our 2015 canal season:

634 miles travelled(1020 km)
574 locks, some had lock keepers (mainly R. Thames)
81 swing / lift bridges, and
12 tunnels (from memory Blisworth was the longest at 3056 yds or 2.8 km)

Blisworth Tunnel (South Entrance) on the GU
Aldermaston Lift Bridge on the K & A
Even away from Serafina there are still plans to be put in place for next cruising season. We have booked our tickets for our 2016 trip so now we have dates to work around. Five months of cruising next year will pretty much cover the best weather the UK has to offer. Our plan for the 2016 cruising season is to head north. Last week I entered a broad cruising plan into the trip planner to give us a rough idea of the number of cruising days needed. There is always room for adjustment but our first iteration yielded a total of ninety cruising days (allowing for four hours per day), leaving us sixty-two days to play with. I am sure these extra days will get swallowed up by rain days, unplanned stoppages and 'this is a nice place, let's stay a little longer' days. I know from experience there will be a lot of 'let's stay a little longer' stops along the way.

Serafina requires a BSS inspection before licensing in 2016 so that is the first order of business. Next on the agenda for the 2016 cruising season is blacking. Our plan is to book Serafina in for blacking along the way as we head north, I have a few marina's in mind. Once she is lifted out of the water, I can give the hull a good check over and if all is ok, head up to Scotland for a week while the blacking is completed.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Arriving Back in Stoke on Trent

From our overnight mooring we cruised for just over an hour before arriving at Stone around lunch time, we moored and took the short walk into town to have lunch. After lunch we called into the supermarket to pick up a few essentials, then it was back to the boat to relax. Except, Rachael had just finished her last book and was keen to get on with things since we were so close to our home marina; so off we much for relaxing in the sun! For the next few hours we knocked over the eight locks going out of Stone and cruised down to Barlaston to spend the night.

Just a short stay, we know this part of the Trent and Mersey Canal well! We were off early...ish next morning for the short cruise to Stoke on Trent and the end of this years' journey for Serafina. Snapped a few landmarks on the way.

Trentham Lock, one of the earliest on the Trent and Mersey which opened in 1777. Rachael's getting the gates open.

And, cruising towards Stoke on Trent.

Finally reaching the Stoke on Trent top lock, Lock 40 at Etruria around lunchtime.

First point of call was the Calor Depot next to the Stoke moorings just up from Lock 40, a bargain at  £19.26 for a 13kg bottle! I picked up one bottle of gas out on the cut which cost me over £26, the normal price. After replacing our empty spare gas bottle it was off to moor, there was a vacant spot in front of the Toby Carvery Pub. On Saturday we moved around the corner so I could use the grinder to finish off the sanding, I didn't think the pub goers in the beer garden would appreciate the noise. I managed to get the sanding completed and a coat of paint on to Serafina. On Sunday, I put the second coat of paint on with a little help from Rachael's cousins from Scotland. As you can see, every job needs a supervisor!

We took a drive over to the chandlery today (Monday) to pick up a few more bits and pieces, particularly four new fenders to replace those lost over the last five months of cruising. I tied the new fenders on and moved Serafina into the marina to prepare her for the English winter ahead.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Trent and Mersey Canal Near Stone

Slow cruising today! We left Rugeley around 10am with the plan to cruise until we had had enough. After passing lots of moored boats heading out of  town I was about to open up the boat to cruising speed but not before passing the last moored boat and a speed camera!

We cruised up to the lock landing for the last lock before Great Haywood when Rachael called back from the lock to tie up, it was going to be a wait. After tying up and wandering up to the lock a lady from a hire boat was lying on the offside of the canal with a broken ankle. Everything had come to a stop as she was lying under the lock arm, a boat in the lock (not hers) and two others waiting to come down. The ambulance was quite quick and after organising a stretcher we managed to move her across the boat in the lock and on to the trolley, things started moving again soon after that. A shame really, they had only hired the boat the day before from Stone, four hours away.

After waiting close to an hour to go up the lock we pulled over for the water point in Great Haywood and filled our water tank, not the fastest tap in the world! After dumping our household waste in the bins and completing the fill we were off again.

It's starting to get cool and dark early now so an hour out of Stone, just before 4pm, it was time to moor for the night and fire up the heating.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Cruising from Rugby to Rugeley

We lingered in Braunston and in Rugby hoping to pick up our new cushions for the dinette. Now that the cushions have been delivered we headed off to Hawkesbury Junction. A little misty to start Friday but the sun was warm enough to burn that off quickly, turning into a nice warm day. These days a starting to be few and far between. Along the way I noticed that CRT/BW had placed a cautionary sign and a couple of buoys on what turned out to be a tree stump protruding into the canal. Why didn't they just cut another metre or so off it?


Now cruising on the Oxford Canal, a feature on this part of the canal are the canal arms that are now closed down and filled in as well as the straightening of the canal that has gone on over the years. There were quite a few of these dead ends along the way.

On our way to Hawkesbury Junction we passed Rose Narrowboats; Rachael and I couldn't help but think back to when we met Elly and Mick here just before they handed over their boat Parisien Star. We reached Hawkesbury Junction in early afternoon and moored just above the stop lock. Time to go for a walk and have a look around 'the junction.' We found this old pumping station used between 1837 and 1913, pumping water from underground into the canal.

It was such a nice day it was very competitive for a seat outside The Greyhound Pub where we stopped for a drink and watched the boats go by at this busy junction.

Another fine day as we headed off from Hawkesbury Junction heading for Atherstone. Rachael informed me it was washing day so on when the machine and we filled the water tank before we got too far along the canal. A lunchtime stop and a stroll into Nuneaton before continuing on to Starline Boats for a pump out and a fill with diesel(65p domestic). With the absence of locks the last few days Rachael has been walking along the canal for exercise, I've been urging her on from the boat!

Our cruising started quite late on Sunday even though we were woken early by a brass band in the field next to us. Not sure what all the cars and people were but seemed to be some flag waving and batten twirling going on.

This was at Hartshill, a very small village with some nice rural moorings. It was a short cruise down to Atherstone where we moored and took a walk into town to pick up a few things from mthe local Aldi. We were interested in this sculpture as strolled along the canal towards the shops, the Tree of Life sculpture depicts the history of Atherstone. A plaque beside the sculpture tells of the towns existence prior to the Doomsday Book of 1086.

We had lunch then headed off down the nine lock Atherstone Flight, cruising on to moor in Tamworth just above Glascote locks. We had considered an early stop at Polesworth but after seeing and hearing the motor bikes we quickly changed our minds.

Tamworth was just an overnight stop, the weather prediction for the next two days was poor so there were no sightseeing plans made. We waited for the showers to pass and got underway around 11am, I still copped some light rain off and on for an hour or two but I was dressed for the worse. We passed through Fazeley Junction finally meeting up from where we turned off at the start of the season. Passed the Cheese Boat on our way but we had already stocked up at Rugby.

Passing through Whittington there was a long row of boats, it seemed we were on tick over for half an hour, the remnants of the weekend Huddlesford Heritage Gathering. It was another few hours before we passed through Fradley Junction and on to the Trent and Mersey Canal; familiar territory for us. We finished off our day mooring late in the afternoon at Handsacre, a long day for us fearing the predicted rain for the rest of the week.

Upon waking up this morning, all had changed with the weather reports, very little rain for the rest of the week; from one extreme to the other! With a late start, we cruised the hour down to Rugeley in bright sunshine and moored up in time for lunch, then off into town for a look around. On our return there was time to do some work on the boat, this time installing a couple of lifting rings on the engine room floor boards.



Thursday, 17 September 2015

Lingering in Braunston then off to Rugby.

A couple of days in Braunston gave us the opportunity to catch up with a few more jobs on Serafina, it's a handy place, having two chandlers. We also need to linger a little so we can take delivery of our new dinette cushions. The unpredictable weather has made it a little difficult to get on with things.

The weather is a little average to say the least! Each day has been starting off quite cool and we have been getting showers most days as well. I have had to work in-between the showers, ready to pack things up at a moments notice. For two Aussies who haven't seen a winter for three years we are beginning to feel the cold, the diesel heater has been getting a work out this year!

The previous owner of Serafina had done most of the sound proofing of the engine bay but for some reason hadn't finished the job off. I had the carpenter block off some obvious large holes at the start of the cruising season but it still needed sound proofing panel attached to the bottom of several of the deck boards. I started this job in Braunston and managed to complete it today in Rugby.

We are still traveling on new waters for us as we headed off to Rugby. Earlier in the season we came down to Braunston then headed back towards Oxford. We picked a good day to head off to Rugby, Wednesday was probably the pick of the days to travel. I must admit, when we got to Hillmorton locks it was nice to get back into narrow locks, no more wide beams coming at you and wanting to stay in the centre of the canal.

As we got close to Rugby several of the bridges were decorated with murals, we snapped a couple as we passed under the bridges.

Today Rachael and I took off for a stroll along the towpath, hoping to take a circular route back to the boat. We crossed this aqueduct then took the stairs down to the road passing underneath. I took a photo of this quite smart construction.

The walking came to an abrupt halt when Rachael spied this retail park receiving a significant upgrade only fifteen minutes from the boat, just across from the Tesco marked on our Canal Companion. Many of the shops were already open despite the builders carrying on with final touch-ups.

From the retail Park Rachael and I headed off into Rugby City Centre, a twenty minute walk for us. I spied this mural as we arrived at the city centre.

After some more shopping, lunchtime and a Wetherspoon's Pub collided. Some more shopping after lunch and back to the boat. It wasn't too long before I got a call from Glen from Elite Furnishings, a Crick Show regular, saying he was five minutes away. He was delivering new cushions for the dinette; nice job!

Monday, 14 September 2015

An Internet Disaster As We Make Our Way to Braunston (Sideways)

Disaster! The wifi dongle crashed and we have been off the air for over three days. Rachael has the shakes from withdrawal and was prepared to pay anything to get back on line so I wasn't taking her anywhere near the phone shops. We arrived in Braunston yesterday afternoon and today we took the bus into Rugby to sort the issue out which, in the end, meant a new dongle.

So what have we doing while off the air? Well, from Wolverton we headed off to Cosgrove, another little village along the Grand Union Canal. The trip was uneventful until a few hundred metres before mooring we crossed over the River Great Ouse via the Iron Trunk Aquaduct completed in 1811, nice view.

If you wander around a bit, which I did, indications are that Cosgrove was an important port in it's heyday. This shot shows the narrow gauge rails on the wharf above Lock 21.

The mooring was great for doing some work on the boat so I got stuck into the sanding the starboard gunnel down to the straking strip. Now I just have to wait for a mooring with the tow path on the port side to complete the sanding process. We headed off after two nights, beautiful misty morning.

Passed the junction to the Buckingham Branch Canal just above Lock 21, the sign tells me it is currently under restoration.

A beautiful cruising day, lunch time Rachael picked this spot to call 'lunch'. We moored, set up the chairs and stayed for an hour or so.

While doing the last five locks for the day and being helped through by a couple of CRT Volunteers they advised us to grab the first mooring we could find. Turns out it was the 'Village at War' weekend in Stoke Bruerne, we planned to stay a few days, it was Thursday and we would stay at least 'til Saturday and take in some of the weekend. It was easy to fill in Friday, a tour of the canal museum, walk along the tow path, followed after lunch by more sanding inside and out, the engine room and the kitchen both need a little work. While wandering Rachael and I came across Geoff and Julie on their boat Willow Too, we were attracted by their flag, the RAF Blue Ensign. We chatted for nearly an hour before having to make our way back to the boat.

Saturday was most enjoyable, Stoke Bruerne was transformed. As we walked up to the village we were met with a line of WWII vehicles, camouflage nets and many people wandering around in old military uniforms or 1940's clothing. The formal opening speech was made by Sir Winston Churchill.

The Trip Boat 'Charlie'
A shot of the old single lock with metal gates beside the currently operating double lock.

After thoroughly enjoying our morning of festivities we decided we would take off for Weedon Bec at 1 o'clock. Up we went through the two locks in the village after battling to move people off the lock arms, through the many pre-booked moored boats and into the Blisworth Tunnel, 3076 yds.

Weedon Bec was a late arrival and an early departure the next morning as we made our way to Braunston. At the first lock for the day we met a couple on a hire boat waiting to go up and shared the lock with them. A lady with a bung shoulder operated the boat so after her several failed attempts to throw her centre rope up to her husband being first into the lock, I took over as first boat in from there on. No problems until she lost concentration in the pound before the second last lock of seven. I needed to pass her to get into the lock, she turned the tiller the wrong way, hit Serafina mid-ship, panicked and accelerated. I was moving down the canal almost side-ways doing all I could to slip back away from her boat. She eventually collected herself turning the tiller the right way and stopping. Sorry I haven't got any photos I was a little busy at the time! One more lock and they pulled over for the day, we continued on.

It was a thirteen lock day, the final leg of the day's trip was another two-way tunnel, the Braunston Tunnel, 2042 yards followed by another six locks.

We moored positioning ourselves across from The Boat House Pub and between the two chandlers. More equipment required for more work on the boat.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Fenny Stratford and Wolverton

After stopping for two nights in Leighton Buzzard, Sunday was a cruising day. Rachael and I were slow to get going, enjoying a lie in before a cooked breakfast and then a 300m cruise to the water point, which is just past the winding (turning) hole.

While we were waiting for the tank to fill we were entertained by a hire boat attempting to wind. I let him go for about fifteen minutes before Rachael told asked me to help out. Actually, I think it was more the forlorn look on his wife's and her friend's faces that Rachael felt intervention was required. I am always a little hesitant to help out these days as many boat hirers usually only get one or two chances to wind and they like to do it themselves. Anyway, with a little guidance (and a lot less throttle) he managed to turn the boat around and take his happy passengers back towards there hire base 20 minutes down the canal. By the time the entertainment was over the water tank was full and it was another short hop to the two hour moorings to pick up a few more bits and pieces from Tesco. When the supermarket is right next to the canal it is an ideal time to pickup heavier items; bottled water in particular!

We are starting to get a lot of cloudy, overcast days lately but Sunday was an exception, bright and sunny. We were heading to Fenny Stratford today, just a nice three and half hour, five lock cruise. The cruise was most enjoyable, the scenery picturesque. We arrived around 3 o'clock and had a choice of moorings, we took a 14 day mooring expecting to stay for a couple of nights.

On Monday Rachael and I strolled up to the train station and made the 10 minute trip to Bletchley, Bletchley Park is only a short walk from the station. We spent an interesting 5 - 6 hours getting to know more about the allied code breaking efforts in WW2.

The Headquarters, a beautiful old mansion.
The  machine/computer used to help break the code enciphered on the German Enigma machine.

Another short cruise today,  just over three hours to Wolverton on the northern side of Milton Keynes. Saw this boat along the way, not my first choice for a boat name!

Interesting place Wolverton, a main street with a mixture shops, many in old and some new architecture, looks like it was a village before it was absorbed into the City of Milton Keynes. The moorings are very suburban with a block of flats on one side of us and the town centre on the other.

Surrounded by some nice sculpture, this one, train tracks form the shape of a person reaching forward with a train in its hands. 

This one cycling, reaching forward with the development of cycles from the unicycle on. Just guessing here but I think roads form the shape of the human.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Rural Cruising on the Grand Union

We have certainly left greater London behind now and have moved to a more rural canal scene, something that we are more akin to. 

With the M25 London Orbital well behind us now, the suburban scenes have now been replaced by fields of horses, cows and sheep and the odd tractor. Oh, and not to forget the abundance of  ripe blackberries ready for picking, great for Rachael's apple and blackberry crumble. Mmmm!

We cruised off Wednesday morning after a good nights sleep, the trains not having too much affect on our sleep pattern. Rachael had the washing machine on as soon as had started the engine and switched over to the Travel Power. Five minutes later and we were on the water point filling the water tank. It was suppose to be a short cruise today, two hours tops, we were heading to Cowroast for an overnight stay and a chance to get some work done on the boat. Saw someone making good use of an old English icon as a greenhouse, it was filled with tomatoes. Perhaps Rachael's Uncle Jimmy could use one of these for his tomatoes!

Of course it didn't quite work out that way, off the water point and up to the first lock and the pound was empty! Fortunately it was CRT who had emptied it to look at a damaged lock (Lock 54), they had just started refilling it after an inspection and were going to empty it again later in the day.

Nearly an hour later and we were cruising on the now full pound!

My Canal Companion tells me this is a genuine totem pole imported from Canada by the owner of a timber yard that was previously on this site.

The rest of the trip to Cowroast was uneventful, it was an eight lock day! Not too long after we arrived the weather closed in an we didn't get any outside work done on the boat.

Thursday started off a little 'iffy' with light rain falling but we now have the luxury of waiting the rain out or not cruising at all with a more relaxed schedule. Eleven o'clock we cruised across the Tring Summit on a short no lock cruise, with the sun peeking through. By lunchtime we were moored across from the Grand Junction Arms Inn in Bulbourne. After lunch it was overalls on, deck boards off and time to clean up the bilge, in particular the automatic switch for the bilge pump which was no longer working. A good scrub with an old toothbrush in hot water and the switch was like new!

Yesterday (Friday) was a busy day, eighteen locks and a swing bridge. On arrival at our first lock (Lock 45) another boat turned up to share the lock work with an older couple aboard. I must admit that after Ray hauled his boat out of the lock using his centre rope, both Rachael and I thought there was no way we were going to get eighteen locks done today; how wrong we were! Ray and Rosemary on nb Maddy Rose had been doing this for years, knew the Grand Union like the back of their hands and proceeded to get us organised. Both in there 70's, that didn't stop them pulling their weight. It turned out to be a great day with some great company!

The swing bridge saw our only incident for the day. Ray had gone ahead to open it, Rosemary was on their boat just ahead of us. We were right there as the bridge opened only to be met by a wide beam who decided he must have the right of way; not sure how he thought that. All boats quickly went into reverse and Ray told the wide beam operator exactly how things would go; the wide beam pulled over and let us through before proceeding.

By 2:15 we were doing the last lock (Grove Lock) together.

Another 45 minutes and we were moored up in Leighton Buzzard and a well earned rest. Not for too long though, Rachael had us out the door an hour later and ten minutes more and we were food shopping at Aldi first then a follow up at Tesco both right near the canal!

Today (Saturday) we spent the morning taking in the the sights and sounds of Leighton Buzzard. Saturday in Leighton Buzzard is market day, lots of things to taste and try. We found a nice cafe for some lunch before heading back to the boat for more maintenance, this time repairing, sanding and re-painting the rectangle window frames. Thanks to Rachael's cousin Stephen for sourcing the replacement corner pieces.