Sunday, 31 May 2015

All by ourselves...

Our daughter and her family left quite early on another cool and rainy day heading for London and ultimately Melbourne. In fact, as I am writing this blog they have just arrived home safely.

We headed off virtually straight after the kids left for a few hours cruising. I say 'virtually' because with the weather being so poor it was time to don the waterproof pants and jacket. This is only done in extreme cases, I prefer to stay indoors when it's raining. In this case we had to make some time up to make a meeting with Kevin and Carol in nb Dunslavin at Fazeley.

The cruise was reasonably uneventful with lots of farmland along the way and this beautiful old mansion house called Bishton Hall. Currently a school, a little research tells me it was built in 1750.

We stuck reasonably close to the busy West Coast Rail Line, there was the constant buzz of high speed trains passing. Generally with less than ten minutes between them it is quite a busy line. You can see by this pic of the mile post on the canal that we cruised through quite a few miles of farmland.

Just before Rugeley the canal crossed the River Trent, the Trent and Mersey Canal sticks close to the River Trent. A shot back over my shoulder of the aqueduct.

The River Trent from the Aqueduct.

We passed through Rugeley and continued on until we came to the site of the old Armitage Tunnel. Having caved in, it is now a one way length of narrow canal with a bend in the middle so you cannot see oncoming boat traffic. The sign advised that someone should walk ahead to ensure the way is clear. I dropped Rachael off and waited for her to get past the bend, about 150m, where she gave me the thumbs-up to continue. It was fortunate Rachael went ahead, as I got around the bend a boat was just pulling up.

A comedy of errors began about here! I went around the waiting boat and pulled to the side where Rachael decided to board the boat at the bow (front) rather than the stern (back). She shuffled along the gunnel, jacket in hand, towards the stern until she was 3/4 the way there. For some reason she decided to throw her coat to me. The jacket caught the wind and landed on the other side of the boat in the canal. There wasn't much time to think, I slowed the boat, reached down off the deck and managed to grab the jacket. On the way down I knocked my chin on the engine room door and put my teeth through my bottom lip. When I got back up Rachael had arrived, apologising profusely, all she could see was blood streaming from my mouth. A small price to pay for an expensive jacket!

After stopping at a 'CRT advised' offside (not the towpath side) mooring to pick up a few things at Armitage we moored for the night at Handsacre. It hadn't been the best cruising day we had ever had, dull, windy and rainy, it was nice to pull the boat over and go inside to sit down for a while.

The next morning was much brighter as we headed off, a bright sunny day for a change. It was a couple of hours before we reached Fradley junction and turned off the Trent and Mersey on to the Coventry Canal and tying up to fill the water tank. It was such a slow fill, seeming to take ages, that we moved on to the temporary moorings, locked up the boat and went to get some lunch.
The Swan, right on the junction, was busy outside thanks to the bright sunshine but not terribly busy inside. We checked the menu and didn't find it terribly exciting so moved around the corner to the nature reserve cafe. We did eat here but weren't overwhelmed by the meals we chose. Apparently we should have walked down to the cafe at the CRT office.

Once we got going again, Streetham Wharf came up after around an hour with diesel at 69p, time to top up. Typical of boatyards it was a mixture of old boats and new in various states of disrepair.

It was a short cruise from the wharf to our mooring for the night at Whittington. We locked up the boat and went for a stroll to have a look around and grab a few bits and pieces if we came across a shop. The horse and buggy was moving along at a good rate of knots.

Nice pub at Whittington but no time for a drink or a meal tonight there's a few little jobs to do.

Cruising out of Whittington the next morning there was some houses with gardens backing on to the canal.

Our cruise to Fazeley Junction was a nice short two hour cruise and again through farm land. We have met up with Kevin and Carol and are moored at Fazeley for the night.

Friday, 29 May 2015

A cruising we will go...

We met our cruising partners Kevin and Carol over at the Crick Boat Show and made final plans for our cruising schedule for this season. We will meet at Fazeley Junction on Monday and head south towards London with time at Stratford and Little Venice in London. A cruise along the Kennett and Avon to Bath and back is also in order.

On Tuesday, after picking up the cushions for the bow lockers, we headed off down the Stoke locks towards Stone. It was good to be moving along the cut again after nearly a week in the marina. As we cruised Rachael and I discussed the merits of living in a marina on a permanent basis. I know a lot of people do it, going cruising for just a few weeks a year, but I can't say it would be our cup of tea.

I thought things were reasonably quiet on the cut until we got to just out of Stone where we arrived as boat number seven in the queue to go through this lock. Turns out there was another seven or eight boats ahead of us, already through the lock, from a cruising club. Chatting with some people from one of the boats, I found out they were turning off at Great Heywood Junction on to The Staffs and Worcs Canal, we were continuing on. Sounded good to me!

It was a busy day for the first day out with 14 locks negotiated. We managed to moor in Stone just after the last Stone lock. Once the boat was readied for the next day I headed off to Morrison's (for the Aussies...a supermarket) to pick up a few bits and pieces.

First thing the next morning we pulled Serafina back on to the water point to fill the tank.


While we waited the local swans swam over with their family thinking they may get breakfast. We had nothing prepared for them in line with the Canal and River Trust request for healthy meals for the wild birds rather than bread. They left as hungry as they came.

A fair bit of dredging was going on just on the edge of Stone as we headed off. I notice that the CRT are using the dredgings to create a new bank, this was happening for a few miles.

Arriving in Great Haywood, there were only two boats on the 48 hour moorings above Haywood Lock. We took up a prime position in the sunshine to get the most use out of the solar panels we could. A quick call to Dave from Canalcare about fly screens for the boat and an appointment was made for later this afternoon. Once Serafina was locked up we went off to try and fulfill Rachael's perennial pursuit to find a plain scone in England. Me, I love fruit scones of which there seems to be an abundant supply! The Lock House was our first stop but alas, to no avail! We continued on, next stop, the cafe at The Canalside Farm Shop. Still no luck here either but plenty of nice alternatives and a good cuppa were had. While we were here we picked a few things, the pork sausages caught our eye.

While at Stone we received a call from our daughter letting us know they were heading down from Scotland to Heathrow to fly home and were calling in for another night on the boat. We decided to stay an extra night at Great Haywood to make it easier for them to find us. First thing in the morning Dave from Canalcare was at the boat to fit retractable fly screens on the two hatches. He did a great job and they look great too! I'll post a photo of the screens along with the carpenter's work soon.

That afternoon our daughter and her family arrived. We met them at the Clifford Arms pub, not too far from the canal and stepped in for a drink and a catch up. After all the rain we had in Stoke we finally had a nice day for Hollie to do some boating.

Rachael and Hollie closing the lock gate so we can go down Haywood Lock to the lower moorings.

Hollie jumped onboard Serafina after organising the lock under Rachael's direction and helped me take Serafina out of lock and down one hundred metres to the mooring. We traveled a total of four hundred metres.

Once moored the ducks descended upon us and the girls were keen to feed them out of the cratch.

They head off to London Heathrow tomorrow for a night before flying back to Australia. We are heading off towards Fradley Junction where we will turn off the Trent and Mersey Canal and onto the Coventry Canal.

The following link shows our current route: Current cruising route

Monday, 25 May 2015

Back to Serafina

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Scotland visiting family. It was time to head down the M6 to Stoke to get Serafina ready to go cruising for the summer.

We brought two of our granddaughters down to Serafina with us for a spot of babysitting while their Mun and Dad headed off for a couple of days in Blackpool. Summer, eight months, seemed to enjoy having the whole boat to crawl around on while Hollie, who's four years old, wanted to know all the ins and outs of the boat.

We had great plans for the children but the weather has been quite bad, raining most of the time, this made it quite difficult to entertain two little girls.The girls did come equipped with plenty of indoor activities which did come in handy. We managed to get one reasonably dry afternoon to take the girls to Blists Hill Victorian Town at Telford.

Our daughter and her husband joined us on the boat on Wednesday, it was cozy but we had a great time. We spent the two days they were here sightseeing with the weather slightly improved.

Hollie and her dad helping a boat down the Stoke locks.

On the way back up to Scotland after a few days on-board Serafina

This has been the first time we have had a chance to look over Serafina after eight months lying in Stoke for the winter. Our original plan was to get her ready to cruise by Monday but that target has been missed due to a couple of unforeseen problems, least of all, we didn't know Monday was a Bank Holiday, until too late. The carpenter has installed some new bow lockers, which look great, but need some cushions to finish them off. We can't remember the material we chose, that was done last August but they should look great. I'll post some pics in the next blog. The upholsterer will be open on Tuesday so we plan to be waiting on his doorstep at 9am Tuesday to pick the cushions up. Part of my basic checks included the horn, light and bilge pump. Unfortunately, the bilge pump wasn't working so it was out with the ammeter, which showed it was getting power. I thought a new bilge pump may be in order, thus ensuring further delays, until our cruising partner suggested a tap or two on the side of the pump and off it went. Apparently the freezing winters often temporarily cease up these small electric motors.

On Friday we headed over to Crick Marina to meet up with our cruising partners and also pick-up our tickets for the boat show. It was great to spend a few hours catching up on the last eight months.  On Saturday we headed over to the Crick Boat Show. We had a list of items we needed to buy and were hoping to get show prices. In particular, we needed an anchor as we are planning to cruise on a few rivers this year. A day at the show was plenty this year, we made a point of not going into the show boats, it only makes you want to change things in our own boat.

Show boats at the Crick Show

Relaxing with a drink at the Crick Boat Show

The carpenter has finally finished a modified version of the work we requested him to do over the winter. I'll post a few photos soon.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Our week in Scotland

We like to get up to Scotland to visit family as soon as we get into the UK. We've been doing this for quite a few years now and these days appreciate being able to slow down and relax, especially now that we have months available to us rather than weeks.

Good news from the carpenter during our week in Scotland! Most of the work we had asked him to do was well underway and will be complete early next week when we are back on the boat. I know it has taken quite a while but he is a good carpenter! Some before and after shots when we get back on board and all is complete.

There's a few things we like to do every time we come up, these include a few long walks along the Clyde River valley and a visit to Edinburgh. I hate to go on about the weather, it is Scotland in spring after all, but it was horrendous for our visit to Edinburgh. We spent all our time on the Royal Mile ducking in and out of the many shops, most of them souvenir shops.

Despite the cold weather there were still quite a lot of people wandering the mall in this popular city. I must admit it was much easier to get a seat for lunch than it would be on a warm day. You can't leave Edinburgh without taking a photo of the castle, this time with a couple of handsome devils in the foreground.

I remember last time we lined up to go into Edinburgh castle, it was just as cold but raining as well. On the way home we went via the Forth bridges. The iconic old Forth River railway bridge, a 2.5 kilometer cantilever bridge completed in 1890.

There's a road bridge as well, which I understand is at capacity. Sounds like a problem we have at home in Melbourne with the Westgate Bridge. Unlike the powers that be in Melbourne, the British seem to be doing something about it with a new road bridge being constructed parallel to the road bridge.

Another cold and windy day and Rachael and I, along with several of the family, took a day trip to Stirling, specifically to visit the castle. It commands great views from all sides, no wonder it was the scene of so many battles. Strategically, in medieval times, the castle is centrally located in Scotland east-west and north-south an important stopover, in medieval times protecting a major river crossing of the Forth.

In the foreground, a shot of the palace inside the castle walls and  in the background another great view from the castle. The palace has housed several kings and queens including Mary Queen of Scots.

The weather hasn't been kind to us at all in Scotland this year. Indoor activities, including more shopping have been the order of the day. We were planning to head up to Skye for a few days but the weather forecasts have been shocking and surprisingly accurate for a change. Tomorrow we head back down to the marina to reacquaint ourselves with our boat.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Touring before we go cruising

A trip to the University Hospital A & E on Euston Rd wasn't on our list of things to do while in London. Our four year old granddaughter took ill with what we thought was a 24 hour bug that continued on for a couple of days before we took her to see a doctor. He re-assured us it would continue just a few more days and to continue with what we were already doing.

Re-assured the illness was nearing its conclusion we headed off the next day on the Eurostar to Disneyland Paris. Another day with no change, not even able to keep water down, we had a doctor in to see her. This time, equipped with a prescription to stop her vomiting, things changed drastically are so amazing!

I managed to find a nice little sailing vessel to have a look over with a background you don't find on your average UK canal. I've seen Daleks but no skull rocks.

Four days in Disneyland was just right...for me anyway! The six of us were picked up by our driver and headed into Paris to catch the Eurostar back to London. I chatted to the driver as we slowly made our way into Paris, he told me that we had joined a 100 kilometer traffic jam, fortunately for us not at the end of it!

Arriving back in London we picked up a couple of cars and headed north for our overnight stop in Stoke-on-Trent. After a good nights sleep Rachael and I headed down to the marina for breakfast at the pub overlooking the marina. A short walk over to Serafina, we could see she had been well looked after, de-winterised and serviced ready for the cruising season ahead. First job when we get back on-board will be a wash and a polish. I had a chat to the engineer who told me the solar panels, installed last season, had worked a treat and the batteries were fully charged and ready to go.

We had organised to meet our carpenter, who was supposed to have completed work over the winter but not a blow had been struck! A quick discussion with him, a promise of the work being completed next week and we headed for Scotland to spend a week with family.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Getting ready for another cruising season

We landed in London yesterday, after a brief stopover in the USA for a little shopping in Vegas and a little entertainment. This photo was taken in downtown Vegas or the older part, under the giant video screen that forms the roof of the mall and runs for two city blocks. Had a walk around, not too much had changed since last year, but we enjoyed the music and colour of Freemont Street then headed into the Freemont Casino for a steak and seafood dinner. As usual, we stayed much further along the strip, this time at the Flamingo Hotel.

It was certainly brisk as we stepped off the jet for the long trek to Customs. Melbourne was still quite warm when we left and the Las Vegas weather was excellent as well so this was an awaking for us. Although, in anticipation I had already rung ahead and asked the engineer to service Serafina's diesel heater as well as the engine in expectation of a few weeks of acclimatisation.

We have a few days here in London so that our daughter and her family can see a few of the tourist sights, it's been quite a few years since they have been over to the UK. Our eldest granddaughter, who's 4 years old, has a few points of interest that must be hit, Paddington Station (she loves Paddington Bear) and London Bridge. I did tell my wife we would need to stay in the USA for the original bridge but she advised (kicked) me that Tower Bridge would suffice.

I managed to slip in a tour myself this afternoon after everyone got back and wasn't moving again. We plan to head south once we get back on-board Serafina and eventually spend a few days or more in Little Venice. Since we are staying just a few miles from there, on Euston Road, I walked across to the tube station and went the five stops to do my 'recce'.

Turns out there was a waterside fair along the canal, lots of boats, lots of food and lots of people. Hope Little Venice isn't as full when we get there, not a mooring to be had!

There were a few things that needed organising which Rachael and I took care of yesterday. We headed over to a Carphone Warehouse nearby to take care of these priorities, a UK phone number and mobile broadband access. (For the Aussies, there was not a carphone insight at the Carphone Warehouse, I guess a hangover from the early days of mobile phones.) 

Another big day of sightseeing tomorrow, a few more days in London and we head off to France by train, for three days at Disneyland.