Tuesday, 17 November 2020

No Cruising Season for Us in 2020

Sitting at home in Melbourne, the cruising season over and most of our time spent in lock down.

In March and in lock down we began loosely re-planning our our trip across to the UK knowing we wouldn't make the start of the cruising season but expecting to be heading across mid-season when all the 'Covid-19 stuff' was over. Looking back, how wrong we were! As Australians in Victoria we are only in our second week out of our second wave lock down as I am writing.now. Best of all though, we have our first winter in eight years well behind us now!

The Proposed Trip

Months ago we had planned our trip for 2020. We usually have to get the planning started within a few weeks of arriving back in Australia, even making some bookings for the 2020 British Summer before we leave to go home. This year we were heading off a little later than usual in mid-May, heading for Venice to go cruising in the Mediterranean for a few weeks before arriving in Britain and readying Serafina to head north via the Huddersfield Canal and the Calder and Hebble. In the process, passing through the Standedge Tunnel, the longest tunnel on the system at just over 5 km (3.2 mls), then turning on to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal towards Liverpool or, if time permits, a trip down to Sheffield. A deviation along the Rufford Branch to the Lancaster Canal via the Ribble Link, then on to Liverpool before heading south again.

I suspect this will now be our trip for the 2021 boating season.

The Boat Safety Scheme Examination

In the meantime, in July and Serafina still needed a BSS, the end of June is our usual licence renewal date. I thought I had it all organised before the UK lock down with my regular examiner, before receiving a email telling me he had decided to retire and couldn't do the BSS. Then the marina had to close for lock down the day before the back-up examiner could get across to the marina. I'm sure there were quite a few boat owners in the same predicament, with CRT giving some basic guidance. I had to find my third boat examiner after lock down but ultimately the BSS was done with a few minor fixes and Serafina was licenced by the extended licence date which, for Serafina, was July 31.
 
Serafina lies in CRT water in the marina and cruise or not she needs to be licenced. We had considered hard standing her for the winter for a change and looking back that would have saved us several thousand pounds. That's the breaks! 
 
Maintaining Serafina Over Lock Down
 
I had done some preparation for the BSS prior to leaving Britain after the 2019 cruising season so that was squared away. We are very fortunate to have a Scottish relative who checks Serafina regularly and does a bit of work here and there if required. After doing a few checks - batteries, bilge, fire place and mattresses, among other items he sent me over some photos.
 

My first issue to fix when I return, the stern seat frames. I found out over lock down that you can't use undercoat as a top coat this is what happens after a while. Not too hard to fix but I'll finish them off with proper top coat next time!
 

Rust again! But this is a regular problem. This is from the condensation off the roof where the chimney passes through the roof. A regular problem and the surface rust is easily removed. We wrap it in plastic at the end of every season but a bit of water always sneaks through.


The re-wrapped heater, looks like a good job, let's see how it goes!

And, the Battery Management System telling me the batteries are getting a trickle charge from the solar panels and sitting at 14v while charging. Hard to know what their resting voltage is but since they are well passed their prime and due to be changed, this will do me.
 
Next Cruising Season

Well I guess our 2021 season is planned but whether we get across to Britain is yet to be seen. Here's hoping!



Monday, 23 December 2019

A Summary of Our 2019 Cruising

We have been back in Australia for over six weeks now and thought it was time to round things up for the year with a summary of our cruising season.

I must say that we avoided going into Birmingham for the last five years and because we have cruised on most of the rivers and canals in England thought it was time to give it a go. And, I can say that Rachael and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, even if we did have to have River Canal Rescue come out and replace or alternator. Good time to put in a good word for RCR, we called them out for the first time in six years this season, turned out to be twice for two different problems, both times they were quick to get to the boat and quick to sort the problem. It turned out to be four days with the breakdown time but there was plenty to do.

Cruising through Birningham
 My tip for a trip into Birmingham and probably for any big city is set yourself up so you don't have to moor in the outer suburbs, early start and early finish on your last day going into the city and the same going out.

The quietest and most picturesque canal on our trip this year would have to be the Caldon Canal. If you read the blog on this part of the trip you would have read that we couldn't get on to the river section to get all the way to Froghall but even so the trip was well worth it.

Moored at Cheddleton

R. Churnet in flood
The most disappointing part of the trip this year was the run on the Grand Union Canal probably from Rickmansworth to Paddington Basin and back. There are just too many moored boats, fortunately we had a booked mooring in Little Venice, the only way I would plan on going into London.  It doesn't help when there are very few, if any, short term moorings (48 hour) from Rickmansworth onwards to London. I'm not sure why this area is different to the rest of the canal network.

Just a few statistics drawn from Canal Plan AC, they are all approximate but here they are:

530 miles traveled, made up of  245 miles on narrow canals:
Trent and Mersey
Coventry
Ashby
Oxford
Grand Union (Aylesbury Branch)

228 miles on broad canals:
Grand Union

58 miles on rivers
R Avon
R Severn

A total of 498 locks, 252 narrow locks, 245 broad locks and a large lock (river lock) and included 15 tunnels varying in length from 57 yards (Curdworth) to 3056 yards (Blisworth) for a total of just over eight miles underground, one major aqueduct, Edstone Aqueduct on the Stratford Canal and 19 lift/swing bridges.

Serafina has been winterised and 'tucked' away for the winter at our marina in the midlands until next season. While we are away I have organised for her to have a mandatory BSS (Boat Safety Scheme) check, another four years has passed rather quickly.

Our cruising plan for next season has been drafted and includes the final 'wonder of the canal world' to complete the set, the Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. I'm gearing up for shallow pounds (strip of water between locks) and lots of locks.

Back home in Australia we've already experienced our first 44°C day, I'm sure there will be several more before the summer is over.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Cruising the Trent and Mersey and Caldon Canals

From Whittington it's not a long cruise to Rugeley where we were able to easily get a mooring right near the Tesco Supermarket, our cupboards were a little bare. It had been around three hours of cruising and only three locks to knock over, so a leisurely days cruising. Two days here and we were off again to spend a couple of days in Great Haywood and once again a leisurely cruise, this time one and a half hours and two locks for the day. Another two day stop and we love to get across the Essex Bridge to Shugborough Hall and have a walk around the estate. If you would like to know more about Shugborough go here.

To continue our town hopping, another short cruise, this time to Stone, where we had the boat hull blacked at the start of the season. Just one day in the 48 hour moorings before we moved up four locks to the other end of Stone and on to the five day moorings, we were heading for Scotland for the last time this season.

When we were up in Scotland last and on our tour of the Outlander Series sites we went to Falkland for a half hour visit as it doubled as an early Inverness in the series. We didn't have time to see what really caught my eye, Falkland Palace! So, it was in the car and back over to Falkland in Fife for another visit. The palace as you see it now was begun in 1501 on the site of an existing castle and previous to that, in the 12th century, a hunting lodge. It is one of two Renaissance palaces in Scotland.  The palace is a National Trust site and well worth a visit.

Falkland Palace

Falkland Palace from the street.

Tapestry in the hall

Mary Queen of Scots' death mask

The queen's bedroom
Back to the boat and just an overnight stay in Stone before we were off to Stoke on Trent. Rather than make it a leisurely trip we had booked some tickets for the cinema at Festival Park, so it was a six hour, 12 lock trip. Two days in Stoke outside the Toby Carvery before winding (tuning around) and heading back less than half a mile to the junction with the Caldon Canal, first opened in 1779. A tank of water at the Services near the junction before heading up Locks 1 and 2, a two chamber staircase lock. We finished our first day on the Caldon at Endon. The weather was rather average so we stayed an extra day then headed off towards Leek.

 The Caldon Canal junction, Leek to the right, Froghall to the left.


An easy run to Leek, winding just after the 120 metre Leek Tunnel then reversing back three boat lengths to our mooring.


The terminus of the Leek arm is another few hundred metres on with a 45 metre winding hole, not quite big enough for us!


The tow path across the now filled in aquaduct into Leek. Morrisons is a fifteen minute walk, Leek shopping centre an additional fifteen minutes.


Heading off from our Leek mooring towards the tunnel after four days.


Out of the tunnel...


We headed back to the junction while it was a reasonable day for cruising. The weather hasn't been very predictable and it started raining as we arrived back at the junction. A short but heavy rain storm and then we knocked over the three locks to get us under the 1841 built, Hazelhurst Aquaduct and under the Leek Arm above.


Last time we were on the Caldon the moorings were limited at Cheddleton but some investment recently from various sources has allowed CRT to more than double the number of moorings. There's room for approx. a dozen 57 footers!


We were still dodging the rain and on Sunday we took a tour of the Cheddleton Flint mill. This water powered mill supplied flint to the nearby potteries including the Wedgewood company.



The weir with channel to the water wheels
The furnaces
A collection of mill wheels
A half hour walk down the tow path from our Cheddleton mooring for a drink at The Boat Inn.


And just near The Boat, the Cheddleton Station (excuse my finger) part of the Churnet Valley Railway maintained by volunteers.


Looking back down the hill to the main road through Cheddleton, we found a nice tearoom called the Old Schoolhouse Tearoom, at the top.


We were told that the Churnet River was well up and to get to Froghall we had to drop on to a river section after Lock 16. We left our mooring on yet another overcast day, under the building in the pic and to the first of several locks for the day.


It wasn't a long cruise to Lock 16 and sure enough the River Churnet was in flood, well into the red, too dangerous to attempt going further. We turned and headed back to Cheddleton.




Consall Forge moorings are at the end of the river section on the Caldon. We didn't have time to wait around for the river to go down and take the chance of getting cut off, we were heading home to Australia in a few weeks. But with a visitor dropping in for a couple of nights we decided to head to the Black Lion at Consall Forge for dinner, it was the only way were we going to get to Consall Forge this year. It turned out to be good company and good food.


It was time to head back to Stoke. One of the sculptures beside the lock on the main line. There were several of these depicting aspects of the surrounding area such as pottery.


One of the locks, note the split in the bridge to allow the rope of a horse powered boat to go through, the safety rails are a later addition.


On our mooring at Milton and starting to feel the cold, it was time to stoke up the fire for the first time in six years.


Coming back into Stoke on Trent. Here we are about to pass under one of the ornate bridges of the city park. We had been told to keep an eye out for stone throwers in this area but no such problems. These issues come up from time-to-time, generally in the main school break.


It was time to head for our mooring and pack up for the winter.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Leaving Birmingham on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal

It was a false start as we headed off from our mooring. I went through the usual preparations for our departure from our mooring but when I started the engine there was no charge going into the batteries! After some basic fault finding I gave River Canal Rescue (RCR) (like the AA in Britain or the RACV in Australia) a ring for a bit of expert help. They were there in an hour and we were off around 11am but half way down Gas Street and the same issue again! Although, this time the problem had a burning plastic smell!

We returned to our mooring and gave RCR another ring and again they were out within a few hours but this time they replaced the offending alternator which had virtually no pin left to attach the exciter wire (for those technically minded). Then there was the burning smell which was easily located as I no longer had any instruments reading at all. The wiring was sorted out and all but the oil pressure were recovered, it seems I have a project to do a little later. It was now after 4pm so no cruising today!

The next day we did get away from our mooring, that's Serafina heading down Gas Street.

Gas Street beside the basin

Looking back towards the basin

Under one of the major entertainment streets of Birmingham
Nearly at the turn onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, just a right turn under the bridge in the distance and the work for the day begins!


Within one hundred metres of turning onto the new canal we arrived at our first lock of many for the day. After dropping down a couple of locks you are engulfed in multi storey buildings, that pretty much the story (excuse the pun) for the whole Farmer's Bridge Lock Flight, thirteen locks in all.


Still on the Farmer's Bridge Locks, this lock was under a bridge. You can see the other arch, possibly for an additional lock to speed things up. There is evidence of dual locks right along the route out of Birmingham although one of our readers (see comments) tells me that in fact they are just side pounds to maintain the water supply down the flight in the absence of any by-washes.


Same lock but from further back.


Still traveling under the buildings, all designed to accommodate the canal.



Starting to get out into the open as we make our way out of Birmingham.


Same lock again looking back.


Still continuing down Farmer's Locks.


Finished! The Farmer's Bridge Locks done we were able to get going but not for long.



It was only a short cruise before we made a turn at Aston Junction which, I don't mind saying, caught me by surprise as I nearly cruised pass the turn. It was tucked away very closely behind another bridge and I had to back up to make the turn. Lock 1 of the Aston Flight is right there at the start so I had to reverse back to the lock landing to get off and set the lock. Then it was back across to Serafina because I forgot my Lockmate Key to release the vandal proof lock.

The Aston Flight contains ten locks, several of which you had to slosh through the water as they overfilled.


So that was another ten locks to knock over. The last lock was the only one that we needed to take extra care with, as we were passing a boat exiting the lock he warned us that there were a couple sitting under the bridge shooting up. We completed the lock without any drama though, You never know what they're using and sometimes can be unpredictable but we left them to do their thing.

We continued on and turned right at spaghetti junction (overhead freeways everywhere), making sure we didn't head off towards Star City (hard right) although Rachael was keen to double her money! It was still the outer suburbs of Birmingham and they took awhile to shake. We passed through the last three locks for the day at Minworth, the water at Minworth had an attack of blue/green algae but not for very far. Our day finished on a comfortable mooring at Curdworth.


Another fantastic cruising day as we head off from our mooring at Curdworth. Straight off it was the 57 yard Curdworth Tunnel. The cruising plan for today was to get to Fazeley Junction and see how we felt.


We almost enjoyed doing the eleven Curdworth Locks as we continued down the hill from Birmingham. These locks drop us a further seventy-four feet (approx). We passed the Dog and Doublet Pub just after Lock 8, lots of people out for lunch, very tempting. Not far to go now as we knocked over the rest of the Flight, this pic was the last lock for the day.


Not a flattering photo of me but the Old Lock Keepers cottage at the bottom of Curdworth Locks was looking great!


A popular bridge for photographers, the Drayton Foot and Swivel Bridge.


Less than half an hour from this bridge and we were at the junction turning left onto the Coventry Canal. It was only reasonably early so we continued on, we finished our day on the Visitor Moorings at Whittington. A late finish for the day, for us anyway! A little after four and we had no problems getting onto the visitor moorings, with school hols over there's a lot fewer boats on the cut.