Nearing our destination

The predicted storm blew in exactly on schedule at noon. Fortunately, by then we had cleared all the remaining locks and found a nice mooring in a remote spot a little way past Smeeton aqueduct. Once again, we are having a quiet evening of gentle conviviality while the wind howls outside. The connection with nature in its raw state is invigorating and rejuvenating. We both look and feel extremely well!

 

 

The day began at first light. We knew we wanted to get through the remaining seven locks before the storm came in. Things went pretty well, until the second lock in the Kibworth flight – the interestingly named ‘Taylor’s Turnover Lock’. The gate in one of the downwards paddles was wedged open, for some reason, and could not be budged. This meant that water was continuously flowing through the lock, with two potential consequences: we would become stuck in the lock because we couldn’t open the top gates and, if we got through, there wouldn’t be enough water left in the next pound to float the boat.
We narrowly avoided the first fate, by waiting for the precise moment when the water balanced on either side of the gates and then both heaving on the beam end to quickly force it open. However, we did not avoid the second predicament, and Andy found himself aground in the middle of the pound. The only solution was let water down through the lock above to re-float the boat. This of course drained water from the pound above, but happily, the top pound was deeper than the rest, so we were able to make it through. We phoned the Canal and River Trust to report the problem, and they will send someone out to fix it soon.
So it was with some relief that we finally reached Kibworth Top: the last lock on our voyage.
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But the day’s challenges were not over yet!
Almost immediately upon clearing Kibworth Top Lock we had to go through Saddington Tunnel.
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This took longer than expected. The tunnel is crooked and rough, despite being fairly short (880 yards). Apparently it is home to some rare bats.
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For the first time in this entire trip we met a boat coming the other way. It is just typical that this happened in a tunnel! He also reported that he had only met two other boats on his trip: both of them in tunnels.
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Still, this experience gave us an opportunity to use our tunnel lights for the first time. LED lights are very good, giving a clear strong light, and consuming little power. We have them throughout the cabin and our headlamp is also LED.
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As we cleared the tunnel, the wind got up and the rain started lashing down. We traversed Smeeton Aqueduct (not particularly spectacular) and arrived in some open country with good pilings on the towpath side for mooring. We have had to bring in the plank on the roof, because it was beginning to bang about ominously. We had visions of it being blown into the canal.
So, with all hatches battened down, we have settled in front of the fire. Rosie has been running backwards and forwards all day, overseeing operations.
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She is so confident now she stands with her paws resting on the outer edge of the gunwale as we travel along!
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 But all the excitement has exhausted her:
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Tomorrow we expect to reach our home mooring at Market Harborough. The weather forecast is pretty rough, but not as bad as today. The end of the maiden voyage is in sight.

Into the wind

Today’s first port of call was Kilby Bridge wharf, to use the facilities. They are really very well kept – spotlessly clean and secure. We used the Elsan waste disposal for the toilet cassettes, and filled up the water tank.

Rosie was pretty spooked by the experience. She doesn’t like unfamiliar objects and there were loads of them here. She ran around barking for a while, so we put her back on deck, where she seemed happier, but also inquisitive about what was going on. Here is her close-up. She really is a prima-donna!

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So, fully replenished, we set off. The weather was already beginning to get up. Here we are fighting the wind as it blows us over to the far bank.

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But mostly we managed ok…

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Some of the locks we encountered have dates, reminding us of their industrial importance. Here is the oldest one we saw today:

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But by 1894, the railways were already putting the canals out of business.

So we cruised onwards, rising higher and higher with each lock, and becoming more and more exposed to the winds, which responded by gusting harder and faster. The locks became really difficult to do, because the gates would blow open. As fast as Louise shut one gate and went around to the other, the first one would blow open again. Andy would use the boat to wedge one gate shut. But even this was not enough to prevent the other gate shutting as Louise went forwards to open the paddles on the front gate:

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Each lock has a ladder up the side:

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So, on the final lock we attempted, Andrew climbed the ladder, and then controlled the boat using the centre rope. This meant he could hold the gate shut. Louise then made a mad dash from the other gate, and just…only just… managed to open the paddle in time for the water inrush to force the other gate shut.

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It was a close call, and now the winds were howling with enough strength to blow down branches. This was a dangerous situation, and we were at the bottom of a flight of four locks with only a pound between each. We have therefore done what you are not supposed to do – moored for the night using the lock marker bollards in the pound. We comfort ourselves with the knowledge that no boats will be travelling in either direction in this weather!

To give you an idea of the strength of the wind:

As I write now (21.00), the wind is as fierce as ever, and we have driving rain to accompany it. But we are sitting inside in comfort. Rosie is asleep in her basket. Louise is making leather roses. The fire is glowing in the stove – in fact, it is so warm that we have had to open some windows! We have had an excellent supper and are now enjoying some Old Speckled Hen beer while listening to The Unthanks. All in all, it’s a perfect evening.

According to the forecast, there will be a few hours tomorrow morning of relative quiet, before the storms kick off again. It looks as though progress will be slow on this voyage. Ah well, we’ll just have to have more evenings like this one…

 

Packhorse Bridge to Taylor’s Bridge

Day 2 of our maiden voyage, and we already feel as though we have been living aboard (again) for years. Some aching muscles after the exertions of yesterday doubtless accounted for the more leisurely start. We set off at about 9.15, in weather that was very similar to yesterday: overcast, windy, mizzly. The first lock was upon us very quickly…

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Today was mostly about locks, in fact. Our familiar routine is for Louise to work the lock gear while Andrew drives the boat. This sometimes attracts adverse comments from gongoozlers (people who stand around watching, and generally criticising, narrowboaters), because it looks as though Louise is doing more hard work. Well, we may change roles one day, but in the meantime this is our way of doing things (for several reasons) and it works for us!

Anyway, here are some movies about going through a lock:

And here is Louise posing in the centre of the balance beam!

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The locks seemed to be filling very slowly, until Andy spotted that the ground paddles, which at first glance seemed to be permanently shut, could be opened using a BWB key. The lock was very well hidden round the back!

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Once we opened these, our voyage sped up considerably.

We encountered some obstacles on the way, not least this car:

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It is actually moored to that bollard! Perhaps it is a former James Bond test vehicle…

The weather got worse toward the end of daylight (around 4 p.m.), so we decided to moor up at Taylor’s Bridge, just a little way short of Kilby Bridge. That is our first target for tomorrow, because we need to empty toilets and take on water.

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Rosie update: she began the day with much more confidence than yesterday, and it built as the day went on. She is now leaping on and off the boat with no problem. This picture shows her tied up at a lock, but we have now stopped doing that and she roams free. She is absolutely fine: the only problem is she will go and say hello to everyone who walks past!

 

 

Maiden Voyage

What a day! The maiden voyage of ‘Froth on the Daydream’ began early. In fact, we were so excited we were awake at about 5.00 a.m., but we actually set off from the boatyard at Thurmaston at about 8.00.

Cap’n Andy took the tiller. Note the walkie-talkie hanging round his neck. With such a long boat, these devices proved invaluable for good communications between us. Highly recommended for all boaters!

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The first manoeuvre was in some ways the hardest of the day – getting the boat away from the mooring, in reverse, avoiding some nasty sharp objects, and swinging her around through 360 degrees to face the first lock.

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And here is a video of Froth entering the first lock:

Yes, you did hear correctly: Louise called her ‘Faustroll’. Old habits die hard!

Louise did ten locks today, and they were the hardest locks we have ever encountered. Leicester really has turned its back on the canal, and the buildings and canal gear are in a state of shocking dereliction. The locks were full of rubbish, and had various damaged paddles, stiff gates, etc.

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But there were some beautiful spots too:

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Rosie was relaxed most of the time, but got upset when Louise went ashore to do a lock. In the end, we decided it was easiest to put her ashore and tie her up lockside, which she seemed to like. She is not one of those dogs that likes to leap off the moving boat, which is good news!

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The boat handles really beautifully. This video has a lot of wind noise at the start, but stay with it:

Travelling through Leicester took us through old haunts, of course. We passed the area around De Montfort University, where Andy used to work and where we both lived for quite a long time. We stopped at Castle Gardens for some lunch, and went for a walk.

We had thought we might meet up with some old colleagues there, but the weather is driving us onwards. High winds are forecast for Monday. So, maybe another time…

We also passed the back of Leicester City Football Ground, which overlooks a terrifying weir. The was the most hazardous part of our trip.

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So, we avoided this successfully! All watched over by our tiller pin, who Vian lovers will recognise as the talking mouse from L’écume des jours.

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Finally we reached our mooring spot for the night, at Packhorse Bridge 105, south of Leicester. Shortly after we arrived, the heavens opened, so we are very glad to be in from of a warm fire, with a glass of sherry and a nice chilli con carne.

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Almost done!

The boat is very very nearly completed now. In fact, it may actually be finished as this is being written! There were just a few minor bits of tidying up to be done when we left this morning. So here are some recent shots, taken by Graham Reader…

The seating and the table in the cratch “conservatory” area look really good. Note the glass panel at the front, and the nice roll-up cratch covers either side, which can be blackout or clear as we wish. The rich oak flooring is also lovely. We will be spending a lot of time out here.

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Stepping inside the saloon, on the right is the trusty Morso ‘Squirrel’ solid fuel stove. On the left is the TV system which links to the satellite dish on the roof (note the cabling has yet to be properly installed behind the telly).

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Turn around, and we get this view of the galley (the washing machine will be inside its own cupboard by the end of today). The kitchen area is spacious.

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Here’s the middle bedroom:

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And the back bedroom:

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Between them is the bathroom:

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The door between the back bedroom and the bathroom is a folding door, very well made by Martin at Louise’s suggestion:

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So, we’re all ready to board ‘Froth’ tomorrow for the official hand-over!!!

We will not take her on the maiden voyage until the wind has calmed down next week. In the meantime, one particular crew member is raring to go:

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Rosie modelling her ‘Outward Hound’ ‘Pupsaver’ life jacket.

Note the handle on the back, so that she can be fished out of the canal easily if she falls in. She loves it!

 

Whatever the weather?

Wednesday November 18th is set to be ‘hand over’ day, when Froth should be completely ready for us. It’s so exciting. We have been visiting over the past few days, to begin setting her up for our first voyage. We have purchased all sorts of basic household items: bedding, fire tools, mats, kitchenware, seats, and so on and so on. We have also bought an anchor (incredibly heavy!) which we hope never to use, but is a legal requirement for river cruising.

Our plan was to move the boat to Market Harborough on Thursday. As we learned from the wonderfully useful Canalplan site, this is a 27 mile trip that will take three days (at 5 hours cruising per day). It includes both canal and river sections, with 27 locks, 2 moveable bridges, 5 small aqueducts or underbridges and 1 tunnel (Saddington Tunnel (880 yards long)). This is quite a daunting journey, especially with a brand new boat and a young dog who has never been on a moving boat before. And then, there’s this:

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It’s probably hard to make it out, but what it shows are storms peaking on the very days we want to travel. The worst parts are the high winds: every boater’s nightmare, because a strong gust can easily pin a 67 foot narrowboat against the side of the canal. Other forecasts concur, even showing gusts in excess of 50 m.p.h! It would be quite crazy to attempt the voyage in those conditions. Apart from the difficulty in handling the boat, there is a real danger from falling trees or being tipped over the mighty weir at Freemen’s Meadow.

So, reluctantly, we have decided to postpone the maiden voyage to the following week, starting Friday 27th. The forecast is much better for that period. It means we won’t be at our new mooring for Andy’s birthday, but we simply cannot argue with the weather.

So many people are following this blog and enquiring about our progress. It’s wonderful. We know that lots of you want to join us for the launch and/or the maiden cruise. We hope you will understand that this is just too difficult to organise: it’s hard enough for us to deal with unpredictable weather, a new boat, and the time pressures from our work commitments, but also the boat is our home and we want it to look its best before we start welcoming people on board. We will be inviting you all as soon as we can, once all the various conditions are right. Meanwhile, please keep following the blog!

“Canal time”

We have a phrase – “canal time” – which we use to describe the difference between the length of time things should take and the length they actually do take. On the canals, things always move slower than you could imagine. Sometimes it’s because of distractions (pubs, most often!) and sometimes it’s to do with factors beyond one’s control. Quite often, it’s down to people moving more slowly, as if the pace of life on the canals affects everything we do.

Anyway, the fitting out of Froth is suffering from “canal time” at the moment and it’s getting a bit frustrating for us, as we wait eagerly for things to be completed. There always seems to be more to do: an additional door needs making; something doesn’t quite work correctly; a delivery is awaited; and so on. We are so close to completion, yet it seems as though there is another week, or two, of work to be done. After that, who knows, there may be more! We are hoping all will be finished by Andy’s birthday on the 21st of November, but if we are still moored at MGM at Christmas we would not be surprised.

But, on the plus side, the boat is now out of the shed and floating on the canal, which allows us these fabulous views:

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She really is a beauty and attracts many appreciative comments from passers-by and visitors to the boatyard. Here is a movie of the boat, passing from bow to stern:

And here are a couple of views down the roof from the tiller position:

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So, we watch and wait while the many extra items inside get sorted out. Canal time. More news to come when we have it!