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Once again messages on the Internet Canal World Forum prompted us to start our year's boating. It hadn't been a bad winter, and the boat hadn't needed much work to be done, so we were keen to set out on our travels. Unfortunately there were still several stoppages in place during February as we set off for Stoke Bruerne, where we were to meet a number of Forum members for a birthday party, and it turned out that our journey would have to end at Yardley Gobion.
The journey to Yardley Gobion was uneventful, and we winded around (getting a coal-bag on the propeller for the third time in 2 days) to moor next to another Forum member Chris on his boat Jean Margaret. We were only a couple of miles from Stoke Bruerne, but weren't looking forward to such a long walk in the cold weather; luckily some other forum members found us by car and gave us a lift the rest of the way.
We had a fantastic evening in The Boat, with good company, good food, good music (including a mediaeval musician), and plenty of beer. Afterwards the taxi driver didn't know the way back to Yardley Wharf, so we had to direct him, and then he charged us double the metered fare! We shan't be using that company again!
The next day was spent at Yardley Gobion while various Forum members visited us, and then we made our way back to the Navigation at Castlethorpe Wharf where they were holding an Australian Barbecue! In February? Well it would have been warm and sunny if we had been in Australia. Luckily it was being held indoors, and there was a fine selection of food available accompanied by a selection of wines from Kevin the wine-man. We always buy all our wines from him, and have never been disappointed by them.
Finally we made our way home, with the engine running rather roughly. Luckily we've booked it in for a servicing on our next trip, at Easter (which this year is about as early as it can possibly be).
Soon it was mid-March, and Easter was approaching. The bridge repairs at Grafton Regis had been completed, but the stoppage at Buckby was over-running and would not re-open until Maundy Thursday. All the same we set off again, in chilly winds, and headed towards Napton where another meeting of Forum members had been planned. The water levels were high after recent rains, the fields were flooded and the Tove was again flowing into the canal below Stoke Bruerne; the weather seemed to be improving but the forecast was grim so we'd bought some extra bags of coal.
We met up with Chris on Jean Margaret again, this time at Bugbrooke, and travelled together in increasingly strong winds to Buckby, to find out how the stoppage was progressing. Luckily the works had been completed, and we could continue straight up the flight. As there were only 3 of us for 2 boats we decided to breast up, which caused about a 2 minute delay (much to the annoyance of someone who was teaching a couple of novices on a boat-handling course; clearly the course didn't include learning the virtues of patience and adopting a slower pace on the canal!).
Breasted up in the lock
Breasted up across the pound
The pictures illustrate two important points. Firstly, notice the bridge just below the lock; when breasted up, remember to remove your chimney because otherwise it won't fit under the arch. And secondly, although the boats behave better when there are two of them in the lock, when one is longer than the other (as in this case) they will behave even better if you ignore the shorter boat and open the ground paddle on the same side as the longer boat first; the incoming flow will emerge into the space in front of the shorter boat's bows, where its turbulence will have the least effect.
It was extremely windy as we climbed up the flight, but we had a quick trip to the top and decided to carry on through to Braunston. By the time we reached the tunnel we were very cold, as the icy wind was reaching gale force, and for once I was glad of the shelter of the tunnel. Reaching the other end we found plenty of free mooring space, and we decided to moor for the night and treat ourselves to a meal in the Admiral Nelson.
The next morning we made our way down to Braunston, stopping together under the bridges to shut the gates behind us. The wind, which had been only a strong breeze as we passed Braunston Marina, suddenly turned into a full gale as we neared the junction, and the waters were suddenly whipped into a frothing maelstrom. It needed a lot of power to get us round the corner, and as we emerged from the following bridge a gust of wind hit us broadside with enough force to lean us right over as we drifted sideways. With silent apologies to the moored boats that we were passing, I opened up to full throttle and just managed to maintain position in the canal, reckoning that they'd prefer me to pass them too fast than to run into them! Half an hour later we passed the site of the old railway line, where the embankment provided some shelter from the wind, and decided to moor up until the weather improved. A little later we were joined by Chris, who had been pinned to the bank for 20 minutes at Braunston; we stoked up the fires and stayed there for 24 hours.
The weather forecast promised a short break in the weather, and right on cue the wind dropped and the sun came out. Quickly donning the Damart again, we took advantage of this good fortune and made our way along to Napton Bridge, encountering just the one brief snow-shower on the way. I quickly moored up at the end of the line of boats and retreated inside to warm up while Debbie walked along to see if the pub was open - it wasn't, and she was covered from head to foot in snow when she returned. Meanwhile Chris went along to turn Jean Margaret around, but was so busy looking at the other boats that he completely forgot to turn into the winding point until just after he'd passed it, so he had to go along to The Folly to turn,which meant that he also got covered in snow!
Soon we had 8 boats moored up, and spent the next couple of days in the company of a wonderful crowd of people from the Canal World Forum, finishing with a massive meal in the restaurant. Thanks and well done to the Napton Bridge Inn, who coped with our invasion fantastically well!
On the Tuesday morning we said goodbye to the other Forum members, including Chris who was about to set off for set off to explore the canals of the North-West, and set off back to Braunston. Would you believe it, for the first time since last October the engine suddenly started running on all four cylinders again! Anyway, we called in at Wigrams Turn Marina to buy gas and diesel, but didn't buy any because their diesel was 10p/litre more expensive at the pump than the price they were advertising at the Marina entrance, and also they'd run out of gas.
JonO at Braunston looked at our engine, which was now running much better, and discovered a lack of compression and also an exhaust valve whose clearance had changed by 40 thou for some reason. Verdict on the engine: keep on running unless it drops back to three cylinders again, and then decapitate it!
Finally it was time to return home. We found that we worked well sharing the locks with the crew of Somnia, so decided to carry on together as far as Weedon embankment and then go for a meal together in the 'Plume of Feathers' - an excellent pub that I heartily recommend for its friendly welcome, good beer and superb home-made food. The next few days were spent avoiding the worst of the weather as we returned to our mooring, where we will probably be staying until well after Vicki's wedding in May.
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All pictures on this site are © Allan Jones unless otherwise stated