Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Coventry Canal. North Oxford Canal. Polesworth to Brinklow

 As you are only too aware, Dear Reader, Christmas 2020 was a bit of a non-event, closely followed by the longest January and February in living memory.

Like the rest of the locked down population, our diary entries mostly consist of what we watched on Netflix, what we had for dinner, and how well we did in the weekly on-line quiz.

Just before the pre-Christmas tiers came into force, we managed to swap presents and cards with Karen in a car park half way between us...

...then on Christmas day, after a ridiculously early and excitingly chocolate filled morning...

...we took advantage of the restriction let-up to go up the hill from Polesworth to spend a bit of time with Kim, Luke and the boys. It made the day a happy and memorable family occasion, despite it not being our own family.

 With three cassettes (that we can take to an Elsan in the car if necessary) and a huge fresh water tank, Legend is perfectly set up for prolonged mooring, but although CRT have suspended the 14 day limit while the pandemic restrictions are in force and advised boaters to only travel for services, we still need to go for water every couple of weeks or so. When that happens we go to the next services and then carry on to another mooring rather than coming back to where we were. Because we burn scavenged deadwood, we need to keep finding new places where there is some wombling to be done. Dave frequently uses his exercise time to walk up the towpath with his bowsaw and make stashes of wood to pick up as we boat along. 

We stayed at Polesworth for 14 nights at the beginning of January before moving on to Hartshill, via the services at Bradley Green and an overnight stop half way up the Atherstone flight. By then Lockdown number three was in force. Unlike the first lockdown last spring, the national mood was really gloomy. It was cold and wet and the towpaths were getting muddier, however Hartshill was a good place to be, the paths up and around Hartshill Heys ware in good nick so we could get out for walks...

...and we managed 16 days there before moving on. While we were there the fuel boat Auriga came past a couple of times so we were able to fill up with diesel and get our spare gas bottle exchanged. 

New Year’s Eve was fabulous. We started with a lovely walk up the towpath to Springwood Marina and back round the quarry, followed by a facetime chat with the Irish contingent. Then in the evening we got dressed up for a dinner, dance and casino night, Legend lockdown style. Dinner was Ann-Marie’s delicious Chicken Balmoral followed by Baileys Cheesecake...

...then we got the cards out and played pontoon till nine oclock.

That was when we dropped the table, folded up the chairs and the dancing started. We’d picked a three hour party playlist on Amazon Music and posted it on our family chat groups. The idea was that everyone who wanted to could start the same playlist at the same time and join in the party till midnight. It was brilliant! We severely depleted our alcohol stock...

...but we, and quite a few of our family, boogied till midnight. We watched the fireworks on the hill and twirled our sparklers out of the side hatch then fell into bed exhausted gently spinning. 

As we moved on, we stopped at Dave’s biggest stash this year. We were a bit apprehensive about it because when he was walking back to the boat after covering it up, he passed two blokes who went for a look in the hedge where it was hidden, so we were pleasantly surprised when we found it was all still there. We chucked it all on the roof...

 then stopped just before Springwood Haven marina where the towpath was wide enough to get it all cut up.

While we were there it was Anne’s birthday. Because she couldn’t have a real party, she and Andy made a virtual Escape Room game for us to play. They’d created a 2’ high cardboard maze in her lounge in which they put a Lego trolley with a GoPro attached to it. Lesley, Pete and ourselves were all on-line and had to work as a team to navigate our way through four “rooms”, defeating spiders, running away from a huge Minotaur, solving clues and puzzles and doing spot challenges which always seemed to involve dressing up to some extent, and using everyday objects in new and exciting ways. And of course there were compulsory snacks, drinks and cake. At the end our little boat looked like a tornado had been through it but we didn’t care, it was brilliant fun and we laughed all evening.

From Springwood we went to Hawkesbury Junction, where the Coventry canal joins up with the North Oxford. That’s a very useful place to moor. There’s full services there and a good car park, and it’s an easy walk up the canal, along the disused Newdigate Colliery Arm and across the Miner’s Welfare Park into Bedworth. There’s also a very handy coal merchant in Hawkesbury itself, who will deliver to the junction for orders of ten bags or more. Although we primarily burn wood, when the overnight temperature is forecast to be six degrees or lower we put a dozen or so smokeless briquettes on the fire to keep it in till morning. Also, on the odd occasion when we’re in the middle of a town, we use smokeless rather than wood, so we always have a few bags on the roof. 

CRT are in the process of Tarmacking the towpath in the other direction all the way from Hawkesbury into Coventry Basin; a distance of five and a half miles. The Hawkesbury end is finished so when it got too muddy we could still get out for a walk.

There are two lengths of visitor mooring at Hawkesbury, one on the Coventry side and one on the Oxford side with a tap between them, so we were able to stay there for nearly four weeks before our dwindling supplies got us moving again.

A Saharan dust storm sunrise. What a gift!

While we were there the canal froze twice; the second time it was a lot colder and a lot thicker, so although the weather warmed up quite quickly, it was two or three days before we could get going again.

 When we moved it wasn’t far; Dave had been for a recce and found a spot on the bend at Sowe Common where there was plenty of wood to go at, despite it being too muddy to moor for more than just one night. In the afternoon we restocked the log box and put some big stuff on the roof to deal with later. 

The next morning we set off, but we only got about quarter of a mile before we lost propulsion. At first we thought we’d got something wrapped round the prop; it certainly wasn’t moving any water. As Legend drifted gracefully towards the bank, Dave had a quick look down the engine ‘ole and discovered that although our propeller was clear of any entanglements and - thankfully - still attached to the shaft, it wasn’t going round. The engine, gearbox, output shaft and flexible coupling were still happily spinning away like billy-o, but the prop shaft coming out of the coupling was sitting there like a stubborn teenager, not moving.

A lot of the North Oxford has sloping banks made from stone blocks so it’s impossible to get close enough to moor, but Ann-Marie made a heroic leap with the centre rope and we pulled Legend about another quarter of a mile to some handy Armco .

We tied up and Dave set to with the spanners. It didn’t take him long to find that where there should have been a shaft key between the prop shaft and the flexible coupling, there was nothing, and no sign of there ever being anything. We assumed that when the Lister was fitted it was left out, and the rubber doughnut gripping the shaft has been the only thing that has held it together ever since.

Dave had a search through the bit box and found some 5mm round stainless bar that would go in, so with (quite literally) a round peg in a square hole, he put it back together. By the time he’d got cleaned up it was time for lunch, the sun had come out and we agreed that where we were was a much nicer mooring than Ansty, where we’d been heading, so we put the bird table up and went out for a walk. 

Five days later we set off for All Oaks Wood, near Brinklow. However we’d not gone two yards when there was a clonk and we lost propulsion again. Luckily we were still within a jump of the bank so we tied up - again - and Dave had another dig into the coupling. This time he took it completely to bits and found out exactly how it worked. It turned out that the rubber bit isn’t a doughnut at all, but a hollow cup inside of which there’s a tapered split bush that is squeezed onto the prop shaft by two grub screws. Here's some photos to give you an idea. There's a video here by Fennerflex explaining how it all works if you're interested.

Taper lock bush with new 5mm key.
Dave's drawing, to remind him how it goes back together.

Also inside the rubber cup was the piece of stainless bar that had fallen out as the prop had pushed the shaft forward, which was the clonk that we’d heard. However there was still no sign of the original shaft key, so we were correct in our assumption that there never was one. Dave re-assembled it and fully tightened up the grub screws so that the taper lock bush was securely clamped to the shaft. This time he used a longer bit of the stainless bar so that it protruded forward from the propshaft, the idea being that if there is any future slippage, the prop won’t be able to push the shaft forwards, so the bar can’t fall out. (The bar is a temporary fix, we’ve ordered a length of 5mm shaft key on line)

When it was all back together again, we gave it a good blast in both directions and were happy that all was well. After lunch we set off for the third time. We stopped at the Ansty water point where we’d left the car, did a shopping transship and topped up the tank before carrying on to All Oaks Wood, one of our absolute favourite moorings. There were hopeful signs of spring everywhere...

Tomato seedlings from last year's bush cherry.

Seedlings getting stronger. 

Daffs and tulips. 

The next evening we were out in the well deck in the last of the early February sunshine, with fish and chips from the fabulous Brinklow Fish Bar.

The best chippy we know.

...and a battered sausage while you wait.

Half pie, half fish sunshine dinner in the well deck.

The prop and engine performed flawlessly, and we’ll just consider ourselves fortunate that when, after ten years of having the potential to fail, it finally decided to let go at a place where we could fix it with no drama whatsoever, and we’ll not spend any time contemplating all the terrifying possible alternatives.        

Friday, 19 February 2021

Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. Coventry Canal. Bodymoor Heath to Polesworth.

 Many apologies, Dear Reader. I thought I’d published this post before Christmas, but here it is patiently waiting on the laptop.


Well as you might imagine Dear Reader, with a month of lockdown No.2 followed by a spate of tier 3, there isn’t a lot to report.

As planned, when we got short of water, we dropped down the two locks to the tap...

...filled up and reversed back up one of them to the Dog and Doublet, where we stayed for the next three weeks.

While we were there Dave managed to do enough scavenging to refill the firewood box, which was handy. Last year at Wallingford, we ran out of wood completely and spent the entire winter on coal; very easy and controllable, but not cheap and it doesn’t keep you fit like wood collecting does. When Dave is outside with the bow saw cutting logs up, he gets a constant stream of passers by telling him that fire wood warms you up twice.

The up-side of not moving the boat has been that we’ve been able to properly explore the beautiful Kingsbury Waterpark and the RSPB Middleton Lakes. These are former gravel pits in the Tame Valley just south of Tamworth and regular walks around the lakes with camera and binoculars have kept us sane during our extended stay.

And of course, three weeks of having our bird table up in the same place meant that we had plenty of regular feathered visitors outside the boat window. 

When we replaced the brake pipes on the Kia, we had a two foot length of 3/16” cupro-nickel pipe left over. By happy coincidence that is the exact size of the leak-off pipework on the Lister. The leak-off pipes carry excess fuel from the injectors back to the diesel tank, so they’re not under pressure, but ever since we’ve owned Legend the compression joints have been damp. As he had it all in bits, and a three week window, Dave took the time to get some new compression fittings and a few spare olives and do a proper job of it. He even incorporated an anti-vibration loop.

We got the new stuff off Ebay, and had it delivered Click and Collect to the Nisa shop in Kingsbury. Not all Ebay sellers do that, but if they do it makes mail order very easy and convenient for us and we’ll be doing it again whenever we can.

On Dave’s birthday the second lockdown ended, so to celebrate, we made a picnic and drove over to Hopwas for a walk through the woods. Unfortunately the red flags were out on the firing range, so we walked round the edge instead.

And it was far too cold for a picnic, (what were we thinking?) so we brought it home and ate it in front of the fire, followed by birthday cake and a film.

As we weren’t going anywhere, we got the dining table sanded down and re-coated with 4 coats of Ronseal clear yacht varnish. Over the years, the previous finish had got a bit worn, especially at the edges where our forearms rest on it.

The new varnish really brought the grain pattern out and it looks really good and shiny again we’re very pleased with the result.

With all the travel restrictions during lockdown we were over a month between the hotel and the pub at Bodymoor Heath. When we finally did move from the Dog and Doublet it was only to go down the rest of the Curdworth flight to the Waterpark mooring about half a mile away.

Not much of a move, but enough to count, and it took us past the tap and the bins.

That half mile made walking into Tamworth - something we’ve not done before - seem much more feasible. Despite having passed this way several times, despite having driven to the outlying supermarkets, and despite having had new tyres and even an MOT done here, we’ve never walked round the town itself. We’ve missed a little gem.

The frontage onto the River Anker is very pretty with the castle remains behind it, and although we didn’t spend a long time in the town centre we still managed to get a couple of Christmas jumpers and a purple coffee from Costa before walking back. The path along the bank of the River Anker to it’s confluence, and then along the River Tame to the canal aqueduct was very well paved and nowhere near as muddy as we were expecting. All in all we had a lovely day, made all the better for getting to see Nigel at Glascote boat yard, and we look forward to going back to Tamworth after the pandemic is over.

After only three days at the Waterpark we set off up the last bit of the Birmngham and Fazeley. On the way we stopped outside the marina for water and to empty the cassettes and the recycling, then  turned right onto the Coventry.

At Glascote locks we met a beautiful reproduction tug called Ted which mad us drool a bit, then we carried on to Poleswoth where we moored up on the rings just before the Bull’s Head.

Without much boat moving, we hadn’t really given the engine a decent run since the rebuild so the three hour trip round to Polesworth was it’s first proper test. When we stopped the Dave checked the oil and was dismayed to find that the level had gone up, meaning we had a leak from the diesel pipes that run inside the engine. We’ve had this happen before, it’s something that Listers are known for especially after parts have been disturbed, but it meant we’d have to stay put till it was sorted out. Dave started by running the engine with the rocker covers off, and he could see that the high pressure pipe unions on two of the injectors were dribbling. He tried tightening them up but it didn’t work and he ended up overtightening them. On closer inspection it looked as if the collars inside the unions were worn and/or fractured.

The Lister specialist who we got the pistons and barrels from has his industrial unit in Walsall - only 40 minutes away - so we gave him a ring and asked if had a couple of new injector pipes. He thought he did, but it was Friday and he wouldn’t be back in the unit till Monday. We’d have to wait to find out if that would sort it out.

Over the weekend we met up with Kim & Luke and the boys in the little park by the river, they live in Dordon, a 20 minute walk up the hill from Polesworth, so it was really good to be able to meet up outside while were there.

We decided to make snowmen out of branch slices for Christmas presents, so Dave set up Santa’s workshop in the dining room while Ann-Marie started knitting scarves.

After a bit of experimenting we found that the best way of attaching snowmen bottoms to snowmen tops and snowmen hats was by drilling a hole all the way through them and using a wooden kebab skewer.  

On Monday morning Dave walked back to Bodymoor Heath for the car. Although it’s a good 20 miles by canal, it’s less than 10 as the crow flies and he had a very nice walk despite half of it being through an industrial park, mainly because he came across a snack bar and got a very welcome cup of coffee.

Back at the car, he drove over to Walsall where he picked up the new injector pipes and did a spot of shopping before coming back to the boat just as it was getting dark. There never seems to be enough daylight in December to get anything done.

In the morning he was back in the engine room. Frustratingly, the new pipes didn’t stop the leaking. Dave was very unhappy and gave up in despair.

In the afternoon we walked up to Dordon to meet up with Kim and the boys after George came out of school, then had a look at the Dordon Christmas lights and did a raid on the Co-op before coming back to the boat.

The next day was Ann-Marie’s birthday. Dave was back in the engine room in the morning getting even more frustrated, but he gave up again and we went to Telford for a bit of Christmas shopping and a birthday latté. When we got home we cut some replacement bases for the snowmen, because the original ones had dried out inside the boat and cracked. After a matinée film Ann-Marie made a delicious lasagne for dinner followed by birthday cake and a quiz night.


Back to the ongoing engine saga. After asking on the Lister engine forum and talking to Paul in Walsall, we decided to get a new set of injectors. (Which will be reconditioned exchange ones. New ones don’t exist.) It’s something we’ve been toying with for ages, it’ll help with the smoke issue, but they’re £70 each and the old ones still work, albeit not perfectly. However, if the union where the pipes join is worn or misshapen and is causing the leak then that’s what we need to do. Paul had some, so we arranged to pick them up the next day, along with a couple more new pipes. While he was collecting them Dave had a chat with Paul and picked up a few tips about fitting them, including making sure that there is a fibre washer installed on the end of the injector, but ONLY ONE. He said it is quite common to come across engines where someone has replaced the injectors and assumed there was no washer in place (because it just looks like metal) and put another one in. He said finding three or even four is not unheard of. Of course each extra washer moves the injector nozzle further away from the ignition point and makes the engine less efficient. Dave had a look and found that two of ours had two each, and the other on had three. He took them all out which meant taking the cylinder heads off again to make sure he’d got all the bits of washer out, but he came out of the engine room feeling more encouraged than he had in weeks. The new injectors not only cured the leak, but virtually stopped the smoking.


Coventry Canal. North Oxford Canal. Polesworth to Brinklow

  As you are only too aware, Dear Reader, Christmas 2020 was a bit of a non-event, closely followed by the longest January and February in l...