Thursday, 27 October 2011

Oxford Canal. Nell bridge to Fenny Compton.

The Little Sewing Boat came down to Nell Bridge on Saturday morning. Chris & Cy got straight on with making a pattern on our front deck, while asking us what we wanted in the way of zips, windows and fastenings.
We’ve decided not to have any windows in the canvas; we reckon that we’ll have enough light with the big single window in the front. We’ll have two zips on each side and be able to roll either the doors or the sides up. The top plank is on a hinge at the back so during the summer we can roll the cover up, swing the plank back, and have a big open space again.
On Sunday and Monday they kept popping backwards and forwards between Legend and their workshop boat for fitting sessions, then on Tuesday they put all the hooks and poppers on the boat.
When we got back from the dentist on Tuesday it was all done and dusted. We are VERY IMPRESSED! The quality is outstanding and Legend looks fantastic. When we were deliberating about getting a cover made we looked at internet based companies that you send your measurements off to and we are very glad that we didn’t go down that road. Having watched the fitting process ourselves we are sure that without the actual boat to try it out on it would be impossible to get something to fit as well as this does. Legend is not perfectly symmetrical. Few boats, if any, are. The sides up to the bow are a double curve, the hand-rails finish ahead of the top plank and need to be worked round, and to top it all there’s a radio aerial in the way. All things that a set of measurements could never account for. Chris gave us a neat hole that fits over the aerial, elasticated cut outs that go round the hand-rails, poppers along the up-stand on the bow and all the hooks and straps in just the right positions to make it all neat and work properly. Yes we’ve gone on a bit, but we are very happy with it.

Fran, Sean, Harry and Phoebe came up from Portsmouth to see us on Monday. It was their first time on our boat and we had a lovely afternoon with them; we went over to the Pig Place then walked down to Aynho Weir lock and watched a couple of boats going through. Sadly we couldn’t take them boating due to the cover fitting, but they thought it was good fun and they’ve promised to come again.

You would have thought that having a new waterproof cover on the boat would have made our lives drier. Wrong. On the way from Nell Bridge to Banbury Ann-Marie, with a cry of “Not again!” left the boat unexpectedly. Twice in ten days; it’s becoming a habit. Dave got to go through a 9’ lock single handed while she was in the shower, and thankfully, once again no lasting damage was done.

Two days later we were going from Cropredy to Fenny Compton in a downpour that lasted most of the afternoon, so we were both soaking wet by the time we got moored up. Funny though, we still loved every minute of it.

Between wet sessions Karen, Andrew, Lauren & Ben came on board for the day. We picked them up in Banbury and had a sunny afternoon’s boating up to Cropredy. Andrew did a large chunk of the steering, going through several locks and bridges so Dave got to see legend from the bank for a change.
When we moored up we had a lovely casserole for tea that had been sitting on the Squirrel stove all day.

If this is our life now then we will not be asking for a refund.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Oxford Canal. Shipton-on Cherwell, Baker’s Lock, Pigeon Lock, Allens Lock & Nell Bridge.

It’s been very exciting just lately. First, John & Camilla came to see us at Shipton Wier and stayed overnight. We had a walk up to the nearby deserted village of Hampton Gay , then went down into Thrupp and turned round to begin our journey northwards.  
We’ve now gone as far south on the Oxford as we intend to; we’ll be heading in a generally northerly direction, with various meanders sideways, for quite some time to come. Until we get to Preston, in fact. John used to live on a narrowboat called Andante and he took the helm for the day; the first time he’s had his hand on the tiller in 10 years. Andante was the first narrowboat that we set foot on, and was one of the steps towards our life now, so it was nice to get John’s seal of approval on Legend, so to speak. We moored in Shipton-on Cherwell, just down from the church.

We finally got our act together and cycled the 7 miles down the towpath to the junction with the River Thames at Oxford.
We had a lovely day wandering around what is a truly stunning city, just as spectacular as any that we’ve seen on our travels.
All spires, parks & bicycles with a covered market to match anything in Europe. Of course the names of the colleges are familiar to us, and anyone who’s spent any time watching Bamber Gasgoine and Co., but it’s still slightly weird to be walking down a little city lane past the back door of “Queen’s College, Oxford”. And impossible not to do an impression.

We left Shipton, and stopped for two nights at Baker’s lock where we’d spotted a nice pile of ash wood. BW had done some branch lopping on the towpath so we carted all the decent sized stuff back to the boat, where we sawed and split it. Ash is the best stuff for firewood; it’s dense and long lasting. Both the side lockers in the well deck are now full of logs and there’s a load on the roof as well. It might last till spring, or it might not; either way it’ll save us money on coal. While we were there Dave got the paint brushes out again. There is now non-slip on both gunwales; however there doesn’t seem to be enough on the right one, as you will see…

As we were on our way from the top of Baker’s lock to the bottom of Pigeon lock, (there’s nothing in-between, so it should have been a gentle early morning cruise) we came across Nuneaton & Brighton; a working pair of historic boats. Normally this would have been a good thing, we love the sound, smell and look of the historic stuff, but not this time. They were coming towards us, both fairly well laden and Nuneaton, the motorboat, had run aground on a mud bank just before a winding hole. Brighton, the buttyboat, had run up alongside, which meant that the pair of them were effectively blocking the navigation. We pulled over on our side of the winding hole and Dave went to see if there was anything we could do. The skipper asked if we’d give them a tow, so we turned in the hole and reversed back to the motorboat; no mean feat in itself, what with all the silt. With Legend’s help Nuneaton cleared the mud bank where we let her free, then she crossed the winding hole and re-attached the towing line. With a big yank on the stretchy rope Brighton cleared the mud and with a wave of thanks they disappeared.
We were then facing the wrong way and had to once again turn round in a silted up winding hole. Half way through this palaver Ann-Marie was coming down the right hand gunwale with the centre rope in one and thought it would be fun to go swimming. Scream, Splash, Brrrr! Well one of us was going to be first; no doubt both of us will have a dunking before too long and all things considered, apart from the severe nettling as she climbed out, it could have been worse. The boat wasn’t moving, Dave could get off with a rope to help her out and she didn’t have far to swim. After a hot shower, apart from oozing adrenaline, she was back to her old self. It made us think though. If we’d been moving, if it had been the steerer, if there hadn’t been an easy bank to swim to, what then? A life-belt and a plan have become priority items.

At Pigeon lock Annie, Wiltz, Kim & Luke came to visit. In the afternoon we pulled the pins and took them up to Allen’s lock at Upper Heyford. We almost got caught out by the Autumn evening; by the time we got there, dusk had been and gone, the solar fairy lights were on and we could only just make out the banks. Boating at night isn’t exactly illegal but it’s certainly frowned on, especially by the bow-thruster types. As there were no spaces left we ended up half on the lock moorings, which is frowned on as well, but as we were going through the lock first thing in the morning we made an exception. After tea Annie, Kim & Luke went home and left Wiltz behind. He’s recuperating so a couple of day’s boating was the order of the day.
We sent Annie a ransom note written in news-print, telling her that we’d kidnapped her husband and that if she wanted him back she had to put her feet up, eat chocolate and watch a soppy film. The cruise from Allen’s Lock to Nell’s Bridge was so blustery and we had to stop at the pub at Aynho for refreshment. Oh dear, what a shame.

We’re now back opposite The Pig Place where we’re stopping for a week or so. Last week we contacted The Little Sewing Boat about a cratch cover. They have two boats; a live-aboard and a workshop and they move around the country doing upholstery repairs, new covers etc. How’s this for jammy? They could have been anywhere on the system, but they were at Napton heading south. A fortnight later they would have been past us on their way to the Thames. We should meet up with them in the next few days and, if the price is right, they’ll moor up next to us and make us a lovely new canvas cover. Somewhere to take our wellies off and keep the kindling dry.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Oxford Canal. Shipton Wier lock.

After an astonishingly hot week, which everyone who came past our boat commented on, the weather is now much more what autumn should be. Bracing winds and occasional showers make boat painting a challenge, but we’ve managed to do what we set out to and have got red bits on both sides. We tried various methods of paint stripping and found, after wearing out several different types of discs, that this works better and faster than anything else for getting back to bare metal. Even so each side took two days of hard work, and Dave looked like he’d been coal mining each evening. It’s worth it though; smooth, bare steel makes the best start for a smooth, shiny finish five or six coats later.
Now we’ve taken the grotty non-slip rubberised stuff off the gunwales we’ve got to put something else on. What we’ll use is a fine silica product that mixes with the paint. We’ll mask off the edges of each gunwale leaving a strip down the middle and put a coat of that on, followed by another coat without the additive. That will leave a tidy, non-slip strip down each side that won’t deteriorate as it wears. Nice.

We learnt a valuable lesson this week. If you’re going to chuck your ashes under a hedge, do it in the morning when the stove has been out for several hours, especially when it’s windy. Luckily we noticed in time and with some frantic bucket work managed to limit the damage to some burned grass and scorched brambles. It was a bit scary for a while though and brought home to us just how isolated we really are when we moor out in the wilds. We’ll be a bit more careful in future.

Now that the weather is getting colder we are lighting the stove in the evenings. If we had any worries about being cold in the winter we haven’t any more. It’s 10˚C outside, in here it’s 27˚C with all the windows open, and tomorrow’s soup is bubbling away on a trivet. The log burner in the house was always kept around 250˚C to stop the chimney sooting up too much. If we get this one over 150˚C the back boiler starts bubbling and we end up in our underwear wafting each other with copies of Towpath Talk. Combine that with the gas oven and the varnish begins to peel off the ceiling. Of course sweeping the chimney is a lot easier on a boat so it shouldn’t be a problem.

On Tuesday we had a trip out to Portsmouth for the Pompey Puddleducks 2CV club’s 21st anniversary. Ann-Marie was the founder member so we got an invite. It was lovely to see that through the hard work of the current membership the club is thriving. Everyone seemed pleased to see us; we had a brilliant evening, won a pumpkin in the raffle, and had some delicious birthday cake.
We keep meaning to cycle into Oxford but so far haven’t had a free day when the weather has looked friendly enough. Dave spent 3 ½ hours wrestling with the ring road one morning and swore he was never going anywhere near it again, but we’ve been told by other boaters that access from the towpath is a different thing altogether, and that the city is just as beautiful as everyone says. We’ve got a free day on Sunday, maybe we’ll find out.

Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Stourbridge Canal. BCN. Grand Union Canal. Kinver to Kixley Wharf

There are 25 locks from Hyde Corner to Merry Hill, but we had a fabulous day working up through them all. The Stourton and ...