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.        

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