Tuesday 30 December 2014

Hatton Station to Warwick. Grand Union Canal.

While Legend was moored at Hatton station, there was enough spare room on the towpath for Dave to get the workmate out and become creative.

We had them on the towpath like that for about a week. They made everyone smile and we were pleasantly surprised that, apart from four of them getting blown into the canal one night, they all survived unharmed. We named them Ashleigh, Willow, Hazel, Holly and Rose. As Christmas approached we gave them away to our friends and family, until there was just Ashleigh left, then he got taken to Anne’s on Boxing Day.

Over the weekend before Christmas Eve, we embarked on one of our mad dashes around the country in the car, spreading as much Christmas Joy and wooden reindeers to as many relatives as possible.
Since we last went to visit her in Cornwall, Dave’s sister Kate has moved to the other side of Penzance, and is now within spitting distance of Land’s End. At this rate she’ll be on the Scilly Isles by Easter. We broke our journey down there by visiting John who, while still living in Cornwall, at least lives in the bit before the grass starts appearing in the middle of the A30. About 8 years previously we had joined John and Kate for a week on a Chas Harden hire boat on the Llangollen

We were shocked and ashamed to find out we’d not seen John since. He’s a smashing bloke and often replies to Ann-Marie’s round robin e-mails and it was lovely to spend some time with him.

An hour’s drive further on found us at Kate’s new flat, high up on the last sticky-out bit of Cornwall with amazing views from every window. We had a terrific time with her and Rod; lunch overlooking St Michael’s Mount, an early evening stroll around the Angarrack Christmas Lights, which have to be seen to be believed.
These are the Seven Swans a-Swimming in the river, to see all the other days of Christmas - and all the reindeer - click on the link above. That was followed by soup and garlic bread back at the flat. It doesn’t get much better.
We were back on the A30 straight after breakfast the next morning, and waving at Stone Henge around lunch time. It hadn’t occurred to us that we’d be going past it on the day of the winter solstice; luckily the four mile queue was on the southbound side of the road.

We arrived at Mychett just after 2pm and spent a very enjoyable afternoon and evening with Karen, Andrew, Lauren and Ben. One of the reindeer was rehomed at Karen’s; we’re sure it will be very happy there.

Next day we were in Fleet to see Mum and Dad and rehome another reindeer, then back up the A34 to Warwick as it got dark. We got a big bundle from the chippy and pulled into the station car park about a minute ahead of Frankie, Harry and Iggy (their dog), who were staying on the boat with us for a couple of days.
We’d come from Cornwall via Hampshire; they’d come from Bordeaux via Stowmarket and Boston, and we’d  all arrived at the same place at the same time. A triumph of logistics which once again had us wondering how anyone on a boat managed to do anything before mobile phones.

Dave had everyone up bright and early the following morning, the day before Christmas Eve, with cups of tea all round, and we were on the water point at the top of Hatton Locks by 9am. While both the water tank and the top lock were filling up Ann-Marie dished out the bacon butties then, with Harry at the tiller, Legend glided gracefully into her first wide lock since we turned onto the Middlewich branch in April.
We were just about to shut the gate when we spotted another boat  coming down the cut behind us, so we got to share the whole flight of 21 locks with a lovely couple called David & Judith who were on holiday over Christmas on a hire boat.
With Harry & David steering, Frankie and Iggy dropping paddles and shutting up, Judith staying with the boats and us leapfrogging each other to set ahead, we got down the whole flight in less than three hours. Three years ago, when we went up, despite being excited by the prospect, we were rather daunted by Hatton. We put the call out to all out mates and relatives and ended up with a crew of about 15. It was fantastic fun, and we wouldn’t have done it any other way, but it just shows what we’ve learnt. With six people and two boats we made going down look very slick and easy.

Whilst chatting on the way down, it transpired that Judith and David had gone to the little shop on top of Shrewley tunnel a couple of days before in order to get stuff for Christmas dinner, only to find that they‘d sold out of potatoes. In our book, and no doubt yours too, not having roasties alongside the cranberry sauce and the crappy crackers is a crime of such heinous proportions that a satisfactory sentence has yet to be devised. So, when we were all done with engines and moored up at the Cape of Good Hope, Frankie was despatched with a generous helping of Large Whites to rectify the situation. Being such lovely people, David and Judith felt that an exchange of goods was called for and generously repaid us with some amazingly mouth-watering Italian cheese. Despite being told several times, we repeatedly failed to remember what it was called. However, we had it as a finale to every meal after that until it was all gone, and we had no doubt whatsoever that it was worth several sacks of potatoes.

On Christmas Eve morning we all went out for a little walk with Iggy, then in the afternoon Kim, Luke and George came over with a very tempting-looking and beautifully presented selection of home-baked Christmas fayre.

After less than three weeks of intensive crawling George had grown bored and had decided that walking was the only way forward or, more accurately, sometimes forward, but more often than not a sort of wobbly sideways motion while gripping bits of furniture.  An intensely determined toddler, however wobbly, is a force to be reckoned with and the confines of our little boat did nothing to improve things. Our Ecofan, as far as George was concerned, was the most desirable object on his bit of the planet, and he spent a good deal of his seemingly endless energy trying to breach every obstacle we put between him and our very hot fire.

When all the youngsters had gone we snuggled down to watch a film before hanging our stockings up and making sure we’d left adequate provisions for our expected nocturnal visitor.

In the morning the evidence was clear:  HE’D BEEN! Sadly the fingerprints were too smudged to provide an accurate ID.

Later in the day, after a traditional Christmas breakfast,
we joined David & Judith to go down the two Cape locks. Well that was the idea, but as there were several boats moored at the bottom we stopped in the pound. Not our usual habitat, but it was a big pound and we figured we’d be safe enough. We helped our new friends through the second one then said a fond goodbye. They were going on into Leamington, and then turning round to return to their hire base on the Birmingham and Worcester. We would have liked to have helped them back up Hatton on Boxing Day, however we had other plans.

Shortly after the Queen’s Speech our friend Coops came to stay. We haven’t seen him for ages so it was great to be able to chat and catch up on each other’s stories.

We spent Boxing Day in Chesterfield at Dave’s sister Anne’s house. While we were there Chloe and Shandy dropped in and so did Judith and Vince. Richard, Kathryn and the kids were going to come along in the evening but by seven o’clock it was snowing really heavily and they didn’t make it. About four inches of snow came down over Chesterfield that night; Chloe and Shandy only just made it to their digs and Judith and Vince got stuck in the ensuing hold-ups, getting home about half past midnight. We went to the pub. The snow was film-set perfect; big fluffy flakes piling up to make a thick powdery blanket that flew up when we kicked our way through it and made satisfying creaks  when we walked on it.
As we crossed the green we started a couple of snowballs and within ten minutes we’d built a snowman that was taller than we were.
In the morning, looking out at the thick pile on top of the car, we were a bit apprehensive about getting home, but as it turned out there was nothing to worry about; the M1 was heavy but moving and as soon as we turned onto the M69 all traces of snow disappeared.

Legend was freezing when we got home, but not for long; we’d got a new toy.
Our normal routine when we get back to the boat after a couple of days away is to light the fire and run the gennie for an hour or two to charge the batteries while it’s warming up. We figured that having a little fan heater in the bedroom while the gennie was on would help. It does. We’re now on the look-out for an electric blanket.

In our post collection from Anne’s was a pair of these.
We can now navigate nearly everywhere for a year, including the Nene and the Great Ouse, where we intend to spend most of it. As you can see, our latest attempt at preventing our licences from turning to a soggy mush while they’re stuck in the window is to seal them onto a piece of plastic with heavy duty tape. Not quite as good as lamination, but hopefully good enough.  

Friday 19 December 2014

Hawne Basin to Hatton. BCN. Stratford upon Avon Canal. Grand Union Canal

With Legend tucked up safely in Hawne Basin we had a brilliant couple of days in and around Hereford. Our reason for going was to help celebrate John and Camilla’s wedding, but we fitted a visit to Adrian & Ellie’s while we were at it. About three years ago Adrian & Ellie followed our lead and took off round Europe in a camper, except that where we had three months out there and went to France, Spain and Portugal, they took a year out and explored a whole host of other countries as well. They wrote a fascinating blog while they did it.
Anyway, when they came back they bought a cottage in deepest Herefordshire. We’ve been meaning to go and visit them ever since they moved in and the wedding was the perfect way to do it. They were in the middle of having the base for a three-car garage put in at the time, which included a lot of muddy upheaval and the felling of about 30 trees, but that didn’t stop them being the perfect hosts and making us feel like royalty. In fact the building site in the garden just added to the excitement as they showed us around their new home.

We left on Saturday morning amid farewell hugs and promises of more visits, drove into Hereford itself and booked into a B&B, where we got changed into our Sunday best before heading for Lyde Court, where the wedding was to be held. We’ve known John since we were all relative youngsters in the 2cv club over 20 years ago, we borrowed Nb Andante, which he owned at the time, 

and took the kids for weekend jollies up the Staffs & Worcester long before we thought we would ever end up living the dream, and it feels like we’ve been mates forever. So we were enormously happy to join him and Camilla as they celebrated their marriage.
It was a really good wedding. Posh enough to make everyone feel spoilt and laid back enough to make them feel comfortable. Every good wedding needs a good band; this one had a special performance by The Rhythm Thieves, featuring the Groom on rhythm guitar – very rock and roll.
John and Camilla are talking about selling up and moving aboard a boat of their own in the next couple of years; we’ve offered to do a week’s swap with them before they commit themselves so Camilla can see what live-aboard life is like.

We had to thin out at about 10:30 but the party was still going full swing when we left. We’d booked breakfast at 7 so we could be back aboard in time to do our Escape from Birmingham trip. The reason for the rush was because there were planned maintenance closures on all the routes through and out of Brum, and the only way left open for us was back through Netherton, down to Gas Street,

then through Edgbaston to King’s Norton and east on the Stratford. Even going that way we had to do it all in one go because of a closure for towpath upgrading at Edgbaston starting at 7:30 on the Monday morning. We had phoned up to check that this was going to mean a real closure to boats, and had been assured that there would be definitely no passage after 7am. It's not that we're sceptics, but it came as no surprise, when we cruised through the cutting, that there was no hint of any impending navigation closure, no equipment, no signs, no hi-viz fencing, nothing. Which meant we could have gone later, but we would have really been kicking ourselves if we’d left it and been wrong.

We kept going towards Shirley into the evening with the headlight on until we couldn’t see anymore, then the next morning we moved up to moor just the other side of the drawbridge. In the afternoon, after Kim had done a stirling job of re-uniting us with our car, and we'd returned the electric radiators we’d borrowed from Norm & Jude, we were off again, but not very far. There’s a very useful little lane that ends at bridge 11 on the Stratford canal on the outskirts of Dickens Heath. Dickens Heath came as a bit of a surprise; on the map in our brand new Nicholson guide there appear to be a few houses and one or two farms scattered across the countryside, so we thought we’d be in the middle of nowhere. However, in the short space of time since the guide was printed, a huge (albeit very posh) housing development has sprouted up inside the canal bend. We very nearly didn’t stop, but the lure of convenient parking was too much; we’d agreed to three weeks work in Worcester with 6:30 starts, so having the car nearby was very important.

During our stints of interrogating the bus passengers of Worcester we got time to have a look round the city. This is the basin at the end of the Birminghan & Worcester Canal.
This is where it meets the River Severn. 
And this is a very strong willed woman giving the swans their dinner.
We'll be back to visit Worcester in Legend one day and it was a nice opportunity to check out the moorings and facilities.

In between our bus passenger surveys Mum and Dad came to stay. They were helping out on the Citroen Specials stand at the Classic Car and Bike Show at the NEC and had brought their 3 wheel Lomax, so we were perfectly placed to offer accommodation. They gave us Sunday tickets for the show which we enjoyed very much. The standard of exhibits was spectacular; as well as all the beautifully restored labours of love, there were some more bizarre examples.
Meanwhile, Luke had come across a free Citroen Dyane chassis, so Dave volunteered our big ratchet straps and his muscle to assist in getting it from London back to Nuneaton.
Luke is building a car to go to the International Meeting of 2cv Friends in Poland next year, and he’s determined to do it for a little money as possible. So far he’s got a bodyshell, doors, wings,bonnet, running gear, engine and gearbox, and now a chassis. There’s still a lot of work to do but, now that he and Dave have dug the footings for a concrete sectional garage that he got of freecycle, it all looks possible. 
Our next mooring was a one night stop at Hockley Heath in order to pick up David & Kate who were staying for the weekend and helping us down the Lapworth flight. The weather was fabulous and the locks looked lovely.
We turned the boat round at Kingswood Junction and backed onto the water point, before backing through the next lock to moor up pointing uphill. Kingswood is one of our favourite places; we stopped there on our way to Stratford, and it felt like home.

From Kingswood we walked up the Grand Union Canal to Knowle. We’re not going that way in the boat this time, so we thought we’d have a look.
The locks are exactly like those at Stockton, Hatton and elsewhere on the GU where the canal was widened and modernised in the 1930s. There are hydraulic paddles and big side ponds, and the whole thing has the air of a proper grown-up waterway.
At Knowle we saw this boat moored up.
We met Kate & David on their new boat “Bosley” at Tarleton, then spent the next day powering our way over the Ribble Estuary just ahead of them. We saw them a couple of times on the Lancaster, and we’ve met up with them on the Peak Forest where they have a permanent mooring. They're a lovely couple, “Bosworth” was their previous boat and it was nice to see it, although it was looking a bit scruffy.

We travelled to our final weeks work in Worcester from Kingswood then, at silly o-clock on Monday morning we left the car at Birmingham International and boarded a plane for Belfast. We went for 3 days to see Chloe & Adam’s new house and to celebrate Dave’s birthday. Belfast Christmas Market was in full swing on the first evening, so we indulged ourselves with mulled wine and big sausages.
On Tuesday, after Dave had opened all his cards and pressies, we all piled into their car and went to Glenariff National Park. We took paddy and had a fabulous day walking down through the valley alongside the waterfalls, then we had a picnic while watching an amazing rainbow develop behind us.
Dave pronounced it his best birthday ever.

Back at the boat over the following two days we stocked up with coal and gas, then went back up the lock, filled the water tank and turned onto the Lapworth Link; the short cut that joins the Stratford and the GU. Within 100 yards of turning onto the GU we stopped again; CRT contractors had been busy clearing overhanging and off-side vegetation on this stretch, and there was a fair amount of wood sitting around. Most of the time this sort of stuff isn’t much good for firewood as it’s all still green and we don’t have enough room to season it, so we generally don’t bother picking it up and look for fallen deadwood instead. The exception to this is Ash. Like all other wood, Ash burns better when it’s seasoned, but it will burn quite well when it’s green; it’s got a very low moisture content, especially in autumn when the sap isn’t rising. There were some big lumps of Ash at the bottom of the bank so we spent half an hour humping it up onto the roof, trying to get it all onto the pallets and not onto our still vulnerable paint. We stopped near Tom o’the Wood at Rowington for a week or so. During that time we saw our first ice of the year; just a bit of “cat ice” on a couple of days, but it was more than we had all last winter and we were a lot further south.
Dave cut up some of the wood we’d collected but left the bigger bits for a later day when he could get the chainsaw out. We went with Kim & Luke to Hartshill to collect wreath-making materials then covered their kitchen table with a huge mound of Holly, Ivy, Yew, Spruce and Willow. Luke won the Best Wreath competition, and Dave made a couple of woven stars, one of which, quite coincidentally, fits perfectly in our kitchen porthole.
Ignoring the crack in our Morso Squirrel hadn’t made it any smaller, and although it was still working perfectly well, we knew it would only be a matter of time before we needed a new one. We’d decided that, although we could get a cast iron multi-fuel stove from Machine Mart and other places for less than £200, we’d then have all the problems of getting a back boiler in it and re-engineering our flue and plumbing to fit it. It would have to be the genuine article. With this in mind we’d been keeping an eye on chandler’s promotional adverts in Towpath Talk, and on the small ads. We picked up the December edition about 3 weeks after its publication date, so we weren’t expecting much when we phoned the number on an ad for a “new, unused Morso Squirrel 1410”. However, it was still for sale so the next day we found ourselves loading our birthday and Christmas presents to each other, in the shape of a brand-new-in-a-box stove, into our boot. Of course, we couldn’t get the car anywhere near the boat at that time, and wouldn’t for some time, so we’d arranged with Dave’s sister Judith to store it for us until we could. After we’d humped it out of the boot into their flat, as a treat in celebration of our birthdays, Judith and Vince took us out for a delicious meal at one of their local restaurants.

Our next move was through Shrewley tunnel to Hatton Station, so we’d asked Kim and Luke to join us. George turned up in festive garb,
as well as this little number he also has an elf, a Christmas pudding and a penguin with a scarf. Luke steered Legend through the tunnel and we pulled up on the far side to go and have a look at the horse tunnel that goes up at an angle at the side of the main one. While we were stopped we noticed some really big tree trunks right at the tunnel portal. Not wishing to miss out on free wood, we backed the boat up and, as they were too heavy to lift, rolled them both onto our small trad stern. Luke and Dave took it in turns to sit on them while the other one steered. Unfortunately, when we moored at Hatton Station, although it was very convenient for solar and parking, and had a nice wide bit of towpath for wood cutting, it was rather shallow so we couldn’t get the back end in. luckily we didn’t go on to Johns Bridge at the top of Hatton locks as, on the Saturday night, this happened.
It’s not quite where we’d thought of mooring, but it’s not far off. We phoned CRT about it on Monday morning; on Tuesday afternoon, a boat came past us and reported that it was all sorted. Impressive!

On Ann-Marie’s birthday Elizabeth and Sarah came to visit, Kim took us out for afternoon tea and, as she was working in Coventry the next day, Anne came to stay in the evening. Not quite as epic as a trip to Northern Ireland, but quite good fun all the same.

We've taken steps that pretty much determine what we're doing next year.
We've applied for a Gold Licence, which means we can navigate both CRT and EA waterways; namely the rivers Nene and Great Ouse. This has meant sending off our CRT licence for a refund as gold licences only run from January and we've got a six month overlap. We're planning to go down the Northampton arm onto the Nene in March or thereabouts, that gives us time to go up the North Oxford to Hawkesbury junction, then into Coventry, before retracing our steps to Braunston.

While we were outside Hatton Station car park, Dave was outside wood chopping and Ann-Marie put all the Christmas decorations up and started on her annual bake-fest.
For the next few days our beautiful boat was all twinkly lights and wonderful festive aromas. We like to think that, when they came home from a hard day’s work, we made the commuters smile.

Friday 5 December 2014

Polesworth to Hawne Basin. Coventry Canal. Birmingham & Fazely Canal. BCN.

November was an incredibly busy month. There was bottom blacking, a wedding, a broken car, lots of visitors and some paid employment. Goodness knows how we ever had time to fit in two full time jobs before we started this boating malarkey!

With our compulsory Halloween pumpkin on board we left Polesworth and headed towards the Birmingham Canals Network (BCN) via Fazely Junction and the Birmingham & Fazely canal.
As it was past canal switch off day, there were very few other boats around and we had the cut pretty much to ourselves.

There was a lovely mooring at the bottom of the Curdworth flight right outside the Kingsbury Water Park; a disused gravel-pit which has lots of walks and bird watching hides around the lakes. Elizabeth, Ellen and Sarah came for a day and we had picnic in one of the hides before taking Legend up three locks and mooring outside the Dog & Dublet at Bodymoor Heath. The girls had a lovely little boat trip and Sarah wrote about it on her blog when they got home.

The Dog & Doublet has a very handy car park which backs right onto the visitor moorings; just the thing when you need to clear all the stuff of your boat roof. Kim and Luke were kind enough to let us stash most of our plant pots and other paraphernalia that we cart around with us until the spring, by which time the new roof paint will have cured. Well that’s the plan. We also dismantled our big box and took it up to Anne’s so it could spend the winter, along with our folding bikes and camping stuff, in her shed. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that after all that there’d be nothing left and we’d have a clear roof. Wrong. There are still strawberries, rhubarb, coal, logs, petrol cans, two mops, a ladder and the boat poles. None of which we could possibly do without, apparently.
With Kim, Luke and George on board we set of for our last mooring before heading into Birmingham at Curdworth, just after the tunnel. We had really good weather as we went up the rest of the Curdworth flight;
Luke had a look at the offside vegetation
 while George rekindled his love of our bed and the throb of an air-cooled Lister.
It was quite shady in the cutting but very beautiful with all the autumn colours, and perfect for what we needed. From there Kim helped us with a big car shuffle which left the Astra in the car park at Hawne Basin, and left us with an easy trip into, and through the city.

We took the road less travelled, and at Salford Junction (better known to land lubbers as Spaghetti Junction on the M6)
turned off onto the Tame Valley canal towards Ocker Hill.
We had considered stopping under the motorway, as there’s an off side mooring, (on the right in the photo)
But it was all a bit gloomy and the noise was rather relentless, so in the end the prospect of a peaceful night won over the (very slight) added sense of security and we went on to the bottom of Perry Bar locks.
We’d been warned about Perry Bar locks being a bit tricky, but despite a couple of the pounds being a bit low we had no problems as we made our way up the next morning
and carried on to Doe Bank Junction. The Tame Valley has very much the same feeling as the Birmingham new main line; instead of the hidden meanderings of early canals it proudly cuts a bold straight line across the land with wide cuttings under towering bridges, and high embankments with grand aqueducts spanning roads and rivers.
There are towpaths on both banks and it confidently states that no expense has been spared and that waterborne transport is the future. Although most of the written accounts and old photographs of working boats come from the days of paired motorboats and butties, with families living cramped together in ever increasing poverty in back cabins, there was over one hundred years of highly successful and profitable horse boating before that. That’s the climate in which Messrs Jessop and Telford drew up their plans for a brave new world. It’s not hard to imagine a time when there was a regular passage of laden boats in each direction, coal working up the locks, pig-iron working down, and the towpaths through the cuttings echoing to the steady clip-clop of prosperity hard at work.
At Doe Bank Junction the Tame Valley meets the Walsall canal. This is perhaps better known as Ocker Hill, and there is a sanitary station there and a permanent mooring site on the Lower Ocker Hill Branch. While we were filling the water tank a chap came past with a dog and invited us to moor in the branch overnight, which we did and very nice it was too, although we think that our decision to go in backwards was very much the right one.
Although the water couldn’t be described as shallow, it was considerably thicker, blacker and decidedly less fluid beyond a certain depth.
The next morning we were up and at it first thing. Out of the moorings before any of the permanent moorers were awake and straight into Ryders Green Locks; referred to in hushed tones by those who know them.
We talked to a lady later on who said that she’d moved from Ocker Hill because she couldn’t face “Doing the eight” every time she wanted to go anywhere. To be fair, although they were a bit heavy going we didn’t think they were that bad, there are worse things to have on your doorstep.
It has got a fair amount of rubbish in it though; this was just one of Dave's trips down the weed-hatch.
After that we joined the Wednesbury Old Canal to its junction with the New Main Line at the wonderfully named Pudding Green where we turned right.
After a couple of miles we reached Dudley Port Junction where we turned left onto the Netherton Tunnel branch and headed for our first big tunnel since Harecastle.
The water point marked on the map just before the entrance there wasn’t there anymore, so we put all our lights on and sallied forth into a two-mile-long hole in the ground.
We met four other boats in the tunnel which passed the time, but really, after all the excitement and apprehension at the entrance, boating through tunnels can get a bit tedious.
Popping out into daylight is always fun though. The southern end of Netherton Tunnel is at the lovely Windmill End, where the water point still works and where there’s a cafĂ© and a Dudley Canals Trust information office. And lots of onlookers if it’s sunny, which it was.
While we were filling up and chatting to our fans, we rearranged the roof so that nothing got scraped as we went down the Dudley Number Two canal and through the second tunnel of the day at Ghosty Hill.
This one we remembered for being very low indeed, but the last time we went through was before we’d seen Harecastle, which is just as low and lumpier, or Froghall which is lower than the lowest thing in a how-low-can-u-go competition. Which meant that Ghosty, although interesting with its variable roof and its Count Dracula portrait half way through, wasn’t quite the squeeze we’d expected.
At the other end of Ghosty Hill is Hawne Basin. We got there in plenty of time to moor up and get ourselves sorted out for our second trip up their slipway the following morning.

By 9am the next day Legend was up the slipway and sitting on the trolley in the shed. It was rather disturbing to find that although we’d only blacked the hull 2½ years ago there wasn’t a scrap of it left below the waterline.
We think this may be because last time we did it, we’d put Intertuf16, which is a vinyl composite, over traditional bitumen. We think either of these would have been fine on their own, and even the other way round, but we’d put a hard plastic film over a soft undercoat. We’d noticed that whenever we bumped the boat against the bank with a bit of wellie a chunk of blacking had flaked off, but it was still a surprise to find that it had all gone. We spent the rest of Friday removing all we could from the waterline up to the gunnels. It was a horrible job; bash a section of the hull with a hammer, then chisel off the shattered coating, sending showers of black chippings everywhere.
We got blacking chips in our teeth, in our hair and in our underwear. Thankfully Hawne Basin has a bath; when we’d finished we spent an hour soaking in it, then another half an hour cleaning it.   
On Saturday morning we had our hull survey. Because our boat will be 25 years old in 2015 our insurance company require a satisfactory hull survey report before they issue a certificate. As this necessitates an ultra-sound test of the steel thickness below the waterline it has to be done out of the water.
After spending the previous evening worrying about our un-blacked and, to our untrained eyes, rust-riddled hull, it was to our great relief that Ashley Pinder, (Marine surveyor and boat building son of famous boat building family) pronounced it to be in pretty good nick for its age. He made a few suggestions about keeping it that way, including some advice on blacking frequency – ie. do it more often, but in general pronounced it fit for purpose and went away to write a report to that end. It is his belief that as environmental controls become more strict, the canals are becoming cleaner and in consequence have more oxygenating organisms in them. These in turn are attacking steel hulls more vigorously than before so the coatings aren’t lasting as long. It’s a theory. It could also be true that the stricter environmental controls are resulting in less effective paint.  Whatever, it seems that if we’re going to go cruising all year round, bash a bit of ice now and then and venture out on the salty stuff on occasion, we ought to be slapping on a few coats of jollop every two years from now on.  Ashley also told us to consider having the whole of the underneath grit-blasted and epoxy coated – a process that costs about £3,000. We are considering it, but if we’ve got to come out every 6 years anyway, and blacking every two years costs us £300, it’s difficult to make it viable. The slipway at Hawne is for hire by the week, so we had a list of other jobs lined up. As soon as Ashley had left we set too with some little foam rollers and a can of traditional bitumen each.
On Sunday we did a second coat and on Monday we added a third. In between times, while we were plugged into proper mains power, Dave was up on the roof with the orbital sander,
and Ann-Marie sanded the whole of the oak flooring inside and gave it two coats of a protective oil emulsion. The outside temperature was down to seven or eight degrees overnight, so the decision to go ahead with the roof painting might not have been the wisest, but once we’d started there was no going back. When the red oxide was still tacky 24 hours later it became obvious we weren’t going to get two coats of gloss on by Friday, the addition of some quick drying white undercoat speeded things up a bit and then some very fast brushwork with a very big brush saw a really good film of topcoat done by Wednesday night. It was still soft when we left on Friday, but we had all our tat suspended on wooden batons across the hand rails so it didn't get damaged. We'll probably leave it like that till the spring.
At some time during the week we went to start the car and it wouldn’t. At first Dave thought it was the battery, but a quick swap with the starter battery from the boat confirmed that it wasn’t, so on Wednesday Dave borrowed a set of axle stands, writhed the starter motor out from where it was lurking behind everything else (it’s funny how Haynes Manuals never mention anything about removing chunks of skin from the back of your hand) then got onto Euro Carparts and ordered a new one. We put the basin down as a delivery address and paid for next day delivery; the plan was to fit the new one on Thursday, go back down the slip on Friday morning and leave the boat in the basin for the weekend while we drove to Hereford. Simple,no?
Most of the people in the basin knew of our plight, the chap who ran the shop was aware that we were awaiting delivery, but by teatime on Thursday it still hadn’t turned up so Ann-Marie checked the tracking number. According to that it had been left at the shop at 2:30 and the shop had shut at three. To cut a long story short, after a lot of people went out of their way to help and after we’d almost given up hope, we finally got it by sheer coincidence at about six o’clock. Someone on a boat had taken delivery and because he didn’t recognise the name had kept hold of it, despite it having “Slipway” written on the label. He could have given it to the shop, he could have asked around, he could, God forbid, have walked over to the slipway and mentioned that he had in his possession a piece of hand delivered equipment that perhaps we might find useful. But no, he’d put it in his engine room. Why would someone do that? What did he think was going to happen to it? What stopped Dave from pushing him into the canal when he found out? The answers, Dear reader, are beyond us.
And so, just after dawn on Friday morning, while the rest of the residents of Hawne Basin were still snuggled up in their beds, a very jubilant and rather grubby Dave was punching the air with his bloodied hands and shouting “YES!” simply because his car had started.

The rest of the day went perfectly to plan. With its nicely repainted stern first, Legend gracefully re-entered the water.
Dave backed it across the basin and we tied up to the service point to take on water and fill up with some of the cheapest diesel on the cut. After that we settled our account and then backed over to a gap in the permanent boats on the far side where we moored up and left it safe and sound while we went west for the weekend.

Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

Summer ‘24 finally arrived while we were moored at Pangbourne, and boy, did we all know about it. The temperatures rocketed up - along with ...