Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A New Chapter Begins!

Well, we have just become a two boat family, having just bought the former Working Boat, then Ice-Breaker, then Tug, named SICKLE.

Current plans are to keep both boats, so it seems appropriate to start a new blog that will cover our adventures with both SICKLE and CHALICE.

It is not impossible both boats will be out and about together on occasions.

The new SICKLE and CHALICE blog can be found at


Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Final day (minus Cath)

(posted by Alan)

I don't know why, but didn't sleep well, and ended up sitting in bed quite early, browsing stuff on my laptop.

We had arranged with Cath that she would come and have breakfast with us, before she headed into work.  She perhaps was not to know that Charlie had not yet had his early morning walk, so that quickly became her first task.

Soon after Cath has said her farewells David and I set off - a good move, as 4 small boats locking through together did so immediately behind us.

David generally doesn't do a lot of the locking, but when he does, you know you are on a whirlwind tour, where things tend to get done faster than you are used to!  Today was no different, and I can only marvel at his youthful energy, and imaginative use of bike.  We found it no problem to pull a paddle at each lock as we left it, to prepare it for the boats following.

Some of the water levels were seriously low, and I could not get the boat in against the bank below certain locks.  David easily leaps the gaps, so no problem there, but emptying a lock in a shallow pound with the boat close to the gates, (and it was also a windy day!), can be quite a challenge, as the boat can get suddenly drawn forward.

At a couple of the worst cases we took the unusual step of bringing the boat right into the "vee" of the gates, and running it quite fast in ahead gear to ensure it stayed put as the full lock was drawn off.

The main distinguishing feature of the day, other than how fast David works, was just how "bloomin" cold it was, and whereas other days I had been peeling layers of clothes off, today I just kept adding more.

Tring summit was reached in record time, I think, but I got very cold on the back steering over it, until the downhill locks commenced.

We then got a steady run of boats coming up the locks of the main Marsworth flight, sometimes causing us to pause for breath, (well me, at least!), although nobody else seemed to be going down.

Above final two locks, yet again waiting for boats coming the other way.
We were finally joined by another boat for the last two locks, also called "Mars- worth" but some distance on from the main flight, as it pulled off a water point after we passed.

Charlie is generally very patient as we work through locks!
So, another trip drew to a close.  Not a bad one, given that on only day two we had thought we might have show-stopper engine problems.  Not a bit of it, and more than 300 miles of boating, and not far off another 200 locks added to the "log".

Berkhamsted to Cook's Wharf
Miles: 7.9, Locks: 16

Total Miles: 309.6, Total Locks: 193

Monday, 25 April 2011

Another big push towards home.

(posted by Alan)

So we were now committed to trying to get Cath into the best place to be at work tomorrow.

Lot Mead - First lock of the day.
The Hemel Hempstead area would do, but Berkham- sted would be better, but an awful lot of locks.  We had no idea if it would be as busy as yesterday, so agreed to just set off, and see how we did, just accepting what came.

The ever scenic Ironbridge lock near Watford.
In fact we saw almost nothing moving the way we were, but passed a lot of boats comiung the other way.  As by no means all the locks were in our favour, clearly other boats were travelling North, but for a long while we didn't see any, and worked through all the first locks alone.

Another day of brilliant sunshine - in fact the only rain we have seen in over 2 weeks out on this trip was a thunderstorm when we had already moored up at Tewddington on the Thames.

Home Park lock, near Kings Langley - Hemel in sight!
Also just a day of steady progress, and far less hanging about that yesterday, so we were ticking the locks off quite fast.

Apsley, (where Cath went shopping, and I filled the water tank), and then Boxmoor, both part of Hemel Hempstead were reached quicker than we could have hoped for, so we decided to head for our first choice of Berkhamsted.

The overspill from the Rising Sun pub - never seen it this busy!
Before we got there, we finally caught up another boat - an efficient single-hander, and worked with him, until he moored up for the night.  We stopped ourselves after just one more lock, having booked a table for a meal at a local Pizzeria.  Our son, Michael, who doesn't "do boating" came and joined us for the evening, and we had the rare pleasure of the whole family for a meal out.

Cath then left with Michael, with an agreement that David and I would carry on for a final day, and hopefully return Chalice to base, unusually with Cath not there.

The stats say a lot about this part of the journey up the GU, where there is on average less than half a mile between each lock, but where not many are conveniently enough together to work as a mini flight.  A suggestion that we should have gone a bit further to get the lock count into the thirties had fallen on deaf ears - I can't think why!

Lot Mead (Rickmansworth) to Berkhamsted
Miles: 13.5, Locks:29

Total Miles: 301.7, Total Locks: 177

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Change of plan, (and a very long day!)

(posted by Alan)

Today saw us leave the grandeur of the Thames, and back to our more usual canal environment.

We had opted to go out of Teddington on the morning tide, and had already found out that meant locking through by about 07:30 am, so we set off down to the lock a bit before this.  Despite several boats apparently waiting, none seemed to be going through around that time, and in fact we saw little else moving for the 5 miles we were on the Thames, other than a variety of rowed craft.

Another burnt out boat.
We did see the burnt out narrow boat "Centaur" that made the news quite recently, and eventually one lone narrow boat going the other way, that seemed to be making slow progress against the now outgoing tide - we were surprised it had not come through earlier on a still incoming tide.

Richmond half-tide barrier and lock.
Choosing the timing right means that the "half tide" barrier at Richmond, (a kind of "mini Thames barrier"), is open, so you don't work the lock that only comes into play when the barriers are down.

The lock, and the "don't use" arch.
I find this barrier confusing, as it has an arch near the lock that both has illuminated orange lights, (theore- tically "OK to use"), but also a board with three reds, (which definitely means don't use).

In fact the tidal effects are considerable.  On it's own Chalice probably can make about 5 mph in open water, and we were getting little more than this on leaving Teddington.  But before we got to Brentford we were at between 7 and 8 mph over land, something that becomes very apparent as you turn across the river, and almost double back 180 degrees up the channel to Thames lock.

Brentford has two sets of locks, the first being keeper operated, and the true tidal locks.  The next stretch is partially tidal, and you get to the "gauging locks", which are self operated.  Or they would have been other than we caught up another boat which must have left Teddington earlier than we did.  The crew of this decided to fill the lock before we were fully ready, then be very patronising when this caused our boat to rub against theirs......  (Deep breath, and carry on!.....).

After this bank holiday weekend mayhem commenced, as we quickly caught two very slow moving narrow boats.  We eventually realised that a third boat with them had not left Brentford until we passed it, and they were stalling us to the first of the locks, in the hope it would catch up.  (Another deep breath, and carry on!....).

Alan, David and another drag the stuck boats back out.
By Hanwell lock flight, our progress was already being heavily slowed by these boats, when the two metal ones attempted to enter a lock side by side, with debris stopping either gate from fully opening, and with fenders between the boats to further restrict their chances of getting through.  They were well stuck, and didn't seem to grasp how to get unstuck.  We eventually persuaded them to let us try and hand tow them out backwards, whilst people jiggled the gates.  This worked quite quickly.  We thought we were on our way, then, but apparently the chap on the small accompanying cruiser then refused to go through the gates, (on his own, not with another boat!), because he feared he would get stuck too!  (We are talking of a 7 foot of boat in a near 14 foot gap). (We were getting quite good at taking long deep breaths by now!....).

We have never seen Hanwell locks so busy, but were at least lucky enough to be ahead of apparently experienced  crews on the boats behind that then jammed themselves between another pair of gates.  (Normally two narrow boats can enter a broad Grand Union lock easily, side by side, but not if there is large amounts of junk stopping the gates opening - a wise crew knows this, and doesn't try!.)

Meanwhile a debate was going on about whether we were after all going to turn on to the Paddington Arm, and head for London, which had been our original plan.  For various reasons we felt we might be better heading for home, and getting as far as we could before Cath had to be back at work.  I was still getting visual disturbaces for a start, and didn't fancy trying to involve further hospitals in this, thinking it might be better to get back to where I had had the surgery.

Waiting for Cowley lock.
The decision was "Head for home", but being a gorgeously sunny bank holiday weekend, the canal was incredibly busy, and we were spending large amounts of time waiting, sometimes when locks were reversed as we approached them, which is rather poor etiquette. (Yep, lots, and lots of deep breathing, overall!).

Bikes carried precariously over the deepest lock on the Grand Union.
We thought we would stop before Rickmans- worth, but as people started tying up, we found ourselves making far better progress, so pushed on to Lot Mead, which we rather like, as there are good options for walking Charlie the dog.

We don't normally do non-stop boating days of over 12 hours, but today we did.  It was hard to believe we had still been on the non-tidal Thames just that morning.

Teddington to Lot Mead (Rickmansworth)
Miles: 25.1, Locks:22

Total Miles: 288.2, Total Locks: 148

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Last of the non-tidal Thames - Getting to Teddington

(posted by Cath)

We had only a few miles and locks to go today, to get ourselves to Teddington, so we didn't rush it at all.  Alan and I took Charlie for a walk past the moored houseboats at Chertsey, and on a bit further, until we met a road.  Charlie was keen to try out his new found swimming skills, walking into the Thames in several places, and doggie paddling about.

Bikes out at Walton on Thames - Ready to shop.
We decided to moor up at Walton on Thames, to go to a super- market.  We've used the bikes a few times while away, but not both at the same time.  Alan and I set off on the bikes in the baking sun, stopped for a coffee and cake before we got to the town centre, then went shopping - it really is hard to believe that this is the UK in April.  It feels much more like somewhere on the continent.

As we were being fairly lazy it was after 1 pm before we got going again, on through the final lock to Hampton Court, where we thought we might amble about in the garden for a while.  We intended to moor on the visitors moorings outside, but all seemed full, except a small gap, that we weren't sure that we'd fit into.  We had a bit of a misunderstanding about what David and I (on the front of the boat) thought needed to happen as we approached, and what Alan (on the back of the boat) heard - so we arrived shouting forward and back, and trying not to look like rank amateurs. 

Coffee and scones at Hampton Court,
At this point we were rescued - we spotted Kingfisher, with Lucy and Rob from the Canal World Forum - who had just moored, and who let us breast up to them.  We knew that they were travelling up the Thames, and roughly where they might be, but we hadn't formally met them before, so once introductions were over we headed off to the Cafe in the Hampton Court Gardens, and had the opportunity to find out a bit about each other.

Truly a "House Boat"!
After coffee we said goodbye to Lucy and Rob, and we set off towards Tedding- ton, only a couple of miles further on.  As I steered black clouds began gathering towards the south, and there were rumblings of thunder.

We moored up, Charlie got another walk, and we confirmed what time we need to lock through onto the Tidal Thames with the 'lockie' at Teddington, just as the heavens opened, and the rain began in earnest.  We are now moored up, doors of the boat still open at the front, as it is still hot, despite it having been raining now for a good couple of hours.

Chertsey to Teddington
Miles: 11.8, Locks: 3

Total Miles: 263.1, Total Locks: 126

Friday, 22 April 2011

Thames is magnificent, but very busy today

(posted by Alan)

Last night we finally got down to thinking about our options for the rest of the journey.  Although we were sure we had probably caught up enough of the time lost over Alan's eye problems, there remained the thorny question about one particular stretch of the Thames which although only just over 5 miles long always places heavy constraints on the journey into London.

The short length from Teddington lock on the Thames to Thames Lock, Brentford, the entry lock to the Grand Union Canal, is tidal, and there are at best only two short windows in any day where the tides are right for an easy passage.  Unfortunately this weekend those times fall badly, either meaning a ridiculously early start from Teddington, or risking arrival and trying to find moorings in Brentford after dark.  We decided in the end to delay to Sunday morning, when we reckon we will not have to go through Teddington until around 07:40 a.m., and which should see us locking in to Brentford without having to request a lock-keeper to work out of hours, (it's often hard to contact them).

Sometimes the smaller buildings are just as attractive.
So the pressure was now off to do huge mileages each day.  As the day progressed it quickly became obvious we had made the right decision.  Boats were out in "Bank Holiday" numbers, and we were often in long queues at locks, albeit that we generally got into the next available 'slot'.

Cath was fascinated by the use of boat rollers to bypass the lock at Bray.
It has been another stunning day weather- wise, and it really has shown the magni- ficence of this stretch of the Thames at it's very best.  There really are all sorts of craft, with a lot of them just being human powered.

Chalice looking rather small in a big lock.
In fact narrow boats look very dwarfed by many of the fibreglass boats on the Thames, as this are generally far wider, and massively taller.

Classic view.
Of course this stretch of the Thames contains some very famous landmarks.  It seems "Lizzie" was at home at Windsor today, but I doubt she reads the blog, and no invite for tea was received.

Does this really fit under all the required bridges ?
While we waited at a lock for this trip boat, the impression was rather of a house being taken through the lock

Swan by David

Of course as well as boats of just about every conceivable type, size and condition, there is a near constant display of animal life.

"Wyvern Shipping" Hire Boat
Last time we came around this way we saw a hire boat from our local fleet back home, and were surprised to do so again.  I think you have to be fairly well heeled to afford the length of hire this would require.

Chalice in the distance, as we return after our walk.
We were aware that Charlie the dog had been aboard far too long, so with no need to make more miles started looking for moorings at Chertsey.  We found an ideal spot, and once tied up, Cath and I took Charlie back up a large riverside meadow.  Charlie, a rescue dog, initially seemed to be a Spaniel who doesn't actually like water, but he is starting to get the hang of it, and took a few more tentative cooling off swims.  Our attempts at a pub were less successful, as you could not get access to the main garden without passing through the "no dogs inside" bar.  So we were limited to benches out the front.  Good beer and cider, but noisy road.

Cliveden Deep to Chertsey
Miles: 20.1, Locks: 8

Total Miles: 251.3, Total Locks: 123

Thursday, 21 April 2011

On to Cliveden Deep

(posted by Cath)

A very hot day.

We overslept a bit, so got up fairly quickly when we woke, and got started.  After not a lot of miles we came to a big Tesco, right by the river - where I stopped to get supplies.  One of the problems with supermarkets that you don't know is spending far too long looking for things that you need - this wasn't helped by me not having a shopping list, although I did have a clear idea of what the meals would be for the next couple of days.  I was wandering up and down the aisles muttering to remind myself of what I needed to buy.  By the time I got to the checkout I had been in the shop for a long time.  "Is that man something to do with you?" asked the woman at the checkout.  I looked up to see a very fed up Alan, with Charlie, standing at the window, looking in.

Today we were going through the 'super rich' areas, superb houses, massive boathouses with very shiny boats in them.  At one point I found myself staggered that any houses could have quite such big boats moored at the end of the garden, when I realised that the homes were moored at the end of the gardens.

I spent some time doing the washing, with our "Fisher Price" twin tub washing machine.  When we are out for a couple of weeks I try  to wash every week or so, when we've got fine weather.  Today I managed to break the shower pump again - meaning that instead of spinning the washing, and draining the tub into the shower tray I had to empty into a bucket and chuck it over the side.  A woman in a small boat coming out of the lock as I emptied once again through the side hatch shouted, "Have you just pee'd in that bucket?" Embarrassed, I explained that I was trying to do the washing.

Kevin & Lauren
Over the last couple of days we have seen a man and his young daughter canoeing much of the same route as us, last night they camped at Mapledurham lock, and they were away before us this morning.  We finally got to chat to them today.  Kevin and Lauren are canoeing from Cricklade to Chertsey.  Kevin said that the first parts of the journey were quite difficult, even in the canoe they were scrapping the bottom at times.  They have booked camp sites, sometimes at locks, which I didn't realise was possible.  They don't have Internet, but their position is being tracked on Google maps aprs -  http://aprs.fi - as Kevin is a radio amateur.  Lauren will be six next week - the week before I was six I had my tonsils out - I think I'd much rather have done what they are doing.

Huge numbers of these structures were being erected
We went through Henley, where there were the scale of prepar- ations for the regatta was quite remark- able.  The river is very wide at this famous place.

Medmenham Abbey
Later we passed Medmen- ham Abbey, former home of the notorious Francis Dashwood, founder of the Hellfire Club.

Weir at Marlow
As we progress further down the Thames the volume of wsater passing the weirs at each lock gets more impressive, although it is difficult to capture the power of the river in a photo.

Bat over boat.
We moored beneath the trees in the beautiful Cliveden Deep, Charlie thinks that this is the very best place he's been ever.  We lit the barbecue and opened a bottle of wine.

Batin flight as captured by David.
We sat beneath the trees, eating our meal, until the sun set, and the bats began to loop low over the boat.  David even managed to photograph one of them.

Mapledurham to Cliveden Deep
Miles: 27.2, Locks:10

Total Miles: 231.2, Total Locks:115