Saturday, 8 November 2008

We've had a mention on Granny Buttons

Andrew Denny on the well-known Granny Buttons site has said some nice things about this Chalice blog. You can find what he has said here.
Thank you Granny Buttons, it's always nice to get encouragement.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Preposterous fishermen

Sunday 2nd November - Apsley to Cowroast
We wanted to get started early, so go up, ate breakfast, while I started to make a thermos flask of coffee. The locks are close together and you don't get time to boil a kettle or prepare food.
We make the coffee into the big thermos coffee pot using a filter on top of it, we've never had any problems in the past with this method, but on this occasion I knocked the filter sideways, just as I'd put the first lot of hot water into it - it shot everywhere, spraying water and damp coffee grounds into the gas hob and around a large part of the galley area. It took me half an hour to clean up the mess to the stage that we were able to function in the kitchen, and walk through again. We finally left at soon after 9:00 am.

It was cold, and damp, but we were booted (Wilderness Boot bought a few weeks ago in Guildford from Cotton Traders for £20 - we found them very effective) and wearing warm coats, hats and scarves, and Berghaus waterproof overtrousers - which I think are brilliant. I applied a bandage to my arm for pressure (RICE - rest, ice, compression and elevation - I'd done the ice, and couldn't do much about rest and elevation so I took an anti-inflamatory painkiller and we set off.) We headed up through Apsley, and on through Boxmoor, where a fishing match was due to start at 9:30. As I cycled through lockwheeling at 9:20 the fishermen were standing around chatting, and checking their watches.

We worked up through Fishery Lock, and into another set of fishermen, separated by regular distances. I cycled on past them, by now the competition had started and some were deep in concentration, staring at the water. Nowadays fishermen have very long carbon fibre rods, which they use to fish the other side of the canal. As the boat approaches they will either move it backwards into the hedgerow behind them or leave the rod out as long as they can and raise it for the boat to go underneath - you can't tell which they are going to be. Some fishermen are friendly, and you can exchange a cheery greeting with them, others do everything they can to be looking the other way when you pass, but looking on the Internet forums you can see evidence of some fairly angry opinions of boaters by fishermen, and vice versa.

As Alan brought the boat through the section of pound he went slowly and down the middle of the canal - as fishermen have indicated is best. The fishermen moved their rods steadily out of the way as he approached them, until one who didn't. Alan was expecting the rod to be raised over the boat, but the man so deep in concentration that he hadn't heard the boat. He whipped the rod out of the way and began to yell at Alan in colourful and very aggressive language, combined with interesting non-verbal signals. Why hadn't Alan sounded his ******* horn? Alan tried to explain calmly that if he honked his horn when approaching every fisherman he would quickly aggravate them. This only served to annoy the fisherman further, and Alan began to worry that the man was going to come after him, or catapult maggots into the boat. Three 'pegs' on, at the end of the line of fishermen, one of them called out to Alan "OK mate? There's always one isn't there?"
On through Winkwell, where I watched a large group of long tailed tits flitting through the bare branches of an alder tree, and I saw a heron stalking across the path away from the canal, then catch something small in the hedgerow - I thought they only ate fish. Michael rang saying he was low on supplies and could we stop at the supermarket in Berko - no problems, we would have enough time to do this and get back to the marina by dark.

Lots of water as we approach Winkwell bottom lock.
At Bottomside lock there were three fishermen on the lock apron - one set up on the steps to the lock. These were not in any competition, they were just fishing. Fishermen are not supposed to fish where the mooring bollards for the lock are - however, they seem to think that it is fair game. It does however make it very difficult for boaters to bring the boat in to be able to use the lock. For us we can manage with me jumping off at the front, but for a single hander, or for someone less agile it is very hard if you can't bring the boat in and tie her up. I jumped off and walked up, and the second fisherman along said to me about the one on the lock steps "I told him not to go there". I restrained myself from saying - "so why are you where you are then?"

Bottomside needs to be left empty after use, so I told the fisherman that I would be emptying the lock after we had gone through. I didn't want a tirade about stirring up the canal bed, but he said "Oh, I know, I know". He had chosen to set up there, making life difficult for any boaters, with no apology for the inconvenience he put anyone to - and despite the signs saying no fishing from the lock, precisely because he knew that we would stir up the fish when it was emptied. Some fishermen seem to want the bottom undisturbed, others want it stirred up - how are we supposed to know which is which?

We ate the rest of yesterday's chunky vegetable stew, mashed up and turned into soup which I'd warmed up on the stove - we really didn't have time for much else.

In Berkhamsted, above Broadwater lock, there were fishermen again. The towpath side of the canal was completely filled with boats for as far was we could see, and the other side was set out with fishermen competing again. Then, as we approached the supermarket, which is on the towpath side, there was just one mooring, the closest to the supermarket itself, which is set back from the canal, and under a footbridge - it was ideal for us.

We moved in to moor and were accompanied by a very loud tirade from the other side of the canal. "I don't ****ing believe it the ****s have ruined my day - ******s!!! You're not ****ing mooring there, ****!!! I was at the front of the boat, and could hear this, but Alan, at the back by the engine, couldn't. He jumped off with the centre line, and I went back to let him know that we had upset another fisherman. This continued at full volume for the whole time that we were mooring. "****ing brain-dead ****s!!!" We said nothing, although Alan did look at the man with a long stare of complete disbelief - there was no point in saying anything, he clearly couldn't see that it was a bit like him bellowing at us for parking our car in the supermarket car park. He seemed to be trying to get other fishermen to listen to him and agree, but they were, perhaps wisely, looking the other way. I decided to go to the supermarket alone and leave Alan to watch the boat - we were underneath the footbridge after all, and anything could have been dropped on the roof, or in the front well. Or he could have tried putting a lead weight through one of the windows - it's been known.

When I returned shortly afterwards the man had stopped bellowing at me, although Alan said that the man considered that he was fair game whenever he stuck his head out. We pulled the mooring pins and left quickly, and with as little disturbance as we could - resisting any temptation to stir up the canal bed as much as possible. As we left the man continued his tirade, but rather quieter now - perhaps he had begun to realise just how preposterous he was?

Almost home.

We continued our journey, managing to avoid any further confrontations with fishermen, and arrived back at the marina at about 4:30. We packed everything in the car, and got home about 6:30 to find the house clean and tidy and Michael starving hungry.
miles 7.81 and 19 locks
Total miles: 95, Total locks: 110

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The story continues

Sorry about the gap in the blog - various problems with uploading info while out and about, combined with other distractions.

Wednesday Continued
Water Heater Problems - Alan got up later in the morning and decided to look at our Morco water heater, as the water was coming through very cold - it was just about tolerable, but nothing like as warm as it had been. We were wondering if it was just a matter of the heater only being able to heat water by a given amount, and when we were out in September it was quite warm.
No, the Morco is filled with soot, and the flame is burning very yellow - not good as this means Carbon Monoxide. We do have two CO detectors on the boat, but that is for emergencies, and we can't use a dangerous water heater. We spent quite a lot of time trying to look at it, and Alan got some helpful advice on the Canal World Forum.

Toilet Troubles - While we were looking at this I noticed that the carpet in the hallway outside the bathroom seemed to be a bit damp - had we just walked in some water from outside where it was raining, or was the answer more sinister? We have had one of the water hoses on the Thetford toilet leaking fairly spectacularly a couple of times in the past so we were hoping it wasn't the same thing again. No, it wasn't, but the cassette had pools of water on top when we pulled it out. Erm...

No, fortunately, it didn't seem to be wee, but it appeared that the flush was leaking - we took the fuse out of the toilet so that it couldn't flush and filled a couple of plastic milk bottles with water to use as 'non-automatic' flush.

Out and about in London - the afternoon was wearing on, and I was getting pretty feed up with being in London and not going out, so I decided to head off and see if I could at least find a bookship, having managed to set off on this trip with not a single book (anyone who knows me well, knows that this is tantamount to extreme torture - I was getting very tetchy and beginning to gnaw at my knuckles). Although Alan was still headachy and feeling unwell he decided to come out with me, provided we didn't have to walk too far. Just as we were leaving the boat we were passed by Les D on Blue Pearl, who had decided to try to moor in Paddington Basin itself, as all the moorings near us were taken up. They eventually moored right under the Westway.

We went for a walk around Paddington Basin, and eventually found ourselves in the Edgware Road. Thirty years ago this was full of electronics shops of the type that sold electronic components, not electronic equipment. It was always a cosmopolitan area, now it is largely arabic, with halal butchers and arabic supermarkets, and many cafes with groups of men or young women sitting outside at tables smoking hookah pipes. We went into various shops, wandering down towards Marble Arch, but I still haen't found a book shop - so we set off along Oxford Street, as I sort of expected to find something fairly quickly. Now, one of the problems that Alan has is that he really doesn't have any kind of mental map of where anywhere in Central London is - he doesn't know distances, or directions, so when I say we'll walk along Oxford Street, he doesn't really understand what this entails - and, it proved, neither do I these days.

I was born and brought up in North London. When I was a kid I was regularly taken up to London to watch my dad, who played in the band of the Grenadier Guards - Changing the Guard, playing at a band stand in one of the parks, Trooping the Colour, and so on. During my teens I thought nothing of going into Central London with some friends for an afternoon or an evening by tube train. I did my degree and teaching qualification close to Euston, and got very used to walking around a large area between lectures, going into interesting shops, or to the museums and art galleries. But all that stopped in the mid 1980s. I still know the layout of the streets, but many of the shops have changed, and the number of people around has increased enormously. I thought that a lot of people had moved away from London, and fewer people were working in Central London, but the pavements were far busier than I remember them before.

We walked for a long way, right past Oxford Circus, before we found a book shop, where both Alan and I spent some time browsing, and we bought a few books. Then we decided to catch an underground train back to Paddington. At Oxford Circus we got into a huge press of people that didn't seem to be moving at all, and more and more people were joining it from the exit to the station. It was hard to keep together, and people were beginning to jump the barriers to escape the crush - it was beginning to get quite unnerving. We eventually escaped from the crowd and decided to head to a parallel street and to try to catch a bus instead of trying to force our way through the press of people entering the underground station. We continued walking for some distance, and eventually found a bus stop, only to find another change from when I used to jump on a bus and pay 10p for virtually any distance in the days of the GLC in the early 80's. You don't buy tickets on buses now, you buy in advance from a machine - so far so good, but the minimum fare is £2!!! We had just bought some rolls and orange juice and could scrape together £3.90 in change, so no bus tickets. We walked back to the boat - so much for Alan not wanting to walk very far.

We ate on the boat that evening.
No miles, no locks

Thursday 30th October - Little Venice
Alan decided to look at the Morco, so we began to take it to pieces, which took a very long time. It was filled with soot, which we brushed and vacuumed out - just at the point that we stuck our heads out of the boat we were passed by Les and Heidi walking their lovely dog. We were covered with soot and must have looked quite a sight, but we stayed and talked for quite a while.

Further investigation of the toilet proved that the water leakage was from the flush water, so we reinstated the fuse in the toilet and taped up the flush button so that we couldn't use it by accident.

Once reinstated the Morco was working better, although still quite cold. Alan bravely decided to have a shower, and I had a full wash then washed my hair under the shower - which was just tolerable. We're not sure what's wrong with it, but it looks like yet another reason to install a calorifier. Les kindly offered to let us use his shower, but we were already clean by then.

We took the boat up to the water point and refilled the tank, then headed back to the mooring having turned the boat ready for our departure the following morning. We went out for a meal at Zizzi in Paddington Basin.
No miles (unless you count the trip of a couple of hundred yards to fill the water), no locks
Friday 31st October - Little Venice to Stocker's Lock.
Little Venice in the autumn sunshine.
We woke early and saw no reason not to get going soon. The first 17 or so miles are completely lock free, so it was just a case of taking it in turns in the cold. We had coffee and hot porridge for breakfast to set us up and got going very soon after 8:00 am. We hardly saw another boat moving along the Paddington Arm.

Approaching the North Circular Road again.

We also realised that it was the 31st October, the final day before the duty on Red Diesel for boat use increased considerably, so it was important to fill our tank. However, the coal boats, Ara and Archimedes, which we were hoping to see to buy fuel from were tied up and locked up with no-one aboard.

At Bulls Bridge we turned right onto the Grand Union Main Line, and soon afterwards we saw Arundel, a replica working boat, loading with sand. The boat was right down to the gunwales - it's nice to see what working boats looked like in the past.

Coming through Uxbridge an unseen assailant on a bridge threw half a banana accurately at Alan.

At Uxbridge Chandlery we bought fuel at 78p a litre - the next day the price would rise by more than 40p plus VAT per litre for fuel used for propulsion - fuel used for power, heating, light, etc remains at the same level of duty. However, no-one seems quite sure how you are expected to measure what proportions you are using for propulsion and domestic uses. It looks like if you declare a 60/40 split you are unlikely to have problems, and if you are completely residential, then you will be able to continue to claim 100% domestic use.

We kept on all day in the cold - I made seeded loaves in my breaks from steering, and in the long pounds between the locks.

We moored at Stocker's Lock, the last half mile was done in the gathering dark, and we moored at 5:15. We were kept awake for hours by the honking of geese on the nearby lakes.

24.54 miles and 7 locks
Total miles:77.2 miles , Total locks: 72

Saturday 1st November - Stocker's Lock to Apsley
A cold and very wet day. A quick stop at Tesco's at Rickmansworth then pressing on as we were increasingly aware of how far we had to go before dark.

Passing "Elstree".

Very few boats were moving, although we ended up behind a very slow single-hander who was not going more than a couple of locks, but did them so slowly that it was hard not to keep running into her. I know that some people say that if you can't go slowly then you shouldn't be on the canal - but perhaps those people don't have the same constraints on getting the boat back to the marina and being back at work on Monday morning. I don't want to rush everywhere - for goodness sakes, you can't - but I would like to know that my schedule isn't going to be completely ruined by someone whose top speed appears to be considerably less than 1 mile per hour. If people want to go at that speed, fine, I have no problems whatsoever, but I have got to get back to work - let me go past.

I made a chunky vegetable stew on top of the stove to eat on the go and to keep us warm - we ate it with cheese and the remains of the previous day's seeded loaves.

A silly mistake - At Nash Mills bottom lock we met up with a single hander who was delivering a boat to the New Boat Company who have a base near Blisworth - he told me that he had delivered three boats to them in the last four weeks. He hasn't done much work on this section of canal, but is employed to take boats that are for sale to a central brokerage. It was streaming rain and getting dark by this point, but we agreed to press on for a lock or so together. At this point I made my mistake, my hand slipped in the wet while lowering the gate paddles and I let go of the windlass, which whipped around at considerable speed, hitting me on the arm and the hand, before spinning off into the lock. I was cold, and very tired, and the pain was excruciating. I genuinely thought that I might have broken a bone. Fortunately I keep instant ice packs on the boat, and I applied one as soon as I could. Alan drained the lock hoping that our best windlass might be lying on the cill - but no. So we caught up with the delivery man, and went through the lock at Apsley where we used to work - then pulled over and moored, while fireworks burst all around.

I began to think that I would have to go to A & E for an X-ray, but a bit of prodding when I took the ice pack off made me think that I had only badly bruised my arm, and not broken anything, although the pain was far worse than anything I could remember for a very long time. Later, as I warmed up in the boat, it became clear that a large part of the pain was sheer cold, which was added to by the ice pack on my arm. I applied a bandage for pressure, and had a drink.
9.87 miles and 17 locks
Total miles: 87.1 , Total locks: 89