Yardley Gobion (after nearly 6 months away)

We returned back to our home base at Kingfisher Marina on Tuesday after nearly six months away. We left Yardley Gobion in March travelling to Birmingham and then Llangollen before turning towards home. In May, on the way back we left Albert at Debdale Wharf so she could be taken out of the water, the hull grit-blasted and two-part epoxy resin applied. Unfortunately, the very cold winter delayed the construction of the new facilities so we had to wait for several months the work to be done. Luckily, we had no serious boating plans for the summer so we were able to moor at Debdale and enjoy taking Albert for a few local trips around an area we are not particularly familiar with.

With the work now done we took our friends Anne & Edward Winter along for an early autumn (late summer?) trip from Debdale. We rarely climb Foxton Flight because we usually do the Leicester Ring in the opposite direction. Even on a Tuesday there were a number of visitors watching boats and asking questions about the process of locking. We got up quickly and we were soon cruising in pleasant sunshine along what is a delightful section of canal. A number of kingfishers were spotted on the way.

Foxton Bottom Lock
Near the top of Foxton

   That night we moored up at Welford at the end of the arm and met up with Patrick and Pat from NB Diligent Too. Maggie & I met them in October 2011 when we went for an autumn cruise. They sold their share in NB Zenith and bought Diligent Too a 57ft Steve Hudson with a Beta JD3 engine. They are rightly very proud of her. We had good natter onboard Diligent Too followed by a good meal in the Wharf Inn, but by then the wet weather had really set in.

On Saturday we headed towards Crick in good weather and again saw several kingfishers. Diligent Too said goodbye and headed towards Market Harborough. Along the way to Crick we met a small nameless boat being poled along the canal. The engine had failed and the owner had taken three days to get half-way to Crick from Foxton. We couldn't discover why he had not tried to get the engine fixed at Foxton where there are plenty of services but he obviously had his reasons. He was having to use a pole, rather than bow hauling because of the mass of reeds and even small trees that are growing on the water's edge along this section. It would be impossible for a horse-drawn boat to operate along the Foxton to Watford section. We offered the beleaguered boat a tow but towing a small boat with little draught and a small rudder is not easy! It wandered across the cut from side to side so we only got about a quarter of a mile before stopping and casting off our tow. We certainly could not have safely negotiated a bridge.

We negotiated Crick Tunnel with no problems although a number of boats (about four) came the other way. When we got to Watford Flight in the early afternoon we discovered that there was only one boat going down in front of us but a long queue coming up. They were operating a six up and six down policy for the staircase so we had quite a wait. We took on water and had afternoon tea which we shared with the volunteer lock keepers who were working very hard.

Descending the staircase at Watford

We cleared the flight around five o'clock and in showers got to Norton Junction and turned south. All moorings at the top of the Buckby Flight were taken so we moored up on the moorings in the next pound. We have often moored here.

That night we failed to visit the New Inn because Maggie had already prepared a delicious chille con carne. We followed this by a game of Banagrams - we know how to enjoy ourselves - simple pleasures! The evening was however marred by the discovery that I had misplaced (lost?) my Canon EOS 400D. It appears that I may have left it at theWatford Flight because that was the last time I remember having it. 

On Sunday I contacted CRT about the camera and they told me that the lock keepers on duty on Saturday were not working but they would log the loss with their supervisor. We set off south and cleared the locks quite quickly. We then decided that we could make a Sunday lunch at the Narrow Boat at Weedon. We booked ahead because it is popular and arrived there around 12:30 in pouring rain. To cap it all the propeller became fouled just as we moored up and the engine stalled - not a good sign. I decided that going down the weed hatch to clear a prop in the pouring rain is not a good idea so I decided to leave it until the next mooring when better weather was forecast. Lunch at the Narrow Boat was very good and the service swift. We even had sweets. Edward particularly enjoyed the Banoffee Eton Mess! As predicted, the rain continued to pour for the rest of the afternoon.

On Monday got ready to continue our journey south. The idea was to make Stoke Bruerne. Although we could have considered making it home toYardley Gobion we decided that a night at Stoke was preferable to arriving at Kingfisher Marina late in the day. In my mind I thought that the fouled prop might take around an hour to clear. How wrong I was!

It quickly became clear that the prop was seriously jammed. A neoprene sheet had got caught and it was packed hard between the prop and the stern tube. It was so tightly packed that it felt like those rubber-based constant velocity joints (or rubber doughnuts) that were used on the drive shafts of Hillman Imps. Hacksaws, a pad saw and a divers knives had little effect. We went to Stowe Hill Wharf, just along the towpath, and they lent us a very sharp knife but that was little better. Eventually we discovered that a hooked Stanley knife, the type that is designed for cutting carpets, worked the best. The trouble was that this could only make small cuts and it was going to take a long time. Dave King on NB Jappa passed by and stopped to lend me his large prop cleaner that is produced by Bargee Bill. Unfortunately, despite its array of cutting surfaces this had only a small effect on the tangled mass of neoprene. Eventually we admitted defeat and for the first time ever I called in River and Canal Rescue. After a short delay they sent out some technicians from Heyford Fields Marina. They used a large sharp knife, and a pair of protective gloves, and after about 30 minutes they finally slashed away at the sheet sufficiently well to pull it free. They were, after all, a lot younger and fitter than us.

The offending neoprene sheet (foreground)

We eventually got going mid afternoon and had a three hour trip down to Stoke Bruerne. We were probably delayed about four hours by the prop incident. It was certainly the most difficult to clear of all prop fouling episodes we have had, including the plank caught above the prop of NB Penny from Heaven at Bascote.

The trip to Stoke was uneventful until we joined a line of boats going through Blisworth Tunnel behind a very slow boat. We slowed down to tick-over but that was still too fast and occasionally we had to go into reverse. Luckily all the traffic was going south since steering passed a boat coming the other way would have been tricky. Moorings at Stoke Bruerne were busy since the Village at War event had only finished on Sunday, but a kind boater moved his mooring so we could get in. One of the boats ahead of us in the tunnel, who clearly were novices and had difficulty steering, decided that mooring on the lock moorings was a good idea despite Mike Partridge having words with them (twice) and pointing out the large number of vacant moorings in the Long Pound (he was patient). I made a similar comment to them as I passed by on the way from buying milk at The Boat Inn (really!). Their response was they had safety issues - no comment. 

Air raid shelter underneath the double bridge - left over from the Village at War Event

On Tuesday we left Stoke Bruerne and dropped down the flight quite efficiently because a number of boats coming up. We were having a pleasant cruise near Grafton Regis when we found a (ex?) CRT work boat adrift and completely blocking the navigation. It had clearly come some distance in the wind. We pushed it to the bank and tied it on with the ropes it had. To call them ropes is a bit of an exaggeration, I wouldn't tie up a rowing dinghy with them. No wonder the boat broke loose. There was no sign of any chains, the usual way of mooring against sheet piling. 

Work boat blocking the navigation at Grafton Regis
We reported the problem to CRT. When they eventually come to retrieve their boat the operators will probably discover it was not where they left it and is pointing in the wrong direction. We got back to Kingfisher Marina in the early afternoon. 

A quite eventful short trip. The camera loss was a real disappointment but I will continue to chase up CRT to see if it has been recovered.  However, it is nice to get Albert back to her home base.