Batteries replaced and recycled

It's the time of the year when temperatures begin to drop and batteries struggle. As I reported on our recent Autumn Cruise, our stater battery failed as we started our journey. Well during our trip it was clear that our domestic batteries (I don't know why they refer to them as leisure) also struggled and it was clear that the little tell-tales that show their charging condition (acid specific gravity) was not showing green. So it was a big sort out. The failed domestic batteries had lasted over five years and the starter a bit longer - probably six.

I purchased two domestic batteries from Baxters at Yardley Gobio Wharf, swapped the temporary start battery they had supplied earlier into a domestic so I had three identical domestic batteries. I then purchased a new 664 starter battery from Midland Chandlers. Like many boaters I contemplated upgrading the domestic battery technology but given the cost, options available and the charging system on Albert, I went for a like-for-like replacement.

No green indicator despite the battery charger
(top centre of image)

Our truck-sized starter battery.

This left me with four dead 110 AH lead acid batteries. In the past I have taken the old batteries to the local tip, but this time I browsed the internet, talked to fellow moorers at the marina and decided a trip to a local scrap metal merchant in Bletchley was on the cards. The world of scrap metal is now very professional. I delivered the batteries to the yard; they weighed them and then directly transferred to my bank account around £40. It's well worth considering the local scrap dealer when disposing of  old lead acid batteries, it goes someway towards defraying the cost of the new batteries.

Stoke Bruerne (and Home)

Yesterday we left Gayton in sunshine and made our way to Blisworth. The trip through the tunnel was clear with nobody coming in the opposite direction. We had a pretty rapid transit.

Stoke Bruerne was very quiet. The Canal Museum is closed on Mondays but I think the real reason is that the half-term holidays are over. No other boats were moving.

A quiet Monday at Stoke Bruerne

The first two locks we set for us (full) and then we passed another boat coming up who announced that the next three were set for us. In fact all the way down the flight all the locks were either full of half-full. This meant we cleared the last lock in good time.

We paused to take on water at the bottom lock and were appalled at the conditions of the towpath. I know its been raining a lot recently but the area is impassible for walkers - the puddles are enormous and deep. We've contacted CRT to complain. It needs grading and the drainage sorting.

What a mess!

We missed seeing NB Sculptor on its usual mooring by the museum, but they passed us going north just above Grafton Regis - just where offside vegetation makes the canal very narrow. A winter job for somebody?

Then started the process on packing up and closing up. Our trip has also highlighted that not only did our starter battery also needed replacing - it could hold a good charge overnight. Since the batteries were around 5 years old I suppose that is par for the course. Some searching online for bargains is called for.


No not the junction - we are moored up opposite the village of Gayton which is some distance away from the start of the Northampton Arm. As we arrived this afternoon the church bells were ringing and the sun was shining. It wasn't like that earlier today. As we left Long Buckby this morning it was quite different - cloudy and drizzly.

Our evening view
The moon and its reflection, Virgin Train going south, and the Village of Gayton on the hill

We left our mooring below Buckby Top Lock this morning and made very good progress down the rest of the flight. The first few locks were set in our favour and as we progressed we met boats coming up. As a result we managed to clear the flight by 11:15.

South of Whilton the canal is heavily wooded and the section through Brockhall was a bit like travelling through soup. It took a few judicious applications of reverse to keep the prop clear. After Weedon the weather improved and the rest of the day was dry and bright.

Clearing weather at Swingbridge Wharf

Autumn on the canal

We got to Gayton we met a few friendly passing dog walkers who were enjoying the weather. One who was also fishing related how he had seen otters along this stretch. We weren't as lucky, although we watched a heron fishing. However, earlier on we did see three kingfishers and one even dived during its flight. 

Tomorrow we are should be back in Yardley Gobion so we will set off for Blisworth and Stoke Bruerne in the morning.

Watford and Norton

Today we watched the Rugby Cup Final moored up near Weltonfield Marina. Shame about the result. Too much to hope that England would beat all the Southern Hemisphere rugby giants at one tournement.

Once the match was over we set off towards Watford. Our original intention was to try for Welford but that was plainly too much since we need to be home on Tuesday. We therefore winded below Watford Flight. The wind was very strong and it rained off and on. This brought down clouds of leaves which blew like a blizzard across the cut. Albert is a relatively heavy boat but we soon began crabbing. However, the winding hole at Watford of sheltered and "roomy" so turning was fine.

Watford Gap Services from the Canal

We retraced out steps to Norton Junction where we took on water. Mooring was plentiful at the junction but we decided to drop down one lock to use one of the more cozy moorings. Our intention is to go down the rest of flight tomorrow. So we decided to take a stroll around the fields along the Leicester Branch.

Obviously another enthusiastic Ruston owner 
(at Norton Junction)

Wallking along the moorings at Norton we discovered NB Trevor, a steam-powered narrow boat built around 1995. It is diesel fuelled which must make it more convienient to operate than classic steamers fuelled by coal. It appears that it has just changed hands from being moored on the Basingstoke Canal.

Steam Narrowboat Trevor

Diesel furnace and steam engine

Because of the canal's elevation the views around Norton are impressive. Today the lines of black clouds, and the sun occasionally breaking through, made this Midlands landscape look and feel very autumnal. Tonight we shall walk up to the New Inn where it should be warm and cosy.

Wool on barbed wire near Norton

An enormous Badger Set

An Autumn Cruise

An opportunity to go cruising arrived so we are heading north for a long weekend. On Thursday the weather was fine and sunny as we got ready to leave but we had seen the forecast which didn’t look good. The only problem with our start was Albert’s starter battery failed! We managed to quickly get a substitute from Baxter’s and we soon fired up the engine and were on our way.

Halloween Pumpkin

At home we had prepared a pumpkin (with two cat faces) and so were Halloween-ready! At Stoke Locks we met hire boat returning to Weedon so we paired up for the first lock. We then found another boat above the lock waiting to go up. After some adjustments we waited and went up the flight with a UCC hire boat from Braunston with a group of scouts from Essex. They were very helpful and made a good locking team. They stopped in Stoke and we carried on through Blisworth Tunnel finally stopped for the night at Bugbrooke, opposite The Wharf Inn, even though it was only 4:30 – it gets dark early these days. We just had to go into the pub for meal and drink.

Bloggers Derwent 6 moored at Heyford

Friday, the first day of November, was wet and windy. Overnight a plethora of leaves had landed on Albert’s roof. Passing through Heyford we found bloggers Derwent 6 moored up. At Furnace Wharf we disturbed a kingfisher who scurried along in front of us.

At Buckby bottom lock we dropped in to Whilton Marina café and had some delicious soup for lunch. A steady stream of customers came in while were there. Obviously a popular local venue.
Going up the Long Buckby Flight we met a few boats coming down which helped, but the lock mechanisms are so stiff the flight is never a pleasure.

We turned off up the Leicester Branch and moored up for the night near Weltonfield.

Yukon River - a waterway with a unique history

The Yukon River is the fifth longest river in North America at some 2,000 miles long. It rises on the border between British Colombia and the Yukon Territory and flows north-west towards Alaska and into the Bering Sea. What I hadn't realised, until our recent trip to Alaska, was its role as a major navigable waterway and its economic importance, if but for a short period of time.

In July 1897 a small steamship called the Excelsior brought a small group of men back to San Francisco with gold they had just discovered in the Klondike. This was shortly followed by another ship bringing more miners and a ton of gold. The newspapers went crazy and men from all over the world flocked to Dawson City seeking their fortunes. Of course, very few did.

The route to the gold fields for those seeking their fortune was not simple. There was the difficult sea route to the mouth of the Yukon River at St Michael in the Bering Sea and then an upstream journey by paddlesteamer, but it was expensive, long and difficult. Those with less resources travelled a more direct route by sea to Skagway, a small port on the Inside Passage. They then trekked over the coastal mountains to the headwaters of the Yukon. It was then downstream by steamer to Dawson. The route was arduous and many died in the mountains despite the Canadian authorities demanding that stampeders (as they were called) only entered the Yukon Territory if they had a ton of suppliers. But born out of such difficulties came a business opportunity - a narrow-gauge (3 ft) rail route was built over the mountains joining up to the river. This is the White Pass and Route which still exists today and which we travelled on last month. It is a fascinating railway and truly spectacular. The connection to an historic river transport system also fascinates me.

White Pass and Yukon Railway

Route the original stampeders took

An original trestle bridge 
(now retired from use!) 

At the summit

On our visit to the Yukon we left our cruise ship at Skagway, Alaska and joined a train pulled by two historic diesel locomitives up a series of tight passes, over trestle bridges and through tunnels to the summit at Fraser where crossed into the Yukon Territory, Canada. It was an unforgetable ride. We moved from the train onto a coach and travelled through the upper reaches of the Yukon stopping at various tourist spots that included spectacular views, but the place I will not forget is Carcross which was originally known as Caribou Crossing. It is now a small community with only a population of 301 but back in 1889 it was an important staging post during the goldrush. It is here that there are the remains of SS Tutshi, one of the mighty stern paddlewheelers that used the travel along the river between Whithorse, Dawson City and St Michael.

The tiny community of Carcross now relies on summer tourism but it doesn't take much to visualise the "town" during the Goldsush and its immediate aftermath. The size of Tutshi is impressive and its characteristic design must have appeared awe inspiring at the turn of twentieth century. I certainly impresses me today. Tutshi was 167 ft long and displaced 1041 tons. The sight of one of these wood burning steamers navigating through Five Finger Rapids using winches, and the annual spring races to be the first steamer to Dawson City following the ice-melt must have been something to behold. Unfortunately as Tutshi was being restored when she was heavily damaged by arson in 1990. Some idea of the steamer in her prime can be seen here in 1987. It was common to see the Yukon sternwheelers on the river bank because they were often hauled out for the winter.

Remains of SS Tutshi

Replica of Tutshi's Sternwheel

Tutshi's Boiler

Interpretation Board Image of Tutshi on the River Bank

Bennet Lake Beach, Carcross

Railway Bridge, Carcross

Bennet Lake

Image result for steamer five finger rapids
Sternwheeler negotiating the Five Finger Rapids using Winches

If you want to find out more about the river boats I can recommend the excellent well-illustrated book by Graham Wilson "Paddlewheelers of Alaska and the Yukon". There are some also some helpful websites for visitors such a Destination Carcross Yukon. If you are near Skagway a trip along the White Pass and Yukon Route into the interior  just has to be a must.

Another Albert Blog

We spent a week in September cruising the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Alaska on  MV Volendam, a Holland America Line ship. It was a brilliant cruise and part of a trip of lifetime.  We stopped at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchican and had a cruise into Glacier Bay. With visits to glaciers, waterfalls, whale watching and a trip along the White Pass and Yukon Route railway into the Klondike it was full of memorable events. Later I will post about some of our experiences, but this post is essentially about the ship.

Volendam at Juneau

Volendam in Skagway

At around 60,000 tons, 780ft length and 105ft beam, Volendam is not a large cruise ship, by modern standards but she does carry around 1400 passengers and 650 crew. I was impressed how she was navigated into some of the tight channels in the Inside Passage and spun arround at the head of Glacier Bay. This led me to explore the Holland America web site for details about the ship and crew, particularly our captain who had the distinctive name of Captain Friso Kramer gezegd Freher.

It was then I discovered that their senior captain Albert Schoonderbeek, blogs under the tag Captain Albert's Blog about his colleagues, their backgrounds and his role in the company's safety procedures.

Image result for inside passage alaska map

What is particuarly fascinating, to me, is his description of navigating the Canadian part of the Inside Passage. Just how you take such a large vessel around some of the "tight bends" is impressive . When the Volendam went through this section, in not very good weather, I was as able to watch navigation from the "Crows Nest", an area directly above the bridge. On occasions I was mystified as to the direction the channel took and the "bank" appeared not that far away.

I can recommend a look at our namesake's blog. I aim to check it our regularly to see how their voyages progress.

Leaving Glacier Bay

The Ferries of Vancouver

Yes, it's a bit of a different post.

We have just spent two weeks on a very memorable holiday in Canada and Alaska. Some of the time we stayed In Vancouver where we discovered the delights of the ferries of False Creek. Vancouver is of course a major port and much of the city is centered around its seafronts. One of the jewels of Vancouver, so far as the tourist is concerned is Granville Island, which lies just south of the main city and under Granville Bridge.  It not actually an island but an isthmus and it lies on False Creek which, as the name suggests, is not really a creek but an inlet.

Granville Bridge

Entrance to Granville Island

The Island is home to Granville Street Market which is a delight for food lovers with stall after stall selling food for every taste and fresh fruit displayed like nowhere else. The large asian community in the city have loads of stalls in the market with many offering street food.

Chinese Tea Shop

Granville Island Market

The Island was originally the home to sawmills and factories but is now largely devoted to food. It is from there that a fleet of small city ferries operates taking travellers around the creek. Unlike most ferries these are small and are described by some as as mini-tugboat ferries, but to me they mostly resemble plastic bathtubs. They are operated by one person and are highly manouvreable. With little draft and being light they are also quite "bouncy".

A False Creek Ferry Boat

It was a joy to spend an afternoon exploring the south of the city using the ferries as a "hop on - hop off"
Checking the route

Ferry operator at the helm 

They don't appear to operate a conventional timetable but just circulate around the creek popping in to wharves  where passengers are waiting. A great service.