Monthly Archives: May 2017

Piston Broke, or Something

Hearing that the insurance company was sending an inspector to survey the damage and argue the toss, we decided that we really ought to be there. So an early Monday morning start managed to get us to Piper Boats by 11:00am (gulp) to commence the wrangling.

This went much as expected. However, he did point out that (unrelated to our bridge disaster, and certainly not covered by any insurance), Song & Dance’s propeller had seen better days!

Bent Prop

We’d no idea when this occurred. You occasionally hear objects clunking on the prop (shopping trolleys, lumps of wood and so on), but had never heard anything making a racket enough to cause that kind of damage. You’d have thought the damage might have been obvious on the occasional trips down the weed hatch, in which case the damage must have been recent, but equally it could have been done years ago.

Perhaps that explained the rather unusual noises when putting the propeller in reverse to stop the boat in a hurry. Ho hum… more expense!

At this rate, we’ll be buying shares in the Midland Expressway (M6 Toll Road).

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Hang on a Minute…

A couple of evenings were passed with Song & Dance lounging at Festival Park Marina, while Sir re-familiarised himself with marina life and the joys of their amazingly long pump-out hose, while a car was relocated from home to Stoke, ready for the Chippenham Festival cum boat repairs break. With the crane and lorry all organised for first thing Tuesday morning, your intrepid FO, under the watchful eye of the Captain, took Song & Dance single handed the 1.8 miles to Stoke Boat’s wharf at Longport, while the head gardener drove the car. The boat took about 45 minutes. Due to some splendidly sited temporary traffic lights and road works, the car took over an hour and a half to cover the same journey… the crane was stuck in the same jam.

While we unloaded the boat, Sir found all sorts of exciting places on the wharf to explore and hide, so we eventually had to confine him to the car (about which much protest was made).

Longport Wharf

The lift initially went well, except…

Longport WharfLongport Wharf

… that when they came to reverse the lorry underneath the boat it wouldn’t start, and just said something like “System Error – B” for those who remember early ICL mainframe operating systems. After much scratching of heads, phone calls to lorry HQ, Iveco Truck Dealer HQ etc. etc., a man was apparently coming with a laptop to reboot the lorry or something. No-one knew where the Control/Alt/Delete keys were on the beast.

Expecting the laptop to get caught in the same almighty traffic jam, the crane driver decided he probably ought to put the boat down for a bit even though it looked very impressive dangling in the air. Meanwhile we decided that we’d better head for home before the Captain sacked us for keeping him cooped up in the car all day.

The journey home was uneventful, and later we heard that – after several hours delay – someone plugged in the magic laptop, the lorry sprang into life, and Song & Dance was now safely back with her makers.

Excitement on the North Oxford

Whatever one’s views on public services, some parts of the emergency service are still impressive.

Getting away from Napton promptly, we’d soon transited the Grand Union Canal  to Braunston Junction, whereupon we were back on the Oxford Canal – the North Oxford Canal that is. This section is winding and rural, and normally rather devoid of drama.

But after lunch…

15:06 – Cruising along the canal in the remote countryside somewhere on the Northants/Warks boundary. Go under Bridge 80 and there’s a large field of cows and calves on the offside, and a calf in the canal in distress trying to get out, and getting spooked by a couple of passing boats.

15:07 – Slow boat up, determine no obvious exit point for poor calf, call 101 from mobile, and on being asked whether I wanted Northants or Warkwickshire polis randomly chose Northants (probably wrongly). “North Oxford Canal by Bridge 80, near Barby there’s a distressed calf in the canal, and it’s getting spooked by the boats” and after brief consultation told to call Fire service on 999.

15:08 – Call 999/Fire Brigade from mobile, “North Oxford Canal… etc.” – “OK, thanks very much, there’s someone on the way, please can we have your name?”.

With boats coming and going, decided we couldn’t usefully do any more so cruised on slowly to warn any other oncoming boats.

15:15 – Phone rings “Mr Walton, fire service” asking whether we knew the area and any likely access. Accepted I was a stranger on a boat, clarified problem was between Bridges 80 and 79, and the lady said “Looks like there’s a Barby Hill Farm nearby: perhaps we can get access over the fields from there”.

15:18 – Approaching Bridge 78, see a Fire Service Land Rover parked on the bridge, then further up the road, turning into the long track leading to the farm, two Fire Engines and another Land Rover towing a RIB.

Heaven knows where they came from, but I have to say we were pretty impressed!

I guess they use such incidents as training exercises, even if it seems a lot of time and effort for a solitary calf, but it’s nice to know some things still work well, even in rural England.

After all that excitement we eventually found some decent moorings below Hillmorton Locks at Rugby – 14.5 miles and 4 locks, a long day for us!

A Brief South Oxford Sojourn

Setting off for (eventually) Stoke-on-Trent on Thursday morning, the first exercise was to climb up the Claydon flight of locks just North of Cropredy. Although reasonably familiar, two things immediately became clear: the sun might have been shining, but the strong gusty wind was decidedly chilly. The last time we came this way we had overcast snows and skies, so no complaints, I guess.

They’d also managed a rather better repair on the locks. And after eight locks uphill, we made good time in the sunny weather, and trundled along most of the long and winding road – sorry – pound to get within easy reach of Marston Doles and the eight Napton locks back down again.

South Oxford Summit Pound

Last time, the weather was so miserable that we took the best part of three days to get back down to the level of the Napton Junction, but this time, despite the Baltic cross wind, we zoomed past the water buffalos and found ourselves at Napton Bottom Lock in plenty of time on Friday to have a mid-afternoon Guinness at The Folly Inn, and book a table for dinner: it’s always – justifiably – busy, especially at weekends.

Napton Bottom Lock

Tomorrow, the Grand Union and Braunston beckon, then the North Oxford Canal.

Farewells and Hellos

Safely tucked up in Cropredy Marina, albeit still feeling rather discombobulated after our fun and games over the weekend, we cracked on with the plan, a day late. Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny for once, and at crack of sparrows we bade adieu to the Captain, jumped in the car and headed off down the M40 to Ruislip Crematorium.

With a mother the youngest of six, and hence countless elderly Aunts, Uncles and Cousins in the area, the FO of the Song & Dance crew had been here far too many times but thought those days were passed. However, our friend Mark who lived near Heathrow had died in March. Pretty much estranged from his family, and always an intensely private chap, we and some other friends had spent considerable time and effort sorting things out before finally managing to track down his mother and brothers, who gladly took over arrangements, to our relief.

As is invariably the case at such funerals, there’s the sadness in the passing of a friend of many decades standing, coupled with the happiness of meeting up again with old friends that one hasn’t seen in years (or even decades). Reunited, albeit belatedly, with his family, he was given a good send off.

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Heading back up the M40, we were soon back at the boat, and after another day doing loads of laundry, raiding the large Banbury Tesco superstore, doing boatwork, and generally preparing things for the off, we were ready to start out on our 2017 cruise proper. Somewhat glad – in the circumstances – that we had arranged to go via Stoke-on-Trent and Piper Boats, who could look at the issues involved in restoring Song & Dance to a more suitable carriage for the Captain, we girded our loins for insurance company fun and games.

(Photo credits: Carly Gunn)

The Great Bridge 154 Disaster of 2017

Man plans, <insert your deity here> laughs… as does CaRT!

Setting off at crack of coffee time – for once in warm sunshine, but still with a strong and gusty crosswinds – we were expecting to get tucked up in Cropredy Marina by late morning. Just half a mile along the canal stands Bridge 154. Heading in our direction, it sits on a slight and narrow right-hand bend, with a line of long-term moorers just the other side with little room to manoeuvre; as we came closer we saw another boat approaching the other side. Going into reverse caused the nose to swing to the left a bit, and the gusty wind blowing from right to left didn’t help.

As a result, the front of the boat collided with the inside of the bridge. As collisions go it would have been irritating but not remarkable. If a score of 10 represents one of Timothy West’s “boating is a contact sport” collisions with the canal infrastructure or other boats, this would have scored about 3. However, there was an awful crunching sound, as this particular contact dislodged several hundredweight of loose concrete rendering and rebar, which crashed down on the front of the boat.

With Song & Dance firmly wedged, and no way of lifting the debris, it took six of us, several ropes, a lot of engine power and considerable effort to extract the boat and examine the situation. There was a huge slab of concrete still hanging from the bridge. Blowing in the breeze, there was no way past, and it looked to be in danger of dropping into the canal, which wouldn’t have helped.

Bridge after boat extractionBridge after boat extraction

Song & Dance could have come off worse: at one point it was listing so much under the weight that we feared it might not stay afloat, but apart from some spillage from a vase of flowers, the cabin survived pretty much without problems. However, a load of concrete debris had crashed through the cratch cover, into the well deck area. We’re just very grateful that no one or no cat was sitting up there watching the world go by.

Boat after extraction from BridgeBoat after extraction from Bridge

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The cratch cover is a write-off, the radio aerial has been ripped off, and as for all the paintwork at the front of the boat…

We called the CaRT emergency line, and within an hour our two friends from Northbrook Lock turned up, stared for a while, scratched their heads, then started making lots of phone calls…

What’s particularly irritating, (apart from no-doubt endless hassles with insurance companies and the like to come: they’re not as organised as the car people), several of the nearby long-term moorers wandered past saying that they had been reporting the dodgy state of the rendering to passing CaRT staff for over a year! The boat following us was manned by someone who had been a professional builder in an earlier life, and he said it was quite clear from a cursory glance that the rendering had been widely and substantially blown for a long time. Another boater said he had passed under on Saturday, and noticed it was starting seriously to come away, but sadly hadn’t reported it’s parlous state to CaRT.

Our two CaRT people announced that they would have to get in their contractors from Coventry or Leicester or wherever, It being by now Sunday lunchtime, that might well not happen until Monday (or given the bank holiday) Tuesday. In the meantime the canal was shut, and they went off to fetch a work boat moored at Banbury. When they arrived back with the workboat late that afternoon, they confirmed that the contractors would be coming to sort it out on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, we’d been attempting to clear up a bit: here’s what we fished out from the well deck that had fallen through the wrecked cratch cover, Could have given someone a severe headache!

Contents of Well Deck

By now there was a serious queue of traffic in both directions, many coming to look and see; CaRT had phoned several hire boat companies to warn them.

Anyway, the contractors arrived early Monday morning, a new CaRT chap came out to supervise,, and with the aid of the  work boat, a large sledgehammer and some bolt-cutters, they managed to clear the bridg;, a CaRT surveyor/safety engineer was summoned, and on his arrival and subsequent inspection he announced he was happy and re-opened the canal.

We were clearly at the front of the queue heading North, but word spread like wildfire, and everyone heading in both directions cast off pretty much at the same time. What with the single file necessitated by all the long term moorers, a water point and Cropredy lock, and everyone stupidly blocking the canal because there was nowhere to pass, it was absolute bedlam. We limped into the marina at lunchtime, just over a day late.

Even more irritating was the fact that the CaRT supervisor who turned up denied that they had any knowledge of the bridge’s perilous state: no one had reported it at any time, and their lengthsman who walks the canal inspecting the infrastructure every month hadn’t spotted or flagged up any problems. Let’s just say that clearly there are some serious communication and/or competency problems in CaRT – we can feel a stiff letter coming on, and maybe a new ballad.