Friday, 30 May 2008

Moorings for May 30

Well, here we are, moored up for the night, just east of Milton Keynes, opposite Waterside Marina. Just behind us was on-going boat work. And look carefully at that horizontal white bit - in between the boats moored up on the left of this photograph, you can make out a tiny row boat. In it is the boat maker, taking tools from one side of the canal to the other. No bridge, so - use a boat! An oar propelled ferry taking kit between work and storage.

We turned on Levi this evening. For those who haven't read thus far, Levi is the generator, our serious 240v on the move. We did a load of laundry and then made some mayo. Turned off in time to have a peaceful dinner and enjoy our new environment - in the same home.

We can't tell you how odd and yet wonderful it is to have the same home we always have in completely new environments. We have stupendous gardens which we don't have to manage, new light directions, new atmospheres; but in the middle of it all is the home we are used to with what we know. It is both profoundly new and familiar all at the same time. Pete sits and Flickrs as usual, geotagging photographs and enjoying chat threads and Elizabeth checks out images and blogs (with help from Pete). Josie sniffs out yet another towpath, sure of her home, yet not sure of her ground. And two of the three of us loves this. The third is just happy to be with us.

Travelling along aquaducts

You have to look at this very carefully. The diagonal light strip, bottom right to left centre, is the edge of the canal. No fence/railing/anything. The left corner pale green diagonal is Bella's roof edge. The rest of the picture is the river Ouse and its banks, a 100 feet or so below us. Odd. So odd. Travelling above a river and no 'safety' rail.

Now look again. Bella in the canal. A railing this time. A road with a car on it below. I wonder how many road users realise that the bridge with the railing above them is not another road, but a canal? With boats? Well, that was us today, making our way from northwest to northeast Milton Keynes.

Milton Keynes is an odd mix of town and country, with each area beside the canal having parkland and housing. As such, it drove Pete somewhat mad as he was doing most of the driving. Fast, slowed by moored boat; fast, slow; fast (well, never that fast!), slow.... The whole 12 mile lock free stretch had SO many moored boats dotted everywhere.

Make-do awning

You may have guessed from our last posts that it has been raining. A LOT. But that does not seem to stop us. Here we are, moored up at the bottom of the garden of the owner of Kingfisher Marina, Yardley Gobion, Milton Keynes. We booked ahead, needing to keep Bella and Josie in a safe place while we took a hire car to a meeting with our dear GKG Collective in Oxford (at our new office!!!). It was raining when we arrived on the Wednesday, raining when we got back from Oxford on the Thursday. But we have means!! Here is Pete, hanging out the duck doors (hatch), with our Land Rover umbrella anchored so that it turned into an awning. Brilliant.

We love this silly irony. A Land Rover umbrella on a boat painted racing green - travelling at max 4 miles an hour. Giggle.

Inside the tunnel

Just to recap - this is the view from the bow INSIDE the tunnel. Elizabeth held the camera out the bow doors. The light comes from both our headlamp - hence our bow so bright - and the light of the oncoming boat in the opposite direction. SO odd, but there we are. I had to alter the photo so that you could see a little more. No tow path on each side, just a fourteen foot wide space. Each time a boat came up on us, each of us nudged the wooden edge which is bolted on to the inside of the brick work. We nudged each other gently and quietly moved on. A whole new world....

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

This is what we saw from our dinner table last night. Moorhen chicks hatching as we watched.... Amazing. We left Buckby top lock just after breakfast then descended the six more locks to Wilton Marina. Elizabeth went to the shop as Pete held Bella to, engine running. It was important. The bread machine was not finished, and stopped energy would be a wasted loaf. As it was, it was ready for a lovely lunch and dinner, moored up in Blisworth, a lovely little canal village.
The morning saw us, up and breakfasted, facing a damp day, but prepared for the third longest canal tunnel in the UK. Pete was fully prepped - in full wet gear and hat. We had been warned of the in-tunnel rain fall. "The most stressful navigation" says Pete. Elizabeth remarks how weird it is to have the interior lights on and to watch the brick wall passing slowly, only centimeters from the window. In just under two miles, we passed five boats, each with their headlamps on as did we, so that we could see each other. We were both grateful to reach the other side, just north of Stoke Bruerne, a stunning canalside village, the canal virtually the High Street.

After a bit of a rest, we continued our descent on the Grand, Elizabeth lockside, Pete helmside. Elizabeth bought a swish windlass handle (the thing we use to get the lock gates paddles open and closed) in Wilton lock stores, one which has the handle sort of spin around the core, so she can fix her hands, but the windlass spins - fewer blisters! 7 locks down, we were on today's homeword pound, mooring up at a booked temporary slot in Kingfisher Marina, Yardly Gobion.

We have both decided that working locks and navigating through them is more exercise than our gym membership ever allowed. Then, when we moor up, the hot water created from an engine running all day means a hotter shower than a steam room!!!

Monday, 26 May 2008

A big tunnel after a windy wet start

We went through a big tunnel today - almost 2 miles. We've been through the diddy Newbold Tunnel, but this was a whole different beast. And, to be frank, we were delighted to be sheltered from the wet and still cruising. I tried to upload a video, but no luck. I'll try YouTube and edit this as I can. We were both in full waterproofs today, with wind pushing Bella in ways she didn't want to go. Water from the sky was an interesting addition. At Braunston, we were in the canal version of a motorway hold up as a fallen tree was chain sawed out of the water so that the boats could move. As the Oxford and Grand Union canals shared a course, Elizabeth had to pole Bella away from moving south on the Oxford to moving east on the Grand - quite an effort, but we made our way to the six Braunston locks, rising up to the pound (not sterling - the name of the canal in between locks) moving us east toward Norton Junction. We had a great team alongside us, with Buccaneer and her owners sharing lock management. Elizabeth took the locks today, sure that Pete's heaftier arms could hold the tiller against the wind. We finally made our way to Buckby top lock and moored up just close to 4pm. On mooring, Elizabeth took the phone (on booster antenna) to book us into a marina for Wednesday night so that we'll be safe as we get ourselves to a meeting in Oxford on Thursday. Still cosy around the stove, enjoying the slight, peaceful sway...

When it was Spring

Back when it was Spring, we set up the parasol holder and the parasol - turning Bella's cruiser stern into our outside deck. It is good to recall this, as we are now moored up just south of Norton Junction on the Grand Union canal, where the Leicester arm of the Grand moves north. It is presently, as Pete says, 'blowing a bastard' and the heavens have opened. Epic rain and wind. Good, in May, to remember Spring. However, we are toasty, with Pete having lit the stove and us having wandered out to the New Inn at Buckby top lock - where our friends Helen and Dom had lunch when the Crick Show (biggest canal boat show of the year) was called off due to the horrible weather.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

We're off! Ducks away!!

Goodbye, Mrs Duck and brood! We're finally off for a number of months. It seems so right now and we feel really prepared. We are in mid house sale (we say - fingers crossed again) and there is nothing to be gained by staying close to a car, so we're off.

Thanks to some dear anonymous friends, we had a little more help pre house sale and therefore now have a generator so that we can create 3kw of 240 power while not plugged in to shore power. That means we can do our own laundry without having to find a laundrette, and we can run the vacuum cleaner and food processor (necessary for mayo and spreadable butter). The bread machine can be run as we motor, as it takes the maximum inverter wattage (the 240 created by the engine powering up batteries whose power is inverted from 12v to 240) and so to run it off generator, it has to be done while batteries are in constant top up mode. We also found a cheap and cheerful fold up bike and Elizabeth is going to paint flowers on it, so the bike lives up to her name, Blossom. Though in the usual 'sad' way of naming things (the generator is Levi - he's blue and is a 'jean'erator....), there is an ulterior motive to painting Blossom - who would want to steal a cheap painted fold up? Compared to a Moulton or Brompton???

So we're off. Well, we were. Just after, we have to say, a stunning turn into the Canal, the engine started smoking and we got slower and slower. We pulled up almost parallel to where we moor, but out on the canal. Opening the weed hatch (the access to the water around the propeller), Pete discovered some old carpet, busily being turned to shreds. We probably collected it from the severely needing dredging marina on our way out. A cold hand, but much cleaner prop on, we started motoring south, heading for the Grand Union. We set off later than we wanted, as the weather was foul. But we're out! And this is being written as we are moored up just south of Bridge 80 on the Oxford.

And before we finish, we thought you'd like to know how we handle this long skinny beast. Well, Elizabeth has found her new calling as a Bow Thruster. For those of you who don't know, a bow thruster is an extra propeller at the front of a boat (the bow, duh), which pushes water to one side or the other, so that the boat maneuvers much more neatly and the skinny beast is not just managed from the propeller and tiller 69 feet away from the bow. Well, Elizabeth uses a bow rope as she stands on the towpath or jetty, wraps it around her back and locks her feet in to where she can; as she holds the bow, Pete uses a gentle forward with hard tiller, then reverses to pivot the stern. When Bella is pointing the right direction, Elizabeth hops back on the bow and swaps the head rope for the boat pole. This she then uses to move the bow by putting the pole generally against the side of the canal and pushing (hard! - Bella is 20 tonnes!!). Every now and then, the move requires more umph and Pete assumes bow thrusting as Elizabeth takes the tiller. Unremarkably, we don't have any pictures of this going on, as we are both busy at the time.

So, we plan to write as much as we can now to follow the journeys. We forgot to blog that we had taken our friends Jane and Simon out for the day, but Simon took films and put them up on YouTube. If you go on to YouTube and look for captain Pete or films by Simon Berry, you'll catch the stunning sunny day. We had a hoot of a last night in the Marina, singing folk songs to the guitar playing of Dominic while Pete, Elizabeth and Helen joined right in. The red wine didn't alter our perception of our stunning performance one bit. 6pm now. G&Ts to kick off the evening.