Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Nene Floods 3

Many readers of this blog will be most interested in canals and narrow boats, but the rivers also need some explaining.
Coming as we do from East Anglia, Patience has spent her recent years on the Ouse and tributaries and now the Nene (via the Middle Level). These river systems are not just for leisure boating but are primarily for water control. That's why they are managed by the Environment Agency rather than British Waterways / Canal River Trust.
Car Park, Godmanchester
This pic was taken in my office gardens in 2009 but the scene is the same today - except that there are gangs of men wandering around looking lost. The reason? They're building flood defences in the gardens bordering the river, but the floods have over-run their site, so flood barrier building has come to a halt. Halted by floods ....

You can visualise the north-south Grand Union Canal west of Northampton on the left, the Ouse on the right and the Nene and Middle Levels in the centre connecting the two sides.

The Northampton Arm leaves the Grand Union Canal at Gayton Junction and joins the River Nene in the centre of Northampton.

The River Nene then takes a twisting and attractive rural route through Oundle where we are moored and Lilford, our nearest EA measuring station, to Peterborough's Stanground Lock where it divides, with the northern channel becoming tidal as it crosses the flat Fenlands on its way to the sea. For preference, most boaters avoid the difficult tidal stretch and enter the quiet and often narrow Middle Levels.

The Middle Levels
are primarily a network of rivers, man-made drainage ditches and sluices intended to drain the low-lying area between Peterborough and Ely. They also offer a navigable route between the River Nene and the Ouse.

Nearly all the locks on the Nene have conventional mitre gates at the upstream end and a single vertically lifting guillotine gate at the downstream end. This means the locks can be used as additional weirs in time of flood, when the mitre gates are chained open and the guillotines lifted to allow the water to flow straight through. No navigation is allowed at these times.

So because in high water times the Nene is used to channel excess water out to sea, boaters must stay away - or else! The flooding that we see in some places such as Port Holme and the Ouse Washes is the planned flooding of low lying areas designed for this. The flooding of low lying houses built on the flood plains is an inevitable consequence of allowing inappropriate building. With an increase in serious weather events that can only get worse.
So the moral is, move your home up hill and leave your boat in a safe and caring marina, like ours, or you could find your house under water and your boat stranded in a field!
Either way, don't blame the EA if they prioritise drainage solutions above recreational boating....
Mooring at Thrapston Bridge on the Nene, November 25th 2012

Patience moored at Thrapston Bridge on the Nene, September 20th 2012
So thanks again to Oundle Marina for looking after Patience!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Nene Floods 2

Driving through Cambridge at Fen Causeway and also across Port Holme at Huntingdon I see a lot of water, but John alerts me to the floods which are hitting the Nene in a big way!
The EA is recording near record heights at Lilford tonight, November 25th:

and at Oundle Marina staff have closed the chandlery and are going around checking moorings.


Sunday 25th November. The water is very high in the marina and moorers may not be able to get to their boats. The staff & Environment Agency are out making sure that boats are not tied up too tightly. If you are coming to the marina today please do not put yourself or anyone else in danger.

We'll be OK at our pontoon in a safe basin, but how would you feel if you'd tried to save a few quid by leaving your boat at some godforsaken spot on the river?
This is Tewkesbury in 2007. From the M5 we clearly saw boats  of all kinds washed up and subsequently stranded on fields bordering the river at Tewkesbury.
 Later News ... "Lock mooring has become detached from Lilford Lock and is on its way down river towards Upper Barnwell Lock"
From Canal World Discussion Forum
And flooding pics here from ITV news.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Tanks and tappets

With moderately fine weather first thing, we motored over to Oundle marina to do a few more winterising tasks.  The diesel tank was topped up to reduce the likelihood of condensation over the winter.  We were reassured by Mark in the office that he pre-treats all the marina biodiesel, so we don't have to worry about any additives.  In the short journey to the fueling stage we managed to pick up a short length of rope (someone else's) around the prop shaft, although it didn't seem to slow Patience down too much.  We also noted that the o-ring on the filler cap needs replacing, so it was measured up to get a replacement.

Having returned to our mooring, it was off with the rocker cover to check the valve clearances.  According to the BMC manual. 1.8 litre engines with a 'later type' camshaft should run with a clearance of 0.014 in, measured hot or cold.  You can tell if you have a later type camshaft by looking at the side of the lower engine block - if it has ribs you have the later type camshaft.  Turning over the diesel engine to close each of the valves in turn is difficult, as the gearbox doesn't engage if there is no hydraulic pressure and you can't apply enough torque on the nut on the front end of the crankshaft to turn it.  In the end, we turned the engine over briefly on the starter and tried to avoid it firing.  Note for next time: this would be easier with the engine cold so that it doesn't fire. Most of the clearances seemed to be fine, but three needed adjusting to reduce the clearance to the designated 0.014 in.

We checked the gas fridge, which had been giving problems failing to ignite in the summer, but today seemed to fire up first time.  That may be because it's much easier to see the pilot light in the gloom of a winter's afternoon. We don't want to spend £500 or more on a new fridge if we can avoid it.

Finally, we measured up the effluent tank as a prelude to possibly investing in a resistance type depth gauge.  It's the one tank on board where a little technology would pay dividends.  Unlike the fresh water tank (which you can see into) and the fuel tank (which you can put a dipstick into), those solutions aren't a pleasant option for the black water tank!

Nene Floods

Popping across to care for Patience (see next blog) it became clear that there's an awful lot of water in the rivers around here.
At Huntingdon, Port Holme was awash and the race course was also flooded.
First the road leading to Oundle was partly flooded, then passing Barnwell Upper Lock we noticed water was pouring fiercely over the lock gates.
Further on, the marina levels were higher than usual but under the bridge at Oundle the river had burst its banks and was belting along at a great rate.
So once more, thank you The Environment Agency's  Floodline, with your warning:
Strong Stream Advice has been issued for the River Nene. Several locks on the River Nene are closed to navigation and are being used to discharge flood waters.

The Environment Agency strongly advises against attempting to boat on the River Nene. River flows are above normal and head-room at some sites will be restricted.

And thanks for your flood maps ...
... some of which are clearer than others!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Fish and Duck

That's the marina and one-time pub at Pope's Corner near Stretham, not a description of local wildlife.
Patience was moored at The Lazy Otter, just up the Old West River from Pope's Corner, and we passed by often - sometimes wishing that we could pop in to have a pint - but unfortunately the old pub had been demolished before we bought Patience.
Here's a great pic of the old pub, closed in 2006.
  © Copyright Richard Thomas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
and another ...
  © Copyright Fractal Angel and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

However in the last couple of years the site has been cleared as if in preparation for new work, while the folks who liveaboard still cluster around the edges. It has to be admitted that some of the boats are not in great condition, but it does seem to be a community and one that has put down roots.
© Copyright Cambridge News. Picture 865352
Now there is a row as the owners want to upgrade and improve the facilities, but in the process they want to clear away the liveaboard community. Although they have given a good period of notice it's hard to think where the live-in boaters would move to. There's nothing available locally as far as I know.
I feel sorry for both sides - not to mention the fact that we would have happily frequented any new pub built on the site, as a short half day trip from our moorings at The Lazy Otter.
You can find more detail in two Cambridge News articles here and here.
Marina contact details are here.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Boat Stuck in River Nene

Since we moved from the Ouse to the Nene we've become increasingly aware of the unpredictability of the river and have faithfully signed up for Floodline advice.
Here's what can happen if you don't ... This is Ditchford lock near Northampton. But we note that Gurnamore got stuck on Thursday 1st Nov - and we received our flood warning at 9.35 on that day. Were the warning notices in place by the time they arrived? Had the locks already been "reversed" and the helmsman noticed too late? Here's a description on reversing locks, by the Environment Agency.

John has often quizzed me about "what I would do if ..." and here's a real poser.
The real answer is that you wouldn't set out if there is a Floodline warning and if the river is moving uncomfortably fast. I understand the owners of Gurnamore thought they'd signed up for Floodline but had not done so for the Nene. Perhaps this is a case for blaming the division between the EA and the CRT. Of course the Nene and the Middle Levels are used not only for leisure boating but also as a drainage system taking water from the East Midlands out to The Wash and surges of water are common. The EA has a different job from the CRT.

Evidently the boat was going downstream, west to east in this aerial view, heading for the lock to starboard then - perhaps because he was travelling too fast with the stream and would have hit the guillotine - slewed over to port, maybe hit the edge of the island and the force of the stream swung him round across the line of the green weir floats. Thank heavens he didn't keep on going ....
I feel sorry for the unhappy couple and their frightening experience, but am bound to say that if the water gets too fast or the conditions too challenging, it's far better to moor up and sit it out - even on the Nene, where good moorings are few and far between. Easy to say of course; tempting to plough on regardless; so hard to judge how fast the stream is while you're afloat; and if you're already scudding along at 6mph can your full power in full reverse actually stop you? I'm sure we couldn't stop in a straight line ....

* For more on this, including a video clip go to ITV News.
* For more pictures and for details of the two owners (who abandoned ship safely) read The Daily Mail.
* For details of the River Canal Rescue operation read this article.
* For detailed advice on coping with a narrow boat in fast river conditions read the thoughtful comments on Canal World. They are the best answers to John's quiz.
And anyone who thinks it's easy to cope in these conditions should read those comments very carefully indeed. There but for fortune go you or I ....

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Towpath Walking in Warwickshire

As previously mentioned, and as described in Four Blokes Who Do Walks,  we have strolled in persistent rain along the banks of the Stratford upon Avon canal near Henley-in-Arden.
the Stratford upon Avon canal is a popular cruising route and one on which Tom Rolt and Cressy made a memorable voyage in 1947, paving the way to the rebirth of canal travel as we now know it.
Most interesting is the design of the split bridge, split in the centre with a cantilever from the bank to leave a gap so that, in earlier times, the rope from the horse towing the boat, could pass through without unhitching.

This is an early canal, started in 1796, though currently not all the boats on it are traditional .... 
... this one, Maid of Fibre, being described as "A sanctuary for knitters".
Elsewhere there are more traditional sights, such as this bridge notice ...
... at Wootten Warwen Basin ...

... and the famous aqueducts at Wootten Warwen ...
... and Edstone ...

... where the boat seen here at the far end of the longest canal aqueduct in England (145 metres) seems fearful of crossing and has swung into the bank in terror!
Not far from here is the Golden Cross Inn at Bearley Cross, where we had a fine Sunday lunch before continuing along the canal and to the station at Wilmcote.

Towpath walking in Staffordshire

We not only boat, we also walk and you can see where we walk and how we're progressing towards our target of walking all the English traditional counties at our walking website.
So it was that we found ourselves in Staffordshire, near the well known canal village of Stone and walking to Salt. Much of the walk was along the towpath of the Trent and Mersey canal, so this was an opportunity for us to compare our eastern region with the traditional Potteries canals.
In summary we like the history, the towpaths and the way boats simply moor up anywhere. Just don't try that on one of the tributaries of the Ouse ....
From a bridge near Aston by Stone
Trent and Mersey at Salt - parallel to the railway
Bridge at Goms Mill
Goms Mill Bridge from the other side
None of these mile posts on the Great Ouse ....
Bridge 83, Sandon, by The Dog and Doublet Inn
Sandon Lock

The Trent and Mersey is a cross country canal intended to to link the Potteries in Stoke on Trent to Liverpool in the east and Hull in the west, which, via the river Trent, it does, curving south wards almost to Lichfield and back up past Nottingham to the coast.
There is a fair smattering of liveaboard boaters here, living more economically than the summer boaters who, like us, have stored their boats in marinas at some cost.
Often liveaboards create their own mutual support communities, but I was warned in all seriousness by someone who knows the owner of the skull and antlers boat (above) that he takes no prisoners and hates people photographing his boat. Fortunately he was either away or asleep when I passed.
It makes for an alarming spectacle. I could see no name on the side. I didn't leave a note ....