Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Welford to Blisworth

Succumbing to the curse of the newly retired - that there is always so much to do that it gets in the way of doing it - we abandoned more adventurous expeditions and went for a four day spin down the Grand Union to Blisworth.
There are no locks for many miles along the GU between Foxton and the Watford staircase, with only the tunnel at Crick to interrupt the view, but what a shock that is after dreamily floating between banks of green trees and creamy meadows. There are seven locks, four of them forming a staircase and though it can be done in 40 minutes there is usually a queue of half an hour or more before you enter. There is an excellent and supportive volunteer lock keeper who keeps things in order, guiding, helping and encouraging. More details of Watford Locks here.
South of the locks there is a curious stretch where the main west coast rail line rushes past, a road bridge carries the M1 overhead and Watford Gap service station can be seen through the trees. The railway follows the canal along for several miles and I am reminded that Watford Gap is in fact a real gap in low hills originally followed by grazing animals, then by nomadic early man and in time became the obvious place for a major road, canal and train line north.
We arrived at Norton Junction at 7pm in time for a satisfactory meal at the New Inn, Buckby Wharf.

Next day we spent most of the morning negotiating the arduous locks of the Buckby Flight - seven substantial locks and very hard work, heavy and spread out. Their main advantage is being double width so if possible lock up with someone else to share the strain.
And so we arrived, suitably warmed up, at Whilton Marina at mid-day, though this is a business trading boats rather than a place for mooring up. We paid our respects to the excellent chandelry which does basic food too as well as a copy of The Independent to gladden John's heart, and continued on our way south.
Here is a further stretch of 15 miles without a lock to arrive at Blisworth in good shape in 71/2 hours. Our knowledge of arrangements at Blisworth was enhanced by details from a very well informed CRT man at Gayton Junction and the CRT workshop who ran through the approach to Blisworth as if replaying a film. It's great to know that there are folks who are experienced and can tell you everything about their local patch.
We last saw Gayton on our way down the Nene and up to Welford last year but the short mile or two from Gayton to Blisworth was new territory. We'd already decided not to go on to Stoke Bruerne as it wasn't worth ploughing through the 13/4 mile tunnel then having to return almost immediately, but we needed assurance that there were moorings and turning space at Blisworth. We need not have worried - as our expert explained, there is ample space up to 60 feet or more by the Canal Company moorings and many moorings on the approach to the town - which itself has a pub and shops.
In fact we moor first near to the Canal Company and a warehouse converted to flats, trot down to the tunnel entrance "just to see", in to the village to check out shops and The Royal Oak (popular local, rather noisy) then decide to moor further back away from the town, nearly at bridge 49, and nearer to The Walnut Tree, suggested as a better eatery.
Duncan  at Blisworth Tunnel entrance (north entrance)
Warehouse flats, Blisworth

Leaving Blisworth Tunnel north entrance
A brisk walk takes us to The Walnut Tree which was once The Station Hotel, in the days when Blisworth was a popular railway junction. Now it stands rather isolated but worth a visit as we had a very good meal served by efficient and friendly staff.
Network of railways including Blisworth, dated 1911. Larger version here.

As night falls we continue to be serenaded by frequent rushing trains in the background, but otherwise this mooring is peaceful and calm.
And so to the reverse journey, leaving Blisworth at 8.30, arriving Long Buckby at 1pm and reaching the New Inn at 3pm. We crack on and finally moor at Crick at 6.15 with a good meal at The Red Lion in the village.
Day four is a straightforward and relaxing trip back to Welford by lunchtime, when we scoff the remains of our food and do some washing and painting work on Patience. Quite a lot of time on the canal but good boating in pleasant conditions with long light evenings. Given that we started out in chilly rain with one or two boats having their fires on, that's a good finish!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Canal de Bourgogne

Weed-filled lock at Tonnerre showing windlass in place on top gate

The gates are opened and closed manually by turning a wheel

Moorings at the port of Tonnerre
John and Sarah's holiday in France this year was spent in the Yonne Department of northern Burgundy, a beautiful and delightfully peaceful part of rural France, well away from the popular tourist areas.

In the small town of Tonnerre, we came across the  Canal de Bourgogne (the Burgundy Canal).  This is a 240 km long waterway that links the River Yonne in the north to the River SaĆ“ne in the south and hence ultimately provides a link from the English Channel to the Mediterranean. Construction started in 1775 and it was completed in 1832, just in time to succumb to competition from the the railways!  It has 189 locks. 

There were a few pleasure boats moored at Tonnerre, but the canal didn't look well used and we didn't see a single boat pass through while we were there.  The lock was full of rather thick weed. The gates are opened and closed not by balance beams, but by turning hand-wheels.  The paddles had windlasses permanently in place, something that would be unlikely to survive the unwanted attention of vandals in England.

It made us contemplate a holiday on a canal boat on one of the French canals, which would make a change from our normal practice of renting a gite in a small village.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Battery Condition Monitor

Meter installed above switchboard

Photo from ASAP's website

Now that Patience has had an electric fridge installed (see 7 August 2014 entry) we have to be more careful with our power consumption when moored up overnight. The Shoreline fridge is claimed to consume an average of 0.95Ahr/hr so mooring up for 18 hours would, in theory, consume about 17Ahr from the two domestic batteries.  They have a nominal capacity of 2 x 110 Ahr so allowing for 50% of that being accessible, that would represent 16% of their capacity. However mooring up for two nights (say 42 hours) would consume 40 Ahr or 36% of their accessible charge.  To that has to be added the power for lighting, pumps, TV, etc and in any case, the batteries may not be 100% charged when mooring up.  Therefore it is essential to keep a watch on the state of charge of the batteries and to preserve the starter motor battery by switching over to the domestic batteries when mooring up for the night.

We therefore purchased a Faria battery condition monitor from ASAP, our preferred marine component supplier.  It was ordered on a Friday afternoon and arrived via Royal Mail the following morning.  What fantastic service from ASAP and Royal Mail! The gauge has been installed above the switchboard on the aft bulkhead, as shown in the top photo. The detailed photo of the gauge is from ASAP's website. The manufacturers recommend that it is wired via a switch so that it can be switched off when the batteries are being charged by the engine.  A convenient spare switch on the switchboard, also incorporating a circuit breaker, was used for this purpose.