Friday, 17 August 2012

Steep learning curve

Fine weather arrived just in time for Steve's open weekend at Glascote basin. Although he had generously laid on a fourth barrel of beer this year, they were all empty by midnight on the Saturday, attesting this was his most well attended yet.

My sister and brother-in-law arrived as planned the following Tuesday lunchtime bringing even better weather. After a quick briefing on lock operation (blind leading the blind) it was with some trepidation I cautiously backed Ecky Thump out onto the Coventry canal, immediately facing a drop through my first two locks. All went smoothly though and I was soon chugging, or should it be thumping given the distinctive exhaust note, towards Fradley junction.

My new crew chose to scout ahead on bicycles so I was left to myself as I made a pigs ear of passing through a bridge hole following avoidance of an oncoming boat, thankfully not repeated. Not wanting to tempt fate though I managed to tie the boat up by myself as we passed through Hopwas with its rather nice canalside pubs. A couple of pints and a home made pie my sister brought along made for a perfect evening.

A relatively early start with the vague thought of reaching Great Haywood junction was heralded by embarrassingly large quantities of smoke and soot from the exhaust. The JP2 had been running for several minutes before hand so not sure why this happened unless something stuck on the injection pump. Suffice to say the smoke haze, which almost obscured the front of the boat, quickly cleared and it hasn't done it since.

Fradley junction appeared just before lunchtime and a left turn was made without issue onto the Trent and Mersea, despite a boat maneuvering right on the junction. Rising through a couple of locks we squeezed into a barely adequate space for lunch. Still feeling a little stressed I had a quick nap before continuing. My crews scouting ahead worked well and they regularly rode back to advise of oncoming boats which helped this newbie no end. It was particularly helpful at the previous Armitage tunnel as we approached Rugeley. The roof was taken off some time ago to combat subsidence leaving a not particularly straight, narrow rock cutting. Negotiating this required some concentration but thankfully nothing coming the other way.

The night was spent on the north side of Rugeley, a sad town full of closed down pubs and shadowed by a huge power station. The good news was a five mile trip the following morning had us at Great Haywood with a mooring right by the entrance bridge to Shugborough park which we planned to visit. The weather got even hotter and below the ancient bridge over the adjacent Trent, children were seen paddling and swimming in the wide, shallow river.

After exploring nearby Shugborough hall, the following morning I made a half decent job of making the tight left turn onto the Staffs & Worcester canal. Rising through a few more locks we comfortably made Penkridge town and moored close to the Boat Inn which provided us with an excellent evening meal. As the pound was down a little I was encouraged to steal a little water from the larger one above. This at least allowed us to sleep with the boat reasonably level. Saturday and a couple more locks within the town had us at Otherton marina or should it be bird sanctuary.  My crew cycled off on Sunday and I returned to Essex the following day to commitments there.

Returning on the Thursday I started my first day of single handing rising through five locks in quick succession. Often if there is a boat behind you, their crew will help as its in their interests to have you through as soon as possible. Such was the case on this occasion, and I made Autherley junction by mid afternoon making a good job of the very tight turn onto the start of the Shropshire Union canal, but immediately faced with a stop lock and nothing to tie up to. Unfortunately a small hire boat the other side of the lock had no sympathy with my dilemma so had to wait until they were ready to pass through, when I backed out again. I was soon on my way though and made the beautiful but shaded moorings of Brewood cut that evening.

My plan was to do the full length of the Shroppie, 66½ miles dropping continuously through 43 locks to Ellesmere Port where I would visit the canal boat museum. With stops at Norbury junction, Market Drayton where I spent an extra day, Audlem and Beeston, I made the outskirts of Chester outside the neat village of Christleton by Thursday evening. After Barbridge and the turn off to the Middlewich branch all locks become wide double width and the previously narrow bridge holes open up.

Sadly the canal doesn't get much deeper though. I suspect my boat with its 15mm base plate is a little more than its quoted 27 inch draught. Apart from going aground occasionally, minimal depth can be felt as the steering becomes very heavy and often speed can be maintained or even increased by reducing engine revs allowing the stern to dig in less. With an inch or two under the keel though the boat steers well with just a firm occasional nudge to the right to combat the walk from the right hand prop, and three mph or more can be maintained easily. Reversing on the other hand offers little steerage, but I have found that using the bowthruster to get the boat pointing in the right direction will allow it to continue in a straight line.

Having discovered that Ellesmere Port boat museum was open on Sundays, I left the heart of Chester on Saturday morning and was soon faced with the daunting triple staircase locks to descend. I eventually got help whilst in the last chamber but that only served to nearly flood the boat when the help overfilled the chamber above creating a serious waterfall in his impatience to prepare the locks to ascend.

Progress was a little slow on the second part of the nine mile section. Weed built up until it formed an almost continuous carpet across the canal. Apparently this often happens in the area during the summer months but given the exceptional wetness this summer was worse than usual. Folk had even mistaken it for turf and got themselves rather wet.
Amazing to see the Manchester ship canal just four locks below with a huge cargo ship filling the skyline as it passed by at maybe 10 knots. I  moored at the top though after winding through the weed in preparation for the return. Enjoyed the museum visit on Sunday after the weather had thrown a tantrum, before leaving late afternoon for Chester again. Not before removing huge clumps of weed from the prop though.

On the technical front, the engine and electrics have behaved themselves admirably. There are some oil and a diesel leak to be investigated, but Martyn from MPS has promised to give it the once over.  The engine starts easily and the sound of it ticking over at exactly 320 rpm then spooling up as it dumps torque into that huge flywheel always gets me.

The only electrical issue was when the 100 amp bowthruster charge fuse blew. I put it initially down to exceptional performance from the 90 amp alternator feeding it, but have since realised the smart splitter on the output has a finite time before the backfeed from other banks is inhibited. I was pleased to see the washing machine ran a cycle whilst cruising although the engine noticed the extra load. Powered by the inverter the alternators comfortably kept up with the power drain from the batteries, leaving them fully charged after it finished. I have yet to confirm the automatic  bilge pump works especially since it uses the same type of float switch that failed on my shower pump-out. Fortunately I specified a manual override which does allow the little water leaked by the calorifier pressure release valve (PRV), to be pumped out. This happens every time the water gets hot so maybe there isn't sufficient difference between PRV release and water pump pressure. In the meantime I've turned down the immersion heater thermostat a little.

No comments:

Post a Comment