Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Journey Home - Great Haywood to Calf Heath

Tuesday 13th June 2006
Great Haywood to Calf Heath
Staffs and Worcester Canal

14 Miles
12 Locks
6 hours

It was a perfect start to the day, waking to the sound of ducks nibbling at the weed on the hull and the birds singing in the nearby trees. But the weather didn't hold and steadily deteriorated as we moved westwards. By the time we reached Penkridge and the start of the climb up to Gailey the rain has set in, penetrating our coats and soaking us to the skin.

There was a moment of confusion as we sailed Wand'ring Bark into the marina for the first time. Which mooring bay was ours? - they all look the same from the water. Luckily my car was parked immediately in front of our berth and acted as a landmark to guide us in.

1st voyage completed without mishap and more importantly, without discovering any mechanical issues with the boat.

Monday, 12 June 2006

Journey Home - Amington to Gt Haywood

Monday 12th June 2006
Amington to Gt Haywood
Coventry Canal, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal and Trent & Mersey Canal

27 Miles
7 Locks
10 hours

A slightly shorter day but glorious sunshine all the way. Mr M decided it was his duty to maintain a steady supply of liquid refreshment as we made our way through Glasgote Fazely, Seethay, Fradley and them along the Trent and Mersey through Rugely to moor at Great Haywood, just as the sun sank beneath the horizon. At we neared Gt Haywood we reviewed the substantial pile of empties and wondered just how we had managed to consume so much... little and often seemed to be the answer!

We elected to pass through Gt Haywood lock and moor just before Haywood Junction, allowing us to walk back into the village for some pub food, and another pint or so. On this particular evening an art class was in full swing painting all aspects and details of the locks. They watched as I stepped between the open lower gates and observed that it was a good thing I hadn't been drinking. Curiously, it was a thought that had just passed through my inebriated consciousness and for a moment I had considered taking the long way round, just to be on the safe side. Whilst their warning was a bit late, they did have a point!

We had a good meal in the village pub, a regular destination which never fails to satisfy. The mooring was quiet and due to the warmth of the night we slept with the hatches open.

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Journey Home - Brinklow to Amington

Sunday 11th June 2006
Brinklow to Amington
Oxford Canal and Coventry Canal

30 Miles
12 Locks
11 Hours

A long day of glorious weather interrupted by a thunderstorm as we descended the flight of locks at Atherstone.

About half way down the flight we met a boater coming up who paid an unusual interest in our craft. Don't get me wrong, Wand'ring bark is a lovely boat and is very interesting to me but viewed objectively she is an unremarkable, modern, mid sized boat and why someone would pay her close attention was something of a mystery. All sorts of questions were asked including, as a finale, the question "how much did you pay for her?". I muttered a generalisation only to stand corrected by Jeff to the exact pound (he likes things exact) which elicited an "ah - that's interesting from the enquirer. He then looked at Wand'ring Bark which was lying front on above the lock and said - "that's Piccolo, isn't it?". I am not often lost for words but stood amazed with my mouth hanging open like he had performed a conjuring trick in front of me. "OK, that's amazing" I replied, "you can't see the side of the boat, only the front doors and you know the boats name. Yes, it is Piccolo but how do you know that?" He grinned and told me that they had sold Piccolo to Whilton Marina a couple of months previously and were making a return journey with their new longer (albeit older) craft which they had bought for £44k.

I never did enquire what they sold her for. There are some things that it are better left unknown. I am satisfied with the price we paid and don't need to have a nagging thought in my mind that I paid maybe £2k more than I needed to.
One interesting observation based on this encounter. When we were negotiating with Whilton Marina they held out that they were selling on behalf of the owner and at one stage left the room to "call the owner". That was a crass negotiating ploy which is best relegated to used car salesmen. Whilton Marina were the owners and they were just playing silly bu****s. Buyers beware....

His wife was equally excited at the sight of their old boat coming past them and, when we emerged from the lock, she went somewhat misty eyed reflecting on the three years they had owner her. Having exchanged information about known faults and recent service history, he commented that his big regret was leaving the unusual kettle on board - he had been unable to find a replacement like it. Oddly, Belle had been particularly taken with the kettle when we agreed to buy the boat and I have sometimes wondered if it was the kettle which sold the boat. We had previously ended up buying a tent instead of a camping kettle.... Hmm, something to muse on.

With the weekend over, Tilly and Jeff had school to get back to so we did a quick change of crew at bridge 50, outside Polesworth. Tilly and Jeff left and were replaced by Kevin M, with whom we had made tentative plans to but a narrowboat the year before. With a couple of hours of daylight remaining we continued down the Coventry Canal, finally mooring up at Alvecote Marina, previously home to the Samuel Barlow fleet. Whilst the pub wasn't serving food we downed a couple of very acceptable pints and watched two widebeam boats being craned into the water for RCD testing.

The restored working boat Samuel Barlow was being tested up and down the cut. The crew were taking her up to full speed and with her high torque engine and no load, wow did she shift.

Saturday, 10 June 2006

Journey Home - Whilton to Brinklow

Whilton to Brinklow
10th June 2006
Grand Union Canal and Northern Oxford Canal

20 Miles
12 Locks
8 Hours

Wand'ring bark was purchased from Whilton Marina in late May 2006 under the name Piccolo but a family trip to America delayed the inaugural journey to her new home mooring at Calf Heath, on the Staffs and Worcester Canal. Due to pressing OU assignment, Belle's role was confined to taxi driver and the first two days were undertaken by the Captain, supported by Tilly and Jeff.

Whilton Marina had held Wand'ring Bank (nee Piccolo) pending our return from America and we found her lying on the main line, just outside the marina entrance. The location is sandwiched between the M1 and the busy Westcoast Mainline and a mixture of the traffic noise and the excitement of finally owning our own narrowboat resulted in a very broken first night aboard. Saturday 10th was the start of England's 2006 World Cup campaign, with a match against Paraguay. We were keen to watch this match if at all possible and after close reference to our trusty Pearson's aimed for the Old Royal Oak pub at bridge 73 of the Northern Oxford. We made it to the pub with 20 mins to spare, secured excellent seats and settled in to watch a very satisfying England win.

After a 2 hour footballing hiatus we pressed on, finally mooring in a quiet area of parkland near Brinklow (bridge 35) under a clear blue sky. Whilst Wand'ring Bark had performed perfectly during the day, this first trip had highlighted some profoundly irritating features which were deemed unacceptable and demanded rectification before travel resumed. The Capt unpacked his toolkit and removed the TV ariel in an act of constructive vandalism (we never watch live TV on the boat). More significantly, we also took a hacksaw to the tiller arm. The tiller arm was so long that it it threatened to sweep anyone on the rear deck into the cut and was a good twelve inches longer than it needed to be. Ten minutes of sawing addressed the problem and having reattached the wooden handle, the new configuration was a major improvement. The provision of an oversized tiller arm appears to be a feature of Floating Homes, the hull manufacturers, and may suggest that whilst they are metal fabricators of note, that are not boaters.

All in all a memorable first day and one which proved that although the boat needed some significant modification / upgrading, it was fundamentally sound and without significant fault.