Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Been on a Blog holiday

Hello again.  

As you may have guessed already the blog has not been updated for some time.  Mainly because I wanted to have a break from it for a bit but also because we have settled back into marina life for the winter.

It is, however, quite humbling when people come up and ask when am I going to post the next installment of the blog.  Whilst I knew people took time to read my missives here I have greatly underestimated just how much the blog is enjoyed by many.   So, after many requests to get on with it here we are.

As you may recall our previous post had us spending a few days up the deserted Middlewich branch, which from the Shropshire union still has 8 navigable miles.  Our return from there had us moored up for a week below Iron lock by Chas Harden boats.  The weather was becoming changeable but still pleasant so I took the opportunity to start to prepare for the coming winter by giving AmyJo a good polishing.  This year I used different polish recommended to me by the late Andy Munro of Fernwood boats.  

I say late as we heard the sad news that Andy had passed away suddenly.  Such a shame and a good man who will be greatly missed.  Alas, as a result, Fernwood boats are no longer trading but their legacy lives on in the boats they built like AmyJo. 

Anyhoo, to clean off the marks I used Farecla G3 colour restorer sold in Halfords.  This is a clay based product and does not remove paint unlike T-cut, but does remove scuffs and grime whilst restoring colour.  The result was amazing with the resultant colour and shine showing up how tired AmyJo's paintwork had actually become.  After that, a going over with Farecla G3 Super Wax brought the paintwork back to its original mirror glaze.

This was the result after using just the colour restorer

And the finish shine after the Super wax was applied

The big difference with this polish seems to be the shine appears to have lasted much longer and is still bright today as I type.  The rain beading and running off easily.

Whilst moored at Chas Harden's moorings we had a bit of excitement one morning.  I had popped out in the car to drop Chris off to work but got back to a static traffic Jam near our mooring.  Those who have moored here will know of the railway bridge nearby and the road passing under it.  Seems a lorry driver with cattle trailer mis judged the line going under the bridge and manged to get it wedged firmly under it

Well ans truly stuck

The lady driver escaped unharmed and fortunately no livestock was aboard when it happened.  I was told she had done this run many times before but this time had to apply brakes because of a slow car ahead of her.  This caused the unit to dip and the front of the trailer to rise causing it to catch the parapet jamming the truck in the process.  So jammed was the truck it took two heavy recovery trucks to pull it out.   The road was then opened, one lane only, whilst the bridge was inspected and damage to the road repaired.

September was upon us and we had booked AmyJo into Tattenhall for her haul out and blacking.  When she came out we were disappointed as the blacking was once more virtually gone and bare steel was left.  I've had it with using Keel black and will never use it again, instead, this time we have gone with tried and trusted Intertuf 16 Bitumen blacking.  This is what most boats are painted with and is a proven blacking so we'll see how this fares.

This year we had a willing helper in the form of our eldest daughter, Amy, who spent the day applying blacking after the hull had been prepared.  The weather was kind to us this year so a good job done and out of the way.  I do so hate this part of boating.

Jet washing the hull after being hauled out

Amy getting stuck in.  She's a good worker and we were grateful for her help.

When AmyJo was relaunched we spent a few more weeks around the area between the marina and Chester, moored up in various moorings and Chris commuting to work.  I moved AmyJo on Mondays to a new location to keep C&RT happy and not overstay.  The cut here has been very quiet this year due to the Breach at Middlewich so our favourite mooring spots have always been free when we got to them.

In the beginning of October the days started drawing in and the weather more inclement.  We even had to wake up the Hobbit fire and light it in the colder evenings. Signs winter was near came one morning when at 6:30am I took Smudge for his first walk and enjoyed this stunning view

Red sky in morning Sheppard's warning  Winter cometh.

With the shorter darker days we were running the engine more to keep the batteries topped up so mid October we decided to go back to the marina for the winter.  Such a shame as we have had a fantastic summer this year but, whilst Chris works, marina life in the winter best suits us.

Running the engine more as winter approaches is normal as the drop in solar power occurs as the sun gets lower in the sky but, I was beginning to worry about the lack of power being generated by our panels. It was way lower than usual.   It was not until storm Hannah reached us that we found out why.  

The night of the storm we sat listening to the wind and a deep booming sound like a bass drum that we could not fathom.  Eventually I grabbed a torch and ventured outside to find one of the Solar panels on the top box flapping in the wind.  The solar cell substrate had delaminated from its base sheet and was now bending double in the wind dropping back when the wind eased, banging on the lid of the box.  The only reason we did not loose it was the fact I had zip tied its cables to the lid of the top box.  Next morning inspection of the other three found two more going the same way

The remaining panel on the top box delaminating

I had not want to go with solid panels as I considered them unsightly but this experience with semi flexible ones has forced the issue.  After a phone call to Onboard Solar, Tim was on site in November to fit 4 x 165W solid solar panels. As we have a 24V system this will give us 330W of solar power, 130W more than before.  Even on a dull cloudy day these panels put out 2 amps of power at this time of year.  I look forward to see what they produce in summer.

The new Solar panels  don't look as unsightly as I thought they might.

Tim usually likes to mount the panels in the center of the roof but because of our boarding plank and pole rack he had to offset two to one side.  Whilst this is not as neat as he liked it still does not look too out of place and does still leave walking space on the roof.

I have to admit they don't look too unsightly and I actually like the way they have been installed.

The front pair of panels offset from center. Xmas lights are only temporary by the way

With time on my hands now I have turned to my many planned winter jobs.  One of which was to increase storage space in the galley.  To do this I am adding some plinth drawers to available voids under the kitchin units.  

I reckon we can fit 4 drawers using B&Q drawer packs and using the original plinth as drawer fronts.  With these installed there is enough height in a draw to stand a standard sized tin of beans upright and more importantly room to lay 12 bottles of wine!  

I managed to find some nice handles to put on the draws that will not catch your legs as they do not stick out very far.  I'm quite pleased with the result and, there is still enough free space to allow air circulation to stop condensation forming behind them.

First of the plinth drawers installed just the iron on edging required.

One of the small handles, gives enough grip to open the drawer but small enough not to catch your toes on.

So that's where we are up to so far.  We are planning a couple of small trips out before the end of the year but I'll save these for another post, at least they will give me something to bore you with.

Oh and for those wandering how Smudge's leg is getting on.  Its completely healed and he walks just fine, in fact he's his old self, running and jumping about as before so has made a full recovery, though, with the colder nights now with us he has taken to disappear whilst on board from time to time only to be found ......

Your bed is way more warmer than mine mum

Friday, 24 August 2018

Middlewich Branch - Church Minshull Moorings

As expected, we have found the Middlewich Branch extremely quite.  We made our way to Cholmondeston lock by Venetian Marina and found a nice mooring just above the lock for the night.  We passed only one boat moving and one  moored up in front of us later on for the night.  There was a small group of boats here and a group Bar-b-q was taking place on the towpath.  Later this was curtailed as a heavy downpour put an end to sitting out on the path.

This morning the sun was out but large grey clouds were beginning to appear.  As there is a water tap close by Chris took the opportunity to get a wash load done to keep on top of the laundry before we set off.

When this was completed we moved AmyJo the few yards to the water point and filled up.  C&RT appear to be re-laying the stonework around the gate on the off side of the lock and their fencing made it difficult to get to the paddle to work it but there was just enough room to squeeze in.

C&RT works at the lock and the awkward barrier access to the paddle

Just as we were full and left the water point a boat came up and out of the lock so we went straight in, for some reason, keenly watched by a group from the towpath.

This was the first moving boat we'd seen since joining the branch,  The group watch in the background from the towpath.

We left the lock and chugged slowly past the marina and under the railway bridge.  So quiet is the branch that these were the only two boats moored up on this popular stretch.

No queue for the lock and not a moving boat for miles.

We arrived at Minshull Lock to find it also in our favour.  Obviously no one had used the lock since we passed the boat at Cholmondeston lock.  The cottage here looked as though it has had some TLC as it looked splendid with its tended garden.

Straight into and down the lock on our own.

The lovely lock keeper's cottage

It was a nice cruise with the cut all to ourselves.  You can see the black clouds accumulating in the photo too.  We expected traffic as we passed Aqueduct Marina but here the moorings were also empty.  

We finally reached Church Minshull moorings to find we had them completely to ourselves.  By now a very big ominous black cloud was approaching across the valley and just as we finished tying the lines the heavens opened up.  We sat out the shower banging on the shelf until it finally eased so I could deploy our anti shelf tires to hold us off.  The sun later made a brief appearance but showers have scudded through all afternoon.  The temperature has notably dropped somewhat and for the first time this summer I've put on a jumper!

One of the most popular moorings on the branch and we are Billy no mates.

A rare moment with the sun out.

Its now 6pm as I type and so far only two boats had gone past since we moored up.  Its so peaceful its heaven here at the moment!

Total distance:3.11 miles Elapsed time:1h53m26s Locks:2 Bridges:8 
Average speed:1.64 mph (2.70 lock/mph) 

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Final Few Days of The Summer Cruise

Its been a few days since I've been able to update the blog now so a brief run through the last week of the trip is in order.  The heat wave of the last few weeks has finally passed and more unsettled weather was the norm from now on.  

With Graham still away I took the lead helming his boat round Press Junction and was confronted with my first ever single handed lift bridge.

I was not sure how to tackle this at first but needn't have worried.  Kingfisher knew what to do and so without me steering slewed herself across the cut, stern to the towpath, and bow to the bridge landing.  I simply had to walk across the bridge, grab the bow line and tie off.  I lifted the bridge and then bow hauled Kingfisher through to allow the others to pass.  I then lowered the bridge, stepped back onto Kingfisher then, one by one, overtook them all to take point again.  I have to say I don't think I'd find that as easy single handing AmyJo!

Bow hauling Kingfisher through the lift bridge

Next day at the Viking Hire base and Chris at the helm of AmyJo leading the fleet, we were confronted with the hire fleet 4 abreast on the bend and little visibility beyond.  Chris did a fab job rounding the bend and hire boats without touching any.  The rest of us were not so lucky and bashed them as we passed.  We heard later after this the hire boat team moved the boats to make passage easier, which they should have done in the first place.

Chris approaches the tight passing place and showed she could manage AmyJo in a tight spot if needed.

We spent the night, once again, all moored line astern in the Whitchurch arm.  In the morning I reversed AmyJo out and Chris raised the bridge for me to pass through.  I then moored up and we repeated the same whilst I moved Kingfisher through and moored up.  Finally, I raised the bridge again to allow the rest of our fleet through and then Chris and I followed behind.

Marie brings Old faithful through the bridge

An easy run to Grindley brook saw us queueing to wait our turn so each took turns to fill with water.

Waiting our turn at the top of the staircase and filling up with water

Whilst descending in the top chamber I could hear a commotion going on below in the bottom of the staircase.  Seems a grumpy elderly gent in a hire boat was not prepared to wait and tried to ascend despite not letting the lockies know he was there.  They tried to ask him to wait without much luck and only making him more angry.  It was not until he realised AmyJo was descending above him and no way he could proceed that he reluctantly backed down shouting and hollering at his poor suffering wife who was doing her best at the helm.  The volunteer lockies were not impressed and made him wait whilst two more boats followed AmyJo down the staircase.   He was still shouting and cursing at his suffering spouse as we cruised past him in the pound.  Clearly for them their boating holiday was not an enjoyable one, such a shame, I did feel for the poor woman who looked close to tears.

Next day Graham joined us again so I could resume my place on AmyJo.  We ticked of day by day making two hour cruises and chilling whilst we waited for the workers to catch up in the evenings.  Whilst waiting I took the time to give AmyJo a bit of a polish to keep her looking clean

  Just before Wrenbury we passed a familiar boat.  Little Bear is what we call AmyJo's stablemate as it was Little Bear that was in build at Fernwoods the same time as AmyJo was.  We managed to catch up with Mike and Helen later at Wrenbury for a good old catch up.

AmyJo's stable mate Little Bear.

After an uneventful descent of Hurlston Locks and an overnight stop at Barbridge,we continued north towards Tattenhall.  We had a good run through Calverley services and then stopped for the night.  Next day after an excellent breakfast in the cheese factory we continued our run home. 

The fleet on the run past Calverley

We all arrived at the Bunbury staircase locks to be informed there would be a delay as Anglo Welsh needed to perform a repair on one of their boats.  Seems the boat had been caught on the cill forcing the skeg up.  This was now required pushing back down so the boat could be steered properly.  The staff quickly drained the bottom two chambers and using a hydraulic jack forced the skeg back down to its original position.

Staff forcing the skeg back down with a hydraulic jack.

As a queue had formed we proceeded to descend when given the all clear and then had to perform the now famous Bunbury shuffle.  For those not aware this entails two boats going up or down and one moving in the opposite direction.  In the middle chamber the boats are moved like tiles in a picture puzzle until they are in the correct chambers to continue.

The shuffle, AmyJo going forward, Chas Harden boat pushed across behind AmyJo, and the other boat takes its place
then the gates are shut and we all go our own ways. Simples!

Saturday is not a good day so go through the Bunbury staircase and this time was no different. Most of the Anglo Welsh fleet were home leaving little room to maneuver.  I was first down.  By the time the others got down a queue was forming alongside the hire boats making passage extremely hazardous.  Nothing new here though.

The usual Crowd of hire boats, at least not quite as bad as usual.  Not so a few minutes after this was taking

We tied up after Iron lock, just past Chas Harden's boat yard and celebrated the finish of our cruise in the only way we do best, beer and Bar-b-q.

Last meal together, tomorow we return to the marina.

Watched by the local deer.  Reminds me of of a western movie.  Indians gathering on the hills

Our last day saw us through Whartons Lock and the final leg to the marina.  We waited our turn as two by two the boats locked down.

The fleet arriving at Whartons Lock nicknamed top lock

A final photo of our fleet before heading home. From front to back...
Jasmine (Paul), Old Faithful (Marie), Lucille (Eric), KingFisher (Graham) and finally AmyJo.

Those who locked down waited below so the fleet could enter the marina all together.  We hit on the idea of playing Flight of the Valkyries loudly as we entered just like the film Apocalypse now and all moored up.

The whole trip took all of just over 5 weeks to complete.  We have all become very close friends and had a fabulous time.  For some, a lot of firsts were achieved on this trip and, for all of us, many more happy memories made too.  

Our thanks must go to Marie, Dianne, Paul, Eric and Graham for a truly fabulous time, we loved every minute with them and loved cruising in your company.  Thank you all.

So up to date now... After a night in the Marina we bade our goodbyes and after dieseling up and a pump out we headed out again.  First a couple of nights at the Shady Oak and today we headed off up the Middlewich Branch for a few days chilling and doing nothing much.  We just felt some down time is needed and with little traffic on the branch we hope this should also be peaceful too.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Day 22 Blake Mere to Hampton Bank

Today Graham left for the Cotswolds for the weekend to see family so I would be helming his boat leaving Chris to helm AmyJo.  The cruise today was to be short to see if Chris was comfortable handling AmyJo and looking after Smudge at the same time.

We left with me leading on Graham's boat, followed by Chris, and then Eric.  Not long after we got under way the rain started and increased as we went on.  It got so heavy that photographs were impossible and all of us, including Smudge, were soaked through.  I did manage to get one photo but not a good one

You can see how heavy the rain was by the water bouncing on the cut.

Chris, despite the worsening conditions, managed to soldier on and to be fair, handled AmyJo extremely well.  We trudged on knowing our goal was not far but with thunder and lightning nearby I was getting worried.  I stopped to check everyone was OK and if they wanted to stop but as we are all soaked through we all agreed to continue.

Eventually we tied up on the visitors moorings at Hampton Bank and as we finish tying off the rain stopped and the sun came out, typical!  We went off below decks to dry off and have a warming cuppa.

Later in the afternoon we had another heavy downpour so intense water was building up on the roof channels and gushing out the roof drains like a waterfall.  It was bouncing so hard the rain dripped inside via the mushroom vents.  When it eventually stopped, after several loud rumbles of thunder, the sun appeared once more.AmyJo was now as clean as a whistle, the intensity of the rain washing off any dirt on the boat.

Total distance:2.40 miles Elapsed time:2h5m10s Locks:0 Bridges:6 
Average speed:1.15 mph (1.15 lock/mph) 

Friday, 17 August 2018

Day 21 - Jack Mytton to Blake Mere

After the late night last night a few of us woke late.  It took a while to get mobilised but eventually cars were moved to their new locations to be available at today's destination, Blake Mere.  We had intended to stop at Ellesmere but yet another festival meant this would not be possible so Blake Mere was settled for.

Mooligans in the canal just after we set off
 Todays weather was cooler than of late so quite pleasant but with plenty of sunshine.  While we were getting ready to get underway a hire boat passed by with a Swedish crew aboard.  We followed some time later.

Bridge 10 is a disused railway bridge, one of Beechams casualties

Soon after bridge 10 we caught up to the Swedes.  It seems they were moving at just over tickover.   They were taking things VERY carefully taking ages to go through bridge 'oles and passing boats.  In fact they were so slow I had to keep putting AmyJo into neutral.  There are several bends around this section making overtaking impossible but it was nice just to bimble along anyway. We followed them for over an hour before they moored up at the Narrow Boat pub, just on the bend before a blind turn into a bridge.

Our boat of Swedes at Mystermyn Wharf (think thats spelt right)
 We continued our cruise uneventfully after that until Frankton Junction were we found Brian and Mary moored up.  They are in our marina so we exchanged pleasantries as we passed.  At the junction itself we were passed by Dave and Jude on their newly painted boat, "Hey Jude".  Seems nearly all Tattenhall boats are out on the Llangollen.

Francton Junction

Dave and Jude

Graham on Kingfisher and his improvised Sombrero 
 The next three miles consisted of twists and turns so not much to speak of.  As we approached Ellesmere boats could be seen moored up for some way.  At the junction we spied Mountbatten and Jellicoe the fuel boat and butty.  Richard was about so we came along side and topped up with diesel while Eric and Graham waited their turn on the nearby services.  The arm, crammed with boats for the feastival, was bustling with gongoozlers.

Fuel boat in the perfect place for doing business

We told Richard two more boats would call later in the evening.  He was happy to serve them whenever they arrived.  We then continued on to Blake Mere.  There we moored after the tunnel as this was the first place a mooring was free.   Later Graham had walked further round and found better mooring spots but by the time we upped pins and moved two boats had arrived from downstream, though there was still plenty of space to be had.

Paul and Marie followed in the evening and arrived at 9:30pm.  Chris had prepared everyone Chicken cooked in Cola, mash and veg.  This was immediately served with grateful thanks to Chris from everyone.  After the previous late night everyone then retired to bed after coffee.

Total distance:6.74 miles Elapsed time:3h37m38s Locks:0 Bridges:23 
Average speed:1.86 mph (1.86 lock/mph) 

Monday, 13 August 2018

Day 19 - Llangollen to Poacher's Pocket

It has come to my attention that my posts may have implied that those in our fleet have been partying and getting drunk most nights.  My apologies if that is the impression my posts have given.  Please rest assured that is NOT the case.  Whilst we have had some "heavy" nights, most have been sat round a log fire chatting and enjoying each others company.  Some have to drive to work next day so do not have much to drink, the rest of us do have more sober nights than drunk ones.

That out of the way back to the blog in hand

Today was time to say farewell to Llangollen and start our trip back.   It felt a little cooler today but still a nice day none the less.  We pulled out at about 9:30am and found that a large number of boats were towards us.

Leaving the basin.
Llangollen Wharf was busy as ever,  all the trip boats were lined up waiting for their passengers.

Our fleet make their way down from Llangollen one by one.

Its going to be busy in the basin tonight as boat, after boat, after boat was passed going upstream.  Chris went ahead as lookout per usual and reached the Trevor basin to see the trip boat just leaving to cross the aqueduct.  

Being only a short way back from the junction I made the turn and followed the trip boat onto the aqueduct.

Approaching the junction with the all clear from Chris
Having crossed the aqueduct we joined the busy section at Froncysyllte.  This time the trip boat was trying to wind but a hire boat was moored on the winding hole.  I can only imagine the exchange from the trip boat captain at this point as the hire boat soon moved out of the way.  We have heard the colourful language from the trip boat crew before so had a good idea how the exchange would have gone.

Waiting for the trip boat to wind.  The errant hire boat can be seen to the right of the boat in front.
 At the lift bridge Chris raised it and waited for the fleet to pass through, first Paul....

Then Eric....

Next was Graham

and finally Marie.  It should be ladies first but Marie prefers to follow.

We crossed Chirk Aqueduct and Tunnel without hitch and with only two boats waiting to come through.

Another trip boat waiting to enter the tunnel

After a brief pause at Chirk Bank for lunch we continued our way and eventually moored at the Poacher's Pocket for the night

Total distance:9.20 miles Elapsed time:6h16m0s Locks:0 Bridges:22 
Average speed:1.47 mph (1.47 lock/mph)