Wednesday 26 December 2018

Chester for Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone.  Hope you are enjoying the holiday and not over indulging too much :-).

Chris's last working day was the 14th December and a Works Christmas dinner was arrange for 2:30pm at the Cheshire Cat pub.  

Whilst Chris was at work I fettled AmyJo for cruising and left the marina by 10am.  I managed to moor right outside the Cheshire Cat at 1pm.  After walking smudge, I left him at home and went to the pub for a pint.  Whilst there I was invited to join in the feastivities with all Chris's work mates which made for a pleasant afternoon.

Once the meal was over (I abstained by the way) some of Chris's colleagues came back to the boat for a few more drinks and good banter was had by all.  In no time at all 3 bottles of wine had mysteriously evaporated!

After dinner party onboard

On Sunday we returned to the Marina and the following day drove to Essex for a few days to visit family to give them the Christmas prezzies.  Traffic was surprisingly good with the only hold ups around roadworks on the M25.  Its always good to catch up with everyone back South but we're glad to get back home again.

Friday 21st saw us back on AmyJo and again heading to Chester.  This time we wanted to get into Chester before stopping.

His lordship presiding over the cruise

Chris needed to do a food shop so we moored outside Waitrose for a while and then moved onto the first mooring bollards just before the Artichoke bar.  Its quieter here and far enough way form Harkers pub to avoid the shouting and drunken antics.

Next morning Chris took herself off into town Christmas shopping while I moored AmyJo further along the cut.  We managed to moor 3 boats back from the Lock keeper pub and had a pleasant night there.  Glad to report on Chris's return the bank manager is still talking to me.

Moored by Waitrose

Every other Friday in Ye Old Gardeners Arms is Karaoke night.  Pete and Yvonne, good boater friends of ours, have just taken on the pub as landlords so we go there to support them.  Pete likes me to have a go at the Karaoke and with a Christmas theme we both dueted a Bing Crosby and David Bowie number, Peace on earth.  It was so popular we ended up singing it again later after numerous request for us to do so.  

Singing at the Gardeners Arms (video available on request)

Of course being a boater run pub Friday nights would not be the same without our good friends from the marina coming in too!  These are the same people we cruised the Llangollen with this year and always come to support the pub as well.  Pete and Yvonne are 2nd and 3rd on the left.

The Tattenhall gang with Landlord and Landlady, Pete and Yvonne (2nd & 3rd from Left)

If you are in Chester anytime on a Friday evening do look up the Gardeners Arms, its a terrific little pub and Pete and Yvonne will make you more than welcome.  Just tell them Steve on AmyJo sent you (no I'm not on a commission honest, its just a great pub to visit)

On Sunday we headed off to the basin, descending the infamous Northgate locks.  I say infamous because of the number of boaters that do not like or will not use them. I know I mentioned this before but whilst deep, these are the gentlest of the double locks on the Shroppy.  We always enjoy going through these locks.  Even the pigeons are still here riding the gates as they have done for the last 4 years. 

Descending the Northgate top lock

Looking down the flight

We found the basin pretty full with most mooring spaces taken and wondered if we would be able to stop.  We did find a spot just after the turn bridge opposite Taylors boat yard right next to the CRT fascilities.  Bonus though very shaded by the surrounding tall buildings.

Initial mooring in the basin
A few days later a boat moved off the visitors mooring nearest to the water tap so we moved AmyJo over into their spot, double bonus.  We have been here since then.  It more open here and enabled us to take better advantage of the little sunshine we have had to use our new solar panels.  Glad to say we're getting 1.5 amps even on a dull day.

Christmas Eve dawned grey and foggy.  Despite being the festive season the day felt dowdy.  We rose late again and pottered about for the rest of the day not really doing much.

Foggy Christmas Eve Morning

When spending Christmas Eve in Chester we always like to attend the midnight mass in the Cathedral, it always has a special feel to it and for us is the start of Christmas proper.  The city was alive with people and looked great with the lights and Xmas tree outside the town hall.

Christmas tree outside the town hall

Inside the Cathedral people gathered and we found a seat near the bronze nativity scene.  The service started at 11pm and finished just after midnight.  We always enjoy this service after which we returned to AmyJo for a night cap and bed.  

Midnight mass in the cathedral and the nativity scene

When we got back to the boat I was going to take Smudge for a last walk but there was no sign of him, unusual, as he always greets us at the door when we come in.  I got a bit worried at first fearing something was amiss but need not have worried.  We found him fast asleep in his fav night time place.....

We had a lovely Christmas day onboard after once again rising late, 10:30pm sort of late.  Chris excelled with a fabulous dinner even though she was on the sherry,  a tradition for her when cooking Christmas dinner. It was really nice, just the two of us.  We realised this is probably the first Christmas on our own since the girls were born.  We then visited the girls in the evening to give them their presents

Today, Boxing Day, we took Smudge for a walk round the city walls and stopped for a drink at the Abode.  We were out nearly all day and tonight I took Smudge out for his evening walk in thick fog.  The basin shrouded in fog and looking like a scene from a movie.  I was waiting for the spy to appear but no sign of him.  My glad as I forgot the secret phrase anyway.

Our current mooring in the glow of a foggy night

So there you are all updated.  We'll be stopping a while in Chester before returning to Tattenhall so Chris and I would like to wish you a wonderful New Year and may all your dreams come true in 2019.

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.