Blown away on the Oxford canal, March 2000
Crew: Chris & Terry Rigden and Tim & Kate Williams
This was another of our off-season trips to see how we coped with less than ideal weather, and that just what we got. Viking's 25% second holiday discount persuaded us to go with them again, though taking the "second" holiday before the "first" caused some consternation in the booking office. We had seen and liked the Dewent class boats at Gailey so we knew what we were getting. We would have liked to try a semi-trad stern, but none were available from Rugby
Saturday 25 March
We misjudged our journey time and arrived at the boatyard somewhat early, and our boat Ingrid was still being prepared. After meeting up with Tim & Kate we went to the nearby Harvester for lunch, and even though the place was deserted the food took an awful long while to appear. Tim then disappeared to the station for his trip to London.
The boat was brand new, we were only the second or third hirers. It's 60' long, has two double (or twin) cabins, 2 loos and a cruiser stern. The saloon has a fold down (single) bunk and a convertable (double) dinette. She was immaculately turned out with a welcome pack and a vase of daffodils on the table. We soon moved in and found it well laid out with plenty of storage space - especially in the galley. The staff were particularly helpful and friendly and obviously took great pride in their new boat.
Once under way I discovered that the throttle wouldn't hold in position at cruising speeds. I should have stopped to get it fixed but time was pressing as we HAD to get to Braunston by dusk to pick up Tim. The boat handled well but was somewhat susceptible to crosswinds due to the higher than normal cabin, the price of generous headroom inside. The Kubota engine was smooth, smoke free and relatively quiet, at 2000 rpm (just under 3 mph) I could hear comments from the front. It's a pity it wouldn't hold this throttle setting by itself. I had to the lever in position with my knee, not the most comfortable posture.
We made good time to Braunston, spending just 35 min at Hillmorton locks despite lock 4 being very slow as only one paddle was working. The light was failing as we arrived at Braunston, so we took the first available mooring by bridge 89 resulting in a long dark walk to the Mill House. Tim met us there, but the 50 minute wait for food put us off eating there so we returned to the boat - the cooking helped warm the place up a bit.
That night we couldn't get the boat warm even though the radiators were hot. We suspected the fabric of the boat needed to be warmed up, bleeding the radiators and turning the boiler to maximum helped. The huge ventilators fitted in both the front and rear doors (required by the new boat safety regulations) didn't.
The day dawned crisp and clear with quite a frost. I love the early morning with the canal like a mirror and mist drifting across the water. Whilst waiting for the others I got out my radio controlled model boat and cruised it up and down the cut from the foredeck. To my surprise the local ducks would take off in alarm if it approached. It's odd that they were scared of a model which is little bigger they are, but tolerate great big narrowboats. It must be what they are used to, the ducks on boating ponds seem quite unconcerned by model boats.
We trundled down to the junction and turned right towards Napton. This section is wide and relatively straight with few bridges or other obstructions. We passed Lower Shuckburgh church in picturesque isolation. Chris took a turn at the tiller, she soon discovered the the tall cabin and low counter restricted her forward vision too much for comfort on more technical sections. I tried operating the model boat while we were under way, but it couldn't keep up even with the big boat on tickover.
We stopped of at Napton Narrowboats to take a look at their hire boats. They have some interesting ideas, but nothing really appealed. We headed for the Napton Bridge Inn at bridge 111 for lunch but found they were full, so continued onto bridge 113 and lunched at the Folly. It has an interesting atmosphere, including flying pigs hanging from the ceiling, but I wouldn't rave about the food
After lunch we tackled the Napton flight with them all set against us, we soon caught up a couple on NB Saros who we would be seeing on and off for most of the rest of the trip. Even so we got through the first six in less than an hour. I noticed that its quite difficult to hold position using the engine in these locks so I parked the bow on the gates and left it in gear on tickover. Viking fit a big rubber bumper all the way up the bow - it looks neat and works well, I wonder why no one else uses them?
By the time we got to Napton top lock the weather was deteriorating, and we were ready to call it a day. We spent 1/2 hr or so looking for a mooring but had trouble getting anywhere near the bank before going aground. We finally found some metal siding just past Br 123 and used the very handy mooring hooks supplied by Viking, much better than banging stakes in. I wish all boats were so equipped - we may buy our own.
This part of the canal is very narrow, shallow and winding, and with the cold, blustery North Easterly wind we made rather slow progress. The exposed cruiser stern isn't ideal for this weather, but there was plenty to do on the tiller. Some of the turns were too tight to go round on the fly, the one by Griffins bridge (Br 131) being particularly awkward. (Why put a bridge on the apex of a corner?)
We stopped at The Wharf at Fenny Compton for lunch, but can't remember much about it apart from the relief of getting out of the wind. We had a good run down the Claydon flight, doing the first 5 in just 45 minutes even though they were all set against us. I tried closing the top gates with a line from the boat to the strapping post, but the gas bottle locker across the stern makes it difficult.
Got to Cropredy late afternoon, moored at the visitor moorings before the narrows of the old bridge hole. It's a nice quaint little village but it was too cold for sightseeing. We stopped at the helpful and friendly Spar shop by the lock, and ordered some baps for my bacon butty breakfast.
The dinette on its own didn't seem quite comfortable for four to sit, so we rearranged the saloon by removing the table and deploying the fold down single berth to make a settee. This improved the seating but access into the galley was rather tight. Also the dinette seat didn't have a full backrest, so we filled the gap with pillows. The result was quite comfortable.
Another very cold night. The wind was blowing right down the cut and through the vents at the rear of the boat, making it cold despite the heating going flat out. So, despite the dire warnings we blocked up the vents in the doors. The heating was the balanced-flue type, and there were enough other draughts and vents so we didn't suffocate.
The weather forecast predicted a further deterioration, so we decided to turn here rather than press on to Banbury as planned. Turning was complicated by the strong and gusty wind straight down the cut and the boats moored right by the winding hole. The water point is right by the winding hole and is very slow. I can imagine this getting claustrophobic in the summer.
While that was going on, a swan came tearing up the cut towards us expecting food, and did a very short landing (just missing a wall). Not the sort of serene behaviour one expects.
The day was very windy and bitterly cold, I had a lot of trouble holding course - the boat definitely wasn't going where it was pointing, we need all the canal at times. The problem with the throttle is getting worse and is just not what I need on a tricky windswept section. After being blown onto the lee shore whilst waitng for a lock I learnt to lurk in the lock till the next one is ready then go for it.
Chris took a turn at the tiller to let me thaw out and relax a bit. Here she is (in the photo) on tippy-toe, peering over the cabin. I've made her a box to stand on for our trip on the same class of boat in June.
That night we moored up not far from where we spent Sunday night. The wind really got up in the night, causing all sorts of noises as it boomed around the vents, not a good nights sleep.
The first thing I did was to check the bank was where we left it (it was). We then had a leisurely breakfast and watched the rain for a while. Just as we were ready to set off, Nb "Thin Lizzy" came past, now we knew all the Napton flight would be set against us yet again. BW were dredging in the lock tail, so we all had to wait while they "walked" the dredger out of the way - not easy in the wind.
Lift bridge 141 had some vicious turbulence, probably caused by the wind being deflected by the raised bridge deck, but we managed to get through without hitting anything. We went to the Napton Bridge Inn for lunch, enjoyed a nice warming steak, in a very nice lounge by a big wood fire. It gets my "Best pub of the trip" award.
While we were having lunch I called the boatyard to report the throttle problem. Their engineer Ian was with us within 1/2 hour. He changed the lever mechanism and it seemed to do the trick, but about an hour down the cut it was worse than ever. I was seriously cold by the time we reached the GU main line, so I pushed on for Braunston. We got there about 5 p.m., and it was so nice to be out of the wind.
Tim left again for London and I took the morning off the tiller. We mooched round the marina, and took a look at some 2nd hand boats but didn't fall in love. Then we wandered along the lock flight and helped a few boats through, but decided not to tackle it ourselves this time.
We had lunch in the Lord Nelson (it has a non-smoking area :-) and then went up the town. Bought a nice whole roasted chicken from the butchers, very reasonable at £3, then back to the boat and up to Hillmorton.
The throttle was driving me nuts by this time, so I called the yard again and arranged to meet Sandy at Hillmorton locks. He brought another lever unit with the neutral detent fitted, but we soon discovered that the problem lay in the adjustment of a spring tensioner a bit further down. He fixed that, and said we could return the boat any time Saturday, as it wasn't going out straight away. Unfortunately there wasn't much we could do with the extra time, as we had to pick Tim up on Friday night from somewhere he could find and park the car.
Once the day warmed up a bit we took a leisurely trundle up to Stretton stop taking time to visit Clifton and Rose boatyards. They both have some nice boats but nothing suited us as well as the one we were on - though I guess it depends on what crew one has. The weather behaved itself and it was very pleasant - ironic, as it was the day we did the least boating. The Railway Pub at Stretton Stop has closed and been turned into a private house with lots of 'keep out' notices. Tim rejoined us that night.
What a relief not to have to hurry to clean and pack on the last morning. We turned at Stretton stop and headed back south, stopping at All Oaks Wood (which has a car park right by the cut, between bridges 34 & 35) to offload Tim and Kate. We then set to cleaning the boat and packing before the final run back to the yard.
The boatyard is up an arm, and after threading my way past lots of moored boats I was asked to back up, turn and reverse into a slot between another boat and the wharf. I gave it a go, and to my surprise managed it without hitting anything (despite the hostile glares from a group on a posh share boat). We gave the boatyard a snag list - not complaints, just ideas to make a good boat better. Finally we gave a couple who were looking at boats a quick tour of Ingrid, then set off for home.