Washed out on the Llangollen canal, Sept 2000
Crew: Chris & Terry Rigden
We arrived at the boatyard in heavy rain which was to be a feature of the first part of the week. Given the weather we weren't in a hurry to get away but the two hour wait for the show-round seemed a bit much especially as there wasn't much else going on.
The boat was clean and superficially well cared for, it soon became apparent that all was not well beneath the surface and that maintenance had been neglected.
The engine started with a great cloud of smoke and awful lot of noise. I commented on this and was told "It's diesel they do that. These Buhk's are excellent engines, they're fitted to lifeboats. It will improve when it warms up". Later we discovered that the boat was 16 years old and due for retirement at the end of the season which might explain a lot.
We soon found that the engine did not improve, and that it was very short of power. This is certainly not one of the "Quiet smooth running diesel engines" they boast of in their brochure.
We soon arrived at some lift bridges in company with another boat and did some hairy overtaking manoeuvres whilst crew stepped from one boat to the other after operating the bridges. Not something we will repeat. By the time we got to the Prees branch we'd had enough of the noise and pulled in for the night.
Then we discovered was that many the window frames were leaking, the internal seal had come out of position so that it cut across the corners of the windows. The saloon window was particularly bad and the dinette cushions beneath it were soaked. Closer inspection of the back of the dinette showed that the leak had been there for some considerable time as the wood was starting to deteriorate. The cushions also smelled damp.
I pushed the seal back into position, and Chris wedged a tea tray between the cushion and the gunwale under the window to catch the water.
The drinking water tap was really slow, so we took the filter apart to find it almost completely clogged. I cleaned it up and it was fine - in fact it was still OK at the end of the week which shows it hadn't been touched for quite a while.
Then we discovered that the hot tap in the bathroom wouldn't deliver more than a trickle.
To make matters worse when we went to bed we found that the roof vent above our bed was leaking and we had to tape a plastic bag over it to catch the water and empty it each morning.
After emptying the tray under the leaky window and wiping down the condensation elsewhere, we took advantage of the respite in the rain and headed off with the hope of reaching Chirk. We didn't make very good progress, managing less than 2 mph as we tried to keep the noise down, but we managed to get to Ellesmere for lunch.
Ellesmere is a nice little town, and we decided we would explore it more thoroughly on our way back. There is a good bakers and deli in town where we got some excellent bread and some pastrami. We also noticed a new marina but we didn't investigate as the signs made it quite plain that visitors were NOT welcome
We moored just in the entrance to the arm with the idea of backing out.
Not a bright idea, I had forgotten about the current and made a right
pigs ear of getting out. The couple on the rather smart boat moored right
on the corner got quite agitated that I might sully their immaculate paintwork.
By the time we got to Chirk bank the rain was torrential so we moored up on the rings hoping to use the shop but found it's well and truly closed and converted back into a house.
When we tried to start the heating up the control knob on the Aldi boiler wouldn't move, so I called the yard for advice and I was told rather brusquely that "It was OK when I demonstrated it to you yesterday". After stating that I had successfully started it the previous day I was given a lecture about the expensive consequences of forcing the knob and how such damage wouldn't be covered by the damage waiver. I was eventually told to turn the unit off and re-light it, which worked. I was left in no doubt that I was regarded as an idiot and a nuisance.
Whilst doing my end of day checks I found water pouring in through the stern gland, it took over 6 turns of the greaser to reduce it and the greaser handle never hardened up, indicating I was just pumping grease into the canal.
The early evening weather forecast warned of heavy rain to come, so we postponed our rendezvous with my parents and decide to take the morning off to wait out the rain. We then found that the batteries weren't capable of powering the TV after someone had taken a shower - and that's after 7.5 hrs cruising.
I was starting to get very frustrated with this boat, and considered turning round, taking it back and abandoning the whole thing. Chris was inclined to give it a couple more days, to see if at least the weather might improve.
Woke to the sound of heavy rain, so we had a relaxed get up and fried breakfast, emptied the drip trays and settled down for a good read and listen to some music. That's when we discovered that the cassette player ran very slowly, oh well Radio 4 still worked.
We noticed that the courtesy of slowing for moored boats is rarely observed on this canal and it wasn't just hire boats that went past at full chat. The weather cleared at lunchtime so we rearranged the rendezvous and set off. We had to wait for a convoy of about 10 boats coming the other way over the Chirk aqueduct.
When we attempted to go through the Whitehouse tunnel at normal cruising speed the boat was brought to a stand by the current, I slowly wound up the power but had to apply full throttle to move the thing at all. The noise and the smoke were unbelievable, my ears hurt for some time afterwards and you couldn't see through the tunnel at all as we exited. I'm sure that such noise levels would be illegal in industry and I just hope no one was behind us. I used my new 500,000 candle power hand lamp through the tunnel as the boats headlight was pathetic
picking up our guests at the Fron lift bridge (somewhat later than planned,
with the delays) we made our way slowly over the Pontcysyllte aqueduct.
The exhaust echoing off the side wall of the aqueduct did nothing to improve
the experience. But it's still an awesome view literally one of the high
points of the cruise.
Last time I turned a boat there (back in 97) I made a right mess of it in front of a large audience. This time I got it right and went round without a touch, but with no one but the crew to witness it.
After that we negotiated the tight turn out of the basin without drama and headed up to Llangollen. We met a very panicky crew coming the other way at the start of the narrows, but we were able to pass without problems. We finally reached Llangollen about 5 pm, which is not the best time to find a mooring. But we got lucky and a very kind couple moved up a couple of feet so we could be shoehorned in.
We decided to eat out and ended up at the Royal Hotel where we had a superb meal in the lounge overlooking the river Dee. The food was good, the staff friendly and the view superb, these folks get our best pub award for the year. Our guests then took a taxi back to their car, and we went back to the boat.
We tried the TV that night, and it re-tuned itself to local stations, so we got a rough idea of the next day's forecast - dry in the morning and getting really wet later. Little did we know, that was our last forecast for the holiday.
It wasn't raining !! So we had a look round the town before winding and heading back downstream. We got held up in the narrows after I misread Chris's hand signals but we were soon underway again. Going downstream was much more civilised as we didn't need so much throttle and we could actually hear each other, though we still had the smoke which was much worse after a period at idle.
By the time we got to Chirk Marina the rain was persisting down and the wind was getting up, so we called in and were made most welcome, two guys came out in the rain to help us moor. They said we could stay "till we got fed up" and there was no charge. We took a look round the shop and got a few provisions and took a look at one of their hire boats. It makes a nice change to find a marina that actually welcomes visitors.
Some time later a brief easing of the rain tempted us to continue, getting out of the marina was interesting as the wind was beam on and gusty, but I managed it without hitting anything. We got as far as Chirk bank before the weather forced us to abandon for the night. The TV resisted all attempts to tune it despite the fact we were in the same place as a couple of nights ago
Another dry morning but we didn't hurry as were planned to go down the Montgomery canal and the locks didn't open till 2:30. At Frankton we tucked ourselves in the queue and spent a pleasant hour chatting to the other boaters. We were particularly impressed by Nb Mars - a very smart trad liveaboard (but why name it after a chocolate bar? I wonder if there's a Bounty or a Snickers out there?)
At 2:30 prompt Colin the lock keeper started to move us through the flight with polite efficiency ensuring every lock full of water had a boat in it. He's a very nice chap - obviously knows his job and is a mine of useful information, he gets our "Good egg" award. A lot of people must have agreed with us as he won the Lock keeper of the year award 2000, well deserved too
The Montgomery canal has a different feel to the main line, it's reminiscent of the southern Shroppie. We went all the way to the Queens head and turned the boat before taking a look at the closed section. The bit we walked along seemed ready for operation and we hope it will be opened soon.
We noticed the bridge under the A5 had guard rails along the towpath, I hope this isn't a sign of things to come, Chris often gets on or off at bridges to take a walk. We followed Colin's advice and moored at the Perry Aqueduct, a delightfully quiet spot - quite a contrast to the noise from the A5 at the Queens head. Again no joy from the TV.
During the evening there was a hell of a bang from the rear. I got out the big torch and went to investigate, it turned out that the box Chris stands on to steer had fallen over. It was a clear still night and being in the middle of nowhere the night sky was a spectacular sight with all the stars visible.
After a leisurely get up we made our way back to the base of the Frankton flight and found ourselves at the head of the queue. We started to make our way up at 9:30 again assisted by Colin, getting through in just half an hour.
We had plenty of time to wend our way back to base so we stopped at Ellesmere for a leisurely lunch and a look round. After exploring the town (which looks like it has seen better days) we took a walk up to the mere, but didn't stay long as the weather was threatening rain again.
Having learnt my lesson at the beginning of the week, I took the boat all the way down the arm and turned it in the basin. We spent the afternoon slowly trundling south and east, that evening we moored up in the middle of nowhere (nicest mooring of the trip). I got my radio controlled model boat out but there were no swans to tease.
Another fine morning but as we didn't have far to go we took our time and had a leisurely get away. We noticed a lot of the fields by the Prees branch were now flooded, a foretaste of things to come.
We completed the last leg back to the boatyard arriving just after lunch (even though the boat wasn't due till the next day) and quickly unloaded and cleaned the boat.
Thinking that the yard might be unaware of the boat's problems I mentioned them to the yard manager but he made very clear that our comments were unwelcome. I was told either that the problems didn't exist or it was our own fault. So ended our week on the worst boat from the most unhelpful yard we have ever experienced.
One of my first tasks on getting home was to write a letter to their managing director Rob Bell expressing my disappointment at the boat and our treatment.
We got a response from Rob Bell of Viking Afloat about three weeks later, expressing his regret that we felt the need to complain. He told us that the manager at Worcester was retiring and he would be replaced by an "operations manager" who would ensure consistent quality across the bases. He also said that the boat we had was due for retirement at the end of the season.
Not quite as positive a response as we would have liked but there is reason to believe that they are taking action to improve things. The experience this trip was in total contrast to our other trips with Viking where we have had good boats and service.