10th to 12th September 2013
As you may know, Python has been poorly and in need of some TLC. This meant that our proposed trip of taking Python to West Stockwith had changed. Instead, we were to take her to Paul Barber’s yard on the Erewash Canal.
A few days before Dave Kiddy and I were due to set off, the air suspension on his car gave up the ghost. This put a spanner in our plans. Fortunately my better half, Laura, agreed to drop us off, as well as pick us up as planned.
On Tuesday, as soon as we had closed Laura’s Coffee Shop, we dashed off from Shireoaks to pick up Dave and drive down to Grendon Dock near Tamworth. It became apparent that Dave’s home isn’t as easy to find as he had made out. Luckily, once we had picked Dave up, we had a steady drive down and arrived with only one minor “Which way should we be going?” moment.
We arrived in good time, so we loaded up and had a nosy round Python. We quickly realised that some ballast seemed to have been removed as she was sitting higher in the water than usual (although it didn’t seem like it later on). When we stuck our heads in the engine bay, we saw there was stuff all over the place so we had a little tidy up.
There was no sign of the gentleman from whom we were supposed to collect some keys for Jan, so Dave suggested that we set off and get a couple of hours in before it was dark. The only question was “Do we know where we are going?” The answer was “We’re not sure!” Was Python pointing in the correct direction? We asked the chaps making use of the dry dock. Unfortunately they weren’t sure; however one gentleman pointed out that Python shouldn’t have the yellow squiggles on her bow. Neither Dave nor I knew why we had them. Dave was confident that they wouldn’t take Python out of dry dock and point her the wrong way (would they?). We set off noting the first bridge number (49) knowing that they should be rising in number.
After about 20 minutes or so we came to the next bridge, hoping it would be Bridge 50. Argh! Lo and behold it was Bridge 48. Frantic checking of the directions followed, luckily we had just passed a winding hole, so we put her in reverse and turned round.
We had a spell of déjà vu whilst we chugged our way back to Grendon Dock. When we got to the dock, the man with Jan’s keys appeared, so, with the boat hook, we managed to retrieve them. Confident that we were now definitely going in the right direction, we made it as far as Polesworth and moored ready for some well-deserved food. The pub was just a quick walk, but unfortunately they weren’t serving food. Oh well! We decided to watch the England match and have a couple of pints before going back to the boat for a strange concoction of super noodles, peas and sausage.
Waking early on Wednesday, we decided to set off to try to make good progress. We were on our way at 7.30 with a couple of chocolate bars before we cooked breakfast; well Dave did. For the first half hour, a heron kept flying ahead of us before waiting for us to catch up. Each time we came close it would fly ahead again.
The day started off with fair weather, good progress and the occasional banter of “Are we going the right way?” We still didn’t trust ourselves. We passed Alvecote, a nice experience as I have never been there and there was a large number of historic boats to see. We did our first two locks of the day before we got to Fazeley Junction and had our next bout of “Which way do we go. The morning’s journey was going well with the occasional bump as Python decided to hit the bottom (or a rock jumped up). Dave went below to be Master Chef and cook breakfast whilst I steered. Then we swapped so that I could eat.
The day started to deteriorate as we were waiting for a couple of boats to come through a bridge. (You always meet boats at a bridge, it seems to be the law of canals!) Python got stuck on a shallow bank with a boat behind us. After a few choice words and several minutes of fighting, I managed to get her unstuck and we continued. The boat behind us came to our rescue a short time later. We went through a stretch of canal with plenty of reeds to each side but little depth. Python rode the canal up and down like a roller coaster as she dragged the bottom. Then we found a rather high point and we were aground again. This time we were well aground and no amount of choice words or boating skill would get us off in any hurry. The boat behind managed to squeeze past and kindly offered us a tow, which we eagerly accepted. With the combined power of two boats we got moving again. We were amazed how often we were touching the bottom given that she was higher in the water than normal with the reduced ballast.
Finally we reached Fradley Junction, where we made good use of the facilities. The toilet cassette had been left half full before we went on-board so it had a certain aroma to it! There was a bit of traffic waiting to use the lock causing some confusion between Dave and me about what was happening ahead, so we dug out the hand held radios that were to prove useful later on. We got through the next couple of locks only going aground once. We had the discussion “Is that rain?” Yes it was, and it just grew heavier and heavier. Dave made the fatal mistake of saying he was already wet, so I could hide in the hold whilst he steered. I bit his hand off (although I was kind enough to keep him supplied with coffee). This is where the radio came in handy – Dave could let me know when the next lock was coming up without me getting quite as wet.
The rain finally let up and became drizzle, but it was still miserable weather as we came into Burton-upon-Trent. We spotted a pub and decided that we’d had enough for the day. Half an hour later, after changing into some dry clothes, we made our way to the pub only to find they didn’t serve food. Fish and chips it was then.
On Thursday morning, we were up early again and set off in the same fashion with the chocolate bars. It wasn’t raining, but there was a chill in the air. About twenty minutes later, we found a nice restaurant that we could have visited last night, if only we had pushed on. Dave blamed me, and rightly so. It was a pleasant morning for boating and, as Dave had dried our jackets out by the fire, we were happy. We started on the wide locks, a new experience for me; I had only done narrow locks before.
Then Master Chef Dave rustled up breakfast whilst I steered and then he relieved me so I could eat, though he did decide to find a lock as I was sitting down (I think on purpose). The morning was going well, only occasionally hitting something on the bottom, until we reached Aston Lock. Everything was fine until Dave tried to take Python out of the lock. She wouldn’t budge. We tried everything we could think of, opening a ground paddle didn’t work. We opened the gate paddles and flushed her out of the lock. We later found out that it isn’t uncommon to go aground here, especially deep draughted vessels like Python.
We finally reached the River Trent and to say that Python loves the deep-water river sections is an understatement. She’s a dream on the river compared to the canals; you would have thought she was built for the rivers. We went through the lock on Sawley Cut and round the first bend when I saw a sign offering different directions, oops which way do I go? Dave pointed out the right way and we were onto the Erewash Canal. Now our only problem was that we had a couple of hours to kill, as Laura couldn’t pick us up until she’d shut the coffee shop. We decided to wait by the first lock since it was a nice day.
This gave us time to have a tidy up and catch up on the paperwork. Dave made sure that the cassette was empty and left the toilet disassembled to deter its use over the winter. I noted how remarkably clear the Erewash was. It was also my turn to cook – sausage sandwiches since they needed using up.
We took a steady chug up to Sheet Stores Basin and then I was confronted with its tight entrance – it’s probably worse than Shireoaks Marina entrance. With a bit of shunting, we were in nicely. We tied up just in the entrance as the basin was full. A gentleman in the yard he told us where to put her. The space indicated did not look big enough for Python to us. Dave volunteered me to put her in there. The bow was against a wall and the stern against the opposite wall and a newly painted boat to the left. I swore blind that she wouldn’t fit but low and behold she squeezed in. That bloke definitely knew the basin well!!!
All we had to do now was wait to be picked up and we were home.