Tuesday 18th September Python is relaunched at Wyvern Marina
Python has had it's cut down rudder reinstated to full size. The hull has been inspected, some possibly suspect rivets welded, the stern tube repacked and an automatic engine room bilge pump fitted. The boat has been tested to see if the leaks can be replicated. The hull has been blacked by volunteers.
The crew that had been ready and waiting since Monday were organised and knew when and where to meet on Wednesday. I should know not to make plans! We discover that a huge fire was causing pollution upstream on the Erewash Canal, this has caused C&RT to put restrictions on the Canal. By Tuesday night this has spread down to Trent Lock and is a full stop of all traffic for at least two days. Hold the crew.
Wednesday 19th September Escape from a locked canal
Several phone calls to C&RT; eventually get to talk to the person in the know. "Oh yes, there is a full stoppage but we are letting a couple of boats out at Trent Lock at 0900." By this time it's 0850 and we are in Sheffield. GREAT! We arrange that if we get to Trent Lock this morning they will let us out.
Phone the crew and change transport arrangements and just charge down there in one car. (Isn't it strange that when you are in a hurry somebody moves the house you are looking for, Eddie had to meet us at the end of the lane.)
We get to Wyvern Marine at Sheetstores Basin, Long Eaton, just in time to see Paul haul a huge wide beam boat over the trailer and then straight up out of the water with no messing about. "That's not the largest we've had out" says Paul. It was worth the trip just to see that, says the crew.
Paul shows us what he has done with Python and then, in the interests of keeping our new blacking away from the resident boats, we allow Paul to back us out of the marina.
He shows us how she steers in reverse with our newly extended rudder. The big downside is that such a big rudder needs a lot of effort to move and hold against the pressure from the propeller. (I get many funny looks when I say that I've arranged to go back next year for the hydraulics to be fitted).
We dash down to Trent Lock. Strange that we are the only boat moving! There are two C&RT workmen working near the lock and swiftly let us out before locking the gates again to stop any other traffic.
Due to the delay setting off and because I wanted to make as much use of this crew before they changed on Saturday, this trip was not going to be a sightseeing one.
Onto the Cranfleet Cut, the Trent, the Beeston Cut, Nottingham Canal to Meadow Lane Lock, where C&RT staff were testing the new flood gates. Back on to the River Trent and plough on. Can we make Newark before dark? Let's try.
Plans again:- We get as far as Hazelford Lock. The lock shows amber for self operating. As we approach the lock landing, a workman comes running out and tells us to reverse and moor on a large pan outside the lock. Eventually the gates open and out comes a huge platform with 2 very tall hydraulic fittings (possibly for piling) carrying something like a JCB and a van. This was pushed by a sweet little tug boat whose size belied it's power. This delay cost us about three quarters of an hour. So by the time we reached Farndon and found somewhere to moor, it was dark. Only just outside Newark. Ah well we tried.
OK crew shall I cook chicken curry? Unanimously the pub won!
Thursday 20th September Missed the tide - Torksey it is then!
We set off by 0730. Yesterday was sunny, today it was raining sometimes quite heavily. Passed the Power Station and the Marina. Locked ourselves through Newark Town Lock. On past the magnificent Castle, through Nether Lock which appeared magically just as the bacon & eggs were ready - that always happens. Onwards to Cromwell Lock. Ready for the tidal section. The lock keeper says "No" because of our draught we have missed the time by an hour. Plans, what plans!
We wait for the incoming tide and set off after two hours for Torksey, arriving at 1615.
There were three narrowboats setting off for Torksey. We were first out of the lock and soon reached our cruising speed. The third boat soon fell behind and was not seen again until Torksey; the second boat must have attached an invisible rope to us, because it stayed exactly behind us all the way at about 50 metres. We joked hoping that they weren't following our track in the channel because we didn't know where we were going!
The rain had gone and the sun came out. We went past four narrowboats coming the other way. Just before Dunham Bridges, a large fibreglass twin engined boat overtook us both, he had to put on a bit more power to get clear.
When we got to Torksey the boat owner was so impressed with the speed we were doing, he told lots of people including the lock keeper. We then cracked him up by telling him "That was just cruising speed - we had plenty of reserve and also the temperature gauge did not even register during the trip!"
OK crew shall I cook chicken curry? Apparently the White Swan does a legendary pie so it would be rude not to try it! As we were there for a while we had two trips to the pub.
Friday 21st September Things that go bump in the night (and in the lock)
Two overnight incidents - Was that the engine bilge pump I could hear running? No it's stopped, and, during the night, I turned over on the narrow bench upon which I was sleeping to find that I was lying on fresh air two foot off the ground (very temporarily) as it soon became hard deck. I then developed cramp in one leg and lay there fastened in my sleeping bag groaning and doing a Marty Feldman impression. (Ask someone older). Any minute now the others will come to my help. No chance, they just ignored me.
We were not leaving until after the tide had reached us at 1300.
OK crew shall I cook chicken curry? We settled for early lunch of bacon, sausage, beans, tomatoes. Whats wrong with my curry?
The morning had been very cold with drizzle. A Chesterfield narrowboat came down from Cromwell and the steerer said he had never been so cold and miserable!
Off on our own for West Stockwith, a quick vote and we decided Ade - it's your turn to steer.
Actually we all took turns and we kept saying "After this Power Station perhaps it will dry up". Uneventful journey passing only one boat on the way that I assume came from Keadby.
As we approached Gainsborough, the rain dried up and we were assailed by some wonderful cooking smells (never did identify the source). This inspired me to leave the tiller and go and make some soup and sandwiches. We had only just finished them as we were approaching West Stockwith.
Past the lock turn round and come back against the flow, ease the front end towards the lock and the flow will line us up with the lock and straight in you go!
No, the flow was not as strong as it looked - we only slightly nudged the gate, honest.
Through the lock and off we go on the Chesterfield Canal. We pressed on reaching Drakeholes by dark (you can't tell in the tunnel).
This section caused a re-iteration of "These milestones are a long way apart" (and that was just walking between the Misterton Locks).
OK crew last chance shall I cook chicken curry? We had to take some more Chesterfield Canal leaflets to the White Swan and their menu beat mine. That's it, you'll never know what you missed!
Saturday 22nd September Partial crew change - another chance to try out my cooking
Today Ade is leaving us and Phil is joining. Because of various constraints, including getting my car back from Long Eaton, we could only offer Phil a three hour cruise for his first journey on Python.
We had a very steady cruise to Clarborough, which was fortunate because being back on the Chesterfield we now had to contend with the dreaded weed.
More about Python's steering - with the rudder extension, you only need a small movement of the tiller arm to get the boat to respond. This is fortunate as it is now very very heavy to move against the prop flow. Getting Python to go where you want has so far been OK, but we discovered that, with weed on the prop, we tend to zig zag a little bit - OK a lot.
Followers of Python will know that she didn't like to turn right sometimes. With the rudder extension I think the boat is worse and with weed on the prop she categorically refuses to turn right.
Somehow we forgot to tel Phil about this little anomaly. His first trip, so we let him do all the steering. He got away with it most of the way. As we were only on tickover coming through Clayworth (where all the Retford & District Boat Club boats are moored) the boat came round the sharp right hand bend with very little trouble.
On we went to Clarborough, where we were going to leave the boat. Just before the moorings outside the Gate Inn is Clarborough Top Bridge; a sharp right hand with the obligatory audience. We ended up parked on the hedge on the offside bank. (Just act nonchalant as if we always do that!) Quick get it tied up and lets go deliver some leaflets. Here we left the boat until:-
Tuesday 25th September Did we mention the weed?
0830 Back to Python to get her back to Stret Lock for the 27th. Eddie, Margaret and David. 8 Miles, 6 Locks, 5 Hours.
This was during the huge rain and wind storms. Check out the boat - all looks OK. Off we go round the slight bend - where's the canal gone? There was a very large weed island blocking all the way across, can't go round, can't get through, can't pull it to pieces. It took 30 plus minutes of ramming, twisting, pulling, pushing, swearing etc. before we broke through.
Get into Whitsunday Pie Lock at 0925. We check and clear the weed hatch; this took another 20 mins.
On we went through all the locks until we got to Forest Middle Top Lock, where we emptied and cleaned the Portaloo having decided it was no longer needed on voyage. Dumped rubbish and did weed hatch again.
Through Forest Top Lock and onto the Chequers at Ranby arriving at 1400 going across to the left hand side to moor, just as our Retford Trip Boat, Seth Ellis, comes round the corner on her way home. Unfortunately we run aground and our bow swings out across the canal. Meantime Seth Ellis is making sure to avoid us and also runs aground, so we did a sort of pirouette outside the pub. Something went wrong because there was no audience to see this.
Quick get it tied up and lets go and deliver some Chesterfield Canal Trust leaflets!
We fetch the car and offload some of the stuff on board, the bedding and personal clothes, the food etc. We leave the boat overnight with no thoughts about what would happen.
Wednesday 26th September How to sink a narrowboat
1000 Arrived at Chequers. Something looked wrong, Python was listing.
Opened up the engine room. Lots of swearing. Should all this water be in here? Python had sunk.
The boat was listing to the right and the batteries are on the right. Fortunately the positive terminals were just clear of the water.
The small automatic bilge pump fitted by the marina was still working, but it was either not powerful enough or blocked or both.
I connected up the larger, non-automatic bilge pump that had been taken from the front of the boat when we had previous engine room leaks.
With the engine room being pumped, we turned our attentions to the front of the boat. This area had been bone dry since the fitting of the proper top covers.
The only explanation we had for this to be full of water is that the bilge pump outlet had been left open when the pump was moved to the engine room. It was pouring in water. I plugged the outlet and we started hand baling. After a short period, we could see a difference as the level was definitely going down. This is to be recommended for a gym workout, unfortunately I don't do exercise.
We emptied the front, the pumps were slowly emptying the engine room. Once it was out, it didn't seem to come back in. After three hours we had got enough out to try moving.
I had phoned a couple of people to let them know what was happening and see if there was any advice.
Robin turned up about 1130 and helped with standing looking at all this water in the wrong place (and the baling).
I managed to upset Jan by telling her we had cured the very sooty newly painted tunnel bands. I told her "You can't see the soot when it's under water!" She dropped everything and dashed back from her own boat somewhere in the deepest, darkest Midlands!
We opened the compression levers on the engine and fitted the hand crank and turned the engine over a few times. It all seemed OK with water only making it's way into the exhaust and possibly the air cooling ducts.
So we tried cranking with the starter motor and then we tried starting. I'm not sure if I can describe the noises but after a few turns the engine fired and out came white smoke. Robin said "Does that mean we've elected a Pope?" By the time he had said that, the engine was running normally and has done since.
We set off at 1310 with Robin going by car to the next lock, Osberton. We had quite a list as the heads or bathroom was still full of water and the bilges in the front. This section is shallow for a floating Python, a listing Python had no chance, on we went ploughing the bottom and a few times coming to a full stop. On the way we moved the large pump to the front and pumped the heads and front bilge.
After an hour, we reached Osberton Lock. We cleared the weed off the propeller, cleared the blockage in the small pump, couldn't find Robin, but Jan came down the lane to find us.
We left the lock at 1420. Did we remember about Osberton Lock? Of course we did, just after we hit the cill leaving the lock!
Jan made sure everything was in order by taking a few photos. (Did someone mention the Titanic Band in a previous blog?)
She arranged to go to the next lock and wait for us. Just as we were going around the bend, I looked back to see Jan waving frantically. We waited for her to catch us where she said "Can I have my car keys please?" she had put her handbag on board and then forgot.
I was starting to wonder about the rescue team that had come to help! Oh look, there's Robin up there on the bridge taking photos!
The going was much better now, the list had gone, the canal was deeper. We soon made it to Manton Viaduct where my earlier "What else can go wrong?" statement became clear - a strange low black cloud disgorged up to 15mm diameter hailstones. Being on the tiller, it was like being shot with frozen bullets. Eddie started to come back with two mugs of coffee. I said "You need your coat". When he gets to the back with his coat on (didn't think to bring mine), the coffees were ice cold and overflowing. Good job it didn't last long.
Robin and Jan walked back to Kilton Lock as we were going through. As we got to Bracebridge Lock, everybody got off, leaving Robin driving over the mini roller coaster as we go under the bridge - the bottom is littered with paving slabs ripped off the area under the bridge. Python leaps up and down as she goes over these.
So on we went, eventually reaching C&RT Sandy Lane and mooring alongside a work platform or something. Check for leaks and leave her overnight.
Thursday 27th September And so it ends
Python is booked to be assisted through Stret Lock at 1300 by those nice people at C&RT. This will be the last time she will need help as the lock is being repaired later this year.
Eddie, Jan & David arrive early at 1000 in case there is more pumping to be done. Lo and behold the boat is dry(ish); there is no more ingress than the previous day. Very strange.
Whist waiting for the pound level to come up, we fetch as much out of the boat as we can to let it dry in the sun.
C&RT are on top of the job and we pull Python into the lock at about 1100. We then wait for two others to join us and dry a few more things.
Into the Lock Keeper for lunch. Then Python negotiates the last three locks, we looked for her home mooring, as none of us know exactly where we were to go. We just guess where to moor Python on the mooring that was covered in six foot high weeds and nettles etc. By luck we eventually find a small sign hidden in the undergrowth saying "Mooring for Python" after about eighteen months she is back home. At the time of writing Python is still afloat. If we find out exactly where the water is getting in we will let you know.
It just leaves me to say a huge thanks to everyone who has been involved in making this year's "SOGGY" tour the wonderful success it has been. I cannot begin to tell you the thoughts of sorting next year's tour as Pete has organised a goodun.
Home at last.
Python's mooring in March 2011 (above) and September 2012 (below).