29th April Python’s Progress (or nearly lack of it)
The boat had been left at Wyvern Marina at Sheetstores on the Erewash canal for Paul Barber, our boatbuilding friend, to check her over mechanically before we continued with this season’s extensive programme. Python was moored amongst some famous historic boats (quick let’s get out of here before they compare ours with theirs).
Paul had checked and adjusted the Stern tube packing as we arrived at about 1300. We are having trouble with the Morse control sticking occasionally going both ways. Paul adjusted the linkage and tried the gear selections. This is when we noticed the flexible coupling that transfers the drive from the gearbox to the propshaft was a little more flexible than it should be; in fact it was totally unusable. Fortunately, Paul, the star, had another coupling in stock. We soon had the new unit fitted and the boat ready to go. The gearbox and selector were still having minds of their own. Neutral is in there somewhere, you just have to shuffle the lever and check the driveshaft to select it!
We left Wyvern at 1520 with a cheery wave from Paul, or was it a goodbye and let me earn some money please? We took with us a Chesterfield Canal Ribbon Plate given to Python by Viv. Another fan club member. A short slowish chug takes us to Trent Junction.
There Be Dragons-
Out of the lock and across to Soar Mouth. None of the crew have navigated this route before, so, with some excitement, we looked through all the stuff on Python for the charts/guides for this area. No matter how hard we looked we could not find them. A quick check with our illustrious leader, "Oh yes, I have bought a full set of guides for the trips we are doing this season, but they are for me not for the boat!!"
Fortunately I had a print out of where we were supposed to be each night, but that does not let us know the important things like when there is a pub coming up! Many of the locks we come to have bits of gear missing or not working. Isn’t this supposed to be the “Grand” Union Canal?
First night we moored at the Rose & Crown at Zouch. Overnight a hard frost, which meant that most of the crew put on more clothes to go to bed than were worn during the day. Poor old Eddie had to put up with the overheated cabin – bless!
30th April Loughborough and Leicester
Up and off by 0820 after a very cold night. Most of the people we meet ask if we are going to the Loughborough Canal Festival. As we go through Loughborough, we can see all the arrangements for the Bank Holiday festival. We then spot, and are photographed by, Comfortably Numb who quickly lets followers know where we are. Just after we depart Loughborough, an email from our management team arrives stating that there is a festival there this weekend and if we wanted to alter the programme we could attend it. Too late was the cry!
We asked passing boaters about good mooring spots and the answer was we could reach the moorings at about 1630 on the BW key accessed pontoons in Leicester centre, or we could carry on till about 2000 and moor up at a pub. We chose to press on and we were again spotted, at Blue Bank Locks at 1920.
On we went, no sign of the expected pub. Having negotiated 19 locks, all the crew mutinied and refused to go further when we reached the next lock and we abandoned our quest for a hostelry. We were so tired; we tied up, switched off ready for a rest. BUT NO, Python’s quirky sense of humour just has to have the last word. The engine bilge pump was running; there seemed to be a lot of water being pumped out. When the water level was pumped low enough for the float switch to cut off, we timed how long it took for the switch to cut in again – eight minutes. OK that’s it we are definitely taking on water, but there was no way of knowing where it was coming from.
There are two pumps in the engine bilge. (Just in case you didn’t know, we have had water in the boat before. Why is it always me?) We adjusted the smaller pump with its strange electronic float switch so that it was coping with the water in a strange sequence of a few seconds off then about 10 seconds pumping, but the good news was that the larger pump no longer cut in.
Shattered we had a quick meal and turned in although Eddie never slept listening to the pump following its strange sequence all night.
1st May May Day!!!!
Next day the situation was no worse but the pump was still running. We phoned Paul Barber at Wyvern and got him worried He said that he couldn’t get the boat out of the water in the near future, but we could proceed to Debdale Wharf Marina (about a day in front of us) who should be able to help us. We phoned them and explained the situation. They said that, if we could get there, they would try and sort us out. It was decided that we would probably get there after close of play that night but we would try.
On we went working through the locks like a team (that will never do!) until we reach lock 29 at about 1115, just a few minutes too late as a maintenance team from CRT had entered the lock and were pressure washing the gates etc. This team were happy as this was their last lock in a programme that had lasted several months. This did not help us as we were on a mission to get the boat out of the water soonest. Ah well, we cooked an early lunch. Just as this was cooked, the CRT team finish and exited the lock our side. They then got their motorised pan across the canal as they had picked up some weed. We assisted them to the side and changed places going through the lock before getting our food.
We quickly negotiated the next eleven locks before reaching Saddington Tunnel. Oooh isn’t it dark in here. The bricks of the tunnel absorbed the brightness from the tunnel light, leaving just a pinprick shining on the roof. Keep it lined up with the centre and all should be OK.
It’s very strange going through a tunnel as that little light at the end is mesmerising and you find that you cannot take your eyes off it, and no matter how far you go in the tunnel it never gets any bigger until right at the end. The other worrying thing was that we could not see what the pump was doing. Ah well out of sight, out of mind – I wish!
After the tunnel, just under a few bridges before reaching Debdale Marina. Good news, the engineer expecting us was still there. Strange news, the pumps have suddenly stopped pumping. There was obviously no immediate danger of sinking, so the engineer said that we should monitor the level overnight and switch the pump off early morning to see if the water level built up.
After further investigations of the smaller pump, it appeared the reason for the strange pumping sequence was that the electronic float would operate the pump sucking up water causing the switch to cut out. This then allowed the water in the pump to run back down into the sump, which would then re-activate the float switch causing it to repeat itself. The pump was actually pumping out water the previous night but a very much smaller quantity than we thought!!
2nd May Another Day, Another Tunnel (Oh and a very nice flight)
No significant amount of water entered the bilge overnight, so, in conjunction with the Marina engineer, we decided that water wasn’t entering the boat and it wouldn’t prove anything if we took the boat out of the water as we would be unlikely to find any leak point. So the decision was to carry on whilst monitoring the water.
Where did the water come from? About that previous mention of water in the boat – Python was left overnight last September and she mysteriously filled up with water and sat on the bottom. Fortunately the boat did not go completely under and we managed to pump and bale it out and the water stayed out – very strange! As a consequence the front load area bilge had only just completely dried out from this sinking. We now think that the water coming into the engine bilge may be making its way back from under the rear cabin floor. Whatever the cause, it is a worry and proves that our old lady knows just how to wind us up!
Not long after leaving the Marina, we reached Foxton Junction. Which way do we go? Let’s try over there where there’s a lock, oh and another lock, and another.
The Foxton flight, with its ten locks and clever recirculation side ponds, is a very popular tourist attraction. The site is very pretty and well maintained as are the locks and it took us just over an hour from start to finish, including booking in with the volunteer lock keeper and passing another boat coming down as we were going up (there is a passing place between locks 5 and 6). After the flight there is a huge pound and on we went through beautiful countryside and, after one hour and forty minutes or so, into Husbands Bosworth Tunnel. Of course we were experts at tunnels now; so expert that we forgot to put on hats. There is an awful lot of water leaking from the tunnel roof. A quick jury rig of the boat's umbrella solved most of the problem. Back to concentrating on the mesmerising little end of tunnel daylight.
Thirty minutes after the tunnel, we found a boat called Aber hiding in the countryside on the outskirts of Northamptonshire. This boat's owner has been very supportive of the Chesterfield Canal Trust in the past, including being daft enough to bid £5.37 for a packet of curry sauce in a charity auction. I was hoping I could sell him some more but he was on the phone – we’ve all used that one haven’t we?
On and on through this very long pound (who stole all the locks?). We arrived at Crick and took possibly the last mooring, even if we were stuck out a bit because of the lack of depth! A founder member of the Chesterfield Canal society, Graham White introduced himself and let us know about the early days. He now lives in Staffordshire and so does not have as much contact with the Chesterfield.
3rd May Yet Another Day, Yet Another Tunnel and a flight
Whose idea was it to move the boat during a Bank Holiday? We queued for the sanitary station and watched all these other boats set off in front of us.
Just after leaving Crick is the tunnel. They are getting longer this one took 20 minutes to go through. Another 30 minutes boating and we caught up with those other boats – queuing for the Watford Staircase. We all appeared to be turn seven and had a two hour wait! After the delay, we slowly made our way down the seven locks. When we finally exited the last lock, in front of all the other boats also queuing to go the other way, Python found the silt just outside the lock and came to an ignominious stop. "It’s alright" said Eddie "the next boat down will flush us with the lock water." After ten minutes or so sitting there with everyone watching us, the following boat had not appeared, which was strange as it was right behind us all the way down. Some of the waiting boaters decided to take our ropes and pull us free. We chugged past a long line of boats listening to the comments about "Is it shallow?".
Another two miles saw us at Norton Junction, which meant that we were now on the Grand Union Main Line. Through the next lock and onto Weedon, where we moored for the night and celebrated with a Chinese takeaway.
4th May Yet Another Day, etc. etc.
Off by eight am, for a seven or eight mile chug and then Blisworth Tunnel. This is definitely the longest, with several air ducts along its length. We met a boat coming the other way and he told us that the tunnel is very wet. The umbrella was worked very hard as we went along, because torrents of water gushed down the air ducts.
There were two boats in front of us going our way and then, about halfway through, there was a boat coming the other way, so he was well rehearsed in passing by the time he got to us. We just closed our eyes and hoped for the best! As we approached the end of the 3,076 yard tunnel, a Trip boat came in to show passengers what it is like in the tunnel. The skipper recognised Python and gave a cheery wave. Out of the tunnel and it was pouring down and we passed another Trip boat off towards the tunnel.
Too busy watching the Trip boat, we didn’t realise that the boat going on in front of us had the steerer stood at the wrong end. It was when we nearly ran into him that we noticed he was going in reverse (and in a very good line).
Through Stoke Bruerne and down the seven lock flight, on over the Wolverton Aqueduct. Into New Bradwell where we tried to moor at the New Inn. Leaving the boat touching the bottom and stuck out away from the jetty we decided was not a good idea if we were to visit the hostelry! So we moved below the bridge.
5th May Milton Keynes
A gentle start at 9am on a sunny but breezy day. We went past all the “interesting” architecture of Milton Keynes. Very pleasant parks and open countryside. When we reached Fenny Stratford Lock it nearly caught us out by having a swing bridge in the middle of the lock, on to Soulbury and we moored for the night below the bottom lock. This allowed us to spend a pleasant afternoon at the Three Locks Public House watching other boaters.
6th May Crew change
Packed and ready to escape by 0930, this gave us time to do a few odd jobs on the boat that we had been planned to do on day one!
The incoming crew member arrived an hour earlier than planned, so, after a quick bag and belongings swap, we turned the lock for them, got into the car and away.
After a journey of 7 days, 104 miles and 110 locks (we found muscles that had been hiding for ages) it’s over to the Eddie and Glyn show!
Eddie Lawton, David and Margaret Kiddy