Cruising from Birdingbury Bridge to Napton Junction - another short Sunday: The problem with scattered itinerant online moorers - Ventnor Farm Marina - Calcutt Locks - filling with diesel - a lesson in bleeding - Peter Scott's lost windlass - Jebus - Napton Junction - Muddy Waters 2 - Wigram's Turn Marina and my first experience of waterways wifi.
Sundays are often short for me as I race to get ready for work on Mondays. But this one needn't have been. I have an appointment to photograph an oven on a bus tomorrow (don't ask) for work, and it's just a few minutes away at Woodford Halse, so I can stay aboard overnight.
Before I set off from Birdingbury Bridge, I stopped to say goodbye to Pat Bycroft on Hyperion and to photograph Stockton Top Marina in panorama. I'm still fumbling with these panoramae, and this one didn't stitch together so well, but I'll keep practising.
The first long straight after the bridge highlighted the growing problem with intinerant continuous cruisers and 'in-line' moorings. When they are spaced out, the effect is to create an artificially slow stretch of canal, because there's barely time to speed up before you pass the next boat. This is a bad thing. No wonder BW is keen to encourage more 'offline' moorings, in basins and marinas.
One of these new marinas is at Ventnor Farm. In the old days, farmers would rotate their crops strictly: wheat, oats, barley, pop festival, etc. Nowadays, dig a four-foot deep open-cast pit, line it with Bentonite, connect it to the main canal system and you quickly grow a crop of narrowboats you can harvest year after year, without replanting. It's more like a boat park than a boatyard, and it's the modern equivalent of a cash cow. At least it's less irritating than the boat-every-furlong of the previous two miles. Ventnor is expanding, too. There's plans recently approved by Stockton Parish Council to allow another 112 berths there. (In the same meeting, Calcutt Marina was given permission for another '84 births')
At the bottom of Calcutt Locks I came across another of the backpumping stations I first noticed at Long Itchington the day before. These look like Parisian toilets to me, but they serve a very valuable function, one we'll come to need desperately in the coming months as the inevitable drought hits the waterways.
After the second lock I manouevered into Calcutt's fuelling bay and filled up a near-empty Kabola heating tank with 140 litres of diesel at 47p/l. This is working out at about 45 litres a week - approximately ten gallons, the cost of heating my boat in the winter. When I first bought Granny Buttons, diesel was about 18p/litre. It's almost three time that now. Ouch.
As I waited for the office to reopen after lunch, Elaine and Peter Scott pottered past in shared boat Odessey. Elaine is recognisable widely on the system, because she's probably the only woman alive who still wears the traditional boatwoman's bonnnet, and does so almost every day she's afloat. This distinctive headgear was once seen everywhere on the waterways; like the kefiyah in Arabia, the conical straw hat in Yemen or the bowler in Bolivia, it's an eminently practical form of headgear. But Elaine's the only one whom I've ever seen wear it on everyday occasions.
As she sailed past, Elaine threw a windlass to Peter. Unfortunately it fell short into the cut, and he was reduced to pulling out his Sea Searcher and playing hunt-the-windlass. It took a couple of dozen trawls and drags, but he eventually retrieved it and sauntered off with a smile - and a final victory wave.
At the office Calcutt Boats has a 1.8litre BMC diesel on display. Calcutt imports these direct from Turkey and marinises them, and is the last boatyard on the waterways to sell and recommend this classic design. Granny Buttons has a 1.8 BMC, and I've always found it the very devil to bleed. But it's a remarkably reliable engine, and once it's going I can't find fault with it. The engineer here was very helpful and happily spent ten minutes showing on the model how you bleed these engines.
The year before last Sue and Vic on No Problem had one of these engines fitted too, as they wrote at the time, and seem reasonably pleased with it. [But that was before their breakdown a week ago. Ahem... they are now back at Calcutt and having it looked at again].
Beyond the top lock I filled with water, and then set off for Wigram's Turn Marina. Near Napton Junction - called Wigram's Turn by generations of boaters - I passed one of those squat, peculiar tub-shaped narrowboats built by 'Tom Pudding Boats'. These are no relation to the original Tom Puddings (the trains of coal-carrying tub boats on the Aire & Calder) but have a charm of their own. The one here is called Jebus, and I was intrigued by its clear, simple URL (web address) on the side: www.jebus.co.uk. What is this? I automatically assumed it was some sort of company, and resolved to look it up. [I did - 'Jebus' is the old pre-biblical name for Jerusalem, and before the Jews there were Jebusites]
But Jebus.co.uk appears to be not much more than a holding address and a photo gallery for Michael Ayland, recording some photos of his recent cruises. And there's more: Last year it appears to have been the world's first canal cruising webcam, updated on the move from a Palm Zire. The only remaining photo showed the remnants of a sunny day last summer, so it's therefore offline.
[Last weekend, before this post was written, Michael Ayland emailed me out of the blue to say he'd spotted my photo of Jebus on Flickr, and he's been inspired to open his own Flickr account. That's very gratifying. Furthermore, I see now that he's started a cruising blog for 2006! (http://jebusafloat.blogspot.com/) Well done Michael! Only
two entries one entry so far, and that's not enough to get on my blogroll, sorry! But I'll keep a watch out, and when he reaches seven posts, I'll anoint him to the hallowed list and nag him to keep it updated]
At Napton Junction I paused and took a panorama of Wigram's Turn Marina. A curious boat called Muddy Waters 2 came out, and I was fascinated - it looks like quite the oddest layout of windows I've yet seen. I asked another moorer about this boat and he gave a scathing reply: 'It's a carbuncle!' But I think it's an intriguing and imaginative design. It's clearly not finished inside yet - that much is evident from the large, clear windows along its length that allow you to see in as much as out.
I tied up inside the Marina and chatted to manager Ray Gillespie and engineer Warren, and arranged to stay the night. Ray enabled me for the wi-fi which the marina is now blessed with, courtesy of Andy Smith's Canalpost wireless broadband business. The irony is, it didn't work that night because I gave him the wrong details of my address.
Wigram's Turn is another of these modern 'boat parks'. Facilities are limited, and it's been built with as low a profile as possible, so as not to intrude on the countryside. Opened only last summer with few of the plants yet sprouting, it's perhaps early days to judge its aesthetics. But the square-shaped excavation and two miles of planking in dead-straight lines is a little disappointing. I think they should have made the layout a little more 'organic', like at Kings Bromley Marina near Lichfield - indeed, like Ventnor Farm just down the road would be a start.
Did I say this was one of those short days? Well, I only set off at 11.30am, and I was tied up at Wigram's by 3.30pm, and that included well over an hour refuelling and rewatering.