Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Mission accomplished

       “Hello Houston, we have a problem...” What endless skill, knowledge and patience the staff at Houston must have had back in 1970 when the Apollo 13 moon flight developed a major technical fault*.
      After some snag-fixing back at Stoke Boats (details later) Cleddau has been on the move again, from Longport Wharf back up the Macc to Higher Poynton. She was crewed by Techno Son-in-Law, solo until Congleton, where Cheshire Mum and Cheshire One jumped aboard.
       A hundred miles south in Bedfordshire the regular Cleddau crew became a land-based Mission Control.
      First inkling of how the weekend would play out came at 1115 on Friday morning... Boatwif was out and about, accompanied (remarkably) by a fully charged and switched on mobile phone.
      It rang.
      There was a scrabbling in a shoulder bag. The phone was grabbed and pinned to the ear.
      “I’ve got it, I’m on the boat,” said Techno Son-in-Law (fresh from a train trip from Macclesfield to Stoke) “but which way do I go? Do I need to turn the boat around to go to Macclesfield?”
      It was established that the boat had been moved by the Stoke Boats team out of the “slip” and was facing a bridge ahead. That was the way to go.
      Off Techno Son-in-Law set. Soon there was a text about the tunnel light (resolved by another phone conversation). Then came: “I’m at the tunnel
– and it’s raining."

      A couple of hours passed during which, apparently, the south-bound convoy arrived, the tunnel keepers had lunch and Cleddau led a north-bound convoy.
      Then: “”I’m on the Macc, I’m on the Macc, I can see boats moored ahead on the left.” This was to be an afternoon of route visualisation then.
      “Watch out ahead,” advised Mission Control, “you’re coming up to a sharp right hand turn at Red Bull. SOUND THE HORN.”
      There was a period of text and phone silence next, for about an hour.  Then came another flurry of calls: “Exactly where do you usually moor at Ramsdell Hall? Do the cows disturb you in the night?”
     Over the next few hours Mission Control advised on the location of the firelighters and matches for the solid fuel fire, where to find bedding and where to locate the porthole bungs and front window covers to block out the light...
      Friday night Techno Son-in-Law slept (on and off), undisturbed by cows, but triumphant that he had navigated through the tunnel and a lock (Hall Green) single-handed.
      On Saturday there was time for photos: bluebells near Scholar Green,

a heron,

bridge arches,

ducks on the roof top,

a kingfisher.

      Support crew arrived:

and Cleddau again climbed Bosley locks.
      Mid-Saturday afternoon came another “we have a problem “call. It was Cheshire Mum. “Have you ever had trouble at the Royal Oak Swing Bridge? We can’t get the key out of the lock...”  Route-visualisation again: it was the electrified road bridge at Fool’s Nook. The far road barrier wouldn’t fully rise and the key was firmly wedged in the lock. Advice was offered but the computerised control box refused to cooperate... CART (Canal and River Trust staff) were called and after an hour, Cleddau was on her way again, the vital BW key safely back on board.
      The cabin girl held the boat while the adults opened and closed Broadhurst Bridge
and without further calls a good mooring was found at Gurnett Aqueduct.
      Sunday morning: there were just about ten miles free of locks, swing bridges and tunnels still to go. Through Macclesfield, Hurdsfield and Bollington the boat cruised, each crew member rehearsing his or her steering skills.

      Victoria Pit Moorings at Higher Poynton were reached. Then came the mooring up.
Mission Control time again. Which pontoon? 
Bow or stern in?
From the marina bank the Irish named boat (A Hundred Thousand Welcomes)
should be to the left, Halcyon Dawn
to the right.
What to do about the cratch – the composting loo – the chimney – the electric shore line?  Curtains open or closed?  Thick and fast came the queries.
      The Cheshire One gave an oral report over the phone: “Would you like to know about ‘the nature’ we saw in the gardens at Bollington? There was a panda, a crocodile and a gorilla.” 149 road miles southeast Boatwif squeezed her memory cells: mm, the crocodile yes, that’s not far from Adelphi Mill, the gorilla is low in the tree near the old Canal Radio site – but a panda...? a panda..? No knowledge or memory of that, but it would be something to look out for, southbound, in just a couple of weeks time.

      Mission accomplished - thanks go to the Cheshire Three crew (and Techno’s Dad for help at Bosley Locks) for sparing the Cleddau crew further stints on the darling M1 and M6 motorways. Thanks for returning Cleddau safely to her berth.
      As for the snags: the bed has been lowered, the immersion heater replaced, the electrics checked, the engine serviced, the stern gland drip reduced. Next week there’ll be a crew inspection and an attempt to scrub and paint the front deck and the gas locker.
      Meanwhile countdown time for the 2014 Summer Cruise is nearly here. Here's hoping there don't have to be (m)any calls in the next few months to Mission Control...


Monday, 21 April 2014

Southbound back to Stoke

       “You must keep folk informed,” announced the Captain on Sunday evening. “Shouldn’t you be blogging?”
        So:  Cleddau’s been on the move again, back down Bosley, (yes, remember the Bosley 12 locks, a downhill drop of 118 feet), down through rural east Cheshire towards Staffordshire.
        After the unexpected pleasure of  The Boar's Head meal on Wednesday not being accompanied by piped musak but by live instrumentalists, Thursday and Friday became serious work days. There was Boat Stuff still to reclaim and sort from Techno’s Macclesfield garage; there was opportunity to paint the gunnels; there was an urgent need to relay the back deck matting
and to rinse off the dust from the cabin top and sides.  New boating neighbours on the shared pontoon watched with bemusement... was this what boating life was about?  They had a new (to them) boat and had yet to turn the engine on, let alone venture towards a lift bridge or a lock...
        By 3.30pm on Friday time was slipping by: clear up the buckets and hosepipes, bundle up the dusters and cloths, reload the roof with gangplank and poles – and depart...
        For near on two hours, in balmy sunshine, Cleddau headed south.
  Crafts of all kinds were out and about,
relishing the warmth and windless conditions. At its site at Holehouse Lane (Whiteley Green) the North Cheshire Cruising Club had set up camp for a sociable weekend, deckchairs outside every boat.
On through Bollington Cleddau cruised, through Kerridge, and under a turnover bridge to a towpath mooring
beside the Pony Club gymkhana field.
        On Saturday morning additional crew were taken on board at Macclesfield, a tasty home-baked loaf for lunch-time sustenance being provided byTechno Son-in-Law.
Help with swing bridges
and locks speeded the way.
At Bosley the sharp easterly breeze played havoc in the upper lock pounds, pinning the boat to the bank. But a spot of pole deployment is always an added joy for the long-armed Techno...
        Down on the long pound that stretches from Bosley Bottom to Hall Green there was time for both lunch and steering shifts.

         While Techno Son-in-Law favours a long heavy barge pole as his preferred  implement when dealing with boating incidents the Cheshire One always turns to her battered pink fishing net. At the Poynton moorings on Friday it had saved the day (rather, netted a rapidly sinking hose pipe connector) but despite best efforts  on Saturday it could not recover Boatwif’s blown off sunhat at the Biddulph Valley Aqueduct...
          Mid-afternoon the Cheshire Three were off-loaded at Congleton -  in time for a 7 minute train ride back to Macclesfield.
          Sunday produced cold easterly blasts and an unwelcome shower. For thirty minutes (just thirty minutes) the boat cruised on, the crew willing there to be space at the Ramsdell Hall railings. Maybe, on a holiday weekend there’d be no space... Through Bridge 85 – and the entire mooring length lay empty ahead!

Tied up by the black and white railings
the day became a stroll in a black and white locality:
(Did  Baa baa black sheep originate here?!)
(Little Moreton Hall for a delicious lunch and a wander through the trimly clipped knot garden)
– accessorised by a black raven.
        There is hope of another colour though – the woods in front of Ramsdell Hall seem to be showing a faint bluebell hue...
        Bank holiday Monday involved one last lock at Hall Green and a slower than usual transit through the Harecastle Tunnel.

Number four in the convoy, with two more boats behind, there was time to view the Harecastle “sights” (the spooky skeleton,
the midway point (about 1500 yards in)
and the colourful formations
created by the minerals that seep through the rock.
         There was plenty of mooring space at Westport Lake
– and plenty of conversation too. Strollers in holiday mood asked questions throughout the afternoon. Most thrilled was the 7 year old boy being allowed on board to gaze at engine room switches and dials. “How do you get electricity?” he wanted to know. His granddad was keen to talk on other matters: Burslem, a district not a mile away, was where John Wesley had preached in 1760 and set up the first Methodist Society. In recent years the grandfather, himself the Methodist minister in Burslem,  had visited the World Methodist Museum  in North Carolina  and seen there on a world map his own Burslem  church. It seems this is another case of “History going forward”...
         Tuesday will see the final ¾ mile cruise to Longport Wharf

(look at the age of its buildings) to deliver Cleddau into the hands of the snag-fixers...

Friday, 18 April 2014

Musical interlude

      Between cruising northbound up the Macc to return Cleddau to her Higher Poynton moorings and then turning back south to Stoke-on-Trent there was an interlude, well - two actually.  First, between boating exploits, the Cheshire One took up a holiday residency in her Bedfordshire bed – and then, before the southbound trip could begin, there was Music...

      Boaters to Higher Poynton soon discover The Boar's Head.
The Braidbar Owners group frequent it often; the Festina Lente crew were there recently and only this week the crew of the lovely Yarwood  feasted on a lunch-time ham and eggs ...
      Back in Cheshire on Wednesday evening the Cleddau crew crossed the canal from the Victoria Pit moorings and strolled down the hill for a pub meal. It was midweek, a quiet evening.

Then, just as Boatwif was nearing the end of her haddock and kedgeree fishcakes, the door opened and a succession of musical instrument cases was brought in. Practice night, it transpired, for the RagTag Band. Four guys - and about a dozen different instruments.
      How beautiful was the stainless steel guitar to look at.

      How haunting was the penny whistle
      How rich was the sound from the accordion
 Impressively Kelvin could move within pieces between accordion and mouth organ, glockenspiel and whistle. There was a fiddle number too. How many instruments could this man play? (Eight, apparently).
       Smoothly the musicians strummed on. Only at The Boar’s Head for a quick meal, yet we gained front row seats at a folk session! Were these old friends or fellow students ...?  They were soloists who had begun to jam together four or five years ago.
      The audience was thin, ten at its maximum.  A RagTag groupie shared our table. He’d been a long-term Blues and Rock ’n’ Roll fan, but had recently found Folk.  He’d boarded a Folk Train at Manchester Picadilly, taken it through to Hathersage, ensuring he was in the band’s compartment. Now here he was, video camera rolling.
      Good as the food and the atmosphere is at The Boar’s Head, the acoustics didn’t benefit the vocalists. He of the two guitars and a banjo, the red T-shirted one, did a great job of flagging up the band’s CD (“recorded in a studio, only £7”.)
Folk fans, see their website for details of their music and upcoming gigs.
      On Thursday night there was an on-board supper - and the stretched steel box that is Cleddau provided a far better acoustic venue for Ragtag Band's music. You go to a pub for a pint and a meal - but rarely come back with an addition to the CD collection. Thankfully
there’s no predictability to life on a canal boat.
Friday should see the start of the southbound cruise along the Macc, back to Stoke for a 50 hour engine service and, hopefully, successful resolution to a few snags.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Initial 'Sea Trials' completed

      It’s taken nearly a week to bring Cleddau “home”.
      From Longport Wharf it’s been a slower than usual journey (27.64 miles, the Harecastle Tunnel, 13 locks), slower to allow time for adjusting the trim (see the useful lump of railway line moved from front deck locker to engine compartment)
 and assessing the on-board electrical and plumbing systems.
      After six months away from the Macclesfield Canal there is a satisfaction at spotting the familiar (the lovely Ramsdell Hall Railings),
 of reminding yourself of the new (apartments squeezed into a tiny space
 not far at all from the old, the iconic Hovis Mill in Macclesfield (itself undergoing some sort of a makeover).
       There are surprises too, such as dear nb Quackers,
 pontoon partner of Cleddau at Poynton, moored now in Macclesfield. Is she under new ownership yet? Surprise too at Kerridge, where the  mooring site carefully constructed over the last couple of years is now named Jasper’s Quay, and tied up beside it is a very new and shiny-looking nb Jasper.
       A mile or so further on at Bridge 27 in Bollington steps from road level to towpath were being repaired
 while just beyond, on the right by the old Canalside Community  Radio station the motley collection of five or six moored boats has, it would seem, been cleared away. There was a surprise too before Adlington, where a pair of highland cattle (?)
 dozed in a canal-side enclosure.
      On Thursday a pause was called at Bollington Wharf. After 25 hours of engine running a change of gearbox oil was required.
 So, while moored right opposite Adelphi Mill, (“adelphi”, Greek for brothers, the mill being built in 1856 for cotton production by the Swindell brothers) there was time to walk down into Bollington – and  discover Bollington’s very own labyrinth,
  created as a lottery project on the Middlewood Way. 
      Bollington is a friendly place and in Heathcote the Butchers they’ll talk all day. “Are you just visiting here then?”
      Soon the truth was out: “You probably know my son-in-law...”
      “Oh, Martin, we like Martin. Don’t see him as much these days now he’s up in the hills. And we’ve seen your granddaughter.”
      Those familiar with the geography of Bollington, Macclesfield and Tegg’s Nose will understand this conversation.
       A northbound cruise up the Macc is a cruise into Cheshire hill country. Further south Mow Cop and its folly soars above Scholar Green (walked up there once); then as the canal approaches Congleton
 the Cloud becomes increasingly prominent.
       Then comes the hill with the microwave tower and soon after Danes Moss the hills leach towards the Peak District of Derbyshire.
       Past Bollington, as the canal creeps further north all road and traffic noise recedes. The canal glides past thirsty-rooted trees while
 the hill ridges of Kerridge and White Nancy and eventually Lyme Park stretch like a long limb to the east.
      Just the last few miles on Friday – and, out of habit once at Higher Poynton, there was a pause at Bailey’s Trading Post for water, coal and gas.
 It’s a sociable spot – walkers, cyclists, boaters and dog owners all pause to chat and comment – and holidaying school children this morning gazed with interest as a boat ahead “had its poo tank pumped out”.

      It was about midday when Cleddau was tied back on to a Victoria Pit pontoon – and within a few hours the Cheshire Three were on board, inspecting the works. The Cheshire One had a session “fishing” with the pink fishing net (a good catch apparently: herring, a salmon, twenty crabs and two lobsters!), Cheshire Mum tried out the dual control throttle for a left-hander and Techno Son-in-Law photographed the engine...
      So for about a week, Cleddau can rest, “nice and cwtch” back on her home mooring.
 Then it’s back to Stoke for some snag-sorting* and a 50 hour engine service...
*The snags – mystery water leak at the stern; bed height needing to be lowered; airlock release valve for the Webasto...