The journey begins

August 17th, 2007

Last Sunday we set off. With full tanks of diesel, water and gas, we motored off into the Lancashire drizzle, heading for Wigan. In fact, we all got pretty soaked up the eight locks to the junction with the Leeds & Liverpool canal at Lathom, but then the weather improved in the afternoon and we made our way into Wigan in glorious sunshine. There were, inevitably, a few minor mishaps. I directed Dave into a disused lock at one point, who then had to back out into the main canal (tricky!), but the major incident of the day was in Wigan, where a group of lads had warned us of an obstruction in the canal. Sure enough, a large plastic tarpaulain was floating in the lock. I warned Richard to look out for it, but he didn’t see it in time and it went in the propellor, stalling the engine. Fortunately, we could drag the boat out of the lock by hand and clear it easily through the weedhatch. We didn’t like the look of the overnight moorings in Wigan, so we motored on to the Dover Lock Inn at Abram, just outside the town. Unfortunately, in locking up for the night we managed to break the cabin door key, which seemed rather alarming. We left the door open overnight, reckoning to get a new door lock in the morning.

Monday was a mostly dry day with the odd shower or two, and we had a gentle run into central Manchester, stopping to pick up Susz for a few hours and also to do various bits of shopping, not least look for a new door lock. A visit to Leigh gained us a new mop, a dustpan and brush and some chocolate muffins, but sadly no doorlocks the right shape. So, three engineers dissected the doorlock on the kitchen worktop and realised that if we removed half the door lock mechanism it would still lock from the outside with the broken key, and then Richard manfully filed and tweaked various bits of the mechanism to make it work more smoothly. After stopping at B&Q in the Trafford area of Manchester for some washers needed to mend the lock, the throttle handle came off in Dave’s hand – not actually off completely, but such that it no longer worked the way it was intended! We sorted that one out in Manchester – turns out that a single screw holds the handle on and it had come loose.

Tuesday was a hard, wet day. The legendary Mancunian drizzle, punctuated by sharp showers, accompanied us all the way to Ashton-under-Lyne, through 27 locks. We were knackered, wet, and very glad of Swedish meatballs in the Ikea cafe!

On Wednesday morning we went and bought a dining table and chairs in Ikea, as well as some more food and various boaty bits from a handy chandlery. The furniture process was pretty straightforward – buy the stuff, get a cab back to the canalside, load it onto the boat and then head off up the canal. Sadly, when I unwrapped one of the chairs it was broken, so it’ll have to go back… gah!

We picked up my semi-cousin Chris in Marple, who helped us up the flight of sixteen locks, and then came with us all the way back to Macclesfield (a very late finish, that one, racing the darkness down the canal looking for somewhere deep enough to moor!) where we had a late night family reunion with Alison (Chris’s mum) and the family.

On Thursday we had a gentler day, taking my “Auntie” Jackie down from Macclesfield to Oakgrove, where she treated us to lunch in the Fools Nook, which was lovely and full of lunching Cheshire ladies. I think we halved the average age of the place when we came in! Then Dave and I pressed on to Congleton, passing through Bosley Locks, which is where years ago my Grandpa took me to watch the boats and where I first became interested in canals and boats…
That evening we put the dining table together and managed a civilised meal in the cabin!

Today we’re going to Kidsgrove, where the Macclesfield canal meets the Trent and Mersey. We might go on down towards Stoke and Stone tomorrow, depending on how we get on. However, Dave’s leaving me tomorrow and so I’ll be crewless until Friday, unless anyone wants to come and lend a hand?

The first few days afloat

August 10th, 2007

I have bought the boat, and am living on it amidst a sea of old paint tins, random clothing and wires spilling from most locations around the cabin – there’s very little fitted storage on the boat.
Anyway, there now follows a potted summary of what I’ve been doing for the last few days.

I picked up my hired Nissan Note from Portsmouth and drove up to Lancashire in the afternoon, and stayed in the Original Farmers Arms at Eccleston, a pub that does B&B. I was curious about the name until I turned into the car park of a pub called the Farmers Arms in Heskin, a village about a mile south of Eccleston…

Anyway, I had a dinner of steak-and-kidney pie, followed by apple pie and custard. Mmm…pie!

In the morning, I fortified myself with tea and toast and drove to St Mary’s Marina at Rufford, in time to see “Innocenti” being pulled out of the water on the slipway trailer and trundled into the rather nice new boatshed.
boat on slipway
Innocenti on the slipway

Shortly afterwards, the surveyors, Paul and Duncan Rutherford, arrived from Bolton. They’re a father and son team – and they got to work pretty quickly, marking the hull of the boat with chalk every three feet and then scraping off areas of accumulated grot and paint to get at the hull. They used an ultrasound probe to measure the hull thickness, and then moved on to inspect the engine bay and cabin. As they went along they gave me some hints as to what they’d found. At the end of the session I was pretty happy with the state of the boat – there were a few minor things to sort out right away, and some longer term improvements to make, but basically the hull and most of the systems were in good shape. Unfortunately the engine wouldn’t start – the battery was tired. Bob (who seems to run the Marina more-or-less singlehandedly) leant me a charger to try and put some life into it.
I met Mark (the vendor) and closed the deal, and then rang the bank. I’d originally intended to pay by a CHAPS instant transfer, which costs £25 but clears very quickly. The bank, however, insisted on a faxed authorisation for this, which wasn’t going to be easy. Instead, I opted to pay by bankers’ draft, which meant going to Wigan, the nearest town with a branch of my bank.
I agreed to meet Mark the following day with the money, then dashed off to Tesco’s to stock up with food! I spent the night on board for the first time, although I was still disappointed by the lack of a running engine…

…was very hectic. I jumped in the car and went to Wigan to do some shopping for essentials and go to the bank. I spent a long time driving round and round the town looking for Halfords, only to happen upon it by accident as I was on the point of giving up looking! Returning with a bootful of kitchen bits, a new headlight, some spanners and a hose for filling the water tank, I stopped briefly at Lathom and handed over the draft to Mark. We shook hands and went our separate ways. Then there was a minor race against time. I had to return the hire car to Wigan by 5pm, but was increasingly of the opinion that only a new battery would solve the non-starting engine. Back to the marina and the omniscient Bob has the answer – pop down to Trafford Brakes in Burscough – five minutes down the road – and get a new one. I do this, having carefully measured the battery to ensure that the new one fits in the tray. On returning triumphantly, I find that the battery won’t fit in the tray by about a millimetre… but the engine roars into life and some life returns to the domestic electrics. But I can’t hang around – I have to lock up and drive back to Wigan to return the car. In this case, fortune smiles on me – I walk out of the car hire office, go round the corner to the station and get a train right away back to Rufford and cook myself some dinner!

This morning I had various odd jobs to do. I wanted to fit the headlight (actually a car exterior foglight, acquired from Halfords yesterday) which will be needed for the tunnels we’ll pass through en route. Having bolted it onto the boat – there was a convenient hole where one had been mounted before – I found that I needed crimp terminals to connect the electrics. I also needed glue of some sort to glue some rubber sheeting around the weedhatch to get a better seal, and thought about getting some kind of ratchet strap to secure the battery temporarily. I reckoned I was going to have to go somewhere bigger (like Ormskirk or Preston) to get these, so I walked down to the station to see where if I could get a train. There wasn’t a train for 45 minutes, so I reckoned I’d walk into Burscough, try there, and if not go elsewhere. On the way, I found the Central Garage, a magical local garage and shop. Just inside the door was a rack of car spares and hardware, including the crimp terminals, ratchet straps, Araldite glue and also some Swarfega, which seemed useful given how unpleasant my hands were getting!

new headlight
The magic shop also turned up wonders in the afternoon, when I wanted a small jubilee clip and some washing powder – both were readily available.

So, the headlamp works, the battery is strapped in, but the rubber in the weedhatch proved a non starter – the sheeting is too thick to allow the screws to bite properly, and the glue didn’t bond well to the rubber. I’ll have to work out another way of doing it, but we’ll just drive carefully and keep an eye on it for now. I’m still peeling little bits of Araldite from my fingers…

This evening I have refilled the water tank, done some laundry and fixed the WiFi on my laptop (bloomin’ Microsoft…) so I can connect to the marina’s internet service rather than use the more expensive Vodafone data card. I’ve also received the full survey report by email, and it looks fine. Tomorrow, Dave and Richard (both ex-York friends) will be joining me and we’ll set off first thing Sunday morning. The plan is to be in Wigan on Sunday night, Manchester on Monday night and perhaps Macclesfield on Tuesday. We’ll see how it goes.

Here are some pictures of the boat, both in and out of the water. Note that the first few pics are of someone else’s (much smarter!) boat being put back in the water after a paint job.

A new chapter

August 5th, 2007

Hello again! Since I last wrote the final details of my PhD have slotted into place, and I’m now pretty happy with how it’s set up. There are a few minor things still to get sorted, but it looks like a goer. This means I’m committed to spending the next three years of my life in Cambridge, and so I’ll need somewhere to live. In fact, I’ve decided to buy a narrowboat – and managed to find one I like at a price I can afford. It’s being surveyed this week (probably on Wednesday) and after that I’ll be embarking on a four-week trip from the outskirts of Liverpool down to Cambridge and passing through quite a lot of the Midlands on the way. I’ll be keeping this blog updated with the progress!