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Monday, December 11, 2017

Baby It's COLD Outside!!

“Winter is the time for stories, staying fast by the glow of fire. And outside, in the darkness, the stars are brighter than you can possibly imagine.” ― Isabel Greenberg, award winning British illustrator and writer

      I knew it was going to be COLD last night. I was sitting in Les' recliner watching the Blue Planet II on the BBC and the fire was burning merrily in the stove and suddenly I realized the tip of my nose was cold.  I reached out a hand and I could feel the temperature changing in the boat. Now for those who don't live on a narrowboat, or who have never been on one--especially in winter--you should know that heat and cold lie in layers inside. Hot air rises and the warmest place on a narrowboat is always near the ceiling with the coldest being nearest the floor. The middle level of warmth begins on this boat at about my knees and rises to my neck when I am standing up; from the neck up it is quite hot. I am five foot one inch tall. Les was five feet nine inches tall and this why we argued about the heat on the boat all winter. More of his body was in the warm and hot layers of the boat. Being a short arse most of my body is in the cold zone nearer the floor. 
     Anyway, last night I could feel the internal drop in temperature corresponding to a sharp drop outside around 8:30 pm. I knew the canal would freeze over and it did. I slept soundly in my Portuguese gray flannel sheets and winter down comforter.
     I woke this morning to a warm and toasty boat but the outside world was a different place; brittle with cold, clothed in a layer of dry frost crystals nearly three inches thick. At  6:30 am the thermometer read -8C/17F. I went outside with a broom sweeping down what I could and started the engine to make sure it was turning over. It will heat some water and bring the batteries to a full charge. I doubted the solar panels would generate any charge today but I swept them off as best I could. There was still a frozen rime of frost across the surface. I tried sponging it away with my lambswool cleaning tool and some hot water but it simply turned the frost to a frozen sludge. I managed to get most of it off but there was still a layer of almost opaque frost across all three panels. Never the less I came back inside, hung up my gear and walked back to the stern to check the battery charge and it warmed my heart considerably to see the solar panels were indeed making energy and my batteries were topped up to 13.5! 


     The water point tap is frozen so that is my next chore. I am going to pour a kettle of boiling water over it to get the door un-latched and another kettle of boiling water over the hose pipe inside with the lever turned on and left in the on position. Soon enough it will thaw and begin running. It is a good day to have a tidy up inside while the sun is still shining; wash a load of clothes and hang them to dry, make a pot of nourishing soup and some bread--rye I think, and settle down in front of the fire with a book. 
     Wherever you are if it's winter I wish you warm and safety. If it's summer I wish you good cheer and glass of something cold raised to the rest of us!  xxx

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Making a Run for It!

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts." ~Winston Churchill, British statesman, Army officer and writer; British Prime Minister, 1940-1945 and 1951-1955

   As Scottish poet Robbie Burns wrote, "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley." In other words the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. That's what happened with me and my plans to come off the Macclesfield canal and quickly work my way down the Trent & Mersey's Heartbreak Hill to Hassell Green. Another word for it is weather. While I was enjoying the weekend painting course at Bollington Wharf, the weather was conspiring against me. Damn Gina!
     Tuesday morning, moored up at the top of Bosley locks, I had a grocery delivery from Ocado. Friends Amy and James Tidy appeared and at 11 am we began moving down the 12 lock flight at Bosley. Hugging them goodbye at the bottom lock, I cruised off  through the cold and headed back down towards the beginning of the Macclesfield canal. This is a narrow, shallow canal that winds through some spectacular countryside, passing through the town of Macclesfield which I will be sorry to leave behind. It is a lovely place with good shops and restaurants and small town feel even though it is a market town with a population  over  52,000. If you ever find yourself there be sure to have lunch at Silktown Fryer on Castle street. You can go in the left door and order a takeaway or enter the right door and sit down in their cafe which is bright, very clean, and the service is excellent. But the fish and chips are why we are here and they are divine!!! I know it is probably sacrilege to say I am not a fan of Britain's favorite fast food but I always find the fish greasy and the batter claggy. Most chips are just so-so. The Cod as this establishment was encased in the most amazing batter. It was well coated, crispy and brown, but light as a feather and there was not one drop of grease pooling on my plate. The chips were hot, golden and delicious.
     Right, back to cruising: I left the top lock at 11 am and arrived at Scholar Green near the stop lock and the water point at 3:48 pm--just as dusk fell.  that was five hours of continuous cruising with winds gusts of 30 mph grabbing at the boat. My hand was locked around the tiller like a corpse with rigor mortis. By 3 pm I was shivering with the cold. My down jacket while warm, is not water proof. Five hours of perspiring in it made it damp on the inside. My fingers were numb at the very tips despite wearing Alaskan mittens and I was knackered which always makes the cold worse.
     From the bottom of the Bosley flight to Scholar Green is twelve miles and in all of that stretch--not counting boats moored permanently year around--I only saw 15 boats moored up. I was the only boat on the move the entire time. The cut seemed abandoned and empty in the diluted light of a gray day in which the sun came out briefly once I reached Congleton and then teased me through a mast of clouds as it quickly dropped lower in the sky, affording no real warmth. I did stop in the bridge hole at bridge 85 to step inside, have wee, stoke the coal fire and turn the Ebispacher diesel heater on to heat the indoor rads. I was about 45 minutes away from Scholar Green and I wanted the boat toasty warm inside with plenty of hot water. I find stopping in a bridge hole on a very windy day for a quick dip inside is a good way to do it barring any boats following or approaching. The bridge hole keeps the boat from being buffeted about by the wind and allows one to take off cruising again without having to regaining control of the boat.
     At my destination I moored up about five feet from the bow of another boat with its bow pointing towards mine. Behind him was the open mooring for the water point. I figured my 125 feet of hose should reach the tap and I felt bad about mooring so close to the other boat but it is winter and needs must. No telly to be had in this cutting so I didn't bother putting up the antennae. Inside I stripped off my outdoor gear, lit a fire under the tea kettle, hung my damp things to dry and climbed into a scalding hot shower to thaw out. Ten minutes later I was nice and warm in clean, dry clothes with a mug of hot cherry and cinnamon tea. Darkness closed around NB Valerie and me.
     Thursday arrived and the weather forecast was for even higher winds straight out of the north with very cold temperatures. Neither materialized in this safe little pocket just outside the grip of the Cheshire Gap. Meteorologists use the term Cheshire Gap when referring to the lowlands of the Cheshire Plain, providing as they do a passage between the Clwydian Hills, in Wales on the one hand and the Peak District and South Pennines on the other. (The Macclesfield canal travels along the Eastern edge of this gap, rising 118 feet with the Bosley lock flight to run cheek by jowl with the hills of the Peak district.) Weather systems are often guided down this "gap", penetrating much further inland than elsewhere along the coast of the Irish Sea way off to the west of my location.
The black arrow marks the Cheshire gap and the tiny pink mark at its leading edge marks my current location.
     Friday dawned and the wind arrived although not the 60 mph gusts predicted; the boat rocked with the gusts and the water in the canal rippled into waves and still three boats came through the stop lock heading towards Congleton. I had arranged for friends Chris and Andy Thorp on NB Ceiriog to lock me down the first twelve in the flight of Cheshire locks on the Trent & Mersey known as Heartbreak Hill but I had contacted them on Wednesday and canceled. I didn't want to anyone to risk their necks on my account. Friday night the snow began, timidly at first but by Saturday morning there was an inch and half of heavy, sticky snow on the ground--and the boat. I threw on my cold weather gear, filled a bucket with hot water and grabbed my Flow Through cleaner bought at a Caravan supply shop last summer and out I went to clean the snow off the solar panels. Once they were clean and dry I tackled the stern and the bow.
Saturday morning 7 am.
Using my Caravan Flow Through Cleaner with a lambs wool on the end to clear the solar panels. The handle holds water sucked up from the bucket through the lambs wool end.
Job done! I love this telescoping handled cleaner and my collapsible silicone bucket. Les nearly had a heart attack when he saw the price of the bucket--£11! It has been worth every penny and collapses down to a slim disc easily stowed away.
A Canal and river Trust (CRT work barge laden with new lock gates for the work on the Bosley flight just after Christmas.
These small blue bargettes are the work horses of CRT. They push and pull larger barges laden with muck, oak lock gates and everything in between all along the cut.
     Back inside I tidied up, put my winter gear on again and headed off down the towpath to the bridge behind me, I was gong to walk to the Coop store 6/10th of a mile away on the A34 for my Saturday paper and some bits and bobs. As I rounded the bend of the towpath I spotted orange caution netting and boards stretched across the towpath cutting it off through the bridge hole. Approaching the closure I looked up at the bridge to see a huge chunk of bricks missing. Something had struck the bridge and broken the wall, the bricks tumbling down onto the towpath. Right so back I went the way I cam, passed my boat to look up and see--another closure just past the water point! It wasn't there when I moored up on Wednesday. I approached it to find the same detail of orange caution netting hanging from boards running across the towpath cutting me off from the ramp up to Moss lane and the A34. Now I understand why there was a caution closure back behind me near the damaged bridge but this closure by the water point is absolutely ridiculous!! The broken bridge is 2/10th of a mile away from the closure by the water point. Health and Safety have gone overboard, closing the towpath so far ahead of the actual issue that they have blocked off the egress to buses and shops for live aboard boaters who may well find themselves stranded by snow and ice, and made it dreadfully hazardous for boaters stopping for water.
The closure near the water point--2/10th of a mile before the actual bridge site in need to attention and closed off at its end with a similar structure. I had to climb part way over the right end of the boards on the up-slope side to gain access to the ramp up to Little Moss Lane and the road to the shop.
The view back down the ramp!
The footpath between two houses that leads to the ramp out os sight off to the left. Behind me is Little Moss Lane and the way out to the shops.
This trek to the Coop shop is 6/10th of a mile one way and wouldn't you know it but there is also another caution and blockage on the sidewalk ahead!!
Now you can see the gap between the first caution closure and the actual construction site farther on. What a bloody waste of space and time. I swear Health & Safety assumes Brits are stupid, brainless twits. A warning sign at the site of the first closure and this closure at the actual work site is sufficient to notify pedestrians so that we can look ahead for a break in the traffic, step out around the mess and back onto the sidewalk farther on.
The Co-op is just beyond, where the car is parked.
A brilliant idea! Re-purposing old red phone boxes for other use: this one has a Defibrillator inside.

NB Valerie moored beyond the blue boat at Scholar Green. The post in the foreground is the water point. The actual damaged bridge with a caution closure is on around the bend and out of site beyond NBV by 1/10th of a mile. 
     Once back from the shops I pulled out my hose to make sure it would reach NB Val from the water point and to my dismay I was 8 feet too short! Thee was nothing for it then but to move around the boat moored in front of me and moor up again with part of NBV on the water point mooring. Still there is room for one 72 foot boat or two smaller boats to moor in front of me for the water point and the stop lock.
     I am getting antsy sitting here second guessing the weather. It has snowed all day Saturday and today is Sunday. The snow still falls although now it is small, dry flakes. I have repeated the cleaning of the solar panels, washed clothes, and generally tried to keep things cleared off outside in the hopes I might be able to head off soon before I do end up frozen in here. Below is a screen shot of the Met Office weather forecast for today and next week. It looks as though I could make a break for it once again about Thursday.

 I am frustrated and I will admit it--I am frightened--at the thought of traveling down through 36 locks and 44 miles to get to Nantwich. I am constrained by time due to the winter closures of locks on between Red Bull and Hassall Green which take place just after Christmas. Les had years of experience with winter weather on the cut. We were such a good team. I could trust his judgment. If he said, "I Know what the weather service forecast but I think we are safe to go down as far as Wheelock," off we went and I could have the greatest confidence in Les' judgment.  I have no confidence in my own judgment. This is my first winter on my own. I don't mind moving in winter but I cannot afford to get iced in somewhere for very long without water and shops. I am fortunate in having many good friends--boaters all--who have offered to help me down these locks. I just need to say "Okay we're setting off on this day," and they will be there for me. I don't want to risk their safety and well being in weather that could put them at risk either because all of them are driving to get to me.
Here is the route I need to follow. The arrows indicate the direction I am traveling .The red X's mark the water points along the way. There was no way for me to mark the locks.
Patrick and Angela on NB Chouette in their Guernsey sweaters. They keep their boat moored up at Heritage Marina about a mile and half back behind me. I passed their boat on Tuesday afternoon but no one was on board, It turns out they arrived within minutes of my passing. Clued into my whereabouts by mutual friends Sue and Ken Deveson, Patrick and Angela hiked down to say hello and check in in me to make sure I was okay. We sat with tea and had a lovely natter. I look forward to getting to know them both better.
     The good news? I am warm, I am dry, and I do not lack for anything other than the confidence to know when to move.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs