We were delighted that Bryn was going to be joining us again for a visit. As usual with visitors, because he picked a date, he didn’t get to pick the location. We decided to divert off the main line on to the Aylesbury Arm because we know Bryn enjoys locks and it provides plenty. They were the first single width locks we’ve done for months, so I was pleased to be working them on our way to Aylesbury. The Canal and River Trust (CRT) website showed that the second last lock before the town was closed, but was somewhat ambiguous about the one before. What was clear was that the last winding hole was an annoying three miles from the train station.
We moored at the winding hole and I cycled in to town to see what was happening. Everything seemed to be open, indeed the contractors were transferring their equipment by boat through the relevant section. That evening was when I realised the heating wasn’t working. The diesel powered heating unit was coming on but switching itself off after about fifteen minutes. Our only other source of heat is electricity, so I resolved to look for fan heaters the next day.
The next morning I spent some frustrating and fruitless time trying to find someone who would contemplate repairing our heating. We drove the rest of the way towards Aylesbury, during which I heard a strange noise. I recognised the behaviour of the controls from a previous incident – the belt had snapped. So now the clever HybridMarine system that generates two thirds of our electricity wasn’t working.
When we arrived at the lock we found it padlocked. So now we had a problem with heating, electricity and turning – and a guest arriving!
I was finding it all very stressful. We walked in to town and successfully purchased a pair of 400W fan heaters. We had some lunch and did some shopping, but I couldn’t relax – I wanted to know if the fan heaters worked, and if I could resolve the HybridMarine issue.
Last time the belt broke, Ian from Ortomarine had to undo the coupling that holds the propellor on(!) to position the replacement. While he was there, he threaded a spare belt on too and tied it aside. So that meant that I only had to turn off the isolator and remove the safety cover to thread the spare. All done in ten minutes.
When I got the heaters out of their boxes it turned out they didn’t have power leads, they just plug straight in to a socket. This has one major advantage – they can’t fall over! And they worked (one of them kept cutting out until Bryn noticed it just needed its thermostat set a bit higher).
So that was three problems, one solution, one workaround and one unknown. I was still pretty wound up, but managed to appreciate the sunset before we went to meet Bryn in the dark.
The weather changed overnight, so we woke to rain. I had put the full cover up over the back so that I would be able to work in the engine compartment even if the weather changed earlier than forecast. The Aylesbury Arm bridges are not compatible with the cover, so I set about taking it down. I’ve done this many times and I’m getting pretty slick at it. I usually take the canal side panel down from inside – it is slightly awkward. The bank side panel I more often do from the gunwale, it’s slightly easier and I can step on to the bank. This time just as I’d finished, my foot slipped. I’m not sure quite what happened next – gravity doesn’t hang about when it gets going. I stopped with one elbow on the gunwale and the other on the bank, wet to above my knees. I hauled myself out, stood on the back deck and shouted my frustration. So now we have no heating and I have wet clothes and shoes! And a bruised rib.
A quick change later we set off. The reversing went well. Bartimaeus is reasonably well-behaved in reverse (many narrowboats are not) and the bow thruster allowed me to make course corrections. We turned at the winding hole and then made excellent time through the locks with Bryn’s enthusiastic help. It did rain quite heavily in the last lock, and it was still pretty chilly in the cabin, but that was another problem off the list.
The afternoon weather was drier, and we drove and locked until nearly sunset. Despite driving on diesel all day (except in the locks) the batteries were still not quite back to 100% when we moored up. We’d left the heaters on for much of the day though, so the cabin was reasonably warm.
Overnight the battery levels dropped to 75% – levels that make me start to fret. If we can’t get the batteries recharged by driving all day we will have to find a different solution. And I still hadn’t found anyone who would even look at fixing the heating. Clare and I have often wondered what might make us decide we’ve had enough of boating. This morning I was wondering if I’d found out.
Today was a brighter day. Nevertheless at this time of year our panels can only generate enough power in a day to keep the heaters going for an hour. There was no reversing and many fewer locks, so perhaps we’d do better. We stopped for shopping at moorings outside a large supermarket (other large supermarkets are available) in Leighton Buzzard. While Clare and Bryn were shopping I made a breakthrough. I followed a sequence of leads and eventually spoke to a very helpful boat yard which we should reach on Monday. They are confident they can fix the heater and then install it on the boat at its winter mooring location. I think he was a little unprepared for how delighted I was when he said that.
We lunched outside the supermarket, and then Bryn and I took a stroll along the towpath to set the next lock and warm my feet up a bit. I’m drying the shoes by wearing them and changing socks now and again. We passed the hire base for Wyvern Boats (other boat hire companies are available) and I was amused to see Kingfisher, the boat we had hired in 2018.
As we drove on, I could see the battery level rising fast enough to soothe my anxieties. I experimented with running the fan oven with the door open. This had the dual benefit of heating the cabin while slowing the rate of charge to the batteries. Things were looking up, and I was starting to enjoy passing sights again.
The character of the canal and its surroundings started to change as we approached the outskirts of Milton Keynes. It all started to remind me of summer last year. Just before we stopped for the night we passed the winding hole which had been our southern limit on the Grand Union last year – we’ve now done the entire length.
We moored up with the batteries at 100% and the cabin pleasantly warm. My rib isn’t as sore as yesterday either. I think we’ll carry on with this boating lark for a bit yet!