We were expecting a warmer and drier day today, so we planned to make the most of it. We cast off early by our current standards – about 9.30. As the mornings get lighter, I’m hoping our body clocks will feel happier about starting earlier than that. Sometimes it can feel like the best part of the day’s weather has happened before we’ve risen.
We were moored up a few boat lengths from the day’s first lock. I went to get it ready while Clare was tidying up ropes. This section of canal has locks sprinkled along it – a total of 15 spread over about 4 miles. They are sufficiently close together that it makes sense to walk between them. The alternative is for the boat to wait to pick up crew while the gate behind is closed and then come in to the side to let crew off again on approach to the next lock.
Almost all the locks were set against us too. If we’d been in a hurry, I might have run along between the locks, but I opted for a fast walk today – but only then where the path permitted it. Some sections were squelchy and slippery. This is a very rural section, most of the buildings we saw were historic canal cottages.
We were again leaving the engine running when we were in locks. When we set off today, the State of Charge (SOC) was showing 75% – the lowest this month. Leaving lead-acid batteries in that state for an extended period is not good for their longevity, so I was keen to get them topped up today. The quarter mile gaps between the locks did at least give the HybridMarine system chance to get some high speed charging done. At a slow cruise, we charge the batteries three times faster than when the engine is idling.
The barrel-roofed cottages which are a feature of this section were a money-saving idea. The building of the canal coincided with a credit crunch caused by the Napoleonic War. Other savings were made by taking the towpath outside the bridges, so making the bridges narrower. The bridges are made of two leaves which don’t meet in the middle. This allowed the rope to be passed through without unhitching – only boatmen were inconvenienced.
After lunch, I drove for a bit and Clare did the locking. I paused for her when I saw the towpath looked submerged. I was surprised that she opted to walk on through – I think I would have requested a ride.
We were usually hanging back from the locks while we waited for them to fill because there is often a weir just beside the jaws which pulls the nose sideways if the boat approaches slowly. On approach to one lock I could see that this was not going to be a problem as there was a cast-iron trough just before it. On arrival, it turned out to be a small aqueduct over a river – apparently a previous wooden one had washed away in a storm.
This lock had several other unusual features. It was the only one of this set to have two paddles set in to the gate. These had to be opened from opposite sides of the canal, though once the gate was open, they could both be closed from the same side. To cross the canal, Clare used a bridge which was visually similar to the original, but was clearly a more recent addition. The biggest difference was that it did not have a gap in the middle.
At some stage I noticed that the SOC had leapt up from 84% to 100%. I’ve seen this sort of behaviour before, though this was the biggest numerical leap I can remember. It seems that the big blue box in the cupboard estimates SOC by monitoring current in and out of the batteries. It also monitors the way the voltage changes when a charge is applied, and can update its reading accordingly. Either way, we can now see that the batteries are happy again. We did the remaining locks in our usual mode – with the engine off while stationary.
At the end of the day’s cruising I remembered a small bit of maintenance that was long overdue. Getting in and out of the back steps is much easier if the hatch can be slid out of the way. In winter, we try to keep it closed to keep the warmth in, so it gets moved quite a lot. I’ve recently experimented with using an empty plastic bottle to hold the pram cover poles clear of the life ring. This has worked very well – I’ll find something more aesthetically pleasing eventually. The hatch itself doesn’t slide very easily however. The fix for this is an occasional squirt of GT85 on the rails. Yesterday Clare could hardly move the hatch – today I can move it with one finger.