Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Crew Change at Leamington Spa

Despite their late arrival the Willow Wrens were away by 07.00 and well clear by the time we got to Stockton Top Lock an hour later. The eight locks between here and the "Blue Lias" took us 93 minutes, about 11.5 mins per lock, which wasn't bad for broad locks, all against us and with a two-handed crew. We did, however, manage to upset another boater on the way. My crew member, Hugh, has poor vision - in fact his eyesight is bad enough to qualify him for a bus pass on disability grounds - so its not surprising that in going ahead to set a lock he failed to notice two uphill boats in the next lock down. Their presence became apparent as we descended and they had to wait for us. As we passed in the pound I attempted to apologise and explain to the steerer of the first boat, but not only was he not interested he also berated me for not opening both bottom gates of the lock we'd just left. I thought this was a bit much as he had two crew members standing idly by at the top of the lock waiting for him. The second steerer was a bit more receptive and told me not to worry: "He's always grumpy in the mornings!"
Radford Bottom Lock. The very first lock I ever passed through on Starcross!
The section between the "Blue Lias" pub and Radford Bottom lock was the very first stretch of canal I ever navigated on Starcross. This was in 2003, when the then owners, Mark and Mandy who lived aboard, invited Hil and I for a day out on the cut. I'd always had ideas about getting a narrowboat and that day convinced me that one day I would. So I told Mark that if Starcross was ever for sale I wanted "first refusal". Little did I know that eighteen months later Mark and Mandy would be in Australia and I'd be a proud boat owner!

Hugh was to accompany me as far as Leamington, from where he would catch a series of trains back to Knaresborough and where Duncan, who was coming from Mossley, near Manchester also by train would join me. This involved Hugh, Duncan and Starcross being in Leamington simultaneously at 13.37hrs - a target made even more ambitious by it being Sunday a day legendary for delays and diversions on the railway. In the event, Duncan made an "impossible" connection somewhere en-route and, having met up with another occasional Starcross crew member, Ken, walked down the cut to meet us at Radford Road Bridge. I was, however, pleased to see that Starcross arrived at Leamington almost exactly on time. After a brief halt to replenish food supplies in the Co-op just down from bridge 40 Duncan, Ken and I set off through Warwick and up the Cape Locks, where we passed the Willow Wrens taking an extended lunch break to listen to the England - Germany match.
Just above the Cape (c) D Roberts
Ken had to leave us at the bottom of Hatton so we were very glad to see "Wild Cherry" with a husband-and-wife crew waiting for us in the bottom lock. They turned out to be one of those crews that sometimes you just "gel" with and can work through a flight efficiently and predictably without any discussion on who-does-what. Duncan and I swapped steering for lock-work half way up, but Mrs Wild Cherry "couldn't steer" so locked through all 21 locks herself, a task that took us three hours or 8.5 minutes a lock (including two miles distance). Wild Cherry has heading for Rowington for the night (the husband had been put on cooking duty) but we stopped above the top lock, arriving about 19.00.
Hatton visitor moorings
We were just about to set off to the pub about 21.00 when two hire boats came past. "Can you get two boats in that lock, mate?" said the steerer of the second. "Yes, said I, "but you do know there are 21 of them, don't you?"  From the look on his face I could see that this came as news - but in the morning we saw them tied up, facing north again, having winded in the top pound.
The Willow Wrens had followed us up from the Cape and were now tied up on the water point, three abreast. The kids were playing in the garden of the "Waterman" as we entered and I hope that the adults in the crew were inside, enjoying a no-doubt well-earned pint!

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