Sunday 31 March 2019


Today's Canal - Droitwich

Overnight the clocks changed, leaving us with an hour's less sleep than usual! We set the alarm so that we would be up in time to go to the 9.30 service at St Peter's church. This gave us enough time to fill the water tank and also to dispose of rubbish.

The people at the church were as welcoming as we have found them before and one or two seemed now to recognise us. As we wanted to make a good getaway from the marina before lunch we did not stay after the service for refreshments.

Back at the boat we changed and there was not much else to do (except brew a mug of coffee!) before we could unplug from the electricity, start the engine, cast of the mooring ropes and make our way out to the canal.

After the bright, sunny day yesterday it was a bit of a disappointment to have grey skiers and a chilly wind with us for our first real cruise of the season. However, it brightened somewhat before too long and we were generally sheltered from the wind.

After leaving the marina we came under the Rugby Club bridge (an important element in the negotiations that enabled the last part of the canal restoration and is now the access to the marina as well).

That was immediately followed by the staircase pair, the next lock down to the motorway and then it was heads well down to pass through the low culvert.

A the next lock took us down to the level of the River Salwarpe and we were pleased to see that the river level marking showed almost as much green as it is possible to see and still be able to navigate!

At the Barge Lock in Vines Park a young family took an interest and one of the young girls was very keen to help, pushing the swing bridge, opening and shutting the gates and finally closing the bridge. Although the fall was hardly noticeable, we still had to work both sets of gates as normal. She also walked down to the next swing bridge to help with that one.

Alas, we were on our own for the final swing bridge. It played 'hard to get' and Mike had to enlist a dog walker to help hold the bridge fully open so that he could get the padlock off.

Shortly after that we reached Netherwich Basin where we moored alongside the towpath to have lunch.

The railway bridge is constructed (or perhaps re-lined) with circular corrugated sheets which means that the canal is very shallow apart from in the centre. This time we scraped the bottom whichever alignment we took.

We had seen posters in town advertising the fair which we cold just see through the hedge and the grounds of the leisure centre. Not sure if they were actually open for business but we could not see great crowds.

It was just before two that we continued our journey, passing around the edge of the town to the left and playing fields and a community woodland to the right.

We began to notice a gradual increase in floating weed and by the time we arrived at the top of the next lock it was clear that blanket weed is taking hold in a big way. With not too many boats on the move (we did not see any outside of the marina) and a quite warm spring, conditions for surface weed seem to have been optimal for its rapid growth - alas.

We were a bit concerned for this pair of ducks lest they were trapped by the strong flow of water but they were unfazed and continued to feed from the bottom of the channel. At a later lock a swan entered the chamber just as the boat was leaving and seemed disinclined to leave so Mike left one gate just ajar so that it would not be trapped until the next boat comes along.

The reeds at the bank edges are not problematic yet (we could just see new green shoots which will soon narrow the channel probably to a single track) We hoped when we saw this work boat in the distance that it might be a reed or weed cutter but alas no. Not sure why it was moored her, just on a sharp bend before a lock.

We had six of the wide locks to do before we could look for our mooring. Just below the last one we saw that a landowner is cutting a new track into the bank above the canal. With no chance yet to weather, the geological structure was quite evident (but sorry we failed to get a really clear photo - this is the best of the bunch) Puzzlingly, the track suddenly came to an end in the middle of the woodland - perhaps it further yet to go.

We moored where we have stopped before, just above the second lock up from the river. It is one of the few decent places complete with mooring rings and an edge that we can come right alongside. Shortly before, one boat was moored and the gap between it and the bank showed just bhow shallow it is.
6.7 Miles - 11 Locks

Saturday 30 March 2019

Back to Boat and British Camp, Malvern Hills

We came up from home on Thursday afternoon - Mike had meetings in Truro all morning. It was a straight run with few delays and, including a comfort break at Michaelwood Services, we arrived at the marina before six.

The boat had been taken out of the water whilst we were away but, because the wind was blowing a gale at the time, the marina staff opted to put the boat back on the pontoon bow first, rather than reversing in (which does need calm weather to do neatly!). We normally have the stern nearest to the bank as that is easier for loading, unloading and whenever getting on or off. So, after opening up, one of the first things was for Mike to start up the engine, motor forward just over a boat length, do a spin on the spot and then reverse back in!

On Friday morning we had an appointment to meet with Nick from the marina to finalise plans for blacking the boat which had to be abandoned at the first attempt. He was keen to show us a hull that he has just had sand blasted and is ready for painting as well as a boat with a hull from the same maker as ours which has just been re-painted in the way which he now recommends for Alchemy. The upshot of what has been a long debate over the past couple of weeks is that the boat is now booked for the Monday after we go back home, just over a week from now, when it will cleaned back down to the bare metal, sand blasted to a standard finish before priming and painting with a two-pack epoxy paint. We have also arranged with a local boat painter to complete the paintwork above the rubbing strakes to the gunwhales together with the tunnel bands. We are now hopeful that all will be ready for us to set off on the season's cruise when we next return on Easter Day.

Also, while we were away, we had two surface mounted solar panels fitted. Again, this has taken quite some time to achieve after a couple of false starts with other electricians. These should generate sufficient electricity on a reasonable day to keep pace with our day-time consumption when the engine is not running, whilst having a little over to help top up the batteries. We have not tried to be entirely off-grid nor able to survive long term without a daily help from the engine. But if we have some days on the boat (or perhaps one of us when the other is off elsewhere) when we do not move, then the use of the engine will be much less and hence the cabin more comfortable.

However, on the Friday (yesterday)we were disappointed to see no detection of the solar input nor any effect on the readouts from the battery monitor system. We checked with the installer how he had made his measurements (he was especially pleased that after installation he was reading 11 amps on a rather dull day).

Last night and this morning, Mike spent time studying the Mastervolt Manuals but initially did not see anything that might be the problem. However, he resorted to the blunt method of just running through all of the displays of readings and settings and eventually found one that said that the solar generation was 'off'. Tapping that display turned it to 'on' and immediately the main panel displayed its solar voltage detection indicator active! After a few checks we established that the solar was keeping pace with the fridge and freezer and later, towards the middle of the day, we were generating an excess. We cannot directly read out what the solar is capable of generating, only the effect on the battery which is also dependent on how fully charged it already is. The Mastervolt system is supposed to give preference to the solar over the AC shore line. So, we will now have something else to keep an eye on.

Saturday afternoon and we drove over to the Malvern Hills which we have not visited ever before. Also night, Christine took advice from Andrew - he used to work in Malvern - and so we headed for British Camp car park, towards the southern end of the range. He also told us that there was a small cafe cabin there.

It was one o'clock by the time we arrived and so we tried out the cafe -  it only has outdoor seating next to the busy road nor does it take plastic! Fortunately we managed to find enough cash and the day was exceptionally warm anyway. It must be well known as it was doing a roaring trade. They were doing bacon and sausage baps for £3.80 each and they turned out to be very tasty indeed.

Fortified, we set off up the steep path to the top of the hill on which British Camp, an ancient hill fort, was built. There were plenty of other walkers out - a lot of larger groups and many families with young children. We seemed to be - comparatively - ancient by a large margin!

Sadly the visibility today was not great, despite the clarity of recent  days. Nevertheless, the walk to the top is accompanied by great views of the plain below.

There is a small reservoir - it looked rather empty but the vegetation on the edges suggested that it was probably nearer to its normal level.

Sadly, just emerging from our winter layoff, we needed a few recovery pauses on the way up - some people consider it to be a rather gentle slope but we would not have wanted to tackle anything much steeper today!

Eventually we arrived at the hill fort and sat to enjoy the views - where we sat was very sheltered and the sun pleasantly warm.

Time then to make our way back down, plotting a route that was consistently downhill with no unexpected uphill sections! We had been promised plenty of seats but on the way up they were noticeable by their absence but by the time we reached the reservoir we found a seat which was empty so we sat for a while to read a few pages of the books we had packed in the rucksack.

Back at the car park we were drawn to the cafe once again, this time for tea and a cake each. Again, good value and very tasty. By the time we had finished we were ready to set off back to the marina.

Monday 11 March 2019

Tales of boat ownership - and pretty flowers

Not on the boat

A bit of an update . . .

After the short trip in the last blog it was time to head over to London where Mike was attending the General Synod session from Wednesday to Saturday. Christine came along as well - she has taken to using the opportunity of Travelodge charging per room rather than per person so it only costs her breakfast. This means that she can explore more of central London which is conveniently available either by walking or by public transport - the hotel is only a few minutes walk from Waterloo.

We booked a taxi to take us into town rather than leaving the car in the station car park - it is about the same, bearing in mind we would also need a taxi back to the marina on Saturday - but a bit simpler.

We just made the connection in Birmingham as our train up from Droitwich was rather late it was already late when we boarded it and the  ran even slower, allegedly because it was behind a stopping train, but since there were no more stations after they made that announcement, it rang a bit hollow!

The run down to Euston was just fine and although we both walked to the Underground, we took different routes from there as Mike only just had enough time to arrive in Westminster for his first meeting. He managed it, even though he mistakenly thought that Green Park station was to the south of the park rather than the north!

Mike's meetings were quite exhausting although interesting. Christine will no doubt take the opportunity to add an update about what she managed to do during her stay!

Edit (26 March): So far she has not been back to add her details but has commented on (AKA complained about) the fact that her photos have not yet been used! Apart from knowing that she did visit Tate Britain (hence the image of one of the paintings) you will just have to make do with the pix for now . . .

On Friday was made an arrangement to meet up with Joanna, Ellie, Alice and Jess for a meal at Pizza Express near Waterloo. It has already been planned that Christine would take the two younger grand daughters to visit the London Aquarium - tickets already booked ahead.

Mike left his meeting a few minutes early in order to meet with them all - he arrived no long after they had been shown to a table but not yet ordered any food.

This year, Mike's meetings ran through to Saturday afternoon as an experiment (to see if it was any easier for some members) and he and Christine arranged to meet at Church House. They travelled on the Underground to Euston arriving quicker than expected so there was time to have a cup of tea before the train was ready to board.

The journey back to Droitwich was fine, albeit just a few minutes late. We left booking a taxi until we knew we were catching the second train but were surprised to find that the firm that we have used previously (the largest in town) was fully booked until much later in the evening! Fortunately another company just managed to squeeze us in.

Sunday morning we went to St Peter's church where we have been before and then used the afternoon do do a few small items of work on the boat as well as cleaning, packing ready for a prompt start on the trip back to Cornwall on Monday morning. We did, however, have to wait until we could talk with the marina office to make final arrangements for several specialists to visit whilst we were away. The annual engine check and service had been done just before we came up this time and there were no reports of problems.

The next main task was to be for the boat to be pulled out of the water so that the hull bottom could be blacked. We also arranged for an engineer to check the prop and to repair if necessary - we knew that one of the blades at least has had too close an encounter with the detritus that routinely occupies the unseen underwater of canals! We had also booked a painter as the marina only do the blacking and, cosmetically, we wanted the black above the waterline re-done (we did it ourselves at the end of the first year) as well as the tunnel bands.

Switch now to yesterday. The day started bright and sunny - but with a forecast that heralded storms and rain for the rest of the week, Christine suggested we take time out to visit Caerhays Castle Gardens on the south coast (of Cornwall). It is famous for its huge collection of Rhododendrons and magnolias, some camellias and a few azaleas but is only open in the spring whilst the blossom is at its best.

As we were driving there we had a phone call from Nick at the marina. He had already pulled Alchemy out of the water and started to pressure wash the hull in preparation for painting (we were all already a bit nervous about the weather later in the week so a good start was needed) Alas, he found that the hull paint was lifting off in large pieces. His advice was that we could either continue with the blacking as planned, but that would not last for long, but that it really needs better surface preparation for a complete replacement of the black paint, both under and above the waterline - not a cheap option.

The use of the phone for talking as well as running the sat nav (we were in the small car, better to cope with the narrow lanes down to Caerhays) and in the process managed to confuse the sat nav so that we took a rather long way to arrive at our destination! Once we parked by the beach we discovered, as is still all to often in Cornwall, that away from towns and high ground, mobile signals are poor and neither of our phones could find a signal. As a result we had to return back up the hill to the top of the cliff in order to ring back to Droitwich and talk through a plan.

As it now stands, the boat is back in the water with no new paint and not too  much of the existing having been removed whilst we work out how best to proceed. It seems very likely that we will need to schedule a further time out of the water when Nick can arrange for a specialist to take the hull back to a good surface. We will keep you all posted once we have more information!

We have also arranged to have two flexible surface mounted solar panels fitted but. beyond hearing a week ago that the electrician has taken delivery of them, we have not yet heard how well he has progressed. It should not be too large a task as when the boat was built we had everything installed apart from the panels themselves.

By now it was almost lunch time so we took a stroll across the beach, with the tide well out, and back again to have a bacon roll at the beach cafe. It has a limited range of choices, and not always well reviewed on the fussier of trip web sites, but it suited us today.

We then walked across to the castle, paid our entrance dues and started to follow the red, blue, yellow and green routes. Although a few varieties were already loosing their blossom. most were at there most spectacular. There is a huge variety - the gardens were originally started at the end of the 19C when it was fashionable to collect specimens from the Far East, either by personal visit or though specialist who brought back large quantities to sell to the large estates developing in many parts of the country at that time.

The owner of the castle also became an expert in hybridization and many of the specimens around the gardens were first created here.

Back at the castle we were ready for a cup of tea from their tea rooms - and succumbed to the temptation of a scone/cake as well. By now the sheltered courtyard was just right to catch the sun as was very warm - tempting just to sit and enjoy the freshness of Spring. Eventually we had to make our way back home - slightly shorter than the unplanned diversionary route we followed to get here!

We have included pictures of the gardens - just because we can!