Anniversary: One Year on the Cut

venetian sunset 171107
Venetian Marina 7 Nov 2017, soon after I moved in (taken from stern deck of Whiskey Mac).

This is quite long, and I did think of splitting it, but as an annual review it seems to hang together.  Apologies if you disagree.  There is some technical detail and some stats about costs.

At the end of May I completed one year of continuous cruising, having left Venetian Marina on 31 May 2018. Since then Whiskey Mac has travelled to Nantwich, Chester, back to Venetian, then on to Stourport-on-Severn, back to Wolverhampton, onward to Great Haywood, Fazeley, Hawkesbury, and Nell Bridge (just south of Banbury), then a slow return along the Oxford Canal, where I spent the colder months, and the Coventry Canal to just north of Nuneaton on day 365.

Distance-wise that is just shy of 400 miles, but boaters measure consumption in hours and litres; in this case 1002 hours (average 2.75 hours per day) and approximately 838 litres, an economical rate of 0.84 litres per hour. Total cost of (red) diesel was £760 (average 91p/litre inc. tax for propulsion).

Fuel for the stove cost just £375. This was mainly for coal (generally around £2.20 per kilogram), as I scavenged for most of my firewood.

Gas, for cooking only, costs very little as 3 cylinders will last all year, about £75.

Not all plain sailing

By late June all was well.  It was sunny, plenty of help with locks, England put 6 past Panama, which I watched in The Shroppie Fly, Audlem, a pub well-known among boaters.  At Audlem Locks I managed to get through 11 of the 14 in 4 hours 45 minutes – it took just 20 minutes to walk back to where I had started from!  Soon I was at Market Drayton, where the very nice “Session Beer” produced by the owner of the Salopian Star was just £2 per pint, and the landlord for a time had played hockey for Drayton:  we may even have played against each other.

Battery trouble

And then my first crisis struck.  The batteries were not charging.  There are two belt-driven alternators on the engine, which charge the batteries, but the belt on one was loose.  Okay, I thought, it just needs tightening, but there seemed to be no way of adjusting it.  So I went to Talbot Wharf to see if they could recommend a local engineer, and they gave me the business card of Ian R Skoyles, who turned out to be first class.  Ian found that there was no adjuster for one belt, and that the thread on the other was stripped.  He would come back the following day.

I decided to have some other work done.  Ian showed me how much to tighten the nuts on the stern gland (where the shaft goes through the hull), fitted adjusters for the belts, supplied a spare, fitted new domestic batteries and a new 2,000 Watt inverter (which converts 12V DC to 230V AC – mains power – £1,250).  This replaced the old Heart Interface inverter, for which spares were no longer available.  Talbot Wharf helped by supplying batteries and accepting delivery of the inverter, ordered from Midland Chandlers.  So, if you are out on the Shropshire Union and need engineering support you could hardly do better.

beta marine 38 hp
Engine: Beta Marine 38 horsepower, cooled through hull. Alternator belts on right, with smaller, 50 Watt alternator top right (grey).  White tube top left is exhaust.  Diesel filter is lower left (partially visible), oil filter bottom right.
heart remote
Redundant battery indicator in saloon: the lead from this does not fit the new inverter.  If only Maplin was still going!
inverter charger
New inverter: Victron 12V 2000W 80A.
prop gland
Stern gland.

From diary 1 June – this is not Pepys!

Moved to Gladstone Wharf.
Woodseaves cutting is Tolkienesque:  tall trees dark and narrow, with hazards in the water.  I rode one rock whilst passing another boat.  The 2 mph limit is well-advised.

woodseaves cutting
Woodseaves cutting, Shropshire Union Canal, south of Market Drayton.

Diary 7 July 2018

Breakfast at tea room
Washed towels
Sainsbury delivery to pub car park
3 pm SWE v ENG Junction Inn
Get in!!

WM Norbury
Whiskey Mac, Norbury Junction, ready for services. Junction Inn opposite.  The green pipe is for pump out.

I was moored on the aqueduct just south of Norbury Junction.  There is quite a community of boaters who reside there, as well as people passing through, like me.  And they are very friendly.  I had ordered a delivery from Sainsbury’s – you find a place with a post code and arrange to meet; they text or call (say) 10-20 mins ahead, but on this day the driver called early and asked if the pub would be showing the football.  Yes.  So, would you mind if I deliver just before the kick off?  No problem.  It turned out he had booked some time off and we watched our boys progress to the next round of the World Cup.

I continued south to Stourport on Severn, which is the only town to have developed purely because of the canals.  The main hazard was Limekiln Bridge, Kidderminster, where the water was high and my engine ventilator stack was somewhat mangled.  But wire wool, pliers, Brumagem screwdriver, and Hammerite, combines to restore some semblance of dignity (below).

After that I returned north again.

Grass cutting.

The CRT, and especially their volunteers, do a great job, but one thing that bugs me is the folks that mow and strim the towpaths seem to follow me around.

Diary 22 August 2018

Water at Gailey.  Back of queue.
Helped through one lock. but mainly single-handed.
Grass cutting followed me all the way!
Busy today, up and down.
Exhausted. Humid.

penkridge cross keys
Cross Keys, Penkridge

I sometimes wonder if grass cutting teams seem to single me out for special attention.  At Gailey they arrived just as I had finished taking on water; don’t want grass clippings in the tank.  Usually, when they come along the grass is wet, and the cuttings stick to everything, but that day it was dry so there was grass everywhere.  In places the towpath gets scalped, exposing mud, which is ground by passing boots and bicycle tyres.  Then puddles develop.  Then quagmires.

Refusal to start

The next victim was my starter battery.  At Acton Trussell the engine would not start.  When the starter motor turns over the engine usually gives some indication that it will start, but nothing.  Not enough juice.  The domestic batteries were a shade low, so I was reluctant to bridge and risk losing all power.  River Canal Rescue (part of my insurance) sent a man with a jump lead.  He had several attempts, during which the starter motor sounded weaker and weaker.  Then, just as he was saying: “Looks like I will have to fetch a battery”, the engine fired and normal charging began.  The following day, the starter battery was flat, and I concluded that it had reached end of life.  I connected up the starter positive to the domestic positive (they have a common “earth”, so no need to connect neutrals) and was able to start that way until I could get a new starter battery.  This I did at Springwood Haven on the Oxford Canal (£95), where I also bought a new stack (£40.50) and “coolie” (rainhat £10.95) for the stove flue, and some stove paint (£14).  They were very helpful, and other boaters agree.

Batteries: bank of 3 domestic (or leisure) batteries (left) and starter battery.


At that time the stern fender was disintegrating even more rapidly that it had been, and I had to prune yet more to stop strands falling into the screw.  By the time I reached Haywood Junction it was close to non-existent, so I purchased a new one (£70), which a man from Anglo-Welsh fitted free of charge, including use of bolt cutters to remove the rusty D-rings.  There I bought 80 litres of diesel (@80p, which is a bargain) and had a pump out (£16, which is typical, and is required about every 3 or 4 weeks).

WM Wormleighton Grange footbridge
Whiskey Mac near Wormleighton Grange, Oxford Canal, going from Fenny Compton to Napton-on-the-Hill. Note button fender at stern.

After that things went pretty well.  Fair weather continued into October, my stocks of coal and foraged firewood grew, walks in the countryside, wild apples, blackberries, sloes and damsons abounded, and I had settled into a nice rhythm.  (The first diary entry that indicated inclement weather was 7 November:  “Wet and windy”.)

Diary 8 November

Moved to Wormleighton Grange.
2 locks and water.  Stopped after bridge 124 and then 126 to collect wood.
Water pump would not stop & some pump pushing water into cut.

I discovered that the water pump was leaking.  This meant that it could not pressurise the accumulators (hot and cold tanks), so would not switch off.  Consequently, one or other accumulator overflowed, with the effect that my boat was attempting to fill up the cut!  So, until I could get somewhere to attend to it, I just had to switch the pump on and off to manage the water supply.  The pump was replaced at Tooley’s Boatyard in Banbury (£150. parts and labour).  I could have saved the labour, but the man from Tooley’s took half an hour, and fitted the right model, but it would have taken me ages and probably at the expense of some muscle or joint injury, or even bloodshed.

Getting at the water pump.  Clockwise from top left:  steps to cabin doors, move steps to access panel, remove panel to reveal dark space (pump not in view, but off to right), water pump (bottom centre with blue strip).  Red carpet is insulation for bow thruster tube.  Dark grey box is water tank.  Black tube is inlet from deck filler cap to tank.  Tank holds 150 gallons (approx. 680 litres), which weighs about two thirds of a ton or tonne.  Pump delivers 11 litres per minute.

After that came the winter, but I had little trouble keeping warm.  I spent most of the time between Nell Bridge (south of Banbury) and Napton-on-the-Hill, which is a pleasant and convenient place for a two week stay.  The village stores (thankfully in the lower part of the village) has friendly staff, some useful groceries and fire wood, and main grocery shopping can be delivered to the car park of The Folly pub.  There is a water point below the bottom lock.

Day 365

Warwickshire N of Nuneaton
Countryside north of Nuneaton, Warwickshire.  Canal just discernible half way up.

And now it’s “flaming June” again …

flaming June
Summer’s day at Tixall Wide, June 2019.

Overall impression

Well, I guess (if you’ve got this far, and especially if you have read some of my other posts) you will gather that I have mainly enjoyed life on the cut, despite the pitfalls.  To some degree it can be a solitary existence, which I don’t mind, but there are always boaters, and sometimes others, around to help with, for example, locks, technical issues, and even fetching some coal.  Sometimes I just take a windlass to a nearby lock an help people through.

There are lots of things I would like to do, or have done by someone competent, to the boat, when money becomes available.  Priority is blacking the hull, and, perhaps, new anodes.  At the same time, I might need to have work done to the gas locker because the drains are quite near the waterline.  The weed hatch cover in the stern deck needs some attention.  Next would be painting the cabin, including some smart artwork for the boat name.  The radiators don’t work, but I think that is just some air in or affecting the calorifier, an easy enough job for an engineer to fix, though I want to remove the radiator from the saloon.  Anyway, the stove has kept me warm, even when the cut has been frozen.  The space will allow for some more shelves.  Then there are some minor niggles, like getting the rev counter working again, and doing something about battery indicators, and cleaning out the diesel tank, which has about three inches of water in the bottom.  And a new sink/drainer would be nice.  And a better mast and antenna for TV.  And I might go for a more modern fridge and freezer.

The biggest change for the good would be renewable energy, and I want to explore possibilities for solar and wind energy.  This would save a lot of diesel, and could repay installation cost in just 3 to 5 years.

I would also like some nice new cushions for the deck lockers that could double up in the dinette, where the seats are a bit too far below the table.  Storage is always an issue, so anything that doubles up is a bonus.  If the ladies on NB Netty are passing, please get in touch.

Boat Safety Scheme Examination

The most trying thing to do with the boat has been the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) Examination, which is the boating equivalent of the MOT test for a road vehicle:  I was dreading some very expensive work to be demanded before I could pass.  But that is for another post.

One thought on “Anniversary: One Year on the Cut

  1. Well done and thank you for sharing some of your ups and downs of life on the Canal,hope the weather improves for all of us, happy sailing.


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