We finally arrived at the boat on Tuesday 22 March at about 3 o’clock; we hadn't visited the boat since we left her just after New Year, some two and a half months earlier. The first job was to refit the water pumps and get the electrics on. I knew the domestic batteries were in bad shape but what I didn't expect was to find the engine starter battery completely flat, a few minutes with the jump leads and the old Beta was puffing out smoke again with a rhythmical beat. I switched on the water pump and wet stuff emerged from the galley tap. What I didn't realise was that I had left the drain line from the calorifier open and the pump was merrily pumping the contents of the water tank into the bath, worse than that, I had placed the contents of the bathroom cupboard in the bath while I refitted the Bath emptying pump and when I noticed, they were floating around the bath like a small armada, complete with submarines.
Diana cleaned out the fridge that contained quite a lot of black growth as we had forgotten to latch the door open before we left after New Year, We did remember it at about Bury St Edmunds on the way home, but no way was I going to drive all the way back just to open it.
The rest of the boat was in good shape, we did wonder whether the snow would have blown in over the winter but nothing appeared wet and the boat didn't smell unduly damp and with the Dickinson alight things were warming up nicely.
Wednesday morning we moved down to the locks to load up the new Domestic batteries, this time I was installing four, 6 volt 200 Ah ones in series to supply out 24 volts. I had bought these from Shield Batteries http://www.shieldbatteries.co.uk/ in Bishop Stortford when we came through in February at a very reasonable price. After loading the batteries we moved down below the lock to fit them as the towpath is piled and straight there, which made it much easier to pass the old ones out of the side hatch and the new ones in. The footprint of the 6 volt batteries is a bit bigger than the 110 amp 12 volt ones I was removing so we also had to remove one of the two starter batteries to accommodate them. Fitting the new batteries was quite straight forward with only two modifications required, I had to stand one pair of the batteries on a piece of 6mm plywood so the clamping flange of one battery sat above the other and I had to have a new neutral cable made up for the repositioned starter battery. Both these were obtained from Wharf House Chandlery at Braunston, who were quite happy to the make up the lead while I waited.
During the afternoon Robin on Maple with a crew of teenage lads came along and stopped to introduce himself. He is heading down the K&A . We followed him up the locks, backwards to fill up with water. Just as we entered the lock a hire boat arrived at the top, I'm sure the wife and child didn't notice we were going the wrong way through the lock. We were half way through filling with water when Pauline and Charles on Pendlebury came into sight, returning from Banbury on their way to Stockton. After moving Harnser back to her moorings for the night we walked down below the lock to join them for a cup of tea .
Thursday morning about 10 o'clock we set off to the Blue Lias. As we passed Draco they were making ready to leave and followed down the flight one boat behind us. We passed Pendlebury moored opposite Napton Narrowboats and continued down to Wigrams turn to join the Grand Union Canal. At the junction they were attempting to get the first Black Prince hire boat into the new marina, the access to the marina is only about 8 feet wide and forms a cross roads with the G.U. and the Oxford canal. It should be an interesting spot on a Saturday as the new hirers leave and try to swing round to Napton or Braunston, or when they return and try to turn back into the marina entrance.
We stopped at Calcutt to fill with water as this is usually a fast tap, what we didn't bargain on was it's also where Ownership favorite stop to fill up before returning to base at Stockton and two boats on the same point certainly slow things down a bit, but it gave us the opportunity to have a chat with Ken and Claudia who were waiting for Draco to join them before continuing on down to the Blue Lias. Just as we finished filling with water so did the Ownerships boat behind us and at the same time Draco approached the open lock closely followed by Ken and Claudia.
We followed them down with the Ownership boat that had a very capable crew onboard. There was very little traffic about so when we reached the top of the Stockton flight there was nothing coming up and Draco and Prairie Crocus going down. Ken did back set a couple of locks for us as he went down, but we decided to hang around for a bit to see if there would be another boat coming to join us, to no avail. We set off down the flight and as we entered the third lock a boat appeared at the top. Diana walked back to tell them we would wait for them and to help them down. I would much rather wait ten minuets for another boat to catch up and halve the work, than push on alone. When we arrived at the Blue Lias Draco, Prairie Crocus, Thorn and Persephone, Jannock were already there and moored up and we winded and moored on the far end mooring.
Good Friday and the next boat to arrive was Willy-No Name followed by Raven and finally Black Pig. A couple on another boat, Huffler turned up during the afternoon from Braunston as they had booked a table for a Saturday night meal in the Blue Lias so they have moored on the outside of us for a couple of nights. The boat is fitted with a Gardner engine and they have a totally blind cat onboard. As the afternoon drew on we had the most wonderful sunset.
Easter Monday arrived and it was time to depart. After all the farewells we slipped our moorings at 10-30 in the company of Raven, as we approached the first lock there was a boat waiting to go up so Raven joined her, we waited back as we knew there was another boat on the way up from the locks below and within a few minuets, even before Diana had even turned the lock she was alongside us. Luckily for us there was a crew of 5 onboard, 2 elderly couples and the son of the owner. Between the seven of us we made very good progress up the flight, not meeting any boats on the way. We left them at the Boat Inn when they stopped for coffee. We carried on alone to Calcutt locks and arrived just in time to see Janet from Raven draw the bottom paddles for us before she caught the boat up in the next lock, this was the last we saw of Raven as she was heading to Braunston and we were turning right to Napton. As we went up in the bottom lock 2 boats came down the second lock, which made things easier for us, and again as we left the second, boats were coming down the top. We stopped to fill with water again at the top lock, the same tap we had used last Thursday coming down. At this point we were unable to find the key for the water point, not a major problem as we have a spare, but all the boat keys were also on the key ring. Diana thought I must have left the keys behind when we last filled up, so I went to Calcutt Boats to see if anyone had handed any keys in. It was my lucky day and on the bottom of the key rack hung our keys. After filling the tank we headed down to Wigrams Turn where I stopped to take a photo of the new marina. During the construction they have not only removed the large signs advertising the Folly pub and local stores but also the finger sign that pointed to Napton, Braunston and Warwick, I hope this is replaced as it was donated by the IWA. By now there were a few Black Prince Hire boats moored to the new pontoons in the new marina. We made our way to the Napton flight, in front of us was a Napton hire boat, only 10 minuets out of base and it was there first lock, by the time they reached the top lock there performance had improved several hundred percent. We carried on to the Engine arm to turn and then slide gently into our home moorings, the end of another enjoyable trip.