An Autumn test trip

With Midnight Star safely moored in the Circus Field Basin at Aylesbury, we started on some of the smaller jobs we had in mind and took her down to the end of the Aylsbury Arm a couple of times – I’d adjusted the stern gland, and we wanted to test that.

Lock 15 of the Aylesbury Arm

One slightly more pressing issue was the batteries, and how much life they had in them. After a lot of discussion and research, we decided to fit Lithiums, despite the expense. I’ll write about the purchase and installation in another post, but when they were first installed in the battery box, we wanted to see if they did have the life we were expecting, and if the alternator charging system I’d set up was going to be adequate. The Aylesbury Arm was to be closed off at the start of November, and with work commitments there was a window of the week before that to have a little trip.

Saturday 23rd October

We arrived at the boat in the afternoon, bearing provisions and enough stuff to last six days. We put the boat on the shoreline, hoovered it out and took a walk into Aylesbury for the early evening, where it didn’t seem so Olde Worldy as we had persuaded ourselves on the previous trips. We ended up in the Kings Head, so far a clear winner in the “Best pub in Aylesbury” category. That night we cooked on board and slept well.

Sunday 24th October 2021

We left the basin at 10:35. The first lock north (14) was locked with a BW key, which we hadn’t seen before, but we left it by, and the subsequent locks were left at 12:04 (13), 12:28 (12), 12:59 (11), and 13:12 (10). leaving Lock 9 and mooring up at Wilstone by 13:38. It’s a short walk into the village from the canal and we wanted to check it out for future reference.

After lunch we set off again at 14:52. The locks start to get closer together from now on. 15:07 (8), 15:18 (7), 15:33 (6), 15:44 (5), 15:57 (4) and 16:10 (3).

Next is the double/staircase lock. Going up you should empty the bottom lock, fill the top lock, enter the bottom chamber, close the gate and then transfer the contents of the top chamber into the bottom. The middle gates should now open. I made a bit of a hash of this because the top chamber was already half full so I started transferring that. I then overfilled the top chamber as I was then distracted by a passer-by. The issue would have sorted itself out but I had also left one of the top paddles just a crack open. Once Fiona spotted that, the levels equalized and we could move into the top chamber. Phew. We moored up a 17:12 on a visitor mooring, took a trip to the Red Lion and cooked on board.

Red Lion at Twilight

Tonight I wanted to see how much battery capacity we would use, with them starting at 100% after 6 hours of engine running. We left the fridge on, ran the heating and watched the F1 via the laptop and TV for well over two hours.

Monday 25th August

A dry and bright morning. After breakfast the batteries were at 75% SOC. The next hurdle was the Marsworth flight of locks. We cast off at 10am and operated 2 locks before encountering the volunteer lock keepers. There had been level issues at the top lock but that was now sorted, and they speeded us through, leaving lock 45 at 11:46. I then checked the batteries to find they were full, and the Victron DC/DV charger was in Absorption mode, so less than 3 hours of engine running had replenished them almost completely. During the rest of the trip I narrowed this figure down to approximately 2 hours charging being need to restore 25% charge, which was very encouraging – an alternator upgrade would not be required!

We had lunch while moored up just short of Cow Roast and then filled up with water at the waterpoint before the lock at 14:10. 15 minutes later the tank was full and we set off down the locks heading for Berkhamsted. After leaving the second Dudswell lock at 15:42 we were alerted of low water levels in Berko by some walkers, so moored just below Northchurch lock at 16:25. Walking into town revealed the next pound was very low, with one boat listing heavily, and a widebeam that was ahead of us moored up having been advised to wait. A 70′ Wyvern Shipping hire boat past, and it was indeed the boat that had been stuck. What to do? We didn’t want to compromise getting back to the Aylesbury Arm before the lock closure. We weren’t sure if we could turn round where we were. We continued to walk into town, bought some provisions and then one of those laser measuring devices which we took to the George and Dragon to check out.

Returning to the boat it was now slightly aground, so we slackened the ropes and pushed it out a little. By the time we were about to retire it seems to be moving freely.

Tuesday 26th October

A tip about those laser measuring devices. In the morning before the sun came out it worked OK, showing there was 56 foot width just down from where we were moored. I didn’t notice the boat starting to list while the sun rose, but when Fiona did we tried to measure the width again to be sure, and it was hard to see the laser dot. Still, we decided to try turn where we were rather than going further to the winding hole and succeeded – although it was touch and go.

Having turned round we had a late breakfast and revised out plans, then set of at 11:25. At lock 49 a boater had lost his GoPro camera overboard, but we didn’t have a net we could lend him. It was still recording, apparently. We had decided to fill up with diesel at Cowroast Marina, but discovered you needed a fuel card to use the self-service pump, and the office was closed on Tuesdays. Given that we were in no rush we stopped for lunch and then moved to an overnight mooring near Bridge 135, turning round in the winding hole so we could go back for fuel the next day. The winding hole was marked on the maps, but there was no signage, which perhaps explained the small boat moored directly opposite. We were starting to appreciate having a 45′ boat! That night we walked into Aldbury. The Valiant Trooper was closed – apparently being used by a film crew. The Greyhound did not disappoint, however. We fell into conversation with a couple of locals, and then succumbed to getting a seat in the dining area – out first meal out of the trip! As is always the case, the walk back seemed far quicker.

Wednesday 27th October

We had time in hand today, so at 10:50 we set off back to Cowroast to turn round. There was initally no answer to our calls to the Marina, but just before we got there Jason answered, and said he could sort us out. We weren’t desperate for fuel, but wanted to top the tank up becaise of the possiblity of Desiel Bug over the winter. Onfrtunately, The pump was out of order, and calls to company that provided it were to no avail, so after lunch we carried on back towards Marsworth. Passing the winding hole there, andother small boar was moored directly opposite.

At 15:38 we turned into the Wendover Arm. We had visited the carnival that used to raise money for its restoration before we had even bought out first boat, and had since walked to Little Tring Bridge which was the result of Phase One being acheieved about 2012. The next mile or so was a bit of an adventure, with a narrow, shallow channel and something of a crosswind. Past the Heyford Flour Mills, still going strong, we passed the site of the festival from all those years ago, the pumping station whcih had been the cause of the arn not being abandoned, and then the stop lock which had been put in to save the arm losing more water than it added.

This stop lock had been the limit of navigation before the restoration, and our very young daughter had insisted on throw small stones into it on out first visit, much to our embarassment. This time we passed through onto the new section – wider and deeper than anything else so far. After going under the award-winning bridge we reached the winding hole, turned and moored up at 16:31. That night we walked into Tring for a drink, a reasonable walk but mostly along pavements. The return was quicker, obviously. The sound of Tawnt Owls accoumpanied the cooking of the evening meal of Smooked Haddock Gratin (most of the work having been done by Charlie Bingham).

Thursday 28th October. We had now used up most of our spare time. but were still not in a hurry. Getting back out of the Wendover arm took from 10:40 to 11:30 – including encountering a boat coming the other way and the inevitable grounding of both boats. WE now face the Marsworh flight of seven locks, but again these were manned by volunteers and the two guys who did most of the work were looking forward to finishing by lunchtime, so we absolutely flew down in under an hour.

This meant we moored up at 12:30 in a 45′ visitor space outside to closed White Lion for lunch and a little stroll to the reservoir. At 2:50 we entered the staircase at the top of the Aylesbury arm, and Fiona opperated this successfully. More locks followed and we reached Wilstone by 4:30, visited the Half Moon as planned and then spent our last evening aboard eating Vegetable Lasange and watching a documentary about the victims of Pompeii.

Friday 29th October. A wet and windy morning, but we don’t have far to go now. A late start, to avoid the rain at 11:15 and then a long lunch from 13:30 to 14:45 followed by a slow cruise to the basin saw us tying up at about 16:30. Lots of tidying up before we lost the light – clearing out unused ropes, sweeping leaves from the bow and cruiser deck and packing up the bedding saw us not leaving the boat until dark. All in all, a sucessful trip.