The Big Repaint

Even when we were waiting for Glen to deliver the boat to Gayton, we discussed the need for the boat to be repainted. There were some very rusty looking bits between the waterline and gunwales and the front and side panels have been painted a pale but dirty looking yellow to cover up the Canaltime branding. The same colour had been used on the roof, and much of the boat was scratched, with rust spots showing through.

We had re-painted a bit of Pollyanna, but we weren’t dealing with much in the way of rust and it still took a whole weekend just to do the front and back of the cabin. Although I thought we could tackle the job over time, I have no idea how our final result would look, and we had bought the boat to enjoy, and hopefully recoup most of our investment at sometime in the future.

A few brief conversations with other boaters resulted in the opinion that it would cost up to £10k to have the work done, a bit less if we took the boat up to a northern canal boatyard. There was also the case of waiting lists. In the end we didn’t look too far. I had a chat with the people a Gayton Marina, but their priority was the hire fleets that they looked after. I looked at a couple of examples of their work including another ex-canaltime boat and was impressed, but they couldn’t give an accurate timescale.

We then got a quote from a relatively local firm at Yardley Gobion, Baxter’s Boatyard, paid a deposit of £900 and secured a slot in April/May 2022. We had asked for a simple two-colour job, with the final details to be decided nearer the time. In July 2021 that seemed a long way off, but before we knew it, we were choosing colours and communicating with Beck at the boatyard over some extra work we would like done.

If you look at the website for Baxters there is a very detailed explanation of the work they do. Two boats can fit in the dry dock and four weeks is allowed for the basic work, with a couple of weeks wriggle room so that smaller jobs can be fitted in if there are no issues with the boats. You get the boat reblacked at the same time.

Traveling to Baxters

I had asked for some of the brackets to be ground off the roof to allow for curved solar panels to be fitted in the future, and because of the uncertainties of what might be under the 2 year old blacking, Bob and Beck at the yard asked us to get to boat to them early, which suited our timescale as I was having to work in April/May. There was also a stoppage at the Three Locks at Stoke Hammond so we decided to split the journey over two long weekends.

Sunday 13th of March

This was the day after a working party at Circus Field Basin, so after our efforts we partook of the evening’s entertainment, which included a quiz, and then stayed on the boat overnight in the basin in order to get a reasonably early start, finally leaving the basin at 10:40 with the weather predicted to be sunshine and showers. The trip up the arm was familiar by now: 12:08 left Red House Lock, moored at Wilstone at 14:00 for a 1 hour lunch, lost a windlass at Lock 5 and exited to top staircase at 16:30. It’s basically a 5 hour trip. We topped up the water at the CRT station at Marsworth, then moored a little further north, within easy walking distance of The Red Lion, and then back to the boat for dinner.

Monday 14th March

We were underway by 10am and I found some of the Seabrook locks hard work. Lunch was below the second Ivinghoe lock, and we got the toilet pumped out and bought a gas bottle and replacement windlass at Grove Marina. Passing through Grove Lock, we moored up just passed it at 16:45. The Internet and TV signal was poor here, but improved enough to watch a bit of TV later in the evening. That evening we ate at The Grove Pub, a Fuller’s house with a good menu.

Tuesday 15th March

A short trip 75 minute trip today to a mooring spot we have used before, just north of Wyvern Shipping hire base. A walk to Leighton Buzzard station, a train home and then a trip to collect my car from Aylesbury. We are now waiting for the work to finish at the Soulbury Three Locks. I visited the boat during the week, and also drove to the stoppage on Friday afternoon to check if the the locks were open again, which they were. On Sunday evening we used two cars to drop one at the boatyard in anticipation of getting home.

Monday 21st March

A train to Leighton Buzzard, a little light shopping, and we arrived at the boat and set off by 10:40. We had left the fridge on deliberately, and after 7 days the batteries had only dropped by 18%, which bodes well.

We follow a pair of boats that aren’t bothering to shut the gates, but progress is OK: Leave Leighton lock @ 11:05, Three locks @12:45, stopped for lunch, Stoke Hammond @ 14:30, Fenny Stratford (with closed bridge!) @ 16:10.

Progress slows down through Milton Keynes – there are a lot of moored boats dotted along the waterway. It’s early in the year, so sunset is early. We are aiming to eat at the Black Horse, but moor up some walking distance before it, just as it’s getting dark before bridge 79. Its quite a walk to the pub, and we pass another on the way, but plow on in search of healthy food. The staff are very friendly, and the food lives up to it’s claimed reputation. The walk back is interesting, the dark towpath littered with small toads just waiting to be trod on. It’s something to do with mating, obviously, although it seems a bit early in the year.

Tuesday 22 March

10:10 to 12:45 to moor short of Cosgrove aqueduct for lunch, 13:45 to 16:00 to reach the boatyard. By now we had stripped the soft furnishings ready for the inevitable mess caused by the re-paint.

Beck and Bob got a chance to look over the boat in detail, rather than dozens of photos. They seemed happy with the condition, and undertook to make up some new deckboards for the rear and the gas locker. They would be metal edged so less likely to get chipped and let in rainwater. We left the boat on the towpath opposite and headed for home with a very full car.

Having the work done

During the next six weeks we heard very little from the boatyard, When I phoned for news there wasn’t anything bad to report – no charge for extra hull repairs in particular. We could not attend the re-launch, but we went up the following weekend to see the boat in the water. There was still a few things to finish – the bow flash and replacement of the tiller handle. The deck boards looked good, but most impressive was the paintwork – a great smooth finish in Oxford Blue, lovely coachlines and black gunwales with non-slip coating, a repaired champagne rear bench seat, champagne and red tunnel flashes with the nice touch of a small handwritten logo “painted by Baxters” on either side of the rear cabin. We we very happy!

The final invoice held no surprises. We had expected a bit of slippage to the budget, but even with a new front fender, brass plank brackets and the aforementioned deckboards. we we has still not used up the secret reserve fund!

Because of my work, we couldn’t move to boat back for another month, so had booked a space in Kingfisher Marina, adjacent to the boatyard. These are two different enterprises, so it took a little sorting out, and Beck kindly agreed to move the boat across to out booked mooring once all the work was complete. Fiona was then able to make a number of trips to clean up (although the boat was left in a good state) re-paint the window frames in the bedroom and re-install the soft furnishings. Bob flagged a small diesel leak, which in order to repair properly needed the fuel tank drained down a bit. He had tightened it up as much as he dared, but advised us to get it looked at.

With the mooring booking ending, we moved the boat onto the towpath on 4th June. At this point we had acquired a dog – looking after Indy the Cockerpoo for our daughter. We sorted out a way attaching a lead so she was safe but still get out on deck. I had to do an extra day’s work on Monday, otherwise we would have set of there and then.

Tuesday 7th June

With everything on board I returned the car home, took a train to Milton Keynes and an electric Uber to Baxters. We set off at 14:25. Almost immediately I was distracted and hit the bank, but no obvious damage was done to the paint!

After about 45 minutes the engine cut out. Although I hadn’t done so before, I bled the diesel lines at the injectors and everything came back to life. I assumed the leak Bob had referred to had let some air in, so we carried on. By 15:55 we were passing some attractive moorings at Cosgrove, and decided to call it a day. Indy was well behaved on the boat, but more excited to get on the towpath and very happy to go to the pub where they sold Dog Ice Cream. With a dog aboard, we had planned to eat on the boat every day. We had also anticipated any lack of TV or internet signal by ripping some films and TV shows to hard disc for TV playback, It was to be Indy’s first night sleeping on the boat and she took to it well.

Wednesday 8th June

In bright sunshine we cast off at 9:30 and exited Cosgrove lock at 9:48. After an hour the engine started to have a few hiccups. We pulled over at the Black Horse at 11:50 to let Indy have a walk while I tried bleeding the diesel again. We took lunch near Camphill Cafe from 13:00 to 13:40 with rain expected. Unfortunately the engine started to cut out again, and after it had done it when we were in a tricky position we moored up between bridges 81B and 82. I had a final go at a full bleed, but we decided to call River Canal Rescue.

I can’t express enough how good their service is. Admittedly they eventually were unable to get anyone to us before the end of the day, but I was promised a visit first thing tomorrow. We discovered we were very close to the new marina at Campbell’s Wharf, but there weren’t any public boat services there. The second nearest pub, the Barge, was described as dog-friendly, and this turned out to be an understatement as Indy was welcomed with open arms by the staff. She is a cute dog, though. Another night eating aboard and watching Life on Mars.

Thursday 9th June

Jerome from RCR even turned up early. We pay a £60 retainer to be a member of the service, and the callout cost £50. He was very friendly, showed me the exact way to bleed the system properly, addressed the known leak with a temporary repair and the engine ran as sweet as a nut for the rest of the trip.

We were underway by 10:45. a little behind schedule, but that was easy to amend – we could take it easy and add another day to the end of the trip. We made Leighton Buzzard for lunch, and then stopped at the Globe on the outskirts of Lerighton Buzzard, where Indy was happy to sit outside in the evening sun.

Friday 10th June

Leighton Buzzard to Cheddington – quite a few locks, so moored up in between Sleaford locks for the night. A footpath runs to Cheddington road from there, but it was a field full of sheep – Indy fine but we didn’t enjoy that, so came back along towpath from the bridge! Found good mooring spot on arnco for lunch between Church lock and Slapton lock – mostly rocky so we were happy to find it. CRT chap walking along surveying the tow path – set world to rights! Old Swan for a drink – several folks made a big fuss of Indy and she was very cute.

Saturday 11th June

From Sleaford we turned down the Aylesbury arm to head back out howm mooring – stopped above Wilstone for lunch, then did 3 more locks and moored near the footbridge. A drink outside the Half Moon with Indy again attacting much attention and dog biscuits before returning to the boat to eat.

Sunday 12th June 

Just a half day to get the boat safely back to Circus Field Basin, where our berth was empty and waiting, so we were back home for lunch

Over the following weeks, a number of small jobs were carried out, including getting the desiel leak fixed, some additional wiring for bedside lights that doubled up as USB charging sockets and further 12v outlets at the front of the boat for charging various devices. Fiona made great headway fitting carpet tiles in the rear and front cabins – a smart blue colour. Out next trip was going to be a long one!