Twyford Wharf to Lower Heyford, 9.25 miles, 6 locks
Nice weather again today so I was looking forward to making lots of progress, if the engine would let me. I had breakfast then set off at about 9:45. The engine temperature was hovering around the 60° mark by the time I reached King's Sutton lock. This is quite deep at 10'8 (3.25m) so once Oothoon had descended into the depths, I decided to bow haul her out, which worked pretty well. As I was doing this another boat arrived and they kindly closed the bottom gate for me.
Almost immediately after the lock was the first of the day's lift bridges. I'd been dreading these because I think they're probably very difficult to do by yourself, especially when it was pointed out to me that you need to keep a weight on the end of the balance beam or they close. Fortunately it was open, as were almost all of today's bridges. Speaking of bridges, I'd noticed that a lot of them are on the tight side and at Nell Bridge lock—noted for its narrowness—there's even a board to tell you how much headroom there is under the bridge. That was fine, but it doesn't take into account the curvature of the arch. As it happened there was 2.25m of clearance (7.3ft) but I took the chimney off just in case.
Aynho Weir lock is a bit of an odd one. It's only got a drop of 12" (30cm) and is octagonal! The gates are two faces of the octagon, with huge gaps on either side of the boat. I'm sure it's really there to separate the canal from the River Cherwell, which crosses the canal immediately prior to the lock, but I don't know why it has the funny shape or tiny drop.
Next was Aynho Wharf, which has a boatyard. I'd been fretting over the engine temperature like a broody mother hen all day and I was hoping that I might be able to get a new impeller if the boatyard had a chandlery. Well it does—kind of—but they mainly sell 'ordinary' stuff like ShurFlo water pumps and chimneys and fuses; not exotica like impellers.
Leaving Aynho Wharf, you go under the extremely tight Aynho Bridge 190. This might have been okay, except that Aynho is pretty exposed and the wind caught me as I passed under the bridge, driving the front of the boat straight into the bridge wall and scraping the gangway—that I've been carrying on the roof since I left Battlebridge—across the roof and leaving deep gouges in the paint work. After moving the gangway over to the other side of the roof, I tried bow hauling the boat through the bridge but the wind was too strong and she kept getting stuck on the bridge wall. There was nothing for it but to go under under power. I went slowly and cautiously, which was probably the wrong thing to do because again the wind caught me and the chimney of the water heater went straight into the arch and moved a couple of inches. I've been unhappy with this chimney since it was fitted when I had the water heater replaced back in January, maintaining that it's far too tall and unwieldy to be on a narrowboat. Worse, it's of a tube-within-a-tube construction, where one tube carries clean air into the (room sealed) heater and the other takes away burnt gasses. If the heater isn't happy with the installation (using some kind of gas sensor thingamajig) then it won't run and since the chimney probably wasn't designed for use on boats, it's hard to get off and fiendishly difficult to refit, which is why I tend to leave it alone if I possibly can. The wind relented and I got the rest of the boat through the bridge intact, although I was badly shaken by the experience. I'd been fretting all day about the engine and my next biggest worry was the lift bridges, so I really wasn't ready when I was caught out by low bridges and the wind. Even the Ashby canal didn't do that to me.
After tying up—again an exhausting and frustrating experience with the boat wanting to waft across the canal on the merest breath of wind—I looked at the water heater chimney. It was still intact and attached, but a bit movable, which it hadn't been previously. I went below to see what state everything was in and the heater was still there on the wall, except that the collar to connect the chimneys at the top was at an interesting angle. I also found that the heater moved and by looking round the side I could see that the collision has pulled the heater's mounting bracket off the wall and left the heater sitting on two screws. I loosened the collar and climbed up onto the roof to remove the chimney. I'd have to look it it properly later.
I wasn't feeling much up to it when I got to Somerton Deep lock and thought about stopping for lunch, but I really couldn't face food and taking a break wasn't going to get the boat through the lock. I took my time and just as I was about to set Oothoon lowering gently into the lock, the boat from earlier arrived. Her skipper told me to get aboard and he'd do the lock for me, for which I was extremely grateful. It's 12ft (3.7m) and there was no-way I was going to climb down the ladder into it.
More hilarity at bridge 198 or "Deep Cutting Bridge" as Nicholson's has it, which I barely got under even when crouching. Traditionally pulled working boats would have needed a very short horse to get under here I think. Who names these bridges anyway?
All this business with bridges had distracted me from the engine temperature, which I'm pleased to say had peaked at a little over 80° on the gauge. Any higher and I'm guessing there will be trouble, but so long as it doesn't happen I can live with it. Reassuringly, when I stop to go through locks, the temperature drops back to 60°, making me think that the impeller must be intact and doing something. Interestingly, in the shop at Aynho Wharf there was a chap who had recently had to replace the impeller on his water pump. He said his was down to one 'vane' and that he knew it was deteriorating because the running temperature had been gradually rising. After having one fitted at Welford the engine ran at 50°, so I'm wondering whether 80° indicates that there's already some damage but not so much that it's stopping water from being pumped. I can really see why people say that ignorance is bliss, sometimes.
Allen's lock at Upper Heyford was straightforward in that I moored and set the lock filling, but when I looked back to check that Oothoon was tied securely, I realised that a BW work boat behind was completely straddling the canal and blocking it. I wandered over to have a look and found that it was tied directly onto piling with black nylon rope at the front, but that the blue nylon rope that had tied the rear directly to the piling had been cut through by the movement of the boat. These boats must be hydraulic, judging by the control gear on the front, but I was able to use this to twist the boat around to bring the back across to the bank. I jumped on the back and found several bits of blue rope, none of which were particularly useful. There was even a large looped bit underwater, but the loop was too short to go round the piling and I couldn't get the knot through. In the end, all I could do was tie the severed rope back together and hope that it held. I wonder if this is the source of all the blue nylon rope that has found its way around Oothoon's propeller over the years?
After Upper Heyford, a quick look at the map and my watch made me decide that I'd stop at Lower Heyford. Upper sounds nice as does the pub, but the one at Lower Heyford is supposed to be just off the towpath and that sounded better to me. The journey between the two Heyford's is quite short and there must be an Anglo-Welsh hire place somewhere nearby judging by the number of hire boats coming the other way. Which was good, because just before Lower Heyford was the first lowered lift-bridge that I'd encountered all day. I had stopped to try and figure out what was the best way to tackle it, when an Anglo-Welsh laden with kids wearing life jackets came the other way. They were all eager as anything to do the bridge, pounding across and having it aloft in no time. The other captain graciously waved me through and as I went past and thanked him, the Anglo-Welsh training chap who was on the back deck with him said that what he does when he's by himself is to take his boat pole and prop the bridge open with that while he goes under. That sounds like an excellent idea and I'll try it next time I meet a lowered lift bridge, although to be honest I'm hoping that that's never.
Nicholson's says that there are good moorings around the lift bridge and there are—sort of. They're round the corner actually, but not too far. Once I was moored, I took another look at the water heater. I tried refitting the chimney but couldn't get the alignment right and going below I could see that the problem was now the angle of the heater, which wasn't flush against the wall any more. Not having a better idea, I took the front cover off to see whether it was possible to screw the heater to the wall without using the bracket, since that screwed to the wall and would have required the complete removal of the heater in order to refit. There wasn't, but I was able to sort out the collar at the top. Refitting the cover, I decided that the only solution was to pin the heater back against the wall with a bungee cord connected between one of the wall hooks that I hang pans on and another hook that I'd need to put on the other side. I tried this and it worked a treat, with the heater pressed nicely against the wall and the collar now in passable alignment with the gaping hole in the roof where the chimney needed to go. Back on the roof again and a bit of jiggling and cursing, and the chimney reconnected and I could feel it sit down back onto the 'inner' tube and make a seal. I pulled the watertight rubber collar that is silicone'd to the roof over the outer tube to make good, then went back indoors. Frankly I was a bit concerned because I'm very nervous of gas, but there was no smell of gas around any of the pipework and the heater was nicely pressed against the wall and the chimney looked perfect. With a deep breath I switched the heater on and turned on the hot tap. There was the clicking of the igniter and then the red 'fault' light came on. Thinking that this wasn't so surprising after what it had been through, I tried again. This time the heater ignited and the internal fan came on to waft the burnt gasses away. It didn't sound exactly like it used to, but that wasn't surprising either. It'll do, but really needs to be looked at properly. Given that most of the cost of installation was to have it mounted and the pipework arranged, I'm guessing that having it looked at won't be cheap either. I might be better off spending less money having the optional back boiler fitted to the gas central heating, although there's then the cost of having a plate welded over the hole in the roof. Oh why couldn't I just have had my Paloma fixed back in January? Damn boat regs!
After all this malarky with chimneys, I was in no mood to cook, so I went to the pub. It is Saturday night after all; and all I'd eaten today is my F2 breakfast of bran flakes with a banana and a probiotic yoghurt. I ordered Duck Paté and the Irish Stew. The Paté was okay but nothing special and the hot baguette it came with was a disaster. I'd have been much happier with plain ordinary toasted white bread. The Irish Stew with dumplings was a much better effort, especially as I asked for mash rather than new potatoes (more comforty, innit?) but the dumplings were crusty on the bottom. When my mam used to make them, they were like little fluffy clouds that floated in the stew. With all this I was drinking a pint of Arundel bitter, which seemed to be on the strong side. It was all going well until I ordered coffee afterwards and—stupidly—put sugar in it. That's a bad habit I have when I'm not sure whether the coffee will be drinkable or not. As it happened, the combination of slightly too much food combined with strong bitter and sweet coffee on an empty stomach was not a happy one, and on the way back to Oothoon I was feeling distinctly queasy. By the time I reached the canal I knew that the only solution was to be sick, so I found a quiet wier along the canal bank and effortlessly brought the whole lot up. Feeling better, although with that strange 'having been sick' feeling, I walked slowly back to the boat, cheered by the thought of what a rather tactless friend of mine in Manchester would have said: it's what kept Princess Diana thin!
Back home and being a Saturday night, it was off to Brewster's in Animal Crossing to see K.K. Slider perform. A couple of weeks ago he'd given me a bootleg of his song "K.K. Faire" but I couldn't remember how the original went, so I requested it and recorded it on the computer. I have to say that I prefer the bootleg, but there you go.