Brentford to Bull's Bridge, 5 miles, 10 locks
I must have been tired because it was after 9am when I woke. Looking out of the window, it was grey but not raining and likely to stay like that. I had a cheery breakfast of a bacon and mushroom sandwich—cooked with the window open so everyone around would feel hungry—then it was straight on to displacement activities like emptying the loo and the bins, rather than getting dressed up and setting off to do the Hanwell locks.
Eventually I could put it off no longer, so I topped up the engine with water, started it, then....wandered down the wharf to Daisy to say goodbye to John and Pauline. A few boats before them was a little narrowboat called Amy, which was just about to set off. I notice that the skipper is also by himself and I quickly ask whether he's going up to Bulls Bridge. He is and says he'll wait for me at the first lock.
John has got the back deck up and lurking beneath is the largest engine I've ever seen. It's ludicrously large, but then it is 4.7 litres! Turns out there's a leak in the pipes to the calorifier—which uses waste heat from the engine to warm the water in the hot water tank—and he's trying to track it down. We chat about their plans and Pauline joins us at this point, and they're going to moor in Brentford for three months (for a very reasonable sum) and then decide what to do after that. They're still waiting for the sale of their house to complete, although that should be done this weekend and after that it's hunting for a bigger boat and a more permanent mooring. I say my goodbyes and return to Oothoon, which is waiting patiently with an engine temperature so low that the gauge hasn't moved.
Amy's skipper's name is Duncan and as promised he's waiting at the first lock. I thought there were 12 locks from Brentford to Bulls Bridge, but he points out that two of them are Thames Lock and the Brentford Gauging Locks, so there's only 10 left to do. One of the gates of this lock is open, so Amy goes in first and nips over to the side, then I follow. As the gate is on my side, I climb up the lock ladder and close the gate, then open the ground paddles for the top gates. It's very strange doing locks by hand again, after what seems like an eternity on the Thames. Oothoon's tiller almost catches on the bottom gate, but springs free at the last minute and I realise that I'm not concentrating properly.By the time the lock is full Duncan has suggested that I open my gate and we'll both go through it, and he'll close it afterwards.
Both gates are open at the next lock, however my usual approach, which is to jump off as the stern goes past the end of the lock, then run up the stairs with the centre rope and lift it over the gate so I can bring the boat to a stop on a bollard, won't work as someone has built a bridge over the end of the lock and I wouldn't be able to pass the rope under. With nothing else for it, I have to climb on the roof and up the lock ladder again. At least it isn't too slimey. As we operate the lock, Duncan and I get a chance to chat. Turns out that he's worried that his engine might overheat because there's an airlock. I suggest that we breast up if it's going to be a problem, but he says it'll be okay and that he just needs to watch it.
No disasters with that lock, so I head off for the next one. This is the first of the 'Hanwell Six', which is a flight of six closely spaced locks in two groups of three. In fact there are seven locks at Hanwell (I used to live there), but there's a gap between the 'six' and the top lock, so it usually isn't included. I arrive and make a little mess of the landing, largely because the entrance to the River Brent is right next to the landing spot and causes odd currents. Once I'm landed, I see that the lock is empty, which is perfect, but for some reason I feel the urge to fill the lock. The paddles all have anti-vandal locks on them, so I've plenty of time to realise my mistake, but it isn't until I've opened the ground paddles and can see water rushing in that I realise I've blundered. I close the paddles and do up the anti-vandal stuff, then go and open the bottom paddles. While I'm doing this, Duncan has arrived and joins me at the gates. I explain what I've done and apologise, but he's a mellow kind of chap and brushes it off. Also he's concerned that he's got something round his prop, but doesn't want to spend time looking at it because of the limited amount of daylight left and asks if we can breast up after all. I agree and once we've got the gates open, I edge Oothoon over alongside Amy. We tie the sterns together and connect the bow using Amy's ropes and the centre using Oothoon's. We also tie Amy's tiller so it's steering straight-ahead, so the two boats won't be fighting each other.
All hitched up we head into the first of the Hanwell Six. Duncan says that he'll do the locking, so I stay aboard Oothoon and control the boats. The first lock goes okay and we're both delighted that the bottom gates are open on the next two locks. That should make life easy. I navigate the boats into the second lock while Duncan closes the gates behind and he joins me just as the sterns pass the bottom gates.
The second and third locks go without a hitch and Duncan runs ahead to set the fourth lock while I open the top gates of the third. I'm just about to head out of the lock when I notice that Oothoons temperature is up to 90° and she's starting to steam. I can't figure out why this might suddenly be happening, unless it's due to the extra load caused by Amy. When Duncan returns, I tell him what's happened and he suggests that maybe Amy's hull is stopping the flow of water over Oothoon's skin tank and so it's not working well. To prove that the cooling is working, I disengage the clutch and rev the engine hard, and the temperature drops a little bit. I consider the other possibility, which is that all the water has leaked out and so there's nothing to cool with, but can't see why that would happen.
In the end I stop the engine and wait a bit for it to cool down. Once it's at a more respectable 80° I get into the engine room, clear the stuff off the engine cover and lift the cover up. The bilges don't seem to be full of water, so that discounts the leak theory, but after feeling the temperature of various pipes with my hand, it's clear that our old favourite—the auxiliary water pump—isn't pumping. I can't believe it's the impeller again; also I had said to Duncan that I could hear a whining noise, so I wondered whether it's just that the pump has shifted and the drive belt is now loose. I feel it, but it still feels under tension, so I start the engine to have a look. Immediately it's clear what the problem is: the water pump's pulley is going round, but it isn't turning the shaft of the water pump. That would explain why the pump isn't pumping. I stop the engine and mention this to Duncan, saying that surely it can't be that simple. The pulley has a little grub screw tightened with an Allen key and when I check it, the grub screw feels loose. I can tighten it, but it needs to be aligned with the flat part of the drive shaft. There's no way to turn the pulley, since it's driven by the engine, but I wonder whether I can turn the pump shaft. I ask Duncan if he's got a pair of Mole Grips and he produces an absolutely ancient pair, but they're good enough. Gripping the end of the shaft, I turn it until the flat bit is roughly under the grub screw. I tighten the screw as tight as I can, start the engine and the pump is working again. Like a miracle, the temperature drops away before our eyes and soon it's back to 50°. It all seems too simple for my liking, but I'm gradually getting used to the idea that engines aren't complicated things and that you quickly see the consequences of cause and effect. Anyway the temperature is now back to normal, so with a deep feeling of disbelief I head into the next lock.
The last three locks of the 'six' pass quickly and I collect Duncan after the last one for the ride to the top lock. We're chatting—him on the back of Amy and me on the back of Oothoon, when I realise that we're going through Three Bridges—a unique place where the road goes over the canal and the canal goes over the railway, all one on top of the other. I meant to photograph it, just as I meant to last year, but yet again I've been gassing and missed it. Oh well.
The next two locks are also simple enough and we decide to leave Oothoon and Amy breasted up for the trip to Bulls Bridge. According to the eTrex, it was 16:29 and sundown as we came out of the last lock, so we haven't got much daylight left and this is probably the best option. Duncan turns on his tunnel light, so we'll be able to see where we're going and we start on the takes-longer-than-you-think-it's-going-to stretch up to Bulls Bridge. In fact it takes nearly 90 minutes and almost all of it in the dark, but we get there in the end. There's a burnt-out wreck of a tiny narrowboat semi-submerged next to the wharf, dividing it into an Amy-sized bit and an Oothoon-sized bit. We decide to separate the boats and Amy can dock under her own power. It's only when we've untied and I'm trying to back Oothoon down the canal to get a better approach to the landing that I realise that she's overheating again. The temperature's up to 90° but holding there, so I risk it and manage to get back to where I can take a good line for the shore. Then it's head for the shore, get the back in, stop the engine, then jump off. I haul her alongside to the sound of the engine gently fizzing.
There's no way I want to start messing with the engine at this time of night and figuring that the batteries are probably charged well enough after the day's exertions I tie up and go below. After a cup of tea and a snack, because my tummy has suddenly realised that I haven't eaten since 10, I get changed and head for Bulls Bridge Tesco. There's something very comforting and familiar about being back here. I don't intend to buy much—I've got pizza in mind—so I just take a shopping bag rather than the trolley, but I end up buying more than I anticipated—partially due to some great offers that I don't want to miss—and have to ask for a carrier bag to handle the overflow. I didn't know they still did them, so I'm pleased that they do if you absolutely must have one.
Dinner was some pitta bread with Jalapeño humous, followed by a small Pizza Express "Sloppy Giuseppe" pizza, which is on a half price offer. I stoked up the fire before I went shopping and it's gone into overdrive, combining with the chillis in the humous and the spiciness of the pizza to make it unbearably hot. In the end I retire to bed at 9:30pm, completely wiped out, however the traffic noise from Tesco's car park combined with the heat means I lie awake on the bed for what seems like hours. Next thing I know it's after 4 in the morning and I'm cold, so I climb into bed properly and am straight off to sleep.