Wednesday (day 1) wasn’t all disaster. Having turned off all the electrics in the boat to save the batteries, we paddled and splashed down to the Admiral Nelson to drown our sorrows. I’m happy to say that the current landlords, who took over earlier this year, are doing a grand job and I would now give the Admiral a strong recommendation for food, drink, service and comfort. After a good meal, Rick and I settled in a sofa by the log fire and gradually got ourselves back up to working temperature whilst relieving our mental stresses via a very nice Caledonian American style IPA.
Eventually though, it was back out into the cold starry night to splosh back up to the boat. I was wearing my new LED head torch from Poundland (no expense spared) and as I glanced at the canal, I noticed that it wasn’t there. At least the water wasn’t. Someone had raised lock paddles to drain the flood, and completely emptied the pound. Grrr. That would cost us more time in the morning.
So we got up earlyish next day and Rick went off down to run water through the series of locks to fill up the empty pound. Actually it didn’t take too long because there was plenty of head from above to wash the water down. We started the engine and lo and behold, the alternator was behaving itself. Half way down the flight we met a man from a boat coming up. Please could we let some water through – the long pound below the pub had been emptied too. Grrrr. More delays. At least it wasn’t raining, but the breeze was beginning to pick up.
Once down in Braunston we decided we deserved a treat, so we had breakfast at the gongoozlers cafe boat. A proper fry up. Lovely. Now we were in better spirits.
Setting of again, we only just reached the turn onto the Oxford section when the alternator did its pieces again. 16.5 volts. Right. Time to deploy the Johnno method and disconnect the charge light. Hey it works!
The engine revved up and the battery voltage stayed put at 13 point something. Putting on more speed to give us more steerage against the increasingly strong wind, we pressed on. By now I was even more of a voltmeter anorak than ever and could hardly take my eyes of them. Was I mistaken, or wasn’t the starter battery voltage dropping. Checking the Smartgauge, it had dropped a bit. Then three minutes later a bit more, then more, then still more. Oh dear now what’s wrong. Something is eating amps.
I remember Tony Brooks once saying that it did no harm to turn off the “ignition” switch completely, so I persuaded Rick to try. Well, we kept going and kept going and the voltage stayed put. I don’t really understand how it works, but with the key switched on and the exciter circuit broken, the alternator was kind of working in reverse. Goodness knows where all that energy was going. In heat probably. Had we not corrected it we might have a had a cable fire.
A text came in from Kath. She was due to arrive at Calcutt by car to pick us up should we ever get there alive. “ I might be late. I’ve locked myself out of the house and don’t have a key. And I’ve strained my back lifting a box of logs and can’t bend.” It never rains but it pours.
Actually it wasn’t raining. The wind was now gusting to the point where it was beyond my boating experience, but the canal along there is wide and fairly empty so despite being frozen with wind chill, we got to Wigrams Turn in record time. That’s when the real wind really hit us. It was blowing straight down the canal. We could have held up a hanky as a sail and not bothered with the engine.
In 3 minutes we were at Calcutt top lock. Hooray. We’d made it.
I crossed over the lock gate and reported to the marina office where they had been expecting us. “Aah you made it then. Your wife phoned to say you would be late. Could you bring the boat down the three locks and into the marina? It’s best to back in so you can put the rear of the boat against the wharf.” Now that is very easy to say, and maybe if I were ten times as good a skipper and had a powerful boat with a bow thruster I might have done it. But I’m not and we haven’t.
Getting into the locks as bad enough in that wind. Rick had her well and truly pinned against an approach wall at one point. Shouting out instructions against a howling wind and with chattering teeth didn’t help either. But we made it down the locks.
Now just the marina entrance. If I said the word choppy comes to mind, you get a tiny indication of what it was like. The wind was blasting us sideways at a rate of knots so with the spray lashing into my face and obscuring my specs I turned to point the boat across the canal and slid sideways until we got near the entrance then wacked on full power. We would worry about how not to smash into the shiny boats inside the marina once we were through. Miraculously we made it. We didn’t even hit anyone. Rick was in fact quite complimentary.
Backing on to the wharf was fun too, but we made it by going in forwards. Rick jumped off the front and lashed the rope onto a post while I did a handbrake turn to swing the back in against the wind. Now we were alongside, so I tied off the back and Rick let go the front. Immediately the wind took the front and blew us neatly into line with the other stern end moored boats. It worked perfectly. No-one was watching.
Big sigh of relief. We had made it. After a while Kath arrived in the car. Then Jim arrived. Jim is the Calcutt engineer who did most of the work we had done there when we had new engine mounts and camshaft and all that. We recounted our alternator woes, and asked him to deal with that as well as the drive plate. Looking in the engine bay, he pronounced that there was sufficient space to make the drive plate an easy job. At last some good news.
Even better when we got a phone call next day to say it was all fixed and it only took a couple of hours labour to do both jobs. I’ve seen Jim work. He’s quick.
Did we rush back to pick up the boat? Not likely. We’ve seen the weather forecast. Calcutt had too and they are quite happy for us to leave it until all this stuff blows over.