Yes, we were out on the boat in That Weather this week. Not hunkered up in a safe spot, but on a journey. And it’s one I won’t forget in a hurry. Rain, floods, empty pounds!!!!!, and a worrying technical problem. Its a long tale so you can have episode one today and number two tomorrow.
I had arranged to take Herbie to Calcutt for a new drive plate and we were due there on Thursday morning. All I had to worry about was the drive plate not failing en route. Or so I thought.
Kath (lucky her) was otherwise engaged so Rick volunteered to crew. Asleep on the boat on Tuesday night, I could hear the rain drumming on the roof, and by the time Rick arrived early on Wednesday morning the water level in the marina had already risen by several inches. No matter, we had waterproof clothes and there was little wind so we deployed the Brolly Mate umbrella holder on the tiller and set off towards Watford staircase.
Arriving at Watford was strange. It was completely deserted. No lock keepers. No signs telling you to book in. Nobody at all. So we set off down the locks on our own initiative. So far so good.
The rain continued to pour and the canal was the colour of milky coffee, but we were OK. Then I chanced to routinely check the charging voltage. Flipin’ Nora ( I paraphrase) 16.5 volts! Some of you might not think that strange but believe me it is. The batteries would be boiling off hydrogen gas at some rate. If the hydrogen gas didn’t ignite and explode, the batteries would fairly quickly go dry and be permanently damaged. Aaaargh. We noticed that volts were proportional to engine speed so we throttled back to tickover (15.5v) and drifted on at a snails pace to get help at Welton marina.
With rain dripping off my nose, I entered the office and the lady remarked that I looked as if I was having a bad day. Well it wasn’t about to get any better because it was their engineer’s day off. OK, we’ll call out River Canal Rescue. Welton smiled and said, ”They’ll probably call us first , and doubt they’ll have the right alternator with them anyway.” “Can you turn on all the electrical devices in the boat to drop the voltage? A washing machine, a fan heater? Lights?” Not us, I’ve spent the last two years installing LED’s, getting a very low wattage telly and eliminating anything that eats power.
We returned to the boat and fiddled with a few wires round the alternator. Starting up the engine, hey, I don’t know what we’ve done but it’s fixed! Maybe some water (there was plenty of it) shorting out summat. So we pressed on.
On the summit pound between Norton junction and Braunston, there’s a weir spilling water into a gulley which goes out across the fields below. Well, that was like the Olympic white water canoe cataract. On the canal itself the current towards the weir was a couple of knots at least. It felt like we were on the river.
Approaching Braunston tunnel we could see what appeared to be a fountain. Water off the surrounding land was pouring down a pipe with such force that when it hit the canal it created a standing wave about three feet high although fortunately there was room to sneak past it. Going through the tunnel was going to be fun – not. In fact worse than that. After a brief bacon roll stop we entered the tunnel,and the alternator went berserk again. Oh no, now we could get a hydrogen explosion in the tunnel. Really we had little choice but to press on. At tickover, against a two knot current, Braunston tunnel takes a surprisingly long time to pass through.
It looked like our plans to get to the Folly at Napton for the night were well and truly shot. At the top of the locks we pulled in and I walked (actually, that’s not true, I waded up to my ankles) down to the bottom of the locks to get alternator advice. And where better than Union Canal Carriers where the esteemed Johnno fixes everything on their hire fleet.
He would replace the alternator if we wanted next morning, but he advised us not to attempt the locks that afternoon. I sensed he was not wrong. Water was gushing and swirling everywhere. The towpath was inches deep all the way down. Water was pouring over all the gates. In the pound above the Admiral Nelson there appeared to be some sort of maelstrom, and the brick ramps where you walk up to the locks from under the bridges were like waterfalls.
Johnno also told me how to safely disable the alternator if we wanted to press on to Calcutt next day and get them to sort it. What you have to do is disconnect the field wire that excites the windings. The simple way to do this is to disconnect the charge warning light. At least I was learning something useful out of the experience.
So we stayed put overnight, waiting for the water to calm down. The forecast said it would be dryer next day,. Oh good. Only with 60mph winds. Oh B*gger. By now I was feeling very grateful that I had kept an old pair of wellies on board. At least I had dry feet.
Next day was quite different. Not better, just different.