Friday, 5 September 2014

"We are not on a mission"

Over the last five years we have nearly always felt we were on a mission every weekend.  There was always somewhere we had to be by a certain time: Cropredy for the Fairport Convention festival; Crick for the annual boat show; Marsworth to get our bottom blacked; London to see Monty Python etc. etc. Because of this we often ended up cruising in appalling weather or forsaking a social event in favour of having to cruise.

Moving aboard will be different we consoled ourselves - plenty of time to relax and go wherever we want when we want.  If we found an interesting town we could stay and explore. If we found a beautiful location we could set up camp for as long as we wanted. Time to relax and do those things we have longed to do and been envious when we have seen other people doing them.

Then, two weeks ago, I remembered ‘Winter Stoppages’.  This is when the Canal & River Trust (CRT) shut down locks or sections of navigation to carry out repair work over the winter months.  The CRT is the charitable trust that took over from British Waterways Board (BWB) when the Government relinquished responsibility two or three years ago. Traditionally most boat owners lay their boats up for winter so the waterways are nice and quiet and the winter works don’t affect so many people.  We have always enjoyed cruising in the winter; a cold crispy still morning, knowing the stove is going full pelt, can be as wonderful as a hot sunny morning.

Saying we were going to be free to go where we wanted when we wanted wasn’t entirely true.  We have agreed to head for Nottingham first as Catherine is just about to start her final year there.  So our plan is to get back down to London, head west to the Grand Union and pick a route north stopping off or branching off whenever it took our fancy. I am good at panicking so a morning on the computer was necessary. This would entail analysis and forethought, something which I thought I left behind when I finished work in March!  A quick digression here to explain how our household functions: I do the analysis and come up with options which we then discuss over wine.  We agree on a solution and an associated plan/schedule which Karen then manages. Karen is such a tenacious manager that any suggested changes to the plan have to be rigorously substantiated before they are accepted!

Back to the ‘Winter Stoppages’, first I printed a map to show the likely routes we would take to Nottingham from where we are currently, in Hertford. Then I trawled through the CRT stoppages web site and annotated every stoppage on the routes.

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The next step was to identify the constraints (pinch points in business terms).  Two immediately jumped out:
  • A lock near Kentish Town is to be closed for the best part of November
  • A lock near Milton Keynes is to be closed for twelve weeks after Christmas.
The first lock is unavoidable, the only route is back through London.  This means we have to get back through London by November 3rd which is the date our grand adventure is due to start.

The second lock is avoidable but would entail us going up the Thames from London to Oxford and up the Oxford canal to head north.  Two drawbacks here: firstly, we have agreed to keep off the Thames this year to avoid the £40+ a day cost; secondly, more analysis would be required to understand the stoppages on the Thames and the Oxford canal.
True to my logical nature I drew up a spreadsheet showing all the locks and stoppages on the way from Hertford to Nottingham.  I am not completely anal - I used a canal route planner rather than do it by hand.  This had the added advantage of providing distances between locks.  When planning a journey the number of locks are added to the number of miles and the total is divided by three to get a rough estimate of the number of hours the journey will take.  This assumes the boat travels at three miles an hour and a lock takes about 20 minutes to go through.

This is quite a sensible approach as the sheet can be marked up with dates and a rough schedule obtained.

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This approach has a major drawback - when the project manager sees it, it will become a firm schedule and, hey presto:

"We are on a mission!"

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