Monday 3 December 2018

Aylesbury (cruising in paddy fields)

Just what is Karen doing?
It was another early start on Saturday as we wanted to get all the way down the Aylesbury arm before nightfall.  Rain was forecast for most of the day and we weren’t disappointed as we set off 😊

Leaving our Marsworth mooring in the rain on Saturday morning
Cruising seven miles down 16 narrow locks should normally be done in three to four hours but not so on the Aylesbury arm.  We know from our past experience and recent experience of others that it is generally very shallow and hence passage is extremely slow.  This is why we wanted to get on the move before eight in the morning.

I started cruising while Karen stayed in getting our Saturday BLTs ready.  By the time I had got down to Marsworth junction, turned onto the arm and moored up to do the first lock, breakfast was ready. 

In the first lock of the day with the Grand Union main line crossing behind us
The first lock is a staircase of two which gave us ample time to eat under the shelter of a bridge while waiting for the locks to be ready.  We remember the arm as being very rural and quiet and we’re sure it still is. The trouble on Saturday was that we could see very little because of the driving rain.  What we did notice was that every so often little groups of houses or apartments had been built by the canal side and by the time we got to Aylesbury, whole estates had sprung up.

We were actually doing rather well, having gone down the first nine locks in under two hours, when everything started going wrong.  First of all, the pound below the ninth lock was extremely low but still had enough water in so we could creep forwards albeit incredibly slowly.

Lack of water in the pound below the ninth lock (with new apartments that weren’t there last time)
A lock or two later we came up behind a guy who was having difficulty with his boat and was on his way to Jem’s boatyard below the lock to get it fixed.  It took him an age to negotiate into the lock and then was held up by large amounts of vegetation that he and Karen seemed to take forever to hook out.

Oops – what’s happened to our boat?
I was mooring up behind him and was just about to get off and hold the boat with a line when the wind gusted through a gap in the hedge.  It took the front right away as can be seen in the picture above.  To make matters worse there was only one bollard to hold the boat fast and the other guy was already tied to it.  I struggled for a while and finally got the boat back into the side and moved into his spot once he got into the lock.

We were expecting to meet Maffi at some point coming the other way on his boat Milly.  We knew he had been in Aylesbury basin for a while and was leaving on Saturday before the arm is closed on Monday.  Oh yes, that’s another thing.  Only lock 16 (the last lock before the basin) was going to be closed for maintenance from Monday but we received an email on Friday explaining that because of low pounds and flooding (!) the whole arm will be closed while lock 16 is worked on.

As we progressed, we were really surprised we hadn’t bumped into Maffi and after lock 12 we discovered a possible reason; the pound was far too low to risk trying to go in it.

Pound below lock 12
We were really surprised as locks 12 and 13 had been closed for a few weeks for maintenance and only re-opened on Thursday.  I called the CRT emergency line and while we waited for the local team to appear, we let water through the lock to raise the levels.  It took a long time and a fair amount of poling (see picture of Karen at the top 😊) but we finally got along the pound and into the next lock just as the CRT guys appeared.

They explained that a top gate paddle should be left up on lock 13 otherwise the pound drains.  It seems that the notice explaining this had been vandalised and destroyed.  We couldn’t quite work out why a top paddle should be left open and they didn’t know either.

Anyway, they saw us through and stayed behind to get the pound back to normal.  They did say that two more pounds further on had been very low too, but they had sorted those out earlier in the morning.

After lock 13 we went through a long straight stretch that we call the paddy fields 😊

The paddy fields
Approaching the next lock I could see a boat waiting to go down and realised it was Maffi but thought it couldn’t be as he was going the wrong way.  We moored up and it was him; he had left in the morning but had turned around when he reached the very low pound.  The three of us helped each other down the last few locks and finally made it to the basin after seven long and wet hours.

The rain had stopped, and it started to brighten up when got to Aylesbury basin
We pulled into the pontoons outside Waitrose and moored on the spot Liz uses for her trip boat.  It was OK as we had arranged with Liz that we could use her spot.  She runs trips from the basin for visitors three locks up the arm and back again and also has her own full-size boat in the basin.

Moored with Waitrose behind the picture and Liz’s boat next to us
The whole basin had had a makeover since we were here four years ago: the pontoons weren’t in place; the campus building wasn’t even started and the red building on the far side was all boarded up.  It was the old local tax office and was about to be converted to flats; coincidentally, we ended up buying one and letting it out to help fund our travels.  We both agreed it was a bit strange mooring opposite our property 😉

It might be a bit dangerous mooring outside Waitrose for a few weeks as the temptation could be too much.  Soon after mooring up Karen popped in to get some things we didn’t need, and it wasn’t long until I went in (in my slippers 😊) to get some olives and other nibbles to snack on.

Sunday was a non-cruising day and the first of quite a few to come as from Monday the arm is closed for two weeks so we can’t go anywhere.  We just spent the day pottering around and reacquainting ourselves with the area.

Lovely sunny Sunday morning – we’re the boat furthest away 
Even though it was sunny it was very windy and with the stupidly spaced mooring rings we weren’t very secure.  The rings are far too far apart, and we have to have very long front and back lines which doesn’t tend to keep the boat taught to the side.  Consequently, the wind makes the boat move against the side which really disconcerts Buddy.  I gave in in the end and tied a centre line to a ring in the middle which has made us more stable.

Mooring with a centre line should only be done at temporary moorings like waiting for locks or bridges.  Keeping a centre line on in other situations makes the boat roll when other boats pass and can capsize the boat if the pound drains.  We won’t get passing boats as the canal is closed and we are at the end anyway and it’s very unlikely the pound will drain as it’s the bottom pound.

Walking around the rest of the basin later we saw a stretch of permanent moorings and they had the same mooring ring spacing problem.  All the boats had also used centre lines so I didn’t feel so bad 😉

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