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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Odds 'n' Sods While Waiting for Repairs

"Don't squat with your spurs on." -Will Rogers, American cowboy, comedian, humorist, social commentator, vaudeville performer, 1879 - 1935

     Right well after the not-so-grand beginning of setting off for a singular life on the cut (picked up a pram cover around the prop day 2, and the engine showed signs of overheating on day 3; broken bilge pump hose day 4), I came to a dead standstill just after Fenny Stratford Stop lock. Before Tom and Jan on NB Waiouru carried on the next morning, Tom and I opened the engine hole cover and he proceeded to give me a quick tutorial AKA Vetus Boat Engines For Dummies. In the process we discovered the band new bilge pump hose has cracked and the bilge pump no longer functioned so Tom patched it for me. That was a week ago yesterday. 
     I planned to stay in this spot for about four days to visit Bletchley Park, stop in at Ikea and purchase the accent paint I need to finish painting the boat.  I dipped down in the engine hole several times a day to check things out and while there was a small drip occasionally from the stern gland it was nothing to be concerned about--or so I thought. 
     Imagine my surprise and shock last Monday to pop the engine hole cover and find a bloody swimming pool underneath my engine! I baled for Britain, emptied most of it out and used newspapers rolled up and taped as wicks to pull up the remainder. All together I baled 20 gallons by hand and 5 gallons using the patched up bilge pump. Tom Jones called me to check on me and I told him what had occurred--and no we had not had any rain so it wasn't rain water leaking into the engine hole. Monday evening ended with me standing at the bathroom sink brushing my teeth. I bent over the sink to spit and the wooden port hole window frame fell out on my head! I spent two hours gluing it back in place with wood glue and securing it while it dried.
     Meanwhile over the next few days Tom sent me the schematic for my engine--it is the same as his--and he talked me through how to loosen the collar on the stern gland and grease it with silicone grease. I pulled out Les' set of Allen Keys, found the two half used tubes of silicone grease Les used for this job and grabbed a rag. Down into the engine hole I went. The collar was on too tightly for me to loosen it. Every time I poked the Allen Key into the dimple on top of the collar to attempt to loosen it, water began flowing quite briskly from the stern gland into the engine hole, so I left off with it and now I have a fairly consistent drip which bears monitoring and clean up.
     A lovely spot in my week was the quick visit with Debbi and Dave on NB
Chuffed. Dave offered to go down the engine hole and have a look but I knew they were only passing through and I figured this issue could take some time so I politely declined. Thanks for stopping and it was lovely meeting you both in person. Perhaps next time circumstances will allow us to have a longer natter over a cup of tea and a piece of cake.
     On Thursday I called RCR (River Canal Rescue).  When I explained my plight I was told that the repairs I needed were not covered under my agreement with RCR (non propulsion issues are not covered), but since Les had been a member for eleven years and I am a newly minted widow they were gracious enough to send out an ME (Marine Engineer). 
     The two young blokes showed up at 5:45 PM Thursday evening, complimented me on how clean my engine hold was  and how prepared I was with the Allan Keys, etc. The consensus was that the new bilge pump hose needed to be replaced with proper hosing and not cheap plastic electrical conduit, and the stern gland needed a proper greasing. I was told it would be a fifteen minute job and they would return with the parts in the morning. YES!!!
     The grease I had on hand was not considered fit for purpose as there was no screw on attachment allowing the grease to be squeezed out into a tube and forced around the stern gland. Les purchased it several years ago in a Stove shop in Leighton Buzzard but the tubes obviously did not come with fitted nozzles attached to tubing for the stern gland. How Les managed to get the silicone grease into the stern gland remains a mystery to me, especially as Sunday last I spent five hours cleaning out the largest of his three man drawers in the hopes of figuring out what most of it was and for what purposes it all addressed; I sought to tidy it all up and make order out of chaos. I figured out what most of it is for but Ido have two plastic margarine pots of shiny bits and bobs about which I am clueless.
It was freakin' amazing how much stuff my Best Beloved had squirreled away in that one large drawer! It left me scratching my head with wonder at how many scewdrivers and needle nose piers one man needs. I also cleaned out and tidied up the middle bow step. This leaves two more man drawers, two more bow steps, three stern steps, and the bow and stern lockers to be sorted and tidied; and to think that before I moved on board Les used to keep a lot of this stuff in three "nests" throughout the boat so he could reach for things at a mo's notice without having to traverse the length of the boat to find it.
      Friday dawned and at 2:30 PM when I had heard nothing and no ME had turned up, I contacted RCR to be told that the hose and the proper silicon grease for my engine had to be ordered and would be delivery would be delayed by the forthcoming bank holiday. The parts were expected in on Tuesday or Wednesday next (May 2nd or 3rd) and someone would call me at that time to book an appointment with and ME to come out. Crap! I should have known "the job will only take fifteen minutes and we'll be back in the morning," was too good to be true.
     It would have been grand if Les had been able to teach me about the engine however by the time we reached Cowroast after his terminal cancer diagnosis, he was too weak to lift the solid steel engine hole cover and I never could lift it on my own. Les also could no longer climb in and out of the engine bay and I could not do so either with my badly arthritic right knee. I realize now that the things I did on board NBV made our lives comfortable and certainly made Les happy as he was kind enough to tell me so frequently, but it was the stuff Les did that kept us cruising along the cut and I totally took him for granted. Yes I told him often how much I loved him and how happy he made me, but I never once thanked him for his labors in keeping the boat going. He loved tinkering with that stuff and I simply let him get on with it. I wish I had understood how vital his tinkering was to our lives and I desperately wish I had thanked him often. I will be taking the engine maintenance course offered by RCR in September.
     So now my next dilemma is water. I have been moored up here a week on Friday last. I cannot move the boat until the stern gland issue is seen to for fear of causing it to leak severely and now the bilge pump is not working at all for some reason, so...I climbed back down the engine hold again (I am down there at least four times a day. Now that it has been freshly painted and cleaned out it no longer appears to be the Black Hole of Calcutta and it isn't the least intimidating. I am on a first name basis with my engine. I will let you know when we progress to cutesy nicknames), found the five gallon plastic water butty, last used in the winter of 2011/2012 at Newbold to fill up with water when were were frozen in on the cut. I reasoned that five trips to the water point to fill up the butty and empty it into the water tank would hold me well.
     I took the canvas bag off our hand trolley and with trolley and water butty in hand I proceeded to walk to the water point by the service area near Fenny Stratford lock. Imagine my surprise yet again--to find the water point there is not only not working, there is also no "out of order"sign on it. Thank goodness I didn't chance backing the boat through the lock to the service point to fill up with water! Crap!!!
     Back on bard NBV I instituted emergency water measures and after speaking with friends on the phone this morning, I decided to try my luck in asking for water from one of the lock side cottages. First I dumped my rubbish and tried the water point once more to be sure I had not missed something; nope! Still broken...a woman and a man were sitting out at in front of one of the cottages having their morning tea after a bit of bijou gardening. I approached, introduced myself and asked my favor. The woman replied,
     "Don't I know you?"
     "Yes, we met several years ago when my husband and I stopped to sue the water point. You had a lovely crop of Pot Marigolds (Calendua Officianalis) growing in your garden and I asked if I could pick a few to  make a healing salve. You were very gracious and allowed me to help myself.  I took your email as you had a little dog with a skin condition and I emailed you an easy salve to make yourself as a remedy."
     "Oh yes I remember it now. How is your husband?" And so the conversation carried on. Her name is Lynn, she is a lovely person and she happily filled my five gallon water butty for me. I found out through our conversation that other boaters on the long term moorings just under the bridge before the lock have been asking cottage owners to fill up with water as well as the water point has been out of service for some time! I did send an email to CaRT (Canal and River Trust), but of course it is bank holiday weekend so nothing will happen very quickly. Can I just say what a luxury it is to have water heated on the stove to wash up with? This is taking me back to my childhood on Alaska and the early years of my first marriage when we as a young family of three, lived off the grid in a log cabin the sticks with no indoor plumbing or electricity. Aah yes I remember it well and to altogether fondly. A bit too much hardship and deprivation is not good for the soul. 
My precious!! Five gallons of clean, drinkable water.
     Anyway here I sit waiting for Jules Fuels to come by to top up the diesel, buy some coal  (I am down to three quarters of my last bag so that is timely!) and wait for RCR to contact me. One final issue cropped up on Friday to put the worm on top of the whipped cream on this disaster: I checked our bank account and found unauthorized activity--charges when no card was present it said--which leads to ask how in the hell the charges were made--to in Slough! My last amazon order was April 5th, Les' was even longer, and there were no new charges on either account. I had to email Amazon and ask for Les' account to be closed due to death. I contacted our bank and they will refund the monies to our account. This led me to finally contact our banks and make an appointment with a bank bereavement advisor to remove Les' name. I simply could not face this chore before but I see I really must do it and so I will. I don't understand the need to make an appointment with a bloody bereavement advisor. I asked why bereavement advisors were necessary and received this reasoning: 
     "Oh well not all of our employees have taken the bereavement training and we need to ensure grieving customers are handled with sensitivity. An appointment ensures you will be seen by someone who has had the proper bereavement training and can assist you in with this issue." I'm sorry but I think this is a load of utter crap. If the only customer service reps employed by a bank who can show a bit of kindness and sensitivity to a grieving customer is one suitably trained to so then there is something seriously wrong with the bank's hiring process in my humble opinion. At our U. S. bank I went in to the nearest branch with Les' death certificate, our birth and marriage certificates, and a teller assisted me, only requiring my ID and Les' death certificate. It took all of ten minutes. She was suitably kind and sensitive which didn't require special training; being human seemed sufficient. But hey ho I am in Britain where bureaucracy reigns supreme, so I will endure it as all other Brits do. 
   To end this post on a positive note I am happy to say I saw Adam and Adrian pass through yesterday on NB Briar Rose. I knew they were headed my way and I left the boat at 8:30 AM to walk to Tesco for some bits and bobs hoping to return before they arrived. On the rare occasions when I wander in to Tesco do do my sopping in person, I have found that there is a totally obnoxious two year old who follows me around the country form Grocery store to grocery store. She/he/it sets up an ear splitting, hair raising, nerve tweaking caterwauling the minute I walk in the door that makes me want to step on its wind pipe. So I thought perhaps if I went to Tesco early I might make it through my shopping before the little brat child had even had breakfast. It worked but sadly I nearly missed Adam and Adrian. I didn't get a picture but they did and it is on their blog. I will see them again tomorrow for a longer visit involving tea and cake when they return this way.
     Finally I wish to share a nifty item I picked up at Robert Dyas in Hemel Hempstead two weeks ago. It is a night light. Les and I discussed this issue thoroughly in the months leading up to his death. We looked at all sorts of night lights but few if any ran on 12 volt electrics and I was hoping for one with a motion sensor to use in the bathroom and in the galley. Nothing we found online was suitable and the topic feel by the wayside so I am chuffed to bits to have found The Egg!
The Egg on a small boat shelf near some framed pictures to give you an idea of its actual size and dimensions.

The Egg up close while off.
The Egg shining brightly!
     Battery operated, one taps the bottom of The Egg on a hard surface to turn it on and taps it again to turn it off.  If left on it will shut itself off after about a minute and a half. The Egg produces bright light and I can carry it in the palm of my hand late at night to use the loo or make a cup of middle of the night tea. Brilliant!!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Trouble Comes in Threes!

"Everything is hard before it is easy." - J.W. Goethe, German writer and Stateman,  1749-1842.

     Traveling with Tom and Jan Jones was like being shot out of a slingshot! I have done no cruising in nine months and I am woefully out of shape, which became apparent as I watched Jan wind ten locks on our cruise from Marsworth to Leighton Buzzard. I tried winding a gate paddle at one of the locks and while I feebly had to ratchet the windlass around like some crotchety aged wreck, Jan just got on with it, turning her windlass smoothly and lifting the mechanism. I remember when I too could carry on like that. Note to self: Get in shape girlfriend!

     Coming out of Grove lock I spied Jules Fuel boats breasted up on the off side with laundry out on the line. I needed coal as the nights are still quite cold and I was down to one bag. Instead of pulling along side them as my inner voice directed, I continued onward and then when Tom and Jan came alongside me I told them I was going to back up to the fuel boats and get some coal. Tom said they would continue on and moor up as soon as they found a spot. Off they went and backwards I proceeded only to end up with something around the prop! The engine cut out as it should and I was left with no propulsion or steering, essentially adrift. Instead of straying off to one side NB Valerie meandered lazily along the middle of the cut.
    Sighing, I could hear Les' voice in my ear telling me, "Don't panic Jaq. You will not get washed out to sea!" After rooting around in several places I found the bread knife he used to cut things from the prop, pulled the engine hole cover up and down inside I went to lift the weed hatch cover, open the weed hatch and suss things out. Now at five feet one and a quarter inch tall, with vestigial arms and legs, I am a small built package all the way 'round. I was up to my shoulders in the cold, murky water. I could feel it--whatever it was--something large, tough and made of waxed canvas. I made a half dozen attempts to cut through it only to loosen it slightly but I made no real headway.
Image result for weed hatch
This looks exactly like our engine hole with the square weed hatch at the top, which opens to grant access to the prop and rudder. © Tony Porter, NB Holderness.
     Back up on the deck, I decided the best thing to do would be to pole the boat to the towpath and tie up. I texted Tom on NB Waiouru and asked for help. A text came back from Jan that he was on his way. In the meantime NB Grand Cru came by and offered to tow me to the towpath. They were in the process of doing so when Tom arrived. Tom grabbed the midline and pulled NB Val in to the side, I hopped off and held us in place and Tom took the bread knife and plunged into the weed hatch. After ten minutes he managed to hack through a waxed canvas pram cover! Marvelous!!!
What a narrow boat pram cover looks like once it has been wrapped around a prop!
When I moored up behind NB Waiouru for the night I was totally spent. To my credit I did not panic and I kept my head. Tom and his long arms came to the rescue and I thank him most kindly as he still had a walk into Leighton Buzzard to Tesco in front of him.
     The next morning Tom and Jan went ahead of me about a quarter of a mile to the Tesco moorings and I finished my laundry and cruised to the service point to fill up with water and dump the rubbish. It took me three trips to the bin to get rid of the Pram cover pieces. Then I went through the bridge hole and moored up near Tom and Jan. Stiff from all the exercise I was getting, I felt as though I was moving in slow motion through a vat of syrup. I closed all the curtains, remembered to grab my phone, keys, wallet, the trolley, and the front and back locks. After locking the boat I set off to top up my groceries. On return about an hour later, I put things away, made a quick sandwich and ate it, then we set off again towards Leighton lock.
     As we came out of the lock there was a long pound ahead of us until we reached the Soulberry Three locks. I noticed the engine was making a high pitched humming sound I had not heard before. I checked the engine gauges and the heating gauge was up.  In all the years I have spent on this boat--even as we made our way on the tidal part of the Thames--that gauge had never once moved above 50. It usually hovered just above 40. Now it was pointing between 50 and 60. I pulled over and NB Waiouru stopped in front of me. I told Tom what was happening and we shut off the engine and let it cool down for a bit. He opened the radiator cap sightly and it hissed as the seal broke, letting a bit of water out. This is good. If steam had come out then we would know it was low on water. I explained to Tom that the marine engineer at Cowroast had flushed the cooling system while I was in the States. It had never been done on this engine and Les had told me he thought I should have it done before I started cruising on my own. Tom suggested that perhaps some air was trapped in the system, impeding the water from flowing properly. That seemed likely and so I started up the engine again and proceeded slowly. The humming sound was still there and the needle still pointed over 50 but there was no hot smell and no smoke or steam so I continued on slowly. We went through the Soulberry locks with help from a volunteer lock keeper who thought an American on a narrow boat was a funny thing to encounter.
     Onward we cruised towards Stoke Hammond lock, with a long, long pound in between. We passed the place where the A4146 motorway comes right next to the cut and a convenient layby appears on the offside. In 2014 we met up with Leslie and Joe Kimantas from NB Yarwood at this spot. They came by car delivering a cook stove we purchased from them. I remember the four of us gathered around our dinette drinking tea and eating carrot cake. Later that afternoon our friends Carol and George Palin showed up, bringing their new wide beam Still Rockin' down to the Thames. Les and I watched in astonishment as bridge 108 of the Grand Union canal appeared to give birth to their fat boat!
     I stopped at Willowbridge marina to buy two bags of coal while Tom and Jan went on ahead to Fenny Stratford to fill up with water and moor up beyond the stop lock. I pulled in on the towpath side across from Willowbridge as there was a boat on the service mooring. I stood and waited for five minutes. There were two men and woman standing around the stern of this boat looking into the engine hole. The woman clocked me and then ignored me and the men were intent on the boat, so I finally called out,
   "Hi, I need to buy some coal." The three looked up at me and one of the men shouted,
   "So, what do you want me to do about it?"
   "You don't work here?"
   "Nope. You can shove your boat over here and breast up if you like."
   "Okay, thanks," and I climbed aboard NB Valerie and started to move away from the bank when the other bloke shouted out,
   "Would you mind hovering for minute? I should be done in a minute and then you can come on in here."
    "Okay." And so I hovered, and of course just then a Wyvern Shipping hire boat came charging and weaving its way through the bridge hole up in front of me about 600 yard away. He panicked when he saw me and immediately moved over to the side. I waved him on and he slowly started forward, passing me slowly with a smile and a nod of thanks.
     Meanwhile the other boat pulled away from the jetty and proceeded off right behind the hire boat. Some bloke with a blue marina jacket came out, said something to the guy who had shouted he didn't work there, they gave me one look and walked away, inside the marina building. I proceeded to slowly move our boat back and forth until I managed to slot her in the tight fit at the service jetty between the long line of boats permanently moored nut-to-butt in both directions, leaving only one small space for someone to come in for service. Just as I touched the side, the bloke who didn't work there came back out and said, "Here, I'll tie you up," and he grabbed the midline from the roof.
     Inside I purchased two bags of coal from the man who did work there, and the man who did not work there went to fetch it for me. We had a brief chat as he loaded it on the bow hatch for me and I realized this fella was one of three guys Les and I watched when we were in Fenny Stratford last July. All three were totally pissed (that means drunk for you Americans), three sheets to the wind (that means completely pissed for you Brits) and they had stripped down to their skivvies and were swimming in the canal! They were so drunk they were swallowing large amounts of water and coughing it up. They were causing a public disturbance so the police were called.
     I thanked him for his help, and cruised on to Fenny Stratford stop lock where I pulled in and went to move the pedestrian bridge in the middle of the lock. As I finished Tom came along with a windlass and a young bloke clambered over the lock gate with a smile on his face. It was James Tidy, Amy's beau off of MB Willow! He threw his arms around me for a bear hug and then went to get the other gate. With grateful help from two lovely blokes of fine character, I was soon through the stop lock and moored up behind NB Waiouru.
Image result for Fenny stratford stop lock
The pedestrian footbridge in the middle of Fenny Stratford stop lock. © NB Northern Pride.
     Amy came sauntering down the towpath, Jan popped up from her stern hatch and a boaters convocation ensued! Tom and Jan had read Amy and James' blog when they were living on NB Lucky Duck up on the River Cam, and followed on when they sold NBLD and bought Motor Boat Willow. It turns out Amy and James are on their way down to London to get married! 
     After tea aboard MB Willow, Tom provided me with a crash course on the parts of my boat engine, where upon I discovered that the newly replaced hose to the bilge pump had split and was spewing water into the hold instead of out. Tom patched it for me with tape and hopefully it will hold until I can get to Napton.
     Before I left for the States I had contracted with a local marine engineer to do some £1300 pounds of final work on NB Valerie. He had done a lot of work for Les over the years, and for us both from 2013-2016. He is someone Les trusted implicitly with our boat and who I grew to like and trust as well. This same bloke once praised me for being "...a missus who doesn't quibble about the price of the work done. So often wives want to argue with me about the cost of my work but you simply asked how much it would cost and then paid me when the job was done. I really appreciate that." 
     The list of work required included things Les and I had discussed but which he simply could no longer do. On that list was checking over the engine and parts to replace any worn hoses and loose wires. Also on the list was moving the navigation, horn, and bilge pump switches from down below my feet on the side of the stern locker to a position just forward of the gear shift--a place I physically pointed out to the engineer on a visit to the boat to go over the jobs on the list. 

    Les used his feet to turn them off and on. My feet don't reach that far and by the time I hopped off my seat, bent over to find the switches, etc. etc. I would either run aground, hit a bridge or another boat so they had to be moved. Imagine my surprise to return from America to find the switches mounted behind the gearshift and adjacent to the stern seat.
     Now anyone looking at me knows I am not built like Barbie. I am a short, wide load. With the switches mounted next to the seat I not only couldn't access them when cruising if I were precariously perched on there, I couldn't actually sit on the seat! I had to wait around Cowroast marina five extra days for the engineer to return from Easter holidays to move the switches to the place I had specified previously. This cost me time and money in additional marina fees. Now I discover the newly replaced hoses are made of cheap inflexible plastic instead of heavy duty PVC or rubber. No wonder it had split.
     I am extremely disappointed. Les trusted this person to work on NB Valerie over many years. His work was always good and while his fees were not cheap, we paid up as we felt he was honest and could be trusted, but I have to say I have been treated differently since Les died. When Les needed work done, he went over and had a natter with the engineer. They agreed on the work to be done, the date to do it, and when all was said and done we paid the bill in full and on time. Job done.
     Now Les is dead and I am on my own. I walked over in February with a written list of jobs to be done, had a natter, we agreed on the work, and I explained that I had the use of the permanent mooring we were on until the 29th of March for no charge after which the new mooring renters on NB Dreckly would be bringing their boat up to moor the following weekend, so NB Valerie was to be taken by the engineer on the 29th of March and when he was finished with the work it was to go into a berth in Cowroast marina. I had spoken to Jason at the marina and made the arrangements with an agreed upon a price.
     I explained all of this to the engineer at the time I gave him my list of works to be done on February 16th. After a week or so I became worried about the arrangements--don't ask me why. I needed to be sure my requirements were crystal clear. I am aware that over here I am the one with the accent and often I am misunderstood because of it. I called around to the engineer's workshop and asked him if he could come over to the boat so we could go through the jobs in situ. He agreed and that afternoon he paid me a visit. We went through the boat, discussed each job, I showed him exactly where I wanted the switches mounted and I reiterated once again the dates for moving the boat, etc. etc. I know all this because I keep a daily diary so I can refer back to what happened and when. 
     So imagine my shock when a local boater contacted me while I was in the States to say NB Valerie had disappeared from the private mooring the week preceding the 29th and suddenly appeared back on the mooring on the 29th! A hasty and expensive call to the engineer immediately took place. It was five fifteen in the evening in Britain. He had no recollection at all of the dates, times, conversations etc. and said I was lucky to get hold of him as he was just leaving for the night but he would go round and move NB Val to his jetty and then move her to a marina berth on Monday.
     When I arrived back to the boat I found it had been jammed into the marina berth so hard the back button fender was sideways upright instead of extended over the tiller, a cabinet bolt on one of the kitchen cupboards had its knob sheared off somehow, the newly installed radio had moved three inches off its position in the cupboard and the plastic collar around its face had come away, and several items had fallen off shelves onto the floor which all indicate our boat was hastily driven into the berth backwards and slammed to a stop against the back cement.
     I have been treated this way in the past by car mechanics who assume the little lady doesn't know shit from sugar about anything and they can simply nod their head, carry on as they see fit, and then charge me an arm and a leg for inferior work. I just never expected to be treated this way by someone who knew Les and whom Les trusted; someone I trusted too and I am severely disappointed. To be fair the new aluminum checker plate engine hole cover he made is brilliant and spot on. But still....
     I have been down in the engine hole every day now several times checking things. I sponged up the water from the bilge pipe crack, and Tom made me some dandy water wicks which I put in place. He rolls up old newspapers, tapes them tightly and stands them up vertically in the engine hole to wick up any water in the bottom. It works brilliantly!
     Les used to do all the engine maintenance. He tried showing me how to change the oil but the engine hole is so small and while he was bent over doing the job I couldn't see a bloody thing. I hate mechanical stuff and I have zip patience with fiddly bits like nuts and bolts. I am a chef, a writer, and a healer, not a mechanic but hey guess what? I will be learning all about how to service my engine and I will be on a first name basis with all parts of it eventually.
     In the meantime I have stayed behind at Fenny Stratford, taking the space MB Willow vacated as Amy and James continued their journey south. Friends Steve and Anne Folliington on NB Bracken are moored up just in front of me! Tom and Jan need to be in Braunston at a certain time to connect with their son. My journey needs to be at a slower pace. It is still the grief trail and mourning takes time and energy. I don't intend to pass this way again for a long time. There are memories of Les everywhere, and I need to stop and process them. I also want to stop and have a natter and cup of tea with other boaters who know us, as I cruise along.

     I am so pleased I had the opportunity to spend time with Tom and Jan. Their boat is up for sale and when it is sold they are moving to Oz for the next part of their life adventures. I love Tom's sense of humor. His experiences in life have provided him with much knowledge and many good stories to tell. The same is true for Jan whose uncommon sense is rare in this world. She is a good reader of people and I've enjoyed many fine hours chatting them both over tea when they were moored up by us in Birmingham in 2015. My thanks to you both for helping me to get moving again, for all of your help, and for checking on me to make sure I am okay. 
Tom and Jan saying goodbye Kiwi style! (The blue cover on the boat in the background is a pram cover similar to the one Tom removed from NBV's prop).

     So I am recovering now in Fenny Stratford. I plan to tour Bletchley Park where Alan Turing and the code breakers worked during WWII. I am also a ten minute walk to Ikea so I am going to nip in and enjoy a cheap lunch of Swedish meatballs, and there is a Dulux paint center up the road where we bought the Dulux Metal Shield outdoor paint for the boat. I need two small cans of the same in contrasting colors to finish up the paint job we left off in 2015. After a suitable amount of time I will move on to Old Lindford Park and Stanton Low where I will scatter more of Les' ashes and plant more Daffodils.   

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Time to Cruise

"I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places that this heart of  mine embraces, all day through...I'll find you in the morning sun and when the night is new, I'll be looking at the moon but I'll be seeing you." - Lyrics by Irving Kahal, 1938

     Wednesday April 19th was a lovely sunny day. After a week of recovering from the trip back to the UK from America (more of which I will write about in another post), I locked the keys in the boat and had to rely on my neighbor Owen, who resides in a re-fitted oil rig lifeboat with his cat Sam, to cut the lock off the stern hatch. I decided then and there to stick close to home. I scrubbed the boat from stem to stern, ceiling to floor, inside and out, removing the Chimney and cleaning the stove pipe and stove; It was wonderful to know that what Les taught me in theory held true in practice. I spent fifteen minutes looking for the large number 13 ratchet he used to loosen the nut from the bolt holding the chimney chain in place only to discover that when I wasn't looking Les switched it out for a small, compact ratchet that fits my small hand perfectly. This is love. I completed my list of chores, stocking up on groceries, catching up the laundry, filling the water tank and emptying the loo. Last but not least I said goodbye to some of the dear friends Les and I are so fortunate to have made in the time spent at Cowroast.
     We arrived at the top of Cowroast lock on August 2nd, 2016 and with the exception of one lovely cruise to Bulbourne with family, there had been no cruising. I hadn't worked a lock or steered the boat in over nine months. While I was gone to the States, the final repairs were made to our boat and now it was time to get underway. Tom and Jan Jones on NB Waiouru happened to be at Marsworth and they telephoned me to ask if I would like to cruise with them since they were headed north too. As I cruised past Mike Griffin on NB Albion I said, "Call me if you need cake. If you aren't cruising up my way you can always drive up for a visit and bring one home." 
     Tom caught up with me at Bulbourne and was kind enough to lock me through the Marsworth Flight. I was fine until I caught site of Startops End Reservoir. Les and I both love mooring there and I was flooded with memories, tears pouring from my eyes.
     It was while moored up here that Les fell on the boat and hurt his back in 2009. While recovering from that fall Les spent thirty one days moored at the Reservoir where he wrote the blog post asking readers from around the world to contact him so he could get an idea of how widely read his blog was across the globe. It was that post to which I responded, setting everything else in motion. 
     When we returned to Britain in 2011 we moored up at Startops End for eleven days to await arrival of my dowery: 640 pounds of worldly goods which traveled from Pullman, Washington to the docks in Seattle, onto a cargo ship which spent two months traveling down the pacific coast of the Americas, through the Panama Canal, across the Atlantic ocean over to Europe and finally to England. Les found an online tracking web site and he followed the cargo ship with avid delight.
     We spent the time waiting for my boxes by walking all the paths around the four reservoirs, waking early before the sun rose and watching the mist rise from the water, enjoying the dozens of ducks and geese who also called the local environment home. We watched with fascination while a pair of swans worked over a plastic bag with raw chicken inside which someone had tossed in the cut. The Cob had found it on the bottom and brought it up; both he and the Pen spent hours working at the bag with their tremendous beaks until it finally split open, disgorging its meaty delights which they both devoured quickly. From this we learned that swans are omnivorous. Les and I delighted in waking each morning to bird calls right outside our boat, and listening to the last quacks and squawks each night as the local aviary population settled down to sleep. Back in 2011 there were not so many boaters on the cut and we often had the large pound adjacent to the reservoir all to ourselves. It was and still is one of the loveliest bit of wild places left so close to London.
     The last time we cruised past the reservoirs we could not stop--we had to make time to get to Cowroast and connect with Hospice. As we sat together on the stern of our boat last July 30th, I watched Les drink in the view like a thirsty man looking for water in the desert. He knew he would never moor here again or watch the waterfowl take flight against the summer sky.  And I knew with my leaden heart that the next time I came through Marsworth Les would be dead.
     I moored up behind Waiouru and spent a couple of hours chatting with Tom and Jan. At 6 p.m. I gathered a trowel, a daffodil bulb wrapped in newspaper, and a small jar with some of Les' ashes in it and walked up above the bottom lock, past Bluebell's Tea Room. I chose a place just beyond where the path separates into a Y, where a simple wooden bench was built as a memorial to someone else's loved one. Les and I used to sit on this bench in the sunshine after walking around the reservoirs. A tree had been recently planted just nearby. On my knees I dug a hole right next to the sapling, sprinkled some of Les' ashes in the bottom, placed the Daffodil bulb in place and patted the soil around it. The late evening sun was just slipping beyond the shoulder of the grassy hill, the sky still lit with its golden light. 
The Daffodil planted with Les' ashes under the last rays of the evening sun, Startops End Reservoir, Marsworth.
     Since Les died I have waited for a sign from him. I have seen, felt, and heard nothing and my heart has grieved in deep disappointment especially since others in our family have received signs from Dad, Da, and Granddad as they referred to him. As I knelt in the dirt, a nearby boat was playing music from some radio station. I didn't recognize the music but the words jumped out at me: "I'm sending you a sign that I am here and I still care, just to let you know I am still there." I sat stock still, my heart aching and racing, tears cascading down my cheeks. I took a picture of the spot as I will do with each place I stop to scatter Les' ashes and plant flowers. In several pictures there is a hazy spot just nearby. It isn't a reflection of the sun on the camera lens. It has an indistinct, out of focus shape. It isn't something that I saw through the lens when I took these pictures. I have no rational explanation for it being there.   

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs