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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.   


Amy said...

So lovely to see you breifly and sorry to hear of your troubles with maintenance and the engine. I can assure you that if you are up north near our yard at Bollington and need work done we will treat you with much more respect, but I hope that will not be needed! In the meantime I know that you will get to know your engine and that when you can't, the boaters will look after you!

Best wishes for your further travels and enjoy Bletchley!

Amy xx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Amy,
It was a heart warming treat to see you and James again. As usual I realized only after you left that I didn't get a picture!

I will learn the ins and outs of my engine. It is simply a must when living aboard one one's own but I agree with you that there are so many wonderful boaters--some of whom I Know and some I don't but all of whom would lend a hand.

Take care of each other,

Jaq xxx

Anonymous said...

You're doing amazingly well, Jaq. Glad you're on the move. Bletchley is wonderful. If you can, time your visit so you see the talk and demonstration of The Bombe. It's amazing. I bet the codebreakers heard the noise it makes in their dreams!


Jennie said...

I too am so sorry to hear of your troubles, especially with the problems with the work done. Well done for not panicking when the pram hood was wrapped around your prop. We are all blessed with so many helpful and friendly people in the boating community. I hope you enjoy your slower pace of life, but I am sure it was a great confidence boost to be able to start out with such good friends by your side. Jennie xx

Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

Baptism of fire, girl! Keep learning, keep travelling, keep resting and girding those loins for this whole new and quite scary adventure!

And buy yourself a little vacuum pump (a Pela pump I think) for removing the oil from the engine - we got ours at a place that deals with motorbikes. Pays for itself after about 3 commercial oil changes. You take out the dipstick, and poke the little hose down the hole and pump - up comes the oil into the bottle. Easy peasy - well, it does take a bit of pumping to get it flowing up into the bottle on the deck but once it's going it is quite quick and not messy. Previously I used the tap on the bottom of the engine to decant it into a milk bottle, but had to close it off each time the 1 litre bottle (only one that would fit below the tap) was full and then haul that up and empty it into basin - and I managed every time to get oil from a*sehole to breakfast, as well as getting extremely hot leaning over a warmed up engine - AAARRRGGGHHH!!!
The pela pump (we bought a different brand from the motor factor's) obviates all of that, and now I only have to get down into the engine hole to remove and change the oil filter.
By the way, I really like Tom's water suction device! Am going to use that on Waka Huia in the bilge and the cabin bilge. I saw recently too that someone has felt in the cabin bilge as it wicks any water away from the metal. A combination of newspaper rolls and felt will be put in place, methinks! Will mean buying newspapers, but as long as we don't read them, it'll be OK.

Not long now till we are drinking wine on the side of the cut together, Jaq - nine days till we leave NZ, 11 till we are on the boat, and then we will be steaming towards each other!

Anonymous said...

Oh Jaq ... is it ever going to get easier for you? Gosh we all hope so. Challenge upon challenge upon challenge. Some major disappointments. Some victories. Three months from now I so hope you'll look back at these early days of your new life from a position of ease and confidence and comfort. It's so fabulous that you have good friends along the cut.

I too associate daffodils with my former husband, my dear Charley who died in 1999 - a time of rebirth and rain and sun. What a brilliant idea to plant the flowers along your path.

Karen - in Pullman - where the tulips are out now.... at last

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Lesley,

Lovely to hear from you and thank you for the vote of confidence. Cruising without Les means I am doing the work done by the two of us and it requires getting used to a new and different rhythm to life aboard--especially to cruising. I am still finding my feet, but I have no doubt I will get my inner balance eventually.

I have a large picture of Les sitting across from me in his spot at the dinette. I talk to him a lot, asking questions and verbalizing concerns. It no doubt sounds crazy but it helps.

I am looking forward to Bletchley and will look out for the Bombe!

Love and hugs to you and Joe. Take care of each other,

Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Jennie,

Thank you and you are correct on all fronts. Help is never too far away on the cut. I will give you a call mid week and we can have a good natter.

Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Oh Marilyn you are such a treasure!! I can just see you bent down in the engine hole pumping for NZ.

Fortunately our engine has an oil pump mounted on it. When that was done I do not know because I guarantee you there was none on the engine two years ago. NO doubt it was just another "thing" my Best Beloved did or had done to make life easier for me in the weeks and years to come.

Thanks for the email with all the info in it--a veritable gold mine!

Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Karen,

Lovely to hear from you and Happy Spring girlfriend! The flower bulbs were a boater named Maffi's idea. I am planting another one today at Slapton lock.

Life is what it is. Perhaps by getting all the hard shit out of the way right up front it will actually make life easier in the weeks and months to come. I hops so! There is SO much work to be done on our boat that Les simply didn't have the energy to tackle anymore. There is three years of cleaning, painting, and minor repairs required to make her ship-shape again. We used to undertake a lot of t hose things together and now it is all in my hands.

I miss you and send Biggs big hugs and lots of love across the miles to you and Jim,

Jaq xxx

Alison said...

I have never met you but have followed your blog for a number of years. I admire you immensely. Your strength and courage is much more than you would believe.

I am sorry that you have been let down by someone who you and Les trusted to carry out your work, but it happens so much these days. You just have to pick yourself up from it, move on. You have plenty of people that are around you that can help and advise. From what I remember River Canal Rescue do boat maintenance courses, might be worth checking.

Stay strong, you are doin a fantastic job!


Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Alison,

Thank you for following our blog and for leaving your comment. I am tough and pliable, so I know this too will pass. It is just so damned frustrating and painful while I am going through it all. But you are right--I am not alone. I am very grateful for the boating community and those who have rallied around me. I am so blessed by them all.

Thank you for the encouragement!


Arthur said...

Jaq, yet another incisive glance at your new life! We have no doubt you will master all the trials in time - just remember, time is in your hands now and you should take as much of it as you need. You've already seen how boaters will be there for you and that won't change at all. Let us know when you are our way (we're back from Norway on May 8th) and we'll come see you. Keep the faith!

Unknown said...

Thank you the other evening for the phone call to me; surgery was OK, recovery is going to take longer, part two in another two weeks. Thinking of all that has tranpired; the passing of Les, your visit back to the USA and now driving NBV on the cut without Les. It must be difficult at times. The daffodils are finally in bloom here, ditto grape hyacinths, and maybe the tulips if the squirrels have not devoured the bulbs over the winter.

All of us on and off the cut (the cut between me and thee is 5000 miles wide) shall monitor your experiences and be here to comfort and lend an ear and maybe wave to you from afar, as much as those photos of planted flowers with the ashes of Les, (that will of the wisp was Les, you know)

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Arthur,
Thank you as ever for your support and encouragement. It means so much and I shall look forward to seeing you and Jennie upon your return. I want to hear all about your trip!

Take care of each other,

Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Bryce,

It is always a pleasure to chat with you. I just needed reassurance that you were okay and surgery went well. I only wish I could drop by in person.

I do indeed know that was Les appearing in the photos. As ever dear friend, thanks for your support and encouragement across all those miles.

Biggs big hugs,

Jaq xxx

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs