Learning the ropes…

Crick – Welford – Crick – Braunston – Napton Junction – Braunston – Crick

 53 miles, 28 locks, 4 tunnel transits

Cal Guy Jnr (now 13) had waged a campaign to spend his long school summer break in the UK. He was posted onto an aeroplane at LAX on June 12th and arrived safely a day later at Heathrow on June 13th.  An eight hour time difference and a twelve hour flight take some getting over…

Not surprisingly he wanted to go boating. His last experience aboard Cleddau had been in 2018, on the River Great Ouse, Bedford to Godmanchester and back, as well as a trip from Ely up the River Cam …

After a flurry of activities and visits (see below*) it was time to become re-acquainted with narrow boats and to view some narrow locks. Hence, while in Cheshire, a diversion via Audlem provided an initial reminder of how boats can be moved up and down hills…

This was Induction Day Zero.

Boat Familiarisation Day came three days later, in Northamptonshire. A domestic leak investigation on nb Cleddau had involved a certain amount of disruption – hatches had to be replaced and items returned to cupboards. Only then could cargo for the upcoming trip be loaded, the water tank refilled and the engine checked…

Three hours or so after arrival on board, the cruise could begin.    Cleddau crept towards the Crick Marina entrance, past Bimble and Zig Zag, out onto the Leicester Line, to turn right towards Welford.

It’s a scary thing. learning to drive a 16 ton boat… Training Proper was to start the next day but perhaps it’s never too early to start…

The canal weaves through rural Northamptonshire, between hedges and lines of trees, past moored boats and under the one modern day intrusion, the bridge carrying the A14.

It was Bridge 32 that shook Cal Guy Jnr’s confidence: a small brick bridge, a clump of tree foliage beyond the bridge on the off-side, a curve and a hard edge on the towpath side.  For those who might remember a former Boat Impact Scale, this “Crash” (the novice steerer’s wording) was barely a “One Clocker”. Only a toothbrush fell over within the cabin. How often have regular crew notched up two or even three ‘clocker’ collisions…

Onward the next day – and within a couple of hours the Welford Arm had been reached. Here lock skills were refreshed, the same lock being passed through outbound and on return from Welford.

It was while moored at Welford Wharf that other boating skills and practices were learned: an Australian couple on Day 2 of a hire boat holiday struggled to turn their boat at the winding hole, poled their way out of the wharf-side bushes, lost all forward propulsion, and stranded mid-canal, were becoming wild-eyed with desperation.

“Can we take a rope for you?” Boatwif called.

“I don’t know what the lady’s saying,” gulped the helmsman, desperate to end the situation.

A bow rope was thrown and caught, another boater arrived to help haul the boat alongside Cleddau.

“We think you need to go down your weed hatch,” was the advice from the other boater.

These words made no sense at all to the stricken hirer.

With teamwork and “all hands on deck” the problem was resolved – the weed hatch lifted to give access to the propeller, two pairs of hands were required to wriggle flotsam off the prop, Cleddau’s curved knife was deployed to slice through a large piece of carpet and the blue fishing net was used to collect and contain sodden scraps and fibres.  Cal Guy Jnr trundled the black bag of unwelcome rubbish to the nearby bins, the Australians moored up (and in a late night postscript it was the Cleddau crew who re-moored their boat by torchlight, the boat’s mooring ropes being too short to do the job properly…)


‘A horse rider needs to get back on his horse and try again’, so next day, out on the Leicester Line, Cal Guy Jnr was back on the tiller.    Concentration was good, skills quickly learned – how to steer straight ahead, how to slow when passing moored boats, how to pass oncoming boats, how to navigate bridge holes, how to pull away from a moored position, how to keep correct distance if moving in a convoy (and several days later, how to steer into and out of a lock). All good stuff! 

It was a return route, passing Yelvertoft Marina, then past Crick Marina and  through Crick Tunnel (the Captain steering through the tunnel).

Onward the next morning, a mile or so to the M1 and to Watford Locks.

What! No queue of boats to go down Watford Locks…As required Boatwif checked in with the duty lockkeeper. Boat name spelled and noted.

There were no boats waiting to come up the locks and only one ahead going down. Cal Guy Jnr had been drilled with the “Red, then White, and you’ll be alright” mantra.

So there was smooth progress down the single lock, down the staircase 4,  down the last two locks in the flight of seven, and onward…

The canal below the Watford Locks winds quietly towards Norton Junction, the only sound effects being mid-morning birdsong and the drone of traffic passing the Watford Gap Service Area.

The Captain worked the boat round Norton Junction, passing the hollyhocks and runner beans at the pretty corner cottage,   then it was onward past open views,   crossing with a “fat” wide beam boat,   and onward through a tree-lined cutting and into Braunston Tunnel.

There was company down the Braunston broad lock flight and happily a mooring close to The Admiral Nelson pub, convenient for a lock-side evening meal and a good place for Anglo-American conversations…

Onward on Friday – two more locks to do, water tank to refill, rubbish to dispose of behind the Stop House, then a continuation along to Braunston Turn. Not north towards Coventry but west towards Birmingham and Oxford.

Steering practice continued, passing a variety of moored boats. (“Wow, that boat’s morbidly obese,” commented Cal Guy Jnr, as Cleddau passed one particularly large and shiny blue boat…)

Onward, winding round bends, continuing the four miles to Napton Junction. A succession of boats delayed the planned turn around at Napton Junction: a family of swans was obstructive too.

Back towards Braunston Cleddau went. You are never quite sure what other boaters’ plans are – and this sight was pretty mystifying…

“Are you OK?” called the Captain as he got closer.

“We’re stuck,” was the pained reply from the front deck of the oddly positioned boat.

An offer of a pull away from shallow water was well received, though the constant stream of boat traffic passing made the manoeuvres tricky…Whose rope to use led to discussion of salvage law. “If I use my rope I can claim salvage on your vessel…! “ the Captain explained. An alternative was proposed and the Captain secured the boats with a rope from the stuck boat’s bow.  It took a mighty heave to dislodge the stuck boat from the mudbank and tow it through the nearby bridge hole…  A good deed had been done for which the stranded boaters were extremely grateful!

Onward Cleddau pootled, looking for an overnight mooring spot. But look at that flag – it was unmistakeably the county flag of Bedfordshire!

It would take two more days to get back to home moorings at Crick, regardless of weather.

Saturday: It was a wet return to Braunston, a wet approach to the locks, an ascent in sodden conditions   – and a night near Norton Junction where the front deck became the wet room for 4 waterproof coats, 4 rain hats, one pair of gaiters, one pair of locking gloves and two pairs of shoes…

Sunday: (New sign?)

A few miles, the Watford Locks and a tunnel needed negotiating for a successful return to base. A boat queue at the bottom of the Watford locks (six boats ahead) delayed lock action. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.

The lock keepers manage the queues and the water supply. “Go up two locks and wait below the staircase,” was the (eventual) instruction. After a two hour wait at the bottom and a 45-minute wait (enough time to make and eat lunch) below the staircase section, the final locks could be tackled.

Up the 4-chamber staircase.

The last (single) lock was ready, the gates open. Into it Cleddau smoothly cruised, Cal Guy Jnr on the tiller, Boatwif on the throttle. What a triumph!

Under the M1, the canal weaving past fields of sheep and crows to reach Crick Tunnel and a half mile further on the entrance to Crick Marina.

Quietly, smoothly and undramatically Cleddau made her best ever arrival at her mooring pontoon  – and there was no-one about at all to witness the significant  achievement!  (Traditionally a mooring fiasco usually attracts spectators…) 

Did Cal Guy Jnr “learn the ropes”? He certainly handled them, and learned boat handling… Now there is work to be done on learning some knots…

 2023 totals: 242½ miles, 242 locks, 4 swing bridges, 8 tunnels

  Do you live aboard?: FAQ now posed 14 times

  • 2023 Monkton Moments*– 8 (Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

 8) At Watford Locks: “Cleddau – we know where that is!” (Conversation covered the Cleddau Queen and Cleddau King, a matchstick model of Alumchine, a Main Street Pembroke address and Milford Haven…)


Previously, Cal Guy Jnr:

at a Cheshire East farm

eating out with the Cheshire One

at Hack Green Secret Bunker

at RAF Museum Midlands at Cosford

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2 Responses

  1. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    What a cracking post! I cannot believe how tall Haydn has grown! While his older brother looks like Ken and James, Cal Guy junior looks like his granny! How I wish I could’ve been there on NBV moored up somewhere to meet with you three. Please day hello to Haydn for me?
    Love Jaq xxx

  2. Sue Deveson says:

    Cal Guy Jnr had had his height recorded during his December visit – we think he’s grown 3 inches since then…!
    Yes, it would have been absolutely brilliant to have met you while we were all afloat on the canals.
    The trainee helmsman will be back in the US later this week, ready for American pizza and needing to gear up for the new school year.
    Huge love,
    Sue /Boatwif

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