Some trying moments

Godmanchester – Buckden – Hemingford Grey – Little Paxton: 22 miles, 8 locks

There never seems to be very long between one boat problem and the next. The most recent issue has been water heater related. A Webasto (that provides hot water and central heating via a timer and via an over-ride switch) had been installed in 2011. From time to time engineers have engaged with it, replaced bits, re-set the timer and so on. It was serviced last year at a marina on the Avon. “It’ll last you about a year if you don’t change it,” was the diagnosis – and so the burner unit was replaced…

Then, a few weeks ago, on starting up the Webasto began producing clouds of white smoke. “Water in the exhaust,” pronounced the man at Lincoln. He did his best – his efforts produced two more days of morning hot water – and then, zilch. The start up sequence started … and then shut down. Time and time again it started, and then shut down.

The Captain got on to RCR (River Canal Rescue). “This is where I am now,” he said. “This is where I am heading towards. Can you find me an engineer to come and repair the Webasto?”

All went deep and silent for some days. And then there was a surprise phone call.  “We’ve found you an expert, but he’s got to come from Worksop. There will be travel expenses…” This was on the eve of the Wash Crossing, after which Lincolnshire would be left behind and Norfolk would be arrived in.

The Captain was polite – but travel expenses from Nottinghamshire to Norfolk was just too much to bear. Maybe there’d be someone in East Anglia…

An internet trawl revealed a Webasto specialist at Buckden Marina, between Godmanchester and St Neots. Cruise plans were adjusted to allow Webasto work on Thursday morning and arrival on the Marina service jetty on Wednesday afternoon. So far, so good.

The Tentatrice crew meanwhile were searching for a specialist of their own. “We’ll stick with you,” said the Tentatrice Captain, “and talk to their engineers at the marina.”

Up for a jaunt the Godmanchester Friends pre-positioned a car and hitched a boat lift from Godmanchester Lock. From the water they could see Brampton Mill     Brampton Lock       and progress on the new A14 bypass.      

“Pull in on the service jetty,” were the Buckden instructions, “that’ll be fine…”

But it wasn’t.

Why was so much (about 60%) of this erstwhile very easily accessible jetty fenced off? Cleddau was tied up as far along as possible, Tentatrice behind.

Time for afternoon tea and some boat cake… 

A cruiser came by, its owner anxious for a pump-out. Tentatrice needed to move out of the way. The boats were breasted up, side by side – but then the helmsman on a widebeam boat started to holler, he, so he claimed, “desperate” for a pump-out. (Would now have been a good time to go out and preach the benefits of composting toilets…?)

There was huffing, there was puffing, there was hauling forwards, there was hauling backwards of the narrowboat pair.

“We’re here because it’s where the office staff said to moor,” was reiterated to anyone who chose to ask.

By early evening it was unlikely that there would be any more customers at the jetty either for pump-outs or for fuel.  So the boats were repositioned, Cleddau tied up ahead of Tentatrice.

30 minutes later there was a call at the side hatch. “You can’t be here like this,” said  a man, gesturing towards the front of Cleddau (overhanging the end of the straight before the orange fencing) and back at the stern of Tentatrice, a few feet of which was projecting  past the end of the jetty. Bemused and bewildered Boatwif summonsed the Captain from the bow end of the boat. The man continued his message: “I’m the owner, you can’t be like this because there are pipes under there (the orange fenced off section) and that’s private property over there.”  (By now his hands were gesticulating at the row of lodges beyond Tentatrice).  Dinner preparations on both boats were put on hold while again, now for the third time, the boats were breasted up.

It was, eventually, a peaceful night…

Contact next day with the Webasto engineer and with the marina office (far, far away on the other side of the mooring basins) elicited identical responses: The marina is “owned” by a big bank – and the residents of the lodges get very precious about the views from their verandas.  Make of that what you will…

Was the experience worthwhile – well, yes warm water in radiators and from taps without having to run the engine. Webasto Engineer appeared promptly, as promised, replaced the heat exchanger (definitely dead in his opinion), bled the radiators and all was once again well…    

With cruising time in hand before arrival in Bedford the boats were turned to head back downstream.

The route is familiar, underneath the bridge works (what was the crane preparing to lift?)


– Brampton Lock


(see dates in the stonework) – Godmanchester     – Huntingdon    – Hartford – Houghton Lock – Hemingford Grey (What a run of Haitches!)

Wild swimmers talked their way past the boat that night…

Don’t email and text make communication easier? The Biologist had been making contact, a Sunday liaison, perhaps?

Tentatrice and Cleddau parted, the one to retrace waters downstream, the other to resume the upstream journey.

It was mid-morning,    after Houghton Lock,    heading towards Huntingdon, that the next trying thing occurred.     Boatwif went below to use the bathroom, put the kettle on, take off a sweater, etc. Always alert to strange noises, fear gripped her heart at a new, totally new, and very urgent rhythmic, clipped sort of sound. It seemed to be coming from the port side of the boat, the  bathroom, utility, side hatch area. The Captain was multi-tasking – steering, checking speed against revs and studying the map…

“You’ve got to go below. There’s a new noise. You must hear it,” Boatwif urged. But the Captain was not moved to respond fast.

Boat first…” he intoned.

When safe the steering was duly handed over, the Captain going below, to emerge some minutes later, a totally puzzled look across his face.

Back to the job of making a coffee. A shout brought Boatwif back to the stern. “I know what it is,” said the Captain. “It’s that!” He pointed towards a rubber pipe fender, midway down theport side of the boat. “It’s dragged down, it’s banging against the hull…”

Really? Life jackets were on, fortunately.

Boatwif was back on the tiller.  The Captain crept down the gunwale, hoiked the fender up and returned to the stern.

Had it made the difference? Had the unwelcome noise stopped? In a word, N0…

There were mutterings, there was anxiety, why this atrocious new noise? What was causing it? How serious (and how expensive) would it be?

Boatwif returned to the galley, the need for caffeine urgent now.

Coffee made, it was delivered to the back deck. Then, for no good reason Boatwif went back below, ears throbbing from the insistent banging. On an instinct she flicked the bathroom tap up … and Peace! Water flowed, the sound stopped.

“Water hammer,” was the Captain’s diagnosis.

24 years after purchase Cleddau had surprised and alarmed – again!

Onward:  Godmanchester     – Brampton Mill     the A14 bridge works(first span across the river)    – Buckden Marina – Offord Lock – Little Paxton.

The GOBA mooring at Little Paxton isn’t very obvious. From the north it’s the first bit of river’s edge before a long line of privately moored boats.    Cleddau was moored up on mooring pins.     Later a short 30′ steel boat squeezed in too, its owner producing a garden hook to hack his way through to pin in securely…

It is a lovely mooring, giving walking access to several trails at the Paxton Pits Nature Reserve.                Granted the East Coast main line runs straight on the opposite bank – and at 1716 Boatwif noticed the frequency of northbound trains from London. Still, it would quieten down, later on, wouldn’t it. But no, all evening long, from somewhere hidden by the trees just opposite loud music sounded. Was a group rehearsing? A gig? A private bash? Almost more frustrating than the noise is not being able to detect where it’s coming from!

The next few days produced fewer trying moments      – see next time for clogs, sticks and some help at the locks.

Distance and locks since leaving Aqueduct Marina, near Nantwich: 322 miles, 98 locks

Distance and locks remaining to Bedford from Great Paxton: 31 miles, 12 locks



You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Techno Son In Law says:

    Lovely photo of a Banded Demoiselle Sue – more info about them here –

  2. This river certainly provides attractive conditions for dragonflies, etc. The particular photo you mention was taken at a bush at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve but there have been frequent landings on arms or decks of dragonflies / demoiselles while we have been cruising.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: