In January we planned to have the mayday bank holiday weekend in Paris, we didn’t plan on buying another narrowboat in March and we certainly didn’t plan for Sue to have a pacemaker fitted!
Anyway, all of those things happened and came together to give us a pretty busy few days, hence the title of this post. We flew back from Paris on Monday evening and thought about tuesday’s logistical puzzle. Prior to our trip to Paris, Sue had gathered together the few items that we would need for our boating adventure so we didn’t need to do too much preparation.
Tuesday dawned and we were in the car for half past eight heading for Braunston where we planned to catch the bus into Rugby, leaving the car in the marina car park. There were only a handful of passengers on the 9.25 when we got on it outside the Boathouse pub on the A45. The bus collected another thirty bus pass toting passengers as it meandered its way into Rugby and by the time it reached its destination it was full. It was fairly clear that the youngest passenger was about four years old and I was the second youngest, quite a feat given that I am now 52!
We walked to the local Wetherspoons where we stuffed ourselves with a big breakfast each to see us through the day. “Breakfast at Wetherspoons”, the modern day version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” but starring miss Stella Artois instead of Audrey Hepburn. Fortified by our mid morning repast, we walked the three quarters of a mile to the station and waited for the 1142 to Stone. The train was a few minutes late, well ten to be exact but we got on and found seats beside an elderly lady who was returning to Liverpool from London via Stafford, maybe a football fan returning from the Crystal Palace match last night? Probably not. We had a bit of banter with two other ladies, sisters we presumed, who were also going to Liverpool to then catch the Isle of Man ferry (not to be confused with the Manly Ferry which is something entirely different!).
The train eventually arrived in Stone and we were pleased to see a solitary taxi in the car park, we were beaten to it by another passenger – bugger! We were a bit surprised by the taxi driver’s reaction when we asked him about the possibility of another cab. We had expected him to radio or phone the office but the miserable old sod just mumbled something about there might be another one in twenty minutes. We walked into town instead, made our way into Wetherspoons and asked if they had a number of a local taxi firm and got a shake of the head, we asked where the local taxi rank is, another negative answer, most frustrating!
We found our way to the canal, got on the towpath and struck out in a southerly direction, heading for Aston Marina a mile and a half away. Despite the warm sunshine, the backpack, the shoulder bag and the shopping trolley, we reached the marina in just over thirty minutes.
Once there, we made our way to our new pride and joy, nb Caxton where we emptied the trolley before Sue retraced her steps and bought some food at the marina farm shop. In her absence, I made the final preparations for our departure. When Sue returned, the engine was running and only a slip knot held us in place on the pontoon so within two minutes, we were off. The bow thruster (girlie button) was pressed into service immediately and we exited the marina smoothly and without incident. It took an hour before we reached Sandon lock and that was plenty of time to adjust to the handling characteristics of Caxton. Broadly speaking everything is the same, the difference is in the response time from the tiller. Pushing the tiller in either direction does not have the same immediate effect that we were used to with Phoenix III but then when things do start to happen, they keep on happening, just the extra length I guess.
It started raining as soon as we reached the lock and stopped as soon as we left it, maybe the lock has its own permanently moored raincloud?
Another feature of our new boating adventures is that Sue is not allowed to work the locks, her pacemaker op has seen to that so now she has to drive and I am the lock wheeler. We carried on to Weston lock where we found an Ashby hire boat just about to leave it giving us easy passage in. The third lock, Hoo mill, was empty when we reached it and had to be filled but like the two before it, its gates and paddles were well maintained and were therefore a breeze to work. Once through Hoo mill, we started looking for a mooring but at this time of day, the best are usually taken so it was no surprise that we found ourselves descending through Haywood lock too. We found a mooring between the villages of the Haywoods, Great and Little and settled for the night. We had travelled just over four hours and as a result it was almost half past seven when we sat down to dinner, amazingly those breakfasts in Rugby had seen us right through the day.
We ate our dinner in the cratch and at a generous 9′ x 6′, a bit like eating in a conservatory, especially when the rain came on.
We were totally off-grid at our mooring, no mobile phone reception, no internet and no tv, no big deal – we listened to some music from the ipad played through my birthday present from Sue, a bluetooth amplifier speaker by Edifier. We eventually retreated inside and listened to Radio 2 with “Whispering” Bob Harris for a while as we reflected on our first day out on the cut with Caxton and then contemplated day two of our voyage.
We didn’t really do much at all today. We had a couple of cups of coffee in bed as we waited for the heating to warm the boat through before we eventually got up and got showered. We had a bit of a tidy up in the cratch and Sue set up our table and chairs ready for our maiden cruise in little over a week’s time.
We had lunch on board and then settled down to watch the Liverpool v Chelsea match. We had very little to take to the car when we left at 4.30, we now have everything on board that we need for our trip to Braunston on May 6th.
We have had a weekend trip to Paris planned for a few months now, we fly there next Saturday and return on Monday 5th, a bank holiday and my birthday! The following day, we plan to drive to Braunston and park the car there. We’ll catch a bus into Rugby before getting a train to Stone and then probably travel by taxi to Aston marina. Once there, we won’t be long before we are on our way, heading south on the Trent & Mersey in the direction of Great Haywood.
We avoided the Friday afternoon M6 traffic and left our journey to Aston Marina at Stone until Saturday morning. After we arrived it took us about an hour to drag our stuff to the boat and put it away, that was it-all of our boating belongings were on board!
We then drove into Stone and did a little bit of shopping, including an hour in the local Wetherspoons, before returning to Aston Marina and our “new” boat, Caxton.
Sue wandered off to the marina farm shop while I stowed my tools away. She returned with a hotpot which, when heated up, was absolutely delicious!
After dinner we just kicked back and enjoyed the rest of the evening.
The wind had dropped and the sun was shining when we awoke on Easter monday, a complete and welcome contrast to yesterday’s weather. Sue had seen a laundry box on the Argos website so after reserving it online, we got ready and drove into Stafford to collect it.
We took a walk down Gaolgate street in the sunshine and stopped to listen to new boyband, The Secrets who were playing in the Market Place. They were very good and Sue has tipped them to make the big time!
We had lunch in The Butler’s Bell, a Wetherspoons pub which was very stylish and a credit to the company. After lunch we wandered to Argos and picked up the laundry bin before returning to the car. My phone rang and it was Libby at Braunston marina telling me that she had shown Phoenix III to a couple who wanted to make an offer on the boat. Libby told us that they were in a position to buy immediately, weren’t bothered about a survey and had gone for a cup of tea. We had a short discussion about what we were prepared to do with the price and within an hour, the deal was done! The couple had been back to Phoenix III with a marina engineer who started the engine for them and apparently they were full of beaming smiles when they returned to the shop. Everything should be complete by the end of the week which is great because it is one less thing to have to think about.
By the time all of that had been concluded we were back on board Caxton doing the laundry. A mundane task maybe but significant in our boating life since we will no longer be dragging clothes to the boat every time and then carting bags of dirty laundry home afterwards.
We were in no hurry to leave Caxton but we had to go home at some time so we picked up the two small carrier bags of bits that we had, secured the boat and left at 4.30pm.
We’ll return on Friday with some more of our belongings and stay for the weekend. That should set us up nicely for the following weekend when we will leave Stone and move Caxton to Braunston.
Four weeks ago we had lunch in the Bistro at Aston marina and contemplated the purchase of nb Caxton. Not quite a month later and we are spending our first weekend on board familiarising ourselves with our new boat. It’s been a hectic few weeks for us because apart from clearing and cleaning Phoenix III in preparation for her sale, Sue spent a week in hospital having a pacemaker fitted.
Despite only being discharged on Thursday, Sue felt fit enough to travel on Good Friday so we packed the car and drove the fifty miles to Stone. After we arrived we spent the next hour unpacking and installing our bits and pieces, mainly bedding, towels and kitchen equipment, before making the short trip into Stone where we had lunch at the Crown and Anchor and then did a bit of food shopping in Morrisons.
We spent the rest of the evening just pottering about and generally chatting about how we would be using our new floating home, although we were briefly interrupted by a tap on the window.
Saturday arrived and we were pleased to have had a good comfortable sleep in our new bed. The shower was next to be tested, Sue can’t use it yet due to her operation but I am pleased to report that it does an excellent job. After a light breakfast we drove to Midland Chandlers at Penkridge where we bought a spare cassette for the toilet and a couple of other bits and pieces. We then drove to Sainsbury’s at Stafford where we had lunch and did some more shopping before heading off to another retail park to buy even more bits for the boat, little wonder that some say BOAT is an acronym for “Bring Out Another Thousand”! We had a late dinner, collapsed into the chairs and eventually headed for bed.
Sunday, Easter Sunday to be precise, came adorned with rough weather so Sue knocked up a couple of bacon banjos for me, no doubt trying to ensure that I was fortified for another round of retail therapy. Luckily, Easter sunday is a day when shops over 3,000 sq feet in area are not allowed to open so when we drove into Stone at 11am, nothing was open and we had to return to the boat and watch Liverpool beat Norwich as they edge their way towards their first Premier league win. We’ve just generally lazed about on board ever since, listening to the radio, reading, crocheting and knitting, well one of us has anyway.
Tomorrow is a bank holiday and in principle we should be returning home but neither of us are very keen, preferring to stay here on board Caxton.
Sue took some pictures which are posted here
Regular readers may have wondered why we have apparently done no cruising lately, despite the reasonable spring weather. Quite simply, we have bought another boat and Phoenix III is now up for sale and that whole process amongst other things has kept us busy for the last few weeks.
We bought Phoenix III for leisure purposes in 2007 and agreed that we ‘give it a go’ for a couple of years. Six and a half years later and we have had many holidays, weekend trips and even weekends based in Braunston marina. With a new paint job and a replacement engine with gearbox fitted in 2011, we intended keeping Phoenix III until I retire when we would spend six to eight months cruising the system before deciding on whether we could become continuous cruisers and buy a bigger boat. At 52’, Phoenix III is just about big enough for living on board but to make the leap to CCing, most people would go for something close to 70’.
Despite our plan to wait make the final decision after our first summer ‘out on the cut’, we still regularly looked at brokerage websites in case that special boat was up for sale somewhere. It was always to no avail, there were a few contenders but there was always one thing or another that would put us off and as a result we got no further than looking at web pages on Apollo Duck.
I regularly peruse the pages of a canal discussion forum which is a bit like the proverbial ‘Curate’s Egg’, good in parts! Mainly, it’s crap, there are a handful of members who regularly hijack posts by arguing amongst themselves as they try to score points off each other. Some of these sad people have averaged more than 8 posts per day since they started on the forum but that’s my rant over. One of the good parts of this Curate’s Egg came on the day when someone asked about narrowboats for sale which were 45’ to 55’ in length. One response included a couple of links to boats that were for sale. One of the boats, Caxton, hadn’t been officially advertised and the owners included a link to the blog of the original owners who had carefully recorded the building of the boat.
When you imagine what your ideal boat would consist of, there are a number of big decisions to make, the stern layout, windows, engine and equipment to name but the basics. Caxton is a semi-trad and that was on our list. We like windows and a saloon at the front of the boat so that we can see along the canal. Caxton has portholes and the saloon is in the middle but those holes are large, there are two side hatches and a couple of Houdini hatches so we are happy with that, the engine is the bigger brother of what we bought for Phoenix III so that was OK too. The rest of the equipment swung it for us, engine generator, sine wave inverter, washing machine, tumble drier, dishwasher, full size shower cubicle, fully fitted bedroom, huge front deck, the list went on. It was easy to see that Caxton had been built to a very high specification with every piece of equipment given a great deal of consideration.
I realised that I had spent hours reading the blogs about Caxton so I figured that it was time to confess my obsession to Sue. She was impressed and intrigued and then we both spent an hour or so trawling Apollo Duck again but with the same result as usual, nothing that interested us.
The following morning, Sunday 23rd March, we talked again about Phoenix III, Caxton and our boating future before deciding to take a drive to Aston Marina near Stone where we could take a look at Caxton. We knew from their blog that the owners, Paul & Elaine weren’t around but it was a lovely day so we were happy enough to make the trip up the A5 into Staffordshire. We discovered that Aston marina has a Bistro and a farm shop so we decided to have lunch before walking around the marina to catch a glimpse of Caxton and she looked as good in real life as we had seen in the internet pictures.
I sent a text to the owners and arranged to return the following day to view the boat properly.
We met Paul and Elaine the following day, Monday 24th March and were given the grand tour of Caxton. Having pored over the blogs, it was all very familiar to us and we had very few questions to ask, Caxton was exactly what we expected to find and as a result we very quickly struck a deal to buy her from Paul and Elaine.
Although we weren’t dependent on selling Phoenix III for the purchase of Caxton, we wanted to get her ready to sell as soon as possible so we moved on board Phoenix III three days later. It took us another three days to remove all of our belongings, three car loads and a load into the skip before we were able to hand the keys over to the marina at Braunston to put her on brokerage. So despite the fact that storage on board was seen as being a restriction, there was a hell of a lot of stuff to remove.
It was a strange weekend, I was emotionally unhappy on Thursday, Friday and on Saturday morning, remembering and picturing the great times that we had enjoyed over the last six and a half years. Something changed in my mind as I drove back from Hinckley to Braunston on that sunny Saturday morning and I felt much more positive about the situation. Sue was quite bemused by my emotions since she had been unaffected by it all until the last few moments on Sunday when the final sweep through took place and she was suddenly overcome and cried unexpectedly.
We handed the keys over so Phoenix III is now up for sale and we have arranged to buy Caxton on Wednesday 16th April with the intention of cruising back to Braunston over the following week.
That plan went out of the window when Sue was admitted to hospital on Thursday where she is awaiting an operation, our trip from Stone to Braunston is on hold for the moment but hopefully not for too long.
As for this blog, I haven’t decided on its future. We had always thought that our CCing boat would be called BRAMLORE after the first two letters of our children’s names; BRett, AMy, LOuise & REbecca so maybe our new blog should reflect that. We have nothing against the name CAXTON but the name of that blog is already well known. The answer will come to us I’m sure but until then, we’ll keep posting here on applebeesfarm.co.uk