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Pilgrimage Part 1 - The Journey

Updated: Dec 19, 2021

Well, obviously, I have to start by explaining the title of this blog. As I mentioned earlier, Perseverance was named after the dredger on the Basingstoke Canal. She was launched at Droitwich and, apart from a short diversion via Worcester, her only journey has been to her “home marina” at Ventnor, near Rugby and some short trips to show her off to family members.

Her first real journey therefore had to be a pilgrimage to Odiham, to sit at the wharf where her namesake dredger had been launched 45 years ago.


In the coming weeks I will blog about the performance of Perseverance. Readers of this blog will know by now that there will be much engineering detail, but before we get into that I thought a preamble would be in order. I’m not a great one for writing travelogues, so this blog simply outlines the cruise so that in future parts I can say “on the Brent” without having to explain again.


Grand Union

We left Ventnor marina on 1st September. There is a short section of the Grand Union and three broad locks before turning right at Wigram’s Turn onto the Oxford Canal. The only significance of this is that I carried out a series of measurements of power and speed along this section of canal before the pilgrimage, of which more anon.


Oxford Canal

We navigated the Oxford all the way to, well, Oxford. Apart from the scar that is HS2, it’s a beautiful waterway. This also serves as our first outing on the electric bikes. There can be few things more dangerous than a pair of old folk playing with their new toys in the middle of the road.



We dallied at Banbury on 3rd and Thrupp on 5th and then pressed on to Oxford where we came upon St Giles' Fair on the night of 6th. To be honest, with Covid still uppermost in our minds, we found the crowds a little intimidating.


Thames

On 7th we squeezed our way under a tight bridge and past renovation works to get onto the Thames. Turn left and it’s downstream all the way to London. In fact, the flow was weak and had less effect than I had anticipated.



We didn’t really “get on” with the Thames. Towns like Goring, Pangborne etc. were remarkably short and did not have, for the mostpart, signs that they welcomed visitors. Practically all mooring places were taken by long time residential boats, and there were long boring sections, each described in the guide as “tree lined reach”. Each afternoon we stressed about where we might be able to stop; a worry we never have on canals.


I said I wouldn't do engineering yet, but here's a photo comparing the wake of two boats

Here I also need to explain the time pressures we were under. Locks on the Basingstoke are only open on certain days, and we had to be at lock 1 at 09:30 on Sunday 12th September. Therefore we had a very fixed programme to meet, and had little time to explore the surroundings.

We did moor outside a pub at Chertsey, only to find that Runnymede council’s idea of a mooring leaves more than a little to be desired. Just above Chertsey Bridge is a “mooring” by the Bridge Hotel. We tried going into the mooring and went firmly aground, eventually mooring right at the river end of the space available. The following morning we found that canoeists were also finding the water too shallow!


Wey Navigation

By 11th September we were passing through Shepperton Lock and turning into the River Wey. After leaving the lock there are a range of five different channels in view, and it turns out that the Wey is the channel you can’t see. A sign from the National Trust hidden behind some vegetation is your only clue.


The lockkeeper on the Wey brings you into the curious lock-and-a-half arrangement at Thames lock, and hands you an unusually long windlass, with a knowing look of “you are going to need this”. After that, you’re on your own, and the first couple of locks on the Wey are a baptism of fire. Town Lock has a fiendish blind turn, Coxes Lock has a roaring stream across the entrance and on top of this, the gate sluices open aggressive flows of water into the locks.


Basingstoke Canal

The entrance to the Basingstoke is between the M25 and railway bridges. Look away from the bridges and over the raft of weed is the start of 31 miles of scenery.


We hit the magic 09:30 start time at Lock 1 and were delighted to join another boat and go up the locks together. The first six were a bit of a struggle, and took longer than usual due to leakage, silt and other snags. After the first flight, we set off through Woking at a gentle pace, only to be reminded by our colleagues that we had to be at Lock 7 by 1:30 in order to get out of the second flight before they closed at 3:30 p.m.. “Pedal to the metal” and we pressed on, to eventually leave lock 11 just a little after the nominal closing time. Fortunately the lockkeeper waited for us both to clear.


The second day saw us join up with a third boat, working up single handed. With three men on the tillers and two wives working the locks we started up the Deepcut flight of 13 locks. The first two or three were impossible to work with two longer boats, so as the longest boat, Perseverance went on ahead and the two shorter boats came through together.



The weather was hot, and Roma was running up and down the towpath working stiff paddle gear and broad gates. By the time we stopped at lock 28, she was suffering with migrainous vertigo. For the following two days she lay in bed, dizzy if she opened her eyes.


14th September was raining heavily, but with only three days to get to Odiham and back we had no time to spare. The navigation issue of the day was that we passed under all the low bridges on the canal with ease. Sometimes low water is a benefit. On the downside, there were sections where the boat was struggling to make headway. More of this in later blogs.



I must wax lyrical for a moment about the upper reaches of the Basingstoke. The countryside is beautiful but it's the wildlife that wins the prize. Some 28 miles of the canal are a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and for once the kingfishers are upstaged by the dragonflies. Such variety of size and colour that we lost count of the different species. Oh, and the water lillies and the trout stream and... You get the idea. We should have taken longer, but I digress.


We completed the pilgrimage to Odiham on 15th, mooring at the Wharf in sunshine. Here she sits exactly where her namesake was launched all those years ago.



A brief extension to King John’s Castle at the limit of navigation allowed us to record a silver propeller challenge photo and it was spin around and back we go.


On 16th we picked up long-time friends Mike and Janet, so that we had extra hands for the way back down the locks. Two days and 28 locks later, we left the Basingstoke just as they closed the canal to new boats due to lack of water.


Wey Navigation (again!)

By 18th we were back on the Wey, and turned right to Godalming.


A navigation note for those making the way to Godalming: anyone in a narrowboat will need to wind at the wharf. The wharf is on the left of the river, with the current on the right side of the channel. The natural thing is to put the nose towards the left bank and let the engine push the stern round, making an anticlockwise turn. Like this:

We tried this and it DOES NOT WORK because the flow stops the stern moving around. The only way to turn is to go past the winding point and reverse into the wharf. As soon as you’ve got the stern close to the wharf, the current has pushed the nose to the right and you’ve completed the turn. Well, you live and learn, eh?


We returned to Pyrford marina where we left the boat for a few days. Refuelled with HVO and fixed a couple of little things before the return journey.


Thames

To catch the neap tide, we left Pyrford on 29th and by 30th were back on the Thames, moored above Teddington lock. A curious discussion about tide times and BST corrections left two lockkeepers and me deeply confused. The simple fact was, it had been high tide at 9:00 the day before and tides slip about an hour a day, so we would go at 10:00 or thereabouts.

So it was that on 1st October we passed through Teddington lock onto the tidal Thames at peak tide.


We called the Port of London Authority Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) to tell them of our presence and were on our way. Actually, it was quite uneventful with sunshine over Richmond as we passed under the barrier there.


What was unexpected was the speed of the current as we came towards Brentford lock. It took an hour and a half to make the transit, by which time the tide was flowing out quite markedly and I hugged the left bank as we turned into the Grand Union, for fear of being swept out to sea (OK, illogical, but the flow was more than I had expected). As you can see below, I boldly assumed no-one was coming down onto the Thames!



We motored into the Thames lock, up the Grading Lock and found a pub for lunch. Then made the “clear of the tideway” call to VTS which was embarrassingly late but at least before anyone had thought of a rescue mission!


Grand Union

The following couple of weeks were a relatively uneventful return journey up the Grand Union. There is something slightly intimidating about starting with lock 101 and knowing you’ve got to get to lock 1. During this cruise we swapped crews and entertained



We did have a minor moment coming through the Braunston tunnel, where we met an oncoming boat at, inevitably, the point where the tunnel bends. This, and my poor steering, led to a chunk being taken out of the taff rail. Fortunately it’s solid wood and after a bit of sandpapering and oiling it doesn’t notice. As someone once told me, narrowboating is a contact sport!


Well there it is, a factual outline of the trip. The views were wonderful, varied and ever changing. The weather too was ever changing and sometimes wonderful. Funny how you never take photos in the rain...


Perseverance is now back in Ventnor and we've touched up the paintwork ready for next year. In following blogs I'll tell you how she performed, and update the calculations I did in earlier blogs. And I promise to make them shorter!

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