Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The Shake Down Trip

Ah ha!

I am now connected as they say!

The good ship Ocelot is now connected to the outside world via mobile broadband. So I can actually update me blog.

So what has happened since the 1st and only entry?
A lot…… a very lot

To cut a long story short, the bank had my money. I wanted it, they wanted it as well and hung on to it for as long as possible. Anyway, eventually they gave it back to me and, on Monday 1st September, Ocelot legally became mine.

That afternoon, my son, the dog and I were travelling up the M1 to Nottingham to meet the previous owner for a hand-over. It was all very rushed, as I had already booked the week off work to bring her down from Nottingham to Oxford (expecting the deal to have been done the previous week).

The rain on the way up had been a precursor for what was to hold for the rest of the week.
My son could only be with me for Tuesday and Wednesday before his mother would come and take him back home as he had school starting on the Thursday.

The plan (as I had slave labour for two days) was to get as many miles under my belt before I was abandoned.

Tuesday 2nd September
The alarm went off at 05:00 and there was silence. ie: no rain pitter pattering on the roof. Coffee and fired up the beast (my son’s name for the JP). We eased away from the Nottingham mooring at 6:00 am to a reasonable twilight just before dawn.

Steady progress was made throughout the day. The deck hand work well, supplying copious amounts of coffee and sandwiches to the helmsman. In between times I let him off for good behaviour and allowed to to do the heavy manual work of locking. What a good Captain and father I am!

By 3.00pm we were at Burton on Trent (with no time to stop and peruse the brewery’s and their excellent museums. Stop at Jannel Cruisers for fuel and gas. I had no idea how much fuel Ocelot had on board, but 110 litres later we were full (80p/litre for > 100 litres).

Then the weather changed. It started to rain, and rain, and rain. The rain wasn’t too bad. It was the hail that hurt!

Onward we soldiered. I promised Andy (son) that if we made Fradley, I would buy him dinner. The dog (Dennis) would guard the boat (and sleep). The target was set.

Finally we were in sight of Fradley, just as it was becoming dusk. We would make it before dark. So we got to the bottom off Fradley locks and there were two boats in front of us.
There was considerable too-ing and fro-ing up at the lock. The pound above the 1st lock was about a foot down on level and two boats (private) were all of a dither. They would not go up until some water could be let down. They would not even go in to the lock and flood it up to see if they could get through. I had seen worse on a busy day on Napton!
Eventually I told them that unless one of them went in to the lock and tried to go through, I would jump the queue and go through myself. It was only then that one of them ‘had a go’. Surprisingly (not) he made it! ½ an hour later I took Ocelot up (and she draws 3 feet at the stern) with no problem.

The hold up had cost us a bit of time but as that was the only one we had encountered for the whole day, we were happy.

We finally turned left at Fradley junction and moored for the night in the dark at 8.00pm.
As promised, we retired to the pub for a hearty meal before returning to the boat for some well earned sleep.
Day one tally: 30 miles, 20 locks, 14 hours non stop

Wednesday 3 September
Now one of the reasons for getting to Fradley was so that the crew (16 year old) could have a lay-in while the helm got up and made solitary progress. 16 year old boys don’t do early mornings and I had already got one out of him!

I was up before light and had slipped the mooring lines by 5:30am. Unfortunately for 16 year old boys, JP3 Listers that are direct mounted to the engine bearers rattle everything in/on and outside the boat. Pure stubbornness made him hang on until 8, but by then he gave up and settled in to the routine of supplying the helm with coffee and sustenance.

Excellent progress was made. Mobile communication with the outside world advised that my daughter (and boy friend) would be coming to rescue my son. They would meet us at the bottom of Atherston and help us up the flight.

And so at 4:00pm we found ourselves at the top of Atherston. All help then departed back to Oxfordshire and I was left alone. Even the dog abandoned me and took the easy option with the kids. In fairness to him, at 11 years old, he’s no spring chicken anymore and probably needed a rest A splash and dash in the water tanks (not full but enough to last me) and I was underway again.

Determined to get as many miles under my belt as possible, I soldiered on. Eventually I moored up at Hawkesbury Junction in the dark, a little after 8:30pm.

I have to say at this point, I don’t believe in cruising after dark – especially when locks are involved and even more so when you’re on your own. It to dangerous. However, as dark was falling I could find no real suitable moorings and had to press on.
The tally for day two: 32 mile, 13 locks, 15 hours.

Thursday 4 September
My first full day alone. A bit of a late start. I had a proper breakfast and made my self some sarnies for lunch. I filled up me massive flask with life giving coffee and set of in to the wild blue yonder. Well, not so much the wild blue yonder as the grey overcast dawn.
6:30am and I was through Hawkesbury stop lock and on to the Northern Oxford.

All went well with good progress. About 3 miles from Hillmorton that all changed. I came up behind a very slow boat. Now, when I say slow, I mean slow. So slow that on a number of occasions I had to go from tickover to neutral.

Eventually we got to Hillmorton. Thank god, there was nothing coming down. The slow boat took the right hand lock. I took the left. In fairness to the other boat, it was a hire boat, but they where seriously unsure about the boat, driving the boat and even more so, the operation of locks.

To put it in context, I was on my own. There were 4 adults on their boat. I was clearing the top lock as they were coming out of the middle lock. I was just glad to be ahead of them.

In other circumstances I would have helped them, but I am sorry to say that I was to focused on moving on to offer assistance. If they read this and recognise themselves or Ocelot – I’m sorry.

Braunston Junction came and went and just gone 5:00pm I found myself at the bottom of Napton in glorious sunshine and calm winds. The best weather of the trip so far. I had three hours to clear the flight or at least get to the old engine arm before dark. On wards and upwards!
2 hours and 10 minutes later I was mooring up about ½ mile above Marston Doles on the summit pound. Apart from meeting one boat coming down, I had the flight to myself. Two locks were for me and the rest had to have some water let out to allow me in.

I was tied up, sat down and cracking the top of a bottle by 7:30pm… a happy man.

That evening my daughter phoned to ask if I wanted a hand to go up Napton tomorrow. She couldn’t believe and was cross that I was already at the top. We agreed to meet at Fenny Compton around lunchtime so that she could help me for the rest of the journey.
Today’s tally: 32 miles, 13 locks, 13 hours.

Friday 5th September
Well… the good weather couldn’t last. I awoke to the sound of rain on the roof. Never my… I had a lay in. I cast off at 7:00am (everything is relative – time wise) in to the rain and drizzle blowing across the sky.

More by luck than judgement, my timing to Fenny Compton was perfect…..
Phone goes… "Dad where are you?"
"Just pulling in to the water point by the pub", I replied.
"That’s spooky", came the reply, "I just pulled I to the car park!"
Daughter and dog where duly welcomed on board. More so, because they bought much needed provisions than anything else.

Under clearing sky’s (well, it had stopped raining), we headed off. Claydon came and went, as did Cropredy and so on down to Banbury.

One thing that had been bothering me was the state of the river Cherwell. All this rain would have been causing it to rise. The first obstacle would be Nell bridge. Those of you who know the Southern Oxford know that the river crosses the canal just above Aynho Weir lock (the clue is in the name). The problem is two fold. One: if the river rises to much you loose the head room to get through the bridge directly below Nell bridge lock (the clue is also in the name). Two: the river flows across the entrance to the lock and down the weir at right angles to the canal. When it is flowing fast, this makes a very interesting entrance to the lock. The trick is: he who dares wins. Crew have to go ahead and open the lock up. Once open, the helm has to go like a bat out of hell at the lock entrance. Aim left, because the stream will take you right. If you back off the throttle, you’re lost. You enter the lock at speed and then have to stop very quickly before contact with the bottom gate is made. All in a day’s work.

We managed to get through the lock and under the bridge (the marker was well up the amber). To complicate things further with the entrance to Aynho weir lock, it was now dark. However, I wanted to get through ASAP as the state of the river was only going to get worse.
In fairness, and 18 tonne boat, 26" prop and loads off power (to go and stop!) and we were through in the blink of an eye.

A bit naughty, but we did stop for the night on the bottom lay-by of the lock at 8:00pm.
Today: 24 miles, 17 locks, 13 hours.

Saturday 6th September
Obviously, being conscientious boaters we had to leave the lay-by early so as not to impede other users. I also wanted to get down the river section of the Cherwell (Bakers lock to Shipton Weir lock) in-case the river rose to much to stop safe navigation.
We cast off at 06:00 in dawns early light. The Heyford’s came and went and before we knew it we were making a high speed transit down the Cherwell to the sanctuary of Shipton weir lock.
The final leg of the journey was completed.

We moored outside the cottages at Thrupp and retired to the Boat Inn by 1:00pm. I have to say I was very impressed by the welcome from the Boat Inn. They had laid on a free Hog Roast to celebrate my epic journey in transiting from Nottingham to Thrupp in 4 ½ days (some people did twist this by saying that it was the new owners celebrating their arrival – but I knew better ;-)).

The final leg tally was a mere 15 miles, 8 locks and 7 hours

As a shake down trip to her new stomping ground, Ocelot had done us proud. 133 miles, 71 locks in 62 hours, over 4 ½ days.

Monday, 25 August 2008


Some of you may know me from my other Blog about the trials and tribulations of rebuilding a National 3D Engine:

My original plan had been to rebuild this mighty engine (and I still will) and get a boat 'new built' to fit around it.

Well the rebuild has/is going well and it was getting near (I felt) the time to get my selected, prospective, builders to re-quote on the cost of the steel work etc.

Well... the cost of steel has been increasing, and the cost of new builds had risen quite considerably. In contrast, the second hand market was stable.

I had always kept my eye on the second hand market. You often see 'abandoned projects' and the like up for sale at knock down prices. The main problem was find a suitable second hand shell that would do the National justice.

It was during one of these random browsing sessions that I came across an Ad' for Ocelot.

Anyway.... to cut a long story short, I made arrangements to view her, fell in love, and subsequently (after some minor negotiations) bought her.

Contracts have been exchanged and I am hoping to take formal ownership at the end of the month.

So, that a brief history. Now I had better introduce the boat.

NB Ocelot
Built by S M Hudson ( in 2000.
56' long in traditional style.

From the bow:
A small cockpit leads down in to the lounge. A couple of free standing arm chairs and foot stools are for the weary bodies to rest in front of the fire.

Then follows the galley. Incorporating a 12 volt fridge, full sized cooker, various cupboards and drawers and, of course, the sink (allegedly this is for washing up).

After the galley is the bathroom. I've no pictures of it but, it consists of toilet, sink and shower. Pretty much the usual that you would find in a narrowboat.

Next is the engine room. Pride of place in the engine room is a Lister JP3. 3 cylinders, 4.2 litres, 27hp @ 1000rpm. Originally built by Lister as a marine unit. It was 're-manufactured' by the Royal Navy in 1954, and then believed to have been crated from then until it was fitted to the boat. Since then it has run approx 350 hours. Transmission is via a PRM 260 gearbox with 2:1 reduction to a 26" x 12" prop.

Last but by no means least. After the engine room is the bedroom. The back cabin is not of a traditional style, but has a modern slant to it. ie. a fixed double bed.

Well, that's the brief tour.

Hopefully you'll join me in my tours of the waterways, reporting on the events, incidents and people I meet along the way.

First job is to get her from her current mooring in Nottingham to her new home ground of Oxford.