Monday, 7 February 2011

To Leamington Spa and back

The last few days has been blustery with winds up to gale force at times that has provoked the previously calm waters of the canal into quite a frenzy of waves. There hasn’t been any rain but the dark scudding low clouds, in the overcast sky that still leans heavily on the roofs of nearby structures as I write, have often threatened it, as they passed swiftly across. With the proximity of buildings and trees to the waterway, it is difficult always to ascertain the true strength and direction of the wind as it whistles around them and over the top. This can therefore make navigating a long narrow boat, with no keel, very little draft and a relatively high wind surface above the water, somewhat tricky. In conditions such as these most fair-weather sailors, such as myself, are very happy to stay firmly attached to the quay, until a better day comes around.
Yesterday I was feeling a bit listless and as the Sun had come out and the breeze appeared to have dropped in strength a little and with the temperature registering in heady double figures, I was enticed to go cruising for a little while. We had not been out for far too long.
I decided to travel down to the winding hole in Leamington Spa, about two and a half miles away, turn around and then return to the mooring at Warwick; about five miles of lock free waterway in total.
For those who don’t know, a winding hole (wind as in hinder not wind as in kind!) is a broader part of the canal where boats can be turned around on the narrow canal to face in the opposite direction. The hole is 'vee' shaped usually and in the days before powered boats were thought of, when all the power was supplied from towing by horses or men, the helmsman would steer the boat into the 'vee' and let the wind blow the other end round. Hence the name and depending on which way you wanted to turn and which way the wind was blowing, you either manoeuvred the boat in bow first or stern first to take full advantage of it.
Yesterday at first seemed like a good day for a cruise but very soon I realised that the journey would be quite a test with the wind. From the mooring we had to go astern to reach the Kate Boats Basin, where their boats are moored and where the canal is wide enough to turn round. But in spite of making full use of what I thought was the wind direction, because it was so gusty and variable and without having a bow thruster, I still had quite a difficult time to entice ‘Futurest’s head round in the right direction. Eventually and rather luckily, when there was a rare but totally calm moment or two, her bow came about very easily to head down the canal towards the east and I quietly sighed with relief.
The journey itself is not particularly notable other than it passes mostly through an industrial environment. But there is quite a bit of modern housing on the way and blocks of flats that all look well cared for. There is no rural area and only a couple of hundred yards which is devoid of buildings at all, as we cross the River Avon on the aqueduct. This is quite impressive with the river flowing majestically about fifty feet below. But we do pass the large Tesco from where I have been buying my provisions since I’ve been in Warwick and further down the canal there is a useful looking and busy Lidl supermarket, though I haven't used it. There are many old low and narrow bridges to navigate and to get both the boat and chimneys through intact in the prevailing wind conditions I was quite proud of. Had I known the situation was as bad as it was, I would have taken them down before we started. There were also more recent bridges for the railway and modern ones for pedestrians only; so there were quite a few altogether.

The River Avon looking downstream towards Stratford-upon-Avon

For the whole of the journey there and back I had the waterway completely to myself. Obviously other people were being far more wise and sensible than I had been. In Leamington I considered tying up at the forty eight hour visitor moorings for a little while, in order to have a look at the town, but as I know Leamington very well, it had nothing to offer really and by then, as I had been blown about fairish, I was eager to return to the moorings at Warwick.
Because the force of the breeze remained steady during the process, the turnaround at the winding hole went very well this time and very soon we were on the way back up the canal. ‘Futurest’ by now seemed eager to be home too and the time seemed much shorter in arriving there, though it was colder since the breeze was directly into our faces.  The ship, with very little help from me on the tiller and controls, seemed to find her own way alongside and we finished up safe and sound, exactly where we had been quietly laying some two and a half hours earlier.
‘Futurest’ feels very happy here I think.
And though I was feeling a little weather worn, the journey had been good practice for me and I was feeling pleased with our performance.

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