Fierce storms have blown across southern England for almost 24 hours, bringing down trees and flooding roads. Today in north Warwickshire, the sun rises into a clear sky. It is cold but still: the winds have flushed the Indian summer away and autumn is here in all its glory. A few trees hang steadfastly to their leaves, an ever-decreasing minority among the bare, stark branches. All around us, birds fluff up against the call and peep sadly.
For once we motor across the marina at Calcutt with not a breath of wind to throw us onto the rocks. We turn out in front of NB Caracol and together climb the three Calcutt locks. Steaming coffee is downed by helms and lock-wheelers of both boats. At the top, Caracol motors away while we wait a while to change a gas bottle.
Under way, we look out across the little Napton reservoirs and look for a space among the Calcutt moorings. There are none. There never are. It's one of my favourite places and I would love to be moored up here alongside the reservoir for the winter.
We turn north at Wigram's and squeeze through the first awkward stretch and the succession of blind bridges. Oxford bridges are either completely blind or on the verge of total collapse. We open up the engine to test the new exhaust; it works. But within five minutes, smoke is pouring from the lagging and the base. Father-in-law Bill, who knows a thing or two about engines, reckons its just the grease and dust and fluff burning off. Nothing much fazes Bill in the engine room, whereas everything fazes me completely.
Our SmartGauge shows 94% charge after a heavy recharging by the lads at Calcutt. I have been so impressed with the attitude of everyone at Calcutt Boats - highly recommended. The charge steadily increases as we motor northwards.
Lower Shuckburgh appears to our right, and past a favourite farm, then on towards Flecknoe and the long-lost Wolfhamcote where a wooden working boat has sunk, a victim of the winds last night. Debris floats forlornly while several people look on wistfully. It's one of those situations where you don't know quite what to say.
We turn into Braunston and moor up below the bottom lock. After a certain well-known Braunston company showed no interest in doing our refit (actually wasting our time a few weeks back), we have been in discussion with Phil at Wharf House Boats. He and Sue are an absolute pleasure to deal with: a good mixture of old-fashioned honesty, blunt opinion and plenty of creativeness. He shows us their current projects and we are impressed with the quality and style.
We stop for a quick pint at the Admiral Nelson - mixed feelings about the place these days but very glad to see it open again. Then - much later than we had planned - we are setting off once more for Calcutt.
We are being followed by two fast hire boats, once of whom completely mucks up passing us and swings into our bow, finally pushing both of us to the side. We motor into the strengthening southerly wind. XC Wind had predicted 14kt souwesterly dropping to 9kt by 3pm, but it's surely the other way round. The old BMC 1.5 is struggling a bit and at Lower Shuckburgh in the gloom the oil temperature light suddenly comes on, the water temperature slips up and the oil pressure drops back badly. Bill looks at the gauges pensively, orders a tick-over speed for five minutes until the oil temperature light goes out.
We return to Calcutt Locks in the total darkness but now regard them as our home locks and work them swiftly, albeit with floodlighting from the new headlamp and offshore Crewsavers and LED torches for everyone.
Some days just work out well. This was one of them. A wonderful cruise on one of my favourite stretches; pints of Tribute and Black Sheep; bacon butties; the smell of diesel and a warm engine; golden autumn sunshine; Turneresque sky ("it's like the bridge at Maidenhead"). A great day. Messing about on boats, eh? Keep it secret.
I have been following Capt Ahab's great posts on forgotten little corners of the BCN recently. Highly recommended: interesting stories, great photos and lots of wandering around. This is where the internet is at its best, for me!
Once upon time, there was a great ocean race and since 1851 the winners were presented with an ornate silver trophy, known fondly as The Old Mug but more famously as The America's Cup.
For more than 130 years, the New York Yacht Club successfully defended the cup against all challengers, but then in 1983 the cheeky Australians spectacularly won the trophy. But it seemes ever since that day, the America's Cup has been mired in endless lawsuits, media battles and arguments about the legality of different boats, different locations.
These days, it divides the sailing world and each camp ferociously defends its reputation and its righteousness. It's sad. No-one seems to sit back and think about what it does for the reputation of the sport.
I no longer care for the America's Cup anymore. It was truly the most spectacular sporting affair in the world raced for by the most beautiful yachts of the day. It was never an accessible race: it was always the preserve of the richest people in the world, but it was always simply a race of skill and tactics. Now, frankly, who cares?
These days, your majesty, all the yachts come second. The lawyers come first.
On Monday 6th November 1769, three boats belonging to the canal company are towed slowly between the fields of Birmingham Heath towards the very edge of the town. With the sun low in the autumn sky, crowds watched as the boats are brought in alongside the temporary wharf at Friday Street. Some 200 tons of coal from the collieries at Wednesbury, five miles distant, are unloaded onto the wharf. The coal was immediately being sold for 4 1/2d per long hundredweight, around half the price of coal the previous Friday.
It was an exciting event, and although the canal was far from finished, this was the first commercial voyage, and in the subsequent weeks and months, boats were moving loads of coal in to Birmingham to meet a seeminly instatiable demand.
For Birmingham and the Black Country, 6th November 1769 was the dawn of the Canal Age. The area would certainly have grown without the BCN, but it would probably have grown very differently and although much heavy industry has now departed, the routes of the canals are also the axes of industry that made Birmingham the workshop of the world.
It was recognised as a historic event on the day and local poet John Freeth felt compelled to write a poem to commemorate their arrival: Inland Navigation - an ode (published in full earlier).
For ancient deeds let History unfold
The page where winder's are enroll'd
And tell how Jason, from the Colchian shore,
The golden fleece in triumph bore,
A nobler theme the Mind inspires,
And every skilful Artist fires
With heart-felt joy a work to see
Cut out for grand utility;
A project form'd, by which, 'tis plain,
That thousands must advantage gain:
And sure that plan must be of noble use,
Which tends in price provision to reduce.
Blest Navigation! Source of golden days
Which Commerce finds, and brightens all its ways.
Sons of Commerce haste to pleasure,
For the joy belogs to you;
May you live to reap the reasure
That must happily ensue.
treasure from Staffordian plains,
Richer than Peruvian mines.
And by what the Artist gains
All his principal designs.
Not a son of limping Vulcan
But must truly joyous be;
Envy from the banquet skulking,
'Tis the Artist's Jubilee.
So quick in performing this weighty affair,
So great was the industry, prudence and care,
Eighteen months have scarce run,
Since the work was begun:
How pleasing the sight!
What a scene of delight!
As the barges come floating along:
Then cease from your toil,
Nor hammer nor file
Be handled today,
All care shall away,
Whilst bonfires are blazing,
(What can be more pleasing?)
All free-cost, to gladden the throng.
Could our Forefathers from the shades but trace
The noble plan
Their Sons began,
To what amazement would the work appear!
A train of Vessels floating by the place,
Where sprightly Steeds, at trumpet sound,
In contest wing'd along the ground,
And thousands to the pleasures would repair.
But what were those days,
Compared to these?
Each day at the heath is a fair:
To see Bridges and Locks
And Boats on the Stocks
And numbers continually there.
Every breast, elate with joy,
Gladly views the happy day;
From these regions haste away,
We alone on Trade depend;
Be in that our emulation,
'Twill support our Navigation,
And the liquid tract extend.
But for this good care and trouble,
Which has nobly been display'd
For our Coals, this instant, double
What we give, we must have paid.
Griping souls, that live by fleecing,
And upon their teams depend,
To all ranks of life how pleasing,
That their day is at an end.
Long their tricks were overbearing,
Now the vile oppressors may
Sell their nags and burn their geering,
For the roads 'twill better be.
Not a son of limping Vulcan
But must truly joyous be;
Envy from the banquet skulking,
'Tis the Artist's Jubilee.
Blest Genius of thsi fruitful Land,
Whose living fame the wonders tell,
Of they far more than common skill,
Whose matchless art all doubts dispel,
And kingdoms with amazement fill.
When that fam'd Peer, to patronize his art,
Had set the laudable design on foot,
Which brought his measures into grand repute,
Astonish'd mortals, from each distant part,
The model view'd
And wond'ring stood;
But how much more when brought to bear
And Vessels under Vessels steer!
The neighbouring Counties saw the good effect,
And now behold the vast increase
Of Tracts, fair Commerce to protect,
Which fills the bright Mechanic with delight;
Nor will the undertakings cease,
'Till Trent and Severn wit the Thames unite.
What mortals so happy as Birmingham Boys?
What people so flush'd with the sweetest of joys?
All hearts fraught with mirth at the Wharf shall appear,
Their aspects procliam it the Jubilee year,
And be full as gay in their frolicksome pranks,
As they who were dancing on Avon's green banks.
Their never in war was for victory won,
A cause that deserv'd such respect from the Town;
Then revel in gladness, let harmony flow,
From the district of Bordsley to Paradise Row;
For true feeling joy on each breast must be wrought,
When Coals under Five-pence per hundred are bought.
Rejoice then, ye Artists, drive sorrow away,
And over your cups social gladness display;
The Wealthy will chearfully cherish the cause,
The Poor give their honest and hearty applause;
Nor dread from the winter's approach any harm,
When blest with good fires, their bodies to warm.
But let not the joys be confin'd to the Town,
All over the Country shall gladness be shewn;
The Tradesman, Mechanic, and Cottager too,
Shall all share the bounty that soon must ensue,
And when o'er the houses sol scarcely can peeop,
Be better prepar'd a good Christmas to keep.
The Heavens are kind, and have plenty bestow'd,
Rich crops have been gather's, and trade has been good,
And since food and fuel diminish in price,
Have not we much reason to sing and rejoice?
From Winter's approach then what harm can we fear,
When bounteously furnish'd with comforting cheer?
Birmingham, for arts renown'd
O'er the globe shall foremost stand:
Nor its vast increase be found
To be equall'd in the land.
From the Tagus to the Ganges,
Or from Lapland Cliffs extend
To the Patagonian Strand,
For mechanic skill and pow'r
In what kingdom, on what shore,
Lies the place that can supply
The world with such variety?
What relief in the fare
Of all heavy ware,
When the whole undertaking is finish'd!
In affairs, what a turn,
When cattle and corn
In their rates shall be greatly diminish'd
In war or in peace,
All commerce would cease,
Was it not for a free Navigation:
'Tis of riches the source,
When such plans we enforce,
And of freedom our dear preservation.
Arts, genius, and science,
On thee have reliance,
And reverence they conquering pow'r,
Whole castles of wood,
Floating bulwarks have stood,
To the terror of Gallia's proud shore.
Still may our Vessels, o'er the briny deep,
To sundry ports their various courses keep:
May Naigation, Liberty's dear friend,
Her wonted fame to greater lengths extend;
Open her sluices and through mountains force,
To distant Lands and easy intercourse:
And Birmingham, for every curious art
Her Sons invent, be Europe's greatest mart;
In every Kingdom ever stand enroll'd
The grand Mechanic Warehouse of the World!
We have never been happy with the electrics on North Star, and we suspect that everything dates from the day North Star was built.
We bought new lesisure batteries but we still sat in the darkness in the evening and put up with no fridge, but it was all one step up from camping.
The heavy work this year has been on bringing the electrics into the mid-20th Century, and two more batteries, an inverter, new engine room wiring and a new distribution board. The addition of a SmartGauge system has pulled the entire system into the 21st Century.
But in some respects, the SmartGauge just tells me how bad the situation is. We cruise all day and manage to get the charge from 25% to 31%. Although, admittedly, the autumn day is not very long, surely we should get more than 6% charge on a day of motoring - maybe seven hours. I'm confused.
I see that the Armadillo crew had the time and good sense to go ashore and see the old church at Wolfhamcote, as well. It is clear that the Armadillos are prepared to stop their boat, get off their laptops and actually get outside and see the real world, unlike some people who sit on my boat Tweeting and moaning that you can't get Facebook in Northamptonshire. Sorry. It's a "dad thing".