... ... ... Seven years in an unassuming narrowboat on the waters of the "longest, friendliest village in England"  



After all the waiting,  Pentargon was finally handed over at 4.15pm. Nobody was available at the Marina to show me anything. The office could not even locate the spare set of keys. All they could offer was a brown envelope containing 'documents' which I eventually read many months later. I couldn't wait to get out of the marina while there was still some light, moor up somewhere and figure out the boat.

The nearest I had previously got to driving Pentargon was on a day I visited to look her over back in Nov.2011. That day the engine had already been started, with gear-lever and tiller fitted and Pentargon tied up (I nearly said 'moored')  bows on between a pair of very large narrowboats moored to their respective pontoons. My 'drive' on that day consisted of pushing the gear-lever forward to check for prop-wash and reversing the lever to see if she strained on her warp.

They would not let me even untie her or go for a little drive to see how it responded. "Because you do not have insurance in place". You are hereby warned that this is not unusual obfuscation at some marinas during the buying process.   


GETTING THE KEYS AND GETTING AWAY: I'd come by car, intentionally parked at Norton Junction by the BW depot at 4pm while the lads were locking up to go home for the weekend, and I arrived at the marina out of the blue and on foot. The 'car' was actually a large people-carrier emptied of most of it's seats and stuffed with bedding, serious sailing gear. toolboxes and just about anything that might be needed to shift Pentargon through Braunston tunnel and on to Hillmorton over the next four days.

A short walk up the towpath brought me to the marina to collect the keys and then down to open the boat I had just laid out £1000s for, without ever even starting the engine. Began by removing and stowing the canvas stern-cover which weighed half a tonne, had a zillion press-studs and a pool of maybe 20 gallons of water in the middle just looking for trouble. Locating the gear lever and tiller, doing the pre-flight checks, figuring the isolator switch and then learning how to start it. By the time I was ready for the 'off' it was nearly 5pm; the sun was dropping in the western sky and I still had to crank up the walkway which was blocking my exit to freedom. 

With some trepidation, the warp was slipped, reverse engaged ... (on tick-over) ... and lo and behold, she gently made sternway out into the limited open water of the marina. Forward was engaged with the tiller hard to sta'bord, allowance made for wind as one tried to line her up with the exit hole. Luckily a resident boater undertook to drop the walkway upon departure, so with a certain amount of banging and scraping, Pentargon made it out onto the cut and was pointed south along the Leicester arm of the Grand Union Canal.

We were free.

The whole canal system was there in front of us and was ours.

Near Norton Junction, conveniently moored (and noted on the walk up) were some large semi-derelict butties with substantial mooring posts where some time was spent learning how to make up and secure a boat against all comers. including Anthony Ernest Finch. The butties were on the other side of the cut so AEFinch would have his work cut out if he wanted to board Pentargon. In reality, this was but a practice session, though editing now some six years later, it was a stroke I have since pulled on many occasions for added security in 'dicey' places. 

Once that was all sorted after a fashion and the motor had been shut down and restarted, using the decompression levers because the shut-down control had yet to be discovered, it was time to get up to the junction, breast up to a BW work-boat and unload the car in the darkening gloom. Piles of stuff were transferred from wagon to boat and a bunk of sorts made up so I could sleep.

But firstly, Pentargon had to be hand-towed to a legit mooring in rapidly fading light.

That was when it became obvious I hadn't a clue how to use the boat lights or even if they worked.


Having the car and an excuse, I drove to Long Buckby about three miles away,  where there was a NatWest ATM and a supermarket (which stocked matches and candles). Basics for breakfast on the morrow morn and immediate needs were procured and so - back to Pentargon -  to bed down for the night by candlelight.

Obviously no heat (apart from fire-causing candles) so early to bed    

 A good night's sleep was had on the last warmish night before a vicious cold snap that was to commence upon the morrow and last indefinitely. Early Friday, I was down to Whilton Chandlery to collect my ash bargepole from The Canal Shop and lay a deposit on an Air Head Composting Toilet. On this website there will never be a discussion on Cassette v Pumpout. Both are shite. Pun intended. 

Pentargon has an Air Head and that's an end to that discussion.

Use the link to Airhead above to see what it looks like and how it works

but pay no attention to the fitting of same to the ocean going GRP yacht.

(There is a separate article in the pipeline on how to work an Airhead in a canal boat. I just have not the time to finish and publish it (as of 2019-03-01 at Leyton Library). The AirHead is designed to work in ocean going yachts, which roll and pitch all over the place. Narrowboats are much more sedate.


Leaving the Canal Shop, my mobile rang. SWMBO was 'passing through' en-route from Essex to somewhere Up  North and had pulled in by New Inn wanting to see Pentargon. I was able to bring herself and her nephew for a drive towards Braunston Tunnel. In the event we did not get as far as the tunnel due to a contrary breeze and a deadly chill factor. Back to New Inn for one of their shitty sullen lunches. It was no surprise to me when they suddenly closed down in mid-Summer of 2012. Then onwards to Braunston by sat-nav with two cars to position the Espace for the next leg. We decided the Admiral Nelson Pub would be a good place to park up, nice quiet car-park, secluded area and half way down the Braunston lock series.      


My due date in Hillmorton boatyard had been set for 7th Feb. 'give or take' so I thought I should get on on with it. Hence on the afternoon of Sat.28th Jan 2012 I set a westward course for Braunston tunnel having established that the spotlight was working. I'd discovered the leisure bank isolator key in the bilge. The starter isolator had been left in and on; hence my ability to get out of the marina yesterday and my  non-ability to find a working light on board. Now I had lights. No water though! Pentargon had been 'winterised' and all the water drained out of the pipes. No heat either as the existing 38yo Therm-X was not up to it. It was obviously enough for a cool August day and the boat had never been used in Winter.

I was not to have heat for another fortnight but that's a story for another day and a visit to Hampshire

Through Braunston tunnel, Pentargon sailed without any trouble and down the top lock in fading light.

While I'm here though let me let me lay to rest one hoary old chestnut.

  There are those who tell you that Braunston tunnel has an s-bend and you cannot see right through.

  There are those who tell you that Braunston tunnel has no s-bend and that you can see through.

The first truism on canals is that everyone has their own opinion and they are all right.

Braunston Tunnel HAS an S-bend and you CAN See Right Through

I'm perfectly willing to accept that if the tunnel is full of boats and smoke, you may not be able to see the other end but when I entered the tunnel on 28th Jan.2012 at 1600hrs I saw the exit 1.25 miles away and never lost sight of it until reaching the exit some 35 minutes later. The 'time' for the tunnel is about 20mins and the 'record', I am 'reliably' informed is considerably less. The so-called s-bend is actually a slight navigational miscalculation. The tunnel was dug from both ends to join in the middle and was out by a couple of feet.

The shaft is 16' wide, so that narrowboats can meet and pass each other.
Note if you have a wide beam you have to contact C&RT to arrange a passage,
I think Fridays 8am to 9am is the slot. Or sumpin.  Look it up yourself. ye're big boys.

Having 'safely' negotiated the top Braunston lock in fast-fading light, it was considered expedient to moor up by the next til the morrow morn. It's harder to find a drowned body by night and nobody would hear the splash anyway. I did feel quite chuffed though that in less than 50 hours I'd taken the boat with no demo out of a marina, along a cut, moored and overnighted, gone through a 'difficult' tunnel and down a lock. The grand entrance to Braunston was achieved inauspiciously and entirely unnoticed early on Sunday by stepping down the locks one by one and walking back for the car lock by lock. By midday,  I was moored up by the Stop House with 8miles of un-locked cut ahead. So, I went for it and moored that night at Hillmorton top.


Things to be seen, moorings to be practiced, a boat to get used to

and sure wasn't there plenty time for Pentargon's date with destiny? Friends being made along the way.

(Thanks Gil for the heads-up on the Morris Minor horn, which I got where you said.

It sounds only majestic. And seven years later it still baarps like a WT614/8 Lucas Wind-tone should).

 Quod erat fecit.  

Little did I know then just HOW much time I had. Pentargon went into dry dock on Wed.28th March by which time I had done the Braunston-Hillmorton run twice, been up to Bridge 42a near Ansty, I even got to see bridge 56 and travelled colourfully through Newbolt 'tunnel. (2mins as opposed to 24mins for Braunston). I learned how to moor up beside the No.4 Bus-Stop in Brownsover. I lost my Samsung Galaxy Tab, my false teeth, a fork and a pair of reading glasses to the cut. Eventually when my nail-bar went in late at night I fished it out with one of those magnets and decided it's beyond time for getting some sense ... On the cut, it is not a matter of whether it will fall in; it's a matter of when and that includes the skipper. My first dunk was at Brownsover ... on my back ... in mud ... my clothes stank for weeks.