Days 3 & 4: Ely – Ely, Ely – The Ship, Brandon Creek Junction

3 miles
14 miles

I was still at work on Wednesday, and afterwards, Amy and I took the train back to Ely. We visited the water point and sanitary station, before heading out towards the Queen Adelaide straight, intending to moor in Littleport that evening and have a fortifying curry in the Indian Gardens restaurant- our favourite- before a late morning passage through Denver and Salter’s Lode on Thursday.

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Passing another historic boat in Ely- the stern end and about 20 feet of the GU “star class” butty Pavo, as the bow of the middle boat

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. I noticed a lot of coolant bubbling in the header tank on the engine, and it started streaming out, with the engine itself getting very hot. Very concerning, even if the temperature warning light didn’t come on- we don’t have the deluxe panel with the temperature gauge- and so we drifted in to the convenient pontoon of Isle of Ely rowing club to investigate.

The problem was a very large airlock at the top of the skin tank that cools the engine. If the metal vane pump which circulates the coolant isn’t fully supplied with water, it can’t suck and pump adequately and circulate the cooling water out of the engine, through the skin tank, and back into the engine again.

The engine, being very hot, boiled and spat out the first lot of replacement water poured in through the large fitting on the top of the tank, but after a bit we were able to top it up satisfactorily and a test run showed that the skin tank was now getting hot and taking coolant from the engine. However, we decided that we would be better off returning carefully to Ely, being particularly tired and a bit worried from the problem, rather than pressing on to Littleport. We wanted to ensure the problem was fully fixed before attempting the tidal passage- King’s Lynn is a very nice town, but I’d rather not see it from Willow…..

A check of the engine in the morning revealed that the coolant had settled to satisfactory levels- the skin tank was full, and the airlock was gone. After consulting with various engine experts online, I confirmed my thoughts that the engine has a metal vaned pump, rather than a rubber impeller which would have been damaged by overheating, and was confident we were ready to cruise on and ensure the problem was fully fixed before Denver. After a look around town, and visiting the library for some more books, we winded in a tight spot, having a waltz with the trip boat Liberty Belle which turned up at the worst possible moment and needed to moor where our fore end was, and headed out towards Littleport, to test the engine. It ran fine, with no more problems- although I’ve never checked the header tank so often before.

In places, the Queen Adelaide straight was completely covered with floating duck weed, and we were thankful for not having raw water cooling.

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We only had a third of a tank of diesel, and most places between the Ouse and the canals are fairly expensive, and we knew our friend Alan who runs the fuel boat Bletchley on the Nene would be away; so we came to the ship pub, on the junction of Brandon Creek and the main river, and went down to the Little Ouse moorings to fill the tank, having checked with them they were open and had diesel.

After filling the tank, and catching up on the local gossip with Danny and Natalie, the owners, we carried on down Brandon Creek to wind- I didn’t fancy the reverse around several corners between moored plastic boats.

After about 30 minutes, we came to a place that looked wide enough- there’s no official winding holes- so in a spirit of “nothing ventured nothing gained” decided to give it a go. I reversed and shafted the stern end towards the piled bank, and dredged a channel through the soft mud, while Amy shafted the fore end around, assisted by the stream, slowly but surely. There’s always a worrying moment when the boat approaches 90 degrees to the river, and you find out exactly if where you have chosen is wide enough! The fore end pushed some reeds aside, and with a bit of shoving, we got around, and carried on back to the Junction to moor by The Ship pub for dinner.

The pub moorings, completely empty on one side an hour and a half before, were now fully occupied by three boats. A not too ideal spot was left right on the curved bank on the junction itself, and so we moored with the stern end hanging right out, but the fore end safely onto a mooring post, and set plenty of springs so we wouldn’t move about too much. We’re now in the pub, having enjoyed an excellent dinner, and looking out over the boat.

Denver and Salter’s Lode tomorrow!

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