Having moored overnight in a very rural part of the Grand Union–Oxford link canal, the towpath looked favourable so Francine and I decided on another start on foot. We cast off Capt. Virginia and walked 5½ miles into the Oxford Canal proper and onto a fresh water point. We walked mostly ahead of Juniper which was once again forced to travel slowly passing many moored boats. No locks were involved and walking pace again beat Juniper over our 5½-mile stretch.
In the early morning sun, Francine and I began disturbing a few dragonflies which, still not thoroughly warmed up, seemed keen to settle back on the hedgerow running beside the canal. One Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) perched very prettily on some blackberries, perhaps hoping to snag a fly or two as breakfast. A late season Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) also put in an appearance. Since my GPS was running to track our course, I started making dragonfly records for later submission as we went along.
All the water points on the system appear to be very slow and it took us about 40 minutes to fill our water tank. Dull stuff waiting for a slow hose. Finally filled with fresh water, we were heading straight into a flight of five locks at Napton, followed by another two slightly further on at Marston Doles.
Whereas the Grand Union is a wide canal with double width locks, the Oxford Canal is a narrow canal with single width locks with just a couple of inches either side of the boat. Having had enough of walking, Francine and Franco leapt aboard and Franco took the tiller to have a go at rattling into the locks at Napton. I think my first approach was my best, what an airline pilot might call a greaser if he made a smooth landing. Beginner’s luck. On subsequent attempts, instead of getting better, boat rattling seemed to be on the increase, culminating in a bang or two in some cases, rather than gliding noiselessly into a lock.
The more experienced Capt. Viriginia and I both agreed that Juniper steers like a pig; she has a predilection to veer to port. Take your eye off the canal for a second and the bow veers left making la rive gauche approach alarmingly quickly. Slam Juniper into reverse and the bow seems to leap left, too. It’s a very peculiar trait and much less than relaxing; tiller work requires extreme concentration. We suspect Juniper’s rudder may be less than perfectly straight.
Following the locks and after about 12 miles of straight cruising, we were approaching another flight of 5 locks at Claydon followed by a short run and a further three locks to descend into Cropredy. We had a decision to make: start the locks or stay uphill of them? Our downhill run could be broken in between the two sections of locks but that was about it for choice. Since we were in a peaceful, rural location at the top of the locks, we decided to stop cruising and start drinking, leaving the locks for an early morning start. The theory of an early morning start (about 7 AM) was designed to enable us to run through the series of locks without hindrance from other boats.
We’ll see if our theory works out.