About Me

My photo
After thirty years of hiring, I finally bought my own 50ft boat in 2005, which was built in 2001 by Andicraft at Debdale Wharf. I mostly cruise single handed and have no problem with that, although it does take a little longer than with a crew. My mooring is on the Wey Navigation, so I have a choice of routes on the Wey or the Thames.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Return Trip

The Return Trip

I joined the boats Nuneaton and Brighton a week later at Addlestone for the return trip to the Midlands for the winter. By pure coincidence, I happened to park close to my mooring just as the pair were passing. I whistled to Barry and he managed to moor the motor at The Pelican with the butty carried across the navigation by the current. My baggage was slung on board and off we went without even the chance of a pint!  It looked like just the two of us for most of the trip north, which would not be easy if the locks were set against us and we were singled out on the Grand Union. We were breasted up on the Thames and it was easy going, with a few coal drops to houses and boats before Teddington. John Fevyer was out for the day and assisted with coal heaving, which was very much appreciated. John lives at Twickenham and knows the river very well. He also organises the coal orders and knows where the deliveries need to be made, which saved us a lot of needless searching.

We arrived at Teddington Lock early to lock through onto the tideway and showed the lock keeper out transit ticket dated April 2012, which he queried as to why it had taken seven months to travel from Oxford. When we explained that the boats had been on the K&A for the summer, he gave up and locked us through. Our next delivery was at Eel Pie Island, which I found to be a fascinating experience. Both Barry and I were concerned about the delivery, which was a lot and was obviously going to take a couple of hours at least. At the time, Richmond Half Tide Barrier http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richmond_Lock_and_Footbridge was on draw-down, which meant that it was not operational. It was out of action for annual repairs and river bed inspections, so we were likely to be moored on the mud at low water. Not a pleasant experience to look forward to, as we would be on the tilt and not refloated easily if the mud refused to release its hold on the hull. John, however, assured us that there was a gravel bottom there, so we were somewhat reassured by that and the Teddington lock keeper said that there was plenty of water flowing through the weirs, so it was more than likely that we would remain afloat, which turned out to be true.

Moored well into the stream.
We were moored two boats out from a floating pontoon, so were well into the stream on the Twickenham side of the island. Getting on to the island involved climbing over the rails of both boats and onto the pontoon, before climbing the ramp up to terra firma.
Barry inspects the "Collection"
The coal was unloaded by Barry and John from the boats, with myself keeping the tally. I find it rather frustrating not being able to help with the physical activity, but if I do, then I am much slower and tire more easily than these young whipper-snappers. With the coal heaving completed, we adjourned to The White Swan and settled down to some good beer and food, but unfortunately Barry was sick, which prefaced the start of food poisoning. He had a very bad night and was knocked out for the following day. Fortunately, we were not going anywhere until high water, which was about 4pm, so I busied myself with food shopping and getting the mast support ironwork welded up in the boatyard, which they willing did for nothing, although the welder got a ‘drink’. At the same time, I asked if I could use a grinder to dress up a couple of screwdrivers and was shown into the workshop where the grinding machine was. To my surprise, I was then left to get on with the job. Health and Safety never reared its ugly head!

The boat on the left is being replated.

I had a walk around that part of the island and was amazed at the variety of different workshops and living areas that existed there. At one  point, I came upon a white wall of steel, thinking that it was a shipping container with a steel door in the middle, but on further investigation it appeared to be the centre part of a large boat, complete with funnel still intact. The door was of the watertight variety in what was once a bulkhead.

 Interesting accomodation!
  There were shacks of every description, most of which were art or craft workshops and there were bits of machinery and engineering equipment lying about everywhere.

Shacks of every description.............

as well as unusual houses..........

..........and gardens.........

.....and bits of machinery everywhere! 

 I had occasion to visit Gina and Paul, a carpenter and shipwright, to collect some coal money. I have since learned that Gina is a mosaic expert http://www.flickr.com/photos/66981086@N05/  They lived on their 50ft wooden boat, which was housed on the dry dock and very cosy it was too, even though there were planks waiting to be replaced. A while ago, they were flooded out when the tide was very high and pushed even higher by the wind. The dry dock flooded over the top of the gates early in the morning and they lost everything inside the boat. They were not insured at the time. I never cease to wonder how people cope with a disaster like that.

The tide was now rising and the water eventually stopped flowing, so we made a decision to leave, winding the boats in the faint current and headed for Brentford, which we reached in an hour. We passed through the Richmond Half Tide Barrier with one of the weirs lowered - something else new to me.

 After passing through Brentford lock, we started looking for the boats to deliver coal to. Not an easy operation, as they are often obscured behind other moored boats and names are not always obvious, being either very small or sometimes obliterated by age or weather. We lay alongside a customer’s boat for the night, with The Brewery Tap within sight, so after a meal, I left Barry to continue with his recovery and went to sample the local brews, having already ascertained the security number of the gate to get back in to the wharf. It was to be quite an interesting night at The Brewery Tap, as it was a music night with a set band for the first half and open mike later. The bar slowly filled with musicians and fans and was really rocking by about 9 o’clock. I ended up chatting to most people on my table and thoroughly enjoyed myself, getting back to the boat after 11.30.
The following morning we continued with deliveries up as far as the gauging locks, but realised that we still had not made a delivery to nb Whimbrol, which we had not seen. Barry walked back down the wharf to locate it and we then reversed the motor for about ½ mile to make the delivery. The boat name was almost worn away and it was inside three other boats. No wonder we had not located it the previous evening in the half light. In the meantime Owen Lamb joined us, which was going to ease progress through the Hanwell flight of locks later.
We stopped in the gauging locks to unload rubbish, water up and have showers, before starting the Hanwell flight. As is usual on this flight, there was masses of floating debris, which got behind the lock gates and stopped us entering the locks breasted up. Owen left us near the top of the flight. By now, I was going down with food poisoning and Barry was left with steering the motor as we moored up at Norwood Top lock for the night. My experiences in a 6ft x 8ft cabin, with a china potty for comfort are best glossed over at this point. The only other comfort was that the stove was alight and I was warm throughout the night. I steered the butty the following day until we reached Cowley Peachey, where we moored the butty and Barry took the motor down the Slough Arm for a delivery at the far end. I had never cruised the Slough Arm and can’t say that I had missed much, though I spent most of the trip just lying on the cross bed. There was weed and plastic bags galore, as well as being very shallow in places and Barry was constantly ‘chucking back’ in reverse to clear the blades. The delivery was made, with a very welcome gift of bottles of beer. I steered some of the way back and we spent the night back at the junction.
There was a severe ‘blade full’ at Uxbridge lock, where we remained until it was removed by a friendly boater moored nearby, with the aid of a pair of wire cutters. There is no weed hatch on Nuneaton, so anything around the propeller has to be extracted from the bank with the boat hook or cabin shaft poked in the right place and all done by feel, as you cannot see what is going on. Wire or plastic around the blades is a nightmare to deal with and often the only answer is to get in the water.

We were joined for the next two days by Alan Cummins and ended up at The Three Horseshoes at Winkwell, one of my favourites. The long plod up to the Tring summit continued without incident, before the drop down Maffers flight, which I think we probably did in record time. By now, as the boats were virtually empty, we were towing the butty on cross straps instead of the snatcher (shorter tow line) or snubber (long tow line). This made it much easier for the butty steerer, who only had to steer on sharp bends, or counter steer to keep the stern off the bank or moored boats.

Towing on cross straps.

 I was still steering the motor for most of the time, but still could not get the hang of getting the butty into the lock after releasing it. Bear in mind that Barry was operating the locks, so there was no steerer on the butty. If the lock was already open as we approached with a butty steerer, it was much easier, as the butty could be let go further from the lock, which gave me a chance to hold back and wait for the butty to get in, before it was my turn. No doubt I will improve with a bit more practice.

Cross straps on motor dollies.

Fabian Hiscock joined us and steered the motor, while I took a turn on the butty. The, usual pattern is for any visiting member to have a turn at steering while they have the chance, either the motor or the butty, depending on their preference. After a short stop at Leighton Buzzard for a shop at Tesco, we progressed up the Jackdaw Pound and through the Stoke Hammond Three, before the long drag through the Milton Keynes long pound, with no locks or anything else of much interest. Eventually the boredom was broken with a stop at The Galleon, Old Wolverton: a pub that I had not visited before. Shock horror! There was a karaoke just starting up and we were invited to partake. Can you imagine two old geezers performing to pop music when we didn’t know the words, let alone the tune? Needless to say, we found a table as far from the performers as possible and enjoyed some good ale in this recently refurbished hostelry.
The following day we made it to Stoke Bruerne at midday and met up with David Blagrove, who advised us where to moor on the old wharf that used to serve the limestone quarry. I didn’t know that and I also learned that the red tiled  section of path that crosses the towpath near the museum, was the arm that led into the mill basin where the coal was unloaded.

We tidied up the boats and clothed them up to make them more secure and keep out the rain, before having a final meal onboard and then repairing to The Boat Inn for well deserved beers in the company of Jack Woodward, the landlord, who was recounting tales of filming back in 1946 and previous layouts of the boaters bar. A perfect ending to an interesting run.

If you would like to know more about the Narrow Boat Trust, look here. New members are always welcome.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Braunston Coal Run. Day 16

We were up early to reseat the ‘ellum yet again. We also realised that the point of lift was not quite right in relation to where the pintles should enter the appropriate sockets, so a spacer was devised out of a piece of line to move the suspension point slightly further forward and line them up. This worked well, so another improvement had been developed. The butty ‘ellum had now been unseated and replaced eleven times on this trip alone, so no wonder we were improving on the technique! No one was held up through the bridge ‘ole as we moved off at 8am, set for Jericho. The Thames was now on red boards (unsafe for boating), so we were aware that there might be a delay at Isis Lock for a while, before access to the Thames was possible. Little did we realise how long that delay would be!

We cruised into Oxford on a very short line, as there were many moored boats along the towpath. The sun welcomed us as we arrived at Jericho, but there were a lot of boats waiting to get on to the Thames and moorings were not readily available. We had no option but to moor where there was a No Mooring sign, but fortunately it was in deep water. The replacement crew of Lawrie and Gill arrived shortly after and I departed to do my duty as steerer on the trip boats at Banbury Canal Day, which would be a totally different experience.

Banbury Canal Day Trip Boat (Photo by Robin Williams)

Footnote. The boats remained at Jericho for 10days waiting for the Thames to subside and eventually shot the rapids at Osney to head for the Kennet and Avon.

Braunston Coal Run. Day 15

Mike and John returned at 7.15 for an early start and all went well until Shipton Weir Lock, which has a fall of only 2’5’’ and is hexagonal. As the lock water lowered, the butty rudder was on the bottom and came off both pintles, so it was a case of refill the lock and reseat the rudder on both pintles using the shaft and lock gate. However, off it came again on emptying the lock, but only the lower one this time. We used the footbridge over the lower gates and Pull-Lift to reseat it. I was elected as motor steerer to do the Thrupp Turn, which is a right angled bend and then under the lift bridge. We were singled out on a 10’ line, so as to give the butty steerer more control if the ‘ellum came off again. Maffi was watching of course from his moored boat, so my reputation was on the line. I overcooked it by 12” as the butty pushed the stern further round, but I don’t think it was obvious to an onlooker and I was pleased that no reversing and shunting was necessary.

We long lined the butty out of Roundham Lock as it was shallow at the lock tail and should have done the same at Kidlington Green Lock, where the butty rudder was lifted off yet again. Trevor arrived in the rain and dark to lend a hand, though there was little he could do. We finally moored under footbridge 229 breasted up as it was now impossible to find a mooring deep enough to get close to the towpath. The bridge would also facilitate getting the rudder back in the morning.
Thrupp Turn and Services

Just Through Thrupp Lift Bridge (Photo by Tesla)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Braunston Coal Run. Day 14

Mike and John were back before 8am and just as we were about to set off, other boat crews decided that they needed coal, so it was a case of ‘hold back’ and make a sale or two, before we finally got away through the lift bridge and lock. There were a few minor hold ups through the lift bridges, where masonry had come adrift and fallen in the water, but nothing serious and good progress was made to Lower Heyford in the dark, where we moored breasted up on the mud with some difficulty. Mike and John went home for the night and Barry and I walked up the hill to The Bell. http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/s/15/15544/Bell_Inn/Lower_Heyford     rated at 7.6/10 in this guide, which is pretty good.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Braunston Coal Run. Day 13

John and Mike Moorse joined the crew at Fenny, and their help was invaluable with the repairs. Barry and I had discussed more independent  methods of lifting the ‘elum without having to deploy a bridge ‘ole, which of necessity blocked the cut to other boaters for a period. We came up with the idea of an A frame made of scaffold poles that could sit in the well deck and support the lifting tackle. However, this morning he had a gang plank up to do the job. With multiple ropework to hold it steady, it did the trick admirably, although Barry stripped off again in the cause of traditional boating to speed up the process.

John Moorse jacks up using gangplank jib.

Passing nb Rock 'n Roll. (Photo by Carol
John Moorse steers near Fenny. (Photo by Carol)

 It was the best day so far with a load on and apart from lift bridge 141, where they had to be towed through by a tractor last year, we made very good progress into Banbury, where we found moorings on the town quays. That was a surprise at 7.30pm! We went to The Olde Rein Deer in Parsons St. to celebrate “No ‘Ellum Out Today Day” with pints of Hooky and fish and chips, served in The Globe Room (Google it), where there was peace and quiet from the rock band in the front bar.

Braunston Coal Run. Day 12

We set off with the intention of reaching Cropredy, but it was not to be. Guess what? The rudder was out yet again! We were close to a bridge ‘ole and soon had it back in place. I negotiated Cabbage Corner at Wormleighton with the butty on a short snatcher (towline) to try and steer the butty around the bends, but eventually the  top pintle broke again, this time above the previous weld right outside The Wharf Inn at Fenny Compton – how convenient! Also, there is the marina close by, so we repeated the previous day’s activities and got it welded for free this time by Mitchell Narrowboats.

The second break.
After refitting the top pintle, we stayed the night and enjoyed the Wharf’s hospitality.

Braunston Coal Run. Day 11

The day began well removing the top pintle from the butty ‘ellum with relative ease. We took it up the lane to Simon of CT Fabrications, who was happy to start work on it immediately, while we watched. He welded the break and then welded four strips of steel down the outside to reinforce it, before grinding it to a rough round section – all for £20!

Repaired and reinforced.

Bolting it all back.

 With that refitted, we went up two locks to the bridge that had a steel bracket hanging over the parapet that we had used before. This time, however, it was more difficult and Barry had to ‘take a look’, this time voluntarily, to get the bottom pintle in the cup. Finally, we got through Marston Doles lock with its awkward exit and the wind trying to blow the boats into the hedge. The next incident happened at Bridge 123, where the motor just stemmed up solid. Using the Pull-Lift once again, we inched the boat through, before towing the butty through with no problem. By now it was getting dark and we chose a place to moor, miles from anywhere and a long way from the bank. No pub tonight then!

Braunston Coal Run. Day 10

It was a late breakfast before shopping in the village. Barry had a walk through nb Merchant and was suitably impressed by the internal fit out done by Streethay Wharf, bearing in mind that this is a modern 70ft working boat selling peat and diesel http://peatanddiesel.com/  We bade goodbye to Chris and Stanley (the dog) and finished tidying the boats and part clothed the butty, before moving off at 1pm.All went well until we came to an S bend, with shallow water on the outside, which the butty headed for like a magnet, despite movement of the rudder to the contrary. With the help from another boat, she was snatched off, but not before Barry ‘took a look’, which is boaters parlance for falling in the cut. Needless to say, he was standing behind the tiller at the time, which swept him overboard as the rudder bit into the bank. This is something that Barry is always preaching to trainees about being dangerous when reversing. Fortunately, he managed to hang on to the tiller and only got wet up to the waist. The butty rudder came off again as we were passing Napton Narrowboats, but this time it was more serious, as the top pintle, on which the rudder hangs, had actually broken off and the butty was totally unsteerable. With a a jury rig fitted, we managed to struggle to Napton Bottom Lock, whereupon the lady from The Folly shop told us where there was a welder – only 200yds up the lane, but being Sunday, we would have to wait until the morning – what hardship, with The Folly just around the corner! Glynis Henville joined us at Napton and Maggie got a lift back to Braunston. Glynis cooked a meal and we then reapaired to The Folly for beer and what a night that turned out to be. The landlord Mark welcomed us, having remembered us from the previous visit and then invited us to partake of his cheese board, which was more of a cheese table really. There were about 15 different types of cheese, plus bread, pate and biscuits, which was his Sunday night treat for his guests. The beer flowed and we ate like kings, with good conversation thrown in for good measure. I met Nigel, who had bought the famous lock keepers cottage and had done such a magnificent job of restoration.
Moored below Napton Locks.

The problem 'ellum.

Braunston Coal Run. Day 9

Loading continued on the butty all day, with frequent breaks. Mouse (another NBT member) came by on nb Merlot with wife and family for a birthday outing to the pub. I walked to the marina to get shower tokens before the office closed and passed by nb Chesterton, which was now up for sale as the husband had been very ill and they were moving on to the bank. I last met up with them on the Regents Canal just after buying my boat and I was photographing the painted roses on their boat, done by Norman Hough, when they invited me in for a tour of their immaculate home. I had now met six people that I knew and world was getting even smaller. When loading had finished we got the top planks up and winded the motor, ready for leaving on Sunday. Back to The Boathouse for another ‘Two For One’ offer on the
 meal, just as it had been the previous year. No wonder the place was crowded.
On our way at last. (Photo by Maggie)

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Braunston Coal Run. Day 8

We arrived at Braunston after an uneventful short trip with no locks. John and Jenny Jackson (our coal merchants) were already there on a mooring just past the  junction, along with Terry Bellamy from Streethay Wharf on nb Starling  and Pete Howker on nb Bletchley. Both of these boats were carrying coal for the Jacksons, so there was going to be a lot of loading to be done over the weekend. Barry and I started to clear the hold on Nuneaton, emptying water from the barrels that had acted as ballast and pump out the rainwater from the bilges ready for loading. Mark had arrived to pick up Maggie and we said our goodbyes. Loading began and I contributed as best I could, but these guys fling 25kg bags of coal around as if they are filled with sawdust! Chris from nb Merchant turned up to help and we were both surprised to see each other, as we last met in June, when travelling together up the GU and I was crewing on nb Leo No.2. Most of the motor was loaded by the end of the afternoon. I volunteered to open up the mudbox to see if there was a blockage there, as the cooling system outlet was running intermittently. We later realised that no water was being pumped through because the inlet was out of the water, due to the list on the boat caused by loading mainly on one side. – doh!

Let's Start Loading

Mick and Suzanne Wilson, from the Byfleet Boat Club, walked past later and stopped  a chat. Their boat was moored out of sight around the bend. Also Kevin from Brighton Kite Flyers stopped by on the towpath and I discovered that he had a share in a narrow boat. What a small world it is on the canal system sometimes. As much as I would have liked to pay a visit to The Admiral/Lord Nelson (I can never remember which it is), we went to The Boathouse, which was much closer as we all had had a busy day.

Fully Loaded (Photo by Maggie)

Chris on nb Merchant

Clearing the mud box. (Photo by Maggie)

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Braunston Coal Run. Day 7

We were now up on the summit level of the Oxford Canal and I was steering the motor again. There were some tricky turns coming up, the worst being Cabbage Turn at Wormleighton, but I got round it with no problem and it was not until later in the day that I realised it had passed, because I was steering without a map at the time. Maggie took over steering from me above Napton locks and all went well until the motor stuck in the exit of Lock 12. 

Are three heads better than one?

We used the Pull-Lift to get it back into the lock, before refilling the lock and pulling out to let several other boats through. Eventually we managed to get through by using full revs and flushing water through the lock at the same time with both top paddles open.

Jacking back the motor. (photo by Maggie)

Flushing out the motor. (photo by Maggie)
The butty got through with no trouble. At Lock 9, we had the same problem with both boats and the butty rudder was dislodged from both pintles and only retained by the safety chain. We managed to get the top one back in using the shaft and lock gate method, but the lower one had to wait until later. Meanwhile, Barry was tightening the chain beneath one of the motorboat beams to draw the gunwhales tighter in and make the boat slightly narrower, but broke the chain in the process. Fortunately, CRT workshops were open at the bottom lock and he managed to repair it there. It was now time to try again and with full throttle and both top paddles open, it was a success. Having got the motor through, it was easy to use it to tow the butty through. Our thanks go to Bill Gill and George Hougez, volunteer lock keepers on the flight, for all their help. Mooring was above the bottom lock and we repaired to The Folly for a meal and beer and very good it was too. There were several other boaters there, who we had met at the locks during the day.

Braunston Coal Run. Day 6

It was shopping by all of us in Banbury the following morning, after a 6am awakening from the foundry opposite our mooring. I bought two pillows for £10 in BHS to replace the dirty, third rate ones in the motor cabin and what a difference they made to a nights sleep. It was showers on and off in a grey overcast day. Maggie steered the motor from Banbury to Cropredy, accompanied by me. There was considerable traffic following us and there were queues developing, so we let them all pass by, as we were in no hurry. Arrived at Fenny Compton and had a meal, before going to the pub. It was much more convivial than when I was here last time, so obviously things cheer up in the evenings, rather than at lunch time.
Watering up at Banbury. (Photo by Maggie)

Navigating through Banbury (Photo by Maggie)

Braunston Coal Run. Day 5

Another early start, but in brighter weather for a change. We were hoping to make Banbury by the evening. Barry steered the motor for a time and said “It steers like a three humped camel,” so realised how hard it was for me. At Bridge 200, Barry spied a balustrade with metal rails, from which we could hang the Pull-Lift. There were several boats following, so we let them pass first, before beginning operations again. Whilst we were waiting I took time out to fix the horn button, which had not worked for a couple of days and I had installed it about a year ago, so knew what to look for. The rudder was reseated correctly at the third attempt and we made it to Banbury after 11 hours.

Try again at Bridge 200
Entering Somerton Deep Lock

Somerton lock cottage, bought for £350,000 (Photo by Maggie)

Braunston Coal Run. Day 4

It rained all night and was still wet this morning as we arrived at Godstow Lock. For the first time the Transit Ticket was asked for by the lock keeper, but all was in order, although he did ask why it had taken so long to travel from Teddington. We explained that the boats had been moored on the K&A for some weeks during that period. Barry was steering the breasted pair and shot past the turning into Dukes Cut, so had to wind just above and backtrack a little way. Singled out on cross straps through Thames Lock and began the slow progress up the Oxford Canal, passing many residential moored boats. We had to do each lock twice, of course, because the butty had to be bow hauled through as well. An obstruction near Kidlington Green Lock dislodged the motor rudder, which made steering difficult when trying to turn to the left. I did manage to get round Thrupp turn, but only because the butty was pushing the stern round and I was complimented by Bones. Then it all went to pieces as the wind caught the boats after we cast off the cross straps. Maffi poked his head out to see the fun and eventually we got the butty on the water point with the help of a long line, but the motor was blown across the Wide to the other side. We should have discussed the situation before coming through the lift bridge and planned accordingly. Maffi then invited us all in for tea, which was much appreciated. With services completed, we set off for Shipton Weir Lock, where there is a a footbridge suited to hanging the lifting tackle to reseat the motor rudder. I was pleased to see Peter Darch appear on his bike along the towpath and he was able to offer valuable assistance with the operation, which appeared to go very well. All was not well however, as the rudder pintle was only sitting on the skeg and dropped off sideways shortly afterwards. I thought at the time that we had hit another object on the bottom, so it was another day of difficult steering. We finally moored at Kidlington opposite the cream tea place with wind chimes ringing all night.
Passing a very wet Port Meadow. (Photo by Maggie)
Reseating the motor rudder (Photo by Maggie)

Braunston Coal Run. Day 3

Another chilly start to the day at 8am, with rain forecast. It started at 11am and continued most of the day. It was a miserable experience at the tiller and we shared it out so as to warm up a bit, though we were all soaked to the skin with wet feet, despite waterproof clothing. A short stop at Abingdon to see if any shops were open to get a few things, but it was very quiet on a wet Sunday. We sold a few bags of coal on spec to lockies and boaters and gained a £150 order from a householder at the end of the day in Osney, to be dropped on the return trip. Barry cooked a very welcome spag bol and we had both ranges lit to warm us up and dry clothes. Not one of our best days boating!

A very wet Sunday.
The obvious (Photo by Maggie)

Braunston Coal Run. Day 2

I awoke to a bright and sunny day, but chilly, as it often is on the Thames. We shopped for three days food and Maggie Young turned up shortly afterwards. It was a much more relaxing trip up the Thames, breasted up with myself steering for most of the way, as Maggie was not feeling very well. The highlight of my day was being complimented by the Goring Lock Keeper on our professional way of entering the lock and mooring, especially as I was steering at the time. I passed Rodney and Valerie Wardlaw on nb Hazlenut, members of the Byfleet Boat Club, just above Goring, as they were about to moor there. It began to get cold at 6pm and we decided to moor just above Benson Lock layby, in deep water, which is a good place to remember for the future.

The Captain on the lookout for pirates.

Pirates or Stowaways?

Waiting at Goring Lock (Photo by Maggie)
Approaching Oxford

Braunston Coal Run. Day 1

This was to be my third excursion with the Narrow Boat Trust this year and the most arduous of them all. The object was to travel empty from Bughfield  on the K&A to Braunston and load with 40 tonnes of solid fuel of various types, with which to fulfil orders back on the K&A, Thames, Wey Navigations and Slough Arm.

I arrived just after midday at Burghfield to find Barry, the captain for this trip, already there and busy sorting out various items on board. The boats were moored bow to bow, with the motor pointing the right way, so we decided to breast up that way and wind the butty two locks down on the way to Reading. All went well and then we had to single out at one point, towing the butty on cross straps as it was empty. Just before County Lock, we had to breast up again, so as to keep the butty under control above the weir and enter the lock. This was attempted on the fly, but the butty drifted in towards the bank on the curve and the butty ‘ellum was dislodged from the short skeg at the bottom, which made steering impossible, but as we were now breasted it was not a problem. The usual method of reseating the ‘ellum is to put the long shaft through the tiller socket and use the lock gate as a fulcrum point and lever the ‘ellum upwards, but the gate beam was too high and another method had to be sought. Fortunately, Barry had brought along a Yale Pull-Lift, which he had bought some time ago at a boot fair. This piece of kit was to become invaluable, as we later found out. In the meantime, we flung a rope over the branch of a nearby tree and used the Pull-Lift to raise the ‘ellum and reseat it in a very short time. We were both ecstatic, as this operation done on a lock gate can take a very long time indeed. We were breasted  up again as we entered the Thames and found a reasonably deep mooring on the end of the line outside Tesco.
Barry served up a fine repast before we repaired to The Jolly Angler for well deserved beer.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Chaos at Isis Lock

Saturday was going to be yet another very warm day and the trip boats at Oxford Open Doors were going to be very busy - especially as they were free, but a donation appreciated. This is an event that the IWA supports with the free boat trips, but there are other canal related stalls in the Pocket Park drawing attention to the restoration of the Oxford canal basin (now a car park) etc.

We began at 9.30 with the first boat of three leaving. The trip normally took about 40 mins, but with various other boats also wanting to use Isis lock, it was impossible to predict a consistent schedule and often the trip would take and hour and stack up at the top of the lock, so that we then had to try and stagger the boats, so that we didn't all return to the landing at the same time. I took a rather longer detour up part of the Thames to do that and turned ahead of a large trip cruiser, which had stopped for no obvious reason. As I turned back into the Sheepwash Channel, I noticed the skipper giving me the evil eye as the boat went past - what was he thinking, I wonder?

In the afternoon, Oxford Cruisers hire boats were showing the new boaters how to operate a lock and of course, Isis Lock was the nearest, so that also clogged up the works. Then there were the boats that wanted to wind below the lock to return up the canal, like the Pirates on an Oxfordshire Narrowboats ship, who seemed to take forever. There was lots of banter though, on the lines of "Belay there, you skurvy sons of dogs!" and associated pirate bollox!

It was in all, a very busy and enjoyable day, without a hint of boredom. Just how I like it and I am very tired and now have to go for a lie down!

Sunday was going to be another scorcher and the first trip boat had already left without me as crewman, that is the person responsible for the safety of the passengers as well as the mooring up part of the trip and the fount of all knowledge of anything to do with canals or boats. Only ten persons are allowed on each trip, along with two crew and I would guess that about 70% of them spoke a foreign language, so the majority were tourists. Very few wanted to know much about the English canal system, but they were nearly all interested in how people lived on boats in the present day.

It was a shorthanded day for IWA members, so it was a quick dash to get some lunch and continue working with food in hand. At one point when Peter Darch was steering out into the Thames to wind the boat, another narrow boat approached the entrance to Sheepwash channel and started to turn into it, but with insufficient speed to combat the current and they were being swept downstream whilst they hesitated. Peter shouted at them to speed up, which they then did, but they struck the cabin top on the underside of the bowed footbridge, which pushed the boat lower in the water, but seemed to do little damage. When we came back to the lock they were on their way out, as it appeared that they had taken a wrong turning. Funny people!

All in all, it was another exhausting day, but enjoyable meeting and talking to other people. We collected about £340 in contributions for the IWA, which surpassed the previous year, so it was also a very satisfying weekend.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Long Way Round

As previously mentioned, I was travelling to Oxford via the Grand Union Canal and set off down the Wey Navigation to Thames Lock. Heavy showers were forecast and I had to spend 20 minutes under a bridge, or get soaked to the skin after just leaving my mooring. On the Thames there were no bridges to shelter beneath and it rained just as heavily, so it was time to change clothes between showers. I arrived at Teddington to find that there was ample mooring space, which was strange for August. There were very few boats on the river that day and similarly on the lower end of the GU. Was it the weather, or the recession?

My daughter, Sally, arrived with my grand daughters early on Sunday morning at Teddington for locking through at 9.30, complete with a London Olympics Visitor Pass displayed on the boat. The weather was in complete contrast to the previous day as we hacked up the Hanwell Flight of locks to Uxbridge, where I moored for the night at The Swan and Bottle, where the barman called everyone Mate and is not to be recommended. Sally and girls were collected by car and I was now on my own again.

My goal for the following day was Hunton Bridge, where there is a good pub serving food and beer at Happy Hour prices. According to Herbie’s Canalometer or Herbiometer, it was 6 hours away, but that is calculated for a boat with a crew, so it was going to take a bit longer. Imagine my disappointment,  when one of the Tring beers was off and the kitchen had closed at 5pm!

On way up Kings Langley Lock the following morning, I caught up with another single handed boater, who was on his way to Brandon, way out in the sticks. He was happy to do long days and crack on, similar to me. We became more friendly as time passed and we ended up in the pub at the end of the day, ofter for too long! We stayed together for four days in all and ended up exchanging phone numbers. Nigel parted company with me at Gayton, on his way down the Northampton Seventeen.

Captains All.
Just before Buckby Top Lock, there is a small gift shop with hand painted canal ware. I was eager to visit once again to buy smaller Buckby can than the prevous one, to make up a pair. This time, I bought a brass bound can, with brass handles, just to be a little different, also there would be less surface to paint.
Getting to the top of the Buckby flight, I was dismayed to find that The New Inn was CLOSED! What a disaster. I was not only thirsting for  beer, but I expected to be able to write up my Blog using Wi Fi in the pub, adding a fair number of photographs. Alas, it was not to be. Using mobile internet was usually no go with photographs and I had been on the go for four heavy days with little time for posting a blog, as well as being knackered at the end of the day and being dragged off for beer.
I moored up at Buckby wharf for the night, with the intention of reaching Braunston the next day.

Which I did, and in good time to get a mooring as close to The Lord Nelson as possible. My eldest daughter was there on time......well, almost......... so we had a very long lunch outside and discussed the ways of the world for about four hours.

I was still there on Sunday morning (the mooring, not the pub!) and I set off in the sun for the very pleasant cruise in the sun across the Puddle Banks towards Napton. To my mind, this is probably my favourite stretch of open countryside on the canal, with the rolling hills, meadows and sheep. I managed to find time to pop on to The Folly to see how the pub looked after being taken over and I have to report that it is looking very healthy and it is a free house as well! It makes a change to see that in this era of plastic pubs springing up all around.

I came up to Marston Doles lock and could see a boat coming down in the lock, so I duly waited about 50yds below, whilst the man’s wife was working the gates and paddles. After she had run round the lock to open both gates, she walked down the tow path, looking to be in a bit of a sweat and not good tempered, so I got a scowl. However, the man steering, shouted to me “Why didn’t you help my wife?” in what sounded like a German accent. I am about twice their age and travelling on my own. Do I need to be commanded by a Gestapo Officer to help, when the U-boat is halfway down in the lock? I think with hindsight I should have blown it out of the water with my 4” gun, and then saluted in the style of Hitler. Just a minute, where’s that black leather jacket of mine?

Things calmed down after about an hour, well that’s how long it took me. I found it so surprising that anyone should have the need to say that to a total stranger. Well, as they say oop north there’s “nowt as strange as folk?”

I continued on the summit level and around the long turning which is Cabbage Corner to Fenny Compton and the Wharf Inn. The last time I saw this place was about two years ago and the pub was looking promising. Sadly, it has all slid downhill again and appears unkempt and sadly neglected .........Oh dear!

The following morning, I was up early and hoping to get to Banbury and have my diesel polished, but it was not to be, yet again! I think I will abandon Tooleys and get it done somewhere else. Every time I call in, it is at the wrong time.
I did manage to pop into The Red Lion at Cropedy for a quick one for old times sake – I’ve had some good times there.

Walking through the town square, I almost bumped into Sue and Vic of nb No Problem. They were going out for a very expensive meal later and would I like to come along too. It didn’t take long to make up my mind and we were soon off to find the restaurant called Quisine, with the chef being from the QE 2 at some time in the past. Although there were only three of us, we made our own atmosphere and the chef made the meal, which beyond doubt, was one of the finest meals I have ever eaten outside of France. The attention to detail was minute and the flavours were unsurpassable. There was no menu – it was all described verbally at the start and the saliva glands were in full spate by the time he had finished. The wine list was limited to a choice of two reds and two whites. At the end, Sue offered a bank card for payment, which could not be accepted, as he had not been there long enough, so instead of frogmarching her to the bank machine, she was allowed to pay the following day! Unbelievable!!

The next day I was up and off at 8am, hoping to meet up with Peter Darch at his mooring just above Kidlington Green lock, at the bottom of a friend’s garden. What an idyllic mooring! We cruised together through Duke’s Cut onto the Thames and then through Sheepwash Channel at the bottom of the Oxford Canal – so much more pleasant then the tail end of the cut and all those moored boats.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Stowaways

I decided to take a short trip from my mooring to the Byfleet Boat Club on Sunday afternoon as the weather was beautiful for a change. Coxes Lock is about 300yds away and is the deepest unmanned lock on the Wey Navigation. I noticed a very large dead fish in the lock and asked some local twenty year old lads, who were fishing, what it was. A bream apparently. There were also some girls with the lads and one of them asked if they (the girls) could have a ride on the boat; to which I replied “Of course, if there are only three of you.” They went off to a car to change out of bikinis and came back looking just the same, but with shorts on and clutching a bottle of Rosé.

Up on the cabin top they went and remained there for the trip, but when we got to New Haw lock, 15 mins away, they requested to go further, as long as they had time to go to the local shop to get more alcohol, while I went through the lock. Not much good as a crew then, but they did supply the booze.

I cruised past the Boat Club and had a few ribald comments from the male members, before arriving at The Anchor in 30mins time, where the girls happily jumped ship, but not before dishing out kisses of thanks before they left.

I always knew that ‘Stronghold’ was an attractive boat, but never realised that she was such a powerful pulling machine!

The only problem was seeing where I was going!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

A Dirty Weekend in Brighton

Before going any further, perhaps I should explain that Brighton is the butty boat of Nuneaton, which is the motor boat of The Narrow Boat Trust of which I am a member and that it was more like a week than a weekend. It’s just poetic licence really, or an excuse for a cheap laugh – you choose.
The object of the exercise was to transport the two boats along the Kennet and Avon Canal from Burghfield to Newbury for their weekend of waterside festivities and to open the butty cabin for ten minute tours to explain to the uninitiated what is was like for a family to crew and live in such a confined space for most of their working lives.
Burghfield Bridge from the motor cabin at 7am.

We had a Captain (Barry) and a crew of Maggie, her son Matt and myself, which is ample for the trip in hand with two steering the boats and two for locking. At times the boats were breasted up, which gave another spare body for making tea,etc.
 The journey was about 14 miles and we allowed two days in which to complete it, with some time for training along the way, so it was a fairly leisurely start on the Wednesday morning, after polishing some brass work and sorting out where the mooring and towing lines were. The tow line is known either as a snatcher (the shorter one) or the snubber  (the longer one).

Each member of the NBT has a little book called the Training Record, in which there are sections for various skills which, when completed, can be signed off by a captain. Some of the skills are:- Engine start up and shut down, steering the motor/butty, narrow locks uphill/downhill, river work and rules, snubber and snatcher, thumblining, etc. When the book is more or less full and you have a RYS Helmsman’s Qualification and have attended recognised first aid course, you are qualified to become a captain in charge of the pair of boats if you wish.
Barry, the Captain and Maggie.

It was 7 miles and 8 locks through intermittent heavy rain to Woolhampton, which was to be our overnight stop, mainly because there was a waterside pub, The Rowbarge. 

The going was slow, mainly due to the heavy stream of the River Kennet, which was against us. Although it’s called the K&A Canal, it really is a Navigation, just like the Wey Navigation, where some sections are river and other parts are canalised. Maggie and Matt did most of the steering for these two days, as Matt was new to working boats and Maggie needed some signatures in her Training Record. I have to say here that Matt took to it like a duck to water, although he is used to steering the family boat. My turn would come on the return journey, as there were likely to be only two of us. We had a grand evening in The Rowbarge and I would unreservedly recommend it to anyone who is in that area. It was also earmarked as a good stop on the return journey.

The K&A locks are a peculiar assortment of lengths and types, which at times, caused some anxious moments. The boats are each 71’ 6” long and whereas some locks are 20’ longer than the pair, others are almost exactly the same length. This caused no problems going uphill, as the stem of the boats rode over the top cill. However, this was not possible going downhill and in several locks we had to single out in the lock to get a gate open and bowhaul the butty out first, before manoeuvring  the motor into the centre of the lock to enable the stem to clear the bottom gate mitre. Other locks were even shorter and would accept only one boat at a time and that had to have the stem fitted into the mitre on the bottom gates.  Fortunately, most of the one boat only locks had been marked up in our copy of the Nicholson Guide, which saved considerable time.

The following day we had an uneventful 8 miles and 10 locks journey into Newbury and after one unsuccessful attempt at winding (turning) the boats in a 72’ winding (pronounced as in the wind that blows) hole that wasn’t, we passed through the electric swing bridge to a winding hole just above Monkey Bridge and then moored close to the swing bridge for the night, where Maggie and Matt left us for the trip back to Leicester by car.

We had been invited to a social evening in the Stone Building (previously a warehouse on the basin, which is now a car park) where I met up with the Holliday family, last seen at Rickmansworth Boat Festival last year, when they were moored outside our pair. I was also delighted to meet up with John Ross from The Basingstoke Canal Society, who is a sign writer and paints roses and castles, being a member of the Waterways Craft Guild. I had seen him previously in his Beefeater uniform, but not talked to him at the Basingstoke Jubilee Celebrations. John’s conversion of a Mirror dinghy into a narrow boat has to be seen to be believed. Not only can he sleep and cook in it, but he can trail it behind his car to go boating on any piece of water he fancies.
John Ross with his Mirror dinghy converted into a narrow boat.

On Saturday we moved the pair downstream towards the festival site and overshot the mooring place by about 100yds. Trying to reverse back against the current was a difficult and slow process, but we finally got into position and tied up for the weekend, with a little help from Paul, the Harbourmaster. It turned out that we were the stars of the show and much was said about the boats on local radio, so I was told.

Newbury mooring at Victoria Park.

It was reasonably busy during the day showing visitors through the butty cabin, but nothing compared to the following day, when there was a cloudless sky and the temperature was up to 30c. Bear in mind that I was wearing my best boaters’ outfit of corduroy trousers, boots, waistcoat, neckerchief, spider belt and bowler hat in the heat. Several times I was tempted to jump in the river to cool off. I think that a day showing the public around was as tiring as a day’s boating, even though Barry and I took turns in the cabin. Even when standing on the bank controlling the queue, we were still talking all the time. We rattled the tin at the end of every session and collected about £55 for the Trust over the course of the weekend.
They also serve who gas and drink tea.....tea?
The crowds turned out in force for the duck race.
Another social evening took place on the Saturday evening, which was what the Americans call ‘a pot luck’, where each group takes food and drink, which is shared out. A musical duo provided the entertainment, which was pitched at the right level for conversation as well.
On the return trip we picked up two passengers; Steve, who was about to hire his first narrow boat in a couple of weeks and wanted to experience what it was like, and Dave, who wanted to become a member of the Trust. I don’t think either of them expected the hard work that we took for granted when boating and they both looked shattered by the end of the day. It is just like an ‘outdoor gym’, but there are periods of respite between locks, although some walking is entailed if you cannot easily get back on board after a lock.

I had the misfortune of running the motor aground on a lump of concrete at the exit to a lock. No amount of pulling from the bank would free the boat, which just rotated on the offending lump. Eventually, two lads offered to tow it off with their car, but it just rotated once again. It was only when the car driver slipped and then engaged the clutch, because his tyres were smoking, did the boat rock and slide off.

Passing The Rowbarge later in the day, we had to exit the lock, negotiate the river stream on the right and shoot the opened swing bridge in one smooth movement. Unfortunately, I took a line through the centre of the channel instead of closer to the river exit. Barry was steering the butty on a very short snatcher and at full speed, could not get round the turn and was swept into the bank, thus breaking the towing line. I shot through the bridge hole and then had to reverse with great difficulty against the strong stream to get back to a mooring, before drifting the stern end across the stream to pick up the butty. After that, we sunk a few beers to calm down, before having a well deserved meal in the pub. At the end of the evening, Barry offered to buy the services of the barmaid (cooking and cleaning of course, what did you think he meant?) for half a ton of coal; part of the 22 tonnes that we were carrying on board. Much to his chagrin, she wanted a whole tonne!

At the penultimate lock, I goofed up on the approaching bend and ended up in the jungle yet again. Barry said that I was not approaching the locks correctly and didn't need to loose the butty every time, so I asked him to show me how it should be done at the next lock. We were on a short snatcher again as we approached the very tight Burghfield Bends, where I had stemmed up the motor on the way up. Barry took a very wide turn at the first one and we both ended up in the jungle and then again at the next one. I was not impressed and told him so later, but he only wanted to join my NBT Gardening Club, so he said! However, he redeemed himself when winding the pair in an extremely tight winding hole with another boat moored opposite.

We arrived late the following day at Burghfield, moored up and cleared the cabins. Barry dropped me off at my boat and I just had time to buy two pints together at The Pelican before ‘time’ was called. There was nothing much to eat on board and I was too tired to eat anyway, so collapsed exhausted, dirty and hungry  into bed after a very exhilarating trip. It sounds horrendous, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy every minute of it.