About Me

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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, 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.

1 comment:

Leo No2 said...

Sounds like a really interesting weekend. Sorry didn't make it on Wednesday - got dragged off to New Haw by the NT.