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, 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.