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.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Banbury Canal Day 2013

Having collected my boat from Bossom’s Boatyard at Port Meadow, nr Oxford, I returned to the Oxford canal via Sheepwash channel and Isis lock to moor in Jericho for a long awaited visit to The Olde Bookbinders Arms, but I never went there after all. I paid a visit to The Jericho Tavern, which I had read was good on someone else’s blog (was it Herbie, I wonder?) I can’t say that I was impressed. It just did not have that more intimate atmosphere of the Bookbinders.
I made it to Thrupp the following day and made enquiries as to the whereabouts of Maffi. That paid off, as he cycled down to find me and we spent the evening in The Boat with his mate Colin, a continuous cruiser, from nb Dr. Bradley’s Linctus, where we mostly talked about boats.
Peter Darch paid me a visit in the morning and suggested that I take Stronghold up to The Rock Of Gibraltar later, where he would meet me with Escape in readiness for the trip to Banbury, via Lower Heyford the following day. We then leapfrogged up the Oxford canal to Banbury to my allocated mooring below the lock, along with other boats from Thrupp Canal Cruising Club.
The following day, I took Stronghold up to Sovereign Wharf to re-fuel, but it was closed, so I had to wind in the arm and return to my mooring. The following day, I took containers up to Peter’s boat and we both took them to be filled, while he winded his boat in readiness for the return journey. Ray at Sovereign asked me if I wanted to pay any tax, to which I replied “Not really, as this is going to fuel my winter mooring.”
A tug called “Firefly” was on a reserved mooring and had to be moved, but the crew could not start the Kromhout hot bulb diesel engine, so Peter then had to tow them down through the lock and then go another half mile to wind again. On his way back “Firefly” passed him under power, so had eventually managed to start the thing, much to his annoyance.
Kromhout hot bulb engine on Firefly.
 Kathryn Dodington passed through Banbury earlier and we had a good old chat about her trip and what I had been up to the past couple of weeks.
I heard from Kathryn later that she had passed the NBT pair, so I made contact with them and walked up the cut to the next lock to join forces. As we approached the straight section, in Banbury, where all the boats were moored, Barry leapt off and said to take the pair through, while he did the lift bridge and lock. All went well until we got to the lock where the butty came up on the inside and wedged both boats in the gap – and another boat was rising up in the lock at the same time – oh well, I was a bit out of practice after a week on my boat! A little later, I loosed the butty off to moor up and stopped her by wedging the motor bow against the bank. I’ve not seen this done by anyone else, but it seems to work OK for me. We went to Ye Olde Reindeer later and quenched our thirst with Hook Norton beers in the Globe Room at the back.
Excellent Pub and Thai Next Door.
Sunday dawned chilly and misty, but gradually warmed up to a beautiful sunny day, which brought out the crowds in their thousands, just like the previous two years that I had been here. I did my three hour steering duty in the morning, from the water point at the lock to Sovereign Wharf, where passengers disembarked and more boarded, then on to the winding point at the arm and then return to Sovereign and the water point at the start. There were four boats this year instead of the usual three and each one was packed with the maximum of ten passengers. There must have been at least a one hour wait for trips at Sovereign all the time I stopped there. On my last trip Roger came on board to learn the route, as he had not skippered there before and he was to follow me in the afternoon.
I Set Off From The Water Point. (Photo by Robin Williams)
It Is Very Busy.
Peter Winds His Water Taxi.
Balloons Everywhere.
In the afternoon, a pair of hotel boats came through and I had a brief word with the captain, who was the guy I had words with at Marston Doles last year, as we were bringing the loaded butty up the lock immediately behind the motor, even though Barry had asked one of his crew first. He did not remember me, needless to say!
Later, Vic and Linda came through on “Lindy Lou” on their way to the winter on the K & A. Only a few words passed between us, as they had  a tight schedule to keep to, but they are still enjoying the continuous cruiser life, without a home mooring.
Peter and I went off to a Chinese/Thai restaurant and on the way back I was telling him the tale I had heard at the BCLM recently about the butty boat called “Fanny” and the wife who steered it, hating the name of the boat, so the name on the stern was always covered by the little mat they always used to stop the ash cants getting dirty. As we entered Banbury bus station, I got to the part where the toll clerk used to wind her up by saying, “Come on Missus, show us yer Fanny.” A woman passerby heard this and made some comment, obviously thinking that it was directed at her. Ooops!
Monday was time to backtrack south, so Peter and I did the usual leapfrogging down the locks as far as The Rock of Gibraltar, where I had a quick word with Kevin and Ingrid of nb Columbia. Peter arrived first and headed back home with Anne, only to return for me later to have a meal with them at home, complete with Welsh cheese from The Cheese Boat to finish with – delicious!
The Rock of Gibraltar.

He returned the following day and we continued back to his mooring just above Kidlington Green lock, while I went on through Dukes Cut until I met up with Nuneaton and Brighton again just above Iffley lock. I accompanied them to Reading, where the pair were left for a crew change, while I continued back downstream toward Shepperton and the Wey.
All Alone at Tesco Mooring, Reading.
I was aiming for The Bounty at Bourne end, where I had an entertaining night the last time I passed by. The weather was horrendous, with rain and strong cross winds, just like this time last year. Eventually, I reached The Bounty in the dark, with headlight and full navigation lights on. Fortunately, there was a vacant mooring outside the pub, but few people were there and those that were, were watching footie on the TV, so it was not such a good evening and no atmosphere. Think  I will try The Spade Oak next time, as I heard from another boater that it was rammed on that same night.
Passing nb Merchant moored near Staines, I saw smoke arising from the chimney, so moored alongside for a chat and coffee with Chris Iddon, who I had met on the GU two years ago. He is now moored there at Tims yard for the winter and is able to trade peat and diesel from his mooring, which is well worth knowing for the future.
nb Merchant Selling Peat and Diesel.
Finally, I have to say that this was the best ever five week trip that I have done on my boat so far. There never was a dull moment; I don’t think I spent more than two or three evenings on my own for the whole time I was out – it was brilliant!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

2013 Autumn Coal Run

Oxford Open Doors weekend passed without incident in rather inclement weather, although the rain held off that had been forecast. This was the third year I had steered one of the trip boats and much of what went on can be read here from the previous year. http://nbstronghold.blogspot.co.uk/2012_09_01_archive.html

Stronghold was booked in to a mooring at Bossom’s Boatyard, Binsey for two weeks, while I did my stint with the Narrow Boat Trust on Nuneaton and Brighton, loading mixed fuels on the pair of boats and then taking them to the Black Country Living Museum for the weekend.
I was due to join the boats at Awbridge on the Staffs and Worcester Canal, but heard from the previous captain, Steve Morgan, that there was a problem with the Lister engine on Nuneaton, which caused the pair to grind to a halt at Milford Bridge on the Staffs and Worcester, some 2 miles west of Great Haywood.

Subsequent investigation by our usual Lister expert, showed that the engine had sheared  a cylinder head stud and repairs could take a few days, plus the weekend and a definite date for completion was not forthcoming, so all I could do was to keep the crew informed of progress as it happened, hoping that none of them had pre-booked rail tickets for the following day. Fortunately, none of them had done that and also there were several days in hand before the boats were due for loading.

This was to be my first “command” of the pair, without the presence of either of my mentors, John or Barry, so I was a little nervous about taking over the responsibility. Although my crew were experienced and I had sailed with them before, I had no other captain to refer to if things went wrong. I need not have worried, as we all gelled into a good team on the trip and they gave me excellent support.
I was also concerned about the indecisive nature of the engine repairs, which could take just a day or two, or even until the end of the week and not knowing what progress was being made, added to my feelings of insecurity.
I was also in a quandary, as I did not wish to twiddle my thumbs on a mooring alongside Port Meadow for what could be several days outside Oxford and no pub for quite a long walk. However, I decided that a trip further up the Thames would keep me busy and somewhere that I had wanted to explore for the last few years, so I took off that afternoon and spent the evening on two pints of Wadworth 6X at a very reasonable price in The Ferryman Inn at Bablock Hythe. Although they had Wi-fi there, I had to sit beneath the TV to get a reasonable signal. Luckily, no one was watching TV at the time!
I cruised up as far as The Rose Revived at Newbridge in the pouring rain, where I could get a phone and Wi-fi signal in the pub. It is quite an upmarket place and I was dressed in the usual scruffy boater’s outfit and Drizabone coat and soaking wet to boot, so I did feel a little out of place. The news was good for the engine, which had been repaired that morning, but not so good for me as I was now 12 miles and 5 locks from Port Meadow. It was time to make a run for it at full speed, so that I could catch a train to Stafford the following morning.
I had arranged to meet up with Colin Wilks at Stafford, so that we could share a cab to Bridge 105, via Tesco to stock up. All went well and we spent the night on board until David Thompson and Graham Roberts joined us the following morning. The back end cloths were folded on the top planks, as advised by David. I had briefly seen this done on You Tube and it proved to be a very easy and efficient way of doing the job. This was to be the first of several techniques that I was going to learn on this trip.
All went well the following day, with no problems with the engine and we made it to The Fox and Anchor at Cross Green, which is still on the Staffs and Worcester, despite their web site positioning it on the Shroppie!
At the end of the day.
The following morning Mouse (Michael Daltry) appeared on his bike on the towpath and watched us pass by. I was the only one who had met him before, but even I did not recognise him in his cycling gear and helmet – how embarrassing!
The butty ‘ellum was unshipped at Wightwick Mill lock and was returned to it’s rightful place with use of the Pull-Lift suspended from a bridge, as has been described in previous blogs. Once again, the point of balance has to be just right, to get it back into its pivot holes.
We pressed on to Dimmersdale Lock, where there was a winding hole just below the lock, where we had to turn the boats individually, before reversing another half mile to John and Jenny’s coal yard. I took the motor and the butty was bow hauled by the rest of the crew, neither of which was easy, but we made it in reasonable time on Friday afternoon and were now back on schedule.
We said goodbye to Graham and David as they were whisked off to the station by John, as he was on his way to deliver a load, so we were now down to three for loading, which I was rather concerned about, but we need not have worried as John managed to change a delivery and could help us out, for which we were all grateful.
Yet another tonne!


The stevedores take a break.
I took to John and Jenny immediately, as did the others on the crew and despite the hard work of loading, there was a lot of humour bantered about over the weekend. A few visits to The Bell confirmed the humorous interactive relationship between us all.

I was pleased that Steve Morgan answered the call for help and Steve Green & family joined us unexpectedly to assist with loading too and although there is limited access to the loading area, they were able to relieve others to make the job go so much faster. John Jackson was able to load tirelessly, as he is so used to it. It took between 10 and 15mins to load 1 tonne and it was important to stack the bags evenly in the hold so that they did not build up to become an unstable load that could move when the boats were under way, or when they were trodden on. John was the expert loading advisor and Mouse was appointed loadmaster and made a very good job of it too. Even after working on both boats, he volunteered to load 9 tonnes onto John’s boat Roach, whilst we clothed up the pair – oh to be young again!
The Green family supervise loading........

and even start issuing orders!
We eventually pulled the pins on Sunday afternoon and made our way towards Compton for the night, where we were due to meet Terry Woodley. All was going well on a bright afternoon until we ran aground in the middle of the cut one lock below our destination. Someone was on the bank and could let water through the lock above to refloat us. The same happened in the next pound and we were all on board wondering how to cope. There were no volunteers to paddle to the bank but Mouse managed to row the butty over and get a bike off to cycle up to the next lock. We could see a figure in the dusk waiting for us on the towpath and wondered if that was Terry. Sure enough it was him and we had kept him waiting for nearly two hours. He was welcomed aboard and we found a deep mooring for the night, before retiring to The Swan for beer and a Chinese restaurant for food.
The following morning, the Wolverhampton 21 loomed ahead, which would take a whole day to achieve with its single locks. Previously, a boat owner called Richard from nb Dream Maker gave me his phone number and suggested that I ring him if we needed any help locking up. He turned up on his bike that morning, without even being asked and was a great help all the way to the top, so many thanks once again.
Colin steers and Richard lock wheels.
I asked Colin to steer the motor first and when I said that if he got the snubber around the blades, it was traditionally his turn to get in the water and clear it, the look of fear on his face had to be seen! Mouse took over the afternoon shift and because neither of them had steered a loaded pair before, I had to brief them on the technique, but they both did a first class job and the propeller remained clean all day.
"Come on Colin, it's my turn on the motor!"
The first two pounds were fairly long, so the motor went up first and then towed the butty through. After that, the pounds were very short and the same technique caused the motor to ground, because we were taking two locks of water out of the pound, so water had to be run though the lock above, which just compounded the problem further ahead. What to do? By this time a queue was beginning to form behind us, so I decided to let them through. We then tried tying all our lengths of rope together to make up a very long snubber, so that we only had one boat in a pound at the same time. Unfortunately, there just was not enough line to do that, although the motor was closer to the lock above and there was less chance of it grounding. By this time, John Jackson appeared on his bike to see why all the pounds were empty, but he did not bring any extra line with him! By now, we were only two locks from the summit level, so continued to the top lock as we were. An alternative, suggested by some “nose in the air know all” on the bank, was to bow haul the butty through all the pounds. As the butty boat was now close to 40 tonnes, none of us thought that was a very helpful idea, as it would probably contribute to heart attacks all round!
I learned useful technique from John on that trip and that was how to stop the bow hauled butty before it hit  the cill in the empty lock. When it is about 6 to 10ft from the cill, draw one top paddle half way up. This achieves three things, a) it stops the boat, b) it holds the boat against the cill, c) it assists in closing the bottom gate. I have used this method several times since on my own boat, when I take the engine out of gear as it enters the lock, before I get off and go to the top of the lock and half draw one paddle. No need for a line off, but the speed of the boat has to be just right.
Terry gets his hand in.
It took us eight hours to finally get to the summit level, where we said goodbye to both Richard and Mouse. They both had to cycle back 9 miles in the dusk to Awbridge, but it was all downhill. We moored in Broad St. Basin, as advised by Barry and John. This was a secure area in the middle of Wolverhampton, with a lockable gate. There were showers, water point and an Elsan disposal as well as a night club in the old FMC warehouse, which soon made itself felt by the head banging sound from within.
Well packed into Broad St. Basin.
We followed John and Jenny to the Great Western pub soon after a meal and enjoyed some well deserved beer in this heritage pub close to the rail station.
It was only about 3 hours to the Black Country Living Museum from our mooring and it was Terry’s turn to have a steer of the motor along with Colin as mentor. There were no locks to negotiate on this stretch, although there were some tight bends as I found out steering the butty. Terry had previously had a fair stretch of steering the butty and soon got the hang of it. Of the two boats, the butty is the most strenuous one to steer, because of the size of the rudder, which must be close to a square metre.
Terry's turn on the motor.
Before we left the main line, we stopped to have drinks (non-alcoholic for a change) with John and Jenny, just above Factory Three Locks, as they were off to make a delivery and go through the Netherton tunnel to moor close to Ma Pardoe’s, aka The Olde Swan at Netherton. .
It's goodbye for the moment.
We were all little envious, as I was the only one who had previously been there and it is a CAMRA Heritage Pub, which is well worth a visit. We continued towards the Black Country Museum and into the arm to wind in the entrance by the lift bridge, where we contacted Nick Wolfe, who had a prime spot for us at the back of the Bottle and Glass pub.
Discussion ensued about which pub to visit that evening and I worked out that Ma Pardoe’s was only about two, miles as the crow flies. As we could not go in a straight line, we took a wrong turning and ended up at a giant Tesco. I nipped in to buy something, while the other two waited outside. As I was leaving the store, Colin phoned to ask where we were, as a passerby had said that it would take at least 45 mins to walk to the pub and it would be easier to get a cab. I asked a woman on the escalator where this Tesco was and after giving me a funny look, I had to explain that we had come by boat to the BCLM.
“We’re at Berntryielan” she said.
“Sorry, could you repeat that please” said I.
“Berntryielan”, she repeated.
“Could you say that more slowly please” I said again.
 “Bern Trey Eilaan”.
“Oh, Burnt Tree Island,” I said.
“That’s what I said in the first place.” She replied!
“You did indeed, but I’m from daaan saaaf so, sorry to be so thick!” I should have replied.
So, eventually we got to Ma Pardoe’s and what treat that was. Not only was the beer between £2.20 and £2.80 a pint, but the food was excellent. We finished our meal before John and Jenny arrived and I think we eventually got back to the boats through an early mist, or was it just a haze?
The famous Ma Pardoe's.

Colin left the following morning, but Terry stayed on until Friday. We did some tidying up and Terry went walkabout around the museum. I met up with my daughter at Mad O’Rourkes Pie Factory at lunch time and found out that beer prices there were the same as further south, but an interesting pub, with lots of Black Country memorabilia and interesting food, including battered chips and Desperate Dan Cow Pie – complete with horns. A certificate was issued to anyone who could eat a whole one.
In the meantime, while I was out enjoying myself, Terry set about polishing the brasses, which had not been done for some time and had completed the lot by the time I returned.

Friday came and Terry departed, only to be replaced by Barry and John later in the day. We went off to The Fountain that night for a meal and beer, which was the usual Midland prices as was the food. The Fountain is famous as the home of ‘The Tipton Slasher’, a bareknuckle fighter of distinction in the 19th century.
Most of Sunday was taken up with talking to various people around the museum and back at the boats. I got talking to Nick Wolfe about clothing up and use of the uprights used to make the top planks more rigid, as well as different ways of tying top strings. I also talked to Blossom on nb Darley and watched him tie up his side cloths, using uprights too, of course. I still have a lot to learn about clothing up, but feel I am getting there.
Barry, John and I had a visit to The Pie Factory for a meal and they both opted for the Cow Pie, which would have been a challenge for me, but they both coped right to the end and received their certificates.
John relishes Desperate Dan's Cow Pie.
Well satisfied customers.

I met up with Henry Johnson again, the last time being at Braunston Historic Boat Rally, but then I did not know his name. He is related to Alice and Tom  Lapworth, who also put in an appearance. I’m not sure what his experience is, but it’s enough for Malcolm Braine to entrust him with Cactus, which Malcolm has owned for 50 years. I was fortunate enough to meet Malcolm after all those years of reading about him, so he is one of my heros. I managed to get some pics of his 15hp Bolinder, while I was there.

Malcolm Braine, standing centre, talking to Henry Johnson on Cactus.


!15hp Bolinder in Cactus.
On my last night, we went again to The Fountain, but the music was so loud, that we could not talk and although we tried a few other pubs, they either had loud music playing or there was no decent beer. We returned to the BCLM and joined the other boaters in the Bottle and Glass until 10pm, when they closed.
The following morning, Dave Thompson gave me a lift to Wolverhampton station and I just managed to catch the train to New Street, where I got the train back to Oxford, and so to my boat, which was still secure on it’s mooring.
After a weekend at Banbury Canal Day (more of which later), I caught up with the pair at Iffley Lock on the Thames and travelled with them as far as Reading, where there was to be a crew change. It found it strange to be travelling in the same company, yet apart on my own boat. On this part of the trip, the VHF radios were put to good use, so I could keep in contact, even though I was often far behind or ahead. I could also get ahead when approaching a lock and ask the lockie to prepare the lock in readiness for the pair, which saved a little time.
On the far side of Iffley lock we experienced The Prince of Wales, which was a first for me, especially as there was Wadworth 6X on offer and the food was very good too. I remember saying to a bloke that Barry was talking to in the bar “I’m sure I know your face.” To which Barry replied “You should, he is the lock keeper!” An excellent and welcoming pub that deserves a return visit.
I finally said goodbye to John, Barry and Lawrie at Reading, having thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip.


Monday, 16 September 2013

Four Days to Oxford.

For one weekend each year, Oxford City opens all of it's public buildings and colleges to the public for free. One of the very popular features of this Open Doors weekend is free short waterway cruises on the Oxford canal and part of the Thames on three "day boats" and crewed by Inland Waterway Association members. Being a member and also having an Inland Waterways Helmsman's certificate enables me to skipper one of these boats and I make the pilgrimage each year to partake. This year I decided to take Stronghold,  not only to Oxford, but also to Banbury, where I take the same role for Banbury Canal Day in October.

I left my mooring with a friend on board, who was hitching a ride to Staines to do another part of her Thames path walk, which she hopes to complete this year. She did in fact go as far as Bell Weir Lock, almost at Runnymede, and walked back through Staines, having to get to Shepperton ferry before 6pm, when it stopped for the night.
My mate, Chris Iddon now moored on the Thames at Tims Yard.

I arrived in good time at Windsor and cruised inside Bath Island looking for a mooring, but I was very surprised to find the channel almost empty and moorings galore. At the height of the season it is packed out with moored boats.
I had read recently of a very good pub in the town, called The Two Brewers in Park Street and I was determined to pay this one a visit. It was a Saturday night and the place was rammed to the doors. I bought a pint of Doombar and was charged the extortionate price of £3.90! Normally it would be about £3.50. There must have been a lot of very rich people in that pub. After one pint I went to the local Wetherspoons for a pint of the same at £2.90, minus 50p with a CAMRA token! On the way back to the boat, I had a very good meal in The Thai Square.

The following morning my daughter Sally and her two girls arrived for a day on the river and we were away by 10am in the rain, which just got worse as the day progressed, so they spent a lot of time below decks, whilst I did the steering. It looks as if the summer days of 30 deg are now over.
We arrived at Henley, where Mark could easily pick them up and I paid £9.00 for a ticket to moor overnight. No longer can you pull the pins at 6am the next morning to escape paying.

With a days cruising on my own ahead, I rigged two very long bow lines, which would enable me to hold the boat steady as it rose in the lock. Normally I would only have one line, but on this trip I had plants on the cabin top and it would be impossible to flip the line from one side to the other. One problem is trying to get the lock keepers to wrap a complete turn around the forward bollard, which gives me more friction and therefore more control of the bow, especially in locks with side sluices, where the incoming water tends to push the bow away from the wall. A good example was at Sandford lock, where the lock keeper said that was not necessary as the lock filled from the bottom. Needless to say, I could not hold the bow in to the wall and he had to come and take the line and wrap it around the bollard to hold the boat in.

It was another wet day as I left Henley and this time I wore my Dryzabone Australian waterproof coat, which is calf length and far better than an anorak at keeping trousers dry. I was aiming for Goring, where there are good 24hr free moorings, but so was everyone else it seems. From the approaching angle there didn't appear to be a mooring available, but as I got closer and cruised slowly up the line of boats, there was just one that I could fit into. Once again, there were large gaps between moored boats, mostly plastic cruisers, which is so selfish and annoying. Had they all closed up, there would have been room for two 50ft boats to get in. If they want privacy, then they should have stayed at home, says my friend Maffi.
I walked up to The John Barleycorn, where I remembered having a good home cooked meal on a previous occasion. Again, I was not disappointed.

My friend Chris turned up with Margaret the following day. They were almost an hour later than we had agreed, so no change there then. A cold wind was blowing, so Margaret spent a fair amount of time below, whilst Chris steered the reaches between locks and letting me navigate into the locks, which can be tricky on the Thames, especially if there are plastic cruisers ahead. Chris was obviously enjoying himself, so decided to stay on until we reached Abingdon, where I intended to stop for the night, even though it meant a bus ride to Radley rail station. It all worked out very well with bus and train connections for the trip back to Goring. Meanwhile, I was anxious to try out The Nags Head, which had been closed for a few years and recently refurbished by a new company. It did rather have the air of a Harvester house inside and was very large with seating areas on several levels, which made it more interesting. There was a garden area and two levels of terracing outside, with plenty of seating. There was a good selection of real ales and again I opted for Doombar. Much to my surprise, when I went for a second pint, the barman asked if I had  CAMRA card and when I produced it, the price was reduced by 30p - result! This I must remember in the future, especially if I visit again.

Peter Darch phoned me the next morning to ask where I was and when I would be in Oxford. I reckoned on 3hrs, but he thought I would be later. However, I made it to the Osney moorings by 1.30 and he came for a chat shortly afterwards. I had met Peter three years ago on my first trip to Banbury Canal Day and we seemed to click straight away and been good friends ever since. Peter is also the harbour master for both events and a useful person to know because of that.

I eventually went through the Sheepwash Channel and Isis lock to moor in Jericho, after which I walked up to see Mary and Ron Heritage, who organise the boating part of the event.

Peter asked if I would help him take his boat to Oxford from Kidlington, so I got a bus to his house and he took me to his mooring, which is at the bottom of a friend's garden. It was an uneventful trip to Jericho, before we went back to his house, where Anne had cooked a meal. After that we drove to The Rock of Gibraltar, which had recently changed hands, which can only be better than when it was owned by Stamatis, the Greek. According to one of the locals, it took 7 hours to clean all the beer pipes through with cleaning fluid. What have we been drinking in the past? There was only one beer on tap and the kitchen was closed, but the new people had only been there a week. Eventually a group of musicians struck up and music was very enjoyable.

Friday was a free day, but I had several jobs to do on the boat, before takng a walk down to Bossoms Boatyard to see where I was to moor. It is about a  mile away and the towpath is not very friendly towards a rollalong bag, but needs must, as this was the only mooring available, which is close to the rail station. On the way back I checked train times to Wolverhamton at the station. The evening was spent in The Olde Bookbinders in Jericho, where they were still doing a French menu, but no moules frite, unfortunately.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

One Man Training Day

My friend Terry has just joined the Narrow Boat Trust, but has no experience of boating, so I invited him to join me for a day on the Wey Navigation to get some experience on my boat.
We left the moorings at 10.30 and I took Stronghold up to Coxes lock, which was set in our favour. I explained the way a pound lock works as it filled up and then Terry took over the helm up to New Haw lock. He got the hang of steering almost straight away, after I explained that he was steering the back of the boat. Once through New Haw and he took over steering again as far as Pyrford lock. After Walsham Gates, we were on the river and he winded the boat in Hoe Stream, stern first so that the current helped us turn. Going downstream now, Terry took the boat very gently into each lock and took the centre line off to secure us whilst descending. In the meantime, we had stopped at The Anchor for some lunch and well deserved beers. We finally got back to the mooring and I winded Stronghold in front of The Pelican gongoozlers after a tiring, but successful training day.
Terry gets the hang of steering.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Diesel Tank Purge

 For the last few years, I have been thinking about diesel polishing ever since reading about it in Waterways World, but at a cost of about £100, is it really that effective? For some time now a friend keeps asking if I have purged my diesel tank yet - to which the answer is no - that is, up till now.

Last week I decided to see what was at the bottom of the tank and what a surprise was in store!

This was the amount of sediment in a 2 litre container, which took a week to settle. When first pumped out, there was no sediment, the fluid just looked cloudy. Just think how much muck is there in a 200 litre tank after twelve years from new.

So far, I have pumped out 8 litres and the results are the same in all samples. The question is, do I continue to take out more, or just leave it and let the filters do their job? I could take out more if I got some more containers, but it's going to take an awful long time.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Summer Coal Run 2013.

Summer Coal Run 2013

Nuneaton and Brighton had been loaded at Awbridge, on the Staffs and Worcester Canal, with mixed fuels on 18/19th July and had been on the move since then with Peter Clutterbuck as captain and Linda as the only crew member.

Day 1.

John, Trevor and I were due to meet them for a crew change at Braunston, but they only managed to get as far as Rugby, four hours short of their goal. Good progress though, considering they were only two handed. Trevor managed to find a point where the road ran parallel to the cut, so the change over went smoothly, before he took Linda and Peter to the station.

We were travelling singled out as always when loaded, with the butty about 70ft behind the motor on the snubber. Loaded boats travel this way so that they can move faster through the water and the long line allows the butty to move as if it is an independent  boat. This also stops the butty impeding the wash and propulsion of the motor, thus faster speed.

Some butty steerers prefer an even longer snubber – up to 100ft, making the butty even easier to steer. The problem here is that the motor steerer has all this extra line to pull in when breasting up in a double lock or mooring, making more work and increasing the chances of tangling the line around the propeller.
John attempts to clear the blades, while Trevor advises.

I passed by the old Gabriel, which was owned by James and Hazel and I managed to exchange a few words with the new owners. They must have changed the name, as "Gabriel " was not evident.

As before on the Barby Straight, we were run into by another boat and we were on a straight section! Two ladies with wine to hand, just pushed the tiller the wrong way and hit the motor. And it was a private boat, not a hire boat as before.

We made Braunston in 4 hrs as expected and as usual in the summer, Braunston moorings were chock a block, but we found one just above two locks, which was even closer to The Admiral Nelson. Nick Strivens was walking his dog along the towpath and stopped for a chat, after which he was invited to the Nelson later, where we repaired after a meal on board.

The pub has had a see-saw existence over the past few years, with several landlords under the same brewery, but the freehold has since been bought privately and custom seems to be on the increase, mostly from outside the village. Long may it continue, as it is one of the star pubs on the cut.

The Admiral Nelson. (photo by John Stevens)

Day 2.

Saturday was to be another hot day and we were off at 8am, as normal. Progress was good until we reached the Buckby flight, where the pounds were at their usual low level. Not only did the pair get grounded in the middle of a pound, but the butty ‘ellum came off as well. It was expected of me to demonstrate the means of replacement using the scaffold plank and pull-lift, but the plank was too short and also split at one end, so that was not possible and we had to resort to the original method of levering the ‘ellum up with a long shaft and lock gate as a fulcrum. Fortunately, this was achieved in record time and we were soon on our way again.

I passed Derwent 6 with Del and Al on board and there was much waving and jumping up and down by Al on the bow, when she realised who I was. Not only are they fellow bloggers, but they have an Axiom propeller and gave me a lot of advice before I bought mine. We shall meet up one day.

Through Blisworth tunnel was Stoke Bruerne, our goal for today, which was sunny and hot, but at the exit to Blisworth Tunnel, the heavens opened and we were mooring up in a thunderstorm outside the museum on nb Sculptor’s normal  mooring, as she was down at Linslade for the weekend.
On Sculptor's mooring.
All this was possible, because Kathryn Dodington had recently bought a waterfront house in the village and was privy to all the local news. She later gave me a tour though her newly restored cottage and I have to say that an excellent job has been done to make it cosy and very habitable. I was very impressed with the kitchen, in the basement, having seen it in April when the builders were there.
Stoke Bruerne.
We all assembled in front bar of The Boat later for a meal. This pub is featured  the 1945 film “Painted Boats”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Painted_Boats   but only the outside of the pub is shown and all the bar scenes were shot in a studio. I have since discovered that George Smith (first husband of Sonia Rolt) appears in one of these bar scenes and Henry Monk is shown pumping the bellows in the forge at Nurser’s Yard. Megs Jenkins plays a barmaid at The Boat and Harry Fowler is the young lad. Jenny Laird, the romantic lead, appeared in another six films after this, but she was not so profuse an actor as Jenkins and Fowler.
The Boat Inn.
Day 3.

We were down Stoke Locks the following morning in short order, before the long pound to Cosgrove lock and another very long pound through Milton Keynes. Somewhere on this stretch I happened to pass the Wilsons and the Wardlaws, from the Byfleet Boat Club, on their boats.  Unfortunately for them, I had to ask Rodney to stop the other side of a bridge ‘ole, much to his annoyance, in my usual manner of holding up crossed hands, indicating them to stop, so that I could come through first. Rodney wanted to know why we were ‘longlining’, as he called it, when we should be on cross straps, which means that he does not know as much about working boats as he makes out. Cross straps are used only when towing empty and the butty is higher out of the water, so it does not impede the propulsion of the motor.
Towing on the Snubber, (photo John Stevens)

Reeling in the snubber as the butty enters the lock.
(photo John Stevens)

This technique approaching a bridge ‘ole may sound like bad etiquette, but a single boat is far more manoeuvrable and can stop very quickly. To try and stop a singled out pair takes a long time and is only possible by slowing down very gently, so allowing the butty to gradually come to a halt as it has no means of braking. Alternatively, the motor reverses hard, the steerer quickly coils in the snubber and hopes that the butty steerer can hit the stern fenders of the motor and bring the butty to a sudden stop. If the butty slides past the motor, chaos results and one, or even both boats will be on the mud, which can take up to an hour to clear, thus blocking the cut, not only for the oncoming boat, but any other boat in either direction.

On a long straight section with an oncoming  boat approaching a bridge ‘ole, the motor steerer needs to judge who is going to get there first and has time to slow down to allow the other boat through first.  Whichever of these manoeuvres is taking place, the motor steerer has to pay particular attention to the snubber. If it gets caught around the propeller, the pair are disabled and it is the motor steerer’s job to get in the water and cut it free, as there is no weed hatch on these boats; not a pleasant task at the best of times, but also hazardous without proper precautions.

At one point we were following a wide beam boat, which took up a whole lock of course, so things were slow until he moored up below a swing bridge. I was lock wheeling, so opened the bridge for the pair, but the widebeam suddenly shot off his mooring and came through first, much to the annoyance of all. However, at the next lock he moored up at the back of the lock landing and we cruised past, asking if we could take the lock first. I think he was feeling a little guilty, because he agreed and we were now ahead.

Close to Soulbury, we came up behind another wide beam boat with a crew of thousands by their appearance at locks. No one seemed to know what they were doing, with kids everywhere. Trevor went to help with the Stoke Hammond Three and discovered that the man in charge had just picked up this brand new boat and only been on board an hour, with no previous experience. Trevor gave him some advice and they moored at the top of the locks in prime position, whereas we had a shallow mooring further on.
Approaching Stoke Hammond Three.

Ready for a pint Ship Mates?

Our Captain ponders the answer!

Still dreaming of that pint!

Later, when we were in the pub, the widebeam owner came over and bought us all a round of drinks in thanks for all the advice. That’s a first for me! He was invited to sit at our table of course and the conversation became very boat orientated.
The Three Locks was the first pub I stopped at way back in 1979 on my first ever hire boat. It has improved a lot since then.

Day 4.

The following day, we had a brief stop at Leighton Buzzard to shop and water up, before tackling Grove, Church and Slapton locks. Trevor got grounded in the middle of the cut below Grove, so we bow hauled the butty into the lock and shared with a private boat, whilst Trevor struggled to get afloat.
Who got us into this mess?

All went well to Maffers (Marsworth), where I decided to remain breasted up the whole flight. Luckily there were very few boats moored up at the bottom of the flight and all went well.
Round the bends at Maffers. (photo John Stevens)
We did single out across the long wooded summit and eventually moored at Cowroast, where we made off to The Cowroast pub for a Thai meal, only to find that they did not do food on Monday! However, we could have a take away delivered to the pub and could eat it there – brilliant!

Day 5.

 Alan Cummins joined us the next day and did his share of lock wheeling and steering the butty.
Alan enjoys steering the butty.
 Ian Johnson also joined us at Berko (Berkhamsted). All went well and then we approached the Cassiobury Bends. John decided to steer the motor and I was on the butty, with full instructions about steering right behind him, but now on a snatcher, which is shorter than the snubber. John’s route was right on the outside of the longest bend and through the weeping willow tree, which nearly took everything off the cabin top. Some of those hanging fronds have half inch thick stems!
Cassiobury Bends (photo John Stevens)
All went well and into Cassiobury Park Locks, with a very short pound between, which is often very shallow and really impeded progress.

We moored well above Cassiobury lock, having been forewarned that there were no moorings to be had close to the water point.  After a meal on board, we walked to the most dire pub on the whole trip, thanks to our captain. No hand pumps, so only eurofizz on offer. We ended up drinking San Miguel in this enormous pub, which was virtually empty, which says it all!

Day 6.

We were delighted to see Fabian Hiscock on his bike the next morning. We still had a puncture in one tyre on the boat bike that no one seemed to be able to fix. Lock wheeling with a bike is the fastest way to travel through a flight of locks and Fabian did them all that day, mostly in the rain! It was all going so well until Lot Mead lock, where we got talking to the lady at Lot Mead Cottage. On leaving the empty lock, I could hear something hitting the uxter plate as the prop was turning. John had a go with the cabin shaft in the lock, but the shaft got stuck under the motor stern. We bow hauled the pair out to moor on the bank, but the shaft was still firmly held by the obstruction. There was no alternative, but to go in the water and ‘take a look’. The problem was who? Eventually, Trevor made the decision and rigged a safety ladder so as to go groping around the blades.
I can feel something there.

Where are the wire cutters?
"Look what I found!"  (photo John Stevens)

Various ideas were proposed as to how to remove the 5mm spring wire wrapped around the prop and what type of cutters were to be utilised, before Trevor removed the offending keep net with his hands. Jubilation by all and all hail to the hero. Better still the lady in the cottage offered him a shower.
"Please Missus, can I have a shower?"
(photo John Stevens)

We were on our way again after an hour and did the Hanwell Flight without a hitch after a long day.
Breasted up on the Hanwell flight. (photo John Stevens)
Mooring just below the outlet of the river, we made off for The Fox, which is a pub I had not visited before and what a gem it is. Ian, who is a CAMRA fanatic even stayed on to make the pilgrimage there, before his partner Janet arrived to take him home. We ate and drank like kings, which was to be our last time together as a crew this trip.

Day 7.

Only two hours and two locks now to Brentford, where Trevor and John departed by train. When I returned to the boats, which were moored back by the railway bridge, I found that two boats had since moved from a prime spot close to the sanitary station and could I move the pair onto that mooring? Having thought it all through, I made the decision to move the breasted pair on my own, hoping that no one else would take up the prized mooring in the meantime. I was aware that no boats would come through off the Thames, as the lock below would be closed until the next tide. Fortunately, there was no wind to make things difficult and all went well.
Brentford in 2006. Note all the mooring spaces!
I was now alone until the new crew arrived the next afternoon and wondered how I was going to fill my time. I need not have worried as the first priority was a shower of course, then washing some clothes, filling the water containers, emptying the loos and some shopping, which seemed to take up most of the rest of day. Then there are all the people who stop by for a chat about working boats, one of whom was a guy called Ken Mullins, an ex BW lock keeper at Farmer’s Bridge locks in Birmingham and who also worked a pair of boats for Willow Wren briefly. His boat was 40yrs old and he proudly told me that he built it himself in his back garden. The engine room was a delight to the eye, with three engines in there, two of them being a pump and a generator. A stern gland grease pump was run off the propeller shaft by a belt around the shaft itself and pulleys to gear it down to a slow moving oscillating pump  -  an incredible piece of Rowland Emmet engineering.

I visited The Waterman’s Arms later, which is a Greedy King pub and can’t say that it was really worth a visit. On the way back I almost passed by Fat Boys Thai restaurant, where I had eaten well the last time in Brentford, so I thought it was time for another meal there. It was a hot and sticky evening, so all the front was open to the pavement. I sat at a table on front of the cooling breeze from the fan and had an excellent Phad Thai and glass of wine, before moving on to O’Brians fronting the dock. I got chatting to a couple of guys about the Grand Union canal, who delighted in telling me tales of their youth up and down the cut. A band had set up in the meantime and that put an end to all conversation, so I sat in a corner and enjoyed the music and beer. Despite my earlier misgivings, the day had sped by in a flash.

Day 8.

Another warm and sunny day greeted me and it was time to visit MSO Marine, who I had been in contact with earlier to see about having my own boat blacked. What an interesting place it turned out to be and how pleasant were Pauline and Jake in the office, where we chatted about the Narrowboat Trust. Eventually, after much chat, I managed to get an estimate for blacking and epoxy coating out of Jake, with a slot in the floating dry dock in October. If they are chosen by David Suchet to work on his boat “Leonie”, then that is good enough recommendation for me. One proviso that Jake stipulated, was that I had to be there at a specific time at high water, so that they could sink the dry dock and float Stronghold in. I was very impressed with MSO Marine, who are obviously very professional and have more than adequate equipment to do the job. Not cheap by any means, but you get what you pay for.............I hope! Watch this space.

About 2pm, Barry arrived with the new crew of Katina White and Ian Morrison. Another visit to Morrisons was in order to stock up for the next few days, before Barry did the evening meal. We went for a walk afterwards to pay a visit to The Brewery Tap, in Catherine Wheel Road, where I had had such an enjoyable musical evening last October. Once again, there was music on and I recognised a few of the performers from the previous visit, but we wanted to talk and quiz the newer members, so we sat out the back under a shelter during a thunderstorm. I can definitely recommend this pub as being the best for me in Brentford. It seems to be populated by locals, who all seem to know each other and offer a warm welcome to strangers in their midst. I suspect that some of them are residential boaters moored on the adjacent Town Wharf and possibly new customers.

Day 9.

On Saturday, we were due out through Thames Lock at midday to catch the rising tide up to Teddington, but we had this new delivery to MSO Marine to make as soon as we were through the lock. Unfortunately, the motor rudder came unshipped in the gauging lock, even though I was well away from the cill, so there must have been and obstruction on the bottom. We made it to the pontoon outside and heaved up the tiller, until it finally engaged in the skeg. All the time, I had a eye on the water level at Town Bridge, because if it gets too high, there is no passage beneath.

We moored for the night on the lock lay-by below Molesey lock, as there was a delivery of 30 bags via John’s car to a house about half a mile away. Then it was time to visit The Albion to eat. This is my fave pub in the area when I moor here. Always a good selection of beers and good value food, so it is always busy.

Day 10.

It was Ash Island day –  which takes up most of the day to unload. Several of the islanders come out to help in their vested interest, so it is usually a very sociable occasion. The boats are moored up on the slipway, so a lot of bags have to be shifted from the stern end to unload close to the bow. Very hard work, so I do whatever I can manage without straining myself. We ended the drop with a visit to the houseboat just above the weir, where we were finally entertained on the sundeck above.

Barry aimed to stop for the night at The Weir, though I was doubtful whether there would be a mooring space. Fortunately, it was unoccupied and we had a pleasant evening in the pub.
Beer at The Weir.
Ian, Katina, Barry, Ray.

Day 11.

My bags were packed the following morning before we even moved off, as I was due to jump ship just below Shepperton Lock along with Ian, who had a job interview in London the following day. The plan was to take our bags to Thames Lock on the Wey Navigation, leave them in the office and walk a mile and a half to my car, before returning to collect the bags and then take Ian to the station. As luck would have it, there was a boat in the lock, ready to sail off in the same direction and even better luck followed as I knew who owned it. Ken Mullins, whom I talked to at Brentford, was in the office and recognised me, so we blagged a lift to The Pelican on the 40 year old boat that he built in his back garden.

So, it was another eventful and enjoyable trip on the loaded boats, with a very compatible crew, working well as a team – brilliant!