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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!