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 27 June 2013

An Eventful Journey

Once again, I was back on board Nuneaton and Brighton, to take the boats from Alvecote to Braunston for the Historic Narrowboat Rally the following weekend of 29th/30th June. With more than 80 restored boats to see, not only moored, but also in the daily parade, it is well worth a visit. http://www.braunstonmarina.co.uk/Events/HistoricBoatRally.aspx

Barry Adams and I arrived at Grendon Dry Dock, where the pair of boats were moored after their blacking the previous weekend. The butty had to be winded manually, before we could hitch it up to the motor to take it the 3 miles to Alvecote to fuel up and try to seal up a water leak somewhere in the header tank on the engine before the trip. The pair were on cross straps, as they were unloaded and we were on a narrow canal.

We stayed the night at Alvecote and ate at The Pretty Pigs in the village, which was excellent value for a carvery at £3.99 and beer at £2.50 ish! We returned to The Samuel Barlow, as Barry was driving and met up with Graham and Becky, who were new NBT members and lived on a boat in the marina.

The following morning, Barry and I took all the connecting pipes off the header tank, made new gaskets and sealed them with silicon, before bolting everything back in place. Because a lot of the brass fittings were corroded down to very narrow mating surfaces, leaks were still evident and it all had to be repeated with much more silicon smeared around the joints. That was an improvement, but water was still mysteriously weeping out somewhere below the tank. However, it was good enough to travel and time was limited.

Steve Smith and Ian Palmer arrived, so we took the pair of boats up to the refuelling point and filled the tanks, before winding them, still breasted, in the narrow marina entrance. "A lot of eyes are on you", said Barry as I gently turned them, stern first into the marina entrance so as to take full advantage of the northerly wind. All went well and congratulations were accepted gracefully from my peers. If you cock it up, no one says anything!

It was very windy and as we had not taken off the top cloths, the wind affected the pair considerably when out of the shelter of trees. It takes about an hour per boat to remove the top strings, remove and fold the cloths before retying the top strings again to hold the top planks in position. All this would have set back our progress on the water, as well as having to cloth up again when we we arrived at Braunston.

It did not seem long before we were at Atherstone bottom lock and were up the flight of eleven locks in short order, with myself steering the motor and Ian and Steve bowhauling and working the butty and Barry flitting between the two boats, although I was abandoned for the last three to cope on my own. Maybe they thought I was having too cushy a time, but being used to working all the locks when out on my own boat, it was not difficult. In fact, I get out of routine when I do have a crew and just get on the bank and help, when I don't really need to.

We eventually reached Anchor Bridge, between Atherstone and Nuneaton, with The Anchor pub close by, so we moored up for the night. Barry and the other two were cooking up a meal, so I took a torch and had a look for the weepy water leak, which I eventually discovered around a drain plug. Finding a spanner to fit, I tried to tighten it. Imagine my surprise when the drain plug and surrounding metal dropped into my hand, followed by a gush of water from the tank, where a ragged 1 inch diameter hole had appeared! It was own up time to Barry, as he was captain on this trip. As usual, he took it in his stride and had a look at the damage, saying that it was better to have happened now, rather than when we were in a hurry, or even out on the Thames with no convenient mooring. Between us, we soon had the tank off, despite the difficulty of hidden and inaccessible bolts. As there was silicon to hand, all we needed was something to cover and patch the hole, but what? A tin of fruit salad was opened and the crew were force fed, so that we could cut up the tin can with scissors to make a patch. Some cable was found and stripped as ties to go around the tank and the repair was complete. It was left to set off overnight, as we had yet to eat and get to the pub before before closing time, which we did with 40 mins to spare. The tank was refitted the following morning, refilled and there were no leaks!
Where is the drain plug?

Ah, there it is.

Repairs in hand.

Back in place.

The following day, the header tank had the cap removed, so as not to pressurize the cooling water and it all worked like magic, with not a drip in sight, although a close eye was kept on the engine performance There was the usual detritus under the bridges in Nuneaton, but no hold ups, as there can be when the pair are loaded. We did have a slight hold up later though, when following three other boats, who were travelling so slowly, that we caught up with them on tick-over. We squeezed past the first one, much to the surprise of the steerer, then the next one, which was a hire boat and he looked surprised too. The last boat pulled over to let us past and was cursing the creep at the back for being so slow. I think he must have had a problem getting past him earlier.

We were soon at Hawksbury Junction and I wanted to steer the motor around the 180 degree turn at Sutton Stop, having seen so many other boats make a mess of it. There was some discussion beforehand about which cross strap to remove on the turn, but as steerer, it was my decision and I removed the strap off the inside dolly as before. Whether this is correct, I am not sure, but it seemed to work for me. All went well and I got the motor around in one, without reversing. However, the butty scraped the inside of the turn, but that was down to the butty steerer! I was awarded 9/10 by the captain and I was rather chuffed as it was my first attempt. As always, when all goes well, there were no gongoozlers outside The Greyhound. It's like wetting yourself in a dark suit ....... you get a nice warm feeling, but nobody notices!
Slowly does it........

under the bridge..............

with the wick turned up............
butty steerer counter steering to push me round........

until home and dry. Where are the gongoozlers?
(All Sutton Stop photos by Barry Adams)

We continued on, without a stop at The Greyhound to celebrate, and were making good progress through Rugby and down the Barby Straight, when we approached a left hand bend, where a Union Canal Carriers hire boat was approaching in the opposite direction, with a group of pirates on board, obviously on a stag trip. They made no attempt at steering their boat and continued straight on, cutting across the canal and hitting Nuneaton with a resounding crash, pushing us even further into the bank than we already were, to try and avoid a collision. They all seemed to be speechless and no apologies were forthcoming as they continued on their merry way. Nuneaton's gunwhale had been pushed in by the impact by about 1 inch, although no internal damage was evident. It was fairly obvious to me, that the crew of the hire boat had probably taken over the boat at 3pm in Braunston, had about 40 minutes of basic instruction, before being let loose on their own, as they were approximately 1 hour out of Braunston at the time.

The indefatigable Captain.

On the lookout for pirates.
(Photo by Barry Adams)

We arrived at Braunston an hour later and found a breasted mooring for the pair. The crew packed bags and we set off for home, looking forward to good weather for the following weekend.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Etruria Canals Festival 8.

Oh dear, I had a bad night, up at 3am to go to the loo in the engine 'ole. Not a good experience, walking along the gunnel in PJ's, but with sandels on my feet, as there is a steel rung ladder to get down and bare feet is not an option! Then again at 6am - what's going on? I know it was a heavy session in The Star, but I'm rarely affected like this. After a cup of tea, about 7.30, I was sick - surely this was not a hangover? The last hangover I had was when I was about 21! "Self inflicted!" voiced the motley crew and I have to say I agreed, but not so it appeared, as the week wore on and the stomach upset continued until Friday, when the Co-Op diarrhoea tablets began to take control.

All this caused a feeling of debilitation and I can't say I was in top form winding paddles, so I had to have an occasional lie down to recoup some energy. Fortunately, we now had Graham back on board, as well as Dave Thompson for the day, so there were ample bodies to cope.

Approaching a bridge 'ole, a CRT work boat was moored the other side and very close to the bridge, which was going to be a tight squeeze for our pair. We had already removed the looby from the butty, knowing that bridges were extremely low close to Stoke. The work boat had moored there so that it was close to the vehicle for tools to do a repair on the boat, but there was ample room further back. The motor just got through, but the butty, being that little bit higher, caught the top cloths and strings on the bridge arch, so pushing all the top planks back by 3 inches. It was good that we had removed the looby, otherwise the box mast would have broken it's steel bracket yet again. With hindsight, I should have stopped and asked the CRT crew to move further back on their mooring. As we passed I suggested that they were too close to the bridge 'ole, to which they just laughed. Maybe a good bang on their bow would have made them realise their stupidity!

As we approached Fradley Top Lock, another boat was making an exit the other end, so the lock was against us. The motor was up to the top gates, with the butty on cross straps right behind. There was room for one boat only on the lock mooring, as there were moored boats immediately behind. On the outside, a permanently moored boat made the entrance very narrow, so I decided to refill the lock and take the motor through. Immediately I closed the bottom gates, there was hooting from a boat in the next lock, which was a good 400yds away, which I had already noted. As the lock was filling, a woman appeared, brandishing her windlass and in an obvious state of agitation, protesting that I had turned the lock against her boat. Now I can understand her frustration, as I have had it done to me on more than one occasion. Very politely, I pointed out the situation our boats were in and explained that if we tried to reverse out of the way, the pair would jack knife and block the cut, as well as possibly sustaining damage to other boats. I asked her what she would do in the under the circumstances, to which she had no answer, except that we were wasting water. Hardly relevant, as the water was running over the weirs. However, not to be outdone, she then said "The boat is going to hit the gate. The boat is going to hit the gate! THE BOAT IS GOING TO HIT THE GATE!!! WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS
Of course Barry touched the bottom gate with the bow, otherwise how does he know if the boat is right into the lock? At this point the man approached and started a rant, to which I replied "Sir, I have explained the situation to your wife," and then I walked away. As their boat entered the lock, I closed a bottom gate and they accepted my offer to draw one of the paddles, but only a little way on each one, so it was a slow process. No thoughts of holding the boat against the top gate on the engine and speeding things up then? It must have been a slow journey!

On Canal World Discussion Forum this posting appeared, which I presume was aimed at myself:-

 "Just go back from a fortnight cruise. Only one lock gate slammed in my face and the lock filled, and that was by a "working" boat who obviously didn't feel that the normal rules applied to him. Not a real working boat, I stress, just one of the heritage johnnies."

I did prepare a suitable reply, but the NBT chairman got in first, so it was not posted, but I publish it here anyway:-

Reply to Mrs Arsey

As the person responsible for making the concious decision to turn the lock against this boater, I would like to explain the reasons why.

1. The motor and butty (72ft each) were both empty and on cross straps, with bow in the head of the lock.

2. There was space for only one boat on the lock mooring.

3. Behind the lock mooring was a line of moored boats.

4. Another boat was moored on the opposite side to the lock mooring.

5. Reversing the pair to clear the head of the lock was not an option for the reasons 3 and 4 as well as the certainty of the butty jack knifing and the cut being blocked for a clear exit from the lock, which would delay all concerned and be a pointless exercise.

6. Had the boat owners been waiting below the lock and not 400yds away, to be asked if we could take the motor through before them, then we would have done so, if at all possible, as we have been doing on the rest of this trip. Needless to say, everyone, without exception, conceded to our former requests.

7. Just for you information, these boats carry 80 tonnes of coal each year.

And, by the way, my name is not "johnnie"!

Barry found this bye-law from BT:-

Operation of locks 25. No person shall:
(a) Open or close or attempt to open or close the gate of any lock
except by the means provided for that purpose or before the
water is level on both sides of the gate.
(b) Draw or operate any sluices until the lock-gates are closed.
(c) Operate or leave open any sluice so as to waste water.
(d) Operate any sluice otherwise than by means of the handle or
other device normally used for that purpose.
(e) Fill or empty any lock of water for the admission of any vessel
to the lock when there is another vessel approaching the lock
from the opposite direction and within two hundred yards thereof
and the level of the water in the lock is suitable for such
approaching vessel to enter the lock.

When the butty was picked up by the motor at the bottom of the lock, Graham had yet to get on board and the only option was on the butty, which is a difficult operation when the butty is stationary, let alone on the move, as it is so high out of the water when empty. He attempted to plant his bum on the back end beam, but did not quite make it and slid gracefully into the cut, though still hanging on to one of the side strings. Fortunately, his head did not go under, so he retained his hat and glasses. Barry slowed down further and pulled in close to a CRT work boat, by which time Graham had his feet on the bottom and could walk to it, where two hefty guys pulled him out, much to the amusement of all, except Graham of course. Luckily, he had a change of clothes with him, although his mobile got wet, but not enough to stop it working after a slow drying out.

Sadly, we passed by The Swan, aka The Mucky Duck at Fradley and made a clean turn on to the Coventry Canal, eventually reaching Alvecote for a meal and well deserved beers at The Samuel Barlow.

The following morning, the pair were moved to the dry dock at Grendon for blacking the hulls. This was to be a three day affair and there was only Barry and me left on board, although Setareh Campbell bravely made her first ever visit to the boats from Oxford to help. Rather a baptism of fire for her, as blacking is not one of the most delightful occupations in a dry dock that never is dry.

Despite wearing gloves, Barry had more black on his hands than I did!

The deeper skeg added to avoid the rudder being lifted.

The enlarged and greater pitched propeller.

The blacking began on Friday and three of us got one coat on. I turned up late on Saturday, after a puncture repair, only to find that there were five
people on the job, which was now complete, so job done. Sorry I was not there guys, but I have no guilty feelings and I can't help having a puncture!

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Etruria Canals Festival 7.

If you think you have already read this - you are right. I missed out Sunday, so go to Etruria Canals Festival 6 for that one.

We had decided to postpone departure until Monday, as John Mills and Graham Roberts were returning to join us for the trip back to Grendon for dry docking and blacking of the two hulls. Again the boats were on short cross straps and I managed to steer the pair back around the difficult turn at the junction and into the lock. All was going well, until Graham had a phone call to say that his wife had been taken to hospital and he obviously had to leave us as soon as possible. Fortunately, we were still in the outskirts of Stoke, so he was able to get to a rail station.

We were now three handed, which works fine, except that John Mills had to leave at the end of the day and if Graham was unable to return the following day, we were going to be down to two. Now the pair can be handled by a crew of two easily when there are no locks to contend with, but locking involves the butty steerer leaving the boat and attending to the lock, which makes it very strenuous indeed. Added to this complication, was the fact that John Stevens had recently twisted a new knee joint and was not as mobile as he was previously, so we would be virtually down to one and a half crew!

All the locks through Stoke were fine and we were dropping the motor through, followed by the butty immediately after if there were no other boats waiting to come up. If there were boats waiting, we would let them through before dropping the butty in the lock, unless there was a problem pulling the butty back from the top of the lock. In which case, the steerer of the waiting boat would be asked if they would allow us to bring the butty through first. In all cases our request was welcomed without hesitation. The motor was held back to the gate in the tail of the lock with a line, whilst this was being done and all had been fine, until we got to the Stone locks, when the full lock overflowed the bottom gate and began to fill the cabin - MY CABIN! Fortunately, I was able to release the line and pull the motor forward away from Niagra Falls, but not before several gallons had come aboard. All this was watched by a gongoozler from an adjoining bridge, who said not a word! Luckily, only the carpet and side bed got a drenching, although the coal box had to be pumped out.

We had got to The Star at Stone and John had already contacted NBT council members to try and raise another crew member, but no one was forthcoming at such short notice, so we were discussing the possibilities of the morrow with some apprehension, when a figure sidled up to our table from behind and sat down opposite. It was Our Saviour in the name of Barry Adams and were we surprised and relieved to see him - so relieved in fact that we both offered him a meal and beers on us for the remainder of the evening. He politely refused of course, being the generous person he is! Needless to say a good night was had by by all.

Sunday 9 June 2013

Etruria Canals Festival 6.

Oops! I have just been brought into line by Lynne, who pointed out that Sunday was missing from this blog, so here goes.

A short lye-in was in order this morning listening to the birds singing as dawn broke over Stoke-on-Trent to another fine day, by the look of things – how lucky we were.

The usual busying about the boats tidying this and that and getting ship shape for visitors. Lynne was self appointed galley slave, whilst the boys got on with the things boys have to do, like fixing up a working bike out of the three on board, changing over batteries from one boat to another and emptying the loo.  At midday it was time for another parade of boats. This time John took the helm of Nuneaton and we took the longer route to the winding point.

John setting off.(photo by Lynne)

Towards the junction. (photo by Lynne)
At the end of the run, when all the participating boats had moored up, it transpired that the final winding operation had been a competition to see who was best. John was honoured to be called up to the presentation and thought that the worst he could do was third place. Much to the amusement of all, he was presented with the wooden spoon for the worst performance. Oh well, we could all be there, as so much is down to luck on the day.
The Captain and his harem! (photo by Lynne)

Back at base, I went to see the lady blacksmith to see if she could tidy up some welding to a weed cutter that I had previously made and welded in a hurry. She was most obliging, doing it for nothing and kept me there talking for a long time about how she started smithing etc. I had made a similar weed cutter for my boat and it worked so well, I thought NBT should also have one, as there is no weed hatch on Nuneaton and any debris has to be dragged away from the propeller from the bank. Fortunately, on this trip, it was not needed and when we got to see the different propeller that had been recently fitted, it became obvious that it was not going to pick up so much rubbish as the old one. When it did pick up a small amount, it was easily shaken off by chucking back in reverse. Maybe I had wasted my time – we shall see.

I did manage to see the last tour of the beam engine in the Etruscan  bone mill late in the afternoon. Beam engines I am familiar with, but the method of grinding bone to add to the potters’ clay was a revelation, as huge rocks were pushed around by beams in a brick lined pan and the bone and calcined flint was thus crushed to a paste. I had expected something akin to grinding stones in a flour mill.       http://www.friendsofetruriamuseum.org.uk/index.html

After a meal on board kindly provided by Graham, he and I went off to find The Holy Inadequate pub. A folk group, all two of them, were playing in the main bar and for a Sunday evening the place was well filled. An excellent selection of beers on offer to round off the day.

Etruria Canals Festival 5.

Saturday, the first day of the festival dawned bright and sunny and we were hoping for a good crowd to visit the butty cabin. John and I still had to cloth up the cratch on the butty and string the side cloths as well as try and insert the uprights, which make the top planks far more rigid to walk on.
Ray and John Mills sorting cloths.

Tightening the side cloth strings.
With top planks on, that is the quickest way to get from one end of the boat to the other, even though it takes some nerve to walk along a 9 inch wide board eight feet above an empty hold, let alone the water on either side!
John Stevens walks the top planks.(photos by Lynne Cannon)

Once done, we were open for viewing and had a steady, but thin stream of visitors to the butty cabin all day. At midday, the parade of boats began and despite me having been too busy to the briefing earlier, we decided to take the motor only, as the butty would not only delay us, but the other boats when it came to winding at each end. Stephanie Goodacre had joined us by now and was happy to take the tiller for the event.  It has become feature of The Narrow Boat Trust of late, to allow visiting members to take either the butty tiller or motor tiller, as and if they wish when visiting for a short period, thus giving them the opportunity to keep in practice. As previously, winding in the muddy edged basin with wind on the beam, caused difficulty yet again, but by using the power of the engine to gain enough speed to counteract it, we were soon moored back alongside Brighton. The afternoon sped pleasantly by with visitors wanting to know about the boats, until it was time for the Curry Night in the beer tent, which seemed to be enjoyed by all those there. A perfect end to another perfect and busy day.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Etruria Canals Festival 4.

Another promising day with weather and another early start, with four Stone locks and three more at Meaford before breakfast. A long pound preceded Trentham lock and then we were into the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent, with all it's waste areas of old buildings raised to the ground.

At Stoke top lock, things became more interesting, as the turn into the Caldon Canal was far sharper than 90 degrees and the width of the cut there was about 100ft. I managed to get the motor round with only one reverse, but the butty was then stern against the bank. With a little more forward movement, John Stevens could then push off the bank and I could pivot the centre of the butty on the corner of the turn and get us both round.
Exit the lock and enter the Caldon turn - surprise!

That went well, but there was more to come, as we had to wind the pair of boats in a small basin with shallow edges. The harbour master advised me to wind the boats individually and pointed out the shallow edges. The butty was pulled round fore and aft and moored up and then it was my turn. Against advice, I decided to put the bow into the channel and let the strong wind push me round. This would have been OK, except that the stern was now in the mud at the side of the basin. With a bow line off and John pulling the stern round, we eventually got alongside the butty to moor up. What I have not mentioned is that the whole fiasco was being observed by Blossom Edge, Sue Cawson, John Yates et al! Why were they not watching on the turn, when everything went so well?

John and I spent the next three hours sorting out the right top cloths for each boat, which meant untying all the strings, laying the cloths on the ground and seeing which ones were the correct length for each boat. They were then folded and put in the hold of the appropriate boat, after which, the side cloth strings had to be retied over the top planks. Needless to say, after a hard days boating plus sorting the cloths, we were both cream crackered by 7pm and it was time for fish and chips in the beer tent and a little alimentary canal lubrication, by courtesy of The Holy Inadequate, a local CAMRA Pub of the Year.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Etruria Canals Festival 3.

At last, the day dawned bright and sunny, though still windy. We were heading for Stone and were away before breakfast, so as to get as far as possible, having made up 4 miles on our target the previous day.

It was a very pleasant run, with a short shopping stop at Rugeley, before crossing the Trent, which was flowing fast after all the rain. The views improved along the Trent valley now that we were out in the countryside again and we had a good clear run to Great Haywood, with few locks to interupt progress. We had a problem mooring in Stone, as there were boats there for the full seven days and probably longer. We did manage to overlap the waterpoint slightly, but not block it by any means and as we were to be off early again, it did not inconvenience anyone. The Star beconed for a meal, which came with a free bottle of very acceptable wine, if ordering for two people. Now this really was a first class pub, even though it was a Marston's house!

Etruria Canals Festival 2.

We were away from Alvecote at 9am, after a splendid breakfast of Shropshire oat cakes with cheese and bacon inside, which set us up for the morning. Weather was chilly, but mostly dry and we were aiming for Handsacre, which has a good collection of pubs. Glascote locks were a little busy and bow hauling the butty took extra time. After that there was the long pound up to Fradley Junction, where John Mills wound the motor round, but Graham cut the corner a bit too close on the butty. On through the Fradley three locks in the pouring rain and we were all pretty wet by then. It was just a few more miles to Handsacre and eventually we stopped at bridge 58 for an excellent home cooked curry made by John M, before visiting The Crown Inn. The beer on gap was Doombar, which went down a treat, but not a very salubrious pub and I suspect The Olde Peculiar might have been better.

Etruria Canals Festival 1.

This was to be my first trip with The Narrowboat Trust as a captain and I was looking forward to it with just a little trepidation. It was also the first trip of the season and the first visit to the 20th Etruria festival, as far as I was aware. Suddenly, the crew appeared as if by magic and my mentor John Stevens, wanted to know how it was that I had become the most popular captain in the Trust. Despite having about 120 members, several times each year we are short of members to crew the runs and now there was almost a surplus, not down to my popularity, but the attraction of going somewhere new. On the other hand, it could be that they wanted to see if I was up to the job, or going to make a hash of the whole thing. The pair of boats are moored at Alvecote through the winter months and a great deal of structural work had been done on the hulls, propeller and steering gear as well as internal maintenance by that ever happy band of Trust volunteers. Even though, as always on the first run of the year, there is a great deal to be done to get the boats shipshape, which kept John and I busy most of the afternoon, before John Mills and Graham Roberts turned up early evening. Normally, the top cloths would be removed when travelling empty, but the rain was persistent all day and the cloths needed folding up, so it was decided to leave them on for a while. The reason they are removed when empty, is that there is less wind resistance from side winds and less chance of being blown into the bank. We repaired to The Samuel Barlow for a meal and beers and in modern parlance a 'bonding session'. What an awful term! As always on these occasions, well lubricated talk turned to boating and the various experiences of each of us. Unfortunately, Bob Duncalf could not be with us, due to back trouble caused when making the bed! If you are reading this Bob, we wish you well soon.