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.