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.

Monday 10 November 2014

The Autumn Fly-Run

The Autumn Fly Run

I think I should explain the title here, for anyone reading this that is unfamiliar with the history of the canal system. Long before good roads or the railway, water was the easiest and most comfortable way to travel. Fly-boats were the express vehicles of the time; able to travel at up to 10mph and drawn by several horses for 24hrs continuously. The horses were changed at intervals of course, at staging posts along the way. Fly-boats had total priority over any other boat on the system and beware any other boat getting in their way, which could have the tow line cut through by a large knife mounted on the bow for the purpose. Fly-boats were used for perishable goods and passengers. The last remaining fly-boat in existence is Saturn, which is often displayed at boat rallies. Being without an engine of course, she has to be towed by motor or horse. The following account is not of course a true fly-run, but is the closest that I have done to it.
More info. at:- http://www.saturnflyboat.org.uk/flyboats.htm

The Narrow Boat Trust boats, Nuneaton and Brighton had completed a very successful autumn coal run and were at Uxbridge awaiting a crew change for the final trip to the winter base at Alvecote. That was the objective, but there was a possible block to the route at Atherstone, where the lock flight was due to close for several weeks for repairs on Mon 3rd November. Although this would not be a problem in the summer months, the nights were now closing in with only about ten hours of daylight in which to move, it was going to prove a challenge.

As captain, I had planned to cruise for nine hours a day, which would get us to Atherstone top lock about midday on the following Sunday, arriving at Alvecote late afternoon. My crew were Colin Wilks, Barry Ashmore and Maggie Young; all experienced in handling the boats, so we were in good hands and I did not expect any problems.

Colin and I arrived the day before the rest of the crew, did some shopping for the trip and prepared for the last pick up of coal the next day. Went to The Good Yarn, a ‘Spoons pub for a meal in the evening, as I had CAMRA beer tokens to redeem, which made the beer even cheaper!

On Sunday, we unloaded the coal to be picked up later and had to shop again with a list of ingredients this time – I must try and think ahead! In the meantime, Colin had dealt with the coal order and I started the food prep. Barry and Maggie arrived around lunchtime and we let go to try and get a few hours ahead of the schedule. At Batchworth lock, it was just starting to get dark, so we found a mooring about half a mile further up and walked back to The White Bear, where we took advantage of the Indian food available in the pub. This pub changed hands a couple of years ago and is now quite an improvement over how it once was.
Don't cut the corner!
Monday dawned and we made a start at 06.30 hoping to make Berko  (Berkhamsted) before night fall, which we just managed. I phoned Alan Cummins early in the day to see if he would like to join us, as this is his territory. There was no reply until much later in the day, so it was too late, but he did meet us in The Riser (The Rising Sun) later for a pint. Unfortunately, he was unable to come out the following day either.
Just what are you doing there Barry?

Let go at 06.45, heading for the summit at Cowroast before descending the Maffers (Marsworth) flight breasted up, with Maggie steering from the top lock. From there on we were singled out on cross straps, as we were unloaded and could travel faster that way. Eventually, we did all the locks across “the fields” as far as Leighton Buzzard and found a suitable mooring on what was the old water point, which had rings and bollards to tie up to. This was Barry’s old stamping ground, so he knew which were the best pubs to visit. We ate out again that night, as the range oven was just not getting hot enough and was behaving more like a slow cooker! On investigation later, it was found that the flues surrounding the oven were choked with rust and soot and in need of a good clean out.
Maggie does Maffers in the sun.
You gotta keep the crew happy.
We pulled the pins at 06.30, hoping to make Stoke Bruerne that night. Fortunately, John Gibbs aka Gibbo was waiting at the bottom lock with windlass in hand to assist us up the flight. Barry reckoned we should moor up in the ‘Long Pond’, as he called it; meaning the long pound below the last two locks. However, now being mob handed, we made it to the top and thanks to Kathryn Doddington supplying the info, were able to tie up on rings just beyond Sculptor, before eating on board and repairing to The Boat later. We did the seven Stoke locks in 45mins, which is good going in my book.

Ian Palmer joined us on the quayside at 6am, with shopping for the remainder of the trip. He had also volunteered to act as chef and I have to say he surpassed all expectations with his imaginative and excellent menus; his motto being, “You got to keep the crew happy!”

We headed off at 07.20 through Blisworth Tunnel and on towards Braunston. The late start was due to a temperamental starter motor, the pinion of which had to be rotated with a screwdriver to get the commutator in the right place to make good contact.

It was good to see Vicky Morgan and son, Ben at Buckby locks. Vicky, who is our only female captain, had taken time off from the Trust from just before Ben’s birth two years ago. She took advantage of Maggie’s offer to hang on to Ben, while she steered into Buckby Top Lock. We look forward to the day when Ben is old enough to start steering the butty – another five years maybe?

Braunston appeared after the second tunnel of the day and I had a brief chat with Nick Strivens, a previous member of the Trust, whose house stands right beside the top lock. Passing through the lock next to the Admiral Nelson, who should appear from the pub, but our newest Honorary Life Member Malcolm Burge, who chided me for talking to him instead of drawing a paddle. His boat was moored further back on the pound and we were relieved to discover he hadn't broken down, but was just changing his prop shaft in a pleasant rural setting with an excellent pub to hand. We were soon down the five locks, mooring just above Butcher’s Bridge and close to the marina entrance at 16.20 – a good result.

Maggie’s husband Mark was on the towpath waiting to take her back home, so It was goodbye to her and I moved into the motor cabin for a good night’s sleep on my own. Sorry Barry, but you do snore!

I knew that there were showers here and Colin offered to go into the office and buy some shower tokens. He returned, not only with free tokens, but also the offer of a mooring in the marina for the pair if we required. It transpired that he had approached Tim Coghlan, the owner, with a sob story about the poor, dirty, deprived and exhausted state of the crew and had melted Tim’s heart.

As is expected of the captain to go down with the ship, I also was last to get into the shower. Colin had been warned about letting the shower system recover for about 15mins after showering, as it went haywire if used too soon after, but that there was more than enough hot water available for one shower. I turned on the shower with confidence and washed my hair and soaped all over................and that was when the shower cut off! Waiting for ten minutes in that condition was not funny, but wait I did, before inserting the last token in the box. Still no water, either hot or cold and now no tokens either. That’s when the electricity went off again! Fortunately, the gents wash room had plugs in the basins, so I braved the cold public corridor, filled a basin  and rinsed the soap off with my socks, as I never use a flannel. The crew cried in their beer when I eventually caught up with them in the pub. Sympathy? You must be joking. On second thoughts, maybe they were crying because we were in The Boat House and not in The Admiral Nelson!

The engine started first time the next morning and we pulled the pins at 07.20, making very good progress up the Barby Straight, where there are few moored boats to slow down for. Hillmorton was a breeze and although I had to wait for another boat to come through one lock, we did the three in 23mins. I was also aware of the chance of hanging up the boat in the RH top lock on a steel plate fixed to the bottom gate, as advised by Barry previously. It seems that if the bow is not in the mitre of the gate and ends up between the steel plate and the lock side, the bow gets wedged in that position, so causing it to hang, which can have the effect of sinking the boat in the lock.

The stop lock at Sutton’s Stop (Hawkesbury Junction) appeared at 15.00, so it had been another fast day. Ian steered the motor successfully round the turn in one and we then reversed onto the mooring by the services, breasted up. As we intended to eat at The Greyhound  (where else?), our booking for Saturday had been given up in favour of Friday and as the restaurant was now fully booked, we had to eat in the bar and ended up sharing a table with a couple from another boat. They were of course, plied with NBT leaflets, as were more folks the following morning, who showed an interest in the boats.
What a happy band.
Ian takes us around The Stop. (apologies for poor pic.)
Steve Smith and Roger Hart joined up at 06.45 the next morning. BigRog, as he likes to be known, had been a volunteer lock keeper on the Atherstone flight of locks for some time and had met Maggie previously, when she suggested that he might like to join us for a day. He ended up steering either the butty or the motor for the whole day during his time with us and very soon got the hang of it again after so long away from a boat.
BigRog takes the helm.
"I provide gourmet meals for you two and you treat me like an 'orse!"
Above Atherstone top lock. "Maffi fixed this. No charge"
Nothing to do with NBT, but he is a mate of mine.
We arrived at Alvecote at 16.30, having done Atherstone locks in two and three quarter hours. We had made up a whole day on the schedule that I had planned for the trip, which was due to an earlier start on the Sunday, slightly longer days than planned and not least, smooth working by a slick and experienced crew.

Ian Palmer picked up the remaining three of us and took us home to his house, where we were all able to have lovely hot showers and a magnificent roast Sunday lunch, before returning us to Alvecote for the night. Not only that, but he again came out to the moorings and drove us all to Tamworth station the following morning.   What a star!