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 14 May 2020

My Maiden Voyage on an Historic Pair 4

18th May 2011
Berko to Hunton Bridge
It was mostly an uneventful day of singling out between locks and breasting up for the locks. I should maybe explain that towing allows the pair to travel a little faster than being breasted up. If the boats were loaded, as they would be on a coal run, then they would travel either on a snatcher (up to about 40ft)  for the short pounds between locks or a snubber (about 70 to 100ft) for much longer pounds. The loaded boats are lower in the water which would impede the action of the motor propeller against the bow of the butty if on cross straps, but a longer tow line allows the butty steerer to keep out of the wash from the motor boat, by steering slightly to one side. At every double lock the towline is removed from the motor boat dollies by the motor steerer, which allows the butty to catch up the motor as they are entering the lock. While this is happening, the motor steerer is coiling in the tow line, which is then thrown or placed on the butty bow, allowing the butty free rein to steer into the lock alongside the motor boat, where both boats are tied together. Using the snatcher means there is less line to coil in at each lock.

Towing on a snatcher.

Towing on a snubber.

We eventually moored between Lock 72 and Bridge 162 at Hunton Bridge. Using a map of the waterways boats are located according to either bridge numbers of lock numbers, although there are some canals where the locks and bridges are named instead of numbers.
Janet left the boats here with her kit to cycle down the towpath to Watford and the train home. Having not been to Hunton Bridge before, no one knew where we could eat or drink, so we popped into the corner shop and got a good recommendation for The Kings Lodge Hotel with Hunters Bar and Restaurant. Dating from 1662 with an interesting historic ceiling and fireplace in the bar, I believe it was Henry VIII's lodge when he was hunting in this area. At the present time, all beers and shorts were on offer at £2.50 plus an excellent choice on the menu. Two servings of breast of duck and one sea bass later washed down with well deserved beer – superb after a hard day at the tiller! 

Another pub has re-opened there since writing this – The Kings Head, which serves a good choice of ales, but the food is not quite up to the same standard. It is also an historic pub with a minstrels’ gallery and other historical artefacts of interest.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

My Maiden Voyage on an Historic Pair 3.

16th May 2011
Fenny Stratford to Startops End.
I was awake at 6am ready for an early start at 8. Mouse was also up early and brought me coffee at 7.30. We made a start on time in sunny weather and were soon going up Stoke Hammond Three locks at Soulbury just north of Leighton Buzzard, where we stopped to shop at Tesco, right next to the convenient moorings. A little further south at Grove Lock, I spotted David B, from the Wey Navigations, exiting the pub with a pint in his hand. I am not sure which of us was more surprised, as he was unaware that I crewed a pair of working boats and I did not expect to see him north of London.
Eventually we were approaching Marsworth (Maffers) Bottom Lock towing on cross straps as usual, but it was decided to breast up going through the several double locks. The butty was let go and pulled in to the towpath side, slowing all the time, while I tried to wedge it between the motor bow and the bank to pull it to a stop, after which we tied the pair together. I should explain that the butty, being of lesser draught than the motor, always moors bankside where it is likely to be more shallow and it also gives the motor a better chance of moving the pair the following day with deeper water beneath the propeller giving good 'fan hold' as it is known.
We repaired to The Anglers Retreat at Startops End, for a pub meal at last and very good it was too, all being home cooked while you wait – no fast food here.
17th May 2011
Startops End to Berkhamsted.
Early breakfast cooked by Trevor and a 10am start up the eight Maffers Locks. These locks are within easy walking distance of each other, so whilst the pair were in one lock, the crew were ahead setting the one above, which makes for efficient travel between locks and only one person steering the pair. Most of the locks were in our favour anyway, which means that they were mostly empty of water and only required the bottom gates to be opened for the boats to enter – known as ‘an easy road’.

Working up Maffers.

Breasted pair exiting a Grand Union Lock.

Usually this section is very popular with ‘gongoozlers’ walking the towpath and I should perhaps explain what a gongoozler is. It is a term first defined in print by E.R. De Sallis in his book ‘A Handbook of Inland Navigation’ (1901) as an "idle and inquisitive person, who stands for prolonged periods staring at anything out of the common." It was derived from the Lincolnshire dialect ‘gawn and gooze’, to gawp at something and was probably coined by the navvies who dug the canals.
We stopped beyond the top lock to fill the water cans from the new type of tap enclosed in a stainless steel enclosure. It has been designed for a hose to fit on the tap and was most awkward to fill a water can without a short length of hose. All the water on a working boat is carried in the brightly painted Buckby cans on the cabin top and there is no provision or room for water tanks in a hold for commercial carrying.

Buckby Water Cans.

On reaching Berkhamsted (Berko), one of the crew was dropped off at The Crystal Palace pub to see what beers were on offer, before walking further to The Boat and The Rising Sun, so there was plenty of choice between them. Mooring just below the Rising Sun Lock, we ended up in The Riser, as it is commonly known for mild ale and Bateman’s Bitter after a recommendation from a guy on another boat. It was an excellent choice for beers, real cider and perry and snuff – 12 different types on the bar to sample, but no food. This was our treat after tackling the pair for a good clean up before we got to the show.

A busy day at The Riser.

Monday 4 May 2020

My Maiden Voyage on an Historic Pair. 2

Sunday 15th May

Blisworth to Fenny Stratford

I was awake at 05.30 to a lovely sunny start to the day. The fire had kept alight throughout the night and I could now add more coal from the coal box, which is also the back cabin step. It is an 18 ins drop from the top step to the coal box step – quite a surprise when I first encountered it!

Motor back cabin. The coal box is beneath my feet. 
Range to the right with drop down table further 
forward and bed 'ole nearest camera.

After tea, coffee and some additional shopping, just in case we couldn’t find a food pub later, the engine was fired up and we moved off towards Blisworth Tunnel with myself steering the motor accompanied by Mouse and Janet steering the butty with Trevor for company. We emerged about 40 mins later, having passed several boats without incident. There were no moorings to be had to display the pair at Stoke Bruerne, so we passed through two locks and moored in a long pound for a fried breakfast cooked by Mouse in the butty galley. As I washed and dried up, the others did several odd jobs around the boats.

                                                           Stoke Top Lock.

The Boat Inn at Stoke Bruerne.

Centre of Stoke Bruerne from Top Lock.

We set off again down the rest of the locks, with us all sharing steering of both boats and working the locks. The Stoke Locks are fairly close together, so the pair remained breasted up. After the locks, with myself steering the motor and the pair singled out (towing on cross straps), we approached a line of moored boats on the outside of a long bend. Being wary of trying to keep the pair away from the moored boats, I got out of the deep channel and begun to run aground on the outside (opposite to the towpath). Hoping to slide off the mud. I kept the boats moving, but was getting closer in towards the vegetation until I was forced to stop any further forward movement. Mouse went forward and attempted to shaft the bow off, but we were too stemmed up at that end to get pushed off. I then decided to drive the aft end off into deeper water and go astern, which of course caused a jack-knifing of the boats and forcing the butty stern deeper into the undergrowth. In the meantime, Janet was attempting to shaft the aft end out, but as I towed the butty further forward, she had to let go of the cabin shaft (boat hook), which was stuck in the mud. As soon as we were moving again, Trevor came forward from the cabin to hold an inquest into how this had happened – how was I supposed to concentrate on steering with him breathing down my neck wanting to know all the details. “Piss off and do it later!” I wrote in my log, although I didn’t say it at the time, but I told him in the pub after a couple of pints and we all laughed like drains. Another entry says that there is no gardening page in the NBT training manual, which needs remedying in future and that secateurs should be an essential part of boat equipment.
All went well after that incident until we moored up in Fenny Stratford just after 7pm and repaired to the Red Lion for a pint and food, only to find yet another pub with beer only on offer. So, it was back to the butty back cabin for pasta with a readymade tomato sauce and onions. Back to the pub for more beer (thirsty work is this historic boating with NBT) only to find that it was quiz night. It was not a pub that I would stop at in future (I wrote at the time), however I have been there many times since when on Stronghold. Canal pubs are very few and far between and advantage has to  be taken at every opportunity if you are a real ale lover.

The Red Lion, Fenny Stratford.

Saturday 2 May 2020

My Maiden Voyage on an Historic Pair 1


As so many other canal boaters in this pandemic of Coronavirus aka Covid-19 in March and April 2020, I am confined to the house, apart from daily exercise and shopping trips to the supermarket for supplies and to the pharmacy for any medical necessities. There is much that can be done in the house and garden, but I really have that annual urge to be boating on the canals and rivers of this land, more so as the weather improves towards summer. As I cannot write about my personal boating activities, I have been thinking about documenting my maiden voyage aboard Nuneaton and butty Brighton in 2011 from Braunston to the Rickmansworth Three Rivers Boat Festival. I will not take up space here describing the history of the pair of boats, because they can be found at https://www.narrowboattrust.org.uk/

I joined the NBT, as it is widely known the year before after meeting some of the crew on board the moored boats on the Thames at Oxford. I was towards the end of my Summer cruise on Stronghold and I pulled into the East Street moorings between Osney Bridge and Osney Lock for the night, where Nuneaton and Brighton were also moored up. I had intended just taking a photo or two, but got chatting to the crew of three and was given a membership application, which I duly completed. The following year I attended a work party on the boats at Alvecote for a Spring weekend, which gave me a chance to meet more of the crew and it was most enjoyable to be experiencing something entirely new to me, as well as meeting new friends with the same interests at heart. I had a lot to learn.

The Pair of Working Boats Moored at Osney.

The Voyage

Friday 13th May 2011

I had arranged to meet up with Trevor at 20.30 in the Tesco car park in Rickmansworth, so that we could travel together in his car. I moved my car into a quiet side road after loading bags into Trevor’s car and we set off for Braunston, 70 miles further north, where the boats were moored outside the marina. On arrival at Braunston we repaired to The Admiral Nelson pub, just in case they chanced to close early for lack of custom – we made a total of three customers even though it was Friday. Beer, I discovered later was to be an essential part of this trip. We learned that the pub had been taken over yet again by a tenant landlord, who had grand plans to keep the place open throughout the year. This place had been opened and closed more times than a pub lavatory door in the past few years. Finally, leaving at midnight, we left to find the boats, unload and go to bed.

This was my first experience of sleeping in a boatman’s cabin and it took a bit of getting used to! How was it possible for a family of two adults and several children to live, eat and sleep in a back cabin barely 6ft x 8ft?

Saturday 14th May 2011

Despite a late night, I was awake early and had a walk around Braunston Marina. Trevor was up and about when I returned and then set off to collect ‘Mouse’ from Rugby station. In the meantime I went to the Gongoozlers Rest for the full English. This is cafĂ© boat moored just outside the marina and was very convenient at the time. Trevor had returned with Mouse and joined me for breakfast after an early start to the day. We cast off at 10.30 heading south for Stoke Bruerne, about 9 hours away, with Brighton being towed on cross-straps behind Nuneaton. The reason for this style of towing is that the pair of boats were empty of any cargo and so floated quite high in the water. The bow of the butty is extremely high, so the wash from the motor boat can travel easily beneath the butty boat and the steerer of the butty only has to control the stern of the boat, keeping it clear of other boats, bridge ‘oles and banks.

We were now approaching Braunston Locks, a flight of six  spaced fairly close together. As the locks are of double width, two boats can be in one lock together, so they had to be separated and go in the lock side by side, to be breasted up, or just breasted. This is done on the move by the motor steerer as the pair enters the lock or just before. Both cross straps are removed  allowing the butty to continue moving forward under its own momentum, but slower than the motor boat and to one side or the other. Once in the lock the boats are then strapped together side by side and the bottom gates are closed, usually by the motor steerer. The lock is filled by the crew at the top gates by opening the ground paddles and then gate paddles, if available. Once filled, the top gates are opened allowing the pair to continue to the next lock, still breasted.

Working Braunston Bottom Lock

The locks were busy with other boats locking up and down too. Mouse was steering the pair, but I was offered the chance to steer through the last two locks. Prior to this, Trevor had wanted to see if I could “walk the plank”. To get easily from one end of the boat to the other, the top planks went from the cabin top at the stern to the cratch close to the bow. They were 11 ins wide and balanced on the top of the stands, but held in place by strings at intervals from the gunnels. I had done this previously when on the work party at Alvecote, so knew that I was capable. After the locks we were to enter Braunston Tunnel, but the pair had to be singled out first. Mouse went forward and released the bow line and I released the stern lines. This allowed the butty to slowly fall behind until I could grab hold of one of the cross straps and attach it to the opposite dolly on the motor, before getting hold of the other one and doing likewise. Thus we entered the tunnel keeping well to the right and slowing to tick over as we passed about five boats going in the opposite direction. On making our exit at the southern portal, the pair was slowed almost to a stop to pick up Janet and her Brompton fold up bike at a bridge ‘ole, where the water is normally deep enough to get right up to the bank.

Cross straps from forward Tee stud on 
butty boat to stern dollies on motor boat.

The difficult part of steering a pair becomes apparent when meeting another boat approaching a bridge ‘ole. If the pair are brought to a stop before the bridge in mid stream, they are likely to jack-knife in the middle and block the cut. Bear in mind that the total length is over 140 ft and hinged in the middle. Signalling to the approaching boat to either stop or come ahead are the only alternatives and timing your speed is paramount to success. If the other boat does not come through fast enough the results can be very interesting. With Janet steering the butty it was down to her to keep the aft end clear of other boats and the bank and it was up to me to keep her bows clear of these objects. If I got it wrong, then she got into difficulty at her end.

We worked down Whilton Locks and what promised to be a lovely sunny start to the day was now clouded over with a chilly wind blowing across the cut, which affected the unladen boats and tending to blow them onto the muddy shallows when slowed or stopped.
It was decided that we were not going to reach Stoke in time for a meal out, so we moored at Blisworth and walked to The Royal Oak, only to find that there was beer but no food available. I have to say that despite being a Greedy King pub, the two pints of ‘Britain’s Glory’ went down a treat and made up for not stopping at The New Inn at Buckby, where we would have got some food. We returned to the pair and Mouse cooked up a one pan meal of minced beef, potatoes and peas, while we discussed the possibility of cooking apple crumble in the oven of the coal fired range. Meanwhile, I had difficulty lighting the range in my cabin, mainly because the kindling was damp, but a sprinkling of white spirit did the trick after the match was dropped in, causing flames to reach the ceiling before I could get the lid back on. The cabin eventually cleared of smoke and I had a warm and comfortable night with the cabin doors ajar.