Thursday, 4 January 2018

CRT Jottings - Boaters Representatives Meeting

CRT Boaters Representatives meeting
3 Jan 2018

Yesterday (3rd Jan) was one of the periodic meetings between CRT and the Elected Boater Representatives on the National Council, an opportunity to explore issues both parties want to raise.

The main subjects discussed on this occasion included:

1. Trust management restructure.

  • The aim behind this restructure is to improve efficiency and at the same time to improve agility to respond to customer needs.
  • The trust has operated for 5 years within the structure developed during the transition from BW and it is now an opportune time to update itself.
  • The 2014 centralisation changes had many positives outcomes, but also some negative impacts on the flexibility of regional teams, and this process will address these issues.
  • The Trust will move to six regions each with a Regional Director with teams to deploy according to local needs.
  • The elements of the Trust which are best served by a national approach will be retained (eg. water management).
  • The Waterways Partnerships will be revised to reflect the new regions and given a clearer mandate to develop local strategy, income generation and local engagement.
  • This process is on going with the statutory consultation starting in mid December and running till mid February.
  • All senior managers (about 85) are impacted, a population which will reduce as roles are redefined.
  • A simplified "flatter" management grading system will be adopted.
  • The Representatives flagged a number of potential issues at both a governance and a practical on the ground level, and these concerns were noted for consideration in the deployment planning process.
2. Short Term Moorings
  • The Feb 2015 paper was revisited to consider if it remains fit for purpose.
  • The feeling both within CRT and among the boater representatives is that the mooring strategy is being applied inconsistently
  • There was a feeling that a "Mooring Etiquette Guide" is needed to help define the standards which are to be encouraged.
  • Particular attention is needed in relation to disabled moorings (these are self policed and CRT do not validate boaters with disabilities)
  • The regional short term mooring period guidance should be clarified to achieve greater consistency when applied.
  • Guidance should also be offered on the expectation to close of gaps between moored boats to maximise the mooring availability, particularly in honeypot sites.
  • There is feedback that some fishermen are asking for spaces to be left between moored boats. It was clarified that this spacing arrangement applies in just two locations and covers just the Winter Moorings. The policy is not applicable generally.
  • The Etiquette issue will be developed within the Navigation Advisory Group (NAG).
3. Wide Beam Boats
  • Feedback was sought on issues relating to the increasing number of widebeam boats navigating and mooring on the canals.
  • Particular issues flagged up included the introduction of wide beams as houseboats on narrow canals, which therefore create a navigation obstacle, unless they remain within a purpose built marina.
  • The increased number of wide beam craft on the Grand Union was highlighted given the limitations of navigable width in the extant water channel. It was observed that the canal was never designed for nor does it have a history of extensive wide beam usage.
  • The disproportionate increase in the introduction of wide beam craft on the Grand Union over the last decade is raising the significance of the issue.
  • It was observed that most wide beams are intended for use as house boats and the need to continually cruise to satisfy the licensing rules actually causes the navigation issue raised. 
  • Ideally the creation of off line moorings for wide beam craft would reduce the numbers navigating to just the occasional relocation trip. This  would also encourage the development of unpowered houseboats more suited for use as a home. 
  • The costs associated with supporting wide beam passages through the Braunston and Blisworth Tunnels was raised.
  • CRT staff listen to the various issues and will consider them in their future planning.
4. Licensing Review
  • As at 18th Dec the third phase of the consultation process had attracted 10,915 responses, which equates to one third of the license holders. 
  • This is a very encouraging response rate and will provide a statistically credible picture of boater views. TONIC (the review contractor) are currently analysing the data with CRT in readiness for a Board Meeting at the end of January.
  • Any changes will be phased in from April 2019 (not the current licensing year).
  • The needs of business boats will be considered in the light of what is agreed for recreational boats and subject to its own consultation process.
5. London Mooring Strategy
  • So far 1250 responses have been received out of a target of 4500, with a few more coming in after an extended deadline.
  • Feedback is being reviewed internally by CRT and results are expected by the end of February.
  • Overall the process applied to this review has attracted positive feedback.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Pottering in Pelsall

Pottering about on Pelsall Common
January 2018

Regular readers will know that we have a certain fondness for Pelsall Common, enven in the depths of winter.

Many readers will be familiar with the much photographed iron roving bridge spanning the village side of the common with the towpath leading up the Cannock Extension Canal, usually shown with the Fingerpost Pub in the background.

What is less celebrated is the more humble Pelsall Works Bridge at the Bloxwich end of the common. But take a closer look at this workaday iron bridge and you will disocver that it too was built by the Horsley Ironworks (then known as the Horsley Iron and Coal Company on account of its coal mining activities in its early years). 

Sure this is a simple flat top iron bridge which can be found across the coal mining area, but this one carries the date [ ] which sets it apart as the oldest dated bridge from these celebrated casters from Tipton. And whats more, I think that the tell grace of the classic Horsley arch with cast embellishments can be detected even in this early example.

Local boaters please note that whilst there is a sign up notifying a navigation closure from 20th Jan to mid March for major bridge repairs, I have been told by CRT that these are likely to be pushed back into next winter.

Monday, 1 January 2018

The iron bridges of the BCN

The iron bridges of the BCN
January 2018

There was a brief gap in the weather this afternoon and where better to spend it than down by the New Main Line taking a good look at those graceful iron bridges built by the Horsley Iron Works of Tipton?

I am very familiar with these structures but I mostly see them in the summer when the views are often obscured by foliage. Here are a selection of my favourites from today:

Bromford Junction
This location offers two Horsley bridges, with the older and more ornate spanning the Old Main Line at the foot of Spon Lane Locks and the other, newer and more functional one spanning the New Main Line.

Galton Bridge
This is truly one of the wonders of the BCN, still spanning the Galton Valley with its lattice of iron girders still carrying a roadway and and stunning as the day it was built. The only problem is getting photos which do it justice. The addition of the railway bridge to the north and the tunnel to the south undermine the view. I love the embellishments built into the design which go far beyond functional and make it an object of beauty.

Engine Arm Aqueduct
And if one is impressed with Galton Bridge the Engine Arm Aqueduct will blow you away. Its not the longest or tallest aqueduct but it is probably the most ornate iron version. Whereas a simple iron trough would have functioned perfectly well, the builders went to town with the gothic detailing which sets this structure head and shoulders above the rest.

Happy 2018 and roll on those long summer days when we can return to these iconic structures from the comfort of our narrowboats.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

All pumped up

Water pump replacement
November 2017

We spent all summer with an ailing fresh water system which was quite literally held together with gaffer tape and cable ties, standard fare for boat bodgers like me!

New pump and strainer assembled on the bench

The water system has remained largely unaltered since we bought the boat 12 years ago so I guess it was time for a bit of attention and up grading.

The most pressing issue was the intermittent, but relentless drip from the hot pipe under the sink. Now this issue was probably self inflicted because when I built the new galley a couple of years ago I reused a section of tap tails to reduce the food grade hose to fittings which would work on a standard Ikea tap. In the process of swapping the pipework over I suspect I applied pressure to a plastic reducer which then split under the jubilee clip. Of course, this was not immediately apparent and just seemed to drip from a poor jubilee connection. As a result we spent five months with an ice cream container under the taps which we emptied periodically.

Out with the old

If that wasn't enough, the pump became increasingly rough when it operated, grinding away with failing bearings. Then there was the puny 1ltr accumulator which wouldn't hold pressure and so the knackered pump cycled away every 20 minutes or so and we resorted to turning it off overnight.

With the pump's end in sight I took the plunge and bought a complete  Jabasco pump and 5ltr accumulator assembly when we passed through Braunston in August, a precaution which ensured the old one lasted out the 2017 cruising season.

With the boat laid up for the winter the time came to strip out all the old kit and install the new. Of course, it was kind of inevitable I would be short of some fittings so a further visit to the chandlery was needed to source a water strainer, a replacement pipe reducer, a "T" insert and some extra water pipe.

The source of all those drips

All went together well till I discovered that I couldn't get a seal on the two brass reducers on the accumulator. It turned out that Midland Chandlers has supplied the correct brass fittings but failed to include any washers to seal the faces. Hurray for City Plumbing in Aldridge who raided their oddment box and so solved my problem for free. 

A proper sized accumulator

Whilst I was tearing the fresh water system to bits I also replaced the filter cartridge in the drinking water tap, a £90 import from General Ecology which saves us using bottled water. This was the first time I had changed in in 18 months and the old filter looked very dodgy even was trying out patience when in use. £90 is a high price each year but the convenience probably justifies the spend.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Stepping up a gear

Another new gearbox
October 2017

Yes, that's right - another new gearbox has been fitted into Wand'ring Bark.

Regular readers will remember the saga of our gearbox which had to be replaced by RCR back in May as we set of on our summer jaunt. Well, from the off I was never entirely convinced that all was well with the new PRM 125 lurking at the back of the engine. When I engaged reverse it always dropped in with a solid thunk but forward was always a silky smooth affair, so silky that from time to time it didn't engage and the gearbox slipped for a few seconds before biting, and then all was well for the day.

Initially I put this down to a slightly overfilled gearbox and so after a week or so, I drained the ATF down to the level of the drain plug. This seemed to fix the slipping problem but it still didn't engage very positively. All was well till we got back to the Midlands and then, after the Black Country Boating Festival it started to slip most mornings. 

At that stage I could have called RCR who did the original replacement, but as the gearbox worked when warm and we were just a few days from home I decided to get the boat back to base and then consider my options. An inspection of the ATF revealed a dark red liquid rather then the cherry red I was expecting, and something was clearly amiss. A call went out to RCR asking for a review under their warranty, but there is no hurry said I, as I only live 10 mins from the boat.

This morning I received a call from RCR to say an engineer was on his way and could I get to our boat in 10 mins? Well, I was just finishing my breakfast so I stretched it to 15 mins and sure enough there was an RCR van waiting for me as I arrived. At this stage I was expecting a quick 10 minute inspection to assess the situation and decide what to do next, but then the apprentice bent into the van and out came a brand new PRM gearbox. Clearly this was not going to be a quick job.....

I set to cleaning the boat ready for a council hygiene inspection tomorrow whilst the engineers set about the task of removing and installing the gearbox. It appears that this is quite a common problem with mechanical gearboxes where the cone clutches fail to engage fully and slip till the metal warms up and expands. The diagnosis I offered on the phone was so typical that a replacement was immediately ordered from PRM who ended up paying RCR to fit a replacement unit.

All this activity was played out under the strangest of red skies drought on by a mix of Saharan dust and ask from Spanish forest fires, all carried to us on the periphery of a hurricane tracking north up the west coast of Ireland.

I have to say that situations like this confirm the wisdom of having big jobs done by RCR's contracting arm. Had the gearbox been replaced by a boatyard somewhere outside the Midlands how would I have had it repaired and would it have been done promptly and with good grace? At least with RCR I am more than a one off transaction and they place a value on their reputation. Their communications leave a bit to be desired, but when the chips are down they are always there and if things go wrong they will come back and sort things out without quibble. That sort of peace of mind has got to be worth something.