Thursday, 9 April 2015

Wooden BCN Day Boats
April 2015

Whilst on the theme of wooden day boats, I notice that Birchills has just returned to the Black Country Living Mesuem having undergone extensive renovation at Alvecote. Birchills is one of the few surviving examples of these craft which used to number in the thousands and were the Ford Transits of the heaving industry in the area.

 Birchills BCLM April 2015

They were entirely functional and would rarely have looked as resplendent as Birchills does today.

I cant claim credit for these photos - these images are available on CWDF.

For the more technically minded there is a good description of their construction on AM Models website which is well worth a look. The relevant paragraph is reproduced below so I don't forget the details....

Wooden day boats were built of pine, deal or larch, side planks of 2" thickness, and bottoms of 3". Planks were either 9" wide or 12" , giving 4 or 5 planks to the boat side, and a depth of around 4ft. Side planks were spiked to large knees, at 3ft spacings and these in turn were spiked to the bottom planks.

A keelson joined up all the bottom planks to prevent vertical movement, and the width of the boat at gunwale level was held by beams dovetailed into the gunwale. Side planks were scarf jointed, and always spaced apart to prevent weakness. At each end of the boat, 3 extra guard boards were added; one at waterline in oak, one mid way in elm, and another oak board on the second plank down. Iron guards at both ends protected the woodwork from the inevitable rough handling these boats received. Cabins were constructed in deal boarding, were 5ft 6" long, with a headroom of 5ft 3". 

The sharp tumblehome was necessary to pass through the many small entrances to basins off the main canal. Inside the cabin, a bottle stove was on the left, and a bench on the right and across the cabin bulkhead. As the traffics on the BCN was short haul, the day boats were never intended to be slept in, hence the small size.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

BCN Gauging Plated 229

BCN Gauging Plates 229
April 2015

In a recent post I mentioned that I had recently acquired a pair of BCN Gauging Plates at auction, and after some repainting they will be applied to the bulkhead of Montgomery aka The Jam Butty.

In an ideal world such plates would remain with their original boat but sadly most of these boats are long gone and only a few artifacts remain as mementos for canal enthusiasts. I suppose I could refurbish them, screw then to a nice bit of wood and hang them on the wall at home, but that's not what I have in mind. If they can't adorn the original boat (which was made of wood and will have rotted away decades ago) why not let a new craft display this bit of inland waterways history? I wouldn't want anyone to be misled but given the Jam Butty's mongrel pedigree it seems better to let others see them in the context of at least a section of a BCN iron day boat.

The auction particulars provided some provenance stating that plates 229 were allocated to John Tool's boat Albert and that was about as far as my insight went. But never underestimate the power of the web and in particular the Canal World Discussion Forum. No sooner had I mentioned that I now own plates 229 than I was sent a photo of the BCN Gauging Register from 9th April 1922.

This register entry shows that the wooden craft had a day cabin, was 71' 6" long and 7' 1/2" wide with a hold 58' 4" long and 6' to 6' 3/4" wide and was registered to John Toole of Bilston. This is a neat twist because the general view is that the bows and hold of The Jam Butty were built for the Hickman fleet with operated also out of the Springvale works at Bilston. 

The register offers a fascinating insight into the theoretical maximum load weight of a BCN wooden butty, sitting seven inches deep unladen and 46 inches when loaded quite literally to the gunnels.

The register shows how weights were added in one ton increments and recording the steady reduction in the dry inches remaining. Its certainly true that they tested the craft to its limit and when an eye watering 40 tons was dropped into the hold there was just one third of an inch of free-board remaining. Not that a boat would ever travel with such a load partly for fear of sinking but also how far do you think a boat with a draft of just a tad under four feet would get?

Hopefully the plates will adorn The Jam Butty in time for its first outing of the 2015 trading season at St Richards Festival in May.

My thanks to Speedwheel for the images and the rest of the guys for interpreting the handwriting.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Bon Voyage - book review

Bon Voyage
edited by Michael Kerr
April 2015

This book puts me in mind of a meal I once had at Purnell's in Birmingham.

Purnells is one of Birmingham's few Michelin starred restaurants and offers a taster meal made up of about 10 courses featuring all their specialties. Bon Voyage is to watery travel what Purnells is to gastronomy, featuring 84 travel vignettes which have been featured in the Telegraph over the years.

Helen bought it for me because it features a number of articles about the early days of the Queen Mary 2 on which we will be returning from New York in October, and to offer a bit of context to this epic trans Atlantic crossing.

And yes, there are some interesting features about her construction, her groundings as she made her way out of the Clyde and the early journeys. But the book is much more than that. It offers a dazzling array of cameos or snippits of watery travel from around the globe. The geography may vary but the authors (or their subject) all seem to agree that its about the journey - not the destination. This is a sentiment I can really connect with.

The journeys cover the great liners, dirty little coasters, canoe journeys, river journeys, north and south poles with just one canal boat journey thrown in but even that was on the US Intra-coastal Waterway and not out diminutive canal system.

The problem with this sort of book is that an interesting tale has barely got started when its over, truncated and leaving you wanting more. And I guess that's the point. Its a taster of journeys undertaken begging the reader to follow in the writers footsteps or at least to buy a full account and read the account in detail.

I guess it has served its purpose in that I now haw a collection of boat based travel accounts I will trawl the shelves of second hand bookshops to find. And, of course, more material for future blog posts. 

Friday, 3 April 2015

Catch Up

Catch Up 
April 2015

And so we come to the end of our second week afloat and the moving in date has been delayed, but only by 6 days to the 16th April which will mean we have been afloat for about a month.

Its an odd period where all our stuff is in store and we are stuck in a kind of limbo, not quite belonging anywhere. Helen had been zipping back and forth to Nottingham and I have been making a rather tedious commute to work in Birmingham. I tried the southbound M6 once but never again. It took over an hour to get to the M5 so I now travel on the A5 / A452 through Cannock and Brownhills which is a but further bit means I complete the trip in a predicable 55 minutes.

One of Helen's nights away was Monday - the night of the storm. The wind howled over the exposed marina and the boat worked its mooring loose which meant that at 1.30 am I was outside tying the front rope to the boat next door, which lessened the bumping and eventually allowed me to get off to sleep again.

Life afloat is not the same as when we are travelling, and with the weather staying cold, wet and windy it makes the boat seem a bit small. Its all so much easier when have the front and back open plus all the bank as overflow living space. But its not long now till the weather warms, the leaves sprout, the rivers drop out of flood and we see life return to normal.

For now we continue to wear a groove in the road to Brownhills.

And so we stand on the threshold of a new era when several elements of our life plan come together. I will enter the final year of my employment, we will have a new smaller house, we will get cracking with the construction of a new workshop and a kitchen extension and Wand'ring Bark comes out of the water for re blacking just before the trip to the St Richards Festival in Droitwich. We are hoping that the Severn will drop by then and let us take the butty out onto the river for the first time.

If that's not enough, it looks like the boats may have a new home (more of that another time) plus we have a full programme of festivals to trade at and I have several European cities to visit for work. Busy, busy, busy....

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Going, Going, Gone

Historic Boat Club auction
March 2015

Going, Going, Gone pretty much sums up our lives at the moment.

Just over a week ago we said goodbye to our home of 25 years and decamped to the boats for an undefined but hopefully short period, whilst our new home comes available. After a week afloat things have moved on and with contracts signed it looks like we will be moving in within two weeks.

On a slightly more mundane level we attended the Historic Boat Club's auction in Weston last week, accompanied by Sandra and Barry (Home Brew Boat) as I had spotted a couple of items I fancied I could use. Sandra, Barry and Helen dutifully joined me in the auction room but I could sense their despair as, after and hour, we crawled to lot 50 out of 200! I took pity on them and suggested that they may like to suss out the local pub and see if there was any chance of seeing the end of the Six Nations Rugby Tournament.

The Woolpack turned out out to be a triumph with two screens and good beer as well. So I stayed with the auction as the Three Amigos supped ale and provided a steady stream of score updates by text.

Of course, the items I wanted were in the final quartile of the event and in any case, all items purchased had to be paid for at the end. I did cats a covetous eye over a couple of rather nice Buckby Cans, particularly the one marked Autherley. I gamely cast my bids through to about £120 when I dropped out only to see the bidding roar away to over £400 - far to rich for my pockets.

One of my targets was a BCN Gauging Plate for Montgomery (The Jam Butty) and there were several on offer. The going rate was £45 to £60 a plate, but I had my heart set on lot 157 - a pair of plates bearing the number 229 which once graced John Toole's boat Albert. Plates were often displayed as a pair and rather than bid for the early ones I decided to bide my time. As in all actions, I set myself a price limit and given the individual prices seemed to be over £50, I figured the pair would  go for over £100 - but as others may be using the same round  sum target I set my limit at £110. As it turned out  the last competing bid was £100 so I won them dead on my limit. Now they need a good clean up and repaint (black with white lettering) after which they will be applied to the exposed bulkhead of the butty.

The second item targeted was an old decorated cupboard door from a motor boat. Its an original door from an unknown boat which has been repainted in recent years and by the screws in the back has been a decoration which has been hung on the wall. Given the price being fetched by the decorated Buckby Cans and Masthead Lights I feared that the bidding for this item would soon go way beyond my grasp, but no. There was just one opening bid at £40 and it was mine for £50 - a bargain. 

Fortunately, I was sat next to the table set aside for payment so I settled within 10 mins and was in  the pub in 15 and able to watch the bulk of the hugely exciting England France game with the outcome of the tournament hanging in the balance right up to the final whistle. Even Sandra found herself applauding England in the final minutes.

Now what  am I going to to with a door from a boatman's cabin I hear you ask?. Its true that I already have one painter door in the butty, so its not for there. No, my intention for this item is completely practical and in keeping with its given purpose. I want to use it as a table in our cratch.

One of my winter jobs has been to build lockers in the cratch and only yesterday we visit ed Elite Furnishings with a pattern to have some seat covers made to fit. One of Mrs Ahabs long held wishes is to have the cratch usable to eat in, and that includes a table of some sort. The item in question looked to be exactly the size we want, and comes with authentic working boat history.

To be versatile the table had to hinge up and down and with a bit of giggery pokerey I managed to get it set at a hight which is comfortable to use and will fold up neatly within the dimension of the cratch windows. The challenge was the other end and a post underneath would damage the artwork - which was unacceptable. If you cant prop it up why not try suspension? A trip to the chandlers saw me rooting through their fittings and before long I has the items necessary to construct a removable chain.

The whole assemble need a bit of fettling after the cushions arrive but it works perfectly and most importantly, its carries Mrs Ahab's seal of approval.