Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Onwards to Aynho

Onwards to Aynho
May 2017

You  will be wondering what happened to us..... Well, we have been making rapid southerly progress and I have had had little time to record events.  

 Butty polishing

Lapworth and Hatton all happened in a bit of a blur, with our passage assisted by Dan, who broke the back of the locking as far as Warwick where he departed and returned to Birmingham by train. 

Napton Sunset

With friends due to meet us on Saturday morning at the Blue Lias in Long Itchington we pressed on through Leamington Spa, doing our best to avoid the periodic downpours. We shared locks with a lovely couple from Droitwich who, after three years afloat, were taking their boat on a final cruise to Rugby where it had been sold. As the clock passed 6.00pm our enthusiasm ebbed and we moored just above the staircase pair.

We picked up Fi and Andy at the Blue Lias and gave them a crash course in lock operation as we entered the Stockton Brook flight. They were quick learners and were wielding windlasses like pro's by the time we reached Club Toplockicana! (you will know what I mean if you have been there). 

As an added bonus we stopped for tea with James and Amy "Willow" just below the Calcutt locks as they honeymooned their was to a new life at Bollington. Its ages singe we last met so this was a really special time.

Then it was on to Napton where full visitor moorings drove us up beyond lock four. The Folley was rammed on account of Mike's extensive birthday celebrations. Luckily we had booked a table and enjoyed a good meal in great company. Following our sales at Hawne there was enough room for the butty to be converted into sleeping accommodation. Dan had used it during his stay and with Fi and Andy occupying the motor we made use of its snug environs to have a passable nights sleep.

Fi and Andy stayed with us as we crossed the Wormleighton summit and amazingly enough, no other boat caught us or wanted to pass. After a lovely summers day they left us at The Wharf Inn in Fenny Compton and we made full use of the pub's launderette. Thats another weeks washing completed.

Monday saw us start our long descent to the Thames, making slow progress through the string of boats heading to Cropredy. We elected to press on and reached Banbury after a scorcher of a day, and as a bonus was flagged down for preserves as we entered the town and then sold more before we had even tied up opposite Castle Quays.

Tuesday was a gentle start, but not quite as gentle as we had planned. Helen wanted to do some shopping so we lingered in bed for a while but this reverie was brought to an abrupt end by a knock on the roof and someone asking for three jars of jam. She was duly served barefoot and in pajamas! Helen departed for the shops so I indulged in a spot of gentle polishing, only to lay down my polish time and again as boaters came seeking preserves! Cant complain about the level of ambient sales hereabouts.....

Tuesday was only ever going to be a half day travelling so we set off after lunch and worked our way down to Aynho, following most of the traffic and only one boat caught us up on his way to this home mooring at Aynho after a three week cruise round the Thames Ring.

Friday, 19 May 2017

CRT Elected Boaters meeting jottings

CRT Elected Boaters Meeting notes
May 2017

I attended a CRT Elected Boaters Representatives meeting last Wednesday at their new Aqua House offices in Lionel St, Birmingham, almost immediately below the BT Tower.

The following is a very brief summary of the key take away's I noted down:

Welfare activity
Sean Williams offered an insight into his work managing the Welfare side of the Trust. His department mainly offers a signposting service, putting boaters experiencing difficulties in touch with appropriate agencies. The main populations he helps are those with licensing issues, age related issued, mental health issues and money issues.
He explained how the Trust approached Equality adjustments and highlighted their close working relationship with the network of Waterways Chaplains, who they clearly value a lot. 

Their main aim to empower those with problems to continue to boat and they focus on the high risk cases where there is a real risk of a boat / home being taken out of the water.

To put this little known aspect of the Trusts work in context, Sean accepts about 20 direct referrals per month and they handle about 170 vulnerable cases pa.

One of their greatest challenges is to identify those in need of support, apart from the obvious licensing issues.

Vegetation and Dredging management
This is part of asset management and works closely with two NAG's.
A particular focus is offside vegetation management which is suffering from a historic backlog and whilst more money is being spent, it will take some time to get to a satisfactory situation.  The thought is that if contractors can break the back of it the volunteers can help keep on top of things.
Dredging prioritisation was discussed and the Peak Forest used as an example where 90% of the profiles were sub standard but due to low boat numbers it is not a priority waterway. Overall £8m of the Trusts £200m budget is being spent of dredging.
The lengthening of boats was highlighted as an issue as it is causing the deep water channel to meander and shoaling can become an issue.

Weed is now being tackled on a national basis and greater consistency is expected.

Air Quality government consultation
CRT are responding to a government request by 15th June.
Inland craft are not directly impacted in the review, but CRT wish to make sure our interests are represents to avoid and scope creep which would disadvantage boaters.
Whilst there was a lot of discussion about making boat propulsion "greener" there were few answers and we stressed that there would be almost nil interest in engine scrappage scheme, assuming a compliant marine diesel exists.
Discussion then moved to stove emissions and the problems this causes with land based neighbours, particularly in urban areas like Islington cutting. 
There is concern that new Mayors may try to anact local rules and CRT are keen to take action on a pre emptive basis to show we are doing what we can and are acting responsibly.

Stoppage Review

No Update - to be addressed at the next meeting.

License Review
Stage one telephone interviews complete covering a representative from all the major user groups. Results are available on line.
Stage two will examine the themes in more detail. 988 people responded and offered to participate - but only 135 places available over 9 days in various locations. Successful applicants have been notified.
Stage three will be an open invitation to comment following stage 2.
Clarification about the aim of the review was requested and we were advised:

  • There is a perception that the current system is overly complex and not particularly fair.
  • An opportunity exists to take a look at the issue and review it.

The revenue dimension was discussed and broadly the aim seems to be to keep it income neutral. The first stage will to be to agree a fair and logical structure and then to calibrate it to deliver the same (ish) income as at present.

The revised approach is slated to be presented to the Trustees in November and will be run past the Elected Boaters Representatives at an extra meeting in late summer.

London Mooring Strategy
Five focus groups have been held covering a range of stakeholders.
Will revert to the NAG and Elected Members.
The current limited changes to London Moorings have been in train for some years and are not part of this review.
An update will be released for comment in late May / June.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

What a wet one!

Hockley Heath
May 2017

I don't think I have ever seen the Birmingham Level fill so quickly.

For weeks the Birmingham Level has been nearly two bricks down, a reduction which left the tug boats iall sorts of problems and one  crew reported a 22 hour marathon to get from the Black Country Living Museum to Hawne Basin.

I have a soft spot for little buttys, even than they are really push tugs!

What we needed, we all agreed, was a bit of rain to fill the monster pound which extends for over 40 miles. Well today the heavens opened and water was spilling into the canal from every quarter. The forecast was for heavy rain all day and rain it did.

Tuesday saw us holed up in Birmingham doing some shopping, banking and washing before Helen was interviewed and photographed for a magazine article. During the evening she hosted her book group aboard the boat so Dan and I made ourselves scarce and had a delayed birthday meal and trip to see the latest Alien film.

But Dan isnt with us just for a jolly. He is also with us to help us down the locks to Warwick and for that we needed to get to Hockley Heath. The problem was the weather which was forecast to be awful all day - and so it was. Whilst I wouldn't tackle the locks in teeming rain, there is no reason not to travel if wrapped up in the right clothes. So it was waterproofs from the off at 7.30am and I did my best to shelter under my umbrella for the next 10 hours. We made slow but steady progress to Hockley Heath. As we travelled every pipe was gushing storm water and you could almost see the level rising and swamping the grass edges. By the end of the day the water was nearing the overflow weirs so it must have added a good 4 inches.

And so we sit perched and ready to make our descent. I will just have to prise Dan from his sleeping bag in the butty - no mean feat. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Around the Hawne

Around the Hawne
May 2017

Following our weekend in Alvechurch we spent three nights in Birmingham tucked away on a friends mooring at Symphony Court.

 Birmingham's BT Tower

The lay over gave me an opportunity to attend a CRT meeting, catch up on a load of domestic chores, not least visiting home to pick up the post and to undertake a mega wash session.

Trading spot at Hawne Basin

Then it was on to Hawne Basin at the end of the Dudley No2 for the 2017 Coombswood Trust bi annual open day. The trip there last Friday was in terrible weather with rain lashing down all the way to Netherton Tunnel but then, as we emerged at Bumble Hole the sun came out and we were sweltering. 

Boat trips in Hawne

The Dudley No 2 is never exactly fast but the Gosty Hill Tunnel is something else. True its low and narrow now at present its shallow too, particularly at the northern end where the tug used to be kept. There seems to be a scour of silt and we made very slow progress through the tunnel.

Official opening

For the open weekend the motor was moored in the rank of boats end on to the bank with the butty seemingly located in an obscure corner of the basin, a position which at first glance was not very promising. But hey, what do we know!.  It turned out that all the visitors did a lap of the basin and we were the only show in that quadrant, so loads stopped to chat, sample and buy. Whilst the weather was never overly warm, the rain did hold off for both days and we did a very good level of trade, and took the opportunity to fill our tank with diesel at 51p per litre - enough to reach Bath I suspect.

Atlas and Malus on show

The event was opened by Richard Parry and coincided with a celebration of Stewarts and LLoyds which attracted a clutch of BCN, tugs which gathered outside the basin. Notable among the tugs was Bittell, fresh from extensive restoration and resplendent is a new paint job.

A gleaming Bittell

The rain clouds returned for our return to Birmingham, this time accompanied by high winds which made for interesting towing. We left Hawne Basin just before Atlas, Malus and BCNS's workboat Phoenix, but was caught by Phoenix as we plodded through the Netherton Tunnel.  Our progress through tunnels is always a ponderous affair and rather than keep Geoff waiting I suggested they pass us mid way through. This unusual maneuver was completed and then it was suggested that Phoenix latched onto the front of Wand'ring Bark and we double head the towing of The Jam Butty. This speeded progress no end and we soon stretched a lead over the pair following - but whose light was obscured in the pall of diesel and fire smoke pumped out by Phoenix.

Playing tunnel tugs with Phoenix

The idea was to put Phoenix's engine under load for a while and give it a good de-coke, so we stayed in tandem all the way to Brades. Phoenix, Atlas and Malus headed off to Titford and the BCNS rally being staged next weekend and we plodded on through the rain to reach a very damp city centre at about 5.30 pm.

Wild Side duckling rescue service

Monday, 8 May 2017

All stop at Alvecurch

Alvechurch weekend
May 2017

I am not used to dawdling along and for the last week we have done little else.

With over a week to get to Birmingham from Droitwich we have been taking things slowly, very slowly. We don't want to be in Birmingham before Tuesday, so our destination for Monday night was Hopwood, the last countryside mooring before Wast Hill Tunnel and the West Midlands conurbation beyond.

With guests on board our schedule is being largely dictated by the availability (or non availability) of sanny stations (Barry dont laugh). There is a distinct absence of this essential facility in the area with the last being at Black Prince in Stoke Prior and the next being in Kings Norton. Luckily, for a small fee, ABC Leisure will let you use their "little room out the back" so we elected to set up camp on the 48 hour mooring opposite. Whilst the mooring may not be the quietest, there is lots to watch in a busy hire base.

I always find myself drawn to boats being craned out or in, with 15 tons dangling below an ancient crane and all depending on the integrity of a single shackle. Of course, these machines are regularly inspected and the operators trained in their use so there were no hitches, but you always wonder "what if ?"

Saturday was cold and windy but not withstanding this we had a steady trickle of customers wanting to buy preserves. Sunday, by contrast, was roasting hot so we sat out the back all afternoon and didn't sell a single  jar - inexplicable! On Sunday morning we decided to visit one of the local churches and initially St Lawrence was the hot favourite, but a closer inspection of their service times swung us in favour of the Baptist Church in Red Lion Street. This traditional Baptist chapel has just been extensively refurbished and the welcome was a good as the ambiance. 

Having used up our allotted 48 hours on the mooring we progressed on to Hopwood, a mere 2.5 miles distant stopping for water at the Lower Bittell Reservoir. The pressure is good but the associated mooring is horribly silted, which explains its lack of use. CRT have just spent a lot of money on the reservoir and its surrounds, dredging and piling the feeder from the canal to the upper reservoir. They have also spent a lot of money on electrically operated hydraulic stop gates in the bridge holes at either end which are needed should the embankment with canal on top breach. The lower reservoir is way down at present to accommodate the trout fishing club who wanted to net the fish, and are now chuntering about the time it is taking to refill.

The old lengthsman's house at the end of the reservoir is still empty and awaits CRT attention to make it let-able. It is quite an attractive three bedroom house but is probably unsaleable given its lack of foundations and its precarious closeness to water on all sides. Still, its a shame to see it empty. It appears that it suffers from damp and the remedy is to apply a waterproof membrane, insulation and rendering.

And so we arrive at Hopwood with a plan to visit the Hopwood House Inn for a meal this evening. And as for trade in this remote location - I had a queue within 15 minutes of our arrival!