Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Northern Pride

Northern Pride

As Walt Disney suggested, its a small, small world.

My reference to Northern Pride has nothing to do with Newcastle's Gay Pride Week, but everything to do with the narrowboat of the same name, and it's newly married crew.

Barry - sorry I lost the top of your heads - I couldnt see thing!

I have followed nb Northern Pride's movements round the country over the last few months, enjoying their mix of quality photography and witty writing, but never considering that there could be any link between us.

I was therefore surprised to get an e-mail from Belle (whilst at work - we do communicate verbally when we are in the same house!) to tell me that she had 'found' an old colleague from her midwifery days on Facebook, and they were travelling on a narrowboat, and that they run a blog, and that they are currently near Birmingham, and that we are going to see them on Tuesday evening.

Now these blind meetings with old friends and colleagues can sometimes be a bit hit and miss, but Sandra and Barry's boating credentials were strong so this was an opportunity to be embraced with open arms. So, Tuesday evening found us marching across one of the main roads out of Tamworth armed with beer and chocolate pudding, seeking out a gap in the hedge to reach the towpath. Not a typical start to a dinner party!

Sandra and Barry are a great couple, who are about to return to Barry's native New Zealand. It's got to be a tough life - a summer cruising round the English waterways and then back to New Zealand for their summer.

Sure, there were lots of reflections of the glory days of Midwifery past and the the woeful state of the industry (industry? - well they do call it labour...) today, but there were also lots of watery tales and they were huge fun to be with.

Sandra and Barry, thanks for a great night. Have a good trip back to New Zealand and don't neglect the blog.

See you next year.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Project Shower Room has started

Project Shower Room has started

After about 18 months of procrastination I have finally made a start of the shower room refit.

The catalyst was the procurement of a rather excellent inset basin from Mortimer Bones, which she had in turn acquired from someone else, but it didn't fit in the space available. Those of you that know Bones will appreciate that she has encountered this sort of setback on more than one occasion, hiccups that she describes with remarkable style.

In a burst of enthusiasm I decided to have a crack at making the basin surround first, using some measurements I took about six months ago. I can see that this is going to turn into a significant winter project so I will track is progress from time to time in my blog. I mapped out a template of surface on some scrap hardboard first, and then centred the basin on it on a best fit basis. After a few false starts I found the optimum position, marked round it and cut the hole out with a jigsaw.

I was relieved to find that the basin fits snugly into its cradle but not half as relieved as I will be when the end result fits into the space on the boat.

So far so good.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

A whole new perspective

A whole new perspective

After much thought and deliberation I have finally got my new camera. This is good news for everyone as hopefully the quality of the photos I post will start to improve.

I decided to go for the new Cannon 500D mainly because it was highly recommended in Which Digital Camera magazine, and it hit all the spots mentioned by my advisers, mainly nb Mr David and the skipper of the good ship Granny Buttons.

Oddly, among the massive number of features it boasts, just one stood out as absolutely crucial to the sort of photography I undertake. This feature is the time taken to get from switching on to the shutter clicking - which is essential for capturing those fleeting moments. I felt a bit like John Wayne as I tested out this aspect on the canal this afternoon. Jeff would spot something, point and I had to be as fast on the draw as possible. The responses of this camera are amazing - the electronics run faster than my index finger.

The photos on this page are a selection of sample shots taken on our way to the Fox and Anchor at Coven. I havn't got beyond the automatic settings yet - but its a start.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Hatherton Canal destroyed

Hatherton Canal Destroyed

There is something strangely compelling about photo's of canals in terminal decay.

I was having a look through the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust's website recently and came across some rare black and white images of the Churchbridge Locks in their final days. The Hatherton Canal was a late addition to the system, being constructed in 1859 to connect the Staffs and Worcester at Hatherton Junction to the Cannock Extension Canal to serve the coal industry.

Remains of Lock 5

Whilst coal was the canals reason for existence , ultimately it was also its undoing. Excavation methods developed and the 13 Churchbridge Locks were found to sit on top of a large seam of coal, coal which could be reached by open cast mining.

The canal closed in 1955 and within a couple of years the flight had been drained and the canal track completely obliterated. One look at what happened to the area makes you realise that the reinstatement of the canal is a physical impossibility - the land is no longer there!

The drained and partially destroyed Churchbridge Flight @ 1957

This sobering collection of black and white photos on their website is well worth a look.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

A benchmark of distance travelled

A benchmark of distance travelled

Getting a perspective on the distance travelled on any journey is never easy when you are still moving. Whilst this is true of physical movement, it is even more so with regard to other journeys in life.

The changes made to Wand’ring Bark represent a three year journey and it is sometimes hard to appreciate what has been achieved. It's only when I see the early photos of our trips on her, or refer to the repair and maintenance log that I see all the things that have changed, and hopefully improved.

A recent encounter with a sister boat caused me to reflect on this process. I had seen her earlier in the season, somewhere near Kinver, but I recently spotted her again, moored up near the Fox and Anchor at Coven. She is exactly the same length, with the same arrangement of windows. There are just a few details which are different, like the height of the rubbing strakes and the location of the Morse control, which suggests she may predate Wand’ring Bark by a year or two, but she is materially the same. She even sports the original not particularly beautiful maroon paint job that once graced the hull of WB.

NB Bella - twin sister of WB in a 'before' state
The boat seems to have originally been called Charlotte James, but the transfers bearing this insignia have been removed leaving a brighter silhouette on her flanks, a bit like an ex post office van. She now proudly bears her new name Bella on her bows, where Wand’ring Bark has her more traditional decals.

Both boats were fabricated by Floating Homes of Northamptonshire, who are not fashionable boatbuilders by any standards. However, by the time they built WB about 7 years ago they had rolled about 300 hulls off the production line and, to quote our surveyor, “had pretty much got the gremlins out of the system for a budget boat builder”. Floating Homes are actually part of a larger engineering concern which built, among other things, the Millennium Bridge in London, so they should know a thing or two about welding sheet steel.

You get what you pay for and we acquired a well fabricated three year old 10 x 6 x 4 hull and a little used Beta Greenline 38hp engine, with an interior that was functional but with scope for improvement. Floating Homes have a very fixed design format, which includes a few idiosyncrasies one of which I was unable to live with. Take a look at the scrolled hatch cover on Bella. I hated this embellishment from the off and it took all of five minutes with angle grinder to reduce this to a minimalist 5mm lip. I get the feeling that this feature is a ‘Floating Homes signature’ but why add it? Its curves are not echoed elsewhere on the boat and the ‘sticky up bit’ just got in the way of ropes, trees and low bridges. I am not sure we would have made it under Slaithwaite Bridge with this ferrous folly poking its head up from the cabin top.

Having said all the above, the fabric of the boat had performed very well during its first seven years on the water and, with lots of hard work and TLC, both the interior and exterior are moving towards the vision we had way back when we bought her.

Wand'ring Bark as she is today
Like boating itself, the journey towards the completion of Wand’ring bark is not to be hurried. The real enjoyment lies not in reaching a planned destination but in the journey itself. However, it is sometimes good to stop and reflect on progress achieved so far – a bit like life really.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Return from Brewood
13th September 2009

It was one of those magical mornings when I was roused from my slumber by the distant rhythmic thump, thump, thump of a very slow running vintage engine.

I crawled from my pit and shivered into an early morning mist, which was enveloping WB like a close fitting shroud. Last night’s clarity has given way to an autumnal fog, encrusting the cobwebs with a lattice of glistening jewels and cutting us off from everyone but nb Lynx, a traditional working boat moored in front of us.

Erik Bloodaxe emerges from the murk

Gradually the thump, thump, thump grew louder till at last the ancient bows of the tug Erik Bloodaxe emerged from the murk, great gout's of diesel smoke erupting from her huge exhaust. This is a craft I have seen many times, originally at Gailey but more recently at Brewood, but one which I have never seen on the move.

Whilst this was a carefree weekend to ourselves, we still had a timetable to keep. Jeff, you see, was at a youth camp being held at the Laches Centre in Coven, a name which the ardent bridge spotters among you will recognise as a canal side location. Rather than trek all the way back into Birmingham to pick him up, we had arranged to meet at the canal frontage at 2.00pm, necessitating a 10.30am start.

A perfect morning in Brewood
Given the absence of through traffic I didn’t anticipate seeing many other boats, but I had forgotten about the Wolverhampton Boat Club outing. It seems that they that booze together cruise together! It was a veritable Paddy's Market with boats winding at Chillington Wharf, all moving to and fro through the adjacent narrows.

Just beyond their impromptu gathering point I had spied a couple of BW work boats tied up on the offside bank, clearly part of the ongoing tree felling programme. This usually means a ready supply of logs and, with winter approaching, an extra ton of timber would be most acceptable. On the outbound leg I had peered into their holds and was disappointed to note a distinct absence of pre cut lumber. However, there appeared to be scope for foraging on the bank so I pulled alongside and, armed with a bow saw, dived into the brambles emerging with a dozen thigh thick trophies about two metres long. These were loaded into the bows till the well was completely full, much to the amusement of the passing boaters.

Free logs
Wolverhampton Boat Club was a hive of activity with its members busy shutting up their boats. Among this group was the crew of nb James Arthur, recently photographed by Granny Buttons ‘nearly hitting a grain barge’ on the Trent. I asked about the incident in all innocence, and was met with barrage of good humoured outrage and denial. Apparently, they had been nowhere near hitting the craft in question and, is seems, its was all a matter of perspective!

Moored at Laches Activity Centre, host to NBY 2009

We timed our return to perfection, our bows kissing the mooring at Laches Centre at 1.58pm and adding a very weary son to the crew for the last half hour. Oddly, he was resplendent in a very tight fitting girls tee shirt in brilliant fuscia pink. There are some areas of a boys life that are best left uninvesitigated….

And so to the end, past an unusually crowded Calf Heath Marina whose rapidly growing clientele were drinking in both the ale and the last of the summer sunshine. All in all a very enjoyable weekend during which we achieved a degree of carefreeness (my new word) to which we aspired in our New Years resolution but to date had failed miserably to achieve.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Indian Summer - Weekend to Brewood

Indian Summer - Weekend to Brewood
Saturday 13th September 2009
8 Miles
1 Lock
4 Hours

With Jeff away at a youth camp, Belle and I had a rare weekend of total freedom and where better to spend it than on the boat?

Not only were we child (or adolescent) free but the man from the Met Office promised wall to wall sunshine, a veritable Indian Summer in the dog days of the season.

We made a lazy start, not reaching Calf Heath till noon, but were soon on our way following the meandering course of the Staffs and Worcester, which mainly leads away from the towering chimneys of the Four Ashes chemical works. What a difference a week makes. With all the children back at school the boat movements have plummeted and the relative hustle and bustle of the Staffs and Worcs summit pound has given way to its more normal out of season solitude.

Even the delights of the Fox and Anchor at Coven failed to attract the boaters, with just nb Debdale moored up in the cutting - this time complete with my fellow blogger, who spotted Wand'ring Bark long before I saw him. We did pause at the pub, but only long enough for Belle to dash in and buy two pints of Tiger, a surprisingly sweet and pleasant guest ale.

The boatyard at Autherley was a hive of activity, with all staff busily engaged in cleaning and repairing their craft for the last few hirer's of the season. We then passed Wolverhampton Boat Club, which seemed unusually devoid of craft. Such a mass absence is unusual but was explained about three miles further on where we found them all grouped up beside Park Bridge (No 8), enjoying a late season club outing. As this club is a near neighbour we see a lot of their members on our travels, and I have to say that they are always a very friendly bunch.

We winded at Brewood Cruisers, but it seemed a shame to stop at the visitor moorings in the shady cutting. Instead, we reversed back 400 yards to a sun drenched spot out on the embankment, a location better suited to our desire to have a bank side barbecue.

With a bit of time to kill we went for a walk, picking up a couple of photos of Brewood's two aqueducts for my growing collection. They are not exactly classics, but worth a look none the less, and at least they provided a purpose to our wanderings.

We cooked our cheese filled steak burgers and smoked bacon steaks as the sun made its way to the horizon, all washed down with a couple of bottled of chilled beer. The remainder of the evening was spent watching Richard Curtis's "The Boat that Rocked", a fitting title for a day afloat. This underrated film follows the antics of a seaborne pirate radio station (aka Radio Caroline) to its Titanic like end in 1966. If you get to watch this on DVD be sure to watch the deleted scenes. They may not have been deemed necessary to the plot, but they are very funny as stand alone cameo's.

We had a bit of trouble with the little inverter which powers the laptop. It kept tripping till I ran the engine for 10 mins, so I suspect that our diminutive battery bank may be losing its effectiveness and be in need of a change on 2010 - at least there are only two of them.

And so to sleep in this most peaceful of locations, a moonless night lit only by the spread of the Milky Way - oh yes, and the light pollution of Wolverhampton!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Cromford Canal - Butterley Tunnel

Butterley Tunnel
Cromford Canal

You could say that this blog post is utterly Butterley, as it is entirely devoted to this 1 3/4 mile subterranean waterway route.

My towpath treck has now taken me from Cromford all the way through Ambergate and I now find myself, quite literally, at a watershed. It is a small miracle that William Jessop managed to maintain a level lockless pound for so many miles through very hilly country, but at Butterley his contour options ran out.

For Butterley Tunnel (originally known as Ripley Tunnel) coal was both its greatest triumph and ultimately the cause of its downfall. When originally constructed in 1794 it was the third longest canal tunnel in England, with its 2966 yards coming in just behind the Sapperton and Dudley. This makes it one of the earliest long tunnels and given its pioneering nature, it was built to small dimensions - a mere 9ft wide at the waterline.

Whilst this tunnel allowed the Cromford Canal to maintain its level course all the way to Pinxton, it also provided direct access to Butterley Carr Pit, for which an underground wharf was built approx 880 yards in from its western portal. The tunnel was constructed with 33 vertical access shafts, the deepest of which was an impressive 210 feet and, just to make things interesting, the tunnel was made to pass right under its own 50 acre reservoir on the hill above.

All went well for nearly 100 years, with the canal flourishing, even coping with the introduction of the railways. The tunnel itself had to evolve with the new railways, with a further 117 yard extension added to the western end to carry the tracks above. However, the tunnel's uneasy relationship coal mining finally caught up with it and the resulting subsidence triggered a series of collapses. The first was in 1889, which took 4 years to repair, only to collapse again in 1900. This time an Act of Parliament was needed to raise the funds to effect a repair and when a third collapse occurred in 1907, before the second repair had started, the canal was abandoned to its fate.

So it's now over 100 years since a craft navigated it's narrow channel, and about thirty years since an internal inspection was carried out by a team of intrepid souls. This group penetrated 1100 yards in from the west, before being halted by an increasingly unstable arch. This 1970's expedition yielded some fascinating photos which can be found on the Friends of Cromford Canal website.

With only 1/3rd of the bore explored in living memory, no one knows what state it really is in. The good news is that mining has long since ceased and and further subsidence is unlikely. Having said that, I am sure that repairs to allow a return of craft will be expensive.

The road to full reinstatement of this tunnel may be some way off, but with progress being made to push forward from Langley Mill on the Erewash to Pinxton, the Butterley Tunnel will be the next big obstacle to be overcome.

For the time being we will have to content ourselves with a glimpse of each end, a handful of internal photos and a stiff walk over the hill above.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Cromford Canal Walk - A610 Ripley Road to Butterley Tunnel

Canal Walk - Ripley Road Bridge to Western Portal of Butterley Tunnel
Sunday 7th Sept 2009

My Sunday outing with Tilly had the objective of reaching the western portal of the Butterley Tunnel and, as you may have noticed from my last blog entry, this last section wasn't covered. In actual fact we did make it to the tunnel mouth, but this last section is particularly interesting I feel it justifies an entry in its own right.

We shuttled the car round to the A610 and parked up in the entrance to a lane which branches off to the north, just before the roundabout with the A38. As previously mentioned, we didn't have the benefit of an OS map so it was a bit of an expedition into the unknown, which started with a scramble under the steel barrier which bears the inviting message "Private, no public right of way". I always take these messages with a pinch of salt and figure that as sins go, trespass is pretty low on the scale, and will probably be overlooked at the pearly gates. However, if my misdeeds are found out before I cross the Styx I generally find that a profuse apology and a rapid retreat works well enough!

On this occasion there was no one in the vicinity and we mooched our way to an abandoned farm, which is now used as a scrapyard and wood store, before branching off into the woods and down the hill in search of what we expected to be a bit of a boggy ditch. We were initially misled by a man made feeder stream, which could potentially have been a contour canal except that it's proportions seemed just too small. A bit more investigation and 50 feet of descent later and we found ourselves on a well made track which led to the western portal of the Butterley Tunnel itself. The Friends of the Canal (or the IWA WRG) have been hard at work in the area having recently erected a sturdy rail over the portal and some very fine steps down to the waters edge to facilitate a closer inspection.

The portal you see is clearly not the original, as the five foot aperture is far too small for a canal boat to pass through. This narrow chanel is in fact not part of the tunnel proper, and is in fact a later addition to carry the Ripley Bypass which runs above. The resulting corrugated concrete culvert is covered by iron bars to protect the canal enthusiasts (and small boys) from their own curiosity.

A steady flow of ochre tainted water flows from the entrance, similar in colour to that coming from the Harecastle Tunnel. This flow of water means that the canal track has to be maintained to prevent flooding as it makes its way west, under the A610 and off towards the hamlet at Bridle Lane.

The towpath had been cleared in recent weeks, and the return along the canal was a delight. Ariel photographs reveal this length as running in a deep cutting beside a large sewage works, but there is no sign of the installation from the tree lined waters edge.

This stretch of canal looks ready to carry craft, were it not for a blocked tunnel at one end and a 60 foot earth embankment at the other. The map describes this location as Ripley Road Bridge but there is no sign of any such structure. All that remains are two insignificant concrete pipes which will ultimately serve as a guide to the tunnel boring machine which will be needed to drive a full sized hole through.

A steep flight of steps allows you to reach the A610 and so a return to the car.

As for the tunnel itself? It is actually one of the longer tunnels on the system and, when restored, will be one of the major landmarks of the route, along with the new aqueduct over the A610 at Ambergate. I will take a look at the tunnel in a future blog entry but rest assured it will be based on research rather than first hand experience.

Enthusiastic as I am, I know which no entry signs are to be taken seriously.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Cromford Canal Walk - Buckland Hollow to Ripley Road

Cromford Canal Walk
Buckland Hollow Tunnel (Excavator Pub) to Ripley Road Bridge
Sunday 7th Sept 2009

My last visit to the Cromford Canal was back in April when I walked the Missing Link with Tilly, exploring the stretch from Watstendwell Station to The Excavator Pub at Buckland Hollow.

With another Sunday available we decided to try and walk the line a bit further, but had been warned that this section gets pretty indistinct. Ideally, I would have bought an OS map but sadly I wasn't very prepared and instead opted for a close examination of the Google Earth images accessed via the Friends of Cromford Canal website. I then made a couple of rough maps on some A4 paper and hoped for the best.

Tilly was nursing a sore ankle so we decided to tackle it in little stages, returning to the car at frequent intervals and try to leapfrog along the line. We therefore parked up in the Excavator Pub car park and set off under the railway bridge, which once spanned the cut. With a bit of imagination the line of the canal is reasonably clear in this area, striding out in a straight line between the trees, all filled in with rubble as it heads towards a large farm.

One problem with following a long extinct canal track is that it is very easy to get the levels slightly wrong and as we approached the farm the canal bed appeared to have been obliterated by the digging out of a fishing lake. Imagine our surprise when we spied, sitting at the far end of the lake, a perfect example of a canal bridge, all you need is a narrowboat to complete the scene. Far from merely infilling that canal the debris has been mounded up about 20 feet - but infill is easy to remove..

Beyond this lake the line is completely lost as it makes its way over meadowland, at which point we returned to the car and drove round to Bridle Lane with its cluster of what must have been old canal side houses. The bridge at Bridle Lane has been lowered, but the water pipe continues to arch its way over the canal bed. From Bridle Lane the towpath side of the canal is well defined in concrete and, given its remoteness, few obstructions have been placed in its course.

This length remains in water, with a steady flow draining out of the Butterley Tunnel and into the nearby streams via a couple of side sluices. To render this navigable one would only have to close the sluice gates (and pray the the banks hold!).

The next major structure is the road bridge at Hartsey Hill. The canal bed is remarkably clear at this point save a low level water pipe. Redirecting this at a higher level would appear to be a relatively simple job.

With the towpath deteriorating we approached a substantial house, with what appears to be a well maintained landing stage. However, this is the journey's end for now as forward progress was blocked by the towering ramparts of the A610 Ripley Road. This structure was built in the 1960's, presumably at the same time Bull Bridge Aqueduct was destroyed lower down the valley. The watercourse is now reduced to a couple of meagre looking concrete pipes navigable only by adventerous ducks and rats. Whilst it is a significant obstacle, the embankment is made of earth and it should be possible to bore a tunnel through without disturbing the traffic racing far above.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Floating Friends - part one

Floating Friends - part one

My boating cronies have mixed feelings about lending their craft out to friends and family, but most tend to the "not over my dead body" school of thought. I don't really share this view, but I am used to being in the minority on many things, so that's ok.

When we bought Wand'ring Bark I knew that there was a danger that I could become overly precious about the boat, so I made a pledge with myself to hold it lightly. We feel very blessed to have a narrowboat and part of that deal with myself was to let a limited number of friends and family use it from time to time. But I am not daft, this apparent generosity is limited to experienced boaters only.

So far WB has always returned largely unscathed, normally with less battle scars that when it is under my tender care.

A few weeks ago it was the turn of some close family, let's call them Oak, Hedge and Undergrowth. They travelled down from Scotland to spend a week relaxing in the Midlands which, of course, is a very natural thing to do. Having battled their way through heavy rain all the way south they were delighted to see the skies clear as they drove into the marina and then see it stay largely fine for their whole week afloat.

Oak has previous boating experience, and the pair of them even considered living on one till young Undergrowth emerged from among their roots. Based on this experience I saw them out of the marina entrance and, with about 10 secs warning made a leap for the bank and then stood there rather sadly watching them sail off into the sunset. They turned and saw my dejected face interpreting it as concern. However, by the time they got back they had really got the canal bug and realised their mistake. What they had seen as worry was in fact wistfulness and longing. No matter how many times I go out on the boat I still hanker after more, and at that moment I so dearly wanted to drift off up the Shroppie to Market Drayton and back. I will bet that there are a lot of people who would like to make that particular trip right now!

As for Oak, Hedge and Undergrowth, they had a great time. In their own words "it was fab, chilling out with some real cool boat dudes". I loved getting their nightly texts telling me of the progress achieved, and incidents encountered. Its not as good as being there, of course, but I derived a real pleasure from their obvious delight.

And WB? Well she returned materially unharmed save a graze or two which was easily rectified by a dab of paint. As a bonus Hedge gave us a framed photo of Wand'ring Bark moored outside the Fox and Anchor at Coven, which sits proudly in my study reminding me of past travels and adventures yet to come.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Tales from Tenerife - Pools of stress

Tales from Tenerife
Floating the stress away

I have mentioned it before but I will say it again - life in the Ahab household has been stressful of late. Tilly has been very challenging and the interventions of the Goon Squad have been worse than inept, making a difficult experience absolutely terrible.

All this has delivered scope for stress, gallons and gallons of the stuff which threatens to engulf us in it's sticky tide. Laughter may be the best medicine, but exercise is generally seen as a good preventative, so I am grasping every opportunity to vent all that pent up frustration.

The apartment in Los Gigantes comes complete with access to a rather magnificent communal swimming pool. I know the the communal part could be a bit off putting, but an unexpected benefit of the global recession has been the developers inability to sell most of the apartments, and those few which are owned and very rarely actually occupied (a bit like most narrowboats really). As a result the pool is rarely shared with more than a couple of other people at any one time, and you often have the facility all to yourself.

Each day I showed up at the pool on one or two occasions, doing a solitary 50 / 80 lengths under a golden sun. One problem with swimming is that I am obliged to abandon my glasses and, as a result, my surroundings blend into an impressionist sort of soft focus and I find myself swimming to and fro trying to work out the gender of any sunbathers without appearing to stare! Today I spent 30 minutes labouring under the worrying misapprehension that the thickset German gentleman was in fact a woman with a very ample bosom. Oops. I hope he didn't think I was ogling him.

I am sure that all this exercise is doing me loads of good but, if nothing else, short sighted gender guessing is a great way to disengage myself from events unfurling 2000 miles away.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Tales from Tenerife - lava wonderful

Tales from Tenerife

A lava good day

Time for an expedition to Garachio, on the north coast of the island.

Until 1703 the port of Garachio was the most significant habitation on the island, but then Mount Tiede intervened by sending streams of lava down its flanks and right through the high street of the town. Not content with destroying the town, the lava then continued on and completely filled the harbour leaving the residents with little option but to climb aboard their boats and set sail for a less dangerous location.

Poor Garachio never recovered and all that is left is a rather poor village perched atop a very fresh looking crust of solidified lava. It seems that the citizens of this village are a pragmatic bunch and having mourned the loss of their harbour, realised that the resulting rock formations forms a suite of spectacular natural bathing pools, all refreshed by the daily tides. In recent years they have built a series of walkways between these pools and turned the whole thing into a natural lido, which attracts tourists in huge numbers.

OK, you don't exactly have the place to yourself and the tattooed masses are much in evidence, but this was an experience not to be missed. Belle indulged in a spot of sun bathing and Shakespeare reading whilst Jeff and I sampled the delights of the various pools, jumping from ever higher rocky promontories. I must be getting old because I stopped at 10ft (when I touched the bottom of the pool) but Jeff carried on up to about 20 ft, timing his jump with the inrush of water.

In short - interesting history, fascinating geology and a truly unique swimming experience.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Tales from Tenerife - Flipper Uno

Tales from Tenerife

Aboard the good ship Flipper Uno

Amongst the myriad of quality boats that throng Los Gigantes harbour, one stands out from the crowd. I am referring to the Flipper Uno, a traditional fishing boat cum pirate ship which has plied its tourist trade for over 10 years - complete with ineffective sails, pirate models, fake cannons and a crew of salty old tars straight off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean.

We can see this strange craft set sail on its three times daily routine, eliciting cries of "the Flipper Uno, the Flipper Uno" from Belle and Jeff. Whilst it went against the Ahab grain, I agreed to take a trip during this years visit to the island, so found myself standing in the blazing sun one afternoon, waiting to board alongside a disturbingly large contingent of Europe's great unwashed.

I made free with my flexible friend and purchased three tickets, but as the time approached, I became more and more uneasy about the forthcoming experience. I finally told myself to approach this as I had approached Disney in the past, making what I could of the trip and looking beyond the superficial crassness of it all.

And do you know what? Within minutes of casting off and the opening bars of Pirates of the Caribbean fading away I found myself enjoying the swell beneath my feet, the wind in my hair and the spray on my face. What was more, the Pilot Whales we saw off the coast of La Gomera were impressive, as were the Dolphins leaping our wake under the towering cliffs of Los Gigantes.

The high point of the trip was the swim in the Playa de Masca bay. We anchored up and used a trapeze to jump into the cool waters. Being something of a big girls blouse, I had to raise the loudest shout as I leaped in, creating as huge a splash as my new slimline frame would allow, much to the delight of the spectators and official camera man.

All in all a great three hours and a very satisfying boating fix.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Huddersfield Narrow closed again

Huddersfield Narrow closed again
5th Sept 2009

The poor old Huddersfield Narrow is in trouble again. First it was a major breach at Slaithwaite in the east, then a problem at Pylon Lock in the west, then a lack of water above Huddersfield, then the guillotine lock gate above Slaithwaite becoming unsafe and now closure for the rest of the season due to a severe leak into Ramsden Mill, just above lock 14E.

It just hasn't been the HNC's year, and it all started so well.

Regular readers will remember that I travelled along the HNC from west to east in the spring, forming part of the first group of self steerers to pass through the Standedge Tunnel. I was captivated by this waterway which is, without doubt, my absolute favourite canal in the UK. I just wish more boaters could experience its delights first hand and not have to rely on second hand accounts.

The problem with the HNC, apart form the traffic limitations through the tunnel, is it's unreliability. At the present time it is impossible to plan a trip over the Southern Pennines with any degree of certainty that the passage will be possible. I may find this unpredictability something of an attraction, but must boaters don't like such uncertainty.

In common with other restoration projects, the HNC was made navigable, but only just.
  • The lock gates were bodged together and patched with plywood inserts
  • The paddle gear was old hydraulic stuff abandoned elsewhere in the 1970's
  • The canal was never really dredged with a narrow navigation channel created by moving silt to the margins (which has now migrated back again!).
  • The lock walls were not repointed, and therefore leak like crazy
  • The landing areas remain silted up, sometimes with the mooring bollards many metres from navigable water.
Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining. I am just stating what I experienced. Travelling along the HNC is something of a pioneering experience, but this isn't everyone's cup of tea. It is one thing to restore a waterway to a technically navigable standard but it is as big a job again to bring it up to full cruiseway standard which the masses will find acceptable.

I guess I am saying that the restoration of the HNC wasn't an end in itself, but was in fact just a very significant beginning. There is lots of work still to be done on the canal and it is a worry that the repeated closures could become more and more prolonged to the point that it is no longer a credible cruising route.

Lend the HNC your support by joining the Huddersfield Canal Society today.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Tales from Tenerife - Los Gigantes harbour

Tales from Tenerife

A boat for all seasons

Tenerife is something of a home from home for us.

Where Wand'ring Bark serves as a holiday retreat for Belle and I, some of our friends have more exotic arrangements which they kindly allow us to use from time to time.

Our dear friends, T&M happen to own a very large and lovely apartment in the Tenerife town of Los Gigantes, a property which has the most spectacular views over the town and along the row of enormous sea cliffs which rise 2000 feet straight out of the water.

I love the warm climate (20 to 30 degrees C all year) but I can tire of too much sun and inactivity so, within a couple of days of being there I was to be found prowling around the harbour wandering up and down the pontoons, having a good look at the wide variety of boats moored up. It's impossible to be in a place like this and not be tempted to play the "which one would I choose" game. At first glance the greedy child within me took over and I was drawn to the biggest and flashest gin palace, sporting the obligatory brace of scantily clad bathing beauties, which demanded close inspection. However, I soon found myself drooling over a gorgeous 50ft twin masted schooner, capable of sailing across the Atlantic.

The thing is that my passion for watery travel isn't restricted to the inland waterways. I know that if I lived on the coast I would almost certainly be tempted to buy a cruising boat and satisfy my desire to sail around the coast of Britain and beyond.

But enough of my dreams. Los Gigantes harbour is a great place for boat watching and, when you tire of observing the coming and goings, you can always watch the huge shoals of fish which patrol is aquamarine waters, fed by the visitors and protected by the harbour authorities.

My fascination with boats is shared by the owner of the apartment who idly explored the idea of having a craft in the marina, but baulked not at the price of the craft, which is similar to a narrowboat, but at the marina signing on fee of about £60,000, onto which one has to add the annual service fee! It makes our moorings look very cheap indeed.

All in all, this has to be one of my top 10 locations to sit and watch the sun go down into a glittering ocean.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Mutiny on the Bounty - book review

Mutiny on the Bounty - book review
by John Boyne

Following a recent viewing of 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas', Belle spotted a copy of this book in Waterstones, written by the same author. Having read it herself, she passed it on to me figuring that its watery theme would appeal.

The tale itself is well known to all but the twist for this is that Boyne tells the story from the prospective of a teenage boy, John Jacob Turnstile, who unexpectedly finds himself as the captain's personal servant. This unique position allowed the author to unpack the story with direct access to both the officers and the crew - a very neat device.

The story itself trips along and if you like Alexander Kent and Hornblower you will probably like this as well.

The book does, however, have two distinct failings which serve to detract from its overall quality:

1. Boyne picked up a number of unusual seafaring phrases, and then used them to death. The two phrases I have in mind were an attempt to describe a teenage boys sexual urges, but I grew very weary of his constant references to "having the motions" and being "on the tug". I leave you to work out what he was referring to.... I would suggest that this failing is more due to poor editing than poor writing.

2. The author is, at the time of the story, an illiterate but bright boy and the use of eloquent language is explained away by the book being written much later in his life. However, I found it irritating to see the literary style develop as the book progressed, with the latter chapters employing a vastly superior grasp of our language than was employed at the start. Sort of a book version of a continuity error.

All in all this is a good seafaring yarn, one of courage and cowardice where good eventually triumphs over evil. All in all a good read for boaters with a taste for a bit of salt in their literary diet.