BCN Challenge 2011
Part three - Birmingham
6.00pm to midnight
So we pick up the tale as we are leaving Smethwick just after 6.00pm, 10 hours into the Marathon Challenge.
Mr Whateley's beer supply service
Mr Truth is on ships cook duties and retired below to rustle up a chilli. My clumsy negotiation of Spon Lane Locks had already seen him nearly pierced his hand with a kitchen knife, so he kept a weather eye out for any more erratic steering. He therefore want entirely surprised when I veered off course and started to engage with a cyclist on the towpath. This passer by turned out to be none other than Mr Whateley, my recovery crew, who had decided to come out of the city and encourage us on our way.
Sarah - now one brolly to the good
Next Mt Truth was steering and he spied a boat coming towards us, but instead of moving to one side it continued on an intercept course and then the skipper stated waving frantically Mr T began muttering dark curses. I gave a cry of recognition and dived below to retrieve one of our umbrellas, which I promptly threw at the passing boat. "And what was all that about?" he asked. It was Sarah of the Book Barge making a very late start for Walsall, and I was fulfilling a promise to furnish her with some protection from the rain. Its taking Mt Truth a while to get used to all these boaty contacts and the recognition Wand'ring Bark is attracting these days.
Nick, tempting us away from the race
No sooner had we polished off the last of a truely movable feast than I zipped round Sherborne Wharf eliciting a cheery wave from Paul on nb Waterways Routes and then a blast of the horn at the rear of Nick and Victoria, owners of nb Star Searcher, brought then out waving a wine bottle and the gate keys. A quick debate ensued and we decided to forgo 30 mins of sleep and imbibe yet more liquid refreshment. I think its fair to say that our challenge was heavily lubricated by amber nectar, initially Mr Truth's supply, topped up by a relief supply from Mr Whateley and then we dug in hear to my stock of homebrew - Bark's Brew.
Old Turn Junction, Birmingham
We circled Worcester Bar to collect all available points and then it was down Farmers Bridge at 8.00pm which were polished off in about and hour. This descent was accompanied by shouts of joy and then agony as Manchester United suffered another defeat to Barcelona, all echoing from the flats which line the canal. Negotiating this stretch in the gloom of the evening accentuates the other-worldlyness of the flight, dossers shuffling in the shadows seeming suddenly menacing as I lock wheeled ahead.
Jeff in full flight
We arrived at Aston Junction at about 9.30pm and another tactical discussion ensued - move straight to Cuckoo Wharf for an 11.00 pm arrival or add the Digbeth Branch to our tally. It is double bubble to Dugbeth (Typhoo) Basin - but it only counts for the climb back up. Thats about 16 points plus a bonus 5 for the cryptic clue - 21 points for the hour and a half of extra time we has accumulated during the day. Whilst we were weary, this was the bonus we had been hoping for all day so down we plunged, accompanied to the soundtrack of Birmingham's Gay Pride Gig at the nearby Millenium Point. The chambers were bone dry so its likely that the last boat down was Yeoford early in the morning. As nothing was moving we left the bottom gates hanging open, surging into Typhoo Basin much to the surprise of couples entwined on towpath benches! A quick reverse and we were back at Aston Junction for 11.00pm.
Birmingham skyline at sunset
This was nearly a flight too far. We were all getting ratty and out previous slick operation started to fall apart and progress slowed. This slowing wasn't helped by not one but two jams in the locks. Firstly it was a big water bottle which had to be split with the boat hook before it could be wrenched free. A couple of locks on and we jammed against a floating concrete block. No, I didn't know they floated but this one did, like a little grey iceberg with 98% below the surface. More frantic reversing and pulling on ropes before we finally got clear.
BT Tower, Birmingham - still the city's tallest structure
The descent took an hour and a half and the crew nearly mutinied when my cavalier comment that there were 10 locks proved deficient to the tune of one. Finally, three very weary Challengers limped into Cuckoo Wharf at 12.30pm, trying hard not to disturb the moored boats, including Indigo Dream who had arrived from the opposite direction over three hours before.
This is my longest cruising day ever, 16.5 hours and an amazing tally of 86 locks. This eclipses my record by a huge 34, and I think its safe to say that its a record we are unlikely to beat.
After all that dashing around I was bone weary, but could I sleep? No way. I tossed and turned all night hardly sleeping a wink, all the time my watch was creeping round to 6.15am and our restart time.
More of all that tomorrow.