Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A Breasted Pair

Stourport to Worcester
April 2015

Today was a big day for us. This was the first time we got to try out the pair of boats on moving water - the River Severn in this case. 

Getting out of Stourport was one long series of delays, wait for water to heat, wait for showers, wait for the slow water tap, wait for and finally wait for the locks and finally wait for C&RT to replace the paddles on one of the narrow locks. In the end one of C&RT staff let us down the Barge Locks, consuming an estimated 95,000 gallons of water and visibly reducing the level of water in the basin as a result.

Stourbridge Basin

This change of plans had an upside in that we were able to assemble the pair abreast configuration before we reached the river. I had been warned to expect the abreast pair to "handle like a pig" but in the event it was a surprisingly benign pairing.

We set the butty at the stern of Wand'ring Bark and there was none of the innate slew I had expected. Sure the speed was down a bit for river travel - a trace over 4 mph with a nominal current in our favour, but we made good time and found ourselves in Worcester just over four hours out of Stourbridge.

Stourbridge Barge Lock

Another day which confounded the forecast with loads of sweun but a biting wind in the shade. The weather for the weekend isnt looking great but hopefully with the gazebo up we will be fine.

Tomorrow we head north back to the start of the Droitwich Barge Canal and on to the festival ground in Vines Park.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

South to Stourport

Bratch to Stourport
April 2015

Before you go jumping to conclusions, we didn't go from Bratch to Stourport in a single day! I missed last nights post so this covers two days cruising in unexpected sunshine.

Heading south on the Staffs and Worcs.

Monday saw us descent the Bratch and in the course of our travels we only saw half a dozen boats on the move. The day in itself was unremarkable with a fender finding its way onto the prop at Swindon and then a facilities stop at Greensforge. We spent the night at Kinver and much to our surprise we were assailed by the few boats present demanding jam! At the time I was indulging in a spot of sea searcher fishing but in the event found only a 2p coin - and concluded I was a better preserve seller than mudlark!

The pair at Kidderminster

It was a chilly night with the water pooling under the handrails on The Butty freezing solid! After a chilly and breezy start the day improved and there was some excellent sunlight for photography. We paused at Sainsburys in Kidderminster for a spot of lunch and supplies and again attracted a crowd around the butty and all lest loaded down with Wildside bags and our coffers were £50 heavier! 

Bluebells on the Staffs and Worcs

We tootled along to Stourport, The Jam Butty riding smoothly in our wake and to round off the day fish and chips were purchased from Pats, the best chippy in town and only a minute away from the moorings.

The Jam Butty in Kidderminster

Sunday, 26 April 2015

We are on our way to Droitwich!

Droitwich Bound
April 2015

Well, its the end of another era - after nine years at Calf Heath Marina we have finally left for the very last time.

We have just set out on a leisurely journey to St Richards Festival in Droitwich and after a two week lay over before the Alvechurch festival we will be taking the boats  back to their new home at Longwood Boat Club on the Doe End Canal.

Out first task was to sort out all the preserves which have been locked away for the last couple of months and then load them into the butty ready for our trip south. Our first evening was only as far as the Fox and Anchor in Coven but along the way we passed Tycho in her new livery  and Comfortably Numb and Echoes en route to Norbury.

Wightwick Manor

Our second day was down the Staffs and Worcs stopping at Wightwick to visit the National Trust property for the first time. If you are ever in the area this is an Arts and Crafts gem just five minutes walk from the canal and three miles from Wolverhampton.

It was the home of the Mander family who owned the paint empire and who played a prominent role in Government just before WW2. The house is a splendid tribute to William Morris et (Pre Raphelites) and is probably the finest house of its type, harking back to an older and simpler way of life.

Main hall Wightwick Manor

As for the boats, they are having their share of early season glitches including a proken door hinge on the butty, now jury rigged with plastic ties and the Morse control's innards all came apart but luckily all the bits staked in the baot and I was able to reassemble it as we stopped on the visitor moorings just above Bratch Locks.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Black Look

Blacking 2015
April 2015

Its three and a half years since the bottom of Wand'ring Bark saw the light of day and with the best will in the world, the last DIY blacking had past its best.

 The rugged look

That said, it was standard Spencer Coatings Sealex bitumen and it had lasted far longer than I had expected. Almost no flaking but an accumulation of scrapes had started to tell.

The boat was craned out of the water in Phil Jones yard in Calf Heath but by a most unfortunate coincidence we also moved into our new house on the same weekend. The result was a frantic weekend with time divided between boatyard and all those packing cases at home.

Martin pressure washing

Fortunately I have some help in the shape of Mr Whateley who gamely pitched in and help with the blacking process, wielding the pressure washer as I worked over the hull with a Tercoo Roto Blaster dics. Between us we made a very thorough job of stripping the hull back to steel / primer and by the end of the first day we had a first coat of blacking applied to the section above the waterline.

A clean hull ready for a new coat of blacking

This is the second time I have used a roto blaster and at £50 for a twin disc its is a great investment as the key it offers to the blacking stretches the replacement period by at least a year. However, it is an incredibly dirty job and resulted in a very black face which resisted all but the most vigorous washing to make me respectable for a posh meal out in the evening. 

The boat is now 12 years old so I was on the look out for signs of significant pitting but thankfully it was made of good British steel and what rust there was was very shallow and we don't forsee any significant problems for over 15 years.

The end of day one

The following three days saw repeated visits to the boatyard to apply further coats of blacking (in the end we applied 25 litres to the 42ft boat) and then to undercoat, topcoat and anti slip the gunnels.

The end result was very satisfying. A thick coating of bitumen to the hull and a revitalised red band round the boat. The only thing which had to be delayed was an internal repaint of the water tank in the bows. It proved to be a job too far and will have to wait for another day.

You may wonder why I do a DIY blacking. The answer is that I like to keep an eye on the state of the hull and I also like to know that the protective layer has been applied thoroughly and with a very thick protective coat. Yes, a lot of effort but well worth it.

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....