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!

Sunday, 7 May 2017


May 2017

Having had the new gearbox installed we set off up the Droitwich Narrow Canal, mooring near Hanbury Junction for Wedneday night. Then it was an easy day to the Queens Head where we sampled some rather fine G&T's. The mooring opposite the Queens Head is ok, but as Thursday included live music it was a bit noisy till 11.00pm.

The last boat at the Droitwich Party!

Friday was the big push up the thick of the Tardebigge flight, something we were a bit nervous about given Helen's limited strength and the high easterly wind which made towing very tricky. In the end we swapped back and forth, with me winding the paddles and then steering the more tricky pounds where the cross wind was likely to blow the boats onto the shallow offside.

Starting Tardebigge

The first 10 locks were awash with water and it appears that a boat we passed was leaving the paddles open. From then on the pounds were over two feet down which gave us trouble getting the butty over the cills of some locks. This shortage of water continued till we reached the water take off to the reservoir.

Radio Tardebigge gets ever bigger

We stopped just before the top lock, selling some jam to fellow boaters who came over to see the butty.

Saturday was an easy day, using the Tardebigge facilities before pressing on to Alvechurch. Oddly, by passage through Tardebigge Tunnel was simple but then it all fell apart in Shortwood Tunnel. Firstly Helen decided to light a fire just before we entered and then about a third of the way through the butty decided to have a mind of its own and swung from side to side. Nothing I did could bring it to heel and, of course, that was the time we had to encounter another boat! In the and I found myself glued to the left hand wall and the oncoming boat went past on the "wrong" side.

Hmm - a bit of smoke! sorry......

Then, as if by magic, the butty centred up and out we came, shrouded on a huge pall of smoke. My apologies to the boat we passed, who took it all in good part - all in all I made a right mess of it!

So we ended up opposite ABC Leisure's base in Alvechurch where we will spend the weekend. The preserve menu board was put up and as a result we had a steady trickle of customers buying a sample of our wares.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Lowdown on the gearbox

Lowdown on the gearbox
May 2017

Thanks to all of you who expressed such concern about our gearbox.

I am glad to say that our problems have now been resolved with a broken 120 PRM removed and replaced with a shiny silver 125, fresh from Beta.

The plastic bits shouldn't stick out.....

To be honest my biggest fear was that having removed and replaced the gearbox the problem would be diagnosed as a twopenny ha'penny washer, or something like it. As it turned out the contractors had real trouble getting the old one out. Firstly they tried to withdraw the propshaft only to see the driveshaft pulling out of the gearbox, which was unexpected as it is supposed to be held on by a locked nut. This problem resulted in a 24 hour delay whilst a puller was obtained.

On day two we had two engineers turn up at 8.30am and this time progress stalled when they attempted to remove the old drive plate from the flywheel. It appears that when it was first assembled the allen studs were imperial and, of course, the only keys they had were metric!

This is how a drive plate shouldn't look!

With this problem resolved the old driveplate was extracted and whaa sorry state it was in.
For those of you unfamiliar with the inner workings of the bell housing the driveshaft from the engine leads into a flywheel which is then attached to a driveplate which is two steel plates riveted to each other via a PVC buffer made by R&D. The old one had almost completely collapsed and was held together with just one rivet! Bits of the plastic buffer were splayed out all over the place and its a miracle it had held together at all.

Then the driveshaft passes into a gearbox which is a simple forward / backward / neutral mechanical affair bathed in automatic transmission fluid. This then attached to the propshaft which includes a Centaflex coupling which absorbs more of the shocks before it goues out to the propeller via the stern gland, which is lubricated by grease and packed with tarry rope.

With no retaining nut on inside the gearbox I am surprised the propeller hadn't pulled the shaft out when in reverse! From the hacksaw marks and silicon on the retaining nut there appears to have been a bodged repair in the boat's first three years of life, before we bought it 10 years ago.

All in all the system was completely shot, so whilst its a pain to have to spend over £1000 on a new gearbox, its a relief to get is all solidly fixed up. Whats more it is a bit weird to put it into forward gear and find is slipping in so smoothly. For years it has engaged with a clunk as all the slack was taken up.

Anyway, problem fixed and on we go. 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Geared up for trouble

The Saga of the broken gearbox
May 2017

I left you moored in Stourport Basin eagerly awaiting a new gearbox, the old one having spewed its contents into the bilge as we made our way out of the Black Country.

Droitwich Canal Festival 2017

Well, things have move one, but only a bit and truth be told its all been a bit of a saga.

Our expectations were that we would have a new PRM120 within a few days and we would be on our way, but sadly this proved not to be the case. There were no spares on the shelf so a new one had to be ordered from Beta before the job could be scheduled. Days dragged by with no firm news till eventually at noon on Wednesday it became apparent that there would be no repair till after the Droitwich weekend.

Trading at Droitwich

So a decision had to be made, to set off down the Severn with a very dodgey gearbox of to resign ourselves to another week in Stourport. The options were considered and as the oil was only dribbling out of the gearbox I figured I could keep topping it up and hopefully we could make it to the festival site. If all else failed we could stop on the river and wait for a tow from one of the other boats making for the event.

It was a nervous 2.5 hours but we made it to the Droitwich Barge Canal without incident and refilled the box and saw an alarmingly large pool of oil under the engine. We carried on up the canal and reached Vines Park with no oil showing on the dipstick!

Festival goers enjoying some sun

And so we managed to trade at the 2017 St Richards Festival under a grey and leaden sky. Not ideal weather but our loyal customers came out in force and we ended up with a very satisfactory event from a sales perspective. Of course, there is more to events than sales and it was great to spend time with other traders and the festival organisers.

As for the gearbox - it has arrived. Sadly an essential tool was missing so the engineers will return tomorrow and hopefully we will be off by the afternoon.

Colours from Morgana

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Stationary in Stourport

Stationary in Stourport
April 2017

As you will have gathered - we are going nowhere fast.

One bonus of our predicament is that we have had an enforced stop in Stourport, and I have to say there are many worse places to be. I spent Saturday morning preparing the product list boards whilst Helen paid the local launderette a visit. As a result word got around that we were moored up and we had a steady trickle of boaters popping by to pick up a bag of preserves.

I also took the enforced stop as an opportunity to make a start on a host of outstanding repair jobs, including touching up the paint around the port side windows where, after nine years, the green paint was flaking off the silicone and revealing the old maroon paint underneath. Fortunately the base layer is intact and there is no rust.

Meanwhile Helen was having a cookathon inside and giving the fridge and freezer a baptism of fire.

For Sunday we decided to seek out a local church and decided on All Saints, Wilden, about two miles away which involved a walk back along the towpath to The Bird in the Hand pub and then off across the Stour valley. All in all it was about 30 minutes at a brisk pace.

Fortitude and Triumph

Wilden parish church was selected on account of its collection of Burne Jones stained glass windows. Burne Jones was a core part of the Arts and Crafts movement alongside William Morris, whose company supplied the designs based on Burne Jones cartoons.


The seemingly bland church is transformed from the inside and is well worth a visit. Our visit was on low Sunday (the week after Easter) and to our surprise we found the place packed on account of a big christening party. The big congregation made for a celebratory service which was very pleasant.

One further claim to distinction is that Stanley Baldwin, three times prime minister, came form this little church!

During the afternoon we had a surprise visit by our daughter, son in law and grand daughter who came to inspect the boat and take a stroll around Stourport. The funfair was a bit big and loud for such a small person but the ice cream at The Windlass Café went down a treat.

The  family come to town

Boy racers aside, it has been a lovely lazy weekend here at the head of navigation on the River Severn. Hopefully tomorrow will see the return of the engineer and the installation of a new PRM gearbox and we will be on our way. Hurray - Droitwich here we come.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The right gear

Stourbridge to Stourport
April 2017

I have said all along that as we travel more we will actually travel less on a daily basis. Little did I envisage pulling three 12 hour days on the first three days of our journey to Droitwich - after all, we have loads of time and were expecting to squander a few days just " messing about on the river".

Ornamental side pound at Stourton

But fate decided to throw a spanner in the proverbial works. As I greased the stern gland at Primrose Hill I noticed oil in the bilge and a spray of oil radiating from the Centraflex Coupling. As the coupling isn't lubricated it meant the oil was coming from further up the transmission system and the gearbox was the obvious culprit.

I topped the box up but a peep into the engine room at Kinver revealed yet more oil in the bilge and it became clear the something was seriously amiss. We pressed on to Kidderminster where Dan was leaving to get back to Birmingham and Helen was to restock at Sainsburys. It seemed a logical place to seek help so RCR was called. The engineer from Stourport arrived about an hour later and after some probing concluded that the gearbox was kaput. The box had been getting sloppy and clunky in recent years and having given 6000 hours of reliable service so a replacement was duly ordered for fitting on Monday.

Bluebells at Awbridge

The snag was our location - Kidderminster at a weekend. The engineer was not happy and we decided to add some more oil and we would press on to Stourport which was deemed to be "more boater friendly". I had a further very helpful call so say that there were three moorings free on the lock side of the bridge so on we travelled, into the gathering gloom.
Stourport Moorings and very convenient for the town centre, Limekiln Chandlery, elsan and waste so its not a bad place to be held up.

Saturday was spent fettling the boats and making food for the freezer - giving the solar panels a workout as the end results were cooled. We even sold some jam to passing boaters!

I even indulged in a spot of magnet fishing but alas I found nothing of interest near our mooring - but I did rescue a floating straw hat!

So here we sit for a few days, enjoying the warm weather and waiting for mobility to be restored. Tomorrow we explore a local church sporting a clutch of Burne - Jones stained glass windows and later we will be visited by our daughter, her husband and our ever delightful grand daughter Alice.

An escape from the BCN

A bid for freedom
April 2017

The title would suggest that the BCN is some sort of prison, and that's far from the truth. However, its been 18 long months since we have managed to venture beyond the 100 miles of the BCN canal system.

Longwood Top Lock

They say every journey starts with a first step and for us this was the descent of Rushall Top Lock (or the Moshies), a lock which ranks in the bottom ten in terms of usage! Progress was not rapid because no sooner were we into the "Mile Pound" than we discovered it was four bricks down. Then worse was to follow when we arrived at a completely empty pound below lock three. Needless to say the Mile Pound was down another half brick by the time we had flushed water through.

The Rushall Canal after Moses

The Tame Valley was clear of obstructions thanks to the efforts of the winter clean up squad but it was a return to filth as usual on the Walsall. We were travelling at Easter so I guess its no surprise that we encountered the yoof in Great Bridge, with about 20 of them milling around Ryders Green Bottom Lock. In spite of the motorbikes roaring up and down the towpath they were no trouble, beyond some rather aggressive questioning about the possible value of our boats. I was really grateful to have Dan's considerable presence on the towpath.

The area around the supermarket is atrocious, with shopping trolly reefs emerging from the surface all around. We probed our way into these obstructions and managed to find a passage with metal scraping both sides of the hull.

Our planned destination was the Tividale side of the Netherton Tunnel but as we made good progress we pressed on heading for Windmill End where we found four other boats and moored for a peaceful night overlooking the site of the Black Country Boating Festival.

The abandoned Two Lock Line - Dudley No2 Canal

Day two dawned clear and bright so we were off by 8.00am and took advantage of the services at Blowers Green. As it turned out there was quite a mele of boats coming and going from both directions, and one which pulled in behind us had the unique privilege of being our first customer of the journey. I loved the patriotic brolley hats!

First customers of the trip at Blowers Green

Just as we came into Merry Hill I was informed that a water pipe was leaking inder the sink - great! It was a dodgey joint which was quickly fixed with no damage incurred.

Red House Cone - Stourbridge

The Delph came and went, as did the Stourbridge 16 and we moored for the night at the site of the breach at Primrose Hill, just short of Stourton Junction.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A sudden chill in the air

A sudden chill in the air
April 2017

Last minute setback are not what one wants at this stage in the game.

Life sometimes feels a bit like a game of snakes and ladders. One moment you are sipping up when good fortune shows you its smiling face and then, as sure as eggs is eggs, a nasty snake comes along and down you go!

In the lead in to our departure we have encountered a couple of snakes:

1. I was investigating a strange mechanical noise when in forward gear and discovered that one of the studs in the flexible coupling had worked itself loose and was trying to cut its way into the back of our gearbox. I had noticed that the stud protruded a bit more than the rest ever since it was fitted 18 months ago, but assumed that the engineers knew what they were doing and left well alone. Big mistake - doubt everything.... 
The good news it that I caught it immediately and before the thread on the stud or the alloy casting was mashed, so I was able to wind it back in and get a good grip with all four nuts.
I guess that's a snake and a ladder really.

2. Our final task was to load the food aboard and part of this process was to fill the fridge. In went the food and I turned it on. But nothing happened, no rumble from the compressor, no gurgle of fluids. This isnt good. I checked that we had power and I wiggled all the connections but like Monty Python's parrot - it was dead, it was no more, its was an ex fridge.
It was 4.30 but a quick call to Midland Chandlers confirmed a 5.30 closing time so off we went. We walked in at 5.01 and walked out at 5.04 with a new Shoreline fridge and £560 less in the account.  Now to my way of thinking that was a snake. Not a humongous one but quite significant. But thats not how Mrs T saw things. She has been chuntering about a new fridge for over three years and with a separate freezer installed we were able to get a unit without an ice box and therefore more room for fridgey stuff.

Well thats it I think - all is set and we set off down the Ganzies tomorrow morning making for an overnight stop at Tividale. 

Hopefully thats all the snakes we will see for a while.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Weighing heavy

Loading up The Jam Butty
April 2017

Well, after a delay of exactly one year we are nearly ready for the off.

In some ways 2016 seems like the year that never happened but Helen is now well on the road to a full recovery and our delayed plans are swinging into action.

As prelude to our departure there was the small matter of my job but finally, after 38 years, I have parted company with my illustrious employer. Yes, I have joined the ranks of the pension receivers (I am far too young and vain to be described as retired) So, this now frees us up to go travelling.

During the winter months I have, under the critical eye of Mrs "quality control" been busy emptying the freezers and transforming their contents into a range of mouth watering preserves. To be honest I did add up how much we had in stock about six weeks ago, but since then Sticky Toffee Pudding jam and a huge batch of Wild Garlic Vinegar have rolled of the Wild Side production line and I sort of lost count at 2,000 jars.

Now all that stock is heavy, really heavy. I have loaded the Zafira to the gills three times with finished product and again with new glassware and it all had to be loaded into the butty. No problem I hear you say, butties are made to carry loads - its the whole purpose of their existence. Well, yes - and no. The Jam Butty is not exactly a normal butty as it is essentially all front and back with only about six feet of straight plate in the middle. As a result the buoyancy of the stern is limited and made worse by the presence of a heavy steel cabin. 

Before we started the ambient trim of the butty was about 14" at the bow and about 2' 10" at the stern with a propensity to list to the left (port for you salty types) and getting the trim right when loading has always been a challenge. If it was a challenge when carrying stock for 3 or 4 days trading imagine the issues when loading enough stock for 14 or 15 days - enough to last us right through to the Black Boating Festival in September. 

I tend to use the back cabin for storage, locating boxes of preserves under and on the benches, but for this voyage I have added a large watertight hold box capable of carrying an additional 700 jars. This box (it looks a bit like Hagrid's coffin) can me moved from side to side to balance out any listing. This aspect of the plan worked pretty well and by moving the heavy gazebo from side to side managed to achieve a very level boat, and with all that weight below the waterline its also very stable for such a short craft. 

However, and isnt there always a however, I did have a problem with the pitch. As I mentioned the boat sits naturally bows high which allows the bulk of the prop wash to pass under the butty and the deep stern acts like a drogue keeping it straight. The additional weight at the back of the cabin caused it to sink even deeper to the point that when I stood on the back water started to come into the well deck through the drain holes rather than the other way around! Whilst there is no danger of the boat sinking, this isn't good.....

To counter this tendency I had to reconfigure the loading to bring the weight forward wherever possible, thereby taking greater advantage of the additional buoyancy in the hold section. With much re ordering I have managed to get the whole thing balanced and its now sitting about an inch and a half down to the left and two inched to the right, evenly spread along the whole length of the boat. But thats it - as Jim McCoy said in Star Trek - "she canna take no more, Capn". 

Note for future - pack a bit less jam!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

CRT National Council jottings

CRT National Council meeting
22nd March 2017 - Bath

Following my recent notes on the National Users Forum here are the notebook jottings from the National Council meeting in March:

Richard Parry's update

The Trusts income rose to £203m last year, breaking the £200m barrier for the first time - up from a £190m plan. This was mainly attributable to the income obtained for repairs to the Rochdale Canal.

Costs were also £203m and the books balanced exactly.

The capital assets of the Trust increased by £23m - mainly from the commercial property portfolio. Since 2012 £100m of property has been sold and £41m bought - mainly in Manchester (£14m) and Bristol (£15m)

Significant areas of expense outside routine maintenance were £1.5m for and extra mile and a half on the Montgomery, £300k of historic boat restoration and £2.5m on the Monmouth and Brecon.

Infrastructure condition has trended towards improvement whilst staff injuries have increased.

Serious incidents have occurred including a death at Trevor (individual outside railings) and the release of sediment on the Monmouth and Brecon.

DEFRA performance targets are all being met.

Licensing - Phase three ready in Autumn.
London Moorings - engagement phase has ended.
Winter Moorings - demand up 40%
1250 boats in enforcement process - down 25%
600 CC'ers subject to active monitoring - down 15% (2/3 on K&A / London)
116 Cases with solicitors - 37 resolved before court  action, 32 Court Order Outstanding, 38 and ongoing. Still no landmark test case to provide clarity.

The DB Pension Scheme is now closed with a defecit which is currently covered by a portion of the Property estate. There is a small net defecit which is being monitored / addressed.

Other issues and updates were offered - most of which have been  covered in the User Forum notes.