Friday 26 December 2008

Family Boxing Day

Friday 26th December 2008
Calf Heath to Coven

6 Miles
2 Hours

What better way to blow away the Christmas cobwebs than a canal trip to the Fox and Anchor. The weather forecasters were right - a clear blue sky but a penetrating cold easterly wind.

As this was a "whole family" trip I went to the boat first with Tilly, after making an obligatory trip to Game to sort out a malfunctioning Christmas present. The idea was lunch on the boat followed by a drink at the Fox and Anchor. We got all the covers off Wand'ring Bark, lit the fire, turned on the water and the electrics and finally loaded on the food and drink. No sooner had we completed all the tasks than Jeff bounces in, ready for the off.
These Christmas trips are great if the weather is kind. No ice this year but I don't think the blacking could take too much of last years punishment. We set off into blinding sunshine and soon came across more of BW's tree thinning efforts. The logs we had seen two weeks previously had all been hoovered up by heat hungry boaters, but the latest works has resulted in a huge pile of logs, all 12" long and just ready for drying and splitting. We half filled the front well deck on the return journey, enough to keep our home fire burning right through to the spring. Cheers BW!

We were not alone in our plan to visit the Fox and Anchor, two other boats were out from Calf Heath, Phoenix (resplendent in a new red and green paint job) and a short tug. The pub was rammed with punters, but a table was found near the fire and a drink imbibed courtesy of my father in law.

On the return journey Belle and her mother decided on a towpath stroll, getting back on at Laches Bridge. Unfortunately, as I reversed to recover them I picked up a travel rug on the prop, virtually bringing the boat to a standstill. A boaters nightmare - air temperature 2 degrees, water temperature little better and a fouled prop. There was nothing for it but to take a trip down the weed hatch.

Luckily the blanket was well rotted and it tore free leaving just the border hooked under the shaft. The water was so cold my hands were in agony within one minute - its a good job it was a quick fix or we would have found ourselves bow hauling WB back to the marina!

We returned (weighed down with a huge stack of logs) just as the sun was setting. What the trip lacked in length is made up for in quality of company and incident.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Waterways World Guide to Narrowboat Planning

Waterways World Guide to Narrowboat Planning by Graham Booth
Book Review

I picked up a copy of this guide whilst aboard Black Prince's Kiwi, shortly after we purchased Wand'ring Bark.You may wonder why a hire boat after buying your own? - and that's not a stupid question.

Wand'ring Bark was a compromise in terms of length (shorter then planned), layout (cruiser stern not semi trad), price (more expensive of course) and age (about 15 years younger than expected). Wand'ring Bark was therefore not exactly what we wanted on day one, and needed a lot of work to bring her format and spec up to that which we desired. The good thing was that as soon as I altered the main saloon to accommodate two single berths as an alternate configuration to the existing double cross bed, we were in business and ready to cruise. However, there wasn't time to complete this work in time for our 2006 holiday so we used our Tesco's vouchers to hire Kiwi to do the Cheshire Ring.

Whilst I have strong carpentry skills, I need design ideas to feed off and that's where this book comes in. It would certainly be very useful if you are planning to commission a brand new boat but even if, like us, you are looking for inspiration and ideas to upgrade / refit and existing boat Graham's insights are excellent. He comes across as a hands on DIY boat fitter with several vessels to his name. His ideas are therefore both functional and stylish.

The book covers all the main types and layouts you are likely to encounter and weight the pro's and con's of each. If you are thinking of commissioning or altering a boat spend a few hours reviewing the ideas this book contains. Wand'ring Bark may be 80% my handiwork but the credits for the concepts are largely attributable to the worthy Mr Booth.

ISBN 187000294 - 6

Narrow Dog to Indian River

Narrow Dog to Indian River by Terry Darlington
Book Review

Follow up books, like tricky second albums, often fail to live up to expectations.

Well, I am glad to report that Terry's second "Narrow Dog" book eclipses the first in every way.

Whilst there are no screen shots of them entering Chesapeake Bay, having just sailed the North Atlantic in the Phyllis May, their 1100 mile adventure down America's Intracoastal Waterways is gripping none the less. I have been aware of this waterway for years and have hankered to follow its easterly course ever since an acquaintance made the trip to the Gulf of Mexico from the Great Lakes in a converted trawler. I have also seen it from the air en route to Florida and its exposed aspect looked an unlikely place for a flat bottomed narrowboat to venture.

But venture they did, for nine months through stifling heat, tropical storms, nasty insects and hungry looking crocodiles. Whereas Narrow Dog to Carcassonne was at time difficult to follow, this second book really took me with them, I could almost smell the salty air and hear the whine of the mossies. I was struck by the overwhelming friendliness they encountered brim the locals they met and the number of people who threw themselves into the endeavour, giving up time and effort to get the Darlingtons down to Fort Myers.

This is a splendid travel book. Thanks for sharing your memories with us Terry.
See you at Tixall Wide sometime.

ISBN 978 - 0 - 593056 - 91 - 2

Narrow Dog to Carcassonne

Narow Dog to Carcassonne by Terry Darlington
Book Review

Terry and Monica Darlington's escapades with their whippet Jim in nb Phyllis May are the stuff of legend. Two pensioners with a lust for life and an unhealthy disregard for health and safety sail the Chanel bound for Carcassonne in the South of France. The TV footage of their entry into Calais in the face of an outbound Sea Cat probably delivered enough publicity to sell 30,000 copies.

If you sometimes wish that the UK's inland waterways went a bit further then this is a book for you. Its a great account of a nine month voyage taking in Paris, the Saone and the mighty Rhone if not in their stride then at least in a stylish stumble.

For me it was a must read book given its subject matter. However, I do have one significant reservation about the book. Terry does like his poetry which is inserted into the text at regular intervals. Personally, poetry in all shapes and guises really turns me off and merely served to interrupt a good read - a bit like academic references peppering a technical document. For me it detracts rather than adds to the read. That said, Belle is very much pro poetry (you should see the shelf of poetry books in our loo!), so one mans meat is another's poison!

I take my hat off to the Darlingtons. They inspire me to an active and adventurous retirement. I also have to mind my P's and Q's in my comments as I regularly pass their base at Sone, and have been known to frequent Terry's beloved Star for a jar or two.

ISBN 0 - 593 - 05311 - 7


Saturday 13 December 2008

BW and the Boat Boys

Calf Heath to Coven
Staffs and Worcester Canal
13th December 2008

6 Miles
2 Hours

You have to grab boating opportunities when you can at this time of year. In spite of a diabolical forecast and a long list on unbought Christmas presents, the return of Chris, one of my best friends from the distant north (Morpeth) inspired us to have a day on the boat "come what may". Our wives deemed us mad to venture out in the face of such rain, but we both heeded the Outward Bound saying - "its never the wrong sort of weather, just the wrong sort of clothes!" and donned our most water resistant wet weather gear. A detailed inspection of the local weather map suggested that the worst of the rain would pass by 11.00 so we set off, hoping for the best.

With all the rain, the water levels in the Gailey summit pound were very high and some kind soul had loosened the ropes on WB. They are a good bunch at Calf Heath.

We had been thinking of making a descent to Penkridge but given the adverse weather and limited light we opted for a more leisurely trundle along the Staffs and Worcester to the Fox and Anchor at Coven. Imagine our delight when we discovered that BW had been thinning the offside trees and had left logs everywhere. We stopped off three times on the outward journey and noted some additional likely locations for the return trip.

I usually only hear about these free wood bonanzas after the event, by which time all my friends have stripped the smaller logs clean leaving only the huge ones which are too big to handle, let alone saw up. Not this time, today I was the first on the scene and enjoyed the rich pickings which were available. BW had been so thoughtful that they even left one supply neatly stacked up on a dredging barge.

The Fox and Anchor offered their excellent Scottish beefburgers all washed down with a pint of John Smiths and topped off with a festive Bread and Butter Pudding.

The return journey saw more timber collections eventually covering the rear deck and weighing in at about 1.5 tons! The added load caused the boat to settle several inches, such that we became firmly grounded and it took us a good 15 mins to break free.

After returning home and relieving the groaning car springs of their excess load, there was just time for a wash and brush up before the Capt and Belle departed for a Christmas meal with old friends (all poshed up in our DJ's). This group gather at the start of each Christmas and the male contingent
form the core of the Boat Boys, the group that used to relay Honey up and down to London.

Andy, The Capt, Tony, Kev, George and Dave

With Honey off the radar the group have now migrated to Wand'ring Bark and can often be seen chugging around the canals of the West Midlands and the BCN. Give them a wave if you like, but they prefer a bottle of Port!

Sunday 7 December 2008

Narrow Boat Painters

The Art of the Narrow Boat Painters by A J Lewery
Book Review

If A J Lewery's "Signwiritten Art" was too general and not sufficiently canal focused for you , here is the perfect supplement.

For over 200 years narrowboat artists have been creating floating works or art, making beautiful the utilitarian workhorse of the industrial revolution. Styles varied across the country and because the end results largely pre dated the camera and endured a harsh life little first hand evidence remains, making the subject a challenge for academic study.

AJ Lewery is the recognised authority on narrowboat art, basing this book on accounts given to him by the people who worked the canals and painted the boats in the various boatyards. It's a fascinating walk through the world of canal boat painting, putting things in perspective and showing how the art for evolved over time and how the end result changed according to the area, fashion and the fleet owner.

You will finish this little book both wiser and more informed, able to recognise the authenticity of the paintwork on the painstakingly restored traditional boats such as Gifford or Saturn, but also able to see the over stylised pastiche applied to many new "traditionals".

If you are thinking about painting your narrowboat you could do worse than read this book. It will give you some good ideas which you can incorporate into your design and whilst I wouldn't' recommend the slavish reproduction of a very traditional scheme on a modern boat, it gives me pleasure to look at the design I applied to the bows of Wand'ring Bark and know that the scheme was inspired by the design used on Saturn.

ISBN 0 - 7153 - 2140 -4

Paint Roses and Castles

Paint Roses and Castles by Anne Young
Book Review

A "how to" guide for aspiring waterways artists.

This is a great book for boaters looking to apply their artistic talents in a watery environment. It explains, in a step by step fashion, how you can create a reasonable rendition on the roses and castles theme.

Visit any gathering of narrowboats and you will find examples of vernacular waterways art, echoing the liveries and decoration which adorned the working boats on the 19th and early 20th centuries. For some the retro look is all a bit too twee but in my opinion, a painted tradition feature here and there enhances any canal boat, and adds colour and life to the whole canal scene.

Anne demonstrates that painting roses and castles doesn't have to be difficult and is within the grasp of most amateur painters. What is more, there was never one style of painting and the images produced varied across the country. The local variations can be attributed to the house styles of individual boatyards and the tendency for the apprentice to copy the style of the master - thus perpetuating a particular style. So it dosen't matter if your "stye" is a bit different form Annes - or any one else's for that matter. Have a go, create your own variation on a traditional theme and put the end result on display for everyone to enjoy.

The author has lots of ideas about things you could paint and use to liven up to your boat, everything from the traditional Buckby Can through to coasters and house numbers to remind you of the waterways when not actually afloat.

Perhaps my favourite application are ideas on how to paint roses and castle on raised panels, which can be completed at home and then applied to my boat doors when complete. This approach has the added advantage of allowing me several attempts to follow the instructions and "get it right" before putting my efforts on display for all to see.

This is a good book for crafty types willing to experiment during the long winter months, emerging blinking into the spring light armed with new artwork for the first trip of the year.

ISBN 0 7153 1618 -4

Birmingham's Canalside Industries

Birmingham and the Black Country's Canalside Industries by Ray Shill
Book review

This is an encyclopedic tome detailing the minutiae of the industries which grew up, withered and died alongside the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

It has been painstakingly pieced together by Ray, drawing on local history archives and brought to life with a good assortment of photographs. The photo's and engravings depict long gone industrial scenes and the only clues to their locations is by close examination of the bends and bridges on the relatively unchanging canal bed.

Birmingham was built on coal and metal, and needed an infrastructure to move these heavy commodities around in a cost effective manner. As Birmingham sits high on a sandy plateau with little surface water, the natural river system offered few options for water travel. The ingenious local industrialists therefore developed network of canals to join the collieries, mills, mines and works together and then to access the surrounding canal and river navigations. Without the canals Birmingham and the Black Country couldn't have prospered and they were therefore instrumental in shaping the face of the West Midlands we see today.

This is no easy read as it examines the businesses from archive material and includes many tables and lists of items moved. That said, it is a rewarding read for those with a interest in the the history of Birmingham and its surrounds, and in particular an interest in the impact the BCN had on shaping the industrial heartland of England.

ISBN 0-7524-3262-1

Saturday 6 December 2008

Canals of England

Canal of England by Martin Evans and Robert Reichenfield
Book Review

If you suffer form SAD (Seasonal Adjustment Disorder) during the long winter months away form the waterways here is the perfect antidote.

160 pages and 130 glorious colour photographs covering the best of the navigable canals and some which remain under restoration.

Its a coffee table book I return to again and again, each time being refreshed by the fantastic photos of Robert Reichenfield and the absorbing narrative of Martin Evans. If you cant get out there on the canals, and you have exhausted the scope of my blog this is the answer.

If you don't have a copy, search one out. I can't do the photos justice - you will need to check them our for yourself.

ISBN 0-75380-533-2

Signwritten Art

Signwritten Art by A J Lewery
Book Review

As you travel around the canals of England and Wales you can't help but notice the names painted on the sides of boats. The quality varies enormously with some craft carrying amateurish scrawls but others enhanced by magnificent sign writing echoing back to the days of commercial canal carrying fleets and No1's.

Sign writing as a craft is now virtually dead, replaced by quick and easy pvc letters, cut out by computer. A few pockets remain where traditionally applied sign writing is valued, such as historic pubs, fairgrounds and of course on the sides of narrow boats.

This book provides an authoritative commentary on the history of sign writing and how the craft evolved. It is technical and not entirely devoted to boat painting, but if you are interested in the heritage of our waterways and understanding why boats are painted the way they are this is a book for you.

AJ Lewery is one of the latter day greats of sign writing, inspiring quality in sign written art and an appreciation of a job well done. A word of warning - if you read this book you won't be able to tolerate a shoddy set of plastic letters on your boat. You will be compelled to spend the extra and have a "proper job" done by one of the jobbing sign writers, who still ply their trade around the canal system.

ISBN 0-7153-2103-x