Saturday 31 December 2011

The Tub Boats of Telford

Tub Boats of the Shropshire Canal
December 2011

What better way to sign off 2011 than to have a taste of what will be a major research project for 2012.

The last tub boat at Blist Hill

I have been undertaking some desktop research of the Tub Boat Canals loosely referred to as the Shopshire Canal network, covering the Coalbrookdale Coalfield beneath what is now Telford. My main interest if the canal infrastructure and tracing out the old lines as they exist today but as part of my research I couldn't help but take a look at the Tub Boats which operated on them.

Tub boat in the mouth of Berwick Tunnel

These boats don't resemble the pointy ended narrowboats we associate with canals apart from the fact that they were flat bottomed and floated. There were stark utilitarian boxes, maybe nineteen feet long and six feet wide, drawing about eighteen inches of water. Even in this small network the sizes, and therefore carrying capacities, varied.

Loaded tub boats on the Shropshire Canal

As far as I am aware only one tub boat still exists, an iron version which now lives on the bank at Blist Hill Museum. Most of the tub boats were wooden but these have rotted away and I am not aware of any survivors.

The last wooden tub boat in the 1950's.

Tub Boat made for the Lilleshall Company at Old Yard Works (which closed in 1851)

Tub Boat at Marsh Green 1954

This post provides a selection of photos of the Tub Boats which operated on this region, drawn from a number of sources.

More of the Tub Boats of Telford in 2012.

The above photos have been assembled from various sources, including those freely found on the internet. My thanks go to the many photographers alive and dead who have contributed to this collection and in so doing, are keeping the memory of these  canals alive. These images are reproduced for ease of research are are not necessarily the property of this blog and some may still be subject to copyright, and as such they should not be used for commercial gain without the explicit permission of the owner (whoever that may be). 

Thursday 29 December 2011

Rivers of London - book review

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch 
December 2011
If its not too late, this is one for your Christmas stocking list. 

I chanced upon it in W H Smith's, waiting for a flight when my eye was drawn to the watery reference in the title. On a whim I bought a copy and was soon lost in its magical contents. 

Its a fantasy police whodunit which cleverly fuses Harry Potter with Inspector Morse, with a bit of Strange and Norrell thrown in for good measure. 

PC Peter Grant is fresh out of training and on the beat with PC Leslie May, colleague, confidante and object of his carnal fantasies. Grant is left alone at a murder scene when he strikes up a conversation with a witness, except this witness has been dead for at least 200 years! For a young PC Grant seems to take this leap into the supernatural very much in his stride, and is no less ruffled when he meets DI Thomas Nightingale, a wizard of uncertain age and a paid up member of the Metropolitan Police Force. 

London appears to have quite a problem with the supernatural and Grant is soon apprenticed to Nightingale. Before you can say boo to a ghost, he is up to his neck in sorcery, vampires, murders and a turf war between Old Man River (upstream from Richmond) and Old Mother Thames whose interest lies in the turbid tidal zone. 

The rivers of London are seductive group of water nymphs bearing names like Fleet and Ty, holding the key to the dry land murders but at the same time representing a mortal threat to his well being if they can but entice him to put a toe into their watery world. 

The story moves at a cracking pace through the familiar landmarks of London, our ill prepared hero chasing ephemeral villains through both time and space to a very satisfying conclusion. 

Sure, this is a book where you have to put logic and reason to one side, but once you have let yourself slip into the ghostly netherworld of the un-dead its a cracking read. One thing is sure - you will never see Punch and Judy in quite the same light! 

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Larry Crowne - film review

Larry Crowne - Film Review
December 2011

This is a bizzare film review if ever there was one, written 36,500 ft over Moscow en route to Almaty, Kazakhstan and a cool minus 63 degrees C nine inches from my business class shoulder. Do in flight movies count? - I see no reason why not.

I like Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, two long term bankable stars who I feel I have grown up with and offering a storyline I can relate to. Larry (Hanks) is a divorcee made redundant by Wallmart due to an absence of a college education. A disillusioned Larry returns to school to finish an education he abandoned 25 years ago when he entered the navy. Whilst he is at college he undergoes a metamorphosis, winding back the years and in the process winning the heart of his teacher (Roberts) who herself is going through the last stages of an unhappy marriage.

End result - two middle aged people find themselves, rekindle the passion of their youth and, of course, each other. I don't know if they live happily ever after but the vibes are positive.

In a way the story is as old as the hills, well acted and directed by Hanks who brings a chuckle to jet lagged lips and a warm glow to the heart. Sure its a lightweight rom-com whose plot I will have forgotten  by the time by the time 2011 slips away, but it offered a pleasant escape as I blasted over the Russian steppes.

Its worth seeing if easy watching is what you want, but possibly not worth a 2000 mile detour. Hey up - the Urals are coming up ahead. Time to sign off.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Saturday 24 December 2011

Christmas lights

Christmas lights in Birmingham
December 2011

With Christmas virtually upon us it was time for a mad dash into Birmingham to get those last minute presents.

The infamous beer stall

Birmingham excels itself on its farmers market, which gets bigger with each passing year. A few years ago its was handful of shacks in New St, but now it stretches all the way from Brindley Place to the Bull Ring. Its a tourist attraction even if you don't buy anything.

New St lights

Even amid the festive hoards I still had time to grab a few images for the blog.

Victoria Square merry go round - Birmingham

Shh, is that the sound of sleigh bells in the night sky? Its nearly Christmas!

Friday 23 December 2011

A peek at her bottom - you know you want to...

DIY Bottom Blacking part 6
November 2011

There is something strangely compelling about looking at the bottom of a boat when it is out of the water. I remember seeing photos of Granny Buttons and Indigo Dream when they were out of the water and staring long and hard at their base plates.

Base plate - front

There are very mixed views about the need to black the base plates - they are certainly very difficult to reach and most tend to the 'leave it alone' camp. I didn't fancy working in the small gap and having looked at the state of the bottom decided to leave it alone. The steel it thickest down there (10mm) and from what I could see, it looked ok for its age. In fact, considering the amount of obstacles I have hit, it looked absolutely amazing.

Base plate - middle

The annodes seem to be doing their job - the bows and stern sections were notably better than the middle where some rust was evident.

Base plate - stern

So, for the sake of completeness here are three photo's of Wand'ring Bark's base plate in late 2011. I will use this as a reminder of its quality and measure the deterioration over the coming years.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Slipping back

DIY Bottom Blacking part 5
November 2011

After a week on Stafford Boat Club's slipway it was time to return Wand'ring Bark to the cut.

Stafford Boat Club

Martin came with me and we were rewarded with a bright but cold day - but what do you expect at this time of year? We rolled up just before 9.00am and before long the gang of helpers were gathering. Just the one boat into the water and none coming out today, simples.

Attaching the shackles

There is quite an art to getting the boat back into the water involving electric and hand winches, cables, pulleys and restraining straps. I have to give it to the guys - they have the process down to a fine art. But its not just the guys, the ladies get involved too, opening up a little hut which serves an an informal kitchen for the inevitable mug of tea. Of course, the cry of "tea's up" came just as Wand'ring Bark teetered on the tipping point and there she hung till the brew was downed and the team returned to the business of the day.

Down she goes

As she was sliding down the slipway I had the urge to cry out " hang on a minute guys, I have missed a bit" but unusually for me I restrained myself. WB crept backwards, inch by inch but my confidence was shaken by the tale a 70 footer careering back into the basin, completely out of control when the cable snapped. In the event all went smoothly, and whilst her stern went well down the exhaust remained above water and all was well.

Fellow bloggers below Gailey top lock

So began a five hour run back to the summit pound during which time we passed a total of two boats moving plus Moore 2 Life and Rock n Roll, who were still moored just below Gailey top lock.

Gailey Roundhouse

Much to our surprise Viking Afloat / JD Boat Services were open for business so I topped off the diesel tank to minimise condensation and, just as the sun was setting, we found ourselves back at base. 

So what are my thoughts about DIY blacking?
  1. It is a time consuming process and involved a lot of trips to Stafford. Maybe staying aboard would be a good idea in future.
  2. The best asset you can get are willing friends - their help made the whole endeavour possible.
  3. Avoid the winter months for outside blacking - temperaures are low, it rains and the days are horribly short. In the event it was unseasonably dry and mild but the 3.30pm sunset radically shortens the available working time.
  4. Do use the Tercoo Rotating Blaster - its great at stripping the hull back and developing a good key.
  5. Stick with the type of blacking already used.
  6. Buy plenty of Blacking - we used 20 litres of Sealex on a 42 ft boat.
  7. Apply by brush to achieve a thick coat with good adherence.
  8. Leave for three days before relaunch to allow the coating to cure.
  9. Overall cost? £250 for the slipping, £45 for the Roto Blaster and £100 for the bitumen.
  10. So I have saved a bit of money, learned a lot about the hull of my boat and am certain that I have done a good / thorough job. 
  11. Would I do it again? Yes probably - but I reserve the right to change my mind in the light of how well the blacking lasts. Ask me again in a years time!

Monday 19 December 2011

All tanked up

DIY Bottom Blacking part 4
November 2011

With Wand'ring Bark out on the bank it seemed an ideal opportunity to 'do something' about the water tank.

Half way through the job

For a couple of years I have undone the lock and taken a peep through the inspection hatch. The rust streaks I saw were not encouraging so I quickly closed the lid - and forgot about it for another year! Real head in the sand stuff.

Whilst buying the Sealex bitumen from Midland Chandlers I also bought a tin of potable tank black and figured that the job would be a whole lot easier on dry land, when the sides would have a good opportunity to dry out. I therefore left the pump running for about an hour and sucked out the entire contents, and its a big tank.

and a straight down view

Whilst I am 6' 3" and a bit rounded I do still fit through the hatch and can get inside the tank - just. Its a tight squeeze but once in there isn't a whole lot of room to work. I spent 20 mins scraping away the lose rust and old bitumen, turning the dregs of water at my feet to a muddy soup, but I couldn't get it really clean. Then inspiration struck - that industrial pressure washer. Adam set it up for me, I aimed and fired and the results were nothing short of spectacular.

Great clouds of spray rolled out of the inspection hatch whilst inside the filth and grot vanished like magic to reveal pristine sides all ready for repainting. OK, so I had a couple of gallons of unsavoury gloop to get out plus about a litre of rust particles (did we really wash in that?) but then it was as clean as a whistle.

I left it four days to dry out and then repeated the contortionist act to get the new coat of sealant on. Talk about painting yourself into a corner, its a nightmare task. I painted all the 'distant' bits leaving just the central bit on the bulkhead to be reached from outside. Those last bits, and the base are tricky but the problem was overcome by taping the brush to the sledgehammer handle/ cum hand spike and wielding a 4ft long brush.

Now that's not quite the end of the tale. The guy at Midland Chandlers told me to apply as many coats as I wanted the finish to last - 1 coat = 1 year, 3 coats = 3 years etc. Maybe that single coat five years ago wasn't quite enough. My tin lasted long enough for one coat all round and a second coat on the vulnerable section where the level sits when in use. I have therefore left it empty and ready for another coat before refilling it. WB it therefore sitting at an odd angle, about 6" high by the nose.

Sunday 18 December 2011

C&RT Elections - Starters Orders

Under Starters Orders
December 2011

Its less than a week since the nomination process opened for the four boater voted places on the C&RT Council, but already the names of potential candidates are coming in thick and fast.

I have been keeping my ear to the ground and understand that the Canal World Discussion Forum (CWDF) will offer at least one, probably two candidates. Then there is the National Association of Boat Owners (NABO) with their candidate and as expected, the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) are putting up their preferred candidates.

There is a lot noise in the system about these elections so I guess that shows that there is a good level of interest in the success of the C&RT, and that the apathetic malaise which seems to enshroud mainstream politics will not be reflected on the waterways.

Its the IWA's approach which caught my eye. They have decided to field no less than four high profile candidates for the four positions available - no coincidence I suspect! Now don't get me wrong, I have a great deal of respect for the IWA, especially the work of the Waterways Recovery Group (WRG) about whom I could enthuse till the dogs come home. I am sure that as the largest Inland Waterways organisation they should and will have a seat at this table but to seek to wade in and take all four seats themselves feels both arrogant and presumptive. I have no issues with their nominees - they are four very worthy gents with vast waterways experience. Indeed, I have had personal contact with three of them and they hold my respect, but the IWA attracts just one segment of boaters and in my opinion their approach appears, how shall we put it? a tad imperialistic?. My issue is therefore one of principle, not personality.

This point is picked up in a recent NarrowboatWorld item.

Lets hope that the IWA's spread of candidates divides the vote and this is enough to let others in with a chance. Every vote counts so make sure you exercise your democratic right  when voting starts on the 8th February.

But in the meantime, if you fancy a bit of a side bet, Sarah of nb Chertsey has opened a book on the number of names which will appear on the ballot paper. If we leave it to the IWA to clean up all the seats on the C&RT Council this competition could be the most exciting aspect of this election!

Saturday 17 December 2011

Big Black Bottoms

DIY Bottom Blacking Part 3
November 2011

We left the project with the hull stripped and laid bare, shivering nervously like a bashful bride on the slipway. 

Applying the first coat of bitumen

With no time to waste we had our lunch whilst the hull dried out and then it was out with the paint brushes and the Sealex bitumen. The choice of covering is quite simple as far as I can see. Two pack epoxy is by far the best and offers up to five years protection but this needs a perfectly prepared shot blasted starting point. Then its Comastic followed up with the standard bitumen finished like Sealex. In reality there is only one viable choice - to stick with the type you already have on - the coverings are incompatible so don't try to change.

First coat on

We came armed with 20 litres of Sealex from Spencer Coatings - about £90 worth in total and a bunch of brushes we would be happy to discard at the end of the project.

Sealex B130

We set to with passion, starting with a wide band at the waterline where the corrosion is the worst, and then following it with a complete coat from base plate to gunnels.

Does my bottom look big in this photo?

Its a dirty old job, especially under the uxter plate (which is where we sent Adam!). We slapped on a good thick coat, only stopping as darkness fell accompanied by a slight drizzle. Tilly joined us briefly, together with her boyfriend, Jack. I was in such a grimy state that even Tilly declined the offer of a kiss!

Jack with Tilly

Adam and I returned to the task the next day, finding a fortunate window between bands of rain and managed to apply the next 10 litres of bitumen. This gave us two good coats over the main areas and four coats at the waterline. Its a slow and knackering task but we made it, just as the rain returned at 3.00pm. 

Job done

We then left the boat for  four days, letting the bitumen cure in the balmy unseasonal 10 degree heat. This is very lucky considering the icy conditions which prevailed at the same time last year. I returned alone on the next Saturday and applied the last couple of litres of Sealex to any areas which looked thin or had been missed, repainting the stern bands plus reattaching the fenders to the bows and stern - ready for relaunch on Sunday.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Stripping and Bare Bottoms

DIY Bottom Blacking part 2
November 2011

Having hauled Wand'ring Bark out of the water we were faced with the prospect of cleaning down the hull, ready to accept the new coats of protective bitumen. 

A first blast with the pressure washer

The first and most important element of this process is the availability of friends, especially on these short winter days. I was very fortunate to have Martin and Adam available to help, our two man recovery crew who have picked the boat up from the four corners of the inland waterways over the years.

 Capt Ahab Roto Blasting

Stafford Boat Club have a good industrial strength pressure washer available which made light work of the accumulated slime and weed, together with acres of loose bitumen, taking the sides down to bare metal in many places. Adam proved to be very good at this task, methodically working his way round the boat with plumes of spray erupting from under the hull from time to time. Martin set to with wire brush, scraper and sandpaper hacking away at the stubborn corners whilst I wielded the Tercoo Rotating Blaster which made short work of all the large areas.

The cleaned sides

About three hours concerted effort resulted in a clean hull, which we left for an hour or so to dry out, ready for the application of the first coat of Sealex.

 Close up of the Roto Blasted sides

They say that 80% of effort in decorating should go into the peparation and the same could be said of cleaning the boat's bottom. Our end result wasn't perfect and with hindsight maybe we should have spent more time on it. But the underside of the boat is the working end of things and its more important that the sealing is effective than beautiful.

An annode having reached its half life

The extensive use of the rotating blaster seemed to provide a good key, so hopefully the future bumps against the bank will result in scratches in the bitumen rather then the flaking off of big patches of black - which has been the case to date.

Martin applies a final rinse

As for the state of the hull? It is nearing 10 years old, so some deterioration is to be expected. In the event the pitting such that there is appears to be very minor and shallow, worse in the centre away from the protective annodes, as you would expect. The sections below the waterline were stripped back quite thoroughly and the general consensus among the assembled members was that it was looking good for its age. They put this down to the use of decent quality steel during its construction and informed me that they have seen much worse on three year old boats built cheaply abroad.

A rather grimy shot of Capt Ahab - post Roto Blaster!

I did consider blacking the bottom of the base plate but a quick inspection revealed very little deterioration in the 10mm of steel, certainly not enough to justify the horrible task of squeezing under and working in such cramped conditions.

More about the blacking process next time.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Stuck on Slipways

DIY Bottom Blacking part 1
November 2011

Having arrived at Stafford Boat Club on Saturday we were up and ready for slipping at 9.00am on Sunday morning. Over a period of 15 minutes a veritable gaggle of members materialised, so many I started to wonder if they were planning to haul the boat up the slipway by hand. A little gentle questioning revealed the fact that a club incentive scheme operates which allows mooring fees to be discounted by £1 for each hour of time spent at the club. Its not a lot but its enough to encourage social activity and practical works.

Stuck in the mud

The slipway seems to attract silt and the members had spent a whole day dredging it with an improvised plough. Perversely, in spite of extracting several tons of gloop the exercise had created an underwater bund through which the slipway trolleys couldn't penetrate. They tried pushing it with poles but to no avail.

 Second try
Off the rails

Then we tried to ride Wand'ring Bark onto the cradle and get half a dozen burly blokes onto the front to add weight and encourage it down. The first time we tried it moved a meter or so but then we had to winch the boat back down. The second attempt went the same way but finally we got Wand'ring Bark settled onto the cradle and the winch was started. The boat was winched up centemetre by centemetre but then another snag - the trolley came off its rails, so it was back to the hand winch to haul it down again for a final and successful attempt.


By the time we got the boat out just about every member was present, all jockying to be the first to see the annodes and deem them OK or not OK. I get the feeling that this is something of a club sport. After an hour or so we finally had Wand'ring Bark on the hard standing, stranded atop is bogies and strangely immobile as I stepped aboard. Narrowboats look so ungainly when they are stranded on dry land.

The annodes - OK for another couple of years

Stern gear after pressure washing

At last I could see the state of the hull - the first time I have seen it out of the water since its pre purchase survey six years ago (it has been blacked twice in the meantime but I didn't see it ashore). In the event there was some evidence of light pitting, but at nine years old it was looking pretty good. 

High and dry for a week