Friday 30 May 2014

Etruria Historic Boat Gathering

May 2014

Welcome to Etruria, our second floating canal festival of the 2014 season.

The boaters among you will know instantly that we are moored at the junction of the Trent and Mersey with the Caldon Canal but to those of you who are less familiar with the UK's inland waterways, we are in Stoke on Trent.

Aquarius with the long line

The Etruria is a long established historic boat festival with the entrance to the Caldon rammed with fascinating old craft. Whilst there are boats a plenty, its not an event which attracts a large number of Roving Traders. In fact its almost a re run of Droitwich with ourselves and The Homebrew Boat with a fledgling jacket potato venture in between us.

Aquarius reversing into the basin

It feels a bit odd to arrive at the boat by car, its a bit like being beamed aboard as we are far more used to travelling to an event and then having a friend bring it back for us later. However, on this occasion Mr Truth and his wife Les has some holiday available so brought the boat to Etrutia the long way round, a route which let them cover a lot of new water.

Poleing Ilford

And so we are aboard, with the banners and bunting aloft making ready for the weekend's festival. The main event is based round the basin with the trade and residential boats moored on the main drag out to Festival Park. We are the first l boat above the lock moorings so we have an excellent view of boats coming and going.

On particular pleasure was seeing Aquarius arrive heaving laden and towing Ilford which was similarly deep in the water. I have seen these boats paired before and with their pristine paintwork they looked fantastic. Unusually they were long lining through the locks which is a practice I havn't seen before. Essentially Aquarius (the motor) has a very long rope which is attached to the unpowered butty. By careful measurement of some quality communication between the operators, the motor is able to tow the butty into and out of the second lock down whilst the motor moves through the upper chamber. All very authentic and interesting.

But buttys which are 70ft long is so passe. Anything more that 24ft 3in is just wrong IMHO!

If you fancy seeing some interesting old boats, buying some great preserves and getting a DIY brewing fix come to Etruria! Follow the signs to Festival Park.

Thursday 29 May 2014

A weekend paint fest

Painting Montgomery
May 2014

Phew - what a weekend! 

Whilst the world and his wife we attending a soggy Crick or pounding a rain drenched beat on the BCN Challenge I was dodging the rain and getting The Jam Butty painted in the open air.

Fortunately I had a rain free Friday morning, was attending the BCN Photographic Workshop on Saturday, it dried up on Sunday afternoon and was warm and dry all Monday so one way or another I had enough windows of opportunity to break the back of the job. My task was eased by the remarkable drying properties of Symphony Coatings range of Narrowboat paint which is touch dry in 20 mins and capable of withstanding a few spots of rain.

We have opted for the same colours as Wand'ring Bark to make them a pair so its red bows and roof with green side panels and coach lines in cream.

The roof was rather the worse for wear having had several colours applied over its life but a good bit of sanding and the self leveling properties of the thick resin paint flattened it all off and it looks great. I followed the tips from a recent Waterways World article on coach lines, painting two coats of cream on on first, feathering the edges, applying no bleed masking tape and then applying the surrounding red and green. The masking tape is removed whilst the paint is barely dry and voila - a great result, clean crisp lines which are straighter than those on WB.

Its now all set for Jim McCormack to come up with a design for the side panels and stern bends and The Jam Butty will come to life.

This cute little boat is making friends at ever turn. During my weekend in the marina at least 30 boaters must have wandered over to know more and all were very keen to get inside and see what she looks like. I have to admit that this is exactly the reaction I was looking for and bodes well for the future.

I have cleaned the back cabin out a bit and whilst some scumbling needs attention, it has survived its years of neglect very well. In fact, it has a distinct patina of age which is appealing so maybe less is more in this area. I think we will live with it for a while and see how we feel at the end of the season.

Next I need to build the Cratch with the top plank plus the adjustable false floor all hopefully in time for the Birmingham Floating Market where she will be formally "launched".

Tuesday 27 May 2014

A Question

BCN Question
May 2014

I  sometimes come across something which stirs the inquisitive part of me.

Last weekend I spent the Saturday in the BCNS meeting room which also doubles as a a small museum containing canal artifacts donated by members. One objects (actually there are two examples) are BCN signs where the metal has laminated to an extraordinary extent. 

But its not the construction which caught my eye but rather the inclusion of a star in the cut out design. It could be decorative, but I bet it has some significance.

Does anyone have any ideas what this means? - I have never seen it on any later signs.

I suppose it could be the star of David - but did the BCN have any Jewish connections?

And then taking this line of thought a bit further.... What do we know about The BCN Company itself? We know heaps about the canals they built, but what about the personality of the organisation who owned the infrastructure which held the West Midlands together and was the catalyst for its growth and prosperity. 

Liking to view things from a commercial perspective I want to know more but am unsure where to look, and cant find any books on the subject. Any ideas?

Monday 26 May 2014

Missing the BCN Challenge

Missing the BCN Challenge
May 2014

I never went to University, and for three years from age 18 to 21 I rather wistfully watched my friends come and go from far flung destinations wondering if I had made the right decision. 

Blue Nun - the last entrant and the first to arrive on Saturday morning

I feel a bit the same about the BCN Challenge, a 24 hour endurance race round the BCN. I was a participant in 2011 and 2012 but missed 2013 on account of exhibiting at Crick. Roll forward to 2014 and Wand'ring Bark was unavailable as she is on her way to Etruria laden with a ton of jam for the festival next weekend, crewed by Mr Truth and his lady wife Les.

Titford Pumphouse meeting room

I suppose I could have crewed for another boat but the arrival of Montgomery and the opportunity to spend some concentrated time fixing her up ready for the Birmingham Floating Market was too much. And then there was the long awaited photographic workshop which was being held on the same day. Something had to give.

I am not sure that seeing a clutch of boats coming up the Titford flight helped much, It was a bit like those student returning for the holidays. It just serves to highlight what you are missing. However, the silver lining in this particular cloud was the fact the the said cloud was busy discharging a months worth of rain onto an unsuspecting Birmingham in 12 hours flat. I experienced conditions like this on the 2012 Challenge and even for a die hard canal enthusiast like me, boating lost is appeal.

Winding the Joey

The event did offer a clutch of interesting photo opportunities not included in yesterdays post.

So this post is a tribute to all those 48 hardy Challengers who have been bringing the BCN to life in the most atrocious conditions. 

Sunday 25 May 2014

BCNS Photography Day 2014

Photography Workshop
Titford Pumphouse
May 2014

Ask any photographer what he wants and the answer will inevitably be sunshine and blue skies, and that's exactly want Keith Maslin was praying for as he organised the first BCNS photography day. Sadly it wasn't to be as both he and the BCN Challengers discovered. It rained, and rained, and then intensified to culminate with the mother of all thunderstorms in the evening.

Titford Pumphouse

But undaunted Kev and his happy band of photographic enthusiasts gathered at the Titford Pumphouse, official meeting place for the the BCN Society.

Langley Maltings

There were about 12 of us with a whole range of experience and kit, from semi pro DSLR's through to Compacts but there was something there for all of us. My yardstick for success is to aim to come away with two or three insights which will make a difference in future and I picked these up in the first hour.

1. The depth of field (area of focus) is 1/3rd in front of the point of focus and 2/3rds behind - very important if I ever get a close up of a Kingfisher again.

2. When using the "thirds" rule also consider getting points of interest on the intersections.

Titford Locks

Being based on the interesting Titford arm it was all supposed to be about "getting out there" but our forays out into the big outdoors were hampered by the unremitting rain. Some participants opted for the camera in a poly bag approach but I favoured the snatch it out of the camera case and get it back asap. Either way it didn't make for well considered compositions!!!

Canal Character

The BCN Challenge was underway at the same time and a steady succession of boats came up and down the flight of locks and the particularly well timed arrival of Joanna towing a Joey boat coincided with a 15 minute window when it nearly stopped raining.

Static Object

And so the first BCNS Photographic workshop came to an end at 3.30, ably supported by the Wards who kept us well refreshed with tea, coffee, biscuits and good cheer and of course led by the hugely talented Kev Maslin.

Kev Maslin (not an assignment!)

As with any photography, we were set specific tasks and today's images are my offering.

View framed by a (pipe) bridge

Apart form the weather how could this fail to be a great event. Photography, canals (BCN) and great company - what a fantastic combination. Its a bit like getting your ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed and Composition right all at the same time....

Saturday 24 May 2014

A boaty catch up

Boating catch up
May 2014

After all the excitement of last weekend you would think it would be a quiet, boat free week - but far from it.

Wednesday had more than a touch of ground hog day about it - 12 noon found me back on the site of Patent Shaft, again, meeting about 20 boaters, again, and taking them f
or a walk along the Bradley Branch to the Lock Gate factory and back via the Gospel Oak Pub and branch canal, again.

Its odd how groups differ. Last week everyone was all kitted up and ready for the off at noon sharp but this week it was all much more laid back. Canal time had set in and we had a leisurely introduction to the history of the area all washed down with a very acceptable pint of Bumblehole, which commanded a ridiculously low price of £1. I suspect that a deal had been struck for the last few pints in an open cask at the Titford Gathering the previous weekend - and I was very happy to be a recipient.

A gate in a crate

The weather was scorching hot, which makes three sun kissed Explorer cruise walks on the trot and certainly shows off the area to its best advantage.This time I gave the participants a copy of a map of the lost canals and this helped them engage with their surroundings, asking lots of questions and giving me plenty of opportunities to wax lyrical about the BCN in general.

Map on the wall of the Bradley works

The staff at the lock gate factory always seem happy to turn off the tools and show parties around, explaining how gates are made and letting the visitors see just about everything. Somehow you will always find a few of us (mainly Stuart) gathered round the skip extracting interesting and invariably heavy souvenirs. On my last visit I was disappointed to miss out on a 2010 gate plaque but this time I picked up half a dozen big gate bolts which will cut down nicely to form part of the false floor on the butty.

The new floor on the hold of Montgomery

And that offers the perfect Radio 2 segway into an update on the Jam Butty. This Bank Holiday offers a great opportunity to crack on with the new boat but sadly the weather on Friday didn't want to play ball. Helen demanded my muscle down at the wholesale market at 6.00am so I was up and about arriving on site at 8.30 and immediately set about installing a floor. As usual, nothing was square but I got there in the end. 

Mid morning the Truths arrived to take Wand'ring Bark out to Etruria via Middlewich so with them gone I moved Montogmery into my main mooring slot where I had a supply of power and grabbed my opportunities to get some red undercoat onto the boat. The raim showers kept coming over but in the end I managed to pain the bows and the cabin roof plus the hold bulkheads / doors. Its great to see the boat taking shape.

No boat work on Saturday, but with the BCN Challenge taking place there should be lots to photograph during today's photographic workshop based at the Titford Pumphouse. No doubt the end results will be published tomorrow.  

Good luck to all you Marathon Challengers and Crick attendees!

Wednesday 21 May 2014

The Jam Butty finds a new home

Back to Calf Heath
May 2014

If our trip along the Shroppie represented the sea trials, our return along the Staffs and Worcs from Autherley to Calf Heath was the time trial. Not that we were out to set any records but rather we just wanted to get an idea of how much extra time we would need to allow for regular trips.

The movement along open canal was fairly brisk, with the boat moving sufficiently fast to generate a trail of bubbles from the bows. This is a good indicator that we are approaching max speed on the S&W, so not far off the pace. The Pendeford Rockin was another matter altogether. Its always a slow process but with a butty adding drag it passed with glacial slowness.

Perhaps the best time trial was the stretch between the Fox and Anchor at Coven and the marina at Calf Heath. This is a very familiar trip and one we usually complete in 50 mins or so. With the butty in tow we managed the distance in a creditable 1hr 5 mins suggesting we need to add 10 to 15 mins for every standard hour. It certainly slows us down but not to an unacceptable level.

The arrival back at the Marina was always going to be something of a spectacle. All the guys knew we were coming and gave us a standing ovation as we swept majestically into the lagoon and straight onto our mooring slot as though we didn't have 5 or 6 tons of iron and steel hanging on our stern. In fact the butty very nearly did a perfect self entry into the mooring beside us which would have been great but for the fact that its someone else's spot! 

So we moored Wand'ring Bark and I jumped onto Montgomery armed with the boat pole to push her to the designated mooring on the far side. As I stood on the bows, pole in hand I found it impossible to resist a loud rendition of "Just One Cornetto" but soon found it easier to control by poling from the hold. Ultimately we hope to get the boats into adjoining moorings but for now the craft sit apart and so it will stay whilst the renovation work is undertaken, ready for its first outing to the Birmingham Floating Market in late June.

Monday 19 May 2014

The Jam Butty

The First Trip
May 2014

Yesterdays journey didn't really qualify as a proper test as it was all past moored boats so Sunday was its first journey unfettered by its surroundings.

 Montgomery passed her first lock at Autherley

The throttle was open up to the usual cruising revs of 1400 and Montgomery settled into the twin towing straps, most of the propwash sliding under her bows with some creaming away on either side, fanning out in a splayed V of froth. Progress seemed to be scarcely impeded, until we reached the narrows at Chillington. This is a shallow bit and its here that all the thrust is squeezed either side of the butty and progress slows to a crawl.

 She fits!

We also passed the Bywater hotel pair running on a short line, attracting many curious stares and an exclamation the "that has to be the shortest butty I have ever seen". Progress was steady and my initial caution became more laid back eventually moving into a Waynes World period of extravagance:

 Towing - its childs play!

Autherley stop lock represented out first lock - would the calculations be right and would both boats fit in together. The stern was counted down as I watched the bows approach the top gate. In the end there was one foot of clearance with fenders down and elum straight out - Phew!

Sunday 18 May 2014

The Jam Butty's first voyage

Montgomery's sea trials
May 2014

Well this is it. It's 12 long months since we commissioned the Jam Butty to be constructed from a replica Josher back cabin mated the the stern of a 100  year old BCN day boat and today we finally took possession of this little cut and shut gem.

Moving into towing position

The delivery date has swung too and fro and but with the weather set fair for the past few days we settled on 17th May a D(elivery) Day. She was shot blasted, two pack epoxy'd, red leaded and finally craned into the the water at Keith Ball's Stretton wharf.

Our first glimpse of her was as we approached, low in the water and tucked in behind a working boat. And what a difference a lick of red lead and some blacking makes. Suddenly the rusty pile is transformed into a coherent little boat ready for the off.


Of course, there was the small matter of the payment and then it was on with the fenders and a crash course in splicing by Barney to let me make the cross straps. This wasn't terribly easy but we got there in the end.

Let towing commence

Then came the moment of truth. Would it tow? This was a pretty crucial question as a negative outcome would be annoying, costly and embarrassing. But I shouldn't have worried because it towed behind like an obedient little dog. The good natured relationship between the two boats was apparent by the time we reached Stretton Aqueduct, 400 yards to the south. The butty slides along in the center of Wand'ring Bark's wake and its huge elum and fine rear swim keeps it straight without recourse to a steel pail over the stern.

Celebration time in Brewood

Our first journey was short - just as far at Brewood where we moored up and toasted the event with a bottle of fizz left by some friends who I took out last Sunday. No sooner had we moored than a trickle of the curious came to visit and find aout more about the odd little craft. So that was my second fear dissipated - would it attract attention and have a bit if "wow" factor to it. People came, people chatted and would have bought jam if we had thought to pack any!

Thursday 15 May 2014

BCN Explorers

Explorer Cruise A 2014
May 2014

Each year BCNS facilitates two guided tours of the backwater canals of Birmingham and The Black Country, better known as the once mighty Birmingham Canal Navigations.

Moorcroft Moorings at capacity

Its a remarkable to see a convoy of 20 or so narrowboats threading their way around the remaindered sections of the Northern BCN, their crews becoming inspired by the diversity of these remote and underused waterways. Its even more remarkable to approach the "moorings" at Moorcroft Junction packed with boats resting three abreast under the blue skies of summers day. If I am honest the Walsall Canal almost looked beautiful - almost!

The big thanks go the the Sharratts who host these annual pilgrimages but we all like to do our bit to sing the praises of these underused waterways. My contribution is to provide a guided tour of a fragment of the abandoned canals, taking the group beyond some of those mysterious blocked bridge holes and showing them a glimpse of what used to be, and hopefully adding an extra historical dimension to the region which you can only get by walking the line and feeling the cinders beneath your feet.

This year it was a walk up the Bradley Locks Branch, a visit to the lock gate factory and then a walk back along the line of Gospel Oak / Dumaresq Branch taking in some liquid sustenance at the Gospel Oak along the way.

All in all it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Five hours in the company of BCN enthusiasts visiting some of my favourite haunts and seeing the usually deserted canal brought to vibrant life.

Thank you for letting me share a of the abandoned network with you.