Friday 27 September 2019

CRT Jottings - Elected Boaters Meeting 25.9.19

Elected Boaters Meeting

You know what they say about busses....none for ages and then three at once.

Well thats how it feels with CRT meetings - little action for months and suddenly, three in a week.

This week it was the Elected Boaters meeting, a gathering which takes place about three times a year and it there to serve as a forum to discuss nitty gritty boating issues, often things which are quite localised or specific and therefore wouldn't get bandwidth in CRT National Council. Truth be told its this sort of meeting where everyday issues are identified and flagged to CRT. It also operates the other way round where CRT float issues and ideas past us before they are generally released on an unsuspecting world.

This meeting was largely filled with issues raised by the Boating Reps present which included: Stella Ridgeway, Andrew Phasey, Phil Prettyman, Nigel Hamilon and myself.

Zero Emissions
This topic absorbed nearly half the two hour meeting and was in response to a recent government pledge to make the maritime sector (including inland waterways) zero emission by 2050. The inclusion of Inland Waterways took everyone by surprise containing an expectation that a plan will be in place from 2025 leading to full implementation by 2050.

Although this subject is a bit dry and the deadline a long way off, the implications are very significant because the expectation appears to have shifted from "Inland Waterways craft and few in number and low impact so moving in the right (greener) direction within is OK" to "Inland Waterways craft will comply fully with the wider emissions plan and must arrive at Zero on the stated date". 

This will impact both heating (stoves) and propulsion. Most worrying, the expectation seems to be that there will be a complete shift away from diesel propulsion and instead craft will be powered by electricity, or hydrogen /ammonia cells.The electric route would call for a massive charging infrastructure investment and the fuel cell approach is either prohibitively expensive or experimental / unproven.

CRT is actively engaging in a call for evidence and boaters can expect to receive feedback requests which will be used to provide statistically valid data to the Government. Boaters are asked to respond.

It was observed that new boats have a 50 to 60 year life span so new boats will be operating long after 2050 and it will be very difficult to retro convert them as and when new requirements are announced. The paper suggests a net zero position so there may be scope to follow an off-setting route by selective planting of CRT land.

It is believed that a vast majority of live aboards use a stove to heat their craft and a question on heating will be included within the feedback form.

CRT will feed back to Government by the end of the year.

Customer Service Faciities

These are the subject of an ongoing review. There are 254 service sites on the network (the services offered very) which collectively cost £2m pa or £7874 per unit.
Pump out machines are a particular problem with CRT effectively subsidising each pump out by £30 (true cost is circa £45). One option is to make greater use of nearby third party facilities and the other is to design an inlet to facilitate self pump outs.

This situation needs to be made more sustainable with a lot of money being spent repairing vandalised buildings.

Over and under provision of facilities will be assessed and minimum standards identified. The provision of fault prone showers are a likely focus of attention.

To reduce building repair costs a modular open air design is being considered, more use of third party facilities will be considered and a seasonally weighted cleaning programme will be considered.

The need for temporary alternative elsan facilities when a site is out of action for a prolonged period was raised. 

I specifically cited the one on the  GU south of Leamington Spa and the one at Rugby. The first is being reopened soon and Rugby is being reviewed.

CRT will take this issue away and see how things can be enhanced.


The existing Boater reps are considering if they wish to stand for re-election. There are mixed responses at this stage with some planning to stand and others deciding not to for a variety of reasons.

Nominations open 21 Oct and close on 18th November.
Result of nominations announced on 25 Nov.

For the record I do plan to stand, but this time it will be in the Private Boating constituency as the Roving Traders have been moved over.

Customer Service Contacts.

The increasing difficulty of contacting CRT triggered  lively discussion and problems were cited from all members present.
It was apparent that there are difficulties reaching CRT via the website and the absence of feedback meant that there was little confidence that the messages were getting through.
This issue was partly attributed to the loss of bankside staff and also a lack of ownership of issues when raised.
All reps indicated that it is becoming more and more difficult to defend the lack of CRT feedback.

Speaking personally, I was unsure if my recent email message about a significant leak in Market Drayton embankment had been registered.

London situation
The volume of extra boats is about 400 up this year, although the high density has spread out a bit.
It is believed that London boats turn over about every 3 years, which means that the experience levels can be low.

Fradley Lock Landing
I raised concern about the inadequacy of the single lock landing above Fradley Junction, one of the busiest lock flights on the system. I had recently observed boat rage from moorers leading to distress among moving boats and unauthorised landing on the offside bank. I suggested that an extra two or three lock landing spaces be created and a corresponding reduction in the number of permanent moorings between the lock and the pub. This is being considered.

Next meeting Wed 26th Feb 2020.

Saturday 21 September 2019

CRT National Council meeting notes 19.9.19

CRT National Council Meeting Notes
19 September 2019

Not content with attending CRT's Annual Public Meeting, I also attended what could be my last National Council meeting in the afternoon.

The meeting was held with the morning's Annual Public Meeting in the background (see my last post for details).

As ever, these are my take away points which I felt were particularly interesting, but should not be taken as minutes.

Questions and Answers
The meeting started with a Q & A session and the following issues were raised from the floor:

  • Health and Safety plans are becoming more visitor focussed
  • The funding impacts of Toddbrook were explored
  • General overtopping issues were discussed
  • The balance between leaving scrubland and adopting a more manicured approach to vegetation management were considered
  • Cycling incidents - data to be analysed to see if incidents reported have increased
Appointments (Dame Jenny Abramski)
Various structural changes were explained, proposed and voted through including:
  • Reappointment of Allan Leighton as Chair for a third and final consecutive term
  • Reappointment of various Trustees for a second term (Jenny Abramski, Nigel Annet, Janet Hayben and Tim Reeve)
  • Increasing max consecutive terms of office for Trustees from two to three
  • Various nominated Council Members have stood down and replacements identified
  • CBOA to become a nominating body to replace co-opted Peter Hugman's resignation
  • MIND to become a nominating body for an additional wellbeing perspective
  • Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs (AWCC) to become a nominating body to add an additional Boating representative
  • Angling / fisheries nominee to become an elected member
  • 5 nominated members reaching the end of their 2 x 4 year periods and new nominees sought
  • 3 nominated members reaching the end of their 1st term and confirmation that they will continue for a second to be sought
  • A new nominee is needed from the Wildlife Trust
  • Cycling Uk has nominated Sophie Gordon to replace Matt Mallinder
  • Roving Trader population to be included within Private Boating for forthcoming elections
  • Volunteers representatives to increase from one to two
  • The number of sponsors needed for elections to be reduced to one
The timing of the next elections to be run by Electoral Reform Society (ERS) are as follows:
  • 21st October E mails and letters issued to all eligible voters to seek nominations for membership of National Council 
  • 18th November - nomination of potential candidates closes 
  • 25th November - lists of nominees published
  • 20th Jan to 14th Feb - voting period
  • 17th Feb - results announced in time for the March National Council meeting
The Waterways Ombudsman
  • A user representative to be appointed to observe the Ombudsman for a year - to be selected after the forthcoming elections.
  • BDO reappointed
Youth Engagement
  • At the request of National Council, a period of time was allocated to explore the issue of youth engagement, as this is seen as crucial to the future of the waterways.
  • A creative session ensued led by Louis Howell, Co-Opted Council Member for Youth
  • Various case studies were considered designed to gain a greater appreciation of what would motivate various ages and types of young people
  • The discussions then moved to consider what CRT could do to take advantage and harness the various scenarios
  • The outcomes and ideas will be worked back into the ongoing Youth Engagement strategy
  • This session proved to be both enlightening and refreshing.
Meeting closed at 3.45pm

Friday 20 September 2019

CRT Annual Public Meeting 2019

CRT Annual Public Meeting 
19 Sept 2019

Every September CRT hold their Annual Public Meeting which in recent years has been at Austin Court, Birmingham, and this year was streamed live to reach as wide an audience as possible.

The following are my take aways, but should not be read as formal minutes. 

This was the seventh APM and the event was introduced by the Chair of Trustees, Allan Leighton who observed that Income, Investment and volunteer hours were continuing to rise as the Trust seeks to promote and repurpose our historic inland waterways. The work of the trust is to make them more relevant and more visited.

The recent events at Toddbrook Reservoir featured significantly during the morning and highlighted the significant infrastructure issues facing the organisation. Two interesting throw away facts were 1. That 1bn litres of water was pumped out of Toddbrook and 2. That £3.8bn of well being benefit had been delivered by CRT (not sure how this is quantified).

The Trust has a very diverse range if income streams but is unusual in the amount that is generated from commercial investment activity. 

Stuart Mills (Chief Finance Officer) reported that of the capital funds raised recently, £80m had been invested in new assets in Cannock, Sale, Leeds, Birmingham and Staines and a further £20m is already committed to other acquisitions. The returns from these investments is significantly more than the financing costs and will therefore feed into additional funds available for charitable activities.

Since the trust was formed the value if its assets have grown 77% against 12% inflation and the volume of its investment income has grown by 66%.

Richard Parry (CEO) update

  • Boating remains at the heart of all CRT does. Boater feedback has been switched to a rolling monthly programme, offering effectively real time updates.
  • The trust takes 120k calls and e-mails each year and new supplier is being deployed to handle this activity.
  • The amount spent on assets has increased from £48M to £66m in 7 years
  • Asset graded ABC (satisfactory or better) are steady at 87% (was 83%) and the law of diminishing returns applies to achieve further improvement.
  • Towpath condition ABC has increased from 75% to 81%
  • Breach risk has declined from 2.5% to 1.0% (low is good).
  • The benefit of operating as a Trust is the ability to lake a long term view and plan expenditure accordingly.
  • The number of high risk assets has been managed down from 200 to 3.
  • £8 to £10m of external funds have been applied to towpath improvements

Julie Sharman (COO)

  • Health and Safety measures deteriorated last winter prompting a back to basics training programme.
  • Of the 317 reported incidents 34 were CRT asset related
  • 46% of the 317 were slips, trips or falls
  • 2 fatalities in Manchester  triggered a review with ROSPA, and resulted in the deployment of railings at Tibb Lock and rescue equipment being installed
  • A fatality on the Pont aqueduct has triggered a consultation on how to reduce the width of the gaps in the railings given its listed monument status
  • The safety of staff and volunteers is of paramount importance.
Toddbrook Reservoir review
  • We were walked through the response to the incident
  • The last time the emergency spillway was used was in 2007
  • The spillway was built in 1970
  • The response was a multi agency effort
  • 11 pumps remain on site
  • Water level being held 12m down from normal level
  • Remaining water will be removed when temperatures permit a fish rescue
  • Focus was to get inlet water switched into the bypass channel
  • An independent review has commenced to identify the root cause of the failure
  • Key question is how best to fix Toddbrook
  • Elsewhere CRT has 72 reservoirs of which 68 are rated high risk
  • The average age of CRT's reservoirs is 200 years vs 160 years for others.
  • Reservoir management is covered by detailed legistation
  • All are independently inspected at least evert 10 years by 30 inspectors
  • Lighter touch internal annual reviews are undertaken
  • Supervisory visits are are undertaken by CRT staff every one or two weeks
  • CRT have appointed a Reservoir Asset Manager for added focus
  • More frequent review are being deployed alongside telemetry equipment.
Heather Clark (Wellbeing agenda)
  • Wellbeing is being aimed at a younger audience
  • Gardeners World and Chelsea displays projecting CRT beyond normal audience
  • Beauty on doorstep - linked to Green Flag awards and plastics challenge
  • Natural Health Service - includes GP prescribed canal side activity
  • Local community - 60 % increase in towpath used where they have been improved
  • Nature on doorstep - Green action 2019
  • Connection activity underway
    • Working with other organisations
    • Establishment of a Youth Panel
    • Development of the Desmond Family Canoe Trail
    • Working with canal side Park Run movement
    • Development of Lets Fish initiative
    • Development of Arts and Culture activity
    • CRT asset Open Days continued
    • Development of Volunteering initiative
    • 250 Canal Adoptions in place
Adnan Saif (Regional Director Midlands)

Showcased Midlands activity / potential including:

  • 900k of canals in region
  • 5.7million people within short walk of canal - 1.75m in urban corridors.
  • Currently 54% awareness - aim to drive that to 80%
  • 1400 volunteers in region of which 850 are very active (almost none BAME)
  • Deploying a local area led strategy
  • BCN 250 activity in 2019
  • Coventry City of Culture in 2021
  • Commonwealth Games in Birmingham 2022
Question and Answer session

Questions came thick and fast and the questions I noted down included:
  • Shortcomings in follow up for hurt volunteers
  • Dangerous cycling increasing even in country
  • Hedgerow encroachment
  • Growth of weed in canals
  • Less focus on boaters and offside vegetation growth issues
  • Future plans for disabled boater discussion group
  • Structural Governance issues not addressed
  • Ongoing loss of canal side built heritage
  • Concern about average age in room (too old)
  • Concerns about water management (too much or too little)
  • Problems with stiff paddle gear
  • Communication issues with CRT
  • Limited canal side recycling opportunities for boaters
  • Timing of APM questioned - is it optimal for those in work
Meeting closed at 12.30

Heads up for Roving Traders

Heads up for Roving Traders – Changes to CRT representation.
 September 2019

Following the September 2019 CRT National Council meeting it has been decided that the Roving Trader license holders will be included within the Private Boating constituency for the forthcoming National Council elections, which will take place between 20th Jan and 14th Feb 2020, rather than within the Business Boating constituency as previously.

The reasoning behind this change is that from a day to day perspective, the needs of the Roving Traders are considered to be more closely aligned to Private Boaters than those businesses engaged in boat building, boat hire, commercial trip boats and mooring providers. These larger boating businesses will continue to elect two representatives to the National Council.

It has been a privilege to serve as an elected member on CRT’s National Council for the last four years, formally representing all aspects of Business Boating, but in reality offering an informed contribution from the perspective of both Roving Traders and Private Boating, alongside the other the Council members with boating interests.

The formal process for electing representatives to CRT’s National Council will start on 21st October 2019 with a communication to all qualifying license holders inviting applications.

Whilst this is still a few weeks away I would like you to know that I plan to seek re-election for a further period of four years, this time within the Private Boating constituency.

More details to follow.

Please feel free to share this among the various Roving Trader on line groups.

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Approaching 1m page views

Landmark One Million page views approaching
September 2019

It's had to believe that the Captain Ahab Blogsite is about to reach its 1 millionth page view.

To be honest, I don't keep a very close eye on viewing numbers but I have been aware that we are closing on on the magic one million for a few months, and at current rates it will be reached in early October.

Now, I am not such a sad man that I am going to sit on my stats page and watch the counter reach the magic number, but then again I will be keeping an eye on it to get a screen shot soon after it is passed.

Here is where we stand at present;

I am delighted that my watery ramblings have reached such a wide audience over the years since I started blogging in 2004. You can see from my posting lists that entries go back to my earliest days of boating in the early 1970's, this is only courtesy of the ability to back date posts - the internet didn't exist then!

So thank you readers, those of you who have been on the journey since the start 15 years ago, and those who have found me more recently either via my blog or my Canal Hunter videos. 

Lots of people ask "why Captain Ahab". Maybe I will do a post on that subject sometime soon.

It a sobering thought to think just how many hours have been wasted on my watery witterings!

Monday 9 September 2019

Trouble in Market Drayton

When I take a punch to the mouth and end up in the canal
September 2019

Its odd how sometimes you can just see trouble coming your way.

Post dunking

For all those of you who expressed their shock and sympathy on Facebook, here is a fuller explanation of events.

We have taken a leisurely week long trip up the Shropshire Union on a forging expedition (damsons and apples) between Alvecote and the Black Country Boating Festival and on Saturday reached the end of the trip in Market Drayton, winding, watering, using the elsan and had planned to take advantage of then supermarket to restock the depleted larder.

I moored on the first visitor mooring on the embankment immediately south of Talbot Wharf and was engaged in a spot of blackberry picking by the school fields when two teenage boys (15 ish) came walking towards he canal dressed in the obligatory grey trackies and hoodies and I was immediately a bit wary. They settled themselves onto the bench with a couple of mates, which was next to the butty, and were immediately rowdy. Helen was on the motor so I edged closer to keep an eye on things. I wasn't happy with the group so  I decamped to the back cabin of the motor where I could maintain a discrete watch. 

The developing "trout pout" later that evening

It wasn't many minutes before there was an almighty bang and something (probably a bottle) slammed into the butty. I glanced up and he bang was immediately followed by one boys jumping onto the roof and another preparing to get in through the back hatch.

Whats one to do? Well, me being me jumped out to challenge them, but in my haste didn't put any shoes on - and therein lay the seeds of my downfall.

The one of the roof hopped off fast, but the smaller one decided to taunt me from his position on the stern. I ordered him off with the customary threat of a dunking in the cut and ended up dragging him off by his hoodie. This phase of the process was successful but sadly I took my eye off the other one who managed to swing a punch into my mouth. 

With no shoes on my grip was poor and as I continued to swing the kid round and off the boat he dropped to the floor and I overbalanced right into the canal!  Yoof number two (the puncher) then thought i would be a good idea to push me back in as I got out but I pointed out that if he came within my reach he would be "in the bloody cut with me". He backed off.

Meanwhile the little git I had slung off the boat stood there with a torn hoodie realised that in the struggle his shoulder bag, which presumably contained his phone, had ended up in the water which was satisfyingly waterlogged. 

I hopped out with an aim of protecting Helen and the boats (in that order) and my objective was then to drive them away rather inflict vigilante style retribution. So dripping wet I walked at them and they promptly withdrew towards town. I followed, barefoot, for a few hundred yards till I was sure they were away and I then splodged back to the boat, retrieving my phone for a 999 call to report the assault ,and explain my dishevelled state to a disbelieving Helen. She had been on the phone a mere 70 feet away and had heard absolutely nothing.

Given that it was attempted burglary and assault I was rather surprised that the Police didn't dispatch a car whilst the offenders could have been apprehended (its a 10 min walk back to town) and instead logged it and I had a call back from the local force the next day when they apologised that the 999 call didn't trigger the dispatch of a car. At least they know there is a problem in the area.

I have since spoken to other local boaters who know of at least four similar incidents in the recent past, so Market Drayton is clearly currently a flashpoint and a place where you need to be vigilant. 

My take away thoughts are, wherever possible, not to moor close to seats beside the canals. These are places where kids congregate and they are likely to focus on whatever is close by. Had I selected a mooring 400 yards up the towpath I would probably never have had the trouble. Some suggest that a weapon such a a mooring spike or windlass would have had an impact, but in the same way I am sure that little will come of my report to the police, had I wielded a heavy weapon at them I would have been the one prosecuted for assault.

So, in the end I did protect the boats and their contents, I did manage to drive them off, one sustained a torn top and probably a wrecked phone but for my part I took a thick lip and a dunking. The dunking was probably a blessing in disguise because it cooled a growing rage and prevented me escalating an altercation beyond what was considered reasonable force. 

So, take care in Market Drayton at the moment. This was mostly a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time but local info suggests its my no means an isolated incident. 

We decided that discretion was the better part of valour, so quietly slipped away and spent the night the other side of the Tyrely Locks, well away from any possible overnight reprisals where we would have been sitting ducks. Such it the power of the internet / boating grapevine that as we travelled south to Gnosall on Sunday, heads kept popping out of moored boats asking if my lip was ok!

But of all the lessons one could learn from this incident is - if you decide to tackle rampaging teenagers, remember to put your shoes on first!

My lips are healing well and it will take more than a couple of louts to dampen my enthusiasm for canals or boating. It's just not what one would expect in sleepy Shropshire.

To all of you who sent me your best wishes of Facebook - Thanks. The pain in my lips was more than balanced by the outpouring of love and compassion you all expressed. 

Take care and keep those shoes handy.