Saturday, 24 May 2014

BCN Marathon Challenge - Day 1 - Saturday

(Boat Chalice - posted by Cath)

"Telemachus", "Chalice" & "Albion" ready to go at Salford Junction
BCN - Birmingham Canal Navigation. Once a year the BCN Society stages a 24 hour Marathon Challenge - to publicise the BCN, and get more boaters onto the Birmingham Canals. The challenge involves gaining as many points as possible for navigating the BCN. Points are awarded for different things: miles, locks, length of boat, number of crew, answering some questions about the locations, etc. Additionally, some less used sections gain double or triple points to get more people to navigate these stretches. The Challenge starts at 8:00 am on the Saturday, and finishes at a given location at 2:00 pm on the Sunday. You must take at least 6 hours of rest in that time. This year the number of boats entered had almost doubled, to 42 entries.

Ceremonial opening of "not to be opened until 08:00 am Challenge pack.

Our team leader Odin control operations at Perry Bar locks
Saturday morning at Star City moorings. We set the alarm for 6:30, not really sure why, but we felt that with an 8:00 am start we needed to be up, coffee'd and fed well before the off. The rain was fairly unrelenting almost all day - until the afternoon, when it lifted a bit for a while.

Surely the happiest boater taking part!
There were 5 boats moored at Star City, which is a short distance around the corner from our start point at Salford Junction. You can start anywhere on the BCN to do the Marathon Challenge, but there are additional points for starting at certain locations. Most of these boats were going up Perry Bar flight, with one going in the opposite direction to the others - but they still had to reverse to the junction to get their extra 5 points. About 7:30 one boat moved off, and the others followed soon after. Team Albion suggested that as they had arrived at Star City moorings after the other boats then they should be last off at Salford Junction - very gentlemanly of them.

Hudson owners have sophisticated ways of dealing with the rain!

Unusually it is not Alan looking miserable!
 We found that it was not really a case of a series of boat crews working up the flight of locks. Because all the crews were experienced boaters, it was far more like one large team moving several boats up the flight. The points for the BCN Challenge are partially dependent upon the size of crew, but the reality is that all the crews were working together all the time. Once into a lock we were sending David ahead, where he was helping the team there to close up and readying the lock for us. The team behind us were sending someone forward to do the same for us. All the boats flew up the locks.

Even Hudsons need a bit of assistance sometimes.
We were out of that section well ahead of our predicted time, and the crew began to start re-planning our route to take advantage of the additional time.

After the Perry Bar flight, into the Daw End Branch and up Rushall Locks - this time with a different team behind us, who had slipped in between us and team Albion at the junction. Telemachus waved us past, as being deep draughted they were slower than us - however, as we passed we got onto the shallows, making our overtaking rather inept. However, we all flew up the locks, and emerged at Catshill Junction ahead of schedule.

"Tawny Owl" with CRT CEO Richard Parry on the crew.
So, up to Anglesey Basin at the end of a lockless arm. It's one of the most attractive parts of the BCN, although there was no time to stop to admire the view. David leapt off the boat to gather our clue for the location, and we were off again. Under the bridge we found team Telemachus stuck on a shoal - once again a problem for deep draughted boats. Dredging is expensive, but some of the less used parts of the BCN are in need of it.

Out of the arm, another short distance, and into the Pelsall arm for just a mile. On the way back we passed Team Tawny Owl - last year's winning team - with the CEO of Canal and River Trust on board. All credit to Richard Parry who took over the post last year - he has really taken up the challenge of learning about the canals and boats.

Walsall locks - the thunder and lightening had now stopped at least
We reached the Walsall flight of locks as a thunderstorm started. As lightning flashed overhead we started to work down the locks. A group of youths were fairly rowdy under the road bridge, but gave us no trouble. At the second lock there were firemen who we had been told would be practicing rescuing bodies from the lock. We had also been told that they would know that the BCN Challenge would be on, and that boats would be coming through. The reality was that they didn't know, and seemed quite disconcerted that so many boats were travelling down the flight. They asked both David and I if more boats were going to be coming down, but seemed not to understand why we couldn't possibly tell them where the other boats doing the challenge were, and whether they would be coming that way. Somewhat more disconcerting was that they seemed to have lost one of their headless dummies through a sluice. We were told the next day by another boat crew that it looked like a very useful exercise for the firemen, as they had no experience of using locks, working the paddles, or of the anti-vandal keys that need to be used in some built up areas.

Brief stop for emergency supplies at Walsall town basin
Team Albion, who came down the locks about half an hour later than us were pelted by the youths under the bridge - with the steerer using a removable perspex window as a shield.

Walsall Basin looks like a good place to moor overnight, and there is an Art Gallery that comes very recommended, but we didn't have time to stop. We were out of food, and very hungry by that time, so I jumped off the boat and did a flying visit to Tesco, while David found the answer to the next location clue.

Night boating in the style of an impressionist painter!
We carried on down the Walsall canal - very shallow and weedy, hoping to make it to Ocker Hill, where we knew there were safe moorings, but not whether there was still any room there. It got dark around 9:30, so we were steering on headlight, with David on the front shouting instructions back to Alan.

We got to Ocker Hill Moorings at 10:30, in the pitch dark, and moored up. We found Team Iona, with Ange and Dave, were moored there, as was another challenge boat. Albion arrived some time after us and tied up to a C&RT mud hopper - they had just had a very difficult journey down from Walsall, with people chucking things at the boat, and even people trying to board it. Given that the crew was 4 hefty men I was surprised that they had these difficulties and very grateful that we hadn't had the same problems only a short while before them.  I set the alarm for 4:30, and we managed lights out some time after 11:30 - last thing I remember Alan saying is "You haven't really set the alarm for 4:30, have you?"

Star City, near Salford Junction  to Ocker Hill Services
Miles: 35.6, Locks:30

Total Challenge Miles: 35.4, Locks: 30

Total Holiday Miles: 161.6, Locks: 97

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