Saturday 14 May 2011

Moving Sickle - part one - Saturday

(posted by Cath)

SICKLE was moored at Penkridge, on the Staffs & Worcs Canal, north west of Birmingham. We live in Hertfordshire and need the boat to be moved south. Canal Plan AC, the route planning software for canals said that we needed to go north east, to Great Haywood Junction, and then turn south, on the Trent and Mersey Canal.

The alarm went off at 5:30, at our Hertfordshire home, we crawled out of bed, we took turns to take a very quick bath, while we made coffee and took Charlie for a quick walk (knowing that our sons would not be up for a while). We ate a very hasty breakfast, got on our folding bikes, and headed off to the local station. We had pre-booked cheap single tickets, and were on the station platform in good time.

It was a two hour journey to Stafford, and then a short trip to Penkridge. I had taken some A level coursework marking to finish off, and some crochet, as the former owner of SICKLE had reclaimed his granny's crochet rugs and I need to make some new ones. I made myself feel throughly sick marking while travelling backwards, and arrived at Stafford very queasy. We stopped very briefly to grab some milk, bread and cheese at the Co-op, and then cycled to Teddesley Boat Services, a mile or so from the station.

On the Staffs & Worcs - waiting for a lock
We quickly finished off the last few bits of the formalities of our boat purchase, and started her up. I have never steered a traditional working boat, with traditional controls, and Alan hasn't done it for nearly 4 decades, so we were a bit nervous as we set off into our first lock, right outside the mooring. However, we began to get into the swing of it as we headed off through a series of locks. We began to realise that people were going to notice this boat, not just because she has a fairly noisy engine (air cooled, the side hatches of the engine room were open), but because she really does look a bit different.

In Tixall Lock
After Tixall wide, we turned right, onto the Trent and Mersey, a section of canal that we have never done before.

After a little while, once we had got through a few locks I started to try to steer SICKLE. It's a very different prospect to steering CHALICE, if you get out of the channel it is very hard physical work, as SICKLE is deep drafted, and has a much larger prop than CHALICE.

Speedwheel (small brass wheel on the left) and gears (red)
- both positioned just right to knock your
head on when getting in or out of the back cabi

We had a few interesting times when I tried practising reversing, since this involves reducing the revs on the speed-wheel, then using the gear wheel to change to neutral, before putting it into reverse, which takes a bit of getting used to. Then you can crank up the speed again, while pushing the tiller to the right to stop the front of the boat swinging left. Not surprisingly, I had a couple of embarrassing moments trying this out.

The very narrow Armitage Tunnel

 Later on we got to Armitage 'Tunnel' a former tunnel that has been opened out - we didn't read in Nicolson's guide that you needed to check the route was clear until we had got through it - not knowing the route we hadn't realised quite how long it was.

Shortly after this a boat side hatch flew open, a man stuck his head out of the hatch and shouted "Alan Fincher!?". It turned out to be the Canal World Forum member who provided us with a sink for CHALICE when we were fitting the kitchen last year.

Fradley Junction - "The Swan" behind SICKLE

As the day carried on, it first got progressively more overcast, and by the time we wrre completing the final few locks, it was raining heavily. We found a mooring opposite the Swan pub - known in canal circles as "the Mucky Duck". I gathered up the remains of my marking, and we headed for the pub. I spread the final piece of marking out and we ordered a hot meal.

I managed to complete my marking, and uploaded most of the marks to the on line system, when my phone decided that it wasn't going to upload any more. Back at the boat I was very tired, my back and arms ached, I had been up since 5:30, we had travelled over 21 miles, and I had been working hard to meet coursework deadlines for some time - it's a difficult time of year for teachers. I have to admit that I got very grumpy, especially as I was now in a panic about getting my marks uploaded to the exam board. However, Alan managed to get a signal, and I used his laptop to finish and press the final SUBMIT button.

I slept like a log.

Footnotes by Alan.

Cath has forgotten to mention that when we picked up the boat, and started the engine, the red alternator light stayed firmly alight.  This is usually indicative that you are not charging the battery, but the seller insisted on this boat it is what should happen.  Dubious, we had little choice but to set off, but it quickly became apparent the battery was not being charged.  So, amongst trying to learn a new boat, whilst Cath was steering, I was amid the clatter in the engine room, trying to work out what we needed to do to actually be able to guarantee some lights in the evening, and to start the engine next day.

We also practised lighting up the Epping range - again something completely new to me. Remarkably easy to control, as it turns out!

As Cath implies, an exhilarating day, but sleeping was never going to be a problem!

Teddesley (near Penkridge) to Fradley Junction
Miles: 21.6, Locks: 9

Total Miles: 21.6, Total Locks: 9


  1. From a currently armchair enthusiast.
    If you can get an early read of 'A Boaters Guide to Boating' by Chris N Deuchar it will be useful, as is all about Boating with older boats. I'm sure it has a section about how to handle a boat when it gets out of channel, without pulling muscles. Go to for a synopsis of the contents, and advice on how to find a copy.

  2. Ah - now I realise who it was that we passed around Great Haywood! I think you spoke to Anna (my wife) at the lock. We were saying "mmmm... nice boat" for a good few minutes afterwards. :)