Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Our Extended Trip with "Sickle" Is Finally Complete

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Having made such good progress with "Sickle" at the weekend, all that was required was to complete the final leg to her home base.  I'm not confident single handing "Sickle" through any significant number of locks, but after the weekend there was just one shallow lock remaining, making bringing her back on my own a realistic prospect.

The ornamental bridge, Cosgove
In fact I had messed up in thinking I was free for the move today, as when I checked, I had arranged for an engineer to come in and upgrade our broadband service at home.  So it was touch and go whether I would be freed up in time to head off to Stoke Bruerne.  In practice our engineer arrived early, and was fairly efficient, but even so I set off to "Sickle" somewat later than ideal.

What I know from experience, if I am to put in significant mileage on my own. is that time spent get everything spot on before you leave is actually time well spent.  There is nothing more galling than to set off, only to have to pull over again, because something has not been checked, or is not as it should be.

Cosgrove Lock
It started out as a nother fairly hot day, but thankfully cooled off somewhat as the day progressed.  The first part of the journey down to the only lock at Cosgrove was unbelievably quiet.  I really can't recall passing a single other boat until I got to the lock, where, most conveniently, two boats were starting to come up.  If single handing this is great, because you can "hover" outside until they leave, then boat straight in, without needing to pull over to work gates or paddles.

Linford Wharf
The lock was fairly swiftly worked, but the bulk of the miles were still to do, and I was down on the timings I had hoped to work to.  Traffic got busier after this, but only for a relatively short while did it slow my progress.  I rearranged with Cath the time she should come and collect me.  In fact she came up a little arly, and then walked up the towpath for a mile or so from our home mooring to meet me.  I think even on days she works, she craves to spend a bit of time afloat!

It has been quite an epic trip - our first really big one with "Sickle", albeit much of it done in stages as weekend only moves.  Sickle has been away from her home mooring for two months, and we have been aboard for at least 29 of those days, albeit that on about 4 of those we didn't move, and were simply using "Sickle" as a base.

As the rather boring pictures on today's post rather prove, one of the consequences of single-handing is that any photos tend to be only of "boat moored up", "boat in a lock" or "shot taken with the roof of the boat as a foreground".  It seems you have to look at other people's blogs on such days for any "boat moving" pictures, and it so happened I passed Adam on "Briar Rose" between Cosgrove Lock and Wolverton aqueduct.  Lo and behold, his blog post here does show a picture of me at the tiller!  Nice to "meet" you, Adam!

Weedon Embankment to Stoke Bruerne Bottom Lock to Fenny Stratford
Miles: 17.3, Locks: 1

Overall totals for extended trip....
Miles: 335.0, Locks: 265

Sunday, 27 May 2012

An Even Hotter Day

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Really idyllic offside mooring - Weedon embankment.
Yesterday would have been quite intensive even had it not been scorchingly hot.  It was a good decision to stop when we did, and our mooring on top of Weedon embankment proved to be a lovely setting, as well as allowing a barbecue away from tow-path traffic.  High up, and not far from the West Coast main line, (also high up!), you might expect to find Mt Branson's "Pendolino" trains intrusive, but perhaps we were just too tired to notice!

Looking at the top of Weedon church.
The embankment gives you an interesting vantage point over the church, or at least it would, were there not so many tall trees.  You are literally up at the level of the top of the church tower. - this is a much bigger embankment than you might think if you simply navigate straight through on the canal.

Comparing notes with Ryan about oil leaks on Lister HA3s!
We were in no rush to make a particularly early start, but were still on the move before most Sunday boaters I think.  The previous night we had met a young man called Ryan who now owns the "Small Woolwich" motor "Southern Cross" - interesting to us because it had the same restorer as "Sickle", and has the same engine type.  Today we passed "Southern Cross" under way, carrying bagged solid fuel.  It is always a pleasure to pass a well kept working boat, and Ryan's efforts rather showed up SIckle's distinct lack of washing down or having its brass polished

Entering the North portal of Blisworth tunnel
We had previously only planned to bring "Sickle" down to Blisworth this weekend, and had therefore left our second car there.  Now it seemed sensible to press on through Blisworth tunnel.  cath could take the car over the top, whilst I single handed "Sickle" through.  I'm not sure why, but I'm still a little wary of boating through on my own, just in case anything unexpected happens.  Anyway, I at least check far more carefully that anything I might want is to hand, and anything that might get in the way if I did have problems is safely packed away.  One thing to remember is that "Sickle's" tunnel light turns on from the engine room, not the steering position, so I do end up motoring along with it on in broad daylight, in anticipation of the tunnel.  (I drive a Volvo, so I'm quite used to people comment that my "headlights" are on in daylight, though!).

And out the South portal, some 26 minutes later.
A nice uneventful passage through the tunnel saw me passing a forum member going North right in the middle.  "I knew it would be you!" said he - I'm not quite sure how he knew, though!  I thought I had taken it very sedately, and 26 minutes is indeed quite slow compared to what some working boats do through this "tube".  However the maths works out that 26 minutes is as near as damn it averaging 4mph, so I guess one shouldn't be going any faster!

One of our favourite places for an unpretentious pub lunch remains the "Boat" at Stoke Bruerne.  Whether we are boating through, or stopping there, we will normally try and pay the "Boat" a visit.  Today we were both parched after the searing heat of the day.  I don't know about Cath, but for me a pint has seldom been more welcome!

Weedon Embankment to Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 12.0, Locks: 6

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 317.7, Locks: 264

Saturday, 26 May 2012

An Unusually Hot Day

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Each weekend we have been continuing the journey to slowly return "Sickle" back to "home".  Last weekend we had decided to limit our movements, as we knew we would be locked out by restrictions at Calcutt, the first of 4 Grand Union lock flights we can only get through during a restricted opening window.

Coming up Stockton Locks - no other boats about.
The plan this weekend was to actually try to get to "Sickle" in time on Friday evening to go up the Stockton locks that evening, but various"happenings" at home meant a later departure, and we were late enough up at Long Itchington that we decided just to go to the pub, and leave any moving until the morning.  We had sought advice about which of the four possible pubs might provide a meal, and had received both good and bad comment about each one, I think, but decided to sample probably the best known, and certainly the most picturesque - "The Blue Lias".  Being a beautiful Friday evening the place was heaving, with diners at virtually all of the very many outside tables, and a long queue to order drinks and food.  In fact they were quite efficient, and we ended up with a meal that was good, but not outstanding - probably as well as we would have done at any of the pubs.  However what Cath was told when she tried to order coffees later almost beggars believe at a "dining pub" in the modern age.  Apparently they only do instant coffee.  We went back to the boat!

"Sextans" - Sister to "Sickle", but now with 10 feet added.
Next morning we set off up the Stockton locks, we had moored with 9 still to do, and we were fairly slick at getting up these quickly.  At this stage nobody else was moving, but as we pressed on to Calcutt, for the final locks on the Grand Union Birmingham main line, it started getting much busier.  In fact we were at Calcutt by 10:00, which, with the locks having been locked until 09:00, meant we had not lost much time by not getting going last night.  With "Sickle" having no fridge or cool box, and it being very hot weather, one is constantly on the watch for opportunities to top up quickly with small amounts of fresh milk.  The shop at Calcutt provided this need.

On to the shared Oxford Canal - Wigram's Turn behind.
Today we were unsure if we could get through Stockton, Calcutt and Braunston locks and be at the Long Buckby ones before they were locked for the day.  When we caught up a procession of very slow moving boats on the stretch of canal between "Wigram's turn" and "Braunston Turn", (technically part of the Oxford canal, but broad, and the Grand Union shares its route), it seemed unlikely we would.  However several boats quickly waved us past, and we were soon back to making good progress to Braunston.

"Sickle" gets a tow up the Braunston locks.
At Braunston there was no queue for the locks, and we were quickly joined in the bottom lock by a lady single handing her boat.  She asked if we could tie "Sickle" to her boat, so she could bring them up, as Cath and I worked the locks, which we did.  It seems odd to be lock wheeling together - usually one of us has charge of one of the boats!  Lock-keepers were controlling flows to try and get maximum use of locks, and least use of water, so the flight took longer than expected, but not unreasonably so.  Generally we are getting more positive feelings about the volunteer lock-keepers than the negative thougghts being put about by some!

Undoubtedly the most disturbing image of the day!
By now, what had looked unlikely earlier now looked fine - we would get down the Buckby / Whilton locks today.  We made a quite brisk passage of Braunston tunnel, and were soon at the top of Buckby.  Again someone who had been taking water said they would come down with us.  This was quite welcome, as the day was unbelievably hot, and these are not the easiest locks on the Southern Grand Union.  Progress was not particularly rapid, as we fairly soon had caught up boats in front, and in some cases were again waiting for boats coming towards us.  But we were still well ahead of any plan we had had at the start of the weekend.

Don't believe this sign if you want "provisions" or "essentials"!
We realised if we tried to cook in Sickle's cabin that evening we were likely to make it too hot to get any sleep.  A barbecue seemed an excellent idea, but we didn't have any of the required items for one, (we are talking "vegetarian" barbecue here, of course!).  Cath was mindful of a sign soon after you leave the bottom of Whilton locks that might imply a suitable farm shop, so we moored up, and off she went.  Apparently the place in question whilst advertising "provisions" and "20 shops" is not in any way useful for buying any of the kind of things we had in mind.  Oh well, at least we now know it is a waste of space!  However, I realised if we moored on Weedon embankment we could access a convenience store from there.  Cath did rather better there, and produced enough things that a barbecue was in order.  Much taken with our mooring spot, high on the embankment, and about level with the top of the church tower, we decided we had already put in a long day, and would stay where we were.  An excellent evening, just spent relaxing, and enjoying the surroundings. 

Long Itchington to Weedon Embankment
Miles: 19.0, Locks:25

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 305.7, Locks: 258

Sunday, 20 May 2012

An easy day.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Approaching Radford Bottom lock
It seems fair to admit that whilst we have been broadly planning each weekend's boat moves, this weekend may not have had quite the focus of some previous ones!  In our defence we have been trying to progress quite a few things unrelated to boating, and Cath is at that time of year that many teachers find quite stressful.  So while it is fantastic being able to go boating each weekend, sometimes we have to remain distracted by other things, and be realistic about what we can do.

Attractive house at Fosse Locks
In fact an obvious limitation this weekend was the fact we are moving towards the parts of the Grand Union where there are restrictions in lock opening hours, due to trying to conserve limited water supplies.  Our decision to stop where we did yesterday guaranteed we had no chance of going though the Caulcutt locks, (towards the end of the Birmingham main line of the Grand Union), but in fact looking for options of finishing points before then didn't yield too much either - much of the canal here is remote, and away from much civilisation.

The Bascote staircase - the only one on the Grand Union main line.
So we decided to make today a shorter day still, and allow ourselves to not be arriving back home again very late - we knew anyway that we had to drive back to Lapworth to collect the second car.

Swapping uphill and downhill boats in the staircase.
The morning started with the two "Cape" locks - the last of the downhill ones, followed by the long lock-less stretch through Warwick and Leamington.  Eventually the uphill locks kick in, starting with fairly separated locks at Radford, but getting a bit more intense after that.  But at Long Itchington they again start coming thick and fast, with no real opportunities to moor up for an extended period, until you have completed the whole flight.  We did contemplate carrying on through these locks, but some reconnaissance showed that at the top of them, large areas were actually reserved as permanent mooring sites, (although on the whole unoccupied).  There was a distinct lack of suitable moorings, so we decided to call an early finish, even though it meant more to do on future weekends.

Cape of Good Hope (Warwick) to Long Itchington
Miles: 9.9, Locks:13

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 286.7, Locks: 233

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Hatton (mostly).

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
We are slowly moving "Sickle" back towards home from her Easter trip out, and our visit to an event at the Black country Museum.  This has to be worked around Cath's job, and, as has been previously mentioned, gives rise to some "interesting" logistics to getting too and from the start and end position of any move.  Sometimes, like last weekend, there are railway stations that can avoid the need to take multiple cars, but we concluded that for this part of the journey, using two cars was the only realistic prospect.

Before departure from Lapworth
We also concluded that we would not rush this weekend with a particularly difficult target that needed long days.  In fact our departure from home ended up far too unstructured and leisurely, and by the time we had delivered one car to a planned finish point, and then both travelled on up to "Sickle" we were not actually ready to depart until noon.

Junction at Lapworth - GU to left- Stratford to Right
Last weekend we had left "Sickle" at Lapworth, on the Northern Stratford, but had not completed the flight of locks there, so first of all we had six easy locks from our mooring, down and out onto the Grand Union canal at Kingswood Junction.

Strange formations at Shrewley Tunnel
We then had several miles of the Grand Union to cover, before a descent of the very well known lock flight at Hatton.  Coming back to the Grand Union, (finally!), brings mixed blessings.  "Sickle" has been quite hard work on the most recent narrow canals we have visited, which have often been shallow, particularly at bridge-holes, and also where we were repeated suffering fouling of the propeller.  Back on the GU, "Sickle" is more at home, and we were making very good progress on the lock free stretch.

Passing "Tawny Owl" (owned by forum friends) at the top of Hatton
One thing I remember from 1970s boating is bats in tunnels, particularly Saddington, where I'd been assured "don't worry - they may look is if they are coming straight at you - but they have "radar" and never hit you".  This actually wasn't true, as several back then flew right into me!  But since my return to canal boating, I can't recall seeing a single tunnel bat - until now.  The short Shrewley Tunnel produced several bats, generally flying in pairs in close formation, skimming the waters ahead of the boat.  None came close to hitting me this time though, for which I was grateful.

Cath steers away from an intensive part of Hatton.
The Hatton flight of 21 locks is certainly not the longest in the country - it is not even the longest flight of broad locks, but, they can be distinctly hard work.  The gates are quite heavy and tend to swing open just when you would prefer they didn't, but in particular the encased "Ham and Baker" paddle gear from the 1930s, (totally unique to the Grand Union Birmingham main line), is fairly exhausting, with 23 often fairly stiff turns required for each "winding".  With both of us going into the weekend already fairly exhausted, we decided to simply take Hatton slow and steadily, alternating our roles as "steerer" and "lock operator" from time to time, (although the "steerer" still does quite a lot of lock operation, with a crew of two).

Steerer's view back up flight from an emptying lock
The first thing about arrival at Hatton is "is there a queue, or anyone to go down with", but today we arrived to find the top of the locks empty, so we set off down alone.  This situation remained throughout, and indeed we only ever saw one other boat going down the locks when we finally caught up one that was ahead of us, just two locks from the bottom.  Given they had the benefit of all locks set by them for boats coming up the flight, whereas we were for quite a while having to reverse the ones they had used, perhaps our steady progress hadn't been that slow after all ?

Getting there!  Towards the bottom of the flight.
By the way, to the uninitiated, although we generally quote "number of locks" when documenting a day's boating, it is a fairly meaningless statistic.   Had all of today's 27 locks been of the type we started out in at Lapworth, it would have been a day demanding far less effort.  The locks like those at Hatton are a very different prospect, unless you are very young or very fit, and frankly we are neither.

We were early enough that we could have pushed on longer, but actually both fancied a pub meal at the Cape of Good Hope, which is te pub that gives its name top the next two locks, and which it sits at the top of.  So, finding a mooring just long enough for "Sickle's" 40 feet, we tied up for the night,  This is one of "Sickle's" advantages - there would have been no 'slots' long enough for "Chalice", which is 10 feet longer.

Lapworth to Cape of Good Hope (Warwick)
Miles: 8.4, Locks: 27

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 276.8, Locks: 220

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Slow Going On The Stratford (Mostly).

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

All quiet now, after a disturbed night.
We were reasonably exhausted after our much disturbed night in Birmingham, and didn't feel under great pressure to make a massively early start.  Our boating plans for today covered familiar ground, and in the past we have achieved the trip in well under a full day, so a leisurely start seemed to be in order, and normally would not have put any pressure on us.

Whilst Cath did some essential shopping, I got things ready for departure.  Having noted that two hire boats had spent the night on the "thirty minutes maximum" services moorings for the water point, they showed little sign of moving on, so I was compelled to carry heavy water containers some distance back to "Sickle".  I expect they thought me a bit rude when I didn't exactly return their greetings when they were still blocking the facilities when we did finally get going.  Still, where they were, they probably had had a less disturbed night than us!

Turning on to the Stratford at Kings Norton
We had set out on the Worcester & Birmingham canal, and almost from the start, it became apparent that progress today would be a lot slower than we were used to on this route.  Of course, in the past we have been on "Chalice", and made good progress.  The W&B proved to be a canal where "Sickle", with her much greater depth in the water, was never going to match those timings.  I started to remember that even "Chalice" drags through some of the long narrow "boat width" channels where the canal passes under railway bridges, and "Sickle" was not only slowed to a crawl by them, but also continued to struggle through mud for quite a bit beyond each one.  We have not got her ballasted down any more than usual, but were far more affected by the shallowness and mud in several places than we typically are on other canals that people complain about draught problems on.  I guess different boats behave different ways.

Brandwood Tunnel entrances are Grade II listed, apparently.
Kings Norton was reached without major problems though, albeit slowly, by our standards, and here we were to turn left onto the Northern Stratford canal.  Or we would have, had two hire boats not been struggling to turn into the same canal from the other direction, and then convinced themselves that the King's Norton stop lock was a major hazard to navigation, that needed several attempts to get into!  My heart sank, as we were already well down on time, and I had visions of crawling along behind these boats for many lock-less miles.  I need not have worried, though - they decided we were likely to be quicker, and let us through.  Despite the difficulties we then encountered, we never saw them again.

The Shirley draw Bridge is electrically operated
If we thought the W&B had been shallow, particularly at the bridge holes, then the Northern Stratford proved more so.  Many of the bridges we were bouncing on the bottom, despite me cutting the power, to try and glide over any muck, without fouling the propeller.  Sadly this was not always possible, and where we did grind to a near stop in one or two of the worst, then re-engaging the propeller often resulted in picking up all kinds of muck on it, and needing to reverse heavily again to (hopefully!) try and throw it off.

I seem to have done a lot of this over recent days!
This was not always successful, and by the time we reached the electrically operated Shirley Draw bridge, I was once again trying to drag various clothing and plastic bags from the propeller.  I even pushed a large mass of vegetation away from the front of the boat before restarting, but within 50 yards we were stopped again, once more ferreting around under the counter with a shaft, trying to see what we had picked up.

With the miles largely covered, time for the locks!
I'm not convinced from that point on I ever got the propeller fully cleared - although we moved along fairly OK, the wash from the prop never looked normal, and there was a greater tendency for the back end to "paddle wheel" across the canal when manoeuvring at slow speeds.

Descending the attractive Lapworth locks in evening sunshine.
It was with some relief that we finally made it to Lapworth locks, and with even greater relief that we found, (as in the past), that there are very easy downhill locks.  We quickly slipped into a pretty efficient operation, but why, oh why, do many steerers boats coming the other way, that you need to "exchange" locks with, always seem to assume that you will do all the work of giving them a totally straight run from one lock to the other, whilst you jump through hoops to make it possible for them ?  People generally I think see "Sickle" as a "small" boat, manoeuvrable,  that can easily get out of their way - and seem to have little comprehension that it needs far more depth of water to float in than most of them do.  I do often wonder whether I should spend more time trying to educate others what makes life easier for the steerer of a deep draughted boat, but I'm not sure how many steerers of modern leisure boats really recognise a deep draughted boat when they see one.

Birmingham to Lapworth (Northern Stratford Canal)
Miles: 17.5, Locks: 14

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 268.4, Locks: 193

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Meandering Through The Black Country

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Today "Sickle" was due to restart her travels, after last week's event at the Black Country Museum.  Cath's full time job still limits us to a situation where a lot of our boat moving of necessity is a  weekend activity, and this requires some fairly creative use of any combination of one or two of any or all of the following - trains, cars, bicycles.  This weekend we left home by car, but carrying two bikes, but eventually arrived at the Black Country Museum two trains later, but with bikes.  All this takes time, and we knew we would not set off until about mid-day, so decided that today we would only move "Sickle" up into Birmingham, not actually pass through it.

Waiting for boats coming up at Factory Locks.
The Birmingham canals are unique in their complexity, even the parts still surviving, ignoring the many parts lost over time.  For much of the way from Wolverhampton to Birmingham there are not one, but two canals - the "Old Main Line", following a path much of which was originally based on contours, then, 20 feet lower, Telford's "New Main Line", built to relieve pressure on water supplies, and the congestion of the original route, and like a Roman road, driving in long straight lines, often in deep cuttings.  These two lines, and other branches and canals that connect to them, pass over each other at points on magnificent aqueducts, and are at points other than their ends interconnected by short canals, each of which share a common feature of three locks providing the required level difference.

Better headroom than expected at Brades Road Bridge.
I have to  say, I am far more a "fan" of the Old Main Line, which has some magnificent twists and turns, and spectacularly for part of its route now has the M5 built right over the top of it.  However the New Main Line, whilst much of it flat and straight, has its interests too, such as the magnificent iron Galton Bridge - an engineering masterpiece when built.

BCN's only staircase locks at Brades
As we had a bit of margin to get into Birmingham, we decided to take a few diversions from either of the most obvious routes.  We started off at the BCLM, which is on the higher "Old" level, but within a mile were at Factory Junction, in Tipton, and descending the three Factory locks onto the New Main Line.  We had a long wait whilst two large crews on hire boats tried to work out how locks work.  Although these boats had come from Alvechurch, well the other side of Birmingham, I suspect these were their first locks, so perhaps it is not surprising they were struggling.

Spon Lane top lock dominated by the M5
Our first "diversion" was to leave the New Main Line at Albion junction, to head up the little used Gower Branch, a direct link back onto the Old Main Line.  I began to doubt the wisdom of this at the first lock, which was full of so much floating debris we never would have opened the gates without the major clearance I did, pulling lots of wood, and floating plastic out.  Further the handrail of the top gate had been neatly hacksawed through on one side, something I fortunately spotted before still making a couple of hazardous crossings of it!  I was curious to remember just how low the bridge below the top two locks is - I remembered it as very tight with "Chalice", but the fact a foot of water was missing from the canal, and Sickle's lower cabin height meant with chimneys removed, it didn't seem that bad.  The top two locks are interesting, as I believe them to be the only staircase lock on the entire Birmingham Canal Navigations.  Fortunately they were not as rubbish strewn as the bottom lock of this flight.

Spon Lane bottom lock - new territory for us.
The time lost here meant that as we were about to rejoin the Old Main Line at Brades Hall junction, the same two hire boats went past ahead of us!  Actually "Sickle" proved to be quite slow on the Old Main Line, so we didn't catch them up until they had pulled over just past the M5 and Spon Lane Junction.  We think they had no proper map of these complex canals, and were getting confused about where they were going.  The Spon Lane locks are another way back down to the New Main Line, and although they briefly send you away from Birmingham again, we decided to take that detour.  We realised then we were breaking new ground for us - we had never been through these locks, or this short interconnecting canal before.  If you look at the map, there really is no reason when travelling through Birmingham any reason still to use them, other than to say you have - it is good that they have survived though.

Galton Bridge - hard to photograph since Galton Tunnel was built
Coming out of the bottom of Spon Locks at Bromford Junction requires a 180 degree turn back on to the New Main Line.  This should be dead easy with a 40 foot boat like "Sickle" but proved to be anything but!  The whole of the area at the junction between the two routes is heavily silted, and we had a lot of difficulty getting through the "sludge".  We were stirring up thick black oil or tar like substances from the bed of the canal, and leaving a huge black slick in our wake.  It is obvious that although these canals now look quite clean, compared to their murky past, that there are large amounts of industrial waste just sitting at the bottom in places like these.

The collected debris from three prop-fouling incidents
Back on the New main Line, even after delays, and the silt, we just beat the two hire boats, passing the point the Old and New lines finally become one at Smethwick junction, just before they emerged.  We were not to stay in front for long, however!  We then started a series of incidents where Sickle's propeller became heavily fouled, with long stops whilst I tried to clear it with a cabin shaft, (there is no weed-hatch on Sickle, as modern boats now have).  Over the day we collected, one heavy quilted coat, plus accessories, one large ornate curtain or bed-throw, plus accessories, and, just before final arrival in Birmingham, what was probably mostly a "Hoodie", plus accessories.  I was surprised this all happened on the more used parts of the BCN - had we had trouble on the little used branches we took, I would have been less so.

I don't think these ladies were amongst our "trespassers"!
Although we have regularly moored in Birmingham, I now wonder if we have ever previously done so on a Saturday night ?  It was obviously going to be lively, particularly with what we assume were "stag" or "hen" related events.  Not only did we have ladies all in red dresses, all in blue shiney dresses, and as School Crossing patrol ladies, we also had hire boats turning up with crew in fancy dress, including dressed as very large fish.  We had an excellent meal, but on return to the boat, it was obvious a quiet night's rest was never on the cards.  "Sickle" of course has a large flat "tug deck" area, and not once, but maybe as many as a dozen times, did people think it acceptable to run around on it.  "Sickle" rocks fairly violently if several people get on the same side at once, so we were hardly going to sleep through it.  Whether people just think it is OK, whether they assume nobody is on the boat, or whether they are just to drunk to even think about it, I can't say.  A couple of policemen had told us earlier that things normally quieten down bu about 1:00 am, but the last two young ladies to climb aboard chose not to do so until 4:00 am.  They clearly thought it highly amusing, but by then we were not seeing the funny side of it!

Black Country Museum, Tipton to Central Birmingham
Miles: 12.1, Locks: 9

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 250.9, Locks: 179

Monday, 7 May 2012

Black Country Museum - May 5th to May 7th

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Back some months ago when I received an invitation to bring "Sickle" to a "Tug Weekend" at the Black Country Living Museum, I very much fancied doing it, but we really couldn't work out the logistics as to how, given that "Sickle" is normally based very many miles, and very many locks from the BCLM.

However, as recent blog posts have shown, get her there we did, and in practice by a hugely longer route than the most obvious one - you really do not need to go via Harecastle Tunnel and Middlewich to reach the Black country from the South!

Early in the morning on Saturday
"Sickle" was delivered to the BCLM in truly foul weather conditions last weekend, and the even organiser, Steve, had agreed to drag her into the "inner sanctum" of the museum for us, (it involves a normally locked lift bridge), so all we needed to do this weekend was drive up there, and not necessarily do a great deal, other than savour the event itself, and, as opportunity permitted, the museum itself.

I can't easily describe how odd it feels driving in a modern car down through a reconstructed Victorian village, passing mines, and crossing tram tracks and over cobbles - really only "very odd!" adequately covers it, particularly as by the time we first did it, it was twilight.  We repeated the experience daily, because cars could be moved down near the boats each night, but (fairly obviously!), removed when the museum was open, as looking jarringly out of character!

Typical BCLM setting
We knew when we got the invite, that some of the tugs would be "borrowing"  "Joey" boats, or other of the un-powered craft from the museum, and taking them for trips out on to the main canal, in some cases in trains of a tug and three "Joeys".  Although I quite fancied this, watching those who did do it, I concluded both that my own skills were probably not really good enough, and also that it needed quite large crews of willing hands, that we didn't really have.  There are two very substantial bends to get around, one within the site, and the other as you turn out under the lift bridge, and on to the Dudley No 1 Canal.  Watching others at play, there really was quite a lot of skilful manoeuvring required not to cause total grid-lock, and I think our decision just to observe on our first visit was the correct one!

Enterprise slowly draws 3 Joeys around the tricky bend

That's not to say we didn't go out at all - we did do a short trip out to charge batteries, taking our friends Dave and Jan with us.  When attempting the turn for the return trip, "Sickle" picked up a heavy "blade-full" on her propeller, and stalled dead.  Some time was spent fishing, and whilst two huge sheets of corrugated plastic sheet were fairly quickly hauled out, the remainder put up a bit more of a fight.  When sacks started to come off, it was obvious there was worse, with rope involved.  Eventually after a fight, a discarded rope boat fender also appeared, at which point I felt we might actually be able to move at a reasonable speed.  I have to say I was rather relieved this did not all happen with over 200 feet of Joey boat strung out across the cut, waiting for their tug steerer to be back in control!  I'm rather glad we had no tow at all, to be honest!

Throughout the weekend, we saw quite a number of our forum friends, including Mike and Polly who had brought along "Reginald", but who couldn't actually get on-site with the boat until the Saturday morning.  We also had multiple visits from Dave and Jan, from Jim & Sarah, and from Jill, as well as some Canal World Forum members less well known to us coming along for a chat. (Good to meet you all!).

There were 12 tugs present, and the owners or operators of the others were very welcoming to our first event here.  Quite a lot of chat was exchanged, and I was surprised to learn that there is evidence that "Sickle" was not always based on the Southern Grand Union whilst under British waterways ownership.  We have always believed she was, but some evidence apparently links her to Hilmorton, on the Northern Oxford.  Something to investigate further, when I have more time!

The busy day was definitely Sunday, and I think I lost count of how many people I tried to explain Sickle's history to, whilst Cath was conducting back cabin "tours", sometimes with whole families packed in like sardines, to see how small a space people used to live in, (and we still do, periodically!).

Monday, whilst still well attended, was quiet enough that we did lock up the boat from time to time, and explore the museum a bit more.

[Edited May 2104, to remove links to Flickr pictures which Andrew Watts had given permission to use, but which seem to be no longer available]

I also can't resist the temptation too to post one of the You Tube videos our friend Jan took of Sickle being reversed back onto her moorings after we had turned her after our short trip out.  Things don't tend to get captured on video when in all goes remarkably smoothly, so I'm going to post one of those near-fluke reverses, that I wish would happen rather more often!

All in all a cracking weekend, where the really foul weather that had been forecast never really happened in a big way.  Well I say never really happened - it finally hit us big time as I tried to drive down the M40, and I think I may have driven up to thirty of the miles on there in some of the wettest conditions I have driven in for years.  Still, many of the canals still desperately need rainfall after the prolonged drought, so really we mustn't complain about heavy rain!

Here is an attempt to show all the tugs attending - dates are from the handed out leaflet, which as it wasn't fully accurate on some other points, I can't totally guarantee as correct.  Where a tug is a conversion of a boat not originally built as a tug, (such as "Sickle"), the date is the build of the original boat, rather than the conversion to a tug.

British Waterways Liveried Tugs

Nansen II (1957)

Sickle (1936 - ice-breaker/tug conversion 1942)

Tardebigge (1909) nearest camera - Enterprise is towing three Joeys between the other boats

Stewarts & Lloyds liveried boats

Vesta (S&L Tug No 3) (1935) - Like Sickle a conversion from a Grand Union "Star Class" boat, and a favourite of mine

Pacific (S&L Tug No 4) (1934)
Bittell (S&L No5) (1934) - Sister to Pacific, above.

Reginald (believed 1878) - Formerly an un-powered boat at S&L, and only converted after the works closed in the late 1970s.


Enterprise (1899) - Originally FMC Steamer "Count - Immensely powerful with a huge 5 cylinder Gardner engine.

Governor (1942) - From the famous fleet of Albert Matty.

Caggy (1944) - "Caggy" was the name Alan Stevens who owned this fleet was usually known by.

Coventry (1935), picking its way past Reginald reversing in.

Oxford No 1 (1943)

Miles: 2.1, Locks:0

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 238.8, Locks: 170