Friday, 5 August 2011

British Waterways volunteers at work?

They were out dredging the canal of old rubbish this afternoon and, boy, what a pile of junk they hauled out. Old bikes, bedsteads, even a motorbike. But these volunteers were not entirely altruistic - they were a couple of gangs of traveller lads collecting scrap metal by fishing for it with grappling hooks.
Good on them, I reckon. If they can earn themselves a few quid they deserve it - they're doing us boaters a favour. And it looked pretty hard, messy work at that.
Maybe BW could develop the idea - award a few canal clearance franchises to local travelling communities!

The longest day

Started at 9 a.m. (that's early for us); tied up at 9.30 p.m. Apart from an hour long break for dinner this evening the poor old engine didn't stop running all day.
We weren't hurrying; just plodding along on another glorious sunny day but we wanted to beat the weekend hire boat rush at Fradley so after tieing up for tea we set off again and did a couple more hours to get through them.
Just as well, the towpaths round the junction were like Blackpool beach, full of parked boats with barbecuse going on the towpath, kids and dogs rushing about, dinghys in the water. Everybody enjoying their summer holiday evening.
Tomorrow morning we'll be back at Streethay to pick up daughter Olivia for a few more days' cruising.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Third time un-lucky

The BW rescue team get into action

The offending items caught in the keb
Evacuating Brian from the trapped boat

Until five p.m. it had been just one of those averagely ordinary and rather forgettable days. We'd done eight locks down to Stone, queued at all of them and put up with weather that alternated between rain and humid heat every 15 minutes. Then we'd walked around Stone and not found anything bar a couple of paperbacks in the charity.
But at 5 p.m. the sun came out and we decided that we might as well move on rather than sitting around listening to the bloke behind running his engine and the people in the house across the cut do their power-tool diy in the back garden.
We'd barely gone 400 yards when the canal was blocked by a hire boat that had pulled its moorings. Not surprising; it was so badly moored - on a bend and with the pins sitting in marshy soil. We did our best to re-moor it and moved on.
A half mile further and a couple of little lads flagged us down at a bridge. Their fishing line and float had got caught in a tree on the off side. We stopped and Vicky pulled it free with the boathook.
A few hundred yards further and we came to Aston lock, filled it, went in, tried to open the gates to get out...and one wouldn't open fully. I tried to get through, we jammed and just about pulled free back into the lock.
I spent the next 20 minutes prodding and poking behind the gate to try and locate what was jamming it. No luck. So we called BW and within half an hour a couple of blokes turned up armed with the tool for the job - a keb. (A sort of long handled fork cum rake.) They prodded and scraped and found the culprits - two large bricks that had come away from the lock wall.
A few minutes later we were off and a few minutes after that we were moored and eating a late fry-up tea. Just a mile from the place we'd left two and a half hours earlier!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Voluntary lock-keeping ... and a stoning

Walking back along the towpath from the railway station to our boat at Festival Marina we spied a single-handed working boat about to come up through the five Stoke locks. So we did a deal: he'd carry our bags on the boat and we'd help work him up through the locks.
The boat was the very smart looking Cowburn & Cowpar 'Skylark' helmed by an affable chap who was happy to chat boats and engines - his being powered by a hot bulb single cylinder Gardner. (Sounds a lot like a Bolinder without all the hiccoughing and hesitancy.)
As we neared the top lock he introduced himself; turns out he was Rupert Smedley, Boat Safety examiner and writer for Waterways World - a member of the 'opposition' when I was editing Canal Boat!
This afternoon we headed back down the same flight in Star and found ourselves behind a single mum with two young daughters. Single as in single-handed that is. So, being the gent, I helped her through the locks as well as locking our own boat through.
I think that's enough of Stoke locks for a while.
Then as we headed out of the town to the leafier suburb of Trentham we spotted some youngsters on the bridge above. It was all too obvious what was about to happen - and it did. We went under the bridge and a flurry of grit and pebbles came raining down. I looked up but the kids had scarpered. No point getting riled - these things happen on sunny afternoons when the kids are on holiday.
Moored tonight near the Wedgwood factory; tomorrow it's Stone and a spin round its multiplicity of charity shops. It's the last town before we're back at Streethay once more.