An Evening Recycling Trip with Incidents 11th October 2009

2009-10-11 @ 20:32:11 by ashtonboatman

Recycling trips

We do two recycling trips each month, normally on the first Sunday and the first Monday of each month. The Sunday one currently involves "Southam" towing "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" in an impressive 210 foot train along the canal. This is because "Forget me Not" is currently unpowered pending fitting of her 80 year old Bolinder engine. There are usually a fair number of volunteers and we collect from about 350 homes near Fairfield Junction, Droylsden.

The Monday trip is usually a more relaxed affair. A few volunteers meet at Portland Basin at 6 PM and take a single boat for a trip to collect from one street, Gorseyfields. In the winter the trip is entirely in the dark.

For a picture of "Southam" see -
Dukinfield JunctionShe's the blue and red one in the bottom right hand corner.

This month the trips took place on 4th and 5th October. The Sunday one was straightforward and very enjoyable. The Monday one was a bit difficult.

We met as usual at 6 PM. Only 3 turned up, myself, Mike Greenwood and Bex (Rebecca Morgan). That's Ok, We've done the trip with only two. We set off on "Southam" and all was going fine until the engine stalled at Guide Bridge. As it's a 3.8 Litre BMC Commodore it takes some stalling. A little poking around with the cabin shaft revealed an enormous tangle of wire on the blades. It turned out to be telephone wire, but tangled up in it were sticks, clothes, wire mesh fencing and part of a motorbike engine ( there used to be a motorbike workshop in the adjacent mill and they tended to throw unwanted components in the cut).

By the time this lot was stacked under the sterndeck it was dark and we were running late. Luckily "Southam" swims like a fish so we wound some power out of her huge engine and were soon at Fairfield. We winded and tied up at Fairfield Road bridge. Just as we were preparing to start collecting, a posse of hooded youths crossed the bridge and started pelting us with stones from the cover of a stone wall. This was not the first time that this has happened. I chased them off and we rang the police.

It was necessary to leave Mike and Bex guarding the boat. As expected, the miscreants made another attack up the towpath before retreating to cause mayhem elsewhere. I went collecting as I was the only one who knew the route.

Eventually I got the collection done, there wasn't too much, I think partly because it was getting too late for some people to answer their doors. The police still hadn't showed up so we started the engine and headed back towards Ashton. We'd only gone two bridges lengths when the engine stalled again. This time the problem was a huge cluster of stainless steel swarf jammed on the blade. The cabin shaft turned out to be insufficient to remove this, so I had to put some thick gloves on ( it's vicious stuff) support myself with one hand on the cavitation plate while I reached down to the propeller and pulled off handfuls of curly metal with the other.

While I was head down and soaking wet my 'phone rang. It was the police, wondering where we were. They had been delayed by a call to another incident which they thought was probably caused by the same group of toe rags.

With the blade clean (ish) again we got moving. At Guide Bridge the engine grunted and coughed as we passed the site of the telephone wire. An appeal to the gods of the cut and a quick blast of sterngear cleared the blade again and we carried on, chuntering into Portland Basin some time after 11 PM.

It was Mike's first recycling trip. Despite the problems he says he'll come again. Well, it would be boring if it all went smoothly every time wouldn't it?

On the Sunday trip we generally take a train of 3 boats with "Southam" towing "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" Audenshaw canal4

Oaken Clough, Ashton under Lyne 1th October 2009

2009-10-17 @ 06:28:14 by ashtonboatman

Another day.

It's Saturday and as usual I'm spoilt for choice as to which of my many tasks to tackle today, well, this morning anyway. This afternoon I will go to the AGM of the Medlock & Tame Valley Conservation Association. This is the charity that has taken charge of the wonderful wildlife garden created by Mildred Burlinson. It's situated about a mile from Ashton town centre just off the Oldham Road. I worked for Mildred looking after the garden for 12 years. Recently I've been trimming Sycamores in the garden, but I don't have a lot of time to devote to it. More volunteers urgently needed in this wonderful place. There's also a big old victorian house attached to the garden, which, unfortunately, seems to be being viewed as a liability rather than an asset. I wish I had time to help more. Have a look at the website

A Hazel Sponsors Trip

2009-09-27 @ 20:56:54 by ashtonboatman

Sponsors trip

On Saturday afternoon we took "Southam", "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" for a trip to the bottom of the Marple flight to be in position for today's trip for "Hazel" sponsors. We took all 3 functioning boats partly because we didn't know how many guests might turn up on Sunday, partly to provide extra cabin space for volunteers staying overnight and partly because I like towing trains of boats. On the trip out we had a lot of trouble with rubbish on the blades and this contributed to the overheating problems that we've been having with "Southam"s engine.

Bex, whose birthday it happened to be, brought a big pan of chicken stew, and a smaller pan of veggie stew for any veggies- much appreciated by Ike who eschews the eating of flesh. We stopped near Hyde to eat this. It was followed by birthday cake made by Emuna, who was too ill to come ( she has M E )

"Southam" only just fits through Woodley tunnel (she was once stuck in it for 7 hours) so we went through very gingerly. All was well and we reached Marple about 7 PM. The winding hole was full of BW boats and Ike had to shaft some of them out of the way so that we could wind the 3 boats. As we were doing this Neil Goodier's hireboat "Border Rose" arrived. We tied "Southam" and "Forget me Not" breasted, stem to stem with "Border Rose", with "Lilith" behind under the railway viaduct.

With the boats secure we walked up the locks to Marple in the dark and found a pub called, I think, The Bulls Head. I'm sure it was some part of a bull. I very rarely drink and had more than is good for me. Some very good discussions took place and Bex did much networking around the bar. I expect everyone there to turn up for the recycling trip next Sunday.

The return walk to the boats became a little tiresome, not least because of the amount of flavoured petrol, or something very like it, that some people had consumed! In an outbreak of religious fervour Bex tried full immersion baptism in the canal. Fiona bent my ear about formulating an alcohol policy for the society, probably a good idea, though I'm not sure how you get people to adhere to it when reason fails and it's too late or too far to send them home.

Sunday morning I awoke in "Lilith"s wonderful little forecabin, built last year by Tony Forward, and drank coffee to ease the dull ache in my brain. I dressed in my boatman costume and gave Bex my work clothes as hers were still drying over "Forget me Not"s range. Ike had been involved in discussions with nocturnal ramblers interested in the boats and had not slept for a second successive night. I don't know how he does it. Jim and Daniel Cocker made bacon butties and we busied ourselves cleaning and tidying the boats ready for our guests.

Lester and Janet Mayo arrived with Alan Crompton, the Lancashire coracle man. It was good to see him as he's been unwell for a while and unable to come on recycling trips. Pans of food were loaded on and "Southam"s range stoked up. Soon the Marple Lions arrived en-mass, a total of 19 "Hazel" sponsors in all.

With everyone arranged on the boats and numbers carefully checked, we set off, trying, and failing, to avoid nudging "Border Rose". Soon the convoy was snaking around the bends on the wooded approach to Hyde Bank Tunnel. Of course, someone fuelled up the range as we approached the tunnel and my eyes were stinging by the time we emerged from the low Northern portal.

We tied up for lunch at Gee Cross, oposite a luxurious house built with reclaimed bricks on the site of an old mill. Lester and Janet served up an excellent meal of meat and pasta. The sun had come out so we were able to dine al fresco on "Forget me Not"s temporary deck.

We had some difficulty getting going again as "Forget me Not" was well and truly stemmed. I pushed her off from the bank and had to walk to Captain Clarkes bridge while Lester steered "Southam" I enjoyed the sound of her chuntering engine and the sight of the train swinging round the tortuous curves of the canal. From Captain Clarkes I concentrated on washing up, boiling water in the big old copper kettle on "Southam"s huge ex army range. Chores done, I enjoyed chatting with our guests in the fore end.

At Portland Basin we stopped on the Tame Aqueduct to unload everyone. We couldn't hang about as a boat wanted to turn into the Peak Forest and we were blocking their way. Lester took "Southam round the turn and I used a long line from the T stud to strap her off the junction strapping post. I then started shafting "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" across to the wharf, only to find that I was in the way of the Huddersfield Canal Society trip boat which wanted to back out of the Warehouse arm. Soon the boats were in place and the trip boat away, pans loaded into vehicles and everyone on theirways home, except Chris and Kath who were boatsitting.

If you would like to become a "Hazel" Sponsor please click this link

A Sad Day 25th September 2009

2009-09-25 @ 08:17:38 by ashtonboatm

A sad day.

Thursday is normally my day for earning a crust by working in peoples gardens. At the moment I'm doing a lot for an elderly Austrian lady called Elsa who lives in Denton. I like Elsa, but I'm not so keen on the work as she wants all the trees and shrubs taking out of her garden. I'm finding good homes for as many as I can.

At about 11 AM I got a message from the shop to tell me that my friend John Taylor had died on Wednesday. John was about the same age as me and was taken by a sudden heart attack. As far as I know he'd not had any heart trouble before.

John was an excellent man. One of the most quietly helpful people around. I first met him when we were slipping "Forget me Not" for her rebuild in 1987. Things had gone wrong and everything had jammed up with the boat half out of the water. John just turned up, got stuck in and, with a combination of strength and practicality, helped us to get things moving again. Since then he's frequently done the same trick, turning up and helping out with just what's needed.

One day I was having a problem with teenagers who were causing havoc with an old car on the car park at Portland Basin. The police claimed to be powerless to do anything ( odd, if I had such an unroadworthy vehicle I'd be for the high jump). John turned up while the kids were away at Asda stocking up on cheap alcohol. We discussed the situation, scratched our heads, then exchanged mischievous grins as we both came up with the same solution. I found a length of line and we connected the troublesome car to Johns car, then we towed it, in the fading light of a late autumn evening, up to the police station. We pushed it into the compound at the back, next to a parked patrol car, then went to the front to hand it in as lost/stolen property. The police and civilians at the front desk were flummaxed. They had no paperwork for such an eventuality. Soon they were having quite a heated argument and treating me and John as suspects. After we had sat wondering what awaited us for 10 minutes or so they suddenly told us that we could go.

John will be sadly missed by a lot of people. He was one of the best.

On a lighter note. Later in the day I went to do some work in the wildlife friendly garden that I've created at the Ashton Chiropractic Centre. I was accused by a neighbour of polluting her garden! WITH FROGS!!!!

She's always hated the chiropractors and has been a thorn in their side ever since they started. She particularly dislikes my water feature made from old baths. We've had a big problem of vandalism . In the first year 4 of the 6 baths were smashed.

I was delighted to have frog spawn, then tadpoles and now frogs. She is obviously phobic about wildlife and is now claiming that her grandaughter won't visit her because she is scared of the frogs. Now, if I had a grandchild with frogophobia I would try to help them overcome it, but not this lady. She's demanding that I destroy the ponds to save her and her grandchild from the terrors of nature. As I won't co-operate she says she's going to take it further. That will be an interesting case for the environmental health department.

Southam Goes Backwards Again.

2009-09-23 @ 19:38:51 by ashtonboatma

"Southam" goes backwards again!

"Southam" is currently our only powered boat, even though she was originally a butty. This is because "Forget me Not" is awaiting the installation of her Bolinder. It may be a long wait!

Since Easter the reverse gear on "Southam"s gearbox has been out of bounds because the brake band was worn out. This made recycling trips towing both "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" quite interesting.

Ike and Lester, the engineering dept, dismantled the gearbox about 10 days ago and I had a nice train ride to Accrington to hand it over to a very strange company who were never there. In spite of being never there, they re-lined it and, after another nice train ride, I got it back and the engineering department re-assembled it yesterday. I gave it a try today. It's great to be able to go backwards and er, well, sort of, Stop, if you're going forwards.

There's a "Hazel" sponsors trip on Sunday so I hope it functions properly for that.

The Lost Knee

The Lost Knee.

Stuart was busy cleaning up, organising and labelling "Hazel"s wrought iron knees while I worked on the new sternpost. He started to look puzzled. We discussed shotblasting and rustproofing the knees, still in remarkably good order after 97 years. Obviously the number of knees was an important issue in pricing the work on them. There should have been 26, 13 for each side of the boat, but Stuart could only find 25. A search of the boatyard ensued. "I did hear a plop" said Stuart, "but it didn't sound big enough to be a knee". He started investigating the canal alongside the boat with a rake, but found only bits of stone. We went home with the missing knee on our minds.

Tuesday was a rare day as neither me or Stuart could be there. I had a meeting to go to and Stuart a funeral. On Wednesday the hunt for the missing knee resumed, Ryan entering into it with his usual enthusiasm. He progressed from using a rake to a grappling iron. After many fruitless throws the iron was thrown once more, but Ryan forgot to hold on to the piece of string.

There was now nothing for it but to get in the water and recover the grappling hook, whilst at the same time feeling about for the knee. We lit the gas heater in the main container and Ryan stripped off, emerging clad only in his blue overalls. He leaped with gusto into the water and began feeling around with his feet. He soon found the grappling iron, and a G clamp, which Stuart thought was probably what caused the plop that he heard, but still no sign of the knee.

Eventually the cold and frustration at finding only bits of stone drove Ryan out of the water to dry off in the container. I began to wonder how much our excellent blacksmith, Ed Sveikutis, would charge to manufacture a new one.

As going home time approached Stuart elected to have one last go at finding the knee. He got in the water, wearing red overalls, and worked outwards steadily from the previously searched areas near the bit of boat that the particular knee came from. He moved into increasingly unlikely waters until he reached nearly to the fore end of the boat, far from the source of the knee. He bent down, reached his arms into the water and triumphantly lifted the piece of curved iron out of the mud with a yell, before climbing out on to the bank with his prize.

How the knee got there we will never know, but at least we now have a full set again.

Most of our Boat is Missing

Most of our boat is missing.

Sunday October 2nd was scheduled as the recycling trip day, and was to be one of the rare days when no work would get done on rejuvenating "Hazel". I would be running the recycling trip and Stuart had arranged to go rock climbing with a friend. Normally at least one of us is working on the boat each day.

The recycling trip was excellent. Plenty of people turned up, including Eddy with a big pan of stew, and the residents of Droylsden were generous with their excess clothes and bric a brac. The weather, though threatening rain at times, stayed mostly dry and things went fairly smoothly.

Back at Stalybridge on Monday morning I did a double take when saw "Hazel". When I left on Saturday there was at least the top strake and knees still in place. Now, for most of the length of the boat there was simply the new bottom, with the 1951 conversion cabin propped up above it on sticks. All the bits in between were missing. Stuart explained that his climbing companion had been unable to come, so he thought he might as well go to work instead. Hows that for flexible working!

During the day Stuart and Ryan got on with cutting free the wrought iron knees from the old top strakes and lining planks, then carefully tagging them so that we will be able to put them back in the right order. I mostly worked on the new sternpost. When the van returned from it's shop duties I took one of the knees to a local shotblasting company to see if I could get a quote. The first person I spoke to was quite young but had an air of being in charge. He said they would only cost a couple of quid each to clean up. Pleased at this I said I'd bring the rest. An older man with his face apparently powder coated red approached. I suspect he was the young fellow's father. He sucked his teeth, shook his head and declared that there would be nothing left if they shot blasted the knee. I disagreed as I knew the old iron to be good under the rust. He then went off on a different tack, saying that rust like that was hard to shift. After much discussion of the qualities of ancient rust, he offered to give it a try. I left him the knee and returned to plane a little more off my stempost before leaving to prepare for the Monday evening recycling trip.

First of October 2011

First of October

October 1st, and already its hitting records for October temperatures. In the blazing sun plenty of volunteers turned up to work on Hazel. The work is still mostly stripping down. A frame has been built to support the conversion whilst the boat is removed from beneath it. After me and Stuart, Tom Kitching was the first to arrive and we had a good tidy up of the slip as it had become cluttered with old sideplanks. Ryan Hinds and Pete Nicholson arrived at about the same time. Me, Tom and Pete went off in the van towing the trailer to the Ashton Packet Boat Co to deliver a generator and collect a table saw.

Another van trip followed as there was a huge display cabinet in the back which the previous days driver had been unable to deliver. Me and Ryan had a pleasant ride out into the countryside over the Monks Road

enjoying spectacular views and lively conversation.

When we got back there was even less of Hazel left. I started taking information off the old sternpost ready to make a new one. Pete's wife, Frances, arrived and the worked together stripping down more sideplanking and recording bevels from the plank edges. Ryan sat and suffered in the sweltering October heat as he doesn't thrive in hot weather. By the end of the day, the conversion was free and Stuart had started removing the top strake and lining plank and ripping out iron knees.



Sorry it's been so long since I posted anything. Since last Spring things have been so incredibly busy that I haven't had time for blogging, which is a shame because I enjoy it. I'm hoping I can start again now as the job is going well and there are enough volunteers for me to be able to sneak off and do a bit of writing every now and then.

"The Job" is the restoration, reconstruction, rebuilding, rejuvenation of the historic 1914 built Runcorn narrow boat "Hazel". It's a job that i've been planning and plotting for ever since we got the boat back in 1988. When finished she will be used to provide holidays for people who are dealing with stress in all its many manifestations.

We got confirmation that we would get some funding for this project at the end of last year, but, having been here before with funding, didn't do anything irrevocable until the money was actually in the bank. This happened in May, so, in June we set off with "Southam" and "Lilith" on an epic trip to Lincoln to fetch two oak logs. 6 days there, a day to load and 6 days back, which is quite some going.

With the timber stacked at Knowl St Heritage Boatyard in Stalybridge, the next job was to get the venerable boat out on to the bank. On 7th July she was towed up the 7 locks to Stalybridge and, the following day, winched up telegraph poles to lie like a beached whale on the slip. Over the next few days she was jacked up and levelled, then the work began in earnest.

It's now the end of September. A new bottom has been fitted, a new stempost has been made, both ends have been spiled, moulds made and as I write Stuart Hughes, my co-worker, and 3 volunteers are dismantling most of the old timber ready to start building the boat up again.

Containing my Anger

Containing my Anger.

It was 6PM on a Tuesday evening and I had had a long day cutting planks for "Hazel" with the chainmill
In order to minimise disturbance to residents in the various flats I worked on this across on the towpath side, next to the junction with the Peak Forest Canal.

It had been a long day, made less comfortable by a vicious wind that whipped up the sawdust into a desert storm. As I inserted the resharpened saw into the groove for the final cut, an Anderton Marina hireboat emerged from the Peak Forest Canal and started to turn into the wind towards Manchester.

The lady of the boat, a solidly built cheerful scotswoman, walked by on the towpath with a big collie dog. We exchanged smiles and she carried on, then backtracked to ask about a safe mooring for the night. Her husband was now frantically backing up to avoid the boat hitting the newly repainted "Community Spirit" on the outside of the turn. The wind caught the flat cabin side like a sail and took the boat sideways.

I suggested that they back up and tie on the outside alongside the flats, the site of the prophet John Wroe's magnificent but long disapeared house. This was good advice from the point of view of having an undisturbed night, but would involve some manoevring that beginners would find challenging even on a still day.

As we spoke the boat reversed into the shallow water on the far side of the bridge and the rudder crunched into the stone copings. The bonny lady hurried over the bridge to help push it off and pass on my advice to her partner. He engaged forward gear and attempted to get the stern away from the bank, but an ominous underwater clattering indicated that the blade had picked up something that was battering the bottom of the counter as it rotated.

Its ability to manouvre further inhibited by rubbish on the prop, the boat moved slowly forwards, still in the grip of the wind. I could see that he wasn't going to get the boat to its destination without hitting one of our boats, but I wouldn't have minded if he simply scraped his bow along the side of "Southam". The sensible thing to do would have been to forget about engine power and use the shaft, which lay idle on the cabin roof, to get control of the errant fore end. I have always, however, found a great reluctance among trainee, and sometimes experienced, boaters to use the shaft.

The strategy employed to control the boat was a surprising one. As the bow headed into the arm where the boats awaiting restoration float in shallow water I expected to see a flush of sterngear from the still clattering prop. Instead the boat carried on until it impacted "Elton"s stern. She gave a lurch, then resigned herself to being used as a fulcrum as, still in forward gear, the man put his tiller over to lever the boat round. As soon as he backed up the wind caught the bow and he lost control again. He repeated the manouvre, but this time, the hireboat's bow having moved a few feet Eastwards, it was "Queen"s turn to suffer the indignity of a ramming.

I stood watching, open mouthed and dumbstruck. I knew that both boats were tough enough to withstand these blows, but I was amazed at the sheer disregard for other peoples craft.

The boat backed up again. The next boat in line for a blow from its bow was "Hazel", our most fragile boat. Somehow he managed to miss her, but, as anticipated, scraped his bow along the side of "Southam" instead. As his stern end approached the footbridge he threw a line up to his wife, who sensibly led the boat back to the overnight mooring that I had suggested.

I started the saw and quickly completed the last cut, by which time my anger had subsided a little. I shafted "Lilith" back across the basin to tie up abreast of "Southam", then went to dig out some leaflets from "Forget me Not"s cabin. I walked over to the moored hireboat and tapped on the roof. The woman emerged and reddened when she saw me. I sought to defuse her embarrasment with a smile, it wasn't her who had been steering, and handed her the leaflets. I said "Here's some information about the historic boats you just rammed". She was full of apologies, but she didn't call her husband out to face me. I diverted the conversation away from the incident as she was clearly uncomfortable, but it was her partner that I wanted to feel that discomfort. He had not once looked in my direction as he carried out his cavalier careering around the basin.

I went off to get some food. Early in the morning the boat left to work down the locks to Manchester. I wonder what sort of night the arrogant man had. It would be no surprise to me if the ghost of Jack Monk ( "Queen" was his first motor boat and remained his favourite) had visited him in the night and given him terrifying dreams of boatmans justice.