Steve the Viking (21st November 2012)

Steve the Viking

Tomorrow I am going to attend what is becoming an increasingly familiar phenomenon, the funeral of someone younger than myself. In this case it's Steve the Viking, so named because one of his many interests is in Viking re-enactments.
Steve suffered a stroke about 7 years ago and was almost completely paralysed. His determination and sheer zest for life enabled him to fight back and gain almost full abilities again, determined to enjoy everything to the full, experiencing huge frustration every time his remaining disabilities got in the way.

He joined us about 4 years ago and became a regular on recycling trips. He would always turn up late, sometimes missing the outward trip altogether and meeting us at the other end. As soon as he got there he would prioritise the making of coffee, so strong that you wouldn't sleep for a week if you had more than two cups.

Last year Steve joined us for the trip with "Southam" and "Lilith" to Lincoln and back to collect oak logs for "Hazel". A couple of weeks beforehand I got a message from his brother asking for him not to be allowed to go for safety. This put me in a quandary. I already had concerns because of the scary combination of determination to be involved in everything and a residual unsteadiness as a result of the stroke. Were he to meet with an accident the coroner's remarks about me for letting him go in the face of family objections would be scathing. I told him he could come on condition that he didn't get involved in lock working, a rule that he reluctantly adhered to.

I reserved a comfortable bunk aboard "Southam" for Steve, unaware of one of his less endearing qualities, cataclysmic snoring! For much of the trip he had the boat to himself at night as no-one else could get any sleep. One person set up a bivvy for himself under tarpaulin on top of a freshly sawn log rather than endure the din. The fumes must have been overpowering. Nevertheless, we all enjoyed having Steve on board, he was always cheerful and good company, keeping us all alert through long days boating with endless cups of coffee.

I wrote the above last night. Today I've been to his funeral in Oldham. The crematorium was full of Vikings and many stories were told of Steve's good hearted and sometimes infuriating un-worldliness. As one Viking put it, "Steve will be welcomed to the fireside by the old gods and warriors, as long as they don't mind being interrupted in mid battle to look at the goldfish". I learned more about him. I already knew Steve was a keen walker, striding ahead with his stick, and his comprehensive knowledge of wildlife. I didn't know he was a painter and sculptor.

After the ceremony we all moved on to the Ashton Arms on Clegg St, Oldham, http://www.qype.co.uk/place/447221-Ashton-Arms-Oldham to participate in one of Steve's great interests, drinking the very finest of real ales. Many thanks to his family who arranged a very appropriate send off and organised donations to the Vikings http://www.vikingsonline.org.uk/index.htm and to the Wooden Canal Boat Society. Farewell to a goodhearted and wonderfully eccentric man.



Steaming "Hazel"s Eyebrows (16th November 2012)

Steaming "Hazel"s eyebrows!

Sounds painful, but that's been the main task today. I'm not sure what they're really called. They are the pieces of wood that go under the metal guard irons at the bow and stern of the boat. What pleasure boaters would call rubbing strakes.

There were four eyebrows to steam all together, so we did them in two batches of two, bow and stern. They all bent nicely, though there's always a bit of stress when it comes to steaming wood. The steaming equipment only just completed the job. When the second batch were nearly ready the pipe from the boiler to the steambox started to disintegrate. It's done 28 planks altogether, but for some reason todays steaming was the last straw for it. It was a bit much to expect a plastic pipe to take all that heat, but it did it, only failing at the very end.



More Volunteers Needed

I originally posted this in 2012, but it's still valid. Don't just sit there gongoogling, come and help. Even if you live a long way away there's stuff you can do.



More volunteers needed.

I've just been writing something for the WCBS committee about how we can develop online sales. At the moment, like most charity shops, we send a lot of stuff to the tip. You simply can't run a viable shop by keeping everything, and yet almost everything has a potential buyer somewhere. I've been experimenting with selling items thrown out by the shop on ebay, with a lot of success. The trouble is, I don't have the time to really pursue it. There is huge potential there to boost the WCBS income, get more boats restored and put into service for the community and reduce waste. The barrier to doing it, as usual, is finding a willing volunteer with the right combination of time, inclination and ability.

IT COULD BE YOU!!!!!

At the moment we're doing OK for volunteers on "Hazel",( Though, if you'd like to help, we can always do with more) but there are big areas of sales, publicity, engineering, and boat maintenance where we're really struggling. It's the self organising volunteers we really need. The ones who can just be given a few guidelines and left to get on with the job.
Any offers?

Let me know.



Hazel Sponsors Day (19th October 2012)

Hazel Sponsors Day.

"Hazel" sponsors are wonderful people. They sponsor "Hazel" for a day a year, at a rate of £28 a day. Some have raised considerably more additionally. Every year we arrange a day for them to gather. This usually involves a boat trip. Some have stuck with "Hazel" through the difficult years when it seemed like the boat would never get restored. Between them they raised most of the £31,000 now in the "Hazel" fund, which we'll soon be digging into as the grant funding is nearly spent.

This Sunday they're all invited to have a look at the boat, there will be food in the nearby pub, then a trip up the Huddersfield Narrow Canal to Mossley and back. It's only a fairly short trip, but trips on this canal tend to be rather adventurous. "Southam" has never been up there, so I hope she doesn't get stuck.

Tomorrow I have to arrange getting the boats up to Stalybridge and ready for the trip. We're probably taking 3 boats, "Southam" "Forget me Not" and "Lilith". Getting them up the 7 locks to Stalybridge is going to be a challenge. Those locks are always difficult.

It's going to be a busy weekend for me!

Why not sponsor "Hazel". Get involved with this amazing project. http://wcbs.org.uk/



Back from Shropshire (13th October 2012)



Back from Shropshire.

It was Emuna's birthday yesterday so we went away for a couple of nights. She wanted to visit Stokesay Castle near Craven Arms in Shropshire, so I booked a couple of nights at the Castle View B&B nearby http://www.castleviewstokesay.co.uk/ This is run by a wonderful lady called Joyce Cook who made us feel very welcome. Emuna has been quite poorly lately so we had to pace ourselves, breaking up the day with lots of rests. The train down there was full of Scottish football fans heading for Cardiff for a match against Wales. We got seats,and they were well behaved, but the noise and general combination of alcohol and testosterone were a bit wearing. The late running of the train meant that we had to walk to Stokesay, only a mile, as we'd missed the bus. First we had fish and chips in Craven Arms, which was a rip off. I kept kidding Emuna that we were going to a campsite as we walked through the dark and rainy night.

The room was really comfortable. I got up early and explored a nearby wooded hill, Nortoncamp woods. http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=8026 I didn't know about the old hillfort and didn't get right up to it, but the woods were magnificent, though a little spoiled by the great gouges ripped through them for access by modern tree felling machinery.

After a really good breakfast we headed for Stokesay Castle. http://www.castlewales.com/stokesay.html Emuna had often seen this from the train as she travelled to and from Cardiff. She wanted a closer look, and it was no disappointment. More of a fortified manor than a castle, it has a bit of a mediaeval fantasy look about it and is surprisingly well preserved. We spent ages exploring the whole place, culminating in collecting windfalls from an apple tree in the moat. After also examining the simple stone church we returned to base for Emuna to have a rest. I walked to Craven Arms then made my way back by the more picturesque route along the river bank, inevitably getting my boots muddy.

Leaving my boots at the door I went up to our room. On the way I saw Joyce, who told me where to stop the 'bus for Ludlow. After a cup of tea we walked out to the unmarked bus stop and stood bravely on the verge as roaring artics battered us with their slipstreams. The bus runs but once an hour at best and carries hardly any passengers. At £2.50 each the return fare was reasonable, working out at about 25P a mile, but I often wonder if this is the best way to run rural public transport. Surely if they ran a minibus every 15 or 20 minutes then many more people would use it. The present arrangement engenders much timetable anxiety.

The 'bus dropped us by the market place near the castle after slowly picking its way through narrow streets made for horse drawn traffic. The town is a labyrinth of narrow streets and old buildings, rather spoiled by the amount of motor traffic that forces its way through.

We were now hungry, so we explored the market stalls looking for fast food. Rejecting the inevitable burger stalls, we found upmarket food in the form of an organic Gloucester Old Spot pork pie for me and a salmon sandwich for Emuna. The stallholder had a good line in insulting patter. The Gloucester Old Spot is a rare breed of pig, now even rarer as I've eaten one of them!

The citizens of Ludlow are noticeably stylish and upmarket compared to other towns. It is a place that speaks of wealth.

Lunch consumed, we headed for the castle. I was drawn to a motorbike and sidecar attached to a trailer parked nearby, then repulsed from it when I noticed that the trailer was decorated with small golden swastikas. Wanting to be charitable, I wondered if the owner was a Buddhist.

We passed a gaggle of young men and overheard part of a conversation- "If she messes about you want to slap her" remarked one youth. "I can't do that, I'm not Irish" replied the other. "Domestic violence and racism in one conversation" remarked Emuna, continuing to lament the lack of progress in attitudes among young males.

Ludlow castle was interesting, a proper big semi-ruined military castle with amazing views from the battlements and towers, but not as friendly as Stokesay. It looks impressive from the river banks below though. 

Emuna wanted to explore some of the shops that she had seen, so we headed into town. It certainly has a thriving centre, full of small shops, unlike the sadly dying town centres that I am so familiar with in post industrial Lancashire. She needed a prescription, so we found a chemist, then decided to go for a coffee. I had noticed that the ancient and highly decorative Feathers Hotel

The Feathers Hotel may refer to:

,_Ludlow boasted a cafe bar, so I suggested we went in there.

We went in by the front door and I was surprised and a little daunted to find that we were in the reception area of a Brief Encounter era hotel. It had clearly escaped modernisation and, if I had the money, I'd love to stay there. we were directed into the bar, which is a little more modern. Emuna ordered coffee and I a pint of really flavoursome locally brewed real ale.

The only other customers were two businessmen, one in his 40s and the other twenty years his senior, sitting on sofas near the window. I instantly developed a distrust for them both and, earwigging their conversation, came to the conclusion that they were probably trying to con each other. About halfway through my pint they concluded their negotiation and the older one left. The younger one, smoothly dressed with a smart suit and neat moustache, went to the bar and flirted confidently with the barmaid as he paid for their drinks. When he left Emuna asked "Did you notice the psychopath"? I had indeed had him down as probably a charming psychopath.

The Psychopathy Checklist or Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, now the Psychopathy Checklist—revised (PCL-R), is a psychological assessment tool used to assess the presence of psychopathy in individuals.[1] It is a 20-item inventory of perceived personality traits and recorded behaviors, intended to be completed on the basis of a semi-structured interview along with a review of 'collateral information' such as official records.

The PCL was originally developed in the 1970s by Canadian psychologist Robert D. Hare for use in psychology experiments, based partly on Hare's work with male offenders and forensic inmates in Vancouver, and partly on an influential clinical profile by American psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley first published in 1941.

An individual's score may have important consequences for his or her future, and because the potential for harm if the test is used or administered incorrectly is considerable, Hare argues that the test should be considered valid only if administered by a suitably qualified and experienced clinician under scientifically controlled and licensed, standardized conditions.[2][3] Hare receives royalties on licensed use of the test.[4]

"He seems to tick some of the boxes" she said "and he has high cheekbones and his ring finger is longer than his middle finger, which some people claim to be associated with psychopathy". "Did you notice the superficial charm"?

We left the bar and agreed to split up to do some shopping. I headed straight for the Oxfam bookshop for a browse. My eye landed on a book called "The Age of Absurdity, why modern life makes it hard to be happy". At £2.49 I picked it up. I also stocked up on old Ordnance Survey maps. I was really looking for a book on the Bishops Castle Railway, a fascinating and impecunious line that once ran from Craven Arms, so I visited a couple more bookshops, without success. In one I was told that there was a Bishops Castle Railway Society and I should contact them. http://www.bcrailway.co.uk/society.htm

Bus time was approaching, so I rang Emuna. She was lost, so I gave her directions back to the bus stop. On the bus I got out my new book. Emuna said she'd just seen it on a website and thought she ought to get a copy. I started reading and found it to be a fascinating, well researched and insightful analysis of why, in such a cornucopia of wealth, so many people are so bloody miserable.

After another rest back at the B&B we walked into Craven Arms for a meal at the Stokesay Inn. Another building that has hardly changed since the 1950s it was wonderfully nostalgic, but, though the waitress was an enthusiastic and likeable chatty teenage girl, the food was poor quality, meagre and overpriced.

This morning the plan was to walk into Craven Arms and have a look st the Land Of Lost Content before catching a train. http://www.virtual-shropshire.co.uk/visitor_guide/land_of_lost_content_guide.shtml We got diverted into a table top sale run by the old ladies of the methodist church (whatever will become of methodism when they all pass on, for there seem to be virtually no new recruits). We went in, bought a few items then sat down to tea and cake. Emuna was feling ill and just wanted to go home, so we headed for the station.

The train ( just 2 coaches, how ridiculous) was standing room only as it was packed with rather sombre Scots. They lost 2-1. We didn't get seats until Crewe.

It was a really enjoyable little holiday. We would have loved to stay longer. Now it's back to work on "Hazel" and getting ready for the "Hazel" sponsors day next Sunday. http://wcbs.org.uk/


Hello Again. (5th October 2012)


Hello Again

Sorry I've been away for so long. I've just been struggling to get everything done as I am working all day on rebuilding "Hazel", then there's so much extra to squeeze into each evening. I've decided to try to do an update each Friday. There's now 3 of us working full time on "Hazel". Stuart is off to India at the end of the month so Martin Lowe has come to help finish the job. The hull is now completely replanked so it's mostly cabin building and fitting out to do. Martin is really good at these kind of jobs. He impressed us all today with the way that the new back cabin side fitted when we steamed it to shape. Originally the cabin sides were each formed of one piece of pitch pine about 1.5 inches thick. New good quality pitch pine is now very rare, but we bought a reclaimed pitch pine beam and cut it up with the chainmill. This wasn't quite wide enough to do it in one, so Martin has joined pieces together. When it's finished I doubt you'll be able to see the join.

We've got the sponsors day in a fortnight. They're coming to have a look at the boat, a buffet in the Bulls Head, then a trip up to Mossley on one of the boats. There's a rumour that "Spey" will be attending. Hazel sponsors are great people who have stuck with us for years while the boat's restoration was just a dream, each putting their contribution in each year until it grew into a useful fund. More sponsors are needed. It doesn't cost the Earth and your contributions will be much appreciated. Have a look at the website. http://wcbs.org.uk/?p=393

Stuart has been busy with what in his yachtie way he calls "flogging off" the sides. This means planing them down so that they are smooth. The side he's done certainly looks good.



Two Steps Forward (January 2012)

Two steps Forward.......

We had a great day on Wednesday with me and Stuart driving up spikes we got 24 done, a record. Making a start for a repeat performance on Thursday, everything went wrong. First of all the big drill that we were using to drill spike holes broke. The auger was in the wood so I put the Makita cordless drill on it to extract it, and the auger snapped. Stuart gave it up as a bad job at this point, but I foolishly persisted, using a huge old drill that is really intended for jobs like cutting sterntube holes. It was hard to keep such a heavy drill straight and I succeeded in breaking the other auger.

We've now replaced the augers, but if you happen to have a heavy duty electric drill that you never use, we accept donations!

Just to add to the joy of January, when I got home from work on Friday I found that I'd given myself a bad back, so I'm relegated to blogging today!

The good news is that we should get the next phase of funding soon, so the "Hazel" project won't run out of money in March as I had feared. There's still a shortfall in funding though, so don't be shy about donating



The Best Laid Plans (4th June 2010)

The Best Laid Plans!

Having "Southam" and "Lilith" stranded at Scarisbrick has been very inconvenient. At long last the gearbox was ready and me and Frank travelled over there on Tuesday to instal it. Once everything was connected up we gave it a try and, once we were satisfied that it was adjusted properly, I set off with the boats breasted up.

Frank had to head home. I said it was about time he came for a boat trip as he does loads of work but has never actually been out on the boats. He said canal boats are too slow for him. He used to own a powerboat that would do 60 knots! Funnily enough, though speed has its excitement, I think I'd soon get bored with that. Each to their own.

Alan, the very helpful owner of Red Lion Caravans who had kept our batteries charged during the long sojourn at Scarisbrick, gave a parting gift in the form of a little used battery for our bilge pumps.

The only difficulty in taking both boats singlehanded was the swing bridges. It would be hard for me to operate these and handle the boats at the same time. I rang my friend Cookie who lives at Burscough. As the first swing bridge hove into view I spotted a little girl on a pink bike on the towpath. It was Cookie's daughter, Cara. She enjoyed a ride on the bridge as Cookie swung it out of my path, then the two of them whizzed past on their bikes to operate the next bridge.

At Burscough we met Keith and Elsa Williams. Keith, formerly a very active man with a building business, had been struck down with some obscure life threatening illness. After ages in a wheelchair he is now walking again with the aid of a stick, and coming on his first boat trip since his illness.

We tied up next to the boat where Cara, Cookie and her partner Kenny live. I got on my bike and rode back the 4 miles to Scarisbrick to collect the van. I drove back to Ashton to make arrangements to keep the rest of the fleet afloat in my absence. At Portland Basin I met Joe and took him through the various pumps that need to be checked regularly. With that organised I went home and flopped into bed.

Next morning I was up with the lark to feed Captain Kit and check the boats before catching the 7.34 AM train from Ashton station. I was joined by Ian. I had been expecting Bex too, but she rang me later to explain that her dog had had a crisis with his ear and she'd had to take him to the vet.

The crowded train took us straight to Burscough, and a short walk along the main street brought us to the canal. I set to work with the aid of Kenny and Cookie's generator to repair some damage done by an overconfident trainee steerer in Liverpool. We sorted out the food kitty and Elsa went out to stock up on provisions.

It was about 20 to 12 when we set out. Ian steered the butty. He hadn't done this before and was on his own, but he took to it like a duck to water. Some people seem to learn instinctively. Others seem to never learn to steer, however much you try to teach them. Cara enjoyed watching the passing scene from the foredeck under the watchful eyes of Cookie, Keith and Elsa. Cookie took care of the swing bridges again, which involved a lot of running as she was now bikeless. Keith and Elsa kept everyone supplied with sausage butties, cups of tea etc.

It was a beautiful blazing hot day as we chuntered along the wide canal, busy with pleasure boats, walkers and cyclists. I steered "Southam" and listened to the engine note for any trace of the gearbox slipping. Many people asked about the boats, but the noise of the engine made it difficult to hear. I would tell them that the butty was 108 years old as that was the answer to the most frequent question. A cyclist stopped as we approached, took out his camera and videoed our passing.

Sausage butties and brews distributed, Elsa came to take over steering and I just stood on the gunwale and kept an eye on things. We swung round the tight turn at Parbold and followed the canal up the narrowing Douglas valley. The flatlands were now behind us and the outside of the canal became a thickly wooded bank. Below us to the right was the wandering course of the Douglas, once navigable by Mersey Flats, but later superseded by the canal.

The engine revs began to oscillate, a sure sign that the gearbox is slipping. This was not surprising. Frank had said that it may need adjusting again when the clutch plates had bedded in. We breasted up the boats and tied up on the towpath. I removed the gearbox inspection plate and unscrewed the locking bolt on the adjuster. I was afraid of dropping a component and handled the hot pieces of metal very carefully. About a quarter turn on the adjuster was plenty and then I had to screw in the locking bolt again, taking care not to drop it. The bolt had to be tight and Frank had left me a socket to screw it down with, there being no room for a normal spanner. As I went to put the socket on the bolt it slipped out of my fingers and dropped into the gearbox. I put my hand in to look for it, but it was still too hot.

I went forward for a cup of tea to wait for the heat to dissipate. On my return I found that the temperature was now bearable and plunged my hand into the warm oil. Though I was now able to get it deep into the machinery, there was still no way I could reach down into the sump to retrieve the socket. I decided that it was too heavy and compact to become a literal spanner in the works, so I abandoned it to its oily fate. This left the problem of how to tighten the locking bolt. I rooted through the toolbox and made a lucky discovery of a bicycle spanner that fitted perfectly and was short enough to turn inside the gearbox.

With the locking bolt tightened and lid re-fitted I started the engine and we carried on, staying breasted as it was only a short distance to Apperley lock, a huge deep chasm of a lock with badly leaking top gates that flooded "Lilith"s stern on the way down.

This time there was less of a Niagara, largely because the level above the lock was about 2 feet down. Some of Cookies friends on one of those big wide steel boats that are now so popular round here had tied up next to the lock in the entrance to the abandoned locks that used to run parrallel. We worked up and gingerly pushed forward into the half empty waterway, singled out once again. All was well as long as I kept "Southam" right in the middle. The waves that our passage created at the sides betrayed the shallowness of the water.

A good crew seems to work by ESP, everyone knowing what is required and just going ahead and doing it. It takes ages to reach that stage though, and, in the meantime, there is manifold scope for things to go wrong through misunderstandings. Verbal communication is difficult over 140 feet of boat with the steerer standing next to a noisy engine. A series of misunderstandings led to the arrival at Dean Lock being a little embarrasing.

Between the village of Apperley Bridge and the lock I remembered that there were some swing bridges locked open out of use. These would make excellent places for Cookie to get off and run ahead to set the lock. As we approached the second of these I made sure that it would be easy for her to get off, but she made no move to do so. Assuming that there was a third bridge, Cookie knows this canal better than me, I carried on, only to see the locks come into view with no handy narrows. I gingerly moved "Southam" towards the bank and Cookie jumped off with her windlass. As I started to ease the motor away from the bank, thankful that she had not stemmed up, I began to wonder why Ian had the tiller pushed hard over on the butty. "Other way" I bellowed. In reply he indicated the abandoned lock that we were passing. As at Apperley, in the 1890s traffic on this canal was so heavy that they doubled the locks. The second, parrallel, set were abandoned years ago but are still complete, though unusable. Ian didn't know this and couldn't understand why we were passing the lock.

As we approached the operational Dean Lock, Cookie was still preparing it. I tried to breast up the boats to wait, but got "Southam" into shallow water. As I tried to get her into the channel again, and breast up the butty at the same time, things got worse as we drifted into the shallow entrance to the arm that hundreds of years ago connected with the River Douglas. The boats came to an ignonimous stop as "Southam"s stem impacted the copings.

After much thrashing about in black silty water we got the pair into the lock. As it filled I remembered that we should have stopped in the tail of the lock to fill the water tank. "It doesn't matter", I thought, "we can fill up later today in Wigan".

Above the active lock there is a wide channel leading to the abandoned lock. In this was a small fibreglass cruiser with two men aboard. They asked for a jump start as their battery was flat. I asked them to move their boat alongside the head of the lock and, as "Southam"s engine room drew level with their boat, I stopped the pair and set up jump leads. The two sets that were on board combined just managed to span the distance to the little boat and soon its little engine was whirring away again.

Above Dean Lock the M6 motorway crosses the valley on a high viaduct, its constant roar the only detriment to the peacefulness of a winding, wooded, tranquil waterway. We chugged through a stone hump backed bridge and were hailed by the inhabitants of a moored pleasure boat. They told us that the next lock was closed through lack of water and it would be best to stay here. I agreed as the next lock I knew to be in a slightly grim location. I signalled Ian to breast up and we brought the boats into the towpath. Cookie said that it was a common problem of vandals draining the canal in an area known as Hells Meadow.

It was a pleasant spot where the canal is bordered on both sides by young woodland. Opposite a marshy area in the woodland indicates the mouth of a small stream, perhaps the reason why this pound remains full of water while all around are empty. When I first travelled this way in 1977 we spent a night in this spot. At that time a spindly wooden viaduct spanned the canal and river. It carried a narrow gauge railway that transported the products of an explosives works to the station for transhipment and onward travel by rail. Now the works is gone and wagonload rail freight a thing of the past.

http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Gathurst%20Southam%20Lilith%20sun%203%206%2010%20pixie.JPG.html

A boat passed towing our friends who we had jump started. They had now run out of petrol.

The nearby station of Gathurst makes this an ideal spot for people to join and leave the boats and I was soon on the 'phone making arrangements. After an excursion with Keith and Elsa to the pub at nearby Crooke,Cookie and Cara caught a train home. At various times through the evening Ian's partner Lesley (Lel)and Bex arrived separately by train and Russell Evans arrived by bike, having cycled the towpath from Manchester. Bex brought her dog Satan. The name is ironic,a less satanic hound would be hard to imagine.

http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Gathurst%20Bex%20Russell%202%206%2010%20pixie.JPG.html

Elsa cooked us all an excellent meal which we enjoyed on "Southam"s fore end in the evening sunshine. A discordant note spoiled the evening a little. What I took to be friendly banter as we sorted out the food kitty suddenly turned into a noisy confrontation between two people. I hate it when my friends fall out, especially on a boat trip. I recall a trip back from the potteries many years ago when I had to do my best to keep two people 140 feet apart! Luckily, in this case, both parties realised that it was important to minimise the acrimony, though I had to spend the evening walking on a carpet of eggshells.

As we approached the operational Dean Lock, Cookie was still preparing it. I tried to breast up the boats to wait, but got "Southam" into shallow water. As I tried to get her into the channel again, and breast up the butty at the same time, things got worse as we drifted into the shallow entrance to the arm that hundreds of years ago connected with the River Douglas. The boats came to an ignonimous stop as "Southam"s stem impacted the copings.

After much thrashing about in black silty water we got the pair into the lock. As it filled I remembered that we should have stopped in the tail of the lock to fill the water tank. "It doesn't matter", I thought, "we can fill up later today in Wigan".

Above the active lock there is a wide channel leading to the abandoned lock. In this was a small fibreglass cruiser with two men aboard. They asked for a jump start as their battery was flat. I asked them to move their boat alongside the head of the lock and, as "Southam"s engine room drew level with their boat, I stopped the pair and set up jump leads. The two sets that were on board combined just managed to span the distance to the little boat and soon its little engine was whirring away again.

Above Dean Lock the M6 motorway crosses the valley on a high viaduct, its constant roar the only detriment to the peacefulness of a winding, wooded, tranquil waterway. We chugged through a stone hump backed bridge and were hailed by the inhabitants of a moored pleasure boat. They told us that the next lock was closed through lack of water and it would be best to stay here. I agreed as the next lock I knew to be in a slightly grim location. I signalled Ian to breast up and we brought the boats into the towpath. Cookie said that it was a common problem of vandals draining the canal in an area known as Hells Meadow.

It was a pleasant spot where the canal is bordered on both sides by young woodland. Opposite a marshy area in the woodland indicates the mouth of a small stream, perhaps the reason why this pound remains full of water while all around are empty. When I first travelled this way in 1977 we spent a night in this spot. At that time a spindly wooden viaduct spanned the canal and river. It carried a narrow gauge railway that transported the products of an explosives works to the station for transhipment and onward travel by rail. Now the works is gone and wagonload rail freight a thing of the past.

http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Gathurst%20Southam%20Lilith%20sun%203%206%2010%20pixie.JPG.html

A boat passed towing our friends who we had jump started. They had now run out of petrol.

The nearby station of Gathurst makes this an ideal spot for people to join and leave the boats and I was soon on the 'phone making arrangements. After an excursion with Keith and Elsa to the pub at nearby Crooke,Cookie and Cara caught a train home. At various times through the evening Ian's partner Lesley (Lel)and Bex arrived separately by train and Russell Evans arrived by bike, having cycled the towpath from Manchester. Bex brought her dog Satan. The name is ironic,a less satanic hound would be hard to imagine.

http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Gathurst%20Bex%20Russell%202%206%2010%20pixie.JPG.html

Elsa cooked us all an excellent meal which we enjoyed on "Southam"s fore end in the evening sunshine. A discordant note spoiled the evening a little. What I took to be friendly banter as we sorted out the food kitty suddenly turned into a noisy confrontation between two people. I hate it when my friends fall out, especially on a boat trip. I recall a trip back from the potteries many years ago when I had to do my best to keep two people 140 feet apart! Luckily, in this case, both parties realised that it was important to minimise the acrimony, though I had to spend the evening walking on a carpet of eggshells.

As we approached the operational Dean Lock, Cookie was still preparing it. I tried to breast up the boats to wait, but got "Southam" into shallow water. As I tried to get her into the channel again, and breast up the butty at the same time, things got worse as we drifted into the shallow entrance to the arm that hundreds of years ago connected with the River Douglas. The boats came to an ignonimous stop as "Southam"s stem impacted the copings.

After much thrashing about in black silty water we got the pair into the lock. As it filled I remembered that we should have stopped in the tail of the lock to fill the water tank. "It doesn't matter", I thought, "we can fill up later today in Wigan".

Above the active lock there is a wide channel leading to the abandoned lock. In this was a small fibreglass cruiser with two men aboard. They asked for a jump start as their battery was flat. I asked them to move their boat alongside the head of the lock and, as "Southam"s engine room drew level with their boat, I stopped the pair and set up jump leads. The two sets that were on board combined just managed to span the distance to the little boat and soon its little engine was whirring away again.

Above Dean Lock the M6 motorway crosses the valley on a high viaduct, its constant roar the only detriment to the peacefulness of a winding, wooded, tranquil waterway. We chugged through a stone hump backed bridge and were hailed by the inhabitants of a moored pleasure boat. They told us that the next lock was closed through lack of water and it would be best to stay here. I agreed as the next lock I knew to be in a slightly grim location. I signalled Ian to breast up and we brought the boats into the towpath. Cookie said that it was a common problem of vandals draining the canal in an area known as Hells Meadow.

It was a pleasant spot where the canal is bordered on both sides by young woodland. Opposite a marshy area in the woodland indicates the mouth of a small stream, perhaps the reason why this pound remains full of water while all around are empty. When I first travelled this way in 1977 we spent a night in this spot. At that time a spindly wooden viaduct spanned the canal and river. It carried a narrow gauge railway that transported the products of an explosives works to the station for transhipment and onward travel by rail. Now the works is gone and wagonload rail freight a thing of the past.

http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Gathurst%20Southam%20Lilith%20sun%203%206%2010%20pixie.JPG.html

A boat passed towing our friends who we had jump started. They had now run out of petrol.

The nearby station of Gathurst makes this an ideal spot for people to join and leave the boats and I was soon on the 'phone making arrangements. After an excursion with Keith and Elsa to the pub at nearby Crooke,Cookie and Cara caught a train home. At various times through the evening Ian's partner Lesley (Lel)and Bex arrived separately by train and Russell Evans arrived by bike, having cycled the towpath from Manchester. Bex brought her dog Satan. The name is ironic,a less satanic hound would be hard to imagine.

http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Gathurst%20Bex%20Russell%202%206%2010%20pixie.JPG.html

Elsa cooked us all an excellent meal which we enjoyed on "Southam"s fore end in the evening sunshine. A discordant note spoiled the evening a little. What I took to be friendly banter as we sorted out the food kitty suddenly turned into a noisy confrontation between two people. I hate it when my friends fall out, especially on a boat trip. I recall a trip back from the potteries many years ago when I had to do my best to keep two people 140 feet apart! Luckily, in this case, both parties realised that it was important to minimise the acrimony, though I had to spend the evening walking on a carpet of eggshells.

As we approached the operational Dean Lock, Cookie was still preparing it. I tried to breast up the boats to wait, but got "Southam" into shallow water. As I tried to get her into the channel again, and breast up the butty at the same time, things got worse as we drifted into the shallow entrance to the arm that hundreds of years ago connected with the River Douglas. The boats came to an ignonimous stop as "Southam"s stem impacted the copings.

After much thrashing about in black silty water we got the pair into the lock. As it filled I remembered that we should have stopped in the tail of the lock to fill the water tank. "It doesn't matter", I thought, "we can fill up later today in Wigan".

Above the active lock there is a wide channel leading to the abandoned lock. In this was a small fibreglass cruiser with two men aboard. They asked for a jump start as their battery was flat. I asked them to move their boat alongside the head of the lock and, as "Southam"s engine room drew level with their boat, I stopped the pair and set up jump leads. The two sets that were on board combined just managed to span the distance to the little boat and soon its little engine was whirring away again.

Above Dean Lock the M6 motorway crosses the valley on a high viaduct, its constant roar the only detriment to the peacefulness of a winding, wooded, tranquil waterway. We chugged through a stone hump backed bridge and were hailed by the inhabitants of a moored pleasure boat. They told us that the next lock was closed through lack of water and it would be best to stay here. I agreed as the next lock I knew to be in a slightly grim location. I signalled Ian to breast up and we brought the boats into the towpath. Cookie said that it was a common problem of vandals draining the canal in an area known as Hells Meadow.

It was a pleasant spot where the canal is bordered on both sides by young woodland. Opposite a marshy area in the woodland indicates the mouth of a small stream, perhaps the reason why this pound remains full of water while all around are empty. When I first travelled this way in 1977 we spent a night in this spot. At that time a spindly wooden viaduct spanned the canal and river. It carried a narrow gauge railway that transported the products of an explosives works to the station for transhipment and onward travel by rail. Now the works is gone and wagonload rail freight a thing of the past.

http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Gathurst%20Southam%20Lilith%20sun%203%206%2010%20pixie.JPG.html

A boat passed towing our friends who we had jump started. They had now run out of petrol.

The nearby station of Gathurst makes this an ideal spot for people to join and leave the boats and I was soon on the 'phone making arrangements. After an excursion with Keith and Elsa to the pub at nearby Crooke,Cookie and Cara caught a train home. At various times through the evening Ian's partner Lesley (Lel)and Bex arrived separately by train and Russell Evans arrived by bike, having cycled the towpath from Manchester. Bex brought her dog Satan. The name is ironic,a less satanic hound would be hard to imagine.

http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Gathurst%20Bex%20Russell%202%206%2010%20pixie.JPG.html

Elsa cooked us all an excellent meal which we enjoyed on "Southam"s fore end in the evening sunshine. A discordant note spoiled the evening a little. What I took to be friendly banter as we sorted out the food kitty suddenly turned into a noisy confrontation between two people. I hate it when my friends fall out, especially on a boat trip. I recall a trip back from the potteries many years ago when I had to do my best to keep two people 140 feet apart! Luckily, in this case, both parties realised that it was important to minimise the acrimony, though I had to spend the evening walking on a carpet of eggshells.

As dusk approached I decided to try to take an arty photograph of the canal. A couple walking their dogs turned up at just the right time to animate the scene, but, when she saw the camera, the female party started to antic about, rather spoiling the image that I was trying to create. http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Gathurst%20evening%202%206%2010%20pixie.JPG.html

She was a small lively woman with a cheeky freckly face and a barmy hat. Everything about her spoke of a rejection of convention. She insisted on being photographed with her poodle. http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Gathurst%20menagerie%20woman%20poodle%202%206%2010%20pixie.JPG.html

As her partner hung about looking embarrassed, the woman took great interest in our boats and suggested that we should leave them there so that she could live on them. After some discussion of the idea she concluded that it would be impractical as she and her partner had a huge menagerie, including a massive tank full of fish. They walked on, but shortly afterwards returned asking if we had seen one of her dogs. Russell said that it had run down the towpath. She left me in charge of the huge bunch of keys to her private zoo to facilitate an olympic sprint in pursuit of the canine, shortly afterwards returning with the offending animal in tow.

Next morning dawned bright and shiny. I hauled myself out of "Lilith"s little forecabin and went for a walk to explore the area a little. I was particularly interested in the old Douglas Navigation, abandoned in about 1780, but little is to be seen of the old navigation works as the river has been improved for flood prevention in recent decades.

I decided to cycle up to have a look at the waterless stretch of canal. The area is well named as it is a bleak stretch of post industrial wasteland, now encroached upon by the ugly new buildings of a football stadium and retail park. The canal was certainly well down. I could climb down the copings and stand on the bottom in places without getting my feet wet. http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Empty%20canal%20Wigan%203%206%2010%20pixie.JPG.html
I carried on to find a huge branch of Asda where I stocked up on provisions. On the way back I chatted with boaters stuck at the lock. They said that something was going to happen at 1 PM.

After an excellent cooked breakfast I once more cycled into Wigan. This time my aim was to visit the British Waterways offices. As I waited in reception I could overhear a conversation between the manager and a representative of boats mooring below the locks, now restricted to 30 miles or so of canal between Apperley and Liverpool.

The overheard conversation answered most of my questions. There was a severe water shortage exascerbated by leaking lock gates and vandalism. Water was being pumped into the canal from the river but it would not be open today and there was no date set for it's re-opening. I had a talk with the manager, which confirmed all this, then cycled back down the towpath. I spoke to the boaters who were held up at the lock. One of them played the part of a self important middle class **** by getting all aereated because the manager had not come down to personally apologise individually to each boater. I imagine she's too busy trying to solve the problem. Though I am often irritated by British Waterways bureacracy, bungling and arrogance, I really do sympathise with their task in dealing with so many boaters who think themselves the centre of the universe.

As we talked a BW pickup arrived and I recognised the driver. Robert is the brother of my friend Tony who set up the timber deal. He had been sent to rack the gates. This involves throwing sawdust or ash into the water above the gates. The flow of water through any leaks will draw in the particles and so block them up. Robert got an earful of moans about his bosses from the boaters, which only served to delay his task of reducing leakage to aid their passage up the lock.

Back at the boats we discussed the situation. It was now Thursday, but it seemed unlikely that we would be moving before Saturday. On Sunday I had to run a recycling trip, but there was now no way that "Southam" would be back in time to provide a tow. This meant that I would need to arrange a tow for "Forget me Not", which meant that I needed to get back and start begging. We decided to leave the boats at Gathurst. Bex and Russell would stay overnight while Keith and Elsa popped home to Bolton. The following day Bex and Russell would go home and Keith and Elsa would return to mind the boats until Tuesday when we would attempt again to get through Wigan. Elsa expressed concern about water supplies, so we decided to go back to Dean Lock to top up the tank.

Leaving "Lilith" behind, we set off towards Crooke, where it is possible to wind in the entrance to an arm. Elsa steered us round the meanderings of the waterway under low flying tree branches. Approaching Crooke we passed the long shortboats "Ambush" and "Viktoria", originally built to serve Ainscoughs flour mill at Burscough but now used for retail coal. As we passed the moorings there was some human activity around one of the wide steel boats. Elsa wanted to hand over to me for winding, but I insisted that she do it. I talked her through the procedure which she accomplished faultlessly, though needlessly panicking when our stern came within 6 feet of a moored cruiser.

With the boat facing back towards Gathurst I shouted in Elsa's ear "forward gear and wind some power on". At that moment the wide beam craft, low in the water like some early monitor, slid into view with barely 6 feet to spare between it and the moored craft. "Reverse?" asked Elsa. "No" I replied, and took over. In sterngear (reverse) "Southam" lurches to the left, which would take her right into the path of the leviathan. I carefully pushed the bow forward into the tiny gap which semed to widen as we moved into it. Though the boats touched slightly there was no damage and no crisis.

We plodded back down the winding canal followed by a green Dawncraft cruiser. Passing "Lilith" we went on through the hump backed bridge towards the motorway viaduct. There is a winding hole above the lock but it was partially blocked by a wide beam maintenance craft. I asked Bex to take a line on to this and take a turn on one of its forward bollards. This sprung the boat round across the canal. Elsa and I on the stern end were plunged into substantial foliage on the outside of the canal. I asked Bex to give the line some slack. She did this and our bow slid forward up to the coping stones, which just gave enough room to get the stern end round. I drew the paddles to fill the lock as the green cruiser, shortly after followed by the huge wide boat that had caused such consternation at Crooke, slid behind us into the channel that once led to the other lock, joining other pleasure craft already moored there.

My plan had been to work "Southam" down the lock, back out to the tap, fill up then work back up. As Elsa backed the boat into the lock I noticed that the pleasure boats beside the lock had rigged up an extended hose. I asked if we could use it and permission was readily granted. The tank took ages to fill, which suggested that this little jaunt was a wise move. http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Southam%20watering%20Dean%20Lock%203%206%2010.JPG.html

With the tank eventually refilled we chugged back up the valley to tie just behind "Lilith", which we then handballed back on to the outside of "Southam". Though it is conventional to breast up with the butty on the inside, this arrangement would make it easier for Keith, who had struggled to climb over "Lilith"s forecabin.

I organised my possessions, locked my cabin and walked to the station. The train was crammed with returning seasiders and I struggled to get my bike in. As it was going to Picadilly I decided to use the connection from there to Guide Bridge, then ride the short distance to Portland Basin to check on the boats before going home. All was well and I enjoyed having tea with Emuna.



Drilling and Nailing (4th January 2012)

Drilling and nailing.

We had a new volunteer called John working on the boat today. He helped me with spiking up the bottoms to the garboard strakes (the first side planks which fit to the bottom boards). John mostly did the drilling and I crawled under the boat to drive up the big 10mm square, 11 inch long steel spikes. Stuart cut scarph joints and Ryan worked on the stove that he's preparing for fitting in one of the containers. Despite it raining quite a lot the day went well. We got 16 spikes driven up.



Kingfisher, a good omen (January 2012)

Kingfisher, a good omen for a new year.

I spent much of New Years Day lying under the boat covered in oil with rain dribbling on to my legs as I swung a big hammer to drive up more spikes. Not everybody's idea of fun perhaps, but I enjoyed it.

2011 has been a difficult year in a lot of ways. 2012 is full of promise and uncertainty. Today, as I climbed out from under the boat to drill another spike hole I caught a flash of electric blue out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look, but it had gone. That must have been a kingfisher I thought.

It's years since I've seen a kingfisher on the local canals. There used to be one around Portland Basin in Ashton, but that was probably 10 years ago.

I climbed up to my drilling position and was just about to start another hole when I saw the blue again. This time I had a clear but all too brief view as the kingfisher whizzed by, just a few inches above the water, in a straight line along the canal and under the stone hump backed bridge to perch on a distant branch. Despite the winter gloom, the distant perched kingfisher stood out, a bright spark among the drabness of cold leafless brash.

I have been having an outbreak of pessimism lately, my thoughts laden with fears of what might go wrong. The kingfisher lifted me. Perhaps 2012 is going to be a good year.