Monday seems to have become the main work day at Knowl St Heritage Boatyard so last Monday I enlisted some help to lever "Hazel" off the mud and get her floating on an even keel again. This meant that we had to deploy the wheelchair ramp to access the boat, but it was a lot easier to work inside as the boat was no longer at an uncomfortable angle. The water level remained about a foot down all week.
Saturday 26th November was the appointed day for the Stalybridge lights switch on and Santa's floating grotto. We would need to move "Hazel" down one lock and tie her at Armentierres Square above lock 6. On Friday I checked the levels and found the pound where we needed to go almost empty. The same applied to the long pound between locks 3 and 4. The trip boat, "Still Waters" had intended to come up to Stalybridge on Friday, ready to do trips on Saturday, but had to cancel due to lack of water.
There were several streams feeding the cut between locks 7 and 8, so there should have been enough water, but, the lowered weir on that pound meant that all that water was running to waste in the river rather than feeding the canal between Stalybridge and Ashton. Consequently, any pound with leaky lock gates was getting depleted. It occurred to me that if I cracked open the paddles on lock 7 to let through water equivalent to the amount running in from streams, then it would divert water to feed the canal without dropping "Hazel" back on to the mud again. I did this then went home, had my tea and took Em to the cinema with a couple of tickets won in a raffle. After the cinema I went to check. Everything was fine, the level was OK above lock 7 and it was slowly rising below. By the morning I estimated that the pound through Armentierres Square would still be low, but usable.
10 AM was the alloted time for moving the boat, so, about 9.30 I arrived to find "Hazel" sitting on the mud again, but the pound below prettywell full. At first I thought I must have miscalculated the paddle setting. Later I found that a pair of CRT men had drawn the paddles to fill the pound below, thus dropping "Hazel on the mud, exactly what I'd been trying to avoid. CRT are fo course world renowned experts on water management.
With much effort and ingenuity we got "Hazel" into the channel and floating again, then shafted her down to the winding hole and amazingly were able to wind. We worked through the lock then bowhauled past Tesco to tie just above lock 6. Phil Ash volunteered to stay with the boat to talk to passers by whilst the rest of us went to Ashton to bring "Forget me Not" up.
It was a very cold and frosty morning. I was a little concerned about getting the engine started but things turned out to be worse than I imagined. The battery was not exactly bursting with joyful exuberance and, though the engine turned over slowly, it simply would not fire. Suddenly, a horrible smell of hot electrics filled the air and everything went dead. Clearly that boat was going nowhere in a hurry. We returned to Stalybridge in the van to announce that we would have to bowhaul on the morrow.
Lots of kids enjoyed meeting Santa on board the boat through the evening and there was a constant queue of kids, parents, grandparents, aunts etc waiting in the freezing cold to get aboard. I kept an eye on things from the back cabin hatches, never having had an ambition to be an elf. Eventually all the children had gone home to climb the wooden hill to Bedfordshire. Santa, elves, marshalls, Dan Cocker, who had organised the whole thing, and mys elf enjoyed a brew and mince pies aboard the boat. When everyone had gone home I banked up both fires for what promised to be a chilly night, then settled down to sleep in the back cabin.
I had a dream about living with a cloth snake that loved me to bits but which I regarded as treacherous. I also, in the dream, had two cats. I had to keep feeding the snake lest it should consume one of the cats. Analyse that if you can!
Sunday morning at about 9.30 everyone began to arrive. We had a good team, Tony, Phil H, Aaron, Alan, Neil and me. We worked down the first three locks smoothly and efficiently, then we were on to the long pound, still about a foot down. We took it in turns to play horse and it was hard work as the boat was dragging in the mud. She stopped on an obstruction at the first bridgehole but we were able to deal with this by dragging her back a short way, then all pulling hard to take a run at it. A little way further on she jammed again, in a narrows where there was once a bridge. We tried the same technique, but to no avail. I decided to walk back to the locks and send down some more water. As I left I noticed that the stern end had lifted about 3 inches on the underwater rubbish.
I drew a paddle on each of locks 4 and 5, but as these were short pounds they would soon be depleted. The next pound up had boats in it which had been sat on the bottom on Friday but were now floating again. I drew the paddles and carefully watched the water level as it dropped. I didn't want to empty the pound. I was just about to shut the paddles again when Tony rang to say that "Hazel" was past the obstruction. I walked back down the towpath, shutting paddles as I went, and caught up with the boat at Clarence St Bridge.
I climbed aboard and put the kettle on. As we approached the lock I could hear the bottom of the boat grinding over submerged stones. The towpath washwall has collapsed in places and, though parts of it have been rebuilt, there are lots of rocks in the canal. We stopped in the lock to enjoy cups of tea and consume the remainder of the mince pies. It seemed unlikely that anyone else would want to use the lock.
The next couple of pounds were nicely full of water and I was able to take some photos as we went through Whitelands tunnel and into lock 1.
Lock 1 has been closed for a month for repairs. For years it has been leaking profusely from the chamber into the towpath tunnel. CRT have dealt with it by injecting expanding foam into the wall, a process I'm familiar with for keeping old wooden boats afloat. It seems to have worked.
Aaron legged the boat through the bridge, then I took over bowhauling. Everyone else climbed aboard. As we approached the Asda tunnel Neil and Alan climbed on to the roof and prepared to leg. They had been selected as leggers as they are the tallest. Asda tunnel is difficult with an unpowered boat as it has no towpath, it's too wide to leg off the sides and the roof is a long stretch to reach too, but possible. The technique is to lie on your back and reach up with your legs, then simply walk along the concrete roof upside down. A few feet above shoppers are busy filling their trolleys, unaware of the boat moving below them.
The tunnel opens into an artificial ravine with no towpath. There used to be one but, in 2002 a retaining wall started to collapse and had to be supported with half a mountain of limestone. Since then no-one has been prepared to put up the money for a proper repair. Tony took up the long shaft and expertly propelled the boat under Cavendish St bridge and past the mill of the same name. Where the towpath resumed I took up bowhauling again for the last 100 yards, before throwing the line back aboard for Tony so that he could guide the boat to tie abreast of "Forget me Not". An excellent trip!