A Day at Knowl St Heritage Boatyard

Yesterday I was working at Knowl St along with Dave, Kim  and Stewart. I was mostly tidying up after the gales. Dave was welding various items for "Hazel" and "Forget me Not". Kim was renovating "Southam"s big ex army range and Stewart was making replacement sections for "Forget me Not"s temporary deck. There was a bitter cold East wind but we enjoyed our work in spite of this.

Dave welding "Forget me Not"s exhaust pipe.

Stewart with the deck sections he's made.

"Southam"s range.

This n That (9th November 2013)

This n that.

In my last post I hoped that "Southam" wouldn't get stuck in a lock. Of course, she did. We set off with a boatload of sponsors and everything went fine until we got to the first lock, where "Southam" jammed. We could probably have got her through with lots of flushing and pulling, but, with lots of elderly people in the fore end, this seemed unwise. Instead we unjammed her and unloaded our guests, then worked "Lilith", the butty, through and bowhauled her to Mossley and back, leaving a couple of volunteers to mind "Southam". On our way we met a former volunteer who I hadn't seen for years. He offered to pull the boat, and helped us to bowhaul all the way back to Stalybridge after we'd winded at Mossley.

One of the sponsors said it was the best sponsors trip ever. It's funny how people seem to enjoy things going wrong.

Stuart has now left for warmer climes in India. The Hughes family are going to travel all round India before going to Nepal to build an orphanage..

Martin is making a great job of building "Hazel"s back cabin. Her hull is being caulked and today Mike Carter, the surveyor, came to have a look. He seemed pleased with what he saw. I was busy for most of the morning dealing with visitors, some of them potential volunteers. We're going to need a lot more organisational help getting the project up and running once the boatbuilding side of things is finished.



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.



Stranded at Scarisbrick 2nd May 2010

2010-05-02 @ 16:30:07 by ashtonboatman


Stranded at Scarisbrick

http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Liverpool_trip_April_2010/Stranded%20at%20Scarisbrick%202.JPG.html

"Southam" and "Lilith" are still stuck at Scarisbrick. It could have been worse, they could have been stuck in Bootle! The man at Red Lion Caravans opposite is being very helpful, charging batteries to keep the bilge pumps going and keeping an eye on the boats for me. Frank the engineer has stripped down the gearbox. We thought that it was going to need new clutch plates. I managed to contact the remains of the old Parsons company that made the gearbox, now run by one man in his spare time. He can supply new clutch plates, but we would have to wait 12 weeks and they would cost £600. Luckily, after discussing the problem with the man, I don't think we need them. The difficulty lies elsewhere and should be relatively easy to fix. With a bit of luck the boats will be on the move again soon. I've learned a lot about old marine gearboxes, especially how much it costs to get bits for them.

Meanwhile I've arranged a tow for "Forget me Not" so that we can do the monthly recycling trip on Sunday 9th May. It's a week late from the usual first Sunday because of the Bank Holiday weekend. If you would like to come on this trip just turn up at Portland Basin, Ashton under Lyne, at 9.30 AM on the 9th.


Mad March Recycling Trip 9th March 2010

Mad March recycling trip.

Despite having to scrape a thick coating of ice off the van windscreen I was surprised to find that the cut had frozen overnight yet again. Fian had spent the night boatsitting and I was a little concerned as she tends to feel the cold. Smoke was drifting from "Forget me Not"s chimney, so she was obviously awake, but I followed proper boating etiquette and avoided her cabin until she emerged. She said she had had a wonderful night and actually enjoyed being woken by squabbling geese at 3 AM!

After checking the bilges and feeding Captain Kit I carefully climbed across the ice sugared boats and started "Southam"s big engine to back her over to the towpath side for easy access by volunteers. "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" made a fine sight breasted up at the wharf. Soon people began to arrive and I had a busy time allocating people jobs, giving out safe boating information to first timers, of whom there were many and generally checking that everything was ready, dealing with a closed damper on a range that was causing people to be kippered etc.

As 10 AM approached I asked everyone to climb aboard and began shafting "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" round to face towards Droylsden. This was easier said than done as the ice, though thin, was a great impediment.

With the two currently unpowered boats a little way past 90 degrees of their 180 degree turn I noticed that the person I had asked to steer "Forget me Not" had taken it upon himself to go and start "Southam". Despite my waving he untied the boat and set off, but stopped again when my dancing, waving and shouting was relayed to him.

I had a dilemma that often occurs when working with volunteers. It's important for smooth running and safety that everyone follows the skippers instructions, but if you're too severe in imposing your authority you soon find yourself working alone.

I ran over to "Southam", which was now drifting in the middle of the cut and could only be accessed by climbing down off the footbridge. I found that the stern end mooring line was still tied to the T stud, it had been simply lifted off the mooring pin and thrown aboard instead of being untied and coiled ready for use as it should be. Even worse, the mooring pins had been left in the towpath. I climbed back on to the footbridge, retrieved the pins and re-gained the boat, explaining, I hope tactfully, that I had good reasons for my steering allocations and pointing out the shortcomings re lines and pins.

Moving the boat forward I nudged her past the bows of the other two boats and quickly explained that as I towed "Forget me Not" forward the line from "Lilith"s stem should be taken back and tied on to "Forget me Not"s stern. I took the strain of "Forget me Not"s line on "Southam"s T stud and pulled her forward, though she bounced off the knuckle of the Peak Forest turn because "Southam"s premature move had resulted in the turn being incomplete. My instructions must have been misunderstood because "Lilith"s line had not been carried to "Forget me Not"s stern and, as the two boats had separated, had to be thrown some distance. At the third attempt the line made its target, but almost too late. Boats do not have brakes so, once "Forget me Not" was moving her 15 tons or so was not going to stop. Seeing "Lilith" lurch into line I engaged forward gear again, but a few minutes later waving and shouts of Stop caused me to pull the lever back to nuetral again. "Lilith"s line had not been properly secured and was slipping off. There was no way I could actually stop the train of boats so had to let them drift while the line was re-secured. "Southam" stemmed up un the outside of the turn by the old Junction Mill chimney, now an icon of Ashton. "Forget me Not" wedged in alongside and, once more, the ice made things difficult as we tried to shaft the boats off the rubbish. As I tried to back her out "Southam" picked up a sturdy canvas bag on her blades, which had to be cut off, hanging over the side with a knife while young Daniel Cocker held on to my feet.

Eventually we got going again. Julie Edwards had rung up earlier to say that she would be late and would catch us up. She was waiting at Margaret St Bridge and hopped on to "Southam"s sterndeck as we passed, sharing with me the noise and smoke for the rest of the journey.

Despite my efforts with the knife, there was clearly stil some rubbish on the blades. The engine was struggling and making black smoke, the rudder was juddering and the water was boiling round the stern rather than going back in a clear stream. I kept giving bursts of sterngear to try to throw it off. This had some effect, but never got the blade completely clean and it would always pick up some more. As we passed the site of Robertsons Jam factory, now nearly demolished, a grunt from the engine indicated more rubbish collected. I tried reverse again and the engine stalled. Restarting it, I tried forward again. This unravelled the rubbish, but, looking down into the water, I could see something trailing behind that would obviously go back on to the blade if sterngear was engaged.

We tied up "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" breasted at Fairfield Junction quite neatly and winded "Southam", a manoeuvre slightly impeded by the crap on the blade, then everyone unloaded themselves and started digging out barrows from "Forget me Not"s hold. There were lots of new people and setting off on the collection round was a little chaotic. Most people got the hang of it quite quickly though and soon the two teams were busying themselves collecting from the Moravian Fields estate.

With so many people the speed of collection made up for time lost at the beginning of the trip. I became a little disappointed by the quantities and began to wonder where half the volunteers were, beginning to grumble that they were probably back at the boats having a brew, only to find that they were actually all busy emptying a garage full of stuff that had been donated.

When we had knocked on the last front door and barrowed the last load back to the boats, Fiona started handing out dishes of the excellent food that she had brought, with alternative options for carnivores and herbivores. Time to relax and eat and chat.

After two plates of excellent grub, I picked up the cabin shaft and started poking at the tangle of garbage on the propeller. This turned out to be mainly carpet, which was wound tightly on and bound with all manner of fibrous plasticky stuff. After much prodding and pulling I managed to get it all off, building a great mound on the sterndeck.

The next task was to wind "Forget me Not" and "Lilith". This is carried out by pulling them forward alongside "Southam" then, as their bows approach the tug's stern, pulling back on their front lines whilst shafting the stern ends sideways. This usually swings them round quite neatly and puts them in a good position for setting off, which was achieved quite neatly this time.

With the train travelling quite nicely along the canal and Kevin enjoying having a go at tug steering, I decided to walk alongside, stopping at Lumb Lane bridge (one of the lowest on the canal system) to try out the video function on my new camera The early morning frost had given way to a really nice sunny day, with refreshingly cold air. I enjoyed my walk, but kept my eye on the boats to make sure that everything was OK. I jumped back on board before the tricky turns through Guide Bridge, which were negotiated neatly by the steerers. I took over at Margaret St bridge to deal with the tricky arrival at Portland Basin. The procedure here is for "Southam" to head straight for the wharf then swing round to run parallel to it. "Forget me Not" follows and, if you judge it right, she will run neatly alongside the wharf to be stopped with her back end line (which is on the front of the engine room) while "Lilith" neatly slides alongside her. "Southam", once the towline is thrown off, then goes over to the towpath side of the canal to make it easy for volunteers to get off. She is then shafted back across to tie alongside "Lilith" (trying to do this by engine power is a nightmare because of the impossiblity of manouvering this boat in reverse gear).

Very quickly all the volunteers melted away in the afternoon sun and I made my way home.



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


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 http://wcbs.org.uk/?p=393




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.


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 http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Cutting_planks_for__quot_Hazel_quot_/Chris%20cutting%20greenheart%20with%20chainmill%203%2011%20picbri.JPG.html
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.