Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Freedom at Last

‘Futurest’ and I are now at Warwick, having made the journey safely from Stretton Wharf to Kate Boats before any adverse weather conditions prevented it.
Suddenly after three months or so, it’s as if I’ve been released from gaol, so long have I been totally reliant on other people’s plans. The passage down was wonderful and the vibration of a large throbbing engine beneath my feet was magnificent. Wow! To be able to make my own plans and decisions again and under my own power is too heady for words.

Goodbye Stretton Wharf

However when I left Stretton Wharf on the Shropshire Union on Monday afternoon just over a week ago, heading for Warwick, I still had the anxiety of the winter weather, which had been good to us so far but couldn’t be relied upon surely for much longer. Originally I had decided to travel to Warwick via Stourport-on-Severn and the new Droitwich Canals in order to avoid the conurbation of Wolverhampton and Birmingham, even though it would have taken much longer.

The fisherman with his dinner in his mouth.
Though of poor quality a unique shot for my camera

A policeman on point duty at Autherley Junction?

However it was getting so late in the year by the time I left that I decided to brave the shorter Birmingham route, come what may, and in the end I didn’t regret it. I laid on the power a little too, so for most of the time my average speed was well above two mph, which is much faster than my customary cruising speed.
Because of a reputation for antisocial behaviour, the City of Wolverhampton was one place in particular that I had been warned not to stay at overnight. But by the time I had negotiated the Wolverhampton 21 Flight completely during Tuesday, daylight was failing and it was obvious that I would have to moor there somewhere.
I passed the recognised visitor moorings but they were very open and accessible to anybody in the centre of the city and though it was off season the fact that they were totally empty of any boats, warned me that they weren’t that popular.
I pushed on and found the British Waterways’ Basin a little further ahead. There is enough room here for just one 57 foot boat to take on fresh water and notices around boldly pronounced ‘Mooring restricted to 1 hour’ and ‘No overnight mooring’. However there was nobody around and the yard was locked up making a very secure mooring indeed, accessible only from the water. Furthermore it was unlikely that any other boat would require water at this time of the day since it was now quite dark, so I decided to break the rules and stayed there  snugly overnight.
I left the following morning as it was growing light and, as it happened, just as the BW staff was coming to work. They looked at me perhaps a bit oddly but didn’t say anything; I didn’t give them much chance anyway as I had reversed out and was away like a flash.

Sunrise on the Birmingham Main Line at Wolverhampton

The run across Birmingham along Thomas Telford’s New Main Line was as uneventful as it was straight and we finished up in the heart of the city, mooring quite safely for the night right outside the great National Indoor Arena.
Without succumbing to the exotic pubs and restaurants along this line of the canal, I had another early night and passed through Broad Street Tunnel and the much changed Gas Street Basin the following morning as it was getting light. We pushed on through gusty conditions, past Cadbury's at Bourneville, towards Kings Norton Junction and the northern end of North Stratford Canal.

Entering the guillotine lock on the North Stratford Canal

At the end of the useable day we tied up at Lapworth Top Lock, not quite on the lock landing and it took me all of Friday to navigate through the twenty locks down to Kingswood Junction.
There was a sharp frost on Friday night and at first light the next morning with great difficulty I let go the mooring lines which were behaving like sticks. They wouldn’t coil up at all and looked a mess as I tried  to manouevre them so they would  safely stay on the roof.
It was still a calm morning as the Sun rose and the exposed stretches of the Grand Union Canal were covered with quite a thick layer of ice as we made our way towards the infamous Hatton Locks.
It was here at the top that Janis met us. She had travelled all the way from Newark on Trent and volunteered to help with the passage down through the locks. She worked solidly at the heavy locks herself and in four hours with her help we had passed all the way down. Then another hour brought us safely to Kate Boats, for which I was very grateful. ‘Futurest’ and I had done the forty eight miles in thirty two hours; a very good passage. The weather had remained fair too for which I was most thankful.

Janis manning the heavy Hatton Locks

The expressive urban landscape of Birmingham

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Nearly There

We are still resting at Stretton Wharf and though with an engine room in complete turmoil, with floor boards up, wiring all over the place and an incomplete exhaust pipe sticking out dangerously at about head level, we have a Russell Newbery engine nearly fitted.
It has the luxury of an electric start, which is really spoiling me and by rigging up a jury exhaust pipe through the side hatch, we were able to jump start the engine and test it fully last Saturday.
So sweet was the sound of an engine aboard after three months of silence and in particular this eighteen horsepower ‘RN’.
After running for a while to make certain that the liquid cooling system was working satisfactorily, temptation overcame me and just as things were, I decided to take ‘Futurest’ out to test how she handled with the new propulsion. I decided to travel down to the turning point at Brewood and back again; to put her through her paces with manoeuvring and everything.
The weather, though overcast in typical November fashion, was fine and there was no breeze making cruising conditions ideal. It was a wonderful trip and such a pleasure to feel an engine throbbing again through the deck beneath my feet. However the sensation was so different from the old days with ‘JP2’.
The handling was so completely different that it was like being at the helm of another ship altogether. Though the Russell Newbery is three ‘horses’ less than the ‘JP2’, I was thrilled to feel how much more responsive and perky she was, with so much more ‘poke’. It made me realise just how worn out the old Lister had become without me realising.
We managed an estimated three miles per hour on only a quarter revs and she manoeuvred ahead and astern through the PRM gearbox effortlessly without having to add any further revs. It was wonderful. I am quite confident that she will handle all waterway conditions, tidal or otherwise with ease.
Just over an hour later we arrived back at Stretton Wharf feeling very pleased with ourselves. It had been a lovely outing on our own after such a long time.
There is still plenty to be done and lots of time consuming tidying up to be accomplished before we shall be ready to leave, but at least the end is in view I think.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Stranded but not stagnant at Stretton

Regular readers will no doubt wonder where I have disappeared to over the last fortnight or so, while these pages have remained silently blank.
In fact I have been on board all the time and though I have sat on innumerable occasions to begin to write, nothing has been forthcoming. Though life has progressed, both ‘Futurest’ and I have sat here quietly, waiting for something to happen that never did and somehow nothing else seemed important enough to write about..... After the engine had been plonked aboard that was it. Both of us had a long patient wait till Paul the engineer returned from holiday.
The weather has been beautiful though throughout, for the time of the year and I have made the most of it by taking my bike out on most days, varying the ride a little but mostly finishing up in Brewood to buy provisions. There is a wonderful shop there which sells fresh farm produce where I buy all my fruit and veg. There are also two supermarket type shops, which though not large, are very adequate for my daily needs and a post office for incoming mail is attached to one of them. There is also a lovely café where in the mornings I enjoy enormously a large cup of real coffee. In the afternoon I substitute a pot of Earl Grey tea instead.... Delicious!
Last Tuesday just as our situation appeared to becoming dormant again and lethargy was settling in, Paul arrived at the yard and great progress has been made since then.
On this day the ‘RN’ was hauled ashore, while the engine bearers were cut to suit the position of the new flywheel. Then on Wednesday the engine was bolted down in position, while on Thursday the electrics were redesigned and connected. On Friday, since the engine is liquid cooled via a skin tank, the plumbing was all sorted.
All that needs to be done now is for the exhaust and silencer to be fitted, together with a redesign and fitting of the controls to the helm and the roof to be drilled and bolted into position. I cannot see it taking us too long, with our present impetus. But I’m not deluded in any way and I know we shall have to remain patient until everything is complete.
However I’ve been in touch with Molly at Kate Boats and she is still expecting us whenever we arrive for our winter mooring in Warwick. We just need the weather to continue being kind for a little longer and all will be well.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Bilge Diving

Over the last few days I am glad to announce that I have renewed the close professional relationship I seem to have always had with bilges large and small.
As an apprentice at sea I had to work hard physically and for most of this learning period I remember, I hardly ever saw the sea even though I was on long ocean voyages to the other side of the World. The reason for this was that for most of my time, except for brief periods of deep sleep (when I never saw the sea either!) I was swinging about like a berserk pendulum at the bottom of the ship with a baler, paint brush or scraper in my hand endeavouring to make some bilge or double bottom tank spanking new.
The fact that I was crouched and/or twisted in a very enclosed space at the bottom of the ship with just a narrow thickness of shell plating between me and thousands of fathoms of ocean below and though I was very conscious of the swishing noise through the steel plate just a few inches away, I wasn’t deterred for one moment.
I was always as happy as a pig in the muck that I was in!
I loved it because nobody bothered me there. My workplace was too inaccessible for the bosun or the mate to keep looking over my shoulder to check what I was doing. They left me very much to it and therefore I could dwell happily in my adolescent daydreams, whilst swinging and dipping the paintbrush, of meeting pretty girls in all the foreign ports of the world, who would be totally overcome with delight when faced with my irresistible charm. The toxic smell of the paint in the tank would help here, since it soon made me light headed and feel quite drunk on occasions.  
So you can imagine how my old life all came flooding back to me as I wielded my black greasy swab in ‘Futurest’s oily Engine Room Bilge last week and also again today as I contorted my frame under the cupboards of the Boatman’s Cabin through the bilge, whilst transferring solid ballast from the starboard side to the other, to take out the slight starboard list. The Russell Newbury Engine must be lighter than the old ‘JP2’ as I have found it necessary for comfort to correct the resultant very slight tilt of the ship to the right.
But what a beautiful day It has been today and difficult to remember that this time last year we had just been immersed in our first big freeze up. 

Friday, 28 October 2011

Stretton Stirrings

Yesterday it rained all day.
After weeks of dry and sunny weather the base of the dark grey cloud that covered the sky leaned heavily upon us and the day was dank, misty and wet. The rain itself was very light; not too certain whether it should behave like a liquid or remain just a heavy mist.
Either way it was very wet and, after a long period of inactivity, not the ideal day to choose for removing the tarpaulin covers from my open roof in order to put an engine inside. But that’s just what happened when John arrived in the morning with the Russell Newbury lashed firmly down on his trailer.
The large crane was in use in another part of the boat yard when the engine arrived but quite soon it was clanking and trundling in our direction with a definite look of eagerness on its face so we had to make the most of it.  The big hook easily lifted the engine and the springs of the trailer heaved an audible sigh of relief as the weight was removed. 
At the last possible moment as the load edged its way towards ‘Futurest’, I whipped the tarpaulin off the roof as if enthusiastically throwing back a duvet and the machinery was slowly and carefully lowered into place onto its twin bearers in the engine room.

Immediately ‘Futurest’ adjusted herself to the new load and the trim settled back to its old state, slightly by the stern and the severe starboard list that I had never quite been able to live with happily over the last weeks, was removed effortlessly. The hook was disengaged and duvet-like once more, the covers were quickly replaced over the hole. We had managed to keep much of the rain out.
The Russell Newbury, though not connected in any way yet, looks splendid in her new home and since yesterday afternoon, on a regular basis, I keep wandering along to the Engine Room to admire the latest member of the family. It really does look superb and when fully operational it will be wonderful to hear her and experience her in action.  

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Stirrings in Autumn

We have now been at Stretton Wharf on the Shropshire Union Canal for just over a month and though the unseasonable sunny warm weather remains with us during the day (tantalisingly suitable for cruising under normal circumstances), with temperatures well into the teens, the nights draw in and the steady silent trickle of falling leaves around us, beginning to show the bare bones of their hosts above, once more remind us that winter is not far away.
And though for one reason or another up until now, nothing very significant has been happening regarding the impending mobility of ‘Futurest’ and myself, this week things definitely appear to be stirring again. Today with the help of John’s heavy duty vacuum cleaner, I have managed to get thoroughly dirty cleaning out the engine room bilge. Always very difficult to get at with an engine in situ, today I managed to clean out many years worth of ‘JP2’ drippings that had accumulated. The slow oil build up has kept the bottom plate in perfect condition. It never appears to have been painted and the bare steel is now clean and shiny. More than I can say for myself; though I have showered and washed thoroughly there is still a distinct smell of diesel about me.
Tomorrow John is bringing the Russell Newbury, now freshly serviced, to the yard and weather permitting I hope we shall have the covers off the roof and the engine inside the ship by the end of the day. Paul the engineer who is going to fit everything together inside, is still away on leave and I am not sure when he will be back. However with the engine in place the awkward trim will hopefully be sorted and life aboard at least should be more comfortable.
Last week, since it was another barren week here, I spent a lovely few days back in Newark-on-Trent. My friend Janis, though she was working for most of the time, invited me to stay aboard ‘Roots and Wings’ in the Kings Marina. Newark is a beautiful market town with a good sized market in the square, on most days of the week it would seem. I was able to do a lot of shopping and also sightseeing that I hadn’t managed to do on the last occasion that I was there.
Janis works very hard and also late so I saw very little of her in fact. I was always very much asleep by the time she arrived home at night and then she was up early the next morning to begin her treadmill again. But I enjoyed a lovely break there and what little time she and I did have together was most pleasant. She kindly brought me back to Stretton in her car on Saturday, stayed the night aboard ‘Futurest’ and returned home the following day.
It was lovely to see her again.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Back to the Ship

At 8 am on Tuesday morning Alex gave me a lift to Bath from Malmesbury. He had to be at work at nine so I had to leave that early in order to get a free lift to where I was due to catch the train home.
I had time to buy breakfast first before I caught the train at ten thirty for Bristol Temple Meads on my way back to Wolverhampton. Then I caught the bus for the short journey to Brewood after which I had the two mile walk along the towpath, under the A5 Aqueduct and into the boat yard, where ‘Futurest’ was still waiting for me where I had left her, with her 240 volt umbilical cord still attached.
She looked most forlorn bless her, like a very patient dog awaiting its master’s return. If she could have spoken I’m sure she would have said something like “Welcome home Skipper. I’m so very pleased to see you!” She had that terrible hang dog look about her. I can’t really describe it, as it was just a feeling I had, prompted probably by my acute feeling of guilt at leaving her for so long with nothing positively decided.
Everything on board was exactly as I had left it over a week ago. The electricity was still on and the batteries well charged. A nice cup of tea was just what I needed after my long journey.
Later on I phoned John the engineer to let him know I was back and he invited me kindly to his home nearby and volunteered to collect me the following morning. I would then be able to see the poor state that he reckoned ‘JP2’ was in and be able to discuss what remedies were available to put things right.
However the following day the antidote that I chose for overcoming the engine problem was not one that I had even contemplated the day before.
John’s bungalow, where he lives with his wife Carol, was beautiful and set among trees (and falling leaves at this time of the year, much to his disgust) in the charming Staffordshire countryside. His adjoining workshop was like an Aladdin’s Cave of engineering delights of specialist tools and vintage marine engines all in various states of undress. And there, covered by an old piece of plastic tarpaulin was my ‘JP2’ looking miserable and most dejected on the cold stone floor.
John quietly pointed out that every moving part on the engine was badly worn, including the gearbox cogs, which were about to let me down at any moment. Every other part too that he showed me that was supposed to work exclusively in a vertical direction was also moving horizontally and conversely all those elements that were designed singularly to move with no play in an horizontal direction also were moving alarmingly up and down! It is a wonder that the dear old lady had kept going for so long. Since replacement parts were now in very short supply due to the engine’s age of eighty years or so, if I managed to find any suitable they would be at such an exorbitant price as to make the replacement impractical.
Bless her; my beloved ‘JP2’ was a virtual write-off and sadly suitable for spares only.
However adjacent to her, resplendent on a couple of railway sleepers and recently acquired by John, was a two cylinder Russell Newbury Engine, in marvellous condition which he started very promptly from cold for my benefit and it ran effortlessly and very beautifully for a few minutes with that very distinctive and appealing RN chug!
It was also for sale!
A few swift measurements and I had decided that this particular Russell Newbury would look first-rate in ‘Futurest’s engine room. I would need to speak to Keith the proprietor of the builder’s yard to see if he would fit it in for me, making the necessary alterations in order to do so.
It sounded a great idea and I quickly came to my decision. John and I worked out the terms of our deal and I now await the arrival of Keith to make arrangements for the transferral.
All that was yesterday but I feel so much better now that I’ve made the decision. I went ashore earlier today to buy provisions from Brewood and when I returned; you know, ‘Futurest’ seemed to me to be entirely different to how I had found her on Tuesday. Though it sounds silly (and it is a ridiculous speculation of course) I’m sure I imagined a broad smile emanating from her I-don’t-know-what!

Monday, 10 October 2011


This beautiful little town sits atop a small but steep rise in the middle of the rural Wiltshire countryside. It is surrounded completely by the meandering River Avon and its tributaries and this has made it naturally a position that has been easily defended throughout history.
Its roots go back to before Roman times but the Saxons fortified the hill with walls and it was an important defensive position in King Alfred the Great’s campaigns against the Danes in the Ninth Century. Malmesbury was the capital of England in the reign of Alfred’s grandson, Athelstan and the layout of the town today is the same pattern as it was then; it’s just the wattle and daub building materials have been changed for more substantial stone ones now.
On the highest part of the hill is what remains of the monastic abbey which is visible all around. The abbey was inaugurated by King Alfred in the Ninth Century, abolished and partially sacked by Henry VIII in the 1530’s but given back to the townspeople as a parish church soon afterwards. It is now less than half the original size; but it is a marvellous example of early Norman architecture with its large bulky round columns surrounded above by numerous heavy but plain, semi-circular arches. The interior is still quite awe inspiring.
I have been here since last Wednesday, staying with my son Alex and his wife Catherine. They live in a lovely little grey stone cottage and altogether they are very cosy and happy. Consequently I’ve been very content being here too, even though for much of the time, since they have to work, I have had to keep myself occupied. This I have done most satisfactorily.
I’ve done a lot of walking in the area and recently I spent the whole day in Bath shopping and visiting the abbey. Alex commutes there every day to work so I cadged a lift with him in the morning and returned with him in the evening in the little Smart car.
The week before I caught a train from Wolverhampton after the two mile walk along the towpath and the half an hour bus from Brewood (Brood) into the city, to High Wykham where my daughter Eejay met me in her car and took me to the house that she shares with husband Steve on the side of the hill in the steep valley overlooking the M40 motorway.
The weather was perfect with wall to wall blue skies on every day that I was there, for the whole week. She is a child minder by profession and early each morning parents would arrive at her door and leave their little ones in her tender care. This enables her to earn a decent living and yet be with her own son whenever he is not at school.
My grandson George is seven now and it was a delight to see him again as well as all his little friends in Eejay’s charge. Because George calls me ‘Grampy’ I was quite flattered to hear all the other little ones calling me ‘Grampy’ as well. We were all quite sad when I had to leave to return to the ship a week later.

‘Red Kite’ above Eejay’s house

In the Chiltern area the RSPB have been re-introducing the ‘Red Kite’ over the last number of years and today the breed is very extensive. It has flourished most encouragingly. All the time in the skies above Eejay’s house these large raptors hover just like large Chinese kites and it is very easy to understand why they have their name.
Tomorrow I travel with Alex again to Bath to catch the train to Wolverhampton and the return journey back to the ship. It will be lovely to see her again but I hope that everything is as I left it. I need to phone engineer John when I arrive to try to arrange a visit to his workshop. I would understand a lot more about the engineering he keeps talking to me about over the phone if only I could see the application he means on the actual engine.
It’s a long journey back but the break has been very beneficial and I have enjoyed it enormously.

Sadness and neglect

I’m disappointed and feel let down with neglect and the almost total abandonment of me by the Skipper. He left and there has been no sign of him for a whole fortnight apart from a night and a day spent aboard about a week ago.
After arriving here, he’d gallivanted off to see his daughter Eejay and her husband Steve as soon as possible and only returned I think to change his underpants before shooting off again to visit his son and daughter-in-law down in Wiltshire.
I’ve no idea when he’s coming back, if at all. But I do hope he hasn’t jumped ship for good and left me to rot here for evermore among the other numerous rusting hulks that surround me.
Since I’ve arrived here, I’ve had my insides ripped out, which has altered my trim so that my bottom is sticking up untidily out of the water and I list to starboard; an ugly hole has been cut in my roof which is now covered with large baulks of timber and an ugly tarpaulin to keep the weather out and one of the other boats close by has been recently shot blasted throwing all its muck and dust in thick layers over my superstructure.
I am dying for him to return!
P l e a s e Skipper!
I do wish I could communicate with him in a way so that he could understand me easier!
I don't think he thinks of me at all.

Photos from Stoke Bardolph to Stretton


Showers and Sunshine

Cloud formations

Sunrise at Spode Cottage

The Ornate Avenue Bridge on the Shropshire Union

Dismantling ‘JP2’!

Engine disappearing through the roof......

.......and being swung across the hard

Sunday, 25 September 2011

In dire straits at Stretton

I’m sorry it’s so long since I last wrote, but I’m afraid I just haven’t been feeling up to it.
In fact I feel proper poorly!
I feel as if the very heart of me has been ripped out since ‘JP2’ has been removed and I’m ashamed because I feel I’ve let the Skipper down badly. Our summer cruise has been well and truly terminated.
But the ‘Old Man’ seems to have taken it very well and doesn’t seem to have held it against me. He just says silly things like:
“Ah well! It’s all part of the same adventure.” The stupid burk!
He had me towed across here from the east very quickly though. But I found it a difficult journey through not being able to help with the power and being totally helpless for the whole time. I took one or two nasty knocks as well which hurt badly. Both my rear alternative mooring shackles were broken off though the Skipper managed to retrieve them before they were dragged over the side. My ensign pole too, which always looked so fine flying the ‘Red Duster’, was ripped off by passing foliage. Again the ‘Old Man’ was quick witted enough to grab the pole before it disappeared over the side.
Moored up here, waiting for the return of the engine I look a terrible sight too with my bottom sticking up in the air at the stern where the weight of the engine has made it float higher and a slight starboard list is very disconcerting to the Skipper as he tries to walk along the alleyway in a straight line. 
And with stuff everywhere in the Boatman’s Cabin, black oil in my bilge and bare steel above the engine room except where an ugly hole has been cut out which is now covered with a green plastic sheet, it all looks to me as if none of it will ever go back together again! 
The Skipper’s been having a lazy weekend too just refusing to do anything about the mess since the engine left on Friday  ...... He’s just ignoring it all!  
He says he’s going to make a start to clean everything up tomorrow so I hope he keeps his word   ......     Well you know what he’s like!
It must all be pretty depressing for him as well though, but he’s not showing it bless him.
I do hope we’re not here for too long.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

At Stretton Wharf on the Shropshire Union

At the moment we are quiet, peaceful and relaxed after a most hectic week or more.
I am amazed; I never thought I had it in me to travel around a hundred and thirty miles from one side of the country to the other in five days. Though in tow and travelling at an overall average of less than two miles per hour, Sue on tug ‘Thea’ and myself burnt up all the daylight hours available to accomplish this feat. However I slept so well when I crashed into my bunk every night that I was more than ready at the beginning of the next day for whatever it had in store.
It was a great experience and the weather stayed mostly very fine for us. Only on the last day did the cloud level dismally descend to the ground and thoroughly drench us for most of the time. But apart from the stop lock at Autherley Junction, by then we had passed through all of the forty plus locks that had barred our way from Newark to Stretton Wharf, so there was no threat to us slipping on wet steel surfaces as we unhooked and then hooked up again while passing through them.
Locking on the River Trent was relatively easy. Early on our first day we had decided that we improved our speed by travelling in tandem or line ahead rather than abreast. However at the locks we still breasted up before entering as it made it easier for just the two of us to control the pair whilst locking.
At the double locks through Nottingham and the similar ones on the early Trent and Mersey Canal, Sue and I soon became very practiced at breasting up before arriving at the lock. She would let go the towing strops and as ‘Futurest’ ranged up along ‘Thea’s starboard side I would work my way forward and lash the two bows together while she would cleverly lasso my mooring dolly on the stern and heave us both together before making fast.
Dallow Lock at Burton upon Trent was our first single and we needed here to adopt yet another routine that we would need to keep for the rest of our journey.
If no boat was waiting above the lock to come down then ‘Thea’ would tow ‘Futurest’ right into the lock entrance before Sue let go the strops and entered the lock herself. I would make fast 'Futurest's bow line while ‘Thea’ was locked upwards. Then I would empty the lock and bow haul ‘Futurest’ into position before filling the lock again and finally moving out and re-stropping to ‘Thea’.
If there was somebody waiting to come down, then Sue would cast off ‘Futurest’ allowing me to secure her to the lock landing. Then when the waiting boat had passed, I would have to bow haul ‘Futurest’ a bit further up into the lock before continuing the locking process. On occasions where the lock approach was badly silted other than in the centre channel, getting the ‘lady’ into the lock could prove to be hard work. With her deep after draft of two feet nine, we would have to pole her off into the centre before she would move forward. As we had to pull from the accessible towpath side ‘Futurest’ would always tend to move towards us and hence back onto the mud ....  Could be difficult and lengthy hard work!
But having left Newark a week ago last Thursday, the 15th, we finally arrived at our destination last Tuesday afternoon. It had been raining doggedly all day only just letting up at the last moment for me to tie up against the towpath, right opposite Industry Narrowboats, the yard that was to lift out ‘JP2’.
The yard is situated just to the north of the remarkable Thomas Telford cast iron aqueduct, which carries the canal about forty feet over the busy A5. It is midway between the pretty villages of Wheaton Aston to the north and Brewood (pronounced ‘Brood’ by the locals) to the south.
On Wednesday morning after moving ‘Futurest’ over to the other side of the canal, chief engineer John with me as the apprentice began to strip the big Lister engine down to its lightest essentials so that it could be removed more easily from the ship and this took us all day. With hands and boiler suit like a black grease monkey, I was glad when I was able finally to strip down and have a good shower.
I wasn’t long in going to bed that night.
On Thursday back in my boiler suit I took all day to strip the tongue and groove sheathing from the engine room deck head. This was as tricky as a jigsaw puzzle since, in order to keep the timber intact, I had to find the key bit to remove first. But in the end all was successful though it was depressing to see the engine room in such a sad state  ... I shall be so glad to see it all put back together again.
Unfortunately ‘Futurest’ had been built thirteen years ago around the ‘JP2’ engine; there was no hatch in the roof for easy removal should it ever be required. So yesterday morning the yard steelworker Dave cut out a trap in the roof large enough to get the engine through with ease and by the afternoon we were able to lift, very slowly and gently the great bulk up through the opening and onto John’s trailer, ready for taking to his workshop.
I have taken many photographs but unfortunately my poor internet signal will not allow me to download them at this time. But they are so sensational (in my terms anyway!) that I shall certainly be inserting them as soon as possible.
Today I have spent a lazy day not even wanting to see the after end of the ship; the dirty carborundum dust inches thick over everything, the black greasy oil in the bilge below the depressingly empty spot which quite recently was so proudly occupied by ‘JP2’. I think to myself desperately:      Will I ever get it all back to its lovely pristine condition?
On Monday I shall face it all again and begin the fight back to normal.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Newark to Stoke Bardolph

After a quiet stay in the peaceful surroundings of the King’s Marina in Newark for just over a week, ‘Futurest’ and I resumed our journey today.
It was poignant again having to say goodbye to Janis as she went off to work this morning. Over the last few weeks we had spent quite a lot of time together and undertaken many exciting quests during that time. It was sad to see her go but a new adventure was about to begin.
Sue, the lady who had agreed at the reqest of my friend John, the JP2 engineer, to tow 'Futurest' around to a yard on the Shropshire Union Canal where he could work on her, arrived at around nine o’clock and as soon as I had settled my bill with the warden Greg we breasted up and chugged gently out of the marina towards the Town Lock. I had my VHF radio switched on and was able to contact this lock and the three others during the day so that they had the locks open and ready for us to enter when we arrived.

‘Futurest’ breasted up with ‘Thea’ on the River Trent

Through the first two locks we continued breasted up together, with ‘Futurest’ made fast to ‘Thea’s port side. But after we had emerged from Hazelford Lock we decided that we might make better time if we were in tandem with ‘Futurest’ slipstreaming ‘Thea’.
This proved to be very effective from then on and we discovered that for the same number of revs on ‘Thea’s JP2, we improved our speed by one whole mile per hour on the original speed of 2 mph. It was a beautiful day; warm when the Sun shone frequently but chilly enough for us to don our fleeces when a cloud momentarily had him hidden.

A 'White' Heron?

Autumn was also visible in the number of leaves on the trees that were beginning to turn brown and gold. The air was calm and the river flat and glassy, reflecting the myriad of autumn colours in its depths. Waterfowl congregated in the mudflats and close on the banks of the river while the Swallows and Martins still dived and frolicked on the surface, as they had all summer, whipping up the odd insect from the surface with split second precision.  At one point there was a large flock of Egyptian Geese foraging on the bank. This species was most distinguishable by its brown back and exotic eye patches while soon after, I spotted a white Heron standing statue-like with its long black legs in the mud. It was about the same size as the common Grey Heron but with no crest. He or she was pure white with black legs and flew off as we approached in the same way as the more common Grey, with neck hunched back into his or her body.
It was altogether a magical day.
We covered seventeen miles altogether in eight and a half hours so we were ready to call it a day as we arrived at Stoke Bardolph Lock. The keeper let us through just before he knocked off for the day and we tied up for the night abreast of one another on the upper lock landing high above us.

The subtle intrusion of golds and browns in the surrounding trees

We had had a good first day.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The 'Hop Pole' to Newark on Trent

Having been to the top of the canal from Shireoaks and back with Janis and ‘Roots and Wings’, I left them there to return to Retford and the ‘Hop Pole’. Janis was having some more friends join her for the passage down to Retford. She would arrive at the ‘Hop Pole’ mooring on Wednesday evening and the following day she had volunteered to tow myself and ‘Futurest’ to Drakeholes Tunnel on the first of a four day passage to Newark.
Janis and I had a great meal that evening and I was able to thank Michael and his staff for their hospitality and friendly help over the last fortnight. It really is a splendid place to eat and drink and is always very popular. If anybody is interested in a good night out, their website for more details is as follows:
Afterwards Peter and Jeanne came along so we could make our fond farewells. They’ve been so good, friendly and welcoming towards me and it was nice to be able to say farewell properly.
On the Wednesday that ‘Roots and Wings’ arrived at the ‘Hop Pole’, the canal pound was leaking badly somewhere and on that morning, when I awoke, ‘Futurest’ was high and dry with a definite port list. I was on to British Waterways immediately to tell them that I wanted to move off the following morning and bless them they worked solidly all day at the two pumps to bring water up from the River Idle that passes underneath the canal at Retford. By Wednesday evening the level was high enough for Janis and me to haul ‘Futurest’s deep drafted stern off the mud into the middle of the canal. It looked incongruous to see her there but the bow was still close enough for me to hop aboard. However we hoped that no other vessel would come by that night as they would not be able to pass ‘Futurest’s stern. It was impossible, come what may, to move it any closer to the quay.

Day 1; Thursday 1st September
Even though the Locks from Retford to the River Trent were all doubles we had to make fast ‘Futurest’ to ‘Roots and Wings’ in tandem for most of the time as the canal was never wide enough to enable us to navigate breasted up. Even in line ahead the going was slow as the channel was narrow and shallow. It was difficult for Janis to keep a line around any slight bend without catching the fifty seven feet of boat behind her on some shallow bank or other. However she soon mastered the completely new technique and soon we were hardly touching the sides.
We also soon developed a technique of breasting up in the locks, which worked most satisfactorily and before long were getting through the procedure within ten minutes. Luckily when we arrived most of them were in our favour, which helped enormously.

Negotiating a slight bend to Starboard

With crossed towing strops and buttons kissing
‘Futurest’ behaved beautifully

But it was a long day of eight hours and even though the weather was beautiful and we only had one lock to negotiate, it was quite stressful on our steep learning curve. We were glad to find a spare double length mooring available for us at Drakeholes Tunnel when we arrived there in the early afternoon. We made everything fast without having to let go our towing strops.

Day 2; Friday 2nd September
We had another fine day on our hands when we left our mooring at 0830 on Friday morning. As the dappled Sunshine filtered its way through the green lacery of the trees overhead, we were unable to take in the full benefit of its beauty, as immediately we had to negotiate the right hand turn into the narrow entrance of Drakeholes Tunnel.
But Janis, by now well practiced in the art of getting ‘Roots and Wings’ and a fifty seven foot tow behind her around tight corners and into narrow entrances, had no problem at all in getting the whole contraption, which could behave like an uncontrollable bendy bus when it wanted to, past this first hazard without even touching the sides.

All we had time for was a quick lunch

By now we had discovered that ‘Futurest’ responded much better to the tow if we didn’t use her rudder. The large blade when used tended to throw ‘Roots and Wing’s stern well off line, making it difficult for Janis to get her to respond to her own steering requirements and hence keep everything under control. Apart from the most difficult manoeuvres, I kept ‘Futurest’s tiller lashed midships, after which she responded, like a wind vane, much more positively to the rudder controls of the tug.
We had a slow but steady day and passed through the four double locks, from in tandem to breasting up and then back into tandem formation with no difficulty at all. Ten minutes was all we required for the whole locking process. But we were happy though tired when we finally arrived at West Stockwith Basin at around three thirty on that sunny afternoon.
Both boats being the same length made it easy for us to breast them up securely for the forthcoming two days on the River Trent. A breast line from bow to bow and stern to stern plus a forward and after backspring from ‘Roots and Wings’ to ‘Futurest’s alternative mooring points a third the way from bow and stern, meant that the two little ships were hugging each other as close as Siamese twins. Though they would be able to pitch independently on the swell of the river they would never be able to range back and forth.
We went to bed that night, though a little fearful of what was to come tomorrow, nonetheless confident that we had prepared the ships and ourselves to the best of our ability.

‘Roots and Wings’ breasted up with ‘Futurest’ (just seen behind)
In West Stockwith Basin

Day 3; Saturday 3rd September
Our biggest anxiety this morning was how would the breasted up rig behave in a tideway and respond to the tiller. Especially with a dead weight of twenty tons to port, would we be able to control the beast with only the small propeller of ‘Roots and Wings’ on the starboard side? She would obviously turn more easily to port but would we be able to control her satisfactorily when we wanted her to move to the right?

The quiet before the storm.
Just before setting off onto the Trent

However the time had arrived to find out.
At 10 am we let go. Quickly our fears were quietened to some degree as the two boats turned very easily to starboard and entered the double lock for our entrance onto the mighty River Trent. We felt much better already as our nerves ebbed with the draining waters of the deep lock.
Then we were away into the daylight of the vast river, feeling our strength and freedom as we turned easily to starboard in the murky brackish waters of the slack tide.
Excitement filled our veins and everything would be okay   ....   We would be okay!
Very soon, though it appeared when we looked at the water alongside that we were only moving at about one mile per hour, when lifting our eyes a little higher we noticed that we must have been on some kind of exciting roller coaster ride at the fair. When we looked at the river bank, it was flying past us at a frightening rate, with the help of the flood tide.
The dead tall rusty waterfront at Gainsborough rushed by in a matter of minutes and we managed, with extra power and moving in a crabwise direction, to steer a good course between the centre arches of the large ornate bridge. Quickly I noticed the water in full flood building up against the leading edge of the bridge buttresses and streaming down the side. I was glad we had taken care to avoid hitting this side on.
This one was proving to be a very swift flood tide.
For the next couple of hours or so we were unable to relax as the two little ships were flung along almost at the mercy of the river. We were continually struggling with both helms and frequent increase of power, to keep ourselves out of trouble. The strong to gale force wind from the south west increased the swell against us, breaking the tops with spray and both bows were beginning to pitch quite heavily into it sending the spray against the forward ends of the accommodation. Luckily our doors though far from being watertight were at least closed.
There were many bends and most of them were hairpins. The ones to the left were easier to power through with our tendency to go to port all the time. But the right hand ones we found to be much more difficult, with the surging tide trying to put us onto the outside bank of the corner while, to avoid this catastrophe, we clawed our way towards the spit on the inner bend where the swell was breaking like surf. However at fifty seven feet we didn’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre and we didn’t want to go aground on this dangerous middle bit either. To make matters worse the drooping foliage of willow trees overhung the outer bend by a good ten feet or more, so on two occasions ‘Futurest’s stern was being dragged through all this. There was a debris of green shrubbery everywhere and in one case the broken branch of a tree was jammed beneath the hatchway cover which had slid to in the mêlée. Luckily I had the good forethought to abandon the con and drop down into the cabin below, which by this time was looking like the interior of a conservatory with its myriad of green plant life all around me.
But we made it. Nothing was lost but Janis’s phone, which must have been swept overboard at some point. Neither of us lost our nerve and even though for safety’s sake, I had disappeared below, Janis stayed at the con and kept the power on and because of this eventually we pulled out of the bend beautifully.
But at one o’clock in the afternoon we were thankful to arrive at Torksey, where we turned around and tied up at the pontoon ready for the last leg of the journey the following day to Newark.

Day 4; Sunday 4th September
This was our final day as Janis had to be back at work the following morning. But we considered that even with twenty miles to go from Torksey to Newark, with the flood tide urging us along as far as Cromwell Lock, the head of the tidal river, we would still be able to reach our destination later that afternoon.
And how different the passage turned out to be from the previous day. The flood began at 1230 and we set off then to catch the maximum benefit from it. But today the wind had dropped to a degree and the current was nowhere as strong as it had proved to be the day before.

Concentration towards the end of the day

We still had to concentrate but the excitement was different. We managed all the bends beautifully due to our growing experience as well as the less severe natural conditions. We were able to observe what was going on around more and actually saw a Kingfisher swoop from one overhanging willow to another keeping well ahead of us. There was no mistaking the flash of bright orange as he turned his underside towards us or the sparkling sapphire blue of his topsides. It was a thrill and a reward to see him in the afternoon sunshine.
I used the VHF radio to contact the lock keeper at Cromwell and gave him our ETA so by the time we arrived he had opened the huge gates of the massive lock to welcome us in. As we left he also called the keeper at Nether Lock to ask him to leave the gates open there for us. When we arrived he would have long since gone off duty.
It was a beautiful summer’s evening as we motored peacefully up the last section through Nether Lock and up to the King’s Marina entrance in Newark. We entered quietly and a small but appreciative audience of Mallards were there to watch us reverse effortlessly into the double finger berth that had been reserved for us.

Concentration mingled with contentment

As we tied up at 1940 the bright daylight was beginning to fade in favour of the purple twilight.
We were safe at the end of our most memorable voyage.