Tuesday, 30 August 2011

'Roots and Wings'

Tuesday last was a beautiful day when I travelled by train from Retford to Newark. The journey only took a quarter of an hour and another ten minutes on foot brought me to the marina where Janis’s 57 foot narrowboat ‘Roots and Wings’ was moored. The idea was that I would crew for her and we would travel down that evening to moor for the night at Cromwell Lock, at the head of the tidal Trent, ready for a start the following morning at 0930. This had previously been arranged by Janis and the lock keeper so that we would arrive at West Stockwith Lock at low water about five hours later.
The beautiful day turned into an equally impressive evening when we left the Kings Marina and motored quietly down to our destination. All was quiet and not another boat interrupted our tranquil passage.
However the moorings at the lock were nearly full and we had to be content with tying up to the high vertical landing at the entrance to the lock. But it was worth the climb up the tall iron ladder to see the magnificent sunset to the west.
The lock keeper was still on duty and he advised us that the neap tides were currently producing such a small range that we would not be affected by the swift tidal currents, which the Trent is usually noted for. If we left at 0930 the following morning we would be able to get to West Stockwith and be able to enter the lock at low water.
However on Wednesday when we set off very soon we noticed that the height of the river was much lower anyway and even though it was just on high water at Cromwell, this was about the same height as low water at spring tides. In parts the river was narrow making navigation that much trickier trying to avoid the numerous shoals that ‘Futurest’ and I never even witnessed on our passage.
I was also amazed at how easy accessing the West Stockwith Lock was. It was low water when we arrived but there was enough over the sill to enable us to get in. We gently hove to just off the west knuckle while I threw the bowline up to the Lock keeper on top. He then pulled us round and ‘Roots and Wings’ gently slid into the lock itself; easy as it could possibly be. Janis was disappointed in fact. After listening to my hairy tales of derring do and adventure previously, whilst struggling into the lock and needing to scrape along the eastern wall as well to do so, she had psyched herself up into having to brave all this and was consequently unhappy that the whole episode was so tame.
And then we were on the quiet Chesterfield.
It was all very similar to when I had entered two months before except that the exciting youth of springtime that had been in evidence everywhere had been exchanged for the happy contentment of late summer. The Sun still shone just as brightly but where there had been the vivid green upright storks of the rapidly growing crops, were now vast fields of golden stubble and the trees and hedgerows that previously had thrilled me in the dappled sunlight with their vibrant varying colours of green, now appeared a little bit tired with brown leaves appearing here and there, though promising of course a beautiful autumn.
We tied up at a quiet little mooring about half a mile before Drakeholes Tunnel as the Sun was setting and spent a very tranquil night there.
At five o’clock on Thursday evening we arrived at the ‘Hop Pole’ moorings to find ‘Futurest’ where I had left her a couple of days before. She looked a little sad and forlorn I thought as we tied up the young and vigorous ‘Roots and Wings’ next to her. Their noses were touching and one could have been forgiven if one had imagined them as actually kissing. 
Everything was precisely as I had left it when I went off last Tuesday and we would be together now for another couple of days.
Janis stayed overnight at the pub mooring and left early in the morning for Osberton Lock where she was picking up another crew member who would accompany her to Shireoaks. There, having deserted ‘Futurest’ for a second time, on Saturday I would rejoin ‘Roots and Wings’ for the trip to the top of the Canal and back to Shireoaks.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Up the pole at the 'Hop Pole', Retford

We are stationary again for a little while in the warm sunshine. One could even say we are marooned since we don’t have an engine that works. On the way down from Shireoaks, though the engine beat and performance was as good as ever, I noticed that ‘JP2’s exhaust was very wet and soon it was obvious that either unburnt diesel or even lube oil was being pushed out on the exhaust stroke.
At Shireoaks my good friend Peter joined me for the trip down to Retford and it was a very enjoyable run apart from the anxiety exuding from the funnel. I was sad to leave the marina that had been the happy home of ‘Futurest’ and I for a fortnight or so and was especially wretched to be leaving my co-workers on the ‘New Dawn’ Project. During my stay there I had made some very good friends. I tethered in the entrance while I made my fond farewells, gave David my communication details and promised to keep in touch with their progress via Christine.

Sunset at Shireoaks Marina

The Sun shone boldly as Peter, ‘Futurest’ and I wended our happy way eastwards through the small picturesque single locks towards the ex mining town of Worksop and on towards Retford.
I noticed there was less green silken weed this time and the going was much easier as a result. I only had to visit the weed box once to clear the propeller and we made good time, arriving at the Town Lock, Worksop for lunch.
While I made some sandwiches Peter hopped over the wall to the adjacent ‘Canal Tavern’ for a couple of pints of bitter. We were able to relax over a good lunch and enjoy our pints.

Lunchtime in Worksop

It was when we left Town Lock that I noticed the wet exhaust but as I have already mentioned the engine beat was as perfect as always and we hadn’t lost any power, so it seemed right to carry on.
We tied up at the visitor moorings near to the Forest Lock toilet and shower facilities and spent a very quiet pleasant night surrounded by deep green forest.
In the morning as soon as we were under way I optimistically thought that the exhaust was back to normal but the black liquid carbon soon began to show again covering everything, including Peter and I, with a greasy black coating. When we arrived at Retford our faces looked as if we had competed in a nineteen fifties Grand prix at Silverstone.
But we made it safely and since Peter knew the licensee of the ‘Hop Pole’ he arranged for us to moor at the pub mooring for a few days, while I was able to sort the engine problem out

Peter at the Helm

It’s a very good and remarkably quiet mooring here with 240 volt hook up positions and a fresh water point is also available. Toilets can be used inside the pub. The food is delicious and the surroundings, which have all just been refurbished, are relaxing and luxurious. There is also extensive comfortable seating at tables beneath large umbrellas outside. They also host outdoor events and last Thursday near the large car park a marquee was erected for a wedding reception on Saturday evening. Though there were lots of people around accompanied by loud music from inside the tent, I was completely unbothered and slept very soundly through the night.
We arrived on Tuesday last and straightaway I phoned my old friend John in Staffordshire. John is a ‘JP2’ wizard and made no objection to coming all the way from his home to help me out on the Thursday. I am so glad I knew him as there are no boatyard or engineering facilities available anywhere on the Chesterfield Canal. The situation could have been quite bleak for us had John not been able to come.

The ‘Straddle Warehouse’ at Worksop

He was here at 8 am on Thursday bless him, and it didn’t take him long to check that the timing and the fuel injectors were all okay. But he ominously noticed that there were shards of white metal on the oil filter and on removing the crankcase cover it was soon evident that there was a lot of play on the forward big end. On dismantling it we found that the bearings were badly scored and would need renewing for a start.
By lunchtime he had put the cover back on and soon he was on his way home to try to find replacement bearings, assuring me that he would report as soon as he had any news. This morning he has phoned me to say that he cannot source them anywhere but in the meantime we have decided to somehow get back to the Shropshire Union Canal, near his home, where he has excellent boatyard facilities to make further investigations. We are in the process of making towing arrangements at the moment.
My friend Janis is bringing her boat ‘Roots and Wings’ from Newark onto the Chesterfield and as a matter of fact I’m off to Newark tomorrow to come down with her. Bless her, she has offered to tow me through the tidal section of the Trent up to Newark on her way back. There I can wait in the marina for the next towing phase, which should be easier without the tidal factor. John says he has friends coming from the Chesterfield all the way to the ‘Shroppie’ shortly so things seem to be turning out okay for poor ‘Futurest’ and I. What could have been a very bleak and serious situation has turned out to be much less of a challenge already.
Luckily I have all the time in the world at my disposal and this therefore is no constraint whatsoever. I seem to be very blessed with everything.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

New Challenge

I’m not very well at the moment! In fact I feel proper poorly! The Skipper hadn’t noticed anything was wrong either until our recent passage down from Shireoaks Marina to Retford, when at Worksop I began spewing from ‘JP2’s exhaust a greasy black liquid carbon substance which apart from anything else began making such a mess of my beautiful paintwork.
It was accompanied by blue smoke which was a bit ominous since normally, if there is any at all, it is always of a pure white shade.
We arrived at Retford on Tuesday last and passed through the Town Lock but finally the skipper and his friend Peter, who had crewed most gallantly for us all through the passage, tied me up at the pub mooring at the ‘Hop Pole’ at the eastern end of Retford. And here we’ve been ever since with me feeling very sorry for myself.
But he’s good the Skipper, when he needs to be, and straightaway he contacted his friend John in Staffordshire, who is an expert ‘JP2’ engineer. John arrived on Thursday and after spending a couple of hours investigating, with the Skipper actually getting his hands dirty too (surprise, surprise!) he discovered that the big end on the forward cylinder had a lot of play on it. John dismantled it to discover that it was badly worn and the bush would need to be renewed. And because of the oil escaping from the exhaust he reckoned that the piston and cylinder too would need a thorough investigation at the very least.
However there are no engineering or boat yard facilities of any sort on the Chesterfield Canal, so what the ‘Old Man’ is arranging is for me to be towed around to the Shropshire Union Canal where John lives and has all the facilities he needs for making me better. It’ll be a long and tedious journey perhaps; one that I shall have to suffer patiently. But adventure is what the Skipper likes and I know that everything will be good in the end.

Safe though sadly feeling sorry for myself at the 'Hop Pole'

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The 'New Dawn' Project

While marooned here, very comfortably I have to say, while my heel is repairing, apart from cleaning ship and doing all the normal husbandry jobs that need to be done, I am finding plenty of time to explore the area around. The railway line runs almost parallel to the canal from the small sleepy hamlet of Kiveton up at the end, right the way through to Retford with a station at every location. Consequently I have been frequently to Retford shopping as well as going to see my nurse at the hospital there.
When going to the latter I always take with me my bike as well as my back pack with all my keys and cards in, as it would be some way to walk otherwise from the railway station to the hospital. The pack is also useful for any shopping I might decide to buy while I’m in Retford. On one of these occasions however I left my pack on the train when I alighted at Retford with my bike and it was taken all the way to the terminus at Lincoln. Luckily at the Hospital I met my good friends Peter and Jeanne and the former kindly took me all the way to Lincoln and back in his car to retrieve my belongings; all intact, good fortune would have it.
Yesterday I ventured to Worksop for the morning, taking my bike with me again as the station was about a mile from the town centre. I found it to be a very ancient town with narrow streets, now pedestrianized which possessed one or two very old buildings. However I didn’t find it in the same class as say Stratford-upon-Avon. It all looked very run down and neglected. I don’t know what industry there is now, but of course the largest employer by far twenty years ago was the coalmining industry of which nothing now remains. The whole area around, including Shireoaks doesn’t appear to have recovered properly yet from this catastrophe.
But the loveliest part of Worksop by far for me was the remains of the ancient Norman Augustinian priory, of which the church, which was reprieved from demolition during the Reformation, is now used by the local Anglican Parish. It has recently been renovated very tastefully to blend in with the original Twelfth Century architecture. It is not a large church as some of the contemporary abbeys are but has an attractive and untouched, if weathered, west end with twin towers, which makes it rather like a miniature Westminster Abbey.
Unfortunately Worksop has a bit of a reputation for unsociable behaviour and as I was about to find somewhere outside to chain my bike up, a lady approached me and said that it would be safer for me to take it inside the church with me and that it would certainly be alright to do so. I was most grateful for her advice but it felt very incongruous to be wheeling a bike with me inside the church. But there’s a first time for everything I suppose.
Afterwards I enjoyed a bowl of tomato and basil soup in the Queen’s Head with a pint before returning to the ship.
However my big task while here in Shireoaks is to help with a very worthwhile undertaking, known as the ‘New Dawn’ Project, where a group of Chesterfield Trust enthusiasts are making a replica of the unique ‘Cuckoo’ boats that up until the nineteen fifties used to carry all the local coal and agricultural cargoes up and down the canal and the River Trent. The boat will be called ‘Dawn’ but unfortunately there is nothing left of these wooden boats now except one or two memories, a very limited amount of old photographs and a small wooden model.
Fortunately David, a man about my own age, and a competent boat builder also has a great knowledge of how these boats used to appear. So relying on his memory for I don’t think any plans have survived, one or two volunteers including himself arrive every morning at the temporary enclosure within the marina and with David’s advice exercise their varying adze-ing or block planning skills to prepare all the parts ready for putting together. It is certainly a labour of love for all, as no modern machine tools are allowed so all the rough sawn timber has to be cut and smoothed down to their respective dimensions by muscle power alone.
I’m thoroughly enjoying the three hours work every weekday morning where everybody is so enthusiastic. A lot of the volunteers are approaching ‘middle age’ like me so we have to pace ourselves to make sure we can last out the morning. But it’s a very cheerful gang that toils with lots of yarning and happy memories of different times as you may imagine.
I love the work too, as it helps me feel a little more justified at being tied up for a fortnight or more at a ‘twenty four hour only’ visitor mooring. Not that the moorings are busy but it still helps my conscience to think that I’m able to do something valuable while I’m here.