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.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Shireoaks to the top and back (again!)

I apologise for not writing earlier about an adventure that began a week ago last Sunday, 28th August, but what with poor internet signals and events happening so quickly these days this poor writer could easily find himself way behind.
But at least I have a decent signal at present so I can put some photos on for a change, which will help where my memory has failed. Again for us the weather was splendid and we took some fine pictures.

Cobwebs at Shireoaks Marina

The Naturalist Photographer

..... and one of the pictures she took.

On the way up the flight

.... and looking back down.

Working the lock

The Beautiful Chesterfield Canal

The Skipper at the helm