Wednesday, 7 July 2010

An Unusual Day On The Grand Union (A VERY unusual day on the Grand Union!)

This is another post where I have been "playing boats", but Chalice has not moved.

A news item on Canal World Forum alerted us to a total of seven narrow boats being loaded with gravel at Paddington Basin, which they are then carrying right up to Atherstone on the Coventry canal.

That simply sounded like an opportunity too good to miss, but the problem is I'd normally tackle such a day out by bike, and I have not been back on the bl**dy bike since I fell off it and broke my pelvis in three places, and my elbow in a less dramatic sounding one place only. The pelvis is by no means fully repaired, and, I suppose if I'm honest, I was considerably more than just "apprehensive" about getting back into bike riding.

So thank you to the crews of these boats for giving me the necessary lure to break out the bike, get on a train and to come down to Apsley to start looking for you.

Also, although I picked up a windlass, I didn't really expect to use it a great deal. When I followed the "jam 'ole" recreation last year, each boat had enough crew that "hangers on" like me only needed to work the occasional paddle, or to lock wheel ahead to give them a bit of a break, Not so today! Despite the large publicity this was happening the boats were largely operating loaded with just one person per boat - just a single crew man on the single motors, and only one more to steer a butty. Only the last pair had more, so the crews had no capability of "lock wheeling", namely someone going ahead to set unfavourable locks before their arrival, (although the steerers of leading boats can at least shut gates and "pull a paddle" to start the lock emptying for following boats - but extra work for them, that slows progress further).

So I very quickly found myself much in demand, main role being as boats left a lock to close up, and prepare it for the next boats along. Obviously I can't do this for all boats, but can at least help those at the back stay closer to those at the front.

The boats were, (and in this order).

Single motors:

Callisto & Themis, (both "Star" class and travelling together).
Victoria ("Royalty" class, either alone, or sharing with various pleasure boats).

Motor/Butty pairs:

Archimedes & Ara (both "Star" class again).
Arundel (modern replica of older working boat) & Joe (ex Birmingham canal navigations "Joey")

I stayed mostly with the 2 motor/butty pairs bringing up the rear, and although I chatted with Mike Askin on "Victoria", I somehow failed to photograph it - sorry Mike.

A typical load on each boat was 18 to 20 tons, I believe - not massive in true working boat days, but enough to give the crews plenty to do to avoid the problems of the shallower canals of today. The gravel is surprisingly dense, meaning that the holds don't look very loaded, but the boats depth into the water shows that actually they really are.

Anyway not much else to say, but show the pictures.

Callisto & Themis at Home Park Lock

Archimedes and Ara near King's Langley

Archimedes & Ara approach North Grove lock

Arundel & Joe approach the M25 Fly-over

Above lock 69A "Town" class Banstead and its modern butty had broken loose, and was blocking passage. (Was this to do with the single motors that had already passed with their loads ?).

It was shunted out of the way by Archimedes & Ara, who put one of the following pair's crew on it to re-moor it.

Archimedes & Ara on the slightly longer pound up to the Nash Mills locks.

And passing up through the now derelict and part demolished Nash mills. Breated up they seemed to need a lot of power, even though levels weren't down.

Lots of elum required to make the turn out of the top Nash Mills lock.

By now Cath had driven down to Apsley at the end of her working day, and managed to catch Mike Askin on Victoria, borrow a windlass, and work him through a couple of the Apsley locks. She might have produced the missing photo, had she not unfortunately discovered the camera she has actually had no battery in it.

Archimedes and Ara tackled the short pounds breasted up. - Also now at Apsley.

Archimedes & Ara approach Apsley top lock - the point at which we bade them farewell.

Having turned the top lock for them we went down to the middle Apsley lock, and awaited Arundel & Joe (their technique of singling out even in the short pounds seemed to mean the engine needed to be worked far less hard).

Cath was offered a ride on Arundel, and didn't seem to try too hard to refuse! Despite being a modern boat, built after most commercial narrow boat traffic had ceased, Arundel completely looks the part.

Arundel and Joe arrive in Apsley top lock - despite travelling singly, the Joey was strapped to the motor each time, so that it can control its position in the lock.

Sadly, by now my injuries were playing up enough, and the next lock far enough away, that I decided to call it a day - I never did get that elusive photo of Victoria loaded, (almost certainly for about the first time since 1971, according to it's owner!).

We wave Arundel and Joe on their way.

I'm afraid I didn't get everybody's names, particularly on the final pair where more people kept arriving, too many of them called John!

But I offer my thanks to all who allowed me to go and play working boats for a few hours. They were all a welcoming and friendly lot, and seem to have attracted remarkably few volunteer lock wheelers in view of the wide publicity this has received.

So I'd urge anyone who likes old boats, particularly loaded ones, or the noise of Listers and RNs working hard to turn out and offer support. If you are like me you'll be glad you did!

Oh, and riding the bl**dy bike really wasn't that frightening after all!


Starcross said...

Thanks ever so much for posting these wonderful photos, even if all i can do is sit in an offcie 150 miles away and drool!

Hairy-Neil said...

Arundel's steerer/owner is Richard Horne