Thursday, September 24, 2015

A trip to remember–not necessarily fondly


Poor old work boat Enfield lay, as she has for a long long time, just south of Bow Locks on the Limehouse cut.  Unused and unloved, she was in dire need of a makeover and CRT finally took pity on her and decided she ought to be brought back to life.  They booked her in for a refurb at Uxbridge Boat Centre.  Fellow volunteer Richard and I were to nurse her along the 28 mile trip from Bow Locks to Uxbridge starting on Tuesday.  She was in a pretty poor state when we found her, miscellaneous junk everywhere inside and outside, and with a noticeable list to starboard. 

The cabin floor was under water for half the way across, and none of the electrical fittings worked, not even the bilge pump, and the floor of the toolshed section was rotten in places.  Most of this I suppose was because the boat had lain unused for so long. No wonder they were sending her for a refit.



Mercifully the engine eventually started and the high pitched wine of the hydraulics turned the archimedean screw prop as we set off up the canal, snaking left and right as we tried to accustom ourselves to the wheel steering, also hydraulic.  Enfield’s engine is right up at the front of the hull, which in turn is overhung by three of four feet of foredeck, so the boat seems front heavy as it steers and overswings to an alarming degree until you get used to it.  The other problem is that from the steering position, you can’t see the front of the boat, so you have to guess (usually wrongly) where it might be.  Later we discovered that she manoeuvres wonderfully well in a tight space and turns right round in her own length.

Progress was desperately slow.  At something over 2000 revs we were doing about one mile an hour, not least because we seemed to be carrying half a ton of pennywort wrapped around the front of the hull. Stooping before Old Ford  electric lock on the Lee navigation we poked and scraped at the pennywort to clear the hull (this is about a quarter of what we pulled off the hull).


We phoned in to CRT to say that this trip was going to take rather longer than we had all estimated. In fact at least three days instead of two.  “Well, see how far you can get today and then let us know.” they said.

We pressed on through Duckett’s cut


and onto the Regents canal where we got held up for ages by a couple of guys taking two ramshackle boats up through the first lock.  They got one of the boats stuck under the lip of the rear lock gate and had to let a lot of water out and start again. By now we were already about three hours behind schedule, having started an hour late for one reason and another.  Enfield seemed to pick up speed marginally and for a short while we must have been approaching a mile and three quarters an hour, then at Actons lock I think, there was a real downpour just as Richard was doing the lock gates.  I was beginning to think that this trip was rather less fun than I had anticipated.  The canal was covered in duckweed in most places, but that stuff never seems to impede progress, especially for boat with archimedean props.

City Road lock, once we reached it, did its usual trick of reopening the gate you have just shut as soon as you walk away from it and I had to enlist the help of a passing walker to hold it shut while I ran up the other end to let water in.  Then of course came Islington tunnel.  By now the evening gloom was beginning to settle.  We had found a loose tunnel light inside the boat and plugged it into a socket on the roof.  Earlier in the day when we tested it, it worked, but now at the crucial moment, it didn’t.

Creeping into the darkness, the only light we had was the little LED torch which is a feature of my mobile phone.  It was surprisingly bright, but we still ricocheted back and forth off the tunnel walls as we struggled with the wayward steering. Emerging from the tunnel it was clear that we would have to find somewhere to tie up pretty soon as darkness was descending.  Not an easy task in London of course.  Richard knew of a CRT workboat mooring on the offside below St Pancras lock so we headed for that at our one and a bit miles an hour. Sadly, rounding the last corner and peering through the gloom we could see that there was already a work boat in that spot.  There was however a space under the bushes just behind the other boat so we headed for that, tying up to a tree trunk.  That was OK, except now we had to find our way through the bushes and up and down muddy banks in almost pitch dark to find a footpath out the to lock, from where we walked to the underground station to get a tube to Richard’s house in Highgate where we spent the night.  I can’t remember when I felt quite so knackered.

Next morning the sun was shining as we set off back towards the boat.  We were chatting about how far we might get, maybe out Ealing way somewhere.  Arriving at St Pancras lock the other work boat was already in the lock and a largeish gang of workers were loading her up with hoses and a generator, loads of unspecified clobber and a diving kit and air cylinders.  We unlocked Enfield, started her engine and waited patiently.  Half an hour went by and we went up to enquire how much longer they were going to take.  About another ten minutes as it turned out.  Once they were gone, Richard went up to turn the lock while I untied Enfield and pulled out into the canal.  The lock gates opened and I was feeling pleased with myself as I steered neatly into the lock chamber.  Suddenly Richard shouted “Stop, you’re losing hydraulic fluid.”  Sure enough I looked back to see a cloud of milky fluid around the prop.  Further investigation showed that one of the hydraulic pipes had sprung a leak.  No doubt because it was old and the rubber had perished. Well, that was it.  Enfield was going nowhere.

We hauled the boat back to the mooring (only a few yards),  tied her up and phoned in to base, leaving a message saying something to the effect of “Your boat is bust, we can do no more and we ’re going home”.  And that’s what we did.

Later in the day we learned that they had given up hope that Enfield could get to Uxbridge under her own steam and they were sending out a tug to tow her there.  With hindsight, maybe that should have been the plan all along as she was in such poor condition.  I wouldn’t mind betting that when they pull her out of the water, the baseplate will be fouled up with all manner of muck. That would go towards accounting for her lack of speed. 

Anyway, I’m no sure I would want to repeat the experience, but I daresay I’ll remember it for some time to come.  Maybe we’ll get to drive Enfield again once she is repaired. That should be, er, interesting.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Enfield moves to Uxbridge

I don’t generally volunteer for any CRT activity east of Little Venice, but I seem to have capitulated this time.  A work boat called Enfield sits in not very good shape at or near Bow Locks and they want it moved to Uxbridge Boat Centre to receive a bit of TLC, or more than a bit I suspect.  So my volunteering comrade Richard and I will be doing the trip on Tuesday and Wednesday.  According to CanalPlan, it should take eleven and three quarter hours at the default settings of 3.25 mph and 15 mins per lock.

I don’t suppose for one minute we will keep up those speeds for the first half of the trip, but day two might make up the difference.  That day we should have less moored boats to pass and only one lock to slow us down and the canal is wide and deep out west.  Richard has kindly offered me a bed for the night at his house in London on Tuesday so we can get an early start on Wednesday  I took the trouble today to knock up one of my CanalOmeters for the trip.  The first one in colour as a matter of fact.


Pretty huh?  It’s been so long since I made one that it took me ages to work out how to format the Excel pie chart that it is based on. I really should take notes.  For those unfamiliar with my CanalOmeters, the inner disc shows hours taken and the outer ring, various places along the canal. Turning the top of the inner ring to any point lets you read off the hours to any other point. Anyhow, there it is, no doubt only approximately accurate given the conditions in London.  I’ll try and do a blog during the trip, which I suspect may be eventful.

On Monday evening we have a CRT Lead Ranger’s meeting in Kings Cross to hear about a new Ranger plan for London.  The Rangers in my area are finding their voice lately and I am bound to speak up on their behalf if the plan doesn’t make sense in what our CRT leader calls The Wild West.  Should be fun.  Being a Lead Ranger seems to involve a hell of a lot of emailing.  It’s like being back at work!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hanwell High Spot

Any boater who has passed through Hanwell locks is likely to have met the Hanwell high spot.  Well that’s what the CRT guys at Adelaide dock call it.  We have certainly encountered it on more than one occasion. It’s the underwater reef of silt and tree branches and all that stuff hat the river Brent dumps into the canal when the fast flowing little river suddenly meets the comparatively still waters of the Grand Union.  When I was at Adelaide the other day they were planning to fence off the high spot with stakes and tape to warn off boats following a number of recent groundings. 

Around once a year they dredge out that particular spot and I think that might be due shortly, so hopefully, it’ll be better for a while.  The Brent doesn’t seem to like us boaters.  After dumping all its silt and submerged junk at Hanwell it then goes on to leave all its floating rubbish just down the way at Osterley lock.  That gets a regular clearout by CRT, but it only take a good rainstorm to replenish the huge raft of logs, pallets, footballs, coke cans, plastic bottles and goodness knows what else the Brent collects on its way from Barnet to join the Thames at Brentford.  I can’t recall a half mile stretch of canal anywhere on the system that’s as mucky as that short stretch.

I asked about the number of overstaying residential boats that moor just near the foot of the locks outside our beloved Fox Inn, and was told that action to get them to move on was escalating.  A number of notices had been served and overstay charges of £25 a day would be added to the fee when those boats’ licences were renewed.  we understand that people living on boats have to moor somewhere but not for extended periods on visitor moorings.

We hope to take Herbie down to Brentford sometime over the winter, so I hope CRT manages to sort all these things before we get there.

The good ship Jena now sits back at Adelaide dock having a few final bits and pieces fitted.  We took it there from Packet Boat marina yesterday.  I was particularly pleased and not a little surprised that I managed to reverse Jena out of the marina and turn her to face the GU junction without touching any part of the shore.  I was even more surprised that I managed to do it with an audience.  That’s not the way it usually goes is it?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What a whopper–Jena goes to Slough


Blinking in the daylight, CRT wide beamer Jena emerges from the paint shop at Adelaide Dock.  Using the money earned from her being used for a very brief location shot in Tom Cruise’s last Mission Impossible movie, she has had a face lift inside and out.  The external paintwork was almost entirely done by volunteers, who took her right back to bare metal, before applying the seven coats of Craftmaster paints that now protect her cabin.  I don’t know what you think of the colours.  They certainly wouldn’t have been my choice, but they do match the colours being used in lots of CRT literature and posters.

Here she is on the inside




Originally built as a floating office for use at Little Venice, she now has a more mobile future attending events for Education, Hospitality, Publicity and the like.

Not small is she?  “How do you fancy taking her down the Slough Arm for the canal festival?” they said, and fellow volunteer Richard and I accepted the challenge.  As you all know the Slough Arm is narrow and still very shallow in places and often weedy. Thankfully CRT had been down the arm clearing the pennywort for us.  They filled three sizeable work boat holds piled high with the stuff.

Squeezing Jena through the  bridges on the GU wasn’t too bad and she handles surprisingly well for a big ‘un.  The narrow right angled turn into the Slough Arm was er, interesting, but we did it without touching the sides.  The biggest challenge was at High Line Yachting at Iver, where the three abreast boats for sale back up right to the Mansion Lane bridge.  Much to our surprise, we sort of wriggled her through with about half an inch to spare.  Of course we were well aware that being newly painted, any scratches would be unavoidably down to us, so no pressure there then!!

Once moored up at the show the good people of Slough (not all of them of course) popped in to take a look and to chat to Sam Thomas, London Director of Operations for CRT and to ask all the usual questions about canals and boating. 



Because I was in uniform, I got knobbled a few times too.  “When does a boat become a barge?” asked one elderly gent.  Answers on a post card please.

The sun shone and the people at the show had some stuff to look at beside the fifteen or so ( a record?) boats that attended.  Birds of prey, stationary engines (my favourite), arena displays and what not, and free rides on model steam vehicles.  How about this little cracker?


Even he drinks van was a joy to behold.


I think big chief Richard Parry was due to attend at some time over the weekend.  I hope he liked the show, although I expect he had his ear bent about some of the obstacles that still make the arm not the easiest of cruises.

On Monday we have to take Jena back to Adelaide dock, and I fear that the weather may not be so kind to us.  Just cross your fingers that we don’t scratch her if the wind carries us away.

Monday, September 07, 2015

All set for Slough

As I write, CRT are doing more weed cutting down on the Slough Arm and Wood Hall & Heward are removing a burnt out and sunken GRP cruiser down there and down at Adelaide dock, CRTs wide beam events boat Jena is having her windows replaced after her paint job.  Why all the activity?  Because at the coming weekend it’s the Slough Canal Festival .  Yes the famous samosas provided by the expert locals will be cooking, the ferrets will be racing, the falcons will be flying and the stationary steam engines will be chugging and with a bit of luck there’ll be a fairground organ for me to covet.

I just looked back at my old photos and realised we haven’t attended the festival since 2009!  Grace was a tiny tot.


and Herbie was in her old blue livery:



It’s not a big festival, but I always liked it, and if the weather is kind, a lot of the locals turn out to learn more about their canal. 

Herbie won’t get there this year, but I will. Along with a couple of other volunteers, I’ll be taking wide beam Jena down there to fly the CRT flag and I’m hoping we might recruit another volunteer to help out with towpath rangering down the arm.  Then after the festival we have to return Jena to (I think) Little Venice.  Give us a wave if you’re down that way.