This morning I had an unexpected adventure on a historic working boat. Being out of stern tube grease, I popped into Tooley’s boatyard to buy fresh supplies as we were on our way home in the car. On the path leading to the yard was an unusual lot of clobber including a sizable petrol driven pump. I thought nothing of it, Tooleys is a bit like that, and picked my way through the usual piles of old artefacts in the yard and entered the little chandlery shop only to find there was no-one there. Well that was because all hands were in the dry dock, so I poked my head in through the door of the dock.
“Aah” said one of the men, eyeing my portly figure, “Would you mind clambering on the bow of this boat we need to shift the weight forward ‘cos the back end is aground.” Not surprising really as the water level in the canal was well down, apparently on account of CRT letting water down to Twyford Wharf where the bottom was too near the top to allow navigation.
Getting on board wasn’t easy. Swinging on one of the ancient roof beams I took my place on the somewhat fragile but elegantly shaped bow of the old barque and quickly realised I was on board the wooden hull of Nb Hardy the old boat that has been undergoing restoration by Tooleys this summer. Hardy was built in 1940 and was the last boat, they say, ever built for the Samuel Barlow carrying fleet, so she’s a bit special.
Three of us stood precariously on the bow and attempted a co-ordinated jumping up and down to shift the boat, hoping the planking beneath our feet wouldn’t give way. She was well afloat at the bow, but the stern was resolutely stuck on the bottom, and was sticking outside the back of the dock. What I didn’t know until later was that Hardy, which has been moored afloat outside the dock for some months (after being raised from under the water at Braunston for four years and towed to Banbury), had been holed and sunk again last Sunday morning, by an unidentified passing boat. So that pump on the bank was what they had used to raise her.
Sadly at that point I had to get my grease and depart as our car park ticket was due to expire. As I left they were shifting some of the ballast sacks forward. I hope that worked. Anyhow it was more fun than buying Stern Tube Grease on-line, and a lot cheaper too. £4.50 at Tooley’s, typically £8+ on-line.
There is talk of Cherwell Council trying to get rid of Tooleys so they can redevelop the site. I sincerely hope they fail.
Hardy’s restoration is being funded by charitable donations.