Thursday, March 26, 2015

CRT Docklands office - and are we getting anywhere with cyclists?

Yesterday I went to a volunteer meeting at the CRT Docklands Office.  I’d not been there before. The building itself is pretty unremarkable, just a typical modern office block, but the view out of the window is such that if I were working there I'd never get anything done.

The office sits at the entrance to the massive South Dock on the Isle of Dogs  - that’s just the entrance lock in the centre of the picture.  We used it during the Queen’s diamond jubillee extravaganza when 40 narrowboats barely half filled the lock.



and the office  windows look out across the Thames to the O2 arena and down river so you can the the river traffic which is busy in this area.


Interestingly the boat nearer the camera appears to be pushing its barge from alongside.  It was going at a fair old lick.

Luckily we were able to concentrate on the business on hand (more of which in a future post) because it was an evening meeting and it soon got dark.

Anyway enough of all that.  What did I learn at the meeting that I can tell you about?

I've posted before about our Share the Space events where we attempt to stop cyclists to educate them about the dangers if going too fast on the towpath and I’ve told you about about the posters we have been sticking on bridges etc.  Like this

pedest    and this  tyfsd

All this has only been in London up until now but a nationwide campaign on the same basis is due soon.

The question is "does it work?" Well I have been pretty sceptical, but last night a couple of the volunteers who work in the congested areas of the capital reported that they have definitely noticed an improvement in cyclist behaviour  in recent months, especially in respect of slowing down and alerting pedestrians as they pass. The feeling is that this us more due to the poster campaigns than the events.   There are a posters at every bridge, access point and pinch point, so people can’t miss them.  I’ve put up a fair few myself.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens when it goes national.

The towpath events have slowly transformed into general  ‘meet the towpath users’ events and have been useful in highlighting problems with rubbish, swans, and yoofs to name but a few.  We’ll be doing more of them because they want to use the London area to demonstrate them to CRT staff and volunteers from other regions as the campaign spreads.

PS Did you know that CRT makes good money from film crews who want to use the canal or towpath as a film location? Over £120,000 in the last year or so.

I’ll have rather more to tell you in a little while when a new ranger structure is launched.

PPS  I spotted this on my walk to the office yesterday


??????? captions invited.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A disappointment and a thief caught in the act.

Oh well, you’d better ignore my previous post ‘cos I just got a mail saying that the boat we were going to be using on Wednesday (Griffin) has its engine out in bits on the bench, so my first proper CRT boat moving job has been postponed.

Never mind, instead have a butchers at the action on my bird feeders in our garden over the last couple of days.  I’ve been playing with a remote shutter release on the camera.

Hello my starlings!


How cute is this? (long tailed tit)

long tailed tit

and his cousin the blue tit trying to look fierce


and lastly our resident garden thief, caught in the act this very afternoon.


I can find no way of stopping the little blighter pinching the birds nuts.

Early start

I've just been given my first proper CRT boat moving job since passing my assessments, and it could hardly be better suited for me.  That's because I'll be taking a senior waterway engineer on an inspection trip up and down the Slough arm, Herbie's former home.

It should be interesting to see what the inspection consists of. I'll let you know.

The downside is that I have to be at Adelaide dock on Southall at 7.15 am on Wednesday. I'll need to be up before six!!

Then when we get back I have to make my way all the way to the CRT docklands office near Canary Wharf for a towpath ranger meeting at 6pm.   Obergruppenfuhrer Dick has promised pizza so at least i'll get fed. By the time I get home I will have put in 16 hours work and travel for CRT in one day. All good fun though.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A logging gadget that works.

I’ve just got round to trying out one of my Christmas presents thanks to our local council cutting up a damaged ornamental cherry tree down our road. I purloined a few logs and set about cutting them into lengths using something called Timber Teeth.

timber teeth

As you can probably see from the picture, it consists of a couple of steel jaws that grip nicely in a Workmate.  They don’t look all that substantial, but they are in fact pretty strong and the teeth really do hold the log still using a small amount of left hand pressure to hold the log down while you saw with the right. (Of course left handers could do it just as well the other way round.)  And of course it’s easy to adjust the spacing of the two jaws to accommodate the length of the log by just sliding them apart.  I suppose you could use a strap to hold the log down on the jaws if you needed to but I found that hand pressure was enough for the teeth to bite into the log and stop it rolling or twisting.  
The jaws themselves don’t seem to wobble in use which was a concern I had before trying them. Everything sits nice and solidly while you saw. If you have a workmate, they are a simple and easily stored solution to making a good saw horse.

We spotted them on the web and bought them from here for just under £20 inc delivery. It sounds rather a lot for a couple of bits of bent steel, but in terms of how they perform, they’re worth it.

On another topic, good reviews of my book continue to trickle in. I'm now up to twenty if you include the two on Amazon's US site.  Average score stays at 4.6 stars out of 5.   Tomorrow I'm using up my last free Kindle day this quarter, so if you want a freebie, click here, read the reviews and grab your copy.  Friday only.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who lives on this boat?

thames boat

I don’t know what to think about this boat we saw on the Thames in Reading yesterday. Well three boats actually, but it’s the big one at the back I’m referring to.  I think I like it.  I wonder how weatherproof it is.  It makes a change from the posh tupperware boats often seen on the Thames at any rate.

thames boat

An enlarged section of the somewhat blurry photo, taken at some distance with my phone, makes it look like a painting don’t you think?  Anyhow, it looks like the person who lives aboard might be something of a character. An arty type maybe.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Poetry in Motion

Just before we left for home the other day, we stood on our grassy knoll at Crick to watch the dredging operation in the canal alongside the marina.  Dredging is not the most glamorous occupation I can think of but the rhythm this guy had adopted was hypnotic.  Take a scoop of mud from the centre of the canal and drop it in the lighter,

dredge1 then take the next scoop to the right and drop that, then one more further right near the bank and drop that, then swivel left and use the shovel to nudge the lighter a few feet to the rear and scoop in front of that. Then use the shovel on the canal bed to shove the dredger back in line with the lighter and start all over again.  Like clockwork. The shovel never stopped moving and they were making rapid progress along the canal. It seemed like they filled the lighter every few minutes.


Meanwhile a little tug was taking the last full lighter down the canal to where the waiting shovel would scoop it out and spread the mud and silt over the farm field. 


I suppose that a deal has been done with the landowner to dump it there.  I know they have to test the mud to make sure it is not toxic, so it must be OK.  It is very rural along that canal so I’m not surprised it’s safe.

So next time you cruise along that section, your boat might go a little bit quicker.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Is this the biggest boat on the Grand Union?


What do you think?  Is there a bigger one anywhere on the GU? In case you are wondering, this one is moored just above Thames Lock at Brentford only just a hundred yards or so into the canal.  I saw it when I was down there last week for a volunteer meeting. I think it’s too long to be enclosed in the lock so I’m guessing they must have brought it in by having both ends of the lock open when the tide was right.  I can’t see it doing much continuous cruisingSmile.  What a whopper!

PS. I just looked it up.  I think it must be this one:

Courage Built by Sneep Shipyard - Length : 38.5 metres ( 126 feet 4 inches ) - Beam : 4.99 metres ( 16 feet 4 inches ) - Draft : 0.9 ( 2 feet 11 inches ). Metal hull power of 120 BHP.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wind and chocolate

Seventeen miles an hour isn't that much of a wind. That's the upper end of force 4 on the Beaufort scale. "Dust and loose paper raised. Small branches begin to move." However when it blows sideways across a narrowboat trying to slot into a narrow mooring slot in a marina, it makes things surprisingly hard. That's why Herbie is currently sitting outside Crick marina waiting for the wind to drop before we nip back in.

The wind blows awkwardly down our marina at the best of times. Crick seems to be a windy spot. Anyone taking a boat along past Crick and Yelvertoft lately can't fail to notice the whirling arms of the wind turbines recently erected there. I don't suppose they would have built the wind farm there unless they were assured it would be windy enough.

Last night we went with Rick to have a bash at the quiz at the Wheatsheaf in Crick (now a very good pub by the way). At the half time break we were lying second depsite being a much smaller team than our competitors. Questions on art and history and geography all fell within our stride. Then came the round on TV and film, and worse still the one where we had to recognise little parts of chocolate wrappers. We ended up 5th or 6th (can't remember which). Moral: must eat more chocolate - we didn't even recognise the letter e from a Cadbury's Flake wrapper.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Man in canal at Yelvertoft

Fear not, no harm was done. As we cruised Herbie past Yelvertoft Marina today we had to wait while finishing touches were being put to a coffer dam being erected. This fellow in a diving suit was ensuring that the edges of the plastic sheeting were watertight as the water inside the dam was pumped out.


The dam is being erected to provide a dry area for the construction of a slipway being built for Yelvertoft Marina. The boat in front of us had been waiting a couple of hours to be allowed to pass, but we were only delayed by about thirty minutes.

Watching the diver walking about showed that the canal here was a surprising five feet deep in the middle, very rapidly climbing to only two feet at the edges.


When we were finally allowed through they pulled us past the dam on a rope. I think they were nervous about our prop disturbing the seal of the sheeting.

Further up the canal near Crick, the dredgers were out, so this mainly shallow canal might be a bit easier to navigate soon.

This was our first outing this year and it was good to be out on the water again, albeit only for a day. I was impressed when Herbie's engine started up within a second of turning the starter key. She seems to have survived the winter lay off in good shape.

Out along the canal, not much is growing yet, despite today's warm sunshine.

I suspect the blackthorns blossom will be out soon though. Lots of birds are advertising for mates.


Monday, March 09, 2015

Volunteering stuff, the appeal of lock keeping and what it's like driving a CRT workboat

On Friday I went along to a volunteer recruitment meeting at Brentford. Interesting. About a dozen people came along. After a talk on what CRT does in general, we heard from a current volunteer lock keeper and I said a bit about being a towpath ranger. Quite a few recruits were keen on lock keeping, but we only got one new volunteer for the towpath. A result of my lack of persuasiveness? No, it's just that people have this idyllic view of the lock keeper's job. Only a few of them knew anything about boating or canals in general. They'll learn I suppose. One thing I did learn was that some of the lock keepers also help with workboat painting in Southall.

Then on Saturday I had the final stage in my qualifying as a CRT Helmsman and Deckhand. That was fun. There were three of us doing the test and I'm glad to say we all had boating and canal experience. Remember we had all already done the RYA helmsman cert, a Health and Safety course and a Fire and Water Rescue course. This final stage was a CATS (Competence Assessment & Traing Scheme) assessment.

We had to take a work boat, Pride of London, from Uxbridge to Adelaide dock in Southall, passing through Cowley Lock en route. That was easy enough. Pride of London has tiller steering and a normal morse control for the engine and gearbox.

She steers pretty much like a normal narrowboat, albeit she is a very different shape and the digger thingy on the front gets in the way of forward visibility a bit.

Our assessor, Mick, was an old BW/CRT hand and was easy to work with. He showed us where things were on the boat and we had to do all the usual switching on of things and engine and stern gear checks. We took it in turns at the tiller over the first mile then he watched us negotiate the lock then we put him ashore and we continued the next couple of hours on our own, frantically swotting up on the Guidance Notes on which we were to be tested when we arrived at Adelaide. These notes amount to 51 pages of stuff about Canal Bye Laws, workboat design and standards, safety and stability stuff, helmsman and deckhand duties and responsibilities, maintenance and breakdown considerations, anchors, gangplanks etc etc.

It happened to be my turn at the helm when we arrived at Adelaide Dock and I managed to get the boat in through the narrow entrance without incident and parked up alongside another boat. Then Mick emerged from the office and shouted that he wanted the boat across the other side of the dock, necessitating me reversing out and then bringing her sideways across the dock against a side wind. It wasn't elegant but I managed it!


Then after a cuppa, we set about the tests. Mick asked us a list of questions based on the Guidance Notes content. Much of the usual stuff about horn blast signals, safe stowage of petrol, actions in the event of an accident, use of anchors, lifejackets etc etc. and some daft questions like "should an intoxicated person helm a boat?" I was surprised by how much I knew!

Anyway, we all passed and we are now signed off ready to take out a boat when required. Or to be fair, certain classes of boat. Apparently we are the first three volunteers to be CATS assessed in the London region and possibly in the country.

As you would expect, operating a CRT boat requires daily form filling, engine check tick boxes, and safety checks, hours recording and so on, but in fact it's mostly stuff you might do on your own boat anyway. The crew accommodation is reasonably comfortable below deck, having seating for about four crew, a microwave and electric kettle, sink, toilet and so on. Eberspacher heaters are these days being replaced by diesel stoves which are more reliable. Then of course there is a compartment with tools and all sorts of work paraphernalia.

All this training and testing has taken a long time but I do now feel reasonably confident of knowing what to do if and when I get asked to move a CRT boat.

As I sit here writing this, I am aboard another boat. Yes, we're finally back aboard Herbie after an unusually long winter break. Not sure if we'll take her out as we only have a couple of days before we need to get home for medical appointments, but it's good to have Herbie back in operational condition and warmed through.


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Boat trip delayed by boat trip. Plus news of an aircraft accident.

At last it looks like we have a “window” where we can go boating from this weekend, but wait, Herbie will have to wait another day because I have to go boating first.  At long last CRT is putting the finishing touches on my volunteer boat moving training.  I’ve done the RYA cert and two lots of elfin safety and all that remains is a CAATS assessment (whatever that is).  I shall find out on Saturday because three of us trainees will be moving a CRT work boat from Uxbridge to Adelaide Dock in Southall. Providing we don’t make a cock up of that and we answer some test questions at the end we’ll be “qualified”.  Hooray.  They’re sending me some CAATS reading matter in the post beforehand so I can swot up.

More volunteering – on Friday we have a meet and greet session in Brentford to welcome new volunteer towpath ranger recruits.  I might get free biscuitsSmile. Apparently there are quite a few of them because they’ve had to book a larger room.

Then on Sunday well be off in Herbie for a spin, just for a few days to blow off the cobwebs.  Maybe to Welford or Foxton.  You might have know that the river Avon (Shakespeare’s one) rises near Welford, but you might not have known that the river Welland also rises in that area (at Sibbertoft) and flows east into the Wash. I think Welford is the highest point on the GU system.  The fields sloping down to the infant Avon before you get to the Welford arm are where Percy Pilcher, the first Englishman to fly met a sticky end in 1899 when he crashed his hang glider like aircraft The Hawk.  Not a lot of people know that.

Monday, March 02, 2015

New Tricks on the towpath.

TV detectives do seem to like canals don’t they.  Lewis is rarely away from them, although most of the time he is really on the GU around Uxbridge or Harefield when he should be in Oxford. It's always fun spotting where they are.  I instantly recognised the place where James Bolam stood in an old episode of New Tricks they showed the other day.


Aah, I bet a lot of us know where that is don’t we?  Here is another view.


At least he is in the right city.  People who have cruised into London from the west will know that bit of canal – not far west of Little Venice.  I always feel that when we reach that bit, we are nearly there.  Here is the same spot in a picture shot from Herbie.


I bet that if they tried to shoot the same scene today, the bank wouldn’t be so clear of boats.  When we started boating we hardly saw a boat moored between Kensal Rise and Little Venice, now there are a lot.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

My other boat

It was a long long time ago, but I did own another boat, and to prove it, here I am in it.

rubber dinghy

Aah I remember those pink flares.  I found these pictures again today when browsing through my old stuff.  The dinghy I bought from Millets maybe.  It was quite a decent one, being made out of strong rubberised fabric and lasted many years. In fact it might still be at the back of the garage now..  Being a law abiding chap I bought a proper Thames licence for it, about £4 if memory serves me right. In the picture I am rowing in a backwater close to Sonning lock.  I guess it must be about 1973 so I would have been 26 and single at the time.

I was always drawn to water even as a kid, and the attraction has never left me.  A few years earlier some friends and I hired our first boat on the Norfolk broads, and nearly half a century later I am still going back.  In fact Pete (on the left below) is still coming with us.  In fact I’m glad to say that I am in contact with the others in the picture too. I suppose you can work out which is me. (?)


Here is the boat we hired.  I doubt she still exists, but you never know.  Some of these old Broads boats have been lovingly kept going.


A couple of years later (1974 I think) we had a week sailing Albion the famous Norfolk Wherry. 

albion 1

She still had her proper black sails then and didn’t suffer the indignity of having an outboard motor strapped to her rudder as she does now.  That sail is so heavy. After two of us hoisted it we had to go and have a lie down.


I sat in the tender on tow to take this picture.  The handsome young chap holding the tow rope is Rick believe it or not.  When the wind didn’t blow we had to either push or pull the huge boat along.  Here’s Pete with his shoulder to the quant pole.


When it was to deep to quant, parties rowed ashore and pulled us along with a rope.  Those were the days..