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.