New Boat on the List

We had the motor-boat Crane at Awbridge last week, a new addition to the list of boats loaded here. (Check out the Boats Loaded page).

Jeff brought Crane to load on behalf of Star Class Fuels, in company with the proprietor of Star Class Fuels, Mark Rowlands who also loaded his boat, Callisto.

Needless to say, the coal flew onto the boats, thus ensuring maximum time to enjoy the Bell. Much to the dismay of Jeff, the Bathams had all been drunk over the weekend, so he had to suffer Holdens Golden Glow. He managed manfully.


Crane has been fitted with a rare Petter semi-diesel engine, a 10hp single cylinder affair that needs setting fire to (or, more accurately, warming with a blow-lamp) before starting. It blows nice smoke rings too, as well as sounding divine.


The above picture shows Callisto and Crane loaded and ready to leave.

Home thoughts from a boat (or How Was Worcestershire?)

Just returned from our trip out with butty boat Gosport via Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Worcester and Stourport. 

The canals around here are not getting better; the lock gates are all bodged up with bits of wood and metal plates, the spot-dredging has been ineffectual (apart from a few notable exceptions - the railway narrows on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal for one), and the lack of vegetation management is staggering.

The CRT winching team were already for us when we arrived at Wightwick on the Staffs & Worcs Canal (see previous blog entry), and winched us over the scour in a very prompt manner. Still no word on a date for dredging here! 

Long-lined the butty up the Twenty-One, managing to get over the scours below the locks with varying degrees of ease/difficulty, only to find that the level was four inches off at the top. It seems that the level was being kept low to enable some work to take place miles away on the Wyrley & Essington Canal, not that the CRT Duty Supervisor was aware of this fact. This meant that we had a terrible ride from Wolverhampton to Tipton. The canal is not maintained to anywhere near a reasonable enough depth to allow four inches to be drained off and navigation not be impaired.


The above photo shows the standard of maintenance applied through Bilston on the Wolverhampton Level of the BCN Main Line Canal. Note the words - “Main Line”. Heaven knows what a “Secondary Line” would look like.


The Soho Loop in Birmingham has had some spot-dredging carried out on it, although it is a pity that the bridge-hole at the entrance to Hockley Port (the worst bit of the entire loop) was not dredged out. We only just got through with much to-ing and fro-ing. The picture shows Gosport under tow on the way to Hockley Port.

The Worcester & Birmingham Canal is just as terrible as ever, a proper dredge is needed along this canal all the way from Birmingham to Wast Hill Tunnel. It still suprises me at the difference we experience along here when ploughing along loaded, drawing three feet over our whole length as opposed to whizzing along with an empty boat.

Overhanging trees are noticeable along the canal in the Alvechurch area. They are noticeable because they are a constant threat to ones eyesight. Some cutting back of trees was carried out this last spring, but only easily accessible lengths were tackled, these being mainly long straight lengths where their impact on navigation was not a huge problem in any case. Cynical me assumes that these lengths were chosen by the contractor as being the most lucrative, rather than being the most urgently in need of cutting, as it must have been obvious to the contractor that all the works needed could not possibly be carried out.

Tardebigge Locks are always a pleasure, except when boats following behind empty each lockful of water over the weir below before filling the lock below, resulting in the foot-boards of the top gates being under water, and thirty lock-fulls of water hammering over the weir at the bottom lock. This never used to happen when there was a proper Lock-Keeper in the shape of Mick the Brick on duty.

The Five Mile Pound through Hanbury Wharf is still abominable. The levels are seemingly permanently low, presumably as lots of water is drawn down the Droitwich Canal. The reeds along here are as bad as ever, slowly encroaching further into the channel in spite of them being given a “haircut” at the end of last Summer. A thorough dredging is the only answer. There is no other solution.


The Lowesmoor Pound was dredged about twenty years ago as a result of the then Chairman of BW having travelled along it and being appalled. The following picture shows it now. I would have thought that a regular visit from a spot-dredging team would have kept this growth well back and out of the channel at a reasonable cost. Now a “Main-line” type dredging operation will be necessary here in the near future.


Even on the Severn, the vegetation is not attended to. The traffic light signal cannot be seen from the lock waiting pontoon below Holt Lock. One has to assume that nothing is leaving the lock before approaching it. 


Above is a picture of the bottom gates at Stourport Barge Locks. Presumeably, CRT are growing a new gate in-situ. This is an interesting contrast with the gates on the Stoke Bruerne lock flight, where the vegetation is regularly power-washed off. Just goes to show how different Waterway Managers think.

I could go on, overhanging vegetation between Stourport and Kidderminster, large tree trunks left water-logged under the water when they are not removed (it seems that only the bit that can be seen above water needs removing), known regularly building up scours not being regularly spot-dredged (Southern end of Dunsley Tunnel for one), etcetera, but I am losing the will to live.

We still had a great trip, mainly because we have great customers with whom we have a good craic. Also, some of the Pubs en-route are excellent, and cannot be passed by.

Stuck on the scour at Wightwick

On the 29th July, we set off on Roach from our yard at Awbridge loaded with just over 19 tonnes of solid fuels, all of which was ordered for delivery that week. On board were invited guests in the shape of John Dodwell, who is a Trustee of CRT; Ian Lane, the acting Waterway Manager of the West Midlands Waterways; and Victoria Taylor, a hydrographic engineer who works for CRT and is based in Leeds. We had suggested that they join us to see for themselves the problems that we encounter with the depth of the canal, and in particular, the scour that builds up regularly between the locks at Wightwick. 

John and Ian both had a go at steering Roach, and we got along fairly well at first. We also provided fine sandwiches, hand-crafted by Jenny.

The previous day, the Jules Fuels pair, Towcester and Bideford, had been held up for six hours at the Wightwick scour, and only managed to get through with the help of a Tirfor winch operated by CRT personel. This was not entirely unexpected, as the Narrow Boat Trust pair had also been stuck at the same spot for five hours a few weeks previously. 

I did think that we would perhaps get through the scour as a path had been cut through by Jules’ pair the previous day, but that was not to be. We hit the scour and stopped dead. John Dodwell very nearly fell in the canal with the sudden stop! Victoria commenced a cursory survey of the scour and was supprised to discover that it was about 5m across. The source of the scour is obvious; there is a drain that outfalls into the canal via a silt-trap on the off-side, and the silt-trap has not been cleared out for years. You will all be pleased to know that we have been promised swift action here. I will let you know.


We ended up being winched through by the same team that had pulled Towcester and Bideford through on the previous day - many thanks to Kevin and Mark.

We had just got moving when Nick Hill appeared on the towing path and jumped aboard. Those who know Mr Hill will not be suprised to know that the tiller was immediately his, but only as far as Compton Lock. The large piece of masonry left by the workforce responsible for repairing the water main at Compton Bridge was duly hit and noted by the CRT crew.

Above the lock, Victoria steered the boat as far as the Water Bridge and she was quite astonished at the rocking and rolling of Roach along this length. I am hoping that this experience will be discussed with the rest of her colleagues in the dredging team, and that a greater understanding of the minimum depths needed for genuine navigation will be engendered. I hope so. I did try to explain my position with regard to dredging which is that dredging is a waste of time and money unless it is carried out to a meaningful depth and will not result in the need to dredge again in two years time - a situation that seems to be prevalent at the moment.


We finished the day at Oxley Marine where our guests left, and I repaired to the bar for a well deserved beer (or two). © John Jackson 2014