Leave our home moorings at Napton and meet up with Fair fa at Calcutt and make our way to Malthouse Stables, Tipton to take part in the Icicle Cruise. Our route was to be S Oxford, Grand Union, Warwick and Birmingham Canal, Digbeth Branch (Ashted Locks), B and F Main Line (Farmers Bridge Locks), Newhall Branch, BCN Main Line, Tipton Malthouse Stables.
We arrived at the boat on Sunday 23 March just in time to see Mike, Krystyna and her mother going home. We went onboard and found that a boat must had passed at quite a lick, the kettle of water left on the stove had sloshed everywhere leaving the top rusty and in the cupboard all the jars were tipped over. The trip had started just as it intended to continue.
We dropped Harnser down to the water point to fill the tank and then into the top lock to load all the normal stores for a 2 week trip, plus a quarter of a ton of iron ballast to deliver to Pat and Sheila on Fair Fa. We dropped through the lock and moored for the night.
We set off down the Napton flight meeting a boat about half way down and continued to Calcutt where we waited for Pat and Sheila. When they arrived , we pushed on well, in convoy down the Calcutt locks taking both boats in through one gate and leaving the same way. This meant with a crew of 4 we were able to get the lock ahead set before we left the one above. We carried on like this to our first nights mooring just below Welsh Road Locks. I took the dogs for a walk along the tow path and heard an engine roaring in the distance. Round the bend came a shared owner boat doing about 6 mph with a wash almost a foot high. Its the first time I have ever been compelled to speak to someone about the speed they were doing.
Tuesday 25 March 2003
It was agreed that we would transfer the ballast whilst in the first lock. This went quite smoothly and I was surprised that Harnser hadn’t dropped a bit deeper at the stern., the reason was soon to be far to obvious to us all. Progress was good and we planed to continue up the Hatton flight working the same locking sequence. All went well until I pulled out of lock 6 and the engine cut out, I suspected that I had picked up something large on the prop, stopping the engine dead. I went down the engine room and turned the start key, the engine spun but didn’t fire, I had run out of diesel! We breasted Harnser with Fair-fa and Pat took them both up the flight, leaving 3 of us to work the locks. We moored just above the long term moorings at the top of the flight and I set to connecting the engine to the diesel stove oil tank and primed the injector system. As we now had no cooker we had to scrounge dinner off Pat and Sheila on their boat . As I sat thinking about things it occurred to me that although the day tank containing about 5 gallons of diesel was feeding the engine the diesel from the filter bleeds and the leak off rail was returning this to the main tank.
After taking the dogs out I set to running a temporary line from the end of the leak off rail to the top of the day tank. It was at this point that I managed to pull the thread on the brass compression fitting that was silver soldered to the end of the leak off rail. With loads of PTFE tape and a female compression fitting I was able to get an almost leak free joint, it just needed mopping up every few hours.
10 O’clock we set off looking for someone selling diesel, up the Knowle flight to Goldsbourgh’s yard. No they are not allowed to sell diesel even though they have it, so we carried on past MWBC who don’t have diesel and the BBBC who also don’t have diesel and on to Copt Hill Wharf to fill up.
The yard is not normally manned and if you require service there is a radio alarm button to press that is supposed to attract the attention of the owners who live in the cottage on the other side of the canal, unfortunately if the lady of the house is working down the garden she doesn’t hear the alarm and we had to wait some little time for her to realise we were there. After filling with diesel we carried on to Catherine De Barns to moor for the night, re-plumbing the diesel from the main tank to the engine and re-lighting the stove. We were then able to return the previous nights hospitality to Pat and Sheila.
Thursday 27 March 2003
We pushed on through a very heavily littered waterway, I was able to pick up 2 full length scaffold boards that could well prove useful as gangplanks at the National on the Thames. We had only met one boat since leaving Hatton and pat called on the radio to ask if I had checked the BW stoppage list? I had to confess that I hadn’t and when he checked we found that Farmers Bridge, Ashted and Ashton were all due to be closed until Friday PM. We decided to have a conference at the end of the GU. It was decided to carry on down Camp Hill and stop at Bordesley Junction and then investigate further. We moored up and Pat and I walked the Ashted flight. All the locks were in water and no sign of any ongoing work, we returned to the boats and headed up the flight to Aston junction. We stopped here and sent Sheila up Farmers Bridge flight, No sign of any closure notices and every thing looked fine until she reached about the third from top lock which was de-watered and full of plant. The site foreman said that he was due to hand back the flight at 3pm on Friday but he would be no where finished and BW were having a meeting as we spoke. Pat rang BW again and was told that the flight would be closed for another week but Ashton was open. By now I had walked half way down Ashton to check the state of them when Pat called me back on the radio. Apart from the pond between 5 and 6 being dry everything was OK.
The pound was over a foot down with no water coming down Farmers Bridge and Pat had a lot of problems getting round to enter Ashton Top Lock. When he finally started to enter the lock he stuck fast about halfway in and was unable to reverse out. I tried giving him a tow without success , a bystander was enlisted to stand on the bow with Sheila and Di to see if that would help, then all the coal was moved forward and I managed to tow him out.
In the meantime Pat had rung BW to inform them he was stuck and they asked what he needed, he replied “another 6 inches of water” They rang back later to say they” hadn’t got any”.
With Fair fa out of the way I started poking about with the shaft and Sea Searcher and hit metal. I pulled 3 metal rectangular frames from the mouth of the lock plus some other scrap, Pat backed up and tried again, very slowly and stopped in exactly the same spot. He backed out and I drifted Harnser’s bow round and did more fishing, again I hit something hard and metal inline with he mouth of the lock and hooked it with the shaft but was unable to move it. so we both tried with no success. I then lay on the deck and managed to reach down and thread a rope through the obstruction.
With two of us pulling from the tow path we were able to remove a shopping trolley that had been pressed several inches into the canal bed. Pat tried yet again to get into the lock and this time succeeded. It was 5 30 and it had taken 2 hours to get into the lock.
Pat headed down the flight and after I had passed the first lock I started letting water down from the junction to fill the pound further down. By the time we had reached the bottom lock it was dark and Sheila was soaking wet. She hadn’t fallen in but the paddle gear had blown back and covered her head to foot in water.
That night we moored at Cuckoo Wharf.
Friday 28 March 2003
We left Cuckoo Wharf at about 10 and moved out into the Tame Valley, we would have been here yesterday lunch time had we not gone up the Ashted flight. We turned left towards Ocker Hill and started up the flight, by this time Pat had some thick blue plastic parcel tape round the prop. In the first short pound we found 3 BW dumb barges tied together but not to the bank, it left just enough room to slide a narrowboat along the off side. When we emptied the next lock the wash sent the barges on a walk about and I had to go back and move them to one side so that Pat could pass.
Looking at the Nicholson’s guide there appeared to be a rural area just before Ocker Hill junction where we planned to moor for the night. We had just driven the mooring pins in when on the opposite bank a group of youngsters appeared with a motorbike and started whizzing up and down the tow path, the others amused themselves swinging out over the canal on a length of rope hung from a pipe bridge, but they kept to the far side of the canal and didn’t seam a problem. Sheila and Pat decided to take their dogs for a walk, 3 Elk Hounds, 1 dog and 2 bitches, they always keep the dog on a lead but the other two normally trot around free. Just then a local came along with his dog on a lead and was most put out by one of he bitches going over to say hello. It was met with shouts of “keep your dog under control. I’ll let mine off in a minute and then the fur will fly. You boaters think you own the canals, come and moor where you like, I walk this path every day, you have no right to be here and you can’t moor there because there are fishing rights” Thankfully he kept walking. The next walker had a boxer dog and was much more amiable, he enquired if we intended mooring there overnight and when we replied we did, he suggested that it would be better if we just went beyond the junction and reverse into the BW yard at Ocker Hill where he moored. This we did and had a very peaceful night behind the secure fencing.
Saturday 29 March 2003
We bid farewell to our new found friend with his Boxer dog and gave him a bottle of wine to show our gratitude and headed up the Rider Green locks, stopping above the second which was quite low to allow the ladies to go to Asda.
When I tried to enter the third lock I hit something very solid which I couldn’t move. The only answer was to go to the top of the flight and let some water down to raise the pound to thecorrect level so that I could get over it. Once this was sorted we had an uneventful trip up the rest of the flight and up Factory Locks to Tipton Malthouse stables. We moored on the outside of two BW boats to allow the dogs to get ashore. By the early evening 23 boats had gathered around the area to take part in the cruise the next day.
Just before dusk there was the sound of a steam whistle as President came steaming round the bend on her way back to the Black Country Museum. We all went for a drink and a chat in the stables meeting room where we had a chat with Mike and Jo off Joanna and a lady and her son who had breasted on the outside of us making us 5 deep, she turned out to be Jenny Maxwell the author of a canal novel, Grey Lady
Sunday 30 March 2003
We all remembered to put our clocks on by an hour so by 10 o’clock we were all ready to go. Joe Holingsworth lead the way towing a butty , we were about 7th from the back, just in font of us were Pat and Sheila and behind us Mike and Jo. We made steady progress along the Wolverhampton Level and turned right down the Bradley Arm, here things slowed down a lot with very heavy weed growth. Lots of the local residents came to the bottom of their gardens to watch us pass. One of the questions asked was “how far are you going” we were within half a mile of the terminal at the time and obviously the locals were unaware of the route of the canal running by their gardens.
When we reached the terminus it was pretty full of boats and we had to reverse into the works basin with 4 other boats.
There was a very good BBQ laid on for us in the works grounds and a conducted tour of the BW workshops where not only do they have the two driest dry docks I have ever seen, one fitted with a machine called the “manipulator” which is capable of turning a boat up side down if required to work on the bottom of it, they also build new lock gated for use round the system.
After lunch we started heading back to Tipton, unfortunately the boat inside me set off before I was ready and I had to run to release our stern rope, in so doing my digital camera dropped from my top pocket into the Basin.
We winded in the basin and reverse out so we could head back up the branch, by the time we had got out of the basin we had two polythene sacks and a length of rope around our prop. There were only two boats left and one of them was the butty the other was Crew who was going to tow it very slowly back to the Black Country Museum. By the time I had cleared our prop they had set off in front of us and we did the whole of the arm at tick over or neutral. When we got back onto the Wolverhampton Level they pulled over and allowed us to pass.
We moored in the same place at the stables as the night before an 4 of us decided to pool out food/leftovers and have another BBQ.
Monday 31 March 2003
We planned to set off at 9 with Mike and Jo on Joanna but we were hurried along by BW who wanted to get their work boat out from the inside of us. They were good enough to be patent and wait while we took the dogs for a very short walk, we then dropped back a couple of boat lengths to let them out, we then said our farewells and setoff with Joanna along the Wolverhampton Level. They were only going as far Sherbourn Wharf but we continued through the centre of Birmingham leaving via the Worcestershire and Birmingham canal to Kings Norton Junction and then left onto the North Stratford canal.
That night we moored on the Blue Bell public house (Cider House) on their jetty and went up for a meal. The chap behind the bar had told me the kitchen would open at 6, we rolled in at 6 30 to be told that they didn’t do food on a Monday night, but the chef said that he had to do 3 meals for others the chap behind the bar had told they were open so he would do meals for us as well. Its nice to meet someone with such a good attitude.
Tuesday 1 April 2003
This was the first rain we had seen all weekend and we didn’t move until 10 30, it soon cleared but started again halfway down the Lapworth flight. April showers were the pattern for the rest of the afternoon and we moored at the top of Hatton. We walked down to the Waterman Pub on the offside of the flight to check they were doing food that night and later returned for a good meal and a couple of pints.
Wednesday 2 April 2003
Set off with the boat moored just in front to do the Hatton Flight. Similar system to going up, but in this case both top gates were opened for us to enter but we left through one. The couple on the other boat Vivid III had retired on the Friday night before and still had rope light decorations on their hand rails. On one of the locks I lifted myself to the lock side from the boat and put my back out, this was to remain painful until well after I got home.
That night we stopped at Radford to the most wonderful sunset, it lay right down the line of the canal behind us.
Thursday 3 April 2003
We worked up the double locks by our selves with an Ownership’s and a Stratford Court Cruiser following us up. We stopped at the Two Boats for a pint and decided to have a spicy chicken burger while we were there. As we left so did Vivid III who had moored back beyond the bridge so we joined up yet again to do the Stockton flight, where we caught up with the slow Ownership’s/Stratford Court boats. When we reached Blue Lias marina the Ownership’s boat stopped, in the next few miles we saw lots of Ownership’s heading home.
We had were moored about a mile prior to the Calcutt locks and Di decided she was going to drive. We started up the Calcutt 3 by ourselves but met a boat in the second which eased things. At Napton Junction we turned right into the S Oxford. There were still a collection of old boats moored at the Winding hole just before the Folly pub. We stopped on the visitor mooring and had lunch before tackling the Napton flight, don’t forget I was doing all the locks. We arrived back at our moorings to find one of our mooring stakes broken off and our mooring line missing, Di found them in the well deck of the next boat.
As we had a few things to do on the boat and it was Friday afternoon so not a good time to drive home so we decided to stay onboard until after tea. I put a new mooring stake in and then took off the engine leak off rail, when I inspected the damaged fitting it was not as bad as I had feared and I was able to refit the original connection that spilled the fuel back to the main tank, all that’s required now are 6 new washers to go on the injector heads.