Monday, 12 January 2015

Two Things Happened on January 1st 1947

It was Vesting Day - the day the coal industry was nationalised and Narrowboat Dane was first registered after having been built in 1946.

24831 days later (or about 68 years and a week) I've started upscaling her bottom into pens and other turned treenware for sale canalside or on The Pen Maker's Boat

European Elm

Ulmus procera

European Elm has is a light to medium brown, sometimes with a hint of red. With an oil finish, it can turn a beautiful golden brown colour. Unless, of course, it's been kept at the bottom of a canal for an awfully long time.

Narrowboat Dane was built by the Mersey Weaver and Ship Canal Carrying Company and used as part of their fleet. She was built in November 1946 and first registered on January the first 1947. Ade from A P Boatbuilding is currently restoring her on behalf of The Narrowboat Heritage Foundation, the work being done is rebottomed with new chine planks, kelson, stem post and soon to receive two new bow planks, gunwales, decks, new back cabin and engine room. The pens that I will be making from Dane are all from a heavy lump of Elm bottom plate.

This pen was made on the 11th January in the heart of Birmingham whilst we were on the visitor moorings in Cambrian Wharf. It was a blustery week with the seasons changing by the hour but I had to set the lathe up as I had to work on a commission from France. I really didn't know what to expect from the inside of this piece of Elm that had been under the water of the canals and rivers of the north east of England since Vesting Day (the day the coal mines were nationalised). I needn't have been too concerned, although my attempts to waste as little wood as possible resulted in a couple of the pen blanks being too fragile and going straight on the kindling pile, the ashy grey of the elm highlighted the grain and the odd fleck of copper gold that Ade had said to expect came to life.

Here's a couple of pics before and during restoration with her temporary back cabin in place, and the Elm I've been given.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Locks and Junctions into Birmingham

Last night we ventured into Star City, it was heaving I reckon the whole of Birmingham was there. Its a shame you couldn't actually see anything unless taking part, I'm thinking the mini golf in particular it was a bit like a shop front and once you paid you went through to the back. Unless you are going to actually take part in an activity there wasn't much to see. There was a visiting funfair outside and also a Circus. We thought we'd go to the Harvester and try their takeaway taking it back to the boat, just a stroll away, watch a film on telly and veg out in front of the fire, but the waiting time was over half an hour so we settled for KFC instead.

This morning we were up with the lark, actually, not sure about the lark bit but it was early, James had some porridge on the go by the time I had eased myself out of bed and we were off before sunrise enjoying the porridge before the first lock of the day. We didn't actually see the sun rise, it was too cloudy and it wasn't long before the rain came and stayed with us throughout the whole journey.

The first lock of Garrison was in our favour, but then thinking about it a boat had arrived at Star City Moorings well after dark, it had gone 6pm so hopefully if the gates didn't leak too much they would all be with us. As it turned out the bottom gates on the others were left open. I know it shouldn't be done but it did help our progress quite a bit. Again there was loads of rubbish and particularly worrying a lot of plastic bags just asking to be wrapped around the prop. I fished the few I could reach out as the locks were filling then I remembered we had a grabber so armed with my windlass, grabber and black bag up the locks we went catching all the plastic bags I could get my hands on and some bottles if I had time before the lock was full. If I collected all the rubbish on the way up it would have taken hours more.

After the five Garrison locks I jumped back on for the short distance to Bordesley Junction where we turned right onto the Digbeth branch of the Birmingham and Fazeley, then another right turn, turning left here takes you to Typhoo Basin, then the Ashted flight of six locks led us to Aston Junction. This time a left turn and back onto familiar waters and the 13 locks of Farmers Bridge. 

Bordesley Junction

Looking towards Typhoo Basin

All the gates were closed on this flight and all but two were in our favour. There was hardly any rubbish around either so I left the grabber and full black bag back with James. We had been looking out for the BT tower and it wasn't until we got closer that we realised we hadn't been able to see it further back as the top was in mist. At the top lock we had a cheery wave and quick hello from Peter on Blackberry Way. James then reversed LJ onto one of the pontoons at Cambrian Wharf and we were tied up by 12:30.

The rain had leaked through my waterproofs and I was literally soaked to the skin, so a nice hot shower for me whilst James got on with cooking lunch.

We didn't see another moving boat at all and not many people either. Despite the weather it was an enjoyable trip and great to be back in Birmingham again, I think James is looking forward to spending some time in the library next week while I'm out working.

4.5 miles and 24 locks
Total 16 miles and 38 locks

Friday, 2 January 2015

Minworth to Star City

After yesterday poor LJ's weed hatch needed a little attention, this morning James removed the old seal around the top, sanded it down and put on a new one. It had been a job on his winter to do list when I'm out working but needed to be bought forward because when we replaced the weed hatch yesterday it was with a bit of luck it didn't leak. So with James outside I set to and gave the inside a much needed thorough clean, it is amazing how dusty the stove makes everything.

Our Minworth mooring in daylight
It was a lovely sunny morning and nice and bright when we set off for the three Minworth locks, the wind had died down from yesterday but it still felt quite chilly. The locks were actually in our favour today which really does make a difference, all three had an amazing amount of rubbish collected at the top gates funneled down by the wind. James was just leaving the first lock when he felt the prop slow down and stop again, straight away it was into neutral and again we pulled LJ back into the lock and down the weed hatch again, this time a hugh amount of heavy duty plastic but luckily as James had stopped as soon as he felt resistance it wasn't wound tightly round and I managed to just pull it off.

Onto the second lock and a CRT empty barge was stopped at the top lock landing, I say stopped and not moored as it was only held to the bank by one thin piece of rope at the back with the rest drifting across the lock opening. The other end had a length of electrical wire hanging off it and another piece over a bollard, as it is plastic and stretchy it obviously just snapped with the weight of the barge.

Possible/potential breach??

James using our pole to get the work barge back to the side
At the third lock the same an empty CRT barge on the top lock landing with one thin rope holding it in place. There was a sign on this lock to leave it empty, I remember when we passed through a couple of years ago the guy in the old lock cottage came out and asked if I would empty it as when left full it flooded his cellar. James carried on slowly whilst I emptied the lock again then caught him up.

We carried onto Salford Junction, under the M6 and took the first turning left onto the Grand Union Canal and new water for us, we had just made the turning when another boat emerged from the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal the other way so that was good timing. Its been the only boat we've seen moving since Drayton Park. Salford Junction reminds me of a poem James wrote when we came this way in September 2012 Click here for the link to it we carried on the Birmingham and Fazeley that time.

Warehouse over the canal

Approaching Salford Junction under the motorway

And onto the Grand Union under the original canal bridge
Our intention was to stop at Star City moorings which we've never been to, but I remembered reading about it on Nick and Emma's blog Marpessa, I had a quick look back last night and saw we needed to look out for a floating pontoon. We soon spotted it and moored up with the sun still shining brightly, thanks Emma for your detailed description we would have probably gone the other way again.

Long straight 

And the floating pontoon

It's been a lovely sunny day, but still very chilly

5 miles and 3 locks
Total 11.5 miles and 14 locks

We'll be heading into civilisation tonight, it seems quite an interesting place, this what what Wikipedia says about it:-

Star City is a family leisure and entertainment complex in Birmingham, England. It is located in the north east of the city very close to Junction 6 of the M6 motorway (Spaghetti Junction), and Aston railway station.

This former derelict industrial land was developed as part of a regeneration scheme for the Heartlands area and to change Birmingham's image for the 21st century. Its centrepiece is the 25-screen Vue cinema, at the time the largest cinema in Europe. The construction was carried out by Wolverhampton based firm Carillion.The complex was formally opened in July 2000 by actorsGeorge Clooney and Mark Wahlberg to coincide with the UK premier of The Perfect Storm. With some 392,000 square feet (36,400 m2) of leisure space, it is one of the largest leisure complexes in the United Kingdom.

A 22-lane Megabowl bowling alley was revealed when Star City opened and has remained since - however, this has now been re-branded as Tenpin. By the end of 2003, it was the largest leisure park in the country ahead of The Printworks in Manchester and The Mailbox in Birmingham city centre.

A Goals soccer centre opened in 2007 with fourteen floodlit pitches situated on the roof. Goals also incorporates a Sports Bar which shows year round sporting events on both Sky and Terrestrial TV.

The centre underwent a major redevelopment in 2008. England's first indoor 36 hole adventure mini golf course, 'Adventure Island Mini Golf', opened on 11 June 2008.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

Well 2014 didn't end quite as planned and 2015 certainly didn't start as planned.

We had been at Fazeley just opposite Peels Wharf and stayed a day or so longer than planned due to ice. Yesterday it looked as though the ice had disappeared around us so after winding we went back to the junction and turned right on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, we had just got through the bridge then hit ice and there was ice down the canal as far as we could see, so we pulled over into the visitor moorings by the Mill to sit it out for a few hours, I had to get the pole and break the ice so we could get LJ into the side. The forecast was warming up as the day progressed. We had the benefit of a boat passing by in each direction so after lunch we set off again, stopping off for what was supposed to be a quick stop at Fazeley Mill Marina to get a pump out, only to find that the machine was frozen solid, the lady there bought out buckets of steaming water but the ice seemed to be solid in the pipe, it wasn't to be, luckily we weren't in desperate need we just wanted to sort it before heading into Birmingham. So we continued on our way but with the ice seemingly getting thicker and looking like refreezing we decided to call it a day by the ornate bridge near Drayton Manor Park. So that is where we saw in 2015, we had a spectacular view of everyone else's fireworks, we think it was Nuneaton/Coventry way.

James and LJ by the ornate Drayton Manor bridge

Final totals for 2014
570 miles and 390 locks


We had a little rain overnight and the temperatures had risen somewhat so this morning we headed off to tackle the Curdworth flight of 11 locks. We have done this flight a couple of times so I knew the single top and bottom gates would make it slightly easier for me, at least I wouldn't be walking round and round the locks to get gates opened and closed, and lovely countryside views, you just have to ignore the droning M6 towards the top of the flight.

This car made operating the lock slightly inconvenient

LJ in the first lock of 2015
The first three locks were going great, a few gongoozalers were out for a New Years Day stroll, then we got a low pound, I had to let water down from the lock ahead as James and LJ were stranded in the middle of the pound. All OK for the next couple then again low pounds, and because they are short as I was letting water down to help James get through I was draining the next pound so we continued to struggle through until lock 3 when the prop wouldn't turn as James was half way out of the lock, we pulled LJ back into the lock and I went down the weed hatch,  the freezing water soon cooled me down, loads of reeds were wrapped round the prop along with a couple of different ropes and the remains of a few carrier bags, guess it could have been worse as LJ had been scraping the bottom for the last few locks. All back together again James continued onto lock 2 where I was struggling to get the gate to open fully, yet more bloody reeds, James got the long pole and could just about reach to clear them and manage to get the gate open wide enough to enter the lock. We were then at the top lock where there was still a bit of thin ice. We went through Curdworth tunnel, and stopped just short of Minworth as the light was fading fast. So what should have taken us a couple of hours at most took well over four. A very eventful start to the New Year.

The top lock of the flight and the light starting to fade a bit

And finally moored up, this does make it look darker than it actually was

So with the counters reset for 2015 we start with 6.5 miles and 11 locks.