Monday, 4 June 2012

Challenged!

Take a group of twelve people, most of whom know only one or two of the others, put them on an old - and rather basic - narrowboat and make them travel  the canals of Birmingham and the Black Country for 24 hours in the cold and rain. Sounds like a recipe for disaster: but no!, it was a great success. "Team Yeoford" was brought together by Amy, from Lucky Duck and Sarah from the Young Working Boaters Society to enter the BCN Marathon Challenge, the rules of which can be summarised thus: 


Boats may start at any point on the BCN but should finish at Walsall Town Arm. Participants may navigate for as long as they like during the 30 hour period up to a maximum of 24 hours. The winner will be the boat crew who amass the greatest number of points during the challenge.  Additional points will be awarded for navigating lesser used waterways and there will be bonus points for correctly answered questions at certain places.


"Team Yeoford" became "Team Collingwood" following a last-minute mechanical failure, but that brought the added advantage of giving us Graham Wigley as steerer. Graham was one of the founders of the Birmingham & Midland Canal Carrying Co. set up in the 1960s to try and keep commercial carrying alive and which, in its new guise as Birmingham Canal Boat Services, continues to keep a number of old working boats in business, although passengers are the main  "cargo" these days. Graham kept us entertained with his tales of the cut and his experiences of commercial-carrying days.

After meeting the team on Friday night I returned to Starcross for a good night's sleep, as did fellow participants Ian and Karen from Tacet, but we are all back aboard Collingwood for a prompt 08.00 start from the top of Farmers Bridge Locks on Saturday. Unfortunately our steerer, Graham, was temporarily absent, which meant we bowhauled Collingwood into the top lock pending his return. That was really the only snag on a route that took in the Birmingham & Fazeley, Digbeth Branch, Birmingham & Warwick Junction, Tame Valley, Rushall, Wyrley & Eassington, Cannock Extension, Birmingham "New" and "Old" Main Line and Gower Branch Canals.

Here are a few photos from the weekend
A prompt start - without the steerer!
With a large crew we flew down the flight
Under the M6 on the Tame Valley Canal
Perry Barr Top Lock on the Tame Valley Canal
Breaking out the Curly Wurlys on the "Curly Wyrley"
(James, Graham and Dave)

I've wanted to meet Captain Ahab from Wand'ring Bark for a while but perhaps this bend  wasn't the  best of places!
No time to stop for a meal: Mike and Graham eat on the go.
We spent our mandatory break at Pelsall Common where there was just time to grab a pint at the Royal Oak and were up early (at least most of us) for an 05.00 start on Sunday morning. There are no photos from Sunday due to the torrential rain that fell all day. After a while I decided I was so soaked that I might as well stay outside and stood on the gunnel happily chatting to Graham about canals, trains, trams and anything else that came to mind.  The Challenge ends at 14.00 at which time we were near Smethwick Junction but of course we had to carry on "out of time" back to Gas Street to return the boat to base. Later, Ian and Karen dragged me up to Walsall by train to join in the end-of-challenge celebrations in the Black Country Arms, where we met a couple of blog readers and also had more time to chat to "Captain Ahab" who I've wanted to meet for some time. Good to meet you, Andy.

I'll admit to having had my doubts about the wisdom of committing myself to a weekend in the close company of a boatload of people I'd never met, but I shouldn't have worried. Thanks are due to Amy for the idea, Sarah for the organisation, Graham for his patience and enthusiasm and for the use of his boat (and home) at short notice and also to the rest of the crew for their conversation and company. 
It was also good to meet fellow bloggers Ian and Karen from Tacet, who even gave me their copy of the charts for the River Trent, which will come in useful later in the summer. "Thanks folks, I hope we meet again"