Thursday, 1 April 2021

Doing the Evergreen Challenge


With the container ship "Ever Given" now re-floated and traffic on the Suez Canal on the move again my old boating chum Steve has issued me with what he's calling the Evergreen challenge: to own up to my own boating adventures that have resulted in a total blockage of the canal.

My early boating was done on hire boats, which were always 70-footers and, in those days, usually conversions of deeply-draughted working boats. Coupled with the poor state of maintenance of what were still lightly-used canals and our own inexperience as boaters, running aground was not uncommon. The biggest incidents however usually involved us getting stuck in bridgeholes: not a problem on the Suez Canal but certainly a potential cause of delay on the narrow canals.

One of many such incidents occurred aboard the Tardebigge Boat Company's "Benbow", itself a former working boat, on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in 1972, which required most of the crew to be put on the bow rope and the rest to rock from the side, except of course for the obligatory person on the roof to shout instructions.

We were, however, just like the "Ever Given", quite capable of running aground in the middle of the channel, which needed much engine-revving and shafting from the bow to get us free.

Union Canal Carriers' "Bainton" aground on the Oxford Canal in 1974

Some of the greatest difficulties occurred aboard "Gardenia", which still was a working boat and loaned out to Waterway Societies as part of the Keep the Channel Clear campaign in the early seventies. The boat was ballasted to achieve a draught equivalent to a load of 15 tons with the idea being that if it could get through, then everything else could as well.

Once again, bridgeholes were a major problem, especially if, as here at Hopwas on the Coventry Canal, a lorry load of bricks had been dumped in them

Me doing my bit to free Gardenia at Hopwas

Here we got so stuck that we decided that the only way through would be to remove the bricks from beneath the bow one-by-one, prising them loose with our feet.  This took most of the afternoon and attracted the attention of a passing reporter from the Wolverhampton Express & Star who duly wrote up the story in the following day's edition. Despite it being August, I can only recall a small number of occasions when we had to pull Gardenia back from the bridge to allow other, shallower-draughted craft to pass.

Duncan on the winch
Later that year, with the Stoke on Trent Boat Club I took Gardenia up the Caldon Canal, which at the time was officially closed. Despite reducing the draught, by the simple expedient of manually unloading five tons of concrete slab ballast (and reloading it afterwards) we got no farther then Stockton Brook, where we spent most of a day and had to resort to a manual winch we'd brought along to make any progress at all.
Stuck at Stockton Brook

Shortly after the second photo was taken the winch operator trod on a wasps' nest, which improved his sense of humour no end!

Starcross Days

I had far fewer such incidents with Starcross. As a purpose-built leisure boat she drew no more than a couple of feet and, of course, the canals were more highly-used and in better repair by then. Nevertheless, we did come across a few "canal-blocking" incidents, most of which involved other boats.

The steerer of this unidentified boat on the Llangollen Canal at New Marton seemed to be having difficulty finding his way into - or was it out of?- the lock.

Fortunately, I had already passed him and was heading in the opposite direction.

At least he could blame the crosswind on this relatively exposed section. Not so the crew of the boat I came across blocking the canal nearer to home on the approach to Shelmore embankment on the Shropshire Union.

Not only had they run aground, they had also managed to get the centre rope wrapped around the prop! I did offer to stop and help but they said they could manage, so as soon as the gap was big enough to allow Starcross through I carried on and left them to it.

One time we were asked to stop and assist was at Henhull, farther north on the Shroppie, where a boat attempting to moor had got caught in a crosswind.

The more experienced of the two crew members had made the elementary mistake of jumping for the bank with the bow rope rather than a centre line and the second person didn't have the skill to manipulate the engine control and the tiller to bring the stern in.  The solution was for Starcross to act as a "stern thruster" and shove the back end into the bank so that the first crew member could get back on board.

I must confess, however, that there was at least one occasion when Starcross could have ended up sufficiently stuck to cause a problem approaching Ever Given proportions. However, as it was on the exceedingly little-used waterway known as Kyme Eau in Lincolnshire the effect on other traffic would have been minimal.

Having struggled single-handedly up the Eau from its junction with the River Witham in a weed-infested channel and against a stronger than expected stream I began to realise that with water levels being high I would have trouble getting under a low bridge identified in my Nicholson's Guide. To assist boaters a loading gauge had been placed under the previous bridge and the understanding was that if you couldn't get under the gauge without hitting it, you wouldn't get under the following bridge.

On arrival at the gauge it was immediately obvious that I couldn't get through. It  had taken me over twice as long to get this far up the Eau as I'd expected and as I clearly wasn't going to get any farther it was time to abort the mission.  But there was nowhere to turn round!

Kyme's Eau is narrow and winding and the junction  with the Witham was five kilometres and one lock back the way I had come. There was no option but to set off in reverse, allowing the current to do the work with an occasional burst on the throtttle to steer.

Fortunately, I remembered that about a kilometre or so back I had passed what looked as if it might be a winding hole, or at least somewhere I could use as one to turn.  By now, the stream was quite strong and I thought that attempting to turn in the conventional "nose-in" manner could prove problematical as I would have to fight against the current to bring the boat round.

The only way to turn safely appeared to be to go against all received wisdom and put the stern into the winding hole and hope that it wouldn't be so shallow that I would end up completely stuck. With no one else on board to discuss this with and with the winding hole rapidly approaching I made the decision to go for it.

I needn't have worried. The stern went in neatly right up to the bank and before I had time to think the current was sweeping the bow round. The channel was just wide enough to take Starcross and I was facing the right way and back off to the Witham, feeling mightily relieved.

So that's my "Evergreen Challenge" or at least everything I'm owning up to.  It's customary with these interent challenges to pass the baton on to someone else.  I won't single out anyone but if any of my boating readers want to take up the mantle I'm sure we'll all be happy to see it.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Corn Flakes

 When I arrived at Salford University in 1969 I wasn't expecting to find much of canal interest to keep me amused. The Ashton and Rochdale Canals were both unnavigable. The Rochdale locks above "the nine" had been "cascaded" to form "an attractive water feature" (sic) and the Bridgewater's  Manchester terminus at Castlefield was well-hidden and virtually inaccessible to anyone who didn't know their way around the back streets of that part of the city. 

The "attractive water channel feature" at Ancoats in 1973

A Cascaded lock on the Rochdale (sorry about the image quality)

 I made the obligatory trip out to Eccles to see the Barton Aqueduct and visited Worsley to see "where it all began" but apart from spending a couple of weekends on work parties on the Rochdale Nine organised by the Peak Forest Canal Society that more or less was that.

At some stage I discovered that, much to my surprise, there was actually some commercial traffic on the Bridgwater.  Cargoes of maize were still brought from the Ship Canal, through Hulme Lock and on to the Kellogg's factory in Trafford Park. The carrier was Frederick J Abbott and the boats were just part of the company's extensive warehousing and transport operation, but I thought that a speaker from the company would make an excellent addition to a meeting of the University's Inland Waterways Society.

I can't remember the gentleman's name, but his talk was very informative. He was obviously used to public speaking and told us that he'd had many invitations to speak about the company in the past, but that this was the first time anyone had ever shown any interest in the boating side of the business.

He told us that whilst at one time the grain had come all the way from the Mersey along the Ship Canal most of it was now tripped locally from ships in Manchester Docks. He also told us that the job wasn't particularly profitable and that he kept it going mainly because he had no other work for the crews involved but felt an obligation towards them, especially as several of them were due to retire shortly.

This news prompted me to make an effort to go and see what remained of the traffic before it was too late.  So here, on a day in 1972, is what I saw.

In those days, despite the activities of the IRA, the country was not as obsessed with "security" as it has since become and  it was quite easy to wander round most places, including docks, without anyone worrying about what you were doing, so no one paid me any attention whilst I photographed this tug with and its tow.

Sarah Abbott and tug in Manchester Docks

The "tow" was the "Sarah Abbott".

Here she is  again passing one of the famous "Manchester Liners" fleet

Manchester Docks

I don't seem to have any pictures of them going through Hulme Lock to reach the Bridgewater, but on what might just possibly have been a different occasion here is the motor "Iris Abbott" coming under Hulme Hall Bridge on the Bridgewater Canal with a train that presumably included Sarah. . .

Hulme Hall Bridge on the Bridgewater Canal

. . . and then passing under the railway on the way to Trafford Park.

Imagine meeting that little lot on the Bridgewater today!

From the date on the original slide mount, it was a separate occasion, in 1973, that I caught up with them again in Trafford Park, where once again I was able to stroll around Kellogg's wharf unquestioned and photograph the boats waiting to be unloaded. 

Kellogg's wharf 1973

I was only just in time as the traffic ended in March 1974.

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Fifty Years of Buses

 This blog is supposed to be about buses as well as boats, so to continue the "50 years ago" theme here is a photo of a new bus that I took in Manchester just over fifty years ago, on 27th January 1971

A Manchester bus 1971

I find it remarkable that that bus was new fifty years ago. With a contemporary livery, some updated styling and the removal of the centre door (outside London a short-lived 1970s fad) it could pass for a new bus today.

A Manchester bus today

Buses haven't really changed very much in the last fifty years. Certainly a lot less than they changed in the previous fifty.

Not a Manchester bus, but they wouldn't have been very different in 1921.

Writing this has made me wonder what buses will look like in 2071, but I don't suppose I'll ever know!