Tuesday 23 October 2018

K&A Canal Calendar 2019

The new Kennet and Avon Canal Calendar 2019 is just back from the printers! It's full of paintings by me of life on the canal, as you can see. It costs £6.50, and 20% of the profits go to the Floaty Boat Fund, a crisis fund for distressed boaters. You can get it from my Etsy shop by clicking here, or hunt me down on the canal. I'll also be at the Floating Market in Bradford on Avon at the beginning of December.

Sunday 21 October 2018

early up the flight

It was cold enough to wear my old motorbike gauntlets, when I set off on my bike in the early dawn. Not that dawn is particularly early at this time of the year; it was already 7:20. My boat's moored at Sells Green, in the wide basin of the Avon between Devizes and Trowbridge, and days like this start chilly and foggy. I was off to help Jenny on Black Cat, and Victoria on Aquilon (the coal boat) up the Caen Hill locks. We'd got up as far as the Rowde basin the night before, and were doing the final staircase this morning, eight o'clock sharp.

A kingfisher flew close past me, its colours deepened to indigo and deep viridian in this light. Early fishermen were setting up their little nylon igloos and computerised fish monitors, or still trundling along the towpath with great cartloads of tackle and legged boxes like lunar landing modules, for perching on.

Jenny and Victoria were up and about, and there was just time to dump my bag on Black Cat and decline a cup of tea before they cast off and were into the first lock just as Chris the CRT man arrived from the top compound on his quad bike to unlock the ground paddles, without which you can't fill the lock. They took to locking the flight overnight a few years ago, after someone stole a boat in Devizes and tried to make a getaway down the flight... giving up some way down, they'd torched the boat. Not the shiniest of apples in the fruit bowl...

Everyone knew what they were doing, and Jenny and Victoria zipped the two boats into each successive lock side by side and barely touching the brickwork. It was a joy to behold.

The mist ahead of us was glowing in the early sunlight, and presently there came a distant honking, and skeins of Canada geese appeared from their night quarters, wheeled round us a couple of times, and dropped into the adjacent pound, with a great splashing and quarrelling.

Jenny tries not to be distracted by the geese
here they come again!
 ...and then we were at the top, and in brilliant sunshine. And it was time for a late breakfast in a Devizes cafe, and a goodbye to Jenny, in whose company I've been cruising these last couple of months and who is now heading off to that wider world beyond the Vale of Pewsey, while I'm still down in the Shire.

Saturday 13 October 2018

riding out the storm

what I did in the storm (drawing this picture, not hanging out at a pub)

Two nights ago, Storm Callum blew in. I listened to the rain rattle on the roof above my bunk, and the flapping of the lightweight tarpaulin I’d got stretched over the foredeck as a temporary cratch cover, after the old one finally fell to bits. I got up in the small hours, to check that nothing had come adrift; the windward side was battened down with a hefty lump of wood, round which I’d wound the lower end of the cover, and then weighted it down with a plank athwart the gunwales, with my big heavy toolboxes sitting on it.

A quick aside about terminology here; the cratch cover is something that shelters the welldeck at the front end of a narrowboat, and gets its name from a feeding trough; it would once have protected the fodder for the draught animal that pulled the boat. I don’t know if there’s a continuity of use there, or if it was dredged up to re-traditionalise new boats after the canal revival of the 70s and 80s. There’s lots of canal terms that are strange to someone coming from a seafaring background, as they are two distinct cultures with no great overlap.

Anyway, there’s nothing like the first proper storm of autumn to probe the weaknesses of your boat after a calm summer. And at five o’clock, there was a great crashing and flapping as the pile of plywood on the roof, draped over with another tarp and ballasted with a folded-down table, a workmate and a bicycle, was blown over the side and down between the boat and the bank. Good job the wind was southerly, I reflected as I hauled on my wellies and went out to contain the damage.

Couldn’t find the damn torch in the kerfuffle. There was a little before-dawn-lightening of the sky, enough to see to haul the bike and bits and pieces onto the bank and weight then down; in the lee of the boat, they were relatively protected. Then up onto the roof, carefully picking my way round the odds and sods scattered all over it, and I plonked a car wheel on top of the timber that hadn’t yet been blown off.

There were brief lulls throughout the day, but then the wind would get up again and again I’d check the cover, and resecure the after hatch that would insist on blowing open. It was no day for doing home improvements; just sit out the storm and make pious vows to sort out the boat properly, just as soon as I was able. I got on with a picture I’d promised to paint, and sometimes in the lulls stepped out and said hello to the neighbours, who were taking advantage of the moment to exercise their dogs, and we’d all agree that it was a bit blowy. Just the very occasional hireboat would go by, all of them with a schedule to keep and so unable to do the sensible thing and tie up to wait out the storm. One went by so fast the it nealy pulled my extra-strong mooring pins out, and Jenny leaned out of her hatch and sternly shouted to them to SLOW DOWN.

And now it’s nearly the dawn of the second day, and still the cover is flapping and rattling, and the boat rocks in the wind.

Wednesday 3 October 2018

lifting the Lister

Down at Smelly Bridge, Bradford on Avon, there was more progress on George's boat. The venerable old Lister engine needed to come out for a jolly good overhaul after a week underwater; a hole was cut in the engine room deckhead, and the CRT workboat and crew kindly came along and used their crane to help lift it out. Hands across the ocean! It was good to see the local boaters and CRT folk working together.

Tuesday 2 October 2018

more on the sunken canal boat at Bradford on Avon

Nine days after George's boat sank at Smelly Bridge, Bradford on Avon, we heard yesterday that it had finally been refloated. 

In the meantime, there was a meeting last week at which boaters, local councillors, police, and other interested parties discussed the ongoing problem of antisocial behaviour on the canal.

It was pointed out that the company which hired the boats to the men who behaved so badly that weekend, use this image (above) on their website to promote stag parties; observe how all the people in the photo are holding a drink.

It is also a matter of major concern that the hire company appeared to have no robust system in place to deal rapidly and decisively with problems; it seems that complaints had to be referred to managers at the head office, who seemed to have gone home for the weekend and left their phones switched off. Local employees may have been aware of the problem - there were complaints enough, and the police attended the boats in question -  but their hands were tied; it took over 24 hours to get to the boat and remove the troublemakers. 

There is a general determination that Something Must Be Done; but that is behind the scenes for now.

It's been a rough couple of weeks on the water here; two people were badly injured in a gas explosion on the Avon in Bath. There is a crowdfunding effort to help them, here. And Jeff Green died after falling into the canal at Semington.