Saturday, 14 April 2012

A Fine Pair

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I went boating with the Fullers- Roger, Teresa, and their son Joe- aboard Ibex (Josher motor, built 1926, and now with a Lister HR2) and Ilford (Built 1912, composite Braithwaite and Kirk butty for FMC). Both are currently loaded, though not too deeply- the motor drawing just about three feet at the back (half as deep again as Lucky Duck) and the butty down to about 20" along the length.

We had seen them at Droitwich the previous weekend, and Teresa mentioned that the three of them would be taking the pair back to Stone- but that they could do with some crew...

So I arranged to hop on a train on Wednesday morning, and met them at Penkridge- Amy unfortunately attending a conference for her EngD in Norwich, so she missed the fun. I met up with them and, having been loaned a Cooke windlass, got straight to work locking hte motor and butty through.

The locks, being single, had to be done twice. In order to save bow-hauling (pulling the butty around by hand, which is time-consuming and hard work) and to work the boats efficently, the Fullers use a long line and running blocks. A rope, about 200' long, is attached with a loop onto the towing dolly of the motor. It is then led back through a pully on the mast of the butty (visible above, with the diamond pattern) and then back to a (removable) T-stud on the cabin top of the butty, where the butty steerer can pull in or pay out line to alter the length of the tow.

Genuine Josher bow

The method makes lock-working quicker than otherwise, and a system is in place to move the boats around. By using the old boating techniques, it's possible to move boats around with the minimum of effort and the maximum efficiency- very important if you're doing it as a job day in, day out.

When going uphill, the motor (which is too deep to stop at lock landings) is put into the throat of the bottom gates, having unhooked the tow line, and the butty steerer takes the butty to the side and straps it slowly to a stop on the bollards on the lock landing stage- or something else handy, if the bollards aren't there! The motor either waits for the lock to be emptied, or- ideally- goes straight into the set lock- so I did a fair bit of jogging ahead to get things ready! The motor is put in gear and kept pushed against the top-gate, and as it's going up, the butty steerer brings up the tow-rope and threads it around the bridge handrails, paddle posts, and bollards that have grown up in recent years, often in just the wrong place! The tow-rope is put into the mitre- the gap between the bottom gates- and the motor is taken out of the lock, with the tow-rope, and pulls the butty into the lock and against the cill and top-gates whilst the paddles are opened.

Complicated to describe, but, in essence, it's all about using the momentum of the boats to carry out tasks- such as strapping top-gates closed when going down-hill, by taking a thick line off the boat and using the boat's momentum to pull the gate closed and slow and stop the boat- and also by using the engine of the motor, via the towline, wherever possible to move the butty- doing as little pulling and hauling as possible.

I stayed in the forecabin of Ilford- which was very snug and cosy, with the warmth from a stove- and the next day had a go at steering both the butty and the motor on the more lock-free pounds.

Steering Ilford

The butty was quite interesting to handle. Because there's no reverse, and a fair bit of momentum, you have to anticipate what the steerer of the motor- and other boats!- are going to do well in advance. It also steers around the middle of the boat, whereas a normal narrowboat steers around a point that's much closer to the stern. This means that the back swings out much more than a normal narrowboat on corners- something to watch out for- and that on tight corners, the pull on the mast from the motor can (hopefully) pull the bows around at just the right moment. It also needs the ellum (rudder) put on much earlier to get it to turn in time.

Steering the motor was completely different. As a deeply loaded boat in a shallow-ish narrow canal, you're accutely aware of where the deepest water- the channel- is. In the heyday of narrowboat carrying, the channel was in a clearly defined position, around the outside of bends, and kept scoured out by loaded working boats. Nowadays, shallower drafted shorter boats are less constrained, and as a result the deepest water isn't always where you need to put the back end of the motor boat as most people cut corners or perhaps moor on the outside of the corners. The boat is very affected by the shallowness of the water. If you're not in the channel, the stern will get sucked towards shallower water, and you have to really fight with the tiller to get it back towards the middle; similarly, it's often easy to over-correct, and suck the stern around in the other direction, leading to zig-zagging down the canal. But, when you're in the channel, the boat will almost steer itself around corners if it's positioned correctly- a very spooky feeling! It also means that, when passing other boats, you have to stay near the middle of the canal in the channel- if I go over too far to the right, the stern will get sucked into the shallower water and swing the bows around the the left- and end up hitting the other boat with 25 tons of loaded Josher motor.... You've also got to be very careful not to snatch the tow-rope, so you're juggling the speed of the engine after bridgeholes so as not to jerk the butty around.

Overall, it was great fun- albeit quite hard work- and really good to learn some new boating skills.

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