Reflections of an Ancient boater Part 2

Published: Thursday, 30 July 2020

THE Evans Years, by Ralph Freeman.

r robinevans 210In pretty good nick

Because the network was now in pretty good 'nick', this change of CEO didn't have an immediate effect on my cruising. Such changes at the top rarely have an immediate effect anyway because most large organisations have inbuilt inertia, which means that change tends to happen over time

As my experience of single-handed locking grew, I started to roam further and tackle flights that were more awkward to navigate single handed. I now had more tools in my toolbag, so to speak, to deal with them.

farmers brLockWorst flight encountered

The worst flight I have encountered is Farmers Bridge Flight on the Birmingham & Fazeley.  This was especially true of the lock in the tunnel—yes really there is one. The lock was fenced off on the towpath side with the access ladder right at the front on the offside alongside the bow of my boat! (The lights were out too!). 

Most of the issues I have encountered are caused by not having access to the tail of the lock. It is frustrating to see where the old steps used to be and the fact that these and other useful 'lock furniture' have been removed by people oblivious to their purpose!

Eight months cruising a year

Tricky locks aside, I now look back at the eight year period from 2003 to 2010 as being simply superb.  In total, it amounted to at least 250 weeks of cruising on stoppage free canals, with only dog walkers and fishermen on the towpaths.  My cruising then was 99% hassle free, which is all I ask.

Blazing SunriseI tended to move early in the morning so from 6am to 9-30am I had the canals to myself by and large. This also meant I could do lock flights in my own way and not hold anyone up. With care I found I could quietly cruise past dozing herons and get up close to kingfishers.  Much of the local wildlife would ignore my boat cruising by provided I did not move suddenly.

In the Spring/Autumn cruising through the early morning mist with the sun coming up was unforgettable. I have a photo collection of thousands of images taken over this period, which has become my 'digital memory'.  A single photo can bring back a flood of memories for weeks of cruising on a particular canal.

Changes on the horizon

I was first made aware of British Waterways change in policy when it was announced that the roles of lock keeper and lengthsmen were to be made redundant.  (Note: It is a job function that is made redundant, not individuals, so how come we have volunteer lock keepers?  The role of lock keeper was declared redundant!)

Presumably, Robin Evans was either unaware or just didn't care that hundreds of man years of waterways knowledge, experience and skill, was being consigned to the scrap-heap.  From my previous life in manufacturing, I had seen similar 'cost saving' changes.  All reduced the efficiency noticeably in the long term as continuity was lost and problems, solved years before, suddenly became an issue again.

Not saving costs

The whole justification for this cull, of what I consider to be essential employees, was given as cost saving.  Soon after, when the 'asset stripping' of British Waterways property portfolio began, the real reason became clear. Those employees were often 'sitting tenants' occupying valuable canal side cottages so they had to go!  To add insult to injury, numerous executive 'desk jockeys' on six figure salaries continued to be recruited, and then go on to create whole new (pointless) departments and increased bureaucracy.

Shroppie Fly PubInstead of concentrating their efforts on the waterways, Hales and Evans decided to play real life Monopoly with British Waterways assets (and possibly with boaters licence fees too?).  As a result British Waterways bought up marinas and formed BWML. 

Not satisfied with this they thought owning a chain of waterside pubs would be a good idea, as well as entering numerous waterside property developments (with dire results).  The photograph shows The Shroppie Fly that was purchased then had to be sold as losing money.

Unfortunately Hales & Evans had the 'King Midas in Reverse' syndrome. Everything they touched turned to poo!  During this time narrowboatworld and in particular contributor Alan Richards, documented these sorry sagas in great detail so I don't intend to list them again here.

Typical BF LockOutsourcing

After most of the major functions such as maintenance, licensing etc had all been outsourced, I began to wonder just what was left for all those BW employees to do. (All answers to the editor please).  Why not just let boaters report problems to the maintenance contractor directly and cut out the middle man?  I have lost count of the number of times I have reported issues to BW/CaRT only to be told they can't find where I am talking about and am I sure it exists.  At that point I usually gave up and just emailed a photograph!  The photograph shows a Birmingham & Fazeley lock in top condition in 2007.

If we still had professional lengthsmen and lockies and all that money, wasted playing Monopoly, had been invested in the navigations themselves, the canals would still be in the state they were when I came on to the Cut in 2003 and many a canal restoration project could have been given a much needed boost. Sadly that is not the case as many of you 'old timers' out there will know.