Victor finds it slow going

Published: Saturday, 17 September 2022

REALISING there were many more moored boats than the last time we cruised up the Shroppie we decided on a count of them coming back from Market Drayton.

In a distance of 27 miles to the junction with the Staffs & Worcester we clocked-up 622 moored boats, from single ones to a massive 59 between bridges 13 and 15!

BoatsBothSidesWe did not count how many times we slowed down but with such as many single boats and couples and many spread out causing us to slow down when passing, we estimated that we did so well over 100 times!

We obviously don't know what the rest of the Shroppie is like, but with further long moored sections further up that I remember, plus having been told that those moored on the far side of Barbridge Junction now stretch over 3 1/4 miles without a break, that was a further reason to give it a miss! So if intending to cruise the Shroppie, don't rely on normal progression—you certainly will not get it with having to slow down past moored boats so many times.

And that is not all. For with so many offside trees and vegetation having free rein, all too often it is better to slow down or even stop to let boats through the overhanging trees or risk scratches, so we did—again and again!

Static cottages

Mind you with 30 waterway stoppages a month and so many waterways closed, there's many a poor sod who would no longer want to risk moving, with thousands now treating their boats as little more than static cottages.

So much for 'enjoy the waterways' from CaRT when there are so many you are unable to enjoy, especially those up north.

PhilipEven when waterways are closed there is only too often a delay before work is done to get them back in action. Take the wall that collapsed at Worksop on the Chesterfield Canal. There is no intention of a quick repair, as our Keith tells me that CaRT will allow passage—one day a week on Wednesday at 10am!

Some good that is!

In action

It was a call to see Orph and Philip at Oxley Marine at the junction that solved our MV MX50 diesel heater problems and taught us the lesson not to first employ amateurs to do a professional job!

Philip quickly pointed out that the diesel supply was wrongly connected to the return of the main tank supply, which had been originally done as there had been little fuel coming out of the supply line.

FilterAfter disconnecting, he simply blew into the outlet to clear the obvious blockage, thus allowing the fuel to run, then welding on a proper filter as shown, instead of the one-inch long plastic effort supplied with the heater, that he pointed out, being plastic was not even legal!

He then connected the filter to the engine, that did not have one before its fuel pump, that he pointed out would have allowed rubbish to enter and perhaps break it, then a further connection of the filter to the diesel heater.

When eventually everything was coupled-up, Philip then produced his 'weapon' for getting the gunge out of the bottom of the boat's diesel tank, that came out absolutely black, slowly changing colour as more and more was pumped-out until it became the normal red, the waste then of course being discarded.

Then the diesel heater switch went down and away it went, and unlike before, kept going!

We have always had good service from Oxley Marine, with our purchasing four batteries from the company exactly six years agothat are still going strong.

It may be remembered that Orph Mable wrote a maintenance/repairs column in narrowboatworld in the past that was very well regarded for its authenticity.

Staffs & Worcs

So it was back from the long straights of the Shroppie to the twists and turns of the Staffs & Worcs, where though some bridges are wider, they are usually on an un-sighted bend as many of you well know.

NoTowpathOn both waterways however there was a dearth of CaRT blue signs welcoming visitors to enjoy the waterways, and the towpaths clearly show why, especially on the Shroppie cuttings where even in this extended dry weather they are still muddy and so obviously unused as can be seen.

At least it kept the speeding cyclists away, except for around the junction where they were in abundance and a couple of speeding motor cyclists to boot.

Breaking a lock collar

There is one particular reason/excuse given for others causing a failure that is absolutely stupid and really shows CaRT's lack of both knowledge of its structures or just grasping for excuses to shift the blame either to boaters or vandals for its failures.

CollarIt told us a Kennet & Avon lock 'suffered a gate failure of a downstream lock gate with the quoin, collar and anchor all having 'sustained damage'.

But just look at the picture of a lock collar, and do you really believe that anyone, no matter how intent, could damage that? 

Of course not, it is no more than yet another somewhat feeble attempt to pass the blame for poor maintenance that allows them to deteriorate so much they will not hold the weight of the gate's operation any longer and so break-off.

Staffs & Worcs

So back again down the Staffs & Worcs, and here again overgrown vegetation rules with great care having to be taken with oncoming boats, or else you will be amongst it or grounded in the shallows.

LockPlateYet like the Shroppie it still had no welcoming signs from CaRT telling visitors the joys of the waterways, as of course, again, most of the towpaths, thankfully for boaters, are narrow tracks, that are not too inviting for the millionsor is that a billion nowvisitors.

Don't they know?

We met quite a few boaters on the Staffs & Worcs, excluding hirers of course, and were surprised that many just do not know how easy it is to hold the boat still when rising in a lock—something we found out many years ago when seeing two bow fenders, one below the normal, on boats on that waterway.

We realised that with only ground paddles at the top gates, boaters were going right up to the front of the lock when going up, with the boat just staying there, no matter how far the paddles were opened. Then we saw the extra plate below the front gate, and realised the significance of the two bow fendersthe extra fender was to protect the steel of the boat as it rose.

UndergoingRepairFor of course the water from the ground paddles swirled past the boat then coming back with more force and holding the boat at the front after just having it in gear for a few seconds. 

Yet here we see private boaters struggling to either keep their boats in the middle or at the rear, when rising, opening the paddle bit by bit, and of course keeping others waitingthrough lack of knowledge.

The bad and the good

Alas there were still broken paddles on both of the two waterways with a  cover telling that 'This structure is undergoing repair' on one which is new to us, that was seen covering one of the broken paddles.

PaddelWrappedThe broken paddle outside the former Midland Chandlers at Teddersley has been 'awaiting repair' so many months we were told, so long in fact that it did not warrant the new cover as the photograph shows it wrapped in now decrepit orange barrier.

Perhaps the broken paddles will go on the winter maintenance list, leaving boaters to hope this will not then be cancelled as so many were last winter...

It all helps to slow us boaters down!

As for the 'good', up on the Shroppie we noticed quite a few rubbish facilities were nice and clean with no overflowing bins as was so often the case over the past few years.

As time and time again we struggled to get rid of our rubbish and eventually were forced to leave bags on the ground by the overflowing bins.

TryingToTurnSo one improvement at least.

Not there mate!

Met a boater attempting to turn his boat in the pound down to Barton Turns at Bridge 41, but obviously couldn't manage it as it was far too long. (He was turning it back to the bridge, but obviously not able.)

After struggling for about ten minutes and getting himself stuck in the process, then using his pole under the counter to move it inch by inch he finally managed to free it, and came past. Upon which we told the poor fella that there was a turning point just 50 yards along the waterway! I will not repeat his comment!

BodgeState of maintenance

And of course let us not forget the state of the locks themselves and their standard of maintenance.

Time and time again paddles extremely difficult to operate, gates in shocking condition and cills on locks ready to fail, yet the required money is not spent on such things, whilst Canal & River Trust spend thousands of pounds on strange titled chiefs, heads and such management, not forgetting the six lawyers.

Isn't there an authority ultimately in charge? An authority that can get our waterways in the state they once were with stoppages a rare event instead of 30 a month.

As for maintenance, take a look at the photograph of the top gate of Park Gate Lock on the Staffs & Worcs that had two pieces of wood tied with a jubilee clip to stop the gate going too far.  How's that for maintenance?

SeeArialAnyway for the close, there's our boat on the canal and if you look very closely you can just see the top of the television aerial on the left.

Little wonder there are no notices for visitors proclaiming the delights of the waterway—they can't even see it!

So that's it folksthe site should be back around Wednesday.

Victor Swift