1966… and all that

1966...and all that

memories of football and early days on cabin cruiser 'lady jena'

Like most people of my generation I remember England doing well in a certain football tournament.   It was a big thing.   I remember the winning goal which was heard loud and clear on a Ferguson transistor radio somewhere on the Thames.   This was during our first holiday on a boat that belonged to  the family.

Michael Nye - Lady JenaA modest windfall that spring meant we were able to buy a 16 foot,  two berth “Rutland” cabin cruiser which the owner said was an Uffa Fox design.   As a nine year old, I hadn’t a clue what that meant but I was sure it was a good thing.

The boat was powered by a 10 horsepower Albin petrol engine, had a few creature comforts and bore the name “Lady Jena.”

All seemed well apart from the fact that there were four of us.   This meant we needed 2 extra bunks and some more storage space so out went the water tank and sink.   Given the tank was corroded and the sink scratched and cracked, it didn’t really matter.   Out too went the petrol stove which my mum decided was dangerous, to be replaced by a succession of methylated spirit stoves, some of which definitely were!

With a bit of fiddling about, we were good to go on holiday up and down the Thames again.   That’s when we discovered that the motor wasn’t too reliable, often stopping in midstream or refusing to start when we had to exit from a lock.

It was our boat and we were on holiday in her so, to me, she was the best craft on the whole river despite the discovery of a couple of soft spots in the plywood hull.   On a good day, the motor had a good solid twin cylinder thump that sounded as though it could run forever and we plodded the familiar route to Lechlade and back, pausing to hear the famous words “They think it’s all over… It is now,” whilst waiting to go into Penton Hook lock.

The next year, mum and dad decided to explore the canals (beginning my lifelong love affair with the things).

With a few more modifications, which included an escape hatch, removal of the mast, a transom bunk, a new and even more dangerous methylated spirit stove and an upgraded  toilet (which was truly evil) we set off.   Our trip took us to Napton and back, with a quick trip to Lechlade thrown in.

The next year, we got a bit beyond Braunston, becoming a bit more adventurous with each passing holiday.

Modifications to the boat were planned and executed during the year, the most major of these being the covered cockpit.   This changed the appearance of the craft and, to my eyes, made it look a bit ungainly.   It did at least provide a space that didn’t leak when it rained.   The old pram cover was little better than being out in the open, and we never did get far with stopping the cabin top leaking.   This wasn’t helped at all when a gust of wind somewhere near Somerton deep lock caught the back of the boat causing the cover to be ripped on the arch of a bridge during a thunderstorm.   We carried on undaunted whilst Mum sewed the thing back together with an embroidery needle and white cotton as the storm continued unabated.

When my brother and I were old enough, we were given the privilege of operating the locks, this also being the first year we had a go at the Hatton flight.   I found the mechanisms rather odd after the rack and pinions of the Oxford canal and, whilst easy to work, the things gave me a good few blisters from the rough cast BWB standard windlass that I was using.

This, I think, was also the year that our holiday nearly came to an abrupt halt at Henley on Thames when a small hourly hired aluminium motorboat put a hole in our side.   We heard someone shout “Slow down.”  They sped up and the sickening thud followed.   We had a hole you could nearly put your head through just a few inches above the waterline, and the occupants of the motor boat had done the proverbial runner.   The yard helped us out with some plywood to patch the hole and we were on our way within a surprisingly short time.   I’m not sure what was paid by who or to whom but we still had a decent holiday out of it.

I remember one year where the engine didn’t break down, the sun shined (no problem with leaks) and just about everything went well.   I also remember that during the following winter, Lady Jena sank.   She rose from the watery ashes to return to the river with a new sheet of plywood replacing the one with the soft spots, and new blue paintwork.   Also, because of the need for space, and water damage to the motor, it was decided to power her with an outboard.   The first of these, an “Ocean four plus,” lasted us from Kingston upon Thames to Kiddlington in Oxfordshire whereupon it seized up solid and was returned under warranty.   The replacement, a 1967 Mercury 3.9 was an absolute gem and powered Lady Jena until another young family bought her from us in 1972.

Overall, my memories of our first boat are very happy ones.   I could forget about school and let myself be fascinated by my surroundings even when I had to keep a diary one summer for a school project which was forgotten about the following September.

The diary became the backdrop to my first book “Mayfly” and the little Rutland cabin cruiser appears in my third book “Emily’s Journey” as “Willow Wisp III.”   In the book I decided to give her a rather more reliable motor though.

For all these reasons, I remember 1966 as the year Lady Jena changed my life.

There was something about some football match too I think.



parish churches near the canals

parish churches near the canals

When walking into the cool, quiet, serene confines of a local parish church it's easy to be transported back to a simpler time. The welcoming signs and pamphlets offering information about the next bake sale or seniors' outing haven’t changed, except for the dates, often for hundreds of years. The monuments on the walls bear silent witness to centuries of life and death in the community that the church serves. Low burning candles are often good reminders that these churches are still living, vibrant entities, a focus of social activity for many. They aren't simply a place of worship, although that is obviously still a vital and overarching function, they may also be the centre of the local community.

As I've travelled the canals throughout England and Wales, I've tried to visit as many of these churches as possible. They give me a small insight into the community, its people, and its place in the larger world. I can often find a gravestone or memorial with a name that I recognize, making me wonder if there's a connection with a friend or of some famous person. The ancient dates on these always fill me with awe and wonderment as I come from a place whose written history only goes back a century and a half.

I also love the architecture, not just of the parish churches but of all the old buildings found throughout Britain. Brick and stone are rare building materials on Vancouver Island; they're not too earthquake-friendly! The soaring beauty of a stone nave with a decorated and arched ceiling serves its purpose well, if that purpose is to inspire awe and reverence. The meticulous carving of the pillars and massive blocks of stone making up the walls are a delight to see.

Parish churches themselves aren't always small and local however. Even large towns and cities have parish churches, and are sometimes difficult to tell from cathedrals. In fact, in a few cases a cathedral is also a parish church. I'm by no means an expert on the complex hierarchy of the Church (any church) so I won't try to explain how this works. Besides, while cruising I seldom visit cities or even larger towns, I prefer the quiet of the countryside and the small villages dotted along the canals. This has led me to visit many small or not-so-small parish churches; some of my favourites are highlighted here.

Church of St Nicholas, Newbury, (Kennet & Avon Canal)

St Nicholas Church, Newbury

Considered large for a parish church, St. Nicolas was most notable to me for its beautiful wooden ceiling, highlighted with gold-leaf covered ornamentation.

Foundations for the original Norman church on this site have been found, although the present church was entirely rebuilt in the early 16th century in 'late Perpendicular' style and restored further in Victorian times. As with many parish churches, it lacks transepts.

Church of St. Andrew, Wootton Rivers (River Avon, Kennet & Avon Canal)

Church of St. Andrew, Wootton Rivers
Church of St Andrew, Wootton Rivers - 'Glory be to God' clock face

This small C of E parish church dates from the 14th century and its wooden steeple was added in 1911. The chiming mechanism is like a music box but unfortunately I wasn't there to hear it.

The steeple is notable that its clock has "GLORY.BE.TO.GOD" on one of its faces instead of numerals. This was apparently built to commemorate the coronation of King George V.

St Georges, Semington (Kennet & Avon Canal)


This small church was part of the parish of Steeple Ashton for most of its life, beginning in the 15th century. At the beginning of the 21st century however it was transferred to the new parish of Semington.

This is a wonderful little building, seemingly the epitome of a classic parish church. It has some beautiful stained glass,  a lovely pipe organ, and even the local children's 'congratulatory' card to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for their wedding the previous month.


I was there on a weekday and it was open and empty, but seemed to still echo the soft murmur of parishioners discussing the week's events and the patient shushing of excited children.

Holy Trinity Church, Bradford-on-Avon (Kennet & Avon canal)

Holy Trinity Church, Bradford on Avon


Of particular note in Holy Trinity are some of the monumental sculptures.

This one in particular, from 1701, caught my eye as he seemed about to step off the wall and begin an oratory.

In addition, the weeping child on the left, draped in a cloth, with his foot on a skull is almost heart-wrenching in its reality.

sculpture in Holy Trinity Church, Bradford on Avon

Church of St John the Evangelist, Bath (Kennet & Avon Canal)

Church of St John the Evangelist, Bath
Church of St John the Evangelist, Bath

As a major tourist attraction for the city of Bath, it's not necessarily obvious that this is in fact a parish church (Roman Catholic in this case). The ornamentation and appointments are incredibly beautiful;  it's a must-see, along with so many other sights in the city.

statue in Church of St John the Evangelist, Bath
St John the Evangelist Church, Bath

Church of St. Edward the Confessor, Cheddleton (Caldon Canal)

Church of St Edward the Confessor, Cheddleton

Church of St Edward the Confessor, CheddletonI wasn't able to enter this lovely old church. I'm told it's beautiful inside, with large stained glass windows and a carved quire screen. It was started in the 13th century and has an extensive cemetery surrounding it.

What most attracted me to it however was its immediate proximity to The Black Lion pub. There’s even a gate from the pub car park right into the churchyard. Quite handy I suspect, since it's dedicated to St. Edward the Confessor.

St. Margaret's Church, Wrenbury (Llangollen Canal)

St Margaret's Church, Wrenbury
Interior of St Margaret's Church, Wrenbury

St. Margaret's dates from the 16th century but has had many additions over the years such as the stained glass , the pipe organ , and bells in the tower. The six bells date from between 1610 to 1902.

The interior is notable for a special pew near the door reserved for the 'dog whipper' . He had the job of controlling dogs during sermons, and also of waking parishioners should they fall asleep.

Interior of St Margaret's Church, Wrenbury showing dog whipper's pew

St Collen's Church, Llangollen (Llangollen Canal)

St Collen's Church, Llangollen
Statue of St Collen in the church in Llangollen
intricate roof carvings in St Collen's Church, Llangollen
Vaulted ceiling in St Collen's Church, Llangollen

Llangollen is said to have taken its name from St. Collen, a 6th century monk that founded a church here, beside the River Dee where he arrived by coracle.

The present-day church has an incredible and intricately carved ceiling.

This, along with the small quire and altar with its carved Crucifixion, makes it one of the most beautiful small parish churches I've seen.

I think this is my favourite one so far!


splendid isolation

dawncraft chronicles

splendid isolation

This is a difficult article to write as like so many of us, I haven’t seen the boat since March the 23rd and obviously miss it. However, one thing I learnt racing boats for much of my youth plus a long spell in the prison service teaching horticulture, is rules are rules - and what you think is irrelevant, that’s what you have to do.

I am in a bit of a dilemma as my safety cert is due end of June. A helpful email from CRT reminding me that if I didn’t get it done I would face the wrath of having monthly debits etc suspended was almost and very nearly replied to with 'Thank you for your veiled threats but at the moment I am trying to stay alive which is a bigger and more realistic threat than anything you can dream up'. Another thing you learn in the prison service is how to communicate without causing a riot! Although I am pleased that CRT quickly stopped the automated emails and extended the certificates.

I don’t have a lot of worries about the certificate as I tend not to alter things on board which directly affect it. Indeed there are many things such as gas etc that we are best leaving well alone, for the safety of us and others. It amuses me that in some cases the moment the certificate is written, then back on board come all the portable gas heaters, generators etc and the odd dubious shoe power connection. Which goes back to rules are rules: break them if it gives you a sense of power and well being, but the moment it goes wrong  there are awful consequences. Sadly, on the River Avon in Bath a few years ago it resulted in two deaths from boats moored along side us at Saltford, where the occupants died in the most horrendous fire, possibly caused by candles and a leaking fuel line. It has stuck in my mind as we saw them leave that afternoon – worse still was that one of the boats was called Dawnraider and after it appeared in the paper many thought I had perished.

I sort of had an inkling that we were going into lock down two days before it was announced – driving tests etc being cancelled - so shot across to the boat and did what I could. First job was to disconnect the battery and bring it home, as although I only have a modest solar system enough to keep the batteries awake in the winter, having no draw and being continuously charged for the last 6 weeks would have boiled the electrolyte off and the ensuing possible explosion leaving more ventilation in the battery compartment than the examiner would wish to see.

I drained the water down because of frosts, and disconnected the fuel lines shutting off the air vent to the tank - its amazing how much petrol evaporates through this. Sadly if you are still running a two stroke then that seriously affects the mix and you end up with oiled up plugs – I actually ran my carburettor out of fuel when I finished just to make sure that that couldn't  happen. This was another one of these old onboard rules that I grew up with and remember so fondly! But it was there for a reason: namely seagull outboards which could have a mind and soul of their own. Sadly your 4 stroke isn’t immune as as the petrol evaporates, it leaves a varnish residue as does all petrol, which will block the carburettor 10 minutes after you set off.

I think my first job when I get back is going to be to ditch the water in the tanks as although it has chlorine tablets in, by now there is a chance that there is the corona virus cousin living in there – if not legionnaires !  ( Run the shower head through - that’s the worst offender) Then a coffee in my beautifully stained tin mug followed by start that engine – A little carb cleaner through the air intake first and leave it for ten minutes. Then I think I will pump her out - mercifully it has been dry for the last 6 weeks , the chemical toilet will need emptying and cleaning – luckily I have been using WD40 to help lubricate the seal so it should be reasonably odourless on board. Hopefully the cluster flies have gone!! And some fresh water down the bilges though I kind of miss that reassuring smell. Its such a shame that lock down came so quickly as we would all have grabbed bits of boat and made new bits at home.

So, I am sat here like so many on social media, waiting for Sunday and what if anything will change. There was a time when tuning the boat's old Roberts radio into the world service and then shipping forecast could guarantee you were up to date with reliable facts - now I am afraid it's leaked documents and speculation which doesn’t help anyone. Indeed one could go so far as to say it taunts one to almost breaking the rules. A recent email from CRT had a survey on how we intend to use our boats is a stark reminder that this is not going to be over anytime soon and suddenly hundreds of boats descending the flight into Bath isn’t going to help the social distancing bit. And perhaps no pubs, restaurants or canal side cafes open as a point of destination will have us all wondering where to go and why.

But for those of us who did our duty no matter how painful, and stayed away, I for one salute you. Meanwhile all we can do is remember happier times – I apologise in advance for quality of photos from 12 years ago !

natalie & harry woollen

featured author – summer 2020 – irfan shah

featured author - summer 2020

Irfan Shah

cyclist in the cut - front cover“In Rodley, the barges huddle, moored tight against the towpath alongside small wooden huts and deck chairs and sleeping pets.”

So begins the short story, ‘The Cyclist in the Canal’, a few pages that tell of an imagined encounter between two couples and a less than considerate cyclist on the towpath of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.

The story grew from the hundreds of walks I have taken along a particular stretch of pathway going out from Leeds city centre to the small Yorkshire town of Rodley. This stretch passes a few features that have become as familiar as friends to me – boat parks; painted murals on Victorian brickwork; the wonderfully named Oddy Locks and a sign painted upside down so that it can only be read by looking at its reflection in the water:

“The remains of a wooden icebreaker lie submerged.”

Leeds & Liverpool canal
reflected sign

Out of this familiarity came a desire to capture the stillness and restorative beauty of the area in a story that was slightly comic and, I hope, unexpected.

irfan shah, authorI’d become used to writing non-fiction before I wrote ‘Cyclist’.

In fact, in 2014, I was involved in the filming of a documentary about the inventor Louis Le Prince who, believe it or not, shot the world’s first films in Leeds in 1888; the crew had shot some scenes at the wonderful Armley Mills Industrial Museum, which lies on the banks of the canal about half an hour’s stroll out from Leeds.

As the director looked about for interesting shots, I was able to take him to the ‘upside down’ sign, at which point it struck me that I was showing the crew around what was effectively my own backyard; a space that I had grown to know in great detail over the years and that I had returned to, for respite and calm, again and again.

narrowboat by lock and footbridgeThe canal-side is a shared space that is open, equally, to everyone. It serves as an escape to the country for city dwellers and after these strange days of lock-down, I hope that people will return to it with a renewed love and appreciation for what it offers us.

And while my short story is told from a ‘land-lubber’s’ point of view, you should know that all you boaters were a source of inspiration for the story, for every canal boat – whether bought at the point of retirement, or out of an impetuous decision to leave the rat race behind – represents to me, a small adventure in someone’s life.

*                            *                                  *

Just as buying a canal boat often represents a change of direction in life; so too does the story of Open Space Books. My partner, Tracie, had for years worked in the trade fair and marketing industries, industries which evaporated overnight when lock-down was introduced.

Instead of becoming despondent, we decided to use the change as an opportunity to chase long-held dreams and so, Tracie’s company, Open Space Exhibitions, was repurposed slightly to incorporate a small (very small) publishing wing, and so Open Space Books was born. And what a defiant name for a company in lock-down - Open Space!

The Cyclist in the Canal can be ordered for Kindle on Amazon

waterways chaplaincy (not) in lockdown

our waterways chaplain

waterways chaplaincy (not) in lockdown

The Waterways Chaplaincy has not shut its doors! Indeed, many of our chaplains have been exercising on the towpaths near their homes or boats and that has enabled them to keep aware of needs arising among the boating community in many areas.

They keep in touch by phone and WhatsApp is a wonderful thing...

CRT’s guidance rules mean that at the time of writing, continuous cruisers are not allowed to move their boats. I am also aware that in a number of areas, crowding of towpaths has been a real problem to liveaboard boaters who know themselves to be vulnerable. They feel ‘crowded’ by insensitive towpath users and cyclists. Sadly, there’ll always be some individuals who won’t fall in with the rest of society, and they are indeed deeply frustrating.

steamboatAt a personal level, amongst other more important jobs there has been time to prepare the steamboat for when the river is once again open. A couple of weeks ago I lit the fire to try things out and sat aboard in my front garden with smoke and steam pouring from the funnel and the propeller going round. I live on a fairly public corner and was rather aware that people might be thinking that having experienced a plague, clearly this madman thinks there must now be a flood on the way: I hardly liked to tell them that this year there are more tadpoles in the garden pond than ever before...

I’m a vulnerable person: a neurological condition called Myasthenia Gravis retired me a little early so I’m being protected by my wife. I can’t go into shops, for example, so she ties me to a bollard with a piece of string, where I howl piteously and have an occasional slobber in the stainless steel water bowl left outside, I guess, for people like me.

We have to smile in situations of adversity, and this Covid-19 crisis has been a wake-up call for a lot of people. It has raised anxieties, highlighted vulnerabilities, caused real deprivation for some and distressing bereavement for others.

I said the Chaplaincy isn’t locked down. Well at some levels it is because a lot of us are not having much physical engagement with the waterways, and nothing is moving on the water as I write this apart from some bemused ducks and happily untroubled geese. Yet we still remain busy.

waterways chaplaincy logoEvery Chaplain’s background task is the business of prayer as we seek to align ourselves with what God might be seeking to do in any given human situation. That’s a big thing to say, I know, and begs the usual questions like ‘how can there be so much evil about if a God of love is supposed to be in charge?’

Well, Christians believe that God is indeed fully aware of the stresses and horrors of human life and we don’t need to tell Him to get on with His job! We are not puppets: we have freewill to live and make a mess of things and He lets live, nevertheless we are keen to align ourselves with his purposes. That means that where possible, we can seek to be active in helping to ease some of the challenges faced by the people we meet.

A very little can go a long way and, aware of that, the Waterways Chaplaincy communication network sets our phones twinkling very often, sometimes late into the night when my wife will sometimes whisper... ‘Your phone just beeped, I guess about Boater F or Boater T’. And she’s usually right.

So although things are different they are by no means closed down. And neither is God himself locked down.

epic endurance challenge

epic endurance challenge

east midlands mum uses waterways to prepare for epic endurance challenge

Jooles Paillin, trans atlantic rowerAn East Midlands mum is making the most of living beside an inland waterway as she prepares to tackle one of the toughest endurance challenges in the world in just a few months.

In December, 39-year-old Jooles Paillin, who lives just outside Nottingham, will be taking on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge and rowing for almost two months 3,000 miles across the Atlantic.

Jooles Paillin Amy on River SoarWith the country in lockdown, Jooles has been making the most of having the River Soar just a few footsteps from her front door as she prepares for a challenge so tough that more people have been into space or climbed Everest than rowed the Atlantic.

Competitors row for two hours and sleep for two hours constantly, for 24 hours a day, until they complete the journey. In 2019 finishing times ranged from 32 days to 86 days!

“At the moment I feel very lucky to live where I live” said Jooles. “I can literally go from my front door to being on the water within seconds. With social distancing in place the ability to get outside in the fresh air and row has been a godsend.”

Being on the water is natural to Jooles, having lived on a dutch barge for the first half of her life and being around the canal system from five-days old. She has travelled on a whole host of rivers - the Soar, Thames, Trent, Ouse, Ure, Severn, Witham, Nene, Avon in Bristol and Avon in Stratford and the Kennet to name just a few.

The list of canals she has travelled on is even longer and includes the Trent & Mersey, Shropshire Union, Llangollen, Oxford, Coventry, Ashby, Caldon, Ripon, Macclesfield, Grand Union and various branches, including Aylesbury Arm, Staffs & Worcester, Aire & Calder, Sheffield & South Yorkshire, Kennet & Avon, Middle Levels, Manchester Ship Canal, New Junction Canal, Montgomery Canal and Bridgewater Canal.

Jooles Paillin, 1981
Jooles Paillin, 1982

It is no surprise she fully admits to being a water baby and feels the need to be by the water on a daily basis:

“I do feel drawn to the water and have lots of fond memories from my younger years living on a dutch barge. I used to love visiting Ellesmere Port Boat Museum for the Easter gathering of working boats. Meeting up with other younger boaters was so exciting for me at that age!

Jooles Paillin, 1984
Jooles Paillin, 1988

“Getting my first Dunton Double and having my initials engraved on an antique windless single are other memories. I won’t forget when I was 13 being left to steer a 72-foot working boat in the torrential rain on the Northern Oxford Canal. We were coming towards Marston Junction, with my stepdad and mum unusually in the cabin inside having dinner due to the somewhat inclement weather, when I shouted to them ‘There’s going to be a bump, a big bump!’.

“Not knowing ‘the road’ I mistook the start of the Ashby Canal for the main line of the Northern Oxford and had to attempt a very sharp bend under the first bridge on the Ashby. There was a hefty bump but no permanent damage was done!

Jooles Paillin 1991
Jooles Paillin, 1991

“As a young person I either lived and holidayed on four different boats and slept in some unusual places! One vessel was the Frederick Whittingham, an ex-port of London quarantine launch from the 1930s or 40s. My sleeping places included the tiny wheelhouse floor, a too short hammock and next to the six-cylinder Gardner engine.

I was also actually named after a Lister JP3 engine in NB Emerald! JP stood for joint production as indeed I was. “

Jooles Paillin, 1991
Jooles Paillin

Jooles took up rowing in 2007 and currently holds two Boston Marathon records, an indoor Concept2 record, rowed 30 half marathons in 45 days and most recently rowed 100km in 36 hours.

She has also taken on and won river marathons and undertaken multiple indoor rowing marathons, but is under no illusions rowing across the Atlantic Ocean will be a different league altogether.

“The challenge is a huge physical test for anyone, but the biggest battle of all will be in our own minds and as a team we are using a hypnotherapist to prepare mentally for the challenge. We will return changed people and how we overcome each and every battle in our heads, broken equipment, pain, injury, etc will shape the rest of our lives” said Jooles.

Jooles will be undertaking the epic challenge with friends Mark Sealey, Amy Wood and Gemma Best - the quartet have dubbed themselves Force Genesis.

Force Genesis - Jooles Paillin, Mark Sealey and Amy Wood
Force Genesis 4th team member Gemma Best

The beginning of the race will be extra special for Jooles - it starts on her 40th birthday! Beginning on 12 December Force Genesis, along with 34 other teams, will leave San Sebastian Harbour in La Gomera, just off the coast of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands to race to English Harbour in Antigua.

The race is totally unsupported, which means teams take all of their food with them and make water with a desalinator. They will battle with sleep deprivation, salt sores and physical extremes inflicted by the race, not to mention waves of up to 20 feet high and the fact they will at times be closer to space than people on dry land!

As part of the challenge, Force Genesis will be raising money for  Blood Bikes charities including  East Midlands Freewheelers and Devon Freewheelers - with an aim of helping them buy new vehicles and train volunteer riders and support call handlers.

They will also be raising funds for the new Duty to Care charity that is supporting NHS staff by offering free mental health and wellbeing facilities by matching up practitioners to front line staff, which is more important now than ever in the current pandemic crisis that could have ongoing ramifications for front line staff for years to come.

Jooles explains why they chose both of these charities:

blood bikes“Blood Bikes do an amazing job and their bikes and cars that are in service are all provided free of charge to the NHS through dedicated volunteers all over the country. Each £100,000 raised for Blood Bike charities will save the NHS half a million pounds by not having to use ambulances, taxis and couriers during out-of-hours operations.

“Anyone could be involved in an accident or need lifesaving blood, platelets, organs, donor breast milk or the mother’s milk transporting between hospitals.

“As for Duty to Care, I have experienced first hand this year, in an intensive care unit, the amazing work the NHS do and, in recent weeks and months, I think we have all realised what an incredible asset each member of the NHS is.

“The services Duty to Care offer are important to the mental and physical wellbeing of NHS staff and are hugely needed at the moment.”

Just getting to the start line has been a huge challenge for the team, as Jooles admits:

“I am just a single mum, business owner and rower with all the challenges that brings at home. So trying to shoehorn this gargantuan project into normal life has been interesting to say the least and I know it has been the same for the others.

“Just to get to the start line has cost us in excess of £100,000 already. This includes £45,000 for a second hand boat, £20,700 in race entry fees, £11,000 shipping the boat, £6,000 in food, £3,000 in marketing, £9,000 for boat refit, electronics and additional safety equipment, £3,000 in essential Royal Yachting Association courses and £7,000 in travel.

“We still aren’t there yet, so any support would be appreciated - once we get to the start line we can raise some serious money for our chosen charities.”

epic endurance challenge force genesis

The team has a variety of sponsorship packages, from big to small, to help them make their dream of crossing the Atlantic a reality. For more details visit the Force Genesis website or contact Jooles directly by email.

You can also be part of the campaign, and help ensure they get to the start line, by becoming an armchair supporter via their newly launched GoFundMe page

If you want more you can even be part of the crossing and have your name on the boat for the duration of the adventure by joining the Force Genesis 250 Club

To raise money for the charities you can visit their JustGiving page

Follow the team on Facebook

For more information on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge visit the race website

horse shows

tales from the old cut - 5

horse shows

This strange year has cost our country many things so far. By no means the most important loss, but one that shouldn't be overlooked, has been the country shows that have been cancelled in their droves.

It might seem a trivial thing on the surface, but for the exhibitors it's a heavy blow. Months of preparation wasted, prestige for their businesses lost, and of course the social occasion that for many is the only respite from a relentless and sometimes lonely job.

horse shows - Albert Osborne 1934Boatmen 100 years ago would have related to this very well. They were no strangers to competing against each other for the swankiest turn out as a distraction from the grinding pressure to get 'em ahead. Long before the advent of the show, christenings, weddings, even funerals would see the boat drawn by an a horse in full turn out, and May Day for one had been traditionally a day when “more brass than 'oss” would be presented to the world regardless of where you were. Indeed it could be profitable exercise even if there was no show to attend, as one man at Cannock Chase had a hobby of giving 10 bob to the horse he felt was the best turned out that day.

Of course today's shows are heavily biased to livestock, but 100 years ago the horse was still at work; a common sight on our streets and, more importantly for this magazine, on our towpaths.

Given how many miles of canal grace Birmingham, it will not surprise the reader to learn that horse shows in Birmingham had a high proportion of canal horse classes. The West Bromwich Horse Show held at Dartmouth park on Whitsun was a popular one for 34 years from its inception in 1905 as a sideline to a charity fete.

West Bromwich Horse Show 1927As with the heavy horse shows today, judging for turnouts involves a parade of the participants; but unlike today where they're confined to a show ring, the West Bromwich horses took a turn around the entire borough.

We may not have a photo of them, but we can picture them non the less; powerful animals, eyes bright and ears pricked, held in check by practised hands as they stepped out with muscles rippling like frogs in oil beneath coats as fine and gleaming as spun silk.

Harness catches the afternoon light, blinding those unfortunate enough to look directly at the shining brasses and glinting chains, and the ground trembles as mighty hooves shod in iron clatter on the cobbles and heavy oak wagons rumble behind.

You, reader, unless you are familiar with a stable of heavy horses, may be a little overwhelmed. The smell of hot horse alone may surprise you, but the noise is tremendous. Leather creaks, chains jingle, men call in broad accents and clear voices, their charges answering back with high whinnies and baritone whickers, and the improbably delicate tinkle of terret bells lays over the scene like a fairy herald.

Horse Parade, 1925It's affecting to look at the newspaper reports and see the names of horses long past; in 1927 for example, Fellows Morton & Clayton's “Duke” won 3rd prize in the Heavy Cart Mare or Gelding (radius 7 miles from Smethick boundry), while Cooper & Co took first place in Cleanest & Smartest Canal Boat Horse with “Snowball”, Leonard Leigh's horses “Prince” and “Toby” taking 2nd and 3rd respectively, Hingley & Son's “Blossom” taking 4th and Midlands and Coast's “Jack” taking 5th.

Shows like these gave the boatmen a rare holiday and an opportunity to really show off. Their womenfolk would send the horses off with a new set of lovingly made lace ear caps and the men with a colourful spiderweb belt, and children would have been set to cleaning every inch of the harness. Not only were there there their fellow boatmen,  the judges and the RSPCA officers to impress with their horse but the boatmen's company was invariably were too; as today, a prize at a show was a little mark of prestige a business could use to its advantage- Midlands and Coast, for example, managed to bring home quite a lot of prizes in its short life and successfully held an excellent reputation for the welfare of it's men, the education of their children and cruelty prevention for the animals within it's reach for its entirety.

Some companies offered a small cash incentive to the boatmen who successfully brought home a prize to make sure they had a decent shot, and a few even shuffled their stables round to make sure the best looking horse was available for the class.

Horse Parade, 2017Disagreements with the judges happened then as now. Cooper & Co (who cleaned the table in the 1927 show) entered “Roger” in the 1925 Cleanest & Smartest Canal Boat Horse class, and after he'd successfully gained 2nd place from the judge, he had a fit, collapsed and had to shot. To add insult to injury, they then gave the second place to another horse on the grounds of breathing being a vital part of the turnout. This shouldn't have caused as much friction as it did at the time, Cooper's having already secured first place with a different horse anyway.

The war saw the end of the shows. 1939 was the last West Bromwich Horse Show, and quite possibly the last time there was a dedicated class at all for boat horses.  At the end of the war the West Bromwich Show resurfaced as a horticultural show, and staggered on for another 23 years in that format until 1968 when it was finally cancelled. Other shows embraced the heavy horse following the war, recognising that the days of the working horse were numbered and they needed to be protected, but the boat horse fell through the cracks and the boatmen clung to motor boats in the vain hope of keeping the trade.

how to wire a narrowboat – part 1

wiring my boat’s domestic DC – where do I start?

Part 1 – Where are things going to go -the drawings

The start is not what batteries you are going to have; it would be lovely if it were. That would make it too easy and this is a boat and boats are rarely easy.

The starting point is with the electrical items and where they are going to go. How we connect them to the batteries that are going to supply the power needed.

Begin with a scale outline drawing of the boat. Mark in where the cabin walls are going to go, doorways and what the rooms are. Then mark the drawing in 1 metre sections stern to bow. If you have a side view also mark that in 1-metre sections vertically from the base plate up.

wiring a narrowboat

Now breathe and make several copies of the master diagram. It is now is the time to involve the other half.

Starting with the lighting, mark the positions of the lights on the diagram, giving them a number etc. Don’t worry about cable routes etc just mark the lights position. Where their the switches are going. Mark the switches in someway. Do not forget about wall lights. Lights over the cooker and kitchen sink, Bathroom sink lights etc in the bathroom.

Also mark on the drawing where you would like 12vDC table lamps and standards lamps. Again mark and number. Join up each light that will be operated by the same switch/switches and link to the switch/switches and you end up with a diagram like this.

wiring a boat 2

Using another boat outline, mark where the water pump is going and its local switch so it can be turned off when the tank is empty. Same with the shower pump and it maybe a good thought to think about the shower pump being an automatic pump so only one hole is needed through the hull. But this may not be possible if the kitchen is on the other side of the boat.  Don’t forget about the Bilge pump it needs to draw its power from the Domestic bank not the Starter battery. Remember to give them an identity.

Now the bit I find the most difficult, where to put the 12V power points. Think about where you want 12V power points for charging etc. Mark them on the drawing then add where you want USB charging points and mark them.  Then go back and look, have you put one in the kitchen area? If not I would suggest add a 12V power point and a USB. Think about someone cooking from a recipe online.

Bedrooms, I suggest that you make sure both sides of the bed have access to a USB charger for the mobile phone, and Kindle. Do not forget the navigation lights. I know they are not a requirement on the UK canals but rivers etc require them. Regardless of that a red & green light come towards you at night gives you the beam of the boat and its outer edges. It making it a bit easier to pass in the dark.

Below my version of the outline with the sockets etc marked and numbered if more than one.

wiring a boat 3

Now is the time to think about how you are going to get the cabling from the stern of the boat to the bows and everything that needs power. Do not just think about the 12V DC cabling but also the AC mains cabling. There are various ways to do this, some people make a duct under each of the gunnels to take the cables. Others put a duct down each side of the boat in the ceiling. Along the edge where the ceiling meets the sidewall. You will also need a route from Port to the Starboard side of the boat. You also need to think how you are going to get cabling up and down the boat vertically. For switches this can be done inside some conduit behind the panelling. Once you have decided how and where it is going to go, mark it on the outlines.

The next stage is building the circuits, adding the cabling. But first you have to decide where the electrics cupboard is going. In it or adjacent will go the 12VDC Fuse board (Distribution Board) any inverter, charger etc. So don’t skimp on its size 🙂 Mark the fuse board on all the outlines.

Now the next thing to do is to draw the electrical diagram. Lets start with the lights, first split the lights up roughly into two halves or even three or four if there are a lot of lights or long cable runs; so that each fuse has lights from every area of the boat. The each section will run from its own fuse, i.e. Lights 1 fuse and Lights 2 fuse. Doing it this way means that if one of the lighting fuses blows there is still lighting available close to hand and one does not have to stumble around the boat looking for a torch before the lights are back on. Then you can sort out what caused the problem and sort it out.

To draw the electrical diagrams it is easier to use one of the free drawing apps. I use draw.io, all the drawings in this article, as well as the ones I put on the group are drawn on draw.io. It allows for a clear simple drawing that can be altered and bits moved around with no problems.

wiring a narrowboat 4So lets get started; the first thing I do is a symbol chart for everything that is going to be on the drawing, switches of the various types, the different types of lights etc. No complex electrical symbols that you do not know or understand just simple symbols. A Symbols list is to remind you what they are and what they do. Do not worry if you cannot think of everything you need or you miss some. They can easily be added to the Symbols list as you go on. But do it and do not rely on your memory. When you have to find faults the drawing becomes the map of what is there. Also when you come to sell the sell the boat the new owners will be impressed that there is a set of electrical drawings. It could get that sale, where it was only 50/50 in the buyers mind before. It shows that care has been taken of the boat from day one. How often do you hear boaters grumbling that all they have a jumble of cables and no drawings to tell them what should do what, please make sure you do Electrical Drawings for your boat, it is not difficult and will make installing them easier as well as fault finding is easier for whoever follows you.

So lets start with Lighting one. I normally start at the stern and work my way forward doing a separate section of the drawing for each fuse. I split the lighting into two or three sections so that the volt-drop is at a reasonable level and never less than two sections. Then if one lighting fuse blows there is light in every part of the boat albeit reduced. This is going to need to be three sections to keep the volt-drop to reasonable limits.

wiring a narrowboat 5

Start with the two rear deck lights. The most complicated electrical circuits that you will encounter in the whole of your wiring of your boat. There is the need to be able to switch them on and off from two different positions. If it is confusing I have written an explanation of how it works in the Appendix of the article.

Label each of the cables, as an example, the positive cable from the Lighting 1 Positive busbar to the common of the first of the two-way switches. I have called it L1P1 as it is for the first lighting section on the drawing.

wiring a narrowboat 6

Having drawn the first of the lighting diagrams you need to work out how long those cables are. Remember if the boat is a Narrow Boat, it will have an internal beam of 2 metres approximately.  Your drawing will have marker lines spaced at 1 metre apart. Using these to measure the L1P1 cable from the switch the through the cable ducts back to fuse board, which is where the Busbars will go measuring the distance, mark the distance on the cable on the drawing.  Do not forget the ups and downs the cable has to travel. Now continue to measure and mark the length of every cable on the drawing. Label the cables from the lights to the Busbars both negative and positive and you will end up with a drawing that looks like this.

wiring a narrowboat 7

©Graham Mills, 2020

potholes – a thing of the past?

potholes - a thing of the past?

Engineers from the University of Leeds mechanical engineering department have recently developed a robotic drone that boasts of being able to repair potholes in roads in just sixty seconds.

After being awarded a £4.2 million grant, councillors want to make Leeds the first city in the world to have roads fully maintained by mechanical robots by 2035.

The idea is the drone scans the road / motorway for potholes from the air, once found the drone will descend over the hole and spray a 3D printed asphalt compost into the crevice, preventing the hole from getting bigger.

The whole process takes less than a minute and has been developed by experts who hope by using this new technology they will reduce the need for sprawling road-works which blight the country by causing traffic congestion.

According to the experts, the best thing about this experiment is that it can be undertaken at night when the streets and roads are empty. It will be tested over the next two years.

Professor Rob RichardsonProfessor Rob Richardson, the operational director for the robotic element of the project said

We see the drones as similar to urban foxes, we know they are out there, but you don`t see them on a daily basis; there are not going to be machines flying over your head constantly.

"You will see them at particular times in certain places, but not all the time, making them less invasive.

 “Unfortunately at this present time, if you get a pothole you need people and large vehicles to address the situation, which causes disruptions and road closures, and which leads to frustrations and anger for the motorists and residents alike.

 “We want to change the way repairs are carried out by causing the least amount of upheaval possible, by using the drones we can help prevent the potholes becoming worse.

"If you have to close roads for long periods of time not only does it cause the pollution levels to rise by idling vehicle`s but also delays travellers on their daily journeys."

The vision is to have these kinds of technologies in place in the city by 2035 and by 2050 the whole of the UK will have self repairing schemes and projects in place.

Experts from University College London have helped with the development of the 3D asphalt printing technology which can be flown by a drone, with work already underway on the robot's scanning device and decision making capabilities.

Highways England which oversee the motorway and the A road systems are also looking at hi- tech ways to fix Britain's ageing network.                                                        

gone to pot!

UK road worksThe government owned company presumably predict future cars will be able to pinpoint potholes on motorways and instantly alert the officials on the whereabouts of the hole ready for repairs.

The future for Britain's drivers looks promising, as potholes and traffic delays are one of the biggest gripes that motorists have. A recent AA report stated that 1.91 million drivers were stranded in the early part of 2018, with a fifth of them being delayed by damage caused by potholes or similar: 8% up on the same time as last year. Over 10,000 potholes have appeared in the past 3 years.

One spokesman said “Why does Britain have third world type roads when we have a first world economy?"  In response to this, Town halls have claimed that they are £556 million short of the money that is required to fulfil the needs and carry out the repairs successfully.

A Department of Transport officer said that they are providing locals councils with £6 billion towards the upkeep of our highways.

Potholes cost British drivers up to £1.7 billion in repairs and cause serious problems for cyclists having to swerve to avoid them on every journey.

There is also the disruption that road works cause for residents, especially if there is a queue of idling traffic sitting outside your home, causing pollution and congestion.

pot holesRecently drones have had a bad publicity with all the scandal concerning flights of illegal machines tormenting Gatwick and Heathrow which, according to speculation, cost the airports £10 million in lost revenue.

Unfortunately the machines get the bad press and not the idiots who control them, the thing to remember is that drones do not fly themselves.

When you look at all the drone stories that are accumulating around the world, these pieces of wonderful technology are absolutely vital to some people, whether it be through drone farming, medical supplies being delivered, or for animal conservation. Search and rescue operators would find their roles a lot harder without these pieces of equipment. Companies like Bearingtech can help maintain these machines by supplying the parts and accessories that keep them airborne.

The next time you switch on your television and wonder at the marvellous pictures you are witnessing from the top of a mountain or on seeing a pack of elephants roam across the plains, remember how that is achieved: yes by drone! And if through drone technology they can succeed in reducing road works and congestion, then everyone will benefit greatly whether driver or pedestrian.

From an environmental point of view the less pollution the better.

Watch this space literally upwards!

aqueduct marina returning to work

aqueduct marina

returning to work

After a company decision for some of the team to return to work Aqueduct Marina’s Marina and Operations Director Phil Langley outlines what the executive team has experienced to get to this point and what the future looks like for the marina.


Aqueduct Marina - the team

Following the government lockdown announcement, we split our engineering operation into two teams working on a rota basis to protect staff and reduce the risk of spreading COVID 19. This, along with strict social distancing rules, worked very well but after a week it became apparent that the supply chain issues meant we could not continue to operate. Working with an already reduced team due to some staff having to self-isolate we then made the difficult decision to furlough the remaining engineering team.

We looked at our engineering schedule to assess the workload and what was deliverable, we also then took into account employees personal situations and risk assessed who were higher and lower risk. The main reason we have chosen three team members to return at this time is because this number allows us to safely monitor and implement safe systems of work on a manageable scale. We also wanted to do as much as we could for one particular staff member who only started working for us the week of the lockdown and did not qualify for furlough so has been unable to earn for the last three weeks.

Aqueduct MarinaStaff who are placed onto the governments furlough scheme have to be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks and we always planned to use this time to take stock and risk assess our operation in order to get staff back to work as soon as safely possible, which is what we are now doing.  

Now strict social distancing rules have been put in place and the engineers will be working alone. We have also closed all shared areas such as the engineers welfare building (brew room). And staff are to bring their own food and drinks which is to be consumed in isolation.

We have new specific COVID-19 related risk assessments which has helped to reduce the risk for staff. All the engineers have their own sets of PPE which as per normal rules isn’t to be shared and they have all been given hand sanitiser to use and carry around with them. Staff have been asked to wash their hands more regularly and government hand washing advice posters have been put up in the toilets. Disinfectant spray is also supplied to clean door handles etc across the site and staff are encouraged to use this.  

Aqueduct Marina - cafe and office areaWe are extremely fortunate to have a fantastic team at the marina and all the staff have been very understanding during these times. The engineers are indeed pleased to be back at work and back to some form of normality during these uncertain times.  As a leisure business we have qualified for a full rates relief, Cheshire East were very quick to implement our application. The furlough scheme was easy to apply for and paid out promptly, the bank was responsive to our request to put the loan repayments to interest only for three months.

We will continue to monitor the current working group and then look to safely introduce more staff members back into work. We aim to work on a 12-18 months plan that enables the marina to operate as we move into what will be a different environment in the future. Each area of the business mooring, caravan site, café, chandlery, brokerage and boat repairs will all have different obstacles to overcome. We understand that there will be challenges ahead and will continue to follow government advice as well as seeking support from trade bodies such as British Marine in order to first and foremost ensure a safe environment for staff and customers.