ever since I was a young boy

ever since I was a young boy

pinball machine history

At a recent editorial meeting, our illustrious editor, Lin, showed us the following piece which had been sent in for consideration.  Having doubts about publishing the story because of its content having nil to do with waterways, I interjected with a resounding reply to her question of to publish, or not to publish, "No! Let's publish!"

My reasoning was this. Being an old age boater, and also a member of the hippy elite, I well remember the heady days of pinball machines.  So many bars of ill repute in the 50's and 60's boasted amazing machines providing many a happy hour of balls and flippers. Badges of honour were verbally and mentally given to leather clad bikers, mods et al, and pinball machines were a part of everyday life.

One particular establishment I remember was The Olde Silk Mill in Derby, which became a mecca for the unwashed and black clad biking community. Happy days, happy memories!

So, go ahead and publish, because I am sure there are many in the boating community and readers of MY GENERATION for whom this article will bring back resounding memories and give a little insight into what used to be, for many of us, a daily part of life. Enjoy, and let's have some feedback.

Gerry.

From Soho down to Brighton, there must have been one in every single dance hall, club, pub, or arcade centre.

The pinball machine is looked upon today as a piece of 1950`s, 60`s, 70`s and 80`s youth culture, but how many early black and white films, that were connected with teenagers or gangs, would show a pinball machine in a coffee shop or candy store?

How many images stir up the imagination of the mods and rockers of the sixties all standing together in a coffee bar playing a pinball whilst listening to the jukebox?

How we see the machines today though is totally different to how they were first seen in the early 1930`s.

Inventor Steve Kordek who is recognised as the creator of the first machine designed the first models without the use of flippers, which later propelled the ball up the table hitting the number markers on the way, but more importantly kept the ball in play.

Kordek got the idea from the French game bagatelle, the game where you manoeuvred a metal ball around a board with pins and holes, the idea was to get the ball into the holes avoiding the pins which would redirect the ball, players would also bump and tilt the tables, making the ball sink into better scoring holes.

In his early machines, once the ball had been sent from the plunger arm, it travelled down the table hitting various buffers and stops which created a score that nobody could predict, making it an ideal machine for betting and gambling syndicates to bet on, without the flippers it became a game of chance rather than skill.

Once the underworld gambling gangs got to hear of this machine, they used it to their advantage by running gambling dens which installed the pinball machines alongside the usual card schools, one armed bandit slot machines and dice tables.

On hearing this the authorities were keen to put a stop to the illegal gambling culture that had gripped most cities in America, but could not pinpoint the culprits in action, until a plain clothes police officer entered a cigar shop, after a tip off, in East Harlem in March 1948.

He approached the pinball machine and dropped a coin into the slot and began to play, he pulled back the plunger arm and propelled the silver ball into action.

La Guardia smashing pinballs

The ball danced around the table, with the officer desperately trying to keep it in play, his first 5 attempts were unsuccessful and frustrating, but the 6th try proved to be better as the ball landed in a hole that triggered a free play mode, which signalled a gambling concern, something the officer had been looking for.

Once the game had ended, the officer arrested the shop owner and charged him with illegal gambling and possession of an unlawful gambling instrument. The arrest was earmarked as one of the first concerning a pinball machine, and was the latest in a crackdown on the perceived scourges that were running rife across the USA in the 1940`s.

Pinball Museum, Washington

Elton John vs the Pinball Wizard in Tommy

During the great depression, gambling was seen by many people as a menace to society, something that had to be controlled or stopped altogether, the pinball was seen as another form of illegal gambling to hit the streets and towns, increasing criminality.

Whilst the law enforcers and civic groups looked at pinball for its gambling culture, churches and schools condemned it for its corrupting influence that it had on the youth, stating that many children had skipped school and stolen coins in order to play the machines, some were spending their dinner monies playing, therefore going hungry in the process.

Chicago was seen as the pinballs main manufacturing city, already seen as a hotbed of criminal activity including illegal alcohol selling, drugs, prostitution, protection rackets and many other crimes were associated with notorious gangs and mobs who ruled the city including the infamous “Murder Inc Gang”. Pinball just added another string to their ever-growing list of illicit activities.

The Mayor of New York at the time was Fiorello La Guardia, who decided that enough was enough, and made pinballs illegal and began cracking down on owners, sellers and end users.

Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, La Guardia and other officials declared that pinballs were apart from being illegal, were a waste of valuable materials that could be put to better use elsewhere.

Once the city councils decided to back La Guardia, there was a nationwide ban on pinballs in all public places.

The police began raids on bowling alleys, candy stores, bars, coffee shops and amusement arcades in an attempt to either catch the players and better still, the owners or suppliers.

Like their predecessors during prohibition, the officers who were named the G men, were seen smashing barrels of alcohol with hatchets in front of the waiting press photographers, who captured the event on film.

La Guardia and other officers assembled members of the press, before hitting the pinball machines with sledge hammers, hence smashing the machines to pieces, once smashed the remains were dumped in Long Island, where the materials used, were enough to build over 2,000 aerial bombs for the air force.

Because of the actions that were happening in New York, other major cities followed suit in the banning of the machines, this forcing the activity underground, at one point they were seen as part of the rebel culture and held in the same disregard as leather jackets, cigarettes, motorbikes and greasy hairstyles which were seen as brainwashing the young.

Pinballs criminal gambling reputation lasted long after the introduction of the flippers which were introduced in 1947, which changed the game from chance to skill, which eventually would stop the gambling element for the machines having had the uncertainty removed.

Even the late President JF Kennedy was entangled in a publicity smear by opposition leaders who tried to damage his reputation by printing photographs of the president playing on a machine, which was seen as a propaganda move on the part of the opposition, and was quickly quashed.

Famous back glass plates - Airport Genco 1939.

Rolling Stones

During the 1970`s the pinball was finally accepted as a game of skill and reflexes rather than chance.

The Californian Supreme Court overturned its prohibition in 1974 which was quickly followed by other major cities across America.

Although the ban was overturned, a Queens spokesman was quoted as saying “that this will bring rampant vice and gambling back into our cities”.

To prove to the sceptical councillors that pinball was definitely a game of skill, the Amusement and Music Operators Association recruited one of the country’s top players, Roger Sharp, to demonstrate on a machine that was set up in the Manhattan Courtroom where the city council met.

Sharp explained during the demonstration, that like baseball player Babe Ruth, who would call out a shot, he could not guarantee exactly where the ball would go, the same applied to the silver ball on the table, you hoped it would go into a certain space, but mostly it went elsewhere.

After the demonstration the council overturned the ban, which was expected to bring in an estimated $1.5 million dollars into the city economy by way of charging owners a $50-dollar licence fee for each machine.

Unbelievably, in some American states, the pinball machine still remains banned and is seen as illegal, but the law is not enforced due to the ridiculous rule.

When at its height in the 1950`s, the best-known manufacturers of pinball machine were Williams, Bally and Gottlieb, who introduced many new innovations to the models, which included multi-player games, score reels and increasingly sophisticated playfield mechanisms and art packages.

However, the games were not computerised, but were electromechanical and ran on a precarious balance of moving parts, something that we at Bearingtech know only too well about.

Indiana Jones

star wars pinball machine

Apart from the minor resurgence in the 1990`s due to the Addams Family movie, the pinball machine of the film, became the best-selling pinball ever in the history of pinball machines, hitting an unbeatable 20,000 units being sold across the world, but during 1995 home game consoles were flooding the markets with tens of thousands of machines hitting the high street shops, which consumers bought at an alarming rate.

This latest battle proved to be the last straw for some pinball manufacturers, so much so that one of the pioneers of the game, Gottlieb, who had been associated with pinballs since 1927, finally stop trading.

Williams, another pioneer of the industry now controlled 80% of the worldwide pinball market, called on their designers to reinvent the gaming tables and came up with the pinball 2000 version, which created some attention at first, but eventually tailed off after the follow up model got less attention.

When you consider that during 1979, the humble pinball had peaked with record sales of 200,000 units, compared to an 85% drop within 3 years, the fall from grace had a devastating effect on the manufacturers who could not compete with the new kids on the block, mostly who were electronic video games such as Space Invaders, Pac Man and Asteroids which were seen as the future.

Apart from the minor resurgence in the 1990`s due to the Addams Family movie, the pinball machine of the film, became the best-selling pinball ever in the history of pinball machines, hitting an unbeatable 20,000 units being sold across the world, but during 1995 home game consoles were flooding the markets with tens of thousands of machines hitting the high street shops, which consumers bought at an alarming rate.

This latest battle proved to be the last straw for some pinball manufacturers, so much so that one of the pioneers of the game, Gottlieb, who had been associated with pinballs since 1927, finally stop trading.

The Addams Family pinball machine

Williams, another pioneer of the industry now controlled 80% of the worldwide pinball market, called on their designers to reinvent the gaming tables and came up with the pinball 2000 version, which created some attention at first, but eventually tailed off after the follow up model got less attention.

Unfortunately, like Gottlieb, Williams decided to close its pinball division and concentrate on its slot machines instead leaving the market wide open for any newcomers to take up the fight.

After Williams left the field, Stern Pinball was the only American manufacturer left standing until Jersey Jack emerged in 2011, other smaller companies such as Spooky and American Pinball have now since joined the market by introducing more complex technology and electronics to their own models.

Because of the new technology that was developed in the early part of the 21st century, Chicago gaming who are a video game manufacturer decided to re-invent some of the classic pinball machines by adding technological advancements to the classic machines by teaming up with Planetary Pinball who together used the vintage Bally and Williams models and brought them back into the gaming mainstream for new players to enjoy, but with better sound and visual effects.

Talking of effects, when pinball first arrived on the gaming circuit back in the 1940`s and 50`s, one of the biggest attractions was the backboard glass plates and the table playfield frame due to the colourful imagery that adorned the machines, often depicting glamourous pictures with wild adventures or movie stars.

This artwork has now become very famous and sought after by collectors across the world, often seeing thousands of pounds changing hands between avid pinball enthusiasts.

Later as the machines became more elaborate and technically advanced, the artwork became more refined and detailed, creating a masterpiece of contemporary art, which in itself became more valuable and sought after, more so than the actual machines. Some dealers actually buy the machine for the artwork alone, especially if it is one of the best-selling machines in the world, such as the already mentioned Addams Family Pinball that came out in 1991 to coincide with the movie of the same name.

Movies and music seem to go hand in hand where pinball is concerned with many of the biggest films and rock stars often being displayed on the back-glass plates and playing frames.

The Addams Family pinball machine

Some of the most famous films have at one point shown a pinball machine on screen, either in movies or television, with some of the biggest stars standing alongside them.

Remember Henry Winkler as the Fonz in Happy Days, which at one time was one of the most watched tv shows in the world, opening scenes as the titles rolled, you guessed it, Fonz playing a pinball machine.

Or how about the disturbing film the Accused starring Jodie Foster, where a young barmaid is viciously raped in the most talked about scene of the film, on a pinball machine.

There are countless other films and stars who have appeared along the iconic machines including Paul Newman in the Verdict, Taron Egerton in Rocket Man, and how about Elton John in the most famous film of them all where pinball is concerned, Pinball Wizard from the film Tommy?

Alongside other films such as Ghostbusters, Goodfellas, Home Alone, Live and Let Die, Love Actually, Quadrophenia, Godspell and even Harry Potter have become platforms to promote pinball machines.

The most famous machines that are on most collectors wish lists are littered with music and film titles, everything from the Twilight Zone to the Rolling Stones are sought after.

The top ten must have machines are listed below.

Medieval Madness ( Williams ) 1997
Attack from Mars ( Bally ) 1995
Jurassic Park ( Stern ) 2019
Monster Bash ( Williams ) 1998
Addams Family ( Bally ) 1991
Iron Maiden ( Stern ) 2018
Elviras House of Horrors ( Stern ) 2019
Twilight Zone ( Bally ) 1993
Deadpool ( Stern ) 2018
Metallica ( Stern ) 2013

Alongside the most sought-after machines, is the artwork that has fast become a collectable item in its own right, so much so that an early William Wiley model sold for an incredible $125,000 and was listed in the catalogue as “a piece of art”, rather than just a pinball machine.

Some of the best artwork that adorned the pinball machines seem to be associated with the 80`s and 90`s.

Although the early artwork on the old machines have a certain charm and appeal to collectors, purely due to the images and topics portrayed at the time.

To grab someone`s attention and stand out from the crowd you needed to create an image or sound to draw the prospective player to your machine, this is where the artwork comes into its own.

Hi Diver Pinball Machine

Basketball Gottlieb Plate 1939

The best artwork is listed below, not necessarily the best selling but influential.

Space Invaders (Bally) 1980
Xenon (Bally) 1980 Creatures of the Black Lagoon (Bally) 1992
Theatre of Magic (Bally) 1995
Scared Stiff (Bally) 1997
Tales of the Arabian knights (Williams) 1996
Circus Voltaire (Bally) 1997
Twilight Zone (Bally) 1993
Medieval Madness (Williams) 1993
Indiana Jones (Williams) 1993

"Ever since I was a young boy, I played the silver ball
From Soho down to Brighton, I must have played them all"
The Who

History has a funny way of putting things into perspective, after all the fuss and bother in trying to get the pinball machine banned all those years ago, along comes the digital age, which in affect killed the pinball stone dead, people saw them as old fashioned and boring, they preferred to play the new electronic games that were being imported from Japan at an incredible rate.

Can you remember the first time that you saw a Space Invaders machine, or a Pac-Man in a pub or arcade? These were the machines that took the mantle from the pinballs and slot machines and ran with it for years, until a new breed of entertainment arrived in the shape of quiz machines, not only could you play the machine, but you could also win money by answering questions, something which has now been taken up by television broadcasters who literally have a quiz show on every channel.

But like most well-loved machines, designs and models that were deemed out of date and dull have suddenly become “vintage” which seems to attract another genre of players and collectors.

People who grew up with the pinball machine, one armed bandit slots, dartboards, jukeboxes and table football know the value and pleasure that these pastimes brought, albeit for a few minutes.

More and more of the old 1960`s and 70`s machines are becoming very much a thing of the future, gaming antiques maybe a strong category to list them under but when an item brings back nostalgia, pleasure and more importantly, value then people start to take notice.

As the lyrics in the famous pinball wizard song read, “I`m not handing my pinball crown to him” not unless you are willing to pay a lot of money for it that is.

narrowboat nomads

narrowboat nomads

how we came to the cut

I blame a lot of it on YouTube but in truth, the catalyst was created long before my access to the internet, indeed walking along the Brecon Monmouth canal first engaged me and provoked my earliest thoughts of a narrowboat life. The concept of drifting through the countryside on a boat was so evocative, like a snail with its house on its back, you are free to roam in your floating home.

world heritage site, Hampii, southern IndiaBut the thoughts were buried deep whilst I was seduced by promises and snared by the rat race. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all toil and trouble, I have made the most of meagre opportunities, seen life and straddled continents on a journey of work and play.  The game changer came in the summer of 2017 when Donna and I met in Portishead and within a few weeks we were getting off a plane in Sri Lanka.  We had chatted about the spellbinding wonders that travel affords one and in particular, the crazy, frenetic tropical wonderland that I consider my emotional touchstone, so we spent our first winter together in India.

pembrokeshire coast dog walkingUpon our return to the UK, we bought a run down 1900’s cottage in rural Pembrokeshire and spent the ensuing two years renovating our forever home with sea views, our life had settled into an easy routine with part time jobs and dog walks through the seasons.  But then…  all of a sudden, it started as a sneeze far, far away sending ripples across the oceans to rock the world and the “Vid” had landed on our shores.  This new phenomenon made from unfamiliar words and conspiracy theories made us all think and consider our futures. “Life is short so do we sit here in Gods’ waiting room or is there time to roll the dice and have one more adventure”?

We sold the house bought a motorhome and got through the tunnel heading south west to La Rochelle and a trip along the Atlantiqué Highway, only to be locked down in Portugal at the end of 2020 and then when Brexit came into effect on the 1st of January, we were given 90 days to get out of Europe and our life on the road had hit another road block.

Portuguese sunset, Cabanas de TeveraDuring the first lockdown, like so many other people, we had binge watched stacks on YouTube hence where the motorhome life had materialised but I suppose all along I knew that Donna liked the narrowboat boat lifestyle and its possibilities more. Both options had been discussed when we were in Wales and we were still in Portugal when we decided on a life afloat. We searched the net for our next home, we clearly weren’t the only ones with the same idea because boats were selling like hot cakes and plenty of Brits were fleeing Europe and the Schengen zone.

Millau Viaduct, Massif Central, France

We crossed the newly opened Portuguese/Spanish border with some trepidation and hugged the Mediterranean coast on our way back through Spain avoiding crowds. By the time we had reached Valencia the stakes had been raised again with lateral flow and PCR tests, ferries fully booked and dubious reports of road closures. We had our tests, only to be told afterwards that they were the wrong ones, nevertheless we made a charge north at full throttle to cross the border with France only to be hauled up near Perpignan by the Gendarmerie with machine guns. They read through our passports and test results then whilst holding our papers and looking perplexed wished us “bon voyage” with a cheery wave. We wondered did the Frenchman reading English and Spanish documentation know what he was looking at and we doubted that any of us really knew what to do!

In the space of 24 hours the temperature had effectively dropped by a degree an hour as we went from shorts to bobble hats heading north and high over the Millau viaduct and the Massif Central mountains.

canal near Eppernay in the Champagne region of FranceWaking to frozen puddles and fading sun tans we pushed on, whetting our appetites and dallying up the French canals past the myriad of different styles of craft.

When our ten-day saunter through France came to an end, we had some more tests and doggy tablets then spent the last of our Euros on the finest Bordeaux wines and French delicacies before being rushed back through the all but abandoned tunnel at Calais.

We self-isolated on a campsite in Surrey for the obligatory ten days eating stale bread and cheese and drinking nasty plonk, desperately looking for a boat that we liked. We created a spreadsheet with our requirements and a list of available boats on Apollo Duck. Only to look again the next day and see that anything that caught our eye had sold overnight. On Good Friday we had compiled a list of 15 boats we were interested in and by Saturday afternoon 8 were gone.

Jeremiah Lee lying at Droitwich SpaYou hear people say, “you’ll just know it when you see the boat for you” and that was exactly what happened. Following Donna onto the boat, I felt a smile coming on my face and asked her, if she liked it? she turned around beaming and just nodded vigorously, we followed the owner through the boat and returned to the saloon where I asked Donna “do you want it”? Once again, she nodded vigorously, there was no denying it Donna was moved by the Jeremiah Lee.

We broke the cardinal rule and didn’t get a survey, moved aboard one week later and for the first 24 hours we basked in triumph. It wasn’t until day two that we started to note things that were wrong with her. Our pump out tank was full and in our first flight of locks, we lost propulsion and we were lucky to have Vince a fellow Taffy and resident at Hanbury to pull us out of the lock on the centre line, the problem was quickly identified and shortly after we limped into Droitwich Spa Marina where we were able to make some remedial repairs.

narrowboat fitted kitchenWe got going again but by the time we had got to Worcester, our new batteries were near to flat and we limped into Diglis Marina where we were able to get a residential mooring and make a proper start on her refit. Now the inside is mostly complete and due to come out of the water for blacking, painting and some new solar.

So even though our route here has been somewhat circuitous, we know it to be; no more remarkable than plenty of others who have chosen life afloat. Since joining with kindred spirits and the boating community we have forged friendships that will endure.  We are almost set to continuous cruise the cut and start again on our peripatetic life. You can follow our journey on our YouTube channel: Narrowboat Nomads

celebrations on the wharf

tales of the old cut

celebrations at the wharf

King George V Coronation Cup

With Christmas and New Year celebrations still very much in our recent memories, it seems like no better time to open the wharf's story book and look at another celebration some 100 years ago.

It was 22nd June 1911 and the country was deep in patriotic frenzy for the coronation of King George V. Preston Brook was no exception.

Most unusually, it was even agreed that some funds could come out of the rates, 2d (2 old pence) to every pound, to help fund it, although in the end it wouldn’t be needed because everyone was full of excitement and donating generously.

Who suggested the wharf as the location of the party, we don’t yet know, but the Ship Canal Company was prevailed upon to donate “a spacious shed with field adjoining”, which is likely to have been the Dandy Warehouse.

We can take an educated guess that the building and wharf had been given a suitable sweep-up the day before, and on the morning the local committee swarmed over it putting up decorations and setting up tables.

Coronation Day at Neston

Excitement must have been reaching fever pitch. We know from diaries of other such Coronation celebrations that children, and in some cases husbands, were driven into the bathtub and scrubbed until they glowed, so there is every chance that the occupants of Preston Brook did the same.

Work was not totally knocked on the head for the day, it was only a Thursday after all, and a number of boats arrived and departed. Equally there were a number of boats who laid up for the day, enough to warrant special sports events to be laid on just for the boatpeople and the local Irish labourers.

The sports events kicked off the celebrations at 2pm; with the newspapers describing “sports of a varied character for young and old, also a tug of war and shot putting events…for prizes to the value of £10.”

King George V Coronation medalAt half past 3, the children were rounded up and given medals by two local ladies, and a big procession headed by the Aston and Preston Brook Band went off on a tour around the village while the unsung heroes of the committee were left alone for an hour and half to lay the tables with the celebratory tea for the 500 guests.

On their return, the children, doing well for themselves out of the occasion, were made to line up and pass through the door of the warehouse and be given a commemorative cup by the wharf foreman, Mr Peter James Webb, and one Mr Yates, who appears to be a company engineer.

Food finished, and everyone went back out for more sports and children’s maypole dancing while the committee whipped all the tables and dirty plates away so everyone could come back inside for “musical entertainment.”

Merry-making carried on for all until past midnight, when the party was wrapped up by singing the national anthem and no doubt a quiet reminder that it was back to work for a lot of the men in just a few hours, not least of all the members of the Preston Brook band who needed to be in Warrington by 0930 the next day.

waterfowl

the diary of iris lloyd

waterfowl

I am very fortunate to be living opposite a bridge over the Kennet and Avon Canal, part of the High Street, in Hungerford. The Rose of Hungerford, a pleasure boat, is moored opposite my house, as are several other narrow boats. There is often activity on the water with the movement of boats, fishermen sitting for hours along the towpath, or the annual canoe race from Devizes to London. In the better weather, boat owners are busy cleaning their boats or they put foldaway chairs on the towpath and sit and enjoy a chat with their neighbours or have drinks and snacks out in the sunshine fore or aft. They are always ready for a friendly ‘Hello’.

ducks Another great pleasure in living by the canal is watching the waterfowl. There are always plenty of ducks, the males with their beautiful heads of green sheen, and if we are lucky, a flotilla of baby ducklings in the spring. Sad to say, the ducklings reduce in number very quickly and few survive to maturity.

Parents and grandparents bring their children to feed the ducks. Feeding them with bread is not good for the canal, as it pollutes the water, and is not nutritious for the ducks, whose natural diet is seeds and greenery (try sweetcorn, lettuce, peas, or oats), but families have done this for generations and there is no way of stopping them.

As well as the ducks, there is an occasional coot or moorhen, and every summer half a dozen Canada geese make it their stopping-off point for a few weeks. They’re very visible with their smart long black necks and white bodies.

Then there are the swans. This year, one set of parents has been very much in evidence with their cygnets, as large as they are but with brown feathers, now turning white. When they first appeared, there were seven of them, but one disappeared. However, this male and female have been very good parents and have successfully reared the other six. They join the ducks to be fed, often leaving the water, which is very disconcerting for parents when the swans are as tall as their very small children and are not nervous of approaching a possible food source.

swan and cygnets: photo by Nigel Perrin

swan and cygnet, Nigel Perrin

Sometimes they spring up onto the grassy bank on my side of the canal, flap their wings to dry off a little, then approach any visitors who are taking advantage of the sunshine by sitting on the wooden benches to eat their snacks.

They were there today, at the beginning of December, and we took some good close-up photos of them; obviously they thought that the mobile phone was something good to eat!

twelve months on

twelve months on

my first year as a continuous cruiser

I bought Blackbird, a 40ft narrow boat just over a year ago and have just completed my first year as a Continuous Cruiser. It’s been a wonderful time (mostly)! I have enjoyed travelling through the inland waterways enormously. It has given me an appreciation of our nation’s industrial heritage in a way that no amount of reading or consumption of modern media technology ever could. I now know why the Black Country was so named, the importance The River Weaver played in the salt trade, I have learnt about the movement of coal and limestone along The Lancaster Canal and the connectivity between Cornish clay and The Staffordshire Potteries. I have experienced first-hand the power of The English Rivers, not just as forces of nature, but as the living veins of our earliest transport routes. I have also learnt a good deal of practical things that have helped me make living on board a pleasure, I am sure other boaters could add a their own advice….

Condensation.

I was rather surprised at how much condensation could appear after just one night; even when the boat was reasonably warm. I now try to:

Warm the cold places of the boat by opening cupboard doors.

Wipe down the windows each morning with an absorbent cloth; as it prevents moisture getting into the window frames and causing rot.

Open the galley window a little when cooking.

Insulate, insulate, insulate!  Everywhere you can.

Create airflow routes, I drilled holes in the board that supports the mattress and in the draw fronts under the bed. You can make patterns so the holes are decorative as well as practical.

Wood Burners.

morso squirrel log burning fireI have used open fires and stoves for 30 years and so am very familiar with the art of fire making. However, the stove on Blackbird is fairly small and making the most of the warmth has taken some thought.

I always have a good supply of dry kindling and small logs to hand to get the fire going quickly after a cold day's cruising.

A dedicated bucket for ash and a small shovel are very useful.

Keep your eyes open for the wonderful local coal barges and stock up when you can. There are several different smokeless products available which burn at different rates and have different heat outputs. Try a few until you find the sort that works best in your boat.

My stove heats the space best when it is on long and low; I fill it up in the evening before I go to bed and turn the vent right down. Even if it goes out during the early hours of the morning there is enough heat to take the edge off the chill.

Forage for wood as you go, log it with a bow saw and store it somewhere to dry.

Make good use of the top of the stove to slowly cook a stew. I use a trivet under the pot to stop the bottom burning. It’s an ideal place to warm a kettle too.

Mooring

Angle mooring pins and position them well back from the bank, in wet ground they can pull sideways with the movement of passing boats and slip out, even when they are hammered fully in.

Use brightly coloured plastic bags around the tops of the pins to highlight their position to other towpath users. Sainsbury’s are perfect!

If you don’t have a piling pin, a normal long pin can be used. Position it vertically through the back of the horizontal piling and wrap the lines over the top and bottom of the pin before tying off on the dolly.

Learn to tie a few knots, a round turn and two half hitches, a canal man’s hitch and a clove hitch will all be useful.

Clothes

Be ruthless, chose what you really need and give the rest to a charity shop.

Pack the clothes that you aren’t wearing in vacuum bags, it will save space and keep them dry.

Slip on shoes are perfect for going in and out of the boat, especially when it’s muddy.

Fuel

Keep diesel tanks as full as possible, especially in the winter. Diesel bug lives in the water film between the air gap and the diesel layer. I had it in my engine and it clogged up my fuel filters. If you do get diesel bug it can be treated with products available in most chandlers.

A spare gas cylinder is a very useful thing! I buy mine from the fuel barge.

Engines

I knew very little about diesel engines a year ago, now I can change the oil, and filters, tighten and replace an alternator belt, monitor the coolant and oil levels and pack a stern gland greaser with grease. These are all surprisingly easy jobs, learning how to do them will save you money and give you confidence in your engine.

I have also assisted in replacing an alternator and removing a gear box that needed to be reconditioned. I really like engines now!

The weed box should be examined regularly especially in areas that have a lot of rubbish or vegetation in the water. I have been surprised by how little weed around the prop it takes to lose a lot of power. I have also learnt to know when there is a lot of weed on the bow by the sound of the engine.

Make a note of the part numbers for your filters and belts and keep some spares, you never know when you might need them.

Cruising

A guide book makes the journey richer as you can understand the history of the environment around you.

Go slowly, stop often and explore the places you pass through.

Talk to the people around you and hear their stories.

Security

Pick your mooring spot carefully, ideally around other boats. If you have to leave the boat for a while, there are several things you can do to deter would be intruders:

Place a pair of big, old boots just outside the door.

Set a battery powered radio to come on in the evening.

Twinkling fairy lights make the boat look as if there is someone inside.

I have met lots of interesting people both on and off the boats who have been so kind and helpful. There is never any shortage of advice! I have loved boating life and can’t wait for year two!

new waterwatch initiative

new waterwatch safety and surveillance initiative

the initiative

  1. The WaterWatch Safety and Surveillance Initiative is committed to promoting the aims of the RNLI’s Respect the Water campaign to reduce the number of fatalities resulting from drowning on the coastal and inland waterways of the UK by utilising the experience of members of the Merchant Navy Association (MNA) Boat Club and other organisations with whom we have a partnership, such as the Norfolk & Suffolk Boating Association (NSBA) who promote WaterWatch on The Broads.
  2. Members of the MNA Boat Club and partner associations who volunteer to participate in WaterWatch, known as WaterWatch Crew Members, have an interest in, and a concern for, the safety of the increasing number of recreational boaters and other waterways users on and around our rivers, canals, lakes, Broads, coastal waters, harbours and marinas.
  3. WaterWatch Crew Members are experienced boaters and skilled observers who can be relied upon to spot potential incidents and hazards and respond  with detailed information about the nature of  the incident when reporting  to HM Coastguard, to the appropriate inland waterways authority or other emergency services.
  4. WaterWatch Crew Members will inevitably come across incidents where immediate assistance is required before reporting the incident. In such circumstances members should always ensure that any action they take does not put themselves or any member of their crew in jeopardy.
  5. In most circumstances, having reported an incident to the appropriate authority, WaterWatch Crew Members will need to stand-by ready to assist the co-ordinating authority according to need. For example by maintaining a visual watch over the site of the incident, providing on-going  situation reports, liaising between the co-ordinating authority and the rescue services, relaying messages and, where appropriate, by taking photographs..
  6. By participating in WaterWatch members will not only help to promote the RNLI’s Respect the Water campaign but also have the opportunity to develop and maintain good relationships with local stakeholders such as boatyards, marinas, the local navigational authority and local emergency services.
  7. WaterWatch volunteers will be part of a motivated and enthusiastic team having the opportunity and satisfaction of putting their boating experience and expertise to good use by helping to enhance  safety on and around their local waters (perhaps even to the extent of helping to save a life), whilst protecting the boating environment and promoting responsible boating behaviour.

The MNA Boat Club is a member of the National Water Safety Forum.

members' checklist

Spot significant sightings of:

  • People or craft in difficulty likely to require urgent assistance
  • Unexpected hazards
  • Dangerous or suspicious behaviour
  • Behaviour threatening the boating environment (e.g. speeding & making a large wash)

Respond

If the incident appears to be life threatening requiring immediate action (such as pulling someone out of the water)  WaterWatch Crew Members should of course render such assistance as they can manage without putting their own safety or that of their crew in jeopardy at any stage.

Report

  • If the incident appears to be life threatening, requiring the assistance of the emergency services, WaterWatch Crew Members should contact the appropriate  emergency service, such as HM Coastguard, by calling 999
  • If the incident appears to be a criminal act in progress call 999 for the police
  • For other significant Incidents contact the appropriate authority such as HM Coastguard or Local Navigational Authority direct
  • In all cases Indicate:
    • type of incident
    • time of Incident
    • precise location (GPS co-ordinate if possible)
    • number of persons involved, including children and animals
    • other pertinent information (e.g. persons wearing lifejackets)
    • type of assistance required

Stand-By to further Respond if required

WaterWatch team members should:

  • provide their name and contact details and advise the authorities of their activity as a member of the WaterWatch scheme before offering to assist by standing by at the scene (or elsewhere as directed)
  • be prepared to provide a visual and/or listening watch and to monitor the situation and assist with liaison, relaying messages, providing up-dated situation reports (SITREPS) or other assistance as required.
  • At no time should WaterWatch members put at risk their own lives or the lives of their crew

Record

WaterWatch team members should use the digital Incident Report form to submit a brief summary of the incident as quickly as possible after the incident has been terminated by the relevant authority, with a view to possibly being asked for a more detailed report at a later stage.

typical types of incidents responded to by members of the waterwatch crew

People (none wearing lifejackets) pulled from the water after falling off vessels on the Broads; in one case the vessel concerned had steamed away oblivious to the fact that they had a crew member missing!

Use of ladder fixed to the transom of our WaterWatch crew member's boat to recover another vulnerable person from the water before calling an ambulance

Standing by to assist broken-down craft,  and escorting hire craft holed in a collision to the appropriate boat hire operator's base.

Alerting police and coastguards to incident involving theft of an expensive electric launch, subsequently recovered undamaged and miscreant arrested.

Use of boarding ladder to recover an elderly yachtsman who fell of the deck of his yacht into the river whilst hoisting sail.

Reporting to waterway authority several incidents of hire vessels speeding and/or helming without due care and attention, causing a danger to other craft.

Towing grounded craft into deeper water to re-float.

Standing by to assist Broads Authority Ranger’s launch to recover grounded hire cruiser .

a strange day on the wey

a strange day on the wey

...a tale of detective work

When I left school at sixteen I didn’t have a lot by way of exams to speak of, so I went off to Kingston College of Further Education to get some more.   With good marks in my City and Guilds electronics I set about working for a local company that made already obsolete equipment.   I got bored and decided that there had to be something else out there.  One afternoon, one of the guys at work spotted some of my doodles and suggested I could do evening classes in art.   That was it!   I’d be an artist so, armed with another couple of O levels from evening classes, I applied to Epsom school of Art and Design.  To my surprise, I got in!   This was all way back in 1977, when I lived at home and went on family holidays with my parents (like you do).

I hadn’t a clue that this was going to be one of the last holidays on the 26 ft Springer that dad had fitted out some years earlier.   Waking up on a Wednesday morning, with average weather for the time of year, it seemed that nothing out of the ordinary was going on as we looked over the scenery near Worsfold Gates on the river Wey.   Apart from there being a faster current than usual, all was well.   During breakfast I decided to turn the radio on for a bit of music, only to hear that crowds had gathered outside some unspecified mansion and that the news reporter was broadcasting live.

“He was such a beautiful and wonderful person,” one onlooker said tearfully

“How will we ever live without him,” another cried.

OK, so something big had happened but nobody said where the mansion was or who it was that had departed this world there.   The accents of those speaking were clearly American but they could have been there or in this country or basically tourists anywhere in the world where a mansion had been built.   We carried on listening but the only information we got was that they would go back to the live broadcast sometime in the next hour.   We were told the weather for the day, which we’d more or less guessed, but still not where or whom the news broadcast was about.

After a spot of watching the swans swimming to stand still in the current, I decided that it may be an idea to walk into the village and get a paper or at least ask someone.   Whilst I was contemplating, a man from what looked like a live-aboard lifeboat conversion asked idly if we knew what was going on with the news.   With this conversation overheard by another boat owner who was just as clueless as the rest, I decided it was time to make a move.

“I’d go to the village but I’m waiting in for someone,” the live-aboard owner said.   “But you can borrow my bike if you don’t mind getting me a tin of tobacco when you’re there.”

With money given for the tobacco, a couple of other orders written on a sheet of paper, I got directions to the village and set off on the borrowed rusty green Raleigh bicycle.   It was pleasant riding along the route dictated to me, as the bleb in the tyre thumped the brake block with each revolution of the wheel, and I was beginning to wonder whether the thing would stay inflated when I arrived at the post office in Send village.   Leaning the cycle carefully against the wall I bought the tobacco, some bread and other groceries and then asked for a paper that may tell me what the hell was going on.

“Nothing in the morning edition,” the lady behind the counter smiled.   “I’ve been wondering but, if you wait a few minutes the late issue is due.   You can have one of them.”

With nothing much to do, I decided that a 20 minute wait was fine, and settled to looking through stationery and other bits and bobs.   Whilst there I bought a small balsa model plane kit with the thought of building it during the holiday.   It was a simple thing, powered by a rubber band and endorsed by the BBC.   Their approval wasn’t really worth the ink used to print it as the device was really flimsy, making it unusable in anything but still air.   With the purchase made, the papers arrived and I stuffed one into the handlebar basket of the Raleigh before heading off back to the boat to the accompaniment of the thump, thump, thump of the bleb.

“Did you find out?” I was asked on my return.

“No, I just got the paper and came back before I forgot which way to go,” I replied.

Finally the truth came out.   The person in the news was none other than Elvis Presley himself, who had passed away the previous afternoon in Memphis.  The swans didn’t seem bothered and there was no crazed outpouring of grief in the meadow.   In the next chart show, the song, “Way Down” ceased its slow descent and shot to number one where it remained until after I’d enrolled at art school.

None of this has much to do with the River Wey and its general quirkiness as a navigation, but it is one of those moments that sticks in my mind, partly because of the location but also because of the event and the fact that, for most of a morning, nobody in that meadow had a clue what this big news event was.

All of these memories, like so many more have filtered their way through to my writings.   My foundation year and first days at Sunderland Polytechnic are now shared by May Farmer in “Maze Days,” but as yet, the incident with Elvis has not percolated.  It happened though, and I remember it as well as I remember spending hours rigging that model plane with cotton until it could fly in a hurricane.   ©2021 Michael Nye

help transform canals into your concrete doorstep

help transform canals into your concrete doorstep

a festive appeal from the banal and dither trust

Banal and Dither Trust

‘Making life better by South Shields’

Dear Reader,

Canals have always been magical places to me, and I hope they are somewhere you find peace and relaxation too, only disturbed by the noise of canal boats tearing past at three miles an hour: smoke (now outlawed) spewing from their chimneys and diesel exhaust (shortly to be illegal).  Yet with many miles of our waterways still in urgent need of revival, your festive gift today can help bring them back to life (who killed them you ask).  Let me add this urgent need is not caused by lack of sustained maintenance but by their constant use by boaters.  By-washes causing bank breaches, weight of boats causing culverts to collapse and heavy use of locks resulting in them deteriorating.

Where canals look run down and uncared for, it’s my job to help convince you that this is the fault of boat owners who insist on using the waterways.  We can transform them into special places filled with concrete which will help create new walking or cycling routes, bringing green space and nature back into our towns and cities, along with creating concrete jobs.  I can assure you that none of the money you donate will go to the upkeep of the canals and navigable waterways, not one penny will be wasted on making it easier to cruise the waterways.

From Bristol to Birmingham, Kendal to Little Venice, together we can make canals concrete, shimmering and better (no boats).

We believe no other UK charity (Banal and Dither Trust) brings so much blue and green strife to the people whose lifestyle it is meant to preserve for future generations. We’re here not to improve canals, but to destroy the quality of life of people who live on the water and bring relief to those who live beside them.

Over 4 miles of canals already have a ‘Devid Scowcrovich Concrete Flag’ award, recognising the healthy, nature-friendly space they provide by means of getting rid of the water and replacing it with concrete. With your support, we could create even more.

£25 could help buy a bag of concrete

paddle boarders on canal

£35 could make our towpaths bloom with wildflowers and buzz with bees undisturbed by mooring boats.

canal basin at night

£50 could help upgrade urban towpaths for walkers, fast runners and speeding cyclists, plus motorbikes and electric scooters #Hurrah for Speed.

working canal boat

Devid Scowcrovich

Chief Mickey Taking Officer

devid scowcrovich

coping with extreme weather

coping with extreme weather

With the UK’s weather patterns becoming increasingly unpredictable, River Canal Rescue is advising owners how to manage their boats during extreme weather scenarios.

The emergency assistance and breakdown firm says the key to dealing with any situation is timing and balancing health and safety.

Managing director, Stephanie Horton, says: “In order to stop a vessel drifting onto land when water levels rise, position a scaffold pole or poles, or a boarding plank, between the boat and the river/canal side edge and fix it into position.  This acts as a mooring post, preventing flood waters from floating the boat onto land.

“Alternatively use the engine to keep the vessel in position, so when the water rises, the power of the boat keeps it in deeper water. However be mindful that as the propeller is at its lowest point, it can easily be damaged if the boat does drift. These options are not advisable other than in emergencies and if you have the opportunity, moor in a lock as it provides some protection from flood waters.

partially sunken narrowboat on river avon

“If the boat has drifted, it’s all about timing; when the water levels start to go down, try to push the boat back into the water or off the land before they drop too far. But be cautious as this can be dangerous, particularly if you’re unable to see under the water.

“River Canal Rescue usually dispatches two engineers in dry suits to undertake this manoeuvre because although it sounds and looks easy, knowing the best way to re-launch a boat and where to push depends on the severity of the grounding, depth of the water, its flow and accessibility.

“To reduce winter damage to boats, get into a routine of visiting your vessel regularly and check the batteries are fully charged. With a bilge pump in continuous operation even a fully charged battery will only last a few days.

“Check the bilge pumps are fully operational and left on ‘automatic’ setting.  If there’s no bilge pump or only a manual one, install an automatic bilge pump. It needs reviewing because it relies on battery power, so unless the boat’s shore powered, there isn’t an unlimited supply.

“Ensure drain holes are clear of debris - keeping these clear will stop water running into the engine room, and secure canopies to prevent rips developing and water getting into the boat.

“Also check ropes and anchoring points, if the mooring’s at risk of flooding, run a rope to locations that can still be accessed even in a flood situation and ensure other ropes are loose enough to deal with the potential scenario of the pontoon going under.

“In windy conditions, check ropes for chafing and ensure they’re well positioned and adjusted to the conditions, and before moving a boat in ice, consider the importance of your journey. It’s easy to believe you’re impregnable when surrounded by steel but even a couple of inches of ice can pierce a hull.

Widebeam boat in deep mud on river Avon

“Check river/canal conditions, and again consider whether the journey is really necessary; they can change quickly and easily catch you unaware. Get updates from the Environment Agency. Never head out when a river is in red flag.

“And be aware of the wind direction before manoeuvring. When coupled with difficult river conditions, the windage of a boat can be easily underestimated and your vessel will become uncontrollable.

“If a vessel is caught in a situation, do not attempt a recovery without assistance. Severe weather conditions increase the risk to boat owners and simple tasks can easily result in accidents and injury.

“Finally, check your insurance policy. As insurance companies try to minimise their exposure, an increasing number of third-party only policies exclude salvage and wreck removal - one of the biggest risks to boats.”

In October last year, the UK faced severe downpours and over the last weekend of the month there were 90 flood warnings and 120 flood alerts in place, putting huge pressure on boaters who were faced with suddenly rising and falling water levels.

You can find RCR on Facebook, visit their website, call 01785 785680 or email

the joy of instagram

the joy of instagram

a gourmet guide for the eyes

Love it or hate it, there can be no denying that Instagram is a potentially fascinating platform, filled with zillions of little windows into the lives of those who tell their stories in pictures.

For canal-loving Insta fans, there are some bright shiny gems to be unearthed within this vast mountain of imagery - photographers who have that jaw-dropping and unfathomable ability to captivate, pull you in and take you on a spectacular journey along our waterways as seen through their eyes. Whether amateur or professional, they all have that ‘special something’ which makes their images an absolute delight and a privilege to stumble upon.

Stumble no further! Below are some leads to a few such accounts - guaranteed to sprinkle a little magic on your Insta feed and leave you wanting more.

Enjoy!

account name: mrscloudinspector

If nature and serenity float your boat (and whose boat don’t they float?), then come on over - you won’t be disappointed. This is a lady who understands good composition and how to capture and balance beautiful content. Weave in her appreciation of light and shape and the result is a smorgasbord of wonderfully dreamy ‘other-worldly’ images; delicate yet striking at the same time.

“Hi, I’m Megan and, along with my husband, I’ve been a narrowboat dweller for almost a decade, which is slightly less time than I’ve been on Instagram! I’ve always loved to take photos: years ago I would make holiday scrapbooks with printed photos and mementos, collages of trips and adventures, montages in frames and albums.

"The thing I love most about boat life is being so connected to nature. You can step off the boat and instantly be surrounded by nature. But not only that, you are immersed in it. When the wind blows, you feel the sway of the boat, hear the lash of rain on the windows, see the sun reflecting off the water and watch shining ripples of dancing light on the ceiling. An electric blue kingfisher darts past the side hatch; you watch a heron catch and eat a fish; the coots build a nest in the reeds opposite and raise three hungry chicks.

"There is something soothing about being on the water. It is no surprise that there is an upsurge in studies into what has been dubbed the ‘blue gym’. The fact that a pioneering doctor has prescribed walks along the canal in addition to medication in the treatment of mental illnesses and that the relationship between aquatic environments and health is now being researched, is testament to the healing power of nature. It certainly works for me.”  Megan (@mrscloudinspector)

instagram mrscloudinspector

instagram mrscloudinspector

Instagram mrscloudinspector

instagram mrscloudinspector

Instagram mrscloudinspector

instagram mrscloudinspector

account name: anuneasyparadise

Atmospheric, poignant, haunting. The imagery and stories to be found here touch something in the soul. Looking for a unique Christmas gift for a special someone - or maybe a little gift for your special self? Check out the book behind the account here

“We moved onto our narrowboat in 2012 after a decade of travel in Asia, and as much as we wanted a home we also wanted a way to explore this country that had become so unfamiliar to us. Which we did indeed do. We never imagined that nine years later we’d still be living on the boat as a family of four.

"Photography has always been part of our lives, chronicling the everyday and simplicity of life around us. Out of this a story evolved, captured on countless rolls of film, of the community on the Kennet and Avon Canal. But it was always intended to be more than just fragments of an unusual lifestyle, We hoped that it could be a voice for a group of people, of whom we are a part, whose place on the waterways is becoming more uncertain as the rules by which they are governed evolve.” Sebastien and Louise (@anuneasyparadise)

instagram anuneasyparadise

instagram anuneasyparadise

instagram anuneasyparadise

instagram anuneasyparadise

instagram anuneasyparadise

instagram - anuneasyparadise

account name: shinnysin

An enchanting and delightful romp of an account, documenting life on the canals as and when it happens. Be warned: the interior shots are likely to provoke a severe case of boat envy deep in the hearts of the romantically-inclined. Where are you taking us next in your beautiful boat, Sinead? We’re loving finding out! Sinead also has an Etsy shop, where she sells crochet patterns, notions and finished items. Check it out here

“I am now in my 7th year as a continuous cruiser and I can honestly say it's the most magical life I could have ever dreamed of. I could focus on the hard parts, and there are many! But the precious moments far outweigh the bad. Falling asleep listening to the owls, misty mornings, coffee by the wood burner and a new adventure every move-day with new places to explore, is my idea of heaven. I love that narrowboat life brings you closer to nature with everything revolving around the seasons, Even rainy days are a pleasure when you're cosy inside.

"My wooden home is constructed mainly from pallet wood, scaffolding planks and a lot of recycled stuff! Originally a Barney boat built at Braunston, we had to rebuild the whole top wooden cabin and replace absolutely everything apart from the hull and engine. It still has the original 47 year old Sabb twin pot diesel engine which runs like a dream. It has a beautiful sound, chugging along. After a lockdown winter in snowy Llangollen and this coming winter on the beautiful sandstone Staffs and Worcester, I think a summer on the Thames is the next plan.” Sinead (@shinnysin)

instagram shinnysin

instagram shinnysin

instagram shinnysin

instagram shinnysin

instagram shinnysin

instagram shinnysin

account name: srcnikon

Photography to really make you gasp in wonder. Steve Cole's subject matter goes way beyond our waterways, but we can forgive him because every shot is just so stunning. His  astonishing image of Sawley Cut, titled 'Cool Power' (first image below left) was commended in the UK Landscape Photographer of the Year 2020 competition and has been viewed a staggering 13million times on social media sites.

You can also find Steve’s photographs on Flickr  or follow him on Facebook.

“I have been enjoying photography as a keen amateur for around 10yrs now and will often be out very early in the morning or out late in the evening capturing the wonderful colours and light of both sunrise and sunset.

"I live in Long Eaton, Derbyshire and I am literally spoilt for choice when it comes to waterways; the river Trent and Soar, Trent and Mersey canal and Erewash canal, plus other river diversion cuts are within a short walk and give me endless potential throughout the year. A big percentage of my landscape images will include these stretches of water.” Steve Cole (@srcnikon)

instagram srcnikon

instagram srcnikon

instagram srcnikon

instagram srcnikon

instagram srcnikon

instagram srcnikon

Copyright Notice: All images shown here are the property of the Instagram account holders who kindly granted consent for their inclusion within this article. They are strictly not to be reproduced elsewhere without the relevant account holder's prior written permission. All rights reserved.