Boaters' Update 21 Sep 2018

Welcome to the latest edition. Even though it's starting to feel more autumnal, I'm hoping you're still managing to get out on the cut. Before you do this weekend though, you may want to spare five minutes to read, and watch, Boaters' Update. You'll find a couple of videos about the effects of the hot and dry summer, the latest news, stoppages for this weekend along with some events you might like to attend and an article chronicling a day in the life of a volunteer lock keeper. Enjoy!

Historic narrowboats Nuneaton and Brighton carrying coal Historic boats Nuneaton & Brighton on the Trent & Mersey canal

Welcome! This week has definitely felt autumnal and, perhaps ironically, the National Drought Group met to review the state of the country’s water resources. It noted that despite recent rainfall and cooler weather, a significant number of reservoirs in the area around Manchester, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent are very low.

With that in mind we start this edition with a video from group hydrology manager, Adam Comerford, explaining what effect the exceptionally dry weather has had (and why we need rain in the right place). Along with that you can read what waterways are still affected by the lack of rain and hear how we’re trying to make the most of the restrictions by carrying out repairs now that would otherwise normally wait until winter.

Elsewhere you can read what it’s like to be a volunteer lock keeper, as well as the regular roundup of other boating news, stoppages and events. If there’s a particular topic you’d like to see in a future edition then please drop me a line.

Happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up and the fortnight ahead         

Over the last couple of weeks you may have heard, or seen, that:

Below I’ve picked out some highlights, not including our Annual Meeting which I’ll report on in the next edition, to see and do over the next fortnight. Of course, there are plenty of other activities and volunteering opportunities around the network: visit the events section of the website to find the perfect one for you.

  • 22 Sep – 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Sheffield to Tinsley Canal, and you're invited to celebrate with us at the Sheffield Waterfront Festival.
  • 15 Sep to 15 Dec – If bird watching is your thing, then why not try a free Birding for Beginners course at Fradley Junction?
  • 22 Sep – If not birding then why not fishing? Our Level 2 professional angling coaches will show you the ropes - or at least the rods, baits and nets. It's a fun family day by the water at Kingstanding.
  • 28 to 30 Sep – Considered among the most powerful and influential works of world literature and with a story capable of seemingly endless exploration, research, retelling and adaptation, Hamlet is believed to have been one of Shakespeare’s most popular works during his lifetime and still ranks among his most performed across the globe. Catch the Boaty Theatre Company’s version at the National Waterways Museum Ellesmere Port.

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Let it rain

I never thought I’d find myself wishing for rain but I have been, and while we’ve all had some, sadly not all sections of canal have had nearly enough or responded to it in the same way. We have been able to relax some restrictions but soil moisture deficits are so low that in many places, even when we’ve had rainfall, the water is being soaked up like a sponge and not making its way into feeders and reservoirs.

As group hydrology manager, Adam Comerford, explains in the video below, we need the rain to fall directly into the reservoir catchments to make a difference and that’s why parts of the country are taking slightly longer to respond – even though you may have had to dig out the raincoat over the last month.

Earlier this week some welcome heavy rain swept across the north - it’s too early to say what impact it will have on reservoir holdings so, until we know, restrictions remain in place on the following navigations (visit the stoppages section of our website for more detail):

  • Ribble Link
  • Peak Forest Canal
  • Caldon Canal
  • Leeds & Liverpool Canal
  • Rochdale Canal
  • Macclesfield Canal
  • Huddersfield Narrow Canal
  • Lancaster Canal
  • Oxford Canal

With, hopefully, normal amounts of the wet stuff falling over the coming months we’ll continue to be able to keep relaxing current restrictions. And while the situation is undoubtedly better than it was just a few weeks ago the weather forecasts are, as always, uncertain. This makes giving any concrete predictions on when further sections of canal might reopen difficult, but you’ll definitely hear about it here as soon as we can.

For the final, upbeat, word here’s Adam again…

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A day in the life of a volunteer lock keeper

Going through a set of locks is part and parcel of boating. Some relish it while others less so. The latter definitely appreciate the cheery smile and ‘Can I help you through?’ that you get at a lock manned by a volunteer lock keeper. If you’re more of the former, then you might consider becoming one yourself. This article, describing a day in the life of volunteer lockie Colin Hayward, may help you decide…:

Below: Caldon Canal at Consall with steam train

Caldon Canal at Consall with steam train‘I have been a voluntary lock keeper at Etruria Junction, where the Trent & Mersey (T&M) and Caldon canals meet, for five seasons. During this time I have met and helped hundreds of boaters, holidaymakers, canal enthusiasts and towpath pedestrians and cyclists enjoy what our wonderful waterways have to offer. 

‘I have teamed up with many equally enthusiastic colleagues and between us we pass on our knowledge of the local area. We usually arrive for a shift around 9.30am and meet with our Trust task manager, Simon Martin, for a briefing on water levels, lock maintenance and temporary closures/stoppages etc.

‘This means that we go on duty well informed of any issues that will affect boaters or other towpath users.  With life jackets donned and throw line at hand we usually head for Summit Lock number 40, if two of us are on duty, on the T&M. If more are present we also cover Lock 39 or Bedford Street staircase on the Caldon Canal where applicable. 

‘As Lock 40 is the third deepest narrow lock in the country it requires patience, strength and careful handling!  Boaters are usually very appreciative when we ask if they would like a hand. The paddles can be particularly troublesome for the inexperienced. 

‘Service with a smile and a “Welcome to Stoke” attitude loosens the tongues of many a boating crew and we have enlightening conversations with people from as far away as New Zealand, Japan, United States, Holland and Germany. Our imagery of the local area is useful to them as they cruise around; “How far is Stone?”, “Where can I get water?”, “Where is a sanitary and rubbish point?” and “ Where are the nearest shops, pubs etc.?“ are regular questions.

Below: Froghall, Caldon Canal

Froghall‘While boaters are our primary customers, this information is also sometimes useful to other towpath users visiting the area. For boaters though, we can help with mooring information, walking distances, tunnel times, local attractions and any stoppages. On an average shift we’ll help about 20 boats so there are plenty of people looking for help which we’re happy to give.

“As previously mentioned we also cover the twin staircase lock at Bedford Street on the Caldon with a 20 feet lift. Even this can be a daunting sight if not previously navigated but, as with any lock manned by a volunteer we’re there to help, not hinder!

‘Just last year we had an incident when there was an emergency stoppage above the lock. Simon asked us to man the lock so we could inform boaters what was happening, this meant the draining of the pound up to the next lock, and once refilled safely assisting boats with passage through the staircase. It’s just one example of when we’ve really felt as though we’ve been able to make a real difference to a boater’s cruise.

‘After a day lock keeping we’ll feedback any useful information from boaters and the public to the Task Manager. I usually feel enriched by the day’s events after meeting the lovely people who are enjoying our network. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough - voluntary lock keeping is a fantastic and tremendously rewarding occupation.’

Feeling inspired? Want to make your life better by water? Find out more on the dedicated webpages.

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Get involved

Many boaters go the extra mile in helping to keep canals and rivers in good condition by volunteering or donating. As you’re such an integral part of what makes waterways so wonderful I thought you’d like to know about other ways you can get involved:

  • There’s still time to give your views on the BSS consultation regarding the mandatory inclusion of Carbon Monoxide detectors in the Boat Safety Scheme certification.
  • Would you like to meet new people, enjoy the changing seasons from the towpath as well as the tiller and make a difference to your local canal? If so, our volunteer Towpath Taskforce teams could be just the thing you're looking for.
  • Air Quality continues to be in the news and the Government is now consulting on the first of a round of potential changes to legislation. This one is about phasing out the sale of more polluting domestic coals and non-kiln dried wood (note it will not be banning the burning of “wet” wood although this generates substantially more smoke and particulates than kiln-dried). and so reduce pollution from domestic burning (accounting for 38% emitted particulate matter in the UK). We are talking to trade customers about the impacts of this for our response and also looking at longer-term options for improving the supply of dried wood on our waterways as we recognise that it will be near impossible to meet the Forestry Commission guidance on wood drying from a boat. We’d also like to hear from you about what impact you think the Government’s proposals would have.

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Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising this weekend

As someone who’s out, or by, the water more often than most you’ll know that there are times when we need to fix things that unexpectedly break. Or when it doesn’t rain as much as usual. So, below, you’ll find a list of anything that’s happening that may seriously affect you if you’re planning on a cruise this weekend.

When any restrictions to navigation happen, we get them up on to our website as soon as we can – always best to have a scan before you set off for a cruise. If you have any questions about a specific closure then you’ll find the email addresses for our regional offices on our contacts page.

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Bits and bobs

  • Don’t forget that, in less than two weeks, winter mooring permits go on sale at 6am on Wednesday 3 October on a first come, first served basis via our web licensing site. For those without an account on our web licensing site, but who are a current licence-holder, please make sure you select an option to register under ‘I am an existing Canal & River Trust customer’. If you have any questions about our winter moorings please call customer services on 0303 040 4040 or drop us a line.

Last date edited: 21 September 2018

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The boaters' update

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