Boaters' Update 10 Sep 2021

Welcome to the latest edition where you can find out about a whole range of work that we've been doing in the Midlands (along with who's been doing some of it!). Elsewhere read about cruising past moored boats, winter moorings and a request for your favourite summer boating memory (among others!).

Boats moored on towpath Boats in Leicester

Welcome! In this latest, and bumper, edition you’ll get a taste of what we’ve being doing for boaters in the East Midlands and hear from one of the team responsible for maintenance in the West Midlands.

As you probably know from your time on the cut, it’s been a busy summer out on the water so, while the memories are fresh, we’d like to hear about your waterway favourites. Then read on to hear one boater’s views on cruising past moored boats. Finally, and it’ll be here before you know it, we turn our attention to winter and, more specifically, our plans for winter moorings.

The ‘bits & bobs’ section includes some useful reminders about lock landings and a call for boating buddies in London.

As always, a round-up of news and stoppages can also be found below.

Stay safe, happy boating,

Damian

PS Ever wondered how we manage our precious water resources? If so David Johns (Cruising the Cut) has produced a video, explaining how water moves around the network and is a must-see even if you only have a passing interest!

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Making a difference in the Midlands part one – our work in the East Midlands

Regular readers over the last few months will have seen that we’ve been reporting on the day-to-day works taking place around the network to look after your waterways. Replacing lock gates, rebuilding bridges and piling huge lengths canals to name just a few.

Whilst most of the money invested is to keep the water in and to ensure navigation, you’ll also spend time moored up and maybe journeying down the towpath for a bite to eat in your new waterside ‘local’. So, in this article focussing on the East Midlands, we’ll update you on some of the other things we get up to that make a positive difference to your time on or by the cut.

But first, dredging. In the financial year up to 31 Mar 2020, we spent over £8 million on dredging. A bit like the now defunct cliché about the never-ending task of painting the Forth Bridge, dredging is something that we’ll never complete. 

Dredging at Lime Kiln LockTypifying this is the canal around Lime Kiln Lock in Leicester. Every couple of years we dredge this section (costing around £100,000 each time), to remove sediment brought in from Willow Brook. This often also includes a lot of litter so it’s important that we continue to work with local groups, our own Leicester Towpath Taskforce and the City Council to help deal with litter issues. As an aside, with the warm conditions, dredging can cause problems for fish so the team had to monitor oxygen levels in the water and have aerators on standby should they be needed. 

Some objects which get into the canal are a draw for ‘magnet-fishers’ too (not permitted). Apart from the inconvenience to boaters and towpath users with piles of rusting and sharp metal often left on the towpath, in the last 18 months bomb disposal teams have been called out 20 times in Leicester to deal with guns and grenades pulled from the water. We’ve met with the City Council to discuss ways to discourage this activity and we’re looking at new signage warning of the dangers from magnet fishing.

Floating reed bed Erewash CanalAlthough we might have planned to work on a particular stretch of towpath, lock or bridge we sometimes have to adapt to attend to more pressing needs. Just last month Steve Johns, a local operative, was out with the Erewash Canal Towpath Taskforce volunteers and they were scheduled to be painting Pastures Lock. However, walking to the Lock they came across a floating bed of reeds that was  blocking the navigation. Needless to say, having considered the task and how to undertake it safely, almost three hours later the reeds had been removed saving boaters, and the local team, an enormous headache. The removed reeds were all put into hedge bottoms for nature to take its course. 

If you’ve been on the River Witham this summer you’ll know it’s been weeds, not reeds, that we’ve been battling with. Annually we invest around £80,000 managing weed on the river but this year, in recognition of the issues boaters and others that use the river are Weeds on the Withamhaving, we’re going even further to tackle the problem. We’ve added an extra weed boat and have also been using Boston Lock to help flush the weed along the river each day and have even added 3,000 weed munching weevils to tackle the non-native Azolla water fern. 

As we don’t have responsibility for the whole river we’ve also been speaking to the Environment Agency to use their sluices as a means of flushing the weed out to sea and prevent it backing up and clogging the river. We’re doing everything we can to improve the situation and we’re grateful for boater’s understanding and patience while we deal with the problem.

As mentioned in the introduction, mooring-up is just as vital as being able to navigate a canal and, although not as glamourous as swinging a two-tonne lock gate through the air before installing it, we spend a Visitor pontoon at Trent Locklot of time and money maintaining and improving mooring sites.

In the East Midlands this has meant the South Derbyshire and Erewash volunteer Task Forces working brilliantly together on the refurbishment of the visitor pontoon at Trent Lock. The old timber surface on the pontoon had become very tired. The project, which also included repainting the handrails, was completed in just over a week with 200 volunteer hours put in. The anti-slip surface is not only very safe but will save time in future maintenance. Everyone involved commented on how much they had enjoyed the project and if the picture above right makes your eyes go funny – don’t worry it did the same for the volunteers working on it!

Mooring steps River TrentAnother example underscoring the value of volunteers will be experienced if you moor up on the River Trent. Students from Nottingham Trent University made a very visible difference by clearing the low side mooring steps of silt, weeds and overhanging branches. They also revitalised two shrub beds and breathed new life into the area. 

While it’s not always appropriate to have an all-weather finish to every towpath, we will, along with volunteers and partners, always be looking to for ways to improve them. Don’t be fooled though, even upgrading small sections for boaters and others to use can involve large volumes of materials. Take the programme at Cossington on the River Soar that volunteers have worked on (photo below right). Initial efforts focussed on clearing vegetation as well as repairing and painting handrails and picking litter. The upgrade to a section of towpath that suffered badly over the very wet winter months, when some of the time it was under water, involves levelling, stabilising and Cossington towpath River Soarresurfacing approximately 150 metres of towpath using more than ten tonnes of stone. 

As you may have seen in the last edition, we’ve now finalised our plans for the winter stoppage programme and, in the East Midlands, there’ll be lots going on from replacing lock gates at the likes of Newark Old Lock on the River Trent and Cosgrove Lock on the Grand Union Canal through to bridge works on the Ashby Canal and lock landing refurbishments on the Erewash Canal.

In the meantime we’re in the early stages of planning another East Midlands Boaters Conference, hopefully for the spring and, fingers crossed, face to face. Details will be published once confirmed.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Making a difference in the Midlands part two – putting names to jobs

Over the past several Boaters Updates, and above, you’ll have seen that there continues to be a huge amount of work going on around the network. While there may have been the odd work boat or hard-hatted figure in some of the photos you haven’t really gotten to know who’s doing the work.

Aaron AtwalThis article, the first in a series, turns the focus on to those who are out on the cut day-in, day-out, keeping navigations open. Step forward Aaron Atwal, an area operations manager in the West Midlands. I asked Aaron some questions to get an idea of what he does:

What is it you do at the Trust?

I look after a team of eight waterways operatives and have an operations team leader and volunteer team leader who support me with the operational running and maintenance of the canals. I plan, manage and support the day-to-day activity boaters will see out on the cut. This means managing water levels on my patch as well as doing a wide range of maintenance to keep the waterways, and our operational buildings, running smoothly for all to enjoy.

West Midlands Police cadetsIt's not just through our own people=power we do this though. We also actively seek external partnerships with other large organisations so we can do more. An example would be the recently launched partnership with West Midlands Police cadets. Supported by the Wolverhampton mayor, this partnership with the cadets has enabled us to launch a canal watch scheme as well as helping us keep our waterways and towpaths tidy.

I also manage the Kickstart Scheme which is funded by the Government and launched in Walsall in partnership with us and is a great example of working, and engaging, with the local community to encourage more use of the waterways. As well as this, our local team, along with those involved in the Kickstart Scheme and local volunteers, are also in the middle of working towards a Green Flag award.

Have you always worked around waterways?

I’ve been at the Trust for over two years now and before that I was a manager at a supermarket. In reality though I’ve been on and around canals since a very young age – I can even remember my first boat trip, aged four, on the Stratford upon Avon Canal! I’m lucky that now I get to be on the water as part of my job, whether that be as part of engaging with an external stakeholder or on one of our workboats – either way I’m happy!

What’s the best part of your role?

The day-to-day pace and variety is amazing but more than that, I also really enjoy how, through shared appreciation, waterways empower us to build strong relationships with boaters, the local community, local councils and MP’s and local businesses and our partner organisations.

What are the main challenges you face?

Clearing fly tippings West MidsWe are slap bang in the middle of towns and cities and, as in any urban environment, you get the same type of issues. Anti-social behaviour, vandalism, graffiti and fly-tipping are things we unnecessarily spend time dealing with. As the pandemic has worn on we’ve especially noticed an increase in vandalism and fly-tipping. One of the biggest challenges of my role is trying to educate the local towpath users and community on why it’s so important we maintain and treat these historic waterways with the care and attention they deserve.

How do volunteers help with these challenges?

Towpath gardening West MidsWe’re blessed to have an eclectic, and enthusiastic, bunch of volunteers – some are long time boaters and trained helmsman while others have no previous experience of the waterways. While they do an enormous amount of work in helping clear fly-tipped and general rubbish they do so much more. Sometimes they’ll be painting lock beams or planting bulbs and other times they might be helping us run an activity or doing some vegetation management.

What can boaters do to help?

Boaters are our eyes and ears out on the cut and we really appreciate the information they give us that enables us to resolve an issue before it becomes something bigger (and more costly!) to fix. We also appreciate their patience – my small team looks after 70 miles of busy canal and, as boaters know, the waterways, or weather, can throw us curve balls which means we may have to dedicate more time to one patch than we ordinarily would so it’s not that we don’t care about the other parts in our care it’s just that circumstance has guided us elsewhere!

And finally, in your own words, what do you see as the benefits of the waterway network?

This is a great question. I certainly think mental wellbeing has got to be number one. The natural wildlife, combined with being steeped in history, already benefit regular boaters and towpath users and throughout the pandemic more came to appreciate just how good it can make you feel.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

What’s been your summer boating sensation?

This time last year we were just coming to the end of a disjointed summer that had us all watching the pandemic unfold. A few lockdowns later, a vaccine, and while we’re not out of the woods many of us have been able to largely enjoy a summer uninterrupted by covid.

Foxton Locks in the sunshineAs previous editions have mentioned, the stats show that boating has been booming. The latest figures, covering August, show that lock usage is up over 10% on last year and also surpasses the two previous pre-pandemic years (up nearly a third compared to 2018!).

With so many of you getting out on the cut I thought now would be a good time to, erm, reflect on your good times! I’d really like you to drop me a line and answer the few questions below. Then, in a future edition, I’ll share your thoughts and advice so that your fellow boater can start making plans for the next half term (or even plan a mega cruise for next year!):

  • Which canal or river did you most enjoy boating on this summer and why?
  • Which was your favourite mooring spot and why?
  • Which was your favourite destination and why?

Simply click here to send me an email, copy the questions above, and paste the questions and fill in your answers. Any accompanying photos are greatly appreciated, thanks!

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Maintenance, repair and restoration work this weekend

As someone who’s out on, or by, the water more often than most, you’ll know that there are times when we need to fix things that unexpectedly break. So, below, you’ll find a list of what may affect you if you’re planning to get out on your boat 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. You can set up your smartphone to automatically alert you if a notice is issued for a canal or river that you’re interested in. Check out this guide to setting it up.

If you have any questions about a specific closure, or spot an error in our system, please just get in touch.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Don’t rock the boat

It’s a perennial topic in Boaters’ Update and, according to the boater you’re about to hear from, something that needs discussing. Boats going too fast past moored ones inspires frustration in many and this long-time boater decided to share his:

Cruising past moored boats Leicester Line Grand Union“In 1998 my then wife and I had just done a runner from the violence and turmoil in Zimbabwe. Unable to get a mortgage, we looked for alternative ways to live. With my memories of canal boats from my canoeing days, we agreed to go for a boat and save for a house. 

“So, in late spring of 1999 we moved onto a 70ft narrow boat as continuous cruisers. I had done plenty of reading on life afloat, so had an idea of the basic lie of the land but O.M.G! what a huge learning curve from day one out of Wilton marine, on route to the Kennet & Avon Canal via the Oxford Canal. I learnt very quickly, after being asked to go slower when I passed boats, that my tick over speed was too high. A simple adjustment of the throttle cable and I no longer annoyed boaters (except when I’ve had a mind-in-neutral moment, we all have them!). 

“22 years later I'm still on a boat, still continuously cruising, with no possibility of being or wishing to live on land. I love the lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfectly idyllic and has its problems and annoyances with the number one being speeding boats closely followed in second place by dog poo!

“I’ve lost count of the number of times I have returned to my boat, my home, after work to find it further down the cut or just hanging on by one rope, after it had been ripped off the bank by speeding boats. 

“As the number of those going too quickly rose, I learnt to moor with double pins on each rope and normally two spring ropes to hold me securely but even they all get ripped out. I'm sure many readers have suffered the same! 

Boating and cycling on the Coventry Canal“Mooring rings and piling are not everywhere and, even attached to these, it's an unpleasant feeling having your world leant over and bashed into the bank. I have witnessed a ring with a large concrete block ripped out of the ground by the force of a speeding boat. What is that doing to the moored boats structural integrity, let alone infrastructure damage?

“I totally get the frustration of having to slow more often these days, as the cut has become busier, and how that impacts on progress. It affects us all. Sadly there are some out there who show little regard for others, these boaters will continue to behave in this manner and this debate will continue into the future, well beyond my boating days, unless positive action is taken to stem the increasing numbers.

“We, the boating community, need to be proactive in helping the Trust to educate those going too fast. Politely explaining the impact of their behaviour will work in some cases, especially if they’re new to boating. In others, or if a boater refuses to slow, there’s no other option but to report them to the Trust. I do understand the thought of ‘I don't want the hassle’ but without action nothing will change.

“It's not an easy nut to crack for the Trust but if you sent in proof such as video evidence, accounts from two independent members of the public/boaters or photos that clearly show excessive, breaking wash it will at least begin to understand the exact magnitude of the problem and, in turn, take appropriate steps to address it.

“If you’re reading this thinking that you might go a little too fast sometimes then my final plea is to you. Please, please, slow down to tick over, or as close as possible in poor conditions, so as to keep steerage. Please do this at least a full boats length before (70ft) passing any moored craft. I tend to slow before then, to make sure my boat speed has dropped and then I keep it down until I'm well past the craft. It's a pain but it's a boater’s life!”

If you’ve got an opinion on the above or about speeding boats then do please drop me a line and we’ll continue the discussion in a future edition.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

2021/22 Winter moorings

Ok, it might seem ages away during a week when temperatures, for some, have touched 30 degrees but winter is actually only just over 100 days away with the first frosts usually a few weeks before.

A snow-laden canal boat at Fenny StratfordWith this in mind we’ve published our winter moorings offering and Matthew Symonds, national boating manager, says around one in 10 continuous cruisers prefer to stay put when the weather turns cold: “Some boaters enjoy exploring the waterways all year round but the cold, unpredictable weather and dark, long nights can bring their own challenges for boats who don’t have a home mooring. Every year around 10% of continuous cruisers decide that they want to moor their boats in one place for the season and choose to take a winter mooring from the Trust, while others may choose to overwinter with the many other mooring providers.

“There is a balance to be struck between those who want to batten down the hatches for the season and those who enjoy winter cruising, and we always ensure that there is enough space left on visitor moorings for cruising boats.”

Our winter moorings are divided into eight price bands reflecting each site’s relative attractiveness, for example location and nearby facilities, the level of demand from boaters, and to ensure pricing stays in line with our own long-term mooring sites and private mooring operators. The order of the bands has reversed with Band 1 being the lowest priced and Band 8 being the highest priced. This year 64 mooring sites will drop a price band or see a price freeze, while 42 mooring sites will see a price rise.

Winter moorings will be available from 1 November 2021 to 28 February 2022. All winter mooring permits will be charged at a ‘per metre, per month’ rate, and boaters will be able to book the spots in increments of one month. A final list of the sites and prices can be found at canalrivertrust.org.uk/winter-moorings

While bookings can’t be made until 1 October at 6am via our boat licensing site on a first-come, first-served basis, you can browse the available sites already.

If you have any questions about winter moorings please call customer services on 0303 040 4040 or email wintermoorings@canalrivertrust.org.uk.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Bits & Bobs

  • With it being an especially busy time out on the cut it’s important that everyone follows the ‘rules of the road’. So, for clarity, lock landings are to be used when you’re either entering or exiting a lock. They shouldn’t be used for any other reason and certainly not for casual mooring, even for a short period.
  • We want our staff to understand what it’s like for boaters who cruise, and live on, our canals and rivers. But most of our staff are based at home or in offices and don’t get to see things from a boater’s point of view. To help with this we have a Boating Buddies scheme which gives our staff the chance to spend a day out on the water with a boater (or two). It also lets boaters talk with our staff about the things that matter to them and their experiences of our waterways. While we have quite a few boaters already taking part in the scheme, we’re a little short in London. So, if you’d be willing to host a member of staff for a day (or even a few hours) on your boat then do please get in touch, thanks.
  • Finally, did you know that people diagnosed with Type 1 or 2 Diabetes are entitled to annual free eye screening under the NHS to check for signs of diabetic retinopathy? It often has no symptoms until it is advanced so it’s important to undergo regular screening. So, if you’re a diabetic boater on the western end of the Kennet & Avon all you need to do is get in touch with the local administration team on 01225 582300 or email administration@nhs.net. If you’re not on the Kennet & Avon your GP should automatically refer you to your local programme on diagnosis, and once registered you will be sent an appointment at least once every year to the closest venue to your location.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 10 September 2021

About this blog

The boaters' update

Think of this blog as your one-stop shop for up-to-date boating news. It's packed full of useful information about boating on canals and rivers, as well as important safety announcements and upcoming events.

Sign up to receive the Boaters' update by email

See more blogs from this author