Boaters' Update 27 Aug 2021

Welcome to the latest edition where you can read about the work we've been doing, our major winter works programme, how we're helping solve a rubbish problem and a report on last weekend's successful Crick Boat Show. The usual roundup of news, surveys and stoppages can also be found along with a request for your cautionary tales!

Aire & Calder navigation courtesy Steve Fareham Aire & Calder navigation courtesy Steve Fareham

Welcome to the latest edition. The busier-than-usual summer boating season is drawing to a close and families up and down the country are preparing for the return of a more ‘normal’ school year. We’ve been busy too, as the first article explains by looking at just some of the work we’ve been doing recently.

Wherever possible during summer, we’ll do the things that cause the least disruption to boaters but read on to get a preview of this winter’s stoppage programme – when we do some of the really big jobs to coincide with there being fewer boats wanting to cruise the cut.

You can also read about how, in a first for the Trust, we’ve started taking ‘the tip’ to boaters on the Kennet & Avon Canal by using two of our workboats to collect bulky rubbish and recycling as much as possible to minimise it ended up in landfill.

Finally, after a successful return of Crick Boat Show last weekend, you’ll find a short review that may whet your appetite for next year!

Oh and don’t forget to scan the bits and bobs section to find out about booking moorings in Coventry, details of a survey we’d love you to take and to find out if you know more than students of Cambridge University when it comes to the Wonders of the Waterways.

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

Stay safe, happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 16 Aug – We launched our Youth Fellowship Programme and are encouraging young people to join to help broaden the appeal of our waterways to all ages.
  • 18 Aug – A group of our lock keepers, who work at the deepest lock in Britain – Tuel Lane Lock on the Rochdale Canal, have won the prestigious British Marine Lock Keeper of the Year Award.
  • 20 Aug – Bradford GP and best-selling author Dr Amir Khan has been showing his support for our #ActNowforCanals campaign and encouraging communities to get involved.

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Our work keeping navigations open for you

As you will have read in the last edition, it’s been busier than ever out on the cut. Not only have you, and hiring holidaying boaters, been making up for lost time by getting out for a cruise, you’ve also been getting in touch in record numbers.

Nearly half of the thousands of calls, emails and web enquiries received lately have been about boating and navigation or something to do with the infrastructure of the waterways.

With boating and navigation the most frequent query, nearly half of the total, was about booking a passage or facility. A few editions ago I featured an article that talked through the easy process of booking online via the licensing portal. Another third of enquiries were about:

  • Stoppages – a list of those affecting cruising this weekend are below as well as the remainder of this article shining a spotlight on just a few of the things we’ve been working on recently.
  • Water levels – any restrictions related to low water levels will be published in the notices section of our website – there are a few navigations with some locks having limited lock operation times (Oxford, Peak Forest, Macclesfield, Rochdale and Kennet & Avon). Simply visit the notices section of the website, enter your navigation of choice and select restrictions and then search. You can also find a webpage with warnings about conditions that may affect navigation, such as varying water levels and faster flows (primarily where canal navigations join with rivers).
  • Navigation information – another section of our website is dedicated to planning boat trips. It has an interactive map detailing the location of locks, tunnels etc. as well as boating facilities such as water points. On the same page you can find links to navigation dimensions, booking passages and stoppages among others.

What we’ve been working on

Ariel shot of repair works on riverBefore giving examples of some recent work we’ve been doing, we’re delighted to say that, as of one week ago, we’ve been able to fully reopen the Aire & Calder Navigation, following the project to repair the breach. 

There’s no longer a need to pre-book passage between Skyehouse and Pollington Locks, and through passage to and from Rawcliffe and Goole has been restored! Some restrictions remain in place, for safety reasons, as contractors will continue to work on site for a little while Ferrybridge Locklonger.

With the navigation closed while we worked on the breach, we also took the opportunity to bring forward work on one of the most asked about types of waterway structure – locks! We had planned to carry out work on the nearby Ferrybridge Flood Lock in the future but, to minimise future disruption, we replaced the downstream gates and cills as well as checking and maintaining the downstream sluices at the same time as working on the breach. 

Stourport Lock 1As you’ll expect, replacing lock gates usually means closing the navigation to all traffic. This is why, wherever possible, we try to do this when the cut is relatively quiet during the winter months. In a few locations, where there are parallel locks, we can do a complete gate change without inhibiting the use of the navigation. This was the case at Stourport Narrow Locks where we’ve now completed top and bottom gate replacements along with ladder and brickwork repairs. While we have been beavering away onsite, boaters were able to use the wide beam locks to access Stourport Basins and the River Severn. 

Bongs Footbridge beforeAnother highly enquired about waterway feature were bridges. An integral and synonymous part of the waterways, many are stone and brick built, requiring heritage construction skills to sensitively bring them back to former glories. The brilliantly named Bongs Footbridge, on the Peak Forest Canal near Whaley Bridge, isn’t listed but still needed an expert stonework rebuild to one of its abutments. 

Bongs Footbridge afterAnother example can be found on the Rochdale Canal at Gypsy Lane Bridge. This wasn’t a rebuild job but did need some new, and highly bespoke, coping stones. Not being the sort of thing you can walk in to a hardware store and buy, the team set up a temporary workshop nearby and precisely crafted and the stones to fit the bridge (below right). 

Gypsy Lane BridgeA key component for every waterway user is the towpath and you’ve also been in touch quite frequently about them recently. A lot of the towpath upgrade projects we do are funded, in the main, by third parties and the funds are given exclusively for specific projects. A good example is on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal.

A £1.5 million programme of improvements to a well-used 6.5km stretch of towpath, connecting Gloucester Docks to Sellars Bridge in Quedgeley, was recently ‘opened’ by local MP Richard Graham.

Gypsy Lane Bridge pic 2Work to improve the towpath began in 2019 and with contributions given by: European Regional Development Fund to support local economic growth; Gloucestershire County Council; Gloucester City Council; the Gloucester Environment Trust and S106 developer contributions. 

One of the quadrants at Lock 4, Braunston, on the Grand Union Canal had started to fail after many years of use on this busy stretch. Even though the entire quadrant, and a retaining wall, had to be demolished and completely rebuilt we managed to keep the navigation Braunston Lock 4 afteropen by helping boaters get through the lock using just one gate. 

Waterborne workers

You can imagine, having likely cruised through some of the more remote parts of the network, that getting equipment, people and materials to a work site can be a headache. Sometimes the only way is by boat and that’s why we have a small fleet of work boats. While we’d love them, much as you would your own boat, never to deteriorate, go wrong or need maintenance, they do.

So as well as getting through lots of jobs on the waterway over the summer we’ve been working through a range of issues on our workboats to get them ready for the big winter programme of works that you’ll read about in the next article.  Here’s just a taster of some of the things they’ve had to do recently (some of which you may have dealt with on your own boat too!):

  • Broken fuel gauge
  • Leaking stern tube
  • Cracked cylinder head
  • Loss of steering
  • Starter motor failing
  • Faulty bilge pump
  • Damaged propellor
  • Hydraulic oil leaks

Workboat Bourne beforeOf course, with near constant use in an often harsh environment, there comes a time when a boat needs a little more than a routine service. At this point we get them out of the water and give them a big dose of TLC along with a full upgrade to any component that improves safety and/or enables us to save time and money in the future. A perfect example, that you may see some time on your travels soon, is workboat Bourne who went from the photo right, to the magnificent work horse below! 

Workboat Bourne after

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Working in our winter wonderland – our major winter works programme for 2021/22

While the weather may present a few more challenges during the colder months, it’s usually when the cut becomes quieter with fewer boats moving around the network. We like to take advantage of this temporary lull, and causing as little disruption as possible, by getting our big toys out and carrying out industrial scale works around the network. The full list of our plans for the coming winter have just been published.

48 waterways will benefit from 168 large-scale works, between 1 November and 31 March, to repair masonry and brickwork, fix leaks, update and install hydraulics and electrics at mechanised structures, as well as replacing seals, stop plank grooves, lock ladders and lock gates. Our own specialist workshops are handcrafting 123 lock leaves for the works, to be installed at 67 locks across the network.

Even though it’s a mammoth undertaking we will, as usual, be aiming to avoid the Christmas period when more boats like to take to the water. 71 stoppages are due to take place before Christmas, with 94 scheduled for the new year. Just three are scheduled to span the festive season.

Larger boating-related schemes include carrying out essential winter maintenance at Anderton Boat Lift, new lock gates at Bingley Five Rise locks, replacing gates and grouting lock chambers on the Wigan Flight, and repairing locks and a bridge at Stoke Bruerne. This is on top of our ongoing, and vital, investment to future-proof reservoirs to preserve water supplies for boating.

Richard Parry, chief executive, said: “The work we carry out over the winter is at the heart of our maintenance programme. While there are some familiar names on this year’s list of work locations, the majority of the winter works are the basic ongoing repairs we need to undertake every year to keep the waterways navigable and safe: replacing time-expired lock gates, repairing structures, and rectifying defects. 

“We’re also starting the large-scale expansion of works needed to strengthen the resilience of our 200-year-old infrastructure, with climate change presenting significant new challenges to assets built when civil engineering was first being developed. 

“We hope to offer our users, neighbours and supporters the chance to see some of our works to care for this historic network first-hand if circumstances permit.”

The full winter stoppage programme can be viewed on our website. However, we are keeping everything crossed that we’ll be able to run a series of physical (and some virtual) open days as part of the works programme so you may get the chance to see the works being done rather than just reading about them! Watch this space…

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Helping to solve the rubbish problem on the western Kennet & Avon Canal

Walking along a towpath to a communal refuse facility to empty your kitchen bin is part and parcel of life afloat. More difficult though is when you want to get rid of the bin itself! This can be especially true if your in a remote location or somewhere where it’s hard to get to by road. Well, boaters on the western end of the Kennet & Avon Canal will now have regular help from us!

Kennet & Avon rubbish collection boatTen days ago our first refuse collection boats set off from Bath and Bradford on Avon, meeting up at Dundas. The 40’ long work boats, Sulis and Vale of Pewsey, travelled along the canal on a two-hour journey stopping to collect the rubbish from boaters along the way. 

Each year we spend more than £10k collecting rubbish from three sites along this same stretch of waterway. The majority is general waste but there are many larger items from boats, such as old fridges, sofas and stoves, that should be taken to the tip. We understand though that it’s often hard to get these taken away or to get to local refuse sites. So, every three months, we will be taking the tip to the boaters.

Lee Brain, area operations manager, explains: “With more people living along the canal it is inevitable that more refuse will be generated. Over the last four years the amount we’re collecting has doubled. Sadly, we have also seen an increase in fly tipping. We’ve been clearing around 25-30m3 of fly tipping a week – the equivalent of two large construction skips – from sites along the Kennet & Avon Canal.

“Our ‘floating tip’ is intended to help our boating communities to keep the Kennet & Avon looking its very best and at the same time taking waste away so it does not go to landfill.”

The ‘tip boat’ is part of a project focusing on the western end of the Kennet & Avon Canal. A new ranger was also recently appointed to give information and advice to people on the water and towpath, check signs, carry out smaller repairs and generally keep this part of the network a welcoming and attractive place whether you’re on water or land.

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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 notify 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.

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Crick Boat Show returns with a smile

Richard Parry at Crick Boat SHowAfter a Covid enforced absence of 18 months it was great to be back to a bit of normality at the Crick Boat Show. Despite a move from late May bank Holiday to mid-August, the weather was reassuringly Crick-like with a mix of sunshine and showers, but the weather wasn’t going to put anyone off enjoying being back at a real life event.

Even with some Covid safe measures to allow for more social distancing, many of the familiar sights were present. Shiny new boats and classic historic craft were there to have a nose round, marinas and chandlery’s plying their trade and the ever popular Waterway World seminars on a range of subjects including boat maintenance, living afloat and – new for this year – how we’re going to make boating greener in response to climate change targets.

In the Canal & River Trust marquee, we weren’t able to have many of our usual hands-on activities, but we had before and after images displayed highlighting examples of the hundreds of jobs we undertake each year to keep the network open for boaters. Also, the ever Terence CanalArts at Crick Boat Showtalented Terence from Canal Art was giving demonstrations of traditional canal painting throughout the weekend. Colleagues from across the Trust were on hand to answer hundreds of boater questions and queries about licensing, maintenance of the navigation and many more things. We also spoke to many people who were making plans to buy a boat to live on for the first time – reassuringly most were doing their research and making plans for life afloat well in advance – up to 1-2 years before their intended move afloat.

There was also a strong message from boaters that concern for the environment, and how we reduce the carbon impact from boating, was high up on their agenda, with frequent questions and comments about electric boats, how we are thinking about the need for more electric charging points in future and the increasing popularity of separator (composting) toilets on boats – look out for more discussion on all these topics in future Boater’s Updates as we head towards the COPP24 Climate Change conference this November.

Fingers crossed, with continued return to normality post-Covid, the Crick Boat Show will be back in 2022 at the slightly later Bank Holiday weekend of Friday 3 – Sunday 5 June (moved to accommodate the Queens’ Jubilee). Hopefully we’ll see you there!

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Bits & Bobs

  • Have you had your culture fix yet? If not don’t forget that this year Coventry is the City of Culture and you can visit by canal. If you do, and you want to stay right in the city centre, at Coventry Basin, please remember to book your moorings in advance.
  • At the end of July I told you about our #ActNowForCanals campaign, as part of this we’d love you to take a few minutes to complete our Sense in Nature survey. You know the waterways better than anyone and will appreciate just how much a haven for wildlife the network is. Completing the survey will help us gather vital information that will help us help wildlife.
  • As you’ll know, new boaters are joining the boating community every year. With this in mind do you have a cautionary tale for them? In particular, as we’re now on the run in to the colder months, have you had any winter-related incidents that you, and now others, can learn from? Drop me a line and we’ll compile and share anonymised versions. Also, has a life-jacket come to your rescue? Let us know if it has as we continue to promote water safety and it’d be great to have some first-hand case studies to underline its’ importance.
  • Don’t forget that the Environment Agency is currently running a consultation on their Boat Registration charge proposals from January 2022. They value views from all users of their waterways and are encouraging them to have their say. You can review the proposals and respond online. The consultation closes on 16 September 2021.
  • And finally, fancy pitting your wits against some Cambridge University students? Forward to 16m55s on this BBC iPlayer clip and see if you can answer the three questions that left the students completely stumped!

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Happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 27 August 2021

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The boaters' update

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