Wednesday, 1 June 2011

BCN 24 hour Marathon Challenge 2011 Part 3 - Sunday

So, after a measly 3 hours sleep, the alarm clocks were ringing to mark the fact that our 6 hours rest stop was up, and it was time to get going again! We had decided, out of respect for anyone living aboard at Norton Canes, that we would bowhaul the boat for the first few hundred metres before starting the engine. 

Photo D Hutchinson
So, as I filled the kettle for that first vital cup of tea, I heard a 'spong' as the hull of the boat hit the towpath side of the cut (we had been moored on the offside breasted up to the Large Northwich Thaxted). James leapt out with the somewhat lacking in length bowrope and I got the boathook to push the T stud away from the bank. Dan grabbed the back end line and we soon had Yeoford going at quite a speed! Once we were out of sight of the residential boats we started the engine and were on our way again. Just before the end of the Cannock Extension we passed another forum user's boat: Tawny Owl. They were not allowed to get underway again as they'd stopped at 10pm, but we did wave, as there was life on board!

James and I bowhauling Photo D Hutchinson
Pippa keeping warm by wearing a blanket UNDER her coat!

This lock free stretch of the Curley Wyrley canal was quite lovely, as dawn broke and the sky turned from dark coppery grey to watery pale clouds. We heard the birds begin to sing, as we drank cups of tea and ate cornflakes and bacon butties. We passed quite a few boats also challenging, as we continued towards Birchills junction. One working boat had two empty joey boats as butties - clearly racking up their points! 

Good Morning! Photo D Hutchinson

Photo D Hutchinson
Photo D Hutchinson
We reached Birchills at about 6am, only to find that the pound beyond the first pound was severely down, so we had to let some water down to fill it before we could carry on. At the bottom of the locks was the junction onto the Walsall Town Arm, where boats are encouraged to finish the challenge to gather and celebrate. We had originally planned to finish here too, but then realised that it would take far too long to return Yeoford to Gas Street, so we stopped there briefly and attempted to get one of the officials to measure our draft. Alas he was still in bed so he gave us a waiver and we carried on. The rules say that you can finish your challenge route anywhere you like, but there are bonus points for finishing at the Town Arm, and of course it is more fun! Walsall was clearly hit by the recession, as the promised development of the basin remains unfinished. 

Walsall Locks. Photo T Lewis

A deserted Walsall Town Basin. Photo T Lewis
Our next challenge was the Walsall Canal. Little used and choked with weed and rubbish, it redefined my understanding of how neglected and sad looking an under used canal can get. It follows a straightish course through some fairly nasty industrial wastelands, with pollutants quite clearly leaching into the canal in some places. But despite all this it was interesting to travel this way, and it highlighted the importance of the BCN Challenge as a way of encouraging usage of these backwaters. Yeoford's propellor blades got so full of weed and rubbish that we decided to bowhaul for quite a way while Mike lay on the counter and dragged great chunks of weed off. The going was very slow. I bowhauled for a bit, and since the rope was just too short, pulled the boat with my arm outstretched behind me to maximise the length. Ouch! Eventually we got into deeper, slightly less weedy water, and started to make some headway. For a lot of this a bunch of us remained on the bank, ready to grab a rope and pull if necessary!

Photo T Lewis

Photo T Lewis

On this section of canal, we saw a lot of boats heading in the opposite direction, making their way to the finish line: Firefly, Atlas and Malus, Wandrin' Bark, Tawny Owl and Indigo Dream. We saw Indigo Dream at the bottom of the Ryders Green locks and Dan and I stopped for a chat. The hounds were all looking very sleepy, lying in the cruiser stern in a heap! Alas I didn't have my camera with me. Speaking of whom, they are still collecting money for their greyhound charity!

Passing Wandrin' Bark. Photo T Lewis

Tawny Owl makes the turn from the Tame Valley. Photo T Lewis

We said a sad goodbye to Rebekah and Pippa at this point - they had to get back to Lancaster. At the same moment, our friend John, who sold us the Duck, arrived on his bike! What a surprise, and nice to catch up with him so unexpectedly, especially since we'd decided not to blog about the fact we were going to be doing the challenge for security reasons. He's spotted Indigo Dream going down Ryders Green, learned from them that we were doing it too, and then as luck would have it, we were ascending the locks!

Photo T Lewis
Soon we were back on the Main Line with just an hour to go to collect points! We had hoped to go up onto the old main line, but Mike said that Yeoford struggles with the locks up there, so we just kept going. When 2pm arrived and our challenge finished, I was at the tiller, having my first opportunity to steer a full length boat! I found it to be much less daunting than I'd expected amd quite happily steered past a toll island without hitting the sides! At this point, Mike took over to make the 90 degree turn into the Soho loop. Just because we weren't going to be collecting points for it didn't deter us! We'd heard all sorts of horror stories, but we didn't have any problems except for a nasty heap of something under the water by Winson Green Prison (the source of our bunks!) which took several tries to find our way around. We nearly resorted to Dan's Tirfor winch but managed to get through. 
Onto the New Main Line. Photo T Lewis
Photo T Lewis
All smiles! Photo T Lewis
Crazy Dan! Entering the Soho loop .Photo T Lewis

Winson Green Prison. Photo T Lewis
Icknield Port Loop. Photo T Lewis
We did both the Icknield Port loop and the Oozell's Street loop before finally arriving at Gas Street at about 4pm. With sadness, we collected our things and said goodbye to Mike and Yeoford.
The hilarity, however, was not yet over. We had a meal at Zizzi's in the mailbox, still with Dan's one-wheeled broken suitcasefull of winch in tow. Dan and James had it between them, and made a right picture as the lugged it past the smart shops of the Mailbox! Eventually we made it to New Street and hopped on our respective trains. It had been a weekend of such fun and adventure that we all resolved to try it again next year!

The £13 suitcase of Doom. Photo: S Edgson
A massive thank you to everyone involved: to Sarah, without whom this really couldn't have been pulled off, to the whole crew for making things so much fun, and to Mike the skipper, for being genial and somewhat stoic despite everything!

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1 comment:

  1. What an amazing trip! I loved all the pictures!

    ...still having trouble posting comments with Google...Arghh! ~Affectioknit