Monday, 18 June 2012

BCN Challenge 2012

Ack! I am so behind with blogging! But I am resolved to catch up, beginning with the BCN Challenge. Andy, Jim and Karen have already written about it on their blogs.

This year's BCN Challenge attempt was less last minute than last year's, and we had the boat booked for the weekend some months in advance. We were all set to take Yeoford out, but when we arrived, we found that Yeoford's gearbox had packed up and we were to be taking Collingwood out instead, complete with alternative skipper, Graham, who lives in Collingwood's back cabin. 

The interior was much the same as Yeoford, however, so there was no problem with swapping boats.

Collingwood is an Admiral Class boat, one of a fleet built for BW in the twilight years of canal carrying (late 50s and early 60s), as a last ditch attempt to make it commercially viable. They could carry more cargo and their hulls were designed to cope better with the increasingly silted up canals. These boats also had 'blue top' instead of fabric cloths to cover their holds - modular glass fibre lids which linked together and were supposedly quicker to use. {EDIT- Thanks Sarah!} Actually, the Admirals had a hoop system for covering the hold (rather than blue top) originally, although Collingwood's had blue top for many years now.

As well as a different boat, we had quite a different crew line-up to last year. Most of the YWBS lot were unavailable, so in fact only 4 of us who competed last year were in this year's crew: that's me, James, Sarah and Mikey. In addition, we had bloggers Karen and Ian from NB Tacet, as well as Jim from Starcross, Nick and Matt, coastal boaters from the South Coast who heard about the event on Twitter, two of our friends from Cambridge, Freya and Will, neither of whom had been narrowboating before, and latecomer David, who was to be competing on a friend's boat, but ended up joining our team instead. Completing the line-up was Jumble, Ian and Karen's lovable dog. So, most of us had never met before! But it was a great bunch of people and somehow worked really well!

Last year, we has moored in Gas Street Basin but had found it very noisy. So, this year, we moved the boat around to the top of Farmers Bridge on Friday night, ready for teh off on Saturday morning. After a fairly decent night's sleep we set off apace down Farmer's Bridge and Ashted locks, then up towards the Tame Valley via Garrison Locks (this year, thanks to us, they are included in the Challenge).

Up Perry Bar (the New Thirteen) and Rushall (Ganseys), making great time through all 48 locks! I designated myself official photographer, since we had plenty to work the locks, but without Tim or Rebekah's skill, we won't have quite as well documented a weekend as we did last time!

We were then on the Wyrley and Essington (aka the Curly Wyrley), and Sarah gave us all one of the sweets of the same name to celebrate! It was on this stretch that we nearly quite literally bumped into Andy on Wandrin' Bark!

Mostly, the rain held off, and we made good time, heading up the Anglesey Branch and the Cannock Extension before tying up for the night on Pelsall Common. We made dinner as we cruised along - a big chili with rice and nachos which was gobbled up very quickly, with hardly any left for Jumble! We went to bed after a quick nightcap at the Fingerpost. 

On Sunday, we awoke and set off at 4:30am in pouring rain which didn't let up all day. Luckily we were mostly on the level and so a few hardy souls took turns steering, while the rest of us ensured that those on the stern were well supplied with cake and tea! David conjured up a wonderful breakfast on the somewhat rickety gas stove!

We stopped briefly in Broad Street Basin in Wolverhampton, where we said goodbye to Mikey and Freya, then we had to get back to Gas Street, rather than finishing in Walsall Town Basin with the rest. We took a little detour to go down Brades staircase locks, then the boys on the stern prevented us from feeling guilty for staying in the dry by proceeding to do both the Icknield Port Loop and the Oozels Street loop on the way back, despite the weather! We thought about going to Walksall to see the other competitors but were so tired that we decided to head home straight away. After all, I did have to pack for a week in France and leave the next day!

Thanks to all who joined us, for a fun weekend despite the weather!

More (!) photos here.

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  1. Please can I be the first pedant to point out that Admirals did not originally have blue tops, but had a kind of hoop arrangement for cloths to be laid over. The Rivers were the first to use the blue top covers. I don't know to what degree they were later adopted by Admirals, though I know a lot of them do now.

  2. Aw c'mon call a spade a spade, its a dustbin boat !!

    SORRY !!

  3. To follow this tack - I have always been puzzled by these boats - their bottoms curve up out of the water like an admiral, but the others I have seen have a strange rolled down front top end - unlike Collingwood. Whatever - it was good to glimpse you both.

  4. Thanks Sarah, duly edited! And nice to see you albeit breifly, Andy!

  5. Collingwood lost its hoops over the hold when the grab for a power station somewhere on the BCN (I forget where) would not fit in the hold with the rings used to support them in place.

    The rings were cut off (apart from the 2 in the front of the hold) and Collingwood has worn Blue Tops ever since.

    To answer Captain Ahab above, Collingwood was one of the first batch of Admiral boats built. The later ones had the curved down bits on the stem.