Saturday, 2 August 2008

Day One- Baptism of Fire!

...Well, admittedly not quite- hot embers at least.

Engine Arm - Gas Street Basin - King's Norton

Birmingham Canal Navigations (Old and New Main Line), Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

10 miles, 3 locks, 1 runty little excuse for a tunnel

6 plastic bags, 3 twigs on prop.

In which
Lucky Duck and its hapless new owners are guided through their first locks before moving into the wilds of Birmingham, brave the ferocious Argos Queue, are disappointed by the lack of Oompa Loompas at Bournville, and eventually find moorings at King's Norton, slightly ahead of schedule.

We were woken this morning by the falling rain drumming hard on the roof, although luckily it stopped soon. We went to a local Tesco and bought, "Sausages, bacon, a pint of milk and some bread" to paraphrase LTC Rolt as he bought when he first moved on to Cressy. Unfortunately we're not quite as economical as he was (we also don't like showering in canal water and probably won't be founding any pioneer waterways organisations any time soon...) and so bought a fair amount of heavy shopping to stock up the store cupboards and staggered back to the Duck.

John then cracked open a bottle of Moet et Chandon and a few toasts were drunk, before he gave us a final walk through of the boat and it's myriad systems and complications. We then set off, at about midday. After successfully negotiating the narrow aqueduct over the New Main Line and two sharp 90 degree corners, we found ourselves at Smethwick Locks, a flight of three. I steered the Duck, with horror stories about being hung up on the cill if I were too far back, or trapping the front fender on the gate if too far forwards running through my head. Thankfully there were no problems, with John helping Amy to wind paddles and push the gates and generally making sure we didn't make complete prats of ourselves within fifteen minutes of first going solo....

We then had a poignant moment to say goodbye; we both knew we were lucky to find each other and that it has all worked out extremely well for everyone. I certainly had a lump in my throat as we headed around the corner, leaving John behind waving on a black-and-white arched bridge.

The New Main Line was next, a quite nice introduction to the canals, with several herons fishing along the banks. We had a few narrow spots at former toll stations, with 8' gaps between the mid-canal islands and the banks, and I was quite triumphant to make it through without a scratch. HWe reached the centre of Birmingham and the narrow, hemmed-in canal, before reaching Gas Street. We ended up doing some complicated maneuvering including a spin followed by a sharp 90 degree bend into a very narrow channel whilst surrounded by moored boats and a disconcertingly large number of gongoozlers...

This was the famed Worcester Bar- the 7' wide spit of land that physically separated the Grand Union and Birmingham and Worcester canals, and- I'm afraid to say- lost a few square inches of blacking from the rubbing strake at the stern. Well, we have to have some scratches, or people won't believe that we've travelled...

We moored up just before the Mailbox and headed into the centre. One of the moored boats was Mr. David, who also blog; unfortunately they seemed to be out as we passed. It was a surreal moment- "I've seen that boat before...."

Amy's erstwhile colleagues had given her £60 Argos vouchers as a leaving present, so after a trip round Marks and Spencers to spend another voucher, we found the Argos Extra to buy a LOT of homewares, before struggling back to the boat. After a reviving cup of tea, I braved the weedhatch to clear the prop of urban jellyfish, and we headed off at 6pm towards Bourneville. There were some exciting bends and oncoming boats in constricted parts of the canal, which was fun, before arriving at Bourneville at about half seven. Unfortunately all the offside visitors moorings were taken, and the alternative on the towpath side didn't feel at all safe or comfortable, with plenty of graffitti, a buzzing substation, and passing trains. We decided to press on whilst it was still light, and found instead a wonderful mooring at King's Norton junction. There was a noisy funfair earlier, but that has thankfully stopped. After a late dinner of bacon sandwiches, we battenned down the hatches and settled in for the night.


  1. Only a few inches of blacking ??? Feeble !! You should ask us about the time we crashed into an island on our first solo boating trip ! The scratches have never rubbed out and the tree has never been the same...... Congratulations realising a dream. Love,
    Alison (and Mum)

  2. There is nothing wrong with PUTTING your front fender against the top gate, qute often its the best wa to lock up especially if you go up the Napton flight. If you try and hold back you will just surge back and forth until you hit the gate, so its better to start there.