Sunday, April 23, 2006

Down the Shroppie (1)

Well, we got back a week ago, but I've finally got around to writing this. The trip was a great success, all things considered. The idea was to bring Warrior from Hargrave (Golden Nook) near Chester to Stretton Wharf (near Wolverhampton) where she will be craned out of the water and the engine will be craned out through the roof, loaded onto a trailer, and taken down to Russell Newbery at Daventry for, possibly, a complete rebuild but hopefully something short of that.

Clearly then, the engine is in need of some attention, which is why we approached the trip with some trepidation. In fact, we had never even been able to get it to run consistently before, and hardly ever managed to start it. In the run up to last week we'd had lots of visits and advice from Ian from the Russell Newbery Register, and he turned out for one last time on the Sunday for a final sort out.

So we were holding our breath on Monday morning as Jim wielded the priming tool and and got the valves squeaking and with the (very judicious) application of Easi-Start (everyone's guilty secret) , she started, and didn't stop again for the next ten hours. The main problems, once started, were an unreliable governer (although it wasn't as bad once we'd got started as we'd feared) and an increasingly slippy gearbox, making it hard to control the boat's speed and stopping ability.

To add to our enjoyment, this was the weekend of the working boat gathering at Ellesmere Port, and on our way south we passed many of them going up - literally running into at least one, but they said it had had worse!

On the Monday we cruised for ten hours non-stop (except for locks) getting up the Audlem flight before stopping at 7 pm. The weather was lovely so we made the most of it ar rain was forecast for the next day. Sure enough, Tuesday was wet, but the engine started first time, and we cruised for seven hours before stopping for the night at Gnosall, where we had dinner at the Boat Inn. Nice chips. We passed the other canalside pub on the way but didn't fancy the the smell of chip fat emanating from it. On Wednesday morning Lockboy and I made an excursion into Gnosall to try to find a shop - we eventually found a Co-op, but it was a long way!

So it was on Wednesday, a full day ahead of schedule, that we arrived at Stretton Wharf. With the gearbox really getting out of hand we struggled a bit, but ended up moored behind TV star Dover. We spent all of Thursday there, before setting off by car on Friday to Ellesmere Port. Friday was a lovely sunny day and our day watching the working boats arrive, patronising the beer tent and meeting up with people we met on the way down made it very enjoyable. The museum itself was a disappointment however; the promised 'new' displays were the same ones we'd seen at Christmas. Lovely as the staff are at the museum - and I can't fault any of them - I have to agree with Phil Speight's recent comments (in Canal Boat magazine) about the trustees' priorities.

Warrior's engine

Here is the cause of all the trouble - and what makes it all worthwhile: Warrior's 1937 3-cylinder National engine with matched original National gearbox.

The engine and gearbox came out of a fisheries protection vessel in 1953, and sat on a quayside in Kings Lynn until the early 1980s, when it was bought by John Shotbolt, of Ramsey on the Middle Level, Warrior's builder.

He had it rebuilt (not sure by whom - it's possible he did it himself), and installed it in Warrior in 1995. Warrior was built for his own use, and was the only tug-style boat he built. Only a few years later he was persuaded to sell her, and the rest of her story is still a mystery, until she was bought by her previous owner from a broker a couple of years ago.

In the intervening years the engine hasn't been maintained very well, it would seem. Someone has certainly made a right mess of the kitchen, which will be completely refitted some time soon, and has done some damage in the saloon, although we can sort that out. The original fitting out and finishing, all done by John Shotbolt, is of an amazingly high standard, with terrific attention to detail even in parts of the boat that were never meant to see the light of day. She also has great roses and castles painting which have lasted really well, done by someone called M. Duiker - anyone heard of them? She badly needs a new exterior paint job though. That'll be the last job on the list, when everything else is done and we can decide on a colour scheme.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A brief history ...

Of how we got into this lark and came to be the proud owners of Warrior.

I'm Sarah, and Jim and I have been together fourteen years - but it was only about four years ago that we realised that we had a shared interest in - even a passion for - boats and inland waterway related things. For Jim it went back to his childhood, where he lived for a while at Berkhamstead and watched the working boats on the GU; for me (some years younger!) happy memories of childhood holidays on the Broads, plus a bit of a thing for gipsy caravans and showman's wagons. Add to that a keen interest in industrial heritage and old engines (yes, both of us!).

So four or five years ago I started noticing waterways magazines appearing in the house, and then Jim suggested we celebrate his birthday by going to the IWA festival, at Pangbourne. After that we decided that we had to have a boat - but a narrowboat was out of the question on the grounds of cost: I was a newly qualified university lecturer just about to start my first full time job and Jim was sharing himself between the paid work, research and jointly looking after my son, who will be known as Lockboy and is now sixteen.

So we started looking for a little fibreglass cruiser. We looked at a few Freemans, but in anything like decent condition they seemed disproportionately expensive. Also, boats (Shetlands, Vikings etc) from the 1980s were horrendously expensive, even in dreadful condition. We eventually found Helyn, which was to become our first boat, at Penton Hook Marina at Chertsey, on the Thames. We only dropped in on an impulse as the marina looked really to be out of our league, stuffed with half million pound gin palaces - but there she was, the second cheapest boat there; we took her out, were very satisfied and eventually bought her for £4,000 - guided through the process by a splendid young salesman called Darren for whom nothing was too much trouble. We couldn't have been treated better if we'd been spending a hundred times as much. Helyn - currently sitting on a trailer on our drive - is a Callumcraft, 22 foot, dating from around 1970, and is a great little boat. It is such a different experience from a narrowboat that we're very loath to get rid of her. As there was over a month of mooring paid for, we had some great weekends on the Thames with Helyn, and took her up the River Wey - but there was no way we could afford a permanent Thames mooring so we started to look around the country for alternatives. We settled on the Fens - cheap, remote, peaceful, and just a little bit creepy. Ever since, Helyn has had a berth at a nice marina near March and we have had some great times there.

My first job was only a one year contract, and in the autumn of 2004 I was job hunting again. One interview took me to Huddersfield, where the Huddersfield Broad (Ramsden's) Canal runs right by the University. During a break in the proceedings I took a walk along the towpath to Aspley Basin and got chatting to one of the liveaboards there. An idea started to develop that if I did get the job there - or anywhere near a waterway - perhaps we wouldn't have to move house and disrupt Lockboy's schooling. I could live part time on a boat and go back home at weekends. Well, I didn't get that job - but another one came up about six weeks later, which I did get! So the detailed plans we'd made for that contingency were put into action. We'd already looked at a lot of narrowboats (with no intention of buying, sorry Whilton Marina!) so had a fair idea of the state of the market. We had also spent many happy hours browsing apolloduck, and that's where we found Andante. The main consideration was to find a boat that would be comfortable and pleasant to spend a lot of time on, at the right price. When we went and saw Andante at Newbury for the first time, in February 2005, it was clear that she would fit the bill. A 31 foor trad style boat, built in 1985 by R&D, she has lovely lines and was in very sound condition. And indeed, she has proven to be a very good billet. Last summer we took her for a cruise along the Broad canal and onto the Calder and Hebble. It felt so different from cruising in Helyn and we knew that it was a narrowboat for us. But, we decided, for extended cruising we would need a bigger boat. Andante has a double dinette and a fixed double in a separate cabin, but isn't really big enough for three on a long term basis.

and finally, Warrior
So, the financial situation having improved a bit, we started looking - just out of casual interest of course! - at bigger boats. We knew we didn't want anything longer that 56 foot as that is the lock size of the very canal Andante is on, but as near to that as we could get for maximum space. We also wanted, ideally, a vintage engine, traditional controls, and, definitely, a traditional back cabin for Lockboy to hide away in. We thought it would be a very long time before we found all this at a reasonable price, and we weren't in any hurry. But you know how it is with these things! We did look at a couple of boats in the meantime, and gave them some thought, but neither was quite right. Then we saw Warrior - again on Apolloduck - and that's the end of the potted history and the start of this story.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Hello from nb Warrior

Hello from Jim and Sarah, the new owners of nb Warrior. This is really just a trial post, but this site will track our adventurers with Warior, both cruising and - more adventurously - restoring her unique 1937 3-cylinder National engine. We will be posting photos of our progress, and no doubt a few raves and rants about waterways matters as we encounter them. Later we'll introduce ourselves properly, but for now, let's just see whether this works!