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Thursday 28 April 2022

The Vessels have got smaller over the last 40 years.

 I did say I would put something on this blog even though we are not out boating at the moment. Our lack of boating is due to be extremely busy with other projects. The first of this has just started so I thought I would share a little of it with you here.

It is the 40th Anniversary of the Falklands Conflict and as the coincidence of this, in which I took part, and the need for an exhibition at the small museum in our town, Hedon near Hull, of which I am a trustee, meant that I stepped forward to produce something.

The Mayor of Hedon at the time was Henry Vies Suggit MM, JP., and he presented all the men from the town who took part in the conflict a tankard. I thought that it would interesting to track down these tankards and try to reunite the recipients. There were no records of who received one, but with a couple of photos and local social media and press I managed to track down 11 of 12 that seem to have been awarded. Not everybody wanted to be involved, and there is one person I have not been able to identify and track so far.

It turns out that H. V. Suggit was a WWII war hero himself. He was badly injured at the retreat to Dunkirk and captured. Once a prisoner of war he managed to escape five time! The stories of the men down in the Falklands was full of sinkings, salvage attempts, near misses, beach landings, boredom and tedium and hopefully I have managed to show this in the exhibition.

I don't feel able to share the others stories on this blog but I can give you mine.

In April 1982 I had just completed my Chief Officer's Certificate of Competency exams and was looking forward to a few weeks off before returning to sea. The British Merchant Navy was in terminal decline at the time through containerisation and foreign competition. I was going out with a girl from Wakefield at the time and my folks were living and working in New Zealand. I was in the West Riding helping her Dad with his cattle and other work around the place he had when one early evening there was a phone call. I was quite surprised when I was told it was for me! It turns out that it was my company, Ocean Transport and Trading (the group name for such shipping companies as Blue Funnel, Glen Line, Elder Dempster, Hendsersons, Guinea Gulf and part of Ocean Containers Limited). I was asked if I would join a ship the next day? I said that I was looking for a few weeks off and they replied that it is purely voluntary but they couldn't guarantee me a job when I wanted to come back. I said I would go but as I wasn't at home I would have to go home and get my kit first. I still have no idea how they got the telephone number!! They agreed to this and hired me a car for the next day from home.

I was to drive to East Midlands airport and catch a flight from their to Cornwall to be taken to Falmouth to join the vessel with the other crew. As it turns out there was a massive pile up on the M1 and I missed the flight. I was directed to keep the car and drive all the way to Falmouth. I got their quite late at night and the next morning at an early breakfast I met the rest of the crew before being taken to the river and been taken up to our vessel that was moored between buoys in lay up.

MV Lycaon being assisted to the buoys on the River Fal for lay-up just a week before we boarded her.
The phone call came on the 21st and we boarded her on St. George's Day 23rd April.
The ship had a Blue Funnel name but an Elder Dempster Funnel! As sign of strange trading patterns in the then economic climate.

We had learned that the vessel had been STUFT (Ships Taken Up From Trade) by the British Government to assist the military in any Falklands campaign that developed. We were under the impression at the time, I'm not sure why, that we were just delivering stores to Ascension Island. It took us a few days to get everything on line again and we then sailed for Southampton. As we entered the port the local news was on the TV and radio and stated that we were arriving and would be immediately loading ammunition for the Falklands Task Force. Immediately there was a queue at the Mates and Master's cabins with requests to be replaced! As it was 'purely voluntary' they had to be allowed to leave and replacements found sharpish.

LYCAON was built at the Kherson ship yard on the Russian Black Sea. She was a Dnepr class vessel. She was purchased by China Mutual Steam Navigation Co. Ltd (Blue Funnel) as as quick way of boosting container carrying capacity (and quite cheaply).

11,750 GT, Length 533’ (162m), beam 72’9” (22.2m), depth 30’ (9.1m). Engine 10,600 BHP for 18kts.

She was completed in December 1976 and was later registered in Liverpool. Despite owned by ‘Blue Funnel’ her buff funnel was for Elder Dempster Ltd another shipping line within the company. She was sold in August 1985 and after several changes she arrived at Alang Beach in India for breaking up in March 1998.

All Blue Funnel’s ships were named from classical Greek legend or history.

Railway wagons arrived alongside the vessel and the stores were lifted aboard. There appeared to be no loading plan, and certainly no stowage plan so we had no idea where everything was, and not even what much of it was? We hoped that somebody did! As this was going on they were also fitting a RAS mast. This was the point on the vessel that allowed Replensihment At Sea between vessel running on parallel course via a wire to run a cargo net of hose for fuel/water. More and different radio equipment was being fitted and more accommodation was added to take the extra bodies we would be carrying.
Lt. Commander David J. Stiles joined us and we became Navy Part 1900. when we sailed we had Royal Fleet Auxiliary radio officers, several RN staff, An Army Ammo. Technician, a troop of Royal Electirical and Mechanical Engineers and half a dozen Royal marines, plus our own crew of course.
Our main cargo appeared to be of 4.5" shells for the Royal Naval Guns on the ships. There were all sorts of other things too; pallets of hand grenades 105mm army artillery shells, land mines, sea mines, missiles, 1000lb bombs and much more besides. More soberingly there were many pallets of black body bags and crates of formaldehyde!
We finally sailed on 4th May. Once in the Western Approaches we were straight into a practise RAS with an RFA tanker. It was 'novel' to sail on a parallel course with another ship at about 6 or 8 knots just a couple of hundred feet away. It required the best helmsman and concentration. It turned out to be the only time we would carry out this operation.

We headed south and headed for Freetown in Sierra Leone. Elder Dempster's main shipping routes were to West Africa and I had been to Freetown several times in the past. We were there to take fuel and water and a few fresh stores. Usually it is a manic time as many of our crews were from the port and there would families coming and going along with the dock workers and plenty who were just there to see what they could nick! Not this time; an armed guard was placed at the foot of the gangway and if there was no name on the list nobody got aboard. It was heaven, rather than having to guard every thing and running around trying to keep order. We were only their a day before heading off once again, this time heading to the South Atlantic staging post Ascension Island.

The theory of zig-zag patterns

On the passage Lt. Cmd Stiles was training us up to Navy ways and methods, one of which was how to work in a convoy. We practiced zig zag patterns as above. They are designed to make it difficult for submarines and aircraft to plot and guess your future position. Basically there is a book full of different patterns that have different code names. as in the picture above the actual course set is not the actually direction of progress that the vessel is making. It looks simple enough, and if the time between each change of course is hours it is easy. However if the time between each alteration is a matter of minutes and the change of direction acute, and other ships of the convoy are close by, if you don't all do the same at the same time it can easily result in collisions or worse. There is a zig zag clock that every ship in the convoy starts at a synchronised time and so execute the changes at exactly the same time.

We learned what to do as officer of the watch when action stations were called under different conditions, such as when enemy surface vessels, submarines aircraft and missiles were seen. There wasn';t alot an unarmed ship could do but we were drilled repeatedly in them. I was the ship's navigating officer so all this dodging about was a nightmare to keep track of so that you knew where you were. And don't forget that these were the days before Satellite Navigation. Between sun or star fixes or distance and bearings from known points on land we had to DR or dead reckoning when you just plot the course and speed and if possible a guess as to what the drift of the vessel would be due to currents etc.

Yes it is me, on my previous ship, and I wasn't posing but taking the morning sight to run up to noon, (for those that may understand that).

We arrived to anchor of Ascension Island, along with plenty of other ships of the task force. There was much coming and going of helicopters and craft as more stores were loaded and others transferred to other vessels. We passed on some of the small arms ammunition and gained more missiles that were flown into to Wideawake Airfield, that at this time became the busiest airfield in the world.

Was this to be the calm before the storm?


Sunday 10 April 2022

Fradley, Fill up and Flying off Home

It was a bit of a mad dash day yesterday. We had to get from Fradley to Kings Bromely and then to go to the theater at 18:00.

One boat had passed us before we were ready to start out early in the sunshine. However plans were disrupted when a volunteer lock keeper from Fradley leapt aboard just as we were letting go and drove off on the boat!!

I managed to get aboard just as he left the side and was grappling for control, and succeeded as we approached the swing bridge. I was able eject the interloper ashore as we passed through. It was a short hijack, visit from our favourite volunteer lock keeper on the system (he paid me to say that!), and he had to be at the visitor centre at 10:00 anyway.

The junction was quite quiet with just the Great Haywood boats for sale moored up along the wall to look at.

The wind can blow across this stretch and when it is really busy there is nowhere to go, and with boats perhaps funneling in from Alrewas and the Coventry Canal it can be mayhem, but not today, all was quite and there were voluntary keepers on at Middle Lock.

Shadehouse Lock in the distance with Helen doing what Helen does best in the sunshine.

Apparently Woodend Lock Cottage has been bought by HS2 and is toi be demoilished, so I thought I would get a photo of it whilst it is still there. I wonder what will happen to the teapot collection at the lock? Wonderously we timed it perfectly with a boat leaving the lock. Useually there is a queue, much like Colwich Lock near Great Haywood.The offside moorings are slowly being vacated so they must have been ordered off, or made an offer they can't refuse. Mind you I'm not sure it would be my preferred mooring now! We also heard that Shadehouse House has also been bought by HS2 and is being rented out by them to see what happens in the future.

The stretch of the Trent and Mersey has been much photographed by me over the years, and it still get my snap as we pass.

Something seems to be happening at Kings Bromley and old dairy as it seems to have been tarted up a bit.

With its pebble dash coat this house by the creamery seems to be more modern but underneath it has been there from at least 1881 as it appears on the map from then. The area around it has been cleared. I wonder hwat will happen next.

Just to prove the sun was out her is my shadow. I like this picture as I look thinner and taller, and these days I'll take that.

The turn into the marina went well and then the spin round to go stern on to the fuel berth to fill up and take a gas bottle. It was time to find out whether the fuel prices had gone through the roof or not. Moorers get a discount on the fuel so it didn't mean will have to sell the boat. I think the full price was £150p. Then there was the challenge of swing the boat around again and head to our berth. The wind was gusty from the north and our mooring is east/west. Of course being a Saturday there were plenty of folk out pottering, and watch.  An early turn and getting the bow sufficiently round to allow us to be blown down sideways and backing close enough to the end of our jetty for me to pull her in as the bow came in line. I was quite proud of myself. No applause though.

There was a quick squaring up, packing up and settling up and we were off. We were off to see the musical 'Six' in Hull and an early performance at 18:00. You have to admire the girls as they were never off the stage and they had to do it all again at 20:30? It was worth the trip up and then a meal out with No.1 daughter too.

These days we have very bitty boating, not like the 'old days' when we went away for months, and it will be June before we get away again. I am super busy as I have an exhibition on the Falklands to curate and finalise over the next two weeks. This is alongside final rehersals for the Babershop Convention competitions in Harrogate at the end of the month with men's and mixed choruses. I have to get my sons new house decorated before he comes home to, so his family can move in soon after he arrives, and then at the end No.1 daughter and I will be walking the 170 odd miles of the Offa's Dyke path, so will need to get some miles under the belt for that too. All in all it seems doubtful that I will find time for blogging for a while. I hope that by the time I do get back there will still be some of you that will read this stuff, and not all deserted to the Vlogging world. Everybody and his dog seem to be doing that these days, but the bloggers are thinning out all the time.

Hope to see you on the other side.

Friday 8 April 2022

Mills and Much more.

 It was cold over night but nice and bright, and more to the point, wind free. Just as we were getting sorted to get on the move a hire boat passed, so we took our time.

Helen is taking the boat into Lock No.3. There were no volunteers on the locks today and they were obviously all against us, that is until they weren't when a couple of boats were met.

Lock No.4 is quite picturesque with the little warehouse, now given over for volunteers I think, and the cottage.

This is where the HS2 is crossing the M42 Motorway as well as the canal. Work going on in either direction as far as the eye can see.

Bridge names are interesting sometimes. This is Helen leaving lock No.8 and heading under 'Double Bridge'. Why it is called that is obvious as it is double lane wide on the deck. Why this should be so is more problematic. Even on the 1887 OS map there is no road or highway of even a track leading to an important property. The only thing I can see is that the field boundaries extend down the middle of the bridge. Does this mean that each side belongs to another and so some how they didn't want to cooperate over rights of way and so it had to be constructed so they could each pass on their 'own' side? A good story, but does anybody know the truth?

There was no work going on at the Dog and Doublet lock but \t the next lock we met the Candy Boat motor and butty coming up so there was a short delay. The weather has brilliant and was nice to chat. We also stopped at the Bodymoor Heath services and divested ourselves of all the rubbish we had picked up on the descent from Birmingham. What with everything it was three hours before we popped out at the bottom lock. Just here it got really busy, a boat mooring and two gongozzlers! It is Fisher's Mill Lock. Fisher's Mill refers to a corn mill over to the right on the River Tame. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book and in 1291 there were two mills working, but by 1702 it was down to one again. Ownership can be traced through the 19th Century but became unused in 1905 and was demolished in 1925 to make river improvements. It seems that the foundations and and watercourse can still be traced.

The canal bridge is top left on the 1887 OS map extract

This pheasant had his Sunday best on as we passed.

Just yet another thing I have never spotted before when we have passed up and down this canal, the entrance to Drayton Manor Park. It opened in 1950, and when came once or twice in the 60's and 70's it was nothing like this, really just like a really good park! I even saw one of the tall rides above the trees, also for the first time.

Whilst the big mill down by the junction, Tolson's Mill, gets all the views, especially as it is now being converted to apartments, the older mill is the one by the footbridge on the left. It was built by Robert Peel at the end of the 1700's. It has 19 bays and the first 8 to the left were built first. The three storeys have cast iron windows and there is vehicle access direct into the building. Tolson bought this mill first and it became a tape mill. He later moved to the larger premises.

We stopped at the mooring just before the junction to pop and get some milk etc, but we were soon on our way, turning left and heading for Hopwas. This is another bridge with an interesting name, Bonehill Road Bridge. I had a check wondering if it was associated with an opened up tumulus or similar, but no it refers to Bonehill House. It was a house built for the widow of Edmund Peel who died in 1850. The house was built as a Dower House. He was the brother of the Robert Peel of  Fazeley Mill fame. The Peel family made their money with calico mills at Fazeley. There were also fish ponds, reservoirs and a bleach works at Bonehill too.

This boat at Huddlesford looked very interesting. It looks like the stern was cropped off and a short welded bit added. Anybody got any ideas of its origin?

Since Fazeley it had got cooler as the sun spent less time appearing. We had had slight rain and even some short snow flurries, but after passing Streethay Wharf I was wondering whether we would get moored up before getting a soaking?

I nearly crashed the boat trying not to disturb the reflection of this oak as we approached.

Just before Bridge 88 was this ghost tree! I don't think I have seen a birch so white and it really stood out.

These buildings by the A38 bridge have been there since 1881 at least. It certainly looks as though it was once a canal wharf warehouse. However the bridge that is now the A38 was called Limekiln Bridge then. Mind you I can see no evidence of them on the map.

It seemed to be ages to get to Fradley and as the first bit of Armco was free we moored up just as the rain got thicker and heavier, so we just about made it!

Thursday 7 April 2022

More Bits of stuff than Bobs.

 It was very blustery last night, with the gaps in the buildings and the cut itself acting like a funnel. I had wrapped the moorings lines around the bollard so they couldn't be lifted off and they creaked every time the weight came on.

I had always wondered why a winding hole was put in here but it was the entrance to a basin that served the Excelsior Coal Wharf. Where I am standing was another entrance to a basin that served a malt house, glass works and a brass foundry. The area is now all down to exercise the brain muscle rather than any others.

It was windy as we approached Ashted Locks. Helen decided she would work the locks for now. We normally split it I drive the boat on lock flight up, and Helen on the way down. The over bridge just before the lock was for access to another wharf. That Ashted Tunnel is a bugger. I have never been able to pass through without catching and scratching the roof edges. The tunnel is very narrow and the profile just doesn't take into account the height of modern cabin tops.

Just like at Aston University there is a load of building going on either side of the Ashted Locks on the Birmingham City Campus. Then at the foot of the locks there is also loads of work going on for the Birmingham Terminus of the HS2 railway at Curzon Street. Unlike Ashted Tunnel Curzon Tunnel is very wide, but is full of wind blown rubbish at either end.

We turned into Warwick Bar, deciding that time and wind would prevent us from taking a peek down the Typhoo Branch to see what had changed down there. The stop lock is on the left. The banana warehouse?! on the right and the boat shaped massive warehouse that was for the Fellows, Morton and Clayton, and beyond that is the Bond, some more old warehouses.

There is then an aqueduct over the River Rea that has sort of disappeared from Birmingham's ken as it has been culveted, built over and kept out of site. There are plans at Digbeth to resurrect it and incorporate it into housing schemes. I wonder if it will spread down this end? I have just noticed on the bridge abutment the GUCC and 1935 so was part of the improvement scheme that widened the Grand Union, but not here!

Just past the aqueduct were this series of artworks, not just graffiti, as they seemed to be to raise awareness of male mental health and suicide.

At Bordesley Junction It is straight on to continue on the Warwick and Birmingham Canal that became the Grand Union. To the left is the Birmingham and Warwick Junction Canal. Originally just the other side of the over bridge was a basin either side of the canal. They have both been built over now, but under the bridge you can see the entrance.

This was the old Phoenix Wharf and the Providence Tin Plate Works. The building above the cut was the Colmore Bedstead Factory around the turn of the 1900's. Before that St. Andrews boys and girls school was on the site.

Despite the very unedifying filth that lined the off side we did see our first bluebells today.

I'm not sure if this is a pumping system returning water to the top of the flight, but on the old maps there are several pump houses indicated along the length of the locks. Until just before WWII the land on the left of the picture were brickfields and factories making the raw material for the expansion of Birmingham.

As we passed the site of the old Saltley Gas Works that would have provided plenty of work for the canal we came to some new bridges linking all the new industrial units. This is the packaging company Smurfit Kappa Co. Ltd, but I only added it to give you some idea of the strength of the wind. Fortunately it was largely from astern. If it had been into our faces it would have been bitter, especially when the frequent light rain sowers fell.

This is the River Rea where it crosses over from the towpath side under an Aqueduct to the other side. Behind us (to the right) there used to be a a canal side reservoir, and to the left on the towpath side was a large mill pond that was filled in by the First World War and a recreation ground built on top.

The canal runs along the right hand side of this map extract. I can't seem to find anything about the curious whirl in the middle of the newly formed recreation ground from the 1913 map. Is it a circular maze?

As we passed the pontoon at Star City we wondered what the signs would be. It seems that the pontoon was reserved on 20th March for an event. I think that C&RT need to get wise to using plastic wallets with printed paper and plastic wire ties to tie them on. It is obvious that some have already gone. They have campaigns to pick up litter and avoid plastic. The very least would have been that they take them off after the event so that they didn't end up in the cut. We tied up to make our fourth of fifth visit to the weed hatch!

As we neared Salford Junction we passed over the River Tame that flows under the motorway M6 above. The River Rea joins a little further down the Tame.

There are massive developments taking place north of the canal towards Sutton Coldfield. There are to be 6000 house built and industry to provide the jobs. There is to be a fully integrated settlement with swift transport around the place. A third of the total of the land will be left green or by recreation grounds, sports pitches etc. It is right in the middle of all the road and rail transport networks too. Such a huge area of green field. I originally thought it was the HS2 that had got lost?

We finished for the day just before Curdworth top lock. We seem to have done our bit for litter picking as the bow is full of stuff we have picked out of the locks or surroundings. Last time we came this way we were quite impressed as it was loads better than previously. However it is going down hill once again.

Wednesday 6 April 2022

Back to Brum.

 After a quiet night following a nice visit to the Barton Arms we woke to rain, but it was all gone by the time we were ready to set off. Even the towpath was dry.

These are very secure moorings and hopefully the owners will prevent people living there full time and stopping casual acces like us. It is all over seen by CCTV too.

Just through Rocky Lane bridge is this wall that forms one side of another building. With the transformer station the otherside I guessed it was an old power station. However, before that it was Aston's first Fire Station built in 1879 on Chester Street and down to Board's Wharf on the cut. It expanded over the years until the turn of the century when it was sold and the power station was built, as the Aston Manor Corporation got the contract for supply of energy. They started supplying for lighting and power in 1903 and for the tram network in 1904. The site was expanded in 1906 when Erdington was included in the supply. I'm not sure when the rest of the building was demolished but the wall is preserved.

A little further up on the towpath side is this over bridge that ran into serve a granary that was also linked to the railway system until before WWII.

After a couple of locks there was another overbridge that led to an arm into the Windsor Street Gas works for the Birmingham Corporation. In the photo above on the opposite side you can just about see where another arm led off. It looked as if it was for another part of the gasworks. As there are no buildings on the wharf I suspect it maybe for coal storage.

After the last photo on the approach to the No.6 lock is another over bridge fright by the lock. It led to another part of the Windsor Street Gas works. Maybe this was for the removal of ash, or tar etc.

Two locks from the top, and having met one boat heading down. Despite the high rise buildings around this area is quite quiet, but in the hey day of the canal there was an iron foundry on the off side and an Iron works on the towpath side!

We got to the top in just an hour, for eight locks, and only a slight shower to dampen the spirits. Time is limited on this trip so we did not head up the Farmer's Bridge Locks and turned left an moored at the Science Park moorings. It is as easy to walk into town from here as from the top anyway.

At Aston Junction they are building even more student accommodation and there has been some moorings on the off side but were a place for drinking a drugs judging by the litter. It seems they are tidying it and if I understood the workers correctly it is going to be visitor moorings when completed.

The nursery that was here has gone and the Advanced Transport and Infrastructure National College has been built in its place. It is a 48hr mooring here with room for two full length boats, and more opposite the winding hole though.

After walking throught he Aston University campus we came to Corporation Street and the Methodist Central Hall. It is a massive red brick and terracotta building with it tower. The central hall could seat 2,000 and there were 30 other rooms, including 3 other smaller halls. Much of the road frontage on both sides of the building were let to shops and some still have the original design. It fell of use mainly in 2002 and has got into such bad repair that it is on the Historic Building at risk register as it is Grade II listed. The tile works was done by Gibbs and Canning of Tamworth. In 2018 there were plans for a 147 hotel, as the main part of a redesign, but it appears as if COVID, funding etc have meant that has not gone ahead. It would be a great shame to loose it.

On the other side of the road, and on the opposite side are the red brick Victoria Law Courts. The foundation stone was laid in 1887 and they were opened in 1891 by the Prince and Princess of Wales. Alterations have been made over the years but it must be quite sumptuous in side. It was the first court outside of London to be lit by electricity

Above the entrance arch in this terracotta detail, also done by Gibbs and Canning of Tamworth, It shows a relatively young Queen Victoria, not the grumpy old lady that is often seen.

Helen had a list of shops she wanted to visit and I took this picture on New Street/Corporation Corner. The Birmingham Post Newspaper was based here to the left and the building was extended in 1879 to the corner and in roughly the same style. At the top of the rounded corner is the names Queens Corner that was said to be added after the visit of Queen Victoria to the city in 1887. The clock is advertising Slater's Men wear that were in the building until not too long ago.

It has been graduation day at Aston so there were many gowns and motors and proud families as we walked through the campus that has plenty of grass, seating fountains and lakes. I was taken with this sculpture as it says ' All the Books I should have Read'. Well Helen is always reading and usual,reads about one a week.

We are back off to town for tea as by long standing tradition we have an Indian meal at the Barajee on Broad Street.