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Remember 35ft failed Survey Want a Laughzz

11th Feb 2005

Hi Loretta,

October last year I bought that small boat from Berkhamsted, the crooked one that has been made from several boats and failed a hull survey. Well I have moved the boat from Berkhamsted to Norbury Junction and here is my account of the journey. Just thought you would be interested, no other reason. Maybe you could email a copy to Alex for his information, I'm sure he'll find it interesting.

The beginning,
I bought the boat, a 36' cruiser stern built in around 1983, from a guy who was living on it at Berkhamsted on the Grand Union on 10th October 2004. The boat was at the right price and could, with the minimum of effort be re-arranged inside to suit my needs. A bit of tidying and presto! a 36' narrow boat owner. Dream come true. Only major problem seemed to be that it was situated 3 hours drive away, not good if you plan to work on it throughout the early part of the year in time for the spring and the boating season.

I would not consider myself as an experienced boater but this was not my first boat. That was a small Norman cruiser bought from Burton on the Trent and Mersey. The cost of moving the narrow boat from Berkhamsted by road was prohibitive. Boat moving people wanted outragoeus amounts of money also. We had moved the first boat by canal ourselves so thought this the best and cheapest option. It would be fairly awkward as we would only have weekends and the Christmas holidays and would need to return to the car each time we moored.

My parents, who are retired offered to do the first stint and spend a week on the boat to move it as far as possible and optimistically thought Birmingham was a good target. We also had to work around the stoppage program.

They left Berkhamsted on 1st November 2004 and made half a mile in that day! they managed three locks. Not to worry things had got off to a slow start but they would get better once they got the hang of it. I had gone down the weekend before to do some instruction and lost the keys. So I had to break in and fit a new ignition.

Day two saw them make about eight miles without incident, until that night when, because they hadnt lit the gas fridge decided to leave beer and cool box full of food on the front. About two in the morning some git decided to pinch it all.

In the morning I suggested that they fill up with diesel as I couldnt be sure how much was in it. They stopped early next morning at a mariner and filled up. The engine wouldnt re-start, the battery was as flat as a pancake. managed to get jump started and set off. Made a fair distance.

I'll cut the story short but suffice to say that they got as far as Weedon Beck in nine days. I had to meet them at various points and fit a new alternator, a new ignition, do some re-wiring, bleed the fuel system, fix the head lights and horn, make a new bed extension and shower door, buy a new toilet and a generator, buy a start up battery pack for one use. They struggled with the log burner, snaped off the gear lever, was robbed, had some old tramp (Finch) keep knocking on the window asking for a light and scaring the life out of my mum.

But by far the worse part of their journey was the Blissworth tunnel. Having never been through a tunnel before they didnt know what to expect and in hindsight should have realised there aint no light at all inside a tunnel especially not the longest navigable one in the country. They got two hundreds yards in before realising the head lights didnt work, they had a spot light torch that lasted for about twenty minutes then a battery powered lantern. They couldnt locate the dog all the way through and was worried sick the poor thing was in the water.

Dog was fine but my parents nerves were shot. What was supposed to be a relaxing leisurely run up the Grand Union was a complete disaster.

That, however didnt end the journey. On exiting the boat my dad slipped and snapped the ignition key off in the lock. Game over.

But this was only the begining of what has turned out to be an absolute epic canal boat trip.

During the first leg my parents had covered 52.25 miles and 43 locks.

Second leg.

I went down to the boat and met my Dad there with the spare key. We managed to get the broken piece of key out and she started up fine and seemed to be charging OK. I made sure the lights worked as we were going through Braunston Tunnel today and I didn’t fancy the experience they had had at Blisworth. The moorings were ok and there were quite a few boats around. I had bought some cushions from Ebay that came from a caravan so we could do away with the infaltable beds.

This next leg was going to be carried out by me and my Dad and we set off at first light on 3rd December. We had met at the bottom of Stockton locks at around 5.30am so we could leave a car there and when we got this far on the Sunday evening we would be able to return to Weedon to collect the other car left behind.

So the plan was to get as far as Stockton locks by the Sunday night, we were starting early on Saturday. Easy, a mere 16 miles or so and 16 locks.

Beautiful winters morning it was too. I was a bit concerned about fuel as I wasn’t sure how the boat was performing but we happened upon a marina selling diesel almost straight away so filled up. Took Thirty seven litres, I think the tank is only Thirty eight so a close call.

We had a superb trip throughout the day with only one incident that could have turned out nasty. Upon entering the first set of locks we met a boater coming up. Nice chap with a big white beard, looked like Father Christmas I commented on the fact he was going to be busy over the next few weeks. He found it quite funny. Anyway, this meant that the locks were against us. Not to worry, I would relay backwards and forwards to get the next lock set each time.

After the second lock I had lifted the paddles to empty and ran on to the next one and set it, about half way towards it I heard shouting back at the lock I had just started to empty. I ran back and the boat was sitting on the cill. The front of the boat was about four inches before it went under and my Dad was hanging on the back for dear life the boat was at about thiry degrees! I shut the paddles and gradually let the water back in. It floated ok and we seemed to have survived it with no damaged to the boat. Phew!

We made Stockton locks by Saturday evening without further trouble. Went into The Boat for a slap up dinner, live music and a shed load of Guiness, excellent!

Because we had made our finishing point in the first day we decided to keep going all day Sunday and get a taxi back to the car.

Sunday morning start, no problems and straight into Stockton locks. We waited a short while for another boat that was coming up behind us so that we could go through together speeding things up with more hands and saving water. In hindsight this was not such a good idea as the boat had some elderly people on board that were on a hire boat and very slow at operating the locks. Still no matter we did just fine.

After a lot of locks there was a gap of a few miles until the next set and we set off in front, but the boat engine started to play up. It was slowing and reving higher by itself, kept on going but the revs were erratic. I thought at that time it was running low on diesel. But my Dad said this was impossible as thirty seven litres should last for ages yet and we had only done about twenty miles or so. But I was convinced. We still had the other boat following.

After another few locks one of which was a double step thing that was interesting, the engine stopped. We pulled it through and I started to investigate. Now there is no gauge on my tank and there is no sure way to check whether there is enough diesel on board. I couldnt get any out of the bleed screw so I was convinced this was the problem my Dad said no way. But I won, hmmm.

We had foolishly let the other boat go saying we could cope and on looking at the map and having a gps unit with us we seemd to be in the middle of absolutely nowhere, and I mean nowhere, the nearest fuel station was about three miles walk, six mile round trip. So, like an idiot I started off with my jerry can on the trolley. If this wasn’t the mudiest tow path in existance I don’t know what. After about a mile I saw a chap living on what can only be described as a wreck of a wooden boat. He had some diesel he let me have and I started back.

I poured in the diesel but only to find after about five litres it overflowed. Bugger, my Dad had been right, of course hadnt he always been over the years. I’ll never learn.

This was not good news as this meant another fault which I hadnt anticipated and we were still in the middle of nowheresville. We estimated about a mile or so to the next road. We couldn’t leave it where it was so I started to pull. This was not easy I can tell you, the bank was so overgrown that the boat had to be practically in the centre of the canal and when you’re pulling it, it tends to come into the bank no matter how you steer it. After a very tiring couple of hours I had managed to pull it as far as Welsh Road and this is where she stayed until leg three.

I returned to the boat the following week and removed the fuel pump, lift pump, filter and all the injectors. I then returned on the 23rd December with all refurbed or new parts, I had to fix it as we intended spending some of our Christmas holidays moving the boat.

On returning to fix it I discovered that some idiot had fitted the on/off tap on the return line to the diesel tank instead of the feed line and all thirty eight litres of diesel were lying in the bilge. I had a Vax machine which I used to suck it out, I couldn’t tip it back in the tank and I clearly couldn’t tip it in the canal or anywhere near so I brought it home, my car still stinks of diesel!

I fitted all the new parts and she started up fine. It was still smoking too much for my liking so I decided to advance the pump timing. On doing this, as it was hard to move, I must have knocked the fitting that goes to the oil pressure gauge pipe. Without knowing I started the engine and covered myself, the boat and the towpath in thick black engine oil. It came out like a gusher!

By the end of the day I had, sort of, cleaned up the mess, fixed the engine, put in more diesel and oil checked everything I could think of and she was ready for leg three. Or so I thought………………….

Leg two 21.72 miles 31 locks.

Third leg.

We had a wonderful Christmas, one of the best I can remember. In addition to a wonderful Christmas at home we intended to spend five days, four nights, on the boat. Moving it from Welsh Road lock where she broke down to, well as far as we could really. I had a secret hope we would get all the way to Norbury Junction (Ha!).

Parked the car at lunch time on the 27th December, it was freezing with a fair amount of ice on the canal. In fact it was frozen solid! Loaded our kit and got the fire going, made a steaming hot drink, started her up without a problem, untied and got under weigh. Not, though, without rocking the boat to break the ice to get off the bank. The ice was an inch thick in places. I did have some small concern about the boat as she was ice breaking, because of the racket it was making and it was making the steering eratic as the front bounced around.

It was a fabulous day, saw some incredible wild life and enjoyed every minute. We moored up in Warwick, stoked up the fire, opened a bottle of Claret and I cooked a fish risoto which would rival any posh resturant. Excellent!

Nice early start, a bacon sandwich whilst on the move and off. We came to Hatton locks, the ice had gone and we set about going through the fifteen lock flight. There was loads of people about, anyone would have thought it was the middle of summer. There must have been some kind of coach party. Anyway, near the top lock we were talking to some people when I heard a shout from inside the boat. I was standing at the top holding the rope and Tracey was operating the paddles. My seven year old daughter, Alice, was playing inside the boat. "Dad! Dad! There’s water coming in!" The lock gate was badly worn and there was a fountain of water spraying vertically upwards into the front of the boat, loads of it. I pulled the boat back so the fountain missed the front but a bit too late and we had about an inch of water in the boat. Soaking the floor and carpet and anything that was on the floor at the time. We managed to get most of it out but still had a soggy carpet for the rest of the trip.

On we went to Knowle locks. By the time we approached these it was late in the day and was dusk. I figured we had enough daylight to get through the six locks, so we went for it.

After the third lock, I noticed Tracey was opening the gate and the lock was only about half full. "You wont get that open yet I shouted" I was on the boat. But the gate opened. Weird I thought. I moved the boat out of the lock and got about half way through the pound when it grounded, not on soft mud but on what sounded like concrete. I couldn’t move it anywhere I tried going in reverse and forward. In addition to this the wind was blowing really hard. I tried to pole it off from the front but by the time I got back to the tiller the wind had blown it back onto the concrete.

It was getting quite dark now. Tracey was anxious and I couldn’t move the boat. I managed after a lot of sweating with the pole, to get the stern close enough to the edge so I could get off the boat. It was clear the pound was empty, and so was the one above it. By now it was late and pitch dark, there aint no street lighting out there. So using the head lights from the boat, I went to each lock above us and opened the bottom gates and all the paddles. Crikey I didn’t half move some water, the noise was defening, sounded like Niagra Falls. The pounds at Knowle locks are not small. In the end the boat floated and we got through all the locks. When just finishing the top lock we met a chap who was living on his boat moored right next to the top lock. We told him what had happened and he said "They’re always empty, the water leaks out during periods when there is little traffic." Great. It was late we went about another half a mile and moored up for the night, I was knackered.

Got up fairly late the next day, we needed diesel and fire wood. We didn’t have to go far to get the diesel and a little further on I found some fire wood from Britsh Waterways logging. Stopped for a full English breakfast and set off for Camp Hill. We intended to get to Birmingham City Centre. A tall order but If we did we did and if we didn’t well then never mind.

Cruising along through Solihull we came across so much rubbish floating on the canal it was as though the people living on the edge were throwing their dust bin contents directly into the canal. I have never seen anything like it, the whole surface in some areas was covered in floating garbage. I picked up god alone knows how many plastic bags and stuff, some of it pretty disgusting. I had to keep stopping and fortunately, with the boat hook and hanging over the back managed to clear it off.

Got to Camp Hill where we stopped took on water and got rid of our rubbish, emptied the loo etc. The first narrow locks hurrah! On going into the first lock I noticed that when in neutral the shaft was still turning and driving the boat in reverse. I had to keep putting it in and out of both forward and reverse to eventually get neutral. I knew something was wrong and got down inside the engine compartment and adjusted the gear box brake bands. This seemed to fix it. But after another couple of locks there came an almighty screeching from down below. I turned everything off.

I tried various things but in essence the gearbox had seized solid. The engine would start but the drive was direct through the gearbox and running the boat in reverse, and fast even on tickover. Even at the time I thought this was odd, why reverse?

Again the light was failing us and with Alice, my seven year old daughter steering, at least holding the tiller straight. Tracey operating the locks and me pulling the boat, again, we went through a short tunnel and the remaining locks and moored up at Birmingham Science park in Aston. This is where the boat stayed for the next couple of weeks. The security there is pretty good because there are cameras everywhere and security guards wandering around. But I was never happy about it being moored there. There were no other boats for some distance in either direction. We saw all kinds of nutters, drunks and stuff during that night and noise up until next morning with tramps sleeping under the bridges and arguing etc. We walked up to a pizza place and had a massive sixteen inch pizza, each! Washed down with plenty of wine.

Next day I had to be rescued and given a lift back to my car at Lemmington Spar. Good old Mum and Dad.

The following weekend, with the help of some mates we managed to get the gearbox out, I took it home, dismantled it and found some of the roller bearings had melted. I replaced every bearing and learnt a bit about the gearbox. It had been filled with the incorrect oil. This is important in this box and a non detergent SEA30 is required. I know it had been filled with gear oil because the container was still in the boat. I thought that this must be, at least in part, the reason it seized. But no.

It appears that this gearbox has a different ratio for forward and reverse, most marine gearboxes do I’m told. The prop should run the same way as the crank when going forward. But it doesn’t, it runs in reverse. The wrong handed prop is fitted and reason the gearbox seized is because it is effectively going in reverse all day!

Also whilst removing the gearbox I noticed the shaft alignment coupling had been badly worn and the rubber drive cushion badly torn up.

I was now against the clock. On January the 10th as well as Factory locks, the twenty one locks at Wolverhampton were being closed for repairs. I desperately did not want the boat to stay in Birminham. I had to refit the gearbox, bodge up the alignment coupling (As it has been shrunk on and virtually impossible to remove), make sure it all worked and get the boat to at least Autherley Junction on the Shropshire Union. I had just one weekend to do it. I was going leave the prop as it is, this would require the boat to be lifted out.

During leg three we only saw one other boat on the move going in the opposite direction. We had travelled thirty one miles and gone through forty five locks,. But there was more to come.

Leg four, The Landing.

Just one weekend to re-fit the gearbox carry out other repairs and move the boat from Aston Science Park to, at least, Autherley Junction. Only seventeen miles but with thirty seven locks.

Left work early on the Friday afternoon and met up at Aston Science Park with Glen, a neighbour and friend who will be helping me over the weekend to both fit the gearbox and travel with me to help at the locks. Also a bit of a jolly for us as we had plenty of beer to consume throughout. We intended to prepare the boat during Friday afternoon, return home, leave Glens car at Autherley Junction early Saturday morning so we would have transport in order to return to my car Sunday afternoon.

We managed to fit the gearbox without too much difficulty, it was dark, cold and very windy but we had a generator going with flood lights so we could see ok. I had an idea of how to temporary repair the alignment coupling. This involved removing the drive dogs and rotating them one hundred and eighty degrees. This was because they had been machined away by the driving disc. Probably because the rubber drive was shot. But I thought it had lasted this long it should last a bit longer and I would have to come up with a more permanent solution once the boat is in its mooring. After brief testing all seemed fine and ready for the morning.

We set off at first light around seven thirty on the Saturday morning. It was hellishly windy and the control of the boat was very difficult. After about two hundred yards, yep just two hundred yards, it was clear the gearbox adjustment was wrong. It was not driving forward just slipping and the engine over reving. We pulled up on the non tow path side, this was because of the wind we just couldn’t manouver the boat and without proper drive it just blew us against the wrong side.

I got down into the engine compartment and adjusted the brake bands. To get this right, I now know, you can only adjust it in small increments as there is a cam inside that needs to be in just the right position. After some trial and error, more error than anything else, I managed to get the gear lever to operate the forward and reverse just perfect. However this created a second problem. When the gear lever is in neutral it rests on a welded lug attached to the boat structure. Now neutral was in a different position it was too far from this lug and we had no resting point for neutral. I bent the gear lever so it was in the right place but this then made it too short. I had a patio brolly lying in a cupboard so using the pole from this to extend the gear lever we were sorted.

The first set of locks was Farmers locks, a set of thirteen going up. Glen had never operated locks or a narrow boat before so the first few were a learning curve. Because of the wind it was difficult to control the boat. The pounds at Farmers locks extend right under the tower blocks of Birmingham City Centre. How they managed to preserve the canal and its locks whilst constructing these monsters is incredible. We had to ensure the succeeding lock was open fully before leaving the previous one so we could "fire" the boat across these pounds or risk being blown accross.

We took turns with locks and boat control Glen seem to pick it up fine under difficult circumstances. After about seven or eight locks, we were directly under a massive concrete tower block and the concrete piling went into the pound. Glen was operating the boat and the wind was unbeleivable, probably being made worse by the tower. He came out of the lock and was immediately blown into these concrete pillars. The boat managed to wedge itself firmly between two piles. This was out of my reach and I had to shout instructions to a fairly distraught Glen. He threw me a rope and it took us about twenty minutes to free the boat and after that I did most of the boat driving and Glen did the locks.

We got ourselves a great system going after that and had no problems all during the day. We stopped at Tipton for a quick pint in the pub, get some supplies. We arrived at the top lock at Wolverhampton about five thirty in the evening. We decided to keep going even in the dark and get as far as possbvle before stopping.

We did seventeen locks in break neck speed. Then at lock number seventeen the boat refused to move forward. I could see with the aid of a torch that the shaft was rotating but the alignment coupling had given up the ghost. We pulled the boat out of the lock and moored up for the evening. Warmed up our Bolognaise made and donated by Tracey for the journey, lit the fire and got a little bit merry (Understatement). We knew that no matter what, even if we had to pull it rest of the way, we had made it through the Wolverhampton locks and avoided the stoppages.

Next morning I dismantled the alignment drive coupling, the drive dogs had been machined away completely and we needed to come up with a temporary solution. We went for a walk into Wolverhampton town centre, there are a number of DIY shops where we might find something to replace the drive dogs with. I bought a stack of M12 repair washers. Bolted these in place and we were away again. Took it very easy just in case.

We didn’t get away until after twelve but still made Autherley Junction, where Glens car was parked, by one thirty.

"Shall we got for it?" "All the way to Norbury?". Yep, we decided to try and make its mooring at Norbury Junction.

Generally we had a great trip and arrived at Norbury Junction at eight thirty on Sunday evening. The temporary bodge I had carried out on the coupling held up. It sqeaked like mad and we had to keep throwing oil onto it to shut it up. This has made a right mess inside the engine compartment. Also the gearbox jammed up once. Not good but it seemed fine afterwards and never got a peak out of it from Brewood to Norbury.

Land ho! Arrived! Hurrah! Berkhamsted on the Grand Union to Norbury Juction on the Shropshire Union.

Forth and final leg was 32.5 miles and 39 locks.


The boat, "Joey", my thirty six foot cruiser stern narrow boat left Berkhamsted on the 1st November 2004 and arrived at Norbury Junction on the 9th January 2005. Travelling over 140 miles and around 160 locks.

We had many problems and the brief account I have portrayed only really concentrates on the main things that went wrong, and there were plenty of them! One day I’ll write a full account, properly instead of the short paragraphs required for web site reading. But the journey was a real adventure and I would do it all again at the drop of a hat, not only had things gone bad but there were some really good times on that journey.

At first when stuff started to happen we just got on and fixed it, using all our desert island engineering skills and determination. Then as we progressed we found it quite funny when things went wrong. In fact we laughed at times so much tears were rolling down our faces. "Surely nothing else can go wrong?" But of course it did. On leg three and four I kept in contact with my Dad, because he had an interest being on the first two legs himself. I would phone him in the evening and relay our progress, we couldn’t talk for laughing. "You did what in the lock!", "No, don’t tell me you’ve sunk it!".

Highly inexperienced we brought a lot of problems on ourselves but, now we have gained a fair amount of experience even if it has been condensed into a short period of time. I am now halfway through my interior re-fit, I will have the inside and new electrics installed over the next few weeks. The mechanical problems sorted. The exterior will have to wait until the weather improves but by the spring and new boating season "Joey" will be ready for the next adventure. Cant wait!


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