Cambrian Wharf – Titford Pump House
47 miles, 74 locks, 23hrs, 25 minutes
This past weekend saw us competing in the BCN 24 marathon challenge. This brilliant event is organised by the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society and the idea is to explore as much of the BCN as possible in 24 hours of boating. We competed with friends in hired boats Yeoford and Collingwood in 2011 and 2012 but have never done it on our own boat so this was very exciting!
We had two crew members:
Andrew, who doesn’t have his own boat but loves historic narrow boats and has lots of experience with the Narrow Boat Trust and others (James met him when they were both helping Jason with Bargus’s docking).
Lee, who owns ex GUCCCo Barnet as well as his modern boat Kennington and lives in London (we met when he very kindly let us moor Willow on the Broadway Market moorings he runs the night before our wedding)
On Thursday night we made it to Cambrian Wharf and I was working on Friday. James cycled back to Lyon boatyard to make sure we had two cabin shafts ready for the BCN (one of them snapped trying to remove the bladeful we got at Kings Norton Junction.) Andrew and Lee arrived at 5-6pm and we went for a planning dinner at Ed’s Diner.
As in previous Challenges we picked Gas Street as our starting point mainly for convenience, and so as the Campanile bells rang 8am we set off down the Farmers Bridge flight. With 4 experienced crew we were quick and got on with the 46 locks that make up Farmers Bridge, Aston, Perry Bar and Rushall before lunch!
Post office tower
Top Lock Perry Bar
However at the top of Rushall the engine just stopped… as we we’re heading straight for the only moored boat we’d seen for ages. Amazingly it managed to splutter back into life for long enough to reverse and so avoid hitting it before dying again. James quickly diagnosed fuel supply issues and a clogged filter and thankfully we carry a spare fuel filter so he switched it and we were good to go again. This used up 45 mins of the obligatory 6hrs “rest”. However this meant we no longer had a spare so Andrew cycled off to motor factor in Walsall which James had rung and bought two new ones!
Our next stop was up the Cannock extension to gain the extra points. Then we had planned to turn down the Walsall canal at Birchills but emailed reports of no water in the flight and kids throwing stones made us change our minds and do the whole of the “Curly” Wyrley and Essington. We stopped in to Holly Bank Basin at midnight to get more bonus points which involved shafting Willow backwards as it was quite shallow.
Cannon extension – Grove Colliery basin
Holly Bank basin
Then on round to the junction with the Main Line at Wolverhampton and the deeper water and fewer awkward bends. But just before we got to Factory Locks (and at about 2am) the cooling system gave up (a hose came off) and dumped a lot of water into the bilges! We lost another 45 mins of “rest time” here as we has to relay bottles of water and fill the system back up again!
Wolverhampton at night
This done we carried on to Factory Locks where we met the first boat we’d seen in a while – nb Enceladus. Seeing another boat going on through the night inspired us to keep at it (later on they said they’d felt the same!) So instead of heading directly for the finish line we “nipped” down Ryders Green locks and back up. This took a fair while as we found lock 5 was a bit iffy and wouldn’t open properly and bottom pound was very low. But we made it to Ocker Hill for the points and back up the flight behind Atlas and Malus the CRT heritage pair.
Dawn on the New Main Line
By this time it was a lovely morning and the sun shone as we ascended Spon Lane and under the M5 motorway’s huge pillars.
Then it was up the Crow to Titford where the Challenge finished this year. These are known to be tight but we knew it was possible for Willow’s 72ft hull to get there as we have a picture that her previous owner sent us of our boat in the top lock by the pump house which gave us hope!
Willow up the Crow (photo S Harrison)
Lock 4 was extremely tight (length wise that is) but we got the gate closed with a bit of wiggling past the stern. And then we were up the flight and finished! We used the remainder of our “rest time” to actually rest!
Tight fit up the Crow
It was definitely a Challenge especially with the engine trouble but great fun. We definitely wouldn’t have managed it without Andrew and Lee who were both fantastic crew, with seemingly unlimited energy and good spirit.
The after party was great fun, swapping tales of the delights of the BCN and catching up with friends from the other crews. A big thanks goes to the BCNS for organising another great challenge.
All the rubbish that got wrapped round our propeller blades on the challenge