Muskrat – the tail (?) of a Challenge

(Posted as a comment by John of Muskrat, and converted in to a post by the webslave)

We add our congratulations to Richard and his crew on Tawny Owl, a fine competitor for the past three challenges and a worthy winner this time. And congratulations too to all the other competitors and to the organisers and helpers at Longwood.   It was a great weekend.   Charley has invited contributions so here is ours.

When we saw the scoring system for the 2013 challenge we knew our run of good luck and a fair wind towards winning was over but we decided we’d give it our best and have a relaxed and enjoyable cruise.  At only 35 feet long, as compared to the 70 foot boats, we started with a deficit of 35 points and also needed to travel twice the miles to stay level – a non-starter as our top speed in deep water (not known on the BCN) is well under 4mph; our 2-cylinder Lister is over 40 years old, and since adding a new bottom plate to cover the abraded original and replacing the old leaky fibreglass cabin with a steel one a few years ago we now draw 28 inches and are rather underpowered.   So our route planning focused on where it would be nice to go combined with the stretches carrying higher bonus factors, and with a bias for locks where there was no penalty for being short.  We did briefly toy with the idea of building a 35 foot prow or bowsprit, perhaps with a seat at the front, but decided this was not in the spirit of the challenge!

I was on my own for Saturday morning and started from Wolverhampton top lock a bit after Sarah and crew on Canis Major who had arrived and got in position on the starting line while I was asleep.   When I caught up a little later at an unusually wide and straight bit of the Curly Whirly she gracefully waved me past – thanks.   First stop was Sneyd Junction, to find the blue bricks (with blue canoes and blue police signs as distractions), then on to Grove Colliery Basin and the birch tree with a yellow ribbon before returning to the Walsall locks where two of my sons joined me; 22 miles of very attractive canal but no locks so far.

Down the locks we went and into the deserted Town Basin, with its new Premier Inn, then along the Walsall Canal with a late lunch on the move, up the Ryder’s Green flight passing Charlene and Panatha and to the Brades Hall locks via Caparo precision steel strippers and a close encounter with Felonious Mongoose at Albion Junction.   There was a mini-gathering at these locks, with Spartan, Phoebe and Diesel & Dust all going the other way.

Once up and heading towards Oldbury we passed Tawny Owl again (the first time had been at Goscote) and then headed up to Titford Pools; the last half mile or so is in serious need of debris clearing and dredging.  Keeper’s Cottage beside The Navigation was found, then we turned back, down the attractive Spon Lane locks, along Telford’s magnificent New Main Line below his aqueducts and astonishing Galton Bridge – what a genius!

After a well-earned stop for supper with the full moon for company, Edward got some sleep while Henry and I continued via the Soho Loop.  Exploration at the bridges soon solved the Centre of the Earth riddle – it’s the name of the park across Asylum Bridge – and then we crossed the Main Line into Icknield Port Loop where the excessively bright lights made counting the chimneys on the old building quite a challenge (we thought there were three). It was 11.30pm at Old Turn but we decided to press on for a bit longer so went down the Farmer’s Bridge locks (all set against, several with the bottom gate open – ugh!) before mooring above the Ashted locks at about 1.00am.

Up again – at least Edward and me – at 5.15 on a glorious morning to continue our cruise down to Salford Junction, via the patch where Cornerstone AC has an interest, and then up the Perry Barr locks where we had our third, and worst, encounter with propeller entanglements, a sari this time which of course turns into a tightly wound rope requiring serious and prolonged attack down the weed hatch with a serrated knife to get rid of. The quantity of floating rubbish at the top lock was unprecedented and we extracted about a skip-full onto the bank before making use of the very welcome CRT shower there. As we left, a CRT team turned up to remove the rubbish, but as we cruised along the splendid high-level stretch past Hamstead we could see there would be plenty more drifting their way.

With Henry up to lend a hand, we joined the procession up the Rushall locks to join the fun at Longwood. After about 22 hours of cruising to complete our planned route in lovely weather (what a contrast to last year, and even to the previous Friday), 55.5 miles and 80 locks, and all the questions on our route dealt with, we’d had a really enjoyable time. And it was excellent to see so many others enjoying the fascinating and varied BCN system and to find almost all the parts we cruised in good condition. Many thanks to Roy, John and Brenda for all they do to make this event such a success. We hope to be there again next year.

John, Henry and Edward of Muskrat