About a year ago, the BCA asked the Society engineering team if they would consider restoring their under-utilised patrol boat. The BCA have need of a boat with which the rangers can patrol the Canal to check its condition, to ensure that all craft on the Canal are licenced, and a variety of other uses – in other words, that the boat be returned to its former use.
The boat has a fibreglass hull and wooden superstructure, and is about 5m by 2m. It was bought by David Gerry, first manager of the Canal, around 1976 and was intended to be the first work boat on the Hampshire section, however its construction meant it was not really suited for this purpose. It also had an inboard engine driving a propeller in a tube, which frequently blocked with weed (at that time, very little of the Canal was dredged). In about 1982 after a period of little use, Tony Harmsworth, David’s successor, decided to rebuild the boat and added a lockable cabin, converted it to outboard power and installed remote steering. After that it was used extensively for patrolling the Canal, for which it was ideally suited – see above left – (including for Greywell Tunnel inspections, using an electric motor) throughout Tony’s tenure, which ended in 2001.
More recently however, the boat had languished in the tunnel (left), and had fewer outings, being used almost exclusively for tunnel inspections. Not only that, with the passage of time and damp conditions the woodwork had become badly rotten (right).
The team, led by John Wharf, agreed to take on the project. The boat was moved to the depot at Ash Lock in December 2014, and they set to work. It was decided to completely rebuild the wooden superstructure (again), replacing the foredeck and the cabin and adding a fuel tank locker at the stern, which has taken place over the Summer (below left). A new outboard was to be fitted with full remote control, but the theft of said outboard from the BCA’s lock-up at Ash Lock (along with a lot of other equipment) within days of its being purchased resulted in a delay to the proceedings. However a replacement has been obtained and installed, complete with a specially designed theft deterrent, and all painting completed. On 29 October 2015 the boat was relaunched with the help of the BCA rangers (below right).
Some minor adjustments need to be made now it has been tested in water, but the team are now in a position to hand the boat back to the BCA. Look out for it on the Canal.
The boat does not have a name as far as we know, and so suggestions are being sought. Please send any ideas to Canal Manager Fiona Shipp, and there will be a naming ceremony in due course.
Thanks to Tony Harmsworth for his account of the history of this boat – Ed.