British weather always seems to have something different up its sleeve each year, and this July has proved once again that the natural water shortage, from which the Basingstoke Canal has always suffered, becomes the main topic of conversation. Deepcut locks had to close early due to damage to lock gates, although replacements have been installed after an 8 week lead time.
This helped to some extent to preserve the supply in the Hampshire pound through less demand. The recent wet weekend further helped stem the fall in water level, replacing approximately a week’s loss; on 1st Aug it was -155mm, the same as on 24th July.
Restricted opening hours at Ash lock are brought in by the BCA when the water level is down by 150mm That was reached early in July; levels are anticipated to drop daily by about 5mm.
The next restriction to be applied will be at 200mm below datum, when Ash lock will be closed to all navigation. All navigation in Hampshire and the Surrey top pounds, will have to cease operation should levels fall to 250mm below datum, as this creates many conservation issues. Its time to do that rain dance again if John Pinkerton is to fulfil her charter obligations in August!
There are no restrictions in the Woking pound for the Kitty operation, as back-pumping satisfies demand.
Congratulations to all our skippers who were training over the winter. The first exam session in May saw Colin Beale, Howard Best, Cheryl Richards, and Derek Taylor qualify for their BMLs, and have since been putting their skills to good use. The second session last Monday, delayed though a mis-timed holiday, gave Harry Glover the opportunity to show he was also equal to the task. Well done to all of them. This proves that the John Pinkerton training regime proves its worth, with the recent 100% pass rate maintained – well above the national average for BML examinations.
Old Thatch Cruise
On Sunday 1st July the first of JP’s visits to the NGS Open Days at Old Thatch, Winchfield carried 40 passengers, many of whom were in their Sunday best dress for the occasion. So it was with some relief that the ancient, rickety stile had been replaced by a new gate at the end of the footpath over Stacey’s Bridge. We did not have to try off-loading in shallow water at the garden, as last year. Much appreciated by all, and thanks go to Winchfield Parish Council and the Hampshire Countryside Access Forum for providing funding through the Small Grants Scheme, The Hampshire Rights of Way Improvement Trust for promoting this scheme under the ‘stiles to gates’ initiative, the Community Engagement Ranger, Emma Broadbent, for liaising between the different groups and the landowner, and the NE Hants branch of the Ramblers Association for doing the actual work on the ground. It will make the Old Thatch Gardens more accessible to a wider range of passengers, though they still have to be able to manage the steps up from the towpath to the top of Stacey’s Bridge.
The autumn visit will be on 2nd Sept, given sufficient water!
Air Show Week
Contributed by Mark Griffiths
John Pinkerton has now returned from another successful Farnborough air show week. For those of you not familiar with the operation, the vessel spends the week temporarily based opposite the Fox and Hounds pub in Fleet, to provide a platform for corporate entertainment for our host client. We embark their guests at 9am for the 1:30hrs journey to the Runway’s End (Eelmoor Bridge) mooring. Whilst they visit the trade show, our crew then wind the boat at Farnborough Road, and assist in the delivery of catering ready for the guests to arrive back on the boat for lunch.
The bank next to the mooring provides a good view of the (ever diminishing!) flying display. New restrictions following the Shoreham air show disaster mean the canal is now closed west of the mooring during the flying display. Once the restriction is lifted late afternoon we head back to the Fox and Hounds, and disembark host and guests. A winding crew then take over to turn the boat round so she is pointing in the right direction to do it all over again the next day.
Following the weekday trips, there are two public trips at the weekend which are always popular. This successful formula has been running for quite some time and despite long days it does give crews an opportunity to cruise on a different part of the canal to our usual operation.
This year didn’t come without some challenges. Firstly the toilet transfer pump developed a fault early on in the week which resulted in some less than ideal odours in the cabin. Dick took it apart, ordered a replacement and had it back in operation in record time. Then there was excess wire and chain that got wrapped round the propeller mid week, and required a diving team to be called out at short notice from Portsmouth in order to free it. There were certainly some drinkers in the pub garden that began to question quite how strong their drinks were on seeing this sight!
What I have taken away from the week is just how impressive the team work is within our organisation. There were lots of you who played vital roles during the 9 days (including the transit days), but a few people really stand out and deserve a particular thank you.
Ian Sutherland did a temporary repair to the window that was smashed by vandals in Odiham before we left for the transit trip. He met us at 7am the following morning to fit it.
Ken Sankey did some urgent brush cutting to the viewing bank (after I checked it far too prematurely some weeks ago!)
Dick King and Phil Hardyman looked after the maintenance side with some long days and dirty jobs.
Derek Taylor and Cheryl Richards did a mid week pump out after the divers had finished. They didn’t get moored up until gone midnight.
Mike Gordon and his team in the Patrol Boat who made sure our mooring was kept clear.
And of course Peter Close who stepped in at fairly late notice to help me out this year.
If I have forgotten anyone, please forgive me, I’ve been awake for 20 hours; but once again a massive thanks to everyone who took part to ensure that this year’s Air Show week was such a resounding success.
I hate to use the word ‘feedback’ (which I think is the most over used word of the decade!) but as a committee we are always keen to hear your comments and suggestions with a view to making improvements for next time.
Divers at Work
The main duty of the ‘Designated Person Ashore’ – an MCA requirement – is to provide back-up to the skipper and crew in an emergency. As Boat Manager, this role falls to me, but with the help of committee members should I be unavailable to respond. So I usually answer the phone with some trepidation during the days I know JP is out. Most times I can advise on ‘how to cure’ with a bit of previous knowledge of having done it before.
On the Wednesday of the Air Show, the lunch-time phone call from the duty skipper really set me thinking – how to clear a fouled prop when the usual methods are obviously failing, and the boat needs to go out at 9am the next morning. A diver, yes, but who?
A few phone calls to contacts, and I was put in touch with Barry from UK Divers.
He agreed to provide a team, but prefaced this with:
‘You won’t get a single diver, but a full team of four. No longer does Health & Safety legislation allow a single diver operating with simple mask & flippers to operate from a Ford estate car. Plus we need one of your crew to act as our 5th person on the team.‘
Step up winding skipper Derek, who eventually was fully briefed with sheets of checklists and risk assessments. Think he signed his life away that day!
Why such a large team? Well, like the ‘how many do you need to change a light-bulb’ scenario, they had the main diver to actually do the work, a second diver fully booted and suited in case the first ran into difficulties. Two more were required to monitor and control, through separate umbilical cords, the supply of compressed air and communications to each diver, as well as measuring working depth. Its the same equipment they use at more extreme depths – just for 2 metre canal depth. Overkill – perhaps; but absolutely safe for everybody concerned.
It took the diver about an hour to remove all the debris, most of which was attributable to crayfish trapping nets.
Driving in Low Water Conditions
Many of you who started crewing within the last couple of years may not have had experience of driving JP in low water. The effects can catch you unawares, and you need to concentrate on where you are going. So here are a few guidelines:
Stay in the main channel, which in places is narrow, and not where you would expect.
Do not cut the inside of bends.
Watch your wash – if its breaking on the bank, you are going too fast. Slow down.
Over known shallow sections, mainly bridgeholes, and parts of the section between Old Thatch and Barley Mow, use a lower speed. You can’t force the boat through with high revs – all you are doing is digging the aft end in deeper, causing more drag.
If you loose steerage, heading for the bank, stop by reversing. Select neutral, and allow the bow to find the channel all by itself; then re-engage forward slowly.
This is where good knowledge of the channel position pays dividends; if you are unsure, please ask. Working as a team, ‘holdups’ can be minimised. Trips will take longer, and on public trips, skippers are advised to warn passengers.
During July a Kitty crew was host to a charter specially for Chernobyl children, who visit the UK every year. They all thoroughly enjoyed their trip on the boat.
In late June, John Pinkerton was host to the Joint Management Committee (JMC) meeting on board. Following the meeting, many members took a trip to King John’s Castle, though it has to be said several new councillor members did not bother to stay to learn about the Canal. And they are the ones supposedly charged to guide the future of our Canal!
In contrast, to begin August, Kitty was host to a group of councillors from Woking, who really appreciated the amenity on their doorstep.
It is worth quoting from the visitor’s book:
“It was a peaceful trip with the opportunity to ask members of the BCS as many questions as you wish about the canal, how the BCS supports the canal and the brilliant opportunity given to Woking by having the trip boat Kitty permanently stationed in Woking giving short trips along the canal.
The canal is a major green corridor, a SSSI in most places and really important for our environmental credentials. Well worth seeing from the ‘proper side.” (Cllr Davis)
So it still appears that the BCS has some work to do to overcome the lack of interest by certain JMC decision makers. If you live in a ward with such a member, why not tackle them about the lovely amenity that is their heritage, and how they could support it? The more that do, the quicker we can get the message over.
Volunteers BBQ at Canal Centre, Mytchett, 31st August
As part of the QAVS celebrations the Canal Society is joining with the BCA to provide a BBQ for volunteers. Food is included, but please bring your own drinks.
To allow the numbers to be gauged, please RSVP the Canal Centre: firstname.lastname@example.org or 01252-370073. If you don’t, you may go hungry!!
This is a big occasion for the Society, and if anybody can give a hand in setting up or stewarding, please let me know.
The trip logs have enabled the committee to publish numbers of crew trips at the end of the year. However, probably of more concern to the operation as a whole are figures now available from recent analysis:
1. Numbers of public trips, passengers carried and the percentage take-up of capacity in each month.
2. Numbers of charter trips per month
These should help us plan our season more effectively, and organise our publicity to increase both. More Facebook posts seem to be having a positive effect this year for public trips, and especially so for Kitty. But the charters do appear to be slowly declining, so during the autumn we need to canvass coach and touring companies with the delights of the Basingstoke Canal as seen from the John Pinkerton.
So my question is, does anybody have contacts in this field to help us expand our charter base?
For information, the stats up to the end of July can be seen here. If you have comments, please let a committee member know.
And Finally …
Enjoy what’s left of the 2018 season, and pray for rain at night!