Jun 012019
John Pinkerton II passing a visiting boa

John Pinkerton II passing a visiting boat

The JP season started with an excellent ‘Murder Mystery’ performance by the Hampshire Theatre Group, specially written for the Basingstoke Canal venue by our very own Roger Stanwell. Many passengers turned out to be ‘known’ to the crew, and the evening was thoroughly enjoyed by all. There may still be the possibility of putting on a repeat performance, though the dates requested by another local organisation were not suitable for the cast members. As we were all forced to sign the ‘Official Secrets Act’ on boarding, we are unable to give more details, and thus spoil it for others!

The hot Easter weekend and recent Whitsun bank holiday worked wonders for our public trips; all were fully booked, and well received thanks to excellent crew work.

JP Bookings

April was marked by the funeral of David Horwood, and was well attended by many friends from the various charities he generously supported as a volunteer. JP crew were well represented. Continuing his work with JP bookings has, and continues to be, a difficult act to follow. When the new Society website is completed, much more of the work should be able to be done online; in the meantime, we are operating a rota of volunteers to share the work that David did on his own.
One aspect of this is answering telephone calls for prospective charters and public trips for JP and Kitty. Help offered by Cheryl Richards, John King, Martin Dovey and Jeremy Martin has made this less onerous, as the period each has to do is limited according to their time available.

However, we urgently need a few more volunteers to add to this list to spread the load evenly over the year. This is likely to be an ongoing requirement, as put bluntly, many enquirers do not go to the website to answer simple questions for themselves. Please let me know if you can spare some time; the only requirement is possession of a mobile or land-line telephone number to which calls can be transferred, and messages left if you are likely to be doing other things at the time.

The other major tasks are answering emails and financial control of bookings, and ensuring that every volunteer is able to access the state of play of individual bookings for continuity.
Both fall to me at the moment, but if anyone wants to volunteer to help, please discuss with me. It probably involves about an hour, or less on average, on most days, which may well decrease in time once the web package is in place. And its a task that can very easily be done from home, and you don’t need to be a crew member as you will be trained.

2019 Season

As we look forward to the Summer season, its worth mentioning that IWA hydrologists report that nationally, the water table level is unusually low after the dry winter. Unless we have a period of heavy rain, the expectation is that canals will suffer again in 2019. The Basingstoke Canal always suffers anyway, so the loss of 30mm in the Hampshire pound (Nav update mid-April) due to a paddle left open, was not a good omen. However, the level does seem to have recovered fairly well (-20mm this week), so let’s hope for the best.

Having recently experienced the Furry Dance on Flora Day in Helston, Cornwall I can’t help but contrast with the crew barn dance on JP organised by Roger Whiffen! Both were highly social events, but on a vastly different scale! Virtually the whole population of Helston, and surrounding villages, turned out either to watch or dance through the streets to welcome the beginning of Spring and the end of Winter, ending with a ‘snail’ of several hundred dancers in a very limited area, less than the size of a football pitch. The same effect occurred on JP, but with many fewer participants. Very enjoyable, and great fun, but not sure how we would have coped with all the crew there!

Our mooring at the Barn now has another vessel to watch for, the freshly restored Bumblebee donated to the BCS a couple of years back by the Boys Brigade who had no further use for it. This has been designated the ‘Odiham patrol boat’ by BCA, and will be seen out and about in the Hampshire pound – well, at least that part within range of its electric motor!

Publicity Group

With the official arrival of Summer, June and July are promising to be busier months for JP with a season total of 70 charters already confirmed – on track (half-way) to our annual expectation. The publicity group have been working hard to bring in new customer enquiries, and we are beginning to see the benefit. Our thanks to all those who have been spreading the word and distributing brochures; we had to order a second batch of Public Trip leaflets, and probably more Charter leaflets in the near future. Keep up the good work by topping up where you left information previously, as we still have the peak season to come.

When I joined the committee it was apparent that public trips were being offered mainly to fulfil demand during school holidays. Penny and Tim Cadle introduced the attractions of theme trips, which proved not only popular, but financially rewarding. As an experiment, we introduced extra Wednesday and Sunday trips through the earlier months, so that this year we have added another 20 public trips to the calendar. Analysis will show whether this is worthwhile.

Canal History and Volunteers

Many of those who have joined us over the last few years may not have understood the extent to which the running of the canal relies on its volunteer workers. In the forty plus years it took to bring the canal back to navigation, volunteer members, male and female, were quite happy to don wellies and gloves etc and get really dirty, digging out the silt, or running the ancient steam-driven dredger. Of course, they were a lot younger and fitter than those same people are today, though many are still holding down essential roles in the Society. It was then that the JP trip boat idea was born as people realised the need to raise money to continue the restoration. Since then our crews have raised over £800,000, the largest source of the Society income apart from donations and bequests. To keep it running, we do need to see a few more younger folk carrying on the work; physically, it is a lot lighter than previously, and particularly on the maintenance side. This role would fit well with the skills of an average handyman, or woman. Volunteers welcome, and again training can be given.

And if you want to learn more about the Basingstoke Canal and the restoration years, Roger Cansdale has written several excellent books all of which are available on JP; his latest one details the joys and tribulations of the steam dredger Perseverance, which as an engineer, I found a fascinating read.
For a definitive history, try the late Paul Vine’s Book London’s Lost Route to Basingstoke, now out of print, but often on ebay, or available at public libraries.

Every so often, the committee suggest arranging a social gathering, either at the start, middle, or end of the season. We don’t have a social secretary as such, as most of you just enjoy a chat whilst crewing. But would anyone like to put their head above the parapet and tell us what you would like to do, or even help organise an event?

And finally ….

Don’t forget that the Mikron Theatre are performing ‘All Hands on Deck’ at the Waterwitch pub on Sat 22nd June 7.30pm. Its outdoors, so bring a chair and preferably patronise the pub with your discount card. This group  are always well worth seeing, and are sponsored by the BCS:

Full of dots, dashes, semaphore and song, a love story
between the Royal Navy and their loyal ‘Jenny Wrens’