18th/19th April 2013
On Tuesday 16th April, with an air of anticipation, Python’s crew untied ropes at her home mooring for the last time until October and she set off on her 2013 World Tour.
There have been a lot of people who have been very busy on board through the winter, at least when the weather allowed. Python’s old toilet cubicle (that left a great deal to be desired) now has a very hygienic and convenient wet room where the crew can take a shower. Crew have been painting, cleaning, servicing, upgrading and organising in every nook and cranny of her hold and engine room. Not only is she now a much-improved boat for the loving attention she has received, but the crew who braved sub zero temperatures and far from ideal conditions to carry out the work, deserve medals. Some of the jobs were of the type that no one in their right mind would ever volunteer for – unless they were as dedicated as the team that Python has doting on her! In the last few weeks everyone has been busy making sure she is ready to go and so it was with fresh stocks of coffee, tea and toilet rolls on board the crew set off along the Beautiful Chesterfield Canal towards the Trent – and the rest of the world! If you haven’t seen the report of the first day, click here.
The wind was not being kind during the first couple of days of the trip. It was definitely a case of putting plenty of layers on and making sure your hat was tied on. There is never a shortage of volunteer crew to do the Chesterfield Canal, and why would there be? It is such a beautiful stretch of canal and, with evidence everywhere of how hard the Canal & River Trust has been working to maintain and upgrade this fine length of waterway, it really is a pleasure to cruise along. The dredging work C&RT has done through the winter and the widening of Stret Lock have made a huge difference to Python’s progress and she no longer drags her deep old bottom along the canal bed.
Python spent a night on the Chequers mooring at Ranby. There was some trepidation as the crew left her, because last time she spent a night there she was found the next morning half full of water! Thankfully there was no repeat performance and so onwards to Drakeholes where Python was going to take part in a very special initiative – the first of what we all hope will be many. Python was to return to her working days in a joint venture between Chesterfield Canal Trust and the Canal & River Trust. CCT volunteers were going to use Python to tow a C&RT hopper and set about clearing overgrown vegetation along the offside of the canal.
As the day dawned on Thursday 18th April the extreme gale force winds that had blasted the area through the night started to subside to more of bluster. The crew arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed at Drakeholes and met with a couple of Canal & River Trust chaps who had arrived to officially hand over the hopper. Eddie set about feeding us all a sustaining hot breakfast, no mean feat to cook for so many on a tiny two burner stove but something Eddie accomplishes with a flourish.
We then had a visit from Amanda Morgan, the Volunteer Leader from Canal & River Trust. She had arrived to give us a briefing on the day’s volunteering. She came bearing all the tools and H&S equipment we would need, along with a very large helping of enthusiasm to add to that with which our crew was already armed. We all proudly donned our hi-vis vests with the words “Canal & River Trust Volunteer” emblazoned on the back and added life jackets over the top then boarded the boat. It would be fair to say that manoeuvring Python and a hopper in strong winds in an attempt to try to get as close into the very shallow offside bank was not an easy task, but with Richard, our expert helmsman in charge, light work was made of it most of the time.
Before long the hopper was starting to pile up with lengths of willow, ivy and other unidentified bits of vegetation that were encroaching upon the channel. After the exceptionally long winter we have experienced it was a joy to see the spring flowers in bloom along the edge of the canal. The sunny disposition of the pretty yellow celandine reflected the suns rays back to us as we worked and clumps of delicate wood anemone finished the quintessentially English country scene before us. It seemed a little barbaric to lop off great chunks of hawthorn just as it was about to blossom but, if left, it would be cursed in the summer when it removed a passing boat’s chimney or scratched along the side of a beautifully painted narrow boat. We were all having so much fun that it seemed far too soon that Amanda had to leave us to get on with other duties, but Python refused point blank to get anywhere close to the towpath side and so we had to make her walk the plank! I think Python did not really want her to leave but that is no way to treat a lady!
Before too long, we came across the guys who had turned up earlier to hand over the hopper. They were hard at work with a mini digger repairing the side of the canal and it brought home to us all just how beneficial the day’s exercise had been. The work we were doing was helping to maintain the canal and make it an easier and less hazardous passage for boats. It is something that needs to be done and, because we had volunteered to clear the vegetation, it freed up the skilled guys from C&RT to do the more heavy-duty repairs to the bank side.
We managed to get what we estimate to be an almost half filled hopper full of vegetation that day. It was hard work but lots of fun. We got a few blisters, a few thorns and found a few muscles we had not used for a month or so. The fresh air, hard work and camaraderie of working in a great team combined with the feeling of doing something worthwhile did us a power of good both physically and mentally.
The next day after an “Eddie” Breakfast the crew started a second day. The wind had dropped but had been replaced by April Showers. The hopper had to be left at Gringley Lock for C&RT to deal with. The team trimmed some vegetation along the route. Python & the crew said a fond farewell to the hopper as their duty as volunteers for the Canal & River Trust came to end and she resumed her duty as a working boat for the Chesterfield Canal Trust, heading off towards West Stockwith, the gateway to The Rest Of The World.
Before too long, a tree that had fallen across the canal in the high winds halted their progress. Having spent so much time using secateurs, hand held loppers and bow saws to clear vegetation the crew came over with a case of “Shredder Envy” as they watched the contractors work. Once the passage was clear, Python continued and ended her day in West Stockwith Basin. The kind lock keeper there found her an excellent mooring where she can have a rest before she gets to exercise in the deeper water of The Trent. On the way back home in the Autumn, we want to do some more volunteering for the Canal & River Trust. We foresee this as just the start of an ongoing symbiotic relationship between the two trusts.