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Chesterfield Canal Trust : Reports and blogs

Pythoneers Are GO!

My day was planned out. I had several hours of admin to catch up on (and some ironing) and even though the warmth of the late summer sunshine was beaming through my window I knew I was likely to be stuck at that desk for most of the day if I were to make progress. Then I became aware of a new message notification flashing in the corner of my screen. “Can I borrow Python?” it said.

Further investigation revealed that while Python was sitting quietly at Paul Barber Boat Builders, awaiting her survey, there was another boat called Danny with engine problems in Nottingham that needed towing in. With Paul’s own boat Whitby out attending events and various other boats that might usually be commissioned for the job all at various stages of repair, there was no boat available to tow Danny in. David Goode, who owns the historic boat Ling, realised the potential in Python for the job and decided to ask if he could borrow her.  Well of course Paul has been so good to the Chesterfield Canal Trust by looking after Python for us, that it seemed a great opportunity for Python to return the favour…. but nothing is quite that straightforward! There were some issues that needed ironing out to make sure that Python was properly insured for the trip and the easiest way of doing that was for Python crew to join David on the trip.

It was with very deep reluctance and a heavy heart that I allowed myself to be dragged away from my desk and the myriad of fascinating administrative tasks I had planned, to spend a blissfully warm and sunny day out on the River Trent.  It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

During the hasty arrangements that morning, I had called Eddie to see if he was free to help. Like the true dependable crew member that Eddie is, he also fearlessly discarded his arrangements for the day without a second thought to the consequences and David, Eddie and I all arrived at Sheet Stores Basin within a few minutes of each other. Within moments the Lister fired into life, the ropes were untied and we were on our way.

We were soon at Trent Lock, where we worked Python through and into the deeper water of the Trent. Python always enjoys having some depth of water under her. It was a good job Python was having fun because David, Eddie and I were having to grit our teeth and get on with the job in hand. This day was not about having fun, we were there to do our duty. The sun shone and we fairly quickly discarded any of the layers of clothing we had put on thinking there would be a cool breeze out on the river. The beautiful late summer landscape gently passed us by as Python chugged along.  We observed the cows coming down from the fields to drink, a huge flock of Brent geese, many of which took flight as Python chugged past. A kestrel flew low across the field and a heron stood tall as he watched out for his lunch swimming past. The first signs of autumnal colours in the trees were highlighted by the late summer sunshine.

Before we knew it, we had arrived at the marina where the stricken Danny was waiting. Her owners were pleased to see us. Python was very soon in place and the rope secured to take Danny with us.  Then we were off again. This time Python had to work a little harder as she was running against the flow of the river and was towing Danny. She didn’t miss a beat. That old Lister engine was easily capable of the job with power left to spare. As we travelled along the river we all pondered on Python’s role in this rescue mission. Clearly Eddie, David and I were easily able to align ourselves with International Rescue’s best agents. We had all selflessly left our homes, our families and our daily commitments behind to head off into the breach and do our duty for King & Country a favour for Paul Barber. We tried to work out which of International Rescue’s fleet Python was most like. After her most recent episode of trying to sink, her bilge is mercifully dry and so we could not compare her to Thunderbird 4 (the submarine). Thunderbirds 3 & 5 are for space travel and we could hardly describe the Trent as outer space! Thunderbird 1 is a rocket plane. Python is not generally considered to be as fast as a rocket. That leaves Thunderbird 2, a heavy duty transporter. That sounds a little more fitting. So Python is not green and cannot fly either but in the wonderful world of fiction those small facts do not matter.  It could seem like that day was fictional but it was not. It was just a totally splendid day for messing about on the river. Of course we were not actually messing about at all. We were all totally professional but it was fun.  I hope David enjoyed it as much as Eddie and I did. We think he did. We think he has a soft spot for Python.  We hope he will join our little team. He has a wealth of experience that Python could benefit from, and if any other reason for him to become a Pythoneer was required - he plays a brilliant Virgil Tracy!

As the sun went down and we watched a hot air balloon drift across the horizon, Python arrived back at Sheet Stores Basin with Danny in tow.  Python was once again secured to her temporary mooring; her unexpected adventure over. Her crew had big smiles on their faces to match the glow that a day out on the river in late summer sunshine had caused.  We could catch up on those chores tomorrow. Today we proved how quickly crew can be mobilised when necessary.

Pythoneers are GO!

Jan Warsop.

10th to 12th September Grendon Dock to Sheet Stores Basin

As you may know, Python has been poorly and in need of some TLC. This meant that our proposed trip of taking Python to West Stockwith had changed. Instead, we were to take her to Paul Barber’s yard on the Erewash Canal.

A few days before Dave Kiddy and I were due to set off, the air suspension on his car gave up the ghost. This put a spanner in our plans. Fortunately my better half, Laura, agreed to drop us off, as well as pick us up as planned.

On Tuesday, as soon as we had closed Laura’s Coffee Shop, we dashed off from Shireoaks to pick up Dave and drive down to Grendon Dock near Tamworth. It became apparent that Dave’s home isn’t as easy to find as he had made out. Luckily, once we had picked Dave up, we had a steady drive down and arrived with only one minor “Which way should we be going?” moment.

We arrived in good time, so we loaded up and had a nosy round Python. We quickly realised that some ballast seemed to have been removed as she was sitting higher in the water than usual (although it didn’t seem like it later on). When we stuck our heads in the engine bay, we saw there was stuff all over the place so we had a little tidy up.

There was no sign of the gentleman from whom we were supposed to collect some keys for Jan, so Dave suggested that we set off and get a couple of hours in before it was dark. The only question was “Do we know where we are going?” The answer was “We’re not sure!” Was Python pointing in the correct direction? We asked the chaps making use of the dry dock. Unfortunately they weren’t sure; however one gentleman pointed out that Python shouldn’t have the yellow squiggles on her bow.  Neither Dave nor I knew why we had them. Dave was confident that they wouldn’t take Python out of dry dock and point her the wrong way (would they?). We set off noting the first bridge number (49) knowing that they should be rising in number.

After about 20 minutes or so we came to the next bridge, hoping it would be Bridge 50. Argh! Lo and behold it was Bridge 48. Frantic checking of the directions followed, luckily we had just passed a winding hole, so we put her in reverse and turned round.

We had a spell of déjà vu whilst we chugged our way back to Grendon Dock. When we got to the dock, the man with Jan's keys appeared, so, with the boat hook, we managed to retrieve them. Confident that we were now definitely going in the right direction, we made it as far as Polesworth and moored ready for some well-deserved food.  The pub was just a quick walk, but unfortunately they weren’t serving food. Oh well! We decided to watch the England match and have a couple of pints before going back to the boat for a strange concoction of super noodles, peas and sausage.

Waking early on Wednesday, we decided to set off to try to make good progress. We were on our way at 7.30 with a couple of chocolate bars before we cooked breakfast; well Dave did. For the first half hour, a heron kept flying ahead of us before waiting for us to catch up. Each time we came close it would fly ahead again.

The day started off with fair weather, good progress and the occasional banter of “Are we going the right way?” We still didn’t trust ourselves. We passed Alvecote, a nice experience as I have never been there and there was a large number of historic boats to see. We did our first two locks of the day before we got to Fazeley Junction and had our next bout of “Which way do we go.  The morning’s journey was going well with the occasional bump as Python decided to hit the bottom (or a rock jumped up). Dave went below to be Master Chef and cook breakfast whilst I steered. Then we swapped so that I could eat.

The day started to deteriorate as we were waiting for a couple of boats to come through a bridge. (You always meet boats at a bridge, it seems to be the law of canals!) Python got stuck on a shallow bank with a boat behind us. After a few choice words and several minutes of fighting, I managed to get her unstuck and we continued. The boat behind us came to our rescue a short time later.  We went through a stretch of canal with plenty of reeds to each side but little depth. Python rode the canal up and down like a roller coaster as she dragged the bottom.  Then we found a rather high point and we were aground again. This time we were well aground and no amount of choice words or boating skill would get us off in any hurry. The boat behind managed to squeeze past and kindly offered us a tow, which we eagerly accepted. With the combined power of two boats we got moving again. We were amazed how often we were touching the bottom given that she was higher in the water than normal with the reduced ballast.

Finally we reached Fradley Junction, where we made good use of the facilities. The toilet cassette had been left half full before we went on-board so it had a certain aroma to it! There was a bit of traffic waiting to use the lock causing some confusion between Dave and me about what was happening ahead, so we dug out the hand held radios that were to prove useful later on. We got through the next couple of locks only going aground once. We had the discussion “Is that rain?” Yes it was, and it just grew heavier and heavier. Dave made the fatal mistake of saying he was already wet, so I could hide in the hold whilst he steered. I bit his hand off (although I was kind enough to keep him supplied with coffee). This is where the radio came in handy - Dave could let me know when the next lock was coming up without me getting quite as wet.

The rain finally let up and became drizzle, but it was still miserable weather as we came into Burton-upon-Trent.  We spotted a pub and decided that we’d had enough for the day. Half an hour later, after changing into some dry clothes, we made our way to the pub only to find they didn’t serve food. Fish and chips it was then.

On Thursday morning, we were up early again and set off in the same fashion with the chocolate bars. It wasn’t raining, but there was a chill in the air. About twenty minutes later, we found a nice restaurant that we could have visited last night, if only we had pushed on. Dave blamed me, and rightly so. It was a pleasant morning for boating and, as Dave had dried our jackets out by the fire, we were happy. We started on the wide locks, a new experience for me; I had only done narrow locks before.

Then Master Chef Dave rustled up breakfast whilst I steered and then he relieved me so I could eat, though he did decide to find a lock as I was sitting down (I think on purpose). The morning was going well, only occasionally hitting something on the bottom, until we reached Aston Lock. Everything was fine until Dave tried to take Python out of the lock. She wouldn’t budge. We tried everything we could think of, opening a ground paddle didn’t work. We opened the gate paddles and flushed her out of the lock.  We later found out that it isn’t uncommon to go aground here, especially deep draughted vessels like Python.

We finally reached the River Trent and to say that Python loves the deep-water river sections is an understatement. She’s a dream on the river compared to the canals; you would have thought she was built for the rivers. We went through the lock on Sawley Cut and round the first bend when I saw a sign offering different directions, oops which way do I go? Dave pointed out the right way and we were onto the Erewash Canal. Now our only problem was that we had a couple of hours to kill, as Laura couldn’t pick us up until she’d shut the coffee shop. We decided to wait by the first lock since it was a nice day.

This gave us time to have a tidy up and catch up on the paperwork. Dave made sure that the cassette was empty and left the toilet disassembled to deter its use over the winter. I noted how remarkably clear the Erewash was. It was also my turn to cook - sausage sandwiches since they needed using up.

We took a steady chug up to Sheet Stores Basin and then I was confronted with its tight entrance - it’s probably worse than Shireoaks Marina entrance. With a bit of shunting, we were in nicely. We tied up just in the entrance as the basin was full. A gentleman in the yard he told us where to put her. The space indicated did not look big enough for Python to us. Dave volunteered me to put her in there. The bow was against a wall and the stern against the opposite wall and a newly painted boat to the left. I swore blind that she wouldn’t fit but low and behold she squeezed in. That bloke definitely knew the basin well!!!

All we had to do now was wait to be picked up and we were home.

Philip Darwent.

24th to 26th August Alvecote Festival

We arrived on Friday evening looking forward to a lovely weekend in the company of the historic boating community. Knowing that Python had a leak was a big concern to us but she has a history of leaking and we knew we were in the best place to get advice because the people gathered at this event had all the combined knowledge and experience of historic boats that anyone could possibly need.  I was also hoping to bring in some valuable funds towards Python’s upkeep by tombola and bric-a-brac sales. Friday evening in the bar, meeting old friends and making new ones with a pint or two of decent ale, was just what we needed to get us set up for the weekend.

Python was moored on a pontoon amid some wonderful old boats. What was to prove even more important on this particular weekend was that the owners of those boats had such a wealth of relevant experience. To her port side was Thea, owned by Sue Cawson, who is the Chair of the Shropshire Union Flyboat Restoration Society and has been boating since 1960. To the starboard was Elizabeth. Owned by Jim Macdonald since 1966 she is a fascinating boat with a very long history. Jim is retired now but was recognised as being one of the finest boat surveyors that anyone could employ during his working career. Although Python was leaking she was not taking on a significant amount of water and the combined opinions of the great and good suggested she would be fine to go out on parade.

We set up our fund raising gazebo and the time came for Dave to take Python out in the boat parade. The sun was shining and everyone was having a lovely day. It took Dave quite a while to return to me at the gazebo after the boat parade. It transpired that, since returning from parade, the leak had got worse. Although the bilge pump was keeping up with the ingress, it was operating constantly, which was a worry. Sue Cawson suggested we really needed to get all the water out of the bilge so that we could try to find the source of the leak. She offered us use of her wet vacuum cleaner for the job the next morning. It seemed we might have a plan. We went off to enjoy our evening meal and pick a few more people brains about the best way to get to grips with Python’s problem. Trying to sleep that night while listening to a bilge pump operating was not a great experience. Click here to find what happened next.

Fast forward to sometime on Sunday afternoon. Emotionally exhausted by the morning’s events. Now minus anywhere to sleep that night, we found a quiet corner of the bar to gather our sombre thoughts prior to saying our farewells to all our friends and heading home. We were not in the best of moods. Then Tracey & Rod, who had been looking for us, interrupted our peace. They dragged us out of the comfy sofa we had collapsed into and insisted we share a drink with them. We agreed explaining it would just be a small one as we were heading home. Then Tracey placed a set of keys onto the table. She explained that we did not need to go home, the back cabin on their boat was vacant and so we had a bed’ole for the night. She also explained that, if we went now, we would miss the band that night and they were brilliant.  We chatted a while longer and somehow they managed to lift a corner of the blanket of gloom that had descended upon us allowing a glimpse of light to shine through. We accepted the keys and installed ourselves on Biddie. The band were indeed brilliant, as was the rest of the weekend.

The lasting impression we have of this event is the overwhelming camaraderie between the community of historic boat owners. Each and every one of them had a genuine concern, both for Python and for us and everyone was falling over each other to try to help in whatever way they could. There were so many heroes that weekend that I feel the need to close this blog entry with closing credits.

Chief Leak Seeker & Wardrobe: Richard (Paddy) Chamberlain
Senior Bung Fitter: Jim Macdonald
Chief Consultant to The Bung Fitter: Paul Barber
Technical Coordinator (Electricity): Sue Cawson
Chief Plot Advisor: Simon Wain
Consultant Advisor: Blossom Edge
Bung Suppliers: Nick Wolfe & Paul Barber.
Canal Carrying & Towing: Nick Scarcliffe & Alan Fincher
Dry Docking & Boatyard Services: Malcolm Burge.
Dry Docking Assistants: Ade & Matt.
Accommodation: Rod & Tracey
Incidental Music: Cath Fincher (Melodeon)
Sound: Last Highway / Time Trip
Photographer: Jan Warsop
Communications/ Support: Robin Stonebridge, Sandra Green, Cath Fincher & Jo Lodge.
Hospitality: Samuel Barlow
Narrated by: Jan Warsop


Elizabeth and Thea were both at our Gathering of Historic Boats in Retford in September 2011.

Python in Waterways World

30th August A plan for Python

This is the promised update from our last post. If you missed it, click here.

I genuinely believe that the crisis point that Python reached when she was taking on water at Alvecote could possibly be one of the best things that has happened in that old boat’s life; read on ....

The good people from Narrowcraft at Grendon Dock have done a grand job of doing a sturdy repair to her shoe plate and she is due to come out of the dock on Saturday (31st August). Now I know a lot of you will be thinking that is the end of the story and Python will continue with her plans for the year but that is not the case.

While Python was in the dock Laurence Williams advised me that the historic boat sharing the dock with Python "Stour" was due to be surveyed by Mike Carter. Mike is an authority on historic boats and they wondered if we wanted Mike to survey Python while she was in the dock.

Robin Stonebridge spent some time talking to Mike and very quickly realised that he is not only an authority on historic boats but he has Python and the Trust at the forefront of his thinking. Mike did not have time to carry out a survey on Python but he wanted to cast an expert eye over her hull so that he could give us some pointers for the future. He wanted us to get Python back on home waters where our own volunteers do not have too far to travel in order to carry out work on her before she had a "controlled docking". He wants to work with us to form a proper 10 year planned maintenance schedule for Python and to assist us with applying for grants from the National Register of Historic Ships towards the costs of restoration. Even further proof, if any were needed, that ultimately historic boat enthusiasts have the welfare of the boats at their heart - they have a wealth of knowledge and are extremely supportive of any attempts to save an old boat.

Thursday arrived and Mike cast his skilled eye over Python’s hull and called me. He said that he has concerns that there might be significant problems with Pythons chines.

Time for another lesson in "The Anatomy Of The Josher" for those who don't understand the terminology. (Those of you who do - please be patient and scroll down a bit).  The chine on a boat basically refers to a meeting of two planes, in this case where the curved sides of the hull meet the flat bottom.

As I have mentioned before, Python originally had a wooden bottom, but this was replaced at some point with steel - probably when BW shortened her in the 1980's. It is usual for the steel base plate of a boat to protrude slightly around where the curved sides of the hull meet it. (See the photo at the foot of this article.) The protruding metal serves to protect the vulnerable curved lower edge of the hull from wear and exposure to sharp items on the canal bed. On Python the replacement bottom simply fills the space where the original wooden bottom had been and so this protrusion does not exist. This means that, over the years, her chines have been prone to wear, especially at the stern where she is most likely to end up on the bottom.

While Mike was at pains to state that the chines are no worse now than they were 2 weeks ago, and so there is no reason to believe that she is in imminent danger, it is also worth remembering that no one has x-ray vision and so, until such time as a proper survey takes place, it is impossible to say just how weakened they are.  It is therefore prudent to get a full hull survey done soon so that we can deal with the findings rather than waiting for the next crisis.

His suggestion was that we take Python to "home waters" or as close to home as is practical, where there is a skilled contractor, preferably experienced with historic craft, that we are happy to have working on Python's bottom. Once there, we can dock her and a detailed survey can be carried out. He will then discuss with us and our chosen contractor what needs to be done and ensure that it is done in an appropriate way. Obviously what Python needs is a contractor who is experienced with historic boats and what we need is a contractor who is close enough to home that our volunteers can still attend to some of the less skilled work required on Python so we can hopefully save some money along the way. If we were also to find a boatyard where the owner was accommodating enough to allow our volunteers to come on site and help out, then we may well have a plan. After the huge amount of assistance, great advice and hospitality that has been extended to Python and her crew at Paul Barber’s Boat builders in the past it was not a difficult decision as to whom to approach first

As you will imagine, the following few hours were a blur of communications between numerous Trustees, Paul Barber and the Surveyor. My heart did a little flip when Robin called me to say the lovely Mr Fox (Treasurer) was supportive of our plan.

So where do we go from here? Firstly it is with regret that Python will not be attending the event at West Stockwith or be back on the Chesterfield Canal for her volunteering duty with CRT. A great shame, but it is better that we grasp this opportunity we have had put before us.

On 10th September, Pythoneers will move her up to Paul Barber’s yard on the Erewash.
In the mean time, I am going to be working with Jim Bower & Bev Hunt to look into the possibility of getting a grant towards the cost of her survey.

Towards the end of the first week of October, she will come out of the water and her hull will be cleaned off.

Mike Carter is booked to carry out a survey on her hull on 9th October.

We will also be working with Mike Carter to draw up a 10 year programme of planned maintenance for Python

What happens next will depend on Mike's findings. Paul is unable to commence remedial work immediately, but he has room for Python to stay in his basin, on an electric hook up if required. It is possible that Paul may need to do some temporary patching if the survey leaves her with holes. We hope this will not happen, but Paul is aware it might and will ensure she is OK to go back in the water until he has time to complete the full repair. He expects to be able to commence whatever work is required in the early part of next year. We hope this will give us time to apply for a grant towards the remedial work that is required. Paul has suggested that whatever work is found to be required he will be able to have Python finished no later than March so she will be ready for us to start another season.

We will schedule in a crew meeting for a date as soon as possible after the survey so we can all get together and discuss what each and every one of you can add during this winter to ensure we all make the most of this wonderful opportunity. There will be something that everyone can help with. We will still need to raise a lot of money as the grants will only cover around half the cost of the work at best (assuming we get them).

So, I hope, after reading this, that you feel as confident and positive about Python’s future as I do. The future does indeed look bright ... almost as bright as those orange overalls I was wearing when the crisis unfolded last weekend! 

Jan Warsop.

You can see on this boat the protruding bottom plate all the way down the side.
Python's bottom plate does not protrude in this way, so her chines are more vulnerable.

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