Monday, 7 May 2012

Black Country Museum - May 5th to May 7th

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Back some months ago when I received an invitation to bring "Sickle" to a "Tug Weekend" at the Black Country Living Museum, I very much fancied doing it, but we really couldn't work out the logistics as to how, given that "Sickle" is normally based very many miles, and very many locks from the BCLM.

However, as recent blog posts have shown, get her there we did, and in practice by a hugely longer route than the most obvious one - you really do not need to go via Harecastle Tunnel and Middlewich to reach the Black country from the South!

Early in the morning on Saturday
"Sickle" was delivered to the BCLM in truly foul weather conditions last weekend, and the even organiser, Steve, had agreed to drag her into the "inner sanctum" of the museum for us, (it involves a normally locked lift bridge), so all we needed to do this weekend was drive up there, and not necessarily do a great deal, other than savour the event itself, and, as opportunity permitted, the museum itself.

I can't easily describe how odd it feels driving in a modern car down through a reconstructed Victorian village, passing mines, and crossing tram tracks and over cobbles - really only "very odd!" adequately covers it, particularly as by the time we first did it, it was twilight.  We repeated the experience daily, because cars could be moved down near the boats each night, but (fairly obviously!), removed when the museum was open, as looking jarringly out of character!

Typical BCLM setting
We knew when we got the invite, that some of the tugs would be "borrowing"  "Joey" boats, or other of the un-powered craft from the museum, and taking them for trips out on to the main canal, in some cases in trains of a tug and three "Joeys".  Although I quite fancied this, watching those who did do it, I concluded both that my own skills were probably not really good enough, and also that it needed quite large crews of willing hands, that we didn't really have.  There are two very substantial bends to get around, one within the site, and the other as you turn out under the lift bridge, and on to the Dudley No 1 Canal.  Watching others at play, there really was quite a lot of skilful manoeuvring required not to cause total grid-lock, and I think our decision just to observe on our first visit was the correct one!

Enterprise slowly draws 3 Joeys around the tricky bend

That's not to say we didn't go out at all - we did do a short trip out to charge batteries, taking our friends Dave and Jan with us.  When attempting the turn for the return trip, "Sickle" picked up a heavy "blade-full" on her propeller, and stalled dead.  Some time was spent fishing, and whilst two huge sheets of corrugated plastic sheet were fairly quickly hauled out, the remainder put up a bit more of a fight.  When sacks started to come off, it was obvious there was worse, with rope involved.  Eventually after a fight, a discarded rope boat fender also appeared, at which point I felt we might actually be able to move at a reasonable speed.  I have to say I was rather relieved this did not all happen with over 200 feet of Joey boat strung out across the cut, waiting for their tug steerer to be back in control!  I'm rather glad we had no tow at all, to be honest!

Throughout the weekend, we saw quite a number of our forum friends, including Mike and Polly who had brought along "Reginald", but who couldn't actually get on-site with the boat until the Saturday morning.  We also had multiple visits from Dave and Jan, from Jim & Sarah, and from Jill, as well as some Canal World Forum members less well known to us coming along for a chat. (Good to meet you all!).

There were 12 tugs present, and the owners or operators of the others were very welcoming to our first event here.  Quite a lot of chat was exchanged, and I was surprised to learn that there is evidence that "Sickle" was not always based on the Southern Grand Union whilst under British waterways ownership.  We have always believed she was, but some evidence apparently links her to Hilmorton, on the Northern Oxford.  Something to investigate further, when I have more time!

The busy day was definitely Sunday, and I think I lost count of how many people I tried to explain Sickle's history to, whilst Cath was conducting back cabin "tours", sometimes with whole families packed in like sardines, to see how small a space people used to live in, (and we still do, periodically!).

Monday, whilst still well attended, was quiet enough that we did lock up the boat from time to time, and explore the museum a bit more.

[Edited May 2104, to remove links to Flickr pictures which Andrew Watts had given permission to use, but which seem to be no longer available]

I also can't resist the temptation too to post one of the You Tube videos our friend Jan took of Sickle being reversed back onto her moorings after we had turned her after our short trip out.  Things don't tend to get captured on video when in all goes remarkably smoothly, so I'm going to post one of those near-fluke reverses, that I wish would happen rather more often!

All in all a cracking weekend, where the really foul weather that had been forecast never really happened in a big way.  Well I say never really happened - it finally hit us big time as I tried to drive down the M40, and I think I may have driven up to thirty of the miles on there in some of the wettest conditions I have driven in for years.  Still, many of the canals still desperately need rainfall after the prolonged drought, so really we mustn't complain about heavy rain!

Here is an attempt to show all the tugs attending - dates are from the handed out leaflet, which as it wasn't fully accurate on some other points, I can't totally guarantee as correct.  Where a tug is a conversion of a boat not originally built as a tug, (such as "Sickle"), the date is the build of the original boat, rather than the conversion to a tug.

British Waterways Liveried Tugs

Nansen II (1957)

Sickle (1936 - ice-breaker/tug conversion 1942)

Tardebigge (1909) nearest camera - Enterprise is towing three Joeys between the other boats

Stewarts & Lloyds liveried boats

Vesta (S&L Tug No 3) (1935) - Like Sickle a conversion from a Grand Union "Star Class" boat, and a favourite of mine

Pacific (S&L Tug No 4) (1934)
Bittell (S&L No5) (1934) - Sister to Pacific, above.

Reginald (believed 1878) - Formerly an un-powered boat at S&L, and only converted after the works closed in the late 1970s.


Enterprise (1899) - Originally FMC Steamer "Count - Immensely powerful with a huge 5 cylinder Gardner engine.

Governor (1942) - From the famous fleet of Albert Matty.

Caggy (1944) - "Caggy" was the name Alan Stevens who owned this fleet was usually known by.

Coventry (1935), picking its way past Reginald reversing in.

Oxford No 1 (1943)

Miles: 2.1, Locks:0

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 238.8, Locks: 170


  1. Brill Alan & Cath!, do they accept modern tugs.........


  2. I doubt they do accept modern tugs officially, but we were rather surprised to see a Hudson boat sneak in for part of the proceedings! I was slightly miffed by this, after I had been told to urgently pack away some folding chairs, because they spoilt the period image!


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