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1988, Our second year with Thistle

All around Birmingham & towards Leicester

New Year

1988 got off to a great start. We went to the Globe at Leighton Buzzard to celebrate New Year; there was a big private party but they invited us in anyway. It was fancy dress - we just came as boaters - and was great fun especially when the Conga Line left by one door of the pub, went in through Thistle's front doors, along inside the boat, out the back doors and back into the pub!

Not so good a couple of weeks later. We were moored outside the house by bridge 83, when overnight someone decided to increase our ventilation level by throwing bricks through every single window. As it was raining heavily and we were in the house, by morning everything inside the boat was saturated. Willowbridge fixed the windows for us (many thanks), and I found an off-cut 20 metres of 2 metre wide cord carpet that was ideal.

Soon, after lots of TLC, a new set of radiators, complete re-plumbing, some window rubbers, a new handrail (I found out how rotten the last one was, when I slid off the gunwales into the canal still holding a 6-foot length of handrail) and lots and lots of Mastic, we were ready to start our 1988 cruising. Our first trip took us up Hatton flight; we shared with a camping boat full of Boy Scouts, who were so determined to do their quota of good deeds for the day that we didn't have to do a thing all the way. It was the best trip up Hatton ever!

No rudder

The return journey was a problem. After coming down Lapworth, attempting to join the Grand Union again the tiller went very light and Thistle went straight on and hit the far bank. We soon found the problem: the rudder had fallen off. Completely. Right off. In the middle of the canal. Thank goodness for Sea Searcher magnets; we actually found the rudder and managed to get it back to the bank, but we were still helpless with no way of steering. We hijacked the next passing boat, and he towed us all the way to Warwick where we had hoped Kate Boats may be able to help us, but they couldn't. Luckily however Giles Baker of Harborough Marine was there, and he remembered building Thistle; he was able to give us a number of tips on how to get her repaired. So we phoned a friend, and he came up with his boat from Nether Heyford, and towed us back to Braunston (did you know that the bridge at Long Itchington is too narrow for a pair of boats that are breasted up? We didn't; it took a Tirfor to winch us out again!) where once again JonO of UCC came to the rescue. He attached a round bracket to the rudder, and another one to its shaft, then jumped into the water with the rudder to bolt them together. He didn't even charge us for the brackets because he'd taken them off our exhaust system the year before and kept them "because they looked useful".

But whenever it rained the windows still leaked, as did the roof, and the sides, and the gunwales. So I filled everything with mastic (people at the marina said they wouldn't recognise me of I wasn't carrying a mastic gun) and gave her a repaint, keeping her distinctive red-and-black colour scheme unchanged, and with a new cratch built she started to become a smart comfortable boat again.

Cruising at last

A week down to Hemel Hempstead and back proved that (most) things were working pretty well, so we set off for a longer trip in the heat of July. Going up Buckby the boat we shared with kept losing their windlasses. At the top lock I loaned the steerer our Sea Searcher magnet, and he threw it in the cut while I was still fetching out some cord to tie to it. I do wonder how he thought it was supposed to work. Anyway I tied the cord to one of our windlasses and threw it in; it came back up with our magnet attached.


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David (age 8) was getting good at steering
While Vicki (age 10) preferred doing the locks
Everybody lends a hand at Gailey
The beautiful Tixall Wide

By the time we got to Great Heywood all the crew including Vicki and David were getting pretty good at  doing the locks and we were making excellent progress. The mooring at Tixall wide was just idyllic, then we went down to Stourport to do a high-speed circle in the basin.


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The impressive church at Kidderminster
At the end of the Stourbridge Arm
The BT Tower in Birmingham
Underneath the BT Tower in Birmingham

After voyaging to the end of the Stourbridge arm we ascended the flight as far as the 'Samson and Lion'. They told us that the identical pub opposite had been dismantled brick by brick then re-assembled at the Black Country Museum. On the re-opening night the regulars had all gone there for the evening and several beers, then one by one they had each fallen over on their way out. Apparently the pub had been so faithfully rebuilt that they all forgot where they were, but the front door had a new threshold which wasn't worn down in the middle, so everybody tripped over it.


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Gosty Hill Tunnel ...
... starts low ...
... then gets higher ...
... then gets very low

We thought we'd go to Hawne basin for the night. Gosty Hill tunnel is weird and scary, with its constantly changing headroom. Unfortunately we didn't get welcomed at Hawne Basin; as we arrived someone stuck their head out of a moored boat and shouted at us that there was nowhere to moor and that we should just turn round and bu**er off back through the tunnel. SO we did, except that we broke down in the middle of the tunnel and had to shaft our way out again. We spent a miserable, thirsty evening moored up just at the exit from the tunnel.

Next morning we managed to restart the engine, then limped our way to Sherborne Street Wharf where the problem was found to be that the paper fuel filter element had become paper mache (due to rainwater getting into the diesel). Soon fixed and on our way again. Next stop Drayton Manor Park for a day. I asked the children to list in our Logbook all the rides they went on - they made a list of 17 items, starting with "1, The Log Flume" then "2, The Buffalo Train" and so on down to "17, The Toilets".

When we got to Amington (The Gate, one of our favourite pubs) we realised that we had almost run out of cash. I walked up the bar and asked for "4p-worth less than a pint and a half of bitter" and that is exactly what I got. Wonderful.

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No it isn't upside down
Bridges come in all shapes and sizes
A bit short of water at Watford flight
Autumn sunset over Milton Keynes

To Leicester

After a few weeks at home we decided it was time for another trip, and headed North up the Leicester branch. After a good night at the Stags Head we travelled up against the strong flow of water to Watford flight. Flow of water? Yes that's right. Someone ahead of us had got his bows caught under the top gate of the second lock, and had lifted it right off. Apparently the lock filled rather quickly once the gate had started to rise with the boat! But it took all morning for BW to fix it back.

Market Harborough seemed really dismal and almost deserted, then we went down to Kilby Bridge before returning to Crick for a magnificent meal at Edwards Restaurant ("This is a Slow Food restaurant. Children and muddy dogs welcomed but you have to bring your own"). Then home for minor repairs, a trip to Aylesbury for the fireworks, and finally up to Stowe Hill for New Year to round off our first complete 12 months with Thistle.

So it's on to 1989 ...


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All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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