Kennet & Avon Boat Builders Ltd.

Last weeekend I go a bit keen on polishing Albert and reached some bits that don't normally get much attention. I used some Brasso on the maker's nameplate which is mounted on the lid of the bow (gas) locker.

Albert's Maker's Plate

Albert was delivered as a sailaway by Kennet & Avon Boat Builders Ltd to Mike Hurd, her first owner, who fitted her out. Each time I examine the maker's plate the mystery of the code on the plate intrigues me. On the plate is engraved 60 T MD 2YWM 12 94. Most of the code hasn't been very difficult to work out, but the third pair of letters remains a mystery to me.

60 - 60 ft length
T - traditional stern
MD - ?
2YWM - the code of the engine, Ruston & Hornsby 2YWM Mk V
12 - the 12th boat built by the company
94 - the year 1994, Albert was delivered in February 1994

So this leaves me still wondering about MD. Answers on a post-card to ......

I also started looking on the web about Kennet & Avon Boat Builders Ltd. I have known for some time that they were based, not on the K&A navigation, but some distance south at Mere; the company was part of a steel fabrication organisation just off the A303. The boatbuilding company ceased trading in late 1994 so I think Albert must be one of their last shells.

However, this time I decided to use the web to search for how many other K&A Boatbuilders shells are around. A search of Jim Shead's site, which gives boats registered to BW and EA, revealed that 9 were still registered, all with BW. Two boats, Adelante and Halcyon Daze were recently sold, but sadly one K&A 60ft boat, Thistle, was involved in a fire at Honey Street on the K&A in early 2007 and was recently sold as a wreck.

When I had Albert surveyed at Bradford Marina back in late 2003, Sally Boats had some K&A shells in their fleet and that they liked how they were put together and their handling. I wonder if they are still in their fleet and what other K&A boats are around the system but not noted in the registers as being built by K&A.

Through England's Waterways, by Montague & Ann Lloyd

I see that a first edition of one of my favourite vintage cruising books is available on Ebay. The "buy it now price" of £50 appears high but the starting price is £35.

I bought my copy for £5 with the only bid. It was also a first edition, but it didn't have a dust jacket. Maybe my review in November 2007 has driven up the expectations of the seller, or maybe my copy was grossly under-priced.

Engine Decoke

On the advice of Phil Lizius, from Longboat Engineering, who is a Ruston & Hornsby (Greaves) expert, I decided to decoke Albert's engine.

The engine has recently not sounded as crisp as it once did, particularly on tick-over. According to the engine-hour meter our R&H 2YWM has done around 2,250 hours. Around 1,300 hrs have been put onto the clock since 2003 when Albert has been in our ownership.

Phil came to listen to our engine on Saturday when we were at Stoke Bruerne and he recommended a decoke. Removing the exhaust manifold was not difficult. Once I had removed it I wished I had carried out a decoke a lot earlier. The rear exhaust port was very blocked! Below is a picture. You should be able to see the outline of the port. It appears to have only a third of its area open.

A blocked rear exhaust port

The front exhaust port was OK so we must have been running on about one and a third cylinders. Now she sounds fine.

Herons - are they getting more bold?

When we first started boating on a regular basis, in the mid 1990s, the customary behaviour for herons fishing alongside the canal was to take flight as a boat passed; moving along the cut ahead of us, taking up a serious of positions, before eventually cutting back behind the boat and finally resuming serious fishing.

Recently, probably over the last 2-3 years, we have begun to notice a change in their behaviour. They no longer take flight and often continue fishing as boats pass close by. Some even perch on moored boats and just watch. This was highlighted this weekend when we noticed a heron fishing just below the Southern Portal of Blisworth Tunnel (see our photo below). It appeared quite oblivious to the continuous boat traffic passing, including the trip boats with excited passengers. Have other boaters noticed this change in behaviour? We presume that this change has come from the increasing traffic on our canals. Are herons still timid on quieter canals?

Heron fishing on a busy Grand Union at Stoke Bruerne

Blisworth Tunnel - 25th Anniversary of Re-opening

We took Albert out last Friday up to Stoke Bruerne to join the celebrations of the 25th Anniversary of the re-opening of the tunnel following re-building. We moored up in the Long Pound.

Early morning, August 22nd, Long Pound, Stoke Bruerne

The gathering on Saturday was quiet, so far as boats were concerned, with very few historic boats and only a few visiting modern boats; but it was nevertheless very enjoyable. The wonderful weather certainly brought out the crowds on both the Saturday and the Sunday. Stoke Bruerne certainly looked at its best.

Apart from the museum's Sculptor and Mike Partridge's Jubilee, both of which moor at Stoke, the only other historic working boat attending was Sweden. However, the steamboat Adamant re-enacted its journey through Blisworth Tunnel at the re-opening in 1984.

NB Sweden arriving at Stoke Bruerne

Cabin side - NB Sweden

Fine example of a Castle on the cabin side of NB Sweden

For us the highlight was, however, the talk given by the two tunnel engineers talking about how the centre section of the tunnel was completely re-bored and re-lined. John Woods and Roy Slocombe both worked for Mowlem, the contractor which carried out the work in the 1980s and they gave illustrated talks at both Stoke Bruerne and Blisworth. The reunion of the reconstruction team was in fact the focus of Saturday's event.

Steve has read David Blagrove's excellent book on the tunnel, "Two Centuries of Service". However, hearing the two engineers reminisce added some fascinated detail, particularly of the construction of the concrete rings. They managed to make their talk interesting to a broad audience by using plenty of illustrations and adding some personal stories. It was great to see those involved with reconstruction walking around the two villages proudly wearing special badges that identified them as part of the reconstruction engineering team.

One interesting fact to emerge from the engineer's talk was that the most southerly air-shaft was rebuilt lower to accommodate the local landowner who operated a light plane from his farm. When we walked over the summit to Blisworth on Saturday afternoon we had a look at the shaft and found that it was now surround by high trees. So much for making the area suitable for flying!

Lowered tunnel air shaft and grass air-strip at Buttermilk Hall Farm

A tall (full-height) tunnel air shaft

The Mountbatten making its way from Blisworth to the Northern Portal

As we walked over the summit we heard the church bells ring in celebration as they did 25 years ago. There were plenty of celebrations at Blisworth, particularly at the wharf by Blisworth Tunnel Boats. We came back from Blisworth by vintage coach (well a 1966 Bristol); as we did four years ago at the 200th celebration. However, this time we didn't have to wait too long for it to arrive.

Vintage road transport

The public certainly appeared to enjoy some of the canal traders who visited Stoke Bruerne. We saw numerous people passing our mooring carrying bags of cheeses from The Cheese Boat. They must have had good trade.

So was this "an anniversary to far", to paraphrase Granny Buttons? I have to say, no. Although it couldn't hold a candle to the 200th aniversary, it was worthwhile trying to commemorate such an important event, particularly for those of us living in South Northamptonshire. A lot of people will have come away having enjoyed their day out and perhaps learned a little bit more about our canal heritage and how it was preserved.

On Saturday evening we were joined by our friends Lin & Roy Healey and visited the newly opened Spice of Bruerne restaurant. We were impressed. It has a good menu at a reasonable price, they provide friendly service and it certainly appears to be popular. We shall come to eat there again and not only by boat.

On Sunday we moved up to the tunnel, winded, and then moored up. Amongst those passing Albert was a six-year old bulldog, Pablo. Being a warm day we offered him a well-earned drink of water which he noisily enjoyed.

Pablo says hello!

Rochdale Canal

Although our "canal sparse" summer continues because of other commitments, we did manage a short walk along the Rochdale Canal near Oldham. We were at the 90th birthday of Steve's uncle and had a spare hour before the celebrations began. Steve's uncle and aunt live in New Moston in Manchester close to the Rochdale and have celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.

It was interesting to see how Rochdale had been re-built as it passes under the M60. We got down to the towpath by the Barge and Horse pub and walked about half a mile towards Rochdale. We we struck by the total lack of any boat activity at 10 o'clock in the morning, but then I suppose with only two boats a day permitted to cross the summit in each direction at the moment because of water shortages, I suppose it is hardly surprising. The water level was quite low even here and there was quite a lot of floating weed. It was somewhat reminiscent of the some of the quiet areas of the BCN.

Well so much for "passive" canal visiting. We have managed to squeeze in a short trip on Albert this weekend to the 25th aniversary of the tunnel re-opening. Should be fun.

We intend to take Albert out for a week in October.

Tallinn, Estonia

On 5th August we flew to Tallinn. It was for the wedding of Michael and Kate Winter at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. We spent a fabulous few days enjoying Tallin and the fantastic wedding and celebrations. As part of the visit we couldn't resist having at least one nautical event, so we visited the Estonia Maritime Museum in Tallin.

The whole museum is fascinating. The vessels on display are indicative of the turmoil that existed in the last century in the Baltic. All have mixed histories but for us the two "stars" were the submarine Lembit (yes the same forename as the Liberal Democrat MP) and the ice breaker Suur Toll. However, the civil engineering masterpiece of the stressed concrete seaplane hanger shouldn't be ignored.

The submarine Lembit (1936)

What is also remarkable is the freedom that visitors to the museum have to explore the vessels. For example, the complex engine room of the Suur Toll is fully accessible. I personally found it thrilling to be able to clamber up and down the companion ways of its large three steam engines.

So what of the exhibits? The submarine Lembit was built in Barrow in Furness by Vickers Armstrong in 1938 for the then independent Estonian Republic. Lembit was one of two submarines built in the UK for Estonian. She survived but her sister ship, the Kalev, was sunk during WWII. She displaces 853 tonnes when submerged and is 59.5 m long. Her main role was mine laying but she has 4 torpedo tubes. She was operated by the Soviet Navy during WWII laying mines to protect what was then Leningrad (now St Petersburg). She was exhibited at a museum from 1985 and then handed over to the new Estonian government when it was formed in 1992. It was chilling to read that in 1940 when she became a Soviet vessel her Estonian crew were replaced and her commander was arrested and executed on orders from the NKVD (to become the KGB).
Her cramped living accommodation is a reminder of how difficult conditions were on submarines of that era - she had a complement of 32.

Torpedo tubes on the submarine Lembit

Mine storage on the Lembit (20 off)

Bunks (note they are two deep)

Up Periscope!

One of the two original diesel engines (Lembit is diesel-electric)

How to steer a submarine!

The icebreaker Suur Toll was built in 1914 by Vulcan-Werke, Hamburg in what was then Stettin, Germany but is now is Szczecin, Poland. She has played an important part in the maritime history of the Baltic. She was at one time the biggest icebreaker in the world and for her to survive two world wars is remarkable in itself.

Suur Toll icebreaker (1914)

She was operated by the Russian Bolsheviks during WWI but was captured by Finland in 1918 and then handed over to the newly independent Estonia in 1922. She was then handed over to the Soviet fleet in 1941 and served as an icebreaker until she was made a museum ship in 1988.

Bows of the Suur Toll (note the sunbather on the boat below)

One of three steam engines on Suur Toll

Two of the three furnaces on Suur Toll

There are numerous stories of how she managed to keep the Baltic ports supplied during war and how important she has been to Tallin, her home port. But despite all her history it is her technical innovation that still stands out. She displaces 4,579tonnes and is 74.4 m in length but she is packed with power. She has three 5800 HP independently operated steam engines driving two forward screws and one reverse which is placed under the bow. She was originally coal fired but is now diesel fired. When you go below decks it is very unnerving to find a sizable propeller shaft going forward. My first impression was that I had taken the wrong turn and that I was going towards the stern and not forwards. There is very little below decks except engines, boilers and furnaces! The top deck has some reasonable accommodation for officers and crew but little else. Some pictures of the Suur Toll on display in the museum show her in a dry dock with bolt-on propeller (screw) blades (four per propellor). Presumably this was to help replacement if damaged.

Above the two foward driving engines of Suur Toll

So what of the seaplane hanger. It is a pre-stressed concrete shell structure built on the orders of the last Tsar of Russia. Its designer was Danish, as was the constructor. Between the wars the seaplane base site was an important strategic site for the fledgling republic of Estonia and was famously visited by Charles Lindberg of the Spirit of St Louis fame.

Former seaplane hanger at Tallin, Estonia

As you can imagine I had a great day and I can safely say that Maggie was also impressed.

Enjoy some of our photographs.

Steve Parkin