18 October 2019

A Grand Day Out

by: Buffs

Western Depot manager Reg, who also carries the title of Grand Director of Maintenance for the Western Canal, stood in front of the grass cutting tool shed. “All these tools and so few being used” he mused, “if only we had more volunteers trained to use them”. The thought crystallised and became The Training Day.  All WD tasks would be set aside for one day and the time devoted to getting more people trained to use strimmers and polesaws, the grillo sickle mower. The tipper would get new drivers signed off and trailer training would see more volunteers given the basic tools to reverse trailers and tow them safely.

The day chosen was to be Reg’s third day out on the ground working with his charges. Last week he joined an expedition shifting wet hessian sandbags from the landing stage at Ebley onto a Mitzi.  Not an easy task as each nominal 20kg bag had to be carried increasing distances to the waiting vehicle in the carpark. Offloading at Dudbridge was easier – just slide off the tailgate into a ragged pile. Not content with his morning’s lift and shift Reg was only too pleased to help with the unloading of a substantial van load of flat pack furniture up to the top floor at the Brimscombe bookshop. There was little time to stand and admire the Virginia creepers bleeding through the still green hedges along the waterside.

Came the day for the big expedition to the Ocean where the green training was to take place and the yard was busy with strimmers being filled and tested before loading and training rosters prepared.  Tea was poured into flasks and lunch boxes were loaded into vehicles.  Then a message that the ‘volunteer what knows about training for strimmers etc.’ rang in sick. “No matter, we’ll carry on” said Reg.  There was a big reason to continue as the HLF assessors were due be given a progress report on the development phase of the 1B bid. The assessors would be coming to the Ocean and St Cyr’s church to be talked through 9 short presentations and reports on the detail of the progress and plans.  And there was real work to do around the Ocean basin wharf front by the former farm buildings. 

The ongoing commitment to keeping the waterside community involved with the restoration effort along the waterway means that we work with them to keep the waterside tidy.  The Ocean was dredged by the trust volunteers some time ago and many willows were felled or pollarded.  The main channel is essentially clear but the vegetation close to the gardens has grown strongly and tall.  WD were to reduce the height of the greenery and pollard the willows.
Base camp was established on the ‘Wedding Field’ by Stonehouse Court.
Richard gave training on the Grillo and Mike was on hand to give the benefit of his experience with the pole pruner/saw.
Several volunteers were given experience in working with the pole pruner and much young growth was removed from willows young and old.  So much work was done that it required 3 runs with the tipper to clear the brash away.
The greenery beyond the dock wall had been reduced by Heather from Wookey Hole and her mentee Chris using the heavy Stihl’s fitted with masher blades. These tools are very effective at reducing dense brush and greenery to a mulch which can be left to rot down or cleared as required.
During all these activities we were watched by the waterborne residents of the Ocean. The family of swans, 7 cygnets still in their grey plumage and two adults, are clearly the stars of the water.  They are ably supported by ducks and squadrons of moorhens and coots.
We had done some prior observations and watched the moorhens and coots disappearing into gaps in the reeds and were mindful of this when working and training throughout the day.

During the day the WD volunteers recorded skills in vegetation management and driving techniques which will reduce the load on those who already have them and bodes well for the work of the yard.  The intended training on strimmer tools will be re-programmed soon.  The weather was kind with yellow jackets quickly replaced with just the hi-vis waistcoats.  Fading summer tans were topped up and lungs refreshed.  The night’s sleep was well earned.
And a source within the 1B hierarchy has said that the bid review was successful with the team impressed with the work done and the evident enthusiasm of the volunteers visible on the day was commended.

But what of Reg?  He enjoyed a day away from the phone.  His primary role was as team speaker.  An essential role in any work team along the towpath as most people will stop and ask “What are you doing today?”  Reg was ideal for the role as he knows much about what we are doing now and for the future.  His forte was, and is, the emollient link between WD and the residents around the Ocean. And he set up the day for us – not sure how he managed the good weather though!

10 volunteers were trained across 5 disciplines:  Polesaw, Grillo, Tipper Driving, Trailer Towing and Jet Washer use.
Congratulations to David C, Andy J, Matt J, Vince H, Bob K, Phil S, Richard A, Steve P, , Frank L and Clive B.
Thanks go to Frank L, Richard A, Mike L, Dave C and Bob A for sharing their knowledge and experience with the group.  And of course to Reg.

17 October 2019

Wednesday Dredging East of Ebley.

by: Andrew R.

We've dredged along the wharf wall and to the end of the landing stage two metres wide min and at full depth in the last 3 dredging sessions.
We have been digging out up to 600 mm - 2 foot of silt every bucket. As we now know now Margaret is enjoying pushing full hoppers with ease.
It would be much appreciated if vessels with motors pass slowly along this stretch so the excessive silt does not get washed from the higher middle level to fill up where we have dredged.

15 October 2019

Tuesday Training Day on Dredger and Tug work

by: Andrew R.

Training on Patricia at Ebley Wharf. Chris K was  full flow a steadily gaining confidence. The silt bed by the wall is over 60 cm. deep and no rubble so filling the hopper was fast. 
It was agreed we would trial as an experience Dredger trainer/operator With Chris an experience tug hopper operator to trial full loading of Hoppers, then transport to Langleys field.

For those who don't know hoppers can be loaded so gunwales are level with the water. We were short of this by 15cm. More importantly we loaded the silt so it pushed the water out over the gunwales. 

This has only been done once before in the past four years on the Stroud canal.
It was great to work with Chris who showed high level skills with the tug.  In fact one of the few I have worked with or observed moving a hopper with Margaret so well.  Nearly a perfect centre channel journey.  As we agreed a lot easier with FULL hopper.
To finish, so much possible now there's a clear channel from Ebley to Ryeford

14 October 2019

The 'Adventure' begins - Cotswold Canals Trust Wheelchair Accessible Trip Boat

Construction has now commenced on the Trusts new electric powered trip boat, a 54ft x 10ft semi-trad craft and this increase in size will allow better access and manoeuvrability for wheelchair users.  

She is powered by 2 x electric motors linked to a single prop. A large solar Photo Voltaic (PV) array on the roof will charge the batteries.  There is also a plug in power option.  It is anticipated, dependant on final choice of batteries, to have a cruising range of around 8 hours.  A recharging point will be installed at CCT's Saul Junction mooring site.  The design includes the ability to remotely monitor battery condition and systems.  In fact it even has the ability to turn on the heating, while plugged into shore power, well in advance of a charter or indeed to keep 'frost proof' during the winter months.  

The boat is designed to carry 12 passengers with a crew of 3 to 4 and will incorporate a wheelchair lift at the bow.  She will initially enter service on the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal, but will move to the Stroudwater Canal as soon as possible after the completion of the Stroudwater Navigation restoration project.
Ortomarine, based nearby in Worcestershire, will be fitting out the boat, a modified design of the excellent 'Pamala May' which operates on the Droitwich Canal.  The hull, is being fabricated in the UK by Tyler-Wilson in Sheffield.
The internal general arrangement is shown in the illustration below (click to enlarge).

We are very grateful to the organisation, Trusts and individuals who made this project possible and for their patience whilst we finalised the design and the funding arrangements.

A progress continues, look out for updates.

11 October 2019

Maintenance at Dudbridge lock by Dredging team....
….and associates leads to start of dredging at Ebley confluence weir.

by: Andrew R.

Spawning season in river section now means no more Dredging from Ebley weir to Wallbridge Upper lock.  After a successful clearance of the stop planks, canvases, metal scaffold planks, poles, rocks, silt and 150 ish sandbags we needed to leave the river section.
So Monday and Wed morning dedicated Dredger crews, fully trained operators of ‘Patricia’, cleared the final parts under the road bridge as a maintenance/construction task to prepare site (note: not Dredging)

So it was byebye Dudbridge, hello Ebley for Patricia (soon Annette2 with No5.)

Wednesday lunchtime.
A keen and skilled team crewed Margaret the Tug ( David,Chris, Malcolm) pulling the fully laden hopper ‘WEFT’ to Wiggles Yard Wharf in a perfect straight line, proving the tugs can work in reverse when a hopper is well down in the water.  Then manoeuvred with a nearly elegant 180 to push it, this of course after a chatty lunch with Dredger crew John and Andrew.

Off we all pottered or should I say Motored!  It was a joy to sail?? down the canal through the freshly dredged section to the river outlet without worrying about silt banks.  Unfortunately from the outlet to the confluence weir we cannot dredge for six months and there are still serious silt banks for any deep vessels. Didn’t Margaret and the hopper have fun there!

Dredging now at Ebley 8 Metres west of the confluence weir as spawning rules dictate.  This process of dredging this section is going to take months and hoppers are going to fill fast as every clamshell bucket did have and will have a full load of silt.  We hardly moved and a hopper was filled and we only did 2 1/2 metres from tow path.

When we tried to moor to Wharf wall east of landing stages at Ebley at the end of the day with the hopper ‘WARP’ it was nearly impossible as the silt was too high.  So first task for next two weeks at least is to clear at least a 3 metre wide strip along the wharf wall to ensure a clear channel for ease of approach and mooring.

It is therefore very important we therefore have full tug crews operating so the Dredging doesn’t stop.  We therefore hope committed tuggers start earlier in the day and finish later when ever the Dredger’s are working.  Please be assured we are now in a new phase where we will be digging nearly almost certainly just silt and therefore hoppers will fill fast.  This is very exciting and is what we’ve been waiting for as dredger operators and tuggers!  No sitting around.  We need to keep the Dry Dredging team busy off loading, as if they haven’t got enough to do being tugged in several directions!  On many tasks.

We are also going to fill hoppers to near there maximum as the centre of the canal from Ebley to Ryeford will allow deeper drafted vessels. We can almost see the need for 2 tugs operating so hoppers are transferred quickly to stop delaying dredging.

Once again from John and Andrew thank the  tuggers for a very active Wednesday and especially as they did extra tasks like collecting the iron stay for the stop planks and brushing down the Ebley landing stage of burst sand bags deposits on request from the dredging team, whilst waiting for a hopper, great to see.  Also thanks to the depot for sending out the Mitzi and volunteers to move sand bags to Dudbridge caged area at Redlands.

It’s great what a phone call or direct person to person request achieves at grass root level!

Also good news there are new dredging trainees who are on task for dredging which is good to see.

A reminder to Dredger operator Volunteers who have NOT updated their skills and knowledge training in the past year for Patricia or 2/3 years for No 5.  You will have to before you can operate the Dredger’s again.  You need to receive full update training even if you have a WRG ticket from operating no5 before recent refurb/upgrade.  Patricia is obvious as a completely different vessel to No5 and No5 because of its reconfigurations and operations in conjunction with Annette2, also the updated tighter safety rulings both for operating and bio regulations, so any of those few people who want to dredge again you will need to consult with Myself, Bob H and John S.

Thanks again.
From excited Dredging leads/trainers Andrew and John and other present day Dredger operators.

09 October 2019

Dudbridge Dredging

by: Chris K.

During the clearance of silt from the lock, the most interesting object that was removed from the lower gate entrance was the former lock gate rail. 
One end has a square bracket, the other end a threaded rod which must have passed through the lock arm. 

Dredging has now moved onto Ebley. 
A Report on Sandbags

by: Jenny K.

As Skipper of the day I take my responsibilities very seriously.  
Here I am inspecting a Company of Sandbags which had arrived by punt from Dudbridge lock where they had been seconded to shore up the stop lock.  This unruly bunch received a severe dressing down for having left the punt (Aquilla) in such a sorry state. 

After a suitable retribution had been extracted Steve and I attended to Aquilla's mortal needs.  
Then to avoid further indignity we hitched her to Goliath and removed her to Ryeford Warf having re-homed some reprobate sand en route.