Make a splash at new year (though, not literally) and rent a narrowboat, which sleeps 12, to explore canals and rivers.
For example, hire the 70ft Elm for four nights from December 30 starting at Middlewich in Cheshire, which is at the junction of the Llangollen Canal (sic) and the Trent & Mersey Canal. It costs £845 for four nights including diesel, from Waterways Holidays (0845 1271020, waterwaysholidays.com).
I’m not so sure about the new extension to the Llangollen reaching Middlewich before Christmas, but at the time of writing the Elm is indeed still available for hire as described above and you can use the Middlewich Branch of the Shroppie – or better still for this occasion, why not head into the centre of Manchester!
You may well pass Zulu making our way from Middlewich to Uxbridge, although we hope to be considerably further south by New Year’s eve. In fact it looks like we could be in the Stoke Bruerne area by then, and I’m sure there are worse places to spend it.
Last month we took the elegant 1970’s car ferry, Marko Polo, down the Croatian Coast from Rijeka, via Split, Hvar and Korcula to Dubrovnic, and I was just looking through my photographs thinking what a marvellous trip this was. Michael Palin used the exact same ship when making his “New Europe” series but it was never shown on TV – perhaps it wasn’t exciting enough – but he does comment “We leave Rijeka on the night ferry to Split. It’s called the ‘Marko Polo’, which sounds like a good omen at the start of a very long journey”.
There was something most satisfying about travelling this well trodden route which stopped at three intermediate ports on the 20 hour journey and I was filled with admiration as Captain Radic made the most perfect manoeuvre to reverse the ferry stern-on to the tiny quayside at postcard perfect Korcula Town without even the slightest bump. I would never have believed it possible to reverse a 128m ship towards a quay in this way, and to watch how it was done with anchors and ropes was one of the highlights of the holiday.
After this we sat on the next table to Captain Radic and his wife in the ship’s restaurant at lunch, he looked quite captain-like as he unfolded his swan sculpture napkin (we got paper ones) and only the restaurant manager was allowed to attend to the table. I felt quite honoured to be so close to such an important person and even remarked that he must be one of the most experienced mariners to be operating in the Adriatic, in command of one of the largest vessels in the Jadrolinija fleet.
How wrong I was. We didn’t know at the time but under his command, this was to be possibly one of the last trips Marko Polo would ever make.
On the very next trip of 24th October 2009, four days after we travelled, Marko Polo crashed into rocky Sit island near Sibenik Port, and Captain Radic is in extremely serious trouble, likely to lose his command and facing a hefty fine and total disgrace in my eyes.
The Sibenik Port Authority, has reported:
“Commander Zdenko Radic is responsible for the boat when passing through Rivanj Channel before Nasukavanja and not personally managing the ship, which was his obligation in accordance with the Maritime Code. Another pilot Zeljko Cheung is responsible because he was not on the bridge, although he was in office and therefore obliged to observe the proper course of navigation, and on reports of officers on duty.”
It seems from all accounts I can find online that the accident happened due to human error. Somehow nobody on the bridge realised that the autopilot course had not been changed from the previous day and quite simply they drove it into the land at 25 knots. I haven’t even heard of this happening before, apart from the fictional “Speed 2-Cruise Control” . I simply cannot believe that in 21st Century Europe none of the crew noticed that the ship was pointing straight at an island with sufficient speed to drive it 15 metres up the rocky shore after first bouncing off another island. Fortunately and amazingly none of the passengers or crew was injured otherwise I hate to think what the charges against the Captain would have been.
Does the navigation system on a ship not scream warnings at the crew, the same as an aircraft which goes off course? Aparently not.
It turns out that Zdenko Radic wasn’t even the regular captain, but a relief covering while the permanent master was receiving an award for his contribution to Croatian tourism. Very sadly the damage to the ship has been enormous, sufficient to hole her underwater, severely damage the bow, part of which had to be removed before refloating, and even knocking the propellors off. The impact must have been terrifying.
I only noticed this story after seeing it in the news today, as after 28 days aground she has finally been refloated (on 20th November, according to the Croatian Times and Croatia’s Find-Croatia.com website).
Initial reports say the refloating has cost 1.15 million USD so far, and there is a still a chance the lovely Marko Polo will be scrapped, although the latest news is she may be repairable and could be back in service next year. I very much hope this is the case.
Last month I tested the new BW Mooring Auction system for the first time and as a result Zulu will soon have a new mooring at Uxbridge Lock, Grand Union Canal. Even though the Middlewich mooring is much cheaper, the cost of getting there is quite prohibitive, and we have had our fun after over a year in Cheshire, so its time to move on, with the added bonus of now having a West London mooring.
Winter stoppages, including one at Middlewich Big Lock itself mean we can’t start the journey south until 18th December, so Christmas and New Year is going to be a crazy mixture of family visits and boating. I hope to get past Braunston before the January stoppages commence, otherwise we will be stuck there until the end of March.
The auction system itself is certainly an improvement on the old tenders trial, where you only got one chance to guess a price, but I was almost caught out by the new system. At 13:00 hrs I was the high bidder and assumed that this meant I had won the auction. To my horror another bid was accepted after the deadline, and I had to log in and bid again. In fact I thought there had been a mistake, as I had scrutinised the Terms and Conditions document which clearly states that the auction ends at the closing time.
What it doesn’t mention is that the closing time is extended beyond the original deadline until no bidding activity has taken place for 5 minutes, as an anti-sniping measure. Whist this is an excellent feature I was very annoyed to end up losing the auction on a technicality, which is not even mentioned in the Terms and Conditions for Bidding but according to BW the website FAQ section must be considered part of the T&C, and it is here that the anti sniping is mentioned. So be warned – if you are bidding make sure that you watch for an extended closing time in case anyone tries to jump in at the last moment.
Fate was on my side though, as 2 weeks later the original bidder had not met their obligation and so I was offered the vacancy, as the next highest bidder. I have paid more than I intended, but I have a superb mooring to look forward to in one of my favourite locations on the canal network. Zulu was actually based in Uxbridge in the 1980s when she was one of the Royal Navy’s own hire boats, and when I bought her she had been moored for years in Batchworth, so to all intents and purposes, Zulu will be coming home.
Its nice to see that British Waterways are not the only ones who can waste money through board room decsions that don’t work in practice.
In the last 18 months, the Environment Agency has placed a sign at each end of every lock on the Thames to indicate whether a lock keeper is on duty. It must have seemed like a good idea in the board room when a plain yellow circle on a white background was chosen to inform boaters that there was no lock keeper.
I wondered why some people then referred to the Thames being on Yellow Boards, even in mid summer. Yellow Boards and Red Boards are normally displayed when the stream is rising, or strong stream warnings – a yellow or red sign is usually hung from the lock gates in a somewhat rustic style. So yes, unless you have seen a real Yellow Board, the chances are that you may misinterpret the yellow circle are inevitable.
So over the summer every yellow board circle has been replaced with a blue circle with the words “Self Service” in bold white characters. Now that makes sense but it would have been better to get it right first time. The circles have been stuck on top of the old signs, so the cost is presumably not too much on this occasion so this pales into insignificance when looking at some of the British Waterways decisions costing hundreds of thousands.
I wrote this in October but forgot to publish it; it still is a topical article and it reminds me that since the rain last week I have been receiving river status reports from the Environment Agency by email. A far cry from hanging a swinging board on a lock gate, they now run a special website which describes the stream conditions at every lock. Well worth bookmarking, and indeed well worth subscribing to the updates by email.