NABO News Chairman’s Column June 2014

False Alarms and Lock Gate Heresy

Chairman Mike Rodd considers a mixed bag before venturing off onto the ‘loveliest canal in the country’.

Home Mooring Requirements

As you will all know, your Council took the brave step in the June issue of NABO News of publishing the legal advice we have received from our solicitors over the past eight years relating to moorings etc. We did this very deliberately as for some time we have been concerned over some of the ways in which BW (now CRT) interprets the Acts of Parliament that govern the canal system. Our concern is expressed not only on behalf of our thousands of private boater members, but for the sake of all canal users – given the vast sums of money that have been incurred by BW in expensive court cases, many of which have simply heightened our concerns. Having obtained this legal advice, we made BW aware of our opinion that it had exceeded its powers – but to little effect. However, we have now brought these concerns to the attention of CRT’s CEO, Richard Parry, and further dialogue is ongoing. Although it is clear that areas of disagreement remain, the discussions continue to be very constructive. We intend to remain a ‘critical friend’ of CRT and to be proactive in our dialogue. In this spirit we also publish this month the response from CRT’s Jackie Lewis to the issues raised in May by our legal-beaver, Geoffrey Rogerson. Of serious importance is the unequivocal statement that if you have a home mooring then you are NOT subject to any continuous cruising requirements. This, incidentally, blows a hole in the present interim trial arrangements on the K&A, where boaters with home moorings on this canal have been asked (told?) to comply with the trial proposals relating to continuous cruisers. Sorry, but this request is simply wrong.

Revealing Responses

The work by my colleague, Mark Tizard, in seeking to capture your experiences with issues relating to visitor moorings and CRT enforcement has proved to be a real eye-opener. The high level of immediate and passionate responses was remarkable in itself, but the overall outcome was even more revealing. 80% of those responding say that they have encountered no problems with overstaying on visitor moorings, but 90% feel that there are insufficient CRT patrol officers physically on the ground! The other very strong feeling, which I would personally echo from my present experience on the eastern end of the K&A, is that the focus of enforcement should be on boats that don’t move at all, rather than on those that don’t move far enough. I currently spend far too much time (according to my over-worked crew and my wife) skippering the KACT’s Rose of Hungerford and Jubilee trip boats along that section; many of the boats that we pass have not moved since last year and some have been there for even longer.

False (thinking on) Alarms

I am certainly enjoying my new task as a NABO representative on the BSS Technical Committee. I have been particularly involved with the work to produce revised conditions for hire-boat inspections, building on the work that went ‘live’ late last year for private boats. What has surprised me is the reluctance of some hire-boat operators to fit smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms to their boats. I am aware that most of the smaller companies do, but some of the larger ones claim that they have far too many false alarms occurring. The cost, they say, is also significant. Personally, I find this stand very worrying, given the number of boaters who die each year through smoke and/or CO inhalation. I have been made very keenly aware of the potential dangers: the blanking-off panel on my previous solid-fuel stove has twice dropped out because of a failing latch; thankfully, the fire was not alight on either occasion, but I dread to think of the consequences if this had happened during the night while the stove was burning. The problem of false alarms is itself something of a false alarm: on my own boat, at one stage the gas cooker constantly set off the smoke alarm (for example, when frying particularly fatty sausages). However, the excellent guidelines provided by BSS indicate that I had fitted the wrong type of detectors (ionisation instead of optical detectors). Having now fitted the correct ones, both with a seven- or ten-year battery life (and at a very reasonable price!), I have had no further false alarms. These detectors are easy to check and will tell you clearly when they need changing.

Lock Gate Heresy

On a different tack, let’s talk about lock gates – something we all know and love/hate. My good friend from the K&A, Bill Fisher, (one of the heroes in getting that wonderful waterway re-opened) has always banged on about the lock gates on the canals and rivers in France, where many of the gates are the original ones, installed some 200 years ago. But of course they were made, not of oak, but of metal – I guess originally cast iron. Most gates in Britain are oak, with a life of only about 25 years. Conveniently ignoring the many steel gates on the K&A, the River Wey and other waterways, BW always set its face against any alternatives to oak – often, but not always, because the gates were part of listed structures. Now, Bill and I have been working on alternatives, along with the prime driving force behind the restoration on the lower sections of the Mon & Brec, ex-BW Waterway Manager, Richard Dommett.  Involving both his local Canal Trust and the K&A Canal Trust, we engaged with my ex-colleagues at Swansea University (world leaders in finite element modelling and its use in the design and analysis of various structures) to design steel gates with sacrificial and easy-to-replace components at points where major wear would take place. These designs were fully analysed and their performance was shown both to be superior to wooden gates and to have a life of at least 50 years. Also, they would be significantly cheaper than oak, both to manufacture and to install. Then one of CRT’s engineers suggested that it would be great if the gates could come as a sort of IKEA-type ‘flat pack’ to be assembled on-site, with adjustments possible to their size, etc. The first one has just been installed on the lower end of the Mon & Brec on the section not owned by CRT. The gate sections were taken a mile down the towpath on a small trailer behind a Land Rover and the gate was installed and adjusted in half a day using a readily-available lightweight crane. So:

·         no access problems

·         no huge crane or large transport vehicle required

·         a predicted life of 50+ years

·         initial cost significantly less than oak

·         a tailor-made solution, but quickly assembled from stock components

·         no five or six oak trees needing to be felled and seasoned!

Seems a great idea, sustainable and a massive saving in cost and time? Sadly, the project is now on hold as the prime funders, the Heritage Lottery Fund, want CRT’s approval before they will allow us to build more – don’t ask me why, as it is not a CRT canal. But CRT doesn’t approve. Please don’t ask me why either. ‘Heritage’, I believe. But if the canals were built now, what material would be used? Certainly not a rapidly decreasing, slow-growing natural resource like oak trees. I can understand that if the structure is listed there is naturally an issue. But hey, what about all those metal gates on the K&A?

And Finally…

Huge congratulations to Mark Tizard: CRT has adopted his proposal to appoint a Welfare Officer to their staff! I hope you are all having a great summer on the water. By the time you read this we should have joined you, so if you’re on the Mon & Brec, please shout to the strange-looking short man with the beaten-up school cadet hat, as Faraday II passes by. And it you have never been down that way, try it – there are some super hire-boat operators and you will never forget your week on the loveliest canal in the country!