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Birmingham to Rickmansworth towing 'Forward'

The message on the Internet looked fascinating. Someone needed a tow, and as we always seem to end up towing people when we're out and about, we asked for more details. It turned out that the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust had just bought the 45-foot electric trip boat Forward from Birmingham City Council, but needed her towed from Gas Street to Rickmansworth because with rather tired batteries Forward could only manage about an hour's cruising between recharges. Well, we had a couple of weeks to spare so we left Milton Keynes in the strong March winds and arrived at Gas Street in the centre of Birmingham exactly 4 days later. On the way we'd honed up our towing skills by rescuing two ladies whose boat had apparently lost its rudder just before Braunston Tunnel. We towed them through the tunnel, then breasted up to take them down Braunston Locks; it turned out they hadn't actually lost their rudder, it had merely fallen out of its cup, and by the time reached the bottom of the locks we had fixed the problems and sent them on their way.

When we reached Birmingham we got a phone call saying 'don't forget to collect the battery charger as well'. I think someone thought the battery charger would be like the small ones you can buy in the shops; but this one was four foot tall, was built into its own brick shelter, and was as heavy as a small car. An electrician was summoned to disconnect it, and there followed an interesting discussion with the boatyard owner who really didn't want him to demolish the brick shelter to get at the wiring. Eventually the wiring was disconnected without demolishing any brickwork and 6 strong men managed to manoeuvre the charger on to the front of Forward.

Next day with 2 people on each boat, we attached Forward with short cross-straps and left Birmingham behind us. Luckily the trip boat was quite light and towed very easily, so we made good time as far as the top of the Lapworth flight and then used Forward's precious hour of battery to take her down the flight by herself. I lost count of the number of people who read the name Forward on the bow and asked if it had Backward painted on the stern; I usually replied that I had painted it on that morning to remind me which end to attach the cross-straps. We breasted up to tackle the Hatton 21, but it was to be a difficult journey; the towpath was closed for maintenance so we had to wait below each lock while the crew closed each gate and stepped on to the sterns to ride the boats between the locks. Forward was too short for the bow to reach the head of the lock so the crew all had to jump off the bow of Keeping Up and let me reverse the two boats back while they filled the next lock and opened the gates for me to come in, and all this in gale-force winds. Despite that we managed the 21 in just two-and-a-half hours, then soaking wet and completely exhausted we had a superb roast lunch at the 'Cape of Good Hope' and awarded ourselves the afternoon off.

 

Collecting Forward from Birmingham Towing Wolverton Aqueduct Breasted
Collecting Forward from Birmingham
Towing down the Grand Union
Over the Aqueduct
Breasting down the locks

By the time we reached Braunston we were getting quite good at the art of casting off the cross straps as we approached a lock then swinging Keeping Up to one side and slowing down, so that Forward came alongside us as the two boats came to a halt together inside the lock. When it worked it was most impressive; when it didn't the results were utterly chaotic! The rain and the gales got steadily worse, but we remembered Billy Connolly's comment that "there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes" and just kept on going. We had to keep going quite fast at times (apologies to some of the moored boats that we passed!) because otherwise the wind would blow Forward sideways and bring us to a halt; and yet a hire boat insisted on overtaking us as we approached Milton Keynes aqueduct and we had to do an emergency stop to avoid jamming across the start of the aqueduct; that left us stranded with two boats jack-knifed across the cut while the departing hirer swore obscenities at us for not making it easy for him to overtake. The next day we met another hire boat coming towards us at Pitstone; he didn't mind waiting for one boat to come through the bridge but didn't want to wait for another so he came straight through as soon as Keeping Up emerged, hitting Forward head on as a result!

Just a week and a day after leaving Gas Street we were in Rickmansworth with the 2 boats, and feeling very pleased with ourselves. Forward was taken to have her new name Pride of Batchworth painted on, and some new batteries fitted.

We celebrated by taking the restored wooden boat Roger out for a morning (which was fascinating! It was such an honour to hold a tiller that still bore the shape of the legendary Arthur Bray's grip) before heading back to our home mooring at Stoke Hammond for a few days rest before our next trip.

 

Roger Roger Roger Roger
Some pictures of "Roger"

 

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