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IWA Campaign Cruise to Walsall - 28th May 2005

This is the account of our maiden voyage on nb Blue Moon.  We signed up for the IWA rally to Walsall on the weekend of 28/29 May 2005 hoping that we would have our boat in some sort of useable state in time, having taken delivery of the empty but lined shell in mid April. 

This trip was our target to get Blue Moon ready for our main adventure for the summer is to go to the Saul festival at the beginning of July. We needed to get some hours on the engine and prove things out before we venture onto the river Severn.

After much frenetic activity the boat was deemed ‘ready enough’ and so we brought it up from Stoke Prior to Tardebigge top lock the day before we were due to set off.  Unfortunately, our BW licence had still not arrived and so I put a little sign in each of the portholes at the stern stating “BW licence applied for – still waiting!!”

We left Tardebigge top lock on Friday afternoon in the midst of a heat wave.  Things got somewhat cooler once we were on our way and we reached Gas Street, Birmingham by early evening.  We tied up abreast of another boat, nb St Christopher, also taking part in the rally, and, having had something to eat, went on walk about.  Activities in Birmingham were lively but good-natured and the night passed fairly peacefully (at least we weren’t untied like last time!).

Everyone began making a move at around 8am the next morning and we joined the convoy off to Walsall.  Things went fairly smoothly until we began to descend the Ryders Green eight locks.  Unfortunately, a strong wind had blown up meaning that every time we came out of a lock we were blown hard over to the right.  With Blue Moon not having much weight in her yet we didn’t stand a chance!  In addition, one of the locks’ paddles wasn’t working and on another the locking mechanism for the paddle was missing and everyone was using a thoughtfully placed stone to jam the paddle up with. However, we had no trouble with bandits during our cruise through this area and indeed the locals were very friendly and curious.  More than once we were told that they’d never before seen such a number of boats using the canal as they had that day. One lad asked us if we were taking part in a race!

Eventually we got down the locks and headed for Walsall.  The water here onwards was as black as pitch and we fervently hoped the dog wouldn’t choose this particular point to fall in!  As we got closer to Walsall the selection of “interesting” artefacts in the canal became more abundant and our daughter began to keep count of the number of plastic bread trays she spotted (and where do all those coconuts come from?).  Sitting quite high in the water we were lucky but we passed many boats trying to detach things from round their propeller, e.g. mattresses, barbed wire, etc.  We could have furnished a complete house with what we saw floating around, several sofas, mattresses, chairs, cushions, etc, not to mention shopping trolleys, bikes and endless numbers of car wheels.  The weed here was also in abundance and several boats had to stop and clear out the weed they had picked up. 

We arrived at Walsall Town Arm in the late afternoon to be met by the sight of around a hundred boats!  Unfortunately, due to the wind whirling around the basin we were once again blown hard over to the left when we really did want to be over on the right with everyone else!  After much revving, shouting and swearing and rope-throwing we were pulled (thank you everyone who helped!) across to the towpath side and moored up against two other boats. 

We had a very pleasant evening, although the cold wind put a bit of a downer on things.  There was a pig roast and baked potatoes laid on and they were very welcome too!  I was pleasantly surprised by the development around the basin, it looked as though apartments were being built and new bars/restaurants were open for business.  We felt perfectly safe overnight and didn’t hear of anyone having had any trouble around us.

The next morning we were woken at 5am by a working boat and butty deciding to make an early(!) get away.  However, we slept in a bit longer and left Walsall at around 8.45am.  Thankfully, the wind had dropped and we managed to turn around without all the shouting and swearing of the previous afternoon!  We headed off back to Birmingham along with several other boats.  The weather cheered up as the day went on and by the time we arrived back at Gas Street it was warm and sunny.  We moored up just before the NIA with the kind owner of nb Hellebores moving up slightly so that we could squeeze in between him and nb Lord Nelson. 

Anna, ‘number two daughter’, excelled herself by getting out the Brasso and polishing the mushrooms and we spent a nice evening having a walk up to Brindley Place and visiting a restaurant.  Being quite tired we retired early to bed hoping for a good night’s sleep.  We were to be disappointed.  At around 3am we were woken by the sound of car horns, squealing tyres, revving engines and screaming and shouting.  It appeared that nearby a group of Birmingham’s finest citizens were racing cars (possibly in the multi-storey adjacent) and having a horn-blowing contest.  The noise was incredible and it was impossible to sleep through.  It eventually stopped after what seemed like hours but was probably about an hour and a half and we were allowed to go back to sleep only to be woken again about half an hour later by a group of shrieking youths leaning against our boat whilst socialising.  Was this night never going to end?

We woke bleary eyed the next morning eager to be off.  We headed off back to Tardebigge with nb Hellebores bringing up the rear.  We waved them off at Kings Norton Junction as they headed off down towards Stratford.  The rest of the journey was uneventful and peaceful with the weather picking up as the day went on.  By the time we arrived back at Tardebigge the sun was beaming down on us.

All in all, we had a good weekend spoilt only by Sunday night in Birmingham.  We really enjoyed ourselves and met some super people.  It was our first voyage on our new boat so we were slightly nervous but we need not have been.  Everyone was very helpful and the organisation of the event at Walsall was good.  We’ll definitely do it again and in fact have already decided to do the IWA weekend at Tardebigge in August.