Thursday, 11 September 2014

Jim Shead and the Sea Searcher save the day

Sunday 7th September

We left at 9, stopping opposite Cambrian Wharf in the sunshine to empty the cassettes and take on water.  We started down the Farmer’s Bridge locks around 9.30.  The crane which had been working near the top of the flight yesterday had the jib lowered and seemed to be being dismantled.

1 crane dismantling

That BT tower again!

2 bt tower from farmers bridge flight

Soon a gentleman with windlass hove into view.  Not a CRT volunteer but the famous Jim Shead, who lives locally and likes to keep his hand in by helping boaters down the flight.  A delightful and modest man whose name we only found out when he mentioned he had a website and I asked the address.

4 jim shead

As we neared the bottom of the flight, Nb Armadillo appeared.  We managed a quick ‘Hello’ as Jill sped by to open the lock above before the leaky top gates started filling it, and Graham warned us of a problem on the Ashted flight.  We had decided to go the other way luckily – the Aston flight.  In the top Aston lock was a young seagull which clearly hadn’t got the waterproofing in its feathers just yet – it looked very tired, and was swimming, but very low in the water.  I managed to get it out, easily avoiding the feeble passes of its beak, and put it in the warm sun by some bushes.  By the time we got down the lock it was standing rather than crouching and looking much better.

In one of the upper locks I was careless enough to lose my windlass – I thought I’d balanced it on one of the square-but-not-quite-flat-topped bollards, but I hadn’t and off it pinged down the side of the boat and into the lock.  We moved the boat to the next lock and spent 10 minutes trying to find the Sea Searcher before taking less than 5 minutes to recover the windlass.  We cracked on down in lovely weather before stopping at Cuckoo Wharf for lunch.

6 cuckoo wharf

We had understood it had secure public moorings but the signage appeared to indicate private or water-point only.  As there was only one boat there we stopped for lunch anyway.  It was totally unsuitable for the dog so we wouldn’t have wanted to stop overnight, and the motorway noise was terrible.  We had thought we might overnight at Star City till we realised it was on the ‘lower’ route (Garrison and Ashted locks) so as it was still before 2 we decided to go on and get out of the city.  Thanks to Jim we still had plenty of energy!  We rounded Salford Junction – this view is up towards Spaghetti junction -

7 salford junction north

and this is down the Digbeth Branch, the way Armadillo went. All very concretey and metally.

8 view down digbeth branch

We passed a huge electricity sub-station – enormous. This shows half of it.

9 massive elctricity station thng

At Troutpool Bridge there is a big works or warehouse over the canal for a hundred or more yards though it isn’t marked as a tunnel.  There was a lot of floating plastic rubbish which we luckily managed to avoid as the canal is wide under there!

11 warehouse over canal

Gradually we left the industrial back end of Birmingham behind and by Minworth grass had replaced concrete, strollers were out on the towpath and houses were replacing the industry, though the noisy roads remained.  We went through Curdworth tunnel and moored above the locks, where we recreated the Great Windlass Rescue – it’s got a nice whizzy handle so I didn’t want to abandon it. 

12 sea searcher to the rescue

We were glad to relax in the sunshine after what we thought had been a long, hard day – till Voyager, which we’d seen at Stratford, passed by having left Alvechurch – at least 8 miles the other side of Birmingham - while we were still in bed.  They were bound for the pub nearer the bottom of the Curdworth flight – we found out next day they had been travelling for 11 hours 40 minutes, as well as doing another 8 locks, so we felt rather upstaged!

9 miles 27 locks


  1. This is such a coincidence, my wife and I met Jim the following day as he helped us exit Birmingham down both the Farmers Bridge and the Aston flights. He was an absolute star. He raced ahead like a greyhound and set up the next locks for us all morning. He stayed with us until Aston where he caught the train back to the city centre. He even thanked us for letting him help. Words cannot describe how grateful we were. A cup of tea was offered but he wouldn't partake. He took over the helm for a while and it was good to see him in control. We didn't realise until today with a bit of Googling that we had met and been helped by the infamous Jim Shead. John and Liz on NB Dougal

  2. Hi John and Liz
    He was absolutely brilliant wasn't he? I just hope I'm as active when I reach his age (on the horizon...)
    We'll look out for you next year - Chuffed is in Calcutt now but we're planning to go north to the Leeds and Liverpool if all goes to plan next year. Nice to hear from you.