Elton on the slipway December 2000

Elton“, a sister to “Southam“, was rescued from Southall in 1995.
This boat was donated by British Waterways as an alternative to destruction.
Chris Leah reports on “Elton’s” slipping for repairs at the end of 2000

What had been anticipated as a routine docking at Ashton Canal Carriers turned into a bit of a saga. Starting in Mid October we went to work on strengthening and sealing up various parts of the bottom and sides that had caused trouble in the past. However, it was clear that more work would be needed on the stern end where the nails holding the knees to the sides had pulled through the sides. A doubler was fitted where one of the knees was too weak to take the strain, then heavy steel plating was sealed to the sides with chalico and bolted through the sides and knees. Some keruing boards were bolted in to make up the gap left by the missing top bend. It all pulled together nicely and the boat now looks just a little less ramshackle.
Despite the wettest Autumn in history a good team turned out regularly to keep the work progressing. Colin Sales and Ken Hadfield fitted bolt after bolt George Nemeth did lots of tarring while Joe Arnold kept the chalico pots boiling and Andy Mckitterick , David Lloyd and several others at various times sploshed about in the mud getting various jobs done.

As Christmas loomed it looked as though the job might actually be finished sometime. Further urgency was brought on by the fact that another boat was expected for docking sometime around Christmas . A slight improvement in the weather enabled the last job, fitting a new cap to the top of the sternpost, to be completed on 23rd December. On the morning of Christmas Eve we started clearing the slipway of all the tools and materials that had accumulated around the boat. Alan arrived to light the boiler and Tommo started preparing the slipway cables for use.

Eventually the slip was clear and the boiler hissing contentedly. The slack was carefully taken in on the cable drums and the area cleared of all but essential personnel. With much chuffing and groaning the boat was first hauled up the rails a few inches to allow the safety chains to be removed. When this had been done the steam winch was reversed to wind “Elton” slowly down towards the water. She was then stopped at the waters edge, the gears on the winch disengaged and then the brake released so that the boat would run free into the basin.

Before the resulting waves had faded away I was inside the boat looking for leaks. I was pleased to see that the areas that we had worked on were completely watertight. The troublesome trickles that there used to be in the stern end had completely stopped. Unfortunately, there was a line of little fountains along a bottom seam under the front bulkhead of the back cabin. This area was inaccessible before the docking so there may have been a small hidden leak there. Now it was a big leak and had to be stopped urgently. It was very difficult to get at under the bulkhead and it took a couple of hours in the fading light to just slow it down to a manageable level.

Because the water level was exceptionally low I had decided to leave “Forget me Not” at Portland Basin. As darkness fell, all but me and Ken Parker had left to begin their seasonal celebrations. We started bowhauling “Elton” stern first towards Ashton. The temperature had dropped markedly and a bitter wind made keeping the boat on course difficult. Eventually we reached the deserted basin and let “Elton” drift across in the dark like a ghost boat. Max Barfield had arrived and helped to tie “Elton” up in the arm before giving me a lift back to collect my car.

Midwinter celebrations were punctuated by battery charging expeditions to keep “Elton’s” pumps running. In the quiet period between Christmas and New Year I managed make a better job of stopping the leak. There are still some small influxes but the overall leakage is less than when she went on dock. This will probably reduce further as suspended matter in the water blocks the holes.

Now work on “Elton” will need to move to the cabin. The back cabin needs re-constructing and the resurrection of the top bend needs to be completed. Those horrible imitation cloths will then need to be replaced with something a bit better looking and more practical. “Elton” is gradually shaking off her Cinderella boat image and being prepared for the long wait that she will have before she can be fully restored.


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