Historic Narrowboat Skipper & Crew – Volunteers Wanted

This is an opportunity to work with the Hazel project, which uses a 100-year old wooden boat as a resource, to promote wellbeing in general and provide respite and short escapes for people experiencing mental health difficulties.

Learning boating skills and boatcraft opens up a whole friendly world of other boaters and empowers you to explore Britain’s fantastic network of historic waterways. Being on a boat changes your perspective from the everyday. It’s a slower pace and closer to the outdoors.

Crew might be steering the boat, paying attention to the engine, welcoming people on board, giving instructions to passengers or telling them about the canal, tying up, loading and casting off and calmly carrying out emergency procedures, if they are ever needed.

The Skipper is in overall charge, so they need to understand how to do all these things and coordinate the rest of crew to make sure they are done safely. The Skipper also needs to take care of the passengers, who may have a range of support needs. A vital part of this role is taking care of the boats and keeping them in good condition, so you need to be willing to stay and tidy up at the end of a trip.

Volunteers take trips on Hazel, a restored historic narrowboat, stopping along the way to collect donations from the local community. These are either recycled or sold in our charity shop. You will be helping keep our charity afloat (ahem), allowing us to continue conserving heritage and working with people with poor mental health. You will also be contributing to a recycling initiative, all whilst reconnecting with the outdoors.

You also need attention to detail, awareness of surroundings, understanding of hazards, communication and listening,and working with people. The role requires moderate physical fitness and the ability to keep balance and move about in small spaces and around the boat.

Experience of mental health issues is desirable but not essential; however an inclusive attitude is a must.

The most important quality we need in crew and skipper is reliability, as without them the boat cannot operate!

Find other voluntary roles at the WCBS: Do-it.org search.

Membership application form or Online application form (needs printing)

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Join us on board ‘Hazel’, our 100-year-old, fully restored wooden canal boat. Our wonderful relaxing cruises take in the beautiful Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals, giving you time to sit back and enjoy the peace and quiet.



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Facilities on board;

  •  Sleeps up to 10 people

  • Traditional back cabin

  • Fully fitted kitchen

  • Large bathroom/shower

  • Large lounge area

  • Log burning stove

Availability August 2016……………….


Cruise detail

Price (hire of whole boat)

Saturday 13th – Sun 14th  August 2016

Ashton-under-Lyne – Marple return on Peak Forest canal


Monday 15th – Friday 19th August

Ashton-under-Lyne-Marple-Whaley Bridge return on Peak Forest and Macclesfield canal


Saturday 27th – Sunday 28th August

Ashton-under-Lyne – Marple return on Peak Forest canal


All cruises are fully crewed. Cruises depart at 10.00 a.m

BOOK NOW! Ring 07860 944 969 or email hazelthewellbeingboat@gmail.com

The Wooden Canal Boat Society is a registered charity; all profits support our wellbeing service providing relaxing cruises for people in poor health having a tough time. Registered charity number 1069820. www.wcbs.org.uk



All our boats are now based on the canal behind Portland Basin Museum in Ashton under Lyne. Come along any time and say hello to any volunteers working on them.

HAZEL is one of the few surviving wooden boats from the Northern parts of the canal system. She was built at Runcorn in 1914 and is the last complete example of a Runcorn “Wooden Header”. These boats were deep, 6 plank boats, intended for use on the Bridgewater canal and connecting waterways. Being narrow beam they were able to work up to Ashton or down to the Midlands. Drawn by a single horse, woodenheaders could carry a good 30 ton load if the water was deep enough. Originally known as “Mull” she worked for the Salt Union, carrying coal, salt and chemicals to and from the Northwich area. It is possible that she may have brought some loads up the Ashton canal. In 1929 she was sold to Agnes Beech who renamed her “Hazel” and used her to carry coal from Leigh to Northwich and Runcorn. From 1948 she became a crude passenger trip boat. In 1951 she was fitted with an engine and converted into a luxury cruising houseboat and for many yearsshe was home to a series of families and travelled extensively around the canal network until she was donated to the WCBS in 1988,

LILITH was built in 1901 and spent her first 70 years carrying goods in and out of the Coombeswood Tubeworks on the Dudley No 2 Canal near Halesowen. She is a joey boat, built for short distance carrying work on the complex Birmingham Canal Navigations. Originally she had no name, being known simply as number 9, and no cabins. The hull is of a very simple shape and has been almost completely renewed since 1974. Similar craft were once used for short distance traffic on the Ashton Canal, carrying coal from the pits to canalside mills where it was used to fuel the mill engines. Unfortunately no examples of these local boats survive. In 2001 she celebrated her centenary by carrying the first load for 80 years over the summit of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

Dating from 1917 QUEEN is probably the oldest surviving wooden motor narrow boat. She is typical of boats of her period and is a remarkable survivor, having been discarded 3 times since 1947. Originally called “Walsall Queen” she worked for Hildick & Hildick, a Walsall based company of which little is known. From 1926 she worked for Harvey Taylor of Aylesbury. The post war decline in traffic resulted in her being abandoned and sunk in 1947, but she was rescued for pleasure boat use two years later. In 1994 volunteers recovered her from deep water in Buckinghamshire where she had been abandoned. With help from the Waterways Trust in 2002 she had essential conservation work carried out to ensure that the old boat survives long enough to be fully restored.

FORGET-ME-NOT was originally built as a horse drawn boat in 1927 and belonged to Number One ( owner boatman) Henry Grantham. He supplied coal to industrial premises and was always something of an innovator. In 1929 he had “Forget me Not” motorised, then two years later he had the stern end rebuilt with a counter. In 1941 Mr Grantham retired and the boat was sold to the Samuel Barlow Coal Company who used her for similar work and gave her the name “Sarah”. She was sold and converted to a houseboat in 1959, becoming derelict by the mid 1970s. In 1987 she was hauled out of the water for restoration work to begin. Relaunched in 1994 she has now reverted to her 1930s appearance. An original Bolinder engine has been renovated and fitted.

SOUTHAM and ELTON, built in 1936 and 1937 respectively, were 2 of the fleet of 62 wooden butties ordered from Walker Bros of Rickmansworth as part of the fleet expansion programme of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company.Intended to work with new steel motor boats, these craft were all named after towns. They mainly worked on the Grand Union main line between London and Birmingham but could travel to any part of the narrow canal network and carried a wide variety of commodities.They were both sold by British Waterways in the early 1960s . “Southam” was motorised and fitted with a full length cabin. “Elton” continued with limited carrying work for her new owner. Eventually both boats became sunk and were rescued by volunteers.


Now that Hazel is in action as Tameside’s Well-Being boat we have to think about the next steps. Every visit to Portland Basin smacks us in the eye of course as there are 5 more historic wooden canal boats sitting there all needing more attention ! Currently the trustees are having meetings regarding our vision for these – some are already in a decent enough state to be used for community projects like our monthly recycling trips for instance. These bring in lots of donations for us of course but they also provide respite trips for folk who would not normally get out into the peace and quiet of the canal system. If you are on Facebook have a look at Pauline Town’s posts about ‘Team Station’. She runs the Station pub in Ashton and many of her regulars are folk who regard the place as part of their family and know they can always find any needed help there.on the boatFor the past few months Pauline and Team Station have more or less taken over the Tuesday evening recycling trips; great for us and wonderful for them – being useful and in surroundings totally different to the town where they live their daily lives.

Another place where action is very necessary is at our Heritage Boatyard on Knowl Street, Stalybridge. This was a hive of activity as the hub where Hazel spent her restorative years. Now beaurocracy is stepping in and we really have to sort it out to comply with planning regulations before taking our next project boat there.  

Plus, at the beginning, one of our volunteers created a garden for us between the outside wall and the pavement.outside garden Unfortunately that got a tad neglected during work on Hazel so that and an area just inside the gate is currently being worked on. Again – more beaurocracy – an out of work volunteer is happy to do the work but she is being stopped as evidently doing that doesn’t give her enough time to job search to the current regulations. Despite it giving her pleasure and fulfillment while unemployed.


Booking now open for Hazel’s Well-Being trips

The Wooden Canal Boat Society is now offering fully crewed Well​-Being cruises on ‘Hazel’, a beautifully restored historic wooden canal boat.  We offer local cruises and longer breaks, providing rest and relaxation for people having a tough time because of poor mental or physical health or other difficulties.      

Inside Hazel

Our 70ft narrow boat comes fully equipped with a kitchen, a shower/bathroom and a traditional back cabin area and can sleep up to 8 people for overnight trips.    The large saloon has log burning stove and we also have central heating to keep our guests nice and warm.    Trips depart from Portland Basin in Ashton-under-Lyne, with a choice of routes on the local canal network.  Half day cruise prices start from £150.00.

Now taking group bookings – if you would like to find out more, please contact me by replying to this post

or message Anne-Louise Black on Facebook at …..  https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008677594172&fref=ts (copy and paste this into your browser) or mail her at a.black@wcbs.org.uk

or phone at……….. 07860944969.

Good news; Flickr’s back !!

For all our visitors who’d like to see photos about the history of the Society and our boats there’s good news – the link to our photos on Flickr (all 8,154 of them !!) can now be seen by clicking on the link on our front page. Then, when one album comes up, click up at the top left-hand corner to see Kit-Crewbucket’s list of albums.

Enjoy !!

Congratulations !!!

Marsh award photo - CopySome great news for W.C.B.S. today – read it here from this website: http://www.marshchristiantrust.org/Historic_Vessel_Conservation

Marsh Volunteer Award for Historic Vessel Conservation

This Award is run in partnership with National Historic Ships, the official voice for historic vessels in the United Kingdom. This award regonises those who have made a valuable contribution to the conservation, or operation of historic vessels in the UK and is an opportunity to recognise and thank outstanding volunteers.

The 2014 winner is Chris Leah

Chris set up the Wooden Canal Craft Trust in 1987, which changed its name to the Wooden Canal Boat Society in 1997, to maintain and restore two boats which he had been working to repair for many years: Forget Me Not and Lilith. Over the next few years, the organisation gained a strong reputation and acquired four more historically valuable boats, often working with British Waterways to do so.

Chris has been central to raising significant funds for the organisation. He was key in securing support from Tameside Council, which provided a boat-yard for the organisation. On the first Sunday of every month, Chris takes two boats out into the local community near the Ashton Canal, and with the help of other volunteers collects donations, whilst giving people the opportunity to learn more about the boats.

Perhaps Chris’s most significant contribution has been to bring historic boats to people in the community. Volunteers reported that spending time on the canal and boats helped to alleviate anxiety or depression. This encouraged Chris to rebuild the vessel ‘Hazel’ as a wellbeing boat for people recovering from mental health problems, people with disabilities and those who are marginalised within their community, to spend time on the boat and even learn new skills.

Chris has committed vast amounts and time, energy and passion to the conservation of historic vessels and to the community. The majority of his work is done as a volunteer and his vision and beliefs have helped the Wooden Canal Boat Society develop into the successful society it is today.

Nail-biting !!

We’ve just heard that Chris Leah has been short-listed for this award –

Marsh Volunteer Award for Historic Vessel Conservation

This Award is run in partnership with National Historic Ships, the official voice for historic vessels in the United Kingdom. This award recognises those who have made a valuable contribution to the conservation, or operation of historic vessels in the UK and is an opportunity to recognise and thank outstanding volunteers.

The announcement of the overall winner will be made at their award ceremony this month on the 21st October on-board HQS Wellington.

Please keep all your fingers crossed for Chris – he certainly deserves this recognition!