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Due to major construction in The Mailbox basin we have moved Away2dine and Away2stay down to Gas Street Basin until the works are finished. A new set of steps are being installed to provide an improved access to the businesses down on the quayside. They are much wider and less of a steep incline looking more inviting to those walking out into the open as they will go all the way up to the level outside the glass doors leading out from the interior. Construction should be completed by Mid April so the boats can then return into a basin which will be 20 feet approximately shorter. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience this may cause you in locating us. Departures for Away2dine are at The Handmade Burger Co opposite the International Conference Centre.
Construction work at the Mailbox

Our new temporary mooring at Gas Street Basin

Snow and Frozen Canal in Birmingham

The country was suddenly in the news during the first week of January having been given a taste of European weather normally associated with the Swiss Alps. News readers were quoting the worst winter for a hundred years until some elderly realist like me said remember ’63!

Reality stepped in and they modified the statements to 30 years ago as some us remember January 63 when it did not thaw until March. Gritter Lorries with salt added were a futuristic thought and thick ice on the roads and pavements stayed with us for an eternity. Memories of getting back to school recall a steam train called the Cathedrals Express from Paddington to Kingham and an elderly Bedford OB coach struggling to get down the A40 which had became a farm track. Normally a branch line steam train which comprised of a steam engine and two coaches heading for Cheltenham from Kingham dropped us off at Bourton on the Water, but the lanes to Northleach were blocked with snow drifts 10 ft deep! (Some of us were not old enough to remember it says our director!)

So to Birmingham. Snow initially in the first few days of January fell to 2 inches deep bringing our great country to a grinding halt. Motorists in first gear with full revs could not understand why they lacked adhesion to the road with their wheels spinning like crazy. Down on the canals picture book views suddenly appeared with a frozen canal added to the scene. The thickness of ice growing every day to eventually 4 - 5 inches, although in some areas close by some were reporting up to 6 inches. Our fleet was locked solid in The Mailbox and down in Gas Street our Away2service boat could not move an inch. The toilet froze solid and the Canada Geese started doing impressions of Torvill & Dean. On the other hand to our horror footsteps appeared in the snow on the frozen canal and around the student accommodation all sorts of debris appeared on the surface indicating drinking and eating habits. Just past Grenville Street Bridge a collection of Tesco shopping trolleys appeared on the ice and low and behold at the next bridge No 87 (Bath Row) a complete bath was spotted just below the surface. Not quite the ideal sunken bath! BW were quick to respond and within an hour or so the Response Team from Customer Services had recovered the items before the thaw to prevent a navigational hazard.

Bosworth Lady escaped on Sunday 3 January 2010 to Alvechurch for major modifications. This is prior to operating as Away2canal early this year, which we had planned but the weather may have an impact on this. It was amazing taking the boat down the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, there was a 1 to 1 ½ inches approximately of ice and Bosworth Lady with clean working boat lines and a Hancock and Lane hull cut through the ice without faltering. Plodding along propelled by a a Lister 3 cylinder air cooled engine the boat which as you all know is always called a “she”never faltered. There was the odd thump but she even broke ice on tick over, going past moored boats. Craning her out at Alvechurch revealed classic lines on the hull with the steelwork in excellent condition endorsed by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency who said she’s a “goodin”.

Back in Birmingham the following images tell our story when The Mailbox announced that the building works to erect a set of new steps down to the canal basin would involve draining half the basin. Our boats had to move to Gas Street for the duration so we set about using our restaurant boat as an ice breaker. Our usual dilemma of getting stuck precluded the use of a camera, or least in this day and age a mobile phone, recording the scene.

Fortunately a resident of Gas Street made the following record. Click to see more of the big canal freeze photos.

All the images were kindly offered to us by David Scowcroft of NB Mr David. See web site www.narrowboatmrdavid.blogspot.com

Time seems to go so much quicker when you are enjoying yourself and certainly this summer has reflected that phrase with our crew and customers alike.

We have had whole host of birthday celebrations from 21st’s to 70 and 80th family occasions on public cruises or full boat charters. Some shed a tear but laughter and fun was the popular ingredient. A proposal of marriage nearly caught us on the hop as the potential groom wanted to hire the whole boat to literally go next door from The Mailbox to his flat while he popped the question to his bride to be! All was revealed when we nudged Moira Rose across the communal very small quayside designed for relaxing on rather than mooring to. The cooperation of his neighbours allowed our skipper to secure the boat to the balconies of the flats either side while friends and family used the boat for a party.

Weddings of course were part of the fun and each one, mainly from the Registry Office over the other side of the canal had their own contribution to our 2009 season. One thing we are always missing of course is a picture but perhaps a little research and requests might produce results in the near future.

Two notable events come to mind – one was the appearance of a VIP one Sunday lunch cruise, much to our diners delight and the other was our tremendous contribution to the local Kidney Kids appeal where we managed with help of Sior Coleman from his show on Radio WM we managed to raise £1250 as a contribution to the appeal.

First is without doubt our VIP known to many of us as “The Man from Uncle” and starring in “The Hustler” series which is being shot on location here in Birmingham. Gill, our director answered the phone one day while visiting her parents in Southampton on the company mobile of course. A slightly familiar voice enquired if we had availability for the coming Sunday lunch cruise. Gill said that we had and could she take a name and the caller announced that it was Robert Vaughn, spelt V-a-u-g-h-n. Gill hesitated and finally brought herself to ask politely if was the Robert Vaughn? Yes came the reply and a booking was confirmed.

We were all delighted when he appeared and a number of diners kept saying to our staff “Is that….. We were all relieved when the cruise went as normal but the presence of our most welcome VIP gave us all happy memories of his numerous roles in film and TV. It seemed so natural that Robert Vaughn should enjoy his lunch while cruising with us just as everybody else does.

Who’s the new crew member?

Sior Coleman from BBC Radio WM has been a regular customer for some time and conversation one day managed to get around to how could we help to raise funds for a local charity? Sior said I’ve got the very thing and took no time at all to convince us that Kidney Kids needed some help. A charity cruise then promptly took place with a little help from Sior and Ed Doolan mentioning it on their shows at a regularity resembling the chimes of Big Ben. Tickets were sold out in a very short space of time and alls well that ends well with a contribution of £1250 to the fund. We are waiting with baited breath to hear if they made the £1.5 million needed?

Christmas is just around the corner and our web site has now got the Programme, starting Mid November and going through to New Years Eve.

A quiet summer was what we expected but not a summer that we got. Crew were a challenge to say the least but when the right couple recruited for the job find it not what they expected after a couple of weeks. Plan B had to be implemented and that meant key personnel had to be hastily moved around. Sylvia who had a trial with us in 2008 and offered to fulfil a relief role when needed was hastily contacted and promised to join us in July In the meantime Christine who normally acted as Housekeeper for a prominent Hire Boat Company was at a loose end when they suddenly closed down offered to fill the gap for the Llangollen Exploratory Cruise. This was a success and the scene was set for a shared role between Gill & Sylvia for the season.

The highlight was of course the end of season Exploratory Cruise to London. Most sections had been booked although on some occasions with only one guest but that did not seem to matter, except despite a lot of interest the London Circular seemed to lack the appeal as first thought. Never mind said Gill we’ll go anyway! So down the Grand Union we went with the final stages from Marsworth being crewed by a regular guest who happened to be between mineral expeditions and trips abroad and was keen to volunteer to get Katie down the last section to Little Venice. Approaching Acton he jumped up and said “I can get the train from here back to my car” and proceeded to hop off with his bag and a gift. It was rolled up railway maps from Gills father which had been removed from a wall Fyffe’s Office when it was closed down in Southampton Docks. “See you soon” was the call as he disappeared up onto a busy road. Leaving our skipper to guide Katie through the last few miles of the journey, past Old Oak Common bringing back schoolboy train spotting days. Visions of the Great Western engine sheds full of simmering Castles and Halls waiting to go down to Paddington and haul their express train to places afar. Kensal Green Cemetery seemed to go on for ever shadowed by the elevated M40 and finally the Harrow Road bridge glided by and the final couple hundred yards of the Grand Union came in sight together with Dutch Barge which Richard Branson used in the early days of his empire. Little Venice opened out and a mooring spot was taken on the curve that leads round from Regents Canal into the Paddington Basin which is nearing the last stages of redevelopment. Arrival was a day early so the kettle went on for a well earned rest. The tranquillity was broken by a phone call from the Enforcement Officer of British Waterways enquiring what Katie was doing there. An explanation was given that this was the traditional Hotelboat mooring and it was agreed that BW were aware of this but an advance notice was now needed as our skipper had last been there in 2001!

Sylvia arrived by coach late the following day to be greeted by closure of the Circle Line on the Underground. Our skipper had used the District Line to get to Victoria Coach Station by way of a change at Earls Court and managed to meet her despite the coach arriving nearly a half an hour early. Returning to Katie, both were met by the wonderful picture the basin at Little Venice produces at night with the street lights and all manner of other reflections from the Regency houses sporting their own contribution to the effect in the water.

Setting off at a reasonable time of 9am in the morning found the passage through Maida Vale Tunnel and Regents Park a quiet affair punctuated by the occasional Sunday morning runner or some who preferred to walk. Camden Lock was so quiet without the throng of the market and the locks were noticeably more protected from the onlookers by railings. Another boat joined Katie at this point and the journey to Limehouse seemed a relaxing adventure through notable parts of Kings Cross and onto Tower Hamlets.

At Limehouse we were greeted by the BW lockkeeper Jeremy who was very helpful and showed us where to breast up with other boats waiting for the Tide at 6am the next morning. Gill arrived very late after Sunday lunch on Away2dine and before we all knew it the alarm clock went at 5.30am and Andrews beaming smile appeared through the cratch. He is the Commodore of St Pancreas Cruising Club and had offered to pilot us down the Thames. A few checks and setting up the VHF radio and we were off into the lock. Two other boats joined us although our friends the day before had nipped through at 10 past 6 and were waiting on the landing pontoon just outside the gates. Suddenly the gates opened slightly to reveal the weird sensation of the River outside higher than the water in the lock and it was pouring in!! No paddles our sluices just open the gates ajar and water finds its own level. Levels adjusted very quickly and the revolving lock gates opened completely to reveal the Thames in the half light of dawn, together with our friend’s boat bobbing up and down on the pontoon. “Go” said Andrew and a cry just like a cowboy riding a steer at a Wild West Show, increase revs he commanded and we were there swinging upstream with onset of the current and thankfully the others trailing behind.

It was a fantastic experience for all of us and Tower Bridge was reached in such a short time. Central Arch was incredible bonus as the right hand side was under repair. The whole trip to Brentford with the sunrise and even brilliant sunshine was over so quickly. It was remarkable as Katie cut through the water benefiting from her remade engine. Regrettably the fourth boat in our cavalcade broke down but Andrew got straight on the radio and the RNLI responded to the emergency. The following images tell the story mainly by a count down on the bridges.

Click to see our Thames Cruise in photographs

Katie is back at The Mailbox and snugly settled down for the Winter. Bed & Breakfast bookings have started already and the stove is glowing keeping everybody warm and cosy. Try a night or so for that Christmas Shopping Trip with a difference. Try the popular German Market 12 November to 23 December 2009 click on this link http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/frankfurtmarket

Retail Therapy would not be at its best without a visit to the Bullring. Click on http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/bull-ring  for details.

Our new trip boat is being worked with a whole list of the unexpected. Some pic’s will available soon showing painting gathering apace in the rain! The rebuilt gearbox has gone back and it was a relief to get her mobile again. Plans are to get her working as soon as possible hopefully in time for early 2010, In the meantime full heating installation and more Awaygroup colour is planned for the next 2/3 weeks.

Awaygroup colours at last Looking at the stern The old toilet has nearly gone, just the door left, making room for the new front window!

This new product has been a great success in getting known. Business has grown steadily during the late Summer when like all good intentions it started late. Sandy who is running the Service Boat never misses the opportunity to say “hello” to passing boaters and the very least giving them a cheery wave.

British Waterways suggested we could provide a Lavender Boat service at the IWA National Festival at Redhill on the River Soar this year, during August Bank Holiday. This would be enhanced by selling fuel, Calor Gas and pumping out boats during the rest of the time.

“It will take me a week to get there and another week to get back” protested Sandy. “Oh now it won’t!” said two of our skippers. 6am on Wednesday before Marston slipped her overnight sleep over mooring at The Mailbox and chugged around to Farmers Bridge flight, hoping not to wake everybody up. 4 hours to Salford Junction under the infamous M6 Spaghetti Junction which takes the canal down 150 feet in less than three miles? Plodding on at a steady pace through Minworth and then out into the country at Curdworth. Here another flight began and Fazeley Junction was reached in the late afternoon. Marston's Lister heart kept plodding away without missing a beat, passing her normal BW resting place a few locks down Curdworth without faltering. Fradley was reached at 8pm and Marston eased onto the water point in front the BW depot and Mike gratefully retired for the night, declining a swift half at the infamous Swan pub. Cliff was transported to Coventry for the night and promptly slept the car most of the way there. A delayed return found Mike, single handed at Barton Turn greeting his co skipper with a big grin hinting at what kept you? A steady pace all day on the Trent & Mersey canal through Burton on Trent and onto the wide lock section found our pair alternating on lock wheeling, tea making, lunch preparation and of course steering throughout the day. Out onto the River Trent across the mouth of the River Derwent and Mike announced he would have to leave at Sawley owing to another arrangement and so he did. Marston slipped down the River at sunset to the junction with the River Soar/Erewash Canal and arrived at the flood lock at Redhill at 8pm. Our lone skipper was greeted by a couple of boaters who couldn’t believe we had left Birmingham the day before.

The next three days were hectic to say the least. Joined by the IWA volunteers at 8am every morning with a well organised team. The Lavender Run was usually completed by lunch time. During the afternoon fuelling and pump outs were done and the sales increased by the hour even on one night it continued after dark. Disaster struck on Monday we had almost run out of fuel and inherited 1500 gallons of pooh!! Arrangements had failed us but a few phone calls resolved the situation and fuel once again was available on Tuesday morning.

Sandy had to leave late that afternoon and with the help of a part time skipper and a team member took up the challenge to get back in two days and you guessed it he did. Everyone still talks about the show and the fun we had and best of all the boaters we got to know. Our grateful thanks to Redhill Marina for their hospitality and help in allowing us to moor at their quayside as our show base. Passing boaters still say as they pass us at The Sealife centre “Saw you at the National”

Winter operation is upon us all too soon. We will be open from 10am till 4pm everyday. Please don’t be surprised if we are not there at The Sealife centre. We will be just a phone call away doing winter maintenance and can get to you in 15 minutes. Look for the sign, please.

Quayside Tower, 252-260 Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2HF  Telephone: 0845 644 5144 Fax: 0845 644 5246 Email enquiries@theawaygroup.co.uk