This is the first part of a brief history of my life with Pearl. I think it important that the story be told. Pearl was, originally, built, as a horse drawn butty, in 1935, by Nursers of Braunston. This part of the story is from 1990 when I acquired Pearl and, subsequently, rebuilt her and lived on her for 23 years on the canals - those I could access as Pearl is too long for the locks on some canals and too wide for some locks on others.
My life with Pearl, apparently, ends with my being, effectively, evicted from the canals, made homeless and with Pearl being, unlawfully, seized and transported 125 miles where she sunk as a result of damage caused by CRT and their agents. This because I complained about their policy of systematised harassment of people on boats, particularly, those with health problems or of advanced years -itself something of a 'health problem'. I have evidence of this. I presented it to the relevant parties and refused to 'shut up' when they brushed off my complaints. I was what they refer to as a 'persistent complainer' and they don't like that. I had to be 'dealt with' and be seen to be dealt with.
This is the 'backstory' to the false accusations and lies and 'dirty tricks' that led to Pearl's destruction and CRT's jubilation.
April 1990. Pearl at Frampton on Sharpness Canal. Me about to set off having bought it from 'John'. The money had to be paid into his wife's/partner's account as I couldn't draw it in cash. She promptly ran off with the manager of the, adjacent, Dairy Factory leaving John with nothing.
Set off, in a storm, heading for the Oxford Canal near to where I lived at the time. Near Cropredy. I knew nothing about living on a boat and had been on a narrowboat once, from Kinver to Worcester and back to Stourport. As with many people the acquisition was 'impulsive' and 'seemed like a good idea at the time'.
Diglis Loch, River Severn. Stopped for diesel. This, early stage, of having a boat is a bit of an adventure, a journey into the unknown, which lessens with familiarity. (And, subsequently, thanks to the attitude of BW and CRT to a pursuit they seek to criminalise, becomes like being a trespassing vagrant required to, endlessly, 'move on'.).
En route to Stourport, The Staffs and Worcester, and up through the '21' at Wolverhampton, to Birmingham.
Stuck in Aston Lock no. 9. It has a bulge in one wall and Pearl is 7' 2'' wide amidships. I had not yet realised that pulling in the sides with some version of the 'Spanish Windlass' was to be a common practice in certain locks, which I became familiar with and then applied the 'windlass' prior to entering the lock.
Apparently the lock had been hit by a bomb in the war. The lock keeper was assisting us and I mentioned that BW had had had 45 years to fix it. He said I was obviously not familiar with BW's work and maintenance scheduling. (I am now).
There were 2 of us on the boat and we had, actually, spent the night stuck in the lock. We went for a drink in a nearby pub in Aston. Interestingly the only building standing in a row of demolished houses. Also, interestingly, we were the only 'white people' in the pub. We had a really good evening playing pool with the 'locals'. Sometimes ignorance is bliss - and enlightening.
Carried on to Cropredy area, in a heatwave. Realised a lot of work was required on Pearl. Moved around a bit. Started work on hull sides. Realised Pearl needed rebuilding - or burning. Reluctant to admit I had - yet again - done a foolish thing. Looked for somewhere to attempt to rebuild her. Eventually, in October 1990, arrived at Caggy's Yard in Tipton. There was a dry dock there which might let me in for a long stay - not normally possible.
Have to admit I had no knowledge of boat building and was intending to work it out as I went along. By taking Pearl apart I would learn how to put her together, so long as there was something solid to work from and the whole boat wasn't beyond repair. I needed at least the bottom plank to be sound and the bottom to be, mostly, sound. That is pretty much what I was left with.
This is what was left of the front end. Beneath the tin plate, that all Clayton boats were sheathed with, there was nothing. Even the stem post had been, crudely, replaced with a piece of wood to which nothing much was attached.
I look at myself in this photograph and wonder why did I take on such a difficult task, that could easily have gone disastrously wrong, and that consumed all my money and left me living on a part finished boat with nothing but a difficult life ahead trying to earn a living while travelling around on a boat.
But, of course, according to boat clubs - and their friend, Sally Ash (and Shoosmiths' barrister, Mr. Moss - I/we do it to avoid paying council tax and choose to be 'itinerant' to avoid paying rent or mooring fees in a marina).
Fitting a bow plank. Having steamed the plank- in a 'steamer' made from oil drums- it is then clamped, and forced, into place by any means to hand. Steaming does not make the plank easy to bend but prevents it from splitting when force is applied.
I appear to be enjoying myself but it still makes me wonder.
The hull was being rebuilt while the cabin was still on as I was living in the boat at the time. I lived in the dry dock for 3 months. Longer than I had told Caggy but I had no idea how long it would take.
Caggy's Yard December 1990. Pearl, having come out of the dock.
Caggy Stevens. One of the last of the old horse boatmen. In his eighties in 1990. Wore an apron to cover up his double rupture which resulted in his 'bollocks' hanging down by his knees.
Steamer, with fire lit, and Pearl in dry dock.
A picture of life in Caggy's Yard. Generally a genuine 'hive of activity'. All work done using generators. The only 'facility' at Caggy's was a water tap. Half the people who ended up there were 'bikers' from the local area and could weld and do fabrication and engineering work which they had the opportunity to develop at Caggy's and built boats of a high standard. I have to admit to being amazed and impressed.
Caggy's had a 'bad reputation', depends on who was there at the time, but I enjoyed my time there and liked the people there. The bad reputation mostly came from the bunch of 'travellers' who moored up outside Caggy's the year before I was there and upset everyone including the locals. Nobody wanted them there and, as usual, they caused problems for everyone else.
Everyone was, eventually, 'kicked out' and Caggy's is now a working boatyard run by Ralph Miles. Caggy died a few years ago.
Craning boats can sometimes be hazardous.
Craning a wooden boat and not being too careful about it is likely to cause damage and, if the boat is not attended to when back in the water, it may sink.
Oh yes. That's what happened to my boat.
Cabin being rebuilt.
All sorts of people lived at Caggy's. This is Robbie. He did aerial photography and taught parachuting and was starting up a rubbish clearing business on the Birmingham canals.
He was blasted into oblivion, while taking photographs over Wales, by a low flying jet. Of course, it was found to be his fault for, apparently, being in the wrong place. The jet had no navigator. The place was taken by a passenger on a 'joyride'.
Geoff Bennett. Known as 'Caggy Geoff', (I was Pearly Geoff). Caggy's 'right hand man' and a foundry man. Fern on the horse. Jan's daughter.
Finally ready to come out of the dry dock - the second 'session' - lasting 6 weeks.
My unorthodox bow framework made from 6mm steel. I never claimed to be a 'traditional boatbuilder'. I made it up as I went along (bit like BW/CRT with their 'rules' - except my improvisation was creative and constructive, whereas, theirs was destructive and malign), and 'survived' for 23 years of, mostly, travelling around the system which was, no longer, particularly suitable for a wooden boat.
Then, of course, it was stolen by CRT.
Do not forget this as you look at these pictures.
Caggy doing some 'caulking' on Pearl.