We had been contacted by the BBC, who wanted a traditional Humber sailing vessel to use in a documentary about George Eliot’s novel, Mill on the Floss. They initially talked about filming on the Humber, but when we discussed the logistics of this they realised that it might be better to film under sail on the canal, where we were not having to work with the demands of the tides.
Checking the weather forecast, I had chosen a section of the canal where we had the best chance of a fair wind. It was also where they could film against an open rural landscape, without too many obstructions such as pylons or wind generators, both of which abound in this area. Sally was in Staines, so Steve kindly offered to crew for me on the trip from Thorne and on the day. It was extremely windy on the trip and very tricky navigating through some of the swing bridges. We moored up just below Maud’s Swing bridge and I then had a day to get the mast raised and finish rigging out ready for sailing. It was also extremely windy on this day, and I was hoping that the forecast for the wind to drop was correct.
As it turned out the day of filming dawned fine with a gentle breeze in the right direction . Steve arrived early and the wind was calm enough for us to raise the sail while we were tied up.
The film crew arrived late after some confusion about our exact location. After we had loaded all their gear on board and I had given them a safety briefing, they set to started filming. The programme involved the actor and director Fiona Shaw reading from, and talking about, one of her favourite books ‘Mill on the Floss’.
They filmed in Daybreak’s cabin and then we set off sailing down the canal with Fiona being filmed on the foredeck. The sailing went well, apart from when a shift in the wind pushed us into the side and we scraped along for a bit before Steve managed to push off the bow.
When we reached the next swing bridge I hauled up the slab line and lowered the sail so we could motor back. We then sailed the stretch again, but this time being filmed from the bank. There was more filming in the cabin and then some close up shots of the cog boat being rocked in the water. The programme should be broadcast in October so we look forward to seeing it.
It was gone 1630 before the crew packed up and left, by which time both Steve and I were exhausted, particularly as we hadn’t had time to stop for anything to eat all day.
We had come back to Stainforth so that we could help Steve and Sue with Evangeline in dry dock. On the Monday morning they took Evangeline down to dry dock in Thorne, while we put Daybreak onto their mooring. We turned Daybreak round so that the lowered mast could overhang the bow of Vulcan. Mike, the owner of Vulcan, kindly allowed me to work off his foredeck torepair the wind vane before we raised the mast.
Later we went over to see how Steve was getting on pressure washing the hull of Evangeline and over the following week we worked with them to chip and scrape the hull. They had a survey, which identified some thin patches and so Steve organised a welder to put on a plate. We also fitted a new pin on the rudder, to replace their old one that was very worn and bent. Once all the preparation was completed it was time to start the painting. Steve and I put three coats of bitumastic on the bottom, while Sally and Sue painted the sides with several coats of primer and antifoul on the waterline.
By the following Monday, we had completed all the painting and the dock was re-filled. Then we took Evangeline back to Stainforth, with Steve smiling at the smoothness of the tiller with his new rudder pin.
Once back at the mooring Steve and I took Daybreak down to Thorne, where we took on some diesel before heading off to do some filming with the BBC. Sally had travelled back to Staines over the weekend to host a week long visit from our Dutch friend Jannigje and two of her children.
After our visit to Wakefield we set off back towards Stainforth. As we left I noticed that the cooling water was not flowing as strongly as usual. By the time we got back to Stanley Ferry it had stopped altogether, so we moored up again to investigate. The inlet filter was clean, so I took the pump apart only to find that the impeller had totally disintegrated. It was due for replacing, but I suspect its end was hastened after we had run aground and sucked in large amounts of sand in trying to get off. I had to completely remove the pump and adjoining pipework to make sure I had extracted all the pieces of the impeller. I fitted the spare, then reassembled everything and was reassured to see the healthy flow restored. By this stage it was getting quite late, so we decided to spend the night at Stanley Ferry and make a fresh start in the morning.
We set off early and, having given the sand bar at Fairies Hill a wide berth, were soon back at the Castleford Junction. We were doing well until we managed to lose the wind vane in a lock. Sally was on the lock side and I went below while we were emptying the lock. Despite Sally’s efforts while I was below Daybreak drifted back into the lock gate with enough force to snap the rod holding the wind vane, which then dropped into the lock. We motored out and moored up to a lighter just below the lock, then went back with the sea searcher magnet, to see if we could retrieve it. Much to my surprise ,after about 20 minutes of dredging up bits of rusty old iron we felt something larger and as we hauled up the sea searcher, the wind vane emerged from depths of the lock.
As it was getting late by this time, we went only a little further and moored up for the night. The next day we went back down the New Junction Canal and through Bramwith Lock. The weather was very changeable and so we decided to moor up for lunch. While we were eating a strong squall blew through and we were congratulating ourselves on being comfortable below rather than out on deck. However when we came out after lunch, the whole ship was covered in the dead flower heads from a tree on the bank. It took us nearly an hour to clear them off before we could continue to Stainforth.
We really enjoyed our visit to Leeds. It also seemed that Leeds liked us, in that it didn’t seem to want us to leave. After some time struggling to get Leeds Lock to work, we called the Canal and Rivers Trust and they sent out a couple of engineers who re-connected the chains operating one of the gates and after some time managed to get us on our way. While waiting for the lock to be fixed, we met a photographer who was taking pictures for CRT and was thrilled to be able to take pictures of both an interesting historic boat and CRT staff at work.
We retraced our route out of Leeds passing Thwaite Mills and back down the Leeds branch of the Aire and Calder. We made our way back to the Castleford Junction and turned into the Wakefield branch of the Aire and Calder. As we approached Fairies Hill Moorings we slowed down to check that we were not going through the lock directly ahead. Having confirmed the lock only led to the moorings I engaged forward gear only to find that we were firmly aground, even though we were a good 6 metres from the bank. We could not get off using the engine and so I took a long rope across to some piling on the opposite bank and we managed to haul her off. As we passed the moorings, a friendly resident kindly informed us that there was a sand bank there and we should keep well away from it. We thanked her and asked why it was not marked with a buoy. She told us there used to be one but that it had been washed away in the last floods!
After another very pleasant stretch of waterway we came to the bustling Stanley Ferry, where we moored for the night. There were some interesting boats moored there. The ex-steam keel Swift was having some very substantial steel work added to the top sides. We were impressed by Freda Careless, a 40 metre barge built by Harkers in 1964. She has been converted for residential use, but in a way that maintains her original external appearance as a working barge. The following day we completed the short trip into Wakefield. We had been told of a suitable mooring place by local boaters who helped us through one of the locks. Following their advice we passed through the flood lock, turned back on to the river and moored outside a modern development, next to a beautifully restored stone warehouse. While there we visited a very old chapel built on a medieval bridge. We also went to the Hepworth Gallery that, in spite of its very bleak exterior, houses a stunning exhibition of sculpture by Hepworth and other artists.