Its. Not. A. Race.

I noted, after moving all my stuff off Daisy and onto Craftybird, that Daisy had risen over 4 inches out of the water… either my stuff weighed a lot – or I had a lot of stuff. Or both.

Somehow the observation of Daisy now behaving more like a hovercraft than a boat on the water led to a suggestion by friends that she was in perfect condition to participate in the Birmingham Canal Navigation Challenge

The point being that as she doesn’t currently have a deep draft she is much less likely to pick up flotsam and jetsam from the bottom of the Birmingham Canals… infamous for their dubious contents.

The BCN Society exists to conserve, improve and encourage a wide range of interests in the 100 mile network of Birmingham & Black Country waterways known as the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

Its not a race

According to the BCN challenge website: 

Points are awarded for navigating under-used parts of the BCN, for reaching certain locations, and for answering clever questions about something on or near the canals, and for the number of locks and miles you’ve done. It’s not a race, it’s about clever planning. “

PJ skilfully removed all possible excuses for not participating in the challenge, by moving Daisy to the start point of the challenge (Fazely Junction) and by actually doing all the planning and scheduling (I had taken one look at the paperwork and was totally overwhelmed).

I put out feelers with friends Liz and Mary to find out whether they might like to spend 24 hours out of 30 doing a full on boating challenge in the picturesque waters of central Birmingham. Figuring that probably they’d say no… but they didn’t! Although as Mary put it – she spent a whole two days deciding what to say and still said yes!

So that was that. Girl power on Daisy!

Daisy was in the right place, all female Crew were ready (PJ was off on a different kind of holiday by this stage which involved old motorbikes, ferries and a lot of motorbike maintenance from what I understand…)

On the challenge information I had seen that we could get extra points for decorations. The Theme, unsurprisingly given it was the Platinum Jubilee weekend, was The Jubilee. I figured that we should try and get these points even if we didn’t get any others! I made a crown for Daisy’s chimney in preparation … and co-ordinated bunting with Mary and Liz. A lot of bunting!

Mary and I were the first to get to Daisy, so we got a head start with the decorations.

Liz turned up (with her brilliant Brompton) and we moved into position to start the challenge. 

Its. Not. A. Race.

I should say here that its not a race. In fact I have noticed the organisers are keen to point out that its not the winning its the taking part that counts. But it is.

Liz, Mary and I spent the evening discussing the forthcoming event and trying to understand the schedule PJ had put together for us. 

7.50am the next morning we were allowed to open the envelope that had the bonus questions and challenges in it along with the ship log which we needed to complete in order to compete.

Thankfully Mary threw herself into getting her head around the paperwork as there was a LOT of it and a vast number of variables. Some crews (we found out later) have their own dedicated navigator – ie; ALL they do is look at paperwork, and work out routes and tricks for bonus points!

There were 15 boats in the challenge in total this year. I have heard that in past years there have been upwards of 50 but this is the first challenge since Covid so numbers were down. We really didn’t see anyone at all for most of the duration of the challenge. 

At Typhoo Basin a large tarpaulin stopped us in our tracks for a bit. Felt smug as I produced my armpit length heavy duty gloves ready to disentangle the offending item from the prop. They and the scalpel worked a treat thankfully as the water was black with pollution.

As we had managed to get 4 hours ahead of PJs schedule we decided to give ourselves an hours nap in the afternoon of the first day and then added two hours sleep to our 6 hours allotment. We had time, therefore, for a nice meal and a shower before bed. We all remarked on how very pretty and rural a lot of the waterways are in Birmingham. They get a bad reputation but its not entirely justified.

On the second day, after what we all agreed was a remarkably good rest given the circumstances, we decided we probably had enough time to go to Hawne basin. It was a good two hours extra boating but points to be had in the basin… it nearly went wrong as another boat entered Gosty Hill Tunnel just as we wanted to leave. 

Gosty Hill Tunnel is one of the smallest most claustrophobic tunnels I have ever been in!!! It starts off small… and then gets smaller! Literally we had to remove the Queens crown and adjust our bunting to get through.

As we approached the finish at Withymore Island the wind picked up and the rain battered us. We had a warm welcome from everyone there and plenty of help to rescue Daisy who had blown across the other side of the canal by this point!

Unfortunately both Liz and Mary had to leave immediately as we got to the finish – and I too in order to get my car to Daisy. After saying goodbye to the crew, I returned to Withymore Island to find Rich who had turned up on Roach to meet me and serve diesel to one or two of us there.

I had a chance to find out who we had been competing with – a lovely beardy bunch of boaters it turns out – and a fantastic bar and BBQ food which I enjoyed before caving into fatigue and retreating to bed on Daisy.

We found out a couple of days later (marking the challenge is a complicated affair) that Daisy had come 10th. However she DID win best dressed boat… but hey, its not a race, right? Its the taking part that matters.

Bloody hard work it was too!!!

Thank you so much to the organisers, Sue and Richard Powell, and Withymore Island for their lovely warm welcome.

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