In my blog post The Valiant Years I shared my delight at having been contacted by Tony Shearwood, whose mum and dad owned Enceladus in Valiant guise throughout the 70s and into the 80s. Tony took the time and trouble to go back through the collective Shearwood memory rolodex and he shared some cracking stories, which I in turn will share with you.
Take it away, Tony.
“Once we sold the old girl, we had no contact with the new owners or any knowledge of what had become of her. My next ‘contact’ with her was when watching the Narrow Boat TV show on one of the less well known TV channels and there she was in the background shots, sadly looking very tired and in need of some desperate work. To be honest it was too sad to see, my Dad had spent thousands of hours keeping her shipshape, and to see her looking so desperately in need of love was heart breaking.
Anyway, that’s all changed now.
From memory, it was a Lister LR2, which had a huge flywheel and a manual starting crank-handle. This was great if the main batteries were flat, all you needed was to release the 2 decompression leavers, give it a good cranking over to get the flywheel spinning (being careful not to get your thumbs in the wrong position) and then close the decompression levers, and away it went.
Mum and Dad are coming over next weekend, so I’ll try and get as much history as I can and perhaps some pictures.
I think we were the second owners after she was decommissioned by British Waterways, by then she’d lost the Water part of her name and was just Valiant. I basically grew-up around Valiant, most weekends and holidays between the ages of around 7 through to my late teens were spent around her. My uncle also owned a hire boat company in Northwich, so I also spent a good few of my weekends in my teens, moving boats around during ‘change-over’ weekends. As a 13~14 year old showing grown-ups the ropes (sometimes literally) it was quite a thrill! It certainly helped develop my self confidence.
Once I’ve had more of a chat with Mum & Dad, I’ll drop you a line.”
“Mum and Dad were here yesterday and although I had my reservations, I showed them the images of the old girl, with her new stern and superstructure.
To put it mildly they were delighted she was back in the water and looking so great. They said that they always wanted to correct the stern and replace the whole superstructure, but sadly they just could not take-on such a huge task at that stage of their lives.
Dad said the engine was a Lister HA2, not as I had suggested.
We talked for quite a few hours about our lovely old boat, and to see Mum and Dad so enthusiastic was lovely. Mum’s 79 and Dad’s 77. They’re both very active and are now heavily into old Austin cars, they have a pre-war Austin 7 and a pre-war Austin 10 that they take all over the UK and over to Europe. But hearing Dad’s boating stories brought-back so many ‘locked-away’ memories. They also said they understood your enthusiasm as they would love to know more of the personal stories of their cars.
He couldn’t remember which side of the hull had a really big dent; he thought it was the starboard side. He recalled trying to bash it out with a lump hammer. From the inside of the hull, taking a big swing of the lump-hammer, the lump-hammer just bounced-off, throwing him across the whole width of the hull. After that, he just put up with the dent.
He also reminded me of the time we took the locks down from the Bridgewater canal onto the River Irwell in Central Manchester. As the Irwell was in fast-flow, the decision was made to lash 4 narrowboats together, side by side and to use the combined power of the engines to push against the river’s flow. It worked really well with all 4 boats being steered in unison. They even managed to turn all 4 boats by adjusting each boat’s engine, some increasing the power, and one of the outer boats being put into reverse. Teamwork was the winner that day. As you can appreciate, it drew quite a crowd as it was not a sight often seen in central Manchester.
There is also a lovely little bit of history about her. When Mum and Dad bought the boat, Dad wasn’t able to bring her back to Lymm in Cheshire as he was working, so Charlie Atkins brought her back for us. Charlie Atkins is more widely remembered as ‘Chocolate’ Charlie. I knew that Dad always stopped and chatted with Charlie whenever we went through the Preston Brook Tunnel, I just didn’t know how far back they went.”
“When BW converted her, they cut rectangular ventilator holes in the side of her hull, this was to allow the engine to cool, as at the time she had a large steel rear deck above the engine. Our moorings were on a very straight and wide stretch of The Bridgewater Canal and on a windy day, with the wind in the right direction, it could whip-up some waves. After a particularly windy spell we got the phone call that everyone dreads, Valiant had sunk. The waves had slowly over-topped the air vents and flooded her. Being in the middle of the Cheshire countryside, there was no access for a crane to lift her, so my Dad went to the local Fire Station and spoke with the station commander. As a training exercise, they agreed to get a portable pump down to her. This alone was an ordeal, as the fireman had to hand transport this huge pump many hundreds of yards. Once all the open underwater orifices were sealed, the pump went to work. Lots of water was shifted from her, but she didn’t start to rise. As you know, her bottom was very flat, and she had settled into the mud, creating a sort of suction. It was only when a large amount of buoyancy was achieved that this suction was defeated. As my Dad said, she rose nose first, majestically, like a breaching whale.
The fire service would not take any payment as they treated it as a training exercise, but of course a donation was made to the Firemen’s Benevolence Fund. Dad said he drained and replaced the oil and diesel from the engine, then hand-cranked it, and it started straight away, of course the batteries were ruined.
Obviously, once the deck had been cut-out and the engine room was built, the side vents were no longer needed and were sealed.”
I’m hoping that Tony’s mum might be able to dig out some photos of Valiant at play but I’m already hugely indebted to them all for making such a valuable, colourful and joyful contribution to the Enceladus story. Thank you, Shearwood family! If we get to the Lymm Historic Transport Festival one year, I hope you’ll come to see us in your cars!