All posts by Luca Rastello

Practice makes ………

October, 2016

Practice makes ………

Now that bookings are getting a little less frenetic, Uncle Rick (aka ‘Our Glorious Leader’) has told us that we must ‘practice, practice practice’. This isn’t how it really happens, but it make a good story,so I’m not going to change it.

Along with Linda (a relative newbie), Dave and Andrew (a couple of skippers), I embarked for a day’s experience sharing on a sunny day near the end of October. Linda had not done much boat handling before – we soon changed that! And as soon as we saw Fred coming down in a wheelchair, we knew what to expect. He doesn’t say much, but does have a habit of getting wet several times every trip he’s on. We also decided that we ought to try to clear some of the overhanging vegetation whilst we were out.

A couple of hours later, we’d got to Apsley and part way back, clearing overhanging vegetation from the approach to the white bridge from both directions. To give her extra boat handling practice, Linda did all of the steering, and the men worked the locks – a reverse of the usual pattern seen on the canal, when the men claim that their accompanying females would rather do the heavy work than steer the boat. As there was a boat filling with water in the lock before turning to return down, we decided it was lunchtime, so Linda reversed around 100m to the nearest mooring point. Dave \had prepared a marvellous repast, so we ate well before setting off again.

Fred went for his first swim in the lock by the Red Lion, then again shortly after we winded in ‘the wide’. Linda managed the 180 0 turn in one move without reverse – Dave and Andrew had never attempted this themselves before, or seen anyone else do it. Linda was chuffed with the move, and all others were impressed. More tree trimming by the Railway Bridge made the time race by, and we returned to base well satisfied with our day on the water. Linda felt much happier about boat handling, we’d learned quite a bit about rescuing people from the water, and got rid of some awkward vegetation – boatmasters will have to find another excuse for hitting the White Bridge, and the approach to the Railway Bridge from the South is now much less obstructed. All had a great time, and felt that they had learned from the day.

Thanks to Linda, Dave and Andrew for a great day on the water, and especially to Dave

Dave for lunch; in Linda’s words, ‘the spag bol was to die for!’

John Bennett



The things we end up doing …

Earlier this year, one of the willows just South of the railway bridge fell down, greatly restricting the width of the canal. The Canal and River Trust are pretty speedy at clearing trees completely blocking the canal, but if you can still get a boat past, you may have to wait for a year or so for the Trust’s contractors to clear the whole channel.

It was fairly easy for a narrowboat to pass, but getting our wide beams through called for some pretty hazardous manoeuvres. So with a couple of hours to spare, Dave Lee and John Bennett took Sheldrake 2, some loppers and a bow saw, and managed to greatly improve the situation. However, the tree just sagged lower, and branches got in the way again … then another tree fell just beyond this, forcing our boats to ground again whilst trying to pass. More drastic action was called for.

After a short day trip, Nick Alexander, Marion Roberts and John Bennett set off again to have another go. Nick did a great job keeping the boat in just the right spot while Marion and John set to work on the greenery. Some delicate manoeuvring later (including making room for passing traffic) and further skilful use of loppers and saws, the deck was soon full of willow. Then ‘all’ that was needed was to transfer this onto the offside bank. This process repeated several times to leave a nice clear navigation channel for wide as well as narrow beams.

The odd thing is, that few would know that the work had even been done – you don’t notice what isn’t there. Everyone would comment on the blockage; no-one would notice that it wasn’t there. Still, those involved know that they made a real contribution, and made every trip we run a bit easier.


Special visitors

The boats, the visitor centre and the boat base were looking at their best, sparkling in the warm October sunshine, when a party of local dignitaries paid Waterways Experiences a visit last week.

On 31 October the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, Mr Fergus McMullen, the Mayor and Mayoress of Dacorum Borough Council, Allan and Wendy Lawson, the Deputy Mayor, Gbola Adeleke, Sally Marshall, Chief Executive of Dacorum Borough Council and Derek Townsend, the Deputy Lieutenant were on a whistle-stop tour of Dacorum, meeting people from a range of local charities and organisations. Waterways Experiences was thrilled to be chosen as one of only seven organisations to be visited.

Our visitors were very impressed with the Education and Visitor Centre, then they made their way to the boats. They were amazed to learn we had only started providing boat trips in June, yet had already transported 1,000 passengers, a high proportion of whom would not normally be able to enjoy the canals, including many with moderate or severe disabilities, their carers and companions. We showed them the special facilities we have to ensure everyone has a great day out, helping to steer the boat, working the locks or just enjoying the quiet of the countryside with friends or colleagues. They were struck by the space and facilities available on the boats. In fact, so much so that they went away with bundles of flyers about the charity for their own use and to pass on to others they felt would be interested. Watch this space for future bookings!!

John Bennett
Judy Mead
Andrew Murray

A fantastic way to spend a week

It was great to see Close Shave go out with a group of young people with disabilities over the School half-term. ReachOut used to run these trips frequently, as part of their Enable programme. But as yet Waterways Experiences has not had the facilities or resources to be able to run trips for people without their carers. However, this is something we hope to be able to do in the future, when funds and a co-ordinator permit.

So a group of mostly ex-Enable volunteers got together and called themselves the Nash Mills Pirates. They got a trip organised for three ‘old hands’ from Enable days, and booked a boat for a trip to Camden, London for the week. It reminded me of the time I learned about l�, and took a trip to Sweden. No mean feat this; co-ordinating the young people and the volunteers, fundraising for the hire of the boat, food, entertainments and everything else required for such an undertaking, and coping with all the required paperwork.

The three young people on the adventure had all been on a number of such trips before, and so knew what to expect. I’m not so sure that one of the helpers, new to canal boating, although used to working with people with disabilities, knew what she was letting herself in for. I hope she’s as enthusiastic about everything when she gets back as she was at the start! Still, the other helpers on the trip are all very experienced, so they’ll look after her well.

As everyone arrived, it was a bit like a re-union, with the added knowledge that they would be off again for another fantastic week on the boat. Glorious sunshine bathed the wharf and the boat. What more could they ask for? Tales were told, past experiences shared, and everything got ready. There was quite a farewell group on the quay side. I almost expected to hear the band playing and the siren sound as they cast off, and bunting and streamers appear. But a horn was sounded, the next best thing.

This is a real reminder of what it’s all about. Well done Bob Stewart, Roger Clare, Disa Grace, Logan Draven and newcomer Carla Mutter for giving up their time to go on this trip, and to Bob Stewart for the drive to make it happen. Thanks also to Michael Flatt for helping to organise it.

John Bennett


Waterways Experiences on a roll …

Hundreds of sun- and fun-seekers flocked to the garden of the Red Lion at Nash Mills on the last Sunday of September at the invitation of new local charity ‘WEXP’ – Waterways Experiences, operators of the area’s three community canal boats.

In the beautiful Indian summer, outdoor barbecue, drinks and ices kiosks along with bouncy castle, kiddies activities and a huge selection of local charity stalls provided enough entertainment for many, whilst others ventured through the gap in the hedge at the end of the garden …

Here they found the three magnificent canal boats which ply the Grand Union, southwards to Watford and north to Winkwell providing trips for groups of up to 35 people. Fun Day offered unique short taster trips with the chance to have a go at the tiller and helping to operate the locks.

All three of WEXP boats “Close Shave”, “Sheldrake 2“ and “Sheldrake 3” are equipped with great access aids making them ideal for groups with special needs. They’re also popular for family parties and other social events.

The boats’ excellent heating systems means that trips are bookable throughout the winter – watch out for details of Christmas cruises during December.

WEXP was formed in the early Spring of 2014 by a group of volunteers with the former operator ReachoutPlus. Graham Danbury, chair and one of the founding trustees said “Fun Day was a great opportunity for us to show off what we’ve achieved since opening for business in June of this year. It’s hard work operating on a purely volunteer basis but such is the enthusiasm amongst local people for their canal and our boats that in our first fifteen weeks of operation we ran some 80 trips, enjoyed by over 900 people. Just over half of the trips were for our priority groups of people with various special needs. This, and the amazing results of Fun Day’s fundraising programme, is giving us renewed confidence for the future of this long-cherished local facility“

WEXP is a charity governed by its members, of whom there are currently around 70. Anyone can join by signing up at – there is currently no membership fee. It’s the job of the members to ensure that the charity operates effectively and lawfully through the trustees it elects annually at its AGM held in November. More members and volunteers are always welcomed.



An interesting trip …

There is, so they say, a Chinese curse that translates as ‘May you live in interesting times’…..

All of the following happened on the same day, on the same trip. Not all of our trips are this incident filled by a long way.

It  was the first of a 3-day booking, with different people joining the trip for different stages.

First on board were a group from some residential homes. They were late arriving (nothing unusual), but there were 13 of them. This is a definite no-no on Close Shave as the boat is licensed to take only 12 passengers. The usual solution is for people to take it in turns to walk beside the boat on the towpath, but this wasn’t possible this time, so one of the carers had to go back with the transport. Departure delayed by about an hour, but with someone lock-wheeling on a bike to set the locks ahead of us, we could make up time. The group wanted fish and chips for lunch on the way; not a problem, we’re used to phoning Kings Langley Fish Bar and getting them to send out what we want to the boat, and they do this at a reduced rate and to much praise for the quality and quantity of their food. What we’re not used to is each of the people ordering food wanting a separate receipt, and each of them needing change of a £20 note! However, we worked out a way between us, and all was arranged for us to be as well fed as ever.

At this stage, one of the carers found that they’d forgotten some medication for one of the people they support. Trying to explain where we would be at lunchtime and how to get there by road would have been difficult enough, but it was made a bit more complicated by English not being the first language of the carer or the driver, and my Polish not being any good at all. An anxious wait, with a number of phone calls, but eventually the minibus was sighted at the lights – indicating left when we were straight over! Shouting and waving didn’t seem to work, but the carer sprinted to the lights and caught the driver’s attention. Carer, medication and the person needing it were re-united, to much relief. More delay, but we’ve got a lock-wheeler and a fairly generous time schedule, so all is not lost.

Then – approaching the sharp bend at Grove Mill, there was a boat adrift across the canal. I also noticed our volunteer lock-wheeler gingerly inching his way along the gunnels of the said boat. I’m not sure if he knew what he was going to do once he got along to the bow, but he was determined to do something to help. Another boater who had just moored up also helped out, getting the centre line from the boat in order to try and pull it back to the bank. The position of the boat made it necessary to get a rope from Close Shave to the volunteer on the front of the loose boat, and for me to tow it back in to place. Reversing a canal boat isn’t easy at the best of times, and with a boat attached at the front and moored boats to miss it made for a neat exercise, but we did it in the end.

All back on board, and making progress again – until a lump of wood got jammed in the propeller and stopped the engine dead; just on a right-angled bend, with us heading towards a moored wide-beam and two boats heading towards us. ‘You’re heading for a moored boat!’  ‘I know, but I haven’t got an engine!’ Nothing ever travels very fast on the canal, though, and so the gentle glancing blow did no damage, and a quick trip down the weed hatch soon solved the problem. On again.

Despite the delays, we were getting close to being back on schedule as we approached Cassiobury Bridge lock. Seeing two boats heading the other way made us hopeful that the lock would be in our favour , and we’d   arrive at our destination on time. As we approached the lock, however, we saw another boat just going in the lock to go down, ahead of us; never mind. They were going to turn straight round and come back up; another bit of delay. This turn is really awkward, and they tried several times to turn the boat, before I got them to get the back end up the side stream and pulled the front of their boat round; not a usual way to turn, but the only one that works here.

On to the marina, and time to get the passengers off. We needed to improvise a ramp that bridged the step so that the wheelchair users could disembark, but some large blocks of wood and our extra wheelchair ramp soon solved the problem safely and securely, as we’d worked out on a previous recce visit, and all got off happily.

Some new passengers were joining us here for the trip on to Rickmansworth Aquadrome, but some had got delayed even more than we had, and had yet to arrive.  But the Marina manager needed to lock up for the night…… Several phone calls later, we’d re-arranged a rendezvous and left the marina, with our thanks for allowing us to improvise a landing and apologies for the delay.  Sadly, the two people and their carers we’d been waiting for were not able to join us in the end and we had to go on without them. The rest of the way was uneventful, and we moored up to head for the White Bear for a pint and a meal. After this, the couple of people who were staying on the boat got their stuff from their car, and I went to Tesco’s to pick up some stores. On my return, at about 9.00, I found that they were already in bed and asleep. Had the day been that tiring?!

The only other incident was one of the lock-wheeling volunteers falling off the bike; can’t remember where this happened (trauma does terrible things to memory), but not much damage was done to the person, and none to the bike, so all was OK.

The feedback from the group waxed lyrical about the peaceful and relaxing trip. Were we on the same one? They were also very complimentary about the helpful, knowledgeable and friendly crew; now that bit I do recognise ……

Day 1 over. What will days 2 and 3 bring?

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Red Lion Fun Day

Come and join us for our first ever fun day at The Red Lion pub.  We’ve got bouncy castles, inflatable quasar and other fun and games to keep the kids entertained, whilst you sit back and enjoy a drink and a BBQ with us.  You can also browse our fabulous array of stalls, and shop for some presents, as well as joining in our raffle if you wish.

Come rain or shine, the day is bound to be fun for all the family.  We look forward to seeing you there.

From all the team at Waterways Experiences

Red Lion Fun Day

WExp’s 50th trip

Since our first trip on 17th we’re now up to our 50th!

Groups have included care and nursing homes for elderly people, MENCAP, MS groups, Wacky Wheels wheelchair user’s support group, SCOPE, Breathe Easy, Age UK, the Epilepsy Society and Colne Valley Special Sailors.

Several of these groups had previously been out with ReachOut, and were very relieved and pleased to find that Waterways Experiences had managed to get things up and running so that canal boat trips could again be run from Nash Mills, and that the people that they support could again benefit from the wonderful opportunity to peacefully cruise along the canal, with those that want to and are able to, helping to steer the boats and work the locks.

Feedback has been universally good, with many favourable comments about the friendly, helpful and informative volunteers, and the benefits to be gained from the trip.

Well done the booking, crewing and maintenance volunteers, and to the volunteer skippers and crew that make these trips possible.

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Crew training starts

The first of the crew training sessions have started. Initial training for new volunteers takes place in two sessions, a day of training on the 12 passenger boats and a second day that focusses on Sheldrake III.

Training covers boat handling, preparing the boats, Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection training, Disability Awareness and Assistance training, discussion of our policies and procedures and responses to emergency situations.

The first of the days took place recently, with 4 new potential crew and two trainers, and a good day was had by all – we were fortunate that we only had a brief shower, with sunny intervals for the rest of the day.
Lots of discussion, exchange of experiences, having a go and helping each other. An interesting and informative day for one and all; I find that, even though I’ve run lots of these, and boated for ages in lots of places, I learn something new on each day, and from the comments and feedback, the other trainers and trainees all feel that they’ve got a lot from the day.

John Bennett

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