I guess I have been relatively lucky in not collecting weed, wire, fishing line, bits of tree, or other things around the prop shaft or screw. Well, the moment arrived on the Caldon Canal. The boat moved sluggishly and the wash from the screw spewed out on the starboard quarter. Steering was nigh on impossible. I limped on to a mooring place, just upstream of Hazelhurst Junction, where the Leek Branch diverts from the Caldon Canal in northern Staffordshire.
The weed hatch is a complex and challenging affair. It lurks below the stern deck, beneath a heavy steel panel. On my traditional stern it cannot be lifted from above (unless you have the skills of Captain Pat Reid and his fellow would-be escapers from Colditz). It is accessed via a flap beneath the after cabin doors and pushed upwards.
Underneath is another cover, held down by a locking “handle” that is to be released and resealed using a hammer, or similar, to ensure a seal against the wash from high revolutions on the screw. An incomplete seal could result in a serious “Oh shit!” moment.
Then there is a heavy cover to lift out, revealing a well of nearly opaque cut water. I could see some foreign blue thing in there. I could also discern the top of the screw (not apparent in the image), which was a reassuring bright brass colour. Having no real idea of what I was up against, I had assembled an arsenal of sharp implements, including: hacksaw, coping saw, carving knife, wire cutters, sewing scissors and Stanley knife. These last two would prove the only useful weapons in this case. (One person I spoke with said they had needed bolt cutters!)
The blue stuff turned out to be some kind of fabric. The main difficulties are that cut water is not as clear as it is in the Bahamas, or St Ives Bay, it is murky, so you can’t see what you are doing; and the depth – if my arms were about two inches longer things would be so much easier, but you work with what you have. First I just tried pulling at the blue stuff, hoping against hope that it would just break free, but it just stretched: it turned out to be an elasticated waistband, and that stuff is tough! At least 8 out of 10 boaters agree.
It took going on for an hour of submarine groping, pulling, slashing and snipping (it was as though the screw had put whatever it was on just as you or I might have donned a pair of shorts), I managed to remove the offending garment.
So I put back the cover and locking mechanism. I thought I would apply some waterproof grease, but the heavens opened and I beat a hasty retreat.
When the rain had stopped I wrung out the debris and put it in a bag for when I reach a waste disposal point.