Crewing on Atlas & Malus for the BCNS Marathon Challenge

Last Saturday saw the commencement of the 50th Anniversary BCNS Marathon Challenge in which around 50 boats travelled as much of the Birmingham Canal Navigations as possible in 24 hours with an added compulsory 6 hour break.  Points are picked up for locks done, miles covered, obscure destinations reached and various other achievements . Luckily, as crew, Gordon and I didn’t have to worry about any of this. All we had to do was turn up and pitch in wherever we could help. Boats can set out from wherever on the BCN that they choose but this year’s finish was at the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society headquarters at Titford Pumphouse.  Atlas & Malus were built in the 1930s and are owned jointly by the BCNS and Coombeswood Canal Trust.  It was a real privilege to have the chance to take part in the Challenge on them. Paul, the skipper of Atlas & Malus, also chose this as our starting point. Wonderful for us as we were moored up there and only had to crawl out of bed, dress and wander up the pontoon to join the boats for the off. The start was a bit damp….

…but started to clear up as we headed down the  locks known locally as The Crow and onto the Old Main Line.

By the time we’d gone under Summit Tunnel…


…past Smethwick Pumphouse…


…and into Smethwick Locks, the weather had cheered up completely. The sun was shining for our encounter with Charlie on Felonious Mongoose.


We picked up some points for heading round the Soho Loop…


…and past Hockley Port Junction…


…before making our way into central Birmingham where we encountered Annie and Colin on nb Eli who kindly took these photographs of our progress past the NIC.

We turned left at the ’roundabout’ and headed down Farmers Bridge Locks.

I got to steer the butty down Aston Locks with a fairly stiff breeze and a varied amount of success! Thanks to Kirsty for the photos of me steering.

I enjoyed it but am much happier just plodding along doing locks.

Gordon took over the butty steering as we passed on under Spaghetti Junction and met our first, and luckily only, real problem. There were a group of about 20 or so kids, obviously well organised as they had masks and hoods, who started chucking stones at the boats. They followed us on bikes for a short while, aiming mostly at people. Gordon took a stone to the head which caused a minor scratch as he was protected by his ‘happy hat’ but it could have been an awful lot worse. The incident was reported to the police and we headed on through Salford Junction not too much the worse for wear.

It was getting on to evening by this time and it was around 8 o’clock by the time we got to the top of the Perry Barr Locks.

By 11pm we were safely moored up at Ocker Hill for the night and appreciated a great bean and sausage stew that had been lovingly made by Tug. The two ladies were lucky in that we were given the boatman’s cabins to sleep in – not much use for most of the blokes as the bed space is way too short.


Very snug but even a bit too short for me! I did manage about three hours sleep.

We set out again just after 5am the next morning for a much easier day lock-wise. Just 18 to be completed before the 2pm finish. Jeff did a grand job of cup washing before we set off up Ryders Green locks.

We had originally planned on taking the longer route through Factory Locks as it’s an easier turn but unfortunately the wind chose differently as it blew Malus past Atlas at Pudding Green Junction forcing Paul to turn left and head for Spon Locks instead. It was a lovely day and a relaxed one as there was no time pressure.


The turn out of Spon Lane Locks is a tight one but we eventually managed to get both boats round and headed towards home at Titford.

By the time we headed up the Crow we were all pretty knackered but our challenge was not quite finished.

We still had enough time to moor up Malus…


…and take Atlas up to Titford Pools for a few extra points. Not much for the non steerers to do so time to enjoy a celebratory beer.

With Atlas back in it’s spot and the log handed in on time (after a slight panic where it couldn’t be located) the crew posed for a photograph kindly taken by Phil from nb Petula whose dog Charlie muscled in on the action.


The crew were, from left to right, Jeff, Gordon, Paul, Colin, Kirsty, Phil, me, Tug and Mike and a better bunch of people I couldn’t have hoped to crew with. A challenging but incredibly enjoyable experience!

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1 Response to Crewing on Atlas & Malus for the BCNS Marathon Challenge

  1. Colin Wilks says:

    Hope to see you and Gordon again next year Dot. Thanks for the very welcome bacon sarny the first morning and I promise I won’t forget you next time I go for breakfast in ‘spoons! 😋

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