Saturday 29 October 2022

Northwich Dry Dock. River Weaver.

 It’s a widely held belief that there is no point blacking the base plate of a steel narrow boat. The theory goes something like this;

1. It’ll all get scraped off as soon as you are back on the canal.

2. All the corrosion takes place near the surface and at over 2’ below there is very little electrolytic activity.

3. The base plate is 10 mm thick and it’s the sides you should be more concerned about.

While there is merit in all the above, after getting underneath Legend for the first time in our ownership, and possibly the first time in its life, we can tell you, Dear Reader, that the base plate does indeed corrode. Northwich have a 4000-psi pressure washer, a beast of a thing, and after Matt had gone over nb Footloose, Dave donned his waterproofs and goggles and began removing all the weed and loose material from Legend’s bum.

 After attacking the sides on the back quarter and getting used to how flippin’ powerful the big pressure washer was, Dave lay down on the sophisticated Low Level Mobile Access Device (the bottom of an Asda trolley with a bit of wood on top) and started of the base plate.

 The amount of material that came off was frankly shocking. Big chunks of rusty crap went flying everywhere leaving Dave wet, filthy and with his eyes smarting despite the goggles, and worrying for the rest of the week about the integrity of what he’d left behind.

 It took him all his grit (sic) and the rest of the day to finish the job, but it was very much worth the effort.

We are now firmly converted to the “Yes It Does” camp, along with Matt, who’s had nine years of seeing boats come into his dock in a similar state to ours, and our new favourite marine surveyor, Mike Carter, who’s surveyed an endless procession of boats with severely reduced base plate thickness. They both think that the belief that it doesn’t need doing is supported and encouraged by all the boatyards where it just isn’t possible. Discuss.

While Dave was in his own little wet, rusty hell underneath, David was busy sanding down the red and cream on the back end and the black on the tumblehomes.

David with the sander and Dave under the cloud of spray.

By lunchtime on Wednesday the Boyz had 3 coats of blacking on, the back end and tumblehomes were finished, Dave was wondering why he hadn’t found out before that pile rollers are a lot more robust and at least twice as quick as foam ones, and David had washed down the cabin sides leaving Legend looking very smart.

Dave had also taken the decision to rub down the name plate on the bow and start again.

 For the time being, Legend will become the Boat with No Name and we haven't decided what to do about that yet, but we think having the name on the back of the boat and a pattern on the bow would look quite good. David got two coats of cream on the bow as a canvas for whatever we decide. In the afternoon they got the tiller and rudder back in their slot (always a struggle because it’s just so damned heavy) ...

Legend's tiller and rudder. it should split into two parts, but it won't, and although it heavy, it's easier for two people to manhandle it as it is.

...refitted the rear fender frame and painted Legend’s name on the dock wall.

It wasn’t all work though. While various coats of paint were drying, they looked around the lock island...

... and Dan, the chap who owns Safe Hand, invited them to look around his monumental “project”.

He’s converting the old tanker into a houseboat and the amount of work is colossal. It will no doubt be amazing when it’s finished, he’s been at it for four years and has at least four more to go, but what he’s accomplished so far is impressive.

On Thursday Dave pulled the weed hatch out and blacked it, something he should have done on day one but, with all the pressure washing excitement, forgot. David left for home later on in the morning, He’d been a real help and Dave wouldn’t have got anywhere near as much done without him. 

After he’d gone, Dave put the front and rear fenders back on
 and had a clean through inside ready for Ann-Marie’s return. She came back with tales of lots of good times, girly days out and lovely food.

Despite going to the moon and back, she’d had an awful six-hour drive home through fog, rain, roadworks and accidents, so we had a lazy afternoon on the sofa catching up with strictly.

Friday was spent mostly putting as much washing as we could find through the machine while we were still plugged in and getting us all set to go back in the water.  Ann-Marie had a Covid booster booked in town and on the way back we stopped at “The Cod’s Pollocks” for a chippy dinner.

In the morning Ann-Marie went through the boat with the hoover while the power was still on, then the dock crew arrived and began the refloating procedure. While the water came back into the dock, Dave kept a close eye on the inspection hatch under the wardrobe.

 He really was quite concerned that the pressure washer might have compromised the integrity of the hull; if there were any leaks, that was where the water would end up. Happily, by the time the dock was full it was all still dry and remained so for the rest of the day. (Dave’s anxiety gradually decreased over the next few weeks and he went from checking it every five minutes to hourly, then daily, then every few days.  The inspection hatch is on his monthly check list, so before long we’ll be back to normal.)

The dock crew hooked the gantry crane up to the lock gate and hauled it out...

...then Hamish backed Footloose out into the weir channel. With lots of thanks and goodbyes to Matt and his crew, we carefully backed the Boat with No Name out, being so, so careful to not bump our shiny paint on anything, then turned and followed Hamish round to the lock landing. The only thing that we didn’t tick off our list in the dry dock was painting the tiller swan neck, but that will get sorted somewhere along the cut over the next few weeks. Otherwise, it was a very successful docking. Of course, painting the base plate had set a precedent; we would have to do it every time from that point on, which would mean finding boat yards where that was possible. However, that was for the future. For now, we had our little (nameless) home back in the water and looking lovely, life was grand, and the next horizon awaited us.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

Taylor's Bridge to Northwich. T&M, Middlewich Branch, Shropshire Union, Manchester Ship Canal, Weston Canal, River Weaver.

After we got back from our Grand Tour, the next thing on our horizon was our booking with Northwich Drydock Company on the River Weaver and, more importantly, our journey to get there. Under normal circumstances, from where we were moored on the T&M, it would be a simple case of booking a passage down the Anderton Boat Lift the day before, spending the night on the visitor moorings on the river in Northwich, and then going into the dry dock in the morning. However, the boat lift was out of action and would remain so until the following spring. Apparently the safety bolts, which slide into the gates when they are in the raised position and prevent them falling in the case of cable failure, had not passed a safety inspection, and needed to be re-designed. Because it is a listed Ancient Monument any replacement has to be sympathetic to the original structure, so the design and replacement process will no doubt be long and arduous. We had thought we’d have to cancel our booking, but when we spoke to Matt from Northwich Drydock Co., he suggested getting there via the Manchester Ship Canal. That sounded a bit daunting, but exciting at the same time and as you know, we're not adverse to a spot of adventure. It would involve a mad dash round a huge circle from Northwich on the T&M, south to Middlewich, along the Middlewich branch to Bordesley Junction, north on the Shroppie, through Chester and up to Ellesmere Port where we would drop down the locks onto the Ship Canal. An hour and a half on the MSC would bring us to Marsh lock at the mouth of the Weaver, then a sixteen mile trip upstream on our favourite river would get us back to Northwich, fifty feet below where we started.

The Manchester Ship Canal is owned by Peel Holdings and it is, as you probably know, a big commercial waterway, with large ocean-going vessels regularly going up and down to the oil refineries and docks at Runcorn and Ellesmere Port. Peel holdings aren’t exactly keen on small, wobbly, pleasure craft crawling about on it, but they will allow you to go if you jump through enough hoops. Matt was extremely helpful in the hoop-jumping department. He sent us all the forms we needed to complete, recommended a surveyor to give Legend the required Seaworthiness Certificate, and helped us with booking lock passage on and off the MSC with CRT staff at Ellesmere Port and Marsh lock.

The seaworthiness certificate was the first thing. A very nice chap called Mike Carter came along while we were still at Taylor’s bridge and gave Legend the once over. He inspected our life jackets, anchor, bilge pump and front and back lines, then chatted with us about our experience on rivers and boating in general. He also showed us some maps and aerial photos of the ship canal, the locks and the VHF radio reporting points. Happy that we were aware of what we were taking on, that Legend was capable and that we had the kit and experience to handle it, he signed our certificate and wished us a safe trip.

We had a few days moored around Northwich while we ran some errands...

Roberts Bakery, with the loaves cooling on the carousels in the window.

...did a parkrun...

...and swapped the wardrobe and bedding over to winter mode, then abandoned the car in the drydock car park and set off. A few big boating days took us down to the Middlewich Branch...

Passing the entrance to the Anderton Lift. Here's what you could have won.

Moored up on the edge of Marbury Country Park

The April '21 land slip at Soot Hill, near the Barnton Tunnel.

Approaching the salt works at Middlewich.

...across to Barbridge junction, north on the Shroppie and down Bunbury staircase...

...below which we came across a rather sad and abandoned looking shed-of-a-boat adrift in the middle of the cut.

We got a rope on it, towed it to the bank and tied it to a tree.

Ann-Marie sent CRT a what-3-words location and told them what we’d done, hopefully they’ll be able to contact the owner, but it won’t surprise us if it’s still there on our way back. We shared Beeston locks with a lovely hire boat crew...

...stopped at Wardle lock to avoid the hail, and then carried on to Chester...

Chas Harden's hire base at Beeston. We hired "Shadowfax" from there many years ago and went to Llangollen.

The canal through Chester follows the line of an ancient Roman dyke at the bottom of the city walls.

...where we went down the big triple Chester staircase with Nb Excalibur and moored up in the basin.

We stopped there for two days while we bought a new printer and did the parkrun, (or parkwalk in our case as we both had painful Achilles tendons)...

Parkwalk today.

...and had a day walking round the walls and along the wonderful Rows...

...before we cast off and went to moor up at Caughall Bridge by the zoo. We’d moored there nine years previously, but it was nothing like we remembered. Although there were signs proclaiming it to be a 48hr visitor mooring, and there were mooring rings if you dug around in the undergrowth, it had a submerged shelf that we bumped on and there was no signal whatsoever. It’s funny how our priorities have changed; back then we just wanted somewhere quiet, these days it’s all about solar, parking and signal. And a nice view of course.

Next day we stopped off at Cheshire Oaks Retail Park for a final shop before heading to the end of the Shropshire Union canal and the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port.

Walking back from the retail park we came across this wood-burner showroom.

We were really lucky when we got to the port because the final member of staff was just leaving and he kindly told us how to get in and where to moor. We pulled a big mass of Pennywort out of the top lock entrance, then dropped down the two locks taking us through the museum...

 and into the bottom basin.  We moored up in exactly the same place that we’d been nine years previously when we went there for an Easter boat gathering.


And then. There were a few more boats.

In the morning, Dave was up at dawn and out for a walk to check out the ship canal, then phoned the harbourmaster to check we were all ok to go. He told us that there was a possibility of a tanker passing us, but otherwise we’d have clear run. Our booking through the lock was at nine and it all got a bit worrying at about five-to when there was still no sign of any CRT people to open the lock. We were just about to phone up when a volunteer appeared, but due to a bit of confusion it was still twenty past nine before he opened the lock for us.

We gave the Harbourmaster a call on the VHF radio to let him know we were about to enter his waterway, he said we were ok to go and told us that the tanker wasn’t moving, which was nice, and then we were out on the big, wide MSC.

And it is big. And so are the ships. About a quarter of a mile after turning right at Ellesmere Port we reached the beginning of the refinery where we had to call Weston point on the radio and report our position.

All the way through that section smoking and naked flames are banned, and they like to know about any moving vessels. We got waved at by the crews of some very big ships...

...and pushed sideways by the wake of a dredger, but after that we left the pipes, tanks, wharves and smells of the big industrial refinery behind and carried on along the long straight to Marsh Lock.

The little crew ferries at Stanlow that transport sailors to the opposite side.

The River Mersey was just over the other side of the left hand bank, and we were surprised by the amount of wildlife we saw. There were no end of seabirds, lots of lapwings and cormorants, plus various flavours of geese and sheep all over the place. We hadn’t expected a big commercial waterway to be so rural.

The junction of the Ship Canal and the River Weaver is a wide “Y” shape. We were coming up the stem, the canal continued off to the left and the river came in from the right. Marsh Lock, which would take us onto the Weston Canal was on the opposite bank of the river, in the crook of the “Y”, so we had to cross the wide mouth to get to it. We’d been warned by Mike that the river deposits a lot of silt at the junction and that there was a dredged channel across to the lock, marked by red and green buoys, which we needed to follow to avoid getting stuck. So, with the flow from the river coming at us from the right, and the wind, which had suddenly picked up and was funnelling across the junction from the left, we aimed our little boat between the buoys, at the even littler looking lock entrance about quarter of a mile away on the far side of the river mouth.

Steering between the buoys. the lock is just to the right of the big golf balls.

Crabbing sideways towards the open lock gate.

As we got closer, with more open water behind us, the wind got stronger Dave had to crab Legend more and more to keep us heading for the open lock gate. It all got very hairy for a while, but Dave held his nerve and we finally got there, hurtling sideways through the gate into the calm shelter of the lock with full reverse thrust. With both of us pumped full of adrenaline we gently bobbed about in the middle of the lock while the lock keepers worked us up onto the navigation.

It doesn't look that bad from the shelter of the lock, but it was howling out there.

It was a proper knee trembling and crazy laughter moment, and it took us a while to calm down. We chugged up the Weston Canal to Sutton Bridge...

...and moored up next the steam ship Daniel Adamson.

After lunch we had a lovely walk to Frodsham and back over the fields, then Dave got some wood cut up while Ann-Marie sorted out and indexed our photos on the computer. It was very nice to get back to normal after all the excitement.

The following day we moored at Devil’s Garden, a really beautiful spot on a wide bend of the river.

We’d stopped there the last time we came this way, and it was even better that we’d remembered. With the Anderton Lift out of action there was very little traffic on the river, and we had the mooring to ourselves. In fact, we pretty much had the whole river to ourselves; on average we saw one other moving boat a day. The afternoon was mild and calm, so Dave got his paddleboard out for what would probably be the last time that year and had half an hour going up and down the river. From there we went through Dutton and Saltersford locks...

... the river running parallel to the T&M where we’d been nine days previously, and with perfect timing, got tied up at Barnton Cut visitor moorings just before the rain arrived, and had a popcorn and telly afternoon.

The next morning we were going to have an early start but it was really foggy, so we held off moving till it cleared. Just as well too, we were outside cutting wood and sorting the spring bulbs out when a wide-beam dredger appeared out of the fog pushing not one, but two wide-beam barges side by side. OK, the Weaver Navigation is quite wide, and it’s perfectly possible to get past something like that in a narrowboat, but it was really foggy and he was taking no prisoners. Thank goodness we’d delayed our departure! The sun broke through and we set off to Northwich, passing the Anderton Lift and the country park, then stopping at the services before tying up between the iconic swing bridges on the visitor moorings. The last time we were here there was a boatyard on the opposite bank with a side launching slipway. It was abandoned and rather derelict and looking very sorry for itself. It has now been replaced with a shiny new Waitrose and the developers have made a nice feature of the slipway, retaining some of the tracks and trolleys. A rather touching tribute to Northwich’s boat building heritage.

In the morning we moved about half a mile up the river to Hunt’s Lock, passing the CRT yard, under the footbridge linking the lock island to the town, and past some of the glorious historic river boats that are moored around there.

The back end of Yarwood's wonderful boat yard.

The south end of the lock island. you can see the remains of the side-slip. Matt and his volunteer crew have plans to restore it to working order.

Yarwood's from the river

Safe Hand, an ex-Lever Bros tanker, used for transporting palm oil for soap. Previously called Lux. Saved from the scrap heap and now in private hands undergoing a seriously brave transformation.

The dry dock is on the lock island under a railway arch alongside the weir. To get there you have to go up the lock then back on yourself down the weir channel on the other side of the island. Our booking was for nine the next morning so we moored up just before the lock, ready to go as soon as it opened at eight-thirty.

In the morning we were joined by David, who was giving Dave a hand with the work. Ann-Marie was swapping places with him and going to stay with Kate for the duration. We know it’s all very stereotypical, but that’s just how we are.  One of the lock keepers was late, so it was about half past nine by the time us and Nb Footloose got up the lock and round to the drydock. One of the two boats we were replacing was Saturn, the historic charity owned horse boat that we’d last seen being bow-hauled over the Pontcysyllte aqueduct on the Llangollen canal carrying the Olympic torch. It had been in for blacking and we later found out that it spends its winter months safely tucked up just around the corner. We think there must be far more historic boats in Northwich than there are in the museum at Ellesmere port.

As soon as we were in the dock the gate was craned back into place, lines were put on the back and front of both boats to position them in the perfect place, and the sluice was opened in the front wall draining the dock into the river below.

Northwich is really deep. Unlike Stourport, where we only dropped down about two feet and the gunwales ended up level with the dock sides, in Northwich we started off level with the gunwales then dropped a good three feet before our baseplate touched the bearers. 

As soon as the water had drained out, two pairs of warehouse steps were craned in, and we were ready to get to work. David and Dave waived Ann-Marie off and while Matt started on Footloose with the pressure washer, they got Legend and themselves ready for a week’s worth of grafting.  

We’ll share our respective diaries about what we each got up to in the next instalment.   

New Haw Lock to Boveney. River Wey. River Thames.

After pulling the pins at New Haw we dropped down the last four locks on the Wey... Cox's Mill Lock Town Lock The final stretch of the W...