THE SHORT CUT
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel on the Manchester Ship Canal? It’s huge and can be busy, but it’s not difficult to do and it can save a lot of cruising time
Fancy trying the Manchester Ship Canal? It might look a bit challenging, but it’s easier than it looks and can save a lot of cruising time
Opportunities in life sometimes present themselves by chance and it’s special if you are able to take them. We were planning a summer trip to the north-west, an area where the four of us first met 29 years ago during our working lives. John and Vanessa on nb
Swift & Low with Clare and myself on nb Y Knot. Although our careers took us to different parts of the country at different times we have kept in touch and remained good friends, seeing a lot more of each other over the last four years while cruising together. Chester, Frodsham and the River Weaver were on our list of destinations to visit in Cheshire. The Shropshire Union up to Ellesmere Port and the National Waterways Museum would allow us to visit Chester, with the River Weaver taking us close to Frodsham and Northwich.
The traditional route would be to go to Ellesmere Port, then retrace our steps back to Barbridge, along the Middlewich Branch ( Wardle Canal), on to the Trent & Mersey and down in the Anderton Lift, to the River Weaver; with 56 miles, 24 locks and cruising for six hours a day, we would be there in four days. The other option on the map was a ‘short cut’ – six miles, two locks and three hours on The Manchester Ship Canal, (MSC). Could we do it? John and I were excited by the idea, the girls, slightly less so. Wouldn’t it be great to look up at the Frodsham and Helsby hills from the Ship Canal rather than the other way around, as we did all those years ago? We needed to do some research
John contacted Peel Ports who
operate the Ship Canal to see if it was possible and he found all the information we required on the Peel Ports website. I made contact with Peter Bolt, Chairman of the North-West Branch of the Inland Waterways Association, for any information he had.
Peter and Mike Carter, the Navigation Officer, were extremely helpful and provided us with notes and photos of our route. We were in business, just a small matter of agreeing the date, making all the necessary arrangements and parting with money. (The details of costs and contacts are at the end of this article.)
The Manchester Ship Canal (MSC), was opened in 1894 starting at the Mersey Estuary near Liverpool and running 36 miles to Manchester. Work began in 1887 and it took six years to build at a cost of £15 million, estimated to be £1.5 billion in today’s money. At its peak in 1958, it carried 20 million tons, now it is around 8 million.
The date was set and contact made with all the relevant parties. We arranged to meet one of the designated Boat Surveyors at Barbridge, to gain our ‘certificate of seaworthiness’, which is one of the Peel Ports conditions of travelling on the MSC. Most of the requirements are now covered by the Boat Safety Certificate (BSC), but the Peel Ports terms and conditions were set before the introduction of the BSC and, so I understand, it would take an Act of Parliament to make an amendment to change this. An anchor and chain, along with 15m ropes/warps are the main additions to the BSC that you may need to acquire.
We thought it best to have the survey done a week before we planned to travel, in case there were any issues. The survey, along with our personal information and a copy of our boat insurance, needed to be received by Peel Ports 48 hours before we planned to go, which we were able to send by email.
Ellesmere Port Boat Museum is certainly worth a visit and free entry for two people is included in the £13 mooring fee in the lower basin, additional nights are charged at £4. You cannot reserve a mooring with Canal & River Trust in advance at Ellesmere Port, which was a little frustrating as you need to notify Peel Ports on which day you plan to travel. We were assured by Andy, the duty manager, they would find you a spot, if you mentioned you were going on to the MSC.
Depending on your own sense of adventure, you may want to cruise when there aren’t any large ships moving on the canal and some of them are big. The maximum size of vessels that can use the Ship Canal are 533ft long and 65.5ft wide. The evening before we set off, a tanker
The Duzgit Integrity, at 433ft and 62ft wide went past, we were pleased we didn’t meet it coming the other way.
Eastham Control is the point of contact for the MSC and the two guys we spoke to there were very helpful with their advice on when to travel. They only know approximately 24 hours in advance when the ship movements are happening, so we were quite flexible in our timing as to when we were going to leave Ellesmere Port.
There is a fair amount of co-ordination required with the survey, mooring at Ellesmere Port, documentation for Peel Ports, the local council to open the swing bridge at the Ellesmere Port lock and CRT to open Weston Marsh Lock at the entrance to the River Weaver. After that, it’s all plain sailing.
Everybody was extremely helpful and it is pretty easy. The only
frustration was liaising with CRT who needed 48 hours’ notice to unlock the lock at Ellesmere Port and man the lock at Weston Point. It took an average of 12 minutes to get through to the central switchboard to speak to the Northwich office, which you cannot dial direct, even if you know you need to speak to them. This was especially so on the day we set off, with the swingbridge open and Eastham Control asking us if we were going, we couldn’t get through to CRT at all to check everything was okay at Weston Marsh lock. In the end we decided to phone the lock-keeper at Dutton Locks on the River Weaver to ask them if they would contact the Northwich office for us.
It was 11am and we were off, Eastham Control had given us the all-clear by phone and advised us to watch out for a working boat near Stanlow Oil refinery. The weather was kind, just a light breeze and scattered cloud which made for a very pleasant two-hour cruise. There are oil refineries along the banks for probably half the trip and then there is open countryside, very similar to the River Douglas, with sheep grazing in fields. In the distance you can see jets landing at Liverpool John Lennon airport and the Runcorn Widnes Silver Jubilee Bridge.
We passed the Helsby and Frodsham hills and then started to look out for the turning into Weston Marsh Lock. There is now a very useful landmark on the starboard bank, a brand new wind turbine, with another 19 to come. As advised in the IWA notes, we made sure to take a wide turn and avoid the sandbank on the corner and made it safely into the lock.
It was a very interesting cruise with plenty to see. We were now looking forward to the River Weaver after a safe passage through the lock. Luckily for us, though we were unaware when we waved goodbye to the very friendly CRT guys, a chain broke on one of the lock gates and it was out of action for three days…
So we had taken the opportunity and I would really recommend it as something different in the way of cruising.
‘It was 11am and we were off. Eastham Control had given us the all-clear and advised us to watch out for a working boat’
Just a little bit bigger than us!
Ship Canal tug at Ellesmere Port Entering the River Weaver Making the turn for Weston Point Lock... ...and arriving safely at the lock
As you can see, it’s much bigger than most canals
Stuart at the helm of YKnot
Runcorn in the distance