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

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS AND PIC­TURES BY STU­ART CONEY

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

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