Not without trials and tribulations…

A life afloat will never be without its trials and tribulations. Over the years (over the decades, actually) there have been engine emergencies, electrical issues, water discovered in wrong places, failures of domestic equipment and so on. The boating community, thankfully, is always very supportive of others in trouble. On countless occasions the child’s fishing net kept on the front deck has been deployed to scoop up footballs, dogs’ balls – and once, in 2016, to retrieve a pair of football tickets that had been blown out of a supporter’s hands into the water…

It was on the western outskirts of Burscough on Tuesday that someone seemed to be having a spot of trouble: a chap wearing waders was up to his waist in the water fishing about with a long pole, a huge squared-off fishing net on the end. Two onlookers were on the bank, anxious looks on their faces. The wader-clad man continued to poke about on the canal bed.

“I’ve got a sea magnet you can borrow,” the Captain called.

There were remarks about what sort of metals a sea magnet would work with… and then a conclusion that it wouldn’t be of any use.

“So what are you looking for?” the Captain asked.

“Our propeller,” came the reply. “It must have fallen off…” and the onlookers waved towards a short boat pulled up onto a nearby boat slip.

The wader continued to prod and tug and then heaved on a weighty load in his net – up it came, a tree trunk…

Whether the propeller was recovered is not known but later that afternoon there was another under the water emergency. A couple of days of serious boating lay ahead so Boatwif took advantage of a nearby tap to top up the water tank and to clear the laundry backlog. The Zanussi 3Kg dry weight washing machine (Boatwif’s personal pride and joy) worked its wonders throughout the morning. Outside the weather was sunny and a bit breezy – excellent drying conditions in fact. As per usual the Captain rigged up the whirligig (an outdoor three-sided line, its pole cut down to clamp onto the tiller arm). There is great satisfaction in seeing clean laundry flapping in the breeze.    Three wash loads there were: a duvet cover, a bed sheet, four pillowcases, two pairs of trousers, a couple of towels, a shirt, socks and so on…

It was as Boatwif was stooping below the back deck lacing up shoes prior to a small shopping mission that IT happened. Slowly the whirligig tipped backwards – and disappeared “below the waves…” A shriek alerted the Captain’s attention: Boatwif grabbed the short boathook kept inside the engine room and tried to catch the sunken objects.

A catch – but the saturated weight pulled everything away. Brown water swirled above where clean laundry had disappeared. Armed now with his hefty (ex-dockyard) boathook the Captain arrived and fished about. Gradually a large enough item (the bed sheet) was caught and the hauling in began.

Bit by bit up it came, still pegged to the lines, adorned, all of it, by mud…

From across the canal some women’s voices cackled from their garden viewpoint: “Your stuff’s had a good wash then…!”

Each item needed hand rinsing (ever tried rinsing layers of mud off a duvet cover?!) The boat’s engine was turned back on to provide power and the little Zanussi washing machine was set to work again.

Then the Captain with his tool set worked to modify the fixing of the whirligig, finishing the job proud of his efforts    although irritated about the incident.

“We have travelled one mile today,” he pronounced darkly, “and the engine has been running for over nine hours…”


During the winter plans had been laid to explore new waters, the Lancaster Canal. To get there involves a 7 mile, 7 lock, 6 swing bridge descent of the Rufford Arm to the River Douglas. The Rufford Arm leads off the Leeds and Liverpool Canal about a mile east of Burscough.

Access to the Lancaster Canal has to be pre-booked with Canal and River Trust to take account of tide and daylight hours down the River Douglas and up the Ribble Estuary to Savick Brook about a mile from Preston Docks.

This then was the start of a new adventure.

Latham Junction (where the L&L and the Rufford Arm meet) is a pretty spot. Two boats were already heading for the first lock. 

Immediately some thing looked different:   this is a ground paddle which is wound by a fixed, horizontally wound windlass.

One by one the boats cruised under the bridge towards the top lock, Tentatrice first,

Cleddau second.

The lock keeper moved the foot bridge out of the way. The gates were closed and the clough paddles were deployed. Clough paddles? This was an unfamiliar device: it’s a low-lying strip of wood which when unlocked is pulled to vertical in a line parallel with the stonework. This simple action pulls the paddle out of the way from the sluice, allowing the lock chamber to fill with water….

The locks on the Rufford Arm are a test of both mental and physical stamina – can you work it out and can you push or lift it…?! A lock keeper’s assistance for the first three locks was much appreciated…

Initially the locks are close together but then the distance between them lengthens. At the fifth lock down a pause was demanded for a tea and coffee break  – and to allow the boats ahead to move further on down the canal.

Gradually, in an increasingly brisk easterly breeze,   the boats were worked down the Arm. Always the tall chimney of the Burscough Wharf building remained in view as the canal arcs around the settlement.

Lancashire, in the mind associated with cotton mills and belching smoke, is surprisingly agricultural. Just beyond Burscough workers had been seen picking broccoli in the fields – here the fields are flat, the earth freshly tilled…

Onwards, the locks requiring cooperation between the crews to unlock paddles   and to move stiff and heavy gates. The chambers are inclined to leak, the landing stages tend to be short. As time wore on it was the swing bridges that caused greater difficulty – how to open, how to re-lock, how to pick up operating crew when the wind was so vindictive…

The downhill cruise continued, local folk out to spot the swans and their cygnets. Just past St Marys Marina was a tempting sight, Rufford Old Hall, a National Trust property.   Maybe a visit on the return trip should be put on the Wish List…

Onward past grazing sheep  and Silver Fox (see previous post)  the canal narrowing and weaving  its way towards Tarleton. Once past the final swing bridge the day’s destination would be reached.

Boatwif was dispatched to the tidal lock to seek out information. Shipyards; boats’ masts; a dusty track. And then there was the tidal lock, a sweep of the River Douglas coming down from the right. The channel ahead of the lock was indeed narrow.  Advice from all those who’ve done it is “Power on hard as you come out of the lock. The tide’ll be coming up fast.”

Back at the boat Cleddau was being readied for another sea journey:

Next time: a river, an estuary, a brook and a triple staircase…


2019 Monkton Moments*- 3

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

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2 Responses

  1. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    Wow! I am exhausted after reading this post!! Les and I knew only too well the heartache as one’s fresh washing disappeared into the muddy cut. We were not able to retrieve ours as we were on the move and realized to late where our laundry drying on the bow deck had gone.

    Wonderful pictures! I am enjoying reading both yours and Jennie’s blogs. Mis you both fiercely and I will sit down to write a long, and long overdue email soon. I fly back to Spokane tomorrow after a month in Alaska visiting family.
    Love and Biggs big hugs,
    Jaq xxx

  2. Sue Deveson says:

    Hi Jaq,
    Thanks for your empathy re the laundry episode…!
    I hope you had a good trip out to and back from Alaska. Yes, we definitely need to have a catch up. Somehow the Liverpool trip overtook my efforts to communicate with you.
    We are now further north than ever before , by boat that is…! Lancaster is within our sights…
    Love and hugs,
    Sue /Boatwif

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