Passage through the Standedge Tunnel

Readers puzzled by the term “Fairlead” yesterday may recognise it now as a cleat, the purpose of  which is to  keep a rope running smoothly and to protect paintwork.

Preparing to go through the Standedge Tunnel was rather like preparing for a hospital operation. A patient has to undress, be weighed and measured, have blood group established and blood pressure monitored.  At the tunnel entrance this morning Cleddau was made bare, gangplanks, poles and cratch cover inside the cabin, front cratch windows dismantled, pole supports, brooms and other roof top clutter fastened inside the front deck area. To ensure the boat was bloated and could sit deep in the water her water tank was filled to the brim. 

At about 1030 a single boat, front deck crowded with soggy passengers, emerged from the tunnel, having completed a westbound journey.

Then arrived the tunnel men. Any would-be transit of the Standedge Tunnel involves measurements too: of the maximums of length, width, height above water and draught below water. If pronounced of suitable dimensions a chaperone is allocated. Cleddau was deemed fit to travel.  “Cheerio,” said one of the men, “See you later at 15.” His comment made no sense at all…

At 1245 nb Gundagai started its journey through Standedge. 

A chaperone for Cleddau finally arrived.  First he issued a crash helmet to the boat’s pilot, then checked that he was wearing a life-jacket.  He’d brought a large fire extinguisher and wore a miner’s lamp on his own helmet…

So, at 1355, all “pre-med checks” complete, Operation Standedge got under way. Full lights were switched on throughout the boat and into the darkness Cleddau plunged. On the back deck the chaperone did his stuff, providing a continual commentary of the route and advice when to slow down or to check course. Some parts are brick-lined, in most places the tunnel weaves its way through a narrow watery rocky cavern. The rock seemed mostly reddish, occasionally striped, occasionally lightened by flashes of sparkly deposits.  A concrete skim has been applied in some areas, a rough sandpapery surface covering the passage way.  The air was fresh, not stifling at all. “Are there ventilation shafts?” Boatwif had asked the tunnel man, at the pre-op stage.

“More fresh air in there than outside here,” Nick had said, gesturing at the wide open countryside.

Inside the tunnel once the chaperone instructed the Captain to stop completely: time for a safety check. In the parallel disused railway tunnel another tunnel man walks to check progress. Then the “15” made sense: at a well-lit inset platform, a number 15 painted above, stood Nick, the tunnel man. “Just checking you,” he grinned. Once again after that progress was checked, and, with no incoming trip boat, it was safe to proceed. Twice a train flashed past unseen in the adjacent tunnel, its speed creating a strong wind. Then the wriggly bits seemed almost over; the S bend passed (where the excavations were aligned to meet) and a light appeared in the distance. The exit… but its light diminished, changed shape, disappeared, returned, steadily grew bigger.

At 1530 Cleddau emerged from the tunnel, wet with a few tiny hull scratches and a graze on the cabin front, starboard side.  The chaperone jumped off and the wet crew brought Cleddau a few hundred metres further on to a mooring right in front of Lock 42E and right opposite Marston Railway Station.  Behind Cleddau is moored nb Gundagai. Guess what tomorrow is about? Locks!

For those interested in stats:

Today’ s cruise: 4 miles (3.25 within a tunnel), 0 locks

            Tunnel: highest at 645 feet (197 metres) above sea level, longest at 3.25 miles (5.2 km) and deepest at 638 feet (194 metres) below Marsden Moor.

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