Two canals: two tales

Readers of the last blog A Ferry Trip – by Taxi  may remember that the Captain and Boatwif had, so to speak, failed in their attempt to cruise the Manchester Ship Canal. They hadn’t attempted anything as brave as steering dear little Cleddau (all 60’ 6” by 6’10” of her) along a canal where the Big Boys play, no. They had merely attempted to take a six hour pleasure boat trip from Wallasey to Manchester. The 36 miles of the famous Manchester Ship Canal, extends from the Eastham Locks on the Mersey Estuary and initially shadows the estuary on its southern bank before heading eastwards into Manchester. Once opened (in 1894) the waterway allowed ocean-going vessels to access a large industrial city far inland. Ships up to 600 feet in length and 65 feet in width can comfortably cruise these waters.

 But arrival in Manchester (or Salford Quays) was not to be for the Cleddau crew on that fair but blustery day at the end of September. . The canal, overwhelmed by water after extreme rainfall over the Cheshire Plain, had become shallow and un-navigable when weir gates releasing excess flood water got trapped open…

 Mersey Ferries, caught in an unprecedented situation, made promises to reimburse 50% of the ferry fare to their passengers. Did they keep their word?  Yes, full marks to management: within three days 50% of the cost of two tickets had been directed to our bank account, as promised to all the passengers – and within two weeks our share (£30) of the Ellesmere Port to Salford Quays taxi fare had arrived by cheque. Would that a photograph had been taken of the cheque… at the bottom it had a line of neat little boxes for the amount to be paid, at the very end of which appeared a three and a zero: £30. The extreme left hand box was available for millions of pounds, the next for hundreds of thousands, then thousands, hundreds and so on.

Aghast, Boatwif exclaimed and pointed out the boxes to the Captain.

“But Mersey Ferries might need to buy a ship,” he patiently explained, “a ship might cost millions of pounds…”


Then, half a world away, lies another canal, the Panama Canal. Knowledge of it came first via a geography text book, probably round about the time geography specific vocabulary was being taught. The Panama Canal crosses an isthmus, doesn’t it? Atlas study revealed a skinny neck of land which strung together the two huge land masses of South and of North America. This canal, 48 miles in length, cut dramatically the time taken to sail from the east coast of the USA to the west coast; a ship travelling from New York to San Francisco which uses the Panama Canal saves 7,862 miles by not needing to sail around the South America tip.

For decades no further thought of the Panama Canal crossed the mind. Then in 2002, up cropped the Panama Canal in casual conversation. Newly married son and wife had been persuaded to relocate, swapping residence in Berkshire for residence in Southern California. Their move was no White Van job; items and furniture were sorted into Leave in UK – or Ship. Shipping entailed specialists loading the US-bound items into a container, then the container being taken away by road.

“We are tracking our container,” confided New Wife one day.

“How?” enquired naive Boatwif. (Remember, this was 2002).

“On the internet, of course,” came the reply. “We know the name of the ship our container is on. Soon it will be going through the Panama Canal, and then a couple of weeks after that it will be landed at the docks in LA.”

The Panama Canal! Freight to the US West Coast! How big are the ships that go through there? (973 feet by 110 feet width). Wow, came the thought, their dining table and chairs going all that way from Berkshire, to San Diego, by sea!

Ten years have passed – Cal Son and Cal Mom (because there are three US born children now)  proudly announced this week that they have become US citizens, they and  1073 others from 88 nationalities taking their pledge of allegiance in front of a  District Court Judge in San Diego City Hall.

So when in less than two weeks’ time Boatwif and the Captain arrive in San Diego County for Thanksgiving they can look upon that dining table and remember that it made its journey across one ocean, up the seaboard of another and through a canal longer and wider than the Manchester Ship Canal. And should they get to spend time in the magnificent Balboa Park in San Diego they will again remember the Panama Canal, since it was the site of the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition, organised to mark the canal’s opening.

Afterthought: While Boatwif and the Captain are (maybe!) paddling in the Pacific or tasting Thanksgiving turkey trimmings will narrow boats be convoying along the Manchester Ship Canal back in England’s north-west…? On 17th September Cleddau was moored at Dutton Hall on the Trent and Mersey, (see Clock Check ); days later on 26th September the canal was severely breached at Dutton, rendering a lengthy stretch of the Trent and Mersey impassable – and now the Manchester Ship Canal Company is permitting narrow boats to navigate its great ship canal so as to access the Bridgewater Canal at Palomar Lock near Manchester and the Shropshire Union via Ellesmere Port…

Odd how thoughts almost always come back to boats…


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