Descending The Wigan Flight Of Locks

Today’s the day we descended down the Wigan Flight of 21 locks.

At 8:30 a.m., as requested by the lock keeper, we were ready on parade.

John was taking down Cyan through the locks, while I helped the Lock Keepers. We were going down with a boat which had a single handed boater, also named John, whom for the day was known as ‘John 2’.

Just before 8:30 a.m., with windlass and a handcuff key, I wandered over to the top lock to introduce myself to the two lockies. Joe was the permanent lock keeper, and yet another John, whom we named ‘John 3’ for day, was a volunteer lock keeper. We soon got into a system, which took us down the locks quite quickly. We were also helped by another lock keeper from the ‘Liverpool’ side, who ‘set’ (filled locks with water) many of the locks for us.

We did notice last evening that another boat had insisted on going down the locks last evening, the lock keeper kept asking the ‘crew’ if they were “Sure”. This morning, as we were descending, we met them coming up the locks, returning to the top lock. They looked pretty shaken up, and told us the boat’s rudder had bent, making it difficult to steer the boat. Apparently, they had ‘cilled’ the boat on one of the lock’s cills.

In the picture below you can see the cill, there are white line markers on the side walls, which guide the helmsman to keep his boat clear of the cill. On descending the lock, as the water is let out, the boat can easily catch on the cill, tipping the boat up at the back – resulting in a disaster! Bending the rudder was mild to what could have happened.

Joe the lockie, and his friend from the ‘Liverpool side’ know the flight very well, and kept pointing out different points of interest, while all the time keeping mindful of safety. Little bits of information, like telling John to watch the next lock because the walls were leaking badly, and he was likely to be drenched.

Despite me personally dreading going down the locks, the whole experience was really enjoyable. The locks are difficult, and no doubt I’d have struggled quite a bit without the lockies.  Thank you guys, you are magic!

Eventually, we reached the bottom of the locks. We moored up on rings, while John went to see Lynne in the CRT office.

The iconic building across the canal was once the site of a coal fuelled power station. Up until the 1970s coal barges were still delivering coal from the many coal mines in the area via the canal, to this wharf. 

The Lockie from Liverpool showed John how to get to the CRT Office – without him John didn’t think he could have found it.  On the way there, they saw a policewoman taking notes, as she stood by a cruiser which was moored on the canal. In broad daylight someone had broken into the boat; as luck would have it, a kind person saw what had happened, and had alerted the police. The problem was that the owner was not around. CRT, because they would know the boat owner’s details, agreed to contact him/her.

Lynne from the CRT office had the license holders ready for John. During a conversation with Lynne, John mentioned the fraught trip we had through the Huddersfield narrows. He told her that we are now on our way to a marina to have Cyan taken out of the water for re-blacking as the blacking looks badly scruffed (it was only blacked 12 months ago), and for the skeg bearing on the rudder to be inspected as John believes it’s been damaged by repeatedly running aground through lack of water. Certainly the stern tube gland which we had to have replaced by the boatyard at Aspley basin at the bottom of the Huddersfield narrows, was caused through the Huddersfield being short of water.

Lynne sympathised, and gave John an ‘Incident Form’ in case he needs to make a claim from CRT’s insurers. She mentioned, if Cyan was damaged through there being a lack of water, then we could make a claim. We never knew that!

After John returned, we had lunch and decided, mainly because of the other boat getting broken into, to continue our ‘journey’, turning left to go down the Leigh Arm. John asked ‘John 2’ the single handed boater who came down the locks with us, if he’d like to join us as we’ve two locks, and the ‘Plank Lane’ electric lift bridge to go through. We had to get through the lift bridge by 4:30 p.m., otherwise we’d have to wait until 6:00 p.m. Lifting the bridge is also forbidden between 8:00 a.m., and 9:30 a.m all in aid of road traffic rush hour.

‘John 2’ jumped at the suggestion, as going through locks, and lift bridges are difficult if there’s only one.

This time I steered Cyan through the two locks, while John did the locking.  At one of the locks, John noticed Cyan was pushing a wooden pallet along (I didn’t notice though, which is a little worrying!), it took him quite a bit of effort to fish the pallet out of the water.

The Leigh Arm canal is very beautiful, especially as we passed through the  ‘flashes’ (that’s what they are called) of water where the mines used to be.

The weather has really held up today, and sailing through the afternoon was pleasant. ‘John 2’ was cruising in front of us, and when it became obvious we weren’t going to make Plank Lane Lift Bridge before 4:30 p.m., we tried to attract his attention.  It had been a long day for us, we’d gone down 23 locks, and didn’t fancy waiting until 6:00 p.m. to start again. We hooted ‘John 2’ but couldn’t get him to look our way. In a really pleasant area, the temptation was too great, so we moored up!

Sorry ‘John 2’ we never got to say ‘So Long’ – no doubt we’ll come across you on the canal another time.

Today we’ve travelled 6 miles, and 23 locks. WiFi is 5Mg and there’s no digital TV.

[NB: We’ve now completed our ‘mini’ journey which started at the Huddersfield Narrows on 12th May 2017; finishing at the bottom of the Wigan Flight on 15th August 2017:

The journey took 95 days, 157 miles, and 190 locks.]

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