Sharing the blame for the breach

Published: Wednesday, 25 April 2018

NOW that the Middlewich breach has happened both the hire boat companies and CaRT have to carry an equal share of the blame, writes John Coxon.

As Victor wrote in his article: 'Where we were moored there was piling protecting the banks, but further towards Middlewich itself there was little such protection, and the way those boats speed out of Wardle Lock with their bow waves slamming the banks there is every possibility of a breach in the offing'.

Still had their 'road heads'

It was three years ago when that was written. Well I was there last summer and it was still the same. It appeared that hirers just couldn't wait to get on the Llangollen. They still had their 'road heads' on so to speak, still wanting to do 70mph as 4mph feels like they are going backwards so it's flat out for a few days until they slow their heads down to canal speed.

If they governed hire boats so that they could not do such ridiculous speeds then the hirers will not be able to do the damage they do, not just with their wash but by hitting other boats and the infrastructure as they have not yet got used to controlling a narrowboat.

All over the network

It's not just on the Middlewich Branch that this problem occurs but all over the network with day hire boats being a particularly major problem. There is no need for hire boats to do such high speeds as they are, after all they are not generally allowed on the tidal waters where it may be needed.

I'm not saying that all boat owners are faultless, but in my experience when there is an excessively high speeding boat it is invariably a hire boater and I for one will no longer ask them to slow down as usually all you get is a load of foul language from a drunken crew member trying to show off.

If hire boat companies don't put some kind of governor on their boats to stop hirers going at such speed, it's their own fault if they lose income over it.

No income at all

I for one have no sympathy for them, it's simple business practice to look after the environment that your business works in, but it appears that most hire company bosses think it's not their problem...well if there's another breach on the Trent & Mersey near Middlewich then it will very definitely be a major problem for them, possibly to the point of no income at all! But will they now learn and slow their boats down physically...don't hold your breath.

There are other boaters who appear to be more and more inclined to go fast and these need to heed the warnings that this breach is giving them about the consequences of such actions.

Forced onto other canals

A problem now is, with the Middlewich Branch and the Marple Flight both closed resulting in the closure of the Cheshire and the Four Counties rings those same speeding hirers will be forced onto other canals instead, so how long will it be before there's another breach, say on the Trent & Mersey between Middlewich and perhaps Wheelock cutting the north-west off completely?

CaRT were told, more than once and as far back as three years ago, that a breach was in the offing on the Middlewich Branch but it chose to do nothing about it. Another warning was given two and a half years ago that the wash from hire boaters was over-topping the towpath and protection. Again CaRT was stunned into inactivity.

Should have had alarm bells ringing

The material that the breached section was made of should have had alarm bells ringing throughout CaRT immediately upon those warnings. The sandy soil that the canal bed consists of along there is totally intolerant to water ingress. It is only the canal bed puddling that is stopping the canal from completely disintegrating but the desk jockeys at CaRT would have no idea about that.

It would only take a small amount of this over-topping water to seep down behind the puddling or a small hole to develop in it to allow water to get in and wash away sufficient sand to allow a large amount of the puddling to collapse into the bed resulting in total liquidisation of the whole canal bed and washing it away, which is what appears to have happened at Middlewich.

So much for CaRT's stupid policy of reactive maintenance. CaRT were told about it, CaRT were warned about it, CaRT did nothing about it, so CaRT will now have to pay for it as getting the funds for it from their emergency appeal doesn't appear to be very hopeful.