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The Lancaster Canal and Millenium Ribble Link
Cruising Log part 2

Outward crossing - Tarleton, River Douglas, River Ribble to Savick Brook and the Millenium Ribble Link

Wednesday 8 June
Tarleton to Savick Brook and Preston, then along the Lancaster canal to Salwick.

We had arranged for extra crew for Priory, and two more boating friends from Top Lock at Marple arrived after breakfast. Our scheduled reporting time at Tarleton Lock was at 11.02 and another boat headed off in that direction early. So we sent Malcolm off to pair up with them, and be the first pair out onto the river. We believed that Priory had the least proven engine on rivers so it made sense for him to lead, hoping that we could catch up and get the first four boats into Savick Brook before the deadline. And we could both help him if there were problems. By 11.00 there were four boats waiting, and the first two were settled in the lock. The tide was later than expected and we were told by Harry that we might have to go to Preston Dock instead of up the Savick Brook. It was a tide of only 8.6 metres whereas we would have 9.1 metres on our return journey. The first lockful left at 12.09 and we followed in the second lock at 12.17.

The deadline for entry to the Savick Brook through the Rotating Sealock was one hour after high tide, which today was at 13.02. This meant we had about 1 hour 40 minutes to get there. And it is 8.7 miles, with the tide against us for much of the trip. We in Corinna left the lock first with Dugald close behind and we rapidly increased the throttle setting to 2000 rpm. Dugald had the inside left where we were told there would be minimum current and gradually closed up. We found the throttle was slipping back so we hung two sandals on it, and pushed our way into the river. It was quite exciting to be cruising at these speeds, two boats alongside.

We soon had one boat from the first lock in sight and had caught them before Shepard's Boatyard - Dugald was slightly ahead so we dropped back and let him pass first. As we were passing we saw a huge piece of polythene in the water in front and had to swing over making it all quite interesting. Then we were in open water and it was very wide and flat. There was not a breath of breeze and it was warm and sunny. Visibility was excellent. We could not ask for better weather conditions for the journey.

We had taken care to mark the route to the Asland Lamp and onwards to Savick Brook on our GPS, so we knew the course which was needed. Asland is the old name for the River Douglas. It was some distance from the Boatyard to the Asland Lamp and it is important to keep towards the centre of the River Douglas, and to aim towards the white buildings pictured in the Skippers Guide. With the GPS we had the added advantage of knowing the bearing of the Asland Lamp before it was possible to see it; others had to rely on their binoculars. While it is important to have binoculars, we found that they cruised much further to the right than we did. Once they had a positive sighting of the Lamp then they steered away from the training wall, and turned the Asland Lamp safely with a lot to spare.

By the time we reached the Asland Lamp at 13.12 we were pulling up on Malcolm and our three boats rounded it in turn. We took a line which seemed no closer than the others but we heeled to an alarming angle for a narrowboat, causing some active discussion and accusations I had cut it too fine. Later we saw the pictures from Dugald's boat which actually showed we were further from the Asland Lamp than they had been. We had been warned about turbulence and 'steps' in the water so it seems we were just at a slightly different placing relative to the turbulence where the streams join.

We were gradually gaining on Malcolm, and we knew that we were very close to the timing for entry to Savick Brook, so we decided to maintain our speed and passed Dugald then Malcolm, as they joined up. We had radio contact between the boats and mobile phone contact with BW staff and agreed that the fastest boat should go ahead and then hopefully the other two would be close enough behind that we all got into Savick Brook. As we approached the Two Mile Perch and approximately half a mile from the entry we started to ring BW - they had warned us the lights had been playing up and might not show green. This was a traumatic time as we had to cycle through a list of the BW telephone numbers and only got answering services, not real people. It is always the last one in a list which is the right one, and we finally made contact at 13.49.

By then we could see that the light was green at the entry, and informed them that our group was close. They encouraged us to speed up, saying we had just 10 minutes to get in. By the time we had contacted the others it was down to 7 minutes and we had pushed our throttle right forwards. We had a couple of minutes spare and the others followed close behind. Our group of three boats did achieve the entry deadline, and much to our surprise the fourth boat, which left with us in the first lockful from Tarleton, also joined us significantly after the deadline we were given. Presumably they found the tide was the critical few minutes late at Savick Brook as well as at Tarleton. We never saw the fifth boat from the final locking; he was well behind and must have gone to Preston Dock. Having four boats was good because that meant we would have two full lockfuls. For information the exact timings come from our digital Photographs which record times rather than a log.

After entering Savick Brook we then had to all wait together on a pontoon for the levels to lower so we could get under Savick Bridge. Then at 14.30 we were off in pairs to do the locks. The Brook is very narrow, and had sharp bends, so we were glad to be only 47 feet long, and that there were no other boats moving on the Link. The locks had all been set for us, so they were empty. The first lock, number 8, was manned. Because we were in the first pair of boats we were loaned the keys to do the handcuffs, and instructed that we should empty each lock after we left, for the boats behind. By now the extra crew had gone back home, and Malcolm was back to being single-handed.

So we proceeded to do locks 7, 6, 5 and 4. It was slow work because although the locks were empty we had to moor to get the crew off, and then moor again to collect them after working the lock. The handcuffs are a different design to anywhere else and were messy to handle. Local boaters said that there are problems from the young people who live in the housing estate alongside the Link, and we have heard that BW staff get verbal abuse. On our journey we had no problems, and indeed met some pleasant local people who were interested in our journey.

Locks 1, 2 and 3 are combined as a staircase, and there is a very sharp entry which means that boats have to turn in the winding hole below in order to get in. This was not difficult for us but all the other boats were longer and had more problems. All this manoeuvring is done under the watchful gaze of the "Gauging the Ripple" statue. We were tired after the trip and were glad to stay on the boat as the BW team worked the staircase for us. It was just 17.00 when the first pair of boats left the top of the staircase locks, and the second pair followed behind, 10 minutes later.

We had been warned by BW that it was not safe to stay there overnight, and given the choice of turning right to Preston or left towards Lancaster it was better to head left for the countryside. Anyway, we planned to see Preston on our return.

It was almost an hour before the houses were left behind and we got the views of countryside. We had decided that we would eat out and so moored just beyond Bridge 26, near the canalside pub "The Hand and Dagger". The canal was shallow at the edge and a long plank was essential. The wet weather meant the towpath was muddy and the moorings were damp and hemmed in by overhanging trees. But it was close to the pub and we had arrived. At 19.00 we opened a nice bottle of Champagne which had been cooled ready to celebrate our safe arrival, together with some smoked salmon. The next step was dinner at the "Hand and Dagger". There was a choice of a good value three course meal at just under 11 pounds, or some excellent starters and main courses. The pate was excellent, as was the half shoulder of lamb. And the sticky toffee pudding with cream was so big we needed 2 spoons. We soon found it was quiz night, and although we did not play we contributed our thoughts on the answers to the questions. The teams who did play got a light buffet provided.

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