The Hawthorn Blog
Liveaboard life and general wanderings on the Irish Inland Waterways.
Three Days to Dublin.
The run into Dublin on the Royal is very different from that of the Grand. For the Royal has the 'Effin Bridge': a section of rail track that has to be lifted in order to get anything, even a canoe, under it. Last year it played silly buggers and caused a lot of grief and winter maintenance had seen the electric motors (it has four - one on each leg) removed for servicing. When we left Confey on the Thursday morning these motors were still being fitted and we could only hope there were no complications - I can think of better places to be stuck than beside Croke Park.
Our first run down the Deep Sinking with guests aplenty
We'd been as far as the twelve lock before when we had a bit of a party Sunday turnaround run with a gaggle of friends a couple of weeks earlier. That had been one of those easy going fun runs, while today was going to be something more serious. Knowing the Deep Sinking would be slow for the bigger barges, we gave 'Snark' and 4E a good hour's head start before bidding farewell to any Confey friends and heading off ourselves. We should have left leaving longer for, just a couple of miles down the canal we caught both of them: there was no sign of Joe, so I rested 'Hawthorn's' bow against 4E's stern and went to see what was going on. Joe was in the engine room fettling with his fuel system - this was the first run of the year and teething problems were always going to happen, but why was Snark in the bridge hole ahead of him? The reason was soon clear: its prop was badly fouled. 'Snark's' skipper, another Joe, was chatting and laughing away on the stern, while his wet-suited wife was in the water. I'm not sure I'd get away with that.
The prop cleared, Snark went on. We slid past 4E in readiness to give it a tow should Joe need more time to firtle. Joe's son, Ben, pulled us past and, just as we were about to drop our lines over 4E's bollards, Joe got her running. We were now the lightweight filling in a heavy metal sandwich. On our previous trip to lock 12 we'd had no problems with rubbish on the prop, and we soon wished we'd been the lead boat on this run: 'Snark's' size and weight meant a lot of throttle was needed to drive her on, and any rubbish on the canal bed was dragged free and left afloat. I was constantly in the weed hatch clearing great balls of plastic and cloth from our prop, though at least I could do this while waiting for 'Snark' to be driven through bridge holes both shallow and tight. The one below took nearly ten minutes, and was cleared with a lot of gleeful cheering.
Joe on 4E, his engine now running sweetly, also waited, with the narrowness of the cut making holding easy enough.
Lock 12, which we got to some time after we expected to be moored below the 9th lock at Ashtown, is a double. 'Snark' was in it when we arrived, and still in it some time later: the lower chamber was full of debris that meant the boat was sitting up and had to be flushed out. 4E had tied outside us while we were helping with the lock, so it went next. Clearly a little shallower, it floated out and was soon off under the bridge. We soon discovered, much to our surprise, that 'Hawthorn' was drawing more than 4E, for we too sat on the bottom and had to be flushed out.
A short distance beyond this lock is one of the Royal's most dramatic structures: the new built aqueduct over the M50, it was a photo opportunity not to be missed and we weren't surprised to find 4E static in the middle of it. Pausing a little behind, I took a few pictures, and then spotted Joe: he was up on the road bridge taking his own pictures - he'd been checking this location for weeks and all he wanted now was a train to come past on the adjacent bridge. The outcome of all this work and planning? Probably one of the best pictures that will be taken of a barge this year.
It makes my own feel pretty feeble.
Lock 11 proved easy enough, but the tenth was a bugger - at least for the 13'7" wide 4E. It wouldn't go in at first, and Hawthorn came into play as a tug boat when it needed to be snatched back. After a little fiddling and realignment Joe got her in, though she was very tight against some of the stonework. With a couple of racks on the lower gate pulled, she slowly started to descend, but not for long: Joe's roaring 'She's stuck and hanging' brought a flurry of activity with the lower racks quickly dropped and the upper opened to re-float her. Fortunately neither the width of 4E or the lock were constant and, after a little bit of shuffling, some head-scratching and a lot of prayer - for if we couldn't get her through here then Joe's Green and Silver run was over - Joe was able to re-position the barge for another run. After a few tense minutes the chamber was empty and 4E was floating at the bottom of it. The tenth lock is a double but the lower chamber is more generous than the upper: 4E had made it, though it has to be said that it was tight, and only possible because the upper chamber was 10' longer than 4E - had this been a Grand Canal lock the fat lady would have been singing - and Joe weeping. One benefit of being last boat on the run was we got a quiet mooring on the outside of the little fleet for, while the run from lock 12 had been mainly parkland, we were now in what felt like a busy metropolis. We moored at seven - what we thought would be an easy run of about four hours having turned out to be over seven. Such is the joy of travelling with the big boys.
Being on the outside meant we were lead boat on day two - a pretty straightforward run down through just four locks. Except it wasn't: not only were we the first of the three HBA boats, we were the first of the year. What a godsend having our own long handled rake turned out to be: we used it on nearly every lock to clear rubbish from above and behind gates - gates that had to go back tightly into their recesses if our swollen companions were to have a chance of getting through. Having passed through the newly developed Ashtown, we were soon in a much more industrial area, some of it feeling run down and some of it, at least judging by the numbers of workers who came to watch us through lock 7, still active. Lock 7 itself has suffered from the attention of idiots with considerable charring to the lock's wooden structure following attempts to torch it - it's not somewhere I would want to be stuck. Which is exactly what nearly happened when we could not get through the rail bridge below it: somehow a full size industrial waste bin - one of at least a couple of cubic metres - had been sunk upright in the middle of it. Knowing it had to be moved I set about readying the rope windlass we have sitting atop the chain section of our electric anchor winch. I needn't have bothered: the lock-keeper charged on with a grappling hook on a rope to set about trying to lift it. My protestations that there was a much easier way were ignored: he strained and heaved and hung on grimly while we motored very gently out with the bin suspended just enough for us to drag it. It was a short day, we were moored by late morning with Mountjoy prison beside us and Croke Park ahead of us.
Our final day on the Royal started early, we still had four locks to go and the Effin Bridge was due to be lifted at ten. We'd been well looked after by Waterways Ireland the previous day and, despite this being a Saturday, again there were willing workers everywhere. Croke Park,where the canal literally passes beneath the stands, is probably the second most dramatic structure on the canal after the M50 crossing.
And it made some backdrop for this picture of 4E
All that remained between us and the canal's terminus at Spencer dock, was one single lock and the Effin Bridge. Approaching the lock we were relieved to see it was full of boats - clearly the Effin Bridge had lifted - while the lock itself swarmed with WI workers and senior management concerned about the complications and anger that would follow should it fail. There was even a bit of a party atmosphere for, this being Ireland, we knew everyone of the boats entering the Royal. We'd been put ahead on this run as we have the luxury of a removable wheelhouse and, by taking it down, we were the only boat that could press on through the two very low bridges that span Spencer Dock: we missed the scaffolding underhanging the first by just a few inches and the structure of the fixed, though once opening, last road bridge by even less. Still we were at the sea lock, and the Royal was behind us.
Our friend's, Paul and Emer, commit to the Royal by passing under the Effin Bridge.