Thanks to Mark Gleeson of Clontarf Yacht and Boat Club, I now have actual times for the trip on the Royal Canal from the Liffey to the Shannon. In 1925 members of the Club had made the trip to the Shannon; Mark and others wanted to commemorate that event on the occasion of the reopening of the Royal Canal.
Mark very kindly spoke to me by phone at the end of two long and tiring days; if I have made any mistakes in presenting what he said, I apologise and will be happy to correct them.
Organising the trip took twelve weeks. Well ahead of time, the CYBC fleet had booked a lift of the railway bridge (Spencer Dock, below Lock 1) for Saturday 16 April. They would have preferred a weekday, but were told that the bridge would be lifted only at weekends, as the line it carries provides backup in case of a problem on the line to Maynooth ….
The fleet left Clontarf on Friday 15 April and moored for the night at Poolbeg Yacht and Boat Club on the Liffey. You should be able to see Clontarf just to the right of centre on the map below. Then go down to find the Liffey; you can see the ferry routes (Dublin–Liverpool, Dublin–Holyhead etc) marked on it. On the south bank, Poolbeg YBC is just about where the words “York Rd” appear on the R131. Then go upstream (left/west) to find the junction with the Royal Canal: it’s close to the blue tram symbol for the Docklands stop.
Getting the tide right
Saturday had a very high tide (4.3m: the highest is 4.5m) at 10:43; the boats were in the sea lock two hours before high tide, when the headroom under the non-lifting Scherzer bridges at the entrance to the canal was only 1.5m. Taller vessels, Mark said, might need to enter three hours or more before high tide.
The fleet spent about an hour in the sea lock, buying their canal permits and so on. When the lock filled, they headed upstream. They reported no problems with the fixed Manor Street tram bridge and the non-lifting Sheriff Street bridge; the electric cable, formerly an obstacle, has been removed.
They reached the lifting railway bridge at around 10.00am. The first boats through were delayed at Lock 2 (a double) from which about 14′ of garden railing had to be removed. This caused delay back to Lock 1 and the lifting railway bridge just below it, but the bridge crew stayed until the job was done and everybody was through.
The Twelfth Lock
The twelfth lock at Blanchardstown has safe moorings and a good bar (with interesting beers and homoerotic Stakhanovite murals); it is the terminus ad quem for the first day heading west on the Royal. However, some boats had a severe problem here: some had passed through and there was another group in the chamber when part of the gate collapsed and the level dropped immediately.
The Waterways Ireland patrollers (who were praised for their help during the day) had left by that stage, and the boat crews and friends, afloat and ashore, measured the gap, went and got timber and repaired the gate so that everybody got through that night. However, the incident meant that the fleet was split: some of the later boats never caught up.
The twitpic linked above shows some of the fleet of about a dozen boats (I don’t have a complete list). Mark was in an Orkney Fastliner, which the club uses as a rescue boat; family members were in an IDRA dinghy; one group had hired the Royal Canal Cruisers. Some could sleep on their boats; some camped; others, including Maark’s family, had to find B&Bs.
The trip west
After the twelfth lock, there do not seem to have been any more accidents. Members were said to have greatly enjoyed the trip and to have been very impressed by the scenery, deeming the Royal Ireland’s most beautiful canal, with lovely clear water. Highlights included the goose eggs being sold at one lock, the welcome from people along the way and the breakfasts served by Ursula in Abbeyshrule.
The bad points included expensive B&Bs, the need to remove rubbish from the prop (the Fastliner picked up a duvet and a mattress as well as the usual plastic) and large quantities of weed. The IDRA had to lift and clear its outboard every half an hour or so. Even where weed had been cut, floating remnants up to 1′ long and 2″ in diameter were found jamming lock gates and sluices.
The group had hopes to buy lock keys from the patrollers, but found that they did not carry keys for sale. When they sent for keys, it was found that WI had only eight in stock and that it would not sell more than five. With the fleet widely separated, the shortage of keys was a problem.
The group noted that the patrollers at the east (Dublin) end of the canal wanted all lock gates left closed, with the chambers full, whereas those at the west (Shannon) end wanted the locks left emptying.
The first five boats reached Richmond Haarbour, Clondra, at about 6.00pm on Tuesday 19 April 2011, four days from the Liffey. Mark reckoned that the lead group had kept up about 4 mph, whereas some of the later boats were struggling to maintain 3 mph. From the photo, it seems that some of the boats would have been of much shallower draft than others.
Furthermore, the lead group was very well organised, sending lock-wheelers ahead on bicycles to have the locks ready for them and to operate the racks. They got through one down lock in eight minutes, although fifteen was more common.
The crews did very long days, up to twelve hours, sometimes getting in after dark. Their only lengthy stop (other than overnight) was in Mullingar.
Mark reckons that their total time from the Liffey to Clondra was about 42 hours; I don’t yet know how long the slower boats took. The IWAI and I had separately reckoned 40/42 hours from Blanchardstown (12th Lock), with the ascent from the Liffey on top of that, so Mark’s group was considerably faster, although he thinks my estimate reasonable for a normal holidaying group, taking a more leisurely approach.
I am very grateful to Mark for providing so much information. Congratulations to him and to the other CYBC folk on their achievement.