Saturday, 7 May 2016

An interesting experience

First task of the day was to prepare Waiouru for our trip through Standedge Tunnel.  Pram and cratch covers were removed along with the sat-dome and folding ladder.  I then removed the navigation lights before taping the front corners of the cabin roof with a combination of masking tape,cardboard and duct tape.


She hasn’t been this naked in years!


I only did this to ensure it wasn’t necessary Smile

Meanwhile a second boater booked to go through the tunnel today was struggling to get through the top lock.  The top gate wouldn’t fully open and he couldn’t get out of the lock.  Eventually he called CRT for assistance and a worker arrived with a keb (long handled rake with tines on the end)


The handle of the keb and the tines were both too short.  Eventually he was joined by two further colleagues with a larger keb.  By this time the first of the boats who had come through the tunnel from the opposite end had arrived.


Eventually they were able to extract a large oval rock from behind the gate returning the lock into service.

We then moved off to the tunnel portal to ensure we made our booking time.  Waiouru was gauged by the three CRT volunteers.  My only concern was our draft (29 inches) but the volunteers informed me the water depth in the tunnel is 3 metres.

We were joined for the trip by Paul Balmer (nb Waterway Routes).  He had previously taken his boat through the tunnel and today he was a passenger with the intention of getting a better view of the experience.  Being at the tiller does mean you are so focussed on controlling the boat you don’t get much time to look at the surroundings.  There were five on board.  Paul and our son in the cratch, Jan inside and me with the CRT volunteer at the stern.

A chaperon (competent CRT volunteer) is required when going through Standedge Tunnel.  You are also required to wear a hard safety hat, hi-viz vest and life jacket.  The chaperon also carried a large box of safety equipment and a fire extinguisher.

I find the transition from daylight to darkness difficult; particularly if you don’t know the direction the tunnel is going to take; so I entered very slowly.  All the photos were taken by our son.  I found myself too busy to even consider taking photos.


You can see far more from the bow than the stern.  Back at the stern I couldn’t see which direction the tunnel was taking.  This is a unique canal tunnel.  It twists and turns.  There’s a mixture of jagged rock, concrete skin and brickwork.  In places there isn’t much headroom and I must have banged my safety hat on the tunnel roof at least six times.


Apparently the first section is a subsequent extension built by the railways when they bored the two rail tunnels above.


Without any clearly defined shape to the tunnel absolute concentration is required if you are to avoid hitting the walls.


It really twists and leaks like a sieve in places.  Every so often we would be hit by a blast of cold air as a train passed in the adjacent tunnel.


One of the volunteers informed us that the tunnel builders discovered the geology was a mixture of shale and granite.  The latter being much harder to cut. Consequentially, wherever possible they followed the shale seams.


Down at the blunt end I was straining my eye trying to see the direction the tunnel was taking and position the boat accordingly.  In some sections I was only doing tick-over and the maximum speed I achieved was 1000rpm.


Eventually I could see a small dot of light in the distance which appeared and then disappeared as I went around the numerous twists.   Around this point we reached the 4th checkpoint.  At each checkpoint the boat has to be stopped and the CRT chaperon calls the control room to report our progress and obtain permission to proceed.  We had to wait at the 4th checkpoint for 20 minutes as the trip boat had entered the opposite end of the tunnel.  The trip boats only go in approximately 200 metres before reversing out. 


Our chaperon Trevor and me.

After 1¾ hours we emerged into the sunlight where I promptly removed the safety hat.  It had been slipping over my eyes for the entire time which just compounded my steering.

I can report we didn’t lose any paint (good job I taped up the front).  Those boaters who have previously made the same transit will know you need to retain situational awareness and concentrate.  One small lapse could result in a scrape, and we saw numerous collision marks on the tunnel walls.  Lack of a clearly defined tunnel profile (eg, arch shape) and the multiple number of bends made it the most difficult of the tunnels we’ve gone through.  But I enjoyed it!


Ade said...

Seems a great thing to do in a narrowboat, hats off to the volunteers who got it restored .
Glad you enjoyed it, 1 3/4 hours concentration takes some commitment to the task.
Grand photo's from Daniel.
Enjoyed the read.

Don McCoskrie said...

Did you get out at the last checkpoint and have a look around? On our trip through last year we had a wait at this point as well and this afforded some photos of the boat and a look down the disused rail tunnel used by C&RT as their safety access.

Tom and Jan said...

After all that concentrated staring yesterday I have a sore eye this morning Ade.

Don the volunteer was keen I stayed on the boat and in sight. Apparently they had one boat (and boater) who drifted back down the tunnel out of sight. They had to call in the rescue boat.

Hoits said...

Really great Photos. They show the different nature of this tunnel to any other on the network.

nb Chuffed said...

Congratulations on a damage-free transit! I was astonished to read that the water depth is 3 metres. (No wonder you were having trouble with the bottom being too near the top with a draught of 29".)

Tom and Jan said...

Debby I'm not convinced the water depth is 3m all the way through and the full width of the boat. My guess is it's three metres deep but perhaps narrower than the boat and was done because it was easy to extct the shale creating a water resevoir in the top pound.

Laurie Williams said...

What a fascinating experience, Tom (if you had time to be fascinated), and some excellent photos by Daniel that show the innards of the tunnel very clearly. You mention the puffs of air as trains passed in the parallel railway tunnel, but not the sound sensations. I think Tom Rolt refers to the thunderous startling noise they experienced when they made what is thought to have been the last trip through in 1948. By they way, they took 2 hours due to blockages, so you beat them by a quarter of an hour.

Tom and Jan said...

I don't recall the noise of passing trains Laurie. But then I was 100% concentrating on the tunnel!

Marilyn McDonald said...

Well done, you! The contours of the roof with those extremely low sections and the bendy nature of the watercourse when you are 60 odd feet away from the pointy end of the boat were clearly a challenge. No scratches, no scrapes - good skills!

The vicarious experience is enough for me, thanks, Tom. I don't do underground at all well - can't go into Waitomo Caves anymore although I did about 42 years ago. And I don't think I would have coped with that 20 minute wait ...

I may not have a well developed sense of adventure, but my imagination is over developed.

Cheers, Marilyn

Tom and Jan said...

Marilyn there is one thing you wouldn't have to worry about.... banging your head on the tunnel roof!

Halfie said...

Always good to read an account of a trip through Standedge Tunnel. On our passage last year I don't recall having to wait at any of the checkpoints - just a wave between CRT on the boat and CRT in the adit.

Tom and Jan said...

But if I remember correctly you had the more interesting trip through the tunnel! 😀

Halfie said...

"Interesting" is the word. I would love to do the trip again but as a passenger so I could see the tunnel properly.

Tom and Jan said...

And not have the worry about damaging the boat paintwork!