We spent the first fortnight in July travelling up the Shannon and back. It rained on most days, but there were compensationsWe passed down through Shannonbridge just a week before its chimneys were demolished. I was sorry to lose them. They could be seen from a long way up- and down-stream and from the River Suck. And they were emblematic of the Irish midlands and of the important role of turf in the provision of Irish energy. The turf trade was at least as important to the Irish waterways as the coal trade was to the British, and some of the Shannon steamers even used turf as fuel. I'm glad, therefore, I took a photo before the demolition.
Carrickcraft to the rescue
Moored in Dromod on a miserably wet and windy evening, we saw a Carrickcraft cruiser aground on a shoal. It appeared to be well inside the relevant marker, although visibility was so poor that the driver might have been forgiven. The photo is not very clear, but it does show what conditions were like.
The speed of Carrickcraft's response was impressive. Even though it was a Saturday, presumably their busiest day with new hirers going out, they launched a dory at Dromod within the hour and were attempting to tow the cruiser off. The dory didn't have the weight, though, so the Carrickcraft crew took out a second cruiser, and that did the job. Within half an hour of launching the dory, the crew had the grounded cruiser safely moored within the harbour. Which was just as well: at 2am the barometer was showing 988. I'm sure that rescuing grounded boats is all part of the day's work for Carrickcraft crews, but nonetheless it was great to see that kind of efficiency in action.
Incidentally, on Lough Derg an Emerald Star hire-boat rescued a private boat that had a fuel problem on a windy day: the hirer towed the other boat into the Castle Harbour at Portumna.
WI moves on Shannon
Waterways Ireland's continuing investment in the Shannon was shown in the arrival of its new workboat for the North Shannon, the Inis Cealtra. Built in Killybegs to a new design, it was sailed down the coast, in 30 hours non-stop, and up the Shannon Estuary through Limerick: its dimensions (22m x 5.6m x 0.98m) had been set so that it could get through Ardnacrusha.
Inis Cealtra has a pusher bow and four ballast tanks to allow trim to be adjusted. The air draught is low enough to cater for all but extreme high water levels. Twin spud-legs are carried on the reinforced load-bearing deck.
Power is from twin Caterpillar C3056TA engines developing 185hp at 2,100rpm; conventional shafts and propellers provide a cruising speed of 7 knots and a bollard pull of 3.5 tons. There is a hydraulic bow-thruster. The fuel tanks hold 7,400 litres.
The boat has an 11m reach Guerra deck crane with Kranskan marine crane safety indicator, a Caterpillar 30 kVA generator and a 270-litre air compressor, which powers air tools in the workshop. The boat has a toilet and shower; the deckhouse has a kitchen and dining room as well as the wheelhouse.
Rental traffic continues to slide
My impression, as we pottered up and down the Shannon, was that traffic was down, and that hire-boat traffic was down even more than private-boat traffic. The Waterways Ireland traffic figures for the Shannon, to the end of June, support that view.
It has to be pointed out, of course, that WI can record only those boats that pass through locks and fixed bridges: boats that spend all their time on lakes, for instance, may never be recorded. However, as the same limitation applies every year, the figures can show the trends, and they are downward. Here are the totals (private plus hire) for the first six months of each year from 2002 through 2009:I haven't got the breakdown between private and hired for the early years, but from 2006 onwards the hire-boat proportion has declined significantly from 69% (2006) through 67% (2007) and 64% (2008) to only 57% (2009). Again, these figures cover only the first six months of the year.
Rebranding the waterways
The traffic figures show that cruising — whether on private or on hired boats — is declining in importance on the Shannon. The numbers of small fast boats and jetskis and increasing; there has so far been little formal provision for them, but some owners of such boats have looked after themselves.
The problem is that some of these boaters are both new to the waterways and seemingly unaware of the rules. We saw the results when a four-wheel-drive vehicle launched a speedboat at the slip at Portrunny. The boat (which was not any of those shown in the photo) was driven into the harbour and a waterskier sat on the pontoons; the boat started towing, at high speed, from there, creating a large wash and a danger to anyone else who might have been moving in the harbour.
There are other new categories of users, notably the owners of motor-homes: WI harbours provide them with the perfect mix of cheap sites with good facilities (showers and toilets) and even (if they like boats) interesting things to look at.
With other groups, though, Waterways Ireland is both organising new users and exerting its authority over old ones. I was surprised to find an angling dory bearing a Shannon Navigation registration number: the size of its engine meant that it should be registered, but I had not realised that anglers were complying.
In attracting new users, WI's sponsorship of the 'Discover' days in Athlone and Carrick-on-Shannon is particularly commendable; perhaps we'll get one in O'Briensbridge next year. But the big event on the Shannon seemed to be the Athlone Triathlon, which involves swimming, running and cycling races. It would be nice to see an all-water triathlon developed, perhaps involving rowing, sailing and swimming or, in Limerick (where different propulsion methods were used over the falls), poling, paddling and swimming.
Waterways Ireland planned work
I am delighted to see that Waterways Ireland has issued a notice calling for tenders for dredging the Grand Canal Circular Line in Dublin. The work will 'remove all excess bed material above original design bed level,' which suggests that Waterways Ireland is seriously planning to encourage more boat traffic through Dublin. It may even be that WI has been convinced of the merits of promoting the 'Irish Ring': the round trip on the Grand, the Royal and the Shannon from Clondra to Shannon Harbour.
I note that the tender calls for 'the transportation of material from site to an agreed traffic management plan, with the full compliance Dublin City Council requirements'. No doubt that will be done by water, thus avoiding all traffic problems.
Incidentally, while I'm talking about the Grand Canal in Dublin, I must mention the parking of the weedboats. WI keeps them under towpathless bridges to keep them safe from the attentions of the less enlightened of the citizenry. That is quite understandable. But when a boat is known to be on its way, the weedboats should be shifted in advance: otherwise there can be a delay to the passage through some of the less salubrious areas.
Anyway, back to planned works. WI is also seeking tenders for repairs to the quay at Graiguenamanagh, demolishing part of the old wall and replacing it with a reinforced concrete wall, faced with 'selected ashlar masonry' and re-pointed as directed.
Finally, WI is considering extending navigation to Lough Oughter, upstream of Belturbet on the Erne. There is to be a Lough Oughter Navigation Plan, with many laudable aims, which will be 'implemented with medium and long-term goals for the extension of the inland waterway network to include the development of the Lough Oughter Complex. The Plan, its objectives and its goals will be re-evaluated in 2013.'
In other words, there is no immediate prospect of the extension of navigation, but WI has drawn up a Draft Consultation Scoping Report for the Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Lough Oughter Navigation Plan. It can be downloaded from the WI website www.waterwaysireland.org (see 'Lough Oughter' under 'Navigation Information') and WI is seeking comments.
Published in Afloat September/October 2009