Monday, 25 August 2014

Chesterfield Canal (unrestored section), a snail convention and engine failure

Yesterday Andrew came to pick us up to take us to Renishaw, 10 miles south-east of Sheffield, for a walk along the towpath of an as-yet-unrestored portion of the Chesterfield Canal.

This was the first time I'd seen the Chesterfield Canal, and it was good to see that much of the towpath still exists and is waymarked as the Cuckoo Way. At Renishaw there is a short length in water under (a rebuilt) Bridge 18.

It looks a bit tight for a 70' boat.

I was pleased to discover an original-looking milestone hiding in the undergrowth: 7 miles to/from Chesterfield.

For much of the first part of the walk we were having to bash our way past nettles and brambles - long sticks we found were very useful. The canal itself was barely recognisable as a waterway, being colonised by trees and plants and shrinking to a ditch before disappearing altogether as here.

Where the canal crossed a tributary of the River Rother there would once have been an aqueduct. Now there's just a gap in the embankment.

After 2.5 miles we came across another part in water.

This is Staveley. Here there's much evidence of work by the Chesterfield Canal Trust and Waterway Recovery Group.

A new concrete lock has recently been lined in brick. I expect there's a good reason why the wall on the right has been partly nibbled away, can anyone enlighten me?

And here are some workers busy with (large) bricks and mortar. I feel I should be down there helping!

But it was time to finish our walk. The route back to the car was along a former railway line, now part of the Trans Pennine Trail, a route popular with cyclists.

And snails.

This is a vertical support wall of one of the new roads. The thin groove is crammed with snails.

But why?

I managed to grab a shot of Jan and Andrew walking along, with Caspar, his dog.


Now to bring this up-to-date.

We left Sheffield Basin at 0845 to set off for the top of the Tinsley flight. Our neighbour at the mooring, Ed, of Wandering Canuck, kindly wound the swing bridge for us. (We first encountered Ed at Barnby Dun a week ago; we have been bumping into him ever since.)

So we made our way out of Sheffield, past the crisp packets drying on the line ...

... and the skeletons discussing the finer points of life ...

... to the locks. Despite our having booked a passage days ago the CRT lockie didn't know we were coming. He was "penning" a widebeam down. It all worked out all right in the end, and we were at the bottom at noon.

One of the top gates at Lock 9 has an interesting sliding balance beam extension to give more leverage. Sadly this is now welded up and unusable.

At Rotherham Lock we met up with Chris Richardson of Richlow Guides again. We'd asked to buy the guide to the Trent, and she'd very kindly come to hand-deliver it, together with more very useful information on the tidal river. Chris is a fount of knowledge on the navigations of this region, and has a special interest in the Chesterfield Canal. She was telling us, with excitement, about the imminent launching of a replica working boat on the Chesterfield, one which originally would have had a mast and sail for working on the Trent. (I hope I have that right, Chris.)

Shortly after leaving the mooring below the lock, where we had stopped for lunch and a quick visit to Tesco, the engine suddenly lost power. It died completely after a couple of seconds, giving me no time to steer to the bank. Fortunately this was on a canalised part of the navigation, so we drifted to the side and were able to tie the centre line to a strong metal fence post. Now I had to see what the problem was.

My first thought was that we'd run out of diesel. Unlikely, as I'd dipped the tank while in Sheffield and there was plenty there. Dipping now showed that there was still plenty.

I'd have to check the engine. When I took up the deck boards I was surprised to see a lot of water in the engine bilge. It's a bit difficult to tell from the photo - the water in the engine bilge is centre left, reflecting the sky.

Perhaps the water here was coolant. I carefully removed the filler cap - but the coolant level was as it always is. Besides which, there had been no indication of overheating - no steam, no smell of antifreeze, no warning light and buzzer. While I was there I checked the engine and gearbox oil levels - both normal.

So where had all the water come from?

The answer: from the torrents of water pouring over the top gates while descending the Tinsley Locks. There had been one such "gusher" which Jan had said did go onto the deck boards a bit. But why would that have stopped the engine, especially as it was an hour or two after the event?

I unscrewed the diesel filter/agglomerator drain plug and let some liquid flow into a container. Ah - there was some water as well as diesel. Perhaps the mini-flood had cascaded through the gaps between the deck boards and got between the filter and the agglomerator bowl. There is some sort of rubber seal, but could water have penetrated? Thinking about it now, no, it couldn't. Otherwise there'd be diesel leaking out, which there isn't.

Anyway, after all these checks I turned the starter to see what would happen. After a little more cranking than usual the engine fired up (hooray!) and kept going (hooray again!). I left it on a fast idle for half-an-hour to see if anything untoward happened, which it didn't, and so then we carried on our way.

The engine behaved impeccably for the rest of today's cruise (we tied up at the moorings at Kilnhurst. Rather windy - the boat's being buffeted more than at any other mooring so far).

Further thoughts: The diesel filler cap would have taken the full force of the water pouring down. What if the seal around the cap isn't very good? I think water could well have got in. The more I think about it now, the more I'm sure that there must be a layer of water swilling around the bottom of the diesel tank. Some of this must have been sucked into the injectors, thus stopping the engine.

Methinks it would be a good idea to remove this water before going onto the Trent. A job for the morning (I have a plan). (It would be nice if it would stop raining.)


Christine at said...

Yes John, the working narrowboats of the Chesterfield Canal were of a unique design, and none survived. But we have plans from the last one, and there is one man alive who knows how they were built. Their nickname was "cuckoos", hence the Cuckoo Way name for the towpath, as you saw signed on your walk.
They used to rig a temporary mast and sail when going out on the tidal Trent, or hitch a tow from a steam keel in later years. They were always horse-drawn until the end of carrying on the canal in the 1950s.
The Chesterfield Canal Trust members have funded and built a full-sized Cuckoo, almost completed, using traditional materials, methods and tools. Due to be launched in a couple of weeks. A tremendous achievement.

Colin Hobbs said...

Hello I am glad to see you got as far as Staveley and saw the hard work being done by Chesterfield canal trust and Waterway Recovery Group, The reason the wall has been nibble away is Derbyshire CC have change the plans and want a spill weir now , we did a blog over the two weeks we were there take a look

Halfie said...

Chris, thanks for that.

Colin, thank you. I've followed your link, very interesting.