Friday, September 25, 2015

Heavy Lifting

Anderton Boat Lift
With nice sunny days and good weather on the canals, we have made very good time, and have arrived back in Anderton on Thursday afternoon, so we had time to schedule a trip down and up the Anderton Boat lift.

The boat lift was an engineer’s answer to how to move boats from the River Weaver which was used to bring cargo to and from the ocean ports, and the Trent & Mersey Canal which ran almost beside the river. The problem however was that where rivers tend to flow through the lowest part of the land, the canals were always higher as they were man made and built on a level plane between the low and the high, with cuts and tunnels through the hills, and embankments over the low areas. The result was a 50 foot difference between the canal and the river. The other options were an expensive and water wasting flight of locks, or an inclined plane which was expensive to build and run.

Entering the Lift
The boat lift is pretty simple; you build a metal tower supporting two watertight chambers (Caissons) that would hold two narrow boats each. You drive boats on one caisson at the river height and drive boats on above at the canal. The weight of each caisson is the same so it took very little power to utilize hydraulics to pump water from the bottom caisson which caused the top one to drop and then natural hydraulics took over, making them exchange heights. A huge engineering feat for it’s day, but it worked perfectly from 1875 to 1908, when the hydraulic system broke down and was replaced with a system of electric engines and heavy counterweights. This worked until 1983 then the whole thing jammed and was shut down. Unfortunately it sounds like the lift was operated originally with very little routine maintenance, and this caused problems. Fortunately dedicated volunteers rebuilt the whole thing and restored it back to the original hydraulic system only using oil rather than river water.

Looking WAY Down
The lift is not quick; it took us over two hours to go down, turn around and come back up. It is however a pretty impressive experience to drive your boat into a container of water and be lowered 50 feet down inside a big black metal structure. We went down in a caisson by ourselves, but coming back up we were with two smaller power boats out for a weekend on the canals. 

The lift is lovingly worked and maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers who keep it working smoothly. There is no cost to use the lift unless you wish to reserve a specific time and then it is only 5£ per trip. I am glad we got back in time to experience it

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