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Single-handing through swing-bridges

A reader phoned up with a question this morning: he's thinking of buying a narrowboat for use on the L&L, but would be single-handing. He's worried about passage through the frequent, broad swing-bridges. Can anyone offer tips?

Asked by: Richard Fairhurst  | 1.37pm, Thursday 24 April
Tags: handling

WW says:

Reader John Reeve suggested the following:

The fact that most of the manual bridges are operated from the non-towing path side, is a source of frustration. In particular the Leeds & Liverpool canal seems to have a swing bridge every half-mile. Many are accommodation bridges which, were provided where the canal divided parcels of land that were part of the same farm.

I assume, at the time when the original timber bridges were replaced by steel bridges steam & diesel powered boats were the normal craft. Therefore the deck was no longer hindered passage of boats. On the L & L the problem of opening & closing bridges, from the towing path side, was solved by a long chain attached to the outer end of the bridge deck. The other end was secured to the towing path side abutment. By pulling the chain the bridge could be closed. When the bridge was reopened the heavy chain returned to the canal bed & so did not pose a hazard to passing craft.

Unfortunately most of the chains have gone but, as an occasional “single hander”, I have developed a way of operating swing bridges from the towing path side of the canal. You need a length of rope & two weighty objects like a windlass or mooring pin. A long shaft is also required.

  • Tie the improvised weights to the rope at a position that will sink it but leave enough surface rope to reach the deck.
  • Tie the rope to the near side of the deck so that it is on the near side when open.
  • Unlock the bridge & push the bridge from the long towing path end. The extra leverage will gain some speed which will, normally, half open the bridge.
  • Use the long shaft to push fully open.
  • Check the rope is “paid out” & is not floating.
  • Take your boat through the lock & moor up.
  • Close the bridge by pulling the deck via the rope.
  • Lock to bridge & retrieve your rope.

    It sounds a bit Heath Robinson but it works

    Richard Fairhurst  | 11.19AM, Thursday 15 May

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