Boating after the flood

The effect of the Boxing Day floods on a number of boaters was profound, and many now face months of hard work. Ronald Foster is one of over 100 people whose boat was displaced and damaged.

Rochdale Canal Rochdale Canal

When Ronald Foster saw his boat sat surreally on the towpath just outside Wakefield, he laughed. “What else was I going to do?” he says down the phone from his granddaughter’s house in Shafton, Barnsley. “There’s nowt we can do about it, so we might as well look on the bright side.”

Ronald and his wife Sylvia have been hiring boats for 40 years and had Lingalonga built eight years ago. It’s in part due to the efforts of fellow boaters that more people aren’t in his situation. “The other people on boats at our moorings were up all night, trying to get as many boats as possible back in the water where it was safe to do so. They said they felt they’d let me down because they’d prioritised the boats whose owners were actually on the boats, but they haven’t and I would have done the same. They did their best. There was only so many boats they could see to.” The owners of the old lock keepers cottage by the mooring at Broadcut on the Calder & Hebble navigation haven’t much to smile about – their garage was swept away, leaving only the concrete base.

He was in hospital when the floods happened and his granddaughter Claire kept the damage from him until he was safely home. “Lingalonga is his pride and joy,” she says. “He’s young at heart and does almost all the maintenance and upkeep singlehandedly. The Canal & River Trust were extremely helpful and got the ball rolling straight away. As soon as he was home, in his favourite chair, we made the decision to tell him the bad news knowing everything was under control.”

Over 100 boats affected

The Canal & River Trust estimate over 100 boats were affected, with several hung up on the towpath or bank in the aftermath. “The River Calder merged with the canal to create a fast moving waterway that pulled boats from their moorings and lifted some on to the canal banks and the approaches to locks,” says volunteer lock keeper Steven Beasley. “Some boaters related stories of how their boats were sucked from their moorings and were carried away out of control and that only through sheer luck were they able to escape and avoid being drowned. Some boats are still marooned while they await their insurance company to lift them back into the water and the resident boaters have had to find alternative accommodation with friends.”

The preliminary count of jobs required on the Rochdale Canal between Todmorden and Sowerby Bridge are already in three figures, says Beasley, with much more to do later. One thing that has helped kick start the recovery is the immense solidarity among boaters and local companies. Last week, for instance, The Calder Navigation Society teamed up with the Canal & River Trust and local boat hire company Shire Cruisers to travel from Sowerby Bridge as far as possible to gauge the damage to lock gates, paddles and to note navigation obstacles.

Even so, the problems hindering navigation make for grim reading: a landslip that has blocked the navigation between Lock 15 and 16; a 15m breach in the canal bank between Locks 16 and 17; a failing culvert above Lock 32 and a moving embankment above the canal around Lock 8. That’s not to mention the lost and damaged bridges at Brookfoot and Elland (the Government has just announced that it will pay for the latter) or the damage that the current hydro survey will no doubt show up. “It’s going to take some time to restore the canal to full working order, but the wheels are in motion,” he says.

The Trust is helping Ronald winch his boat off the towpath and he’s hoping to be back on board within a few weeks. It’s more than just a recreational place for the retired couple, who live on the boat during the summer and over weekends.

“The boat’ll go back in eventually,” he says. “There’s a lot of people in a worse position than us. My granddaughter climbed on the boat and said there’s no damage inside. We’re one of the lucky ones.”

Last date edited: 4 March 2016