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Keeping business afloat at Shire Cruisers

On 26 December 2015, the River Calder burst its banks and merged with the towpath and canal basin, making it hard to tell what was land and what was water. Susan Stevens, co-owner of Shire Cruisers, talks us about the impact of recent events on the boating community at Sowerby Bridge.

Sowerby Bridge Boats on a section of flood-damaged canal

Shire Cruisers are one of the largest boat hire firms in Yorkshire, arranging over 500 holidays a year across the whole of the county from their base at Sowerby Bridge. Co-owner Susan Stevens explains how local boaters pulled together on the day of the Calder floods.

It all happened very fast. The River Calder had risen so high it had merged with the towpath and the canal basin. It was difficult to tell what was land and what was water, so the boats were free to float onto the land.

Some people moored with us were pushing boats off so they were in the right place for when the water went down. If part of the boat is on land when the water drops, you can imagine what happens. They stopped that happening to 70 boats, which inevitably would have been caught and damaged. 

One boat got caught on the bank at 9.30pm. One of our moorers saw it and got some others out of the pub to push it off the bank and back into the water, just in time. They were absolutely brilliant.

In places where the water was too deep for people to reach the boats, or where there weren't people around, things went wrong. The presence of people who knew what to do was vital. We had no loss of boats because of the efforts of boaters and our staff.

Sowerby Bridge lies at the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation (NE) and the Rochdale Canal (M&P). Unfortunately the waterways in both directions have significant damage. The repairs will be a major cost and headache for the Canal and River Trust, who are planning it now.

We appreciate being kept in the loop by the Trust. We’ve had senior staff coming down to tell us what they know, which was a nice bit of solidarity. We know they’re getting on with it as fast as they can.

We’ll always look after our customers and we’ve very inventive. We’ve been doing this since 1980 and we’ve been through a few things, so we’re fairly resilient. During the foot and mouth outbreak, our customers weren’t allowed onto the towpaths or to work locks without first stepping in the old washing up bowls containing special mats and disinfectant we supplied.

We’ve got a reputation for sorting it, one way or another. We give people a nice holiday and we’re straightforward about it. We’ll always do our best for our customers".

Last date edited: 4 March 2016