UKMPA Members Visit Manchester ship Canal: JCB & Mike Morris

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Maps reproduced courtesy of the MSC Centenary Souvenir Programme.

2014 saw the 120th anniversary of the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal and, with the UKMPA annual conference being held in Chester, the Manchester pilots arranged for delegates to take a trip from Eastham Lock to Runcorn on board two of Carmet’s canal tugs on the afternoon before the conference.



M.V. Aasvik in Eastham Lock         Photo :JCB

On a sunny and calm late November day the MSC Viceroy and MSC Victory left Eastham for Runcorn. In addition to the delegates, Navicom Dynamics and Transas were also on board and set up demonstrations for their PPU and iSailor units.

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MSC Victory underway from Eastham.     Photo: JCB



Although a thriving industrial city, by the beginning of the 19th Century Manchester’s lack of transport infrastructure to take advantage
of world trade was starting to have a negative impact on the city’s economy. Various plans to improve waterborne links were considered, though none came to fruition.  By the 1870’s the high charges imposed by the railways and the Liverpool Dock Board, who handled 80% of Manchester’s trade, threatened to send Manchester into terminal decline.

In 1882 Daniel Adamson, a Manchester manufacturer, organised local civic leaders and businessmen to draw up plans for a deepwater canal that would enable seagoing vessels to access Manchester directly. Naturally, the plans were opposed by the railways and by Liverpool, but in 1885 the necessary legislation was passed and by 1887 the required finance was in place. Digging commenced on 11th November.

The construction suffered many setbacks, but was eventually completed in December 1893. On New Year’s Day 1894 the commercial opening took place. Steam yacht Norseman led a flotilla of 71 ships to Salford. Queen Victoria, aboard the Royal Yacht Entrantress on 21st May, graced the opening ceremony.

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Like many other Victorian engineering projects of the time the 36 mile long canal involved complex engineering, including five sets of locks, seven swing bridges, and rail viaducts. One particularly interesting innovation was the swinging aqueduct at Barton. The canal was an immediate success and rapidly transformed Manchester into one of Britain’s major ports.

The Canal today

Incredible as it seems the Manchester ship canal is still a thriving port and handles around seven million tons of cargo annually. It is managed by Peel Ports and its 12 commercial berths are integrated with those of Liverpool, also owned by Peel Ports.


Of particular interest currently is the fact that through a planned development of Port Salford the Canal forms part of the EU TenT ‘Motorways of the Sea’ initiative. This is a £138 million project with planning permission to develop the UK’s first tri-modal (served by road, rail and short-sea shipping) inland  port facility and distribution park on the Barton industrial site.



Last year the 18 MSC pilots undertook 4750 acts of pilotage. Although the old system of a pilot and helmsman serving every vessel ended many years ago, two pilots are still allocated to many vessels, an allocation dependent on a combination of length breadth
or draught. The largest ships handled are:

Stanlow: 171m x 23m x 8.8m

Runcorn: 150m x 23 x 8.1m

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The MV Crown Breeze departing Runcorn Dock with the MV Waaldijk alongside          Photo: JCB




Above Runcorn the maximum length/beam is 161m x 19m with a draft of 7.3m up to Mode Wheel Lock (Trafford) and 5.48m above. To pass under the non-opening bridges the maximum air draught is 21.56m. Most ships have hydraulic lowering main masts when going to Manchester since the old telescopic top masts have not been seen for many years and funnels are no longer removed. Apart from the seasonal ferry trips up to Salford the current furthest commercial berth is the Cerestar grain berth 33 miles from Eastham. Due to blockage factor and squat effects, the maximum speed is around 8 kts, so with the time taken to transit the locks included this passage takes over 7 hours!


As previously mentioned, Port Salford is a project that could see many more vessels transiting the full length of the Canal, but currently plans are still on the drawing board. Meanwhile Salford Quays has been remarkably transformed. It is the home of the Lowry theatre, War Museum North, BBC and ITV studios and associated hotels, not forgetting the Old Trafford stadium.



Carmet Tugs

Towage services on the Canal are provided by Carmet Tug Company, which was established in 1971 by captains Mike Carrier and Ian Metcalf. Originally undertaking general port and coastal towage services the partnership split up in 1986 and, under Ian Metcalf, the company now concentrates on port services. In 1989 the company gained the contract for the Manchester Ship Canal. Many members of the Metcalf family are involved in providing the towage service. The four tugs are twin-screwconventional tugs with a bollard pull of 16 tons. Although they will be 40 years old this year, the tugs have been beautifully maintained and have an excellent reputation.

MSC Carmet

Two tugs are kept fully manned at all times. For our visit, the crews had gone  to considerable trouble to provide us with refreshments. Their hospitality made the cruise enjoyable and informative. Our thanks go especially to Mike Morris and the Manchester pilots for organising such a memorable afternoon.


Josh Metcalfe at the helm of the MSC Viceroy        photo: JCB

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