The bizarre account of how RCR saved 49 boats on the River Avon in an18 hour shift

RCR saved 49 boats on the River Avon in an18 hour shift
RCR saved 49 boats on the River Avon in an18 hour shift

A report at Somerset Live reveals how the RCR (River Canal Rescue) team managed to pull off a huge logistical feat to save 49 canal boats in one 18 hour shift in Bath. Disaster struck on the Kennet and Avon Canal when a sluice gate broke at Twerton at September 15. Water rapidly drained from the canal and in the space of an hour no more than a trickle was left.

Several boats were capsized completely when their tight moorings pulled them in the wrong direction as the water disappeared. In total 49 canal boats became stranded in thick silt for several days, with boats perched precariously on concrete slabs, on their sides or submerged in filthy water.

RCR is regularly called in to attend incidents with canal boats often involving flooding, but RCRs Ms Horton admitted that the emergency in Bath was of a “huge scale” and something they had not done before. By the end of Friday (September 18), 12 members of the RCR along with help from Canal and River Trust employees, Environment Agency and Bath and North East Somerset Council, managed to get every boat rescued.

One boater, James Stuart-Wigley, was left in shock after he only managed to fling his laptop and two dogs to safety just before his vessel sank. The Environment Agency has agreed to cover the costs incurred by those affected by the incident as they control the sluice gate which broke and caused the issue.

Ms Horton explained: “We came up with a simple but effective plan to work down the river with our team controlling one section, the environment agency guys at another and the Canal and River Trust employees at another.

“We made sure that one of our men was placed with the environment agency and the trust to guide them and ensure we had communication everywhere.”

Despite supply issues created by coronavirus the rescue team managed to get all the extra equipment it had suddenly needed in less than 12 hours including, 20 bilge pumps and batteries, six Tirfor lifting and pulling machines, 100 meters of rope and 60 meters of hose.

Ms Horton said: “The act of re-floating a boat with pumps doesn’t take too long – it can be as quick as 30 minutes but what needs lots of time is preparing the boat to be refloated.

“We need to block up every possible way water can get in or out. If that doesn’t happen pumping the boat won’t work.

“We also need to board up windows and doors as they can explode otherwise from the immense pressure of the water. As well as checking the engines and for hull damage.

What followed in the afternoon was a herculean effort to refloat the other 46 boats as the water was gradually re-introduced into the canal after it had been held back further up the river. This is again a technical job as many of the boats were sitting in the thick slit, so engineers need to be on hand with winches and pullies to help the boats righten themselves correctly.

Ms Horton explained: “The problem is that many of them were underwater for a very long time and the water is full of debris.

“At least four of them will need a complete rework and need to be craned out of the canal and taken away.”

Read another inland waterways article: HS2: Inland Waterways Association pledges to protect UK canal network

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