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Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

Home arrow Vessels arrow Others arrow J D McFaul (Parcastle) - Duker - Northwich - 1952
J D McFaul (Parcastle) - Duker - Northwich - 1952 PDF Print E-mail
15 November 2010


The J D McFaul, a Duker barge, originally named Parcastle was built in 1952 by Pimblotts in Northwich for the Manchester Ship Canal Company. The specifications were length 70ft 10ins, width 14ft 10ins and keel to main deck 6ft 5 ins. She was fitted with a four cylinder Gardner diesel engine and a four bladed 36in diameter prop. She was designed to carry 80 tons and tow a dumb barge carrying 100 tons.
She worked from 1952 to 1974 carrying lorry flats from Manchester to Liverpool and maize from Liverpool to Kelloggs factory in Manchester. She was laid up for ten years before being sold to various owners. Her history is sketchy between 1984 and 1992, I presume she was not in use. Her sister ship The Parbella, is owned by Roger Lorenz and used as offices beside the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester. See also History of Duker barges


I heard about her at Christmas 1992 and purchased her in June 1993 from a man who had intended to turn her in to a dredger. At that time she was lying at Fiddlers Ferry Marina on the Mersey River near Warrington. The engine started easily and was in good condition, the hull was sound and she was a good solid barge. At Fiddlers Ferry we fitted handrails and strenghtened the hatchboards, cleaned the diesel tanks and changed the oil, preparatory to sailing her to the Shannon. For ballast I purchased 20 tons of coal (rejected at the mine because of sparking. It was not suitable for an open fire but was brilliant in our solid fuel cooker at home!). I negotiated a Captain and a helper for the “voyage” then we watched the weather very carefully for a window of opportunity.
In August a forecast of calm weather had all systems go and I left Fiddlers Ferry at 12 oclock on Monday under the direction of a Mersey River Pilot known as a “Mud Pilot” as the upper Mersey is closed to navigation. At Liverpool I said goodbye to the pilot and was joined by my two crew Jimmy Mann (who now lives in Larne) Captain, and Terry who had to be back in Liverpool on Friday for an appointment (no pressure!!) and we headed out of Liverpool port. Our navigation equipment consisted of a second-hand compass, a hand held GPS (borrowed by Jimmy) and a VHF radio (borrowed by me). Needless to say we had no mobile phones.
Jimmy set a course for Holyhead but we had to alter as the tide was on the bar and the barge was rolling too much on the short waves. When we got off the bar the swell was longer and we returned to our course. We were going nicely doing 7-8 knots with someone on the wheel (no power steering and still none!!) all the time. Our compass was holding a good course when checked with the GPS. On the first night Terry and I turned in early. Jimmy took the first watch. We had decided on four hour watches through the night.
With navigation lights running we were only a couple of hours into the first watch when the sound of the engine slowing woke us up. When I switched on the cabin light it was very dim. Seeing the barge was only equipped with four 6 volt batteries for a 24 volt system, to start the engine and run the lights I knew straight away we had a problem. Our cabin was in the fo’csle and we got to Jimmy in the wheelhouse in double quick time. He said the engine was “missing” and thought it had dropped a valve.
On checking the decompression levers on each cylinder (standard on the Gardner engine) I found that one was tight all the time. Took off the rocker cover and found the adjustment screw had worked itself loose and was holding the valve open all the time. On checking the dynamo found that the link belt had stretched beyond adjustment and was slipping. So we decided to head her into the swell, stop the engine, take a link off the belt and reset the adjustment screw on the decompression lever. These jobs were done at top speed. I think we might have even given the pit stop boys at Brands Hatch a run for their money. The fear of going broadside on the swell concentrated the mind and hands wonderfully. Luckily the Gardner came equipped with a hand start system of two starting handles and a chain. With two of us on the handles all we had to do was start her on one cylinder and away she went. The lights came on and we were back in business and back on course. After that we stopped her every afternoon, took a link out of the belt and she started on the batteries, no problem.
When we passed Holyhead we headed straight down for Rosslare, rounded there on Tuesday afternoon and headed south west along the south coast of Ireland. Our compass was holding a good course and I was delighted with it. Because the weather was calm we got fog at night around Fastnet Lighthouse but by using our noses to steer clear of the smell of seaweed we got around ok. Our navigation equipment was performing well and we had a VHF call from Valentia about midday on Wednesday. The home team had been ringing for news of sightings and we could tell them all was well, no need to cash in the insurance policy yet.
On Wednesday night we were rounding the Great Blasket Island at about 11 o’clock (or 2300 hours?) As we headed due north a bubble suddenly appeared in our much praised compass and it started to spin “like a Black and Decker drill” as Jimmy put it. An argument developed as Jimmy had advised me to buy this compass and he now maintained we should have bought a new one. We headed out for a fishing boat which was our only fixed point at the time. As we were heading out a coaster passed us on the landward side heading due north and we decided to “hitch a lift”. We followed the stern light of the coaster until we picked up the Loop Head Lighthouse and the entrance to the Shannon Estuary. Our GPS gave us fixed positions as we went along.
We approached Tarbert on Thursday morning at 8 o’clock with none of us having had any sleep the previous night. As we rounded the corner to Tarbert Power Station doing 7 knots the tide turned and it took twenty minutes to do a couple of hundred metres. While trying to get more revs out of the Gardner in this final approach I managed to break the throttle cable, so we moored at Tarbert. I got Terry a lift to Tarbert with some workmen coming off the ferry. A garage man in Tarbert got him a lift to Limerick as there were no buses and off he headed for Liverpool. He made it for Friday!!
As with a lot of Gardner equipment it was a simple matter to get the bracket extended and the cable fixed in again, and we are still using the repaired original cable to this day. With the throttle repaired and our crew down to two we headed off for Limerick. We got to Limerick on Thursday night and moored overnight. Friday morning we attempted to go up the Abbey River on a falling tide and got stuck at the bridge, We ended up tied to a lamp post near Ball's Bridge all day Friday with Ardnacrusha in full production. We finally managed to get under the bridge after 6pm on Friday evening on the turn of the tide and when the power station was slowing down.
After coming through the bridge we hit the foundation for the swinging post. Luckily we hit underneath the engine which is the strongest part and didn’t do a lot of damage. At this point I thought I had lost her. The attempt to try the Abbey River on a falling tide was on the advice of the men working on the dredger, and we hit the post following the directions of a local who had come on board to show us the way. Needless to say his services were soon dispensed with.
We then went up to Ardnacrusha, but we were too late for the locks and spent the night in the lower lock. Going up the locks on Saturday morning was a fantastic experience. Once they were safely negotiated we headed for Killaloe where we were to meet my wife and sons. While we were waiting I luckily met Cecil and Geraldine Wilson who advised me that the barge would fit in to Shannon Harbour and that was the best place to dry dock her. This was great advice for which I have reason to be thankful ever since as that is where she is still moored and over the years it is like home from home. My original plan was to go to Roosky but Shannon Harbour is much more convenient and everyone there is very helpful.
We unloaded the ballast in the next week or so, dry docked her and embarked on the long saga of converting her, at weekends, with the help of friends, relations, in-laws and outlaws but as they say Sin Sceal Eile!
© John Duffy
Last Updated ( 08 September 2011 )
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