TWO pleasant walks lead away from the Leigh Arms at Acton Bridge.

One along the Trent and Mersey Canal, down onto the River Weaver at Barnton and back to the Leigh Arms. The second, the same but in the opposite direction, joining the river at Dutton Locks.

Anyone who has walked the river by Dutton Locks will no doubt have seen a derelict boat slowly rotting away between the locks and the Dutton Horse Bridge.

This crumbling old boat does, however, have a history and here it is. The boat is called Chica, a Spanish word meaning female friend or girlfriend. It is an affectionate address. It was built and launched at Surendalen, in Norway, in 1894 as a wooden sail-powered cargo boat, originally named ‘Flora’.

Its job was to carry salt fish from one end of the country to the other. This lasted until the Second World War in 1940 when Germany occupied Norway. At this time Flora was commandeered by the German Kriegsmarine and they renamed her ‘Bjorg Haikus.’

After the war, the boat was handed back to the original owners and sold on to people who were engaged in firstly gun-running and then smuggling cigarettes and tobacco across the straits of Gibraltar and the African coast under the name ‘Lill Tove’, after the owner’s daughter.

Northwich Guardian:

The boat would travel across the straits of Gibraltar

By 1950, the boat could be found as part of the fishing fleet in Liverpool Bay, the number on its hull was LL20 and ‘Liverpool’, which would evidence its use as a fishing boat.

In 1981, it was bought by a businessman by the name of Tom Barlow to run cruises up and down the Manchester Ship Canal and River Weaver. A survey of the boat by the MCCC found it unsuitable for cruising the Manchester Ship Canal, and that just left the River Weaver.

After some refurbishment, it started running three-day cruises along the River Weaver between Runcorn and Northwich under the command of Captain Barlow.

Northwich Guardian:

Chica as a hotel boat

In the early 1990s, the boat was tied up for a few years in Weston Point docks until Mr Barlow brought it back to Dutton Locks intending a refit. When an engineer inspected the boat, he found many structural faults, with defects going back to when it was converted from a fishing boat to a cruise ship.

In 1993 when tied up by Dutton Locks and unmanned the boat started to take on water and sank at the moorings.

That is where old Flora can still be found in a state of total dereliction and under the control of The Weaver Navigation, part of the Canal and River Trust, who received no support from the penniless owners.

Northwich Guardian:

Chica today

She is sitting on the bottom and is not in the way of other craft or causing pollution, to remove her would be expensive. So all that can be said is that she is now a sad tourist attraction.