21 May

The Manchester Ship Canal opened

So we are drinking a...

Smokey Boat

"We shall not find a more epoch-making event in the history of Manchester", observed its local paper, The Manchester Guardian, on this day in 1894 when Queen Victoria performed the official opening.

It was, at the time, at an amazing 58km in length, the largest river navigation canal in the world. It enabled the Port of Manchester to become Britain's third busiest port - even though it was more than 60km inland. But, in the long term, it didn't work out. Owners weren't comfortable sending big ships down a narrow, one-way channel; Manchester's exports weren't vital enough to ensure that boats came out laden; and today the canal carries a mere 7 million tonnes of cargo a year. By comparison? A single Chinese freight train can haul over 20,000 tonnes.

Still, the canal does make for lovely riverside apartments, and an excellent holiday jaunt. And so we're toasting the long-gone engineers who built the thing with a Smokey Boat or you may prefer a Navigator or even a Volga Boatman, the latter borrowed from David Embury's seminal Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

Today is also Afro-Colombian Day in Colombia

Día de la Afrocolombianidad commemorates the 1851 abolition of slavery in Colombia and highlights the artistic, intellectual and social contributions of Afro-Colombians in Colombia.

The day also marks the 17th-century founding of the first village of free slaves in South America - Palenque de San Basilio, which is the only such village that survives today, and its inhabitants very much live by traditional African customs. They are also lucky enough to live on the Caribbean coast, so today we're drinking a Caribbean Breeze as our way of joining the colourful celebrations.

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