Sunday 15 January 2012

On Manoeuvres (1)

This is one of an occasional series of postings about manoeuvring a narrow-boat on the canals and rivers. There may be other ways to achieve the same result. However, the method I employ has been devised  or adapted by me using trial and error. (Trial and Error are two of my regular boating companions) Our boat is a semi-traditional in style and just over 50 feet long. Rosie has a keel depth of twenty five inches and weighs in at a tad over eighteen tons. The techniques described are intended to help new comers to boating and the forgetful like me!

I have over the last couple of years written (so far) a rambling series of around 450 posts of my observations about life in general and life on our boat. Some of which have also been about the trials and tribulations that we encountered in life and on the cut. Some have been about the up-keep of the boat. Some have been humorous, some have been sad. A few have been from Mr Angry Old-Curmudgeon.  Some have been fuelled from the Victor Meldrew school of "I don't believe it!" Some have even been based upon our various sojourns down the cut. Not least, some have detailed our experiences whilst trying to master the basics of manoeuvring the boat around the canals and rivers. I do not lay claim to being an expert on the subject, in reality I'm just a life long novice when it comes to boating. (The smart part is knowing I'm a novice and not believing I'm an expert!) But we are both enjoying every moment of the experience and I  anticipate that we will spend many more years doing the same trial and error excursions before we are forced to moor up for the last time.

Financial Health Warning. Before owning our own boat we hired boats for our holidays from time to time. We hired boats not only in the summer, but at all other seasons of the year. As long as the canal was free of ice, we went boating. Actually, we have also been boating with thin ice on the canal as well. Boating is habitual and once you're infected by the boat bug - its with you for the rest of your life. A boat has been described by others as a hole in the water in which you throw your money. My take is, it's only money and there are no pockets on a shroud. You can become a boating optimist like what I am, or a boating pessimist, its your money after all.

I have always been confused with talk about people single handing a boat. Why would anyone want to manoeuvre a boat using only one hand. I suppose you could hold a can of beer in your free hand. But enough of my twisted view on the perversity of the English Language. 

So just what is it that you need to know and learn to enable you to start manoeuvring a boat around on the canals for the first time. My advice would be to start with, reading as much factual and theory about boating as possible. Observing boats on the canal (Gongoozling as explained here) especially when they are working through a lock. You must learn something of the history of the canals as this will add a whole new dimension to what you will encounter, observe and enjoy.

The old national service term was to "get some in." In other words gain the experience by doing it. There is much to learn about boats and there is no fast track way to gaining that experience. We would not try moving any boat on the river or canal, without first of all gaining some basic skills. You could do this by becoming a volunteer crew member on a boat. Most boat owners will welcome aboard a newbie wanting to gain some experience of boat handling . You just need to enquire around your local waterways. We have had friends aboard to build their confidence and to introduce them to the idiosyncrasies of steering and manouvering around.

Boaters are in the main happy to share their knowledge. They are also happy to recruit a lock slave new crew member to assist with the locks. There are also recognised "skipper" courses like the RYA inland helmsman course that you could take. But even the basic Inland Waterways courses are much easier to understand if you have some basic experience before you attend.

However, many holiday makers happily take charge of the boat for the first time after some very minimal training in the form of a short introduction to handling a boat. Its not rocket science, but it can be quite daunting for the first time boater. Confidence will come, but you have to be prepared to try to understand the issues and then to try and master each task in turn.

What I like about boating is that all the family can get involved or you can go boating completely on your own. The techniques used to "single hand" a boat apply equally well if you have a full crew on board. What is certain is that life on a boat is very enjoyable and is normally conducted at a very gentle pace. We intend to spend much more of our time out on our boat than we do at home. In 2012 we will be spending up to nine months of the year on an extended trip, just cruising. If the weather is kind we might even spend a bit more.

Note: I am in the main considering canals and not rivers. Rivers will bring additional issues due to the movement and depth of the water. I will only refer to rivers by way of a comparison or to demonstrate a particular point. You need to practise your boating on the canals before you venture out onto the tidal rivers.

I will not try and re-write the excellent guides on handling a boat that are already available. I will in the main just witter on about some of the issues that we have come across and the way that each was tackled by us. I have said already, there may be much easier and better ways to do the same things.


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