After spending several days canal boating, Jim and Karen are beginning to get the hang of things. In their latest blog post, Jim shares their experiences navigating strangely curved tunnels, parallel parking (not so easy on the water, it appears) and rugby-loving locals.
We have now had a few days on the canals and are starting to get used to the beast and the way it handles. We have had a few small nudges along the way but nothing too major so far. The design of the canals and locks ensures you will nudge something at some stage.
Expectations vs. reality of canal boating in the UK
I guess I thought the canals would be reasonably straight with sweeping bends, but the reality is quite different. I reckon who ever designed all this, and especially the roads and tracks that cross the canals, had an inbuilt sadistic tendency. So many bridges are not square to the canals. It’s also not unusual to come to a bridge right on a bend in the canal. Inevitably the canal is pinched up by the tow path as it passes under the bridge and this all makes for an interesting time when you either suddenly meet another boat coming the other way. Concentration is required while having to gauge the best angle of entry to minimise the touches and scrapes.
Canal boating challenges
We passed through our first tunnel yesterday. That was interesting as well because it wasn’t completely straight. I ask you, who builds tunnels with curves in them? The clearance either side of the boat was probably 600mm between the boat and solid rock. I know we have some longer tunnels coming up on our travels – I only hope they are straight next time.
Luckily they give us a light to turn on when we are in the tunnel – as much to see the sides as to warn other boats. I have no idea what would have happened if someone entered from the other end because it had a sharp 90 degree right-hander as soon as we excited and vision was very limited.
Slowing and stopping
Trying to slow/stop a 15 tonne of boat with a small propellor in a hurry is interesting to say the least. However, we are now fairly well used to her, and as long as we keep the concentration and anticipation levels high we are okay.
The biggy now is wind. We have been lucky so far and the wind has been reasonably favourable most of the time so it feels we are slowly getting it sorted.
The ultimate test completed was a brilliant bit of parallel parking I had to do a couple of days ago. Less than a metre or so at the front and the back, but we made it with no bump touches. Thank god the wind was blowing in the right direction – that definitely helped. Not sure we could replicate it again if we had to.
We are now well over halfway to Nottingham – I expect we will be there in a couple of days. We will park up there for a few days while we look around and go and scope some mobile homes.
The upsides outweigh the negatives
The weather is due to pack up a bit over the next few days. We got a taste of cold sleety weather for a short time today – not much fun steering or working locks when it’s bucketing down. I guess there has to be a downside to this activity somewhere.
Got to say, we have thoroughly enjoyed the first few days, and it has lived up to all expectations. The pace is slow, however the concentration required is high. The towns and villages you get to stop at are picture perfect, and more importantly the pubs are friendly. Last night I got chatting over a pint or two to a guy who was out with the last Lions tour to NZ. It’s a small world really.
Today we called into a canal marina just to have a look round before we actually need one. Talk about tight spaces to manoeuvre in! Hopefully when we need one it will be a more modern spacious marina.
While we were looking around we went into a cafe for a coffee and while there got talking to the people inside. Would you believe it – just four people in the cafe and all of them rugby supporters of teams from Bath, Sail, and Northampton. What are the chances a Kiwi turns up amongst this lot in a World Cup year, while canal boating through the UK?
Today we hit the first of the double locks on our travels. They take longer to fill and empty and are a lot bigger and deeper than we have experienced to date. On top of all that they are a bit harder for Karen to handle as well. But as I say it’s a great gym workout equivalent.
So to answer the original question: What’s this canal boating lark really like? As they say over here – bloody brill!
Anyone can do it and everyone should. I just wish there were fewer pubs along the way so we could get some serious boating done.