“Times they are a-changin” (Who sang that and when?) Some really experienced and respected boaters have said that things on the canals aren’t as good as they used to be, that things have changed for the worse. What makes them think that and are they right?
I know it’s inevitable because things can never stay still/ remain the same but, we have noticed:-
Mature, Experienced Citizens, (yes, like ourselves) have most definitely taken a real liking to the canals and narrow boating – marinas are full of boats owned by folk like us and more and more have become Liveaboards and cruise all year. I’ve been doing some cut research and I can say with confidence that 8/10 private boats are operated by males who have, judging by their hair – (grey/white/silver/dyed or none!), seen the better side of 60 – or at least 50. At the height of the season, certainly in the Braunston area, it has been ridiculously busy, private boats out-numbering hire boats by about 10-1. It does make everything much more difficult – passing boats, being passed, mooring, pulling away off a mooring, getting onto the water points, getting through bridge holes, getting through locks etc etc. All this is bound to increase stress levels and must directly relate to the suspected increase in instances of intolerance.
At the height of the season and on particularly busy sections it now seems that the thing to do is to set off early in the morning and then stop earlier in the day. In popular places it is now not unusual to be passed by the first boat at about 6.30am. Not being an early-riser myself, by 9.00am I’ve generally not only lost count but patience too!! Some boaters pass slowly showing a degree of consideration for those of us who are not floating insomniacs and some pass quietly showing a degree of consideration for those of us who like to confront a new day in a subtle fashion …… but not all! The early-to-get-going lot also seem to be the early-to-moor-up-for-the day lot. If you arrive at a popular spot past 4pm there’s little chance of finding somewhere to moor. Surely this cruising behaviour is directly related to the sheer number of boats now out and about and is really only an issue in the summer months. Again though, it does add to stress levels and accompanying intolerance.
Several well-established boaters have expressed their belief that boaters aren’t as nice to each other as they used to be. I must admit that too often this year I’ve been told tales by very upset people about being shouted at, sworn at, moaned at and most of those with the bad tempers have been private boaters who don’t stop to ask questions or assess situations before shouting. We are all capable of making a bad decision – like the hire boater who didn’t realise another boat was approaching a lock and proceeded to empty it. It was a genuine mistake but, boy, did his ears pay a high price for that mistake! Then there was the teenage boy on his holiday who was doing more than a reasonable job at steering his hired boat but he clipped a lock gate on entry. My goodness, how rude was a moored up private boater – going on about damage to infra structure – I bet he’s bashed a few lock gates in his time. That lad was really upset and it took lots of persuasion by this dad to get him to stay on the tiller.
Other things that trigger intolerance (some of them being more than justified*) seem to be:-
- when you’re trying to pull away from being moored up and, even though the ropes have been untied for some time, you struggle to get the back away before someone comes steaming along and then accuses you of ‘pulling out in front’!
- when it’s so shallow or silted up that you are forced to go slowly and those behind seem to think you are doing it on purpose. We met a chap who had a horrid experience in the Chirk Tunnel. Because of the current, the shallow water and the deep draft of his boat he ended up going backwards! He resorted to jumping off and pulling it through. He said he had to suffer dreadful verbal abuse from those behind. Why didn’t they just get off and help him? This man refused to go any further – he turned round at the next winding hole.
- lone boaters* If they make some effort to help – fine - but some of them just assume you’re going to do it all for them. Yesterday I locked a single hander through a lock. He made no effort to help. Standing on the tiller he looked up, grinned and said to me “ It’s such hard work on my own.” “Yes”, said I. “I can see that!”
- Non-compliant Continual Cruisers in very neglected boats, toot all over the tow path and, this year, we passed one that had not only been in the same place for at least 3 months but had also pitched a tent! *
- Speeding past moored boats*
Sadly, it’s always the bad instances we tend to remember the most. The majority of the boaters we meet are lovely, friendly and helpful. The sheer volume of boats now on the system makes the likelihood of confrontations higher but I suspect the grumpy, ill-tempered minority have always been there and always will be. Some people are never happy unless they’re moaning about something!