Steve Haywood: boating in autumn and winter

What's on Steve's mind?

What's on Steve's mind? - Credit: Archant

CB columnist Steve Haywood has a confession to make about boating in the autumn and winter months – all he asks is that you keep it quiet

Not another boat in sight on the Grand Union Aylesbury Arm

Not another boat in sight on the Grand Union Aylesbury Arm - Credit: Martin Ludgate

Forgive me for a being a bit hesitant, but this is delicate, and I’d be obliged for the sake of waterways’ harmony that you didn’t spread it around more than necessary. There’s too much discord among boaters already without me adding to it – too much of ‘Me and You Syndrome’, where boaters often feel themselves in competition with others over who gets to the locks first or who gets the best mooring.

Even so, when the days are shorter and the weather greyer, boaters divide into two discernible groups. There are those who’ve had the summer holiday and who pretty-well mothball the boat in the marina – forgetting about it, if not until next spring, then at least until Christmas.

Then there are those who keep going during the late autumn and winter, enjoying the unique ambiance offered by the waterways in these seasons. Unsurprisingly, an increasing number of the boats moving on the cut at this time of the year are, like Em and me, continuous cruisers.

And this is where a little discretion, and a little understanding, on your side would be appreciated. Because we’re not liveaboards, even though we may live aboard our boats. Neither are we bridge hoppers, though if the canal’s beginning to ice over, and coal or gas is running low, a certain level of bridge-hopping may be necessary to maintain, not so much our lifestyle as our very lives.

No, we are boaters who have already travelled hundreds upon hundreds of miles this year, and will log up a few more before we’re all sitting in some pub somewhere singing Auld Lang Syne.

You see, the awful truth is – and it’s one I’m almost embarrassed to voice publicly – that before stoppages bring our travels to an end, we’re mightily relieved to see the back of everyone else.

For the first time in months, cruising some of the more popular canals becomes feasible. Stripped of summer crowds, there’s no waiting at locks, no worrying about whether there’ll be a mooring, no anxiety about whether your home is going to be hit broadside by a newbie whose first experience of narrowboats was when he picked up the keys ten minutes before.

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All over the country there are continuous cruisers like us who’ve been exploring faraway parts of the system, who are now gravitating back to their home patches in what many of them would admit is the best cruising time of the year.

You could join us if you wanted, we don’t have exclusive rights. Just not too many of you please.

We came up the Northampton flight in mid September after a summer on the eastern waterways and immediately we were aware we were back on a canal. You could have closed your eyes and known it from all the boats speeding by.

Of course, boats speed on the River Nene and the Great Ouse, too, but because the waterway is wider and deeper, and there are less boats generally, you hardly notice it.

Back on the main system, we were lurching around more than we’d done crossing the Wash a couple of months ago. Mooring, too, suddenly began to follow familiar canal patterns. On the Ouse and Nene, the problem is getting a mooring at all, and you’re almost always dependant on those provided by the Great Ouse Boating Association (GOBA) or the recently formed Friends of the River Nene, both organisations you should consider joining if you’re cruising those waters.

On the canal, the problem isn’t finding a mooring; it’s the boats you attract once you have. Someone tell me, why does this happen? You’ve no sooner stopped for the night on an empty stretch of water in the middle of nowhere than another boat moors next to you and soon after, another one and another one.

Years ago, as a sort of experiment, I moored up in what must have been the worst place for miles around. It was next to a railway culvert and so close to a motorway I was virtually on the hard shoulder. Not that it mattered. Within an hour I’d attracted two other boats. I left them to it.


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