Which Boat: narrowboat or cruiser?
- Credit: Archant
Now we like all boats here at Canal Boat, but reader John Williams is perhaps posing a controversial question about getting more out of your boating
Words and pictures by John Williams
To many narrowboat users, the function of their boat is to own or rent an enclosed yet mobile living space. Peace, freedom, nature, human companionship and comfort can all come with a narrowboat. But why does it have to be a narrowboat?
Could it not be a glass-reinforced, plastic or wooden hull in the form of a cruiser or launch? It could still achieve these same objectives. It does, of course, boil down to aesthetics, size, shape and tradition. The narrowboat provides tradition in abundance for friends and bystanders to admire. No one is going to argue with that.
But what if you wanted something more from your boat, such as adventure? Adventure comes from unfamiliarity, while ‘same old, same old’ kills it. So can a traditional narrowboat facilitate adventure? Adventure is best when controlled, and with a narrowboat on the canal network, the degree of adventure can be finely tuned to a point where comfort flirts with stimulation.
Suppose you wanted to dream a little more, however, and think of heading away from the well-trodden and known. That is where narrowboats lose out to other craft because the possibility of venturing much further than the UK canal network presents such unreasonable fiction that even the biggest dreamers cannot imagine themselves at the helm of their narrowboat on unfamiliar waters.
Dream about a craft that will satisfy your requirements on the UK’s canals and yet be go further afield when conditions allow - that is why river craft should be considered over narrowboats, not as inferior second cousins but because they can have the ability to take dreams further.
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The reality for long distance adventure comes closer in hull forms other than narrowboats.
I dislike it when people make comparisons between boats and cars. Often they are the same people in my experience who draw comparisons to nearly all personal challenges in life to running a Premiership football team.
Yet consider how many people have bought cross-over cars. Most will never see a muddy track and come equipped with road tyres and four-wheel drive, which doesn’t even get the owners to the station when there is a dusting of snow. But a cross-over car allows the owner to dream of traversing the snowy Alps and steamy South American jungle swamps. A canal or river cross-over vessel allows the skipper and crew the privilege to dream of crossing the seas and following the rivers and canals across Europe and beyond.
Boat designers and marketing personnel please take note. Get your river and canal craft to the international boat shows to blur the distinctions between marine and inland waterways. There is an opportunity not to be missed.
Glass reinforced plastic (GRP) is an excellent material for vessels of all sizes. It’s strong and easy to repair, while GRP vessels can be beautiful and, when combined with other materials, can highlight the beauty of wooden, brass and stainless steel components.
Small previously-owned GRP vessels can be purchased at affordable prices. As such, they can get their owners off dry land and on the water, allowing an initial interest in canals and rivers to be explored.
Anyone like me who gains pleasure from dreaming about boats, wherever they are, should read The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow by AJ MacKinnon. The author travelled the canals and rivers from Shropshire to the Black Sea in a Mirror dinghy. By his own admission, practical elements of his delightful prose were exaggerated, but to sit on your canal boat and rustle through the pages of this book with the aid of the light of an oil lamp could invoke a dream like no other.
After I read his book, I reached for my charts of the European canals and sought advice from The Cruising Association on the feasibility of taking my ten-metre yacht with a 1.75-metre draft to the Black Sea following MacKinnon’s route.
It will probably never happen due to draft constraints, but sometimes the dreaming is better than the reality.
You never know, a dream could tease your boating reality to the point of no return...
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