Wednesday, 13 May 2009


When the weather starts to improve, many people gaze wistfully at the canals and rivers, from the towpath or even via the Internet from their office computer screen (when they should be working !).

A number of people have said to me that they would love to buy their own narrowboat, but the costs are prohibitive. This is then usually followed by some blue-sky thinking about Great Auntie Flo dying some time soon or the mathematical probabilities surrounding the National Lottery.

Of course, owning a boat isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Most people only see the "glass is half full" part of the equation.

Somebody once described boating, as "standing under a shower tearing up five pound notes".

That was a while ago, so its probably more like ten pound notes now.

If the average boater worked out how many hours they actually spend cruising in their boat and then divided it into the total amount of Pounds Sterling spent on the boat, its moorings and maintenance, in a year, they would probably need a quick lie down in a darkened room. 

It's not purely financial - boats are a bit of a worry. It's quite ironic that something bought for pleasure and as a stress reliever, can end up being a nagging concern when you can't get down to her that weekend to see if she's still floating or the jobs are piling up onboard.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying don't get a boat     - just that "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" , or should it be, that the "water is always cleaner on the other side of the marina".

I have tried many types of boating in my time, including GRP boats and coastal/estuary boating.

Being the worrying sort, I was always concerned about the latest scratch or gouge to my gel coat and I found that on the coast, I spent most of my boating life waiting for the tide to turn or the wind to drop, or both.

Inland boating in the UK is more accessible. It's not so weather dependent as coastal boating and it usually involves less road travel to get to the water. Apparently, over half of the UK population live within five miles of a canal or river !

However, there are lots of ways of enjoying the linear waterways that criss-cross this green and pleasant land of ours, like the lines on the face of an octogenarian.

AND - you don't have to sell your organs to get afloat.

People will tell you about the advantages of cycling and walking the towpaths.

Fair-do's    - do it myself now and then, but frankly, you can't beat getting out on the water itself.

As Kenneth Grahame once said in "Wind in the Willows", there's "absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats".

The other day, I was looking at Soham Lode in the Fens.

I knew it wasn't navigable in a narrowboat, but some time ago, I had seen an article in a magazine, concerning a group of people who had navigated a flotilla of small boats up it, to make some sort of statement to the local authorities.

I had it in the back of my mind to explore it using Shamu, our tender.

Nothing doing, it is a glorified ditch - sorry about that, Soham.

However, I did find a large block of polystyrene held together with wood and string.

This was obviously the remnants of a raft, fashioned by some local children.

What is it that drives so many of us, to want to get afloat ?

Is it that we emerge into this world from a sac of fluid ? - could it be because, our brains largely consist of water ?

Certainly, I swear that I feel different at the time of the full moon, when the man in the sky exerts his maximum pull on any expanse of earthbound water, like my head !!

One way of getting afloat, cheaply of course, is by canoe.

Howls of protest from the audience - "that sounds like hard work", "I'm too old for that", "I've got a bad back, you know !!" - yes, heard 'em all.

One of our kids could never prounounce the word "canoeing" and he always announced that he wanted to go "canoodling" which got us some funny looks in the butchers.

If I said that I get more pleasure from a gentle paddle (well, more of a float, really) down the river than I do from narrowboating, does that carry any weight ?

If I told you, I could get you afloat for a few hundred pounds, that you could spend the summer exploring the best waterways and enjoy a picnic/cup of tea from your very own craft, would you be interested ?

Better still, the licence is about 50p a week, its more fun than going to a gym, it will keep the kids busy (paddling you) and there are no mooring charges.

If you are still interested, tune in tomorrow, same channel, same time.

If you're not, tune in anyway - it could be a giggle and you can laugh at the others.




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