The magic has gone!

Published: Friday, 08 December 2017

AFTER boating for three months every year for 13 years and living aboard for the last three years we have sold our boat because the magic and serenity of the canals has disappeared in recent years, writes John Wallace.

Most of our disenchantment stems from the way the canals are mismanaged and neglected by CaRT. Since CaRT took over we have noticed that every section of society is more important than the boaters yet we pay the most money to use the canals.

Get more respect

Cyclists, walkers, event organisers, pseudo artists and boat rallies all get more respect and help from CaRT than boaters. Maintenance is being neglected and locks are falling into disrepair whilst Lycra clad louts hurtle past on their lovely tarmac towpaths.

What maintenance is undertaken is often inefficiently carried out not only by contractors with little knowledge of canals but also by disillusioned CaRT staff e.g. a three days stoppage to replace a displaced bolt and a metal strip at Sutton Stop which led to people’s holiday schedules being disrupted and hire fleets left with abandoned boats far from base.

Too many emergency stoppages

 Stoppages are extended or shortened without sufficient notice and there are now too many emergency stoppages which would have been avoided with the diligence of the now defunct lengthmen and full-time lock keepers. Volunteers are all very well and some are very good but they don’t inspect lengths of canal or sometimes don’t even walk up the local lock flight. Dredging is piecemeal and some canals are becoming overgrown on the towpath side preventing mooring and reeds are reducing the channel width in many places.

Money is wasted on crackpot ideas dreamt up in an office away from the realities of the cut. 'Be a tortoise, not a hare', 'Warning ducks at play', 'You are entering a stress free zone' and banners telling us which town we are in are all a waste of money and heap ridicule on CaRT, and don’t mention the stupid carvings on the lock beams at Hillmorton!

Latest idiocy

The latest idiocy dreamt up in an office asks boaters to leave 16ft of space for anglers—the group who pay peanuts for their fishing rights but can’t resist a good lock landing for their spot!  Further ridicule is invited by telling us that there are several hundred million visitors to the canals every year. No doubt some civil servant will be impressed by CaRT’s inclusive and popular appeal and more grant will be handed out. Priorities are all wrong at CaRT. Dredging a dry and un-navigable canal near Pocklington which will kill dragonfly larvae and when restoring an historic bridge over the dry section their stoppage notice announced 'Towpath closed, Navigation Open'!

The worst of their priorities is with regard to cyclists. I tackled Richard Parry about speeding cyclists and got the usual mantra of “Education is the best way to solve the problem!” He claimed that seat belt wearing and smoking in public buildings were all solved through education—no, advice was given and then enforcement was implemented to punish transgressors. Towpaths need speed inhibitors, fines and insurance and number plates for cyclists to curb their anonymous and dangerous behaviour.

Weak in enforcing overstaying

Now we have unlicensed canoes heading into dark tunnels with no indication as to who will get the blame when one of them is killed. CaRT is also weak in enforcing overstaying on moorings which breeds resentment amongst boaters who follow the rules. The image of the pretty colourful boats gliding past is ruined by the sight of floating sheds and towpath rubbish tips which are never moved. These millions of imaginary visitors will soon become disillusioned when they are confronted with the reality of towpath squatters.

Unfortunately boaters are adding to the deteriorating experience offered by canal cruising. Canal etiquette is dead, speeding boaters are rampant and the language of some boaters would shock a naval matelot! As hire boats get slowly better about speeding, the older generation of boaters in their leather Stetsons, shiny brass encrusted boats and their fake rivets are becoming an arrogant curse on the cut. Knocking off a few revs is not slowing down to tickover. Asking them to slow down invites a string of four letter words and aggression. 'Eastenders afloat' is the modern description of many boaters.

Nothing more than a video or model lock

Some marinas add to the poor experience of boaters. The lazy ones who will only sell diesel in the 60/40 ratio because they are too lazy or too mathematically illiterate to calculate other proportions of use deserve to be boycotted. Others charge up to £2.50 to empty one Elsan cassette! As for the too common hire fleets who send out beginners with nothing more than a video or a model lock for training we have to suffer their slow lock working or worse, having our boats struck by their incompetent steering and cringing at the kids sitting on the bow or running on the roof.

There are still a few decent people on the cut. Some boaters are friendly, help anyone in difficulty and offer advice and knowledge but they are a dying breed. There are marinas like Yelvertoft, and the excellent manager Neil, who offer well thought out facilities, fair prices and good service but too many take boaters for granted. Chandleries like Bim Simcoe’s at Whilton Locks are so helpful and welcoming that they put other badly stocked and overpriced ones to shame.

Fair prices and a great resource

Finally a good word for the men and women who sell diesel, coal, gas and other supplies from their old working boats: they serve in all weathers, have fair prices and are a great resource on the canals.

We should all be grateful too for narrowboatworld who are truly the voice of the waterways. They bring the news faster than anyone, publicise idiocy, hold CaRT to account and support the underdog who unfortunately now seems to be the poor boater! Thank you to the editor and his contributors, you are a ray of light on a dark and depressing cut.

We have sold up, retired from the waterways (taking a month to win back the licence refund from CaRT) and will now spend the money that supported the canal system on other forms of leisure. In a short time there will be many more leavers and the canals will be linear, muddy ditches inhabited by 'floaters not boaters' who swear and cuss and avoid paying their licence fee! I fear I may be proved too right in the future.