Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why you should eat bananas at the tiller.

I’ve been having another dip into my Bradshaw’s Canals and Navigable Rivers of England and Wales, and great fun it is too.  Does that make me the Michael Portillo of the waterways?

I rather like the way it refers to narrowboats as Monkey Boats.  I heard it used as a derogatory term during the Queen’s river pageant in retaliation to the commodore of the narrowboaters referring to GRP cruisers as tupperware over the VHF.  I don’t find it derogatory at all and I may well refer to Herbie as a monkey boat in future.  Perhaps we should travel along eating bananas.

Under the section entitled Haulage by Steam or other Mechanical Power the author hints that our continental friends were ahead of us in using electrical haulage, then goes on to say that “Oil engines have been tried but have never passed much beyond the experimental stage.”  That’s been quite a long experiment Mr Author. He then goes on to report that steam haulage is established on the major navigable rivers, but that it is unsuitable for the canals owing to the fact that a heavily laden boat traveling at speed pushes too much water up around the bows for a narrow channel, thus limiting it’s top speed.  Not to mention the damage done to canal banks by the wash from faster boats. Dead right there.  It seems he was still of the opinion that nothing beats a good horse.  Strange for a man who was a engineer and a director of Fellows Morton & Clayton.

Apparently at the time of the book (1904) quite a few tunnels employed steam haulage including the well known Braunston and Blisworth tunnels.  That is unless your boat was carrying gunpowder in which case you had to leg through.  Elf and safety gone mad. The steam tugs left one end of the tunnel every two hours on the hour, and of course returned on the alternate hour. Tickets were bought at the nearby toll offices.

I was surprised to read that they used steam in Islington tunnel.  That’s much narrower and has quite sloping sides (as chunks out of Herbie’s roof handrails can testify).  I bet it was choking in there. The book says that tunnel tugs in the Preston Brook, Barnton and Saltersford tunnels had projecting pairs of wheels on each side so as to keep the boat off the side of the tunnel.  Now there’s a good idea. I must speak to my design engineer (he knows who he is).


Rainmman said...

Neil, I can just imagine you at the tiller in a pink shirt and lime green jacket eating a banana!

Sarah said...

I've always understood 'monkey boats' to be a London term.

Val Poore said...

Perhaps you should re-name Herbie and call it the Banana Boat! No stranger than calling a narrow boat a cigar which is how I believe they are described in Belgium according to they of the Wandering Snail.

Neil Corbett said...

Rainman, stop giving me ideas.
Sarah, interesting. Perhaps the FMCS man was a Londoner. I still like the name though even if I am a midlander.
Val, that might be a step too far!

Sarah said...

I don't know what happened to my comment this morning, but I'll have another go at adding a bit more detail, albeit still from memory. As I recall reading somewhere, 'monkey boat' was a derogatory term used by London bargemen and presumably Thames lightermen (thus making it very appropriate for your Thames pageant commentator) to refer to those odd, small narrow boats from the Midlands. One theory is that a well known London narrow boat operator was Jack Monk, but it could just as easily be a simple term of derision.

Neil Corbett said...

Thanks Sarah. Whatever the reason I still prefer Monkey Boat to the depressingly all too often heard Long Boat.