I well remember our first narrowboat hire holiday.
We picked up NB Sir Galahad at Brewood and headed north, soon to arrive at our first lock where we stopped to try and work out how to operate it. After about ten minutes I reckoned I was ready to have a go and I put the boat into gear to pull away from the lock landing. It seems daft looking back, but we didn’t know how to get the boat away from the bank. A lady with a small child walked post and told us to give the boat a shove from the bank. It worked of course. We managed the lock without too much trouble and set off again. Then of course we came to a bridge which looked terrifyingly narrow as we inched through it, and after that we encountered our first oncoming boat. I was beginning to feel quite stressed. I remember next day(?) passing through Norbury being terrified that I would crash into one of the moored boats. Our boat seemed to be magnetically drawn towards them.
Well I had to remind myslef of all this when we recently set of from Fenny Compton behind a Calcutt hire boat. I tutted when they pulled away from the bank in front of us just as we were approaching, thinking to myself “never mind, it’s a hire boat, they’ll be going too fast and will soon leave us behind.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. They were cruising so slowly that I had to keep dropping Herbie into neutral to avoid getting too close. We got to the narrow bit in Fenny “tunnel” and they showed me that some boats are capable of going impressively slowly. Snails on the bank were overtaking us. Here they are, bless ‘em.
No chance of overtaking there of course so I was very patient for the next half an hour and waiting my chance to ask politely if we could overtake on a wider bit of canal. Eventually our chance came when they actually waved us through, apologising that they were inexperienced and nervous.
Overtaking on a canal is never easy, and it’s best if both boats know what they are doing. The Oxford being a shallow canal made matters worse and as soon as we got alongside their boat got drawn towards ours and the poor chap on the hire boat got into a panic and revved up his engine. I should have slowed down I suppose and talked him through it, but I pushed the throttle forward in an attempt to quickly get past. That was when I noticed that we were both approaching a seven foot wide lift bridge! Over the cacophony of boat boats straining I shouted him to stop or we would crash into the bridge. Mercifully he did and no harm was done. Looking back, he had pulled his boat into the bank and stopped. The poor guy was no doubt in shock. We continued on wondering if he ever got his nerve back. I blame myself entirely.
Next time a nervous hire boater waves me through I might either decline, or politely ask him to reduce to tick over speed while I crawl past. Boating seems easy once you get used to it, but it’s good to remember how scary it was at first.