Saturday, May 18, 2013

The difference between sailing and narrowboating

As you all know, we went sailing on the Norfolk broads last weekend.  Although we have been doing this once a year for a few years now, I could not by any stretch of the imagination claim to know much about sailing.  It occurs to me that there are some similarities to narrowboating, but rather more differences.  Let’s examine them. (Perhaps I should say first that I’m not talking about sailing round the world here, but rather about tootling round the Norfolk broads which are rather like a series of small rivers, similar to the upper Thames or the Soar, interspersed with larger expanses of open water.)


  • Sailing is often said to be like standing under a cold shower tearing up ten pound notes. It is largely the same for canal boating except we have a cup of tea in our hands.
  • The bottom of the water is too near the top.  You WILL run aground.
  • The banks of the waterway have a magnetic attraction for boats. Your boat will head for the bushes /reeds every time you take your mind off steering for a millisecond.
  • Some people on hire boats may well try to ram you amidships.
  • At the end of the day you always end up at a pub.

But . .


  • When I cruise on a narrowboat I generally don’t fear I might die. Whereas on a sailing boat it seems quite plausible for much of the time.
  • When a narrowboat passes a tree or a bankside hut it does not generally grind to a halt, whereas sailing boats lose all motive power until suddenly without any warning they take of at terrifying speeds and head for the nearest obstacle.
  • When a narrowboat passes under a low bridge you have to duck and maybe take off the chimney.  When a sailing boat passes under a low bridge you have to untie ropes galore and take half the boat to bits, row or paddle through the bridge and then reassemble it all on the other side.  This takes at l;east three attempts as all the ropes have become tangled in the pile of mast and spars.
  • Talking of ropes, narrowboats have about four, sailing boats have about four hundred, all looking the same.  None of them are actually called ropes. Church bell ringing experience probably helps.   
  • Narrowboaters like no wind.  Sailors like a bit but not too much.  When the wind does blow sailors like it to be from the side, which is just where a narrowboater hates it.
  • Sailing boats can't climb hills.
  • When a narrowboat collides with something, the something generally comes off worse.  When a sailing boat hits something, even gently, bits break off and you lose your deposit.
  • Canal boats have their own language of about fifty words naming parts of the boats etc many are decipherable by non cognoscenti.  Sailing boats have their own language of about five hundred words, none of which are intelligible to normal people.

So there you have it.  You can tell by my observations that I find sailing alternately terrifying and baffling.  Fun for a weekend per annum, but for the rest of the time I‘ll stick to our tin tub. where I have some vague idea of what I am supposed to be doing.


Vallypee said...

You made me laugh out loud, Neil. Your list of differences is priceless. If you don't mind, I'm going to share this post with my tweeting contact, many of whom are your narrowboating friends too, I think. A really enjoyable and funny post.

Neil Corbett said...

Thanks Val, be my guest.


Vallypee said...

Thanks to you too!