Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Astute regular readers of this blog may have noticed that nothing was posted here for the last three weeks.  To all 6 of you, I apologize.  The reason for the hiatus was that we travelled to the United Kingdom on a holiday trip.  And the title gives it away...  for one of those weeks we tooled up and down the Shropshire Union canal in our very own (rented) narrowboat:  nb Phantasy.

nb Phantasy
Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself.  Before we went out on our own, our friends Kath & Rob took us on an overnite tutorial cruise on Kath's boat, nb BobcatBobcat, at 58 feet long, is 20 feet longer than Phantasy... but still only 7 feet wide (on the outside; 6 feet wide on the inside).

nb Bobcat; inside & out
Aside from the cruise itself, Kath took us thru the etiquette of canal life and gave us a hands-on tutorial on the operation of locks.  And then after we shared a Thai dinner in Stone, they gave us their bed in the master cabin - what wonderful hosts! 

The Boat

Nb Phantasy has dimensions of 38 feet LOA and 7 feet beam, and is powered by a 3-cylinder diesel engine.  Starting from the bow, she has an open foredeck, a dinette which makes into a small double bed, a nice galley, a head, the engine area, and finally an open stern where the helmsman stands.  There is no shelter for the helmsman in inclement weather, an arrangement shared by almost all the narrowboats.  Pretty basic compared to nb Bobcat or nb Snowgoose, but we were not living aboard, just camping aboard for a week.  She worked out well for us.

Looking aft

Looking forward

The heat aboard was hot water (you can see the white flat panel radiators on the lower walls), supplied by the engine.  When the engine was not running, a very compact propane fired hot water heater and circulating pump took care of business.  I was very intrigued by this heater:

It was located in the head, smack next to the shower and was only six or seven inches wide, by about five feet tall.  I do not know how deep it ran into the wall.  It was manufactured by a Swedish company called Alde, although this appears to have been an earlier model.  In operation it was absolutely silent.

The Scenery

Just a few pictures showing what it is like on the canals...

Jane, the lock master

Lessons Learned

Here are the lessons learned by this open-water sailor when transitioning to  canal boating:
  • Yup, it really is like that. This is civilized, low key boating.  Nobody is in a rush, you don't travel fast (less than 4 kt, and at "tick over" when passing moored boats - see below).  And indeed, you don't get going early or travel late.  In fact, most boats do not have running lites, and unofficial hours on the canal are 08:00 - 20:00.  We travelled only from village to village, stopping for the pubs of course.

    And like boaters everywhere, everyone was friendly - from the boats passing in the opposite direction to those we met in the pubs - like Andy and Liz of nb Snowgoose, who we met in The White Swan at Brewood and who later invited us aboard their boat when they moored up in front of us at Gnosall:
    Liz and Andy, nb Snowgoose

  • The rudders on narrowboats are unbalanced.  You really need to lean into the tiller to turn the boat.
  • As you might expect, the canals are shoal at the edges. 
  • Steering is strange near the edges - it is as if the edge is trying suck you in
  • Probably the biggest unexpected thing, and what could likely be the cause of many of the others noted here, is that the boat is large with respect to the canal.  This means that it is not operating in free water like every other boat I have ever been on.  Instead, because the boat occupies a significant portion of the cross section of the canal, it is pushing water ahead of it as it moves.  This water then flows back along the sides of the boat, making it look like you are operating in a current.
  • The passages under the bridges are almost unbelievably narrow, leaving only a few inches on either side of the boat.  The plug flow that I described above is magnified greatly when passing under a bridge, slowing the boat dramatically, and making steering almost completely ineffective until you get clear of the bridge. 
  • As you pass moored boats, they are all pushed around by the plug of water you are pushing ahead of yourself... and then sucked back the other way after you pass.  This is why it is necessary to slow down to idle when passing moored boats.
  • The canals are shallow (narrowboats rarely draw much more than 24").  And they are silted up.  As boats go by, the prop wash stirs up the silt, but since there is virtually no flow in the canal, this just settles back out, to be stirred up again by the next boat.
Would we do it again?  You bet.  The route we chose this time was constrained by a number of factors, but still had us going thru a tunnel (81 yards long), over an aqueduct, and thru a single set of locks.  And it took us to the pubs in the villages of Gnosall, Wheaton Aston and Brewood.

What would we change?  Not much.  More time would be nice.  And a few more locks would be OK too.

And a few more pubs, of course.



Rick said...

Sounds so fun!

Deb said...

If you ever want a great canal experience, you may want to consider going with Tadji Kretschmer. Here's the link to her trips.


SV Kintala

Anonymous said...

Excellent, I wondered how you got on! So pleased you had a good time.

We had a big push south from Anderton weekend before last so went through Stone (with the obligatory stop at the Chandlery) last Tuesday!


Robert Salnick said...

Thanks Richard!

I truly regret that we could not make a hookup with you folks while we were there. Maybe next time...


Anonymous said...

But what a schedule you had!

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