Saturday, June 26, 2010


In a crowded marina, it’s easy to find your boat.
Duck among swans
Our boat IS distinctive looking. It attracts attention wherever we go.  Most people are friendly and nice. They’re interested in sustainable technology. Or the idea of a year-long boat trip captures their imagination.

People staring at boats
Once in a while, we meet someone not so nice.  Terry Darlington has a word for that: Gongoozlers, or “people who stare at boats.”

Just an aside here to give you the back story:  Terry Darlington is a Brit and the owner of a British narrowboat—a canal boat designed for narrow English canals. Narrowboats are “floating pencils,” typically 60 feet long and 6 feet wide. (At 41 feet long and 10 feet wide, Dragonfly is proportioned more like a floating cigar.)

Anyway, Darlington and his wife Monica have twice taken their boat on trips that (many people told them) would be impossible for a canal boat. (Gee, that sounds familiar!)  They crossed the English Channel, navigated the wide and fast-moving Rhone in France, and traveled down America’s Intracoastal Waterway from Virginia to Florida. Their adventures are chronicled in two funny books: Narrowdog to Carcassone and Narrowdog to Indian River.  

We were glad to learn the word "Gongoozler." It perfectly describes the older guy who hustled over to chat while we were docked in Oswego.  Bill was down in the engine room, trying to extract a part so he could take it with him to the auto parts store.  The store was 8 blocks away and closing in 20 minutes. It was hot.  Tools were crashing. The clock was ticking.

Our visitor had a lot of questions, which he issued at a machine-gun pace, in a challenging tone. Can solar REALLY power your boat? How much power do those solar panels make? How many amps? How many volts? Is the wiring in series or in parallel? Did you think about a diesel generator?  How about giving me a look at the wiring? Did you install the system yourselves? What is the serial number on each solar panel? What is pi to ten decimal places? What is your shoe size? What is your favorite color?

Just as dogs can sense your fear, gongoozlers can sense when you’re in a rush--whether on your way to the auto parts store, or trying to get underway before the weather changes or the lock closes.  You’ve just loosened the ropes from the cleats, 14 tons of steel are trying to yank you off the dock, the Captain has hollered, “Jump aboard!” . . . and the nice couple in shorts and sunglasses want to know how you manage to buy groceries, the names and ages of your children, and whether it’s hard for a couple to get along on a boat.

Gongoozlers stare, and particularly when we are under way. Sometimes this is pleasant. When we cruise past vacation cottages or under bridges lined with fishermen, little children will wave, or pump their fists, the universal symbol for “honk your horn!”  (Bill gives a toot on his conch.)  Other boaters who pass us (being a slowboat we are never the ones doing the passing) usually wave, and sometimes give the thumbs up, or holler, “Nice boat!” 

But every once in a while, a boater or a fisherman will stare, make eye contact, and hold it.  The guy doesn’t smile.  We raise a hand in greeting.  He doesn’t wave back.

The ultimate gongoozler was the guy at the lock below Peterborough, having a smoke with his amply endowed girlfriend.  He gave me the stare as we pulled up—full, cold, eye contact for a good 10 seconds. I  smiled and waved, and as I did, the guy flipped his butt at the water. I could feel the sparks as it arced past my head. 

What do you do in a situation like that? Terry Darlington suggests this, from his list of “Tips for Successful Boating”:  “To get rid of a gongoozler, stare at him through binoculars.”

But most people are genuinely interested, completely charming, and very generous.  When we pulled into the dock at Cape Vincent, an academic-looking couple was just pulling up in their car.  They hustled out on the dock to say hello.  “We saw you from our house!  As you came round the point!” the wife exclaimed.  “We couldn’t believe what we were seeing, out on Lake Ontario!”  She took our email address and later sent us copies of the photos she’d taken. (THANKS!)

OK, we admit, a canal boat on the open water is an image that makes you want to stare.

1 comment:

  1. Good morning!! Just back from picking blueberries. The birds were singing full throat and lots of dragonflies darted in and out. We sent a amessage with one of them to you. mom