Saturday, June 23, 2018

We Brake for Narrowboats

Canal boats are everywhere in Europe but thin on the ground in the United States and Canada. When we hear there’s another actual canal boat in the vicinity, we HAVE to go see it.

A Tip from a Goozler

The skinny little dock below Newboro Lock.
Thursday afternoon, after we docked at Newboro Lock, we had amiable conversations with the usual round of gongoozlers. 

One lovely couple, wrapping up their visit, said, “You know there’s a canal boat like yours here in town? Came over from England in a container ship.”

No, we didn't know! 

“It’s not in the water, it’s in the owner’s front yard, on the road out of town. You can’t miss it,” they said.

Book Larnin'

Well!  We’ve read extensively about English narrowboats (so named because they are long and skinny, to fit through England’s tiny locks). Our knowledge comes, in part, from a subscription to Canal Boat magazine (“Here’s our canal boat porn!” we crow when it arrives each month) and in part from the book Narrow Dog to Indian River, by Terry Darlington, who took his English narrowboat where no narrowboat had gone before, along the Atlantic Intracoastal waterway.

So we know all about canal boat design, and traditional paint jobs, and how you should decorate with horse brasses. But we’d never actually seen one of the things.

Cherchez Canal Boat

Rounded stern . . . tiller for steering . . . porthole window . . .
this all looks strangely familiar!
Initiate rapid after-dinner stroll. We hiked along the gravel shoulder of the narrow road, periodically stepping off into the poison ivy to avoid being blown over by trucks.

And 20 minutes out, there it was, stern peeking out behind a travel trailer: An honest-to-goodness, 50-foot-long English narrowboat. 

“I’m knocking on the door,” Bill exclaimed.

He marched up to the house and made inquiries.  Owner Gill Heather kindly came out and gave us her story. (Only her second inquiry this month.)

Just Imagine Declaring THIS at Customs!

She built the boat herself. Named it Xanth, for the fantasy novels by Piers Anthony, which she loves. Brought it with her when she emigrated from England to Canada—in a container ship so large the boat lay crosswise inside the hold, welded to the floor so it wouldn’t bang about in high seas. (Here’s her account of the voyage.)
Cap did lots of research before deciding on Dragonfly's color scheme. Blue is very traditional.

For a while Gill kept the boat on the Rideau Canal. She opened a bed and breakfast, and after guests kept asking if they could sleep on the boat, made it part of the experience.

Gill has changed jobs and Xanth is “on the hard” for now.  But it was still a thrill to see her.

And Speaking of Canal Boats Crossing the Atlantic . . . 

Get this!  Brian Crutcher, a retired naval architect, PILOTED his specially built English narrowboat "across the pond" from Canada to Ireland in 2001.

It took five weeks, with a crew of four, not to mention 50-knot winds and 5-meter waves crashing over the roof of the boat. The blog grannybuttons tells the story, w pix of the nifty boat. (Unlike traditional narrowboats, this one had a keel, plus a mast and sails, so it was a bit more weatherly).

Now if SlowBoat’s captain is reading this post, I say, “Don’t go getting any ideas!”

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