Phil Mulligan, our East Midlands regional director steps aboard a local boat to learn the ropes. 27 November 2018 saw him join Gerry and Cat from the Nottingham Narrow Boat Project.
Two things need to be corrected before I start. The first is that I didn’t actually go out with a Boating Buddy. Rather it was with Gerry and Cat from the Nottingham Narrow Boat Project, which does want to join Boating Buddies and with whom the Trust has very good links.
The Nottingham Narrow Boat Project is an independent charity that runs two narrow boats and is based at Castle Wharf in the heart of Nottingham. The boats are both 70’ and capable of taking residential trips. One of the boats is also fully accessible with front gunnels that lower to allow wheelchair access, a hydraulic platform lift down into the cabin and an accessible toilet. Until recently the project was run by the city council but it has now been transferred into the charitable sector (a bit like British Waterways becoming the Trust five years ago but on a micro scale). As a new charity the project has been able to attract a Lottery grant that will cover basic costs for three years, enabling it to run affordable trips targeting disadvantaged groups or those with additional needs.
I am extremely grateful that Gerry and Cat made the time to take myself and Liz Fleuty (East Midlands development and engagement manager) out for a morning on their boat ‘Tinkers Leen’. Our journey involved passing through Castle Lock in Nottingham and heading up the Nottingham & Beeston Canal to the Beeston Canalside Heritage Centre at Beeston Lock.
The journey took two hours and it was another two hours or so before feeling returned to my hands – it was a very cold morning and we were steering into a bitter wind. Liz and I took turns steering the boat and between the two of us there were a lot of zigzags and a few near misses. I did consider going below decks to warm up while Liz was at the tiller but here the second correction needs making….such boats should not really be called narrow boats but from my perspective, standing at 6’4”, ‘short boats’. I was unable to stand properly inside the boat. I appreciate this is not a problem most of our boating customers will have but in truth it made me realise that while I could enjoy a trip or holiday on such a boat, it would be impractical for me to ever consider living on one. That, however, would be one of the only factors against such a life, judging by how enjoyable my trip was in all other regards.
I do think it was helpful that Gerry and Cat are used to dealing with children when it comes to boat safety, handling and the operation of locks as I have to admit I am a novice. I found Gerry’s explanations of lock design and his coaching of me through the opening and closing of the gates to be pitched perfectly for my level. In my first three months at the Trust I’ve sat in plenty of meetings discussing how best to repair various lock bits but it wasn’t until Gerry got me cranking the windlass that I really appreciated how important it is to have well maintained mechanisms to operate.
There wasn’t much traffic on the water that morning but the warm welcome and cheerful hellos we got from every boater we passed gave me an insight into the sense of fraternity that comes from those that are able to access the watery bit of our waterways. I was also impressed by the number of walkers, joggers, commuters and cyclists using the towpath we followed. Despite travelling through the heart of Nottingham and never really leaving the conurbation, there was a sense of peace, quiet, space and nature almost the entire route.
The whole experience helped me appreciate the wellbeing that comes from being on the water and feel what it is like to be rather pleasantly limited in one’s speed. The journey, rather than the destination, truly became the purpose. The one point I felt unreconciled about was how can some of the people who use our waterways and enjoy this slow, quiet, peaceful pace and existence, become so agitated at times when dealing with the Trust, which is doing so much to enable this mellifluous lifestyle or pastime.
My appreciation of the issues that matter to boaters has increased with this trip – I hope that the more I am able to talk to boaters the greater their understanding will be of the competing priorities I am having to juggle on a daily basis.
Thanks again to Gerry and Cat for their warm hospitality on a chilly morning.
Guest blogger, Phil Mulligan, East Midlands regional director
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