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ONE of our most prolific contributors is James Henry, who has the 'distinction' of being the only one to be banned from writing in narrowboatworld some 15 years ago for his attacks on the magazine Waterways World, but was eventually reinstated when promising never to mention the publication again!
We finally met James when he moored his boat recently on Sawley Cut, and so have given him the opportunity to let us have his thoughts on boating as a continuous cruiser:
It was 18 years ago that I first took up boating, (writes James) after 'trying it out' on an hire boat on the Grand Union Canal, and took to it with my then wife enough to buy our first rather small narrowboat, moored at Anderton on the Trent & Mersey Canal. To cut a long story short I swapped for bigger and better, finished-up on my own, and three years ago, then being able to run my business from anywhere providing there was internet connection, sold my larger possessions, had a narrowboat built to my specification—the result of having experienced quite a few and examined others, then took out a continuous cruiser licence and set forth.
As to the 'problem' with Waterways World, I complained about British Waterways in a letter to the magazine, that then obviously sent it to British Waterways, with someone then literally tearing it to pieces, but most of it totally inaccurate, but the magazine published it without even letting me know. It then ignored me completely. I fumed and took to narrowboatworld to vent my frustration, but went a little too far and was banned! I did not realise I was the only person to receive what I consider such an accolade! Anyway, I cooled down and was allowed back into the narrowboatworld fold, as anyone caring to put my name in the Search facility will realise, with pages and pages of emails from me, and every one published without being first perused by either British Waterways or Canal & River Trust, and taken apart. Though there are separate replies to my thoughts, as I accept there should be, as all have their views.
All have their own opinion of what is best in a narrowboat, but with this new start to the season, for anyone thinking of buying such a boat I would like to offer a little advice, that is just not given by the many brokers attempting sales. If you intend to cruise the whole system there is a definite limit to the length of the boat. Do not be tempted to get the longest you can, for in addition to its susceptibility to wind there is the more important limit on some waterways, especially those of the Pennines. The Leeds & Liverpool for instance was designed for 60ft boats and the Huddersfield Broad has a limit of 57.6ft, though if corner to corner, a 60ft longer boat can be accommodated it is stated, but it cannot going down as you cannot get the gate open! I found that a 58ft boat is ideal, which is why I have one this length, it allowing access to all the waterways. As to the layout, I have no comment, it is of course a matter of choice.
Though many rely on a stove to heat a boat, mine, with the stove at one end and me sleeping at the other meant a very cold room in winter, so I had a diesel heater installed together with radiators. But a bit of advice—have the system connected to the engine water heating, as this means your radiators can be turned on and thus keeping the boat warm whilst cruising, at no extra cost. I have been surprised at the boaters I have met with such a heater and radiators that do not use the 'spare' hot engine water to warm the boat.
The situation now
Those reading my emails will quickly realise that I am no friend of the Trust, believing it treats us boaters very much as second class citizens, spending huge amounts on various things that have little or no relation to the waterways, yet spending it seems the bare minimum on the actual 'track'. I shall not go into specifics, or else there will be pages and pages, but will generalise.
Like it seems many others, I believe the whole problem lies with the removal of both lock keepers and lengthsmen, the latter being the most important, and has proved to be a mistake in that many of the problems needing huge amounts of spending would have been avoided as they would have been noticed early and quickly rectified as they were in the past. With no one patrolling the waterways anymore, how can it be expected that problems can be noticed? Don't those in charge realise they are responsible for 200 plus years old structures? Structures that have to take the movements of very heavy steel narrowboats banging around? Surely regular inspection is essential, and I don't mean those people with clip boards walking past the locks ticking boxes, who never ever actually work a lock to experience its condition.