Problems of Boating in Europe
13th October 2000
I hesitate to write this, as I'm normally a fairly positive person. However, I've met a few Brits over here who have found the problems of boating in Europe not to their liking, and who feel that the negative aspects are not given enough publicity. So here they are.
FAR FROM 'HOME'
The rest of Europe is, of course, on the other side of the Channel. It's not, actually, too far away - 4, 6 or 8 hours if you're not too far from a port or airport. But it feels a long way. The practical problems are:
1. Post. How to receive mail. Most folk have all their mail delivered to a UK address, and then have it forwarded on to them. I try to hole up somewhere for a few days each month, get an address (lock keepers are often helpful) and wait for a mail drop. I'm told that it is possible to have mail addressed to a lock in advance, so that it is there when you arrive at the lock. The Poste Restante system works - having mail addressed to a local Post Office, but getting the address of a post office in advance is tricky, and in a reasonable sized town there may be more than one post office. There is also the problem of knowing the opening hours, and the public holidays. I've actually managed to have a package couriered and delivered directly to the boat.
2. Getting things you like. There are, of course, products that one gets used to in Britain that are rare in Europe, things like Marmite, Branston Pickle, custard powder and digestive biscuits. If you can't live without these things, then stay in Britain!
3. Getting things you need. Getting spares for the boat can be tricky. This problem divides into two parts - explaining what you need to someone who may not speak good English, and then sourcing it. Sourcing things is complicated by being in a state of carlessness. I've recently given up on Lucas batteries - I couldn't find them anywhere within a 20 mile radius of the boat.
4. Getting things at a reasonable price. At home, one learns where to get things, and which shops give good advice, and whom to trust for advice, and where to go for the best deals. Travelling in Europe disrupts all this. One tends to pay more for things, merely because of a lack of knowledge of the location of the best deals.
5. Culture. This is to do with not realising that the local custom is to shut the shops on Monday morning (because they were open on Sunday), or that they will close on Friday afternoon because it is the 5th Friday before Lent, or that shopping between mid-day and 3pm is inadvisable as most shops will close for an hour sometime between those two times.
Moorings create a problem in Europe. First of all, be aware that some canals are full, commercial waterways, with heavy barges moving on them at considerable speed. Other canals are a bit more casual, with just the occasional barge, and pleasure craft.
On many canals (and, I guess, ALL the commercial ones) you cannot stop as and when you want to. Often the banks are constructed such that getting ashore is pretty much impossible. It is only possible to stop at proper stopping places. This means that route planning becomes important, as you have to plan where each night is going to be spent.
There is no rule or custom about slowing down past moored craft. I haven't yet used my mooring pins, and I started using spring lines after being battered about during my first night.
Moorings are likely to be public quays or boat clubs. Many of the public quays were built for barges, and may consist of a 6ft wall rising out of the water, with bollards spaced out for a 35m barge, making getting on and off your boat, and mooring it, tricky.
Many of the moorings are unsuitable for narrow boats. Many have projections at about gunwale level, such that when a boat goes past, the gunwale can get trapped underneath it. Some projections are well above the gunwale level, but can bear upon the cabin sites and windows. I have a scratched window to prove it, whilst some friends had a window stoved in.
The public quays are free. Some even have free water. Some have electric hook-ups available at a nominal charge.
The boat clubs all seem to welcome visitors. They all make a charge (£2 to £8 for the first night), the rate reducing the longer you stay. The charge may or may not include any or all of: water, electricity, shower, loos and washing machines. If there is a club house, and there often is, then the beer is likely to be cheaper than elsewhere.
Where I am at the moment (Flanders), a lot more pleasure craft moorings are being installed (with EC funding, apparently). They tend to be floating pontoon moorings, some with water and electricity available at a nominal charge - the moorings themselves are free. Not all of them are yet marked on the various guides (and the one in Dunkirk has been trashed by vandals).
If a mooring is full, folk will usually shift up to make room for you, or invite you to moor alongside them.