Transporting a Narrowboat
The extensive waterway system in mainland Europe is a lure to British boaters. In general, boat licences (where applicable) are cheaper over there, as is booze. The food is (arguably?) better over there. It is sometimes more common (and prudent) to moor on marinas, which, as a generalisation, are likely to cost less than in UK, and which will provide better services (showers, washing machines and electricity). The problem is - how to get there? (I'm assuming that you are not thinking of going there under your own steam!)
The problem resolves itself into various parts:
- Getting the boat out of the UK waterway, and onto the back of a truck. This in turn often breaks down into two parts:
- Getting the truck from UK to Europe
- Getting the boat onto the European waterway. This may break down into lifting the boat off the truck and onto the ground, and then slipping the boat into the water.
However, before starting on the practical bits, it's as well to check with your insurance company which risks they will cover, and which they will not.
(Out of interest, my insurance company charges a little extra to cover the boat in Europe. My standard policy covers craning the boat in and out of the water. I had to check that the trucking company had insurance that covered my boat whilst it was in contact with their truck.)
SLIPPING THE BOAT ASHORE
Boat-yards charge for this. Whilst the boat is out of the water, it might be handy to have the hull pressure washed and anti-fouled/blacked.
LIFTING THE BOAT ONTO THE TRUCK
For this you need a crane. This will cost you money. If the boat-yard doesn't have its own crane, they may charge you a fee to allow your hired crane onto their property. The boat-yard may also charge you a fee to allow the truck onto their property.
Cranes is tricky things!!
Imagine a basic crane, with a jib, and a wire rope hanging from the tip of the jib and terminating in a hook. The most straightforward way of lifting your boat is to hook a strop onto the hook, lead the free end down under the boat (slightly forward of the boat's centre of gravity) and back up again until it can be hooked onto the hook. A second strop of the about the same length is similarly fitted, though this one will be slightly aft of the boat's centre of gravity. The theory is that when the crane starts lifting, friction will stop the two strops sliding together under the boat. To make this a certainty, it is not unusual to have a spreader bar (or bars) to keep the strops apart.
Another problem arises. Each strop will form an isosceles triangle - the apex being at the crane hook, and the base being the bottom of your boat. It might well happen that, at a critical point, the horizontal distance between the two sides of this 'strop' triangle is less than the width of your boat at this same point. If this happens, the forces in the strop will tend to pinch your boat. I've been told that this happened to a narrow boat, the result being that, thereafter, the side hatches never closed properly. To counteract this, each strop may have a spreader bar (its length being at least equal to the maximum width of your boat).
Some cranes that are regularly used for lifting boats take all these spreader bars into account by coming complete with a rectangular steel frame. The frame will be lifted by the crane, whilst the boat will be suspended from the frame.
As an alternative to the traditional crane, one could use a straddle loader - a type of lifting device often seen in container depots. The straddle loader could be a 3 sided device (2 sides and a roof). The sides will usually be fitted with wheels, so that the straddle loader can be wheeled over your boat. Towards the front of the straddle loader, a strop will be slung between the two sides and will pass under the boat. A second such strop will be located towards the back of the straddle loader. Hence the boat can be lifted within the framework of the straddle loader. If the boat is lifted high enough, a truck flat bed can be backed in, under the boat.
I regret that I don't have a list of boat-yards from which boats can moved from water to truck. I know that arrangements can be made at Braunston, and I believe that Bedford is also a possibility, as is Fox's Marina in March. If you are using a reputable trucking company, they will know which yards are available.
In the event I used Calcutt Boats. They were convenient to where I started out from, and could combine the slipping out with a bottom blacking. They have their own straddle loader, though in the event they used their standard crane.
GETTING THE TRUCK FROM UK TO EUROPE
You need to make contact with a trucking company, preferably one that knows what they are about. A good start is the small ads in the waterway magazines (Waterways World, Canal & Riverboat Monthly or Canal Boat).
I know people who have had excellent service from Ray Bowern at Streethay Wharf (Tel: 01543 414808). I used Gary Walker of Alabaster Bulk Haulage (Tel: 01629 540606) and hope to use him when I need to do the return trip. (These two recommendations come from my personal knowledge).
I've been told of people who have had to pay not only for a truck, but also for a 'pilot car'. Some say that one is required in France, others say that there is a workaround.
GETTING THE BOAT ONTO THE EUROPEAN WATERWAY
I made the assumption that I wanted to be dropped in as near as possible to the arrival port so as to minimize the trucking fee. Of course, I had limited money but plenty of time. People with limited time will probably prefer to have their boat dropped in closer to their preferred cruising ground. There is a crane available at Calais, so being dropped there is quite possible. I assume that the crane can be booked through the Harbour Master (no, I don't know his 'phone number). I eventually got dropped in at Ternuzen. This is about one hour by truck from Zeebrugge, and is just over the border in Holland. They have a very convenient system for slipping boats that is based on a straddle loader. The boss, Peter, speaks excellent English. (Peter van der Werff, Vermeulen's Jachtwerf B.V. Tel: 0031 115 612716. He gives his e-mail address as email@example.com.)
A word of warning. Be aware that many cruisers in Europe are likely to be plastic. Hence, if you own a narrow boat, and are phoning around trying to find a boatyard with a crane, make sure that you let them know just how heavy your boat is.