Back on board, but…..

Chair, Mike Rodd is enjoying cruising again, despite the lack of maintenance and e-scooters.

Boating at last! For many of us, it was a great joy to be able to get back boating again and for me also to resume being a Boatmaster for the K&A Canal Trust’s trip-boat, the ‘Rose of Hungerford’. Given that the income generated by the trip boats (with all the boats being operated totally by volunteers) is its major source of funding, the impact on the Trust of the long period of non-operation has been horrendous. This has been especially critical as we get to the end of the (partially) HLF-funded restoration work at the Crofton Pumping Station, as the boat trips are contributing the bulk of the required matching funding. Making the trip-boats ‘socially distanced’ has meant a serious drop in the maximum number of passengers we can carry (about half), but with significant demand for places, at least a reasonable income is now being generated.

Being finally able to take my own boat out on the Mon & Brec has been wonderful (although some weeks after this was possible in England – the Welsh Assembly being a law unto itself) – if at times made rather ‘exciting’, as the almost total lack of regular maintenance has reduced the canal to a single boat’s width in places! And although the vital income now being generated by the hire-boat companies is only to be welcomed, virtually every hire-boat, day-boat, canoe, etc., was cruising! One seriously unwelcome aspect was the number of very obviously ‘first-timers’ who had bought cheap portable kayaks/canoes and clearly hadn’t bothered to take any notice of CRT’s or the EA’s advice, and were behaving in a totally irresponsible and dangerous fashion – even demanding to be allowed to take their fragile little craft into locks alongside a 30-ton steel boat!

I also had my first experiences with e-scooters (electrically powered scooters). I am fully aware of CRT’s statement, which essentially states that they are not permitted on towpaths, but in practice that message has simply not been understood by users. As a result, e-scooters, which can travel at almost 20mph, are rapidly becoming a real danger, exacerbated by riders wearing headphones blaring loud music and oblivious to warning sounds around them. Perhaps CRT will only take notice when there is a serious accident?

The overall state of our waterways must be of concern to all of us: literally every few days we receive reports of locks failing, bridges out of commission and uncut vegetation, making some canals almost unusable. Those of us who have been able to go out cruising are only too familiar with this situation. I realise, of course, that CRT had to cut back on staff, furloughing many, and this has naturally had an impact. But what has to be of deep concern is the number of facility failures that had been reported, but no action taken. I also have personal gripes about the on-going management of CRT’s contractors (e.g. towpaths left in a mess) – and why can’t someone instruct them how to moor their work-boats? Please, not on lock-landings!

As I mentioned my previous Chair’s column, on the non-tidal Thames, we have joined up with four other organisations, representing users of recreational powered craft, to encourage greater engagement and co-operation with the Environment Agency. (The organisations involved are: the Association of Thames Yacht Clubs, the Dutch Barge Association, the Residential Boat Owners’ Association, the Thames Motor Boaters Association and NABO.) Already, the relationship with the new management team at the EA has proved to be good, and far less confrontational than over the past few years. However, we are very concerned about the delay in awarding the contract for the management of all EA’s Thames moorings, and we are standing by to take action on this if the outcome is not acceptable to the bulk of users. The problem is that we are aware that the two previous contract-holders are among those bidding again – and users’ experience of one of these has been very poor.

Over the past month, we have sadly lost two of our most hard-working members – Geoffrey Rogerson and Sadie Heritage (formerly Dean). Both made huge contributions to NABO and to the waterways in general. I personally spent much time with Geoffrey, as he continuously cruised on the K&A, and he provided me with invaluable legal advice and guidance – especially by taking the lead on our interactions with NABO’s professional legal advisors. Tributes to both of these fine and committed people will be found in this edition of NABO News.

Their loss, however, also highlights an on-going problem: as I mentioned in the last issue, your NABO Council has continued to meet regularly via teleconferences, and the meetings have proved to be very productive and well-attended. As we approach the forthcoming AGM, however, it does deeply concern me that we are not attracting new and (being brutally honest) younger members to join us on the Council. NABO has never been more needed than now – at least if we are to ensure the continuing protection of our wonderful waterways. We know that both CRT and the EA will be increasingly under immense pressure to reduce their costs as they both come up for renewal of their government funding, and we are already seeing (as mentioned above) a reduction in planned maintenance, etc. So both organisations will need our critical support – and we only can do that if we believe that both organisations are listening to us (the users) and are doing their very best to meet their obligations in protecting and maintaining their waterways. So, please give thought to standing for election to Council. The work is not arduous – especially as we (and CRT and EA) are increasingly learning how to work together electronically.

Now that at last we can all enjoy boating again, I wish you everything of the best! I hope your canal or river is not too badly affected by the lack of regular maintenance, and that you are not attacked by too many paddle boarders or e-scooters!

Mike Rodd