CANAL COL­UMN

Award-win­ning cur­rent af­fairs TV pro­ducer, jour­nal­ist and au­thor who has been a boat owner for more than 40 years

Canal Boat - - Contents - Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Cut­dreamer STEVE HAY­WOOD

Steve Hay­wood isn’t against hav­ing a drink on a boat - but he does take ex­cep­tion to boat trips ap­par­ently be­ing sold as booze cruises to drunken stag par­ties

You didn’t need to be a boater to feel as an­gry as I did re­cently hear­ing about events on the Kennet & Avon. A party of hir­ers on a stag night caused chaos as they ric­o­cheted drunk­enly up the canal, broad­sid­ing boat af­ter boat to their ob­vi­ous amuse­ment un­til even­tu­ally the worst hap­pened and they sunk one, leav­ing a boater home­less.

The be­hav­iour of this loud and drunken party was ap­palling enough, but it was made worse by their over­bear­ing ar­ro­gance and the lack of re­spect they had for other canal users. They were in two boats, trav­el­ling too fast and leav­ing great bow waves be­hind them. When peo­ple protested about their speed and the racket they were mak­ing, it was only to be re­galed by a va­ri­ety of abu­sive com­ments, rang­ing from sneer­ing taunts about peo­ple who ‘didn’t pay coun­cil tax’ to re­pul­sive, sex­ist jibes.

Even­tu­ally, af­ter a flood of com­plaints to the Canal and River Trust, the po­lice and the hire com­pany who had rented the boats to these en­ti­tled louts in the first place, they were turfed off their craft and left in the rain on the tow­path with their lug­gage. They de­served worse.

Now I’m not against hav­ing a drink on a boat. Nei­ther am I against hire com­pa­nies rent­ing to crews whom they know will nav­i­gate the wa­ter­ways more by good beer guides than by Ni­chol­sons.

In the 1970s be­fore canals were as pop­u­lar, the only boats you could re­li­ably count on see­ing afloat were par­ties of drunken rev­ellers mak­ing their way be­tween pubs.

The crews may have been rau­cous, but in those days fewer peo­ple lived on the canals to be up­set by them; and, af­ter the hang­overs had sub­sided, many on these binges found they had been bit­ten by what was even then a rel­a­tively undis­cov­ered world.

To­day it’s a dif­fer­ent world. In the past, par­ties rented boats for a week or two, so that at least they got to see some­thing of the de­lights the canals of­fered.

Nowa­days, canals are used for these en­tirely in­ap­pro­pri­ate trips. The pan­de­mo­nium they cause is to­tal anath­ema to the quiet­ness and seclu­sion, which is what at­tracts most of us to the canals.

More se­ri­ously, the ex­ces­sive drink­ing they in­volve is com­pletely il­le­gal, not to men­tion down­right dan­ger­ous.

In­deed, it was lucky there wasn’t se­ri­ous in­jury on the K&A boats since there are re­ports of one crew mem­ber fall­ing in and an­other – with no con­cep­tion of the dan­gers of a turn­ing pro­pel­ler – at­tempt­ing to re­verse to pick him up.

To ad­ver­tise stag nights like this is an in­vi­ta­tion to be anti-so­cial, and rent­ing boats out in this way is not just neg­li­gence, it is ag­gra­vated neg­li­gence.

Of course, C&RT chief ex­ec­u­tive Richard Parry – a master of PR – was quick to pour oil on trou­bled wa­ters, recog­nis­ing the dam­age it could do if the in­ter­ests of hire boat com­pa­nies were pitched against lo­cal boaters. He wrote per­son­ally to a prom­i­nent mem­ber of the K&A com­mu­nity but his re­sponse has fu­elled more anger than it’s quelled.

Fur­ther­more, to de­scribe what hap­pened as a ‘par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dent’ which ‘it would be dis­pro­por­tion­ate to re­spond to’ is to­tally to mis­rep­re­sent the truth of the sit­u­a­tion. This sort of be­hav­iour has be­come com­mon­place on the K&A on Fri­day nights be­tween Bath and Brad­ford-on-Avon. It’s been go­ing on for years, as he must know un­less he’s been mis­led by his staff.

These stag night ren­tals must be stopped un­less they are crewed by an ex­pe­ri­enced boat­yard skip­per with au­thor­ity to stop pro­ceed­ings if they get out of hand.

And as for the crews of the of­fend­ing boats, it isn’t too late to pros­e­cute them as the old Bri­tish Wa­ter­ways board pros­e­cuted a boater at Bray­ford Pool on the Witham in Lin­coln in 2009.

That acted as an ex­am­ple to oth­ers. This one would too.

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