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