I'm not sure who had the idea, but the thought of drifting along on a canal boat for a few days rather appealed so we did that from Silsden to Skipton and it was rather nice. Now that I've had a weeks experience I'd better explain the finer points of navigation to all you land lubbers. Click on the thumb-nail pictures to get a better view, and click on the X in the lower right hand corner of the expanded picture to go back to the main page.
The Boat.The one we hired is about eight feet wide and (If memory serves) about 60 feet long. Ours is called Drummer Boy It's powered by a diesel engine. There are three speeds, not fast enough, (slow ahead) too slow (being overtaken by ducks) and stuck on something (stopped). The perceived speed of too fast (full ahead) can be achieved by getting in the way of a bigger craft or some immovable object like a bridge. On these occasions we were grateful that we hadn't hired the more comfortable (and expensive) double width type.
We set off under the surprisingly relaxed eye of the hire company in a careful and cautious manner, picking up fairly quickly the subtle nuances of hesitation (not casting off) deviation (bouncing off the bank) and repetition (trying again).
Locks (which leak alarmingly),You will not move a lock gate before the pressure of water on each side has equalised, so you can relax and chat to people (crew) from other boats as your partner will be on the other side operating the other lock gate. You will both need a special key (thingy) and a sort of cranked winding handle. Dropping either of these devices in the canal provides hours of fun for observers which is why they have big floats attached. (the devices, not the onlookers) A reasonable income can be made fishing for them (the devices, not the onlookers) and the brass water-tank plugs at the appropriate sites. To add a bit of a challenge the plugs and keys are made of non ferrous materials.
Steering is attempted with a tiller, a pole attached to the rudder, at the blunt end of the boat but the steering effect is in the middle, (midships) so if you push the tiller to your right (starboard) the rudder goes to the left resulting in the back (stern) of the boat going to the right. But the front (bow) goes to the left (Port) to an equal degree, so getting away from the bank can prove tricky. Anyway this only has an effect going forward (aft). Try it in reverse (going astern) and the steering has no effect, and a crosswind makes the whole thing go sideways (leeward) whatever you do. A crosswind hitting one end of the craft adds a complexity I'm not going to try to explain. you might as well tie up to whatever side you hit first, or both sides if you get wedged, (buggrd) and wait for the wind to drop. this blocks the traffic but provides entertainment for anybody watching. When motoring forward you need deliberate steering all the time and avoiding problems can take whole minutes of careful approach, if you take your eyes off the direction of the sharp end (heading) you will drift off course in a few seconds, as I discovered fairly often. Fortunately these craft are made of immensely thick steel and the use of them is referred to as a contact sport even by the hire company.
One boat we saw had a lateral acting bow-thruster which seemed a very good idea. I decided that if I was living on one of these things for a time I'd want one of those. It's the equivalent of 4-wheel drive.
Swing Bridges. It became swiftly apparent that there was more exercise involved than we has first thought. The swing bridges (and lock gates) are largely manual, and powered only by the designated idiot (bargee) However the process does teach patience, concentration and observation. Starting a swing bridge swinging requires effort, stopping it before it bounces off the end stop (and lurching out into the canal again) requires almost as much and has to be timed carefully. a swing bridge takes quite a while to open and close especially if there are barriers to lower and raise. Fortunately the local drivers seem tolerant.
The bridges have a neat trick built in. To open them for a boat you have to cross the canal on the bridge. To get back to the boat you have to close them again first. Actually you could walk back, the water is only two or three feet deep, but the rest of the crew won't let you back on board before you've been hosed down, the mud is not nice.
Turning around. this can only be done at a turning place (winding point) I'm not sure the wind is really used to turn the boat nowadays, but if it's against you, then you will have a problem. (getting your bow stuck in the mud) No chance of a handbrake turn either
Parking (mooring, heaved to, berth, tie up, ground or get stuck) This is lots of fun and is achieved with ropes. You can tie to a bollard or ring if provided, or failing that, giant tent pegs are driven into the ground. Generally however a canal boat is easier than a car in so far as you can park almost anywhere on the towpath side, which is great for getting to the shops because the canal runs straight through the middle of the towns and villages. This way you get direct access to shops, pubs and restaurants with free parking (and a short stagger back if burdened by shopping or alcohol). Navigation stops at night, so drink sailing is not generally a problem. Incidentally the bottom picture shows us moored at Gargrave village near Skipton. There's an Indian restaurant in Gargrave called Bollywood Cottage which you should visit if you come within 50 miles, and on the corner nearby there's a real old fashioned sweet shop that you will not pass easily. Gargrave is one of those villages that makes the world a better place, take my word for it. The odd thing is that the only advertised attraction is a roman villa which probably isn't, and you can't see anyway.
Skipton has a castle, rather unimaginitively called Skipton Castle, that is well worth a visit (and you can find it on most search engines). It is in a remarkable state of preservation. Presumably from being on the right (winning) side in the event of a punch-up.