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An American Couple Hooked On Canal Cruising

By Bob and Jane Fulton

Bob and Jane FultonWe’re Bob and Jane Fulton and we’re Yanks. Being Yanks, we’re not quite sure why Brits drive their cars on the left and their narrowboats on the right. This quandary began for us back in 1998. We were on holiday in Great Britain with friends from Dallas, they for one week and we for two. Having just seen them off at Heathrow, we made our way to Paddington Station, hopped a train to Bath and rented a car to explore the Cotswolds.

Caen Hill locksIn Devizes, crossing what we would later learn was the Kennet & Avon Canal, we saw our first narrowboat. We parked to take a closer look, then walked down to the canal side to observe lock operation at close range. We didn’t know it then but we were hooked as we watched boat and crew begin their descent of the 29 Caen Hill locks.

In one way or another we have been boaters since 1952, sailing as children, then canoeing on lakes and ponds and later on white water rivers with names like the New, Ocoee, Nantahala, Cheat, Youghiogheny and Lehigh that carve their way down the steep slopes of the Allegheny and Appalachian mountains.

By 1994, we were sailors again, albeit Texas sailors, until we moved to Jane’s Connecticut home town in 2000. There our boating stopped abruptly as our lives changed in many ways. We were taking care of parents, preparing for retirement and thinking ahead to a “final move” into our retirement residence here at home and traveling to far away destinations on holiday. It seemed a natural step in this direction when we decided to purchase a timeshare unit in the Berkshire Mountains, USA, a decision that would make it possible for us to enjoy narrowboating in the coming years.

In the Fall of 2005 we exchanged our New England time share for a hire boat and tried our hand on British Waterways canals and locks. Jane, I and Oklahoma friends Bobby and Starr, accustomed to sharing a 33’ sailboat, felt that a 45’ narrowboat would provide more than ample quarters for a one week cruise. As it turned out, neither NB Wicked William nor the holiday were long enough. The four of us returned in 2007 with two weeks in hand to take NB Portia, a 63 footer, from Barton under Needwood to the Caldon Canal’s Hazelhurst Junction and back. The boat was certainly long enough if the holiday was not.

Finally, in three weeks in the Fall of 2009, Jane and I navigated both branches of the Caldon Canal aboard NB Ramsden Square in addition to the Severn River from Worcester to Stourport and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire to Haywood Junction. There we would meet our old friend, the Trent and Mersey, which would take us back to Stone where we would make some new friends for life.

s/v VoyageurAs for that “final move”, in 2007 we bought a 40 foot Island Packet sailboat, a year later sold our home, cars and most all else, moved aboard and on September 28 of 2008, we cast off our lines and headed South for Florida and the Bahamas. We plan to return to the UK in Fall of 2011 for a four week narrowboat cruise, perhaps up to the Llangollen and across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a cruise with endearing scenic qualities.

We will return to the UK’s canals and locks as long as we can and, while on the topic of endearing qualities, we continue to wonder, as the years and miles flow by, why our British friends drive their cars on the left and their narrowboats on the right.

Bob & Jane Fulton

Editors Note:

CanalCuttings met Bob and Jane at Gailey Wharf in the autumn of 2009 and look forward to seeing them 'down the cut' again soon.

We know that Bob and Jane's question was rhetorical but for those of you who can't work it out - Canal etiquette dictates that boaters pass oncoming boats on the right because most people are right handed on the tiller and in that position you are able to see the closing gap, making better distance judgments, from that position.

Did you know though that a US gallon is smaller than an Imperial gallon? Well this comes about when the US 'weights and measures' guys, way back in the good ol' days, decided that the pint in the USA would have the same number of fluid ounces as a pound weight has (solid) ounces. Thereby creating a US gallon of 128 fl oz (16 fl oz to the pint) as opposed to the Imperial gallon of 160 fl oz (20 fl oz to the pint).

Oh! And we drive on the left because we can Bob!