Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Double Mooring etiquette

It took a while to get my head around the concept of double mooring. 

If you who do not bring your boat into London, do not have a boat OR you are the Liverpudlian I met in Braunston who asked, “Soooooo, what’s with all this doubling up  you does down there, like?” I’ll start with an explanation. 

In London (and perhaps other places that I haven’t been),  there is never enough space for every boat to park alongside the towpath. To maximize the space that is available, we therefore moor up alongside one another.  If moored on the outside, you will therefore have to step onto another boat  to reach the towpath. It’s a horizontal, boaty equivalent to high rise buildings - a way of expanding limited space to accommodate the excess of demand over supply. 

As I already said, it took a while to get my head around it.

Can I just tie myself to another boat?

Do I ask permission first?

What if they don’t like me being there?

What if I am the outside and the inside boater wants to leave when I am not there?

What if I am on the inside and I want to leave whilst they’re not there?

Does the 14 day mooring rule start when I am on an outside mooring or only once I’ve moved to the towpath?

If the 14 day mooring rule DOES include outside mooring time, how will CART be able to check my license details?

If I am on the outside, grease my gunwales and move my license to the most inconvenient window position possible, might I then get to stay longer than 14 days?

Do the answers to any of these questions change if I am triple moored?

Or quadruple moored?

And is five abreast still OK?

On my first few trips to London, I never double moored. It felt like a huge violation of the other boat’s privacy. Yes, I saw other boats tied together everywhere I went but  I assumed they were friends traveling together. If I couldn’t get in at Little Venice or Camden, I’d find myself somewhere at a less celebrated spot instead. I normally only came in for short periods anyway so I managed to get by.

Now that I sort of know what I’m doing, I enjoy being double moored and have made many new boating friends through doing so. I prefer to be on the outside but, either way, I feel safe buried in the midst of a cavalcade and I’d much rather be tied to another boat than whack a set of mooring pins into soft, wet ground (a particular point of contention on account of having recently woken up in rain-sodden Kensal Green with the front of my boat banging against the opposite bank).

My questions about the etiquette have all been answered through getting stuck in and doing it. As is so often the case in life, something that I once feared now seems normal. It’s a fine system and we mostly get on with each other. I appreciate the benefits and accept the drawbacks. 

Last week. however, I had a double mooring experience in Little Venice which I haven’t fully processed. If you have an opinion on what I’m about to describe please, feel free to comment.

I was moored to the outside of a narrowboat that was considerably shorter than mine. 

My neighbour’s stern was fitted with a pram hood  so  I was not able to board via the back deck. Whilst mooring up, I reversed so that the front of my boat sat parallel with my neighbour’s front deck.  I would then be able to get on and off safely at that end - by stepping onto my neighbour’s front deck and  onto the towpath. 

Once the boat was secure,  I headed to the supermarket.

When I came back, my boat had been moved forward about 8 ft in order that a new arrival could squeeze in behind me.

I was still on the outside  but now the front of my boat was sticking out.  Even without my 4 bags of shopping, how was I supposed to get back on?

I was initially startled, then felt angry but was I being too precious? After all,  there are times when I’ve also moved other boats up in order to create space for myself. However, I’d never restricted my neighbour’s access to their own home.

I stepped onto the inside boat’s front deck and then onto my own thin gunwales, tightrope walked along to my front deck and crouched down to unzip the cratch cover. I then repeated this action twice more in order to get my shopping on board. I didn’t leave the boat again that evening and, the next day, I decided to find another mooring.

I didn’t meet the boaters who had moved my boat in order to create space for theirs. I understood their need for a mooring space but why hadn’t they understood my need for safe access? Even if they had assumed that - as a boater - I’d be OK with using my gunwales, what if I had friends coming to visit? Furthermore, there were other spaces in Little Venice where they could have double moored, albeit a little further away from the water point. There were also places where, as others had done, they could have triple moored.  

My decision to leave was only partly influenced by the physical awkwardness that had been forced upon me. The main factor was my perception of these people on the boat behind. All I knew about them  was that, in order to fulfil their own needs, they  had disregarded mine.  That scared me a little. I was uncomfortable there, felt violated and didn’t want to be near them. That was my motivation for moving on.

When I step aside and examine what happened objectively, I suspect I over-reacted. If anyone was truly as selfish & disrespectful as I’d convinced myself they were, my boat would simply have been cast adrift in order to make room for theirs. However, they had secured my boat properly again once they’d moved me up. These were not the actions of the Somalian pirates I’d conjured up in my imagination.

We’re all doing our best to co-exist in an overcrowded, under-resourced environment and, for the most part, we do so extraordinarily well. My predominant experience is that London boaters make for a friendly, supportive & helpful  community - often against the odds (or perhaps because of them).

By moving away without bothering to talk to the boaters who had inconvenienced me, I had experienced a moment of self pity and denied myself a potentially enlightening opportunity. I usually try to communicate honestly and openly but, on this occasion, I had shut myself down and seen myself as the victim of their selfish actions. 

The sparse moorings in London are disappearing at an alarming rate. Double moorings have been temporarily stopped in Angel to appease some residents there and a huge number of moorings in Kings Cross have just been taken away too due to construction work. Worst of all, CART (the charity that is responsible for running the system and to whom boaters pay a significant annual license fee in order to  be able to use - and moor - on the waterways they govern) decided it was appropriate to boost their profits by selling off a huge proportion of what little space remains for the winter months.  Boaters who pay the extra premium may occupy these - previously public   - moorings for the winter months. The majority of boaters in London who choose not to take a mooring (or cannot afford to) therefore have even less space available on which to moor. Every metre of mooring space that CART has sold and profited from means that another metre of towpath is placed under even greater pressure. More double moorings becoming triple moorings and more boats have to be moved up to accommodate new arrivals. 

Given the rapid - and ongoing - reduction of space for continuous cruisers in London, a more appropriate term might be “Lessings.”

Jan 8th, 2014

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