What really started my interest in boats was a friend's idea, in 1972, that three of us should hire a narrowboat and take two weeks holiday on the canals. At that time I would have been 18 years old! The idea became reality, and we hired a boat from a company called "Premier Narrowboats" who were based at Bartington Wharf, Acton Bridge, Northwich, on the Trent and Mersey Canal.
Our boat, Benjamin Disraeli, in an unknown lock circa 1972.
We booked through Hoseasons, and wanted to take the boat south, on the Trent and Mersey, through the Harecastle tunnel. We would then join the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal at it's junction, heading for Stourport on Severn. However, as the time to go approached, we were informed that British Waterways had just imposed a closure order on Harecastle Tunnel, for safety reasons. Our plans were quickly changed to use the Shropshire Union Canal instead to get us to our planned destination.
Our revised plan was to set off from Acton Bridge, heading south, take the Middlewich branch of the Shroppie, and then south on the main line to Autherley Junction to join the Staffs and Worcester Canal to Stourport.
Nantwich basin, Shropshire Union Canal, circa 1972
Our journey would take us past all the places that I know very well today, but it was all very new to me then, and I remember being awestruck at the beautiful countryside we travelled through. Remember, this was not many years after the canals had generally been abandoned by commercial traffic, and I remember some of the locks, particularly on The Staffs and Worcester were in a very poor state of repair.
Goldstone Wharf, Shropshire Union Canal circa 1972
We timed our journeys, stopped at canal side pubs, and generally had a great time as three young lads would in such circumstances. When we reached Stourport, we turned around in the basin and retraced our journey home.
Stourport on Severn circa 1972
In fact we enjoyed it so much, that one of the lads bought his own boat, a Norman 23, the next year, on The Lancaster Canal, and I followed suit in 1974, when I bought my Norman 20, Kelly Sue, also on The Lancaster Canal. I thought it was strange when we decided to buy our narrowboat that it would be such a similar name. The other lad, unlike me, has continued boat ownership ever since, and also owns his own narrowboat now.
As related in my "about us" page, I also had a great time with my own boat. It was a Norman 20, complete with a 20HP Mercury outboard motor, moored in Galgate Marina. It was only one season old when I bought it, having saved the deposit and then financed it with a loan from my father. It cost £1500 all in. During the time I had it, I became good friends with the marina manager's son, who also worked there as a marine engineer. I acquired a road trailer, and together we spent some great times at Windermere, water skiing with a mutual friend who happened to own a ski boat.
Kelly Sue and ski boat at Windermere circa 1975
Well, as you might have guessed, water skiing seemed to be much more appealing to a 21 year old, and the cruiser went up for sale! I was now part of a group who would travel to Windermere at every opportunity to participate in this sport.
A hire boat at Low Wood Hotel, Windermere, circa 1975
I know that fuel was probably much cheaper in those days, but it still frightens me to remember how much petrol we got through travelling there towing a boat, and then skiing non stop all day long. I can now look back on some memorable, long, hot sunny days during the summers of 1975 and 1976. We would stay until sunset, making use of the calm water.
This is how I towed boats, a 1959 Land Rover
Having sold the Norman cruiser, I was now able to fully indulge in my new hobby, and I bought my own new Fletcher Arrowsport 150 sports boat complete with a Mercury 85HP motor and road trailer.
From the driving seat of the Fletcher on Windermere
This really did use the fuel, at a rate of 10 - 12 gallons an hour at skiing speeds, which we always paid for as a group. We not only used it at Windermere, but also had a memorable holiday at the coast in Poole, Dorset. I will never forget the experience of sailing out of the harbour at low speed, past the ferry at The Haven Hotel, then easing the throttle forward to bring the boat up to planing speed as we entered open sea. We then made maximum speed across Bournmouth Bay, bouncing off the waves, making our way to our ski area, all in the hot summer sun of 1976, one of the hottest and driest British summers on record.
Refuelling in Poole Harbour circa 1976
At the end of the summer, for what reason I can't remember, I decided to sell the boat, and that was the end of boat ownership for me until 2005, although, after getting married in 1980, we continued to hire on the canals and rivers, and have cruised most English canals, The River Thames, and The Fens.