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Narrowboats and the good old USA


Gary Peacock

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Over the last few months I have dealt with quite a few seemingly genuine enquiries for narrowboats to be built and shipped to the USA, maybe Terry Darlington's latest book Narrow Dog to Indian River might have something to do with this?

 

Now my first reaction was it's a bloody silly idea and why the hell would you want a narrow ditch crawler in the states? :lol:

 

But after about half a dozen enquiries I have begun to wonder.

 

I do know from looking at the web stats that a lot of the interest came from a link on a US based boat building site but for folk to then go on and actually bother enquiring it makes you wonder.

 

I am still bemused by why you would actually want a boat designed for a very specif type of waterways environment in a totally alien one that it might not even be best suited too but all I can put it down to is the novelty and British association that the Americans seem drawn too?

 

We do sell boats through associates and advertise occasionally in the greater Europe but where to start if we were going to try in the USA would be an absolute nightmare obviously the cheapest and probably best approach at least initially is going to be web based but doing the research and the webwork required could be very time consuming so it might be better to just find an agent out there and pay them some commision if they managed to sell one.

 

The Americans seem to take their boats and boating very seriously but where you would set about finding potential American narrow boaters I just don't know?

Edited by Gary Peacock
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Sounds completely bonkers to me ! A complete antithesis to the 'bigger is better' culture.

 

Also not sure that the average American would be able to turn around inside a narrowboat, let alone get in through front or back...... :lol:

 

 

 

But then there are 250 million over there and that's a fairly large untapped customer base......

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i think its probably a case of wanting something from the old country sort of thing, they love the accent and everything else English, why not a quaint little narrowboat.

 

Your very right there I used to work with US armed forces in the UK quite a bit and they loved all the "British thing" so much they used to have problems getting some members to accept postings back home!

 

One guy put it down to us having history/heritage and the place being so small! (I think he liked the beer too but he never would admit that.) :lol:

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Well as we do have the intra-coastal waterways here I think a wide-beam would do very nicely as a home. I'm not sure a narrow-beam would make any sense. But fools and their money...

 

As far as any other reason goes. They'd stand out. Many Americans seem to want to have the new, better thing and want to stand out from their neighbours. When you look at the majority of boats here it's always a white fibreglass something. They all look the same.

Edited by Jason Wilson and Family
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The Americans seem to take their boats and boating very seariously but where you would set about finding potential American narrowboaters I just don't know?

 

Here's one firm that rents boats on the Erie Canal that look similar to English narrowboats:

 

http://www.midlakesnav.com/lockmaster/index.html

 

My wife and I considered staying on this side of the Atlantic and doing the Erie Canal instead of a canal in England, but couldn't get excited about seeing more of the USA versus the English countryside.

 

But, aren't traditional English narrowboats difficult to handle on open waters? Most of the waterways over here are wider and have idiots buzzing around on Jet-ski's or their father's speed boat.

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Here's one firm that rents boats on the Erie Canal that look similar to English narrowboats:

 

http://www.midlakesnav.com/lockmaster/index.html

 

My wife and I considered staying on this side of the Atlantic and doing the Erie Canal instead of a canal in England, but couldn't get excited about seeing more of the USA versus the English countryside.

 

But, aren't traditional English narrowboats difficult to handle on open waters? Most of the waterways over here are wider and have idiots buzzing around on Jet-ski's or their father's speed boat.

 

I think it would make sence to mess with the narrowboat concept and maybe make it a bit wider and give it a bit more draft this would make it a more sencible design for use in a very different enviroment while keeping some of the "traditional effect" (if in reality that does exist) would still be possible.

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I think it would make sence to mess with the narrowboat concept and maybe make it a bit wider and give it a bit more draft this would make it a more sencible design for use in a very different enviroment while keeping some of the "traditional effect" (if in reality that does exist) would still be possible.

 

Now that I see the layouts of their boats, they do look to be wider than 7 feet:

 

http://www.midlakesnav.com/lockmaster/theboats.html

 

As Americans, we love the open road and taking our home along with us, as evidenced by the millions of motorhomes on the roads here. I can see how the same concept could easily transfer to the water. I've been joking with my wife that I would never get her to agree to a motorhome vacation, but she's going along with the narrowboating idea easily. (She's even reading "Narrowboat Dreams" by Steve Haywood)

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Now that I see the layouts of their boats, they do look to be wider than 7 feet:

 

http://www.midlakesnav.com/lockmaster/theboats.html

 

As Americans, we love the open road and taking our home along with us, as evidenced by the millions of motorhomes on the roads here. I can see how the same concept could easily transfer to the water. I've been joking with my wife that I would never get her to agree to a motorhome vacation, but she's going along with the narrowboating idea easily. (She's even reading "Narrowboat Dreams" by Steve Haywood)

 

By a strange coincidence I just bought that book today!

 

I normally stay away from books about canals and boats because it's a bit like "a bus mans holiday" but this one looked interesting enough to break the rule, I was given a copy of Narrow Dog to Carcassonne by Terry Darlington a few years ago which although many hated I actually quite enjoyed too.

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Americans like to be the first with an idea and see if it worked. Having some experience with boating in the USA, I would not supply a standard type narrow boat to anywhere in the USA.

 

However there is a market I feel for a widebeam, at the right prices but not at this current time and market. The Intercoastal Waterway would be fine for that and so will the large rivers with their locks. Transporting widebeams to different rivers would also be easy. I will make an exception of the Los Angelise River in all of this.

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Well an interesting conversation. I am researching how to bring a narrowboat to the USA it will be used in the Sacramento River delta, which has over 1000 protected miles of river. As an ex sailboat person the idea of a narrow but completely flat cabin floor means a fair amount of usable space. The concept of a narrow easily driven boat also compact vessel makes sense from the ecological standpoint. The flat roof will make an excellent space for solar panels and the small space will be economical to heat. So perhaps I will have one custom built and widen it a bit but since many flat bottom pontoon craft ply the Sacramento waters I don't think the basic design will need alteration. Having said all that it's good when buying any boat to carefully consider all this. We have two off the grid solar homes and I want an off the dock solar boat and believe that a narrowboat will work well. Thanks all for the thoughts and ideas. Michael

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I would say a boat with a beam of about 8 1/2ft would be about right we built a few in the past for France they were a nice mid point between a narrowboat and a broad beam and at first glance still appeared to be a narrowboat, of course building a boat to that dimension for the UK would be a ridiculous concept being no longer a narrowboat or a worthwhile broad beam.

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I would say a boat with a beam of about 8 1/2ft would be about right we built a few in the past for France they were a nice mid point between a narrowboat and a broad beam and at first glance still appeared to be a narrowboat, of course building a boat to that dimension for the UK would be a ridiculous concept being no longer a narrowboat or a worthwhile broad beam.

 

 

Thanks Gary, I'm still researching shipping costs. So far it looks like about 15,000 US dollars to ship over. So I need to find out about the taxes and then determine the best approach. I'm thinking that having a shell built and shipped over would be a good choice. I could also get plans and have it locally built but then I have the issue of having to accept the first one built by a company who may or may not understand the nuances that cannot ever fully be represented in plans. Have a great evening thanks for posing the topic. Seems to me that a flat bottomed boat with the protected propeller would be ideal for our river. Michael

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  • 11 years later...

There are some good cruising loops. When we were in Chicago a year ago we visited the lock at Lockport in Illinois. They had a steady stream of boats coming up the Erie Canal (in extremis the St Lawrence seaway), then from Chicago down to the Mississippi, Gulf of Mexico, Florida, and then up the Intracostal Waterway.

 

More recently I have been reading a fascinating book about how the St Lawrence seaway has been an ecological disaster for the Great Lakes.

 

https://scholargypsy.org.uk/2019/03/13/illinois-waterway-and-other-chicago-sights/

 

https://scholargypsy.org.uk/2020/01/06/wisconsin-new-year-2020/

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4 hours ago, PennsylvaniaKnowledge said:

I think Traditional narrowboats would work wonders in some of our smaller calmer rivers , like maybe the Kiski River here in Pennsylvania, the question though is it deep enough? (average depth 3 to 5 feet ( .914 meters to 1.524 meters))

That's deeper than a lot of our narrow canals! :lol:

 

Length is often more of an issue, even on the Thames above Oxford, one of our bigger rivers, a 70 foot narrow boat can be a bit of a handful - I'll have to look up the Kiski River

 

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3 hours ago, Scholar Gypsy said:

There are some good cruising loops. When we were in Chicago a year ago we visited the lock at Lockport in Illinois. They had a steady stream of boats coming up the Erie Canal (in extremis the St Lawrence seaway), then from Chicago down to the Mississippi, Gulf of Mexico, Florida, and then up the Intracostal Waterway.

 

More recently I have been reading a fascinating book about how the St Lawrence seaway has been an ecological disaster for the Great Lakes.

 

https://scholargypsy.org.uk/2019/03/13/illinois-waterway-and-other-chicago-sights/

 

https://scholargypsy.org.uk/2020/01/06/wisconsin-new-year-2020/

Thanks Simon for an interesting post and for your photos.  I was interested particularly about the book you mentioned about the St Lawrence Seaway having been an ecological disaster. I would appreciate details so I can look out for a copy. It will have some significance for me having spent three full seasons between 1961 to 1963 travelling up and down the full length of the Seaway form Montreal to Duluth (apart from Lake Michigan). In those days the Seaway was still very new and it worked very efficiently. As a sign of  how things have changed, we used to replenish our drinking water tanks by pumping directly from the middle of Lake Superior! From what I read that wouldn't be such a good idea today.?

 

Howard

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37 minutes ago, howardang said:

Thanks Simon for an interesting post and for your photos.  I was interested particularly about the book you mentioned about the St Lawrence Seaway having been an ecological disaster. I would appreciate details so I can look out for a copy. It will have some significance for me having spent three full seasons between 1961 to 1963 travelling up and down the full length of the Seaway form Montreal to Duluth (apart from Lake Michigan). In those days the Seaway was still very new and it worked very efficiently. As a sign of  how things have changed, we used to replenish our drinking water tanks by pumping directly from the middle of Lake Superior! From what I read that wouldn't be such a good idea today.?

 

Howard

Here you go:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Life-Great-Lakes/dp/0393355551/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=dan+egan+lakes&qid=1578326734&sr=8-1 

 

I think the basic problem was empty ships coming up the seaway, emptying their ballast tanks (which contained all sorts of invasive species and some pollutants), and filling up with goods for export.  Ships are now supposed to flush their tanks at sea, but the book argues that is not 100% effective and the seaway should now be closed and the remaining traffic switched to rail. (The locks are now tiny, not big enough for some of the ships that operate on the Lakes).  The Fox river has been closed to navigation since 1983 for this reason.

http://archive.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/plan-to-bypass-fox-river-lock-prompts-concerns-over-invasive-species-b99390276z1-282885451.html

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1 hour ago, Scholar Gypsy said:

Here you go:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Life-Great-Lakes/dp/0393355551/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=dan+egan+lakes&qid=1578326734&sr=8-1 

 

I think the basic problem was empty ships coming up the seaway, emptying their ballast tanks (which contained all sorts of invasive species and some pollutants), and filling up with goods for export.  Ships are now supposed to flush their tanks at sea, but the book argues that is not 100% effective and the seaway should now be closed and the remaining traffic switched to rail. (The locks are now tiny, not big enough for some of the ships that operate on the Lakes).  The Fox river has been closed to navigation since 1983 for this reason.

http://archive.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/plan-to-bypass-fox-river-lock-prompts-concerns-over-invasive-species-b99390276z1-282885451.html

Thank you for the book details & I will hunt it out.

Yes, I do think contaminated ballast water has had a lot to do with the issue. We were around 450ft long, 27ft draft 6900 grt and 10,000 tons dead weight. Large ships for their time, but small compared to the rather more specialised ships of today, and the Seaway was constructed with ships of our size in mind. We specialised, with cars outbound from UK/Europe with grain and aluminium ingots homeward. Rather a coals to Newcastle story, but we even took new Ford cars from Dagenham to Detroit, together with Volkswagens from Germany!  Because 400-500 cars were comparatively light we carried a lot of water ballast, and even in those days we were careful to flush out the tanks with fresh sea water once in deep water mid Atlantic. I was very fortunate in those days to have been through many of the Worlds canals, such as Kiel Canal, Chesapeake and Delaware, Manchester Ship Canal, and the Cape Cod Canal .

 

Forgive me if you have seen any of these before but they are of their time.

The first is a Walter Cronkite film about the building of the Seaway.

The second is a shorter one which I think was aimed at a more general audience but is still worth seeing, and the final one is a time lapse of a passage through the Welland Canal on a Great Lakes vessel, in more recent times.

 

Howard

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Funny to read all the stereotyping in this thread. 

I agree that most places a Narrow Boat makes no sense. I live on the Tennessee River and one would be down right dangerous on a windy stormy day.  But the US dwarfs the UK in size and diversity and to say they wouldn't work in the US is a painting with a broad brush. There are lots of places where they would fit and work well. 

  • Greenie 2
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