BACK in January 2016, Norbury Wharf’s own fortune teller, Petrulengo Jenkins, dug out his crystal ball and the results were astounding.
He infallibly predicted: “Frost in January, green leaves in the spring, sun in the summer and lovely gold colours in the autumn here on the Shroppie”
One year on and some of his 2016 predictions are taking a little longer to come true but he insists the timing is just a little out and eventually we will all come see how right he was when he said: “I see diesel getting ever-cheaper, everybody getting a pay rise and peace and harmony breaking out between marina based boaters and continuous cruisers,” and went on. “And I predict the Canal & River Trust will abandon their fetish about 48-hour moorings and start making money through their charity chuggers.”
Petrulengo’s alter-ego – Simon Jenkins, managing director of Norbury Wharf on the Shropshire Union Canal – certainly got it right when he was optimistic that there would be more boats and more boaters, with a growth in canal holidays.
Like most prognosticators Simon didn’t see Brexit coming but he says it is likely to make 2017 even more popular with families looking for a high-quality break without the worry of what a plunging pound will do to their holiday money.
Simon added: “Not only will a canal holiday make sense for UK families but the falling pound is also likely to further boost the number of holidaymakers the canal system attracts from both Europe and America.
“A cheaper pound makes our good value holidays seem like real bargains for foreign visitors who will now get much more for their money.”
Simon, who has seen boats selling on the day of arrival at Norbury’s brokerage several times in 2016, had already accurately predicted that the number of boats used as homes would keep growing steadily, with several sold by Norbury heading down to join the London moorings merry-go-round. He said back in January: “I see nothing that will slow down that process as London house prices reach the stratosphere.”
Just a few days ago the Canal & River Trust announced that the number of boats on its London waterways* continues to increase, after research for the first time showed just how many people are making their homes on boats in the capital.
An explosion in boat numbers in recent years (a 57 per cent increase since 2012) prompted the Trust to carry out its first ever “Who’s On London’s Boats” survey to build a picture of the capital’s boating community in an effort to understand and meet their needs.
The results show that boat living is increasingly seen as a viable alternative lifestyle by many, particularly younger, people and those living alone or as couples.
Like many Simon already had a clear picture of London’s boaters and the Trust’s survey backs him up.
* 769 boaters – 58 per cent of the total respondents – describe their boat as their primary residence, with a further 156 saying the boat is either a second or temporary home.
* 50 per cent have been living on boats on London’s waterways for three years of less.
* 50 per cent cite financial reasons as motivation for living on a boat; but an overwhelming 82 per cent are attracted by the waterway environment (boats, wildlife, tranquillity etc).
* 41 per cent of those living on boats are under 35 years old.
* 43 per cent of those living on boats live alone, with 42% living as part of a cohabiting couple.
* 70 per cent own their boats outright.
Trend will continue
Simon Jenkins also expects the liveaboard trend to continue outside the capital and says there is now a need for a better balance between 48-hour moorings and seven or 14 days, which suit those long distance cruisers better.
At the end of 2016 boaters and waterways enthusiasts are awaiting an announcement from the Government about a Canal & River Trust takeover of the Environment Agency navigations, including the Thames and the rivers Nene and Ouse.
Simon is doubtful it will happen in 2017: “There is no property endowment to support those navigations and it will only be practical if a large lump of taxpayers money comes to the Trust and keeps coming. I worry what will happen if Government cash runs out, there isn’t even any guarantee of money to keep the existing C&RT network properly funded in future years.
“The Trust does sometimes appear out of touch with the canals, and the announcement of an increase in boat licence fees well above current inflation rates in 2017 does seem to ignore the financial pressures many boaters and boating business are under.
“However, I am afraid that may be the shape of things to come with Brexit predicted to force up inflation in the UK and the Trust seemingly unable to bring in sufficient funds from charity donations, even with the current support of government grants.
“Boaters are a target that is easy to hit, as are canalside businesses and I am afraid we will be seeing more and more increases as things get more difficult.”
He is also concerned about the precedent about to be set in London of charging visiting boats for mooring places.
“In essence this just opens up another income stream from boaters, who pay their licence in order to be able to moor freely anywhere on the system. “If C&RT continue down this road in other mooring ‘hot-spots’ it will add to the cost of boating holidays and everyday boating and threatens to reverse the growth trend we have enjoyed in the past couple of years. It is a dangerous precedent to set.”
On the positive side, Simon is predicting thousands more people will get involved in Norbury Wharf’s monthly giveaways on social media, with prizes ranging from floating fish and chip suppers to boating holidays.
“For us, the giveaways of 2016, initialling celebrating my 50th birthday, have been a massive success, bringing us thousands of new friends on social media. That’s why we are continuing them next year and we aim to attract thousands more people to the waterways and Norbury Wharf.”
At present Simon says he sees the number of boats and boaters growing steadily again this year.
“As I said last year,” Simon explained, “the more people that know the canals and come to love them, the more likely they, and businesses like ours that serve them, will continue to thrive.
“The more boaters the merrier, and that means all sorts, from those taking a trip on the Shropshire Star, our trip boat, or on one of our day boats or hire boats, right through to those buying a boat of their own.
“More boats, more people on the cut. It can only be good for our future.”