Many canal enthusiasts will have heard of the “Idle Women” who crewed the cargo boats during the wars, when Britain’s men were called up to fight. However, 21st century boatwomen are now making use of our beautifully restored canal system by living aboard, community boating, volunteering, helping adults with learning difficulties, training as skippers , leading community activities, doing youth work and selling cheese! Here are four women that have found interesting ways to benefit from the UK canals.
Heidi Siggers lives on a narrowboat with her partner and two young children. She has lived aboard her current boat for 7 years and been boating for 27 years. But it was community boating that first got Heidi interested.
As a teenager with behavioural problems, Heidi Siggers was taken on a community boat trip to London. She went off exploring, got lost in London, and stayed out until midnight. During the holiday the young people on board enjoyed pushing each other into Camden locks, and buying cigarettes and whisky. Eventually the trip organisers had to threaten to send all of the teenagers home. So what did Heidi do next?
2) Louise Yeoman – The Nautical Nurse!
Louise Yeoman is a nurse who lives aboard with her daughter on the outskirts of London. As a teenager she was eager to learn more about boats and her local canal and so in 1989 she became involved with Hillingdon Narrowboats Association as a voluntary steerer.
Louise says, “I would recommend community boating and undertaking a training course to anyone who loves boating and helping other people enjoy the benefits of a day or two cruising in the fresh air passing scenic routes.”
3) Cat Joynt – Too Young to Steer?
Catriona Joynt first came to the Nottingham Narrowboat Project on a college day trip and has now trained as a skipper. At 21 she is much younger than the average community boater.
Cat says, “We provide a D of E on the boats, teaching young people boat handling: We use the NCBA boat handling course for this. When we take day trips out we teach everyone on board how to steer and work the locks. We have had children as young as 5 steering our 72ft narrowboats.”
4) Geraldine Prescott – Roving Trader
Geraldine Prescott lives aboard The Cheese Boat and travels the canals of England with her husband Michael, selling home-made Welsh cheeses and Mike’s homemade chutneys. She was kind enough to share her thoughts with me about the challenges of living aboard.
“I feel that a disabled person can quite easily live on a boat, but not on their own. There are problems with mooring up, changing gas bottles, and lifting anything off the roof i.e. bags of coal or wood.”
Several of our member organisations provide day trips on accessible boats and some provide canal boat holidays for disabled people and their family and friends. If you’d like to take a trip on an accessible boat search for a community boating organisation near you on our main website: The National Community Boats Association.
There are plenty of female volunteers who are active within community boating, but not so many who are working as skippers. If you are a female boater you may also like our article Do We Need More Women on the Cut?
If you’d like to train as a skipper check out our NCBA training courses.