AMAZING has to be the word to describe my 2 day RYA Helmsman Course with Castaway Canal Boats at the end of September 2019.

The course itself was expertly run and supervised by Ali who maintains a firm but enjoyable hand on the proceedings.

There were 3 of us on the course and my two companion trainees were equally great to be along with, not least because we all seemed to share the same type of humour and spookily, all having the same ‘end goals’.

The weather forecast though meant we were all advised to bring plenty of wet weather gear. Not quite the sun kissed training we were hoping for, especially as the weather timing meant a visit from the tail end of what was, Hurricane Humberto.

Because of distances travelled, two of us spent the Friday evening on the narrow-boat. Did it rain, yes it did amazingly so and over night it delighted us with hail, strong winds, lighting and thunder. The forecast for the next day, was equally as bad!

Just to add some variety into the mix, the boat was moored under a horse chestnut tree, so every time the wind blew the conkers fell from the tree, onto the top of the boat, playing out its own medley of Morse Code.

As it happened, the next day dawned wet, but at start time approached, it turned into another beautiful sunny, if windy day. On reflection, i’m pleased it was not gloriously sunny and calm. This way we really got to experience handling a boat in at times challenging weather.

The day was not without its interest either, Lady Lena: Bath’s finest canal cruises is based, as was the course, on the beautiful Kennet and Avon Canal, in Bathampton. On several occasions this majestic craft, built in 1890 and believed to be the oldest electric powered craft in existence, passed by with its champagne toasting parties. It really is a picture to behold and if you have not seen it, head on over to their website at to discover more.

After a full days training it was good to frequent The George at Bathampton for the second night running, to enjoy the delights of well presented food and a quiet drink. Now those that know me, know I don’t drink much but the temptation offered to me of a double Drambuie as a nightcap, was too hard to resist – thanks Ron 🙂

The rain, which had held off all day, had restarted not long after we had entered the pub and was to continue all night. Unfortunately, as we left the pub I stepped into what can only be described as a moat, right outside the front door entrance much to the amusement of others. No I was not drunk, it was dark!!

Once again, the final day dawned overcast and for once the weather forecast looked to be right. However, as the second days training started, the sun came out but the wind decided to blow and by the end of that day was gusting pretty hard.

It was great to be in the company of a good ‘team’, and like so many before us, we all felt some pride at being told we had passed.

So apart from the comprehensive course syllabus, what else did I learn, well most importantly don’t moor under a conker tree and if you happen to hear a boat approaching with a ghetto blaster for accompaniment, its probably a hen or stag do out for the weekend and their boats don’t always go quite where you expect them too! That said despite the best efforts of the wind, boating courtesy prevailed from everyone we met on what was a busy weekend on the canal.

If anyone is wondering what narrow boating is like, I would certainly recommend taking either the one day or two day course, especially, if like us you are seeking to be a solo boater on our amazing and at times entertaining canal network.