“I Never Give In To Bullies” – A Letter To BW

Two years ago, BW proposed in a previous consultation to increase the licence fee for boats without a home mooring by £150. This plan provoked enormous opposition from boaters. One of the responses to that 2008 consultation summed up how many of us feel. We decided it was time to share this inspiring and angry letter with other boaters. Here is an edited version.

18/10/2008

Dear Mr Salem

I have read British Waterways’ response to the BWAF report on boat licence fees and this is my response to that. I live on a boat and have done so for 18 years, I am an individual and speak for myself and do not subvert that right to user groups, whoever they might be.

The points I take exception to, which I believe are the main purpose of the exercise, are those relating to the so-called ‘continuous cruiser’ which is the absurd name and concept applied to people who live on boats who neither need nor want a permanent mooring. This ‘concept’ was devised by the over-promoted office clerk Sally Ash as a ludicrous interpretation of the 1995 Waterways Act which has caused nothing but trouble ever since but has been seized upon by boat clubs and hireboat operators, who undoubtedly helped devise the idea, to demonise and persecute all people who live on boats who these groups so avidly dislike.

When people say they want to ‘live on a boat’ their intention is to live on a boat and move around/explore the canals and rivers at their leisure, going where they want, when they want and live their life in that context. They do not mean that they want to ‘live in a marina’, which is like living in a car park, and they do not mean that they want to join a boat club and go out on their boats on weekends in large groups for picnics and barbecues, in many cases, pretending their boats are ‘yachts’ while submitting to the ‘authority’ of the ‘Commodore’ and the ‘Officer of the Day’. What they want, and I include myself, is to be as far away from that mentality as possible while still managing to avail themselves of such social services and facilities to which they are entitled and to maintain and develop such relationships and family commitments as is their wish and their right within a civilised society. They find themselves, however, denied these rights and entitlements by the ‘rules’ of the aforementioned absurd concept of ‘continuous cruising’ devised by an office worker who has never lived on a boat and who is herself another example of the hideous bureaucratic mentality from which we seek to escape. I, therefore, submit to the McCarthyite regime of British Waterways that I am not nor have I ever been a ‘continuous cruiser’ and I don’t intend to start now. I therefore, cannot accept the validity of any   recommendations that accept, unquestioningly, that concept.

You indicate that it is your intention to charge those people who live on boats, and neither need nor want a mooring, and extra £150 on the annual licence. You state that it is your belief that this would improve ‘fairness’ and reduce the problem of ‘continuous moorers’. What do you mean by ‘fairness’? We choose to live on a boat, other people choose to live in a house and also have a boat for occasional leisure use. They do what they do and we do what we do. If they want to do what we do there is nothing to stop them. Other than, of course, the fact that they do not wish to give up their house and live in a space that is less than six feet wide and, as regards the living area, probably less than thirty feet long. But then of course, such is the mentality of these people that they ‘want it all’ and if they can’t have what they want they’ll do everything they can to stop anyone else having it. I am quite content to live on my boat in a small space, on the towpath, with no ‘fixed address’, no car, no security other than that which I provide for myself and none of the props and accoutrements that are so vital to the self esteem of those of the ‘I want what you’ve got’ mentality. How, then, is what I do ‘unfair’ to other people? They – the members of boat clubs – can do exactly the same as I do without any extra costs or special membership conditions. I, however, am excluded from their club based activity unless I am accepted as a member of their club and pay a membership fee and agree to terms and conditions that are not of my choosing. People on moorings are paying for facilities I don’t have and are doing so as that suits their particular usage of their boat. I don’t have those facilities, I don’t want them and therefore I don’t, and won’t, pay for them. What, exactly, is the unfair advantage that I have and why is my particular use of the canal compared unfavourably to others whose use is entirely different? I do what I do and they do what they do and we both require a ‘boat licence’. And that is exactly what it is – a boat licence – not a continuous cruisers’ licence or a weekend users licence or a boat club members licence, just a licence for a boat on a waterway.

Then we have the problem of ‘continuous moorers’. What problem? Most of the canal is surprisingly empty most of the time. It gets busy at certain times in the summer. Boat clubs go out in the summer on a weekend and sometimes cannot moor twenty boats in a row in a popular place. They then, apparently, conclude that those people that were there before them are always there, possibly because they saw some of them there before, which doesn’t mean they have been there all the time. Wrong. It’s because it’s a busy weekend in the summer in a popular place. I am aware of numerous incidents of misinformation from boat clubs and others who appear to think that a boat moored in a place where they wanted to moor has no right to be there.

You then state that ‘boats licensed as continuous cruisers generally use the network more intensively than those licensed with a home mooring’. ‘Generally’ implies ‘not necessarily’ i.e. some people do and some people don’t. So what? Since when has there been a restriction on the use of a boat? And if you wish to impose such a restriction how will you measure it and charge for it? You then state, with regard to this intensive usage, that ‘it is a requirement of the licence issued to the continuous cruiser to navigate throughout the term of the licence’.

A boat owner wants a licence for a boat. There is no such thing as a ‘boat licence’. In the absence of a permanent mooring which he neither needs nor wants and which is unlikely to be available anyway he has to have a ‘continuous cruising’ licence. This states that he must be on a continuous, i.e. never ending, journey subject to various restrictions on how long he can stay somewhere and in which direction he can travel – as it has to be a ‘journey’ it has to be in the same direction and cannot involve travel that is, essentially, backwards and forwards. He, therefore, is being urged, under threat of enforcement, to travel in a way that is not of his choosing and requires far more intensive use of his boat and the waterway than he could have anticipated. He must do this until he dies. The ‘journey’ is a journey without end. Only death will release him unless he gives up and agrees to take a mooring, that he neither wants nor needs, and that, if available, he must tender for with a sealed bid (Sally Ash again) so there is no guarantee he will ever get one. Only when he has a mooring will the persecution cease and he will be deemed to be making his required contribution to British Waterways i.e. he will be paying rent, for what Robin Rachman Evans really wants from boats is ‘rent’. Not ‘navigation’ i.e. using a boat as a boat, which requires maintenance and doesn’t bring in sufficient revenue, but ‘rent’. Rent from boats crammed into marinas i.e. car parks for boats, which are clearly not what the boat owner wants and could only be considered as an option by someone who just wanted a boat as a relatively inexpensive place to live and is prepared to risk living in an incredibly hazardous environment from the point of view of fire safety, and is willing to pretend, with regard to officialdom, that he doesn’t really live there.

He then finds that, as a result of this intensive travel that he neither desires nor has chosen, and that costs a fortune in fuel, and that he is urged, indeed forced to continue by Enforcement Officers who issue him with notices threatening prosecution and potential homelessness should he deign to stay in one place for more than fourteen days, he is to pay a supplement on his licence fee for his extra-ordinary intensive use of the waterways. The reason, you state, is that this intensive use creates additional costs as a consequence of ‘increased lockage and consequent greater use of water’. See the requirements of ‘continuous cruising’ above.

‘Greater contribution to the wear and tear generally created by boat traffic’. I refer again to the ‘rules’ of ‘continuous cruising’. We are compelled to travel in a way that is not of our choosing and any greater contribution to the wear and tear of the canal by this use is entirely the fault of British Waterways as a result of the aforementioned absurd rules which we have no wish to abide by and constantly challenge.

‘Most continuous cruisers are using their boat as their home. Accordingly their willingness to pay, given that they do not have other accommodation costs (or reduced costs) is higher’.

I can assure you that I have no ‘greater willingness to pay’ one single extra penny to be threatened, harassed and abused by British Waterways. Is that ludicrous half-witted statement another example of the ‘wisdom’ of Sally I’ve-just-had-another-idea- Ash? ‘Willingness’ implies consent and no, you do not have my consent to impose an extra charge on me because I live on my boat. I am ‘unwilling’ to pay.

It is noticeable that you, nowhere, recognise the contribution made by responsible people who have made a commitment to the waterways but only regard them as being a nuisance that makes no contribution to the waterways and that should be exterminated by unnecessary, costly, unreasonable and unlawful enforcement consisting of a policy of harassment, intimidation, persecution, ‘dirty tricks’ and demanding money with menaces. It is also worth noting that the only safety and security on the towpath is provided by responsible, committed people like myself. British Waterways have told me that safety and security on the towpath are ‘no concern of theirs’. What exactly is their concern apart from extorting money from people?

As the relentless pursuit of the ‘continuous cruiser’ is clearly not intended to encourage more intensive use of the waterways, as that is regarded as causing excessive wear and tear, then it is quite clearly intended, purely, as a harassment tactic to drive a certain type of person – the free spirit? The individual? The unconventional? from the waterways. It is a pogrom against a particular mindset that is abhorred by the self-interested corporate despoilers who have insinuated themselves into a position of supposed authority over a world in which they have no place. This world is my world – not yours.

Regarding the BWAF licensing sub-group who put forward the recommendations. I note that the group consists of two members of APCO the hireboat operators group that organised an online petition to demand higher licence fees for people who live on boats and neither need nor want a mooring. Clearly not a source of objective opinion and, in my eyes, disqualified. I would regard most hireboat operators as just as criminally irresponsible as British Waterways in that they send unsuspecting families off on boats when they have had no instruction on how to operate a lock and have probably never even seen one. They also send them, on their expensive ‘holidays’, through areas I wouldn’t go through without an escort. A representative of some body representing cruising clubs. We all know that boat clubs don’t like people who live on boats so no objective opinion there then. Three representatives of user groups. My doubts concern the fact that they have never seriously challenged the absurd concept of ‘continuous cruising’ and are prepared to enter into discussions with a seeming acceptance of that concept. Whoever these people are, they are not authorised to represent me. Then we have Sally Ash (again). What does she have to do before she is removed from any office where she can interfere in the lives of responsible and intelligent human beings? She has caused hundreds of decent people to leave the canals and wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds engendering pointless enforcement activity, i.e. harassment and intimidation, that has caused great distress and annoyance to hundreds more people. Hers is the typical behaviour of the overpromoted office clerk, the blinkered, petty minded bureaucrat; she has neither the wit nor the imagination to comprehend fully the implications of her actions on the people beyond her myopic perception. She is the Adolf Eichmann of the waterways and your proposals amount to your ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘Problem’ of those you refer to in your edicts as ‘itinerant boaters’. Is the presence of bags of coal on the roof our equivalent of the Star of David? Incidentally, I think we should be told which boat clubs or canal societies, who else could it be, suggested voluntary patrols reporting on how long a boat has been moored in one place in return for points exchanged for a discount on their licence? Welcome to the spirit, the freedom and the community of the canals.

Your attempts at justifying the increased costs to the so-called continuous cruiser are invalid for the reasons stated above. Further, you are in breach of the ‘general public administrative law duty placed on all public bodies to exercise power reasonably in all circumstances’ which your legal expert appears to think is a justification for your actions.

I will not pay any supplement on my boat licence. I will not abide by the ‘rules’ of ‘continuous cruising’ as I am not nor have I ever been a continuous cruiser nor do I accept the concept. The licence that I have is a boat licence and I undertake to behave reasonably and responsibly and with due consideration to other users of the waterways but I will not tolerate abuse and I never give in to bullies.

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