Piper Boat Owners' Club

A club open to anyone who owns a Piper-built boat

Backwards Progress by Les Symonds

Several weeks ago I needed to move Otter off a 48-hour mooring, to another safe location where I could leave her ready for taking her home to Maestermyn marina. Throughout the first few months of the year, stoppages had resulted in the canal being blocked immediately east and just a mile or so west of my normal mooring, so Otter was moved to the upper end of the Llangollen Canal for a few months so that we could still enjoy occasional weekends away, and take the school kids for evening trips. However, by mid March the stoppages had cleared and it was time to take her home. My first problem was that she was facing the wrong way. Moored outside the Sun Inn, at Trevor, taking her to Llangollen to wind her would have involved cruising the 300metre narrows, a lift bridge, the 500metre narrows, through the online town moorings, the short narrows in the town, then down past the horse-drawn-boat centre to wind at the marina. Then, of course, back through it all in the other direction.

Given that it was the first Saturday morning since the stoppages, and that I was single handed, I didnít relish the idea, so the possibility of reversing her to the Bryn Howel winding hole, about a mile back down the canal, felt like an attractive prospect..

About a year ago I had read an article in Waterways World, by Chris Deuchar, in which he discussed a method of single-handed reversing. The method intrigued me and Iíd been itching for a set of circumstances to arise where I could try it out. So, no praise to me for this idea; itís not mine!

The other thing that I should mention, of course, is that taking photos of yourself on a single handed reverse is a bit tricky, so the photos below were taken at a later date on the Montgomery Canal, when I had a friend stand on a bridge and witness a contrived set of circumstances, set up for the purpose of this article.


So, hereís how itís done. First, prepare the boat by ensuring a clear-passage through the cabin, removing any obstacles from the aisle through the boat. Next, put the pole in a handy position on the roof, at the bow, then return to the stern, set the boat mid-channel and tie the tiller either dead-centre, or, if your prop has a tendency to cause your boat to pull to one side, tie the tiller just off-centre to compensate for itóuse an easily released slip-knot!.

Next, engage reverse at a slow-running pace and go quickly to the bow, take hold of the pole and look along the roof to the stern, observing your course. Youíll need to keep the boat running approximately central to the channel and, at the slightest deviation from this course, use the pole to give a gentle nudge to swing the bow slightly to one side or the other, so as to correct it. The trick is to respond quickly, with slight movements of the poleóthis, of course, is very much the same as the method we use for steering forwards, but we tend to do that instinctively, rather than analytically.

When I tried this, my first hundred yards or so saw me pointing from bank to bank, struggling to keep a good course; I was over steering, which is what most novice steerers tend to do. Gradually, though, I got the feel for it and soon realised just how true a course itís possible to hold.

I found that bridge-holes didnít pose the problem that I expected them to, even when they coincided with a bend. With both slow speed and early adjustment of the steering, I comfortably slipped under the bridges and then corrected my course as I emerged the other side. The biggest problem that I encountered when I did this Ďfor realí, was the reaction of other boaters.


Anyone familiar with the Trevor to Bryn Howel length will recall the railway bridge which, whilst being fairly wide, has a sharp, 90o bend immediately preceding it. Imagine the reaction I got when an approaching hire boat spotted my stern coming around the bend, apparently driverless! To the sound of their expletives, I put the pole on the roof and ran through the cabin (which is why you need to keep a clear passage through the boat), then slipped the knot on the tiller and engaged forward to regain normal control of the boat.

Otter is only 40ft long, so she responds quickly to the tiller and can turn on a sixpence. Sceptics tell me that this method of reversing is of little or no use to anything much longer than thisóbut the sceptics that I spoke to donít drive Pipers! It will be interesting to hear from other members whoíve tried this in the larger boats.

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