Last month saw something of an end to an era for LNBP Community Boating with Chris Woodward’s retirement from the organisation after 37 years.

After such a long valuable service and dedication to LNBP, we could not let Chris go without asking him a few questions about his time with LNBP  and some of the various events and inevitable changes that have occurred over nearly four decades.

How long have you been associated with LNBP for?

(CW) I think about 37 years. It can’t be more as when I came to the project we had Megan and Merlin as our boats. Previously the project had Michael and Megan but Michael was already in the process if being sold. And it wasn’t new at that stage.

How did you first get to become involved, and why?

(CW) I have been involved with water activities with the Kent Scouts for many years and I am a Sailing and Powerboating instructor with them. At county level there had been some requests for permits to take Scout Narrowboating and there was no one in Kent authorised to grant these permits.

I have been narrowboating since I was about 12 or 13 and the “powers that be felt” that I was probably the most experience leader they had to take on this role. So along with another leader who had some experience we organised a training weekend and Willow Wren in Rugby loaned us two boats for the training. The following year again we organised another weekend and this time Union Canal Carriers loaned us two boats. The third year we came unstuck we couldn’t find anyone to loan us two boats.

At that time there were some programme changes within Scouting and I went to a presentation in Surrey to get the details. At this presentation there were some leaders with activity ideas for us to visit in lunch hours etc. and there was a stall manned by Brian Tidbury on narrowboating. I got into conversation and told him of my problem in getting boats and he suggested I contact LNBP.

I had never heard of them and didn’t know anything about them, but why not? I wrote to Geoff Dolamore who was the Chairman and who also dealt with the bookings and he gave me the o.k. Not having seen or heard of the boats I thought I should have a look to see if they were suitable for my needs. No problem says Geoff why don’t you take one out for the day. Wow! So one freezing cold day in late February my wife and I turn up at UCC‘s yard to take a boat out. Megan was in dry dock having an engine service so we go to see Merlin. Bear in mind we had never seen the boat before and there was no one to show us over it we, with trepidation, took Merlin for a trip down to Hilmorton and back. We didn’t know where anything was or how it worked but we were impressed.

Subsequently we ran our Scout training weekend on Megan and Merlin.

The following year I contacted LNBP again and again was offered the use of the boats, But felt I needed to offer something in return and offered my services if they needed any training done for their own hirers This offer was taken up and I was put in touch with Graham Mead, who looked after their training at this time. I then worked on a course under the leadership of Graham. At the end of the course Graham said “I think you know more about this than I do, why don’t you take responsibility for training and I will work with you as your assistant”

The rest is history.


You have encompassed a number of roles in your time with LNBP. Could you give us a quick rundown of which ones?

(CW) Not that many roles! Assistant Trainer, Skipper. Trainer, Member of the Executive, Training Officer, Trustee, and Vice Chair (boating)


How long have you been a Project Skipper for?

(CW) Most of those 37 years 😊


And in that time how many residential trips and client groups do you think you have taken out on LNBP’s boats in that time? (rough guess!?)

(CW) In the early days 4 or 5 a year. We didn’t have many skippers then and as training and certification progressed the need for me to go out so often diminished. Latterly I was only doing about one skippering trip on top of training weekends and weeks.


What changes have you seen with over the years with LNBP?

(CW) The main change has been the need for our skippers and self steer hirers to be certified to the standard of a national governing body (The National Community Boats Association – NCBA). In the beginning it was almost (and I hasten to add almost) a case of I’ve been out on a boat and didn’t hit anything so that’s ok isn’t it?. Things are now much stricter and more thorough and of course cover a lot more aspect of narrowboating.


And on the canals in general?

(CW) Everyone thought that the change from British Waterways (BW) to the Canal and River Trust (CRT) would be a disaster. This has not proved to be the case. CRT has different powers from those of BW and are able to use volunteers to help run the system this has proved to be very successful. Lock keepers, maintenance workers, etc has allowed the employed staff to deal with the more major work in running the canal system and getting repairs done faster. However the numbers using the system has increased enormously over the years and a two hundred year old system will always need attention and more so as numbers increase.


Are there any special moments or memories with LNBP that stand out for you?

(CW) There have been so many it impossible to isolate particular instances. There have been trips which I hope would carry on for ever as the groups were so nice, and there have been times when I wondered why I was there as the group were a nightmare.

There have been leaders who have been so thoughtful and helpful you can see why there group was so friendly and worked well together, and others who obviously didn’t want to be there, but were being paid to go and these group never gelled and caused the skipper an enormous headache.

There have been training courses which have been fun throughout and others where you thought I would never let my child on a boat with this person in charge. (however they thought they were the bee’s knees and wondered why they didn’t qualify).


And any funny moments whilst on the canal?

(CW) Many, many funny moments.

As part of their CCBM training the helms are required to practice a Man-Over-Board procedure. We throw a five gallon water container with a life jacket on and heavily weighted overboard. The helm then has to bring the boat into the shore for recovery. As this is not a real person we leave it there and use the situation to practice reversing to pick up the dummy. On one occasion a crew member was a bit too enthusiastic and jumped off the front of the boat with the mooring line to rescue the MOB. This left the boat drifting across the cut. He then proceeded to call instructions to the dummy and throw a line to it. His fellow crew members pointed out it was a dummy, and it can’t hear him or catch a line neither can it swim ashore. As luck would have it the wind blew the dummy to the shore and the enthusiastic crew member proceeded to lay it down and practice the “Kiss of life ” on it. Yuch!

On another occasion boat number one (with ladies on board) had successfully completed a nasty turn at a junction and reversed to moor up for lunch. Boat number two had their husband on board (with others) and they decide they would give them scores for the turn and reverse. The man on the tiller has had what was needed explained to him and has confirmed he understands and starts the turn. What a catastrophe, he crashes it into the side and jams across the junction. The instructor takes the boat back and explains again and the helm confirms he understands. Again a catastrophe. This happens again 4 or 5 more times. The disappointed ladies give up on scores. It’s not funny any more and the trainer takes the boat round and into the mooring.

One Sunday evening, our boat comes into its mooring at Braunston only to find a UCC hirer has put their boat in our mooring and vacated it. The LNBP helm for the Monday trip has arrived early so it is decided to move the UCC boat to its proper mooring and put our boat where it should be. We are manhandling the boat on ropes and one of our crew is walking along the gunwale of the boat in front pulling the front of offending boat. Suddenly he realises that the boat he is walking on has no more gunwale and calls out “I think I have a problem” before falling into the canal. We retrieve him but he is wearing a woollen jumper which now hangs around his ankles and the arms would fit a gorilla. I don’t think he kept the jumper.

As part of their skipper training the candidates have to do some route planning. They are told what sort of group they are with and the area they are in. One such hypothetical group was teenagers in Birmingham – some wonderful opportunities for them. One candidate spent ages working out a route but when he presented it, it turned out that he had moored right under the M5. When asked if he thought this was a good mooring, he said yes he thought it was. What activity are you planning for your teenagers he was asked. “They are going to study the architecture” was his reply. Oh! says the trainer and what will they do for the rest of the evening, then bearing in mind there is nothing in the area. They are going to write a report on it.  I suspect if this had been for real a riot or walk out would have ensued.

There are so many more I could recount but time and space restrict me.


What will you miss most about LNBP?

(CW) What am I going to miss. Boating – the lovely LNBP boats, seeing the countryside and meeting new groups and people. What am I not going to miss? The long journey up to the boats from home especially on a Friday evening and the long days standing on the back of the boat. Don’t forget I’m getting older now although I don’t like to admit it.



A huge thank you to Chris for taking the time to answer those questions and giving us an insight into his nearly four decades of service to LNBP.

On behalf of everyone at LNBP Community Boating, we wish you a happy retirement Chris and hope to see you again soon (which we’re sure we will)