No, we’re not talking about riding the rapids in a small inflatable boat. On the rivers and canals of Europe, rafting has a very different definition.
Rafting means tying one boat against another. Think of it as double parking but for boats. In the shot above, two barges rafted together – but there’s plenty of room for other boats to pass by.
Here, Aleau (Still with her old Gillian B name at the bow) is rafted against another Piper, Lady Sue. While double parking a car will likely you get you a ticket, the opposite is true for boats. The law dictates that you must allow another boat to raft against you if no mooring spots are available and doing so won’t obstruct traffic.
There is an etiquette to be observed when rafted. As you must walk on the other barge to get to and from yours, you always walk across the bow of the other barge – never (unless invited) do you cross at the stern. You’re on someone’s home. The idea is to stay as far from their windows as possible. You keep your eyes down. If you see someone, you pretend you didn’t. Unless your presence is acknowledged.
But it almost always is. Invitations to come aboard are exchanged. Drinks are shared. Friendships blossom. We have had to raft four times. And each time, we have met the most delightful bargees.
Our first time rafting was against Lady Sue. Paul and Sue welcomed us alongside and became close friends.
Rafting causes me more anxiety than passing through a lock. At least in a lock, the only thing I might damage is my barge. When rafting, I must bring Aleau’s 44 tonnes of steel against someone else’s expensive home. It must be done gently – very, very gently. So far, everyone is still speaking to me.