Monday, 7 October 2013

Hydrogen boat Ross Barlow, and why have a swan neck?

At the recent Black Country Boating Festival I witnessed the Ross Barlow "hydrogen boat" actually moving.

This is the boat which is usually moored at Edgbaston on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal by Birmingham University.

How can a boat be powered by hydrogen, you ask? I will attempt to answer that in a subsequent post but, meanwhile, I will pose another question.

Why are the rudders of the overwhelming majority of powered narrowboats connected to the tiller by means of a "swan neck"? Is it purely aesthetics? Or is there a practical reason too?

Ross Barlow has a vertical rudder post connected at right angles to the tiller arm.

It looks crude but, in terms of operation, I can see no difference in things such as weight of steering/tiller "overhang" compared with a swan neck arrangement.

Incidentally, I imagine it's "interesting" steering from a high swivelling office chair!


Dave Winter said...

This is a traditional design but was originally that shape for a reason. Modern narrow boats are normally what is called a “cruiser style” as they have a large after deck. These are really designed for leisure use, so several people can sit together while boating along. This type of boat also normally have a seat for the helmsman so the swan neck design is redundant.

However, traditional working narrow boats had a big deck at the front of the boat and only a small counter deck at the stern, behind the rear doors of the cabin, from which the crew could step onto land. Steering from this counter deck was not very safe, with the churning propeller just a misstep away at the back of the boat. The tiller extension allowed the helmsman to stand, more safely, on the top of the cabin steps, inside the rear door. This was much safer and also gave some shelter from the weather as the cabin doors could be shut so just the top of the body exposed through the hatchway.

The tiller extension needed to be that shape to raise the tiller handle a comfortable height for steering but also to pass over the coal box that was behind the cabin.

Sarah said...

Coal box?

I'm looking forward to reading the replies to this as I'm sure there's a very good and possibly obvious answer but I don't know what it is. One guess I will hazard is that two gentle bends were easier to make than one right angle, and result in a stronger finished structure. I would be fascinated to know whether it also gives additional/more effective leverage.

Martin said...

Recent experience confirms it's so you can paint it, and then travel without getting pigment on your clothes!

Halfie said...

I have been thinking hard, and writing a very long comment regarding the swan neck. I've decided to put it in a blog post, so it will be there soon.