Learn about life afloat the easy way

Life on a narrowboat can be as peaceful as it is idyllic BUT you need to understand the pros, cons, highs, lows, and day to day logistics in living on England's inland waterways. Let me help you find out all you need to know before you commit to what could be a very expensive mistake.


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Yearly Archives: 2011
1

A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Violet Mae

Meet Peggy Melmoth; wife, mother of two small children, blogger and freelance writer. She does all this from the cosy confines of her traditional narrowboat. How does she manage? {{{0}}}

Who are you? (and your significant other and, of course, your dog if you have one)

Peggy Melmoth, living aboard with husband, and two daughters aged 4 and 2.

Tell me a little about yourself and why you decided to live a life afloat

When I was younger I thought it would be romantic to live the gypsy lifestyle, and when I got older I thought a narrowboat would be a way to achieve that. I also couldn’t afford to buy property because I was twenty-something and living in London. My first boat was a 45ft cruiser called Emily Rose. I decided to live aboard so that I could own my own home, and so that I could have the freedom of travelling and living close to nature.

Peggy steering

Peggy steering

What is your boat called and why did you decide on that name?

Violet Mae. Came with the name. It was the name of the grandmother of the previous owner.

What is you boat length and style?

70ft trad Colecraft

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

11 years

How much time do you spend on your boat each year?

24/7 ha ha! I have lived aboard for eleven years.

Are you still working? (If so, what do you do?)

Freelance writer, business blogger and virtual assistant.

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

How often things break down; engine, heating, plumbing, electrics, there always seems to be something!

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

Being close to nature, water, trees, swans, views.

If you could change just one thing about your boat, what would it be?

I would install a much bigger water tank. Our last boat had a huge water tank that lasted for weeks, we even had a bath. On our current boat the water lasts a week. But this could be partly because we now have a washing machine, which we didn’t have before….

When you are cruising how do you resupply (How do you get to the supermarket without a car)?

We have a car, but I know that with some organisation boaters have had groceries delivered to the Cut.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

Ah – I honestly didn’t read ahead to this question when I answered the last one! Yes, I wanted a washing machine ever since our second child was born as we were doing so many trips to the launderette. It was on my list of what I was looking for in a new boat.

How do you connect to the internet when you are on your boat and are you happy with the service you receive?

3 MiFi or 3 dongle. The service is quite good.

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

That is very hard to choose. We love the River Stort, especially the beginning up to Roydon, and also Sawbridgeworth. We also love Stockers Lock in Rickmansworth and the lakes nearby there. But right now we’ve chosen a winter mooring in Bulbourne, near Tring on the Grand Union and I think the canal where it passes the reservoirs between Bulbourne and Marsworth is stunning. But now I’ve just remembered how breathtaking it is crossing the Pontcysyllte aqueduct on the Llangollen canal… No I don’t think I can choose! Good question though.

How do you generate electricity when you are cruising and how much do you use?

We have a big solar panel and run the engine every day.

What advice can you offer someone considering living on a narrowboat?

Realise that as well as living with a fraction of the possessions you have now, getting rid of stuff is a continual process. Make sure you have a budget for engine repairs and other repairs unless you are a mechanic and excellent at DIY and problem solving. If you don’t have a washing machine on board get the launderette list from Aylesbury Canal Society or the Inland Waterways Association. Get a Nicholson’s guide and a First Mate’s Guide by Carole Sampson.

You can find out more about Peggy’s life afloat byreading her blog

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6

An Essential Check List Before You Consider Buying A Boat

A narrowboat is likely to be the single most expensive purchase you will ever make after your house. It may even become your new house and cost you in excess of £100,000. Your purchase is not something you should rush into. I know you can’t wait to cruise through tranquil countryside, stop for a pint or two at some of the many picturesque canal-side pubs and moor for the night where there’s a spectacular view to greet you in the morning but you need to take your time.

boatsales at Whilton marina

boatsales at Whilton marina

There are many, many aspects of the purchase to consider before you look at your first boat.

Essential first questions before you consider buying a boat

  • How much can you afford and where is the money going to come from? Are you going to sell your dry land home to fund the one afloat or are you going to have to take out a loan? If you need a loan, how much can you afford?
  • What will be the purpose of your boat? Are you just going to cruise now and then, or do you intend to live on board full time (Read this if the boat’s going to be a liveaboard)
  • What’s your ideal length? If you intend to cruise throughout the canal network you are limited by the length of the locks on some canals. If you intend to live on board full time but not cruise much, you want as much living space as possible.
  • Do you want a traditional, semi-traditional or cruiser style stern? Cruiser and semi traditional stern narrowboats offer you space on the rear deck to stand with friends when cruising but, because of this, provide less living space down below. The reverse is true of traditional stern narrowboats.
  • Sleeping accommodation for two … or more? Will you want the hassle of preparing a pull out bed every evening or will you be prepared to sacrifice a little bit of space in favour of a fixed double?
  • What toilet system do you want on your boat; pump out or cassette? A pump out toilet is like a traditional dry land toilet where you can pretty much flush and forget. However you must take your boat to a pump out point every few weeks to have it emptied. This can prove challenging in the winter when your boat is frozen in. A cassette toilet deposits waste in a small holding tank that you can remove by hand to take off the boat to empty into a convenient Elsan point. Because the cassette has to be carried, the capacity is far less than a pump out toilet.
  • How good are you with engines? Do you want an older engine that you can play around with for hours or do you want a hassle free engine basic maintenance from you and regular servicing from a boatyard? (If you are going to rely on boatyards to do the servicing for you,make sure that you don’t choose a boat with an engine that many marine engineers will be unfamiliar with).
  • Where are you going to moor your boat and how are you going to get it there? (Read this article to help you decide on a mooring.) Once you’ve chosen your mooring, do you really want to consider buying a boat that’s several hundred miles away? Will you have time to cruise to your mooring or will you have to use road transport? How much would that add to the purchase cost?
  • Electrical Usage: If you decide to live on board or cruise for extended periods you will probably be making quite high demands on the electrical systems in particular, so make sure any potential buys are up to the job. How many of your electrical appliances are you likely to be running at any one time? For example (and an extreme one at that), will you want to use your vacuum cleaner while your are doing your washing as you wait for your coffee maker to finish making its perfect cup of coffee to go with the steak pasty that’s warming up in the microwave? You don’t want to be doing expensive upgrades to charging systems or inverters after buying.

Once you have answered the above questions, you will have a pretty good idea what to look for. Visit Appolloduck There are a huge number of narrowboats for sale on the web site (1,085 at the last count). Use this to get a general feel for price and style. After you’ve browsed through this vast selection a few times, you’ll have a clearer idea of what you want and how much it’s likely to cost. Now it’s time to get up close and personal with some real live narrowboats.

Visit a broker to view your first selection of narrowboats. Why? There are several very good reasons. Firstly, a good narrowboat brokerage will have a wide selection of narrowboats. You’ll be able to see the difference between traditional. semi-traditional and cruiser stern narrowboats and the trade off between living and cruising space, different lengths and varying equipment levels. The staff at the brokerage will also be able to answer just about any question you throw at them. They’re used to dealing with potential customers who are new to narrowboating so don’t be afraid to ask them anything that you’re now sure about. Here’s a comprehensive list of narrowboat brokers in the UK. Whilton marina is one of the largest narrowboat brokers in the country. Here’s an interesting article detailing how their  business operates. Please be aware that there are some who have reservations about the way Whilton marina operate. Please see the comment on the Whilton marina page on this site.

When you inspect a boat you’re interested in, here are a few things you should check. You can either do so visually while you are looking around the boat or by asked the broker or owner by phone if you have a long way to travel.

  • What’s the ceiling height? If you are tall, can you stand comfortably inside the boat?
  • How would you describe the state of the engine? (This tells you something not only about the engine but how well it has been serviced).
  • Is there a bath or a shower on board? If there is a bath, how big is it? When I first moved on board James, there was a very shallow 3′ long bath instead of the shower I have now. I can only conclude that the previous owners had used the bath exclusively for their pet hamsters. It was certainly too small for me and at 5′ 10″ and 12st you can hardly call me big.
  • How much storage space is there? If you intend to live on board or cruise for extended periods, you want plenty of storage space. Some narrowboats advertised as liveaboards don’t have enough storage space for weekend visit let alone a lifetime on the cut.
  • Are there any signs of water under windows/hatches? Brokers can usually tell the difference between leaks and condensation.
  • Is there a reasonably recent hull survey that I can see? This can be invaluable. You can look at this on arrival, or most brokers/owners would be happy to send a copy to a serious buyer. A folder full of paperwork and receipts is also a good sign and can tell you a lot about how well a boat has been looked after.
  • When was the hull last blacked? A narrowboat hull needs to be painted every two to three years with a tar like bitumen to protect the steel from corrosion. Especially around the waterline where the constant mix of air and water can speed up corrosion.
  • Are there any photos of the boat I can see? Although a lack of photo’s is not necessarily indicative of an aesthetically displeasing poorly maintained boat, it can be.

Spend some time just sitting in a boat that you like the look of and picture yourself living in it. The staff at Calcutt Boats are more than happy to let you spend as much time as you like on board. I suppose that the thinking behind this is that the longer you spend on board, the more likely you are to buy the boat.

Have a look in cupboards and hatches. Particularly look for hatches through the floor into the bilge. Look for water there and be wary if you find any water in the bottom of the boat other than a little around the engine that may have seeped in through the deck boards if they are exposed to the elements.

Ask the engine to be started from cold for you. Often the best way of doing this at a boatsales broker is by turning up unannounced. If the engine has been well maintained, it should start without a problem.

If it still looks good, put in a offer to buy subject to an out of water survey when a surveyor will be able to check the integrity of the hull for you. Always offer less than the asking price. Remember that there are a huge number of narrowboats for sale at any one time. There are an estimated 32,000 – 34,000 narrowboats on the system and on Appolloduck alone in excess of 1,000 for sale at any one time. You have a lot of bargaining power. Good luck with your search.

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Beeston Marina

We are a family run business now in our second generation. We provide all the services and facilities you would expect from a long standing and well established marina.

We cater for over 100 moorers, both residential and visitors. Plus a mobile home park, for that idillic life by the river.

A well stocked Chandlery, staffed from 8.30am – 5pm, seven days a week.

The Nottingham Outboard Centre with our team of engineers ready for your service or a complete rebuild.

The Riverside Bar and the Boathouse Cafe for your entertainment and meals by the water.

We are a family run business now in our second generation. We provide all the services and facilities you would expect from a long standing and well established marina.

We cater for over 100 moorers, both residential and visitors. Plus a mobile home park, for that idillic life by the river.

A well stocked Chandlery, staffed from 8.30am – 5pm, seven days a week.

The Nottingham Outboard Centre with our team of engineers ready for your service or a complete rebuild.

The Riverside Bar and the Boathouse Cafe for your entertainment and meals by the water.

Beeston Marina

Beeston Marina

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A Facelift For The Heart Of Calcutt Boats Marinas

The view as you approach the main car park next to Calcutt Boats' Meadows Marina

The view as you approach the main car park next to Calcutt Boats' Meadows Marina

The site around Calcutt Boats Locks and Meadows marinas is beautiful. Over twenty acres of well maintained landscaping, some of the richest wild flower meadows in Warwickshire and over 8,000 trees in two woodland areas. Unfortunately, there’s one small part of it that, to my mind, spoils the site. The tip. At the moment the tip houses everything that doesn’t have a home anywhere else. There are a hundred or more old engines, an old portable building (ex staff tea hut), two storage containers, four old earth movers each weighing in excess of twenty tons (They were used in the construction of the first marina and left on site by the contractor), three or four heavy trailer beds and too many other bits and pieces to list. It’s a real mess… and it’s at the heart of the site.

Too make matters worse, we’ve just had our wharf partially dredged by the very helpful British Waterways sub contractors who are repairing Calcutt Top Lock. We’ve allocated them some temporary storage so as a return favour they’ve used their JCB and a large dumper to scoop out as much as the silt next to the wharf as possible. They did a tremendous job removing four hundred tons of silt that was clogging up the ends of the wharf.

Unfortunately we had to find somewhere to put the silt. Of course the only place to put it that wouldn’t ruin the existing landscaping was in the tip area. There was a lot of rain last week so the ground was soft. The dumper weighs five tons empty and nine tons with a full load of silt. The net result was one hundred return journeys from the wharf down to the the back of the tip with a nine ton load. The picture above shows the mess the dumper made (and also two of the resident redundant earth movers). It’s not pretty.

But it’s changing. And changing soon.

In March the tip area is going to be completely remodelled. The heavy earch movers are being removed, thirty five leylandii will be planted in front of the containers to provide a natural screen, the drive into the top landscaped and strengthened and generally tidied up. The inside of the tip will be levelled and the hundreds of tons of excess earth will be used to build a screening bank to the back and side of the tip area. Leylandii will screen the front.

Once the earth bank is finished and the leylandii are established no part of the tip will be visible from the road. It’s the final piece of the jigsaw. The beautifully landscaped grounds will be a joy from every angle.

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Boatsales: An Essential Check List Before You Consider Buying A Boat

A narrowboat is likely to be the single most expensive purchase you will ever make after your house. It may even become your new house and cost you in excess of ?100,000. Your boatsales purchase is not something you should rush into. I know you can’t wait to cruise through tranquil countryside, stop for a pint or two at some of the many picturesque canal-side pubs and moor for the night where there’s a spectacular view to greet you in the morning but you need to take your time.

boatsales at Whilton marina

boatsales at Whilton marina

There are many, many aspects of the purchase to consider before you look at your first boat.

Boatsales: Essential first questions before you consider buying a boat

  • How much can you afford and where is the money going to come from? Are you going to sell your dry land home to fund the one afloat or are you going to have to take out a loan? If you need a loan, how much can you afford?
  • What will be the purpose of your boat? Are you just going to cruise now and then, or do you intend to live on board full time (Read this if the boat’s going to be a liveaboard)
  • What’s your ideal length? If you intend to cruise throughout the canal network you are limited by the length of the locks on some canals. If you intend to live on board full time but not cruise much, you want as much living space as possible.
  • Do you want a traditional, semi-traditional or cruiser style stern? Cruiser and semi traditional stern narrowboats offer you space on the rear deck to stand with friends when cruising but, because of this, provide less living space down below. The reverse is true of traditional stern narrowboats.
  • Sleeping accommodation for two … or more? Will you want the hassle of preparing a pull out bed every evening or will you be prepared to sacrifice a little bit of space in favour of a fixed double?
  • What toilet system do you want on your boat; pump out or cassette? A pump out toilet is like a traditional dry land toilet where you can pretty much flush and forget. However you must take your boat to a pump out point every few weeks to have it emptied. This can prove challenging in the winter when your boat is frozen in. A cassette toilet deposits waste in a small holding tank that you can remove by hand to take off the boat to empty into a convenient Elsan point. Because the cassette has to be carried, the capacity is far less than a pump out toilet.
  • How good are you with engines? Do you want an older engine that you can play around with for hours or do you want a hassle free engine basic maintenance from you and regular servicing from a boatyard? (If you are going to rely on boatyards to do the servicing for you,make sure that you don’t choose a boat with an engine that many marine engineers will be unfamiliar with).
  • Where are you going to moor your boat and how are you going to get it there? (Read this article to help you decide on a mooring.) Once you’ve chosen your mooring, do you really want to consider buying a boat that’s several hundred miles away? Will you have time to cruise to your mooring or will you have to use road transport? How much would that add to the purchase cost?
  • Electrical Usage: If you decide to live on board or cruise for extended periods you will probably be making quite high demands on the electrical systems in particular, so make sure any potential buys are up to the job. How many of your electrical appliances are you likely to be running at any one time? For example (and an extreme one at that), will you want to use your vacuum cleaner while your are doing your washing as you wait for your coffee maker to finish making its perfect cup of coffee to go with the steak pasty that’s warming up in the microwave? You don’t want to be doing expensive upgrades to charging systems or inverters after buying.

Once you have answered the above questions, you will have a pretty good idea what to look for. Visit Appolloduck There are a huge number of narrowboats for sale on the web site (1,085 at the last count). Use this to get a general feel for price and style. After you’ve browsed through this vast selection a few times, you’ll have a clearer idea of what you want and how much it’s likely to cost. Now it’s time to get up close and personal with some real live narrowboats.

Visit a boatsales broker to view your first selection of narrowboats. Why? There are several very good reasons. Firstly, a good boatsales brokerage will have a wide selection of narrowboats. You’ll be able to see the difference between traditional. semi-traditional and cruiser stern narrowboats and the trade off between living and cruising space, different lengths and varying equipment levels. The staff at the brokerage will also be able to answer just about any question you throw at them. They’re used to dealing with potential customers who are new to narrowboating so don’t be afraid to ask them anything that you’re now sure about. Here’s a comprehensive list of narrowboat brokers in the UK. Whilton marina is one of the largest narrowboat brokers in the country. Here’s an interesting article detailing how their very professional business operates.

When you inspect a boat you’re interested in, here are a few things you should check. You can either do so visually while you are looking around the boat or by asked the broker or owner by phone if you have a long way to travel.

  • What’s the ceiling height? If you are tall, can you stand comfortably inside the boat?
  • How would you describe the state of the engine? (This tells you something not only about the engine but how well it has been serviced).
  • Is there a bath or a shower on board? If there is a bath, how big is it? When I first moved on board James, there was a very shallow 3′ long bath instead of the shower I have now. I can only conclude that the previous owners had used the bath exclusively for their pet hamsters. It was certainly too small for me and at 5′ 10″ and 12st you can hardly call me big.
  • How much storage space is there? If you intend to live on board or cruise for extended periods, you want plenty of storage space. Some narrowboats advertised as liveaboards don’t have enough storage space for weekend visit let alone a lifetime on the cut.
  • Are there any signs of water under windows/hatches? Brokers can usually tell the difference between leaks and condensation.
  • Is there a reasonably recent hull survey that I can see? This can be invaluable. You can look at this on arrival, or most brokers/owners would be happy to send a copy to a serious buyer. A folder full of paperwork and receipts is also a good sign and can tell you a lot about how well a boat has been looked after.
  • When was the hull last blacked? A narrowboat hull needs to be painted every two to three years with a tar like bitumen to protect the steel from corrosion. Especially around the waterline where the constant mix of air and water can speed up corrosion.
  • Are there any photos of the boat I can see? Although a lack of photo’s is not necessarily indicative of an aesthetically displeasing poorly maintained boat, it can be.

Spend some time just sitting in a boat that you like the look of and picture yourself living in it. The staff at Calcutt Boats are more than happy to let you spend as much time as you like on board. I suppose that the thinking behind this is that the longer you spend on board, the more likely you are to buy the boat.

Have a look in cupboards and hatches. Particularly look for hatches through the floor into the bilge. Look for water there and be wary if you find any water in the bottom of the boat other than a little around the engine that may have seeped in through the deck boards if they are exposed to the elements.

Ask the engine to be started from cold for you. Often the best way of doing this at a boatsales broker is by turning up unannounced. If the engine has been well maintained, it should start without a problem.

If it still looks good, put in a offer to buy subject to an out of water survey when a surveyor will be able to check the integrity of the hull for you. Always offer less than the asking price. Remember that there are a huge number of narrowboats for sale at any one time. There are an estimated 32,000 – 34,000 narrowboats on the system and on Appolloduck alone in excess of 1,000 for sale at any one time. You have a lot of bargaining power. Good luck with your search.

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Why I Thank My Lucky Stars Every Night

Good living on narrowboat James

Good living on narrowboat James

Before I knew anything about boating in general and narrowboats in particular I thought that people who lived on boats were unfortunate, unlucky and should be pitied. When my eldest son first started playing football for the local team, there was a boy playing alongside him who lived on a narrowboat with his parents. I can remember thinking what pleasant and well adjusted people his Mum and Dad were before I knew that they lived on a boat. After they told me, I thought that they lived on a boat because they had to; that they couldn’t afford anything better and that they were struggling financially. I was wrong.

There home was a lifestyle choice. I was fortunate enough to be invited to their boat for a drink. I was amazed. It was a beautiful and well appointed home. Dave had an internet business that was doing very well. Since his son’s birth, he had been cruising the canal network with his wife and new baby. They had all the luxuries of modern day living. They had television and top of the range music system, an internet connection for their work computer, a full size washer dryer and produced enough electricity to power all of their devices wherever they cruised or moored. But most of all, they had a quality lifestyle that I could only dream of.

Now I live on a narrowboat. I don’t earn much working at the marina, but I don’t really need to. I used to live in a fairly large house, have a new car at least every three years, go abroad twice a year and spend what little free time I had on fancy nights out in Birmingham and London. I don’t have any of that now and I don’t miss it at all. I don’t feel the need to spend money to compensate for working too hard earning the money to fund a lifestyle that I don’t really want.

I live in a small space but it is more than I need. I have a roof over my head and I’m warm (most of the time). I’m two steps away from the beautiful countryside that I enjoy so much.I’m so close to it that I can hear it all as I lay in bed at night. And because I don’t feel the need to spend money on cars and holidays and toys that I can’t fit in the boat, I can spend a little extra on the food and wine that make every evening a pleasure. I’m going to have a glass or two of that wine now, enjoy the tranquillity and thank my lucky stars that I’m living on a narrowboat

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A View From The Engineroom Of Narrowboat James

a view from narrowboat James' engine room

My boat is moored on the west side of Calcutt Boats’ Meadows marina. It’s a stunning location. To the west – in front of the boat – are open fields and the entrance to the larger of our two woodland areas. To the south is the view from my galley windows; a grassed peninsula between my boat and the neighbouring group of moorings. To the north is my neighbour, narrowboat Nell. She’s almost new and puts my boat to shame. To the east behind the boat is the ever so pretty and spacious Meadows Marina. That’s the view you can see in the photograph. The grassy area is the one acre island in the centre of the marina. The grass us kept short all year round to encourage our birds. One hundred trees were planted on the island when the marina was built in 2006. Ninety nine have survived and flourished. In a few years time they’ll provide and beautiful and colourful canopy. Behind the boats to the right of the island is our 110 berth Locks Marina, the entrance to the Grand Union canal and our slipway.

It’s such a peaceful place to live. Actually, it’s a peaceful place to live most of the time. At the moment it’s a bit noisy. Not from the British Waterways contractors driving piles into the wharf, but from our resident birds. They’re getting a bit frisky. The mallards are chasing each other round and round the boats, the Canada geese are honking for England and the swans are flying none stop between our marinas and Napton reservoir. It’s hectic, but I love it.

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