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Monthly Archives: July 2012
2

The Rolls Royce Of Narrowboats

Last Sunday (22nd July 2012) I drove up to Glascote Basin in Tamworth with Sally and the dogs to do a bit of boaty window shopping. I love my boat James. Although it’s 35 years old it’s in pretty good condition. The hull is sound and, now that I’ve had the cabin overplated, the top half is good for years to come. It’s a great liveaboard boat with acres of storage space and plenty of room for two people and two dogs. James has a good solid fuel stove with a back boiler feeding radiators down the starboard side so even on the coldest evening the boat is toasty warm (at the front).

James is a good boat but it’s not a Hudson.

One of the many beautiful Hudson boats at Glascote basin

One of the many beautiful Hudson boats at Glascote basin

There’s not a huge amount of space in Glascote Basin, but every bit of it was filled with Hudson boats and their proud owners. The annual open weekend has been running for years. It’s an opportunity for both owners and Steve Hudson to show off their boats. And what fine boats they are.

Steve Hudson builds traditional narrowboats. They are all Josher style with either well or tug deck. He favours engine rooms with boatman’s cabins behind but he also builds the more usually seen traditional narrowboats with the engine room at the rear. You can choose either their “B” or “C” specification and then you can add extras on top.

Left: A Hudson replica of a working narrowboat

Left: A Hudson replica of a working narrowboat

The liveaboard boat I looked at was 62′ with a well deck, engine room and boatman’s cabin built to their higher “C” specification. The enhancements included a generator and a jacuzzi bath. I wasn’t over impressed with the jacuzzi but I loved the rest of the boat. I love to cook so I’m quite frustrated with James’ typical narrowboat size oven. One of the enhancements with this Hudson boat was a full size oven. Perfect for a Sunday roast on a crisp winter’s day on the cut.

All of the woodwork inside the cabin was solid English oak. There were shelves and cupboards galore. In fact, owner Jeanne said that there are cupboards on the boat that she hasn’t used yet. You don’t often hear that about a residential boat.

There were plenty of heating options on the boat. There was a Squirrel stove at the front, a boatman’s range in the cabin at the rear and radiators throughout fed by a Mikuni heater. All Hudson boats have spray foam insulation so with the on board heating options and effective insulation there’s no problem keeping warm even on the coldest winter days.

I came away from the open day thinking that I really should start saving up. I calculated that, if I cut down on my evening tipple and don’t buy steak quite so often, I should be able to afford one of the higher specification Hudson boats in 2042!

Prices start at ?67,450 for a 50′ Tame class narrowboat to ?135,000 for a 70′ narrowboat built to their “C” specification and with an engine room and boatman’s cabin.

 

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How To Deal With Swans And Spiders On A Narrowboat

I had an email yesterday from Debbie Smith. She wanted some advice on dealing with a couple of her pet hates; swans and spiders. They’re spoiling her enjoyment of the canals and everything on them. I’m sure that she’s not on her own, so here’s her question and my suggestions.

“This is going to sound very ridiculous and I risk being viewed as a right wimp. I would very much welcome advice on how to deal with swans who seem to take delight tormenting me with my phobia of them by refusing to budge when I need to pass by on a very narrow section of towpath! I’ve tried bribery with bread, and speaking very nicely (whilst muttering dark threats under my breath and trying to look cool) but they are not impressed. Also – even more of an anxiety, apart from horse- chestnut spray, is there anything I can do to try to dissuade the big hairy type house spiders from inviting themselves on board. (I wouldn’t kill them despite loathing the very sight of them).

Apart from these two fears I am quite rational and sane. Rats, mice and snakes are no problem – oh yeah – maybe wasps give me the heebie jeebies but I can cope with them.

Hope you can help with my neuroses apart from recommending that I have major therapy or give up the boating idea!”

Dealing With aggressive Swans

Swans first. They can be fearsome creatures, so I can understand Debbie’s anxiety. A full-grown male can reach almost 30lb in weight and have a wingspan of nearly eight feet. A cobb (male) puffing up his chest, hissing and spreading his wings to protect his pen (female) and their young brood can be quite scary. But swans, as with most creatures, just want a quiet life. They only present an aggressive front when they feel threatened.

Swans aren't always agressive

Swans aren’t always aggressive

I have to get very close to our resident breeding pair in my day-to-day duties as a groundsman. They are most protective, and therefore aggressive during their April – June breeding season. As the cygnets increase in size and become less vulnerable, the adults relax more. It IS possible though to coexist with swans at all times if you just apply a little common sense.

Swans feel very threatened by dogs. If you have a dog that is likely to chase the swans, make sure that it is kept on a short leash. A barking dog will also increase the swan’s agitation, so try to calm your dog. I have two spaniels. They have only recently come to live with me at the marina. Their first visit here was their first experience of swans. They’re spaniels, they’re inquisitive, and the swans didn’t like it. There was much hissing, wing flapping and a bit of barking too.

But Charlie and Daisy aren’t aggressive dogs. They quickly learned not to go too close to the swans. The swans soon accepted them and now both dogs and swans live in harmony. Charlie and Daisy can sniff through the reeds to their heart’s content just ten feet away from the sunbathing adults and their young with no problem at all.

I have learned to live in harmony with swans too. The secret is to take things slowly. Sudden moves alarm all animals. Swans are no exception. If you walk rapidly towards them, they will become defensive and aggressive. If you walk towards them slowly, they will simply move away. At the marina, the swans like to relax on the grass. Two adult swans and six half-grown cygnets laying on the ground make grass cutting a bit of a challenge. There’s a simple solution though. I just move towards them slowly with the mower. If they become agitated, I stop for a moment. When they settle down, I move forward again. They no longer feel threatened, just uncomfortable so they waddle out of the way and slip into the water.

It’s also possible to decrease the birds’ agitation by decreasing your height. If you squat down, you are less intimidating to the swans.

Spiders: Your Little Helpers

I don’t have a problem with spiders now but I did when I first moved on board I did. They were everywhere. Of course the boat was infested with spiders because it had been unoccupied for years. They had a free rein and had made themselves very comfortable. Now I don’t have any more problems with spiders than I would if I was living in a house. Spider webs appear from time to time but not enough to be considered a problem.

So why did I have a problem then and don’t have a problem now? I think there are two reasons. Firstly, the boat is now cleaned very regularly; far more now that Sally is on board full time. Spiders simply don’t get a chance to establish themselves. Whenever a web, or traces of a web, appears, it is dusted into oblivion. As James is all wood panelling inside, there’s a fair amount of furniture polish used inside the boat. I don’t think the spiders like it.

There’s also less opportunity for them to get in these days. In November 2011 I had the existing masonite cabin overplated with steel. The masonite (oil treated ply) was 35 years old and way past its effective life. The two side hatches and the rear hatch were constructed out of deckboard which had warped. The gaps between hatches and doors was large enough to fit my finger so presented no barrier at all for the largest spider.

The roof was in five sections. The four roof joints had moved apart and subsequently been taped over with what looked like duct tape. The tape had split on every joint to allow insects – and the weather – easy access. Many of the windows leaked too. The gaps between window frame and cabin again allowed easy access for insects.

The new 4mm steel roof, cabin sides, forward and rear bulkheads, hatches and doors have both weatherproofed the boat and provided a deterrent for insects. I spent three weeks painting James in April 2012. There are now five lovingly applied coats of paint to protect the steel. I paid particular attention to the window frames. All the frames are now leak free. They are spider-access free too.

Some spiders do manage to sneak on board though so what do I do to get rid of them? Not much to be honest. I would rather have a dozen spiders than a single fly. Disgusting disease ridden little blighters. The more spiders there are to keep the flies down the happier I am. Maybe you don’t feel the same way though so what can you do to discourage spiders from settling?

Conkers.

Conkers. Good old horse chestnuts. The things that school children used to thread om strings and spend endless hours trying to destroy before the gods of the Health and Safety Executive banned such a dangerous activity. Spiders don’t like conkers. Collect horse chestnuts in the autumn then place them next to doors and windows to keep spiders at bay. That’s the theory anyway. Boat and bricks and mortar home owners swear by their effectiveness. There doesn’t appear to be any hard evidence to back up their claims. The Royal Society for Chemistry (RSC) launched an investigation in 2009 to find out if there was any scientific evidence to substantiate the old wives’ tale. You can read a report here.

Whether there’s evidence or not to support the effectiveness of conkers, their use certainly won’t do any harm. Nor will ensuring that your boat is dusted and polished regularly and that window and door frames are as gap-free as possible.

Swans and spiders are a part of everyday life on a narrowboat. There’s much that you can do to minimise your contact with them or to ensure that your experiences with them are as problem free as possible. Don’t let spider and swan phobias spoil your enjoyment of life on the water.

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A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Lois-Jane

James and Debbie are the wrong side of forty. They have decided to take a belated gap year cruising the inland waterways of Englarand and Wales. Will the gap year last more than a year and can you forgive James for being an estate agent?

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

Just us two, that’s James and Debbie Ward

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

First part; we are both just the wrong side of 40 with our daughter Jess settled at Winchester Uni. We have a house in Poole Dorset that we have just rented out for a year. We used to really like kayaking and walking but as jobs got busier leisure time got less. Oh, I’m a bit of a waffler as well

Debs relaxing on the bank next to Lois Jane

Debs relaxing on the bank next to Lois Jane

Second part; Wow, the $64k question. We were both really fed up of our 9-5 (8-8 in my case) sort of corporate work lifestyles and wanted the opportunity to see what life and other parts of the UK was all about. We have both worked full time since the day we left school and really needed our ‘gap year’. We moved to Poole on a whim (I’m that kind of person) we had lived in Basingstoke and enjoyed daytrips to the coast. We have no family there and no ties so why not look at other parts of the UK to live in and seeing the Uk at 3mph sounded like a good start. I guess it would be a great opportunity to live on a shoestring to retrain ourselves to live within our means rather than spend what we earned. (Did I mention that I am a bit of a waffler?)

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

She is called Lois Jane, don’t know why, it was all down to the previous owner as was the apples and pears paintings as well. I am sure it all means something.

Do you have a permenant mooring?

No we are CC’ers. We plan to get a mooring over winter (Dec, Jan and Feb) and get some temporary work.

What is your boat style and length

Lois Jane is a 60ft cruiser stern. Built in 2000 by Alexander boat builders and is Sandhills No. 1 boat. She is a gas free boat with a 50hp beta marine engine and engine mounted 7kva generator. I have recently added 4 x 100w solar panels. The layout from stern is – office and electrics, bedroom with cross bed, bathroom with airing cupboard for my homebrew, galley with breakfast bar, lounge with a Becton arrow stove in the corner. The interior is all good quality but I am spending an arm and a leg on varnish for the iroko floor and oak paneled walls.

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

Picked up the keys about mid Feb 2012 and started sanding, varnishing and wandering around saying OMG what have we done.

How did you finance your boat?

An idylic mooring for Lois-Jane

An idylic mooring for Lois-Jane

Scrimped and saved for a couple of years of a 10 year plan before waking up one day and saying ‘we’re going to the bank to re-mortgage the house’ I didn’t want to wait another 8 years! My most recent background was Estate agency and it’s associated financing so I was able to get quite good mortgage rates that meant we would still have a good few hundred pound over from the rent we were charging our tenants to live on.

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

I should imagine we will be onboard for about 50 weeks of our first year.

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

Not at the mo, Deb is hoping to do a bit of online admin and I’ve got a couple of pin money ideas, but again I want to aim to earn what I need to live not fit my lifestyle around what I earn.

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

Probably not having the postman knocking on the door. Being CC’ers all post goes to my mother in law. I will try out the post offices ‘Post restante’ soon. but as far as I know businesses like ebay wont send to the post office.

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

A different view every fortnight from my lounge window. I also like the fact that it is a bit quirky, the life style always has an opinion ‘fantastic idea’ or ‘b****y idiot’ everyone has an opinion and questions.

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

Gunwales 2″ higher. I know it’s only a small point but head height with the cross bed is a bit too tight!

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

Bike and flat-bed bike trailer with a big plastic box on the back. Deb’s bike has a front basket and back rack for quick trips.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

I fitted a mini zanussi washing machine which has been fantastic

What type of toilet do you have on board and are you happy with it?

Pump out that lasts the two of us about a month, but we also use a small port-a-loo. How can I put this … one for solids and one for liquids to maximise the time we can stay in one place.

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

Mifi by 3. Yes it’s great. ?18 per month for 15gb and we can take it out walking or cycling to use google maps etc

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

Too early to tell yet but leaving Braunston and surrounding areas felt like moving home again, it’s a great area.

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

It was a bit of a disaster when we started. Dead batteries meant being very careful and charging via the engine for about 3.5 hours (?5ish per day) Since then new batteries and 4 x 100w solar panels have cut charging down to about an hour and a half (?2 ish) which is a massive difference. I think we use about 120 amps per day.

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

Not thinking about that yet….. still waiting for summer to start!

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

Be realistic, it is not always going to be a bed of roses. You have got to dig deep into Google to get specific answers as most sites will be quite vague with budgets and expenditure. This web site is what I used as the basis of all regular costs and I was then able to adjust accordingly like ‘my boat is newer so better insulated’ etc. I will hopefully post my budget and actual costs soon but so far we are not too far out.

You can find out more about James and Debbie’s watery gap year on their blog.

Are you one of the lucky few who lives the dream on board your own narrowboat full time? Would you like to share your experience with some of the thousands of potential floating home owners who visit this site? If you can spare the time to answer a few simple questions, I would love to hear from you. Just let me know so I can email the questions to you. I’ll create a post like the one above complete with a link back to your own blog or web site.

 

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Downsizing From A Three Bed Semi To A Narrowboat

In a way, I was lucky when I moved onto James. I had just moved out of my marital home after an unreconcilable breakdown of my marriage. I took very few material possessions with me; a suitcase stuffed with clothes, a collection of my favourite kitchen knives and, bizarrely, my hiking equipment.

James, for a narrowboat, has plenty of storage space. There’s a large cupboard with bookshelves above either side of the front doors, under-seat drawers where the l-shaped lounge seating is, more under the seats in the dining area, shelves and cupboards under the kitchen sink and work top, two five drawer chests in the bunk area (my office), a cupboard under the bathroom sink a wardrobe in my bedroom and six drawers under the bed. Plenty of storage.

Inside narrowboat James

Inside narrowboat James

Over the last two years I’ve filled some of the space but I still had plenty to spare. I filled all of my book shelves with my favourite paper and hardbacks but then, when I discovered the Kindle, storage space for reading material wasn’t an issue. I was a single bloke with relatively few material possessions living on a fairly large and well-appointed narrowboat.

You can imagine my shock recently when I was faced with the same logistical problems that most new liveaboards encounter.

I met Sally just over a year ago. I’m pleased to say that we get on very well indeed. In fact we get on so well that we’ve spent all of our time together for most of the last year either on the boat or at her house nearby. Mostly on the boat. Sally loves James. Sally’s two spaniels, Daisy and Charlie, love James and the marina even more. The next logical step was to move in together.

As we all love the boat (and as writing content for this site would be both hypocritical and pointless from the lounge of a three bed semi), we decided that everyone would be better off afloat.

“It won’t be a problem”, said Sally. “I don’t have much stuff”. It’s true that she doesn’t appear to have much in the house. She’s ultra tidy and a million miles away from being a hoarder. But she does live in a house. It’s not a huge house but it’s still a house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a lounge, a kitchen, a conservatory, a cloakroom, a garage and a garden with a little shed. Every room, no matter how tidy and sparsely furnished, has stuff in it.

Sally’s been very good about it all, but I think she’s about to have a breakdown. Her life is in her house. There are memories everywhere. Framed photographs of her two grown children adorn the walls. Meaningful photographs; graduating from university, holding a youthful labrador that’s sadly no longer alive, young and innocent smiles on sunny holiday beaches… the list goes on and on.

She has beautiful furniture. Leather Chesterfields and oak coffee tables, display cabinets full of crystal glasses, solid oak book cases (filled with books) and a work station complete with a desk tp PC, BIG monitor and an all-singing-all-dancing printer/scanner/copier/teamaker. She has oriental rugs and mats, beautiful curtains by the score, king size duvets with set upon set of matching covers and pillow cases, and she has clothes. Lots of clothes. There are racks of beautiful clothes, dozens of hand crafted hand bags and clutch bags and a whole heard of designer shoes.

Sally loves to cook. She has every item of kitchen ware that could possibly be of use in the kitchen. There are pots and pans of every conceivable size. There are dainty little pans for sauces, steamers, pressure cookers, omelette pans, frying pans, and one enormous affair that, at a push, I could take a bath in. She has peelers, mincers, dicers, juicers, cutters and presses. She has enough knives to outfit a small army. She has a great deal of crockery. There are sets of serving dishes, serving plates, dinner plates and side plates, soup bowls, dessert dishes, dishes for sauce and dishes for gravy and one enormous platter that probably needs a team of four to carry it.

Sally enjoys gardening. She enjoys gardening because she has the tools to make the job easier. She has wheel barrows and barrows on balls, spades and forks, rakes and hoes, shears and secateurs. She has pots galore.

She has a garage. A very well organised and clutter free garage. There doesn’t appear to be much in it… until you look up. The rafters have been boarded to create storage space above. There’s a full set of alloy wheels for her son’s VW, two oak display cabinets that wouldn’t fit into her current house when she downsized, mops, hard brushes, soft brushes, brushes with long handles and brushes with short handles, a couple of brushes with no handles at all, a dog travel cage, work benches and tools, three sets of ladders, a collection of thick embroidered rugs, paint and paint brushes, trays and rollers and a full garden furniture set.

So what do we do with a lifetime’s accumulated household essentials?

Firstly we discussed what we could reasonably fit onto the boat. Don’t forget that James is reasonably large and has plenty of storage space. Her clothes and shoes are essential of course, but not all of them. Not a chance. I don’t need much space for my clothes, so Sally has the lion’s share but even then, there isn’t space for a fraction of her bags, shoes or clothes. And there’s not much room for anything else at all.

There’s no room for any of the furniture, gardening equipment or stuff from the garage. There’s very little room for anything from the kitchen. After much deliberation we’ve picked just a few of the more frequently used pots and pans and some of the kitchen tools. That’s it.

Where is everything else going to go?

That’s the $64,000 question. The short-term answer is to put it into storage. It’s not a cheap option though. We’ve been quoted £150 per month for an inadequate eighty square feet and a far more reasonable £70 PCM for two hundred square feet. The problem is the cheaper, more spacious storage is in short supply. We may be able to reserve one of these damp-free and secure containers in about two week’s time. I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE 16th August 2013

I wrote this post just over a year ago when we were trying to decide what to do with the contents of Sally’s three bedroom house. We did in fact rent a “half” container. It’s 20′ long and 10 feet wide. On one of my days off with Sally’s son Michael and daughter Maricar to help we rented a box van and moved most of the contents of her house into the container. Sally gave quite a lot to Michael and Maricar to help furnish their homes in Nottingham but by the time we had finished, every square inch of the container was full. Well organised and with everything accessible but still very full.

Over the first couple of months we visited the container two or three times a week to get essential items we couldn’t or didn’t want to store on the boat. Over the following months we visited the container less and less. I think our last visit to the container was about two months ago.

We don’t really need the container. It’s an unnecessary expense.  It’s cost us £910 so far, about the same as the license for James. All of the really useful stuff originally stored in the container is now somewhere on the boat. The container is only two miles away from where we’re moored at Calcutt but there’s still too much effort involved to make a visit worthwhile.

I think we should dispense with the container but that will meaning getting rid of all of Sally’s accumulated possessions. It’s a decision she has to make herself. I won’t get involved (apart from to point out that with the money she saves she can buy herself a ticket to visit her much missed family in the Philippines).

 

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