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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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2013 04 28 Newsletter – Narrowboat Blogs

Living on a Narrowboat News 28th April 2013

I’ve been reading Our Nige’s blog, Steppin’ Out, with great interest and a certain amount of nostalgia. He picked up his new floating home last Sunday and over the last week has been learning all about the boat as he cruised towards Mercia marina. He reminded me of my first cruise down the south Oxford and onto the Thames.

I had only been working at Calcutt Boats, was still living on dry land, and didn’t know much about narrowboats at all. I was given the job of transporting one of our new clippers, a Calcutt Boats built 50′ cruiser stern narrowboat, to the IWA National Festival at Beale Park on the Thames. To say that I was under prepared for the cruise was an understatement.

I took my then twelve year old son, Brook, with me to help with the locks, lift and swing bridges and coffee making duties. I loved every minute of the adventure, and what an adventure it was!

We set off early in the morning on the first day, passed through Calcutt Top Lock from where the clipper had been moored on the wharf, stopped briefly to eject the stowaway site cat that had sneaked on board at some stage and very nervously cruised along a tranquil waterway before coming to our first narrow lock on the south Oxford at Napton.

This was the second time in my life that I had operated a lock (The first had been at Calcutt half an hour earlier). I enthusiastically raised the paddle to let the water out of the lock. Too enthusiastically as it happened as I hadn’t secured the clipper to the bollard correctly and, before I noticed anything wrong, the boat had drifted away from the bank and down the canal taking a very confused twelve year old with it. A couple on a boat moored close to the lock brought both boat and son back to me with a smile and a laugh.

It was a very wet August. By mid morning I was so wet and cold that I could hardly think. Of course, I hadn’t brought any waterproofs with me. I had to stop the boat for two hours so that I could light the fire and warm up. As feeling returned to my extremities I looked out of the window as I dressed for the next leg of the journey… to find that one of the mooring stakes had pulled free from the soft earth and I was broadside across the canal. Another lesson learned.

Over the next four days the adventure continued; we were pinned to the bank by the wind in Banbury, had to extract ourselves from a reed bed when I tried to get out of the path of a working boat and butty, had to stop for four hours while the police pulled a body out of the canal, and had the joy of trying to negotiate a lift bridge that was too heavy for Brook to raise on his own.

We moored in some idyllic spots away from the noise and the stress of the “civilised” world. It was my first experience of the peace and quiet of rural canal moorings and I loved it. And then I joined the Thames.

What a shock! After 49 miles of gently winding canal I nosed out onto the scary and oh-so-wide Thames at Isis lock junction. Although I had become reasonably proficient over the preceding three days on the canal, the river was a different kettle of fish. I immediately headed for the very large and very clear signs warning me to keep clear of the weir and was instantly pinned against the safety barrier put there to prevent idiots like me from being swept over it.

I was pulled free, helped into a lock large enough to take a dozen boats and prevented from going any further down the Thames until my “trade plate” license was checked. Eventually I was allowed through the lock. The remaining 30 miles downstream to Beale Park was exhilarating  With the current helping me, I cruised at more than twice the speed I had on the canal and I had so much more space to play on than I had on the Oxford. We eventually found a bank side mooring on the Thames for our last night. We tried and failed four or five times because of the shallow water next to the bank.

The cruise only lasted four days but we covered eighty miles, forty canal locks, ten river locks and eighteen swing or lift bridges. The first three days were ten or eleven hour cruises; the last day was a rather tiring thirteen hour stretch. The last hour and a half of the final full day was spent looking for a suitable mooring on the gently shelving Thames riverbank. It was a great adventure. I loved every minute of it. I can’t wait for regular cruises in the future.

A Day Trip To Braunston

Mooring at Napton JunctionAfter I wrote the above introduction I realised that, although I can’t afford the time off work to enjoy a multi day cruise at the moment,  there’s nothing stopping us from going out for the day now and then. My home mooring Calcutt Boat’s stunning Meadows marina is the perfect starting point for many different routes.

If I turn left out of our marina, I’m on the Grand Union heading west to Leamington Spa and Warwick and then on to Birmingham. If I turn right, go through the Calcutt flight and cruise half a mile to Napton Junction, I can turn left to Braunston or right to head south on the Oxford canal towards Oxford and the Thames.

I decided to take James out for a day and a night to see how the engine fared after its recent overhaul. Here’s my trip.

New Forum Section

I’ve added the newsletter archive to the forum. You can find it here. Every week when I send out the newsletter, I’ll also post it on the forum. You’ll have all of the newsletters listed by date in one handy section, and you’ll be able to comment on the content in a place where others can respond. You can also use this section to ask for topics to be included in the newsletter. If there’s a subject you don’t think I’ve covered in enough detail, or at all, elsewhere on the site, please use this section to suggest its addition.

Your Own (Free) Narrowboat Blog

Talking of new additions to the site, about a month ago I offered any site user their own blog section on the site so that they can create a lasting memory of their own boating experience.  One or two have already taken me up on the offer. I would like to introduce you to one of them, Our Nige as he is on the forum.

Nige’s dream was to own and live on a narrowboat. Even though he wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing, he bought his boat and he’s now on day seven or eight of his maiden voyage back to his home mooring at Mercia marina. If you’re thinking about buying a narrowboat, even if you’re only going to use it for recreational cruising, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the detail in his blog posts, and his determination to try every different drop of local beer at the end of a day’s cruise.

Here’s the first of Nige’s blog posts. You can follow the blog’s progress through the forum here.

If you’re in the process of seriously moving to a life afloat and you would like your own blog please read this post and then get in touch with me. I can have you up and running in about ten minutes.

Comprehensive Site Article Listing

There are dozens of helpful and interesting articles on the site, but have you found them all? I thought you might appreciate a list of the more popular articles that you can glance through and click on the ones that take your fancy. Here it is.

Popular Forum Posts

There’s a wealth of information on the site in general, but if you’re struggling to find the answer to a particular issue, the forum is the place to find it. I’ve listed some of the more popular posts below but if you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask your question on the forum. If you don’t know how to create a post, or if you can’t log in, please let me know. I’ll be more than happy to get you up and running.

  • Checklists – What do you need to check before you set off on a cruise? There’s some very detailed information including a very useful post by fellow Calcutt moorer Graham who has issues with his mobility after an RTA many years ago.
  • Television Aerials – If you can’t live without your Corrie, you’ll need a decent aerial for your boat.
  • My New Life – I urge you to read this forum thread. If you dream of living on your own narrowboat one day, reading this post, written by a new liveaboard boater, may well prove the catalyst you need. It’s essential reading for any aspiring narrowboat owner.
  • Narrowboat Ownership – How do you prove that the person offering a narrowboat for sale is the real owner?
  • Tips For Continuous Cruisers – He’s making a bit of a habit of it; Pearley’s back with some great cruising tips
  • The Llangollen Canal – One of the country’s most beautiful canals discussed
  • Deliveries to your boat – Excellent information from regular forum contributor Pearley
  • Mobile Broadband – All you need to know about internet connectivity on board
  • Internet Data Theft – Did you know that fellow boaters can steal your internet data allowance?
  • Boat Planning & Design – Is there any free software available to hel you plan your dream boat?
  • A Narrowboat Checklist – What checks do you need to carry out before you set out on a cruise?
  • Tunnels – How do you navigate them? Who has priority?
  • Windows Or Portholes – Round or square, which is best? Is it just a matter of personal preference?
  • Day To Day Questions About Narrowboat Life – How can “newbies” find out the answers to questions about day to day life on a narrowboat? The answer is simple. Find out by reading this post.
  • Beds – The pros and cons of fixed doubles and cross beds. You need to read this if you are taller or slightly wider than average.
  • Flushing Out a Toilet Waste Tank – Emptying your pumpout toilet holding tank isn’t just a case of sucking out your unmentionables. You also need to flush water through the tank to remove the built up solids. Here’s how to do it.
  • Narrowboat Knots – Do you know your bowline from your buntline hitch, your cleat hitch from your clove hitch or your poacher’s knot from your square knot? No? It’s about time you did!
  • Free Narrowboat Heating – Is there any such thing? Read this post to find out
  • Narrowboat Furniture – Not everyone wants fitted furniture on their boat. Here are a few ideas if you want to add your own.
  • Weight on a narrowboat – How many people can you carry on a narrowboat, and how much luggage can they bring with them?
  • Narrowboat Finance – A Canadian hoping to move to the UK, buy a boat and cruise the network.
  • Internet Data Theft – Did you know that you can have your boat’s broadband allowance stolen? Here’s what you can do to prevent the theft.
  • Problems Powering An Inverter With A Generator – Why didn’t it work and what’s the solution?
  • Diesel Costs – You need it to run your boat and maybe your heating system. How much can you expect to pay for it?
  • Stove Top Fans – Are they worth the money?
  • Mooring Pins and Piling Hooks – What are they and when do you use them?
  • Water Pump Problems – What to do if your water pump appear to have a life of its own
  • Fuel Contamination – How do you know if you’ve water in your diesel… and what do you do about it when you have?
  • Anchors – What’s the best size and weight anchor for narrowboats on tidal rivers
  • Single Handed Boating for Ladies – Can a lady on her own pass safely through locks?
  • Different Types of Mooring – What’s the difference between residential and leisure moorings? How long can you stay on your boat with each type?
  • Which Ropes To Use? – There are so many different types available. Are the more expensive ones worth using or is it just a case of money for old rope?
  • Windows – Why do narrowboat owners tolerate condensation? Why don’t they have modern uPVC windows fitted?
  • Best Ex Hire Boats – Are you considering buying an ex hire boat to live on? Should you? Here’s some important information for you.
  • Liveaboard Conclusions – Mel Davies has been doing  plenty of research into her hoped for lifestyle afloat. Here are the conclusions she’s reached and comments from a few existing liveaboard narrowboat owners.
  • Handling Floodwaters – How safe is a river mooring during and after heavy rain? Can you stay on a river when the level rises? What can you do to minimise danger?
  • Narrowboat steel thickness – How thick is your boat’s steel? How long does it last?
  • Retro fitting a solid fuel stove – Where’s the best place to put your stove and what’s involved in fitting it?
  • Converting from a cassette toilet to a pump out – A pump out toilet is far more convenient to use than a toilet with a portable cassette but how easy are they to retro fit in a narrowboat?
  • Gas free boating – If you don’t fancy heaving unwieldy gas bottles into a difficult to reach bow locker, a gas free boat might be the solution
  • Winter on the cut – Are you able to cruise all year on your boat or should you find a mooring for the winter?
  • Transporting your boat – Sometimes you may want or need to take your narrowboat by road rather than cruise along the canal. Here’s an idea of the cost
  • Bike types and preferences – If you don’t have a car parked near your boat, you’ll probably want a bike, but which type of bike is best?
  • Towing a butty – I’ve upset someone. I didn’t mean to. Wainbody wanted to know the best way of towing an unpowered second narrowboat (butty). I came across as patronising when I replied. It was unintentional but to make amends I thought I would ask anyone with boat handling experience to reply to his thread with some constructive advice. If you can help him, please reply to the post.
  • The best flooring for a narrowboat pets –  What’s the best way to protect your floor from a dirty doggy?
  • The best time of the year to buy a boat – Is there a deal to be done by buying a boat in the winter?
  • The best length for a liveaboard narrowboat – What’s the best length to buy? What are the pros and cons of different length boats
  • ONE tip to offer a potential narrowboat owner – If you are already a narrowboat owner, you can share your experience. If you haven’t bought one yet, you need to read this thread.
  • Powering your computer on a narrowboat – Can you power your computer/laptop from the boat’s 12v supply or do you need mains power?
  • Must-have gadgets and necessities – The most useful/useless gadgets for life on a narrowboat
  • Choosing a stove for your boat – Are domestic solid fuel stoves as good as the ones designed specifically for boats? Which is the best one to buy?
  • Diesel heating for boats – How important is a solid fuel stove on a liveaboard narrowboat? Is a diesel heating system OK as a primary heat source?
  • Computers on boats – Can a computer be powered from your boat’s 12v system or does it need to be plugged into the mains
  • Receiving post on your boat – How does the postman find you when you’re cruising? How do you apply for a driving license, a TV license or a bank statement when you have no official address?
  • Bikes on board – Many boat owners do not have cars so they rely on bikes to get them to the shops (or the pub). Some use bikes to collect their cars after a day’s cruising. There’s a huge selection of bikes to choose from. Which are the best for your boat? To tell you the truth, I don’t know the answer. Can you point forum member Ainslo in the right direction?
  • VAT on narrowboat sales – Does the price of your narrowboat contain a VAT element? Can the VAT be reclaimed?
  • Internet access – How do you connect to the internet when you live on a boat?
  • Living off property rental income – Do you have a property that you indend to let while you cruise the waterways? Read this before you work out your budget.
  • How to find a narrowboat to live on – Here’s an article about choosing a liveaboard narrowboat, and a question about finding a narrowboat with a steering wheel.
  • Vertigo – How to deal with walking over lock gates if you’re frightened of heights.
  • Long term narrowboat hire – If you aren’t ready to buy a narrowboat yet, what are your chances of hiring a narrowboat for more than a few weeks?
  • Residential moorings and single handed boating – How do you handle a narrowboat on your own? What do you do about a mooring if you live on board and only want a mooring for part of the year
  • Too tall for a narrowboat? – Is a narrowboat suitable for you if you are above average height?
  • Dealing with condensation – Do all narrowboats suffer from damp? What can you do about it?
  • Solar panels – More information about portable and fixed solar panels
  • Heating systems – Hurricane and Mikuni heating systems discussed

Useful Links

Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost of a Life Afloat – Narrowboat costs explained in detail. My own maintenance and living cost on narrowboat James for a full year. Use this information to work out your own costs.
Find out what parts of the canal are closed and for how long. Essential cruising information for you.
Do you need to find a home for your boat? Here’s a comprehensive list of the narrowboat friendly marinas in the UK
Do you want to see where these marinas are on a map? Here it is.
Here’s a map of all the canals on the system to help you plan your route.
Newsletter Archive – Browse through a wealth of useful content in the newsletters over the last year.

 

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Paul Smith
 

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia now wander Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 32' Dutch motor cruiser.