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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 05 05 Newsletter – Narrowboat Fuel Tank Range And An Encounter With Snakes

Living on a Narrowboat News 5th May 2013

I took James out for another cruise last week. I was out for longer but didn’t travel as far, not did I have nearly as much fun. I took James along to our workshops to have some more work on the engine.

River Canal Rescue serviced my engine a couple of weeks ago. It’s an old but ever so reliable Mercedes OM 636. It’s done just 4,000 hours. I understand that it’s considered young and that I can reasonably expect 20,000 hours from it. In fact, the engine should outlast me. However, it needs some TLC.

I can’t ever see myself stripping it down to its component parts and putting it back together again, but I do need to be able to clean and change the fuel filter. I couldn’t get near the fuel filter up until now. It’s positioned at the front of the engine, low down, and very close to the bulkhead between the engine room and the bedroom. Both the RCR engineer and one of our own engineers have struggled to get it off to clean it. RCR recommended that I install a more conveniently placed pre-filter and that I have the fuel lines rerouted. At the moment they run underneath the engine which means that they too are inaccessible and are subject to damage from the ballast bars which lay on top of them.

In order to change the fuel lines, engineer Jim had to drain the fuel tank. It was a slow process because there was a lot of diesel to drain. Before I went out on last week’s cruise to Braunston, I checked the fuel level. I didn’t know how much the tank held, noticed that there was a bit of a gap between the surface of the fuel and the top of the tank so I added another 25 litres. I needn’t have bothered. Jim removed about 32o litres from the tank. It’s a huge amount of fuel.

I don’t yet know how much fuel my engine uses but I know that the consumption will be between 1.0 and 1.5 litres per hour when I’m cruising. Using the conservative figure of 1.5 litres per hour, the diesel will last me for 213 hours. At a speed of 3mph there’s enough in the tank to take me and my floating home 639 miles.

I could cruise for seven hours a day for a full month up to Lancaster and back, travelling 446 miles, opening and closing 208 locks and passing through ten tunnels. I could do all of this without stopping for fuel. And then, if I still had any energy left, I could head south from Calcutt to Bristol. I would cruise for another fortnight at seven hours a day to travel the 184 miles and 162 locks before I had to look for diesel.

My tank holds a lot of fuel. I can’t wait to use it all!

Jim was called away on an emergency job so he couldn’t finish the work on Tuesday when I took James in so we had to stay overnight in one of our covered double docks. We didn’t have the views that we’re used to and enjoy so much. A polythene tunnel is a very poor alternative to grassy banks and an island covered by trees in their early spring splendour, but I still loved the few seconds of confusion when I woke up knowing that my house was somewhere different but not quite sure where.

A Picnic With Snakes

I spent most of Friday working on James. Steven Cox, our buyer, is very good with electrics. He’s been promising to fit my inverter for a while now. He agreed to do the work on Friday. The engine room was a bit of a mess after the fuel lines were rerouted earlier in the week so I took James up from the marina through two locks to the wharf where we keep the Big Brute. It’s a wet vacuum cleaner the size of a small house which we use for vacuuming the hire fleet engine bays. A couple of hours with the Brute, a tin of degreaser and a stiff hand brush had the engine and its surroundings looking better than it has for years.

Back on the mooring, Steve spent a couple of hours connecting the inverter and adding a changeover switch and a new shore line to comply with Boat Safety Scheme regulation. That’s nearly all of the electrical work done for now. I’m still running on just two 135amp domestic batteries plus a 110amp starter. I have two more 135amp batteries in the engine room. I’m waiting for the leads to be delivered before I can add them to the battery bank.

Grass SnakeIt was mid afternoon before the various jobs were finished. I really don’t know where the time goes. I’m always up at 5am, but then the day flashes by. Maybe I should get up earlier.

Friday was warm and sunny so Sally and I decided to have a picnic on the grass next to the woods. Last winter I removed a fence from the edge of the woods. The extensive grassed area adjacent to Meadows marina now merges with the mixed woodland and provides a beautiful and tranquil spot to spend a few hours relaxing.

While we eat our picnic of chile spiced sausages on buttered baps and fiery chicken wings with salad, Charlie and Daisy played along the tree line. Charlie is always finding creatures to annoy. One of his great pleasures last year was night-time hedgehog rolling. We often see them in the warmer months after dark on the marina embankment. As soon as they see Charlie, they roll into a ball. As soon as they roll into a ball, Charlie tips them down the marina bank. Charlie loves the game. I don’t think the hedgehogs are so keen.

We’re used to Charlie discovering spiders, worms, crane flies, frogs and, of course, hedgehogs. We noticed that he’d found something but didn’t really pay him much attention. After five minutes of jumping up and down and pouncing on a pile of leaves though I went to see what the fuss was about. I couldn’t see anything so I left Charlie to his game.

After a few more minutes of pouncing at leaves closer and closer to where we sat, I had another look. There was no mistaking what he had found this time though, a large and very unhappy looking grass snake. Charlie wanted to play. The grass snake didn’t and was quite vocal about it.

I now had Charlie jumping up and down in excitement, Daisy running around in pointless circles and Sally looking for the nearest tree to climb. Sally doesn’t like snakes with very good reason. She was born in the Philippines where there are a considerable number of snakes far more unpleasant than our completely harmless grass snakes and barely venomous adders. They have 179 species of snake, fourteen of which are venomous. They have a Krait which can kill you in under two seconds and a very aggressive, highly venomous Philippine cobra which only needs to spit at you to kill you.

Sally doesn’t like snakes.

After the poor terrified grass snake escaped into the undergrowth, I calmed the dogs down, helped Sally down out of the tree and reassured her that our snakes, like just about everything else in the UK, are far less harmful than anywhere else in the world, I suggested a walk in the woods. The look she gave me was far more dangerous than any of the snakes in the Philippines. I’ll have to work on that one.

Out On The Cut Again

There’s no holding us back now. Sally and I are out again today. I’m determined to do justice to the diesel  tank’s hanger-like dimensions. Mind you, I’ve just worked out that if I only travel the five hours to Braunston and back once a week, and I make the trip every week until the tank runs dry, I won’t need to top up with diesel until 28th February 2014!

It’s such a joy to be out at this time of the year. There are some beautiful places to moor just a stone’s throw away from Calcutt; just about anywhere on the six mile stretch between Calcutt and Braunston will do, above the Napton flight on the south Oxford or on the GU before the Stockton flight. We love the cruise to Braunston because, with limited time available, we can enjoy a couple of hours of lock free cruising after we’ve passed through the thee locks of the Calcutt flight.

At the moment we’re moored near Napton Junction. It’s not as peaceful as it was last week. I should have expected far more boats about as it’s a bank holiday weekend but there are a lot of people cruising this weekend.

I still haven’t sorted out the problem I had last week with my dongle aerial. I’ve bought the fairleads which, when fitted, will keep the centre rope from snagging both the aerial and the vent over my water heater. Yesterday though I had to keep an eye on the rope to make sure that it didn’t sweep everything off the roof when we were tied up in the lock. As an added security meas.ure I removed the dongle from its fitting and put it in my pocket.

We moored up and, because I’m obsessed with keeping in touch with you, dear reader, my first job was to reconnect my broadband dongle. I couldn’t find it, but I did find a very large hole in the pocket I had carefully placed it. Sally and I ran the mile back to the Calcutt flight asking passing boats and walkers if they had seen a black dongle. The only response was confused and slightly hostile stares.

Back at Calcutt Middle lock we found it laying on the grass by the upstream paddle. I was very lucky.I think I’ll keep the dongle inside the boat in the future.

We ate well last night. Sally’s special spare ribs, beef noodles and sticky rice. All washed down with a couple of glasses of Wolf Blass and a pair of swans with their brand new signets to keep us company. After dinner I sat down to do a bit of work on the site, delighted that I didn’t need to worry about my laptop battery dying as, thanks to the new inverter, I had mains power… for about an hour. The inverter died. I scratched my head for a while before I realised that I had left a 500w heater plugged in when I switched over to the inverter. The heater didn’t take long to drain 2 x 135amp batteries. As it was about 8.30pm and as we had been joined on our tranquil mooring by two other boats, I couldn’t fire up the engine to charge the batteries again. I gave up  for the evening, got up this morning at 5.00am as usual and took the dogs for a long walk along the canal until 7.00am when I could start charging the batteries.

We set off for Braunston at 10.00am. It was an enjoyable but slow cruise. Every man and his dog were out on the cut. Every blind bend and bridge hole was a game of Russian roulette. We managed to get by with just one slight bump and no damage done. Braunston was very busy. Actually I should say, Braunston is very busy. I’m still there. We’ve done a bit of shopping at Midland Chandlers, had a coffee at the Boat House. Now we’re back at the boat. Sally and her friend, Sheila, are basking in the spring sunshine on the front deck while Sheila gives Sally a manicure. We’ll go for a walk later on before an early tea and a sedate cruise back to the marina.

I can’t wait for the beginning of June and our two weeks away from the mooring.

 

The UK’s Largest Inland Waterways Hotel Boat

We had a rather large visitor at Calcutt yesterday, the just launched hotel boat Wessex Rose. It’s a monster of a boat at 70′ long, 12′ wide and weighing in at a rather hefty 50 tonnes. The Wessex Rose was launched yesterday at Stockton. They pulled in to fill up with diesel. They were with us for quite a while. The tank took 1,000 litres. It’s a monster of a boat which tends to get in the way of other boats. Sadly, they discovered the hard way just how difficult it is for other boats to pass around it. One boat caught their bow a glancing blow as the Wessex Rose maneuvered onto the wharf. Only a couple of hours after launch, they had a foot long scrape through the sign writing on the bow.

The boat is heading south where it will cruise with up to six paying passengers on the Kennett & Avon. I imagine that it’s a very comfortable boat to cruise on in luxury (each of the three passenger cabins has an en suite bathroom) but I wouldn’t like to try to pass it on some of the narrower stretches of the K & A). You can read about the Wessex Rose here.

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.

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.

  • The difference between cruising on canalas and rivers – This is a very popular thread for very good reason. It’s packed with advice if you’re new to river cruising.
  • 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.