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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 19 Newsletter – Keeping Dry On The Cut

Living on a Narrowboat News 19th May 2013

I try not to upset people when I write the weekly newsletters. After all, living on a narrowboat is supposed to be a stress free alternative to living in a bricks and mortar home. I don’t always succeed though. I upset at least one couple with the account of my cruise back from Braunston to Calcutt two weeks ago. I met a brand new wide beam hotel boat heading towards Braunston which required some interesting maneuvering to pass it on a section of canal with boats moored along one side.

As a result of the account, a post was made on the forum complaining about my attitude towards wide beam boat owners in general and the owners of the Wessex Rose in particular. I’ve responded to the post but, just for clarification, please let me say that I have nothing against wide beams or their owners. However, wide beams do cause the same kind of holdups on the narrow canals that caravans and RV’s do on narrow country roads. They need to cruise with care at narrow passing places, of which there are many, at bends and at bridge holes. Because of this, they tend to create a tailback of slightly frustrated narrowboat owners.

So, if you are a narrowboat owner and I’ve offended you, I apologise. I try to ensure that the site is as friendly as possible for all visitors, and not just for narrowboat owners and enthusiasts. While we’re on the subject of wide beams, meet Rob…

There’s A New Blogger On The Site

Two months ago I added a new section to the forum to allow boat owners and those in the process of buying a boat to write about their experiences. The new blog sections is slowly gaining momentum. There are now half a dozen bloggers posting in this section. There are some fascinating posts in the new section now. There’s the full range of experience from long term liveaboard and continuous cruiser Peter Earley (Pearley on the forum) to the latest blogger, aspiring boat owner Rob.

Rob and his wife Manda are in the process of selling up and moving to a life on the water. Rob likes the idea of a wide beam because of the additional space it offers. Manda is quite happy with a narrowboat. Rob has added his first post to the blog section to introduce himself and to ask for advice from those who have advice to give. Can you help him out?

Keeping Dry On The Cut

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I love my job. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t really know what I’m going to do. I can be working on the grounds trying to keep all 110 acres both tidy and attractive for our 250+ moorers, instructing holiday hirers on the correct operation of their temporary floating homes, delivering engines to or collecting engines from boatyards up and down the country, releasing sheep trapped in brambles or boggy ground, emptying bins and clearing blockages in our sewage system (I don’t enjoy that very much) and, one of my favourite jobs, moving boats around the marina.

Our slipway is always very busy. Nearly every day we pull a boat out of the water for blacking or repairs. The boats need to be brought from their moorings before the work is done and returned once the work has been completed. Every year we black out own fleet of hire boats which involves taking them from the wharf, down through Calcutt Middle and Bottom locks and into Locks marina to the slipway and then back up the locks to the wharf once the work has been done. I’m actually paid for taking boats on short cruises and I love it.

There are ten online moorings at Calcutt; five below the Calcutt flight and five above it. On Tuesday I had to take a boat from the wharf to one of the online moorings above the lock flight and next to the reservoir. It’s usually moored with the bow pointing down stream so it had to be returned to the mooring as it was found.

In calm conditions it’s possible to come out of the top lock, use the winding hole to turn the boat 180 degrees and reverse it 100m to its mooring. Tuesday was quite windy so the alternative to reversing the narrowboat in a strong cross wind was to take it half a mile to Napton junction where I could turn around and then cruise back to the mooring pointing in the right direction. Not only was Tuesday windy, it was also very wet.

By the time I reached Napton junction I was soaked and just a little bit fed up until I looked at my experience from a different angle.

It’s spring and the canal was beautiful. There was new life everywhere. The hawthorn lining one side of the bank were in full and beautiful bloom, bowing over the few remaining daffodils. I passed a mallard with five chicks followed a little further on by a pair of swans with week old signets. The rain glistened on the vivid green foliage framing my view of acres of water and hundreds of birds on Napton reservoir. What’s more, I was cruising and I was being paid to do it.

I really enjoyed the short cruise back to the mooring. The rain enhanced rather than spoiled my experience. If I had been wearing decent waterproofs I could have happily cruised all day.

Not many boaters cruise in the rain. I think it’s usually because of the unpleasant sensation of standing immobile in wet and increasingly cold and uncomfortable clothing. I’ve spent many years as a keen hill walker and at a different stage of my life as a keen angler. I’ve had more than my fair share of uncomfortable days in wet clothing. I’ve tried a huge variety of waterproofs from low tech oilskins to the latest breathable fabrics.

Oilskins are completely waterproof. You can stand all day in the heaviest rain without getting wet… until you generate some body heat. When I wore my oilskins as I remained stationary for hours at a time on board a boat when I was fishing offshore, the oilskins worked perfectly. However, if I was fishing from the shore constantly moving as I retreated before the incoming tide, the oilskins were very unpleasant to wear. I was frequently soaked by the sweat retained by the none breathable waterproofs.

In later years I often loaded up a 75 litre rucksack and disappeared into the Scottish Highlands for a week at a time to enjoy some much needed solitude. I had a little more money to spend on waterproof clothing than I did in my youth so I invested in the best waterproof and breathable clothing that I could find. I was never completely happy with any of it.

Scotland is often a very wet place to walk and even the best breathable waterproofs struggled to keep the rain out. Oilskins weren’t an option because walking all day long carrying a 40 – 50lb pack would have resulted in torrents of sweat running down the insides of waterproofs.

x trapper jacketNow my passion is boating and it’s the style of boating that involves standing very still on the back of a boat for hours on end. The situation is ideal for oilskins so I’ve just invested in the best oilskins I could find. I’ve bought heavy duty oilskins favoured by trawlermen. They are a Guy Cotten X Trapper jacket and a pair of heavy duty bib & brace trousers. I can now enjoy cruising the canals of rainy England in comfort. The downside is that they won’t be practical for lock work. Sally will have to do that. I haven’t told her yet.

 Reducing Unnecessary Expenditure – Do You Really Need A Car?

I gave my car away last week. It’s gone to my ex wife so that she can put the proceeds of the sale towards university fees for our children. I am now without a car of my own since I passed my driving test in 1977 which, incidentally, was when my boat was built. In the last 36 years on the road I’ve always had a car. In recent years I had a Toyota Previa for five years (for the children) followed by a Nissan Pathfinder for another five years (for showing off) before my last car a Seat Altea 2.0 TDI FR (for no particular reason).

I loved the car. After a decade of big cars, the Seat was a pleasant and nippy change. It was comfortable to drive, was fast, good to look at and totally unnecessary.

In the last 12 months the car has cost me £1,900. I owned the car so the costs where for tax, insurance, repairs and maintenance and fuel. I suspect that if I had kept the car for another year, the annual cost would have been far higher. The brake pads needed replacing, all four tyres where on their way out and the car, only six years old, wasn’t keen on starting in the mornings.

Before I decided to get rid of my car, I had to think seriously whether I needed one. Sally has a car. It’s a very reliable Honda Civic. Sally works shifts so our days off don’t always coincide. When we’re off together, we go out together so we can use her car. When she’s working and I’m off, like today, I won’t have access to a car but I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.

I don’t particularly enjoy going to the shops. I love the feeling of peace and tranquility that living on a narrowboat affords me. I’m now more used to the company of pigeons that people and I much prefer life this way. I don’t actually need to go to the shops very often. With the technology available to me, I can ask the shops to come to me.

I do a great deal of shopping online. I’m a big fan of Amazon. I can buy just about anything I need from. Their system is excellent; products are easy to find, are accurately rated and with predictable or zero delivery fees. If I can’t find anything on Amazon, I can usually find it on eBay. My experience with eBay is almost as good as it is with Amazon.

I actually enjoy food shopping, but I don’t really need to visit the stores. When I do physically walk down the isles, I’m a prolific impulse buyer. I fall for the supermarket’s product placement tricks all the time. It’s far safer for me to do my grocery shopping online.

Whenever I make a decision about the boat or my lifestyle these days it’s always with my goal in mind. My goal is for Sally and I to cruise full time. I don’t think that we are many years away from achieving our goal. Will we want the hassle of dragging a car or two along with us on our travels when we go? I don’t think so.

A car is convenient but it’s not a necessity. I don’t know how many of the 2,000 plus genuine continuous cruisers own vehicles but I know that there are hundreds, maybe thousands who manage without. The genuine continuous cruisers are the few lucky narrowboat owners who don’t need to work or who are able to work from their boat wherever they are on the system. The genuine continuous cruisers enjoy a progressive and constant journey throughout the network. They have overcome the logistics of restocking on board food and medicinal supplies, laundry requirements and postal collections. If they need a car, which they don’t very often, they simply hire one. I intend to join the happy few. Getting rid of my car and reducing my outgoings is another step closer.

Please, Take A Seat

Captains chairsSite user Susan emailed me. She has a couple of leather captain’s chairs for sale. I don’t know anything about them other than that. If you would like a couple for your boat, or if you would like to pretend you’re on a boat while you’re sitting in your lounge, please get in touch with Susan directly.

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.

  • Winter Stoppages 2013/2014 – The Trust carry out essential scheduled repairs during the quieter, cooler months. Here’s their planned stoppages for the coming winter.
  • A New Narrowboat Dog – Alan recently moved on board his own floating home. He loved his new boat but something was missing. Now he has a new best friend and he’s in love, although his new best friend has proven a bit of a challenge.
  • Electric Boats – What do they cost to run? Why would you want one? There’s a huge amount of information for you here if you’ve ever considered an alternative to a diesel narrowboat engine.
  • Pram Covers – “Pram cover” is the term for a cover over the rear deck, usually on a cruiser stern narrowboat. Here are the pros and cons.
  • 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.


Useful Information

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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 wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.