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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2013 05 26 Newsletter – From Nervous Anticipation To Confident Cruising

Living on a Narrowboat News 26th May 2013

Let me tell you a story. It’s a horror story. The main characters are my bank, my laptop, an unknown individual of debatable parentage and I.

About a month ago I told you that I had my identity stolen. My new laptop was hacked, I was locked out of my email account, this site, the site that hosts this site, T Mobile, and my bank. The hacker changed the contact address and phone number on my bank account. As a result I had to close my bank account and open another. This process took three weeks due to one cock up or another. During this three week period my employer couldn’t pay me and I had no means of paying my regular monthly standing orders or direct debits.

As part of the bank’s verification process, the hacker had to establish that he was me. He did this by uploading a copy of my own passport to the the bank. The laptop was brand new. By a process of elimination I guessed that the hack could have only come from within the new laptop. I did some research and discovered stories of laptops which had malicious code added to them before they reached the stores which sold them. The store which sold me mine was PC World.

I took the laptop back to them. They assured me that their machine couldn’t have been infected but offered to do a factory reset for me if I would pay them £50. I didn’t feel as though I had the choice. I use a laptop for four or five hours every day, my old laptop has slowed down so much that I can almost make a cup of coffee between typing words and seeing them appear on the screen and the inconvenience was driving me mad.

Once I had the repaired laptop back on the boat, I started the laborious process of downloading all of the applications I use on a regular basis; Microsoft Office, Open Office (because Microsoft appear unable to develop a document editing application which can convert a document to a PDF with links which actually work), Adobe Photoshop, Picasa, and half a dozen other large downloads.

Of course being on a boat and connecting to the web via a dongle, the downloads took an age, and they also resulted in me running out of data. Three offer the best roving internet connectivity in the UK, but they also offer the poorest and most frustrating experience when it comes to topping up.

If you go over your monthly allowance and if you insist on carrying on using your dongle, they charge you 10p per megabyte. Adobe Photoshop at 600mb would have cost me £60 to download. I didn’t discover this until I had been able to log into my account which involved retrieving a password which they don’t tell you when you set the dongle up. In order to determine the password you need to tell them the sim serial number. The sim is in the dongle which, in my case, is on the boat roof.

In the end, to keep myself online until my next month’s allowance kicked in, I had to buy a PAYG sim and use that as an interim measure.

Finally back online, and with a huge backlog of work on the site, my first job was to secure my identity and access to all of the sites I use. I upgraded my antivirus software and I also bought an application which generated complex passwords, encrypted them and password protected the passwords in secure vault online.

Finally my life was back to normal and I was safe… or so I thought.

I checked my bank account on Sunday. I check it most days because I reconcile it with an accounts package, mainly so that I can record my boat expenses for Living on a Narrowboat: The Real Cost of a Life AfloatI noticed that £500 had been withdrawn in Bristol. Sally and I live on the boat in Warwickshire, 100 miles from Bristol. Neither of us have been there for years.

I called Mastercard’s lost or stolen credit card hotline immediately. I told them that neither of us had lost our cards but that there had been an unauthorised withdrawal from the account. Both Sally’s card and my card were stopped immediately. I told them that I wanted the account frozen as well as putting the block on the cards.

The next day, Monday, I called Mastercard as soon as their phone lines opened at 9.00am. As part of the never ending automated service before I could talk to a living person, I was given the opportunity to hear my current account balance. The balance was now a further £500 lower than it should have been.

When I was finally put through to him, the customer services guy told me that another £500 had been withdrawn from the same Bristol cashpoint machine that morning, twelve hours after I had telephone their emergency hotline to put a block on the account.

The operator told me that when I telephoned the day before I had asked for a block to be put on my card and Sally’s card, but not on the third card holder. He read me the name on the card. I was stunned. The identity of the third card holder was a mystery to me.  I certainly hadn’t arranged for them to have a card.

After a little digging Mr. Customer Services told me that they had received a telephone call the week before. The caller had correctly answered all of my security questions, including an eight digit security number only known to Sally and I which isn’t written anywhere. The caller requested an additional card for the account to be sent to the account address – which the hacker had changed to an address in Bristol.

One of Mastercard’s security measures is to send an email to the account holder (me) in the event of the contact details being changed. The hacker anticipated this, hacked my Gmail account and set up a filter to delete all emails from Mastercard before they arrived in my inbox. Consequently I wasn’t aware that a change had been made.

Mr. Customer Services informed me that they will have to investigate the case before considering refunding the fraudulent withdrawals. In the meantime, yet again I have no bank account (and no money to put in one anyway), yet again I’m forced to use a laptop only slightly more advanced than the abacus and yet again I’ve had to send away my new laptop to try to get the malicious code removed.

I haven’t taken the laptop to PC World this time. I have no faith in them. I’ve taken it to a computer expert who will be able to resolve the issue. However, I’m sure that he’s going to charge me about £1,000.000 an hour for his services so it’s questionable whether I would be better off having the laptop fixed or just throwing it off a very high building and buying another… not that I now have any spare cash to buy it with.

I could take the laptop back to PC World and demand a new machine. However, I would have to prove that there was something wrong with it but I don’t know how to do that if the fault is a very well hidden key logger. Once upon a time I would have relished the opportunity to make a very big fuss inside the store. These days though I’m not so keen on going for a ride with the boys in blue. I want a quiet life. That’s why I live on a narrowboat.

Update 22nd May 2013: Fantastic news! I received a letter from Mastercard today. They said “We have already refunded your account with the unauthorised transactions”. It’s wonderful news. The refund has allowed me to have some scheduled work done on James that needs to done before I go on holiday on 1st June. I can relax a little now.

Update 23rd May 2013: When I spoke to Mastercard on Monday after they reassured me that the account was safe to use and that there was no way that anyone could access it to make changes including, frustratingly, myself, I agreed that they could reinstate both Sally’s card and my own. Reinstating the cards, I was assured, would be done at the click of a button.

Imagine my surprise then when Sally called me from the checkout queue at Tesco in Southam where she was waiting with a full trolly’s worth of bagged food to tell me that the card had been declined. She was understandably very unhappy. I called Mastercard and as I waited in the automated queue checked my account balance. The second surprise of the day was that the £1,000 that Mastercard had promised to put into my account wasn’t there.

When I queried this with the operator, I was told that they hadn’t put the money back in my account and simply sent me the wrong letter! They then admitted to a second mistake. They hadn’t reinstated Sally’s card after they promised they would. They corrected one of the errors by reinstating the card but told me that I would have to wait until they had concluded the investigation before there was any chance of getting my money back.

Update 24th May 2013: Mastercard called this afternoon. They have listened to the recording of the phone call I made when I reported the first unauthorised transaction and when I repeatedly asked the operator to ensure that the account was frozen. They agree that there was no doubt that the account suspension request was made so they have transferred the second unauthorised withdrawal back into my account.

Mastercard are going to investigate further before they decide whether to refund me for the first unauthorised withdrawal. Even though they sent me a letter advising me that the money was already back in the account, I think that I’ll be very lucky to get the money back. I’ve lost the money as a result of a sophisticated hack. I couldn’t have done any more to protect myself.

As a result of the hack, I’ve lost £500 from my bank account, I’ve spent dozens of hours reinstalling software, setting up new passwords, securing this site and taking and delivering my hacked laptop to and from PC World. As a result of the second attack, I’ve taken the laptop to a private software expert who has taken the hard drive out, given it a very thorough going over and then reinstalled the operating system. I’m reasonably (but not totally) confident that he’s cured the problem. However, he’s charged me £200 for the pleasure.

The work isn’t over yet. Sally will be picking up the laptop this evening when she finishes work. When I get my grubby little hands on it, I need to spend a further four our five hours installing my applications for a third time.

I’m so pleased that I live in an age where we have so much technology to make our lives easier.

A Case Study – Our Nige Takes Forty Winks

Nigel Buttery (Our Nige on the forum) is in his mid fifties, a registered care assistant and was, until very recently, an unhappy home owner. Like many visitors to this site, Nige wanted a boat of his own to live on. Unlike most, he’s seized the bull by the horns, sold his house, found a mooring where he can live on board and spent an exciting week taking his boat to its new home.

Our Nige has also taken the opportunity available to all site visitors to blog about his narrowboat experience. He’s written some very entertaining posts. Here’s his case study. There’s a chronological list of his blog entries at the bottom of the post.

 Crick Show

It’s the end of May bank holiday and a long weekend when many narrowboat enthusiasts head for Crick and the biggest of the inland waterways boat shows. Crick is renowned for it’s poor weather so the continuous sunshine yesterday and day has been a very welcome bonus.

I’ll be there tomorrow (Monday 27th May) to help bring the Calcutt Boats stand back to the marina and to do a little shopping. Sally and I have been compiling our boating shopping list for the last couple of months.  We’ll be looking at truncheon Fenders, front and rear button fenders, a BW style life jacket or two, some ceiling lights, a suitcase generator, rubber matting for the rear deck, and chrome mushroom vents and tiller. We can’t afford everything on the list but, with the discounts available on the last day of the show, we’ll be able to buy more than we could anywhere else. I’ll let you know how successful we were in next Sunday’s newsletter.

Ashby Canal Map

Next Sunday Sally and I are going on holiday. We’re taking James out for the first proper cruise since I moved on board three years ago. It’s taken me this long to be able to afford the repairs, additions and modifications to allow us to cruise confidently and comfortably. I’ll be updating the site each day as we cruise, very slowly, up to the end of the Ashby canal. We’re both very excited.

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.

 

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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.

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