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.


Find out more

2015 11 15 Newsletter – Engine and Lifestyle Improvements

On Wednesday morning I reversed off my rusty dump barge mooring and across the windblown marina to the back of the engineering workshop to see if engineer Ian could find the cause of my recent engine overheating.

The first job was to remove the heat exchanger stack, a 21” long cylinder of hollow brass rods, which keeps dirty canal and clean engine water separate. Now that I have a closed system the heat exchanger is no longer necessary but blockages in the stack can reduce water flow around the engine. He thoroughly pressure washed the stack to remove any blockages but left the stack out of the heat exchanger.

Over the last few weeks I’ve received a great deal of advice from newsletter readers. A common suggestion was to check the engine’s thermostat to make sure it was working properly. I asked Ian to check it so he removed the thermostat and dropped it in some hot water to make sure it was working. It was.

As he was replacing the device he realised that the thermostat was working but ineffective. It had been fitted the wrong way round by a guy who did a few odd jobs around the boat for me a year or so ago. With the thermostat fitted incorrectly the engine water wasn’t circulating around the recently fitted skin tank.

With the hoses fitted back in place and the engine coolant topped up again we left the boat running in gear for half an hour. The engine temperature crept up to seventy degrees and stayed there so I decided to take the boat out for a spin to test the engine further.

The initial signs were encouraging. The engine used to always run at seventy degrees but now it was running slightly cooler. I took the same route as I did on my last engine test three weeks before. I turned left out of Calcutt marina entrance and headed west on the half hour lock free stretch before the start of the Stockton flight.

Over the last few weeks since my engine’s cooling was modified from raw water to keel cooling, the engine reached ninety degrees after an hour at my normal 1,500rpm 4mph cruising speed. Because the cruise to Stockton and back would take no more than an hour I opened the engine up to 2,000rpm, roughly 6mph, to increase the engine temperature more quickly. I didn’t want to travel too far at this speed because (A) I was creating breaking wash which causes bank erosion and (B) at faster speeds the stern digs down into the water increasing the boat’s draft and the likelihood that my already deep drafted boat would ground on any shallows.

No matter how fast I went the temperature stayed at seventy degrees. Yippee! Yet another boating problem resolved. The only remaining concern now is the engine’s smokiness. It’s too early to tell yet but the engine appears to be less smoky now it’s running at a lower temperature. Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me, but on the short one hour return trip I thought that the air around me at the back of the boat was much cleaner.

I’ve received many emails from newsletter readers over the last couple of months as a result of my regular engine problem updates. Some, in the nicest possible way, have accused me of being slightly obsessive. I suppose they’re right, but if you live on a boat your engine performance is very important. Even as a static live aboard boater if, like many boaters, you need to generate your own electricity, your engine needs to run effectively, but if you’re cruising continuously along different canals and rivers in varying weather conditions, you need your engine to be at the top of its game. Thankfully, mine is now.

On Thursday I drove a car for the first time since I left the marina in April. I sold my own car two and a half years ago. I didn’t miss it at all while Sally was with me, because she had a car of her own which I used whenever I needed transport. I didn’t miss owning a car when she left either. I was cruising continuously so I just planned ahead and made sure I took advantage of the wider selection of stores available in the larger towns I cruised through.

This week though I had a problem I couldn’t resolve without transport. Cynthia’s flight was scheduled to land at Heathrow’s terminal three at 9.05am on Friday. She was bringing all her worldly possessions with her packed in three large and one small suitcase and two rather expensive crates in the plane’s hold for her two Basset hounds, Tasha and Bromley.

My original plan had been to take the boat down to Uxbridge, moor in Willow Tree marina and then take a taxi to the airport to collect Cynthia, her dogs and her luggage. Winter stoppages prevented me from taking the boat down to London and using public transport was out of the question so I needed to hire a car to collect her.

I chose Enterprise in Daventry. They offer a pick up service essential to carless boaters moored in rural marinas. The Daventry branch are regular visitors to Calcutt Boats two marinas to collect boaters.

I was picked up by Lisa, a Hungarian former bank employee who has spent the last four years living and working in rural England to improve her English, and to experience first-hand good old English small town racial prejudice.

I was a little worried about the car hire process. I’ve read many accounts of live aboard boaters having problems providing sufficient documentation for hirers. I had nothing to worry about with Enterprise, probably because I’ve had a fixed address at Calcutt Boats marina for the last five years. I took two recent bills for recent boat repairs (I have plenty of those) and my driving license. Five minutes, six signatures and £289.96 later I was on my way. I only hired the car for a day but it was a full sized people carrier to accommodate guests and luggage and I paid a little extra to reduce the default £1,500 excess to £100, and paid a mandatory £200 deposit.

I hadn’t missed having a car at my disposal for the previous six months but I have to admit they make life very much easier sometimes. I drove from Daventry to Rugby to shop at Sainsbury and the independently owned Wild and Free organic store in central Rugby before returning to the boat and an early start the following morning, Friday 13th November.

I’ve never been suspicious. I mentioned the date in a previous newsletter and said that I would be breaking mirrors with black cats while walking under ladders on the way down there. Maybe the gods were listening. Maybe I should treat them and this terrible date with more respect in the future.

The day started off well enough. I left the marina at 6am to allow me three hours for the hour and a half journey to Heathrow. I parked in terminal three’s short term car park at 8am and settled down in the arrivals lounge ten minutes later with my Kindle for the expected hour and a half wait until Cynthia landed and passed through customs and immigration. That’s when all of our careful planning quickly unravelled.

Cynthia at Logan airport packed for a life afloat

Cynthia at Logan airport packed for a life afloat

I knew that Cynthia’s phone either wouldn’t work or would be prohibitively expensive to use in the UK but I also knew that we would both be able to connect to the airport’s free WiFi network so we could communicate via WhatsApp. It’s a wonderful app which allows free calls and texts via the internet. At 10.30am I received a series of distressed texts and then an even more distressed and tearful call from Cynthia. The reason for her distress was entirely understandable. She had been detained by immigration for interviewing. She was allowed to make a single call to me before having her phone and luggage confiscated and being escorted into a cell like room to wait for her interrogation.

The reason for her treatment was explained to her. She had entered the UK without the correct paperwork. Cynthia is not only extremely organised but she has visited the UK hundreds of times during her career as a language qualified international flight attendant with American Airlines. She spent countless hours prior to this flight arranging the medical checks and paperwork necessary to bring two overseas dogs into the UK, preparing her house ready for sale, selling vehicles and fitting a lifetime’s accumulated possessions into three and a half suitcases. She also checked on the UK government’s web site to make sure that she was allowed to stay in the UK for six months before next spring’s momentous event, our marriage.

Our marriage will allow Cynthia indefinite leave to stay in the UK and eventual UK citizenship. Of course that’s not the reason for our marriage. We are like two peas in a pod, similar in so many delightful ways, committed to a lifetime together exploring the UK’s thousands of miles of connected rivers and canals and the hundreds of delightful towns, cities and villages they pass through. Marriage isn’t just a convenient solution to a difficult logistical problem, but it certainly helps.

Unfortunately Cynthia’s research didn’t reveal the need for a special kind of visa if she wants to enter the UK with a view to marriage. At least she spent some time checking to make sure she could stay with me for six months. The thought didn’t even occur to me.

So after three hours of scrutiny in a locked room, the indignity of having fingerprints taken and treatment similar to a benefits obsessed asylum seeker, Cynthia was granted a one week stay of execution and released into the airport terminal.

Her main concern while she was being waterboarded by the Gestapo was her beloved dogs. They had been delivered to Heathrow’s Animal Reception Centre hours earlier, each in a small plastic crate with just a thimbleful of water.

She had nothing to worry about. The reception centre is wonderful. Their only concern is the well being of the animals in their care. The dogs had been fed, watered and given the run of a spacious kennel. Tasha and Bromley were quite happy, which is more than could be said for Cynthia and me.

After returning to the short term car park and considering kicking the ticket machine when I discovered that I had to pay £26 for my five hour stay, and then not feeling quite so bad when the guy at the machine next to me was asked to pay £286, I realised that my twenty four hour car rental period ended at 4pm. We left Heathrow at 3pm for the hour and a half drive back to Enterprise at Daventry and then, of course, ran into gridlocked Friday rush hour traffic on the car park sometimes known as the M25.

We reached the marina at 5.30pm after eleven and a half tedious hours traveling for me and an exhausting thirty six hours for Cynthia. We then had to deal with the logistics of shoe horning Cynthia, Tasha and Bromley and the contents of Cynthia’s three bulging suitcases and busting at the seams carry-on bag into a three hundred square feet space already occupied by my own five years of accumulated possessions. We had a half-hearted stab at it on Friday evening but both of us were exhausted.

On Saturday we made the most of a now unnecessarily large hire car to visit Rugby’s cook shops and food stores to buy more stuff we didn’t have any space for. Hungarian Lisa from Enterprise arrived at the marina soon after us. She checked the car for scuffs, dents and scratches then promised to arrange for the remainder of my deposit to be refunded on Monday. I don’t think there’s going to be much left after they’ve deducted the cost of another day’s hire and three quarters of a tank of fuel.

We had another stab at unpacking yesterday but the real work began today. I’ve had to adopt a policy of one in, one out now that the almost countless cupboards and drawers are almost filled to capacity. If you’ve visited me or watched my storage space video, you’ll know that, for a narrowboat, I have a great deal of storage space. It’s all relative though. No matter how well designed the boat is for live aboard boaters, and I’ve seen very few boats which can hold a candle to my boat in that regard, the cabin is still only fifty feet long by six feet wide. Both of us have had to be ruthless. My chainsaw, helmet, trousers and all the bits and pieces needed to make effective wood cutting safe and efficient have gone to a good home, my cheap non-stick pans have been thrown out to make way for Cynthia’s pro quality stainless steel alternatives and countless baking trays, tins and accessories, and two out of the three large suitcases Cynthia brought with her have been consigned to the skip.

We’re just about there now. Order has returned to the boat after two days of upheaval. Now the easy part has been sorted out we can focus on the far more important job of obtaining the paperwork necessary for Cynthia to stay in the UK.

In order for her to stay, she has to leave. The immigration officials at Heathrow’s terminal three have confiscated Cynthia’s passport and organised a one way flight on Virgin Atlantic back to Boston next Friday. An airline is required by law to transport a passenger back to their point of origin if they are refused entry into the country. No one can tell us at this stage if they are obliged to transport her at their cost.

I phoned Virgin Atlantic yesterday to establish whether Cynthia would be charged for the flight. They couldn’t tell me. I asked who would be able to give me a definitive answer. They didn’t know. I will try again tomorrow.

Cynthia worked for American Airlines for many years so she still enjoys substantially discounted flights. She understandably doesn’t want to have to pay for a full price ticket on the flight immigration have booked for her if she can travel on AA for a fraction of the cost.

We’ll also call the British Embassy tomorrow to establish which of the two similar visas Cynthia needs and how quickly it can be expedited. We’ll also call immigration to try and switch their proposed return flight booking to one of Cynthia’s choice. This isn’t the best introduction to the idyllic and stress free life Cynthia hoped for but I know we’ll sort it out. All things are relative. Cynthia isn’t looking forward to her unexpected return to the USA and the tedious bureaucracy but it’s a minor and insignificant glitch when we consider the recent events in Paris.

Sunset over Locks marina

Sunset over Locks marina

Cynthia Says…

3 November 2015–I arrive after a Very Long days journey, which began at zero dark hundred in Vermont.  The trip to the airport and the check in for both me and my two Bassets was flawless.  I highly recommend Virgin if any of you out there are ever planning to travel with your pets in cargo.

You have already read what Paul has to say regarding the events which followed after stepping up to the customs officer and announcing that I was here to stay, so I won’t cover that ground again.

I have learned throughout the years that one must often endure hardship and chaos before settling in to a new and tranquil life, such as living on a narrowboat full time.  So for those of you with partners who are seriously considering this lovely life of peace, beauty and tranquility, be warned that it is a BIG change that will require you to be respectful of each others preferences and boundaries.

Paul and I are very lucky in many respects, the above being one of them.  I have spent many years living on much less commodious sailboats with my former husband, so I am very adaptable to living and thriving in cozy small environments such as a boat.  James seems like a mansion when I compare it my other floating homes!

When two people are kindred spirits and look at life through the same lens, it is much easier to adjust to living in small spaces.  And being well-organized certainly helps!

Out of chaos and confusion (such as that which we experienced these past couple of days), comes contentment and tranquility.  After a long day of sorting and throwing out, and re-organizing, we are now reaching that blissful state of happiness as our life falls into place.

I am the luckiest person in the world to have found Paul and this beautiful life, and I wish every one out there who wants the same thing to Go For It!  You can get to the end of your life and say, “I’m glad I did, or I wished I had.”  Choose love and take and leap of faith and you will be richly rewarded as we have been!

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

Would You Like To See More Video On The Site?

In December 2013 I purchased a Sony Handycam with the intention of adding useful video content to the site on a regular basis. I produced a few videos  including this very popular first attempt on the importance of internal storage space afloat. Then I ran out of steam as my full time job and general site maintenance vied for my attention. I don’t have a full time job now so I have much more free time. I’m going to focus on adding more video content now if you tell me you want it.

I’ve created a very short survey. Please take just a couple of minutes out of your busy day to help me improve this site’s quality. All I want to know is whether you think video content would be useful to you and, if so, what you would like to see. Here are a few suggestions for you; time lapse video of my cruises from April to December each year, how to moor a boat securely, which knots to use and how to tie them, how to change a gas cylinder, light a fire, regular engine checks (I might struggle with that one!), reversing a narrowboat and turning in a winding hole. These are just a few ideas to jump start your imagination. I’m sure you can think of many, many more which haven’t occurred to me. Here is the survey form. Please spare a minute or two to complete it.

Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.

I run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December. As winter approaches more and more site users are booking the relatively few discovery days still available. There are just six dates remaining this year. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day please check the diary before it’s too late. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

Each time I write a newsletter, I tick another subject off the list of things which those new to boating have told me that they want to read about. The hardest part of the process isn’t the writing itself, it’s constantly thinking of new content for each issue. The trouble is, I don’t know what you want to read. I think I keep the newsletters reasonably interesting but I don’t know for sure. That’s where I need your help.

Can you let me know what you would like to read in the future? Are there any areas of narrowboat life you don’t think I’ve covered enough or areas which I’ve missed completely? Please let me know what you want to read about. Thanks for your help.

Summary
Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

Please Help Keep This Site Online

If you enjoy reading these posts, if you find the masses of information on this site and my new motorhome site, rvblog.co.uk both useful and entertaining, please help keep it available for those who both want and need it. There are eight years of painstakingly written and researched information on hundreds of posts and pages on the two sites. They may be lost forever if I can't find a way to maintain them. Click on the button below to find out more.


Click Here to Find Out More
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.