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

Archive

Yearly Archives: 2015

2015 12 20 Newsletter – Near Misses and Christmas Wishes

Monday’s discovery day was memorable for a number of reasons; It was the last of the year, 6’6” Andy was my tallest guest on board to date, and, last but not least, I made a foolish and costly schoolboy error.

The day started off as usual. After Cynthia had made the couple a hot drink, I spent an hour walking them through the boat explaining the layout and the pros and cons of design and equipment options. Then we donned fleeces and waterproofs ready for a winter’s day on the cut, and headed to the back of the boat so I could explain how to operate both the Morse control and the tiller.

We removed the mooring lines, made sure the stern line was stowed in the engine room so it couldn’t slip in the water to foul the propeller, pushed the bow away and prepared for a sedate cruise to Braunston.

Our relaxation lasted less than a minute. There was a deafening bang, the fourteen feet long wooden pole secured on a steel bracket by the cockpit on the starboard side jumped four feet in the air, and the engine cut out.

The boat drifted slowly and out of control across the canal towards a line of moored boats, much to the consternation of both Trish and Andy. They had yet to embrace the concept of gently bumping into other craft without incurring either wrath or insurance claims.

I tried to start the engine again. It ran as effortlessly as normal in neutral but as soon as put it into drive the engine cut out again. “What’s wrong with the engine?” asked Andy, images of an aborted discovery day no doubt flashing through his mind.

I considered his question carefully drawing on half a decade’s boating experienced before telling him in a non too calm tone, “We have a serious problem. I think the engine’s f****d!”

With those reassuring words I quickly opened the weed hatch to check for any major obstructions which may have prevented the propeller from turning, found nothing, cursed fluently and at length and then sprinted down the towpath to Calcutt Boats’ office to ask for some advice.

As usual, Calcutt Boats’ owner, Roger Preen, was a font of useful information based on four decades in the business and his own extensive cruising both in the UK and on the French waterways.

“You have something substantial on your prop,” he confidently assured me. I told him that I had checked and that the prop was clear. “Go and check again,” he suggested, “You haven’t checked properly”. Shaking my head in exasperation, certain of my own thoroughness, I ran back to the boat for a second time wasting grope around the propeller.

Freeing rope from the prop - Half an hour in

Freeing rope from the prop – Half an hour in

A quick feel around the propeller convinced me that I was right… until a length of familiar blue rope rose to the surface. It looked suspiciously like the braid-on-braid line I use on bow and stern and on the roof for my two centre lines.

I quickly jumped to my feet to check both centre lines. The port side line was still where it should have been, running back from the boat’s centre and coiled neatly so that it was in reach of my steering position. The starboard rope wasn’t. It stretched bar straight from the rooftop fixing ring over the cabin side and disappeared into the canal in the general direction of the propeller.

I have always been aware of the potential danger of having a centre line long enough to reach the propeller but in five year’s boating I have always made sure that I checked its position before I started the engine. Obviously I didn’t check it on Monday and I paid the price.

The first financial penalty was the cost of a new centre line. I tried to save the line by starting the engine and slowly engaging reverse hoping to unwind it from the drive shaft where it was tightly bound. The engine cut out every time I tried.

I’ve been moaning about my braid-on-braid lines for months because of their water absorption but I’m sure there are less extreme ways of disposing of them. With the aid of a sharp bread knife I released the pressure on the line by cutting it in two and then spent an hour shoulder deep in frigid and murky canal water hacking away at several dozen turns of tightly bound rope.

The second financial penalty was the cost of replacing the starboard brass mushroom covering the vent from my Airhead composting toilet. The mushroom covers a 12v fan which helps to draw moisture from the toilet’s solids tank. Until I had time to source a replacement I weatherproofed the opening with a rubber band and a plastic bag.

I was very lucky. Roger Preen told me that he has seen massive damage done to engines in similar circumstances.  Sometimes the gearbox ratio can result in the engine being ripped from its mounts by a suddenly jammed propeller, turned over in the engine room by the force and smashed into small and barely recognisable pieces. All I lost was a length of rope I didn’t particularly like anyway, a brass mushroom and a little credibility.

The rest of the day passed as smoothly as normal. I had to make a small adjustment to my temporary vent repair at lunch time when I noticed how smelly our normally odour free toilet had become. Just three hours with a sealed vent had regressed our high tech composting toilet to the level of my old cassette toilet. It stank. I replaced the plastic bag with our saloon mushroom. Within an hour the smell had disappeared.

Tuesday was a bit of a shock to the system. Two hundred and fifty eight days after finishing my full time work for Calcutt Boats I was back again, this time for a more civilized four days a week. I’ll be there until next spring when Cynthia and I set sail on another eight month adventure on the inland waterways.

For five years I worked at the marina helping maintain over 110 on site acres. This time I will be helping with the business’s annual hire fleet refurbishment. Each year each of the fleet’s twelve boats are blacked. Each year three or four of the fleet’s least aesthetically pleasing boats also have their external paintwork refreshed. My first job was to sand one of them ready for painting. But before I could begin work on Tuesday at 8am I had some basic housekeeping to manage.

For five years I lived at the marina where I worked. Utilities are far more difficult to manage on a boat than in a bricks and mortar home but on a marina mooring they aren’t quite so difficult.

Bags of coal are normally on sale close to where you’re moored, National Grid electricity is within easy reach of your shore line and there’s usually a water supply less than a hose length away. Apart from moving your boat to empty a pump out toilet tank you can stay in the same spot as long as you like. You’re living in a floating flat with all mod cons within easy reach.

Living out on the cut is more of a challenge. We still have a mooring at Calcutt Boats but as we’re out cruising for eleven days over the Christmas period we decided to stay moored above the Calcutt flight with a panoramic view of Napton reservoir rather than in the marina hemmed in by other boats.

On Tuesday morning I needed to top up our water supply before going to work. No problem. The water point was on the opposite side of the canal fifty feet behind us. How long do you think the return journey of a hundred feet took us? Twenty minutes? Half an hour? How about an hour and quarter?

A gentle breeze was blowing down the canal towards the Calcutt flight as I set off. Narrowboats have, at best, very little steering in reverse. You simply try and reverse in a straight line backwards then go forwards to correct your line when you notice the bow starting to swing. That’s fine on a calm day or if you have bow thrusters. On a breezy day without any way of correcting a swinging bow you’re pretty much at the mercy of the wind.

I reached the water point with my stern at the same time as my bow reached the lock landing on the opposite side of the canal. Using my centre line, a new, less stretchy and less absorbent rope than my propeller wrapped braid-on-braid rope, I spent an energetic quarter of an hour pulling the twenty tonne boat around against the wind and then another half an hour filling the tank, returning fifty feet to my mooring and tying up.

By the time I reached Calcutt Boats’ reception ready for the start of my day’s work I was ready to go home again. If you still need to work and you’re considering taking on an on line mooring without facilities please consider the logistics of managing your life afloat, especially replenishing your water supply on a dismal winter’s day.

I don’t have to struggle like that very often I’m happy to say, especially with a physically demanding day ahead of me. Preparing a boat for painting is a time consuming but very satisfying process. With a plentiful supply of sanding disks in various grades, a good quality orbital sander for the bulk of the work and a needle gun and compressor for dealing with any rusty patches, protective goggles and ear defenders for use with the needle gun and a robust dust mask for sanding and, last but not least, a loud radio, my three day working week this week flew by.

On my discovery days I always emphasise the need to stay close to the towpath side of the canal when going through bridges. If you insist on scraping your boat against one side of the bridge if you miss your line, the towpath side will treat you gently. Your hull’s rubbing strakes will brush against the stone so, at worst, you will lost a little easily replaced bitumen. On the other hand, if you allow your boat to make contact with the much lower offside bridge arch, your cabin top will make contact first. The hire boat I worked on this week had long stretches of missing paint along the top of the cabin on both sides caused by inexperienced helmsmen.

Much as I enjoyed my working week I was ready for the start of my three day “weekend” at 4pm on Thursday. Both Cynthia and I are still trying to integrate our lives. The process has been difficult enough with me trying to set aside thirty hours a week to maintain the site but now I have almost full time work there’s much more of a hurdle to overcome.

One of the most difficult challenges for me has been to come to terms with having a handicapped dog on board. Cynthia brought two dogs with her, both basset hounds, and both beautiful dogs full of character and love for the world in general.

Tasha, the nine year old bitch, is no trouble at all. She doesn’t demand much in the way of walks, she likes to sleep quietly for twelve hours at a time, she always has a smile on her face and she keeps herself to herself. Five year old Bromley needs much more attention.

Bromley has a neurological problem which affects his walking and control of his bodily functions. When Cynthia rescued him he couldn’t use his hind legs. She’s managed to rehabilitate him now to the point where he can walk after a fashion, but he can’t jump or even step very high. He can’t get on and off the boat on his own.

Bromley weighs thirty seven pounds and is torpedo shaped. The harness he wears makes lifting him on and off the front deck possible but not easy. Dainty Cynthia struggles to handle his weight, especially since she pulled a muscle in her back, so any lifting is safer for me to do.

Bromley’s control of his bodily functions was a little difficult for me to deal with when he first moved on board. He is very sensitive to stress. His occasional accident caused me stress which caused Bromley stress which in turn caused more accidents.

He’s fine now, partly because he’s settled into his new routine on board but more so because I am more relaxed with him. He’s learned to bark to let us know when he needs to go to the toilet but, because his maximum duration is five or six hours compared with Tasha’s ten, his bark alerts are often in the middle of the night. I wasn’t very happy having my much needed beauty sleep disturbed initially but now that I’ve accepted that as far as beauty sleep is concerned I’m a lost cause, his five minute off boat excursions are done on autopilot with very little stress or loss of sleep.

After my three day working week this week we decided to treat ourselves yesterday with a day out at Blenheim Palace. It’s a forty minute drive from our Napton-on-the-Hill mooring, no problem now that we have an old but super reliable car.

Our old but reliable Mercedes aptly named Freedom by Cynthia

Our old but reliable Mercedes aptly named Freedom by Cynthia

Tasha and Bromley came with us. After many years of driving coast to coast in the states they were more than happy with such a short drive. What they weren’t quite so happy with was the journey to the car.

Neither dog had had the dubious pleasure of negotiating lock gates. Agile but elderly Tasha had no problem in the light on the way out but she needed carrying on the way back. Bromley is too unsteady on his feet to take the risk so he needed to be carried both ways. Thanks to their Ruffwear harnesses even Tasha at forty five pounds was over the potentially dangerous gate in seconds.

I’ve seen a number of accidents involving dogs and lock gates. One happened when an owner lost his footing as he carried his dog over the narrow gate walkway. A good harness is indispensable if you have an unsteady or nervous dog.

I have work again tomorrow, and for the two following days but on Thursday we’ll be heading off to Market Harborough. It will be the fourth cruise there for me this year and the second for Cynthia. I hope your Christmas is as pleasant and relaxing as I know ours is going to be.

Cynthia Says…

Transitions—–

As per the past two weeks, this week was also one of transitions on several levels.  It is difficult to believe I have actually been here only three weeks and two days and that so much water has flowed through the locks and under James during that time.

Transitioning from discovery days to Calcutt Marina work days has actually been a nice one for me.  I like the discovery days and meeting new people and all, but become a bit frustrated when I can’t spend time at the tiller, which is what happens when we have more than one person come at a time.  I always love to be back there and to learn from Paul even though I am not actually controlling the tiller.  Now that he is working at the marina, I like that I can take coffee and a treat to Paul mid morning and then have him all to myself at lunch time.  And most afternoons I can return to bring him his afternoon hot drink and a quick snack.  And the fact that he finishes work at 4pm is great so that we can enjoy a leisurely dinner together followed by relaxing evening in front of the telly with the dogs beside us.  We are quite the sight the four of us on the settee!  Everyone knows their stations and it seems to work out well.

Blenheim Palace on a rare day away from the inland waterways

Blenheim Palace on a rare day away from the inland waterways

One of the best transitions of the past week was getting our 1984 240 TD Mercedes estate car.  I have owned a number of these autos in the past and love their reliability, the sound of the economically diesel engine (we are now a two Mercedes engine family!) purring away, and the safety of the car.  I am still a bit timid about driving in this unfamiliar land on the right side of the car, but Paul has been the ever-patient teacher and mentor for which I am most grateful.  I named her “Freedom” as she represents just that for us—we can take off far and wide at our discretion and the kids can join us as well.  Our first official trip out yesterday to Blenheim Palace was an absolutely perfect day together, and the kids were angels in the car.  For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of discovering this delightful place, please put it on your list of must-sees.  The grounds are spectacular to hike, and the food at the Palace in the cafe is of great variety and delicious.  And a walk around the town of Woodstock is definitely worth your time—picture perfect in every way.

It was unfortunate Paul had to begin the last of our discovery days this year with the rope and prop issue.  As he so aptly stated, it could have been much worse and we were fortunate that so little damage was caused.  As I have spent quite a few years on sailboats, I gently suggested we might think about tying off the end of the centre line rope on a cleat close to stern so that such errant ropes will remain under control until needed.  

All in all, it was a very good week and I feel I have learned a lot with Paul’s ever-patient guidance.  He is a godsend in my life and I remain grateful every day that I am able to make this transition from a life on the dirt to a glorious life afloat with this loving and thoughtful man.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

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.  If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. 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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

2015 12 06 Newsletter – Cruising in High Winds

Trying to reach locations for specific times is always a challenge when you’re moving at an average of two miles an hour. When you’re moving so slowly and battling a stiff breeze, getting anywhere on time is quite difficult.

Our destination was Rugby town centre, just twenty minutes away by car, but five hours by boat. With 40mph winds forecast we decided to abandon our plans for the day and head back to our discovery day mooring about the Calcutt flight on the Grand Union canal close to Napton junction.

High winds and ice are the only conditions which stop me. Cruising through even a thin layer of ice quickly removes any protective hull coating, especially along the water line. I was iced in on a towpath mooring on the Leicester Line close to Yelvertoft between Christmas and New Year last year. I waited three days until a rare winter hire boat charged past me smashing through the ice with little regard to the effect the jagged broken pieces were having on the hull. I followed in the hire boat’s wake gently nudging past the half inch thick slabs. Even though I didn’t need to break any ice myself I still lost most of the bitumen protecting the water line before I reached clear water at Norton junction.

High winds, although not nearly so damaging, make cruising equally difficult. My 62’ boat has a four feet high, fifty feet long cabin so I have two hundred square feet of “sail”. Even though my boat has a reasonably deep draught at 2’6”, the amount of sail combined with a flat bottom means that in anything more than a gentle breeze I spend much of my time crabbing along the canal.

Steering becomes very difficult in 40mph winds. You need to be acutely aware of the wind speed and direction at all times, especially when negotiating bridge holes and locks. You have to allow for lateral drift to avoid painful contact with inanimate objects, something which Cynthia is now acutely aware of after trying to cut a chicken with a very sharp knife when we broadsided none too gently into a lock wall.

We had no locks to negotiate on Sunday but plenty of bridges and then a very interesting turn in the entrance to Barby Moorings marina.

Barby Moorings is one of the many marinas with a sign close to the entrance warning boaters not to turn there. I don’t understand why the marina owners object. Boaters aren’t doing any harm. I’ve never paid any attention to these signs, and never had anyone complain when I turn in a marina entrance.

With the wind howling along the mile straight leading to the marina I had to turn aggressively into the entrance to bring the bow around against the wind, and then wait for the stern to be pushed around by the breeze. Unfortunately I couldn’t do anything about a thick section of steel rail running along the offside bank two feet into the marina entrance.

The boat drifted into the rough rail end. I had the pleasure of listening to the sound of steel scraping steel as I watched a ten feet long two inch wide strip of bitumen curl away from the hull. Fortunately after sixteen hundred miles along the inland waterways over the last seven months the scrape was one of many so the loss of a little paint didn’t cause me too much anxiety.

After two and a half very pleasant but windy and often wet hours later we moored for the night on an unusually boat free stretch close to Flecknoe. We settled down for a relaxing evening on a warm and cosy boat out of the weather. Sadly, the evening wasn’t quite as relaxing as Cynthia would have liked.

Basset hounds are intelligent dogs. Tasha and Bromley have adapted very well to boat life after just three weeks on board. Tasha the nine year old bitch is particularly good. After she’s jumped off the boat for a toilet break she comes when called and jumps nimbly through the cratch cover onto the front deck before standing patiently for her paws to be cleaned.

On Sunday night, in the middle of a particularly blustery squall, she bounded up the steps from the cabin onto the deck and then energetically leaped over the gunnel out of the boat. I think she would have preferred to jump onto the towpath rather than into the dark and murky water of the canal but she didn’t tell me what was on her mind so I don’t know.

What I do know is that Cynthia, to put it mildly, wasn’t very happy. To me it was just another silly dog going for a surprise but harmless swim. To Cynthia the event was terrifying. She was sure that Tasha wouldn’t be able to swim, wouldn’t be able to find her way back to the boat if she could swim, wouldn’t be able to climb out of the water, would be too heavy to lift out of the water and would have caught Weil’s disease or, at the very least, pneumonia.

Thanks to the sturdy Roughwear harnesses both dogs wear day and night, by the time Cynthia drew breath for her first mortified scream I had a wet and sneezing Tasha back on the front deck. Both Tasha and Cynthia have recovered now. My little girl is very careful now before she leaps off the boat onto the towpath for a poo. Tasha is more cautious now too.

We arrived back at the water point about the Calcutt flight at midday where we spent an hour cleaning the outside of the boat for the first time in a month. The cream cabin roof and sides look wonderful when they’re clean but they are very difficult to keep that way, especially with a pet hate of mine, my utterly useless but very expensive braid on braid centre lines.

The ropes look good, are wonderfully soft and pliable, but soak up more water than a bath sponge. At this time of the year they are permanently full of water so they leave muddy marks wherever they touch. I hope they wear out soon so I can go back to the less aesthetically pleasing but much more user friendly nylon ropes.

After two very enjoyable discovery days on Tuesday and Wednesday we had two unexpected days free due to postponements. As often the case, frantic work schedules won over a far more relaxing alternative on board James.

Yesterday we were back on track with a very interesting day on the cut. With the 25mph wind gusting to 40mph again we spent much of the cruise to and from Braunston traveling sideways. Fortunately, because of the wind, there were very few other boats moving. In fact, on the outward leg, there weren’t any at all. We had the wind whipped foot high waves to ourselves.

On the way back we met the kindly crews on three Kate Boats craft who tried to stop dead in the water to allow us to pass a line of moored craft. They obviously didn’t realise that stopping on a windy day, or even reducing speed too much, means being blown somewhere you don’t want to go. In their case it was the shallow water close to the offside bank. We left them thrashing ineffectively through mud and white topped waves.

Cruising on open water on windy days isn’t particularly difficult but negotiating locks is a different kettle of fish. We had a few hairy moments trying to line up a very reluctant boat with unforgiving lock gates but finished the day with only a little less bitumen on the hull than when we started.

Today promises to be another challenging cruise on the cut dressed like the Michelin Man. Roll on the summer tee shirt and shorts and lazy days on the towpath reading while the world passes slowly by.

Cynthia Says…

Making adjustments—

This past week has been an interesting one with many twists and turns and has made me see how making such a big move can be a big adjustment on many levels—perhaps more so for me, as I have changed everything about my life to be here and embrace this beautiful tranquil life afloat.  I am happy to have done so, though I do struggle at times.  Tending to a new relationship as well as feeling like I fit into the scheme of things has been easy in some ways, not so easy in others.

Last Sunday was a case in point, as our female Basset, Tasha, took an unexpected dive into the canal.  We had been moored on one side of the canal and she had learned the routine well—when we found ourselves moored on the opposite side, and I wasn’t positioned on the proper side, she found herself taking a surprise swim!  I must admit, I was a bit upset first off and was sort of afraid that she might drown as I don’t believe she had ever experienced deep water before.  Paul was lightening quick plucking her out of the water, and she didn’t seem the least bit fazed.  Thanks to Paul’s experience with these things along with his ability to calm me and reassure me, I am finally able to look back at the incident and chuckle over it.

For those of you about to move to a narrowboat, you too will be facing many adjustments as you downsize your life and possessions.  I was able to get rid of a ton of stuff back in Vermont and I can honestly say I haven’t missed anything I gave away or left behind.

We spent a great deal of time discussing how we want to make small changes here and there to make our life easier and more streamlined on James.  We both love the process of discussing the various changes/enhancements we want to do over time, and I must admit, we made a lot of small but good changes over this past week.  This is an ongoing process which we both embrace.  One of the big projects I would like to do is be able to put in a teak and holly floor.  This would be such a lovely enhancement!  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this rich hued and beautiful floor, take a minute and Google images for it and you will see what I mean. One often sees this kind of floor on traditional sailboats.  Now if I can just sell that house in Vermont……

This has been my first week dealing with Discovery Days and it has been another adjustment, as we don’t have much personal time together except in the evenings.  We are usually exhausted (especially Paul, as he does so much to make these days so successful with no stone left unturned), at the end of the day, and can’t sleep in the next day because we need to do it all over again.  I think I am fitting into the scheme of things pretty well.  I especially enjoy when we only have one guest and I can help out at the locks, which is always a pleasure and a learning experience—Paul teaches me something new all the time, and I love learning.

In summary, for those of you contemplating or actually partaking in living this lifestyle, you will need to make a number of adjustments on many levels.  It is most important to have a sense of humor, look at the big picture and break things down into small daily goals if possible.  And in the personal realm of it all, remember to be respectful and kind to one another, and expect to make mistakes–it’s all part of the deal.  And last but not least, enjoy the process of getting to know one another on a deeper level as you make this wondrous transition to an idyllic life on the waterways.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

Colin Ashby Portraits

My apologies to Colin Ashby who kindly sent me a framed drawing of my boat, James No 194. I promised to mention his service two or three weeks ago but, as ever, I ran out of time.

Colin’s usual focus is pet portraits but he now includes hand drawn sketches of narrowboats. The one he did for me is pictured below. I haven’t done his work any justice with this photo but both Cynthia and I are very pleased with his work. If you would like to contact Colin regarding his service, you can email him here.

James No 194 - A portrait by Colin Ashby

James No 194 – A portrait by Colin Ashby

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.  If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day before the end of the year, you can book the single remaining date by viewing the diary here. 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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary
1

2015 11 29 Newsletter – Diesel Central Heating System Installation

Oh God, how I have f***g computers!

I spent four hours working on this newsletter yesterday to minimise the time I had to spend on it today. This morning I woke bright eyed and bushy tailed at 5am ready to put the finishing touches to it. Guess what? After a laborious twenty minutes for my not-so-old laptop to boot up I discovered that the Microsoft Word auto save function had failed to save anything other than a week old file containing just three words out of the one thousand words typed into it yesterday. Ah well, I try live a stress free life afloat now so, deep breath, and off we go again.

Last Monday I left my Calcutt Boats mooring for the first time in ten days. Much as I appreciate the security and facilities, not to mention dry paths underfoot, being able to see something other than the side of a sixty feet long hire boat pressed hard against my port side was a real joy.

With Cynthia still stranded an hour’s drive from New York waiting for the outcome of her marriage visit visa application I had both boat and basset hounds to manage on my own. The boat was no problem. I’ve been doing it for years so I can cruise almost as easily on my own as I can with a crew. The two dogs were a different matter.

I’ve owned many different dogs over the years but I didn’t know anything about Basset hounds until Bromley and Tasha arrived on board just over two weeks ago. They’re lovely dogs with a very placid nature, but they would rather follow scents than instructions and with limbs more akin to castors than legs, jumping over the side of the boat into the well deck to gain access to the boat’s front doors is difficult for them.

Bromley, the six year old, can’t manage it at all on his own because of neurological issues which mean that he doesn’t have much control of his legs. He needs lifting on and off the boat and, because his dustbin sized feet drag through the constant towpath mud at this time of the year, he needs a fair amount of cleaning each time he returns from a towpath toilet trip.

Mud, mud and more mud. The conditions rather than the dogs are the real problem. Moving people and animals on and off boats takes so much longer this time of the year. Summer, autumn and spring are wonderful. Even cold and frosty days are a joy, but after a month of almost daily rain squelching through inches of liquid mud just isn’t pleasant.

Having the right footwear helps tremendously. Rigger boots or Wellingtons are very handy. Being able to slip them on and off without time consuming lace tying saves so much time. If they worked as well for dogs as they do for people but Tash and Bromley would have a pair each. Two pairs each I suppose.

The three of us spent a pleasant and uneventful night half way between Napton and Braunston junctions before an early morning start on Tuesday for JG Marine close to Braunston bottom lock. Justin Greene fitted a Webasto diesel burner for me a couple of months ago. This scheduled two day visit was for him to remove the three old radiators plumbed into my stove’s back burner and replace them with four new radiators.

I had forgotten just how much upheaval is necessary when you have major work done on a live aboard boat. In November 2011 I had my old and leaking wooden cabin over plated with steel. I spent weeks returning the boat to some kind of order after the work was done but at least I didn’t have to disrupt all me precious possessions too much. This time all the work was done inside the boat by up to three people simultaneously working in different locations.

The thirty eight year old radiators were filled with a thick tar like sludge which Justin’s plumber friend, BJ, tried very hard to keep away from all my soft furnishings and clothing, but he wasn’t always successful. As he removed each section of copper pipe he carefully plugged either end with wads of blue roll before throwing the six feet lengths through my side hatch onto the wharf. Inevitably one of the wedges fell out, as did the black slurry within. Unfortunately Cynthia’s snow white and very expensive chef’s apron was the first victim.

Water damaged door frame

Water damaged door frame

When the boat was originally built, the plumbing was fitted before any of the boat’s built in furniture so in order to remove the old pipes and radiators, I had to empty cupboards and alcoves, drawers and dressers before BJ could reach them. My boat has plenty of storage space but all of it is used, especially now Cynthia has moved all her worldly goods on board. Consequently when a section of the boat needs clearing so work can be done there’s very little free space to move it to. The boat looked like a bomb had hit it. The door frame between bedroom and engine room didn’t survive the explosion.

The frame had clearly been a problem for many years. Two copper pipes ran through it to the old heating system’s header tank in the unheated engine room. The hot metal pipes running through the cold space meant that condensation formed on the copper then ran along the pipes back to the door frame where it soaked into the wood.

The door frame fell apart when the pipes were removed. You can see the extensive damage in the photo below. A block board patch has been put in place until I can have the door frame rebuilt next year. The patch is an effective but unsightly short term remedy.

All of the destructive work was done on Tuesday. I spent a couple of hours on Tuesday evening cleaning up the mess, taking the dogs through the slipway slurry to a muddy patch of nearby grass to attend to business, and then cleaning muddy paws before settling down for a couple of relaxing hours before bed.

When Justin disconnected the old radiators from the stove’s back boiler he told me that I might notice a little steam rising from it until all the water evaporated. I hadn’t had any heating on in the boat during the day. There was no point. The front and rear doors and the side hatches were open to allow access. By early evening the boat was cold so I lit the fire and settled down with my Kindle and a large glass of red for a much needed break.

Acrid steam billowing from my back boiler

Acrid steam billowing from my back boiler

I noticed the promised hint of steam after about twenty minutes. Then the hint of steam gradually thickened and swelled until clouds of billowing and acrid smoke filled the cabin. I had to open both front and rear doors wide, turn on my galley extractor and the powerful fan I have fitted to the cabin roof to push heat from the stove towards the bedroom.

I sat wrapped in coat, scarf and fleece hat, wine replaced by hot chocolate, until midnight when the smoke cleared enough to satisfy my every faithful combined smoke and carbon monoxide alarm so I could shut up the boat and go to bed.

An inpenetrable fog filled the boat's cabin

An inpenetrable fog filled the boat’s cabin

While BJ began fitting three radiators on the starboard side the next morning, Justin collected another radiator from Daventry’s Screwfix before both of them tackled a little curve ball I threw them the previous day.

The three old radiators ran back from the stove on the boat’s starboard side. I wanted three new radiators down that side but I also wanted one fitted on the port side beneath the desk where I often spend ten or more hours sitting motionless typing. For the last five years it’s been quite a cold space. The small amount of hot water flowing back thirty five feet from the stove did little to heat the radiator behind me. I wanted some effective heating in my “office” but that meant running pipes from the engine room, through the bedroom and under my shower tray to the space under my desk.

After two tense hours, and much manly cussing and tool throwing, the pipes were through and the new keep-Paul-warm radiator fitted firmly in place. By mid-afternoon the radiators were filled and bled and an unfamiliar but very welcome warmth filled the back of the boat.

What a difference the central heating system makes! The back bedroom has always been cold and slightly damp. It isn’t now. Both bedroom and bathroom are toasty warm. I didn’t have enough room in the bathroom to fit a much wanted towel rail but there’s just enough space to drape a pre shower towel over the new radiator behind my composting toilet. What a deep and unfamiliar joy to step out of the shower and wrap myself in a hot and dry towel.

Wednesday was a great day. Not only was my much anticipated central heating system complete, but I also received an unexpected and very welcome phone call from Cynthia. She had just received an email from the British Consulate in New York to tell her that her marriage visit visa had been granted and that she was about to book a flight back to Heathrow on Friday. Hooray!

By the time the heating system had been tested there was too little light left for me to move away from my mucky mooring at JG Marine so I had another paw cleaning night on the wharf before a dawn start on Thursday back to my discovery day mooring above the Calcutt flight and a day’s intensive cleaning after two days’ turmoil.

For the third time in as many weeks I collected a hire car from Enterprise in Daventry, a pretty little red Toyota Aygo this time, before an early night and a ridiculously early start on Friday for Cynthia’s 6am Heathrow arrival.

She sent me a text at 6.15am to tell me she had landed, then another at 6.30am to let me know that she was back in her least favourite place in a room at terminal three’s immigration detention suite. Thankfully the delay was just a formality so by 7am she was free to enter England after a nine day, seven thousand mile delay.

A very happy Cynthia with her six month marriage visa

A very happy Cynthia with her six month marriage visa

We took full advantage of the hire car and visited Rugby’s wonderful Abraxas Cook Shop to buy a joint Christmas present, a set of Global kitchen knives.

Unfortunately we left one of the knives there so yesterday after stocking up with coal and water at Calcutt we set off on a ten hour round trip, half an hour by car, to collect the missing knife. We didn’t get very far.

Saturday was miserable and dank. I love the tranquillity which winter cruising offers but two and a half hours buffeting by wind and rain was enough. I pulled over to a relatively mud free section of Armco barrier on the north Oxford canal about a mile from Braunston and, with some difficulty, moored for the night. A stiff breeze was blowing the boat away from the bank so I had to use my windy weather technique as Cynthia was catching up on some much needed sleep inside.

The problem you have as a solo boater when trying to moor a boat which is being pushed away from the bank is that, if you can pull the boat in at all, by the time you have either secured bow or stern, the other end has blown away from you again so you have to begin the whole painful process again.

The simple solution when mooring on Armco – a much more secure method on soft and muddy towpaths than pins – is to step off the boat with three mooring chains and your centre line. You pull your boat to the bank with your centre line, then use on of your three chains to secure the boat temporarily via the centre line. Neither bow nor stern can swing away from you with the centre line secure so you can then tie off both ends at leisure.

With the bow and stern secure I then remove the centre line chain. With the cabin held down by a line attached to the roof the boat is far more likely to rock in the wake of passing boats.

We’re still on that mooring now. Our plans to reach Rugby have changed. We now can’t get there and back to Calcutt in time for the first of my discovery days on Tuesday. I suppose I could just about achieve it if I pushed myself but with heavy rain and high winds forecast for today I’m not keen. We’ll probably hire another car for tomorrow to finish out final joint house making shopping before settling in to our winter marina routine.

We’re going to need a car of our own soon. I won’t really need one but Cynthia will be stuck if she has to rely on public transport. Calcutt Boats two marinas are in a wonderful and tranquil location. They’re extremely peaceful because they’re in rural Warwickshire a mile and a half away from the nearest main road. Consequently, access to public transport is difficult. The nearest bust stop is on the main road a mile and a half away. I believe that there’s a service running to the market town of Southam once every two months. Buses possibly run more frequently but certainly not often enough to make the journey into Southam practical.

Not that Southam offers much in the way of entertainment or shopping. A modest Tesco store on the town’s outskirts, two much smaller convenience stores in the main street, a bicycle repair shop, two florists, several hairdressers, half a dozen take away outlets and the same number of little visited pubs is all there is on offer. A further bus to Leamington Spa ten miles away is needed for any serious shopping or entertainment.

Hopefully I’ll be working back at Calcutt Boats over the winter so I won’t either need or have time for many jaunts off site. Cynthia, on the other hand, is going to go quietly mad before the beginning of April when we begin next season’s cruising.

After selling my own car two and a half years ago I couldn’t see myself ever having another. I have to admit though that having a car available recently has been very handy indeed. I’m going to add a car to my Christmas list and pray that Santa thinks I’ve been a good boy this year.

Cynthia Says…

The Long-Awaited Homecoming—

At 0602 Friday 27 November 2015 I touched down at London Heathrow for the last time this year….whew–what a relief!  As those of you know, who have been faithfully following the newsletter for the past few weeks, you are well aware of the ups and downs we have navigated obtaining the proper marriage vista visa.

I spent a long week and spent a lot of money sorting it all out—I was told it would take a couple of weeks to over a month, which didn’t make either Paul or myself happy needless to say!  I had only enough clothes and things with me for a 3 day stay.  Thanks to my dear friend Christina with whom I stayed, I was provided with a few additions to my wardrobe that helped me through.

This past Tuesday morning 24 November, I had a strange feeling shortly after awakening, and at 0822 I received an email that turned my world around—my visa had been granted and printed up!  I immediately let the visa services person know and he informed me a short while later that all was in order and I could pick it up the following day.

Once I had confirmed all of this, I called Paul straight away (who was standing in the middle of a field as the work was being done on James for the new heating system), and told him the good news—he was as elated as I was!  I felt as though someone, once again, had handed me the moon.

I immediately made plans to return the rental car and find a suitable airbnb spot in Manhattan the next day so I would be in place to take the 1825 flight back to Heathrow the following day, Thursday, 26 November which was Thanksgiving Day for us in the US.  All my thankful energy was directed towards Paul who has made this horrendous immigration ordeal a cakewalk.  He never let me down and remained tireless in dealing with all the aspects of this at his end, and lovingly supporting me—and all of this while having to cope with the heater installation as well as the day-to-day chores AND looking after the dogs!

I booked my passage across the pond on American Airlines, from whom I am retired.  I was lucky once again, as I was able to settle into a Business Class seat and enjoy the nice service along with a flat bed fit for a good nights sleep.

When I arrived at Heathrow and it was my turn to step up to the Immigration officer, I began to feel a bit nervous as memories of my nightmare of two weeks ago flooded my head.  I was escorted to the detention box once again, but only as a formality, and five minutes later I was released and able to collect my baggage and make my way as fast as I could out of the immigration hall and into Paul’s welcoming arms.  I have never been so happy to see anyone in my life!  We had a speedy trip back to James, took a bit of a nap then spent the rest of the afternoon taking advantage of the rental car and went about our shopping.

I can’t begin to tell you all how delighted I am to be back on James with Paul and our Bassets.  Home again and I couldn’t be more happy or at peace.  And I don’t have to cross the pond again until the end of May when I must apply for the next visa, the spousal one.  Should be another bit of a roller coaster ride!  Stay tuned…..

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

Handy tools and winter preparation

This newsletter now goes out to 6,200 narrowboat enthusiasts. Between 1,000 and 1,500 are current boat owners. If you are one of them I would like your help.

Next week’s newsletter will detail handy tools to keep on board. It’s a list inspired by prolific forum contributor Peter Earley. The following week’s newsletter will contain tips and tricks for making the miserable winter months more tolerable. A thousand heads are better than one so PLEASE, if you are a boat owner, spend just a couple of minutes of your time to tell me about your indispensable boating tools and what you do during the cooler months to protect yourself and your boat. The survey is here. Please don’t leave the job for someone else to do because all too often they’ll be expecting you to do it for them so they won’t bother.

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.  If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day before the end of the year, you can book the single remaining date by viewing the diary here. 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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

2015 11 22 Newsletter – Protection for your Four Legged Friends

After eight months “on the road” as it were, I’m back on my mooring pretty much full time now. I have to take the boat to Braunston on Tuesday to have the rest of my Webasto diesel central heating system fitted, and then a block of fourteen discovery days to do at the beginning of December. (The only day left is Thursday 10th December so if you want to experience life afloat in the winter you can join me if you’re quick by booking the date here.) After the discovery days I’ll be on my mooring until the end of March next year.

I guess that many boaters wouldn’t like my mooring. I have a 62’ boat tied to a 36’ long rusting dump barge. If I want to get to the stern from the outside, I have to walk along my perilously narrow gunnels, reduced to just 2” wide when the original wooden cabin was over plated with steel, which are almost impassable in icy weather.

The mooring is difficult to leave at the best of times. The prevailing south westerly pins the boat to the barge so I have to pivot the boat’s bow on the barge’s “bow” until my stern is pointing into the wind and then charge backwards into the middle of the marina before the wind blows my boat onto the narrowboat moored thirty feet behind me.

For all its faults, the mooring suits me well enough. It’s in the north westerly section of Locks marina far away from other boats with an open view of the Grand Union canal off my starboard side and, usually, a wonderful view of the marine through my port side windows.

My winter dump barge mooring

My winter dump barge mooring

Unfortunately I have no view of the marina at all at the moment. Part of my mooring agreement is that I share the dump barge in the winter months with the four 60’ long narrowboats owned by the Royal Navy and maintained by Calcutt Boats. When I left the marina to travel to Heathrow very early on Friday 13th November I had an open and unrestricted view of the marina. When I returned with Cynthia twelve hours later my floating home, from which I’ve enjoyed stunning views of rural England and Wales for the last eight months, was sandwiched between the dump barge and four other narrowboats. I suppose it was a fitting end to an already traumatic day.

I’ll be back out on the cut for a week starting tomorrow. I’ll need a little help slipping the boat out of its sardine tin mooring before a pleasant two hour cruise to Braunston and Justin Greene. Along with a plumber friend, Justin will remove the three single radiators currently plumbed in to my stove’s back boiler then fit four new double radiators in their place. They will be connected to the Webasto Thermotop C diesel burner he fitted at the beginning of October. Once that’s done, and the Webasto is also plumbed in to my calorifier I’ll be free for five days until my first discovery day on 1st December. Unfortunately my discovery day guests won’t be able to meet Cynthia.

Cynthia’s second visit to me on James wasn’t quite as relaxing or as enjoyable as her ten day cruise to Market Harborough in September. She barely had time to recover from thirty six exhausting hours travel on her outward journey before we both had to deal with the logistics of flying her back to the States again.

After six hours detention at Heathrow terminal three’s immigration department, she was refused entry into the UK but was given a week’s period of grace before she had to leave. The airline which flew her to the UK, Virgin Atlantic, was duty bound to fly her back to her point of origin, Boston.

Unfortunately Boston is a four hour drive from New York where Cynthia needed to go to try and fast track her marriage visit visa application. Thanks to the very helpful immigration case officers at Terminal Three we were able to book a flight with Virgin Atlantic directly to New York and at the airline’s cost.

I booked another hire car, a much smaller car this time, with the wonderful people at Enterprise in Daventry at very short notice. Enterprise offer a first class service for carless boaters. Not only will they pick you up and drop you off at either end of your hire period, but they will also travel considerable distances to do so. The Daventry branch offer this service within a seventeen mile radius.

After a 3am start on Wednesday morning we were back at Heathrow at 6am as instructed by the immigration department ready for the 8.50am flight.

We had to telephone immigration as soon as we reached the airport so that they could give Cynthia the paperwork she needed for the check in desk. The immigration officer handed Cynthia a single form then left her with the instruction to phone again once she had checked in and completed all security checks.

Unfortunately Virgin Atlantic had no record of Cynthia for the 8.50am flight so we had to call immigration again. Two of their officers joined three Virgin Atlantic staff for a twenty minute cross counter conference. Immigration claimed to have phoned Virgin to check availability then confirmed Virgin’s acceptance of Cynthia’s seat on the flight by email. Virgin denied all knowledge of the booking. The flight was full. Cynthia would have to come back another day. No she wouldn’t, immigration told Virgin, Cynthia would be leaving on the 8.50am flight so another passenger on the flight would have to be taken off.

Apparently in matters of deportation, immigration outrank the airlines. Cynthia made the flight.

Nineteen hours later Cynthia was still sitting in a visa agent’s office in New York. After paying a considerable amount of money to the agent for his services, and even more for the visa itself, she was still compiling the information needed for the application.

At 8am she was back with the agent putting the final pieces into the complex jigsaw which is the visa application. After the indignity of having her fingerprints taken at Heathrow, she had to catch a train across New York to stand in a queue thirty people long to have them taken again.

The application was submitted on Friday. All we have to do now is wait. One of the senior case officers at Heathrow immigration told me that, if you have to hang around for days on end, November isn’t a bad time to do it. It’s a quiet time of the year for marriage visit visa processing. People generally don’t want to consider making a move so close to Christmas. However, the process is going to be far from the one or two day processing we naively hoped for.

The British Consulate in New York closes down for three days next week for their Thanksgiving celebrations. The application is more likely to take weeks rather than days which presented Cynthia with a bit of a problem.

Before she left the States for her flight to the UK just over a week ago Cynthia closed down her life across the pond. She sold or gave away most of her possessions, shut up her house in Vermont for the winter pending its sale in the spring, sold her two vehicles and terminated her phone contract.

She flew to New York with a carry-on bag holding enough clothes for a few days, a few mild autumn days at that. She’s now staying with a friend in rural Massachusetts while she waits for an email from the British Consulate in New York with the much hoped for details of her visa approval.

So here I am, rattling around in far too much space on my boat again. The saving grace is that I have two wonderful but useless dogs to keep me company. Basset hounds aren’t exactly the perfect boat dogs especially, if like six year old Bromley, they have neurological issues which mean that they fall over regularly and can’t jump at all. Both of them are just the right size and shape for pushing against doors to keep the draught out. Frustratingly, they are both far more interested in lying in front of the fire to keep the heat away from me.

Both Bromley and ten year old Tasha have very sturdy chest harnesses so that they can be lifted in and out of the boat if necessary. Tasha is the elder dog but doesn’t have any mobility issues. However, she has shown an unhealthy interest in the marina’s large and feisty cob swan. Clearly in America a very large water bird swelling its chest, spreading its wings and hissing loudly means, “Hello friend, why don’t you come here and play?” I don’t want her to discover the unpleasant truth the hard way so the chest harness’s sturdy handle allows me to lift her out of harm’s way.

Bromley in his handy chest harness

Bromley in his handy chest harness

Bromley isn’t too steady on his legs. His balance is poor and he’s subject to occasional spasms which throw him to the ground. Usually he doesn’t seem to mind. He just shakes himself off, struggles to his feet and carries on sniffing and walking.

Initially, watching him walk unsteadily across the metal walkway between bank and barge was a stressful experience, then I relaxed a little as his routine developed. He cautiously walked onto the metal bridge – like most dogs he doesn’t like being able to see througha walkway to water four feet below – tottered over the walkway until he was three feet from the end, and then rushed the final yard to safety. Inevitably, as soon as I was sure that he was safe crossing the bridge on his own he had a spasm and toppled towards the water. His harness handle saved the day. I was able to grab it as he disappeared over the side and haul him onto terra firma. I don’t want to risk him falling in and possibly hurting himself so I carry him, briefcase like, over any difficult obstacles which, for him, is anything taller than a blade of grass.

If you have a clumsy or an older dog which isn’t too agile, these harnesses are a very useful tool. Neither of the dogs will be out of the boat when we are negotiating locks. They are hounds so pay far more attention to their noses than to human command. They’re far more likely to follow a wonderfully smelly scent than do as they’re told so they will stay inside when we need to focus on getting the boat safely through a lock. All too often I see owners trying and failing to control dogs at locks and not concentrating on the job at hand. It’s a potentially dangerous situation.

So the dogs won’t be lock-side when we’re negotiating locks but they will see them very often when we take them out for walks. Bromley isn’t capable of negotiating a 12” wide lock gate on his own. The prospect of him having a spasm walking ten or fifteen feet above the unyielding concrete sill of an empty lock is too terrifying to contemplate. His harness carry handle will be used to quickly transport him from one side to the other without risk.

Harnesses with handles are very useful for dog owning boaters. They can be used to safely carry reluctant or unsteady dogs over lock gates and they’re very handy for lifting accident prone or water obsessed dogs out of steep sided canals and rivers.

The far more agile Tasha

The far more agile Tasha… especially when there’s a comfortable seat on offer

Canals are often impossible for animals to climb out of on their own. The sides are often strengthened by vertical Armco style metal pilings or concrete. A good chest harness means that a potentially life threatening situation becomes just a mild inconvenience requiring a little brute force. Of course, how useful these harnesses are to you will depend on the size of your dog and your own ability to lift him.

Bromley weights 17kg or 37lb in old money. A full bag of coal weighs 25kg/55lb so Bromley’s as heavy and unwieldy as three quarters of a bag. While I’m still young and fit – OK, just fit – lifting him like this isn’t a problem. To be honest, if I’m no longer able to lift a bag of coal I need to think about moving into a ground floor flat in a sheltered accommodation complex. Either that or strapping my anchor to my chest and jumping in to a lock. I think his chest harness will be fine for many years to come.

Cynthia Says…

Life’s trials and tribulations—the blissful five days Paul and I were able to spend on James went far too quickly, however we were able to accomplish a lot and found a nice rhythm of working together in a small space to which both of us are easily suited.  All my worldly possessions fit into the capacious drawers and there was even an empty one left over!  We put our heads together and came up with some more good ideas for proper storage as well as some redecorating options.  I enjoy making small changes based on the seasons that help us to feel more comfortable.  I brought a new red and white plaid duvet cover across the pond with me and it looks quite smashing on our bed, and makes for a welcoming and warm entrance at night! We are going to find a nice material that  coordinates for the window dressings.  If we can find quilted fabric,  all the better—this will help keep the cold out.  We are also considering new shams in the same fabric for the settee pillows.

We spent a good deal of Sunday and Monday sorting out the immigration issues.  Tiring and tedious to be sure!  Paul has been a darling dealing with all this–he never loses his patience and focus.  I couldn’t do it without him!

We experienced a bit of an ordeal at Heathrow Wednesday morning, as Virgin told us the flight was full.  Immigration stepped in and insisted they put me on.  Once I hit the pavement in New York I went directly to the British Consulate and they said I needed to see a visa services agent in order to complete the extensive paperwork for the marriage visit visa.  They were very accommodating and I couldn’t  have done this without them.  Paul had to submit a lot as well.  We completed this Thursday afternoon and it was submitted yesterday.  I just received an email and am keeping my fingers crossed it will be a faite à complet within two weeks.

In the meantime I am staying with a dear friend in Massachusetts and doing my best to get by with what I have.  Once again creative thinking and planning has enabled us to make it through this ordeal.

And the silver lining here?  I believe it has brought us even closer (if that is possible!) and we have proved to be a Great Team with a very positive attitude and no tension.  We help each other out when one of us is a bit down and that is the way a committed long-term relationship should be, right??

Stay tuned—hopefully in next weeks newsletter I will have good news, and can return to my rightful place next to the love of my life….

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

Water Saving Shower Head

Following his April Discovery Day, Australian Chris Smith sent me a sample of a water saving shower head, the LoFlo shower head he markets down under. The shower head needed an adapter before it would work with my shower, so he sent me that as well.

I’ve now been using his shower head for a few months. It’s absolutely marvelous. Chris tells me that an average shower can use over twenty litres a minute. Having thrown my old shower head away I can’t verify his claim but I agree with his claim that the water saving shower head uses just five litres a minute when it’s dispensing water but one of the really useful features of this shower head is the trickle switch.

Water saving narrowboat shower head

Water saving narrowboat shower head

The trickle switch helps save more water. You can turn the flow off at the showerhead while soaping up, without having to re-adjust the hot and cold taps to get the correct temperature. “Submarine” showers are a pain with mixer taps because you have to waste valuable water adjusting the temperature. With the trickle switch you simply turn the flow off at the shower head without having to touch the taps.

The last thing is that it really feels like a regular shower, whereas most low flow products simply reduce the flow and feel weak, and ladies find it difficult to rinse shampoo out of their hair. I imported a lady with hair all the way from Vermont to test it out. She was very happy with the end result. In fact, having spent many years living on a 35’ sail boat she was far more familiar with the submarine shower concept than me.

The patented nozzle is non-clogging, with a large outlet. Most low flow shower heads use a small rubber o-ring to reduce the flow, and then a myriad of tiny hole in the outlet which are both prone to clogging.

I am very happy indeed with this shower head. Not only does it save water, but it feels far more powerful than my old traditional shower head.

If you’re interested in a high power low flow shower head for your boat, caravan or home, you can let Chris Smith know via email. Chris is currently arranging UK distribution.

Video Survey Results

Two weeks ago I asked if you would be interested in seeing more video on the site. An overwhelming majority of those who responded (94%) said that they would. All that I need to do now is establish which the most popular subjects are. Over to you again. Here’s a list of video subjects requested in the survey. Please select all that interest you on the list. If you want to see something not on the list, please add your comments at the bottom of the survey. I look forward to reading what you’ve chosen for me.

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.  If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day before the end of the year, you can book the single remaining date by viewing the diary here. 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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary
1

2015 11 08 Newsletter – New Video Content For Livingonanarrowboat.co.uk

On Sunday afternoon I dropped down the ten staircase locks of the Foxton flight while I chatted to fellow boat owner Trish and other half Andy. Trish doesn’t live on her boat full time yet but uses it as often as possible to escape the pressure of modern life. She’s certainly a step ahead of me with regard to living afloat economically. I have all the electrical toys on board I could ever wish for, including a battery draining 1600w Nespresso coffee machine. Trish is happy settling down on her river Ouse mooring to read by candle light. I don’t think I could ever be comfortable living such a frugal existence.

Once through the flight, Trish and Andy helped me through the swing footbridge opposite the Foxton Locks Inn. I moored on the towpath just beyond the bridge so that we could sit with a pint in the sun in Bridge 61’s beer garden for an hour. They left to explore the remains of Foxton’s inclined plane boat lift so I raced back to a warm boat in failing light regretting the thin tee shirt which had seemed such a good idea in the brief sun an hour earlier.

In the foggy dawn light I cruised along a mirror smooth canal with my tunnel and navigation lights on. I couldn’t see much further than the boat’s bow so each bridge came as a rather unpleasant surprise.

Two hours later I reached Market Harborough’s Union Wharf and plenty of free moorings. The official water point is in the basin itself next to a very smart toilet and shower block but there are four additional water points next to a line of visitor moorings on a curved concrete bank just outside the basin. I moored next to one of them.

I shut the engine down, drew all of the curtains on the towpath side so unsavoury characters walking by couldn’t see in – not that I expected to see anyone unpleasant in Market Harborough but old habits die hard – then slipped my 70l rucksack over my shoulders and marched a mile through town to the Sainsbury store at the far end of the high street. Market Harborough is a wonderful place to replenish your supplies. In addition to the Sainsbury store, there are Waistrose, Tesco, Lidl and Aldi stores.

With a full and very heavy pack I staggered back towards the boat but stopped for lunch at a Subway store in the high street. The very kind guy who served me obviously thought the old guy in front of him was struggling a little because he called me back as I walked away from the counter then dropped a free of charge and still warm chocolate chip cookie on my tray. What a lovely chap!

Back at the boat I swapped my grocery rucksack for my small day sack then headed back into town again to try and find some brackets my a new water saving shower head kindly sent to me by Australian agent and former discovery day guest Chris Smith.

There was nothing even remotely appropriate in the town’s Homebase store but I struck gold at Screwfix a further mile out of town. The fog had thinned at midday but as the last daylight disappeared the fog thickened again highlighting a thousand yellow lights decorating a high street jewellery store.

Market Harborough is a gem of a town. It’s vibrant, clean and friendly and is full of beautifully maintained historic buildings as well as dozens of thriving independent retailers. I’ve covered many, many miles on my cruises this year but too quickly to fully explore fascinating towns like this. I think Cynthia and I will enjoy much more leisurely cruising next year and definitely another trip to Market Harborough.

After a twenty minute trudge along a half seen high street and a circuit of the misty canal basin the warm yellow light filtering through my closed curtains was very welcoming.

Early the next morning, cloudy but thankfully fogless, I cruised for two hours to the bottom of the Foxton flight, said a quick hello to the first heron on my current cruise just outside Market Harborough and then spent a very pleasant two hours on the ascent, including a half hour delay to allow three boats to pass in the small pound between to the two sets of five staircase locks.

There is very little traffic on the canals at this time of the year. After four hours on the move I passed just three moving boats, all of them on the Foxton flight, and then just two more during the next three hours before I moored for the night.

Of course Sod’s Law dictates that you never meet another boat on an open stretch of canal. The unexpected meeting is always on the blind approach to a narrow bridge hole or, in my case, inside Husband Bosworth tunnel.

It’s a tunnel I’m not particularly fond of. Apart from the usual problem of not being able to see the boat coming towards you or how well it’s being handled, the walls appear to be more uneven than other tunnels in the area. Last year I lost a riveted fender hanger and earlier this year caught my cratch cover. Thankfully the damage was a scrape rather than a rip but the sound of steel or canvas meeting brick is never pleasant. Husbands Bosworth tunnel also feels very shallow. I struggled to make any headway as did the two boats which passed me. In fact both of them were followed by a boiling but ineffective wake.

As the light faded I pulled over close to the first convenient section of Armco barrier, jumped onto the soggy towpath and then spent ten minutes straining at my centre line trying to pull the boat over the shallow mud to the bank. I couldn’t pull the boat closer than three feet away from the towpath so I jumped back on the boat and carried on in the gloom for another half mile before finding a deeper mooring.

I set off the following morning at 7.30am on my penultimate leg to Calcutt Boats. I usually follow the same pre cruise routine. The first job at this time of the year is to empty the stove’s ash pan into a galvanised metal bucket on my enclosed front deck. After burning a hole in the carpet I have over the deck matting soon after I first moved on to the boat I realised how hot the stove ash can be, and how well a metal bucket transfers the heat to whatever it’s sitting on, so I now have a heatproof mat under the bucket.

With the ash pan empty I then throw some more coal briquettes on the fire which is usually alight from the night before and, after leaving the stove door open for a while to cool, I clean the stove glass.

Next job while the kettle is boiling is to empty my composting toilet’s liquid container. The container will just about last two people for a day. I empty the container outside in a nearby hedge (EA approved as there are no chemicals involved) and then, before I fit the container back on to the toilet, I add a spoonful of sugar to stop the urine from smelling. I give the container a quick wipe with an eco-cleaner then the toilet is ready for another day.

After a quick breakfast I check my engine oil and water, start the engine, fit my tiller and secure it with a tiller pin, make a hot drink in my insulated travel mug, put the mug along with my camera, voice recorder, map and glasses on the engine room hatch, undo the bow line from either the mooring stake or piling chain I’m using, remove stake or chain, do the same with the stern line and finally push the bow away from the towpath then hop on the stern and glide serenely into the canal centre. I’m a creature of habit but the routine works for me.

Almost immediately I had to stop the boat in the middle of the canal to put on my wonderful waterproofs. I can cruise, and often have, in torrential rain all day without a drop getting through. Heavy rain fell for the next four hours until I reached the head of the Watford staircase flight.

This flight is usually manned but, despite an open door to the lock keeper’s office, there wasn’t a soul about. I was half way through the second lock before one of the three keepers on duty appeared. He apologised for his fully understandable absence.

An elderly boater, waiting at the bottom of the flight for his turn, had died the day before. The three lock keepers were organising the boat’s removal. News of someone’s death is never pleasant but this guy had apparently died of natural causes doing something he loved. I hope to follow in his footsteps in another thirty years.

At 3pm I moored close to Welton Hythe marina for the day, quickly shut down the engine, closed my curtains on the towpath side – a security measure every time I leave the boat – and then marched down the towpath towards Norton Junction and the now closed Bucky flight. I wanted to visit the Abraxas Cookshop in the Heart of the Shires Shopping Village and see what progress had been made with the scheduled Buckby flight gate replacement.

I underestimated the distance. After an hour’s brisk walk I reached Whilton marina but with another mile to the shopping village, failing light, no torch and the infernal din of the M1 just 150m away, I turned around and headed back towards the boat.

The highlight of the walk was seeing the drained pound beneath the lock CRT were working on and understanding the work and equipment and money needed to replace a pair of lock gates. Did you know that each oak gate will last 25 years and costs £11,000? CRT makes 180 new gates each year at a cost of £2,000,000. Understanding some of the costs involved in maintaining the waterways makes me realise what good value my annual £1,000 licence really is.

Munching an apple from a help-yourself basket in front of a towpath cottage garden I passed a long line of boats on residential moorings close to Norton junction. Aromatic wood smoke rose vertically into the still night from half a dozen chimneys. I don’t think wood is very practical fuel for boaters but it smells wonderful.

The walk back to the boat would have been perfect if I hadn’t had to hop between islands of almost dry grass in a sea of liquid mud. The condition of the towpath is enough of a reason for me to willingly pay for a mooring away from clinging mud during the winter months.

Living afloat in the winter is a joy when the towpath is firm but the state of the towpath in mild and wet weather, and the resulting mess inside the boat, is a very good reason for finding a mooring for a few months inside a marina. Muddy boots and paws aren’t the only problem. My utterly useless braid on braid rope is a real pain. It soaks up muddy water like a sponge and leaves thin brown lines on the cream paint on my roof and cabin sides. I can spend two hours cleaning the boat and then after just a few hours cruising it’s covered in mud and leaves again. The back deck becomes a mess of mud and rotting leaves and needs daily cleaning to keep the drain holes beneath the deck hatch clear.

Within an hour of setting off on Thursday morning I was inside Braunston tunnel and feeling unusually nervous. I don’t particularly like tunnels at the best of times. I feel a little out of control but at least usually there’s, literally, a light at the end of the tunnel. Braunston tunnel is no exception. It’s just over a mile long and reasonably straight so as soon as you enter it you can see the exit drawing ever closer. However, on Thursday after a quarter of an hour on the tunnel, there was nothing but darkness ahead of me.

Another fifteen minutes and still no sign of the exit. My hyper active imagination began to play tricks on me. It reasoned that if I couldn’t see the exit something was blocking it. I could usually see the exit so something unusual was blocking it… like brickwork from a collapsed tunnel roof. Of course that was ridiculous I thought. The tunnel has been open since 1796 without mishap. But once the seed was planted it began to grow very quickly.

What if the tunnel roof had collapsed? How would I know? My tunnel light isn’t very powerful so would I carry on at my normal 4mph tunnel speed until I crashed headlong into a mass of unyielding and unstable rock? Would the boat sink? If it didn’t, how would I get out? Would I have to reverse for half a mile or more back to the eastern portal? What if my crash into the collapsed section caused more rock to fall above or behind me? What if I was trapped in the tunnel? How would I call for help? How long would my food last? How would I stay warm? Would I have enough air to breath? How would anyone know I was in there?

After a few more minutes of similarly stupid thoughts I saw a tunnel light coming towards me. Phew! If a boat was coming towards me, the tunnel wasn’t blocked after all! Once the boat passed and I reached the tunnel’s half way point I saw the faint outline of the western entrance. Every other time I’ve been through this tunnel the day has been bright so there’s been plenty of light to illuminate either end. Thursday was dull and overcast so there was very little light filtering into the entrance. What a relief to know I wasn’t going to provide a sensational headline for a local newspaper!

Once through the tunnel I flew down the Braunston flight with another boat and then spent the final hours on the very familiar combined Oxford and Grand Union canal between Braunston and Napton junctions. Courtesy of my discovery days I’ve cruised this stretch over two hundred times in the last eighteen months but it’s a beautiful and challenging section with ever changing scenery around a series of tight bends. I never tire of it.

I cruised the section four more times on Friday and Saturday on two equally wet days. Friday was wet and fairly calm. Saturday was wet and very windy. Mark, my Saturday guest, looked a little underdressed in his tracksuit but the heavy rain running off his beard didn’t appear to bother him in the slightest. I think he was too focussed on keeping a flat bottomed high sided narrowboat from crashing into the narrow bridge holes we frequently encountered.

I spent most of yesterday trying to concentrate on writing this newsletter. I was too tired after forty hours cruising over the last week, tiredness which wasn’t helped by eating half of the substantial almond and cherry cake given to me by Deanna and Rob who were out with me on Friday.

Today I’m back on my mooring at Calcutt Boats. I’m going to do very little now until Thursday when I have to pick up my rental car ready for Friday’s drive down to Heathrow to pick up Cynthia and her two beloved Bassett hounds, Tasha and Bromley. It’s a journey I’m looking forward to very much.

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. ou 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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

2015 11 01 Newsletter – Stealth Cruising

By mid-afternoon on Monday my long anticipated cooling system modification was complete. On Friday ten square feet of the port side swim, the tapered underwater section of the hull close to the propeller, was scraped back to bare steel, a keel tank manufactured and welded in place and the worn cup holding the bottom of the rudder was cut off and replaced with a new tighter fitting shiny steel cup. The old wet exhaust system, including the £140 replacement waterlock I had fitted just two months ago, was removed and the existing exhaust outlet welded shut.

On Saturday morning my heavy steel mud box was removed and replaced with new piping. A hospital silencer was loosely fitted in place before work stopped at midday due to heavy rain and the imminent kick off to one of the two weekend Rugby World Cup semi-finals.

Work resumed on Monday morning with the installation of a header tank to allow the new skin tank to be filled and topped up if required, and a bleed valve was fitted to allow me to remove any air in the system.

The last part of the cooling system modification was lagging the exhaust pipe either side of the silencer, fitting a bracket to hold the silencer in place and then cutting the engine deck boards slightly to accommodate the header tank hose and the silencer bracket.

Then the moment I had been waiting for, turning the engine on.

For the last five years I have been used to obsessively checking to make sure that the sea cock is open before starting the engine and then peering over the boat’s stern for a minute or two to make sure that water is expelled from the exhaust. Peering over the side wasn’t necessary at all. Standing anywhere on the towpath within a hundred metres of the boat was close enough to hear the water’s hissing high pressure expulsion.

On Monday afternoon I turned the engine on but heard nothing other than the gentle rattle of my old Mercedes warming up.

In the afternoon’s fading light I took the boat for a spin around the marina. Three times around the island in Meadow’s marina before pulling onto my dump barge mooring with a very big smile on my face.

I took the boat out for a more rigorous test early on Tuesday morning. There’s a mile long straight on the Grand Union as it heads away from the Calcutt flight towards Birmingham. I have to admit to moving a little too fast on this stretch to check whether the modification has cured the overheating problem. I was a little disappointed to see the needle on my pigeon box mounted thermometer rise past my normal operating temperature of seventy degrees up to eighty five degrees. I ran out of canal before the needle had a chance to move any higher but the initial indications were a little worrying.

I turned the boat in the recently restored arm to Nelson’s Basin half a mile from the head of the Stockton flight. Willow Wren Training opened a base here last year and restored the first hundred feet of the arm. On Tuesday a twenty five tonne excavator and two dumpers were making short work of revealing the rest of the arm’s foundations for the first time since it was filled in some time in the 1960s. You can read about the restoration here.

I spent much of my time on the trip back to Calcutt monitoring my engine temperature gauge. As long as I kept ever so slightly below my normal cruising speed the temperature stayed at eighty five degrees. My engine may still be overheating slightly but at least I will be able to hear the engine coolant if it starts boiling. The difference the new cooling system makes to my cruising enjoyment is astounding.

On my hour and a half return trip I heard sounds which puzzled me at first. Gurgles, splashes, squawks and quacks, wind in canal-side trees and reeds and mechanical clattering and whirring from farm machinery in distant fields. Over the last five years these noises have been masked by the awful hissing and spluttering from my wet exhaust. I can’t begin to tell you how much more pleasant cruising is now that I can hear something other than high pressure water howling out of an inch wide hole in the hull beneath my feet.

Back at the marina I heard through the towpath telegraph that a local boater has been given marching orders by CRT. He’s a well-known and colourful character with a very distinctive boat with a roof invisible under a lifetime’s accumulated junk. Since January he’s managed to travel four miles from Braunston junction to Lower Shuckborough. Not nearly far enough as far as CRT are concerned. They had already written to him to let him know he had to move further and more often but he ignored them. Now they have given him twenty eight days to remove himself from the canal network before they take action to force the issue.

I feel a little sorry for him. He’s a harmless and very pleasant guy who always offers a smile and a friendly wave as I pass, but rules are rules so if you want to stay on the waterways you have to abide by them.

Much as I like my mooring overlooking the canal, I couldn’t settle there for the night. I’ll be spending three winter months there so while the weather is still mild and the towpath firm I want to spend as much time as possible enjoying the peace and quiet denied to boaters on a marina moorings.

I spent a very pleasant hour taking my boat up through the three locks in the Calcutt flight. The locks normally take me forty minutes on my own but the baffled crew of a hire boat behind me needed a little guidance. Due to the large number of narrowboat hire companies in the area, puzzled novice boaters at the Calcutt flight are a regular occurrence.

Once through the flight I moored above the top lock to wait for a parcel delivery. My new Vitamix blender arrived mid-morning. Its function and purpose is a bit of a mystery to me. It’s more Cynthia’s domain. She produced many culinary delights when she was with me in September but the blender will allow her to create even more delightful dishes. It’s a very powerful machine but at 1100w will run comfortably off my 1600w inverter. It’s only going to be used for two or three minutes at a time so won’t have much impact on my battery bank.

With the blender safely on board I headed off towards Market Harborough. I’ve been there twice this year so far but on both occasions only managed a flying visit to the market town. I had nine free days before my next discovery day. The loose plan was to spend three days exploring the town. I also wanted to visit their Sainsbury store to buy a jar of Carte Noir decaf coffee. I know a thirty six hour round trip is a little excessive for a £4 jar of coffee but any excuse for a cruise!

During my two hour cruise into Braunston I was able to further assess the effects of my engine cooling modification. As the hospital silencer heated up there was a strong and nauseating smell of burning paint from the engine room. I was warned to expect this until the exhaust paint burned off. I hoped the smell would disappear before I was sick.

The engine was running fifteen degrees hotter than it was with the wet exhaust but, providing I kept slightly below my normal cruising speed, didn’t overheat. The overwhelming difference of course was the very much quieter running. This was particularly noticeable in Braunston tunnel. The noise of my wet exhaust used to be bearable out on the open canal but almost painful to my ears in enclosed spaces.

I don’t think I’m ever going to enjoy cruising through tunnels. I feel out of control in the narrow confines, especially when I can’t see the boat coming towards me, more so when I can hear the hull of the oncoming boat crash into the tunnel wall as it’s helmed by an inexperienced crew. I’m never going to enjoy the claustrophobic experience but it is much, much more pleasant now I can hear myself think.

Proof of the engine’s quiet operation came shortly before I reached Norton junction. As I slowly cruised past a moored boat, the owner looked across at me and exclaimed, “Wow! Is your boat electric? It’s very quiet!” The engine certainly isn’t quiet enough to be mistaken for electric but the comment more than made up for my worry about the warmer running temperature.

A peaceful mooring close to Winwick Manor

A peaceful mooring close to Winwick Manor

As I turned left at Norton junction and noticed the half dozen CRT work boats tied up there ready for the imminent stoppage to replace several lock gates on the Bucky flight, I thought about my thwarted plans to cruise down to London at the end of next week to pick Cynthia up from Heathrow and the now much less appealing hour and a half drive down there. Ah well, you can’t win them all!

I moored for the night near to Weltonfield Hythe marina, too close to the busy A5 for my liking but better there than at the foot of the seven lock Watford flight with the M1 traffic thundering by two hundred metres away.

The following morning I spent a very pleasant hour and a half ascending the seven lock flight, chatting to the two lock keepers on duty and helping an elderly single guy on the boat in front of me. He was a frail looking man in, I suspect, his late seventies, on his own but determined to carry on with his lifestyle despite his difficulty with single handed locking. I hope to be in a similar position in another twenty five years.

After the Watford flight is a tranquil and little visited twenty mile pound before the Foxton flight of ten staircase locks. I cruised for another two very pleasant hours before stopping for the day.

As I was slowing pulling over to moor my phone rang. The call was from an engine remanufacturing specialist in Tunbridge Wells. The cooling system modification I’ve just had done has been a wonderfully effective solution for one of the three problems I’ve been having with my Mercedes OM636. I need to look for other solutions to the other two issues; regular overheating and debilitating smokiness.

I can manage on the canals with the engine ticking over at cruising speed or close to it, but I have nothing in reserve for rivers, especially tidal waters. With the Buckby flight closed there was an opportunity to travel down to London via the south Oxford and the Thames. I think stoppages on the Thames have prevented me using that route but I would have been very nervous going that way. Cruising down the river aided by the current wouldn’t have been a problem but giving the engine a bit of stick on the way back to combat the water flow would have been too much for the cooling system as it is now. The cooling system is a concern but the exhaust fumes are a real worry.

Breathing in large quantities of exhaust smoke is making me feel ill. If you spend a day with me you’ll be hard pressed to notice much at all, but I’ve stood on the back of my boat with the engine running for eight hundred and fifty hours since the beginning of April. Exhaust fumes are a common cause of heavy metal poisoning and the effects of heavy metal poisoning are accumulative. I’ve reached the stage in my life now where I don’t take my continued good for granted so I have to be proactive and reduce or eliminate as many harmful toxins from my life as possible.

Jay from the remanufacturing specialist company, Modus Engineering, quoted me £3,500 – £4,000 + VAT to bring the engine back to “as new” condition which he guaranteed would cure the smoking issue. He was reasonably confident but not positive that the engine remanufacture would solve the overheating problem.

In addition to a fee of almost £5,000 including VAT I would have to also pay to have the engine removed, shipped down to them, shipped back and then fitted back into the boat. I would be lucky to get any change out of £6,000 for reconditioning a forty year old engine.

An option which I’m still considering is replacing my current Mercedes with a Beta 43 from Beta Marina. The new engine including fitting would probably cost about £3,000 more than the refurbished Mercedes but the result would be an even quieter engine and one which was guaranteed to be smoke and overheating free.

Whichever way I go I’m going to have to start saving my pennies.

On Friday I stayed on my tranquil mooring close to Winwick Manor a mile east of Yelvertoft. Only half a dozen boats and just one hiker passed all day. Apart from the boat engines and the argumentative tone of a constant one sided conversation from the walker, the only unnatural sound I heard all day was the buzz of a chainsaw in nearby woodland for half an hour.

My first aborted mooring close to Kicklewell Spiney

My first aborted mooring close to Kicklewell Spiney

I pressed on towards Foxton yesterday. The day was perfect. Soft sunlight filtered through the reds and yellows of the few remaining leaves of canal-side trees, squirrels scampered from branch to branch and a magnificent pair of buzzards wheeled overhead. All these wonderful sights accompanied by no more than a gentle engine murmur beneath my feet. Seven hours of narrowboat cruising at its very best.

I left Winwick Manor at 9am so I had seven hours to cover fourteen miles to Foxton for the Rugby World Cup final’s 4pm kick off. Normally covering fourteen miles in seven hours wouldn’t be a problem at all but the shallow canal slowed me down considerably. Many passing boats appeared to have the same problem. The solution for most of the hire boat helmsmen who passed was to push the throttle down as far as it would go. Consequently the barely moving boats crawled past trailing a violently boiling wake.

I also stopped for half an hour at Kilworth Wharf for coal, gas and a bag of coal. Then, inevitably, after passing no moving boats for the previous hour, I met three in quick succession inside Market Bosworth tunnel.

At 3pm I pulled over at a lovely spot overlooking Kicklewood Spinney, moored securely, shut the engine down, put my tiller away, locked the engine room doors, made myself a long overdue hot drink, collapsed in front of the telly and then turned it on looking forward to forty five minutes of pre match discussion. Then I cursed, opened the engine room doors, put my tiller back on, started the engine and moved on in search of a mooring where I could get a television reception.

Over the next hour I stopped four more times in the middle of the canal, dived down into the cabin and checked for a reception. Nothing. Eventually I admitted defeat so carried on to the visitor moorings just above the Foxton flight. Expecting the worst I turned the television on one final time and was rewarded with a perfect picture and a 3-3 score twenty minutes into the game. It was a fantastic end to a wonderful day’s cruising.

I’m still there now. I’m going to send the newsletter out then join what I expect to be a very short queue to descend the flight. I had a break from writing this morning to wander around the flight and the remains of the inclined plane. Some of the photos I took are below. I hope you like them.

Stop gates above the Foxton inclined plane to prevent the twenty mile pound from draining in the event of the inclined plane breaching

Stop gates above the Foxton inclined plane to prevent the twenty mile pound from draining in the event of the inclined plane breaching

Dangerous narrowboat mooring - Who parked that boat there?

Dangerous narrowboat mooring – Who parked that boat there?

The Foxton Boiler Room museum

The Foxton Boiler Room museum

The Bridge 61 pub at the bottom of the flight

The Bridge 61 pub at the bottom of the flight

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

 

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. ou 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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary
2

2015 10 25 Newsletter – Engine Cooling Modification

After another run of uneventful cruises along unusually wind and rain free waterways I finished my last discovery day on Monday at 6pm at the head of the Calcutt flight. There’s a good mooring spot next to a straight section of towpath long enough for a single boat at the end of the lock landing. The alternative is a curved section of concrete next to loose and stony ground which is difficult to secure a pin in so I use it as a last resort. As there was already a boat moored on the straight section and as I had two free days before my next training day, I turned the boat in the unofficial winding hole next to the top lock, waved farewell to my day’s guests and then dropped down the Calcutt light in the fading light.

Forty minutes later aided by my tunnel light I cautiously nosed through the marina entrance and for the first time in six months moored against the rusty dump barge which used to be my permanent mooring before I set off on my travels in April.

My overgrown Calcutt mooring

My overgrown Calcutt mooring – I need to do a little tidying up before I move back there for the winter

It’s a beautiful mooring on a very quiet north western section of Calcutt Boats’ Locks marina close to the marina entrance. I have an open view of the marina to my left and the Grand Union canal beneath the lock flight on the far side of the grassy marina bank to my right. At this time of the year there’s very little traffic on the canal so there’s no sudden rush of water from an emptying lock to disturb the tranquility. I love mooring there but not as much as I enjoy the thrill of finding new peaceful moorings throughout the canal and river network miles from traffic and noise.

My mooring on a misty April morning

My mooring on a misty April morning

A marina mooring may not be as tranquil or offer the wide views afforded by many river and canal-side spots but there are certainly some advantages. I dusted off my shore line and plugged in to the national grid and then relaxed happy in the knowledge that my batteries and my hot water supply would be constantly topped up without me having to remember to run my engine.

Tuesday and Wednesday were pottering days filled with nothing other than gentle relaxation. The only work I did on the boat was to dig out the covers I had made for my side hatches and fix them in place.

The guys who over plated my original wooden cabin did a very good job generally, but the side hatches aren’t a very good fit. A freezing and lively breeze used to blow through them in the winter quickly chilling an otherwise warm and cosy cabin. I had covers made for both sets of side doors and the hatches above them and for the rear doors and hatch. The three covers have made a huge difference to the cabin temperature. The £110 I paid for them was money very well spent.

I’m not very good at sitting about doing very little though so by Wednesday afternoon I was itching to move again. I had a discovery day booked for Thursday so I spent forty minutes tackling the three lock flight once more before mooring on my thankfully free favourite spot opposite Napton reservoir.

I spent a very pleasant day with my discovery day siblings; a sister hoping to leave a well-paid but stressful job and a brother along for moral support and a bit of a jolly. In fact, we had such a pleasant day that by the time we had negotiated our sixth lock the light was fading, as was any serious intention of me taking the boat back down three locks into the marina ready for my much anticipated engine cooling modification the following day.

At the crack of dawn, 7am at this time of the year, I dropped down through the Calcutt flight and into the marina. I moored on the water point next to the slipway so I could top up my tank ready for the possibility of a few days out of the water or in the water but away from a water point.

By 9am my boat was high and dry and Slipway Stuart, Calcutt Boats boat blacker, was busy scraping away ten square feet of the four coats of Miogard and bitumen Sally and I carefully applied in April. The paint had to be removed ready for engineer Ian to weld my new skin tank in place.

I had expected a pre-fabricated tank to be hoisted into position and welded in place. In hindsight – what a wonderful gift that is – I realised that getting a prefabricated tank to fit the curved and uneven swim of a forty year old boat would have been quite a challenge.

Constructing a tank from scratch in half a day from sheets and strips of steel was also a challenge, but one which Ian rose to admirably. I helped him a little, either by leaning against the steel so he could heat and shape it, or by simply watching.

Watching was actually a very important job. I hadn’t realised quite how disruptive and potentially dangerous welding a tank onto the exterior of the boat could prove to the inside of the engine room. As Ian welded each strip in place a line of blistering and furiously smoking paint appeared on the opposite side of the hull inside the engine room.

I had to make sure that all wiring was held away from the area he was welding and wedge wooden battens under the five batteries in my leisure and starter battery banks to keep them away from excessive heat.

I was warned to be particularly vigilant when Ian used his gas axe to cut a hole through the hull for the skin tank’s return. Ian warned me to watch out for flying sparks so I was perfectly positioned to watch them fly into the only space in the bilge I don’t – can’t – keep spotlessly clean.

What little space there is under the engine is almost completely filled with steel ballast bars. A dozen or more gold ingot sized bars protected a wad of oily rag which has been there unseen and unreachable for longer than I’ve owned the boat.

There was a brief but intense shower of sparks, some thick smoke and then flames bright enough to illuminate both the engine room and the look of blind panic on my face. I think it was the ladylike shriek which alerted Ian. He quickly climbed a ladder six feet to the stern where I was wildly gesturing into the bilge’s flickering flames.

“Quick Stuart! Bring me a bucket of water,” Ian shouted. Stuart calmly walked to his slipway shed to look for a suitable empty receptacle, found an old bitumen tin and then, I suspect out of respect for my nice clean engine room, carefully began to attach a hose to the tap he uses for his pressure washer to fill the paint tin with clean water. “Just dip the f****g thing in the cut!” Ian commanded as the flames danced prettily around the bottom of the engine.

Two carefully tipped buckets later and the fire was out. No damage done other than to my underpants, my heart and my life expectancy, so I resumed my lookout duties as Ian finished the last of his cutting and welding.

He asked me not to write about the engine room fire in my newsletter but he has nothing to worry about. He did everything right. He told me to ensure that anything flammable was moved away from the side where he was working, he asked me to keep an eye out for any problems while he was working on the hull, and he quickly resolved what could have been a serious problem. The oily rag laying in the impossible to reach section of bilge under the engine certainly wasn’t his fault.

Painted tunnel flash

My tunnel flash with the exhaust outlet filled and painted over

After Ian finished the tank he asked Stuart to paint the bare steel with Owatrol rust protector. Thick bitumen paint isn’t a good idea on skin tanks. Too many layers insulate the tank and can cause overheating problems. I’m spending a substantial amount of money trying to cure one overheating problem. I don’t want to create another.

The current exhaust outlet had to go. It was too low to work with my new hospital silencer so the opening was welded shut. The work made a mess of my red tunnel flash so Stuart found me some red paint and a brush. I cleaned, lightly sanded and repainted the flash as daylight faded then climbed a set of steps to my home in the sky.

Living on a boat suspended six feet on the ground is an odd and often chilly experience. The water surrounding the boat in its normal environment acts as an insulator. The boat was noticeably cooler than normal on Friday night but the bird’s eye view of my surroundings more than made up for it.

Saturday was a very wet day but thankfully not for the half hour I needed to be out in it.

My engine bay seen from the stern

My engine bay seen from the stern – The cylindrical steel mud box has been removed from the left hand side near the sea cock

With an out of commission engine the boat had to be manhandled from the slipway to the engineering workshop 100’ feet away. Ian gently pushed the trolley holding the boat down the slipway into the marina. Slipway Stuart held on to a long rope attached to my bow. I stood on the back deck with my long pole.

Once the boat floated free of the trolley I “punted” the twenty tonne boat over to its new mooring next to the workshop. It was wonderful exercise but I have much more respect now for the barge horses which use to pull fully laden working boats all day long. Ten minutes was more than enough for me.

All Ian had to do to finish the job was remove a fitting from my thirty eight year old heat exchanger, fit a flexi coupling between the heat exchanger and my new super quiet hospital silencer and manufacture brackets to fit the large silencer out of the way so that any essential engine maintenance could still be done reasonably easily.

My hospital silencer

My hospital silencer – It still needs some lagging and fixing in place

After a great deal of huffing, puffing and manly straining, a little lost knuckle skin and many colourful expletives, the old heat exchanger fitting was off. Of course the new flexi coupling wouldn’t fit my old engine so Ian had to make one.

With the flexi coupling and hospital silencer in place but not secured all that was left to do was manufacture the silencer brackets, lag he pipes either side of the silencer and cut a new hole for the exhaust.

Rain and the impending start of the South Africa/New Zealand rugby world cup semi-final halted work at 12.30pm. The remaining welding and cutting couldn’t be done in the wet. I spent a leisurely afternoon watching the brutal and exhilarating rugby match and an evening indulging my guilty pleasure, X Factor, before retiring for the night in a bedroom gently lit by the site’s orange sodium lights.

I was hoping that Ian would be in today to finish the installation. He suggested that he might come in to work for a few hours but it’s his day off so I can understand why he hasn’t appeared.

Hopefully tomorrow the work will be done and I can take my new super quiet stealth boat for a spin. I’m looking forward to some quiet cruising and not having to answer endless questions about the unusual noise coming from the back of my boat. The most common of them is whether the boat is steam powered. I’ve started to tell enquirers that it’s a prototype jet propulsion system for the new breed of faster inland waterways craft often purchased by highly stressed boating enthusiasts with far too little time to cruise at the normal slower pace usually seen on the waterways. Sadly because of the noise I haven’t been able to hear their follow up questions but I can tell from the bemused looks that they either don’t believe me or they don’t think it’s a particularly good idea.

I’m going to spend a couple of hours now cleaning the engine room and removing Friday’s fire water before the 4pm kick off for the Australia/Argentina match. I’m going to turn up the volume very loud to try and drown out the annoying drone of an electric sander being enthusiastically wielded in the paint tent next to my boat.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

 

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. ou 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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

2015 10 18 Newsletter – Engine Running and Electricity Generation Costs

What is it with Sundays? I suffered a little more damage to my beloved boat on my Sunday discovery day last weekend. I wasn’t steering but I was in charge so the loss was entirely my fault.

On the route to Braunston on the combined Oxford and Grand Union canals, the waterway twists and turns through bridges, around tight bends and along a mile long stretch where the offside willows hang far over the canal.

My guest for the day was taking his helmsmanship very seriously so handled my floating home with great care. At this time of the year the number of boats using the waterway reduces significantly so we had only passed one or two boats since leaving the head of the Calcutt flight.

He moved close to the low hanging willows to allow a rare oncoming boat to pass. Because I was daydreaming I didn’t notice a particularly low and heavy branch reaching menacingly for my precious stainless steel chimney.

The chimney leaped from its normally secure perch on the rooftop collar, rolled erratically across the cabin roof and then came to a sudden stop when it reached the roof’s box section rail. I breathed a sigh of relief, but too soon. The bayonet fitting holding cap to chimney came adrift and thirty pounds worth of beautifully engineered stainless steel cap tumbled over the side and into the murky depths.

Every cloud has a silver lining. I lost just the cap. I could have easily lost the lot. I’ve ordered another which should be at the beginning of next week. Fortunately there’s no rain forecast before then to cascade down my capless flue onto the stove’s glowing coals.

On Monday I donned my smart blue and far too clean overalls to look the part while I messed about in the engine room.

As you probably know, I’ve had a few problems with my engine’s raw water cooling system. My original water lock, a moulded plastic box fitted into the exhaust to prevent water expelled from the engine from running back into the engine when it stops, vibrated free from its mounting and lodged next to the gearbox coupling. The rapidly revolving coupling quickly wore a hole through the plastic allowing much of the water drawn in from the canal to cool the engine to fill my bilge rather than return, slightly warmer than when it arrived, back into the canal.

I managed to limp to Streethay Wharf where they found and fitted a second hand water lock and manufactured a steel basket to sit it in so I wouldn’t have the same problem again.

Three months later a hole blew through a weakness in the second hand water lock so I was back to square one. Streethay Wharf brought me a new Vetus water lock – £140 – to me at my temporary mooring in the middle of Rugby.

All was well for a couple of weeks until a worn impeller resulted in a very much reduced water flow through my heat exchanger and much increased pressure which blew the water lock off my exhaust again resulting in an engine bay filled with canal water.

I managed to get back from Braunston to Calcutt Boats where the impeller was replaced and normal service was resumed, or so I thought.

The exhaust is making quite a racket. Calcutt Boats owner Roger Preen suggested that the new water lock may have been fitted the wrong way around so I decided to check it out on Monday.

Once I removed the box from the bowels of the engine bay I could see markings clearly stamped in the plastic indicating the right direction. It was positioned correctly so that wasn’t the cause of the noise.

While I had the box off, I noticed something which certainly isn’t going to help supress the noise. The reduced water flow because of the damaged impeller resulted in much increased exhaust heat which partially melted the water lock where the exhaust hose is attached. The water lock is still holding water but I don’t know how much has melted inside it and what effect that might have had on the water lock’s efficiency.

I just need it to do its job for another couple of weeks. I’m hoping to have the conversion from raw water to keel cooling done before I head down to Uxbridge on 7th November in time to meet Cynthia’s flight into Heathrow on Friday 13th. Fortunately I’m not superstitious so I’ll be breaking mirrors with black cats on my way to meet her.

As part of the conversion I’m going to have a hospital silencer fitted to reduce the engine noise to the faintest whisper, or as faint a whisper as it’s possible to achieve with a thirty eight year old Mercedes. I’ve been told that a hospital silencer is so named because it is wrapped in a blanket just like a hospital patient. I’m not sure that I believe it, but I hope it’s true.

Unfortunately a hospital silencer isn’t much smaller than a blanket wrapped patient. The one I want to fit needs a space three feet long to fit the 12” diameter cylinder. I borrowed one from Calcutt Boats’ chandlery to see if it would fit, but after carrying the heavy silencer over the lock gates and along to my boat, I realised it was too heavy and bulky to lower into the engine bay on my own to check for the required amount of space.

As ever, I’ll leave it to the experts to work out. If that won’t fit, I’ll go for the slightly smaller and less quiet version.

One other small but important job to do while the boat is out of the water having the new skin tank fitted is to replace my rather worn rudder cup.

The heavy rudder, very heavy in my case, rests in the tight fitting cup at the end of the skeg, the horizontal steel bar running under the propeller from the base of the rudder to the boat’s base plate. Thirty eight years of a weighty rudder pivoting in this cup has produced inevitable wear and tear. So much so that there is now a quarter inch gap between post and cup. If I turn the rudder sharply I can feel the rudder move slightly and hear it scrape noisily across the cup.

The cup will need cutting off and then a new cup made and welded in place to fit the rudder post snuggly. One more item ticked off my now very short refurbishment list.

From Monday to Thursday I enjoyed my first proper rest since I began my manic must-go-everywhere-and-see-and-do-everything cruising regime in April this year.

I moored above Calcutt top lock and stayed there for four days until my next scheduled discovery day on Friday. I didn’t even run my engine for three days which gave me ample opportunity to test my recently purchased Hozelock Porta Shower. I LOVE it!

The 7l Hozelock shower is a joy to use. I was convinced that seven litres would be far too little water for an effective shower so the first time I used it I filled my kettle to the brim, boiled the contents then tipped them into the shower bottle and then boiled my kettle a second time to ensure I had plenty of hot water. I didn’t need the second kettle full.

When using the porta shower you have to adopt the “submarine” technique. You wet yourself, turn off the shower, soap yourself thoroughly and then turn on the shower again to rinse off the soap. The porta shower helps you to shower this way because the spring loaded trigger turns the water spray off as soon as you let go.

Seven litres was actually too much. The boater who told me about the Hozelock shower insisted that he only needed three litres to shower. I didn’t think an effective shower was possible using so little water but he was right. I actually used five litres but only because I didn’t want to waste any of my painstakingly boiled hot water.

I also learned not to pressurise the vessel while standing in the galley unless I want to wash my floor at the same time. There’s a leak at the trigger.

All in all, the Hozelock Porta Shower is a great find. If I manage my power very carefully during bright summer months I can stay for extended periods without having to run my engine for battery charging courtesy of my 300w solar array. Unfortunately I can’t heat water in the same way. Now I don’t need to bother. Ten minute’s gas supply to boil a full kettle does the job very nicely.

During my four day stay on the same mooring I was able to assess my power usage more accurately.

From April this year I’ve been cruising continuously. The longest I’ve stayed in one spot has been two days before cruising for two or more hours the following day. I haven’t needed to conserve my power because the engine’s been running and therefore charging my batteries while I’ve been on the move.

I have four 160ah AGM batteries in my domestic bank. I replaced my old 135ah lead acid batteries in January this year with the larger capacity AGMs because the new batteries should last three times as long as lead acid batteries but only cost twice as much, and because they are maintenance free.

Boat battery banks aren’t always fitted in the easiest of places to reach in an often cramped engine room. Unscrewing the tops and then peering in aided by a torch to check if they need topping up is often difficult to do so the likelihood is that this task will not be done regularly or even at all thereby drastically reducing the battery bank’s life. My fit and forget batteries remove yet another tedious maintenance task.

One of the most useful improvements I’ve made to my boat is to have a Smartgauge battery monitor installed. It’s been fitted in the bulkhead between my bedroom and the engine room facing into the bedroom. At the touch of a button I can see the battery bank’s capacity whenever I want. I usually check two or three times a day.

I have to admit to being a little wasteful with my on board power at the moment. I haven’t really needed to conserve it with the amount of cruising and therefore engine running and battery charging I’ve done this year. I also have a 300w solar array helping to keep my battery bank charged.

My 1600w inverter is turned usually turned on from the time I’m out of bed at 5am until I turn in at 10pm. My laptop is on all day, I watch a couple of hours each night on my 240v television and I blitz the boat for ten minutes each morning with my 1100w Draper vacuum cleaner. My 12v fridge is on all day, every day.

Each day I use roughly 10% of my battery bank’s capacity. I need to run my engine for two hours to top the bank up to 100% again. Over my four days without moving I ran the engine on one day for two hours.

Before I set off on Friday’s discovery day cruise, my battery bank capacity was down to 69%. After seven hours cruising I just reached 100% before I stopped for the day.

My engine uses 1.35 litres of diesel per hour. If I buy my fuel at Calcutt Boats where the current diesel cost is 113p for propulsion and 65p for heating and if I buy it at the default split of 60/40 (sixty per cent propulsion/forty per cent heating) a litre of diesel will cost me 93.8p or £1.27 per engine running hour. My batteries therefore cost roughly £2.50 per day to charge.

I don’t know the difference between my fuel consumption when at rest for battery charging or when I’m actually cruising, but I don’t think it’s much at all. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I have to run my engine on average for two hours each day anyway I might as well use it to cruise and enjoy the variety the inland waterways network has to offer.

I have four more discovery days to do followed by my engine cooling system conversion before I can begin cruising again in earnest. Then I’m heading south towards London on my 174 mile, 180 lock return trip to Heathrow to pick up Cynthia and her two basset hounds Tasha and Bromley. Just for once on my boating cruises my focus will be on my destination rather than my journey.

My apologies for not adding any photo’s this week. Time, or lack of it, defeated me. Here’s one which Cynthia took which I thought you might like. It was taken on 28th September on our mooring at the base of Crack’s Hill near Crick. How’s that for a view out of your kitchen window?

Sunset over Crick

Sunset over Crick

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

 

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. ou 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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary
1

2015 10 11 Newsletter – Catastrophic Overheating and Bilge Flooding

Another week has flashed by. Another week of tranquil cruising combined with a day of unusual stress for me. My engine is a little smoky but generally very reliable. However, it’s nearly forty years old so needs a little TLC now and again.

Sunday started well enough. Carl, my single discovery day guest, arrived just before 8am. We chatted over a coffee, spent an hour walking through my boat discussing the pros and cons of my floating home’s design, layout and on board equipment, then started the engine and set off on our gentle cruise towards Braunston six miles away.

I have a pigeon box on the roof two feet forward of my rear hatch. It has three gauges set in it, oil pressure, and engine speed and engine temperature. These gauges are positioned perfectly. On many boats the gauges, if there are any, are often tucked away on a panel out of sight. Having the gauges on the roof in front of me means that I can constantly glance at them while I am cruising.

The oil pressure gauge has never worked but, to tell you the truth, I don’t understand what oil pressure is so it’s not much use to me. I refer to the other two gauges all of the time. I’ve used a walking app on my iPhone to work out my boat’s speed through the water at different engine speeds so I use the tachometer as a reasonably accurate speedometer. The most important gauge to me though is the engine temperature.

My engine temperature is usually spot on seventy degrees but over the last three or four weeks I’ve noticed the engine running ten or fifteen degrees warmer at 1,500rpm, my normal cruising speed.

On Sunday as we moved slowly from my mooring near Calcutt Top lock and then crept past a line of boats on long term moorings close to Napton Junction I noticed the temperature steadily rising. I also noticed that there was far less water than normal being expelled from the exhaust.

By the time we reached the junction the temperature had reached eighty degrees. A mile later it was heading north of ninety degrees. We needed to stop, let the engine cool down and allow me to use my almost non-existent mechanical knowledge to look for a solution.

Looking for a solution didn’t take me long because I didn’t really have any idea what to look for. Increased engine temperature can often be an indicator of a fouled propeller. I decided to check the prop but I didn’t really expect it to be the cause. Increased engine temperature is just one of several indicators. Vibration through the tiller, dark exhaust smoke and loss of power often accompany temperature increase. I hadn’t noticed any of these.

Lifting the rear deck hatch to access the weed hatch beneath I unscrewed the locking bar holding the hatch securely in place, removed the heavy steel hatch then lay down on the back deck so I could reach elbow deep into the murky water for the propeller. I removed a fistful of plastic, but not nearly enough to cause me any problems.

Next on my very short list was to check the mud box. My engine is raw water cooled so water is drawn into the engine from the canal. The cold canal water passes through a heat exchanger before being spat very noisily back into the canal several degrees warmer via the wet exhaust.

Before the canal water reaches the heat exchanger it passes through a mud box which allows any mud and, I dare say, bits of decaying badger and rabbit to fall away. When cruising in murky waterways the mud box can fill and impede the water flow to the heat exchanger.

I loosened the three nuts holding the mud box lid in place, tightened them up quickly as canal water jetted into the bilge, did what I should have done in the first place and closed the sea cock so my boat wouldn’t sink when I removed the mud box lid, undid the nuts again and removed the lid.

Up to my elbows in canal water again I checked for any blockages. The steel cylinder was completely free of any silt deposits so I put everything back together again and scratched my head.

Last on my list was to check the water pump belt to ensure that it hadn’t either snapped or loosened. It did appear to be slightly loose so I did what I always so in situations like this and ignored it.

Because I couldn’t think of anything else to check I turned the engine back on to see if it had fixed itself. Much to my surprise the water flow from the exhaust had increased and the temperature decreased to close to normal.

We carried on with our cruise at a leisurely pace running at a slightly higher but safe temperature until we reached our midway point and a three point turn in the entrance to Braunston marina close to the Gongoozer’s Rest café boat. They do wonderful cheese and onion toasted sandwiches if you’re passing.

Gongoozlers Rest cafe Braunston

Gongoozlers Rest cafe Braunston

Turning the boat means a bit of engine revving in both forward in reverse. It was this which appeared to stop canal water running through the heat exchanger completely.

With the engine temperature ever increasing we managed to find a free mooring opposite the Boat House pub. If you don’t fancy a cheese and onion toastie at the Gongoozler’s Rest, the Boat House has an extensive menu with a permanent two for one offer. They’ve just introduced extra large meals to ensure that you can’t fit through your boat’s narrow doorways.

We had lunch while the engine prepared itself for another six miles of slow cruising. After half and hour’s rest the raw water flowed again but, again, as we moved off the temperature steadily increased as did the breeze which made cruising slowly more of a challenge.

An hour later I was on the phone to Calcutt Boats asking if they would have an engineer handy to tighten my water pump belt. With my extensive engineering knowledge I had convinced myself that this was the problem. Ever obliging, they agreed but before I could finish the call events took a turn for the worse.

Carl had been confidently and competently bringing the boat around a tight bend when the strengthening breeze caught us. If we had been moving a little more quickly through the water we would have been fine but the wind pushed us against the concrete towpath edging and as I put the boat into reverse to stop us and prevent us from grinding against the stone, there was a loud bang followed by a from the engine beneath our feet followed shortly by billowing smoke.

Ever the action hero I quickly turned off the engine and thought seriously about climbing into my warm and comfortable bed, pulling the duvet over my head and crying my eyes out. As I had company I decided against that course of action, lifted the boards over the engine and looked for the cause of both noise and smoke and a possible solution.

Much to my surprise I found both cause and remedy almost immediately.

Both the exhaust gasses and the heated water from the heat exchanger pass through an exhaust hose via a waterlock. The plastic box stops water from flowing back into the engine and damaging it when the engine stops. My recently fitted waterlock, a replacement for its holed predecessor bought second hand from Streethay Wharf five months ago, had blown off the jubilee clip securing it to the exhaust and filled my bilge with canal water and my engine room with acrid smoke.

Fortunately I used to be a boy scout – before I was thrown out for disrupting other boy scouts – so always try to have equipment on board for all kinds of emergencies. In this case the emergency equipment was my little Draper wet and dry vacuum. Within fifteen minutes we had sucked twenty loads of water out of the bilge and reattached the misbehaving waterlock, cast off and continued our slow and painful journey towards salvation at Calcutt Boats.

At Napton Junction ten minutes cruising from the Calcutt flight I called Steven Cox in Calcutt Boats’ office to find that the engineer I was hoping to help me out was just leaving for the day. Fortunately for me my boating guardian angel, Russ Fincham, was still on duty.

Russ has helped me out more times than I care to remember. All consuming problems which have almost reduced me to a gibbering wreck have taken him no time at all to resolve. On my first trip out of the marina the boat broke down at Braunston. He came out to me during his Christmas break, correctly diagnosed a blocked fuel filter, cleaned it, bled the system and wished me bon voyage. He’s also rebuilt a rotten weed hatch, made me a mast for my old WiFi dongle, fitted my shower, television aerial, fitted my new calorifier and ensured that it was fed with gallons of hot water from a reluctant engine, fitted another calorifier when the first one sprung a leak (the manufacturers fault) and last but not least, organised a coat of primer to be added to my cabin when the boat was transported back to the marina by road after having the cabin over plated. Oh, and I nearly forgot, he also likes to show me the testicles he keeps hidden beneath loosely elasticated swimming shorts at the end of Southern Comfort fuelled late night Calcutt Boats summer barbecues. His generosity knows no bounds.

Russ was waiting for me at the water point next to Calcutt top lock carrying a roll of spanners and a look of grim determination. He listened to my half-witted diagnostic, instantly checked and dismissed the water pump belt as a possible cause, asked when I had last changed my impeller then quickly whipped it out. The impeller that is. This wasn’t barbecue night!

At the time I didn’t have a clue when the impeller was last changed but I’ve just checked. It was replaced two and a half years and 1,500 hours ago. I think I’ll keep a spare on board in future.

My broken impeller

My broken impeller

Here’s my impeller. See the broken fin next to my thumb? That’s all the damage needed to stop the impeller from working. I fetched a new impeller from Calcutt’s well stocked chandlery, Russ swapped it over and five minutes later the usual volume of water was spurting noisily from my exhaust and the engine temperature dropped almost immediately to its normal seventy degrees, so the rest of Carl’s discovery day continued a little later than planned but without an overheating engine.

After Sunday’s challenge I’m now committed to at least resolving the issues with my raw water cooling and eliminating the infernal racket from the wet exhaust.

Calcutt Boats’owner Roger Preen suggested that the exhaust noise might be due to the recently changed waterlock being fitted the wrong way round. He told me that if I equip myself with a magnifying glass and a powerful torch, I should be able to find arrows etched into the waterlock’s plastic indicating the correct positioning. I have a few days free at the beginning of next week so I’ll check it carefully then reposition it if necessary.

Even if I manage to reduce the exhaust noise, the raw water cooling system has to go. The waterlock has now failed twice and blown off the exhaust once, each time filling the bilge with a disturbingly large volume of water which I’ve been fortunate enough to spot before the rising level found its way into the cabin.

Apart from these three failures I’m constantly worried about blockages. Water is drawn into the boat via a fine meshed grill on the swim. There’s a chance of this mesh blocking and impeding or stopping water reaching the heat exchanger. Once through the grill the sometimes silt laden canal water passes through a mud box where the water flow can be further impeded if the box fills with silt. The mud box is difficult to access and a pain to empty unless you’re as slim and lithe as an eel.

The solution is to switch to keel cooling which will simplify and possibly improve engine cooling and remove the exhaust noise, especially if I have a hospital silencer fitted. To convert to keel cooling I need have a slim water tank, a skin tank, fitted on my swim, the tapering section of the hull on the stern close to the propeller.

I understand the conversion itself is pretty straightforward. The skin tank’s manufacture and fitting, taking the boat out of the water for it to be fitted and the other necessary modifications will cost me just over £1,000 but worth every penny if it reduces both noise and worry, and the frequent offers of a tea bag from passing boaters when they hear my exhaust hissing like a boiling kettle.

The rest of the week was problem free. The days are cooler now but still very pleasant despite an occasional drenching from heavy showers. The usual autumn winds have yet to put in an appearance and plague the owners of flat bottomed narrowboats but I’m sure they’ll be along shortly.

On Friday I spent half an hour chatting to the owner of the boat which has been moored in front of me for the last week. The retired Grand Union Leicester Line lock keeper was talking about his solar panels and how they allow him to moor for a week at a time without having to run his engine for battery charging. “But what do you do about hot water?” I asked. There are several options available to off grid boaters including gas powered water heaters and diesel heating systems plumbed in to the boat’s calorifier, but this guy had a simple, low cost and very effective solution.

His face lit up as he dashed into his boat and returned minutes later with one of his favourite boating toys. Here it is…

Hozelock Porta Shower

Hozelock Porta Shower

It’s a Hozelock 4 in 1 Porta Shower. The bottle holds five litres. He assured me that five litres is more than enough for a shower. In fact he claimed that two to three litres does the job.

A large kettle sits permanently on top of his solid fuel stove so he half fills the bottle with near boiling water, adds the required amount of cold water, pumps the handle twenty times to pressurise the vessel – taking care to pump the handle outside his shower cubicle’s frosted glass in case his wife jumps to the wrong conclusion – and then steps into his shower cubicle to clean his dirty body.

The hand held spray head allows you to reach parts not normally accessible to wall mounted showers, saves valuable water when you want to stay of extended periods on idyllic moorings, and saves considerable diesel expense and engine wear and tear.

I ordered one from Amazon immediately. Unfortunately I can’t keep a kettle of hot water on my stove because of its rubbish design but putting the kettle on my gas hob for five minutes will be much quicker and cheaper than running my engine for an hour.

The Porta Shower arrived yesterday. I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet but I’ll tell you how I fared in next week’s newsletter.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

Cruising Guides

Did you know that the forum has a Cruising guide section? There’s an ever growing volume of very useful information here. Information which you won’t find in the popular Pearson and Nicholson guides. Recent additions are parts one and two of Peter Early’s guide to the Great Ouse and some essential advice from Richardhula if you’re considering taking a longer boat on the short locked Calder & Hebble navigation.

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’m running the discovery days approximately on the first ten days of August, October and December this year. As summer approaches more and more site users are booking the relatively few discovery days still available. August onwards is still relatively free. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day please check the diary before it’s too late.

Update 11th October 2015

My Next batch of discovery days are at the beginning of December. The experience days offer you a unique opportunity to experience life on the cut at a cooler but far more peaceful time of the year than in the summer. 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.  If you want to  see the available dates for October onward click here.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Ken Sharratt.

“I’ve thought about living on a narrowboat on and off for the last twenty years but through commitments, events and various other things I have never done anything about it until now. Over the last seven or eight months I have started  researching the subject and it has gradually gained momentum, from reading magazines and e-books, the internet and looking round boats to figure out what I wanted.

The first e-book I came across was written by Paul, called “Living on a Narrowboat” (part of the Narrowbudget Gold package of three guides and a bespoke narrowboat budget calculator). I found this invaluable in giving me a realistic view of the life I am aiming for and has definitely added to my growing knowledge. To my surprise I started receiving a newsletter in my inbox which covers all things related to narrowboats from life to composting toilets which I was quite impressed with. I noticed the information about the Discovery day after reading one of these.

I thought, if I’m going to change the direction of my life and spend quite a bit of money doing it, the discovery day sounded like a good way of starting to find out if my expectations matched the reality of everything involved with it.

I wasn’t disappointed. Paul is very easy to get along with. He made us welcome from the start and provided a steady supply of tea throughout the day. It was a very enjoyable and productive day for me. He made me re-evaluate a few things and was remarkably relaxed about sailing off downstream  with his home in Fairly inexperienced hands. He was there at hand though to provide advice, instruction and direction and the odd hands on correction when absolutely necessary.

I would recommend that anyone considering taking to the water should read the book and go on one of these discovery days. They will definitely shorten the time spent on their learner curve and possibly avert a costly or disastrous decision from being made.

I am currently in the process of getting my house ready for sale. The builder should be here in a few weeks, then the decorator and after that the estate agent, so hopefully it’s going to be early next year when it’s sold and I can buy the boat that’s waiting for me out there with my name it.”

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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary
1 2 3 6