Learn about life afloat the easy way

Life on a narrowboat can be as peaceful as it is idyllic BUT you need to understand the pros, cons, highs, lows, and day to day logistics in living on England's inland waterways. Let me help you find out all you need to know before you commit to what could be a very expensive mistake.


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2016 02 28 Newsletter – Narrowboat Communication

Excuse me while I take a minute to wash my hands. I’ve had an unexpectedly energetic start to the day.

For the last month, Sunday has been omelette day. Cynthia creates something wonderful and different every week. The fluffy mixture of herbs, spices and vegetables is always accompanied by a fresh baked croissant or two.

Cynthia's Breakfast Omelette

Cynthia’s Breakfast Omelette

This morning Cynthia left me to my own devices while she drove two miles to Napton’s vibrant village store to buy three hot-from-the-oven croissants. I was busy writing today’s newsletter so I didn’t realise that she had been away for much longer than usual until an angry rap on the window signalled something awry.

Cynthia had tried to phone me repeatedly. My phone was still in night time silent mode so I didn’t notice. Our old Mercedes rear offside tire had spectacularly deflated leaving her half way across a busy intersection with a wheel rim gouging the Tarmac.

She left the car on a grass verge close to the junction, persuaded a kind hearted passing lady motorist to give her a lift back to the marina, and then marched back to the boat to fetch her presumably deaf husband-to-be.

Changing a car wheel is just about within my capabilities so, after an interesting march back to the car past hyperthermic anglers waiting for reservoir carp to bite, and then through waterlogged and ice covered fields to the main road, we swapped wheels before heading back for breakfast.

It was a busy start to a day at the end of a very interesting week. Sadly, the week didn’t include any cruising. Cynthia has been waiting anxiously for a very important package from the States. We think it has now arrived but, as with many of the trans Atlantic packages she receives, there is a fortune in duty to pay. We’ve received written notification that the package is being held at the local Royal Mail sorting office. Hopefully we’ll pick it up on Monday.

Our week was stationary but momentous and life changing. It was a week wracked by much soul searching and debate. A week of deep and meaningful conversation as Cynthia and I mulled over the fragility of life and how our own health may disrupt our long term plans. We reached a decision and embarked on a week of checking pockets, piggy banks, under the sofa cushions and, ultimately, our joint pension pots.

After a wet and occasionally snowy drive on Friday to Oaktree Motorhomes near Nottingham, followed by two hours examining one hundred and eighty six feet of imaginatively designed living space, we negotiated a price for our new winter accommodation, a Hymer B754 motorhome.

We weren’t going to buy one until the autumn but, after determining that hiring one for two weeks for our fast approaching honeymoon road trip would cost us the best part of £2,000, we decided to invest in one now.

We think we have found a bargain. The Hymer B754 is very well respected by motorhome aficionados. It’s well designed, robust and, after a little enthusiastic negotiation, will be fully equipped for full time wild camping. Wild camping is the term given by motorhome owners to the practice of stopping for the night away from official camp sites. As official campsites can cost £15-20 per night and wild camping costs nothing, wild camping is certainly the way to go for us.

Thanks to the company advertising the vehicle on the internet for £1,000 less than they listed it on their showroom forecourt, and also advertising that it had an oven and grill when it didn’t, they further discounted the price for us. We are both very happy with the deal.

Now we’re considering the logistics of living for extended periods on the road. I’ve come to the conclusion that narrowboat owners living on the canals full time don’t have to overcome as many hurdles.

Our Hymer is one of the larger motorhomes you’ll see in the UK. It’s nothing compared to the monster wheeled palaces available in the States, or even the big buses sometimes seen on mainland Europe, but it’s large by English standards. Even so, we will have less than two hundred square feet of living space compared to three hundred square feet in our 62’ long traditional stern narrowboat.

The motorhome’s living space is small, but storage space isn’t an issue. There are cupboards and compartments everywhere. Our problem isn’t finding space to store all that we want to take with us, but being able to carry all of our possessions without exceeding the legal payload.

Payload isn’t an issue on a narrowboat. You can overload a narrowboat if you really try, but you’re unlikely to come close with everyday household appliances, cutlery, crockery, cookware and clothing.

Many motorhomes travel overloaded, especially those with bicycles and motorbikes hanging from rear racks. We’re going to have the vehicle weighed empty and then weighed again with all of our gear on board. The Hymer has a generous payload so we should be within the limits, but I would rather be safe than sorry.

There are considerable differences with electricity production, storage and use. Motorhoming is closer to camping than living in a narrowboat. Most liveaboard narrowboats have three, four or more leisure batteries. Most motorhomes have one or two. Given that we will spend most of our time under cloudless skies and that we will have two leisure batteries topped up by a solar panel, I can’t see a problem.

A hurdle which we have yet to overcome is communication while travelling and travelling in general.

Connection to the internet is very important to me. The plan is to remain on the inland waterways for six months of the year, but then head south to escape winter weather. I’ll continue blogging throughout the year so I’ll need an internet connection so that I can keep on top of my site work and manage my discovery day bookings.

On the boat, internet connectivity is simple.

I use a Three MiFi dongle which I have fixed to the inside of my office window with double sided tape. It works very well indeed. I cruised continuously last year around the Midlands, down onto the Thames as far as Lechlade, and into north Wales at Llangollen.

I’ve enjoyed a reasonable internet connection on all but two days; once at the Crick Boat Show when we were hemmed in by dozens of other boats, and once in a deep cutting on the Shropshire Union canal.

Most live aboard boaters appear to use Three’s mobile broadband service. It’s simple and it works.

Mobile broadband connectivity on the continent appears to be much more complicated. I’ve read of motorhome owners keeping a wallet full of sim cards for different service providers across Europe. Three’s “Feel at Home” service appears to fit the bill. They offer a seamless broadband service in EU countries at no extra charge. I don’t know how robust their service in Europe is yet, or whether there are any charges which I have missed, but they are a good starting point.

Providing that we have a decent internet signal, telephone calls shouldn’t be a problem either. Both Cynthia and I have an iPhone 5s. Mine works. Cynthia’s doesn’t. She embraced living on the inland waterways fully last week when she hurled both her iPhone and her iPad into the canal. At least the iPad survived. We both have phones but we won’t have to worry about prohibitively expensive roaming charges. We’ll use internet telephony via Skype instead.

We haven’t quite worked out what to do about parcel delivery yet. In the UK the Royal Mail’s Poste Restante service works reasonably well. You can have post forwarded to participating post offices along your route. They’ll keep packages posted within the UK for two weeks, and overseas parcels for a month. We don’t want to tie ourselves to one spot for too long so we’re going to try to stockpile essential supplies before we go. Neither of us use prescription medication but our vitamin supplements will need some thinking about.

We haven’t yet addressed the possible need for medical assistance abroad yet, food or medical care for a very well treated basset hound, how to deal with toxic processionary caterpillars, wide vehicles on impossibly narrow streets, motorway car park thieves, overcrowded campsites, vehicle breakdowns or a host of other problems which are easy to solve in the UK.

Fortunately we have six months to find out before we begin our 4,500km drive through France, Portugal and then down to southern Spain. In the meantime, we have some cruising to do. I am very frustrated that we haven’t been able to move already. Planning our forthcoming wedding, and now organising and equipping the Hymer, has understandably delayed us. The cruising season is starting without us, but we’re going to try very hard to catch up.

Cynthia says—–

Taking risks, making our dreams come true……

This past Friday we took a leap of faith and made one of our shared dreams come true—we looked at and bought a motorhome!  The previous evening we had both been researching vehicles, and after thoroughly combing through the adds for used German Frankia motor homes and not coming up with a suitable vehicle in our price range, I turned to the ads for used German Hymer motor homes, which are on a par quality-wise with  Frankia.  I had perused several ads and then my eyes fell upon one that showed a table and comfy chair behind the passenger seat.  The image that immediately came to mind was of Paul ensconced there writing the newsletter and tending to his other internet business.  Then I noticed it was left hand drive, and that kind of sealed it for me.  I showed it to Paul, he asked when I would like to see it.  I told him tomorrow and away we went…..

We spent about three hours on the vehicle and Paul took it for a test drive.  We fell in love and the price was right.  We have started building our “To Do” and “To Buy” lists and are making the necessary arrangements to pick it up on Monday 14 March.  The maiden voyage will be our wedding trip/honeymoon along the coast of Scotland.  A great “shakedown cruise” as they say in the sailing world.

My beloved father taught me about taking risks early on and I am thankful every day for his example of a wonderful way to live my life.  I have many dreams and the older I get, the more of them have come true.  These many dreams wouldn’t have come true had I not followed my heart–that little voice inside that tells us what we should and shouldn’t do.  I listen to it carefully and it never lets me down.

The biggest risk of all (there is a book of the same title by Walter Anderson that speaks to this—hard to find, but a very worthy read) states that the biggest risk is being honest with ones self.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But the deeper you dig into this the more meaning there is to take away and apply to your life.

After the loss of my late former husband in 1999 (he died when the MiG 21 he was flying crashed into the ocean due to a catastrophic aircraft failure), I found out how precious life is and I found myself not only taking more risks, but coming up with more dreams.  Many of these have come true over the years, with the greatest of these this past year in September when Paul and I came together and decided we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.  I most willingly gave up the life I had in the states, along with the vast majority of my possessions.  I moved here to live on James and embrace the life I have been longing for.  Did I have fears centered around this new life with a new person?  Of course I did, but I took a leap of faith and forged ahead to make the dream come true.  I have no regrets and have not looked back.

Many of my friends and family members thought I was somewhat demented for doing this, but I went ahead and followed my heart to do what I felt was right for ME.  I understand it can be very difficult to go “against the grain” so to speak and do what is right for you when there is so much at stake.  One must believe in oneself and take the bull by the horns.  Life is too short, and I long ago promised myself that I would live a full and complete life and follow my dreams.  Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.

So.  Here I am with the love of my life, following those dreams.  We both adore the outdoors and exploring new environs.  We chatter like small children about all the things we wish to see and do.  I have full faith that when the end does come we shall have no regrets.  I wish this for each of you reading this–go forward and seize the day–Carpe Diem!!

PS For those who have written me about downsizing, I wanted to pass this on–here is the book I used to help me in my quest to live with less– “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo.  This lady hits the nail on the head.  For those of you who decide to read it please get back to me and share your thoughts.

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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.  I realised this morning that I hadn’t added all of my dates for the first half of the year. All the dates for April and June are there now. 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.

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Please Help Keep This Site Online

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


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Paul Smith
 

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia now wander Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 32' Dutch motor cruiser.

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