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


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2016 0313 Newsletter – Complete Narrowboat Costs for 2015

We finally left our mooring at Calcutt Boats at 5.30pm on Monday. We spent most of the day before we left taking advantage of having a car parked close to the boat. We shopped till we dropped, and then we shopped some more. We stocked up on dry goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, bottled water, coal, gas, diesel, water, and anything else we could think of before setting sail towards our first goal of the cruising season, the Ashby canal.

I last cruised to the canal’s northern terminus four years ago, six months after spending three weeks repainting the cabin. I remember how nervous I felt negotiating the narrow canal and trying to avoid the offside blackthorn, hawthorn and brambles. Four years and many boat miles later, the occasional scratch isn’t quite so worrying.

We cruised for an hour through the gathering dusk. Just before we moored for the evening, we watched a barn owl flutter moth-like across the canal into a stand of oak on our port side. We tied up under a bankside willow, turned off the engine and basked in the unfamiliar silence after three months bombarded by boatyard noises and constant yapping from a six dog boat moored close to us.

We stayed there all day so that I could work on a variety of internet projects with the eternal hope that I can continue to earn enough to support this wonderfully relaxing lifestyle. Cynthia pottered around on the boat and took a joyous Tasha for a leisurely walk along the towpath and into nearby fields.

That evening we fell asleep to the sound of heavy rain dripping off the bare willow branches above us and plopping on the roof above. Torrential rain fell all night but, because I find it a particularly relaxing sound, I slept through it all.

We woke the following morning at 7am. I stepped out of bed for a not-so-early morning wee and promptly fell over. The boat was listing at least twenty degrees to port.

Cynthia climbed of bed and joined me in a heap on the floor. Because I am the font of all knowledge, she asked why the boat had developed such a pronounced list overnight. Because of the problems I’ve had in the past, the answer sprung to mind immediately.

I told her that I had made a mistake mooring under the willow. The heavy overnight rain had poured off the tree, raced down the boat roof towards the stern, cascaded onto the small back deck, overflowed the tiny drain in the channel beneath the rear deck hatch and flooded into the engine bay.

I leaped into action, fell over again a couple of times, dressed as quickly as possible, and then climbed into the engine room to inspect the damage. There was certainly some water in the bilge, but possibly not enough to cause such a list on a twenty tonne boat.

I keep a Draper wet and dry vacuum in the engine bay for general maintenance and emergency liquid removal. As I thought we were possibly close to sinking or turning turtle I was relieved to have the little vacuum handy. Relieved until I discovered that, even though the motor was running, the vacuum wasn’t picking anything up.

I threw the useless piece of plastic on the towpath, dug out a bucket and measuring jug, then began bailing furiously.

I didn’t have to bail for very long before I had removed all but a dribble from the bilge. A bilge which was still sloping at the same angle as it had been before I removed any water. It was only then that I noticed the glaringly obvious.

Unusually, the level of water in the canal had risen by at least five inches overnight. As usual on the canals I had my mooring lines taut. As the canal level rose under the boat, the starboard side came up but the boat’s port side remained in place.

Fortunately I use a non binding knot when I moor. The lighterman’s hitch is simple to free even when it’s under load. I undid one loop, the boat’s port side rose like a cork to join the rest of the boat, and all was well with the world.

I must book myself on a course on how to spot the blindingly obvious.

I loved every minute of our three hour cruise on Wednesday morning. The canal was in a terrible state. The towpath was completely submerged for hundreds of metres at a time, flood water cascaded off Flecknoe’s hills, over ploughed fields, surged across the canal over the towpath and ran in torrents through the fields beneath us. Spotting unoccupied boats, or boats occupied by sleeping boaters, was easy. All listed dangerously towards the towpath, held down by too tight mooring lines.

A flooded towpath close to Braunston junction

A flooded towpath close to Braunston junction

My Guy Cotten waterproofs performed faultlessly. After an hour cruising through torrential rain, I arrived at Braunston’s Midland Chandlers bone dry, enjoyed a hot drink while I waited for them to open at 10am, and then popped in to buy a hand operated bilge pump. Cynthia told me that all sail boats keep one on board. After my wet vac failure, I thought I should do the same.

The rain continued as we cruised for another two hours to the three lock flight at Hillmorton. We had the canal to ourselves. The locks struggled to cope with the volume of water flowing down the canal. Fast flowing water surged over the top of the gates so we had to use the boat to cross from one side of the lock to the other.

Other than that, the half hour passage was uneventful. We stopped for the day on the visitor moorings below the flight then continued along a calmer and much lower canal the following morning.

We stopped briefly on the appalling visitor moorings close to Rugby’s retail parks to top up at Tesco. Doesn’t Rugby want boaters to stop? The visitor moorings are often empty for a very good reason. You have to be able to leap like a gazelle three feet across shallow water onto the often dog muck covered grass to reach the mooring rings. It’s such a shame after the effort and money which has been spent to develop the adjacent retail park.

After mooring close to Brinklow marina that night, we reached Hawkesbury junction by Friday lunchtime. We popped in for a bite to eat. Cynthia had to roll me along the towpath back to the boat after I demolished the biggest plateful of ribs I’ve ever seen. I ate a week’s worth of meat in one sitting and enjoyed every minute of it.

Cynthia holding back the crowds while I take the boat through

Cynthia holding back the crowds while I take the boat through

We cruised very slowly and carefully past this sunken boat just before the junction. There was little left of the burned out boat apart from the bow and stern lines which floated completely across the canal. It’s always heartbreaking to see the demise of what was probably a boat owner’s home.

A sunken boat at Hawkesbury junction

A sunken boat at Hawkesbury junction

We cruised on, first through the six inch stop lock at the junction, then past the GRP cruisers’ graveyard before making a very sharp and narrow right turn onto the Ashby canal.

We stopped for the night soon afterwards, out of sight but within earshot of the West Coast Main Line. We fell asleep to the constant rattle of passing trains. Our mooring wasn’t the most idyllic we could have chosen but, knowing that we would be able to enjoy tranquil moorings for the rest of our time on the canal, we didn’t mind too much.

Yesterday we cruised ten miles to our current mooring half a mile before Sutton Cheney Wharf. We bypassed urban Hinckley as quickly as possible, stopped for water at Lime Kilns, and then stopped for an hour to visit the Tomlinson’s farm shop close to bridge 25 opposite Ashby Boats.

Fresh vegetables at Tomlinsons farm shop

Fresh vegetables at Tomlinsons farm shop

Loaded with fresh vegetables, half a dozen duck eggs, and two cartons of local ice cream which didn’t make it past the farm shop car park, we returned to the boat for the day’s last half hour leg.

Maybe an ice cream wasn't a good idea

Maybe an ice cream wasn’t a good idea

Cynthia’s choice of mooring is perfect. The cafe and CRT facilities at Sutton Cheney Wharf and access to Bosworth Battlefield is only a ten minute walk away, but it’s far enough away from civilization to deter all but the most determined walkers. We have wonderful views either side of us, no neighbours, and no noise. I think we’ll have a rest day and explore the battlefield properly tomorrow. All of this relaxing is wearing me out.

Cynthia says…..

Adventuring we go…..

At 4:43 PM Monday the 7th of March we finally pulled anchor and set sail down the canal.  We had a bit of a late start due to shopping errands and the like, but we were both eager to depart and head for a change of scenery, even though we ended up mooring only an hour away from Calcutt.  We found a tranquil spot and tied James snuggly to the shore.

It was so nice there we ended up staying two nights.  After spending several intense hours going over our budget, I needed a break and Tasha needed a walk so off we went down the towpath.  I decided to let her go off leash and she would spend several minutes sniffing about then run like the dickens to catch up with me.  It was a lovely spot, and a great start to our current adventure.

That night we were pummelled with rain and it was like music to our ears as we drifted into a deep and restful slumber. You will have read Paul’s account of what happened the following morning as we woke up listing to port.  I remembered having a hand operated bilge pump on our various sailboats, and immediately went searching on the Internet for one.  Luckily we didn’t have to wait for mail service, as Paul was able to procure a dandy one at the chandlery in Braunston.

After breakfast we headed on foot into town to post a letter, and as we were leaving the Post Office, I spotted what appeared to be a delightful butcher shop across the road.  It looked to me like a movie set it was so picture perfect!  I felt like I had stepped back in time when England was known as a nation of shopkeepers. We ended up spending about half an hour there speaking with the proprietors and choosing some delectable items.  The chicken and mushroom pie we had for lunch turned out to be succulent and very tasty.  We will make another pass by there in the near future to stock up.

The rest of the day remained rather dreary, but certainly interesting as we witnessed the flood waters along the canal.  After completing the locks at Hillmorton, we found a suitable, albeit not so beautiful, place to moor for the night. The next day was rather uneventful, with a stop in Rugby to shop at Tesco.  Neither of us enjoy shopping in big box stores such as this, as we much prefer farm shops and health food stores and the like—any place small with a personal touch. We made the best of it and headed out.  We found another tranquil place for the remainder of the afternoon and night, and as Paul made haste with his work at the computer, Tasha and I headed out to explore the towpath.  We found a lovely dirt road to walk along that was actually devoid of puddles, and we enjoyed the lovely farm landscape, plucking a few wild daffodils to present to Paul as we made our way back.

The next day was warmer and brighter as the sun burned off the early morning fog.  We passed through a tiny swing bridge at Rose narrowboats which I found to be delightful.  As we made our way to our lunch stop at Hawkesbury Junction, we started the game of 20 questions and had a great time coming up with the names of obscure things and professions along with definitions of out-of-the-norm words.  One of my favourite words  is sesquipedalian.  Does anyone know what this means without looking it up?   We had great fun doing this, and will continue this game on future journeys.

We moored about a mile from our lunch destination, and had a pleasant walk along the canal.  It was on this stretch that we came upon the drowned narrowboat Paul mentioned.  I was glad he was able to get a good photo of it to share.

Paul had told me about The Greyhound Pub, and I was not disappointed.  It turned out to be the quintessential English pub and I was thoroughly enchanted!  I remarked to the waitress about how beautifully bright and spotless the brass and copper fixtures were, and was amazed to hear that a lady polished all of these things once a week!  Our lunch was delightful and we ambled slowly back to James so we could carry on with our journey.  That night we found a suitable, but not very quiet spot on the Ashby canal and we enjoyed a light supper followed by our usual night at the cinema (aka our bedroom!) where we enjoyed our favourite Doc Martin, and The Good Life.

The next day we made a stop to visit Tomlinson’s Farm Stand at Stoke Golding and our timing was perfect.  We met a couple heading down the towpath who offered to give us a ride there.  They were very kind, and the shop turned out to be quite delightful and we filled Paul’s rucksack to the brim and headed back to the boat to continue on.

Off we went and enjoyed the ever-beautiful venues as we made our way to Sutton Cheney.  We are both quite taken with our tranquil mooring spot and enjoyed our visit to Sutton wharf for a quick bite to eat, followed by a stroll through Bosworth Battlefield.  There is much to see and do there, but we were both a bit weary and will have to give it a further go in more depth in the future.

Today has been get-the-newsletter-out day,  with a brief respite when we took a stroll to drop off our rubbish at the wharf, followed by a sit on the bench outside our door.  We had a small treat of cheese and crackers whilst we read and watched the world go by.

I look forward to a good rest tonight before we eagerly set off on the next adventure tomorrow.  Can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend in the waterway!

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A breakdown of all my narrowboat expenses for 2015

My Narrowbudget Gold budgeting application comes preloaded with two workbooks; one populated with costs kindly provided by a live aboard boater who cruises continuously, and the other populated with my own expenses. I created the NB James workbook three years ago when I was working at Calcutt Boats full time and only cruising on high days and holidays.

I’ve just added a new workbook labelled NB James 2015. It includes all of my narrowboat expenses from last year. Last year was far different than the one I detailed in the original workbook. I continued to work for Calcutt Boats until 1st April and then cruised extensively and enthusiastically for the rest of the year. I cruised 1,700 miles and tackled 940 locks. Obviously I used much more fuel than I did when moored full time at the marina, but I also had to maintain and repair the boat far more too.

All of my expenses are broken down below, but you need to be logged in to your Narrowbudget Gold account to see most of it. If you haven’t yet invested in Narrowbudget Gold, just click on the link below. If you have already purchased Narrowbudget Gold, simply log in to your account then come back to this page.

My expenses may or may not be similar to yours. Narrowboat vary tremendously. They are different lengths, styles and configurations with different types of equipment and engines. There purpose differs widely too. A narrowboat used as a floating flat on a static mooring will have different equipment on board and incur different costs than one used for continuous off grid cruising.

My purpose here is to give you an idea of the costs. I have described how the costs apply to me in as much detail as possible so you can tailor them to meet your own requirements. Here they are…

Maintenance and Repairs

By far the largest expense category from last year was Repairs & Maintenance, but that’s because I’ve added the capital costs of a number of improvements I made. These included replacing my four 135ah leisure battery bank with more expensive but hopefully longer lasting AGM batteries, the services of a marine electrician for a day to tidy up some wiring, employing a carpenter to rebuild my engine room hatch, resolve a problem with two draughty side doors and build a bespoke sapele spice rack for Cynthia, fitting a diesel central heating system, converting my raw water engine cooling to keel cooling and, last but not least, removing the boat from the water to black and repaint the two tunnel flashes and replace the anodes. The cost of these improvements alone was £5,900.

On top of these capital costs, I paid for a number of visits by boatyard engineers to fix things that I couldn’t fix myself (just about everything actually). The total for these visits and the required parts was £1,200. The work included two separate fixes for my aging and ailing raw water cooling system before I finally had it modified to keel cooling at the end of the year.

Here are the repair and maintenance purchases.

Velcro tape – After the magnetic tape failed on my new secondary double glazing panels I resorted to a combination of Velcro tape and screws through the panel corners into the window frames.

Key safe – A wonderful idea. The key safe is bolted to the forward bulkhead next to the front doors. If I forget my keys, which I have done three or four times since the key safe was fitted, I have an easy to access but very secure set of spares.

Fuel filter and anti freeze – For engine servicing

Air filter – I purchased a ridiculously expensive new air filter for my aged Mercedes engine following an engineer’s advice. I wasted £100. All I needed to do was soak my old stainless steel air filter in petrol overnight to remove the accumulated dirt.

Nitrile disposable gloves – Used regularly for dirty engine room jobs and for painting.

Heat exchanger hose – I’ve now replaced all of the engine’s perished hoses.

Bilge paint and spray – Not one of my best ideas. I can’t remember the brand name but this stuff is used to spray the underside of cars to stop corrosion. It’s not a good idea for boat bilges because it doesn’t go off, which is a nightmare if you need to stand in the bilge to work on the engine.

12v cabin fan – I redeemed myself here. My stove has a double top plate so I can’t use an Ecofan to push stove heat towards the back of the boat. The new 12v fan is fixed to the cabin roof in line with the central walkway. When it’s on, the temperature in the back cabin increases by five degrees.

Engine degreaser – A treat for my engine. I may not know how to fix the thing, but I’m quite good at keeping it clean.

Kneel pad – I use this every day in warmer weather. I usually sit on the cabin roof next to the engine room hatch to steer. It’s a very comfortable place, apart from the numbness I feel in my skinny little behind after a couple of hours. The kneel pad, purchased from Midland Chandlers, has cured that. Cynthia now wants one as well (although she doesn’t have a bony backside like me).

Click here to find our more about Narrowbudget Gold and read the rest of this article and learn the complete costs of running a 62’ narrowboat used for extensive cruising on the inland waterways in 2015.

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