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: 2016

The Transition From Water To Wheels

This is my first post for nearly two months, a period of great change in my life.

I moved onto the water on 2nd April 2010, my 50th birthday. At the time I was at an emotional, financial and physical low. The previous years had been exceptionally stressful. I had tried and failed to expand a very successful local business throughout the UK. The failure resulted in bankruptcy and the demise of my twenty years marriage and, because of the failure, a breakdown in my once strong relationship with my three wonderful sons, Blake, Brad and Brook.

My move onto a boat was more to get me away from my matrimonial home than to bring me closer to a more tranquil life afloat. I wasn’t interested in boats at all. I just happened to be working part time at a marina and noticed a tatty looking boat which I thought could possibly provide me with a leaky roof over my head until I could afford something better.

I fell in love with the lifestyle as soon as I moved on board, but my new home was far from perfect.

For eighteen months I had to position pots and pans under rainwater cascading through gaping holes in the aged ply roof panels. Rainwater also overflowed blocked scupper drains on the small rear deck into the engine room bilge beneath. It joined canal water which seeped through the boat’s old stern gland packing, more water from the calorifier pressure relief valve, water from a bathroom leak and, the first time I topped up my water tank, gallons of the stuff which escaped through a split under-deck filler hose into the cabin bilge before racing back to the engine room to add to bilge’s deepening swimming pool.

With the help of Calcutt Boats’ fitters and engineers, I identified and fixed the leaks. In November 2011 I paid £1,200 to have the boat transported eight miles by road to have the decaying wooden cabin over plated with 4mm steel. The over plating cured the roof leaks, but reduced my bank balance by £6,500.

The new steel cabin really showed up the algae covered sagging cratch cover, so that needed replacing too.

All the soft furnishings needed replacing. The design on my faded green curtains was obscured by mould. Eight foam seat cushions needed replacing because of more mould and, annoyingly, burns from flying sparks through unprotected window openings when the new steel was fitted.

A priority replacement was the fixed double bed’s dirt encrusted mattress which sported a large and suspiciously yellow circular stain.

The threadbare filthy beige carpet had to go. Living on a narrowboat is like living in a long hallway. Flooring needs to be both durable and easy to clean in such a high traffic area. The carpet was neither durable nor easy to clean. Karndean oak effect laminate flooring was an effective and aesthetically pleasing alternative.

The solid fuel stove’s cracked flue and door glass needed replacing before I could use it. Actually, neither was replaced until after I used it on one almost disastrous occasion. Not only was the flue cracked, but it was also blocked and had no chimney to improve the stove’s draw. The cabin very quickly filled with thick acrid smoke. I had to open all the boat’s doors, windows and hatches for several freezing hours to let the smoke escape and then endure an unpleasant evening in an unheated boat.

The boat’s tiny bathroom had a ridiculously small bath. I had to sit in it with my knees drawn up to my chin under to use alternately freezing and scalding shower water fed by a temperamental on demand gas water heater.

The bathroom didn’t include a toilet. I found an old Porta Potti which had been removed from another boat and used that until I could afford a Porta Potti of my own. I eventually upgraded to an Airhead composting toilet, replaced the tiny bath with a decent sized shower cubicle and removed the unsafe water heater.

The engine and the engine room were a mess. The engine, a Mercedes OM636, designed in the 1940’s for the 1950’s Mercedes sedans, was protected by a dangerously unstable, very heavy coffin shaped wooden cover. In theory, it could be lifted away from the engine and secured to a roof mounted catch. The catch fell apart the first time I tried to use it, allowing the heavy engine cover to fall, trapping me between it and the filthy engine.

I removed the unstable woodwork surrounding the engine, had a steel frame fitted to take its place and then had the engine room boarded and soundproofed.

I knew nothing about engines when I moved on board. I still don’t. I don’t understand my lack of engineering ability or enthusiasm at all. My father was chief engineer on a merchant navy ship. Why didn’t he pass those skills on to me?

The first time I took my boat out I broke down at Braunston Junction. My maiden voyage took me two and a half hours. The walk back to the marina to collect my car to ferry my guests back took an hour and a half. A narrowboat is not the quickest forms of transport available to you.

I was towed back to Calcutt Boats, thanks Russ, to have the problem identified and fixed. Thanks again Russ for cleaning a filthy fuel filter and getting the engine running again.

The second time I ventured out of the marina, I broke down again. This time a pair of perished hoses dumped my gearbox oil into the bilge. I limped back to marina with the boat slipping in and out of drive. It was all very embarrassing.

I learned my lesson this time. I had the engine serviced and all of the perishable rubber replaced. I also booked a one to one engine service with River Canal Rescue.

RCR’s engineer, Kerry, did a first class job. At the beginning of the day he asked me a number of questions to assess my technical knowledge, then correctly pitched his instruction as he would for an intellectually challenged four year old. If I’m backed into a corner, I can now carry out a basic engine service.

The boat’s electrics were woefully inadequate; one ageing 110ah starter battery and another similar sized battery for the leisure bank. That was it.

Over the last six and a half years I have upgraded the electrics considerably. There’s a new 110ah lead acid starter battery and four 160ah AGM leisure batteries, a 300w solar array, a battery charger and a 2,000w pure sine inverter. I’ve also added a dozen 230v double sockets throughout the boat.

Until 2015, I spent most of my time living and working at Calcutt Boats. The marinas are beautiful and the moorings first class, but I always felt as though I was returning to a very comfortable open prison after trips away.

I needed to stay at the marina to earn money to pay for the boat’s refurbishment. The final jobs were completed last year when I had a diesel Webasto Themotop C central heating system installed and had the dangerously inefficient engine cooling system changed.

The engine was originally raw water cooled which meant that canal water was drawn into the engine through a fine meshed grill in the hull, then pumped through a heat exchanger before being expelled, slightly warmer, through the exhaust. The system failed catastrophically… twice.

The first failure happened after the engine’s Vetus waterlock broke free from its plastic retaining clip and vibrated towards the engine until it came to rest against a rotating coupling. The coupling quickly wore a hole in the plastic which meant that most of the water which should have been pushed out of the exhaust cascaded into the engine bilge.

I didn’t spot the problem until I tied up for the day and lifted the deck boards to turn down the stern gland greaser. Bilge water swirled around the engine mountings and was within half an inch of flooding the cabin.

After bailing the water out for an hour with a bucket, I wrapped a roll of rescue tape around the inch wide gash. The following day I managed to limp to Streethay Wharf where they fitted a replacement second hand waterlock.

Two months later the system failed again. This time the hose connecting the waterlock to the heat exchanger failed, allowing all of the water being drawn from the canal to be dumped into the bilge. Fortunately I was on a placid canal with plenty of easily accessible moorings. I was able to turn the engine off within five minutes and then remove twenty loads of water from the bilge with my Draper wet vac. If I had been on a river I would have been in real trouble.

For the last year the boat has run perfectly. The hull and the internal cladding are nearly forty years old, but almost everything else is brand new. It’s now a very comfortable and superbly specified boat. It’s just about perfect for living aboard and permanent off grid cruising.

Last year was a wonderful cruising year. I covered 1,753 miles and negotiated 948 locks, mostly on my own. I loved every minute of it. I hoped to do the same again this year, but my personal circumstances changed.

Cynthia came into my life in 2015. She joined me in September for a “discovery day” which lasted ten days and resulted in her packing all her worldly goods into five large suitcases and flying with her two basset hounds to London’s Heathrow airport last November. Two dogs and five suitcases were allowed into the UK. Cynthia wasn’t.

Cynthia is a retired international flight attendant. She’s visited the UK dozens of times, maybe many hundreds of times. She knew that she could stay in England for six months without a visa. As part of her thorough preparation for this new and exciting chapter of her life she checked the UK government website again. Nothing had changed. She could still stay for six months without a visa.

What she didn’t know was that she needed a visa if she intended to marry within that six month period. She was refused permission to stay. After much pleading and a few tears, she was given a week’s stay of execution.

Cynthia stayed with me for five days before being deported to New York where she had to wait ten days for a marriage visit visa to be issued.

The plan was for Cynthia and I to marry on the Isle of Skye in Scotland in April this year. We had to change our plans when I realised that, nearly six years after leaving my matrimonial home, my much anticipated divorce wouldn’t be completed in time.

Cynthia’s marriage visit visa expired in May, so she had to leave the UK.

I’ve lost track of the places she’s stayed since then, but I think they are Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, back the USA to finalise her house sale, and then another hop across the pond to her current rented house in Rottevalle, a Dutch village eighty miles north of Amsterdam.

Some of that travel was with me. I drove under the English Channel in June to join her for a long drive north from Calais to where we hoped to marry on the island of Aero in Denmark. Our arrival in Denmark should have coincided with the arrival of my decree absolute. It didn’t.

We discovered that, as is often the case in the UK, we were victims of governmental red tape. The paperwork wouldn’t reach us for another week. Neither of us could afford to wait. Cynthia had found a cash buyer for her house so had to return to Vermont, and I had to return to work at the marina.

Plan C was for me to fly to Vermont two weeks later to marry Cynthia in a civil ceremony. I don’t know why plan C wasn’t plan A, but hindsight is a wonderful gift. Plan C was successful. We are now married. Not that we see much of each other.

We married on Saturday 16th July. We spent two days together after the ceremony before I had to fly back to the UK. I drove to Cynthia’s Dutch rented house two weeks ago for another four days. As of today, Sunday 11th September, we have been married for fifty seven days, but together for just six of them.

Our original plan once we married was for Cynthia to apply for another visa which, if the application was successful, would allow her to stay in the UK for three years before applying for residency. The problem with our plan was that the visa application process was horribly expensive and didn’t guarantee success. We decided on another strategy.

In March this year we bought a Hymer B754 motorhome. The idea at the time was to use it to escape wet and dreary English winters. We would head south to Spain and then return to the boat for spring and summer cruising.

Our thoroughly enjoyable maiden voyage was to Devon and Cornwall in March this year. After that trip, and the one which followed to Denmark, we decided that, despite being much more compact than the narrowboat, we would be quite comfortable living in the motorhome for extended periods. We also decided that if Cynthia couldn’t stay in the UK for extended periods, I would join her in mainland Europe where she is more welcome.

Both France and Spain welcome foreign visitors who are financially independent. We will register with the Spanish authorities as soon as we arrive in Spain. We can either apply for a long term retirement visa for Cynthia or, according to one of the government sites which Cynthia found, simply prove that we are married to allow Cynthia the same right to stay in Europe as I have.

On 9th October 2016, the day after eleven consecutive discovery days, I will welcome Rob and Deanna Sharratt on board. At the end of the day they won’t be leaving. They will own James No 194. I will not.

I advertised the sale of my boat in my last newsletter. There was a huge amount of interest, but Rob and Deanna were the most interested. They joined me on 6th November 2015 for a wet and windy discovery day. Despite the weather, they both enjoyed their day afloat. In fact Deanna said that the experience was “The best anniversary present I’ve had in twenty four years!”

Rob and Deanna began to look for a boat of their own, but couldn’t find one as well specified as mine. They emailed me as soon as they read that the boat was for sale and quickly wired a deposit to my bank.

Sunday 9th October will be a very sad day for me. When I moved on board, both the boat and I were on our knees. Over the last six and a half years we’ve both recovered together. We are both fit and well now. I like to think that we’ve worked well as a team. I hope my beloved boat will forgive me for leaving her (can you call a boat called James “her”?).

James No 194 will be in good hands. I hope James, Rob and Deanna have many happy years together. I will be sad to say goodbye to the UK’s inland waterways and the wonderful people I have met on them. We will be moving off the water, but both Cynthia and I feel that it will only be a temporary move.

Our plan is to visit every one of Europe’s forty nine countries over the next two or three years. The more I look at my map of Europe, the more I realise how little I know about the countries in it. I have only visited a handful of them. Cynthia has visited one or two more. I’m sure that we will have many adventures on the road, but I’m sure that we’ll also have many more after we’re done with the road and are back on the water.

Cynthia has a passion for sailing. She lived afloat on sailing boats many years ago. She loved the experience. We have both enjoyed our brief experience of the Netherlands and the wonderful people we’ve met there. We’re fascinated by the Netherland’s canal culture and the country’s very popular network of canals, rivers and lakes.

There are nearly 4,000km of navigable waterways in the Netherlands which run into a staggering number of lakes, or meers, of all sizes. The largest is five metre deep IJsselmeer which covers a staggering 1,100 km.

We’ve enjoyed many a canal-side coffee watching boats drift slowly by. Our favourites are lemsteraaks. I don’t know much about these boats or how much they cost to maintain, but we would really like something like the one below. We can just about afford to buy it. Whether we can afford to maintain it is a different matter.

We can scrape enough together to buy this boat, but can we afford to maintain it?

We can scrape enough together to buy this boat, but can we afford to maintain it?

We have plenty of time to research the subject. While we’re researching, we’ll be exploring Europe, from inside the Arctic Circle on Norway’s northern coast to the sun drenched south of Spain, and everything in between. Ours will be an exciting journey. I hope you’ll join us on our new site here. We’ll both update the site regularly and comprehensively. I know it’s not boating, but there will be many elements that I’m sure you enjoyed on this site; travel and adventure and, predictably, a smattering of incidents and accidents along the way. I hope you enjoy reading the accounts as much as we enjoy experiencing them.

The new site is here.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

2016 07 10 Newsletter – A Honeymoon Without A Wedding

“Don’t come any further over to the right,” Cynthia warned me. Crunch. “Trust me, there’s no room over here. Move over to the left.” Scrape. “The other left. You’ve hit the bridge wall!” Bang.

So, several contacts too late, I moved over to the left, flipping a row of plastic cones into the air towards a trio of startled workmen. Cones to the left of me, steel girders to the right. It was all a little too stressful for my liking.

Changing locations is much more relaxing on a narrowboat.

We were on our way out of the Danish town of Middelfart – a much more pleasant place to stay than the name suggests – at the beginning of our long drive back to the UK. The narrow steel suspension bridge, the Den Gamle Lillebæltsbro, had unnerved me on the way into Middelfart. Two wide vehicles could only pass at walking pace and with great difficulty. On the way back, at the bridge entrance and with no prior warning, a sign announced that the maximum width permitted was two metres due to maintenance on the westward lane. I don’t know exactly how wide our Hymer is, but I’m sure that it’s more than two metres.

With a stream of cars behind us, and a twenty mile detour if we couldn’t cross Den Gamle Lillebæltsbro, we had to force our way through. Despite a middle finger waving session by the workmen, a number of impatient toots from behind, and a temporary breathing problem for me, we crossed the bridge without too much trouble.

I’m pleased to report that the rest of our time in Denmark was much less stressful.

We spent two peaceful days parked next to Silvso lake. The lake is a nature reserve popular with birds, but not with the local Danes. We had the car park and the lake to ourselves for most of our time there, apart from a brief visit from three distraught members of Silvso model flying club. They lost sight of their 10’ wingspan plane in low cloud and suspected that it had crashed into the lake. They searched the lake with binoculars for an hour without success.

With an empty water tank and a full toilet cassette we drove forty miles north looking for somewhere scenic with motorhome facilities.

Did you know that when turning right on a road in Denmark, pedestrians have the right of way? Nor did I until I had to remove one stuck between my rear axles.

Only kidding but, when we entered Denmark,  I had one or two fists shaken at me when unsuspecting Danes stepped confidently in front of me at street corners.

We found the perfect nighttime parking spot at Middelfart Marina. The location was listed in our Camperstop Europe guide. The book lists nearly 1,000 low cost alternatives to fully serviced campsites. Some of the locations listed aren’t terribly low cost. Middlefart Marina was one of the more expensive, although the cost was difficult to tell or even to pay initially.

A Middelfart marina boat with a silly name for the schoolboys among you

A Middelfart marina boat with a silly name for the schoolboys among you

The marina has an automated payment system. There’s a ticket machine next to the rarely open harbour master’s office. The machine prompted me to choose my language and then displayed a bewildering number of options.

I eventually figured that I needed a campervan pass and, with a sigh of relief, slipped my Visa debit card into the indicated slot. The card was rejected. It’s my only card so I raced two hundred metres back to our tree lined parking bay to ask Cynthia for one of her cards.

Back at the machine, Cynthia’s Visa card was also rejected. Another mad dash back to the van to swap Cynthia’s Visa card for a Mastercard. That was rejected too.

Fortunately the harbour master was having a rare moment in his office. I told him about my problem. With a grave face he informed me that now that the UK has left Europe, English Visa cards aren’t welcome anywhere… and then, seeing the look of horror on my face, he collapsed on his desk in fits of laughter.

The ticket machine was faulty, so he allowed me to use a credit card machine in his office to pay for my night at the marina, and to pay for a “harbour card” which, once loaded with Danish Kroner, would allow me to use the harbour’s water, showers and laundry facilities.

Next on my to do list was to empty our bulging toilet cassette. When we purchased the Hymer, I bought a spare cassette. It’s too clean and shiny to use, so we’ve made do with just our old one. It’s rarely a problem as the period we can stay away from facilities is usually governed by our fresh water supply rather than our cassette capacity.

The motorhome facilities at the marina are first class, but it was a marina with many  far more important boat owners to keep happy. This wasn’t particularly good news for the dozen motorhome owners there because the Elsan waste disposal point was a quarter of a mile drive to a boater’s facility block on the sea wall.

The dangerously windy Elsan point at Middelfart marina

The dangerously windy Elsan point at Middelfart marina

Can I pass on a valuable and very painful lesson I learned on the exposed harbour wall?

Always, always stand upwind of your cassette when you empty it, especially when there’s a force eight gale blowing. Apparently, large brown polka dots do little to enhance my looks, or the way I smell.

Fortunately the harbour wash room was next to the Elsan point so Cynthia was prepard to let me back into the Hymer after a fifteen minute session with a bar of soap and a box of tissues.

We stayed at the marina for two nights, enjoying long walks through the woodland which fringed the rocky shore towards a headland close to the 4km square wooded island of Fænø. The island is home to 700,000 trees and just two full time residents. The headland opposite is a very peaceful place to walk. We also discovered several days later that it’s a delightful place to spend the night.

On our second day at Middelfart we drove into town to shop for essential supplies and to enjoy a rare meal out. Following a recommendation from a high street pharmacy customer, we enjoyed a superb early evening meal at Teza’s.

Teza is a Danish and English speaking Iranian. He left his home country twenty five years ago to escape the violence there. He now owns a high quality and very popular pizza restaurant. Our meal was superb, enhanced no end by Teza’s charm.

Covering one of his restaurant walls is a wonderful landscape of sea, beach and endless sand dunes. He told us that the photograph was taken at Grenan, Denmark’s most northerly point. We didn’t know the distance to Grenan, but we decided to go there the following day.

We don’t like using arterial roads. They divorce us from the counties we’ve come to explore, but if we have many miles to cover, they are a necessary evil.

After four hours and two hundred and five tedious motorway miles, we arrived in charming and colourful Skagen where nearly every house has yellow walls and an orange roof.

The yellow houses of Skagen

The yellow houses of Skagen

Grenan is a ten minute drive from the town. There’s nothing there other than a large car park with a section for motorhomes, a visitor centre and two Sandormen (sand worm) tractor/trailer combinations for taking visitors through the dunes to the point on the beach where two oceans collide. The Skagerrak (part of North Sea) and the Kattegat sea meet at a 4km long sandbar.

There appeared to be a fee for overnight motorhome parking here, but no one appeared to be interested in either paying for it or enforcing it, so we didn’t bother either.

Grenan has been a popular destination for artists for many years. The light there is wonderful which, I’m told, has something to do with the two seas meeting and bouncing light upwards.

Skagen landscape

Skagen landscape

We stayed away from the tourist and jellyfish infested beach until early evening when the sandworm service ceased. The walk through the dunes was just over a mile to the obvious meeting point of the two seas. Waves thundered into each other for hundreds of yards out to sea. A mass of sea birds wheeled over the sand bank between converging oceans and two dozen tourists posed for photo’s by the water’s edge.

Here’s Cynthia, standing in the golden light which has drawn artists from around the globe. 546 miles to

Cynthia straddles two oceans

Cynthia straddles two oceans

her right is Inverness, Scotland. 48 miles to her left is Gothenburg, Sweden. 148 miles behind her is Olso, Norway. In front of her is a life spent exploring the English waterways with me. Unfortunately it’s the only distance we don’t know.

The following day we dodged heavy showers on our way to Skagen. Cynthia needed to find a post office to post a batch of postcards. The town was a mass of merry musicians and their fans enjoying the four day folk festival. Pavement cafes and bars were awash with jolly revellers. We couldn’t resist stopping for a while to soak up the atmosphere, and to enjoy a leisurely lunch under the heat lamps of a cafe garden.

The food was excellent but, like everything in Denmark, it wasn’t cheap. A coffee, a bottle of mineral water, two simple main courses and a bowl of ice cream for me cost £50, probably twice as much as in the UK.

We spent another night on our secluded corner of the beach car park before our dreaded 1,200 mile dash back to Warwickshire. A journey we had to make without marrying. Sorry, my dash back to Warwickshire. The UK authorities don’t want Cynthia at the moment. They let thousands of useless freeloaders cross their borders, but not someone who is quite capable of supporting herself.

All of our careful planning for our continental trip was in vain. On Thursday we discovered that, once again, the English court system had beaten us.

We travelled to Denmark expecting that my decree absolute would be issued by Coventry County Court on 24th June, over six years since my separation and fourteen months after the application was submitted to them. The decree would then be sent to my solicitor who promised to forward it to Cynthia’s friend Cecilie in Odense.

On Thursday, after contacting the court every day since the previous Friday and being told rather unhelpfully that “We haven’t received your application yet”, we were told that the court had in fact received the application, but that they wanted an additional £50 fee to process it.

The result was that the decree would take an additional week to reach us.

Neither of us had a week to spare, so we had to switch to Plan B. We weren’t sure at that stage what Plan B would entail, but we knew that the first part was to abandon our plan to marry in Denmark and return to our respective home countries.

The journey began with a 279 mile leg back to Middelfart via Odense where Cynthia’s documents had been delivered several days earlier after I realised that I had forgotten to bring Cynthia’s divorce paperwork with me when I left the marina.

After a panic phone call to Calcutt Boats, the ever helpful staff there saved the day. Thank you to Russ Fincham for finding the paperwork on the boat for us, and thank you to Chris Collinson for sending the package overnight to our Denmark address.

There was an accident on the opposite carriageway resulting in a four mile tailback on our way to Odense, so we picked a more scenic route on the way back.

Unfortunately the new route involved squeezing through an impossibly narrow gap over another steel bridge which left a little more of the Hymer behind. There’s not a great deal left of it now.

After driving all day, reaching Middelfart marina was a relief. I still had my Middelfart marina harbour card with a little credit left on it from our last visit, so I emptied our cassette, standing upwind of it this time, and then had a hot shower. I drove three miles to the headland opposite the island of Fænø before collapsing into an untidy heap for the evening.

Too tired to enjoy the view, we retired for the night

Too tired to enjoy the view, we retired for the night

And then I started the engine again.

We didn’t have a connection to the internet. Cynthia needed to email her real estate broker about her house sale, so I drove back to the marina where we knew we could get online.

At 9.30pm we returned to our headland parking spot and promptly went to bed. So much for relaxing while we enjoyed the view.

A marina walk rest stop

A marina walk rest stop

We were off again at the crack of dawn on Saturday for a 370 mile dash from Denmark through Germany and into the Netherlands. We stopped off for an hour in Flensburg close to the Danish border to have Tasha wormed and to have her pet passport stamped. My tunnel ticket was booked for 7am on Monday so Saturday was the last opportunity to have her treated before the crossing.

We had to skirt Hamburg on the way back. On our route through Germany a week earlier we had endured two hours of almost stationary traffic on Hamburg’s western ring road. Cynthia thought that we would suffer less on the way back by choosing the eastern ring road. The route was just as bad, so if you’re passing through Germany on your way to Denmark, stay away from Hamburg at all costs.

We crossed the border into the Netherlands in time for a well earned meal out. We stopped at the first likely looking place on the outskirts of Denekamp. “Pannenkoekenhuis Bolle Jan” was its name which, I know know, means Bolle Jan Pancake House. The fact that all their meals were baked in batter should have given it away. I don’t particularly recommend their mixed grill served in an inch of stomach busting pancake, but the place appeared very popular with its stout Dutch customers.

We were allowed to stay in their car park for the night. It wasn’t particularly scenic, and the deep bass throbbing until 2am from a nearby rave wasn’t very relaxing, but at least the parking was free.

I said goodbye to Cynthia on Sunday. I dropped her off at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport in plenty of time for her Sunday afternoon flight back to New York. Bags of time as it turned out. Cynthia phoned me half an hour after I dropped her off to tell me that her flight had been cancelled.

She considered another flight later in the afternoon, but that would have entailed flying to Heathrow where she would have endured a lengthy wait before her onward flight to the States. She sensible decided to book a local hotel and take the same flight the following day.

In the meantime I endured several more hours of motorway travel. The route to Calais from Amsterdam is mainly through heavy industry. It’s neither pleasant nor pretty.

I left the A16 half way between Dunkirk and Calais so that I could find a quiet waterside spot for the night before the following day’s channel crossing.

I drove for miles without seeing anything remotely suitable, but I could see from my TomTom that a road passed very close to the coast just to the east of Calais.

My plans were thwarted though by two Gerdame filled riot vans parked across the road next to a shanty town of canvas covered makeshift buildings. The coast road between Calais and the shanty town was populated mainly by haunted looking Africans.

With the windows wound up and the doors locked, I turned on my TomTom again and headed for the channel tunnel, hoping to stay in their car park for the night.

I was tired and distracted when I eventually reached the check in area. TomTom directed me to the freight terminal first, which is several miles away. I am now quite familiar with the industrial zones around Calais.

After queuing for half an hour to reach the head of the check in line I was reminded that I needed to process basset Tasha first. I was ushered through an emergency exit and directed to the pet reception centre.

I had another problem when I presented Tasha’s passport. The Flensburg vet had stamped the wrong section. I had to wait an hour while the French official copied her passport and then filled in a dozen forms before asking me to join the check in queue again.

When I eventually reached the head of the queue for the second time, a frustrated official again refused me entry because pet reception had forgotten to give me a window sticker.

Back to pet reception again.

Tasha’s paperwork was fine on my third return to the head of the check in queue. Unfortunately mine wasn’t.

My ticket was for the following morning. I was told that I couldn’t stay overnight in the car park, but I could travel on a later train on Sunday evening if I paid and extra €20. I told the lady official that I would find somewhere else to stay for the night. She told me that, if I did, I would have to check Tasha in at the pet reception again in the morning. I reluctantly paid the fee.

At 10pm I drove off the train at Folkestone, dog tired, but determined to find quiet waterside parking for the night. I had conveniently forgotten how difficult wild camping is in the UK.

I spent the next hour searching for somewhere, anywhere, to park. After half an hour I gave up on the coat and headed inland. I couldn’t find a layby, car park or even a large enough road-side space.

My night ended in a Tesco superstore car park on the outskirts of Ashford in Kent, sandwiched between the A20 and the M20, both literally a stone’s throw away. It was the noisiest night of my two weeks away.

My last day’s travel, a mere 162 miles, was all tedious motorway; M20, M26, M25, M40. Motorways are easy on the nerves, but hard on the eye. I was delighted to leave the M40 at Banbury for the last fifteen miles to the marina.

I’ve been back now for six days and working on the grounds for four of them. I never thought I would say this, but my boat feels so spacious after seventeen days in the Hymer. It’s a tranquil haven after 2,497 miles, 4,018 kilometres, on the road. And no wedding certificate at the end of it.

We’ve fleshed out Plan B now. This coming Wednesday I will fly to Vermont for a simple ceremony on Saturday in Cynthia’s home town of Arlington. I’ll return to work in the UK at the beginning of the following week and focus on tackling the mountain of paperwork necessary to allow Cynthia into England for good. Please keep your fingers crossed for us.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

Site Upgrade

Thank you if you were one of the many, many site visitors who emailed me to let me know if there were any issues with the site after I switched hosts three weeks ago. There were a few problems, But I’m happy to report that they have all been resolved now.

Site security has been upgraded, so if you are a Narrowbudget Gold user, your online data is now super safe.

Aspiring forum users were frustrated for a while by a faulty registration form which didn’t email login details to new registrants. That problem has also been fixed.

Last but not least, I have enhanced the site for the more mature narrowboat enthusiast among us. The font was too small for comfortable reading, so I’ve increased the size. If, like me, your eyes aren’t quite as sharp as they used to be, I hope that browsing the site is now a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Please let me know if you experience any problems on the site at all.

Can YOU Help Maintain This Site?

I wrote about the ongoing and often crippling costs of maintaining this site in the last two newsletters. My total annual outgoings just to maintain the site and pay for the software to send out my weekly newsletters is over £5,000. It’s a cost I simply can’t afford any more.

I just about cover my day to day running costs through my Narrowbudget Gold package and my discovery day service, but there’s very little left to put towards the site. I’ll be returning to work at Calcutt Boats for all of May to help top up my dwindling bank balance. I’ll enjoy the working around the two beautiful marinas, but finding time to run the site and work a forty five hour week will be a struggle.

The only way I will be able to keep the site’s 9,000 posts and pages online in the future will be through voluntary subscriptions. These subscriptions will be just that; voluntary. If you can’t afford to pay, or you simply don’t want to pay, the wealth of information that’s taken me, and a host of experienced boaters on the forum, six years to write will still be there for you completely free of charge.

Over the last two weeks I’ve asked for voluntary subscriptions. Some very kind site users have already agreed to help, but I need many more if I am to keep the site running. I can’t maintain it any other way.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, I’m sure that you realise the time and effort which goes into it. I receive dozens of emails every week from aspiring boaters asking for advice. I answer every one of them as quickly and comprehensively as possible. You may have sent an email or two to me yourself.

I enjoy helping others move closer to the life I enjoy so much every day. I don’t ask or expect payment for this service. It’s a labour of love. Paying bills each month is not such a pleasant experience. Please help me continue to help others by subscribing to the site. The subscription form is here.

Your financial details are completely safe. Payment is made through the world’s largest payment portal. Only you can change your subscription details. You can cancel your subscription at any time.

For the price of a cup of coffee or a pint each month you can help keep a very useful inland waterways resource online. You can subscribe here.

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 narrowboatJames 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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

2016 06 26 Newsletter – Five Countries Closer to a Wedding

After collecting Cynthia from Calais nine days ago, we’ve had a hugely enjoyable if rather tiring trek across France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. We’re now in Denmark, parked next to a tranquil freshwater lake half a mile from the coast.

After hauling Cynthia and her luggage on board nine days ago, we drove out of France and through Belgium in the blink of an eye before stopping for the night in a campsite in the beautiful seaside town of Sluis. We are very much looking forward to exploring unknown areas of Europe in a much more leisurely fashion, but the limited time available for our current trip has dictated a fairly swift passage.

A relatively short fifty mile hop the next day saw us in Westenschouwen, with an hour’s break en route to shop at the Jumbo supermarket store in Ternzuizen and to try half a dozen Vietnamese spring rolls from a very successful happy and smiling street vendor. Cynthia tried to convince me that he was selling monkey meat. If it was, I thoroughly recommend having a chimp or two for lunch. We then enjoyed another half hour stop, as our road raised to allow a line of cargo carrying boats to pass along a canal which dwarfed most of those in the UK.

At Westenschouwen we found a deserted corner in a large and peaceful car park for the night, close to a coastal footpath and a small field containing three emaciated ponies which kept Cynthia occupied for hours during the evening. Who needs television?

We spent much of the following day walking through quiet sand dunes and and then basking in the evening sun in a waterfront cafe, dribbling uncontrollably as waiters and waitresses laid doormat sized steaks in front of happy diners on adjacent tables.

Another hundred miles north the following day brought us to another seaside town, Egmond aan Zee. The lane to the beach ended at a car park with enough space for 1,000 cars. As you can see from the photo below, they had one or two spaces free. We parked for the night, slightly worried about the number of youngsters driving hot hatches driving into the car park. But this wasn’t England. At a sensible time they all drove sedately home to bed.

Plenty of space in this car park

Plenty of space in this car park

We spent the following day in a beach cafe. We only intended to have a quick coffee while we used their free wifi to catch up on our emails, but the food looked good, the service was excellent, and staff were busy preparing for a beach wedding, so we stayed long enough for lunch and to update one MacBook, two iPhones and an iPad.

Another one hundred miles journey the following day was broken by three hours for lunch in the centre of Rotterdam. I was dreading the city visit because (A) I was going to meet Cynthia’s brother Jeff for the first time and (B) I thought parking in a city centre was going to be a nightmare. I had no cause to worry on either count.

Downtown Rotterdam has more car parking spaces than you can shake a stick at. Finding one, or in our case two, was no problem at all. Paying for the parking was a different kettle of fish. Everyone we met in the Netherlands spoke perfect English, so there was never a problem asking for advice. I stopped a businessman who looked like he had parked a car or two in his half century on the planet. He told me that paying for Rotterdam parking isn’t easy. You have to follow street signs to the nearest ticket machine and then hope that it’s one of the few that works. A working machine took ten minutes to find in heavy rain so I was a little damp by the time we met Jeff outside Rotterdam’s central station. We had to meet him outside because you need a ticket to get in, even if you only want to use one of the dozens of shops within the complex.

Lunch was wonderful, an enormous pile of mussels and pasta for me, a beetroot salad with goat’s cheese for Cynthia and a club sandwich for Jeff which needed scaffolding to keep it upright.

Jeff left to catch his Amsterdam train while we headed further north and a disastrous afternoon.

On board route planning

On board route planning

We had become a little blasé about Cynthia moving around the Hymer while we were moving. On another typical drive she left her seat to use the bathroom, the van lurched and she fell over onto her bent wrist. She was in agony, but we suspected a sprain rather than a break.

I stopped at the first shopping centre we saw in the outskirts of Amsterdam. The area looked similar to the kind of council estate parade of shops that you would think twice about visiting in England, but, once again, everyone was friendly and spoke perfect English. Five minutes and many pounds later I had a bag full of bandages, wrists supports, plasters and ointments and Cynthia was wrapped, creamed and sedated enough for us to continue our drive.

As usual we tried to find a place to park with a sea view. We failed on this occasion because of a high and endless flood protection embankment. We had to settle for a layby half filled with agricultural machinery. Still, it was a peaceful spot so we had no complaints.

We needed water the following morning. We have an extensive directory of free or low cost overnight parking spots for motorhomes. The locations have grid coordinates rather than addresses. I entered what I thought were the correct coordinates in my TomTom device and set off for nearby Dokkum.

After the fourth turn along impossibly narrow town centre streets I suspected that I had done something wrong. I knew for sure when I ended up on a pedestrianised cobbled street with nowhere to turn. With the aid of what I suspected was a Dutch lorry driver on his day off, plenty of sign language and much head shaking, I reversed into a space which a sardine would have felt claustrophobic in. I managed to get out of the town centre without leaving any of the van behind, so the experience was an improvement over those I had in March in Devon and Cornwall.

While I was trying to extract myself from the narrow streets, Cynthia disappeared to do a little shopping. When she reappeared she told me how pretty the town was and how incredibly friendly and helpful the locals were. We found a campsite close to the town centre then spent the rest of the day wandering the streets close to a network of canals and drinking coffee in a waterside cafe.

Dokkum town centre

Dokkum town centre

After realising where I went wrong with the TomTom, on Thursday we decided to stop at a location in our Camperstop guide. The directory lists 9,000 official parking spots for motorhomes throughout Europe offering a range of facilities from simple overnight parking to campsite-like facilities including laundry, showers, water, electricity and Elsan and grey water disposal. The location next to Sander See, an eighty acre acre lake on Germany’s north coast five miles from Wilmshaven, was at the lower end of the scale offering a simple, hassle free place to park for the night.

We parked in one of the designated spots available on the edge of the main car park, then wandered down over to the lakeside cafe. We sat with a coffee for an hour enjoying the view and occasional gentle rain.

We were joined by two other motorhomes before dusk. The owner of one, a single guy, unhitched a mountain bike and sped off along the lakeside path. The owners of the other, a tiny German lady and her pot bellied, chain smoking husband, settled down into their evening routine. Every half hour, the husband climbed out onto the road to smoke two cigarettes one after the other. He had the perfect excuse for a few more at dusk when the show began.

Lightning forked across the sky every few seconds and thunder crashed around us, but not a drop of rain fell on the dusty ground. The display continued for at least ten cigarettes before the black clouds dropped sheets of rain on us. Our smoking neighbour quickly retired for the night.

The storm was both entertaining and very useful. During the early evening a steady stream of hot hatch owning German boy racers arrived at the lakeside car park. Of course, I compared them to young English car owners. I expected drinking, shouting and screeching tires throughout the night. These continental car owners are a different breed. As darkness and sheets of rain fell on the lake, they quietly said their farewells then drove slowly home.

We endured a long and painful drive on Friday as we crossed from one German coast to another, mostly in torrential rain along roads which made the M25 look like a traffic free super highway.

We drove 220 tedious miles through Bremen, Hamburg and Kiel before leaving the fumes and heavy traffic behind we both despise so much at Eckenforde. We picked this area to stop for the night hoping to find somewhere close to the sea to wild camp. Unfortunately the only spots near the coast were on campsites. We picked a likely looking site at Langholz.

The location was unbeatable. The beach was a dozen steps from our sandy pitch. The site itself was a little down at heel. Tatty campers and tents jostled for space on tiny pitches. The proprietor of the on site shop slouched on a bench nursing a two litre brown plastic cider bottle, and the toilets were an experience that I hope to be able to forget one day. I won’t say any more other than flushing waste away involved a more hands on approach than I suspect most people were comfortable with.

We sat on a waterside bench reading in the sun for an hour before heavy rain forced us indoors for the evening. Our evening entertainment was watching a giant German and his wife and two very small children manage their weekend camping from a tiny VW camper. Our night time entertainment was listening to his two children crying for hours on end. At least the sound of rain hammering on our roof almost drowned out their high pitched wails.

On Saturday we moved on again, hugging the coastline as much as possible. We drove through heavy rain again for two hours before negotiating what passes for border control in Europe these days as we entered Denmark. Two uniformed officials waved us through with a friendly smile as we headed north looking for a likely place to stop for the day.

As we skirted Aabenraa’s harbour we spotted a dozen motorhomes parked next to the sea wall. We turned into the harbour and then drove into the official motorhome parking area through a barrier which raised for us as we entered. Seeing that the parking area was mostly submerged under two inches of rainwater, we quickly turned and headed for the barrier again. This time it refused to open.

After half an hour searching the harbour for someone who knew anything about the barrier operation we eventually found the harbour master who let us out after she asked some probing questions. She clearly thought that we were trying to escape after a night’s free parking.

We drove for another hour to the coastal village of Hoptrup and our current idyllic wild camping spot next to Silvso lake. It’s the most peaceful spot we’ve found in the last week. We heard nothing last night apart from the wind and, of course, heavy rain rattling on our roof.

Cynthia relaxing by our lakeside parking

Cynthia relaxing by our lakeside parking

We’ve been here all day. The lake is 9km in circumference with a well marked track and regular benches around it. We’ve walked and sat and soaked up the sun. We’ll stop here again tonight, pretending not to notice the sign written in Danish limiting motorhomes and caravans to a maximum stay of three hours.

If we’re challenged we’ll move of course, but we understand from the motorhome forums that, as long as we don’t unload tables and chairs and roll out our awning, our stay will be tolerated.

Tomorrow will be a busy administration day. We’re waiting for my decree absolute to be sent via DHL from Swansea to Cynthia’s friend who lives in Odense. In the meantime, we have a wedding to arrange. It’s going to be a registry office affair with just a couple of witnesses. Before that though we have to deal with Danish bureaucracy to obtain and complete the paperwork.

We’ve managed to stay connected to the internet through five countries now. Our phones work in some countries for voice and text calls but not in others, our phone data will only work with paid for add ons, and our Three internet service is also dependent on what country we’re in. There are always cafes to use as a last resort. I wanted to pop into one of Amsterdam’s cafes for some coffee and cake while I browsed. Cynthia thought it was a bad idea. I can’t imagine why.

Time to down tools now and take another lakeside stroll. I’m very much looking forward to the coming week. I hope to be able to report that, once more, I’m a married man.

Can YOU Help Maintain This Site?

I wrote about the ongoing and often crippling costs of maintaining this site in the last two newsletters. My total annual outgoings just to maintain the site and pay for the software to send out my weekly newsletters is over £5,000. It’s a cost I simply can’t afford any more.

I just about cover my day to day running costs through my Narrowbudget Gold package and my discovery day service, but there’s very little left to put towards the site. I’ll be returning to work at Calcutt Boats for all of May to help top up my dwindling bank balance. I’ll enjoy the working around the two beautiful marinas, but finding time to run the site and work a forty five hour week will be a struggle.

The only way I will be able to keep the site’s 9,000 posts and pages online in the future will be through voluntary subscriptions. These subscriptions will be just that; voluntary. If you can’t afford to pay, or you simply don’t want to pay, the wealth of information that’s taken me, and a host of experienced boaters on the forum, six years to write will still be there for you completely free of charge.

Over the last two weeks I’ve asked for voluntary subscriptions. Some very kind site users have already agreed to help, but I need many more if I am to keep the site running. I can’t maintain it any other way.
If you have been following this blog for any length of time, I’m sure that you realise the time and effort which goes into it. I receive dozens of emails every week from aspiring boaters asking for advice. I answer every one of them as quickly and comprehensively as possible. You may have sent an email or two to me yourself.

I enjoy helping others move closer to the life I enjoy so much every day. I don’t ask or expect payment for this service. It’s a labour of love. Paying bills each month is not such a pleasant experience. Please help me continue to help others by subscribing to the site. The subscription form is here.

Your financial details are completely safe. Payment is made through the world’s largest payment portal. Only you can change your subscription details. You can cancel your subscription at any time.

For the price of a cup of coffee or a pint each month you can help keep a very useful inland waterways resource online. You can subscribe here.

[adrotate banner=”14″]

Cynthia Says—

……Canals of Asphalt and Water

This past week has been a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Our long-awaited re-union in Calais France finally happened. I was overjoyed to be back in the fold with my beloved family after a long but very enjoyable stay at my friend’s in Provence, along with my very productive time in Spain.

I had just begun to feel comfortable speaking (my somewhat limited!) French, when I found myself having to switch over to German. We were most fortunate in the Netherlands because nearly everyone speaks English. That said, one evening on the beach the waiter didn’t speak English, but he did speak German so we went with that.

I was thrilled and charmed by all I experienced in the Netherlands. Everything is so spit and polished and pristine. It was like being in Disneyland! And the people are friendly, helpful and warm.

The country is a catacomb of bike paths bordering every roadway, and canals and dykes everywhere! There are so many kinds of boats to be found on these canals of varying widths. I loved the sailing models that fold their masts down hugging the deck, and the huge leeboards hanging for dear life on to the gunwales. They are as wide as a house and oftentimes quite old—I saw one online for sale that was built in 1898! And she looked to be a beauty.

Our second to last day in the Netherlands Paul was looking for a campsite to fill up with water and we ended up in the Friesian village called Dokkum. I fell instantly in love and quickly decided I could envision us living here on our boat. What a town! I felt like I had landed in Utopia! We happened to be there on a Wednesday which was perfect as it was outside market day.

We didn’t find the original campground, but came upon another one just a stones throw from the village. After lunch we decided to venture into the town to explore. We made the rounds of the market then settled on a canal side cafe for something to drink. It was a perfect place to be and very few tourists which made it even more delightful. We shared our dreams and talked about how we want to find ourselves relaxing in these lovely waterside cafes throughout the continent.

Paul returned to the motorhome shortly after a quick shopping stop at a minuscule organic food store–that had pretty much everything we needed–and I ventured back into town to poke around a bit more and hit the outside market one more time to pick up a succulent chicken to add to our salad. I also found a store that was chock full of housewares items we needed, so I arrived back home fully stocked up.

As we made our way out of the Netherlands and into Germany I found myself feeling a bit sad. Things just weren’t as precise and pristine—the yards not as neatly cared for. And the people we encountered for the most part did not speak English and weren’t as customer service oriented. And worst of all NO ubiquitous canals with canal boats!

Now that we are in Denmark and that much closer to our goal, things have settled down and we have found an idealic spot near a lake and a stones’ throw from the beach. Today we took a break and walked Tasha down the nice dirt path along the lake. All of us enjoyed the sound of the wind in the tall grass, the birds singing and a sky full of fluffy white clouds. By the end of the summer Tasha will have a new friend–a cousin by the name of Florence. Paul has been kind and generous to OK this addition to our family. Since giving away Bromley last January there has been a big hole in my life and heart….Florence is the one to fill that hole.

Next week we will hopefully be able to report that the long awaited wedding will take place…..stay tuned!

PS. We are still adding new paying subscribers to the site and hope those of you who read our newsletter regularly will join soon. The hundredth subscriber will get a free Discovery Day!

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

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

2016 06 20 Newsletter – Engine Leaks, Barbed Wire and Lost Data

 

Please accept my apologies for the missing newsletter last week, and the lateness, brevity and lack of photo’s in this one. I’m in the village of Westenschouwen on an island on the Netherlands north west coast fifty miles from Rotterdam. I’ve been battling with technology again and losing.

I’ve just transferred livingonanarrowboat.co.uk to a more reliable and lower cost web host here in the UK. The transfer has taken a great deal of effort over the last week so, coupled with preparing for our imminent wedding, I haven’t had much time for anything else.

To add to my frustration, my carefully researched internet connectivity plans have failed. I should be able to connect to the internet through my Three MiFi dongle, but I’ve run out of data. The problem has been caused by using the device abroad, but according to Three’s website, I should be able to use the service as normal.

Topping up my data usually involves simply logging onto Three’s website and parting with some cash. Because I’m in the Netherlands, the system appears to have failed. I will have to phone them today to sort it out which, as usual, will involve talking to operators on the other side of the world. In the meantime, I can only connect to the internet when I’m on a campsite. We are trying to avoid spending money on sites wherever possible, but the expense is a necessary evil at the moment.

Anyway, that’s the current situation, so on with my brief newsletter. I promise to do better next week.

I completed the last of my June discovery days on Thursday. I thoroughly enjoyed two weeks of gentle cruising too and from Braunston, and chatting with a diverse group of boating enthusiasts as we travelled.

The journey can be very different depending on the time of year, weather and public and school holidays. During the winter months we rarely pass another moving boat over our seven hour cruising day. In June, the story is very different.

There are over 2,000 boats moored in ten marinas within a ten mile radius of my base at Calcutt Boats, and there are an additional 200 hire boats in the area. The summer route is as busy as it is fascinating, especially at the weekends when many novice hire boat crews venture onto the cut for the first time.

On one cruise last Sunday we were on the home stretch a quarter of a mile from Calcutt Top lock. Calcutt Boats give very thorough instructions to their hire boat crews, each lasting between an hour and an hour and a half. These instructions include essential engine checks, internal cabin equipment operation, weed hatch operation and safety and, finally, actual helmsmanship and lock negotiation as they are guided through one of the locks either side of Calcutt Boats’ wharf and then, if they are heading towards Napton junction, three hundred metres of boat steering. The helmsmanship training might not sound enough to equip holiday hirers to safely handle twenty tonnes of steel, but it’s more than most hire companies offer.

Unfortunately, hire companies don’t have the resources to take longer with each instruction, not that more time would be of much use. Holiday hirers have often driven for three or four hours after a very early start before they arrive at their holiday accommodation. They’re often tired when they arrive, so they aren’t in the best frame of mind to focus on what the instructor has to say. The more information they are given, the more they appear to glaze over.

On Sunday, I saw one such travel weary and novice helmsman steer across the canal to the towpath to let the instructor in his high visibility yellow jacket step off. He then stayed on the wrong side of the canal and headed straight towards me.

My helmsman’s first instinct was to swerve onto the opposite side of the canal to avoid the oncoming boat. I told him to maintain his course so that the novice helmsman quickly approaching us would learn which side of the canal to drive on before he progressed any further down the cut.

The hire boat continued heading towards us before violently swerving back onto the correct side of the canal. As the puzzled middle aged man drew level with us, he asked us what we were doing. I pointed out that, on the waterways, we drive on the right. He looked at his wife for confirmation who shrugged her shoulders. A sheepish grin and he was on his way. This time firmly on the right side of the canal.

Over the last fortnight I’ve welcomed two different sets of South African guests on board. As usual with anyone from that part of the world, especially if they are from Johannesburg, they have tales to tell of life behind bars in secure compounds and high crime and extreme violence on the streets. Robbery at gunpoint is common and carjacking is an everyday occurrence. Car owners leave spaces between their vehicles at traffic lights to facilitate a speedy escape and windows are wound down slightly to prevent them being shattered by the spark plugs that many car jackers carry.

Crime is rife, but the culprits aren’t always human.

One guest told me how useful my newsletter had been several years ago when I wrote about my ongoing battle with Canada geese.

Canada geese are a nuisance. Each goose eats four pounds of grass every day. Each goose drops three pounds of it from their rear end. A large flock can make a very unpleasant mess in a very short period.

The newer of Calcutt Boats’ two marinas, Meadows marina, is a perfect haven for these birds. There are six quiet acres of water with a half acre island covered in succulent grass. Over one hundred birds landed a few years ago and refused to leave.

I tried everything I could think of to drive them away. I used a narrowboat we kept on the marina for winter ice breaking to chase them. They simply swam out of the way or waddled out of the water on to the island. I tied the boat onto the island jetty and ran screaming through the island trees to scare them off. The birds simply waddled back into the water again. I even plucked the horse chestnuts off the island trees to throw at them. The geese weren’t bothered at all.

I considered using a variety of bird scarers to drive them away, but I didn’t want to drive away the marina’s established coots, moorhens, grebes, swans and mallards. I even considered shooting the geese, but that suggestion didn’t go down too well with the marina management.

Russ, one of Calcutt’s fitters, suggested an effective solution. He told me that he’d heard of carp fishermen frightening geese away from their bait using laser pens.

I ordered a military grade green laser from a Chinese seller on eBay. The device had a range of up to a mile so I was warned to be careful where I pointed it, especially if aircraft were flying overhead.

On a cold October evening I stood in the dark on the end of my pier with my fully charged laser pen. A quick button press sent a line of brilliant green light flashing across the marina. One hundred geese honked nervously and instantly took flight, heading for nearby Napton marina.

The laser pen never failed on dark winter nights. It wasn’t quite so effective during the lighter summer months, but as the main geese influx was during the autumn, summer scaring wasn’t really necessary. The laser pen was a very effective and harmless deterrent.

My South African guest also had a problem with unwanted visitors, but they weren’t geese. He had monkeys invading his garden. They stole everything they could carry away with them, including items from his house. He purchased a laser pen similar to mine in a desperate attempt to chase his tormentors away. The deterrent worked perfectly. His life is now monkey free.

I had a couple of boat based problems to solve at the end of the week. I had two separate engine room leaks.

The first was a steady trickle of water from the stern gland which remained regardless of the grease I pumped into it. I tried tightening the coupling, but it wouldn’t move. The stern gland needed repacking, but I didn’t have the tools to do it myself.

The stern gland was last repacked in May last year, but after 1,400 hours cruising since then, it needed doing again.

I also had an engine cooling system leak. I steady drip was emptying three or four litres out of the system during each discovery day. Topping the header tank up every morning was no problem, but the leak had resulted in me losing all of my anti freeze. I suppose I could have tried to deal with it myself but, again, I didn’t have the tools or the confidence to attempt the repair myself. I had visions of pulling the pipe off completely and dumping my keel tank contents into the bilge.

I have been very lucky in the past with the service given to me by Calcutt Boats. They often struggle to fit me in for non essential additions and modifications, but they have always managed to accommodate me at short notice if I have an engine problem.

Back in the marina on Thursday morning I drove my boat to the back of the engineering workshop on my way to work. I was back there for a day before setting off to meet Cynthia in Calais the following day. By lunch time both leaks were cured so I could relax while I was away from the marina for a couple of weeks.

I spent my first and last day working at the marina moving boats and doing a host of little jobs which makes earning a crust at Calcutt Boats so enjoyable. After work I began the laborious job of transferring all of life’s essentials for a two week stay away from the boat.

At the crack of dawn on Friday morning I headed south to Folkestone and my appointment with the 11.35am Eurostar train to Calais. This was my first trip through the channel tunnel. I was able to appreciate the vehicle holding area for an hour longer than usual due to stringent checks being carried out on English football fans travelling to the continent. Much as I enjoyed the view from the car park, I was pleased to be called for the train queue.

Have you been on the vehicle transport chunnel train? It’s quite an experience. Vehicles enter from the rear of the train, then drive forward from carriage to carriage until the train is filled. The train is so big I felt as though I was driving through the tunnel itself.

The journey is both smooth and swift. I barely had time to settle down with a good book before the row of vehicles in front of me moved off.

The security measures on the French side of the tunnel are as impressive as they are an eyesore. Miles upon endless mile of high barbed wire topped fencing stretched into the distance. The terminus has more of a feel of a prison camp than a gateway to Europe.

My first and most important task on French soil was to pick Cynthia up from Calais Frethun rail station. I had checked my TomTom sat nav the previous night to make sure that it had the station listed. It did. I was a little nervous for a few minutes when the sat nav directed me onto a series of motorways for the four mile journey, but I was parked in the station car park within ten minutes of setting off.

Earlier in the week I posted a query on a popular motorhome forum. I wanted to know if I would be able to park the motorhome close enough to the station to collect Cynthia. I was assured that the large car park there would be mostly empty. It wasn’t. The car park was packed and, because the French pay lip service to motoring rules and regulations of any kind, the car park was a free for all. Vehicles were jammed into spaces barely large enough for a supermarket shopping trolley. More cars were parked on the pavement than in dedicated parking bays. When in Rome…

I left the Hymer almost out of the way of oncoming traffic for the ten minutes I took to find Cynthia. Fortunately both Cynthia and the train were on time. Fortunately because neither of our phones worked even though I thought I had altered the settings for working abroad.

To be Continued…

I had much more to write about this week, but I’ve run out of time. It’s 5.30am on a rainy Monday morning. Cynthia and I have to meet Cynthia’s brother Jeff at 11.00am fifty miles away in Rotterdam city centre. Our phones aren’t working properly and we don’t have an internet connection. We don’t know where we can park, or how to get in touch with Jeff if he’s not at the agreed meeting point. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ll let you know how we fared next week.

New Web Site Hosting

I’ve written many times about the cost of hosting this site and the problems I’ve had with a variety of well known and well respected web hosts. The fees charged by my recent host were just too much to bear. Following extensive research and one or two recommendations from tech savvy site users, I’ve moved the site to a new host.

The new host has a reputation for reliability and excellent technical support. The site has now been transferred to the new server here in the UK, so you should find that it loads much faster.
There may be a very brief problem with data loss over the next twenty four hours as the settings which display the site in your browser take effect. You will only be affected if you add posts to the forum either today or tomorrow. Other than that, the only difference you should notice is faster page loading. If you do experience any problems, please let me know.

Can YOU Help Maintain This Site?

I wrote about the ongoing and often crippling costs of maintaining this site in the last two newsletters. My total annual outgoings just to maintain the site and pay for the software to send out my weekly newsletters is over £5,000. It’s a cost I simply can’t afford any more.

I just about cover my day to day running costs through my Narrowbudget Gold package and my discovery day service, but there’s very little left to put towards the site. I’ll be returning to work at Calcutt Boats for all of May to help top up my dwindling bank balance. I’ll enjoy the working around the two beautiful marinas, but finding time to run the site and work a forty five hour week will be a struggle.

The only way I will be able to keep the site’s 9,000 posts and pages online in the future will be through voluntary subscriptions. These subscriptions will be just that; voluntary. If you can’t afford to pay, or you simply don’t want to pay, the wealth of information that’s taken me, and a host of experienced boaters on the forum, six years to write will still be there for you completely free of charge.

Over the last two weeks I’ve asked for voluntary subscriptions. Some very kind site users have already agreed to help, but I need many more if I am to keep the site running. I can’t maintain it any other way.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, I’m sure that you realise the time and effort which goes into it. I receive dozens of emails every week from aspiring boaters asking for advice. I answer every one of them as quickly and comprehensively as possible. You may have sent an email or two to me yourself.

I enjoy helping others move closer to the life I enjoy so much every day. I don’t ask or expect payment for this service. It’s a labour of love. Paying bills each month is not such a pleasant experience. Please help me continue to help others by subscribing to the site. The subscription form is here.

Your financial details are completely safe. Payment is made through the world’s largest payment portal. Only you can change your subscription details. You can cancel your subscription at any time.

For the price of a cup of coffee or a pint each month you can help keep a very useful inland waterways resource online. You can subscribe here.

[adrotate banner=”14″]
Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

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

2016 06 05 Newsletter – An Analysis Of A Well Specified Live Aboard Narrowboat Part 2

A few flies appeared in the bathroom on Friday. After a year of dealing with our composting toilet I recognised the signs. The solids tank needed emptying immediately. Bone tired after a long discovery day, I dug out my dedicated toilet cleaning tools from the cupboard beneath the bathroom sink, and my stainless steel Spear and Jackson spade from under the bench seating opposite the stove, trudged into the copse near my mooring, and attacked the rock hard clay until I had a hole deep enough to accommodate two our two month accumulation of poo.

The whole process takes an hour. It’s painless, smellless and chemical free. After emptying the odorless solids, I spent half an hour scrubbing the toilet and solids and liquids containers. Oh, the glamour of Friday night afloat!

And that was pretty much the highlight of my boating week. Cynthia has been away for seven days now. Yesterday she flew from Malaga to Marseilles where she was met by her Provence host. She loves her self contained pool-side accommodation close to a plentiful supply of high quality organic food. It’s not boating, but it’s not a bad compromise.

On Friday I began my June run of discovery days. I wore trousers and a couple of fleeces on Friday and Saturday but today we have been blessed with a cloudless sky and a blazing sun. The English summer has finally arrived.

My discovery day route to and from Braunston is very busy this time of the year. The hire season is in full swing and many of the 2,000 boats moored within a ten mile radius have been released from their marina prisons. The waterways are alive with the sound of happy boaters. It’s a wonderful place to be.

Following on from last week’s article on the pros and cons of my own boat, here’s the concluding post. I hope you find it useful. The first article is in last week’s newsletter here. It detailed the design and equipment in the bow locker, on the front deck and inside the boat in the saloon and dining areas, and the galley. This week’s concluding  post begins with our bijous utility room.

Utility area

When I first moved on board six years ago, this area wasn’t used at all. When I moved on board, the area couldn’t be used for anything other than collecting rainwater. Two warped ply boards were the boat’s only protection from regular rain. Torrents of water had entered the boat around the poor fitting boards, soaking both bulkheads and flooring beneath.

I resolved the water ingress problem when I had the cabin overplated a year and a half after moving on board, but then I had to deal with the water damage. The steps beneath both port and starboard hatches were beyond repair. I threw them both out and then had sections of the bulkheads either side of the side doors replaced. I also had the rotted marine ply beneath both hatches renewed.

Now this small space on both sides of the boat is warm and dry. With both sets of steps removed, there was enough space to fit an Amazon  self assembly storage unit and a twelve bottle wine rack on the starboard side, and our cheap and cheerful twin tub washing machine on the port side.

The washing machine is perfect for off grid living. The more popular narrowboat washing machines such as the Candy and Zanussi compacts use much more power. Ten times as much in fact. They will use 1600 watts or more. Our twin tub, £99 from Neat Ideas on Amazon, uses 120w on the wash cycle and 180w on the spin cycle.

The downside is that is manual operation. The timer’s maximum is fifteen minutes so it needs resetting twice to achieve a forty five minute wash. The laundry then has to be hauled out of the wash tub and crammed into the spin tub.

We have to wash, drain, refill and rinse the clothes twice, again manually, before transferring everything to the spin tub. The whole process is a bit of a pain, but is preferable to dragging our washing to the nearest town launderette.

Drying our washing is no problem at all, even for our bed linen. We simply hang the spun washing on rails in the utility area either side of the central walkway. The cabin is always warm so everything is dry within twenty four hours.

Second Bedroom/Office Area

My office space. My Three MiFi dongle is stuck to the window

My office space. My Three MiFi dongle is stuck to the window

The original owner had three children. This was their sleeping space. There were two bunks on the starboard side and another opposite.They haven’t been used as bunks in the last half decade. In fact, I’ve thrown the mattresses out as the only function they performed was as very effective dust traps. The lowest of the double bunks is used for storing our larger items; two small rucksacks for day hikes and my old 70l multi day hill walking sack which I now use for weekly grocery shops when we are away from the marina.

The single bunk on the port side is a very comfortable office space. There’s plenty of room for my laptop, a printer/copier/scanner/teasmade, files, and a coffee maker and grinder. Cynthia has even managed to shoehorn her much beloved Vitamix blender onto the desk. It’s a necessary evil which she uses regularly to make smoothies and soups. Fortunately she doesn’t have to use it for more than a few minutes at a time. It makes enough noise to make my ears bleed and, for some reason which escapes me, freezes my MacBook’s trackpad when it’s running.

I have a very comfortable office chair in front of my desk. As I often sit here for eight to ten hours at a time, the £80 spent on it was a worthwhile investment.

Much of my work time is spent online, so a reliable internet connection is very important to me. I use a MiFi dongle from Three. Three appears to offer the best mobile broadband cover for the inland waterways. The majority of boaters questioned for the case study section of the site said that Three was their preferred internet service provider.

My Three service costs £17 a month on a two year contract for 15gb. That’s more than enough for all day browsing and email, but not sufficient for media streaming. I watch occasional programmes on BBC iPlayer, but at roughly one gigabyte an hour I can’t afford to watch much.

Three’s coverage is very good indeed. During nine months last year cruising over 1,700 miles I only failed to connect to the internet on three occasions. One of them was at the Crick Boat Show when I was hemmed in by dozens of other boats, some of them probably trying to access the same signal.

Bathroom

Our Hozelock Porta Shower. Three litres is more than enough for a shower

Our Hozelock Porta Shower. Three litres is more than enough for a shower

If you spent long enough talking to a live aboard boat owner, the subject of narrowboat toilets is bound to come up. They will always wax lyrical about the difference between cassette and pump out toilets, but rarely mention the third alternative, the composting toilet.

I endured a cassette toilet for five years. I didn’t like it at all. A cassette toilet offers more flexibility than a pump out toilet with regard to emptying the waste, but because the waste container is no larger than twenty litres, it needs emptying every day or two.

The cassette toilet emptying – Elsan – points are often few and far between. Our cruises were often dictated by the availability of Elsan points along our route. We could have increased our capacity by keeping one or two spare cassettes on board, but storing twenty litres of festering waste in the bottom of the wardrobe didn’t appeal to us.

We weren’t surprised to reach an Elsan point to find it out of commission. CRT work hard to keep them all operational, but they block quite easily to yellow and black tape across the Elsan point entrance isn’t unusual.

We often visited Elsan points which were very unpleasant to use. Not everyone who deposits their waste cleans up afterwards. I didn’t particularly enjoy emptying a container of my own fetid sludge. I certainly didn’t want to do it while wading in someone else’s.

I rarely used our cassette for anything other than having a wee. I suppose it was a psychological issue, but I found the process distasteful. We usually saved our solids for canalside pubs, cafe’s or restaurants, or for our frequent visits to the larger supermarkets. Consequently, spending a penny usually involved spending a great deal more.

We couldn’t really waltz into a small pub or cafe just to use the loo, so a daily toilet stop often included coffee and cake. I calculated that we were spending up to £200 each month on canalside toilet stops.

I switched to an Airhead composting toilet in May 2015. I researched composting toilets thoroughly first. Composting toilets of old were bulky and ineffective affairs. The waste was deposited in a single tank. In England’s wet and cool climate, the slurry didn’t dry so couldn’t compost.

Airhead compact composting toilet. The installation has saved us a fortune on canal-side toilet stops

Airhead compact composting toilet. The installation has saved us a fortune on canal-side toilet stops

Our current toilet is one of a new breed of eco friendly loos. It’s cleverly designed so that the solids and liquids are separated. A man has to “go girlie” to make it work. Sitting down to have a wee took a bit of getting used to, but the extra effort is worth it.

The liquids container needs emptying most days. It’s a quick and easy job to unclip it, carry the container outside and empty it in the nearest hedge. There are no chemicals involved so this method of disposal is EA approved. Before it’s clipped back in place we add a spoonful of sugar to stop the container from smelling. We also regularly clean it out with a mixture of hot water, white vinegar and a handful of gravel to scour the sides.

The solids container can easily last the two of us for two months. We bag and dispose of our toilet tissue daily so there’s no paper bulk to fill the container. Emptying the solids container takes about an hour. I dig a hole in a nearby copse or field, empty the clay-like and odourless waste into it, then carefully refill the hole ensuring that any grass sods are carefully replaced. This method of disposal is also EA approved. You’re supposed to ask the landowner’s permission, but I’ve never been able to find a landowner to ask and you can’t tell that I’ve been there anyway, so no harm done.

The toilet cost £850 to buy and £150 to install. It was money very well spent. We are now completely self sufficient as far as waste management is concerned. There are no expensive and environmentally unfriendly chemicals to buy and there’s no need to plan our cruise around toilet emptying stops.

Another cruise planning consideration used to be our water supply. We have a tiny onboard tank. At 350 litres, it’s less than half the size of those found on most narrowboats. We use most of our water for washing dishes. Cynthia spends much of her time in the galley, so there are always plenty of pots and pans to clean.

Washing our dirty little bodies uses very little water thanks to the most useful device I’ve purchased for the boat in the last six years. Our Hozelock Porta Shower is perfect for water conscious boat owners. The large plastic bottle hold seven litres. You pressurise it with a hand pump and then use a shower head on a 2m hose to wash with.

One kettle full of boiling water and another of cold is all that we need to have a very enjoyable and thorough shower. According to the UK Waterwise website, an average shower uses sixty two litres. I usually use just three litres per shower. Cynthia, if she’s washing her hair, uses five litres.

Our half size water tank will last us ten days with careful management. However, if we plan to use the washing machine, we always make sure that we top up our tank. An average load washed once and rinsed twice will use close to a hundred litres.

Bedroom

On to another room with lots of storage space. Our bedroom has a decent sized wardrobe and six voluminous drawers under the bed. Our calorifier is also fitted under the bed. The calorifier is the boat’s hot water tank. The water in it is heated in three different ways. If we are plugged into the national grid via our shore line, we can use the calorifier’s 1KW heater. When we are cruising, hot water from the engine fills the tank, and thirdly, when our Webasto Thermotop C diesel central heating system is on, the diesel burner heats the 55 litres in the tank as well as three radiators down the starboard side and one on the port side under my desk.

Smartgauge battery monitor showing the leisure bank at 100% after a day's cruise

Smartgauge battery monitor showing the leisure bank at 100% after a day’s cruise

The bedroom used to be quite a cold and damp place, very cold and damp when I first moved on board. There were three radiators attached to the stove’s back boiler running down the starboard side. The gravity fed back boiler wasn’t very efficient. By the time the hot stove water trickled fifty feet back to the tiny single radiator in the bedroom it was lukewarm at best.  A more effective solution to heating the back of the boat was to install a 12v ceiling fan close to the stove in line with the central passageway. When used, the fan increased the temperature in our bedroom by six or seven degrees.

I used to have problems with condensation in the bedroom. In the early days I closed the bathroom doors to conserve heat in the front of the boat which meant that the bedroom was much, much colder than the rest of the boat. Once I adopted the habit of keeping the bathroom doors open all the time, using the ceiling fan to push warm air back to the bedroom, and lined poorly insulated hull side under the gunnel next to the bed, the condensation disappeared.

I have a Smartgauge battery monitor installed in the bedroom in the bulkhead between the bedroom and the engine room. It’s an essential tool for regularly monitoring the battery bank’s state of charge.

Your batteries are expensive consumables. When I moved on board in April 2010 I had just one 110ah lead acid domestic battery and a similar sized starter battery. I immediately doubled the size of my domestic bank to two 110ah lead acid batteries. The increase wasn’t enough. Within a couple of years I had four 135ah batteries in the domestic bank. I upgraded again at the beginning of last year to four 160ah AGM batteries. The new battery bank gives me more than enough power for full time off grid living. At £200 each they aren’t cheap, so I do what I can to extend their life.

Your boat batteries don’t like deep cycling so if you don’t charge them until your boat lights dim, you will have to change them far quicker than if you keep them topped up. The problem is that you don’t know whether they are fully charged unless you have a battery monitor. You have to guess their capacity which means that you’ll either let them run down too low, or waste valuable diesel running your engine to charge them when they are already fully charged.

At the push of a button, my Smartgauge monitor tells me what I need to know. The monitor is just above my bed. I check it at least twice a day, usually in the evening before bed and then again in the morning.

My battery bank is charged either by the engine, or by my 300w solar array. In the summer, the solar panels provide me with all the power I need. When I’m in the marina I don’t plug in to the national grid.  I don’t need to. Before I started my current run of discovery days, the solar panels kept my batteries charged for two weeks. They had dropped to 80% after a series of wet and dull days, but I was very happy with two week’s free electricity.

Engine room

The engine room houses my engine. It didn’t house it very well when I first moved on board. There was a coffin shaped box covering it which was a pig to remove to get at the engine. I removed it and had a steel frame fitted around the engine, then paid £1,200 to have the frame encased by insulated deck boards. The result was a safe, aesthetically pleasing and relatively quiet engine room with plenty of dry and secure storage space.

Living on a narrowboat is all about compromise. A traditional stern narrowboat like mine gives you plenty of internal storage space and somewhere warm to stand on a cold winter’s day. The downside is that there isn’t a huge amount of space for guests to stand with the helmsman when cruising. Semi traditional and cruiser stern boats have far more space for social cruising, but you lose all of the secure storage space.

Our trad stern engine room. Where would you put all of this on a cruiser stern boat?

Our trad stern engine room. Where would you put all of this on a cruiser stern boat?

I have a huge amount of stuff stored in my engine room; oils, polish, grease, mooring gear, hats for summer and winter, waterproofs, gloves, jackets of different thicknesses, binoculars, camera, tools – some of which I know how to use – and my Kipor suitcase generator.

All of this secure storage space would be lost if I had a cruiser or semi traditional stern.

The engine room is also home to my bank of five batteries, Webasto diesel heater, 2KW inverter, battery charger, and an MPPT controller for my three 100w solar panels.

There’s a great deal packed neatly into my engine room. I’m very happy with it, apart from the access from the engine room into the cabin. Unless you are whippet thin like Cynthia and I you can’t squeeze yourself through the tight gap by the side of the engine and through the narrow door into the bedroom beyond.

My diesel tank is across the back of the boat. It’s huge. My engine uses an average of 1.37 litres an hour so, in theory, I could cruise for two hundred and fifty five hours or for eight hours a day, seven days a week for a month, before I ran out of fuel. I don’t have a fuel gauge but I keep a record of my engine hours on a spreadsheet which calculates fuel used and fuel remaining.

That’s my boat from stem to stern. The refurbishment of this tired old boat has taken me six years. It’s all done now. We’re both completely happy with it… apart from slightly draughty windows, the roof which needs repainting, the cabin sides which need touching up, the engine which is a little smokey, a mysterious leak in my keel tank or the pipes attached to it and an annoying engine rattle at 1,000rpm. I think I’ll leave those jobs until next year.

Discovery Day Dates

I still have two dates available for exclusive singles and couples on 8th & 9th June. The forecast for both days is twenty two degrees and sunny. Here’s a wonderful chance to enjoy and idyllic day on the cut. I’m offering a late booking 25% discount on both dates so you’ll save £62.25 on a couple’s day and £49.75 if you’re single and want to have both me and my boat to yourself for a ten hour journey of discovery through beautiful Warwickshire countryside. 

You can find out more about my discovery day service here. If you would like to book one of the two remaining dates click on the appropriate link below.

Discovery Day for two people – Normal price £249 discounted to £186.75 with the code below.

Discovery Day for an exclusive single – £199 discounted to £149.25 with the code below.

Click on one of the links above to go to the appropriate calendar. Add your details to the calendar. You will receive an email directing you to the payment page. Enter the code below to receive your discount. Please note that the code is case sensitive, so type it exactly as it is written below.

JUN25

I hope to welcome you on board soon.

Can YOU Help Maintain This Site?

I wrote about the ongoing and often crippling costs of maintaining this site in the last two newsletters. My total annual outgoings just to maintain the site and pay for the software to send out my weekly newsletters is over £5,000. It’s a cost I simply can’t afford any more.

I just about cover my day to day running costs through my Narrowbudget Gold package and my discovery day service, but there’s very little left to put towards the site. I’ll be returning to work at Calcutt Boats for all of May to help top up my dwindling bank balance. I’ll enjoy the working around the two beautiful marinas, but finding time to run the site and work a forty five hour week will be a struggle.

The only way I will be able to keep the site’s 9,000 posts and pages online in the future will be through voluntary subscriptions. These subscriptions will be just that; voluntary. If you can’t afford to pay, or you simply don’t want to pay, the wealth of information that’s taken me, and a host of experienced boaters on the forum, six years to write will still be there for you completely free of charge.

Over the last two weeks I’ve asked for voluntary subscriptions. Some very kind site users have already agreed to help, but I need many more if I am to keep the site running. I can’t maintain it any other way.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, I’m sure that you realise the time and effort which goes into it. I receive dozens of emails every week from aspiring boaters asking for advice. I answer every one of them as quickly and comprehensively as possible. You may have sent an email or two to me yourself.

I enjoy helping others move closer to the life I enjoy so much every day. I don’t ask or expect payment for this service. It’s a labour of love. Paying bills each month is not such a pleasant experience. Please help me continue to help others by subscribing to the site. The subscription form is here.

Your financial details are completely safe. Payment is made through the world’s largest payment portal. Only you can change your subscription details. You can cancel your subscription at any time.

For the price of a cup of coffee or a pint each month you can help keep a very useful inland waterways resource online. You can subscribe here.

Cynthia Says—-

Reporting from Spain—

My plane arrived without incident Sunday evening 29 May at 7:00pm.  I was whisked away to my apartment via taxi and met by a member of the clinic.  I had a good nights sleep and set off the next morning for the Budwig Center which was a five minute walk from my apartment.  Shortly after 9:00am I commenced my treatments and then all of a sudden……it was Friday evening!

I came here to balance myself in body and spirit and certainly accomplished that in various ways.  Since moving across the pond I had sort of let my diet slip a bit, and oftentimes found myself in a tizzy dealing with the stress of changing my life in many directions.  I needed re-grounding, and finding peace and a sense of belonging in my new home across the pond.

Now that I feel comfortable driving I have a lot more freedom.  I have been away from home a week now and I can honestly say how much I miss it—especially Paul and Tasha—and of course my new-found swan family!  I will not be able to return until the end of next month or early August and that will be difficult.  There is much to accomplish between now and then—a lot of good exciting stuff!

Two days ago I heard from my realtor back in Vermont that my house was officially on the market and a showing was scheduled for today.  I am pleased with this good start, as this next three months are the top months to sell houses in New England.

Since I have been living in this big apartment for the past week it is funny what a different perspective one has after living on a narrowboat.  You’d think I would love all the extra room wouldn’t you?  But to be honest I miss the coziness of the boat and being able to glance outside at any moment and witness a wealth of activity amongst the wildlife.  Somehow that trumps looking out the window and seeing lines of drying laundry!

I do have to say the weather has been perfect.  The sunshine and the quality of the air here is magnificent.  I can’t get enough of it!  I am so happy we will be heading south for this coming winter so we can enjoy it for a longer stretch of time.

Last night was my final night here, and one of the lady’s and her friend at the clinic invited me to go to the beach with them.  I am so glad I said yes—we sat on the beach watching the world go by and dipping our feet into the Mediterranean.  It felt wonderful.

We explored a park on the way back and witnessed a lot of interesting flora and fauna.  When we returned we went to my friends’ apartment and had a quick dinner.

Tomorrow morning finds me pulling myself out of bed at 3:00am to get ready for my taxi ride to the airport and flight to Marseille.  I will be picked up there by my friends and we will make our way to their B and B in the small Provence town of Sarrians.

The saga continues…..stayed tuned for next week when I report on my new home until departing on 17 June for Calais where I will finally become reunited with my beloved Paul and dear Tasha.  I can’t wait, and in the meantime I shall immerse myself in the French country life and soak it all up.  It will be nice to reacquaint myself with the French language.

[adrotate banner=”14″]
Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

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

2016 05 29 Newsletter – An Analysis Of A Well Specified Live Aboard Narrowboat

We visited Crick yesterday for day one of the inland waterway’s major boat show. We thought that we would beat the crowds by arriving early. The crowds had the same idea, so the final half mile crawl took us half an hour.

The Crick Boat Show is renowned for rain, quagmire parking and hot toddies rather than cool drinks. Yesterday, the weather was wonderful. The sun shone brightly from an azure sky on thousands of happy boaters.

Cynthia and I were window shopping. We can’t afford a new boat but when, if, Cynthia’s Vermont house sells, we have toyed with the idea of changing to a floating home with a boatman’s cabin.

Cynthia lived on her own for twenty five years. Sharing her life in a confined space with someone, me, who often needs peace and quiet to concentrate on work, someone who can often be accurately described as somewhat antisocial, has been a challenge.

We thought that a boatman’s cabin, separated from the front of the boat by the engine room, would give one of us a secluded work space or somewhere to retire to for a little privacy.

The problem we face, apart from being not being able to afford a quality boat of this design, is that boatman’s cabins don’t appear to be very popular with boat builders, especially boat builders at this year’s show.

Only two boats of this design were on display in the show’s boat builder section. One of them, an immaculate R W Davis tug fronted seventy footer, belonged to Crick marina’s harbour master so was off limits to the general public. The other looked as though it had been painted by a hyperactive child who had swallowed a couple of LSD tablets.

None of the other show boats appealed to us. Many of them were wide beam. All of the wide beam boats had long queues in front of them. Long queues of aspiring boat owners focussed on the extra space afforded by a wide beam and not the restricted cruising. If you’re considering purchasing a wide beam, you need to read this newsletter first.

By mid afternoon the show lost its appeal. We both craved the marina’s tranquility after five hours of crowds and noise. Back on our mooring, when we climbed onto our front deck and stepped down into the cabin I looked the length of the boat and once more realised how lucky I was to find a boat so well designed for living on.

I’ve invested a great deal of money in improving the boat over the last six years, but the basic design is still the same. Apart from having a boatman’s cabin, there’s very little I would change. I’m not even completely sold on the boatman’s cabin.

A boatman’s cabin is at the rear of the boat, immediately in front of the helmsman on the small rear deck. The engine is forward of the boatman’s cabin in its own room. Traditional boats have very little in their engine rooms other than the engine, buffed to shiny perfection, and visible to the envious world outside through open side hatches.

My own engine is hidden beneath sound proofed deck boards. The rest of the engine room provides ample storage space for tools, boating accessories, outdoor clothing and all the paraphernalia which boaters want and need. I wouldn’t have half as much storage space on a boat with a boatman’s cabin.

Other than this one niggle with the boat’s design, everything else is just about perfect as far as I’m concerned. At the start of my discovery days, I walk guests through the boat explaining the design and features and their pros and cons.

Here’s an abridged version of the tour starting at the bow.

Bow Locker

Most traditional stern narrowboats have a bow locker which is used to store propane gas. My own bow locker is large enough to store two 13kg bottles. Most narrowboats use gas for cooking. Some also use gas for water heating and for central heating.

Cynthia is a keen chef. She often cooks three times a day. One 13kg cylinder costing about £27 used solely for cooking will last us 1.5 to 2.0 months. I used to also heat my water using gas. Then I had to change my gas every three weeks.

Some boats use gas as their primary heat source. Many ex hire boats have gas central heating systems. Gas central heating is very expensive. A 13kg cylinder costing £27 will last no more than three days if used in the winter to heat your boat. And if the system has open gas heaters, they will pump moisture laden air into the cabin causing condensation problems.

The bow locker is used for water storage on some boats. The water tank is simply partitioned steel painted with bitumen. The problem with these bow locker tanks is that they need repainting periodically to protect the steel. Repainting the bow locker is a filthy job carried out in a very small space. It’s not something you want to consider if you’re claustrophobic.

Front Deck

The boat’s front deck is behind the bow locker. Most boats have a well deck which you step over the hull side to get on. The exception are tug fronted boats which have a long flat deck with no protective sides.

Plenty of dry storage space for your outdoor gear

Plenty of dry storage space for your outdoor gear

There are some very sexy tug style narrowboats in production, including one of my personal favourites, the Northwich Trader style built by R W Davis. They look wonderful, but they aren’t the most efficient design if you plan to spend extended periods on board.

Tug fronted boats often have a bed under the deck which you can reach either by crawling into a claustrophobic space, or which you pull out into the saloon area. The large open front deck is perfect for hot summer evenings, but not much good use on cooler days. Unfortunately, in England, we have plenty of cooler days when the front deck space is wasted.

An open well deck fitted with bench seating is a pleasant place to sit on summer cruises, but it isn’t very practical for live aboard boaters where storage space is all important. A triangular glassed frame, a cratch board, can be fitted between the bow and the well deck with a board running from the top of the cratch board to the front of the cabin roof. A vinyl or canvas cover can then be fitted over this to provide a substantial additional dry storage area on the front deck.

This area is very useful during winter months, especially if you have a dog or two. The front deck offers a dry area to remove your outdoor clothing, clean off muddy boots and muddy paws, and a useful storage space for your dirty footwear, coal supply, kindling, ash bucket and hose.

Keeping your hose out of the elements on cold winter nights is very important. Many live aboard boats have hoses stored on their cabin roof. Trying to remove accumulated ice from a hose left out on a sub zero night is a tedious process. My hose, protected under the cratch cover on my front deck was usable on every day of the particularly cold winter of 2010/11 when double digit sub zero nights were common.

Water tank

Most narrowboats have their water tanks under the front deck. Most have a capacity of 700-1,000 litres. The 350 litre tank on our boat is tiny, but Cynthia and I can still make it last ten days. We wash dishes three times a day and shower every other day using our Hozelock Porta Shower. I recently saw an R W David boat for sale with a massive 1,700 litre tank which would last Cynthia and I nearly two months.

Internal Storage Space

All my reference books and DVDs are easily accessible

All my reference books and DVDs are easily accessible

I have handled hundreds of boats during my half decade working at Calcutt Boats. I always compare the boats I move with my own boat. Many are more expensive, are newer, have better paintwork or sleeker lines, but very, very few have as much storage space as I have on board.

When you are viewing potential boats, especially if you are going to be living on board full time, always mentally move on board with all of your prized possessions and think about where you are going to store them. Think about all the things you own; your furniture, ornaments, framed pictures, items you have stored in your loft, your shed and your garage, your toys and tools, your cooking utensils, cutlery and crockery, clothing, shoes, boots, makeup and medicines. Everything you want to keep either has to go on to the boat with you or into an expensive storage container. How much of it can you fit on the boat you’re looking at?

James has a huge amount of storage space. I think that there are forty seven different cupboards, shelves, drawers or wardrobes. I am very lucky.

On the forward bulkhead on either side of my front doors I have built in cupboards and shelves. The shelving is used for DVD and book storage. If you’re a book lover, you are going to struggle to find enough suitable space to store or display them all. I have several hundred books on my Kindle. I only have about thirty printed books. All of them are reference material; English trees, flowers and birds and my collection of Pearson canal guides plus a range of Ordnance Survey maps I use for hiking footpaths close to the canals I cruise.

I store coal, kindling and firelighters on the shelving close to my Torglow multifuel stove. I decant each

My coal is stored in leakproof boxes close to the stove

My coal is stored in leakproof boxes close to the stove

25kg bag of coal briquettes into two sturdy plastic boxes. The coal bags often have small holes in them. In wet weather, rain water finds its way into the bags and then dumps black slurry onto my boat floor or furniture if I bring the bags inside. Decanting the briquettes into plastic boxes saves any mess.

Each 25kg bag lasts me about three days in the winter when the stove is on twenty four hours a day.

Many boaters only burn wood that they find on the towpath. It’s not a very efficient fuel. Logs have to have a moisture content of less than 20% if they are to burn properly. Fresh cut oak is about 50% water. Ash is slightly less. The cut logs take up to two years to season, so any logs burned before that are too wet. More energy is used to evaporate the water than to produce heat. The wet logs burn at a low temperature creating flue clogging tar which increases the likelihood of flue fires and reduces the stove’s effectiveness. Boats which routinely burn unseasoned logs often have a dark brown stain running from the chimney collar down the cabin side.

Even if you manage to find seasoned wood, you can’t carry enough of it on the boat with you. I burn two tonnes of coal briquettes each year. I would need to carry four tonnes of wood with me, two tonnes ready to burn and two tonnes seasoning. I would need to tow a second boat to heat the first one.

Saloon Area

I have L shaped seating opposite the stove. You will often see boats advertised as Spacious open plan, ideal for living on board. No they aren’t. They look spacious because there is no fitted furniture and therefore nowhere for you to store anything. These boats might have a couple of leather captain’s chairs in the saloon area. They’re usually very comfortable, but you can’t store anything under or behind them.

My seating isn’t the most comfortable in the world but it’s far more practical and useful for live aboard boat owners. Under the seating opposite my stove I have two folding chairs for al fresco dining, an anchor, chain and rope, a vacuum cleaner and accessories and some bulky engine spares, all stored neatly out of the way. I don’t know where I could store these items neatly without the space under my saloon seating.

Dining Area

A comfortable space to share a meal

A comfortable space to share a meal

Living on a narrowboat is all about compromise. The more you want on your boat, the longer your boat needs to be. Cynthia and I could get by without a dedicated dining area and have a boat six feet shorter, but we don’t want to.

We rarely watch television. We haven’t watched it once this year so far. Cynthia enjoys cooking. I enjoy eating what she cooks. We like to sit at a table in comfort while we eat.

We have a Pullman dinette with more storage under the bench seating. There are four drawers on the outside which we use for storing crockery and cookware. There isn’t much storage space in the galley so this space is very important to us. I’ll correct that, this space is very important to Cynthia. I’m not entirely sure what’s in there, but rummaging through these drawers keeps her happy for hours.

There is more storage space under the dinette seats on the port side, accessed by lifting the seat cushions off. We use this space for items we don’t use very often such as seasonal clothing or bedding.

Galley

Our galley is smaller than those on many narrowboats, but it’s big enough to cook any meal providing we are well organised. The cooker isn’t quite full size, so we have to check the size of baking trays and oven dishes carefully before buying them.

A small galley, but large enough to cook any meal

A small galley, but large enough to cook any meal

Our fridge is opposite the cooker. A similar capacity 230v fridge from a high street store would cost about £150. Our 12v fridge costs £550, but it’s worth every penny. The fridge is the biggest electrical consumer on board most narrowboats. If we were to save money and purchase a 230v fridge we would have to run it through an inverter. We don’t want to do that for two reasons.

The inverter is in the engine room close to our bank of four 160ah AGM batteries. The inverter is

We've used the bulkhead space above the fridge for Cynthia's spices

We’ve used the bulkhead space above the fridge for Cynthia’s spices

mounted on the cabin side two feet from the bulkhead which separates the engine room from our bedroom. The inverter drones when it it is under load so if we had a 230v fridge running through it through the night we would have to listen to the inverter rather than the natural sounds we enjoy so much.

The inverter also consumes power so the boat would need to generate more power with a 230v fridge on board. I’m not sure exactly how much power my new Sunshine inverter, but it’s much less than the Sterling inverter that preceded it. Now that I’ve switched to the Sunshine model I can run on solar power only for many days without running the engine. I was out on a discovery day on Friday but, apart from that, I’ve been on my marina mooring for the last two weeks. I haven’t needed to run the engine to charge my battery bank once, nor have I needed to plug into the shore supply.

That’s it for part one. Next week I’ll run through my utility area, office, bathroom, bedroom and engine room. Until then, I hope you have a wonderful week.

Discovery Day Dates

The weather’s picking up, more and more boat owners are brushing off a winter’s worth of cobwebs, and I’m just a week away from my June run of discovery days. I still have two dates available for exclusive singles and couples on 8th & 9th June. I’m offering a late booking 25% discount on both dates so you’ll save £62.25 on a couple’s day and £49.75 if you’re single and want to have both me and my boat to yourself for a ten hour journey of discovery through beautiful Warwickshire countryside.

You can find out more about my discovery day service here. If you would like to book one of the two remaining dates click on the appropriate link below.

Discovery Day for two people – Normal price £249 discounted to £186.75 with the code below.

Discovery Day for an exclusive single – £199 discounted to £149.25 with the code below.

Click on one of the links above to go to the appropriate calendar. Add your details to the calendar. You will receive an email directing you to the payment page. Enter the code below to receive your discount. Please note that the code is case sensitive, so type it exactly as it is written below.

JUN25

I hope to welcome you on board soon.

Can YOU Help Maintain This Site?

I wrote about the ongoing and often crippling costs of maintaining this site in the last two newsletters. My total annual outgoings just to maintain the site and pay for the software to send out my weekly newsletters is over £5,000. It’s a cost I simply can’t afford any more.

I just about cover my day to day running costs through my Narrowbudget Gold package and my discovery day service, but there’s very little left to put towards the site. I’ll be returning to work at Calcutt Boats for all of May to help top up my dwindling bank balance. I’ll enjoy the working around the two beautiful marinas, but finding time to run the site and work a forty five hour week will be a struggle.

The only way I will be able to keep the site’s 9,000 posts and pages online in the future will be through voluntary subscriptions. These subscriptions will be just that; voluntary. If you can’t afford to pay, or you simply don’t want to pay, the wealth of information that’s taken me, and a host of experienced boaters on the forum, six years to write will still be there for you completely free of charge.

Over the last two weeks I’ve asked for voluntary subscriptions. Some very kind site users have already agreed to help, but I need many more if I am to keep the site running. I can’t maintain it any other way.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, I’m sure that you realise the time and effort which goes into it. I receive dozens of emails every week from aspiring boaters asking for advice. I answer every one of them as quickly and comprehensively as possible. You may have sent an email or two to me yourself.

I enjoy helping others move closer to the life I enjoy so much every day. I don’t ask or expect payment for this service. It’s a labour of love. Paying bills each month is not such a pleasant experience. Please help me continue to help others by subscribing to the site. The subscription form is here.

Your financial details are completely safe. Payment is made through the world’s largest payment portal. Only you can change your subscription details. You can cancel your subscription at any time.

For the price of a cup of coffee or a pint each month you can help keep a very useful inland waterways resource online. You can subscribe here.

Cynthia Says—

Off to Spain–

I have just finished tying up most of the loose last minute ends to all the bits and pieces necessary to depart this afternoon.  It will certainly be a tearful departure as I have to tear myself away from Tasha and my beloved Paul and our narrowboat life of tranquility.

This past week I became close with the male swan (I have named him Stanley), and I have enjoyed feeding him and petting him.  Yesterday morning we got a real surprise as we heard the tap-tap-tapping on the hull.  Not only had Stanley shown up—he brought the whole family!  I named his wife Celia, and the four signets are Roberta, Rosie, Ralph and Rebel.  Rebel got stuck on the opposite side of the boat.  Whilst I was feeding the others on the dock side, he was trying to get down the side of the boat between the barge dock and James.  I heard this flurry of activity and looked down to see him struggling to join the rest of his family.  I have always wanted to feel one of these exquisitely soft little souls and low and behold I got my wish as he let me scoop him up in my hand.  He didn’t even give me a fight, he seemed to like being held.  I then released him to return to the others.  What a joyous way to begin our day!

We then packed our things after breakfast and headed to Crick for the much-coveted boat show.  Tasha was a trouper—there were many dogs there and she fit right in.  This was her first time in such a crowd and she handled it well.  We were very proud of her.

It was fun to see the boats, but I have to admit these new boats don’t hold much charm for me—I prefer the more traditional older boats that look like boats.  So many of the new ones remind me of new condominiums on the market–especially the wide-body versions of which there were quite a few.

We made our way through the vendors and then found a place that could make us some bespoke savoury crepes with spinach and goat cheese.  After finding a nice spot on the grass to sit down we enjoyed our lunch followed by a little lie down.  We both decided we had seen enough and off we headed to the car.  On the way we stopped at a booth where a new non-toxic bitumen product was being sold.  After a nice discussion with the representative Mike, we walked away with a couple of containers.  I know Paul will let you know what we think of the product.

On the way home I reminded Paul we needed to stop at the Napton PO so I could get a couple of last minute items.  I then casually mentioned I was sorry I hadn’t had time to visit the water buffalo nearby.  So dear Paul parked the car at the Folly and away we strolled down the towpath, enjoying the sights along the way.  Such a nice sideline taking this little trip!  Made the day extra special….

When we returned Paul drove me over to see a couple of interesting boats that ended up being absent from their slips.  I casually asked him about the island and he asked if I wanted to go there.  So back to the boat where I popped the potatoes in the oven to bake and off we went for a stroll around the island.  What a lovely place!  I thoroughly enjoyed this little side trip as well.  And just before we departed the dock to return to our mooring, there came Stanley and family again!  We fed them a bit more then cast off and headed for home base so we could have our dinner.

Paul was most kind in setting up the front deck so that we could enjoy our meal al fresco.  It was beautiful and the perfect setting for our last supper.

I shall report back to let you know how my time in Spain is going, and then next Saturday I will be off to Provence to stay with my friends.

Stay tuned for next weeks’ adventure-reporting!

P.S. I know I am repeating myself, but I want to say a HUGE Thank You to those new voluntary site subscribers who showed up this week–keep it up!

 

[adrotate banner=”14″]
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.  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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary
2

2016 05 22 Newsletter – A New Service For Aspiring Boat Owners

May is racing towards its unhappy conclusion. A happy conclusion if you’re looking forward to the Crick Boat Show, but an unhappy one if you are either Cynthia or I.

Monday 30th May is the final day of the Crick Boat Show, and Cynthia’s final day of her permitted stay in the UK. I’ll drive her to Rugby where she will catch a train to London and then on to Avignon in the south of France. Eighteen days later I’ll pack our possessions into the Hymer before climbing on board with basset Tasha and driving to Folkestone for a half hour £100 train ride under the channel to our rendezvous in Calais.

From there we’ll drive through Belgium to Rotterdam to spend a day or two with Cynthia’s brother Jeff and his wife Judy and then on through Germany – did you know that Google doesn’t provide Street View images of Germany because of privacy issues? – before crossing the border into Denmark and  on to the island of Aero where we will marry.

Hooray!

Until then I need to knuckle down to earn some pennies to help pay for it all.

I hoped that we would be able to spend most of our time cruising once we are married but, as is often the case, life has scuppered our plans.

Even once we are married, Cynthia won’t be able to come back to England with me. She’ll have to return to New York so that she can apply for another ridiculously expensive visa, costing in excess of $4,000. The application process takes up to a month, so Cynthia is going to spend her time back in the USA tying up any loose ends which includes trying to sell her house.

Once the visa has been granted, she will be able to return to me in the UK. Unfortunately we still won’t be able to cruise.

Buying our motorhome and finding money for the wedding and its associated costs has stretched us financially. Calcutt Boats, supportive as ever, have agreed to have me back full time until the end of the hire boat and growing season at the end of October.

Our plan at the moment is to stay on our marina mooring until after my November discovery days, then finally pack our bags before driving to Spain’s south coast for the winter.

That’s the plan at the moment.

My time at Calcutt Boats is flying by. Each day is filled with variety. I spend my time moving boats, driving locally on errands and mowing, pruning and cutting.

I had the pleasure of driving to Whitchurch on the Llangollen canal on Friday to deliver a reconditioned BMC engine. The motorway journey there took two and a half hours. The trip back in an attempt to avoid the usual M6 rush hour crawl through Birmingham on the way back took four hours. At least we were able to drive through pleasant countryside.

Crick Boat Show

Are you going to the Crick Boat Show this year? It’s the busiest of the inland waterways boat shows and a wonderful day or two out if you’re interested in narrowboats. Cynthia and I will be there on Saturday where I usually collect a car load of things I want but don’t need. I’ll be watching my pennies this year though.

I purchased a set of four braid on braid ropes last year. I was looking forward to using them on the boat. They are soft so they tie well, and they look good too. What I didn’t realise was that they are as absorbent as a sponge, so after anything other than a gentle shower they soak up pints of water.

I managed to dispose of one of the four ropes by allowing it to fall off the roof and into the propeller. I spent an hour with my head down my weed hatch up to my shoulders in icy water trying to hack off a dozen turns of iron hard rope. I won’t be buying a replacement braid on braid rope at the show this year.

I can’t think of anything I want this time, other than a pint or two of the dozens of real ale on offer at the beer tent. Sadly, there will be no beer for me either. I’m on a restrictive diet at the moment which means that I am denied anything with any taste, including my nightly red wine or beer. I am allowed gin and/or vodka, but both are a poor substitute for a real ale fan.

So, if you are at the show on Saturday and you see a sad looking man wearing a ridiculous Crocodile Dundee hat, complete with crocodile teeth, looking longingly at the beer tent, please come and say hello. I will welcome any distraction to take my mind off the beer I can’t have.

That’s all I have to say about my working week. but Cynthia thinks you might like to see a photo or two. Here they are…

Hard labour at Calcutt Boats

Hard labour at Calcutt Boats. Six hours of hauling a mower up a slope

Replacing a marina entrance railway sleeper

Replacing a marina entrance railway sleeper. Young Stuart is “supervising”

Delivering a reconditioned engine to Whitworth marina

Delivering a reconditioned engine to Whitworth marina

Discovery Day Dates

The weather’s picking up, more and more boat owners are brushing off a winter’s worth of cobwebs, and I’m just a week away from my June run of discovery days. I still have two dates available for exclusive singles and couples on 8th & 9th June. I’m offering a late booking 25% discount on both dates so you’ll save £62.25 on a couple’s day and £49.75 if you’re single and want to have both me and my boat to yourself for a ten hour journey of discovery through beautiful Warwickshire countryside.

You can find out more about my discovery day service here. If you would like to book one of the two remaining dates click on the appropriate link below.

Discovery Day for two people – Normal price £249 discounted to £186.75 with the code below.

Discovery Day for an exclusive single – £199 discounted to £149.25 with the code below.

Click on one of the links above to go to the appropriate calendar. Add your details to the calendar. You will receive an email directing you to the payment page. Enter the code below to receive your discount. Please note that the code is case sensitive, so type it exactly as it is written below.

JUN25

I hope to welcome you on board soon.

A New Service For Aspiring Boat Owners

After six years working at one of the inland waterway’s premiere marinas, I’ve met thousands of boat owners either passing through the Calcutt flight, stopping on the wharf for services, or mooring on one of the two hundred and fifty berths here.

Many have been new boat owners trying to come to terms with a new boat, lifestyle, and mode of transport. I chat to many of them. The recent boat buyers often have tales to tell of mistakes made and lessons learned.

Some have been very expensive lessons indeed.

One couple, Phil and Alison, had a romantic dream. They decided to sell their London house to release enough equity to buy a modest second hand narrowboat and to fund their travel and living costs on a mid life gap year away from the stress of working and living in England’s capital.

They imagined idyllic days together without a care in the world, sitting quietly on grassy towpaths next to their comfortable floating home, enjoying a glass or two of fragrant wine as they watched the world slip slowly by.

They were both new to boating. They didn’t know the first thing about narrowboats, their design or onboard equipment. They didn’t care. They saw a reasonably priced and spacious boat and, after no research and ten minutes on board, handed £40,000 in cash to the broker.

The boat, as is usual, didn’t come with any instructions. It also didn’t come with any fitted furniture. They had been seduced by the brochure’s “spacious boat perfect for living aboard” description. They arrived on the boat’s temporary mooring with a van loaded with their most cherished possessions and nowhere to put them.

They exchanged a sizeable chunk of their summer cruising fund for a van load of IKEA furniture and then tried to shoehorn tables, chairs and beds designed for a house into their sloping walled tiny home.

Once the first hurdle had been overcome after a fashion, they considered the logistics of handling their new boat. They eventually found a key to match the engine’s ignition, turned it on and…. Nothing!

One of the brokerage office staff told them that the battery master switch was probably turned off. The information didn’t help them much. They didn’t know what a battery master switch was, or where to find it. They admitted that during their all-too-brief pre purchase inspection, they hadn’t asked to take the boat out for a test drive. They hadn’t even asked for the engine to be turned on.

With a little help from a fellow boater, they located the two master switches, one for the engine’s starter battery, and one for the boat’s bank of four leisure batteries, turned on the engine master switch and tried to start the engine again.

Still nothing.

Two days later, with the help of an marine electrical engineer charging £37 an hour, they discovered that all five batteries were dead. The batteries cost £500 to replace and then Phil parted with another £1,000 to have an inverter, a battery charger, a battery monitor and some 240v sockets installed.

The couple had spent £3,000 at this stage without moving the boat an inch from its mooring.

Their next shock came when they moved their boat for the first time. The engine sounded fine when it ran out of gear, but as soon as they nervously took it for a spin around the marina, the rattling and squealing drove them to distraction.

They discovered that there was an alignment problem with the drive shaft, something which would have been immediately apparent if they had taken the boat for a test drive before they purchased it.

The remedial engine work cost them another £2,000. Then they spent yet another £2,000 having a cratch board and cover made and fitted so that they could store some of their less valuable possessions on a protected front deck.

The repairs and improvements used all of their summer cruising savings. By now the couple were totally disenchanted with life afloat. By now they were more stressed than they had ever been living in London, and they were also without money or jobs.

Their idyllic gap year was reduced to a frantic and very nervous cruise to a less than perfect mooring close to a place where they could both return to the daily grind.

All of this could have been avoided if they did a little pre purchase research and had someone to turn to when they needed advice. Phil and Alison hadn’t had their boat surveyed before buying it. Fortunately the boat was structurally sound.

Not everyone is quite so lucky.

We had a boat here at Calcutt a few years ago. The boat was old and in a poor state of repair generally. The owner had sensibly organised an out of water survey before committing to the purchase. The survey results were alarming. The hull thickness in parts was down to 2mm, less than one tenth of an inch. This was an occasion when a survey highlighted a serious problem with a boat. Most potential buyers would either have walked away or negotiated a substantial reduction in price to pay for the hull to be over plated.

The buyer of this boat did neither. After parting with far too much money for a boat on the verge of sinking, he sailed serenely off into the sunset. I didn’t hear any more about the boat, but with a hull as thin as it was and one which was in dire need of blacking, I doubt the tale had a happy ending.

Yet another fairly frequent problem I’ve encountered is boat buyers who think that ex hire boats are a good choice for live aboard boaters.

They aren’t.

Hire boats are all beds and bathrooms. They’re designed to accommodate as many holiday hirers as possible for a week or two. They aren’t designed for one or two people to live on board full time.

I know one local guy who purchased an ex hire boat to live on. His boat, typical of most hire boats, had gas central heating. Gas central heating is not only prohibitively expensive but boats with open gas fires like his are a condensation nightmare. He was paying £10 a day to heat his boat with warm but wet air.

His heating was prohibitively expensive, but the design was more of a problem. His 60’ boat was designed to sleep eight people. He lived on board on his own, so he had seven beds too many, and nowhere to relax on cold winter days.

He had to rip all of the beds out, remove one of the bathrooms, remove the coffin sized stainless steel pump out waste tank, and all of the woodwork surrounding the tank, remove the gas central heating system and install a solid fuel stove.

When I last spoke to him, three years after moving on board, he still hadn’t completed the alterations. And because he was on a static mooring so that he could commute locally to work, he didn’t use his boat much for cruising. The larger open back deck, a common feature on hire boats, was a complete waste of space as far as he was concerned.

He admitted that he’d made a very big mistake. He should have chosen a traditional stern narrowboat which was already configured to suit his lifestyle.

The examples I’ve included here are not rare. Potential boat buyers can find a wealth of information online on my own site and on dozens of other sites containing content written by experienced boaters. The problem many aspiring boaters face is that they have too much information to sift through. They could do with someone to hold their hand throughout the buying process. Someone to bounce ideas off. Someone to review potential boats for them and offer advice based on experience.

A service like this isn’t currently available. I want you to tell me if you think there is a demand and, if there is, what you would like the service to include.

Whether you are a current boat owner or you hope to buy one soon, please spare a few minutes to complete this very brief survey. There are only four questions. You’ll be able to answer them in a heartbeat and you’ll be helping aspiring boat owners to save both heartache and money. The survey is here. Thank you for reading this far.

Can YOU Help Maintain This Site?

I wrote about the ongoing and often crippling costs of maintaining this site in the last two newsletters. My total annual outgoings just to maintain the site and pay for the software to send out my weekly newsletters is over £5,000. It’s a cost I simply can’t afford any more.

I just about cover my day to day running costs through my Narrowbudget Gold package and my discovery day service, but there’s very little left to put towards the site. I’ll be returning to work at Calcutt Boats for all of May to help top up my dwindling bank balance. I’ll enjoy the working around the two beautiful marinas, but finding time to run the site and work a forty five hour week will be a struggle.

The only way I will be able to keep the site’s 9,000 posts and pages online in the future will be through voluntary subscriptions. These subscriptions will be just that; voluntary. If you can’t afford to pay, or you simply don’t want to pay, the wealth of information that’s taken me, and a host of experienced boaters on the forum, six years to write will still be there for you completely free of charge.

Over the last two weeks I’ve asked for voluntary subscriptions. Some very kind site users have already agreed to help, but I need many more if I am to keep the site running. I can’t maintain it any other way.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, I’m sure that you realise the time and effort which goes into it. I receive dozens of emails every week from aspiring boaters asking for advice. I answer every one of them as quickly and comprehensively as possible. You may have sent an email or two to me yourself.

I enjoy helping others move closer to the life I enjoy so much every day. I don’t ask or expect payment for this service. It’s a labour of love. Paying bills each month is not such a pleasant experience. Please help me continue to help others by subscribing to the site. The subscription form is here.

Your financial details are completely safe. Payment is made through the world’s largest payment portal. Only you can change your subscription details. You can cancel your subscription at any time.

For the price of a cup of coffee or a pint each month you can help keep a very useful inland waterways resource online. You can subscribe here.

 

The sun sets over Calcutt Boats' two tranquil marinas

The sun sets over Calcutt Boats’ two tranquil marinas

Cynthia Says—

All in the Line of Duty—

What started out as sort of a hum-drum week ended up Friday as a real winner.  Thursday evening when Paul returned from yet another back-breaking day of strimming, dealing with derelict engines, and moving boats hither and yon, he had what turned out to be good news for us.

He was scheduled on Friday morning to deliver an engine to a marina on the Llangollen canal in Whitchurch, just a stones throw from the Welsh border.  We took to the motorways jammed with Friday traffic and made our way north.  The last several miles of the trip there was on country roads that provided many delights for our eyes.

The unloading took just a few minutes, and after I purchased some postcards of the famous canal aqueducts in the area, I asked Paul if we could drive the mile down the road to the sign that said “Welcome to Wales.”  I love sending photos to my various friends showing where we’ve been, and this was my first jaunt into Wales.  He kindly agreed and off we went–

After taking the photo of the sign, we sat for a few minutes to drink our Rooibos tea.  I started looking at the map and came up with what looked like an interesting route back, traveling the road less travelled.  What an afternoon that turned out to be!

We discovered lovely little villages–one had the cutest, tiniest thatched roof timbered cottage I have ever seen–and through the most breathtaking valleys peppered with grazing sheep, meandering rivers and streams and woodlands that looked as if they had been landscaped.  We even passed a couple of castles, and National Trust properties.

Paul had never been to this region of the west part of the Midlands that bordered Wales, and neither had I.  Every turn seemed to bring something glorious to behold.  We promised ourselves we would return there in the motorhome to explore these trust properties and other delights.

Even though it took us longer to make this return trip, we both agreed it had been worth it.  However, the day for Paul did not end there.  This time of year the lawns need to be mowed anew every week, so he was off to do some more strimming before he could call it a week. We both eagerly looked forward to our lie-in yesterday morning!

Whilst attending to duties on the boat, making To Do/To Pack/To Buy lists, I heard a tap-tap-tap on the hull.  I glanced outside and found a lone swan asking for a tidbit.  He was at the galley window on the starboard side.  I tapped each window moving forward until I reached the bow.  I had gathered some treats for him and unzipped the cratch cover and there he was, ready to scarf down his treats.  I hand feed him and I also line up the bread or whatever I have on the edge of the gunnel.  After a couple of days he even let me gently pet his head whilst he ate!  Now I have to come up with a name for him—we seem to have found ourselves a daily routine here!  Just one more somebody to miss when I have to leave on the 30th……

I asked Paul during our trip north on Friday if he wanted me to continue my “Cynthia Says” during my stay in Provence, and he said yes.  So, after next week you will be hearing my side of the story from across the channel.

Before I draw this to a close, I want to say a BIG Thank You to the new subscribers to the newsletter.  Once again, every subscription helps us to offset the high costs of keeping the website running.  New things to look forward to as Paul comes up with more helpful ideas for those of you interested in this lovely life on the waterways.  Have a great week!

[adrotate banner=”14″]
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.  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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

2016 05 15 Newsletter – Colourful Tales From the Cut

I sat in the Hymer in Windsor Castle’s overcrowded car park. I was there for the penultimate day of the Royal Windsor Horse Show. To be more precise, Cynthia was there for the horse show. I wasn’t interested. Horses scare me, but the owners often scare me more.

The car park was full of four wheel drive prestige cars, tweed jackets and braying laughter. Horse boxes costing more than a house lined the showground perimeter and immaculately groomed horses and riders weaved through the slow moving car park traffic. A steady stream of noisy Heathrow planes filled the sky. Windsor’s vast castle dominated the skyline above me.

I was having a two day break from my second week back at Calcutt Boats. I’m back in the routine now. My daily cutting, pruning and trimming is constantly interrupted by radio requests to move boats, run errands offsite and tend to visiting wharf-side boats. I love it all… apart from one regular task more akin to hard prison labour than gentle grounds work.

We have section of made up land close to the canal. Thousands of tonnes of canal dredgings and earth dug from Locks marina have been shaped into three plateaus. The steep sides are grassed. They need mowing every week at this time of the year. The only way of cutting them is with a Flymo tied to an old mooring line. Each week fellow groundsman Pat and I spend six gruelling hours hauling the mower on a rope up and down the hill. After a year’s break I was reintroduced to the three Heartbreak Hills on Friday. Pat and I are also responsible for rodding the site sewage system after occasional high season blockages. I would rather be up to my knees in the brown stuff than hauling a heavy mower up a clay cracked slope.

This weekend has been a welcome opportunity to recover from Friday’s hard labour. Cynthia thoroughly enjoyed the horse show, but after sitting for a couple of hours shaded from the sun and unprotected from a frigid wind, she was chilled to the bone. By mid afternoon we’d both had enough.

We drove ten miles north west to the relative tranquility of National Trust Cliveden. I’ve visited the property many times before by car. I remembered the car park being rather small and difficult to access in anything larger than a family hatchback. A phone call to the information centre confirmed this. We were told to access the property via the hotel entrance and then head for the Trust’s overflow car park.

The Hymer made it without mishap, but it was a tight squeeze.

We hoped to stay in the Trust car park overnight. After a leisurely evening meal I wandered around the grounds with my camera, making my way slowly along quiet woodland paths down to the Thames. My phone rang. Cynthia told me that a very pleasant Trust official had knocked on our door to tell us we couldn’t stay. Paying Trust visitors also share the grounds with  guests at high end hotel Cliveden House. After paying £300-£700 for a room for the night I suppose their guests are entitled to a little exclusivity.

The warden suggested that we try the National Trust car park on nearby Cookham Common. We’re there now. We managed to wedge ourselves into the small parking area without upsetting too many people. The car park emptied at dusk leaving us in peace, apart from the occasional night time cars with steamy windows and, I assume, very soft suspension judging by the amount of rocking they were doing.

We’ll return to Cliveden today. The grounds are both beautiful and vast. We’ll spend the day wandering aimlessly through woodlands and along the Thames paths on land landscaped by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham in 1666.

We’ll head back to the boat this evening, rested and raring to go. Cynthia’s visa expires in two weeks so she will be staying with a friend in the south of France until I can join her after my June discovery days.

Last year, my June discovery days were fully booked months in advance. This year there are one or two free spaces. If you’re thinking of buying a narrowboat  as a full time home or just for recreational cruising, a discovery day is an opportunity to find out all you need to know about the bewildering choices open to you as a narrowboat buyer. No two boats are the same. Not all are equipped or suitable for long term cruising off grid, something which is essential if you intend to live afloat away from a residential mooring. My discovery day guests also learn how to handle a narrowboat on a twelve mile cruise through rural Warwickshire, and you’ll learn how to safely negotiate the six locks we’ll pass through at the end of the day.

I want to fill my free days, so if you are thinking about booking a day with me, I would like to offer you an incentive. I’m offering a 25% discount on all shared single, exclusive single and two person discovery days in June. Please email me directly to ask for a discount code. I hope to welcome you into my floating home soon.

That’s all I have for you this week. My week has been full, but not filled with the kind of activity that you want to read about. I don’t have much canal related stuff to write about at the moment, but I know a man who does.

“Fred” has lived an interesting life. I suppose many would call him a “colourful” character. He’s the kind of guy I would like moored next to me. I could spend hours chatting to him over a beer or two. He’s one of a select band of boaters from the canals when life wasn’t quite so sanitised.

I hope you enjoy his tales from the inland waterways. If you do, please let me know. I’ll try to encourage him to write more for you.

I’ll hand you over to Fred now, but before I do, please accept my apologies for not adding photo’s to the blog again. I had plenty to add, but I forgot to bring my card reader with me. I’ll try to make amends next week.

Here’s Fred….

My name is not a secret but I will not reveal it to protect the innocent and also the not so innocent ! So just call me Fred.

So why do we do it?  Are we all crazy?

Yep , if you are reading this you are  more than likely one of those affected few with the affliction, the itch that does not go away in the older supposedly wiser years.

Boat ownership, of the inland waterways variety is what I am talking about.

It could be said I am one of the last real narrowboat number Ones left alive. I was born on the cut in a back cabin in 1962 on the South Oxford and spent my first three years aboard until I moved to live with my Grandmother ashore after the Old Man died suddenly and mother was taken ill two months later and soon followed the Old Man to a place where the lock gates swing easily and running aground on shallow canals  never happens. The hard existence and conditions had been their downfall in my opinion, even if it was the life they chose to live and work exceedingly hard at in the dying years of trade afloat.

Gran hated the cut and anything to do with narrowboats as she said it killed her daughter, who she saw precious little of for years as Mum was rarely nearby for long enough to visit. My life changed so much in those few months that I barely remember anything of where I was born, except that smell of the back cabin and that lovely rocking motion at night along with the beautiful noise of that twin cylinder engine rumbling away with its particularly unique sound. It seemed like it ran from before dawn till past dusk seven days a week.

I have tried so many times to buy that tired looking Motor boat  back from its owner of the last forty plus years. He knows of its significance to me, yet he let it rot on a bank in the Midlands until just a few years ago.   It annoys me on a daily basis at present as I would like to see my days out onboard after a full and proper refurbishment back to how it should look. It is my ultimate dream which I fear will stay a dream until I finally moor up for the last time in a different world.

So it transpires that  in my early youth I had not a lot to do with the cut or narrowboats apart from boyhood escapades at the local locks with a canoe ………..until I got an engineering apprenticeship at a company that also made narrowboat shells as a sideline to the main business, only because the owner’s parents also worked a pair many years before and he did not want to let his father down by saying no.

My desire to buy my own first boat came a few years later after going out with an older  friend John and his wife Carol (and her cute far younger sister whose name now escapes me strangely)  in an ancient centre cockpit Creighton cruiser with an outboard engine in 1980 on a beautiful sunny summer’s day. Well it was until I discovered I had left my coat hanging on a post at their mooring. The outboard motor broke down and we all got very drunk and got home very late after bow hauling it for what seems like miles home. I was laughing so much my ribs hurt and being wet through and half naked  did not seem to matter…..Yet  strangely I was hooked on the idea of owning one.  

It was to be a fantastically new modern babe magnet and my weekend fun accomodation. The flat I was sharing at the time was as salubrious as a twenty year old chicken shed and was as damp as one too. Finding a young lady who would even set foot in the place was seeming impossible. The boat would make life easy in the girlfriend department was my thinking.

Reality was not as my dream unfortunately ,but being an engineer and a fairly competent one with the ability to “find time during the working week”, I bought a ten year old 23ft Norman cruiser with a smartly built homemade wheelhouse at the rear end but alas no outboard engine!

It was white and blue, quite tidy internally with a sea toilet and a temperamental diesel fired heater. Crucially it was within my budget and near to home on the tidal Trent.  But the elusive outboard was becoming impossibly hard to locate at the right price. Now I desperately needed one. I looked everywhere and failed miserably in my search.

Now for the craziness of youth.

Languishing in the corner of the workshop at work was a healthy rebuilt Perkins 4108 engine that was supposedly destined in to go in a long ago “written off”  works Land Rover.  In exchange for doing a weekend of being “on call” and chief slave for what seemed an eternity, it was mine. A Z drive and all the other bits came from a broken boat at Newark marina for cash on a Saturday morning so I set to fetling the beast……To make it roar ! To bring my dream alive.

Three weeks later at Newark the boat was hoisted into the Trent. I shot off at a great speed along with 75 kg of builders sand in plastic bags wedged under the floorboards at the front end to even up the weight of the huge engine and Z drive weighing down the back end.  

Despite it being a flood tide with whole trees attached to pieces of bank coming towards me downstream, I set off upstream towards the locks. I swear to God it would have been possible to water ski behind it had I the kit, the training, and a coxswain to drive the boat, and even less brain cells than I used that day going out on a fast flowing flood tide with very little experience.

It was great being a complete novice with no training or safety kit of any kind. You have no ability to realise how damn stupid you really are and how easy it would have been to become a statistic on a chart for the rescue services.

After trimming the boat with yet more sand and reducing the prop to something less than half of the original size on a lathe (yep it worked to a fashion)  I found it managed canals at about 3mph at tickover and could negotiate single width locks due to only being 6’10” beam.

I had a useable boat. Oh what a good summer this was to be I thought.

Due to one of life’s little surprises in September I found myself soon to be without a dwelling, or for that matter any sort of house or roof over my head. So being an enterprising young  man I swiftly moved aboard , residing in a local river marina and put everything else in my Land Rover or a steel storage container at work (beware it can go mouldy!). The adventure had begun, it was going to be great l thought.

Previously during my 3 week  summer holidays I had travelled far and enjoyed the sunshine, the scenery and canal side hostelries, learning new skills with a plastic cruiser  and boating tricks as I went along, so mistakenly I had only seen the rosy side of life through a haze of alcohol.

By November I was scraping ice off the inside of the single glazed windows in the morning despite having the diesel heater blowing hot air over my feet noisily all night. And the dripping condensation was enough to fill a deep lock every day or so I thought! Worse was when I discovered the mold growing under the mattress a few days later.  That feeling of dread was beginning to raise its ugly head, And raise its head it did, giving me all sorts of ailments and problems. I was not living like a normal human being…….this was barely surviving.

Something had to happen fast before the conditions killed me.

Somehow I survived the winter whilst spending hours planning my new narrowboat…….. mainly sat in the warm dry pub scribbling on an engineer’s drawing pad or seated on a stool in the office at a technical drawing table at work fearing to go back “home” . I even slept in that office on the office couch most of that February to keep warm much to the bosses amusement.

As I had been part of the team that built a few narrowboat shells I knew how to do it, so I did……Well  in reality 5 of us built a 47’ 6” shell (82-6-4) over a bank holiday weekend in early 1981.

The Boss went away at 12 o’clock on the Thursday with his new girlfriend and returned on the Tuesday morning at 7am. I along with the others had hardly slept at all and we were absolutely shattered to say the least, but in the corner of the yard sat a trad shell, albeit without doors or hatches and still with wet red oxide paint on it. And a lot of final internal and external welds to do.

The money to pay for it came from selling my prized motorbikes and trusty Land Rover and a loan from the bank manager………and after paying the boss  I still had a little money  left over to pay for portholes, flooring and insulation and some of the wood paneling !      

However the boss said “you owe me your life for the price you got that shell for “. And for the next year it was work, work, work, and more work and, not a lot of money for doing it , but I would never ever have swapped the experience for anything at the time. Even though I was now living in a half finished narrowboat in the yard , I had learned lots of practical skills about fitting out in this time, mainly by making mistakes and having to do things over again rather than proper instruction.

Oh How the Internet and especially Youtube  would have made life so much more informed in those months.

REALITY CHECK…….Have you ever lived in a steel box from October onwards with no portholes installed or insulation and just a tent set up inside ?  I will give you a tip…..Do NOT try it unless you are totally insane and are closely related to a very hardy Eskimo.

But during this quiet time of my life with no permanent transport I managed to salvage all sorts from far and wide, and reclaim and rebuild even more. It took about fourteen months to get my pride and joy totally finished to a respectable level and finally lifted into the cut ready for the next part of my adventurous saga in the journey we call life.

It now had a 1950’s McClaren water cooled twin engine courtesy of a British Rail redundant railway crane aligned up to mechanical Parsons gearbox and it sounded so good with the dry exhaust straight through the roof blowing smoke rings, I felt as if I were three years old again with that beautiful sound .

The Boss went broke owing lots of people money, me and the other lads included, so various tools and welders became mine ………Sorry Mr Taxman and Official Receivers. My need was greater than yours.

I had to move to work for another narrowboat shell builder where I stayed for a few years learning more about my trade and making a bow and stern shape of my own that I liked, until he went the same way as the last boss, (and he managed to do it a few times in different guises after I left too!). But at least he paid us lads up to the last day.

In the mid to late  eighties I arrived “Up North” and found an Idyllic spot to live on a farm mooring and found work in a local marina part time to start with. I also drove a truck for an old fashioned haulier when there was little to do at work due to the recession years.

One Saturday evening there was a knocking on the roof from a local police constable (who I drank with occasionally) saying “You and your boss may not like this”. Our weekend boat was adrift across the canal and the hirers were intoxicated and detained in a cell, along with eight others who they had picked up by the first lock in a pre arranged meet and turned the day into a booze cruise!   

The keys were missing and the boat was absolutely trashed and damaged with lots of water inside. So many people had stood on the rear deck water had got into an old air intake grill and eventually seeped into the cabin space. By luck, the weight must have moved forward to stop it sinking. It took me all night to get the water out and get it back to the marina in the dark alone with no lights as they had ripped them off. On the Sunday I managed to  fit new carpets and clean and repair it well enough to be re hired on Monday for a day hire. The customers were none the wiser.

At the marina they (I) built a very good quality boat shell and also did the fit outs too, which to my mind were a little dated and lacked the finer things in life, and where technology was a dirty word. Historic I can respect, but living in the dark ages is just plain crazy to my mind. Nowadays we all expect every electrical gizmo to work on a battery for a week after just one hours charge !

Life was great at weekends, especially giving instructions to new hirers that, as they left you from the second or third lock, often made you wonder would they manage to sink the hire craft or do damage to someone’s pride and joy or both!  The fleet always came home battered bruised and with something that required my attention.

I was in heaven in some ways , plenty of money coming in and living afloat for near nothing. The cut certainly had a great appeal ……..and still does, but in totally different ways.

I was always astounded at the requests from some people who wanted boats built in those years, absolute fortunes were parted with to obtain “their” narrowboat . Some clients had never set foot aboard and were totally clueless and yet gave money up front without an real guarantees of where it went , and paying for “extras” in cash was just too good to be true. Especially as I was paid direct by the customer for the steelwork and a percentage went back to the marina .

Luckily where I worked the owners were honest and never did any customer ever lose out. Alll of them went away with what they wanted, nearly always on time too! But eventually I grew up and decided it was time to move on in life to pastures new.

Some time soon I will write about the fun and games that were had in those following  years, some of the escapades were hardly believable.

…………………..MORE WILL FOLLOW SOON……….

Cynthia says…

–Plodding Forward–

Well, if anything, I wish I could slow down this month—it seems like each day is slipping away much too quickly.  I have So Much to accomplish before I very reluctantly pack my bags and jump on the train to London and on to Avignon France.

I AM looking forward to my two week sojourn in southern France.  I have never been there before, though with my flying job I have spent a fair amount of time in Paris and Lyon.  This girl isn’t really a city person, but I do love both of these cities.  Lyon is the gastronomic capital of the world and much like Paris on a smaller scale.  I haven’t set foot there since the early nineties, so I am sure it has changed.

Provence is full of treasures in so many ways–an artists’ paradise, natural beauty that is multifaceted, and of course, the always available and delicious food!  The Sunday outdoor market in Sarrians, where I will be holing up with a friend,  will be one of my favourites I am sure.  For those of you who haven’t seen “The Hundred Foot Journey” with Helen Mirren, it is a must-see if you have any interest in eating the freshest and most delectable food that can only be plucked out of one’s garden, or bought at a farmer’s market.

So I have much to look forward to, but am feeling great sadness over having to pull myself away from dear Paul and beloved Basset, Tasha.  I was beginning to feel as if I was just settling in to my new life and country and now I have to uproot myself and head out.

After our wedding in Denmark at the end of June, I will be debarking from the continent for the states where I will apply for that expensive spousal visa.  Once I accomplish that task in New York, I will head to Vermont, rent a car (and hopefully remember to drive on the right side again!) and head for my house, Hawley.

The For Sale sign will be hammered into the ground this week after a good cleaning, and then I will be holding my breath and crossing my fingers that it will sell—quickly!  It would be amazingly wonderful to wrap things up there by the time the visa is issued—

On a more local note, we have been blessed with two great weekends in a row.  It was delightful to cruise slowly and quietly along the canal last weekend, resting in the sun along the tow path.  This weekend found us further south in Windsor where I met a dear English friend who lives near me in the states.  I hadn’t seen her in several years so it was a nice little homecoming.

Unfortunately, the day weather-wise wasn’t so terrific.  I was just getting over a head cold this past week, and the cold wind, cloudy-sunny day was playing havoc with me.  I was hot one minute, cold the next, and concerned I might get chilled and the cold would return, which I didn’t welcome.

I used to be a navigator for a friend doing combined driving with horses.  That was what I witnessed at the show and it was a lovely reminder of days gone by—and the venue with the Windsor Castle towering above us was quite spectacular.  Perhaps a horse will find it’s way back into my life one of these days—-

I walked nearly two miles to the show and back, and by the time I returned I was exhausted.  Feeling better and enjoying the day here at Clivedon.

Getting geared up for another week full of checking off things from my To Do, To Buy list—I have packed my passport at least–the most important piece of my belongings.

PS. Hope to hear from more of you loyal readers with subscriptions—they are most helpful and appreciated by both of us.  Any amount is most appreciated.

Can YOU Help Maintain This Site?

I wrote about the ongoing and often crippling costs of maintaining this site in the last two newsletters. My total annual outgoings just to maintain the site and pay for the software to send out my weekly newsletters is over £5,000. It’s a cost I simply can’t afford any more.

I just about cover my day to day running costs through my Narrowbudget Gold package and my discovery day service, but there’s very little left to put towards the site. I’ll be returning to work at Calcutt Boats for all of May to help top up my dwindling bank balance. I’ll enjoy the working around the two beautiful marinas, but finding time to run the site and work a forty five hour week will be a struggle.

The only way I will be able to keep the site’s 9,000 posts and pages online in the future will be through voluntary subscriptions. These subscriptions will be just that; voluntary. If you can’t afford to pay, or you simply don’t want to pay, the wealth of information that’s taken me, and a host of experienced boaters on the forum, six years to write will still be there for you completely free of charge.

Over the last two weeks I’ve asked for voluntary subscriptions. Some very kind site users have already agreed to help, but I need many more if I am to keep the site running. I can’t maintain it any other way.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, I’m sure that you realise the time and effort which goes into it. I receive dozens of emails every week from aspiring boaters asking for advice. I answer every one of them as quickly and comprehensively as possible. You may have sent an email or two to me yourself.

I enjoy helping others move closer to the life I enjoy so much every day. I don’t ask or expect payment for this service. It’s a labour of love. Paying bills each month is not such a pleasant experience. Please help me continue to help others by subscribing to the site. The subscription form is here.

Your financial details are completely safe. Payment is made through the world’s largest payment portal. Only you can change your subscription details. You can cancel your subscription at any time.

For the price of a cup of coffee or a pint each month you can help keep a very useful inland waterways resource online. You can subscribe here.

[adrotate banner=”14″]
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.  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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

2016 05 08 Newsletter – The Reality Of Living On England’s Inland Waterways

We’re moored a mile north of Braunston opposite a field full of cowslips. Actually, they could be either dandelions or buttercups. They’re yellow and they’re pretty, so I don’t really care what they are.

I’ve just finished my first week back at Calcutt Boats. They’re a groundsman short and my bank account’s a few bob short, so both the company and I are happy. I would rather be cruising the cut now that spring has finally sprung but, if I have to work, I can’t think of anywhere better..

I’ve spent my days riding a mower through swathes of wild flowers, pruning bushes and trees and moving boats. I am very happy indeed earning a crust there and joining in the workplace banter which part of me has missed so much.

We’re only out of the marina for the weekend. Later this afternoon we’ll cruise three hours back to Calcutt ready for another week’s mowing and cutting. Another week closer to Cynthia’s forced departure.

Her six month visa expires at the end of this month. We haven’t been able to marry during the last six months because of a cock up on my part. She originally intended staying with a friend in Switzerland for two weeks until I can join her after my June discovery days, but that’s fallen through because of Swiss bureaucracy. She’s now going to be staying with another friend in Sarrians sixty miles north of Marseille.

On 15th June, I’m going to put the boat to bed, climb into the Hymer and drive through France to pick her up. Then we’ll head north through Switzerland and Germany to Denmark for our long awaited wedding. That’s the current plan anyway.

I haven’t had much time to write content for this week’s newsletter. I’ve spent most of my free time putting together an article I promised Boats and Outboards a month or two ago. I’ve reproduced it here. If you’ve been following the blog for any length of time, much of the content will be familiar to you, but I hope it’s interesting reading anyway.

Here’s the article….

Spring is a wonderful time of the year to live on the inland waterways. As I slowly cruised along the combined Grand Union and Oxford canals on the sinuous route between Napton and Braunston junctions two weeks ago, I spotted what I thought was a muntjac deer bolting away from me across a waterside field. The animal turned and raced back towards my boat. Another similar sized creature raced towards the canal from the field’s opposite side.

The two large hares met twenty feet away from me, stood on their back legs and began boxing. They continued to fight until I cruised around a bend. Minutes later I saw two buzzards circling lazily overhead and then a dozen mallard chicks paddling frantically across the water looking for a mother who rested on a sun warmed patch of towpath grass close to a majestic weeping willow.

Dozens of hire boats cruise through this beautiful natural display during the warmer months. The enchanted crews sit on bow seats enjoying a glass of wine and a break from their frantic work lives, dreaming of a less stressful way to live. They reluctantly pack their bags after their too short breaks afloat, join the arterial traffic racing along England’s crowded roads, arrive at the home they’ve taken a lifetime to buy and had to work for a lifetime to maintain, and then log onto the internet to search longingly through the narrowboats for sale adverts.

Some aspiring boat owners do very little research before buying a narrowboat and moving onto the water. They make a decision to purchase a boat costing tens of thousands of pounds after experiencing a few idyllic days on the canal network. They don’t really understand the reality of life afloat at all times of the year.

If you are thinking of buying a narrowboat, here’s a little information to guide you safely down the right path.

Cost

Life afloat isn’t as cheap as many people think.. The costs are similar to running a small family home. If you need to stay in one place for work purposes you’ll need a residential mooring costing £2,000 – £3,000 or more, far more if you want to moor anywhere near London. You’ll need an annual license. That’s another £1,000 for a 60’ boat. Then you’ll need coal, gas and diesel for heating and moving your boat. You’ll need to replace your battery bank periodically, paint your cabin, black your hull, repair or replace deck covers and maintain your engine. The expenditure goes on and on. Many boaters will tell you with a wry smile that B.O.A.T. stand for Bet On Another Thousand.

There’s a comprehensive guide to the cost of buying and maintaining a narrowboat here.

Utilities

In a bricks and mortar home, you turn on a tap or press a button to unleash an unlimited supply of heating fuel, electricity and water. On a boat you have to work much, much harder.

I burn coal briquettes on my boat. Two tonnes a year. That’s eighty 25kg bags which have to be carried from boatyard to boat. Propane gas cylinders are a similar weight. They have to be lifted on to my bow and lowered carefully through a small hatch. A 20 litre toilet cassette weighs as much as twenty bags of sugar when full. Each day that has to be carefully carried through the boat’s narrow passageways and then taken to a sewage disposal point.

The cost of your on board water is included with either your license or marina mooring. If you are in a marina, your closest water point will probably be no more than a hose length away. If you are cruising the canals, you may have to travel ten miles to the nearest water point, then wait half an hour for your tank to fill. This isn’t something you want to do on a cold and dark winter’s night.

The Weather

Possibly the most frequently asked question of live aboard boaters is, “Isn’t your boat cold in winter?” Most boats aren’t cold at all, but they need more fuel to heat them than a similar space in a house. Narrowboats sit two feet or more in frigid water. The underwater section is part of the living accommodation so the lower two feet of cabin space needs constant heat to keep it warm. My coal bill for 2015 was £780.

My boat needs constant heat to keep it warm in winter, but it is warm. I love climbing into a warm and cosy cabin after a cold winter’s day cruise and then sitting in front of the stove’s flickering flames. Sitting in a warm cabin while the wind howls and rain drumming on the roof is very comforting.

Occasionally the weather prevents me from cruising or even living comfortably if I’m not careful.

The English canals freeze for at least a short period each year. Narrowboats are very sturdy. You can force your way through quite thick ice, but you will instantly strip off the hull’s protective coating from the water line. Repainting the hull costs £500 or more, so it’s not something you want to do too often. However, if you can’t move, you can’t empty a pump out toilet tank if you have one, you can’t top up your water tank, and you can’t easily resupply with coal or gas. The most sensible course of action is to find somewhere to moor close to amenities for the winter months which, of course, is going to cost you more money.

Last winter was particularly mild. Mild but very wet. Cold and dry is preferable to mild and wet. The towpath was two inches of liquid mud. Even letting Tasha, our ten year old basset hound, off the boat for a quick wee required a five minute mud clean up when she returned. My fiance, Cynthia, calls the front deck “the mud room”.

You have to monitor weather reports closely for sub zero temperatures. You have to also be aware of forecast wind speed.

Narrowboats have expansive high sides. They’re shallow draughted and flat bottomed. Consequently they are difficult to handle in anything stronger than a light breeze. My own boat has a fifty feet long cabin four feet high. I have two hundred square feet of “sail” for the wind to play with. Many boaters don’t cruise in strong wind.

Fitness

I have hosted discovery days for hundreds of aspiring boaters over the last two years. The days are a combination of helmsmanship and an opportunity to explore and discuss a narrowboat equipped for full time off grid cruising. My guests come from all walks of life. Most of them are middle aged. Many, both men and women, intend to live afloat on their own.

Living afloat is far more physical than living in a house. Climbing on to my front deck to reach my cabin doors is the first test they face. Stepping over the hull side and simultaneously ducking under the deck cover is difficult for some. On their discovery days, guests aren’t asked to lift heavy bags of coal or gas cylinders, but they would need to if they were living alone on a boat.

An important part of my helmsmanship training is negotiating locks. Effective locking requires a degree of agility and fitness. The winding mechanisms, the paddles, which allow water in and out of locks are stiff and hard to turn. Lock gates weighing a tonne or more each are difficult to open and close. Solo locking often means that the boat owner has to climb up and down often slippery lock ladders and walk along a boat roof cluttered with trip hazards. If none of this appeals to you, you won’t enjoy single handed boating.

Even weekly grocery shopping can be very physical. If you’re moored in a marina, you can probably drive your car close to your boat, but not as close as you could in your bricks and mortar home. When you’re out cruising, more effort is required. You might be fortunate enough to find a canal-side supermarket, but you will often have to trudge a mile or more from the centre of a nearby town or village.

Narrowboat ownership offers a very physical lifestyle. I treat the physical exertion as welcome exercise. I’m as fit now as I was thirty years ago thanks to the life I lead. It’s a far cry from my corporate days when a hard day’s work involved nothing more taxing than moving pieces of paper from one side of my desk to the other.

Now I live a life close to nature. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Each day is a joy, but it is hard work. Next time you look longingly at any of the thousands of craft advertised on the internet under narrowboats for sale, remember what you’ve read here and think carefully before you part with your hard earned cash.

Article ends.

In my introductory email to last week’s newsletter I mentioned a breaking tiller handle, but failed to mention anything about it in the newsletter itself. I’m sorry. Here’s my tiller tragedy tale.

Unlike cruisers stern narrowboats’ usually fixed tillers, traditional stern narrowboats like mine have a removable brass tiller which is secured by a brass tiller pin. I have two different length tillers.

I use the longer tiller when I am cruising on my own. It’s four feet long and extends into the cockpit where I dangle my legs when I am sitting on the cabin roof steering. I have a large and heavy rudder which means that the boat is very manoeuvrable, but it’s quite a chore to move it without the leverage afforded by the longer tiller.

On my discovery days, I have either one or two guests with me on the boat’s stern. My longer tiller would get in the way so I use one half the length. Both brass tillers have a wooden handle which slides snugly several inches into the hollow brass tiller and is then secured with a hardwood wedge.

The tiller handle is locked in place providing the wedge continues to force wood against brass. If the thin wooden wedge breaks, the handle can work loose.

Canal bridges are often built at an angle to the waterway they cross.  On a windy day two weeks ago, one of my guests was at the helm. He swung wide to the right and lined up the boat perfectly for the bridge, and then veered sharply towards the low offside arch.

I glanced over at him to find out why. He was staring in confusion at the short wooden handle in his hand. A handle which was no longer attached to the tiller which was now swinging the boat rapidly towards the bridge’s unforgiving stone side.

Using the short length of brass still attached to the boat I managed to swing the bow away from the rapidly approaching arch, but not before the hull thudded into the offside wall, almost knocking Cynthia off her feet in the galley below.

The handle’s hardwood wedge had snapped allowing the handle to work free. Fortunately the hull rather than the cabin top made contact with the bridge. I now need to apply a dab of bitumen rather than repaint a long scrape on the cabin top.

I was very lucky.

Fortunately we were only two miles from Midland Chandlers at Braunston. They had a range of tiller handles in stock. I bought one roughly the right size for my tiller and managed to hammer it in securely where it stayed for the rest of the day.

After my guests left for the day, I spent an hour sanding the handle to fit my tiller, then hammered home a new hardwood wedge. The old handle lasted three years, so I’ve made a diary note to check the new one in April 2019. Just kidding!

An Unusual View Of Calcutt Boats

I’ve been writing about my life afloat for the last six years. Most of it has been spent on my mooring at Calcutt Boats. I love it here. I’ve visited many of the inland waterways’ marinas, but I’ve not seen one better. Ten acres of water are home to two hundred and fifty boats on spacious leisure moorings. There are two woodland areas, SSSI wild flower meadows and a beautiful half acre tree-studded island in the centre of the larger marina. It’s a very peaceful place to moor your boat.

The two marinas are on the Grand Union canal close to Napton junction on the Calcutt flight of three locks. The waterway is a hive of activity in the summer months. Narrowboats pass through the flight constantly throughout the day. I see them regularly, but not from the angle in the video below.

Calcutt Boats’ MD, Matt Preen, has a new toy. It’s a uneec Q500 4K Typhoon Set Quadcopter, a video drone to you or I. The drone can reach an altitude of 1,000 feet and has a range of a little over half a mile. It’s equipped with a high definition video camera mounted in a three way gimbel. Video quality is both excellent and vibration free. This particular video shows an aerial view of the locks and a working boat and butty negotiating the top lock. The video is only two minutes long. You can see it here.

Cynthia Says—-

In the blink of an eye….

Here I am writing this from the front deck with the keyboard on my lap and the iPad on the fold out table.  The hatch cover is rolled up like a workman’s sleeves, and I am breathing in the warm air of a truly perfect early summer day.  We literally sprung from winter to summer this past week and it is a joy to be able to linger outside and enjoy soaking up all that wonderful and much-needed D3.

We have been back on the dump barge since the Discovery Days came to a close last Sunday.  I truly love it here.  We are on a fairly private little peninsula that affords us great views of the activity around Calcutt Bottom Lock.  There are several big and graceful willow trees that provide needed shade, a picnic table for our meals al fresco,  and a ring-side seat for the fabulous sunsets.  The lawn here is my favourite spot to play with Tasha and do my tai chi and meditation.

I have observed much wild life since being back in this spot as well.   At least two pairs of swifts inhabit the dump barge, and they are continually swooping in and out.  There are moorhens about (which Tasha would love to find in her dinner bowl!), and I am fascinated with the a little hard-working coot.  She swims quickly by the boat several times a day sporting long pieces of dry reeds in her mouth.  She is obviously building her nest.  I wish I could locate it, as I would love to see the finished product!

Friday night Paul came home  bone-tired after a long week’s work tending to the Calcutt grounds (which look terrific by the way–I especially love all the neat little even paths he has mown through the long grass).  I knew getting this week’s newsletter written was at the top of his list, and I had a suggestion that proved to be a winner.  I told him I thought it would be nice if we went out on the canals for Saturday and most of Sunday.  The idea was a hit, so Saturday at 1:00PM we cast off the lines at the water point and set sail towards Braunston.  Please forgive my sometime references in sailing terms–old habits and ways of living die hard!

We moored up just west of Braunston in time for a belated lunch. We then took off for the next winding hole about 1 1/2 hours further on, and found a suitable place to moor for the night.

What a well-earned luxury it was to be able to sleep in this morning til 8:00!  After breakfast, Paul retreated to his “cave” (the bedroom) to get back to the business of getting the newsletter written.  I washed up the dishes then decided this lovely day was not to be wasted.  I gathered my Kindle, dog bed and pillow and headed for the aft deck.

A light zephyr was stirring, the sun was warm on my skin and the sky an awesome blue.  Whilst enjoying all the beauty of nature, a mother mallard came by to show off her ten little ducklings and I found myself wanting to scoop one up so that I could nuzzle its’ soft down against my cheek.

Paul needed a break and soon joined me outside on the towpath along with Tasha.  We took out the camp mat and other assorted soft pillows and had a nice lie down.  Tasha had a great time exploring the towpath, and after Paul went in to continue his work, she wandered away while I was reading.  Next thing I knew, she had taken the path up by the bridge and I found her in the cow pasture!  I don’t need to tell you what she had to appease her insatiable appetite!!

We reluctantly went back inside so I could get our late lunch underway.  After enjoying our succulent steak, Paul decided it was time to head towards home.  I put off washing up the dishes so that I could squeeze out every bit of the warmth, and sat on the foredeck to write this.  Perfect timing!

I will now wrap this up so I can spend a few minutes with Paul at the other end of the boat and soak up the last rays of sunshine…..the dishes can wait!

PS. A BIG Thank You to all you loyal readers who are now subscribers!!  We are So Grateful for this much-needed support.

Can YOU Help Maintain This Site?

I wrote about the ongoing and often crippling costs of maintaining this site in the last two newsletters. My total annual outgoings just to maintain the site and pay for the software to send out my weekly newsletters is over £5,000. It’s a cost I simply can’t afford any more.

I just about cover my day to day running costs through my Narrowbudget Gold package and my discovery day service, but there’s very little left to put towards the site. I’ll be returning to work at Calcutt Boats for all of May to help top up my dwindling bank balance. I’ll enjoy the working around the two beautiful marinas, but finding time to run the site and work a forty five hour week will be a struggle.

The only way I will be able to keep the site’s 9,000 posts and pages online in the future will be through voluntary subscriptions. These subscriptions will be just that; voluntary. If you can’t afford to pay, or you simply don’t want to pay, the wealth of information that’s taken me, and a host of experienced boaters on the forum, six years to write will still be there for you completely free of charge.

Over the last two weeks I’ve asked for voluntary subscriptions. Some very kind site users have already agreed to help, but I need many more if I am to keep the site running. I can’t maintain it any other way.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, I’m sure that you realise the time and effort which goes into it. I receive dozens of emails every week from aspiring boaters asking for advice. I answer every one of them as quickly and comprehensively as possible. You may have sent an email or two to me yourself.

I enjoy helping others move closer to the life I enjoy so much every day. I don’t ask or expect payment for this service. It’s a labour of love. Paying bills each month is not such a pleasant experience. Please help me continue to help others by subscribing to the site. The subscription form is here.

Your financial details are completely safe. Payment is made through the world’s largest payment portal. Only you can change your subscription details. You can cancel your subscription at any time.

For the price of a cup of coffee or a pint each month you can help keep a very useful inland waterways resource online. You can subscribe here.

[adrotate banner=”14″]
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.  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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

2016 05 01 Newsletter – Bilge Pumps And Busy Bank Holiday Waterways

We’ve been having a problem with our stove recently. I should have been able to identify the cause of the smoke wafting into the cabin from around the ill fitting stove door. I didn’t, so we regularly suffered the piercing shriek of the smoke alarm shortly after rising for the day and piling fresh coal onto the glowing embers.

On a still and foggy day the stove doesn’t draw very well, so smoke from the smouldering coal briquettes sits in the stove until it forces its way into the cabin around the leaky stove door. Over the last week or two we’ve had a smoke problem on clear and windy days too. Our remedy has been to open the front doors wide and then blow the smoke out with our 12v ceiling mounted fan.

The proactive solution would have been to clean the flue before accumulated crud inhibited the smoke’s escape.

At dawn on Monday I borrowed a length of heavy duty chain from the yard at Calcutt Boats, shuffled carefully on my bottom over an icy roof, removed the chimney, brushed a thick layer of accumulated soot from around the inside of the collar, and then lowered the chain the full length of the flue before vigorously rattling the chain from side to side.

I’m not very good at DIY, but over the last six years, through constant practice, I’ve managed to master the basic maintenance tasks, usually after making a mess of them the first time.

I had a similar problem with smoke pouring into the cabin about a year after I first moved on board. One of the fitters told me that I probably had a blocked flue. He gave me a length of chain and told me what to do with it.

I started off inside the boat. I opened the door of the cold stove and used a poker to clear the shelf above the stove’s main chamber. A couple of pounds of rust-like deposits cascaded into the stove and onto the hearth.

I then climbed onto the roof with the length of chain, lowered it down the flue and shook it as hard as I could. I smiled to myself as I heard the dislodged deposits crash into empty stove. I didn’t smile quite so much when I returned to the cabin to find that I had forgotten to close the stove door. Cleaning the flue took me ten minutes. Removing a thick layer of soot from the inside of the boat took the rest of the day.

On Monday, the door was closed so the dislodged soot was safely contained within the stove. Within minutes the stove was performing perfectly. Cynthia asked me why I hadn’t cleaned the flue before we were forced to endure a week of interior smog. I couldn’t think of a suitable answer.

Tuesday’s discovery day had to be rearranged at short notice. I had some unexpected free time, but you can always find something important to do to fill your free time when you own a boat.

I’ve developed another leak. This time it’s from my recently fitted keel cooling system. At the end of October last year I had my problematic raw water cooling system replaced. Apart from being incredibly noisy, the system caused me almost catastrophic problems on two occasions.

Water was drawn through a fine mesh grill from the canal and then through the engine’s heat exchanger before being pumped back out of the boat. There was a plastic box, a waterlock, which prevented water from running back into the engine when it stopped. In June last year the waterlock broke free from its mounting and vibrated across the engine bay until it nestled against the gear box coupling. The spinning coupling quickly wore a hole through the plastic, allowing canal water drawn into the engine to surge into the bilge.

I managed to limp slowly along the Coventry canal to Streethay Wharf where they kindly resolved the issue at short notice in exchange for most of the money in my bank account.

They fitted a second hand but seemingly robust waterlock, but in August last year a hole blew through a weakness in the plastic. Streethay Wharf came out to me on the visitor moorings at Rugby to fit a new waterlock.

A month later the waterlock fell off – my fault  –  once more flooding the engine bay. Even though I was able to moor within five minutes, I had to remove twenty vacuum loads of water from the bilge. I don’t like to think what would have happened if I had been on a river, or on a canal with no available moorings.

A month later I damaged the waterlock when my impeller failed and the engine overheated. I couldn’t stand the stress any more so I asked Calcutt Boats to remove the raw water cooling system and fit a skin tank.

Engineer Ian worked welding wonders fabricating a large thin rectangular steel tank on the outside of the hull close to the engine. The new cooling system, and the hospital silencer which he fitted at the same time, resolved my engine overheating problems, significantly decreased engine noise, and removed the constant worry I had about the raw water cooling system failing again and sinking the boat.

I’m very happy with my new skin tank, but the tank, or some of the pipework attached to it, is leaking. I have to top up a header tank in the engine room every two or three days and remove the leaked water from the engine room bilge. I need to ask Calcutt Boats to find and fix the leak sometime soon, but until then, engine room water removal is another regular maintenance task.

Removing the water with a small capacity wet and dry vacuum is a painful process, so on Tuesday I decided to fit a second bilge pump. The existing bilge pump is attached to a float switch and is fitted to the bottom of a plastic washing up bowl under the stern gland. Most water entering my bilge comes from water dripping off the stern gland coupling, so the washing up bowl contains the water in a small area and allows the bilge pump to remove most of it.

The washing up bowl idea is great for removing water from a dripping stern gland, but hopeless for removing anything entering the engine room from any other source.

The second bilge pump is now in a corner of the engine bay where the bilge is deepest thanks to the boat’s slight list to port. The problem with bilge pumps is that they do a very good job of sucking out most of the water in the bilge, but they don’t remove it all. They can’t suck out the final inch. I now know that I’m not going to suffer a dangerous buildup of water in the build, but I’ll be much happier once the leak is fixed and the bilge is dry.

My discovery day routine resumed on Wednesday. The weather has been unusually cold for late April. Our stove has been on every night and for most of each day. Early morning frosts have been the rule rather than the exception. Discovery day guests who jokingly complained about the cabin heat when they joined me at 8am sat as close to the stove as possible after several hours standing motionless on the back deck.

A cold and windy start to a spring discovery day

A cold and windy start to a spring discovery day

Until Saturday we had the canal largely to ourselves. There are 2,000 boats moored within ten miles of our route but most of the owners unfortunately have to work, so their boats remain on their marina moorings for most of the time.

Saturday, day one of the three day bank holiday weekend, was very different. A steady stream of boats chugged passed us. We met one at nearly every blind bend and bridge hole, including one Black Prince hire boat completely obstructing a wide bridge as the husband and wife crew tried and failed to maneuver their boat close enough to an offside wall to rescue an overly adventurous lamb which had fallen into the canal. Their noble intentions resulted in disappointment, frustration, and a long scrape on the hire boat roof after the boat drifted against the bridge’s offside arch.

We will see just as many boats on the cut over the warmer months. I’m looking forward to the experience, just as I’m looking forward to basking in the forecast heat towards the end of this coming week. After a mild but very wet winter and then a decidedly chilly start to spring, stripping off to tee shirt and shorts will be a novel and very welcome experience.

Narrowboat sterns – pros and cons

Yesterday was the last of seventeen consecutive discovery days. Each  one has been different; different weather, different adventures on the cut, and different people to share them with. Different people with a common goal. All of them wanted to learn more about life afloat and how to handle a narrowboat with confidence.

I cover an enormous amount of information during the ten hour day including the pros and cons of cruiser, traditional and semi traditional sterns. Most of my guests are familiar with the different layouts, but don’t realise what a difference they can make to life on board.

With the limited space available on a narrowboat, life is all about compromise. Storage space is all important. When you move from your bricks and mortar home, all your worldly possessions have to fit somewhere on your boat or remain in storage somewhere if you want to keep the items you can’t fit on board.

More deck space means less internal living space. Your lifestyle will influence your choice. The information below about the pros and cons of the three different stern types will allow you to make an informed decision when you buy your own boat.

Cruiser Sterns

A cruiser stern narrowboat has a large and open rear deck. The engine is under boards beneath your feet. Nearly all hire boats have cruiser sterns. Hire boats are designed to accommodate as many people as possible for a week or two. Their large rear deck allows half a dozen happy holiday hirers to stand with the helmsman while he steers.

Cruiser sterns are perfect for holiday boats, or for particularly gregarious leisure boaters. Their downfall as a live aboard boat is their lessened internal living and storage space. A large rear deck can sometimes be more of a curse than a blessing. A large group standing on the rear deck can often prevent the helmsman from seeing or steering properly.

Semi Traditional Sterns

These boats look like traditional stern boats, but they offer more space on the rear deck. The rear of the boat has cabin sides, but no roof. They often have lockers built in to the open area which double as seats. As with the cruiser stern boats, they offer more standing space at the rear at the expense of internal living and storage space.

Traditional Sterns

A traditional stern narrowboat has a cabin which extends nearly all the way to the back of the boat, leaving a very small rear deck to stand on. I have a traditional stern boat. There isn’t much room for guests, but I often have two people on the back of the boat with me on my discovery days; one steering, one standing to either the left or the right of the helmsman, and one standing in the cockpit. Space is tight but workable. I have to use a shorter than normal tiller to prevent guests from sweeping each other into the cut when they turn.

The benefits of a traditional stern narrowboat to live aboard boaters are significant. As a live aboard boater you will usually be on your own or you will share your floating home with just one other person. You will spend most or all of your time cruising without guests, so dry, warm and secure internal living and storage space is far more important than a large open deck.

My engine room is packed with tools, equipment and clothing. I don’t want any of it in my living accommodation, but I need to make sure that it’s out of sight, dry and secure. I photographed and explained my engine room contents in this post from May last year.

If I had a cruiser or semi traditional stern boat, I would need to find somewhere inside the cabin for all of these things. I have a huge amount of storage built in to my boat, but I wouldn’t know what to do with this lot.

Semi traditional stern boats have lockers for storage. They aren’t usually very large or secure and, because they are in an unheated part of the boat, can often be very damp.

Cruiser stern boats have even less storage space. Some boaters store their possessions under the deck boards in every space they can find around the engine. I drove one of Calcutt Boats’ fitters to a “breakdown” at Braunston marina. The owner complained that the diesel heater fitted by Calcutt Boats had stopped working. The couple weren’t very happy. The cause of their problems was a hose stored close to the heater. It had caught on a switch and turned the heater off. A cruiser stern engine bay is not effective storage space.

Traditional stern boats are better for cruising in England’s often changeable wet and cold climate, especially traditional stern boats with a boatman’s cabin equipped with a stove. We passed the local coal boat yesterday. We were wrapped in hats, coats and gloves but the young guy at the helm of the coal boat only wore a padded work shirt. The heat rising from the stove close to his legs kept him very warm.

I haven’t spent  a huge amount of time on a cruiser stern boat, but I took one of Calcutt Boats’ clippers from the marina down to Beale Park on the Thames five years ago in the middle of June. I did forty hours cruising over three very long days. I had to stop the boat for a couple of hours to defrost myself in front of the stove on the first day. You are completely exposed on a cruiser stern boat. The cabin offers you neither protection nor warmth.

A trad stern boat also provides you with some very useful table top space. There’s always stuff on my hatch as I travel; camera, voice recorder, binoculars, travel mug and, in the warmer months, a very welcome plate of cheese and biscuits.

On cruiser stern boats you can’t reach your boat roof without leaving the helm, something which isn’t advisable on busy and often winding waterways.

The final advantage for me is that I can use my cabin roof as a seat. I have a padded cushion which nestles in the space between the engine room hatch and the cabin’s starboard side. I sit sideways with my right foot resting on the Morse control. I spend hours sitting there in comfort as I cruise. The raised seat gives with a wonderful view of the countryside passing at a very sedate three or four miles and hour.

I hope this information will prove useful to you.

Cynthia says—–

A Fresh Start..

The first day of May—a new month all fresh with no mistakes.  How lovely is that??

I must admit I was happy to turn the page in my make-believe calendar this morning and be greeted by not only a new month, but a somewhat warm and sunny day.  Here’s hoping May will bring an end to the cold and freezing nights.  I’ve had just about enough of scraping  the ice off of Freedom’s (our estate car’s) window for those early morning runs to Napton on the Hill Post Office/cafe for our croissants!

Today marks the end of 16 Discovery Days.  A long but rewarding run.  We have had some great guests and I think they’ve all came away happy with the knowledge that they are now ready to tackle the world of exploring the wondrous waterways in their own narrowboat.

We are descending in the second of three locks here at Calcutt as I write this.  For some reason or other, Tasha has taken to not enjoying bumping and grinding in the locks, and she is glued to my side as I write this at my minuscule desk.  Yesterday she had a reprieve as I gathered her up along with my shower bits and pieces and off we went to do a bit of shopping and taking a shower (me that is!!).  She was more than happy to wait in the car for me as I popped in and out of the shop and pavilion.  We arrived back at the boat just minutes after Paul and our guests had moored up.

It was another good week of recuperation and I have been able to catch up with emails and other tasks, along with spending a morning shopping for our food and having my hair cut.  It was nice to return home and not feel totally exhausted.  I also found myself in my spring cleaning mode and washed the windows inside and out.  How nice it is to have a clear view once again!

It has been a momentous week for us as well on another level–Paul introduced the newsletter/site subscription option last week and we have been very happy with the results so far.  These subscriptions will go a long way to help offset the ever-escalating costs of managing the website.  So we thank you all wholeheartedly for your support and hope to see more subscribers in the coming weeks.

Turning my attention in another direction—these past couple of weeks have been a joy to behold with the changes that Spring is bringing—all the greening up of the trees and the appearance of the wild flowers is awesome.  I have been able to see cowslips up close and personal for the first time in my life.  The fields here at the marina are full of them along with dandelions and other lovely colourful flowers.  Each day unveils something new and exciting!

Sunset over Napton reservoir

Sunset over Napton reservoir

And the longer days—wow, this is So Awesome.  It is light until long after dinner and the sun  arises eagerly a little earlier each day to greet us.  The sunsets seem to last for hours—I  never tire of this ever changing miracle of nature.  Hope you enjoy the photo I took a few days ago from the boat at our mooring by the reservoir.

The coming month finds Paul back at Calcutt working a Monday through Friday schedule.  I will be making plans for my two week stay at my friends house in Zurich the beginning of June while Paul does his next set of Discovery Days.  You might recall my visa expires 30th May and I must sadly depart.  One of the tasks we have to accomplish is getting a passport for Tasha so she can cross the channel.  We are very much anticipating a great time on the continent with our upcoming wedding at the end of June, hopefully followed by exploring Europe for the month of July.

There is much to look forward to and enjoy each and every day.   I am SO happy I took the leap and embraced this new and wonderful life with my challenging and loving partner.  Life IS good…..

Voluntary Subscriptions To Support This Site

I wrote about the ongoing and often crippling costs of maintaining this site in last week’s newsletter. My total annual outgoings just to maintain the site and pay for the software to send out my weekly newsletters is over £5,000. It’s a cost I simply can’t afford any more.

I just about cover my day to day running costs through my Narrowbudget Gold package and my discovery day service, but there’s very little left to put towards the site. I’ll be returning to work at Calcutt Boats for all of May to help top up my dwindling bank balance. I’ll enjoy the working around the two beautiful marinas, but finding time to run the site and work a forty five hour week will be a struggle.

The only way I will be able to keep the site’s 9,000 posts and pages online in the future will be through voluntary subscriptions. These subscriptions will be just that; voluntary. If you can’t afford to pay, or you simply don’t want to pay, the wealth of information that’s taken me, and a host of experienced boaters on the forum, six years to write will still be there for you completely free of charge.

I added a section asking for voluntary subscriptions last week. I am very grateful indeed to the twenty one kind hearted site visitors who have subscribed already, but I need more if I am to keep the site running. I can’t maintain it any other way.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, I’m sure that you realise the time and effort which goes into it. I receive dozens of emails every week from aspiring boaters asking for advice. I answer every one of them as quickly and comprehensively as possible. You may have sent an email or two to me yourself.

I enjoy helping others move closer to the life I enjoy so much every day. I don’t ask or expect payment for this service. It’s a labour of love. Paying bills each month is not such a pleasant experience. Please help me continue to help others by subscribing to the site. The subscription form is here.

Your financial details are completely safe. Payment is made through the world’s largest payment portal. Only you can change your subscription details. You can cancel your subscription at any time.

For the price of a cup of coffee or a pint each month you can help keep a very useful inland waterways resource online. You can subscribe here.

[adrotate banner=”14″]
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.  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.

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary
1 2 3