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Monthly Archives: June 2016

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.

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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!

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I Need Some Help!

Each time I write a newsletter, I tick another subject off the list of things which those new to boating have told me that they want to read about. The hardest part of the process isn’t the writing itself, it’s constantly thinking of new content for each issue. The trouble is, I don’t know what you want to read. I think I keep the newsletters reasonably interesting but I don’t know for sure. That’s where I need your help.
Can you let me know what you would like to read in the future? Are there any areas of narrowboat life you don’t think I’ve covered enough or areas which I’ve missed completely? Please let me know what you want to read about. Thanks for your help.

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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.

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I Need Some Help!

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

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

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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.

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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.

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I Need Some Help!

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

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

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