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Yearly Archives: 2016

2016 04 24 Newsletter – Electrical Problems And A Plea For Help

Did you miss me last week? Maybe you didn’t notice, but there wasn’t a newsletter last Sunday. I was full of good intentions, but with every day for the last week and a half filled with ten hour discovery days, and with no 240v power for five of them due to a failed inverter, good intentions didn’t get me very far.

We’ve been back on the boat now for ten days after spending three weeks exploring Somerset, Devon and Cornwall in our Hymer motorhome. We had some mechanical problems while we were away so we didn’t really appreciate electrical problems on our return.

On the Sunday following my last newsletter two weeks ago we spent a third day at Trewitson Farm eight miles away from Port Isaac on Cornwall’s north coast.

That evening I had the pleasure of trying to park the motorhome in a pub car park when Cynthia took me out for a meal in nearby Pityme village. Sadly, the half mile drive to the pub was more interesting than the meal we were served, but the upside was that I discovered that the Hymer has a good set of headlights.

The following day was our last full day in Cornwall. I needed to return to the marina for a run of discovery days starting at the end of the week. We didn’t want to rush the drive back so we decided to cover the 240 miles over two leisurely days. Before we left, Cynthia wanted to pay one last visit to Port Isaac. Still exhausted by the flu, she didn’t feel strong enough to tackle the steep hills down into the village, but the far reaching view over blue water from the car park above the village was a fair compromise.

We found a quiet section of the car park where we could straddle four bays. We’ve tried parking parallel with the white lines but the back of the Hymer sticks out about eight feet and blocks the road so we have to either park across the bays or not at all.

After a leisurely lunch we packed everything away ready for a long drive. I turned the ignition key to start the engine and stared in dismay at an unlit dashboard. We had no power at all.

I stuck my head under the bonnet for a few unproductive minutes to fiddle with the battery leads, but nothing good came of it. Fortunately when I emptied my bank account in exchange for a SAGA motorhome insurance policy I included AA cover.

I called them then settled down for a two hour read. I haven’t used the AA for a number or years. I was used to uniformed guys arriving in their bright yellow vans but now, in the south west at least, they seem to rely on local garages rather than their own staff.

The garage mechanic, I won’t mention the company name for reasons which will become clear shortly, opened the bonnet, had a quick look, then started prodding the engine with his multi meter.

After five minutes cursing the tightly packed Fiat engine he told me that I had a flat battery caused by a dead alternator. He told me that his garage could fit a new alternator for me, but that the job would probably take all day because the alternator was difficult to reach. He estimated £500 for the work.

Just as he closed the bonnet before booking me into his garage the following day, he gave the battery leads a quick tweak. The piercing wail of the motorhome alarm in his left ear made him jump high enough to bang his head on the bonnet. That was his penalty for the misdiagnosis. The fault was simply a loose battery terminal.

After tightening the terminal the mechanic left us to look for someone else’s day to spoil. As evening was fast approaching, the tranquil blue waters of the north Cornwall coast were captivating, and as there was no sight of a car park attendant, we decided to risk staying for the night.

Cynthia wasn’t feeling well enough to climb the hill down into the village, so in the evening I strolled into Port Isaac and the on to neighbouring Port Gaverne. I walked for the exercise, but also to check the steep and very narrow road between the two villages. Cynthia wanted to follow the route the next day, but after my recent antics on steep and narrow roads in the south west, I wasn’t so keen.

We were woken at 7.30am the next morning by a gentle tapping on the Hymer’s side. I dressed quickly and opened the door to find a well muscled and heavily tattooed uniformed car park enforcer waiting rather nervously for me. He politely told me that I wasn’t allowed to park overnight. Actually, he told me that I was allowed to park overnight, but I wasn’t allowed to stay in the vehicle. He gave us half an hour to dress and leave. We were about to dress and leave anyway after a night’s very peaceful slumber overlooking the sea, so we moved off as quickly as possible. We followed the route I had walked the previous evening. We negotiated the hill without a problem thanks mainly to the lack of oncoming traffic at that time of the day.

We found an empty lay-by on the main road close to Delabole, then enjoyed a leisurely cooked breakfast watching the sun rise over Bodmin moor before setting off for our overnight stop close to Weston-super-Mare.

We stopped briefly in Launceston to refill our two almost empty gas bottles and to buy some grain free dog food from Pets At Home for Tasha. Our route was much easier on the nerves, but less easy on the eye than it had been over the previous two weeks. Thanks to the A30 and M5 we reached Cypress Farm in Wick St Lawrence by mid afternoon.

Many campsites are struggling with their grass pitches at the moment thanks to a very wet and miserable winter. Cypress Farm was no exception. We were directed to a hardstanding pitch close to the coldest shower block on the world. Then I called the AA again.

The battery terminal tightened the previous day by the misdiagnosing mechanic had come off. The new mechanic, another subcontractor for the Automobile Association, tried his best but suggested that the connection was probably cracked.

I phoned Oaktree Motorhomes to ask them to replace the terminal and hoped that it would stay in place long enough to get us home.

After a noisy night’s sleep under Bristol or Exeter airport’s flightpath we headed for Weston-super-Mare to do some shopping and to enjoy a little seaside therapy. I shoehorned the Hymer into the Tesco town centre car park, walked to the nearby Holland and Barrett store to pick up some more post flu medication for Cynthia, walked to another Holland and Barrett store in the town centre after discovering that the product the first store claimed to stock when I phoned them half an hour earlier wasn’t in stock, popped into Tesco for a hot cooked chicken, a baguette and a selection of olives, then trundled along the sea front in the Hymer and onto their beach car park.

Four hours on the beach in the Hymer cost us £5, but it was worth every penny. Driving the motorhome is far more stressful than pottering along a canal or river in a narrowboat, but once we stop we have all our home comforts with the bonus of often stunning views.

We reached Calcutt Boats mid evening. Our lovely floating home was still floating. Returning to the boat to find it gone, sinking, on fire, vandalised or broken into is an irrational fear of mine. Discovering that all is well is a huge relief.

The following morning, after three weeks of living in a long thin steel box with wheels, we returned to living in a long thin steel box sitting two and a half feet deep in the murky waters of the Grand Union canal.

My first job before poorly Cynthia set foot on board was to wake the boat from its three week slumber. I turned the gas and water on, lit the stove and, in anticipation of moving from our marina mooring to our canal-side discovery days starting point above Calcutt Top lock, I turned on our Sterling 1600w inverter.

Turning on the inverter is easy. I make sure that the changeover switch is in position two for the inverter rather than in position one for the landline, turn the master switch to on, then press a button on top of the inverter. A green light glows to let me know that it’s working properly and another light glows orange to tell me that the boat has mains power.

Turning on the inverter is easy unless I’m trying to do it on a Thursday morning after we’ve been away for nearly a month. The inverter light glowed red and the orange light didn’t glow at all. I knew we had a problem so I did what I always do in situations like this. I turned the inverter on and off half a dozen times, gave it a final thump in case something was loose, and then called in the professionals.

Calcutt Boats’ resident electrical wizard Dave Reynolds was working on a boat close to my mooring. He climbed into my engine room with his bag of magical devices and confirmed what I suspected. The inverter was dead.

I had my Sterling inverter fitted in March 2013. Neither Dave nor anyone else at the marina I spoke to seemed surprised that it had only lasted three years. I paid £360 for it, so onboard conversion from 12v to 240v has cost me £120 a year. For two of those three years I was moored for most of the year at the marina plugged into the national grid, so it was only used for three or four weeks a year when we were out cruising. I hope the new inverter lasts a little longer.

Dave bent over backwards to schedule a day to fit a new inverter early the following week. He’s usually fully booked for at least a month in advance, so I was very lucky to have to only manage five days without an inverter, but not having 240v power for even a short period created more work for me.

Two weeks of consecutive discovery days means two weeks of staying on the canal away from our marina mooring and a handy connection to the National Grid. Staying off grid for extended periods isn’t a problem with a working inverter. It’s not a problem being off grid without an inverter if you don’t need to run or charge mains appliances, but I need my MacBook and an internet connection for work, and Cynthia needs her iPad and iPhone for keeping in touch with dozens of friends and relations across the globe. She also needs power for her mixers and blenders which she uses to produce mouth watering delicacies for me throughout the day. That’s a good enough reason on its own for replacing the dead Sterling.

I bought a Kipor IG2600 in September 2014 in anticipation of last year’s continuous cruising. I thought that we would need it regularly for hair drying and straightening and the occasional ironing session. Common sense prevailed and all of these heavy duty electrical appliances stayed in their cupboards and drawers. In the last nineteen months the generator has been used so rarely that it’s only been refilled twice. I thought it was a waste of money and an unnecessary purchase… until Friday.

Friday was a wet and miserable start to my discovery days. We endured heavy rain throughout the day. The cloud’s silver lining was that we had the waterways pretty much to ourselves. When wearing my bomb proof Guy Cotten waterproofs I am completely protected from the weather, but I always feel a little sorry for those who have booked a day with me to experience life afloat. Rainy days are part and parcel of inland waterways cruising. They are enjoyable if you are prepared for them. They are not so pleasant if you spend eight hours standing on a narrowboat stern in a light showerproof jacket.

After my guests left at 6pm I hauled the heavy generator from engine room to towpath, started it and then connected boat to generator with my shore line. I adopted the same routine for four nights, each evening making sure that the generator was covered to protect it from the rain.

Having the generator on board allowed us to charge our devices, but I was frustrated having to burn petrol to generate electricity when I had four full batteries after a day’s cruising.

My discovery day guests often ask me if cruising the same route day after day becomes somewhat tedious. It doesn’t. The route we take from Napton to Braunston junctions is beautiful. It changes with the seasons.

On winter days I can often cruise the complete twelve mile route without seeing another moving boat. I see snow blanketed fields, frost covered trees and towpaths completely devoid of any of the 2,000 boats on marina moorings within a ten mile radius of my route.

The canal is completely different in the summer. Dozens of happy boaters line the towpath next to their boats, relaxing in camp chairs, drinking wine, tending barbecues or simply relaxing in tranquil surroundings. I pass a steady procession of sun burned helmsmen on both private and hired boats enjoying the peace and far reaching views.

Each day now I see more and more boats on our route. More boats mean more variety. On Saturday we side stepped a misguided boater who was convinced that boats on the inland waterways passed on the left. He shook a fist at us as he passed our starboard side. An hour later an unlicensed and shabby narrowboat blocked the canal after breaking free from its mooring. Two hours after that two middle aged guys wearing waist length dreadlocks chatted quietly next to a pair of live board boats dressed in decade old red primer as they waited patiently for their turn in a lock. Both offered a smile and a hand with the lock gates.

Each day is different. Each day is a joy.

My daily discovery day schedule was interrupted on Tuesday by a cancellation and an opportunity to replace my broken inverter. By 10am Dave Reynolds and his lovely wife Alex had fitted a more powerful model, a Sunshine 2,000w pure sine inverter similar to those now used on all the Calcutt Boats hire fleet. I don’t know how durable it’s going to be, but a big advantage is that it’s whisper quiet compared with the old model. In fact, the inverter’s silent running has caused us a bit of a problem.

We always knew that our Sterling inverter was running because of its irritating drone. Once we finished our night time reading, the annoying sound always prompted us to turn the inverter off before sleeping. Without any sound to prompt us now we forget to switch it off at all. The device doesn’t like running twenty four hours a day so it’s tripped on three occasions so far. I hope this isn’t an indication of future problems.

Nature put on a spectacular show for us on Wednesday. Two giant hares careered erratically around a canal-side fields before coming together to fight just feet away from us as we passed. Minutes later, two majestic buzzards circled lazily overhead and a mallard mother frantically paddled in circles as she tried to control her fourteen day old chicks.

I have yet another discovery day scheduled today, and every day until 1st May. They’re tiring and I’m looking forward to a break at the end of them, but when each eight hour cruise allows me to witness nature at its best, I can’t complain too much.

A Plea For Help

I created this site six years ago just after I moved out of a large family house onto my elderly and very down at heel floating home. Over the last six years I’ve invested over 7,000 hours writing and adding content to the site, bolting on bits of code to make it more user friendly for narrowboat enthusiasts across the world, adding a forum and answering as many questions as possible personally and then creating an almost weekly newsletter to send out to 6,500 subscribers.

I’ve enjoyed the work tremendously, even the 4am starts three years ago when I was writing content for my Narrowbudget Gold package. What I haven’t enjoyed is finding the money to maintain the site. It’s horribly expensive.

The more I add to the site, the more expensive it becomes. I use a very reliable web host in the USA. They were expensive but affordable in the early days. Since then the site has grown in size and complexity, as have my host’s monthly charges. I try other hosts regularly. Initially they seem to offer a similar quality service for much less, but the charges soon mount after a little digging.

In addition to the hosting fees, I have to pay for additional software for my newsletter subscribers, for daily data backups, software to prevent viruses and enhance security, an annual site security certificate and a handful of other services which keep the site both secure and user friendly.

I paid over £5,000 to maintain the site last year. The charges are just as much this year. I’m struggling to find the money to keep the site going. I sell a few books and run my discovery days. The profit from those just about meets my living costs, but there isn’t much left in the pot to spend on the site.

I may have to close it down. I hope not. I’ve invested a considerable amount of time, energy and money to create what site users often tell me is a really useful resource. I want to keep it going, but I can’t do it on my own. Do you think you could help?

A few years ago, I considered “locking down” the site so that only paying subscribers could access it. I realised that that idea wouldn’t work. Many site visitors are considering moving afloat because they need to save money. They simply can’t afford to spend more money to find out if the lifestyle will work for them.

Not all users of this site are in financial dire straights though. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you can help.

I don’t want to make the site subscription only, but if you have found the site useful, if the information you’ve read here has helped you save money or helped you make an informed decision about living afloat or buying a narrowboat for recreational purposes, or even if you just find my weekly newsletters an entertaining read, then maybe you would consider a voluntary subscription.

Just click on this link to go to the subscription page. Please help me help others by subscribing. I only need one hundred subscribers to cover my monthly maintenance costs. Please don’t leave this for others to do if you are in a position to help. If just a hundred people subscribe I can maintain the site indefinitely. I can’t do it without assistance so please help. The subscription page is here.

Cynthia Says—-

Coming Around……

Well. The past few weeks (three to be exact) have been challenging on many levels.  I am so used to having plenty of energy, so it was a real comedown discovering that just a short walk from the boat to reception was a major deal this week.

The biggest disappointment is that I am missing my family reunion in the mountains of Southern California this week.  I don’t think my family is too happy about this, but I believe they do understand on some level.  We will try to do a FaceTime or Skype session and then I will feel more connected.

At times I feel a bit isolated here from family and friends, and I am very glad for WhatsApp that allows me to connect with them across the pond—and it’s free, how great is that??!!

I have been able to enjoy the company of some wonderful Discovery Day guests this past week.  Most have been quite interesting and it’s gratifying to know that they have come away from their experience with a sense of accomplishment and happiness.  Paul is so thorough and does such a wonderful job tailoring the day to suit each guest.

My recuperation has been fairly relaxed as I am able to enjoy resting and reading between our various stops for drinks and sharing lunch.   A couple of the days were sunny and warm enough to allow Tasha to relax on the towpath and enjoy a bone as she watched and greeted the passers by.  I feel badly that I haven’t been able to walk her due to my weak and tired state.  I am hoping the coming week will find me more suited to resuming our daily walks.

As I know Paul is addressing electrical problems as related to the boat, I guess I can say I have been experiencing electrical/energy issues of my own.  I am MORE than ready to recharge and get back to a normal (whatever that is!) everyday life.

I am very much looking forward to winging my way to Switzerland for the first two weeks of June where I will be living with a long time friend. My six months visa expires on 30 May, and Paul has two scheduled weeks of Discovery Days the first two weeks of June.

Once he is done with these DD he will pack the  Hymer with our necessities, and Tasha of course, then head across the channel where we will rendezvous and head to Denmark for our much anticipated wedding.

Good things and wonderful rosy days to come, all of which I am looking forward to greatly.

Keeping my fingers crossed that this week will mark my return to normalcy.  Wishing you all a happy and healthy Spring week ahead!

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 04 10 Newsletter – Bends, Hills and Nervous Breakdowns

Last Sunday we stayed overnight at the Hereford Camping and Caravan Club site. I can see the appeal of staying on campsites regularly. Life is so much easier than wild camping. For a start, you know that you aren’t going to hear a knock on the door late at night asking you to move on. You also don’t need to conserve your water or electricity or carefully monitor your toilet cassette capacity.

On Monday we did the usual waste out, water in housekeeping ready for a couple of days off grid, then showered at the site to minimise the use of our tiny water tank. Without a goal other than to head south west, we headed back towards the M5 at Gloucester where we stopped at a Sainsbury store and then drove slowly down to Bridgewater and then rather nervously joined the sometimes impossibly narrow and hilly A39.

As dusk was fast approaching, we looked for somewhere to stop for the night. Unlike on a narrowboat when you simply pull over onto the side of the watery road to moor for the night, pulling over at a layby on a main road isn’t going to result in a very restful night.

Ideally we wanted somewhere with a sea view. I turned off the A39 at East Quontoxhead, squeezed the Hymer along a narrow track between high hedges, successfully negotiated a buttock-clenchingly tight turn into a church car park between two thick stone walls, spotted the “Definitely No Camping Overnight Under Any Circumstances” sign, inched between the stone walls again and then stopped a couple of passing hikers to ask for advice.

East Quontoxhead's Duck Pond

East Quontoxhead’s Duck Pond

They told us there was a decent sized and very quiet car park with a sea view in the nearby hamlet of Kilve, or Clive and Cynthia preferred to call it. We forced our way through the narrow hedgerows back onto the main road then turned down another scarily narrow stone wall lined lane and within minutes returned to the same spot beside East Quontoxhead’s church and duckpond.

While we blocked the road as we examined our road atlas, a local homeowner strode purposefully towards us. I wound down my window expecting an ear bashing for obstructing the lane outside his house. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Bob was an ex motorhome owner who wanted to offer me a spot for the night in front of his cottage. He helped us reverse onto his plot, asked if we wanted to use his water supply, and then left us to our own devices for the night.

Our roadside pitch was far more tranquil than the previous night on an official campsite. No traffic passed between dusk and dawn. It was a perfect spot to rest for the night.

The following morning I hiked a mile down a quiet footpath to a deserted rocky cove where I sat for an hour listening to the waves crashing on the shore.

After thanking Bob with a well deserved bottle of wine, we drove along the scenic A39 to Porlock, paying four pounds to use the toll road rather than face embarrassment and a burned out clutch on Porlock Hill’s hairpin bends and 25% gradient.

I stopped in the main car park at Lynton thanks to three thoughtfully provided motorhome parking bays, walked on the beach for half an hour, devoured a piping hot Cornish pasty and a not-so-hot cup of coffee and then, with misplaced confidence, set off on the steep and winding A39.

The A39 west of Lynton became even narrower and steeper. I lost traction on two uphill hairpin bends then met a lorry leading a procession of cars down the narrow and steep road. He pulled hard over onto the cliff face to allow me to crawl past by driving onto a muddy verge. The slope and the mud was too much for the Hymer so I slipped backwards. The lorry swapped sides so that I could crawl past him slowly with the clutch slipping and acrid smoke pouring into the cab. I passed the lorry with inches to spare but had to stop at the next layby to let the clutch cool down. The rest of the journey to Barnstaple was a nightmare of steep hairpin bends and thick clutch smoke.

We stopped in Barnstaple long enough to buy some homeopathic flu remedies for Cynthia then drove on to Clovelly on a much tamer A39.

We parked in the Clovelly visitor centre just before they closed at 5pm. Access to the village is through the visitor centre. A member of staff unlocked a gate before she left for the night to allow paying visitors to leave and, fortunately for me, to allow non paying visitors access to the village.

Steep cobblestones down into Clovelly

Steep cobblestones down into Clovelly

I walked down into the village on cobblestone’s so steep that the local business owners use donkey pulled sledges to resupply. The donkeys had been put to bed for the night, but a worn sledge leaned against nearly every building.

You don't want to be staggering down this Clovelly street after a skinfull

You don’t want to be staggering down this Clovelly street after a skinful

We stayed in the car park overnight, buffeted by strong winds and torrential rain, then moved rather hastily mid morning when a steady stream of visitors began to hem us in.

Our next stop was Broad Park in Bideford. After carefully choosing a Camping and Caravanning Club campsite which didn’t mention either steep or tight in their directions, we ended up with a campsite which had both.

The site is a small holding with hardstanding just large enough to accommodate five motorhomes providing non of them need to maneuver. Fortunately we had the site to ourselves so, once we managed to negotiate the site’s steep entrance, positioning ourselves wasn’t a problem.

An alpaca on guard outside the

An alpaca on guard outside the

The owners, Peter and Debbie, couldn’t have been more helpful. They gave me a tour of the site which, after proudly showing off their ex Glastonbury gents and ladies portaloos, mainly included introducing me to their animals. The four alpacas stared but didn’t spit, the pigmy goats stared, didn’t spit either, but butted ferociously. The Shetland ponies were altogether more polite, but our favourites were the hens. They laid six eggs which we took with us the following morning.

Wild waters at Hartland Quay

Wild waters at Hartland Quay

On Wednesday we moved on to Hartland Quay. After scraping the Hymer’s steps in Stoke squeezing through an impossibly narrow gap between a stone wall and a row of parked cars, we paid £2 to park on a rough section of Tarmac rather than risk the steep and tortuous descent to the main car park next to the Hartland Quay Hotel. I left Cynthia staring wistfully at the Atlantic from her bedside window and walked down a short section of the West Coast Path to the hotel. If awards were given for the most unappealing ham sandwiches in the land, the Hartland Quay Hotel would be shortlisted. Fortunately I was there for the view, not the food.

Our bedroom next to the Atlantic at Hartland Quay

Our bedroom next to the Atlantic at Hartland Quay

The view of the sea from our panoramic bedroom windows was beguiling so we stayed for a while, and then a little while longer and then, noticing the car park attendant had left for the day, we stayed the night.

We’ve had our fair share of wind and rain over the last week. Thursday night was no exception. I still don’t know how much punishment the motorhome can take but at times during the night, with the wind gusting to 50mph, I wondered if we would blow over.

On Friday night stayed at Trewiston Farm five miles south west of Port Isaac where the Martin Clunes comedy drama Doc Martin is filmed. After a wet and windy night we drove into Wadebridge to do some shopping at their Tesco store. Cynthia still couldn’t shift her flu so she wanted fresh thyme to make a herbal infusion. I couldn’t shift my hunger so I wanted a whole cooked chicken and a two feet long baguette to make a pig of myself at lunchtime.

Port Isaac harbour

Port Isaac harbour

Cynthia is a big Doc Martin fan. So am I, but I’m not going to admit it in public. She wanted to visit Port Quin to see Doyden Castle where Mrs Tishell held Doc Martin’s son hostage in the series five finale. Cynthia also has fond memories of this rugged area of coast after her one hundred mile hike from Perranporth to Barnstable on the West Coast Path in 2003.

Port Quin is off the beaten track, reached by a single track road so narrow that both sides of the Hymer scraped the hedgerows as we inched along the road. We stopped twice to straighten wing mirrors knocked askew by jutting branches.

I could just about handle the increasingly narrow lane but as we reached the National Trust access to Doyden Castle, a sign warned us of a 25% gradient down to Port Quin where we hoped to park before walking to the castle. The icing on the cake, a local dog walker warned us, was a very tight and narrow hairpin bend towards the hill bottom. I didn’t want to get the Hymer stuck so I looked for somewhere to turn.

The motorhome’s gearbox doesn’t like reversing uphill so the least painful solution seemed to be to negotiate the narrow track up to the National Trust cottages close to the castle, then try to turn in their small car park.

After scraping through undergrowth for two hundred metres we reached the car park to find it full and nowhere to turn anything longer than a mini. But I tried. Oh, how I tried!

After half an hour trying every maneuver possible, and then knocking on all the cottage doors to ask the residents to move their cars, I bowed to the inevitable, reversed back out of the National Trust grounds, collecting twigs and scratches as I forced the undergrowth aside, and then laboured uphill for a hundred metres before swinging carefully into a stone walled field gateway.

A little more experience gained and a little less paintwork on the Hymer.

I wasn’t really keen to explore any more of the coast around Port Quin but when Cynthia suggested visiting nearby Port Isaac I grudgingly, fearfully and almost tearfully agreed. I wasn’t sure how much more punishment the gearbox or my heart could stand.

Port Isaac was a delight. There’s a large new car park just off the main road before you descend into the village. We parked there to eat a very late lunch; warm chicken baguettes followed by scones smothered in clotted cream and jam.

Cynthia, still weak as a kitten, stayed indoors while I walked down to the harbour, found and photographed Doc Martin’s house and then sat quietly with a drink on the steps of a harbour-side pub watching a tractor pulling a dingy out of the water.

Back at Trewiston Farm I needed a shower. After sixteen days on the road, we still haven’t used the Hymer’s ridiculous shower. I love everything about our new home apart from the bathroom. It’s a wet room. You have to step through the shower tray to get to the toilet. If you want a shower, you have to swivel the toilet bowl out of the way, remove anything from the bathroom you don’t want soaking, shower, and then wipe the bathroom down before replacing all of your dry items. Life is much easier if we use campsite showers.

At 500 acres and with 350 dairy cows as well as cereal crops, Trewiston Farm is more farm than campsite. We’ve been here two nights. On our first evening, a tractor hauling liquid manure to a nearby field buzzed up and down the track next to our pitch continuously until 9pm. Last night was more peaceful, but there was still plenty of farm traffic.

There are dozens of static caravans and as many touring caravans which appear to be in storage. There’s a substantial and new looking men’s shower block and another for the ladies. The men’s new shower block was closed to allow recent tiling to dry, so I was told to use a spotlessly clean but dated nearby communal shower and toilet block.

After fifty six years on the planet I’ve used a shower or two. They’re all pretty much the same. A wall mounted shower head and a hook or two on the back of the shower door to hang your clothes. The cubicle I chose didn’t appear any different from all the showers I’ve used in the past so I hung my clothes up neatly, placed my shoes as far away from the shower head as possible, positioned myself under the shower head and pressed a button to turn the water on.

What I hadn’t noticed was that this particular showerhead, fixed immovably in place, appeared to be designed to wash the clothes on the back of the door rather than the person standing under the shower head. I left the shower cubicle much wetter and probably not as clean as my clothes. It’s a small price to pay to be on the move all of the time.

This morning we returned to the car park overlooking Port Isaac. A gale force wind blew through the night and all today. We didn’t care though. One of the biggest differences between living on a narrowboat and living in a motorhome is the heating cost.

The motorhome is very well insulated and, because it’s not sitting in two feet of freezing water, is much easier to keep warm than a steel boat. We sat in comfort wearing tee shirts and jeans in the unheated Hymer while walkers on a nearby path wrapped in hats, thick winter coats and gloves bent double against the gale. Our refillable gas system is costing us just £10 a week for all our heating and our cooking compared to nearly three times that cost on the boat. I think we’ll stay on the road for another week.

Cynthia says…….

Knocked Out—

I am snuggled up here on the settee with Tasha curled up next to me keeping me warm.  I have now lived within the perimeter of this motorhome for nearly two weeks now.  I thought I would go stir crazy, but I have not.  I owe this to the fact that we have been able to stay at some breathtaking venues, and the view is fantastic and ever changing.

Coming down with this dreaded flu which overtook my body with aches, fever and a cough, has been the worst illness experience I have had in more years than I can count.  I could have avoided it had I taken Oscillococcinum by Boiron when it first started.  I swear by this homeopathic remedy (you can buy it online and in many drug stores/chemists) and best of all it has no side effects.  For those of you out there who are wont to recommend a flu shot I suggest you do some homework around this.  Even the circular that comes with the popular flu vaccination by GlaxoSmithKline tells you it hasn’t been proven to be efficacious.  Plus the shot contains the deadly highly toxic metal, mercury, one of the LAST things you want injected into your body.

Anyway, off the soapbox and back on track reporting the week that was—Paul’s birthday, 2nd April, found us at a luxury motorhome site in Hereford that was a wonderful spot.  After two nights there we moved on to the village of East Quontoxhead on the north shore of Devon.  There is a magnificent castle-like church there, but other than a collection of beautiful thatched houses, nothing else.  

Paul is simply incredible how he threads his way down these narrower-than-narrow roads flanked by tall hedgerows.  As the evening was wearing on, we needed a place to stay, and a kind gentleman, Bob, invited us to stay in his car park.  Upon awakening the next morning we found ourselves surrounded by small village life—horses clip-clopping along the road, neighbours meeting and talking, just a lovely slice of life.

The next day was glorious and sunny (albeit cold), and we decided to head back along the A39 towards Porlock (our favourite little toll road experience!), and make a stop for some coffee in Lynton.  Paul was able to head down to the ocean, but I was still feeling poorly and stayed in Vespa (more about her later!) to get my needed rest.

We continued on the A39 towards Barnstaple where I had located a homeopathic chemist to get some needed supplies.  We decided to give the A39 section that had caused us to choose another route due to the severity of the hairpin turn last week another go.  Paul was amazing as he made it with ease.  However, an easy onward journey up the hill was not to be ours.  We came face to face with a large truck and had nowhere to go.  Finally the kind gentleman moved over to the other side of the road and we were able to squeak by.  We made a quick stop at a petrol station down the road and could smell the burning clutch.  We continued on for a bit, but then decided it best just to pull over for a few minutes and let it cool off–wise choice!

When we arrived in Barnstaple, Paul magically pulled into a parking lot after spending a few frustrating moment navigating the town, and found he was just a short walk away from the chemist.

We continued on, as our destination for the night was one of my favourite little coast towns, the privately owned Clovelly.  Paul had a great time exploring this village of cobbled stone streets which use only wooden sleds to haul everything to and fro.  Once again, I was too weak and sick to enjoy this outing.

The next day we ended up not too far away at a delightful small farm which is not only the home of the lovely owners, Peter and Debbie, but also their magnificent free range chickens, goats, Shetland ponies and alpacas.  Upon our departure Peter kindly handed us a carton of their eggs which ranged in colour from white to blue-green to deep shades of brown.  Best eggs we’ve had yet!

The next day we headed down to another favourite spot of mine, Hartland Quay.  Paul parked in a great spot overlooking the crashing waves and the behemoth rocks and I was in heaven.  A lovely place to spend the night!

We then made our way to where we currently are, the sole occupants at a farm site except for the handful of parked and vacant caravans around us.  Not the most glorious spot, but certainly does the job.

Yesterday, Saturday, I woke up and although felt weak, I was much better.  The fever was gone and except for the persistent cough and weakness, I felt up to cooking breakfast and enjoying the day.  I called our holistic doctor in London and his advice for the cough was to get the herb thyme and boil a teaspoon of it in some water and drink it.  Doesn’t taste bad at all, and really works!

We needed to make a food shopping stop in Wadebridge, so off we went.  I then suggested we head toward Port Quin and Port Isaac, just 20 minutes away.  Paul agreed so we were off again. I must inject at this point that the weather was glorious—sunny with white puffy clouds giving it depth and interest.  Still too cold for me to venture out, but at least I could enjoy the views from my copilot seat.  

As we made our way down one of narrowest roads we’ve found ourselves navigating, we came to the National Trust gates for Doyden (check out this beauty of a mini-castle you can stay in!)—-unfortunately the road ahead was signed with a 25% grade and a sharp hairpin turn–a no-no for us.  We asked a man coming through the gates if there was room enough to turn around and he assured us there was.  Well this did not turn out to be the case as Paul came to a standstill in a small parking lot filled with parked cars.  I knew he was focused on getting us out of there, while my attention was riveted to the Doyden Castle straight in front of us.  This was where my favourite scene in Doc Martin was filmed on exactly the same kind of day!

After our attempts to turn around were thwarted, I planted myself in the back of the motorhome and talked Paul back down the drive to a place where we could turn around. What a rock star!  His skill would make any coach driver proud!

We then continued on to Port Isaac where we found a parking spot overlooking the magnificent azure blue sea.  We holed up for the afternoon and enjoyed our chicken sandwiches and scones and clotted cream—my first since arriving on UK soil.  Yum!!

Let’s see what tomorrow has in store for us!

P.S. Getting back to the name Vespa–I chose this because the vehicle is a Fiat and the horn sounds just like a Vespa scooter!  Don’t think Paul likes it much, but there you go—

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Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.

I run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December.  I realised this morning that I hadn’t added all of my dates for the first half of the year. All the dates for April and June are there now. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

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

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

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2016 04 03 Newsletter – Motorhomes, Mountains and Flu

I didn’t write a newsletter last week because of our workload as we prepared to collect our Hymer B754 motorhome. Because our life at the moment is more roads than rivers, I created a survey asking newsletter subscribers to let me know if they would be interested in reading accounts of our motorhome travels. The answer was a very positive and resounding “Yes please!”.

I know that there are many differences between motorhome and narrowboat lifestyles, but there are probably even more similarities. Both require you to live in harmony with your significant other in a very small space. Both require you to take a far more hands on approach to managing your utilities, and both necessitate embracing a simpler life much closer to nature than you would in a bricks and mortar home.

In many ways, living in a motorhome is more challenging that living on a narrowboat. In a boat you can stop for the night just about anywhere you please along over 2,000 miles of river and canal banks. In a motorhome, especially in the UK, finding somewhere to park for the night away from a campsite can be something of a challenge.

Stopping for the night in the middle of nowhere is normal practice on a narrowboat. In a motorhome, you are very much in the minority. When our motorhome was being handed over to us, we were told to ensure that we travelled with an almost empty water tank. The expectation was that we would travel from campsite to campsite and only use the onboard facilities with water and electricity close at hand.

We specifically looked for a motorhome which would allow us to be as independant as possible. Continental models are better than those in the UK. Our Hymer has a 150w solar panel, two 110ah leisure batteries and a 150l water tank. We’ve only used it for nine days so far but for six of them we’ve been off grid, “wild camping”.

If we want to tour extensively in the motorhome, we need to wild camp as much as possible. Official camp sites with electric hook up, showers, Elsan points, fresh water supplies and waste disposal cost £20 or more a night. If we were to tour for, say, 120 days over the winter and use campsites every night, we would need to find £2,400 for campsite fees. We simply can’t afford that.

On Sunday, after a very pleasant night’s stay at our very first camp site, Newlands Caravan Park in Wellesbourne, we set off with the intention of doing a little shopping. Staying in a campsite on our first night wasn’t very good from the point of view of testing out our wild camping capabilities, but at least we broke ourselves into motorhoming very gently.

With no experience at all of motorhome living, even though we spent four hours transferring stuff from the boat, we were still short of a few essential items. I knew that we would need a shore line, or hook up cable in motorhomers’ terminology, so I brought one with me from the boat. I thought the spare 5m cable I keep in the engine room to connect our Kipor suitcase generator to the boat would be long enough. It wasn’t. I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow one at Newlands on our first night, but I was sure I wouldn’t be so lucky the next time.

I also forgot to bring a Hozelock tap connector with me. I packed a hose, but no way of using it. Brilliant! Cynthia needed a few important household items too, but she wasn’t in any condition to go shopping. She was incapacitated by a nasty case of flu so spent as much time horizontal as possible.

I used the Google voice search facility on my iPhone to find directions to the Homebase store in Stratford on Avon. I knew from previous visits that there was a supermarket there too, so Stratford was a good first stop for us.

Google had other ideas.

After directing us down roads barely wide enough for a bicycle, and sometime in the opposite direction to Stratford, we ended up heading in roughly the right direction before veering off into the wilderness once more. I was sure that we were being lead on a wild goose chase, but we weren’t in a hurry and, once I learned how to keep the Hymer out of the ditch, we were enjoying riding in a high vehicle with wonderful all round visibility.

On a rural back road miles from anywhere, Mrs. Google told us to find somewhere to park and instructed us to walk the rest of the way. We were five miles from the retail park on the A3400 heading away from Stratford towards Henley-in-Arden. We certainly weren’t walking.

The countryside was stunning and we weren’t worried about our destination particularly, so we made the most of our misplaced trust in Google, temporarily abandoned our shopping trip, and headed north into Henley then west towards Redditch before turning south to Alcester to pick up the A46 south west towards the M5.

We pulled into a suspiciously quiet retail park on the outskirts of Evesham to discover that all the shops had closed five minutes earlier. The most important item on our shopping list was a tap connector, but with an almost full water tank we could manage without one for another day or two.

We stopped for a coffee at Gloucester Services on the M5. What a much needed breath of fresh air the owners of this and Tebay services have brought to motorway shopping and dining in the UK. We stocked up with pies and pastries and then hurried back to the Hymer in heavy rain. I hurried a little more than Cynthia.

As I bound gazelle like along the path towards our parking spot in an empty coach bay, I caught my foot on a kerb edge, performed a very messy sumersault and measured my length on the Tarmac. Cynthia isn’t used to my constant trips and falls, a legacy of a viral infection I contracted in my mid thirties which affects my balance, so she thought I’d had some kind of seizure.

I immediately leaped to my feet to assure Cynthia that everything was fine, then fell over again because it wasn’t. My sprained ankle was already balloon like and wouldn’t take my weight. Cynthia helped me hobble to the Hymer then began dosing me with arnica tablets and arnica cream plus an ice pack every fifteen minutes. She swears by the homeopathic remedy.

We headed towards Sharpness hoping to find somewhere to wild camp with an estuary view. I expected Sharpness to be bigger. The only road in terminated at a small car park which, a sign and a local dog walker informed us, was locked at dusk.

With no other immediate option we drove slowly through the docks, ducked under stationary cranes and bumped over railway lines until we spotted the high roofs of a number of motorhomes on raised ground set back from the road.

They were parked on a large grassy area in front of Sharpness Dockers’ Club. I stopped to chat with a couple of very friendly retired guys standing in front of the three parked motorhomes. Parking on the fields was either free or just a few pounds depending on who you spoke to at the club and, they joyously informed me, the club’s beer was cheap and the weekly bingo night, tonight, was a great crack.

As Cynthia felt worse than ever and, thanks to my ailing ankle, walking was extremely painful, we decided to forgo the pleasures of the bingo hall and stay in our comfy little home.

I’m pleased we didn’t venture out. All night long we were buffeted by high winds. Torrential rain battered the roof for hours at a time. I love laying in bed listening to wind and rain, but when the wind feels powerful enough to turn my home over and the rain feels heavy enough to crash through the skylight, it’s an unsettling experience.

The following morning, thankful that we didn’t park on the now submerged grass, we left the surprisingly peaceful haven of the Dockers’ Club garden.

Weston-Super-Mare was our next stop. We needed a little food and still needed to buy the items we had forgotten, so we pulled into a Morrison’s supermarket car park on a retail park not far from the motorway. I found four bays I could straddle then shopped quickly in Morrisons for food, and nearby Boots for a hot water bottle for Cynthia who was feeling worse than ever, before relying on my iPhone sat nav once more to direct me to nearby Davan Caravan & Motorhomes to buy a 25m hook up lead.

I sailed past the business’s entrance without looking, then turned next right into a road barely wide enough to accommodate an A4 piece of paper standing upright. I managed to turn the vehicle in someone’s drive before inching out of the road again, but not before I had added another scrape to the cabin side.

Now fully stocked we drove to Acacia Farm campsite rather than try to find somewhere free to park. Cynthia was feeling worse than ever, and I was starting to feel a little rough. The arnica appeared to have worked well on my ankle but flu like symptoms were getting the better of me.

The campsite facilities were excellent. Torrents of hot water in the spotless showers, a quirky toilet bowl Elsan point and an old red GPO telephone box converted into a toilet. Who could ask for more? For the car lover, there were dozens of high end Jaguars on site courtesy of the owner’s main business.

Cynthia still felt awful the following day. So did I, but we needed to move on.

At Bridgewater we headed west along the A39 to our first view of the coast at Watchet. I pulled over long enough to watch a steam train puff slowly past, and for Cynthia to catch a glimpse of the ocean before collapsing into a feverish heap once more, then headed south into Exmoor National Park.

A steam train in Wachet

A steam train in Wachet

We drove for an hour through heavy rain, virtually zero visibility and increasingly barren terrain before stopping for the night on the high moors five miles south of Lynton. We pulled onto an uneven car park set back from the road. My first attempt at level parking was a failure. We couldn’t get from one end of the cabin to the other without climbing gear, so I unwrapped my brand new Thule Levelling Ramps to see if they could improve the situation. They worked wonderfully.

Our Hymer home parked for two days on the high moors

Our Hymer home parked for two days on the high moors

We stayed there for the next two days, both fever ridden and in bed unable to do anything constructive other than make an occasional weak hot drink and watch the world outside through the van’s panoramic windows.

Sheep grazed by the unfenced road and a herd of vigilant wild ponies plucked at the coarse grass fifty metres away, raising their heads at the passage of occasional cars. We had the moors to ourselves each night as we watched the setting sun from our sick bed. I’m not good at being ill, but if I have to stay in bed to recuperate, I can’t think of a better place to do it.

Two Exmoor ponies watch me as I stalk them

Two Exmoor ponies watch me as I stalk them

I felt slightly better by Thursday so we decided to move on again. Our two day stay off grid had been no hardship at all. Even though the sun hadn’t shone enough to provide much of a charge via our single solar panel, the two batteries were holding up well. We had been using our gas powered blown air heating extensively while we were feeling sorry for ourselves so we exhausted the first of our two 11kg cylinders just before we left, but we still had another to fall back on. Our tiny water tank was still half full so we had no problems there, and we still hadn’t filled the first of our two Thetford cassettes. All in all, it was a very positive introduction to the joys of living off grid in a motorhome.

The drive off the moors into Lynton was one of the most memorable and challenging drives I’ve ever had the pleasure to tackle. If this was a typical motorhome journey then I am absolutely hooked.

We had a few scary moments. The first was when I took a wrong turn up a steep and narrow road with a hairpin turn close to the junction. We had to stop to allow a car to carefully negotiate the turn. When I tried to pull away, I couldn’t move forward at all. The Hymer has twin rear axles, only one of which is connected to the drive. There wasn’t enough weight on the drive axle so with the wheels spinning we just slid slowly backwards. I had to reverse two hundred metres back down the road against the flow of traffic (two cars) back on to the A39 coast road.

That particular stretch of the A39 is not for the faint hearted. Bound by a cliff on one side and a deep gorge on the other, the road clings to the hillside for miles, sometimes narrowing to less than ten feet, so taking an eight feet wide motorhome along it, with the chance of meeting an eight feet wide motorhome coming the other way, makes for a very interesting experience.

A riverside Lynton hotel

A riverside Lynton hotel

We pulled into a car park in Lynton with spaces for coaches and motorhomes so stopped for a coffee and a walk down to the harbour. Lynton is picture perfect. A lively river tumbled to the sea past the car park and quaint little cafes. A handful of small boats swung slowly from their moorings in the tiny harbour, and the cliff railway, once the world’s steepest, slowly hauled tourists from village top to bottom.

Lynton harbour on an early spring day

Lynton harbour on an early spring day

We stopped again a few miles later in a cliff top car park overlooking Porlock Bay while we considered our route. We had just passed and ignored a sign advising us to to take a toll road rather than continue along the A39. The reason for the advice was Porlock Hill, which is allegedly the steepest section of A road in the UK. There’s a 25% gradient, or one in four, at the bottom. As a novice motorhome driver, and one who had recently come unstuck on a far less steep hill a couple of hours earlier, I didn’t fancy it at all. We took the toll road.

The view over Porlock Bay as we plan our route

The view over Porlock Bay as we plan our route

I’m so pleased we did. The quiet road dropped down into Porlock via a series of savage hairpin beds, two which required a three point turn, and through a tranquil wooded gorge. We met a handful of vehicles coming towards us, but not on any of the tighter bends. That road, and the section of the A39 off the moors into Lynton, was the highlight of the trip for both of us.

We both wanted to stay in the south west for longer, but we had to return to base. A few weeks earlier Cynthia had ordered me a special birthday cake so we had to return to Calcutt to collect it.

After a tedious drive back along the M5, M42 and M40, stopping briefly in Southam to top up both diesel and gas, we arrived back at Calcutt as the sun set for our third night off grid.

We collected the cake on Friday, but then didn’t have the energy to set off on our travels again. We stayed another day and night in Calcutt Boats’ main car park before heading out once more. I needed to return to base by 14th April ready for a run of seventeen consecutive discovery days starting the following day so we had ten days free.

Yesterday we started off toward the south west, but we veered a little off course. The beauty of travelling in a motorhome is that you can go anywhere you like. If there isn’t anywhere suitable to wild park, there’s always a campsite within a few miles drive.

Cynthia still felt very poorly. She decided that a detox bath would help her so we hired a room in the Days Inn at Warwick northbound motorway services for an hour. While Cynthia was having her bath I checked nearby Camping and Caravanning Club sites online.

We both felt that we would benefit from a couple of days pampering on a quiet site with decent facilities, so I booked a pitch at the Hereford Camping and Caravanning Club site at Tarrington. We had a very quiet night there yesterday on my 56th birthday. Cynthia unveiled the cake we travelled so far to collect. As she sung a very hoarse rendition of Happy Birthday to me the little white motorhome trundled across the cake until it nestled close to the tiny narrowboat. Both narrowboat and motorhome are sleeping in a cupboard now. The cake is tucked away safely in my tummy.

Cynthia's imaginatively themed cake

Cynthia’s imaginatively themed cake

We’re still at the campsite now, feeling slightly better after a good and peaceful night’s sleep other than the noise of the occasional Worcester to Hereford train flashing by 100m from our pitch. We’re going to stay another night here, then move off again. We’re not entirely sure in which direction yet, but not knowing where we’re going to end up from one day to the next is all part of the appeal.

Cynthia says—-

The Week that Was….

Well, sorry to say this weeks contribution won’t be a lengthy one due to the fact that I (actually both of us) am still trying to cope with getting the flu.  It certainly caught us by surprise.  Neither of us has been sick like this for years!  I have been reprimanding myself for not having stocked my first-aid/natural remedies arsenal with the highly effective Oscillococcinum by Boiron.  Oh well, I won’t make that mistake again soon!

We spent a good four hours toting our things from the boat to the motorhome—I did the packing on the boat interspersed by cleaning and Paul did the running back and forth and unpacking on the motorhome.  We made a good team, and were proud of ourselves when after we set off we discovered there were no rattling sounds! After my many years of living on sailboats along with working on airplanes I have learned how to pack securely.

I had to admire Paul’s driving skills as he found us battling strong downpours along with narrow twisty roads.  We were both relieved to arrive safely at Newlands for the night.

The next day was Easter, and while Paul did some errands outside, I ran around like a banshee hiding chocolate Easter rabbits and the like.  Paul had a fun time locating all of them and it was a nice way to enjoy the holiday.

From then on the next couple of days were a blur for me—I spent the majority of my time lying about feeling under the weather along with feeling sorry for myself…..

The day we were set to leave for the coast, I woke up surrounded by the Wild Exmoor ponies and sheep….such a lovely sight!  I felt good enough to be up in the copilot seat for the remainder of the day and loved every minute of the heart-in-my-throat hairpin twists and turns down to Lynton.  Paul did a superb job negotiating all this–especially after the heart-stopper of a hill which forced him to back down and seek an alternate route.

We walked about Lynton for awhile enjoying the lovely sunshine as we gazed out on the sea and Harbor before us.  I found myself getting caught up watching a fledgling solo surfer trying to ride the waves.  After 15 minutes of watching him I knew this was either his first attempt or close to it.  Not like watching the seasoned surfers I grew up with in SoCal!  But I give him credit for trying…

We decided to head up the coast on the A39, and as we started out of town we were immediately accosted by a 12% uphill grade in front of us.  Just As Paul downshifted we both looked up simultaneously and found ourselves staring at a mammoth truck coming towards us.  Our hearts were in our throats and we held our breath as we made our way past him unscathed.  Wow.  What a hill!  We drove along in ecstasy and passed by the entrance to the toll road to Porlock.  We stopped at a breathtaking spot overlooking the sea with Porlock nestled down against the sea below us and vowed we would return.

Paul decided to return to the toll road and eschew the 25% gradient.  Smart move this, as we were bludgeoned with charm at every turn on this lovely road with no lorries to deal with.  The toll booth was hilarious—just a box by a lean-to to drop your money in!

The remainder of the trip went well, but it was a long day.  Unfortunately too long for me, as I found myself the next day in relapse, with Paul the same to a lesser extent.  Neither one of us wanted to hang around the marina so off we went—and after a very cathartic Detox bath at the Days Inn we were on our way to our present location—a superb choice by Paul.

I felt badly in more ways than one that I couldn’t give Paul a nicer celebration for his birthday…..but there’s always next year!  And at least the cake brought a smile to his face…..hope you enjoy it!

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Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.

I run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December.  I realised this morning that I hadn’t added all of my dates for the first half of the year. All the dates for April and June are there now. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

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

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

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2016 03 20 Newsletter – Toilets and Tearooms on the Ashby Canal

I think I’m finally getting the hang of living life in the slow lane. On two week breaks away from my work at Calcutt Boats I cruised to notch up miles and locks rather than with any real interest in visiting the fascinating places I passed at the blistering speed of 4mph.

In April 2015 I left my much loved job at Calcutt Boats so that I could cruise the inland waterways network full time. After my April discovery days, I revved my old Mercedes engine, slammed the boat into gear, and raced away from the starting line.

By the end of the year I had a respectable number of locks and miles under my belt and an interesting collection of canal-side photo’s. What I didn’t have was any knowledge or experience of the hundreds of noteworthy towns, villages or other sites of interest a stone’s throw away from my brief overnight moorings. I used 99% of my diesel for propulsion rather than battery charging which demonstrated how rarely I stayed for more than one night on the same mooring.

This year, thanks to a very different attitude to continuous cruising, thanks mainly to Cynthia’s insatiable curiosity about every aspect of her new life afloat, we have cruised more sedately and less often than last year.

The canal close to Sutton Cheney Wharf

The canal close to Sutton Cheney Wharf

On Monday, our fourth day on a peaceful mooring close to Sutton Cheney wharf, we whiled away the hours basking in the early spring sunshine from the comfort of a conveniently placed canal-side bench.

Our leisurely, but slightly strained, sunbathing was a reward for completing a job I have been putting off for a while.

I emptied and cleaned our composting toilet.

I had the Airhead Compact composting toilet fitted in May 2015 after enduring a cassette toilet for half a decade. The new environmentally friendly toilet has been a huge improvement. We no longer have to rely on finding working Elsan disposal points or enduring the mess left by others. A composting toilet has many advantages over both cassette and pump out toilets, but the major disadvantage is that emptying the solids tank is both laborious and a little too messy for some.

I haven’t been putting off emptying the solids tank because I’m squeamish. One of my responsibilities when working at Calcutt Boats was to ensure that any blockages in the on site sewage system were removed as quickly as possible. My record for sewage rodding was seven solid hours (pun intended) on one very warm summer’s day. I spent much of it up to my knees in the brown stuff.

After years of dealing with hundreds of gallons of raw sewage, emptying a small tub of my own waste isn’t a problem.

I haven’t emptied the solids tank for four months because we’ve been moored at Calcutt Boats with access to their on site facilities. Our composting loo has been used for high days and holidays, or to accommodate a sudden and pressing need.

Last week the toilet started to smell a little even though there still appeared to be plenty of room in it. Cynthia and I have gone continental and bin our used toilet tissue rather than drop it in the solid tank which quickly fills it up, so the gap between emptying sessions is much increased.

The solid tank is a very sturdy plastic bucket which the toilet sits on, secured by four bayonet fittings held in place by four screws. To empty the solids container, the liquids container has to be unclipped and removed and then the toilet screws need undoing before the toilet is lifted off the solids container.

There’s a lid to put over the top of the solids container while it is transported outside so, I fitted that before lifting it from its restraining bracket and finding the cause of the unexpected smell.

The solids container has a sturdy spiral steel bar running through it from one side to the other. The steel bar protrudes from both sides of the plastic bucket, further on one side and shaped as a handle. This is the poo stirrer. Each time you use the loo, you give the handle a couple of turns to mix the contents and uncover any wet stuff. There’s a 12v fan connected to a hose in the side of the bucket which extracts any moisture and expels it through a roof vent.

Although our solids bucket was still only slightly more than half full, the contents had risen above the holes in the bucket sides where the steel stirrer protruded on both sides. Liquid from the container had seeped through the small gaps between plastic and steel, run down the outside of the container and pooled underneath it on the bathroom floor.

Fortunately I had oak effect laminate flooring fitted two or three years ago, so the mess was unpleasant to clean up but the process was quick and easy.

I dug a six inch deep scrape in a wooded area next to the canal, emptied the contents of the bucket into the hole, replaced the grass sods and carefully trod them down, and then spent half an hour cleaning both the solids and the liquids container, and the toilet itself with an eco bathroom spray.

An hour from start to finish and the toilet and the bathroom were odour free and ready for another month or two’s use. I never look forward to doing the job but I find it very satisfying once it has been done.

While we were cleaning the toilet, the sun came out. Once finished, we made a hot drink, collected Kindles and glasses, then plonked ourselves on the bench ready for some serious relaxation.

Minutes later we were back in the boat looking for some seat padding after both of us fell through the six inch gap between the seat’s only two planks. Armed with a couple of pillows and something comfortable for Tasha to lay on we climbed back out of the boat to the bench.

After four more trips inside the boat, we were happy that we had all the appropriate equipment; two fleece hats, two thick winter coats, scarves, gloves and a blanket. Then the sun went in so we carried it all back inside.

Isn’t the English spring weather wonderful?

Once we had sat in front of the fire for a while to recover from our spring sunbathing, we prepared ourselves for an expedition. We needed to post a letter and ensure that it reached its destination by the following day.

When you live in a house, posting a letter isn’t a big deal. There’s usually a post office, or at least a post box, a few minutes away from your home. The postal service isn’t quite so readily available on the inland waterways.

A good internet connection is essential for managing the logistics of living afloat. My Pearson guide indicated that there was a post office in Stoke Golding two miles back along the towpath, or two miles ahead of us at Market Bosworth. A quick check on t’internet confirmed that the Stoke Golding sub post office was still trading, but the search also revealed that the Market Bosworth branch ceased trading in 2015.

Two hours later, we had posted our letter, explored a quaint village neither of us had visited before, and worked up an appetite for dinner with a very pleasant four mile walk.

We moved a couple of miles along the canal to Shenton on Tuesday, stopping briefly at Sutton Cheney Wharf to top our water up for the first time in over a week.

At three hundred and fifty litres, our water tank is less than half the size of most narrowboats. When Cynthia first came on board, we needed to top up the tank every three or four days. Cynthia spends an enormous amount of time cooking. She enjoys cooking food, and I enjoy eating it. It’s a match made in heaven, but the downside is that dishes need washing three times a day. Most of our water consumption used to be from rinsing washed dishes.

Cynthia experimented with a new system a month ago. Rather than washing dishes in the sink and then rinsing them under running water, she now washes them in half sink and rinses them in a washing up bowl filled with clean water. Our water supply now lasts us at least ten days.

We moored close to Shenton aqueduct behind a private boat and a Napton Narrowboats hire boat. The crew of the private boat were busy trying to retrieve the hire boat from the centre of the canal where it had drifted after the hire boat crew had ineffectively moored using pins in wet and soft ground.

The boat’s only occupants were an elderly lady and the family dog. Because she had a cold, the rest of the family had left her in the warm boat while they explored Shenton. She was too frail and too inexperienced to consider tying the boat on her own, so she sat inside and quietly panicked while we did it for her.

Shenton is a beautiful village full of character and charm. The focal point is the very grand Shenton Hall, visible at various points in the village over high walls and through tall trees. The stately home is thought by the locals to be owned by American singing and acting legend Cher who has spent millions refurbishing the property since buying it. The enormous house is picture perfect.

Shenton Hall viewed from the church

Shenton Hall viewed from the church

There are two farms in the village selling meat. We visited one twice. The shop was open but despite making as much noise as possible we couldn’t attract anyone’s attention so we gave up.

Next we tried to have lunch in the tea rooms at Whitemoor’s Antique Centre in Shenton, or Shenton’s-Farmyard-Full-Of-Old-Tat as I like to call it.

We tried very hard to part with our hard earned cash, but the owner was determined to avoid taking any money from us at all. The table full of food delivered to the couple next to us was the last hot food served that day so we gave up on the idea of lunch and settled for coffees and cakes instead. We still struggled to part with any money as the cafe didn’t take credit or debit cards despite having enough seating to accommodate at least a hundred diners.

Their solution was to give us a receipt which we had to take to the antique centre’s main reception area, pay for our purchase with their machine and then take the receipt back to the cafe staff so that they could prepare our order. I can imagine the fun and games they have with this system on busy summer days.

We moved a little further north the following day to Market Bosworth and our only opportunity on the northern section of the Ashby canal to buy provisions. The town centre has a reasonable selection of small shops but reaching it requires a mile walk uphill.

A new marina has opened on the Ashby since my last visit. Bosworth marina can accommodate 150 boats, but only offers leisure berths. At £2,600 a year for a 62’ boat, the cost to stay there is £300 more than my mooring at Calcutt Boats. It’s also not as pretty, doesn’t offer as much space on site, doesn’t have any repair or blacking facilities, isn’t particularly pleasing aesthetically, and isn’t as well positioned for cruising routes. It’s not a place I would like to moor my boat, but it does have free spaces, accepts live aboard boaters for winter moorings and has a superbly equipped shower and toilet section in part of the site’s only building.

The scenery along the Ashby canal is beautiful once you pass Hinckley’s urban sprawl. Unfortunately the further north you travel, the less you can concentrate on it due to the canal’s shallow depth. I struggled to make headway with my 2’6” draught but I didn’t struggle as much as either of the two coal boats we’ve seen on the Ashby. At over 3’ deep, both of them ploughed a furrow down the canal centre’s silt. Moving was difficult for them, but mooring, or even stopping to offer services to moored boats was a real pain.

I stopped both boats this week, firstly for coal and then for diesel. I hailed both as they passed my moored boat. Because neither had any water under them, even with their boats hard astern, they were generally a couple of boat lengths away before they could stop and then begin to reverse.

Stopping hasn’t been too much of a problem for me, but twice now I’ve lost control of the boat when grounding the stern in the centre of the canal on bends. Fortunately there is so little traffic on the Ashby that the chances of meeting another boat on a bend are slim, which is just as well with my boat at forty five degrees across the navigation.

We reached the swing bridge close to the head of the Ashby canal at lunch time on Friday. No one was on duty at the Ashby Canal Society booth so we couldn’t pass through the swing bridge to cruise the extended section. James is too long to turn at the end anyway so we probably wouldn’t have bothered.

We stopped long enough to dispose of our rubbish then headed south for three hours to Shenton.

Despite their quirky financial system, we were keen to visit Whitemoor’s Antique Centre cafe again. The cake we tasted on the last visit was close to perfect. We discovered that a local semi retired high end cake maker provides all of their cakes. Neither Cynthia nor I have tasted better.

The hot food yesterday was even better than the cake. I had home made shepherd’s pie with a couple of huge chunks of wonderfully light and crusty bread. Cynthia had an equally tasty vegetable bake with garlic bread. Both meals were large enough to serve as our main meal for the day. Both were enhanced considerably by the quality bread.

Keen to find out where we could buy this delicious and, as I assured Cynthia thanks to my encyclopaedic knowledge of country cafes, obviously locally made bread, Cynthia quizzed our eastern European waitress. The waitress didn’t know but hurried off to ask the owner. She returned a few minutes later with a big smile on her face. “Bread is made locally by lady called Morrisons!” (In case you’re unfamiliar with the UK, Morrisons is a national supermarket chain and not a little old lady drawing on decades of expertise to produce baked perfection in her country cottage kitchen).

Sweets for weddings in the Victorian Sweet Shop

Sweets for weddings in the Victorian Sweet Shop

We didn’t think much of the centre’s antiques, but the Victorian sweet shop was worth a visit. We left the shop with bags of dark chocolate brazil nuts, mint imperials and, my very favourite childhood sweet, multi colour rice paper flying saucers filled with sherbert.

We ambled through the village past Shenton Hall on our way back to the canal – still no sign of Cher – crossed under the aqueduct, and strolled along a quiet road to Shenton station, the southern terminus of

Wild animals at Shenton railway station

Wild animals at Shenton railway station

the five mile long Battlefield Line.

We were both looking forward to a ten mile steam train trip. The service resumed summer service yesterday. Given that Saturday was their first day of the season I checked their web site for up to date information first. As a belt and braces exercise I phoned them. No one answered but a recorded message assured me that the service was running.

The station car park was full, as was the station cafe, but we will have to wait for our train trip. A fault on the line meant that the service was only running between two out of its three stations. A frustrating end to a wonderful day. We’ll just have to come back another day.

We began our journey back to Calcutt Boats this morning. The return trip will take twenty hours. We have to be back on Wednesday at the latest ready to pick up our new motorhome on Friday.

We stopped briefly close to Ashby Boats to stock up at the excellent Tomlinson’s Farm shop. We bought fresh baked steak and steak and kidney pies, crusty locally baked bread rolls, fresh baked scones, a pork hock, seasonal vegetables, a small organic smoked brie and, the purchase I’m most looking forward to trying, two goat burgers. The owner of the farm shop also gave us an anvil sized bone for Tasha.

Tasha with her free farm bone

Tasha with her free farm bone

That’s it for today. The sun is setting on another perfect day on the cut. The weather has been wonderful. I cruised for a couple hours without a coat, sitting on the cabin top with a warm boat under my bum watching mating ducks and budding trees. Life is GOOD!

Cynthia says…

Life is grand……on the Ashby Canal

Everyday I wake up on this cruise of the past two weeks I have to pinch myself as I realise I am truly living the dream.  We have enjoyed wonderful quiet moorings.  Our mooring at the beginning of the week was special because of the close proximity to Sutton Wharf and the amenities there, as well as the fact that we had a wonderful bench to sit on right outside our door.  It beckoned to us a couple of times, and on Monday the sunshine called to us and we made use of this bench to enjoy the benefits of the sun as well as to catch up a bit on our reading.  Tasha had her bed beside us and also enjoyed the environs.

Following a quick bite, we had to set off for a 2 1/2 mile walk along the towpath to Stoke Golding where we needed to post a letter.  It remained sunny throughout the walk with just a bit of a light breeze.  In order to make our return trip, we decided fortifications were in order and popped into the store next to the post office to purchase a couple of items.  We ended up walking through a field going back, and when we came to the bridge to rejoin the towpath, we were surprised to find there was no access from the bridge—there was a locked gate wrapped in barbed wire which presented a bit of a challenge.  Thanks to Paul’s dexterity, he was able to scramble over the gate without incurring injury  and then hoisted me over as well.  We continued on our merry way and met up with a nice gentleman who was fishing in front of his moored narrowboat. We chatted for a few minutes then walked the rest of the way home to James.  It was such a nice day.

Tuesday, unfortunately, did not turn out to be a repeat of Monday in the weather department—it was a cold and dreary day, so we did boat chores in the morning.  I had my first experience with cleaning out the composting toilet.  Not a difficult process, just a bit time consuming.  It was also vacuuming and laundry day.  We finally set off early afternoon and went about 2 miles or so where we moored up at Shenton.  There was another boat ahead of us, and a boat ahead of them where an elderly lady had been “abandoned” by the couple she was with—evidently the mooring pins became dislodged due to the damp ground and the boat drifted away.  Between the people ahead of us and Paul and me, we got her sorted out, and then decided to go explore Shenton.  

Wow.  What a lovely hamlet!   Another one of those Disneyland moments—every house was a thing of beauty, and so well kept.  We witnessed a house where a new thatched roof was in the process of being finished, and then came upon the gated entrance to a lovely mansion called Shenton Hall with immaculate grounds.  We couldn’t help but wonder to whom this belonged.  We ended up at the end of the hamlet at an enchanting spot which featured various shops housing antiques and bric-a-brac as well as a couple of galleries.  And then we discovered the lovely tearoom behind all these buildings which was delightful.  Our mouths were watering for lunch, but, alas, it was not to be.  The kitchen was closing for the day.  We did manage to have a coffee and hot chocolate and shared the best cake I’ve ever had in England.  We vowed to return for lunch another day……

We asked about Shenton Hall and who owned it, and apparently it is owned by Cher!  We also found out the whole village is owned by one person.

On our return trip to the boat we decided to follow a path across the field adjoining the Shenton Hall property.  We were able to get a little better glance of the house and of the beautiful lake and bridge beside it.  We continued across the field where we came upon a road that took us right back to the canal.  What a lovely day this was in spite of the cold and depressing weather—-we both love these kind of days that are full of exploration and discoveries.

The next day found us mooring up at Market Bosworth just a couple of miles down the canal from Shenton.  We came upon a delightful couple, David and Lesley of “Swan” who had been Discovery Day people a couple of years ago.  We then donned the rucksack (that is Paul donned it!) and away we went a mile up the hill to Market Bosworth.  What an enchanting town this is!  Right up there along with my favourite Market Harborough.  We shopped at the outdoor market for produce, then headed to the butcher shop across the square followed by the beautiful green grocer shop called Rose and Pedal.  Not only was there beautiful produce, but flowers galore.  We then did some other shopping and popped into a tearoom for coffee and a roll before heading back to our boat and then down the canal to our next mooring for the next two nights.  

We spent the next day doing things on the boat. Paul worked on the newsletter and then we took a nice stroll to Bosworth Water Park about a mile away where we enjoyed sitting by the water and watching the ducks and the world go by.  A lovely, lazy day.

Friday dawned cold and misty.  We headed off to the end of the canal then returned to a mooring outside of Shenton.  We made plans to take the steam train the next day that was stopping only a mile away.  We were both excited about this.  That night Paul made the statement he wanted to play a game of pick up sticks.  We had been making a list of games we want to bring on our trips, and this was one of the listed games.  I put on my creative hat, and remembered we had a box of matches. So we put these into action and played five games.  Paul is in the lead—-but tomorrow is another day!

Saturday was cold and dreary as well, but off we went back to the tearoom in Shenton for a most delightful lunch—we definitely made up for the lunch we’d missed on the first pass!  It was superb to be sure.  We headed off for the train station, but Paul had a sinking feeling it wasn’t running because he hadn’t heard the train’s steam whistle all day.  This is one time I wished he was wrong, but he wasn’t.  We asked in at the station and were told the tracks weren’t yet in order, and the train was only going as far as Market Bosworth that day.  We were disappointed, but vowed we would return via auto in the near future to enjoy this experience.

We are now heading home to Calcutt and then get ready for our next round of adventures.  Who knows what’s around the next bend in the canal—the world awaits us!

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Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.

I run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December.  I realised this morning that I hadn’t added all of my dates for the first half of the year. All the dates for April and June are there now. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

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

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

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2016 0313 Newsletter – Complete Narrowboat Costs for 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A flooded towpath close to Braunston junction

A flooded towpath close to Braunston junction

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

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

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

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

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

Cynthia holding back the crowds while I take the boat through

Cynthia holding back the crowds while I take the boat through

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

A sunken boat at Hawkesbury junction

A sunken boat at Hawkesbury junction

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

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

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

Fresh vegetables at Tomlinsons farm shop

Fresh vegetables at Tomlinsons farm shop

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

Maybe an ice cream wasn't a good idea

Maybe an ice cream wasn’t a good idea

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

Cynthia says…..

Adventuring we go…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A breakdown of all my narrowboat expenses for 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Maintenance and Repairs

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

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

Here are the repair and maintenance purchases.

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

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

Fuel filter and anti freeze – For engine servicing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.

I run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December.  I realised this morning that I hadn’t added all of my dates for the first half of the year. All the dates for April and June are there now. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

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

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

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2016 02 28 Newsletter – Narrowboat Communication

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

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

Cynthia's Breakfast Omelette

Cynthia’s Breakfast Omelette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the boat, internet connectivity is simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynthia says—–

Taking risks, making our dreams come true……

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.

I run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December.  I realised this morning that I hadn’t added all of my dates for the first half of the year. All the dates for April and June are there now. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

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

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

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2016 02 28 Newsletter – Narrowboat Heating Costs

That’s it. My last working week is over. At 4pm on Thursday I washed my last paint brush, put my sander away, and said goodbye to the staff at Calcutt Boats at a short impromptu cake tasting party organised by Cynthia in their reception area.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last two months improving my painting and boat preparation skills, all thanks to those at Calcutt Boats more experienced than me. I’ve enjoyed the companionship, tea break banter and occasional tantrum, but I can’t honestly say that I will miss wearing a dust mask for most of the day.

The worst of the winter weather should be behind us now, not that it’s been particularly cold compared with previous years. The canal has frozen for five days in total. We’ve been moored on the canal for most of that time. The cold weather hasn’t really inconvenienced us at all, but the continuous rain has been a little painful.

The towpath and our front deck has begun to dry out now thanks to a little warmth in the sun. I really look forward to not wearing waterproof boots. Cynthia and I have become so accustomed to wearing them all of the time that we even wore them to a restaurant once.

Six winters afloat is enough. Living on a narrowboat over the winter doesn’t have to be cold or uncomfortable. Providing your boat is properly heated and insulated it should be at least as warm as most bricks and mortar homes. Life afloat isn’t uncomfortable in the winter, it’s just a little boring and laborious.

The weather is too cold or too wet to sit outside comfortably so we spend much of our time scurrying to and from our three hundred square feet of living space. On days out off the boat, we nervously study weather reports hoping for a break in the rain and perpetual cloud. On days out on the canals, we hope for ice free water and a route not blocked by stoppages.

Winter is a time for watching the days slowly pass as spring and the new cruising season draw ever closer.

I had a wonderful time on the waterways last year. By the time I finished work for Calcutt Boats at the beginning of April, and then said goodbye to the last of my discovery day guests seventeen days later, spring had sprung and all was well with the world.

I started with a mostly enjoyable and leisurely cruise of the Warwick Ring. The few parts I didn’t enjoy were at least memorable. Pushing the boat through a sea of plastic around Camp Hill locks wasn’t much fun. Nor was stopping every ten minutes to remove sodden items of clothing from the propeller. The most unpleasant part of the trip was through nearby Garrison locks, using an anti vandal key to release the paddles as I watched a group of very unsavoury characters downing cans of Special Brew for breakfast and then staggering to relieve themselves in a lockside fire damaged building.

I discovered some wonderful open spaces on our Warwick Ring trip; Kingsbury Water Park, somewhat spoiled by the motorway dissecting it, four hundred acres of tranquil ancient woodland on the outskirts of Hopwas village, and then twenty six glorious square miles of forest and heath at Cannock Chase.

In June we headed south down the Oxford canal onto the Thames. Every day was an adventure. I helped paramedics load a poor lady suffering a suspected heart attack into a waiting air ambulance at Sommerton Deep lock, narrowly avoided serious damage to the boat in a Thames lock after my centre line caught immovably on a bollard as the water rose swiftly under the boat, chased a one tonne bullock off the boat’s rear deck at Lechlade, was stung repeatedly by a swarm of angry wasps after hammering a mooring pin through their nest, and hid on the boat after confidently pushing a very large cow away from the boat until I realised that the dangly bits between its legs were testicles, not udders.

In August I headed north on the longest trip of the year; three hundred and five miles and two hundred and forty six locks to Llangollen and back to Calcutt Boats. What an adventure!

I witnessed the only anti social behaviour of the year at Westport lake to the north of Stoke on Trent. I was woken at 5am on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning by shouting and swearing. A group of drunken idiots, no doubt staggering home after a lively Saturday night, worked their way down our row of moored boats removing planks, poles, life rings and bikes to throw in the canal. They removed items from four boats and untied the ropes on two of them. They left me alone. probably because they would have needed to step on my boat to reach my pole and plank and to untie my ropes.

I had the pleasure of negotiating the very low roofed 3km Harecastle tunnel with its bright orange water, and the endless but picturesque flight of locks on Heartbreak Hill which followed.

The route along the Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch was stunning, as was my cruise to the Llangollen canal’s western terminus six miles past Pontcysyllte aqueduct. The 1,000 feet long bridge stands one hundred and seventy feet above the raging river Dee. Taking a twenty tonne narrowboat over the valley along a seven feet wide steel trough is an unforgettable experience.

My return journey along the Shropshire Union canal with its high embankments and steep cuttings was fascinating and a wonderful finale to my season’s cruising, all  1,753 miles and 948 locks.

I can’t think of a more enjoyable way of exploring England and Wales at a leisurely pace in the summer months than on a sedate narrowboat cruise. When you’re running at your top cruising speed and walkers overtake you on the towpath, you know you’re travelling at the right pace to appreciate the sights and sounds around you.

There are an unlimited number of peaceful moorings with far reaching views and very few boats to share them with. There are currently 35,000 narrowboats on the inland waterways sharing over 2,000 miles of connected rivers and canals. Ninety per cent of them are on marina or online moorings at any one time so, once you’re off the beaten track, you can cruise for hours without seeing another moving boat.

It’s a wonderful lifestyle for the warmer months, but the English winters are so miserable. Not as miserable as the Vermont winters Cynthia has endured for the last decade though. She’s struggling to come to terms with blossom on our English trees in February. In Vermont, she has to wait until late April before nature shrugs off its cold white coat.

We’re both fed up with winter, so from now on we will be sunbirds. We’ve committed to buying a motorhome before the end of this year. Cynthia has a house in Vermont. Selling it will make buying a motorhome much easier, but we think we can scrape enough pennies together between now and October to buy something which will suit us well enough.

We’ll spend the rest of the year researching and saving as we cruise, and then when the thermometer begins its journey south, so will we. We’ll find somewhere secure for the boat over the winter, probably somewhere out of the water. Did you know that you can request a license refund for any time your boat is removed from CRT maintained waterways? After we’ve put the boat to bed we’ll swap water for wheels and head for Spain’s balmy south coast. That’s the plan and one I’ll share with you as it develops over the coming months.

In the meantime, back to the frigid waterways.

We moved the boat very briefly on Saturday to top up our diesel tank. We were moored just above Calcutt Top lock facing towards Napton junction. We needed to drop down one lock to reach the diesel point on Calcutt Boats’ wharf. Turning the boat round was too much like hard work so we went down backwards. This maneuver caused a little confusion. The single lady boater waiting to come up through the lock wore a very puzzled expression as we emerged from the lock stern first, squeezed past her, and then swung onto the wharf.

With a full diesel tank and a laptop full of data, we headed back up through the lock to our towpath mooring where I started to write the section below about the cost of heating our boat.

Narrowboat Heating Costs

I had a diesel central heating system fitted in November 2015. The only heat source until then was my thirty nine year old solid fuel stove. It did a passable job of heating the front of the boat, but my office space, the bathroom and the bedroom were always a little less than comfortable.

The stove fed three radiators down the boat’s port side. The gravity fed system wasn’t very effective. I understand that they never are. One radiator at the far end of the boat from the stove is the most efficient configuration. With my three radiators, by the time the stove’s hot water trickled forty feet to the back of the boat, it was lukewarm at best.

I had the three existing radiators removed, the stove’s back boiler disconnected, three replacement radiators fitted on the starboard side, and a large double radiator fitted under my office desk. All of the new radiators were connected to a Webasto Thermotop C diesel burner.

I chose the Webasto because it is relatively quiet and much smaller than the Hurricane heater sold by Calcutt Boats. The downside is that, because it is so compact, servicing costs more than the easily accessible Hurricane. There are other diesel central heating systems available but these were the only two I considered seriously.

As with many boats, our Webasto draws fuel from the same tank as our engine. Because both engine and heater draw from the same tank, determining either the heating or the propulsion system usage can be quite difficult.

Because my heating system has only been fitted recently, and because I am, as Cynthia lovingly describes me, anal retentive, I know that over the last year my engine has used an average of 1.4 litres an hour. Because I know how much fuel my engine uses, I can easily calculate how much fuel is now being used by the heating system. Because I have also recorded the number of hours we have had the central heating turned on each day this month, I can also calculate the system’s hourly consumption.

I added 162.4 litres to my diesel tank yesterday. I ran the engine for 36 hours for battery charging in February plus a further seven hours on a discovery day. The engine ran for a total of 43 hours at 1.4 litres per hour, so the engine used 60.2 litres. The rest, 102.2 litres, was used for heating. During the same period, we had our diesel heating running for 179 hours. We usually have it running for two hours in the morning and then a further four hours in the evening. The average fuel consumption per hour during this period has been 0.57 litres.

If you have diesel central heating, please let me know how much diesel your system uses. I think our usage will be higher than most. Our polystyrene insulation is not as effective as spray foam, so our home requires more heat than many modern boats. I also feel the cold more because of what I do. I spend many hours sitting motionless in my office space as I type, so unless the diesel heating is on I get cold very quickly.

We still have our solid fuel stove on twenty four hours a day at this time of the year but, because of the stove’s poor design, I can’t use an Ecofan to push heat towards the back of the boat. I also had the stove’s back boiler disabled when I had the Webasto heating system installed so the stove doesn’t heat the radiators.

Yesterday’s diesel cost me £0.56 per litre. We’re using the diesel heating for roughly six hours every day, so our daily diesel heating cost is 6 hours x 0.57 litres per hour x £0.56 per litre = £3.36. Our cost for a thirty day month is £100.80.

We’re burning two bags of coal a week at the moment at a cost of £10.75 a bag. Our daily coal cost is £3.07, which is £92.10 for a thirty day month.

Our total heating cost at this time of the year is just under £200. It’s a considerable amount to pay to heat just three hundred square feet of living space but, considering our home is sitting two feet six inches deep in almost freezing water, it’s not a bad price to pay for a warm and cozy home.

Living afloat can cost far more than you might expect. Our heating bill is more than some people pay to keep their bricks and mortar home warm. Of course you don’t necessarily need to pay this much.

You can buy a smaller or a more modern and therefore better insulated boat. You can also do what many live aboard boaters do and simply endure a slightly cooler boat. We’re all different. The way Cynthia and I live is probably not the same way you would choose.

All I can do is give you an idea of the costs based on my own specific circumstances. My Narrowbudget Gold package details my expenditure for a full year including mooring fees, diesel heating and propulsion costs, coal, gas, electric, telephone and broadband, council tax ( I don’t need to pay it), toilet emptying, painting and blacking, battery replacement, cratch cover repairs and/or replacement, and general boat and engine repairs.

All the information you need is there, so you can make an informed decision based on your own particular circumstances. Because everyone’s circumstances are different, I created a browser based narrowboat budget calculator which allows you to create and save an unlimited number of different scenarios and even add your own expense categories.

You may not want or be ready to live afloat full time, so the budget calculator allows you to also add your house expenses in addition to those of your boat. The application’s summary page allows you to easily and quickly determine whether you can afford the lifestyle or whether you can afford to keep a boat for occasional recreational cruising.

The package also includes nearly two dozen case studies. A diverse group of live aboard boaters tell you how they cope with life on board and both positive and negative aspects of inland waterways boating in general and life afloat in particular.

All of the information you need to determine the cost of the lifestyle is in the package. I hope that my accounts from this year’s cruises will encourage you to transform research into reality.

You can find out more about my Narrowbudget Gold package here

Cynthia says—-

Wild life…
One of the things I love most living here is the fact that there are birds singing wherever one goes.  I am so used to Vermont winters where there is virtually no bird life, and none of the subsequent beautiful song and chatter.  I miss it greatly, and now I no longer have to be concerned.  As soon as I step outside I am greeted by these two footed beauties as they flit about and surround me with their melodious songs.  All of this makes our daily walks extra pleasurable.
I often walk Tasha around the reservoir that is opposite us here on the canal.  Tasha being a hound is more interested in the smells on the ground than the beauty of all these colourful birds or what they produce vocally, but each to his own!  The reservoir is always full of a multitude of ducks of many kinds who converge and quack amongst themselves and enjoy the water and soaking up the warmth of the sun.
Living on the canal I have been witness to many bird activities, the most memorable instance being a few weeks ago when the canal was frozen over.  I was walking Tasha and spotted a pair of snow white swans doing their best to ford their way through the ice.  It was so amazing to watch this and to hear the ping of the ice as it broke.  The swan in the lead would forge ahead for a few minutes breaking the ice then rest before beginning again.  Quite the feat, as the ice was nearly an inch thick!  I was lucky enough to record this as a video on my iPhone.
Speaking of swans, there is a single swan who looks so sad that we see from time to time.  I feel badly for him as he seems lonely without his mate who met her demise some time before my arrival.  Tasha is quite taken with this swan, but doesn’t venture too close as she has been hissed at and warned to keep her distance.
There was a young swan who appeared at the front of the boat a couple of weeks ago and I was actually able to feed it without being nipped at!  I haven’t seen this one since that day but hope it will return.  It is always an event to witness these big birds take to the air—a lot like watching a C5A cargo transport plane slowly amble down the runway before an ever-so-slow take off.
I have noticed the past few weeks that there is one black bird with the bright yellow beak who comes to our kitchen window nearly every morning.  He (or she) seems to enjoy watching me and I am curious as to what he is thinking.  I look forward to his appearance every day.
There is also a pair of mallards who show up at the kitchen window from time to time.  I love to break off a few crumbs of bread and feed them!  These are my local friends who bring me a lot of joy.
As I was getting into the car earlier today for an errand, I felt something whoosh past me into the car, and low and behold, it was a robin!  The poor thing was frantic and couldn’t find its way out.  I opened the door to the boot and finally she/he was able to return to freedom.  And something extraordinary happened on Thursday as Paul made his way to Reception here at Calcutt.  A bird landed on his shoulder and stayed with him for a couple of minutes then departed as he neared the building.
I know there are many superstitions and stories around birds showing up in different ways in our lives.  I believe that the Italians think if a bird hits a window on their house that someone has died.  I would be interested to know if anyone who is reading this has bird stories they would like to share.  I would be very interested to hear these.
As we make our way ever closer to spring and summer it will be a joy to see what other kinds of birds and wildlife show up.  I am excited anticipating learning more about the birds in this awesome countryside.
PS. When I was driving down the lane last week to the marina I spotted my first fox in a field!  Hope to see more of these….

Boat burglaries

Allan Campbell Boat Burgler

I wrote about boat burglaries a couple of weeks ago. Here’s more on the same subject. I’ve copied an email sent out by CRT below about a convicted boat thief. If you see this guy, please do us all a favour and give the police a call.

“Hi folks just getting this out to as many people as I can. It would be great if we can catch him between us

This person Allan Campbell is strongly suspected of committing at least some of the recent spate of canal boat burglaries.

He did commit many in our area the last time he was out and about and now Lincs Police are looking for him

If anyone sees him please contact your local police on 101 asap not forgetting to explain exactly where you are.”

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Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.

I run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December.  I realised this morning that I hadn’t added all of my dates for the first half of the year. All the dates for April and June are there now. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

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

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

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2016 02 21 Newsletter – Keeping Warm In Winter

 

Another uneventful work week has passed as we race towards the start of this year’s cruising season. I have just four more working days until we set off on a mini cruise before returning to base and swapping boat for bus and our two week motorhome trip around the Scottish Highlands.

Cynthia wanted to head south down the Oxford canal to Oxford and some gentle and cultured exploration. Unfortunately, winter stoppages have thwarted that plan, and our plans to cruise most of the other routes available to us from our base on the Grand Union canal near Napton junction. We wanted to moor at Great Haywood so that we could explore Cannock Chase. We can’t. We considered heading northwest along the Grand Union canal towards Birmingham. Work on the Hatton flight has stopped us dead in our tracks. We thought about heading the other way along the Grand Union but, once more, stoppages won’t allow us to do so.

We’re going to take the only route open to us at the moment. We’ll brave the Braunston, Crick and Husband Bosworth tunnels, two flights of staircase locks, a couple of swing bridges and the occasional pub on our way to Market Harborough. After four trips there last year it’s a very familiar route, but it’s a beautiful and peaceful journey. We’re looking forward to it very much.

On Friday we enjoyed a very welcome break from stationary monotony on an early season discovery day. The day was dry but chilly. Climbing into the cabin’s warmth for morning coffee and then lunch two hours later was very welcome indeed.

Today is much warmer but very windy. White topped waves marching down the canal have created an unwelcome challenge for some boaters descending the Calcutt Flight behind us. The day is mild but the forecast for the coming week is for a series of sub zero nights. The coming cold spell, and my chilly Friday discovery day, has prompted me to write about keeping warm during winter months.

A common question asked of boaters is how they cope with steel boats in frigid waters. The common misconception is that life on board during the short, dark days of winter must be very cold and unpleasant.

My first winter on board was certainly very cold. Mind you, that particular year, the winter of 2010/11, everyone was very cold. It was the coldest winter ever recorded. My own external thermometer, stuck to the glass of my office space window, recorded minus eighteen degrees one night. I woke the following morning in a sub zero bedroom with a quarter of an inch of frost on the engine room’s internal cladding. I wore two fleece tops, a fleece hat and gloves at all times inside the boat, even when sitting in front of the blazing stove.

The boat sat immobile on a marina frozen under five inches of ice. One afternoon I walked on the  ice around the boat. Nothing moved on the canal network for over six weeks. Live aboard boaters unfortunate enough to be caught on the ice away from service points had to ferry shop-bought water along the towpath to their freezing homes. Water points were often frozen. Many boaters had to use public facilities to wash dirty and very cold bodies.

That winter wasn’t particularly pleasant.

This is my sixth winter. I have continuously improved the boat since I moved on board in April 2010. I’ve added more insulation and another heating system, eliminated a serious damp problem I had at the rear of the boat, eliminated draughts through side doors and hatches, improved heat distribution throughout the boat, and experimented with secondary double glazing. All of the improvements have helped, but so have much milder winters since my baptism of ice.

You probably won’t endure a winter quite as cold as my first on board, but if you’re not prepared for the colder months, life afloat can be less than pleasant. Preparation is the key to waterways success, so here are a few pointers in the right direction.

Secondary double glazing

For us, a major source of heat loss is through our windows. The windows are the original set installed in 1977 when the boat was built. They’re not very good. They have rectangular hopper panes at the top which can arc inwards twenty degrees to allow ventilation. The problem is that they now don’t keep out draughts on windy days. They are also single glazed which means that they are very poor insulators. There are ten windows and three portholes so there’s a considerable surface area leaching heat out of the boat.

I tried secondary double glazing last year. The 4mm polycarbonate panels were very effective once I managed to secure them to the window frames. They came with a magnetic tape kit but the magnets weren’t strong enough to keep the panels in place. I tried velcro too but the panels still fell off. The effective solution was to use the velcro and also screw the panels into the window frames.

This solution created another problem. Because the aged windows had loose catches securing the hoppers, every time we cruised the vibration would shake some of the hopper panes open. Closing them again was a very painful exercise. We had to unscrew the secondary glazing panels, pull the panels off the velcro, close the hopper and then put everything back together again.

Securing the window panels was a pain and removing them to constantly close hoppers was a bigger pain. In the spring when the weather improved, trying to find somewhere to store ten large and easily scratched pieces of plastic was the final straw. They had to go.

This winter has been exceptionally mild. Very wet, but quite warm. We haven’t bothered with secondary double glazing, but if we are on board in more severe winters in the future we will try secondary double glazing film. It’s a low cost heavy duty cling film which is stretched over the window frames and then warmed with a hair dryer to make it taught. Because of the low cost it can be discarded after each season’s use.

On Board Heating

The heart of any live aboard boat is its solid fuel stove. It’s a completely dependable heat source. My own stove was installed when the boat was built in 1977. In thirty nine years the flue has been replaced once and the stove glass has been changed periodically, but that’s it. There are no moving parts to break down when we need them most, and very little servicing to do.

My stove isn’t a particularly good model. The Torgem, or Torglow, I can never remember which it is, has quite a small footprint so, unlike the popular Morso Squirrel stove, I can’t use the hot top plate for heating a pot or a kettle, or for powering an Ecofan to push the stove heat towards the back of the boat.

My stove has a back boiler which used to feed three radiators fitted on the boat’s starboard side. The gravity fed radiators weren’t very effective. By the time the stove’s hot water had trickled forty feet to the last radiator in our bedroom, it had pretty much given up the will to live. The radiator, at best, was luke warm. Consequently the bedroom was too cool to use for anything other than sleeping, insulated by a thick duvet.

Because I couldn’t use an Ecofan on my stove I installed a 12v fan in the centre of the cabin roof. The fan pushed the stove heat down the central passageway and raised the temperature in the back cabin by four or five degrees.

We always burn coal briquettes. Some boaters claim that they can heat their boats effectively using wood that they find on or close to the towpath on their travels. I have never found wood to be either effective or practical.

Wood needs to be seasoned, usually for a year or more, before it is dry enough to use as an effective fuel. When first cut, oak’s water content can be as high as 50%. Ash is usually a little less, but both need to have a water content of less than 20% before they will burn properly. When wet wood is burned, more energy is used to evaporate water than generate heat. The wood sweats rather than burns which produces flue blocking tar and a nicotine-like stain from the chimney down the boat’s cabin side.

When I was working at Calcutt Boats I had access to all the wood I wanted. One of my jobs was to manage the site’s young woodland. I had to fell twenty year old ash and oak to thin out the woodland so, over a two year period, I stockpiled four or five tonnes of seasoned logs. Log burning still didn’t work for me.

My small stove needs feeding too often if I’m burning wood. A stove full of coal briquettes lasts for ten to twelve hours. A stove full of logs lasts no more than three hours. A stove full of logs doesn’t last the night. A stove full of coal does.

Even if I could adapt to feeding the fire more frequently I couldn’t carry enough logs with me when cruising. I can comfortably carry enough coal to last me 7-10 days decanted into leak proof plastic boxes stored under the cratch cover on the front deck. I can’t store bags of coal on the boat roof like some boaters because, after over plating the original wooden cabin with steel, the boat is a little top heavy to say the least. Carrying enough wood to last me a similar time is out of the question.

My stove does a reasonable job of heating the boat, but it’s not quite enough during the winter months, especially if I’m sitting motionless for hours on end typing in my office space towards the back of the boat. To improve matters I fitted a diesel central heating system in November 2015 .

I had the stove’s back boiler disconnected, the old radiators removed and three new radiators fitted down the starboard side, plus a large one on the port side under my office desk. The Webasto Thermotop C system has made a real difference on board.

We have been off grid on all but a handful of days since last April, including all of this winter. The last few months haven’t been as cold as previous years, but they’ve been cold enough to warrant having effective heating on board.

I am now always very comfortable in my office space. The bedroom space is much more pleasant too. We have a television and Blu-ray player installed there which we often use to watch films in the evening. Now we can watch them in comfort.

Insulation and Ventilation

Damp can often be an unpleasant problem on board during the winter months. Poorly heated, insulated and ventilated spaces often suffer condensation problems. During my first two years on board I endured a very damp bedroom. The bedding was often so damp it was almost wet.

Over the following four years I made many changes to improve the situation at the back of the boat.

I added more insulation to the hull when I over plated the cabin. My polystyrene insulation isn’t the best form of boat insulation. Sprayfoam is much better but I can’t change my polystyrene now. It could be better but it’s not bad.

I also fixed a thermal blanket to between the bed and the hull beneath the gunnel, made sure that all the internal doors were open to allow heat from the stove to reach the bedroom and, last November, installed a diesel central heating system with a large radiator fitted at the back of the boat. I also ensure that my roof vents remain open at all times to allow moisture laden warm air to leave the boat.

The bedroom, and the bedding, is now dry and warm.

Clothing and Footwear

Most narrowboat floors aren’t insulated effectively or at all. My floor is typical. Steel bearers run over the base plate from port to starboard. Ballast sits between the bearers. I have steel ingots. Many boats have broken paving slabs. Marine ply flooring is fitted over the bearers. That’s it. There’s roughly 75mm of icy steel and damp ply between the soles of my feet and the canal’s frigid waters.

Air trapped at the bottom of the cabin close to the floor is unpleasantly cold. If I walk through my boat in bare feet I feel the cold very quickly indeed. Carpet can be fitted to help insulate the floor but then there’s a new problem to deal with.

Carpet was fitted in my boat when I moved on board six years ago. It wasn’t pleasant. The threadbare beige covering was a dirt magnet, especially with two dogs on board. Hallway carpets see the most wear in a bricks and mortar home. A boat is all hallway so flooring throughout needs to be hard wearing.

I fitted oak effect laminate flooring three or four years ago. It looks good and is very easy to clean, but it isn’t a good insulator.

Both Cynthia and I wear Crocs when we are in the boat. Their thick rubber soles are wonderful insulators.

Crocs keep our feet warm but if we’re sitting for long periods, our legs are still cold if we have our feet on the floor. The solution is to sit with our feet up on our L shaped fitted lounge seats.

Winter cruising can be a very cold affair for even the hardiest of souls. I always ask my discovery day guests to pack plenty of warm clothes. Not all of them follow my advice.

On a chilly day last winter, my discovery day guest was a middle aged farmer. He had been a farmer all of his working life. He was used to being outdoors in all weather. The cold didn’t worry him at all.

He wore a padded shirt and heavy duty sweater for our seven hour cruise. He also wore a fleece hat. He didn’t bring a coat.

Before we set off I asked if he had a coat in his car. He told me he didn’t need one because he was capable of dealing with anything the English winter could throw at him. We set off with me wearing several more layers than him, including my bright yellow Guy Cotten waterproofs. We weren’t expecting rain, but the thick plastic smock top and bib and braces trousers are a very effective wind barrier.

What the farmer hadn’t considered was that, unlike his normal working day around the farm, he was going to spend seven hours standing still on the back of a boat. His working days usually involved plenty of heat generating activity. Steering the boat didn’t generate any heat at all.

We had to cut the cruise short and head back to base. He was mildly hyperthermic. I felt that he wasn’t getting as much out of the day as he should, so as we moored I asked him what he would like to do with his remaining time with me. He told me that all he wanted to do was to climb into his car, turn the heater on full blast and wait until he melted.

A decent hat makes all the difference. The fleece hat I used to wear worked reasonably well as an insulator, but wasn’t a patch on the aviator/trapper hat I wear now. They’re very popular on the inland waterways. There’s a wide selection available here.

Warm footwear is also very important. Walking boots are good insulators, but they aren’t very practical on board. They’re a real pain to take on and off, so for frequent short trips on and off the boat they’re a real nuisance.

I used to wear Wellington boots for wet weather cruising. My feet stayed dry but they were always cold. Cynthia introduced me to Muckboots. They’re wonderful. The neoprene boots keep my feet toasty warm. The boots are comfortable too. I have driven a car for two hours while wearing them and haven’t suffered any discomfort at all after five or six mile hikes.

Solar power

I have occasionally been asked if my solar panels help keep the boat warm in the cooler months. No they don’t. They’re very effective in the summer months for helping top up my four leisure and one starter battery bank. They don’t play any part in onboard heating though, and they are virtually useless during the winter months for anything at all. Yesterday, on a dull February day, they were producing just 1 amp compared to 20 amps on a sunny summer’s day

Escaping the UK winter for warmer climates

It’s an extreme solution for dealing with dreary winter weather, but it’s something Cynthia and I are considering seriously. We’re thinking about buying a motorhome so that we can spend our winters exploring the south of Spain.

I love living afloat now as much as I did when I first moved on board six years ago. I certainly don’t want to live in a bricks and mortar home. I want to continue exploring the waterways for as long as I can, but I’m not a big fan of cold and wet weather or inland waterways stoppages.

Winter stoppages are a real frustration. CRT do a marvellous job keeping the 200 year old waterways network in working order. Essential maintenance to locks and bridges mean that sections of canals and rivers sometimes have to be closed. The most practical time to close them is when boaters least want to use them, so all scheduled stoppages are done over the winter months.

Providing you wear appropriate clothing winter cruising is wonderful. You normally have the waterways to yourself and tranquil moorings are plentiful. The problem is that you can’t travel very far. Of the five directions I can head within a couple of hours cruising from Calcutt Boats, four have stoppages on at the moment.

Winter afloat, even for continuous cruisers, is a waiting game. Waiting for warmer weather, and waiting for the waterways to open. We would both like to do our waiting somewhere warmer.

Cynthia Says——

PLANS……

As we descend the final steps of winter and slide into spring, there are many plans in the making and they are all exciting!  Next weekend with tickets in our hot little hands, we head to Birmingham for the Motorhome show.  This will be a first for both of us, and we are excited to see what’s out there and to talk with knowledgeable people.  Paul has really been hitting the books and as I write this, he has already devoured 3 books on the subject.

We are in savings mode (except for the odd DVD purchase here and there), and are serious about tucking away our pounds, so we can make this motorhome a reality sooner rather than later.  We are of course hoping the Vermont house will sell and we can move ahead with our plans even quicker.

With the above in mind, I made contact with my real estate agent a few days ago.  Seems as though this has been a mild winter and she is actually showing houses, something pretty much unheard of in Vermont at this time of year.  If the weather holds the house will be cleaned and ready to show in March.  We are keeping our fingers crossed that the house will go quickly (I lowered the price once again), and it would be absolutely spectacular if it did, and I could close and put it all behind me.

Our wedding date of 1 April is fast approaching, and we are finalizing all of our plans.  We are both really happy that we will be spending the two weeks around the wedding date in a rented motorhome.  We plan to explore the coast as much as possible and pray to the gods for fair weather.  It will be a wonderful introduction to living aboard a “land yacht” and we will learn a lot along with seeing many beautiful vistas.

I have found a dressmaker to do my tartan skirt for the Big Day, and this week I will be seeing the lady about making our wedding cake.  We have found a stupendous restaurant on the Isle of Skye.  Our rings are being designed by a friend of mine in Vermont.  I think Paul is finally giving into the idea of wearing a kilt and that will be a highlight of the trip for me:-)

Paul’s job comes to a close this coming Thursday and then we will make our way back onto the waterways for a couple of weeks.  We were planning to head towards Oxford, but found out there are stoppages along the way, so unfortunately that is out.  I have faith we will come up with some delightful destination—we always do.  Even going back to our Christmas destination, Market Harborough would be just fine.  I wouldn’t mind at all returning to Veneto’s and departing from my diet to indulge in a bowl of my favorite Movenpick ice cream!

I think that about covers the plans we have in focus for the near future, with our eye of course on the day when we can head off into the sunset in our motorhome!  Stay tuned—-

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Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.

I run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December.  I realised this morning that I hadn’t added all of my dates for the first half of the year. All the dates for April and June are there now. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

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

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

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2016 02 14 Newsletter – Keeping Romance Afloat

In the words of John Paul Young in his 1978 hit, “Love is in the air, everywhere I look around. Love is in the air, in every sight and every sound”.

He’s certainly right today.

This morning was completely still and clear. A light frost melted in the early morning sun, the birds sang in hedgerows showing more than a hint of springtime green. Last week’s submerged towpath is now more solid than soggy allowing groups of happy hikers to stride slip free beside the canal’s still waters. A steady stream of happy boaters chugged happily past on romantic weekend cruises.

It’s Valentine’s day and all is well in our tiny section of the inland waterways.

All is well but, to tell you the truth, we’ve been a little bored. Once more Cynthia and I have endured rather than enjoyed a largely event free week afloat as we edge ever closer to Thursday 25th February and my last working day at Calcutt Boats. My working week included sanding, painting, scraping, needle gunning, wire brushing, more sanding and more painting, all inside and all done while wearing a claustrophobic mask, goggles or ear defenders. I’ve been close to boats but far away from the open air and tranquility I crave.

We had a little boating excitement on Friday to break the monotony. Narrowboat Magpies pulled over onto the lock landing above Calcutt’s three lock flight as we passed, so we stopped for a chat. Fred – not his real name but the one he wanted to be known as to save his embarrassment – told us about his travel plans as he confidently steadied his 67’ boat against the towpath with his centre line while his wife crossed the lock to close the offside upstream gate.

She returned, so we chatted some more for a few minutes before she hopped on board shortly followed by Fred who leaped gazelle-like onto his gunnel. Fred carried on talking as he tidied his centre line, and that was his mistake. Any man with a few decades under his belt should know that any attempt at multi tasking is going to end in tears.

As Fred pivoted on his five inch wide gunnel to bid us farewell, his heels slipped off the thin steel ribbon and he disappeared under the canal’s murky surface like a jet propelled missile.

Fred is never going to make a living as a tightrope walker, but he’s very good at holding his breath under water. He stayed down long enough for me to seriously consider fetching my camera, then floated close enough to the surface for me to grab a handful of coat to pull his head above the surface.

Completely disorientated, he splashed away from the concrete bank towards his boat before we managed to spin him round and unceremoniously haul him out of the canal. His immediate concern was the rather wet phone in his pocket and for his wife. He wasn’t worried about any anxiety she might be feeling, but rather the ribbing he was likely to receive from her. She fell into the canal from a pontoon on the Llangollen last year. He demonstrated the usual level of sympathy offered when a fellow boater falls in – none at all – so he knew that he was in for a couple of rough months.

Fortunately there was no damage done other than to his phone, so while Fred the Fish disappeared for a much needed hot shower, Cynthia and I moored the boat for them before carrying on with our day.

We don’t have the time to do any cruising at the moment but at least we managed to combine some research with a waterways fix yesterday.

Our motorhome homework is progressing well. We followed the accepted wisdom of determining a budget and sticking to it… for about five minutes. Yesterday we spent a couple of hours looking at vehicles we’ll only be able to afford if we win the lottery, rob a bank, receive an inheritance, or when Cynthia sells her Vermont house. Still, it’s good to dream of trips to warmer climates housed in a comfortable and commodious modern vehicle.

There’s so much crossover between motorhomes and narrowboats. As we walked through countless used vehicles we searched for signs of care and maintenance. In one particularly shabby van the signs of neglect were crowned by a gaping shower tray split which has no doubt been allowing water to flow into areas where it shouldn’t for months or years. We’re not in a position to buy yet but visiting as many dealers as possible to view a wide variety of vehicles is a very useful exercise.

As with narrowboats, there is a bewildering choice of manufacturers, designs, layouts, and on board equipment. As with narrowboats, most are designed for reasonably light leisure use rather than full time living.

As standard, a motor home has one 90-110ah leisure battery compared to our boat’s 4 x 160ah leisure bank. On a boat, if the craft doesn’t have a large enough battery bank, the solution is to just add more batteries. However, in a motorhome, according to the salesman we spoke to yesterday, two leisure batteries is the maximum you can safely install without running the risk of frying the on-board electrics.

Another consideration is payload. Within reason, we can pretty much carry what we want on the boat. In the motorhome we favour at the moment, the Autotrail Apache 700, the most we can have is 700kg. Although there is more than enough storage space to store everything to make our touring both comfortable and convenient, we don’t have the payload to carry it. Cynthia’s expensive range of cast iron cookware will definitely have to remain on the boat, as will our extensive selection of heavy crockery and possibly even the generator we want to use to top up our two batteries during extended wild camping trips. We’ll also have to make do with a tiny 100 litre water tank. At 350 lites our boat’s tank is considered very small. Most narrowboat water tanks 700-1,000 litres.. Out tank currently lasts us about six days, so the motorhome tank will need topping up every other day.

We co-ordinated our Huntingdon motorhome research with some waterside relaxation. Although rain scuppered our plans for a pleasant two hour meadows walk, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the National Trust run cafe next to Houghton Mill on the River Great Ouse.

The seventy five mile journey took us an hour and a half by car, mostly along the dreary A14 with its litter strewn hard shoulders. By boat the trip is much more interesting. According to CanalPlan, cruising for seven hours a day, the trip takes eight and a half days to negotiate one hundred and fifty nine miles of rivers and canals and seventy seven locks.

We haven’t decided yet, but this route is certainly a possibility for later on in the year. Comprehensive guides for cruising the Fens appear to be few and far between, so I’ll certainly be reading Peter Earley’s comprehensive “rough” guides on the forum. He’s done three for this area; the River Nene, the Middle Level Navigations and the River Great Ouse. They contain a wealth of information. Peter spent several months cruising this area last year. I’m sure that his experience will prove very useful to anyone considering cruising the network’s eastern reaches.

And that, my friends, is all you’re getting this week. My apologies for such a short newsletter but it’s either a short newsletter or the very real chance of me being hung, drawn and quartered for working all day on Valentine’s day. I have more important work to do.

Cynthia cooked a superb breakfast this morning. We started with her exotic One Hundred Foot Journey inspired omelette, then finished with fresh organic fruit topped with chantilly cream. After such a hearty breakfast we need some exercise so we’re just about to set off on a surprise walk. Of course, it’s not a surprise walk for both of us or we’d struggle with the directions. I’ve told Cynthia the length of the walk and that she’ll need her wellies. What I conveniently forgot to mention was that, at this time of the year, the mud’s likely to be about three feet deep. I’m sure she won’t mind. She needs to work up an appetite for the meal I’ll be cooking this evening.

Normal romance free service will be resumed next week.

Cynthia says……

THE BEST Valentines Day EVER!!

Happiest Valentines Day to all of you reading this—I hope it has been a special one that brought you happiness and love, and other good things.

Like Paul’s message today, mine will also be brief.  I wanted to share a recipe that I use quite a bit for our breakfast.  It is easy to do, tasty, and filling, so I will share it with you now.  Please give it a try if it interests you and let me know what you think—I love feedback like Paul does…..

Sautéed fruit

I cut up whatever fruit we have on hand, and this time of year I use various apples, pears, oranges, apricots (when I can find them!) and whatever else I fancy.  I am somewhat limited, as I do my best to only use organic fruit.  I also add various nuts and dried fruit.  I often use frozen berries as well, adding them at the end.  I cut everything in bite size pieces and add them all to a tablespoon or so of melted coconut oil (this is stored as energy, not fat) in a frying pan over medium heat.  I sauté them until they are just a bit tender 5-8 minutes or so.  I often add a little vanilla extract and some muesli towards the end.  It is done in less than ten minutes.

Today being Valentines Day, I wanted to make something special for Paul and since we just watched one of our favourite movies, “The Hundred Foot Journey,” I became obsessed with omelettes and decided to forge ahead and cook the one like was done in the movie.  I haven’t had much luck with the spray oils that keep food from sticking, and I refuse to use nonstick pans because the toxicity they give off.  I read that it was possible to use a good stainless steel pan, if you heated it first for a couple of minutes over medium heat, then added clarified butter and swirled it around the pan until it stated to smoke a bit, then poured the eggs in and make the omelet.  I did this procedure starting out with much trepidation, but low and behold it worked perfectly and we were rewarded with two perfect omelettes!  We complimented this dish with a fresh croissant, marmalade and organic berries and apricots topped with chantilly (whipped cream) and a touch of ground cinnamon.  We were both pleased with the results, so next time I won’t feel so intimidated when wanting to cook an omelette.  My next endeavour will be a reduction sauce.  I guess my French blood is showing itself, as I am loving cooking and learning more challenging dishes is exciting and fun.

And now as I am putting the finishing touches on this, Paul is gearing up to cook Valentines dinner for me.  I am thrilled beyond words.  This afternoon he took me on a surprise hike amidst gorgeous trees with breathtaking views across the fields.  As it was a stunning sunny day, we were able to enjoy our small lunch sitting on a fallen tree surrounded by the beauty of nature and stupendous views.

This has been the BEST Valentines Day I have ever had, and I have my dear Paul to thank.  I hope all of you have felt as well loved today as I have.

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Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.

I run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December.  I realised this morning that I hadn’t added all of my dates for the first half of the year. All the dates for April and June are there now. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

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

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

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Entertainment
Summary

2016 02 07 Newsletter – Building Boating Competence and Confidence

I’m slowly but surely losing my mind. I urinated on my feet this week. It’s not something I did willingly or enthusiastically. In fact the whole experience was a little unsettling.

Cynthia and I enjoyed a couple of hours away from the boat on Thursday evening with a discovery day guest from earlier in the year. Retiree Ian Kirkup wanted to find out if he could comfortably handle a narrowboat on his own. After a seven hour cruise through twelve hours of stunning Warwickshire countryside, obscured to some degree by driving rain, we spent an hour and a half negotiating three descending and then three ascending locks in the Calcutt flight.

Ian found the day very useful indeed. He decided that his limited mobility would prevent him from enjoying a life afloat. He still wanted to live a gypsy lifestyle so decided that his best option was to buy a well-equipped motorhome. It’s a beauty.

After two very pleasant hours discussing the practicalities of living for extended periods in a space which makes our 62’ boat look cavernous, we trudged back to the boat through thick mud along a darkened towpath falling down holes, tripping over roots and being raked by hedgerow brambles. We had, of course, forgotten to bring a torch with us.

Apart from tripping over the bollard our boat’s bow is tied to we climbed back on board without incident. Because of my advanced age, tennis ball sized bladder and copious quantities of tea, my most pressing need was to have a wee.

I headed for our bathroom and smiled lovingly at Cynthia as she passed me carrying a bucket sized, foul smelling plastic container, whipped my trousers down to use our composting toilet, sat down and let loose.

The composting toilet has been on board now for eight months. The first time I used it for liquids I remember thinking that the sound of water splashing into the empty container at my feet sounded very much like liquid splashing directly onto the bathroom floor. I was reminded of this initial impression again on Thursday night, moments before I realised that the sound really was liquid splashing onto the floor. The container which I had clearly seen Cynthia carrying was the missing wee bottle.

There was no harm done other than the few bruises Cynthia gained when she fell over laughing after climbing back back into the boat with the empty liquids container and saw me crawling around the bathroom floor with my trousers around my ankles busily mopping the floor with a handful of blue roll.

That was probably the highlight of our week. The problem with mooring in one spot for weeks on end is that I don’t have an awful lot to report. I work for four days, then relax for three, but I do very little boating.

All of that will change in just three short weeks when my work for Calcutt Boats ends. I’m not sure where we’ll go yet. We’ll have three weeks free before heading north to the Isle of Skye for our wedding.

We’ve decided on a rather unconventional honeymoon. We’re going to hire a motorhome so we can explore the Scottish highlands in comfort. We have an ulterior motive. We want to see how I feel living in the much smaller space available in even a large motor home after the relative spaciousness offered by the fifty feet long cabin on our 62’ narrowboat. If I can endure or even enjoy the experience we will be number crunching to see if we can afford a reasonably comfortable motorhome of our own to use to explore somewhere a little more pleasant than winter-time Britain.

We will continue to spend most of our time afloat. Even though a motor home would allow us escape for two or three months of dreary winter weather, I can’t think of a better way of spending the warmer months. A motor home may allow us to reach southern Europe in comfort but the actual travelling won’t be as peaceful or as stress free as cruising at two or three miles an hour.

Back to boating then, and a subject which I am often asked about. I appear to be a reasonably competent and confident boater now, but how did I feel when I first moved on board?

Many aspiring narrowboat owners are daunted by the prospect of handling such large and ungainly craft on their own. They are worried about mooring techniques, which knots to use, waterways etiquette and rules, lock negotiation, and the many differences between living in a house and living afloat. If you’re considering moving afloat and are overwhelmed by the prospect, I hope that the following summary of my experiences to date will reassure you that if I can do it, anyone can.

I moved onto my current boat on 2nd April 2010. I knew nothing about boats. In fact, I wasn’t particularly interested in boats or living afloat. I just needed somewhere, anywhere, to live away from my matrimonial home. After a disastrous business failure culminating in bankruptcy, the resulting financial strain was the last nail in my marriage’s coffin.

I had no savings and very little income. Six months before moving afloat I started working part time at a marina. I loved working on the extensive grounds there but I earned very little. I needed to move out of my house, but I couldn’t afford to rent the most modest of flats. Because of my bankruptcy I probably wouldn’t have passed the letting agents’ screening anyway.

There are 250 boats moored at Calcutt Boats on two marinas. My daily work involved working close to the boats cleaning and repairing the wooden piers and sometimes moving the boats from their moorings so that they could be repaired or painted. Some appeared to be neglected and unused. One, on a quiet mooring at the western end of Calcutt Boats’ Meadows marina, was in a particularly dilapidated condition.

Paint hung in ribbons off the boat’s windward port side. The gunnels were thick with flaking rust. A tattered lichen smeared cratch cover sagged over the front deck’s peeling paint. The edges of the cabin’s five masonite roof panels curled towards the sky allowing rain to pour into the boat in all but the lightest showers. Ill fitting and rotting wooden hatches over two pairs of side doors and the engine room allowed rainwater to flow down the internal parana pine cladding. The boat was a mess.

The engine room doors were unlocked so, on a cold February day, I climbed over a rickety coffin shaped wooden box covering the dusty engine, swept aside thick floor to ceiling cobwebs and stepped inside.

I didn’t particularly like the boat’s interior. In the depths of winter the boat’s cabin was very cold. Rainwater dripped from discoloured patches in the pine clad roof, dead flies dotted every surface, mould-covered curtains and seating, the stove flue was cracked and the stove glass was broken. What probably bothered me most was a large brown stain in the centre of a sagging mattress on the fixed double bed in the rear cabin.

I didn’t like the boat or know anything about boating. I didn’t really want to live afloat. All I needed was somewhere to live away from the woman who was slowly but surely driving me mad. I’m sure she felt the same about me.

I discovered that the boat was owned by my boss, marina owner Roger Preen. After a short meeting with Roger and his wife Rosemary they agreed that I could pay them a nominal rent to live on board. I moved on board on my fiftieth birthday.

The boat was barely habitable. I spent a week running a powerful dehumidifier for twelve hours a day to try and remove the damp, and then had to do it all again after I inadvertently flooded the rear cabin after discovering that (a) a 350 litre tank doesn’t take an hour to fill and (b) a split filler hose between water tank and deck was allowing the excess to drain into the cabin bilge, flow back to the engine bilge and then slowly fill up the inside of the boat from the rear.

That aside, my first six months were idyllic. Grassed banks carpeted by a stunning array of wildflowers stretched in front of my mooring. Behind me, a half acre tree-studded island rose from twenty feet of clear water filled with shoals of roach, predatory pike and perch, and small groups of battleship sized carp. Mallards squabbled over mates, coots bolted comically through the bankside reeds and an ungainly cob swan chased a dozen Canada geese across the sparkling water.

Each day I finished work at 5.30pm, strolled along a woodland path back to my new home and then sat reading for hours in the early evening sun at a table on the front deck. I very quickly fell in love with the lifestyle.

With very little money coming in from a hugely enjoyable but low paid outdoor job I couldn’t afford to remedy any of the boat’s many ailments. I had no confidence in the engine, the unstable construction covering it was dangerous, water poured through the rapidly deteriorating roof and through ill fitting hatches, the absurd bath was just deep enough to wash a very small baby, the gas water heater was so temperamental that showering was as unpleasant as it was dangerous, the water tank filler hose leaked, the stove flue was cracked and the original electrical system, installed in 1977, was woefully inadequate.

I loved the boat as a home but I had no interest in using it to explore the waterways network. In fact, I was only vaguely aware that a network existed at all. The boat was a reasonably acceptable floating home. It was somewhere to lick my wounds while I considered what to do next, but the options I considered didn’t include waterways cruising.

The thought of using the boat for anything other than a floating flat frightened me. I didn’t take the boat out of the marina for eighteen months and then when I did, I broke down twice. The first breakdown was due to a blocked and almost inaccessible fuel filter. The second breakdown occurred after my gearbox oil leaked out of two perished hoses.

If I had known the first thing about engines I would have realised that after spending thirteen years languishing unused on a marina mooring, all of the perishable pipes and hoses needed replacing.

During my first few months on board I learned an enormous amount about narrowboats in general and mine in particular. Every day I worked with engineers, marine electricians, fitters and painters, many of them boat owners themselves. Every day I discovered more about the boat I lived on and what a beautiful and well appointed boat is used to be.

I learned from the people around me, and I learned by making plenty of mistakes.

I flooded the boat from the bow twice thanks to a split and inaccessible filler hose. I almost flooded the boat three times from the rear when the raw water cooling system failed and dumped gallons of canal water into the engine room bilge in just a few minutes.

Most of the time I worked on the water at the marina. Sometimes, inadvertently, I worked in it too. I have fallen into the marina or the canal spectacularly on three different occasions. The first, two months after I started working there, was on a bitterly cold winter’s day. An icy crust covered the water, catching the hull of the boat I was trying to pull towards me against a lively north westerly. The painful lesson I learned that day was not to lean backwards over water while pulling on a centre line with all my might. The knot slipped causing me to do a backward somersault through the ice into the muddy water beneath, much to the amusement of those around me. I suffered no injuries other than a bruised ego, dented pride and a mild case of hypothermia.

A very important lesson I learned in the early days was how to handle locks safely. Locks caused me no end of confusion and anxiety initially but I was very lucky. A very pleasant part of my job at Calcutt Boats was moving narrowboats between wharf and marina. ThIs involved negotiating two wide locks, initially with another member of staff.

I found locks very confusing. I wasn’t sure which paddles to raise or why I needed to raise them. I sometimes opened paddles in the wrong order or both upstream and downstream paddles at the same time, much to the amusement of the more experienced members of staff who accompanied me.

Shortly after I had mastered the basics of passing through a lock safely, the company asked me to take a brand new boat they had just built on a thirty nine hour cruise down the south Oxford canal and onto the Thames where it was being exhibited at the IWA boat show at Beale Park near Reading. I lost their pride and joy at the first lock I encountered.

I left my twelve year old son on board making tea while I moored the new boat beneath the bottom lock in the Napton flight then left it to set the lock. I was so busy concentrating on manfully winding up the paddle as fast as I could to notice the effect that the surge of water leaving the lock was having on my poorly tied boat.

The knot came adrift allowing the boat to float into the middle of the canal, my son, Brook, standing trembling lipped on the front deck with steaming mug of tea in his hand. Two laughing local boaters brought the boat back to me.

The mishap was at the beginning of three very long but hugely enjoyable cruising days. My son was with me to help with locks and lift bridges. He was too weak to work the locks and too light to lift the bridges. I had to do everything myself. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but both passengers and boat made it to Beale Park in one piece, despite being pinned against a Thames weir as soon as I left the canal’s comparative calm

Over the months which followed I became a proficient boat handler and full time liveaboard boater. One of the most important pieces in the jigsaw was understanding on board electrics and how they differed enormously from those in a bricks and mortar home. I learned about the relationship between power generation, storage and consumption and how balancing the three is the most difficult aspect of liveaboard life.

I made many mistakes when I first started boating. I still make some now. It’s very easy to be distracted by the wonderful scenery or wildlife as I cruise but I don’t mind. Narrowboats are very forgiving vehicles. The occasional bump or scrape isn’t going to do any harm.

All of this is very good news for you. I don’t pick new skills up particularly quickly, I am rubbish at DIY, and I make many silly mistakes. If I can competently manage living afloat and steer my boat along the inland waterways, you can too. Once you have mastered the basics you can begin to relax and enjoy exploring the wonderful inland waterways network at a very gentle pace.

You will make many mistakes when you first start boating. You will make less if you invest in a little training first. There are many companies offering RYA accredited helmsmanship courses for the inland waterways. Alternatively you can join me for a more comprehensive discovery day and learn about the practicalities of living afloat as well as boat handling. You can find out more about my days here.

Boat Thefts

All is not well with local online moorers. There’s a thief about. A spineless b****d, or maybe two or more of them, has broken into two boats moored on the combined Oxford/Grand Union canal running between Napton and Braunston junctions. Is there a name for a group of thieves? You have a troop of monkeys, a pack of dogs or a herd of cows. How about a vermin of thieves?

One of the boats, owned by newsletter reader Chris Dobbie, was moored close to Tomlow bridge between Napton and Braunston junctions. The thief forced a side hatch to gain entry then stole a waterproof coat, a quilted coat, walking boats, a beanie hat, gloves and a pair of old trainers. Unusually, they left behind other items which would have been easier for them to dispose of. A rucksack was stolen from the second boat before a dog scared them off.

We can only hope that the thief trips over while wearing the unfamiliar walking boots and falls into the canal, but not until he has knocked himself unconscious first. I sincerely hope that he encounters one or two boat owners who are more than happy to deal with his antisocial behavior  and save the local police force the trouble of turning up far too late and then promising to do nothing at all.

In case you think I’m being a little too harsh, I’ve been burgled five times in the past. The thieves have never been caught.

Cynthia says…..

The Best of Both Worlds—

I don’t know about all of you out there, but in the past I used to be in a quandary over how to choose the best thing to do.  This would include where to vacation, or perhaps which museum to visit or how should I spend my day.

After much hand-wringing and soul-searching and a lot of research, I started entertaining the thought of why not do both?  With a bit of imagination and open-mindedness, it often worked out that when I was in doubt about what to do, I found with a little artful manoeuvring I could do both!

The reason I bring this up, is because Paul and I have been discussing on and off over the winter how nice it would be to plant ourselves in the warmer climes and soak up the sun, instead of slogging through the mud, leaning into the biting wind and cold as we make our way to wherever we need to be.

We started discussing motorhomes in earnest this past week, and now it seems to be the reigning topic at hand.  We have spent hours surfing the Internet and reading the various blogs describing all aspects of motorhome traveling and living.

Yesterday (Saturday) was rather nasty weather-wise, and we decided to forego our usual National Trust property visit and head to Weedon (30 minutes drive from us) to see some of these beauties firsthand.  The people there were very accommodating and gave us free rein to look at the vehicles that we fancied.  Well, the first one provided everything we were looking for, so even though we glanced at several other models, we knew we had found the one that resonated best with us.

After returning home Paul was able to locate the same model and layout online, but a few years older and much more in line price-wise for us.  So now we begin the process of putting the pieces of the puzzle together to make this work……we will keep you posted!

I love discovering ways to find a balance in all aspects of my life, but particularly when it comes to making choices about where to go, what to eat etc.  I remember once when I was on a Paris layover I had spotted the dessert tray when we walked in the door.  They had a mouth-watering lemon tart, as well as an equally delectable apple tart.  I wanted a little of each, so I asked our server if this was possible and the next thing I knew voila, I was able to enjoy both.

Applying this to continuous cruising, think about the opportunities to see many things along the way.  With enough flexibility and use of your imagination you can extend your horizons and enjoy much more than you thought possible.  Just give it a try….

Several people have asked if I might include a recipe with the weekly newsletter, but we decided against this as Paul has said in the past there really hasn’t been must interest.  However, with that in mind, for those of you who are interested in such culinary delights, here is the blog I use so much for what I cook—www.eatliverun.com.

Wishing you a good week of creative imagination—go out and make things happen!

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Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.

I run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December.  If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

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

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

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