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


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A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Tournesol

Early retirement in 1999, nine months cruising in the UK and then ten years living in France. But for the last eighteen months Anne and Keith have been back in the UK cruising the canal network on their narrowboat.{{{0}}}

Who are you? (and your significant other and, of course, your dog if you have one)

Hi, I’m Anne Poulton and I live on a narrowboat with my husband Keith and Louis, our 2 year-old German Shepherd (and yes, I always pick up his poo).

Tell me a little about yourself and why you decided to live a life afloat

When we first took early retirement in 1999 after the last offspring left home to go off to Uni, we bought a 63′ Dave Thomas Dutch Barge lookalike and continuously cruised for nine months before we decided to sell it and move to France. We returned to the UK at the end of 2010 because Sarkozy told all the pre-retired expats to return their cartes vitale and leave the health system. We were living on work pensions and couldn’t afford private health care so we coped as long as we could, then sold up and came back. Having lived in the beautiful Limousin countryside for 10 years, we didn’t feel we could bear to live in suburbia, plus the property prices had more than doubled since we sold up, so we decided to look for a boat and found her on the internet being advertised on Apollo Duck as a private sale.

What is your boat called and why did you decide on that name?

Narrowboat Tournesal moored at Bath Weir

Narrowboat Tournesal moored at Bath Weir

The boat had originally been commissioned by the man who sold it to us, so we had all the photos of her being built with a Jonathan Wilson hull and fitted out by Louis and Joshua boat builders and it was finished in time for the Crick boat show in May 2008, which it won. She was called WhereTheHell-R-We, but we couldn’t stand that name when we bought her, so we had it painted out and renamed her (officially) Tournesol. This is French for sunflower which we thought was especially apt!

What is your boat style and length

Tournesol is a 70′ trad style narrowboat with a Beta 50 engine.

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

We bought her in October 2010 from the owner who lived in Knowle near Solihull, so we have owned her for 18 months now.

How did you finance your boat?

We already had a motorhome so we were living in that while we searched for a boat (our house contents are languishing in a secure barn that we bought for that purpose before we left France) so we had the proceeds of our house sale in France and we bought it outright.

How much time do you spend on your boat each year?

We live on her permanently but we have been going to Spain and Portugal for the winters since 2001 in our motorhome, so the boat stays safely in the marina from just after Christmas through till the end of March and then we come back and embark on the spring and summer trip, returning to the marina for the month of August before going off for a short trip for September, October and November.

Are you still working? (If so, what do you do?)

Keith was in the Navy for 26 years and then the prison service until he took early retirement and I was a professional counsellor working for the NHS and East Kent education authority before I took early retirement. I started a non-profit-making website called Counselling In France in 2003 and that is still going and growing all the time, plus I run a small business designing websites called Windoweb so I am still doing that, although that is mainly for enjoyment as it makes very little profit. I also run a small sideline selling porthole doilies from a website and I also sell as we go along with the help of a board on the roof – people see the doilies in our
portholes and stop to look at the ones I have for sale. We are 60 and 65 this year so we are feeling a bit better off with old-age pensions kicking in, which is just as well with the price of diesel!

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

There isn’t anything really that either of us dislike about it. My only moan would be that I have extremely bad circulation and I hate dealing with icy metal on lock gates and windlasses at the end of the year. For Keith, he gets frustrated with the shallow state of some of the canals and trying to moor and going aground, then not being able to get off easily. Some of the prettiest places seem to be the shallowest.

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

We love the freedom and the ability to move around with a different view every night if we want. Although we enjoy the company of friends and family, we aren’t people who join in with group things or enjoy package holidays, we like to do our own thing and enjoy our own company. This way of life is as near perfect for our personalities as it could be.

If you could change just one thing about your boat, what would it be?

We both really wanted a cruiser stern. It’s fine to sit and have a BBQ on the towpath but it’s so much nicer to be able to do it on the back of your own boat. The main niggle for us is condensation. We added double glazed portholes to 7 of the14 portholes to help with the condensation issue and that helps but the Houdini hatch tends to drip after I’ve cooked a meal unless all the windows and hatches are open.

When you are cruising how do you resupply (How do you get to the supermarket without a car)?

We mainly walk or cycle to nearby shops or we catch a bus or train from near to the towpath into the nearest town and then ferry stuff back on our bike panniers or if walking, in rucksacks and a shopping trolley. When we are near a bridge or by a road and I can order online, I normally do a really big shop. What a wonderful invention that is, the Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury delivery solution! The First Mate guides are excellent for giving an idea of where shops are in relation to the canal.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

There was a slimline washing machine on the boat when we bought it but the motor had burned out so we bought a Miele washer dryer with a condenser dryer to cope with the single exit outlet and that has seriously helped with cutting down on condensation, plus it’s great to be able to wash, dry and put away within a couple of hours. When the weather is warm and dry, I have a camping rotary clothes line which we clamp into a heavy umbrella stand which stands on the towpath, unless there are a couple of trees nearby so that I can put a line up.

What type of toilet do you have on board and are you happy with it?

The boat had a rather posh pump-out toilet but we didn’t get where we are today by paying between ?10 and ?18 to pump out waste every 10 days, so we quickly invested in a PortaPotti. We are very happy with the idea of having both systems and only use the posh loo when the friends visit.

How do you connect to the internet when you are on your boat and are you happy with the service you receive?

It’s extremely important to me to be able to be online so we use a 3 Mifi, which I would recommend to anyone. It allows up to 5 devices to be online at the same time if needed and is like a mini hotspot which doesn’t have to be attached to any of the devices. We also bought a Talent signal repeater from Ebay (Allendale Stores) which is fixed inside the boat leading to a tall Wifi and mobile phone aerial on the roof which folds down when we are travelling. It has made a huge difference to being able to use the mobile phone anywhere inside the boat and also to be online with a full wireless signal without putting the Mifi outside on the roof. It was well worth the rather large amount that the whole setup cost to buy and I would recommend it to anyone who is having problems with a weak signal for a mobile phone or Wifi dongle.

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

Lat summer we went down to Bristol on the Kennet and Avon via the South Oxford canal and these are our favourites so far although we spent seven days in Paddington Basin last September and we were very impressed with that. We are about to set off to Stratford on Avon, then down to Gloucester and Sharpness before making our way up the Avon, then the Staffs and Worcester, along the Shropshire canal to the Llangollen canal and then back again down through Birmingham, so we may have more favourites after the summer!

How do you generate electricity when you are cruising and how much do you use?

We have a 5kva TravelPower generator which can be used when the engine is running and which we use when we want to do a wash and dry on the run. Normally, AC is supplied by a 3Kw inverter but we installed 4 flexible solar panels on the roof when we bought the boat which helps on sunny days. We have four 135amp house batteries, a bow thruster battery and engine start battery powered by respective alternators. We also carry a Kipor 2.6kva portable generator to save running the engine to power the main generator when we are moored up. We keep an eye on consumption with a battery state indicator mounted on our bedroom wall.

What advice can you offer someone considering living on a narrowboat?

I would advise anyone thinking of living on a narrowboat to have two or three holidays aboard a hire boat to make sure they like it. I would advise them to make sure that one of those holidays is taken when the weather isn’t necessarily going to be fantastic because you need to know that you like it when the rain is slashing down and you can’t get outside without a sou’wester. They should try to look at the boat with an eye to living on it, fitting all they might need into cupboards and drawers, checking that electrics and battery systems are good enough to go 24 hours on just batteries. There’s nothing worse than waking up to find that the fridge has given up working because the batteries are completely flat (this happened to us more than once when we first got the boat because the last owner hadn’t a clue about battery care and meant we had to get four new house batteries)

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

We have a Bubble 5kw corner wood burner and Webasto diesel central heating running one long fin radiator throughout the length of the boat as well as heating water, though we also have an immersion heater for when we are plugged in at the marina. We ummed and aahed over whether to afford an Ecofan for our woodburner as it is right at the front of the boat and we weren’t sure that it would be effective enough to justify the cost. It works wonderfully! As long as all the doors are open and the fan can push the heat down the length of the boat, our bedroom at the stern is fairly warm late evening and early morning. We can tell the difference when visitors
come because the doors get closed and our bedroom is chilly in the early spring and late autumn mornings. We rarely use the central heating unless it’s really cold.

Anne’s web site design busines is here and her porthole doilies are here.
Are you one of the lucky few who lives the dream on board your own narrowboat full time? Would you like to share your experience with some of the thousands of potential floating home owners who visit this site? If you can spare the time to answer a few simple questions, I would love to hear from you. Just let me know so I can email the questions to you. I’ll create a post like the one above complete with a link back to your own blog or web site.

 

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Summary
Paul Smith
 

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

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