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.
I had hoped by now to be writing, at the very least, about the building and fit-out of my boat. But yet again, I have delays that mean I can’t put the order in for the hull just yet! I have a job overlooking the the Lee Valley Navigation, (Where? Exactly!…Oh come on points for trying at least!) and I would love to be able to spend 2-3 days a week up there on my boat and toddle down to Ricky for the weekend. Instead I have a daily (2-3 days or more a week) two hours commute! In with the herd, Mooooo! Oh I hate it!
But it does remind me every time I look out the window at the cut and the boats passing or moored that whilst it has its challenges life on the cut definitely has its compensations too!
One common theme to both life afloat and on land is crime. I had my bike pinched from outside of my flat two weeks back! Not worth much but really causing me no end of inconvenience. I have heard of several boats having things pinched that were actually chained down such as gennys.
So we need to take care and also to look out for each other. I know a lot of the boat owners as I travel along Watford to Ricky regularly and I am always conscious of someone who just does not seem to “fit” or I might know is not associated with the owner of a boat. Most of the scumbags are from outside the waterways community but occasionally you find a worm in the apple!
The story I was told of a boat with light-fingered owners who were caught red-handed with a blanket they had lifted of someones washing line and a genny grabbed off the stern of someones trad. They were told in no uncertain terms to move on! The gossip was they did but took their larcenous habits with them. Apparently they picked on the wrong people as they came home from the pub to find someone had sunk their boat! Oh dear, apparently damaged beyond repair. Such a shame.
So, as the weather gets glorious and all the people head out to the cut have a thought for your kit and lock it up or hide it away.
There are a lot of things on which I hold an opinion! Some I know more about than others. Some I know nowt about but have an opinion anyway! As any woman can tell you its a “man thing!
One thing I do know is when someone is making legal claims that the case law does not support. I am a Litigation Solicitor and I carry out advocacy in the courts too. I have 10 years experience of doing it under my belt. I can smell shaky case a mile off.
In this weeks “Living on a Narrowboat” newsletter Paul addressed the matter of Continuous Cruising and then mentioned CARTS opinion of what the law says about it which is based on “THE CASE” (BW v Davies 2011)…that they pull out like a six shooter in the old west and then wave at us all like Krushev and a Cuban missile. In fact it is equally useless.
CART use it like it was a High Court Decision. But it is not. It is a County Court Decision that is binding ONLY on the cases in hand and (theoretically at least) on those cases dealt with by DJ’s in that court. Even the Judge himself stated that
” It is obvious that a boat owner who follows the Boards guidance will be able to satisfy them that his use of the boat is “bona fide for navigation”. I think it right to say however that my decision is not to be taken as fully endorsing the boards guidance. It is possible to envisage use of a vessel which fell short of the Boards concept of continuous cruising but which still qualifies the vessel for a license ..”
It was also clear that Mr Davies had not impressed the court by not paying mooring fees etc and had generally taken the mick with BW!
However, as a lawyer I still think it was wrongly decided. Also that the interpretation give to the statute was wrong. His Defence lawyer was correct.
The statute is clear that you must move from “Place to place”. Where there is no particular meaning given to a word in a statute (and here there is none) then the ordinary “plain” meaning applies.
Watford is a place, Rickmansworth is a place. Geographically their boundaries touch. In terms of the canal they are three locks and 4 “pounds” apart. They are in fact a 5 minute car ride, a 20 min cycle ride or a 40 minute walk. Now Harefield is two miles beyond Rickmansworth possibly 3 locks etc. Yet from Watford to Harefield is a half days journey by boat unless you speed!
But all are “places” and you pass through other “places”, cross Parish, borough, and county boundaries in between.
So which “place” is a “place” that counts as a “place” for the purposes of the regulations? Depends on which CART bod you speak to.
One cc’er was told they had not moved far enough from their last mooring and was directed to go…another 100 yards below a lock in the same political, county and geographical area as where they stopped!
So, by all means follow the CART guidance just be aware that it IS only guidance and do not let them push you around!
Not that I mean to be argumentative. I am sure there are many good “roving enforcement officers” just as there are honest politicians…you just have to dig DEEP to find them. CART is like any other statutory body it has limits on its powers. Also like other bodies it likes to try and add to them and if not challenged will get away with it.
The old BW was often slack in policing the regs. There are a lot of of BW staff in CART with axes to grind and grudges held. Also CART has a big lot of assets to be sold off. Not always to the highest bidder and it has its own vision for the system. One in which cc’ers are seen, at best, as a bit of a nuisance.
So take your place in the fight for a place and do not let them place you in an invidious place.
I can confirm that Canal water is wet!
Cycling along the tow path from Ricky to Watford, as I do on a regular basis, the other night I was balancing a strimmer on the handle bars in the direction or travel when I struck a bump (BW used building rubble in places to shore up the path and the soil has subsided leaving bricks sticking up at inopportune times) this caused the strimmer to swing left, catching on a bush (CRT are even less effective in towpath maintenance than BW and the outgrowth severely narrows the path) , which pitched me to the right where my wheel went down a crumbled edge (Yep, they are not much better at edging either-frankly that whole stretch is awash with awful or not done maintenance) and I pitched into the cut…bike strimmer and all!
I managed to pull myself and goods out and squelched the last mile home! Just glad it was not a winter night!
But it does bring home the differing views of the cut. I am both a dog walking-cycling-use of the towpath AND a boater (albeit still on friends boats) and there are differing views between the groups.
As a cyclist I want a clear, reasonably smooth path and hi-vized mooring pins please! and I appreciate the way nature adapts and adapts to this man-made watercourse.
As a dog owner I clear up after him but want to be able to let him run.
As a boater I want;
1. Not to be knocked down by speeding bikes (come close twice now);
2. not to have to step in others dog shit 3. If you’re dog is not “other dog friendly” keep it on a lead!
4. Able to moor without the bank giving way or so narrowing the channel I have to “thread a needle”.
5. Able to navigate the waterway without either getting my head knocked off by a branch or fouling my prop on submerged obstacles!
A little thought about other people makes life on the cut a whole lot pleasanter! As would a bit more CRT maintenance.
In fact I have just acquired a video camera and once I figure out how to use it I will take some vids of this stretch for CRT to see what needs doing.
So, I finish this missive in line with the safety tips that Paul has been giving in the newsletter and I add my own for towpath users and” boatie folk”…
“Try and stay on the towpath…that stuff in the cut is wet!”
This weekend saw me at the Rickmansworth Canal Festival.
Booze, bands and Boatie Folk at the “Boatie Folk” night on Friday when all the Canal community and those who have moored up for the festival get together, then all day Saturday with my two little boys looking at boats and buying ice cream!
The sheer number of people for who this is their closest contact with the canal is staggering.
The one thing that stuck in my mind most of all though was the sheer breadth and width of the canal community (With apologies to “Blazing Saddles…) “Smokers, tokers, drinkers, thinkers, preachers, papists and pagans, Doctors, lawyers, rich men, poor men, straight,GAY, and undecided. Left and right and stuck in the middle, Narrows, Widebeams, Trads and modern, Rockers, Jazz and folkies- all the spectrum of British life on a water filled channel 20 feet wide!” Absolutely brilliant! LOL!
The community is so diverse and yet all seem to rub along. The general approach being to “live and let live.”
If you have never been to the Ricky Festival I encourage you to come and have a blast!
Oh, and following on from my rusty woodworking skills I have discovered that project management is not high in my skillset either! We are so far about 4 weeks behind schedule! Granted there have been issues and additions to the plan but even so the going is slow!
This has given me food for thought on the timetable for my fit out. I was looking at 4 weeks. I think twice that is realistic with probably the same for “snagging”.
Also had a long discussion with John the chippy about hot water systems and the solar warmer he is installing to go with the panels he has that mean that he has not run his engine all week until he wanted a shower. Hence the interest in an alternative method of heating that is not via the engine calorifier. Volunteered to help when he builds it. Always happy to learn on someone elses dime!
As I get (slightly) closer to getting my own boat a strange thing happened.
You see, I predicated my budget on doing the fit out myself, I have been sparkys mate, wired houses, am a dab hand with the plumbing and always considered myself to be a decent chippy.
So when a friend said could I help outfit their business premises with a partition wall and fit a shower and new toilet (mascerator- type; due to distance from soil stack) I said sure. Help them, and help me brush up my skills!
As they say on the tube “Please mind the Gap”…in this case between the thought and reality!
A certain amount of slippage has ensued in the timetable. I am also less sanguine about my skills chippy skill as I was!
Granted it has been about 5 years since I last completed a major project but can I have lost all my skills in that time??
Thankfully not! But I am SERIOUSLY more rusty than I thought!
Just as well I have my good friend and bandmate (he is a fantastic lead guitarist) JOHN BRADBERRY a great Chippy and live aboard boater (Mob: 07931645497) He works on lots of boats and is based at Batchworth Lock on the GU at Rickmansworth. He has volunteered to help me when I [finally] get the boat.
Actually he is also the one who let me loose on the tiller of his broadbeam so I could experience the difference between steering a broadbeam and the small boats I have driven in the past! A brave (some would say foolhardy) soul!
His boat is intact but, I lost a good hat to an overhanging branch. Have CART never heard of “Preventative maintenance”? Like cull the trees BEFORE they fall in the water and become an obstruction?
However, it does bring home a fact that this forum and the “Living on a Narrowboat” blog illustrate time and again-research is no substitute for experience!
Among the many strains of research I have come across in my desire for life afloat/off grid/independant – or as much as you can get on this crowded and over-regulated island is the matter of stoves.
Most boats have a solid fuel stove of some kind. From the traditional “Boatmans Cabin” to a nice Morso Squirrel in the lounge or sometimes a full Arga or is it Aga or even an AHHHHH GA! When the damned thing went out overnight and would not light in the morning and so there is no heating or hot water! (Cant you just feel the pain?? Oh the memories of childhood!)
Actually, I remember warm mornings, oven bread and a slow cooked stew! So one way and another I want a proper cooking stove type fire in my boat.
But what type?
The problems come down to size, cost and fuel.
There is only so much space available in a boat and if one heats the lounge area with it then it will probably not be big enough to cook on or if you do use it for cooking you get cook smells (not so bad if you are a good cook-like me!) and condensation from boiling water send a greasy layer all over everything (ALWAYS a nuisance).
Of course if you have it in a separate galley then you lose the friendliness/atmosphere of a real fire in the lounge and have a roasting hot kitchen all the time. Not ideal if it has a fridge or freezer in it.
Then the question of fuel. Again effected by space, or rather lack of it, as wood and coal are bulky to store. Of course if your stove is not very efficient you need more fuel.
Then cost. A small boat stove circa £200 and for an Arga….Well, even if I sold a kidney AND the dog…I still would not get what I want.
Soooo… my various researches have sent me in the direction of a Rocket Stove “RS”, Rocket mass heaters and experimental stoves.
Most, but not all, folks on the various forums are outside the UK which is a pity as there is a common feeling between them and boaters in respect to doing things our way rather than following the herd!
I will put a few links at the bottom for those interested in all things “Rocket Stove”.
But what I like about them is they are 90% efficient at turning fuel into heat. Where as the ordinary solid fuel stove is 30% if you are lucky. This is because the RS burns more efficiently rather than let the calorific gas go up [the chimney] in smoke! They are, once running, smokeless.
They require about a third of the fuel of an ordinary stove. They heat up quickly and will burn safely with no smoke and almost no ash.
For information on designs try the Woodstove forum.
Or You tube and look for the channels of “Trying2hard” and “ppotty1”.
I have a design in mind that I have pulled together from a lot of different ideas on stove design that will incorporate a firebox in the lounge, an oven/hob in the kitchen as well as heating my hot water and central heating. I WANT IT ALL!
But to build it will cost me £500! But If it goes off I should be snug as a bug with third of the wood needed.
I have also been looking at different types of solid fuel, pellets, bricketts, sawdust and woodchips.
A sawdust fire done properly burns for 8 hours! Pellets are efficient but expensive., bricketts you have to make yourself- but you need the time and space to dry them. Need to research more on this.
So there you have it another piece of the dream.
Electricity and water do not mix!
At least not according to most of the perceived wisdom. But, I beg to differ and so do a few adventurous souls. Who, when I get my own laptop back and can find their web pages, will get a mention.
Confused? Don’t be…at least not yet!
You see, I want a boat with a solar powered electric motor for propulsion.
Now when I first raised this issue on a couple of canal forums it caused a bit of a storm from those whose instant reaction was “It can’t be done!” and those who were or had actually done it! In point of fact it was generally accepted (even by me) that unless I had a hybred (diesel genny to charge batteries to run a motor) then it was not practical and far too costly.
Yet to me a hybred defeated the object of the excercise. Which is, in part, to be self sufficient. Minimal energy bills, especially diesel as the cost is skyrocketing.
So I left it for bit but kept finding myself returning to the idea and dug deeper and it IS practical. Perhaps not for others but for me, how I live, plan to live, use the boat, etc I think I can do it. I will explain the workings of it in another post, But this is the genesis of my idea so…”Let there be (solar powered) light!”
In fact my idea is to get my outgoings down to the barest minimum so when I reach retirement age I can afford to do so and still live on my boat.
Now Solar panels have a life span of 25 years (and at the current rate of disintegration so do I) while batteries (assuming the right type and properly looked after) have approx 10 years.
The cost of both have come down in recent years as their efficiency has gone up. Especially solar panels whose low light capacity has increased amazingly even from just a 2-3 years ago.
The point is to have sufficient panels of the right sort that even if the UK sun does not shine there is sufficient power to charge a large enough bank of the “right” batteries (not all batteries are created equal) to hold a decent amount of power. Again I will explore this in greater detail in later posts but you get the gist.
As I intend to live aboard I will not be cruising for days at a time but merely as required to be a continuous cruiser over (if it all goes to plan) between the Lee Valley Navigation and Aylsbury on the Grand Union. So meandering along every few days rather than 14 days here then move and 14 there, etc. With longer trips as and when perhaps up the Thames Valley and definately at some point the K & A.
A lot depends on my working pattern. I am a Consultant Solicitor working for Law firms and In-House teams on a contract basis.
My oldest son will be with me for the first year until he goes to Uni. He has a job in Chesham (I have role in Ware) hence the spread of travel depending on who wants to travel to work the furthest and if I feel generous! LOL!
Next time I will talk a bit more about my ideas for the boat I just need to order the last two years research in my brain first!
Dr Martin Luther King once said to the world “I have a dream!”
Well so do I!
Mine is a bit smaller than his. A little less grandiose and much more selfish. I want to live on a boat!
I have wanted it for nearly 30 years. In fact ever since I was a young airman snowed in at a (now defunct) base one winter talking with a friend about what we would do when our time was up. We both wanted to travel a bit and I thought about converting an old military ambulance. He suggested a sail boat to the Caribbean. Another friend had a diving permit and we agreed it was the way to go and so… the dream was born!
However, with the thaw came postings, reality, demob and marriage and as the way of things we lost touch. But part of the dream remained.
When I was first married I hated spending a fortune in rent and looked longingly into living in a narrowboat. Designs, toilets (oh yes, the REAL gritty nitty!) and bow thrusters…..then the spouse said NO! NEVER! Unless I wanted to do it on my own!
Soooo…..fast forward 20+ years and thanks to a divorce petition I am now on my own. Except I now have a dog. A proper boat sized dog! A Jack Russell called Alfie. Also known as “Daftus Doggus” and “Cutus Caninus” (its “Dog Latin”…a bit like “Pig Latin” but house trained!) Although, when he decides to be a little bugger, I have threatened to change his name to “Spitroast” on occasion!
So I now have the freedom, the ships mascot and almost the cash. I also have a name for her “Gypsy Lady”.
I was, because I realy want a widebeam, going to have a picture of a real Beryl Cook sized woman in swimsuit painted on the side and call her “Big Fat Annie” but not everyone shares my sense of humour so I fell back on “Gypsy Lady” with a suitable picture to be painted.
So here we go!
In this blog I will set out the ideas, the research, the quotes, quotations and quota of cock ups. If only because I like to laugh and if I can do so and you all learn from my mistakes so much the better.
If you read this far thankyou…you fool! Should have fled while you could! Now your boating soul is mine!
Actually, this post was merely a tryout and to introduce myself if you are not on the “Canal world” forum and do not know me.
The next will have a lot more “boaty bits” in it. So stay tuned.