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Electrical Problem Solving And Pre Cruise Preparation

There was no great rush to return to Tattenhall marina. We had five days before the workshop guys could begin our electrical work. I stood at the tiller for two eight hour days on the twenty-three mile, twenty-eight lock cruise from Tattenhall to Market Drayton. It was exhausting. We allowed four four-hour cruising days for the return journey, and what a pleasure it was.

The cruise to Market Drayton was hard. A journey in a new boat with unfamiliar controls and a deep draught along an unknown stretch of the Shropshire Union canal, a waterway peppered with demanding locks. And all of the while trying to keep to an almost impossible schedule. The return journey was so much easier.

I felt much more confident with the boat. Each lock landing offered a new opportunity to experiment with different methods of slowing and stopping close enough to shallow banks to jump ashore. My attempts became less awkward, more accomplished, even graceful on occasion. Steering the heavy boat became less of a challenge too.

During our first two days, I was determined to cover as much distance as possible while I had enough light to see. I cruised slightly faster than I would normally. The journey was all about making miles rather than leisurely sightseeing. I gave the engine too much throttle. Consequently the already deep draughted stern bit another inch or two into the canal or, on the shallow Shroppie, into the canal bed. Easing off on the throttle on the return leg raised the stern a little and made steering much more manageable. I was able to enjoy regular heron sightings and the occasional blue flash of a waterside kingfisher. My mind was occupied more with scenic canal banks than useless battery banks.

Our terminally ill domestic batteries continued to work after a fashion. They could hold the charge generated by a four-hour cruise for no more than half a day. Our twelve-volt system worked until we retired for the night, but then we woke the following mornings to dim cabin lights, a water pump gasping like a dying man and a lifeless inverter.

Orient has a built-in generator. It’s supposed to be a get out of jail free card for charging a dead domestic bank. But this failsafe will only work if the generator’s own battery is kept fully charged. It hasn’t been. The generator is responsible for charging its own battery. It apparently hasn’t taken its obligations seriously in the past.

We tried to run the gennie on our way back to Tattenhall to discover that I had inadvertently flattened its starter battery when running the beast for the first time. It’s easy to do. The generator is stopped by pulling a wire rather than using a key to turn it off. Unless the user pulls the six-inch length of steel and then also turns off the ignition key, the battery slowly drains until it’s a useless lump of lead. It’s a poorly designed system, one which relies on the operator remembering the two-step shutdown procedure. That counts me out. Pulling the wire was all I could manage. I’ll have to change the charging regime when funds allow.

The generator failure could have caused us some discomfort. The boat’s two-cylinder Lister, beautiful as it both looks and sounds, doesn’t heat Orient’s calorifier like most modern narrowboat engines. That’s because, so I’m told, the Lister doesn’t run hot enough to provide any meaningful heat. Orient’s water is heated in two different ways. The generator provides a 240v supply for the calorifier’s 2kw heater. Powering the coil from the domestic battery bank through the inverter would murder the five 130ah batteries. The only off-grid alternative is to use the generator. No generator, no hot water, because off-grid option number two wasn’t working correctly either.

We can still get water from the boat’s Kabola boiler… if we don’t mind a steady trickle of sticky brown creasote running from the Kabola chimney collar down the cabin side to the gunnel, or clouds of nauseating smoke drifting back to my steering position as I cruise. We do mind, so we’re not using the boiler for either water heating or for the radiators to the bathroom, bedroom or engine room until we can replace the boiler pot and burn diesel efficiently. The new part should arrive next week, hopefully before we have to begin our cruise south. Without the built-in generator or the Kabola boiler, our only option would have been the kettle to cater for our hot water needs. However, we had a secret weapon, a belt and braces approach to off-grid cruising.

Because I am suspicious by nature and didn’t trust the new boat’s onboard systems until they had proven themselves beyond question, I kept the Honda 2KW suitcase generator which travelled across Europe with us in our motorhome. It was a godsend on the return journey. We used it to power the calorifier heater and for all the appliances which make Cynthia’s marathon galley sessions such a joy.

The final hurdle for me to overcome before we reached electrical salvation at Tattenhall Marina was the Fearsome Four, the locks which defeated me on our southbound cruise.

The anticipation was much worse than the reality. After fifty-eight years on the planet, I should have realised by now that tackling something like a bull at a gate isn’t always the most effective solution.

My upstream passage through one lock required Orient’s engine, Big Barry from Barnsley, his tiny wife and me straining at the gate to coax it open. Travelling downstream with a little more time on my hands and a smidgeon of common sense, I was able to negotiate Beeston Stone Lock on my own. All I needed was time, lots and lots of time. Courtesy of a pair of badly leaking upstream gates, the lock emptied at what felt like a teaspoon a minute. I leaned on a lock balance beam for nearly half an hour admiring distant Beeston castle before the gate swung slowly open. The following locks were similarly easy but painfully slow to operate. Cruising in a narrowboat isn’t a hobby for the impatient. I should know that by now.

We arrived back at Tattenhall two weeks ago, determined to resolve the most pressing issues before we set sail again. The job list was both long and expensive.

Our original seven battery domestic bank has been removed. There were two domestic banks actually; four 110ah lead acid batteries in one and three 120ah in another. They’ve now been replaced by five 130ah AGM batteries. The batteries were delivered to us in the blink of an eye by the good folk at Calcutt Boats. I’ve lost count of the number of times the marina owners, the Preen family, have bent over backwards to help me out, usually with little or no benefit to their own business. I will be forever grateful, and forever working on the grounds for them judging by Orient’s insatiable appetite for bank balance busting repairs.

A happy battery bank - I can see at a glance that the domestic bank is fully charged.

A happy battery bank – I can see at a glance that the domestic bank is fully charged.

I’ve had a Sterling Power Management Panel (PMP1) fitted in addition to the batteries. I want to be able to check the voltage for the domestic bank and both the engine and the generator starter batteries. The panel will also give me an idea of the domestic bank’s state of charge by constantly monitoring amp hours in and out of the battery bank. The five batteries total six hundred and fifty amp hours, so I have three hundred and twenty-five usable amp hours. That should be plenty for our modest liveaboard needs.

Putting more power into the bank than we take out is a challenge at the moment. The boat has no LED lights yet. Each of the boat’s twenty-five cabin ceiling lights has a twenty-one-watt bulb drawing 1.75 amps. I can replace them with 2.6 watt LEDs which will be as bright as a 35-watt tungsten bulb but only draw 0.22 amps. More light at a fraction of the running cost of the original bulbs. It’s free money for narrowboat owners. OK, replacing the bulbs will cost £150 – £200 but we won’t have to run the engine or the generator to charge the batteries quite so often. Nor will we need to fork out quite so much for prohibitively expensive marina electricity.

We had a few teething problems with the battery monitor. It showed an incorrect voltage for each of the battery banks if any of the boat’s 12v lights or pumps were used. The culprit was a partially severed earth lead. The readings are all correct now and have highlighted two more problems; the engine starter battery is supposed to be charged when we’re connected to a shore supply. It isn’t. The generator is also supposed to charge its own battery. It doesn’t and, unlike the engine battery which is pumped full of electrical goodness by the Lister’s steady beat, there’s no other way of charging it at the moment.
These two issues will have to remain on our to-do list for a little while longer. We’ve run out of money. The engine room rewiring, battery replacement and PMP1 purchase and installation have cost us a fortune. We’ve had to make a few other changes too while we’ve been waiting at Tattenhall Marina. The locks on the well deck stable doors, the doors to the boatman’s cabin and one of the engine room hatches were either broken or defective. We couldn’t secure the boat if we left it. Now we can.

A robust new bow fender - A little more protection for our new floating home.

A robust new bow fender – A little more protection for our new floating home.

I’ve also invested in a new bow fender to replace the ragged old man’s beard which provided absolutely no lock protection at all. Thanks to Karl hanging off the bow like a welder wielding monkey, Orient is sporting two anchor points for the fender’s lower chains. Now, if Cynthia’s busy in the galley while I’m working my way through a lock, she shouldn’t be thrown off her feet quite so often when Orient gently bumps into a lock gate.

One final change, one which probably won’t be popular with narrowboat traditionalists, was the removal of a dozen pretty but pointless wall mounted plates from behind the boatman’s cabin range. They have made room for some much more practical boating equipment. There’s now a brace of windlasses, mooring chains and pins and a lump hammer within easy reach of the back deck. There’s also a handy charging point in the boatman’s cabin for our pair of Motorola walkie-talkies.

One of our Motorola walkie-talkies

One of our Motorola walkie-talkies

Cynthia is usually inside the cabin while we are cruising. The radios allow us to communicate easily and quickly. They’re very handy for warning her if we’re about to bump a lock gate while she’s holding a pan of boiling water or, more importantly, if I’ve run out of either food or coffee at the helm. Single-handed boating is all about preparations and organisation. I’m now a little closer to my perfect cruising setup.

Decorative plate replacement - Now there's room for more practical narrowboat gear

Decorative plate replacement – Now there’s room for more practical narrowboat gear

Now we’re playing the waiting game. The new boiler pot is due next Thursday. Even if it doesn’t arrive then, we will have to leave Tattenhall at the crack of dawn on Friday. There’s currently only one route open to Warwickshire and our Calcutt Boats base. Fradley junction is closed, and I don’t want to chance the Staffs and Worcester on to the river Severn at this time of the year. Our only option is through Wolverhampton and Birmingham. The one hundred and four miles, one hundred and thirty-four lock cruise should take sixty hours according to Canalplan. I know from experience that, on my own, the trip will actually take eighty hours. I have to get through the Farmers Bridge flight by 4th February when the locks close for repair.

Orient's paintwork is now polished to perfection

Orient’s paintwork is now polished to perfection

The route should be clear after that, apart from the ocean of shit I expect at Camp Hill locks. Last time I passed by that way I had to stop on the flight three times to clear my propeller. Unless the situation has changed, I’ll be dredging up even more rubbish in a boat six inches deeper than the last. I’m not looking forward to that section at all.

I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the cruise. The weather forecast at the moment seems promising. The current cold snap is due to end on Thursday. The thermometer on day one of our journey could reach a positively tropical seven degrees. Relatively mild weather and a glowing range close to my feet should make for a delightful winter cruise. And then we’ll be back at Calcutt Boats, working hard to help pay off our boat bridging loans. I will be tending to Calcutt Boats’ glorious one hundred and ten acres during the week and hosting my Discovery Days at the weekend. The flower beds around the Calcutt greenhouse will be alive with snowdrops now. Banks of daffodils will follow them, and then the site’s three SSI wildflower meadows will be a riot of colour. What a great time of the year to return to work.

Orient's boatman's cabin - A very cosy place to work on a cold winter's day.

Orient’s boatman’s cabin – A very cosy place to work on a cold winter’s day.

Cynthia Says…

Cynthia says:  “Make haste slowly”
 
Hi there everyone—sorry I haven’t been contributing for awhile–life has been busy and each day slides away before I have a chance to complete all the things on my punch list.  There is so much I need to do over the next few weeks and I oftentimes wonder how it will all get done.  I am still sending e-card Happy New Year cards to my many friends.  Sometimes I only get 2-3 done in a day because there are other matters pulling me this way and that.
 
Ear aches and fatigue from too little sleep have taken their toll and I know I need to “make haste slowly” and not be too hard on myself when I fall behind with what I expect of myself.
 
Paul has been a whirling dervish getting everything in order and keeping the boat clean.  I often feel I am not pulling my weight enough here…. This past week was a challenging one with all the electric issues and I know it was frustrating for him.  Seems that things are sorted now and we can hopefully go ahead with our plans to “cast off and set sail” (remember, my background is mostly sailing oriented), and make our way slowly but surely south to Calcutt–without haste!
 
The people here at Tattenhall Marina have been great and it has been a nice experience getting to know some of them.  They have a cafe that serves good food, and a nice warm shower facility, and a laundry room.  I shall miss our RIverford people who deliver our organic food each week.  And Waitrose and Pets at Home.  They have all been a godsend, and I am lucky we will be able to have the same options once we get back to Calcutt.  Not having a car has its pluses and minuses, but it is quite pleasant having things delivered right to our doorstep and not have to fight the crowds in the parking lots or the lines.  Don’t miss that!
 
The winter so far has not been much of a hardship and for that I am most grateful.  I love this warm and cozy boat and I think it certainly suits us.  the only thing I would love is a nice bathtub to soak in! Oh, well nothing’s perfect.
 
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon.  And please keep those Discovery Day bookings coming!

Discovery Day Update

The winter’s longest day is behind us. Days have been lengthening for the last three weeks. Easter and the unofficial start of the cruising season is three short months away. Easter is a wonderful time of year to be on the cut. Canalside fields are alive with wildflowers, hares box, rabbits bob and buzzards circle overhead. On my Discovery Day route from Napton Junction to Braunston Junction there’s even a chance you’ll see escaped deer from the Shuckburgh estate. If you don’t fall in love with the lifestyle at this time of the year, there’s a chance that the lifestyle isn’t right for you.

Spring weather can be cold cruising weather… unless you have a boatman’s cabin equipped with a blazing coal burning range. You can stand on Orient’s back deck in complete comfort while passing boaters shiver under mountains of clothes.

If you want to learn about the live aboard lifestyle (and spend eight hours listening to the engine below) while you learn how to handle a 62′ narrowboat, click on the link below to find out more or to book a date.

Click here to find out what a Discovery Day can do for you.

A few potential guests have emailed me to ask if they can see my available dates without committing to one. Of course you can. Just click on this link and choose the type of day which suits you. You can browse through the available dates. You can reserve one for twenty for hours before you have to confirm the booking with payment. 

I hope to meet you soon.

 

Paul

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Entertainment
Summary

Battery Problems On An Aborted Shropshire Union Canal Cruise

Orient rested in Tattenhall Marina’s waterside workshop to have some long overdue TLC. A shiny new Morso Squirrel stove replaced the old cracked model, and I emptied my bank account to buy a ruinously expensive Ecofan to distribute the stove’s hot air.

The Kabola boiler leaked more diesel than it burned. The system is now leak free and works after a fashion. If the Kabola were human, it would be lying on a hospital bed sprouting life supporting tubes, surrounded by a small crowd of concerned relatives.

The boiler’s pot is fighting for its life. The air intake is mostly blocked by calcified deposits. The boiler can breathe, but it isn’t happy. The fuel burns but the chimney smokes. Running the central heating system on the boat inside a closed workshop produced a nauseating smog late into the night.

The pot was removed and attacked with every acid, scourer, cleaner and tool known to narrowboat repair personnel. It’s still full of shit. Replacing the pot would cure the problem if we could find four hundred pounds and wait for a month. We decided we couldn’t, so for the next few months, we expected to leave a smoke trail from the engine exhaust, two coal-burning stoves and the boiler flue.

The generator leaked more than the boiler. That too is now leak free. It starts first time, every time now that the starter battery has also been replaced. Unfortunately, when it runs, it sounds like a hundred soldiers in hobnailed boots crossing a wooden bridge.

Karl, the guy working on the boat for us, discovered that Orient had yet another battery, bringing the onboard total to thirteen. The generator can be used to charge the rest of the boat batteries if they are flat. It has its own battery to ensure that it will work if the domestic bank fails. Karl found a spare generator starter too. Which was just as well given that the connected generator starter battery failed, as did the two batteries mounted in a well deck locker.

The boat had a poorly fitted bow thruster. It was installed in a recess beneath two 13kg cylinders in the gas locker. There was a risk of leaking gas flowing into the recess and then on to the cabin bilge. The bow thruster has been decommissioned and a new steel floor fitted in the gas locker to ensure that the only place leaking gas can flow is through the drains into the canal. That’s two fewer batteries to care for and some much needed additional space in the well deck locker.

Orient had only been in the water for a day when previous owner Stuart Palmer arrived to deprive us of our transport. He had agreed to take our Hymer in part exchange for the boat.

Before he left with our motorhome, Stuart gave me a crash course in Lister engine maintenance. Orient is very different from my old narrowboat, James. A 1977 Mercedes OM636 pushed James along the canals in a cloud of diesel smoke. Orient has a 1936 two cylinder Lister. There are a few more daily engine chores than I’m used to; I have to fill the engine’s day tank, check the grease points, check the pump and gearbox oil and, whatever I do, try to resist the temptation to start the big old lump by hand. The owner before Stuart had to be rushed to hospital with a suspected broken leg when he tried for the first time.

Another important task, because half the fun in owning a Lister in its own engine room is to show it off, is daily brass fitting and copper pipe buffing. It’s a labour of love and very therapeutic. Cynthia often finds me bent double in the engine room furiously polishing my pistons.

Stuart also showed me how to read the main tank “fuel gauge”. It’s an awkward process. The tank is under the boatman’s cabin floor. To check the tank level we had to remove the mats covering the hardwood floor. Then, with a great deal of huffing and puffing, Stuart lifted a coffin-size, coffin weight section of floor, removed an inspection hatch bolt in the tank top and threaded a length of dowel through the bolt hole.
“The tank’s a third full,” he told me.
“How much does it hold?”
“I haven’t a clue!” He laughed. “Don’t worry about running out. I usually put some in once or twice a year.”

That didn’t help me at all. I’m obsessive about detail. I needed to know the tank size and the engine’s hourly consumption. I couldn’t relax until I found out. I thought of a solution. If the tank was a third full, all I needed to do to calculate the tank capacity roughly was to fill it.

Much to my dismay and marina manager Jason’s delight, filling Orient’s tank was an expensive exercise. The diesel pump filler gauge spun past a hundred litres, raced through the two hundred litre barrier, surged past three hundred and finally slowed to a stop at three hundred and twenty-eight litres. Given that the tank was a third full before we started, Orient’s diesel capacity must be between four hundred and fifty and five hundred litres. I suspect that the Lister will run at one litre an hour or less. Four hundred and fifty litres will take me from Lancaster down to Bristol and back again. I could add the Warwickshire Ring too and still have thirty litres in reserve. Our new boat has a huge diesel tank.

Stuart demonstrated how to light the Kabola drip fed diesel stove. It’s a laborious process involving carefully timed tap turning, slivers of firelighter and a pair of industrial tweezers. I’m sure I’ll master it eventually, but I’m not going to try until we can afford a new pot. Fuel burns so poorly in the boiler’s current state that, even after testing the boiler for a few short hours, a pool of creosote formed on the Kabola chimney collar and then flowed in a sticky black line down the cabin side, over the gunnel and onto the workshop floor.

We had a well-earned rest day after we waved goodbye to Stuart, his wife Sue and our six-wheeled home. No more country hopping searching for mild winters. No more transport at all actually. All of our shopping will have to be delivered to us, or we’ll have to take the boat to the shops. If we want to get there faster, we can always walk.

We had been working all day, every day for the previous fortnight, worrying about transatlantic bank transfers, home and lifestyle transfers and the possibility that CRT winter stoppages will prevent us from reaching Calcutt Boats and my return to work.

Our intended route was south on the Shroppie, north west on the Staffs and Worcester, onto the Trent & Mersey, then the Coventry, the North Oxford and then half a mile of Grand Union to return to the marina which was my home for six and a half years. The route appeared to be clear apart from a possible problem getting onto the Coventry Canal at Fradley. I phoned CRT’s helpline for clarification. Or not as the case may be. Their only advice was to ring closer to the stoppage date to make sure the route was open.

Our planned post-Hymer handover rest day wasn’t very relaxing. Our twenty-five feet long Hymer had more onboard storage than Orient, even though our new boat, for a narrowboat, has plenty of built-in cupboard and drawer space. The first thing we did to free up some much-needed space was to remove a pair of hopelessly bulky leather swivel chairs and footstools. It was a decision that we regretted a little in the weeks which followed. The dogs enjoyed more space for their beds while we were demoted to a pair of uncomfortable folding chairs.

The rest day passed in a blur of organisation, reorganisation, compromise, and occasional disposal as we tried to find homes for everything we owned. We stopped cupboard cramming briefly to try to work out how to operate a variety of appliances and onboard systems and, for a little light relief, threw away the oily contents shoehorned into the engine room’s underfloor storage compartments.

Then we settled down for a mostly sleepless night of pre-maiden-voyage anticipation.

I think that “Baptism of Fire” would be a fair description of the first day’s intensive cruise in our new boat. We started with high hopes. With just five days to reach Fradley Junction before a planned stoppage closed the lock flight for five weeks, I calculated that nine-hour days would just about get us there. Providing there were no hiccoughs. Right! This is the English canal network we’re talking about. Structured plans and inland waterways boating are rarely on speaking terms.

I’ve passed through a lock or two since I stepped on board my Norton Canes narrowboat on 2nd April 2010. Several thousand probably, most of them single handed. I’ve rarely failed to get through one on my own. Before our maiden voyage from Tattenhall, I could justify claiming to be a confident single handed boater. I knew I would have to single hand on this cruise too. Cynthia’s mind is willing, but the physical exertion of raising reluctant paddles and forcing massive lock gates open was asking too much of her. I thought she might be able to relieve me for a spell at the helm. I changed my mind after ten minutes at the tiller.

Oh boy, this boat is a pig on the waterways around here!

The problem is thirty-six inches of underwater hull, and about the same depth of water on the Shropshire Union canal. The rudder spent much of the first day ploughing the canal bed, mostly through clay but occasionally grating over unforgiving rock. I can’t wait to get back to the slightly deeper water around my home base.

Leaking lock gates on the Shropshire Union canal

Leaking lock gates on the Shropshire Union canal

At least I could move the boat forward and steer around bends providing I body slammed the tiller to get it to pivot. Moving forward was possible. Moving backwards quite often was not. Water must be able to pass under the hull to persuade a narrowboat to travel in reverse. If the hull is sliding along the canal bottom, there’s no room for a propeller-driven current and no chance of going backwards, or even slowing down for that matter. I had a few anxious moments trying to stop. I had even more of them trying to negotiate my first four locks.

CRT kindly taped a notice to the first. “The bottom gates leak badly. If you fail to close the upstream gates or lower the paddles, you will empty the canal!” Great advice, providing the boater using Wharton’s lock is able to open the top gates in the first place. And the first lock wasn’t the most difficult by any means.

The initial step was actually getting Orient to stop in the lock. My old boat had a standard Morse gear control. It was easy to use. There was a stainless steel lever topped with a white plastic ball, and a small button to press to move the boat in and out of gear. While cruising, the boat stayed in gear. The twelve o’clock position was neutral. Pushing the lever forward made the boat go forward. The further forward I pushed the lever the faster the boat went. I pulled the lever back to reverse the boat or slow it down. Easy.

Not so easy on Orient.

Our new boat has two separate controls; a gear selection rod and a speed wheel. The gear selector is a complete mystery to me at the moment. I can move it forwards or backwards about two feet. Most of the range is for putting the boat in forward gear, a little bit of it is to try to make the boat go backwards and somewhere, God knows where, is a cigarette paper width position to put the boat in neutral.

I have to dial the throttle down before I can change gear. Three or four frantic turns of the wheel are enough. Then I have to wait for a moment before the engine receives its instructions and slows down and then haul the rod back to what I hope is the neutral position. A few seconds later I tug on it again to engage reverse and hope that there’s enough water under us to make any kind of backward motion possible.

Abandoning Orient mid canal. This was the closet place to stop to close the lock gates behind me.

Abandoning Orient mid canal. This was the closet place to stop to close the lock gates behind me.

So actually taking the boat into lock number one took far longer than usual while I practised with the unfamiliar controls on a boat much more substantial and deeper draughted than I was used to.

Getting into the lock took a while but not as long as trying to open the top gates. I huffed, and I puffed, strained and struggled but, thanks to water gushing through the worn bottom gates, I couldn’t move the upstream gate an inch. I tried using the boat to open the gate while I pushed. That didn’t work either. A lady dog walker added her weight to the argument, and one and a half tonnes of old oak slowly swung open.

Lock number two was even more of a challenge. Beeston Iron Lock is not easy for single-handed boaters, especially those in deep draughted boats and those unlucky enough to experience its dubious charm for the first time.

The initial problem was actually getting close enough to the lock to set it. The lock landing has a sloping stone base far too close to the surface for boats like Orient. Five feet was as close as I could get before the base plate grated over rock and Orient ground to a halt. Leaping off the boat onto an expanse of rain-softened mud was easy enough. The jump back onto Orient’s four-inch wide gunnel wearing clay caked Wellington boots took a little more concentration.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I brought the boat gently to a stop against one of the iron lock’s moss-coated walls. I collected my centre line’s trailing end and swung myself up onto Orient’s roof ready to climb the lock’s escape ladder. Maybe I should have checked first. I’ve only come across a handful of locks on my travels which don’t have ladders and no way for single-handed boaters to climb out. Beeston Iron Lock is one of them.

The only solution was to reverse Orient out of the lock, beach the boat again close to the stone lock landing and jump ashore. Then I had to drag twenty-two tonnes of reluctant steel laboriously into the empty lock.

As with the last lock, this chamber’s bottom gates allowed more water to escape than the paddles allowed in. Another lady dog walker helped me open the upstream gate allowing me to chug towards what I hoped would be an easier lock.

Beeston Stone Lock was number three on the list, and the third in succession I couldn’t manage on my own. With no dog walkers in sight, I tried to use the boat’s engine again, this time with the throttle wide open to help me move the upstream gates. They didn’t move an inch. I might well still be there now if Big Barry from Barnsley hadn’t helped out.

The hiker strolled past me with his dot of a wife. They stopped to enjoy the spectacle. Orient with its ragged bow fender wedged between the two upstream gates, white water boiling behind the boat from a thrashing propeller and me, red-faced and sweating, straining against the solid oak.

“Barry, go and give that bloke a hand!” she ordered. Her husband lowered a shoulder the size of a barn door and tackled the gate like a rugby player joining a scrum. With a grunt and a curse he bounced off the beam and joined my wellies in a muddy puddle beneath the gate.

He tried again. He braced his locked arms against the beam. He strained, I heaved, Orient thrashed and, when Barry’s diminutive spouse laid a manicured hand gently on the beam handle, the gate slowly swung open. Sometimes all that’s needed is a woman’s touch.

Lock number four, Tilstone, passed with the help of another dog walker and then on to the Bunbury flight of two staircase locks and another challenge. The flight was easy. Getting to them was not.

Anglo Welsh, bless their little cotton socks, had moored their entire hire fleet, often two abreast, on every available inch of space either side of the flight, including on the downstream lock landing. The only way to stop beneath the lock flight was by tying up to the two hire boats tied side by side leaving a boat’s width between them and a stone bridge.

Just enough room to squeeze by. A fallen tree on the Shropshire Union canal

Just enough room to squeeze by. A fallen tree on the Shropshire Union canal

To make matters more interesting, the water beneath us was too shallow to reverse. A stiff breeze coming from the stern pushed Orient quickly towards the bridge arch. A desperate leap onto the nearest hire boat allowed me to secure Orient at a forty-five-degree angle across the canal long enough to set the lock.

As a reward for a difficult start I enjoyed a three-hour lock free cruise to finish the day. We cruised serenely by the junctions to the Shroppie’s Middlewich branch, passed the Hurleston flight and access to the Llangollen canal and threaded our way through densely packed live aboard boats in Nantwich. As the miles passed, my confidence with the new boat grew. The tiller loosened up, the canal felt deeper and reverse more responsive.

As daylight faded, we moored for the night in a peaceful spot close to Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker. The tourist attraction, no longer either secret or nuclear, is famed for its world-beating collection of decommissioned nuclear weapons and, for boaters, being in the middle of nowhere. I had the best night’s sleep since I sold my narrowboat and drove to Europe two and a half years ago.

Day two was lock day. Lots of locks but each of them benign and a pleasure to operate. We started with the fifteen lock Audlem flight, ninety-three feet closer to a low bank of grey clouds in a little over a mile. The five lock Adderley flight soon followed and then a relaxing two-hour chug into Market Drayton. We moored on a deserted stretch within earshot of the A53, bracketed by a pair of middle-aged guys fishing for perch.

Orient had passed through twenty-eight locks by the end of day two. Our lock count totalled just thirty-three in two years of summer cruising on the Dutch waterways. The English canal network is much harder work than in Holland, but infinitely more enjoyable. Dutch locks are done for you by a faceless waterways employees locked away in canalside cabins. There’s little opportunity to meet and chat with fellow boat owners during a cruise. Manual lock setting is usually hard work, often a challenge, but always a chance to talk to like-minded folk.

We planned to press on with our exhausting first-to-last-light cruising regime the following morning. Orient’s electrical system had other ideas. We woke to the strange beeping of a high pitched alarm. Orient has four smoke detectors; one close to each of the multi-fuel stoves, another in the Kabola boiler cupboard and a fourth in the bedroom. All are sensitive and are often triggered by enthusiastic galley activity. All were as quiet as church mice in the calm before the breakfast storm.

The culprit was in the engine room. A flashing red inverter light warned us of an imminent big bill. After sixteen hours cruising over two days, there was barely enough charge in the seven battery domestic bank to illuminate the warning light.
We purchased Orient with eleven batteries connected to the electrical system. The two bow thruster batteries were flat but unnecessary after we decommissioned the unit. The generator, handy for recharging flat battery banks, couldn’t be used because its starter battery was also flat. Now all seven domestic bank batteries were destined for that great big lead smelting plant in the sky. With ten out of the original eleven batteries dead, we daren’t continue our journey. If the engine starter failed too, we would be up Shit Creek without a paddle. We needed a working domestic bank. I phoned many nearby boatyards. The only person who picked up the phone was Karl back at Tattenhall Marina.

Returning to Tattenhall would mean missing our opportunity to get onto the Coventry canal before the Fradley flight closed for maintenance. I suspected that we wouldn’t make Fradley in time anyway. The alternative route to Warwickshire was either through Wolverhampton and Birmingham on New Year’s Eve or down the Staffs and Worcester onto a short stretch of the river Severn. High water had closed the river. The more pleasant and sensible of the two options open to us was twenty-eight locks back to Tattenhall, including the four I couldn’t manage single handed. I turned the boat around and, with heavy hearts, we headed towards our third battery bank replacement bill in two years.

Orient's boatman's cabin is a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by

Orient’s boatman’s cabin is a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by

Discovery Day Update

The winter’s longest day is behind us. Days have been lengthening for the last three weeks. Easter and the unofficial start of the cruising season is three short months away. Easter is a wonderful time of year to be on the cut. Canalside fields are alive with wildflowers, hares box, rabbits bob and buzzards circle overhead. On my Discovery Day route from Napton Junction to Braunston Junction there’s even a chance you’ll see escaped deer from the Shuckburgh estate. If you don’t fall in love with the lifestyle at this time of the year, there’s a chance that the lifestyle isn’t right for you.

Spring weather can be cold cruising weather… unless you have a boatman’s cabin equipped with a blazing coal burning range. You can stand on Orient’s back deck in complete comfort while passing boaters shiver under mountains of clothes.

If you want to learn about the live aboard lifestyle (and spend eight hours listening to the engine below) while you learn how to handle a 62′ narrowboat, click on the link below to find out more or to book a date.

Click here to find out what a Discovery Day can do for you.

A few potential guests have emailed me to ask if they can see my available dates without committing to one. Of course you can. Just click on this link and choose the type of day which suits you. You can browse through the available dates. You can reserve one for twenty for hours before you have to confirm the booking with payment. 

I hope to meet you soon.

 

Paul

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A Successful Move Back To The English Inland Waterways Network

I imagine that a narrowboat broker’s perfect sale would involve a potential buyer viewing a boat, saying he liked it and then returning the following day with a briefcase bulging with enough cash to pay the asking price. On a scale of one to ten with one being the simplest and most straightforward transaction, the briefcase carrier would barely climb onto the lower end of the scale.

Cynthia and I began our negotiations a little higher up the scale, maybe at eight or nine. We loved the boat Steve Harral of Ash Boats had for sale, which was good. We didn’t have enough, or indeed any, money to buy it with. That was terrible news for him. Luckily for us, Steve had a glass-half-full attitude towards the potential deal.

We persuaded him and, more importantly, Orient’s owner, Stuart, that sometimes finding caring buyers who will look after the seller’s pride and joy is a more attractive proposition than finding buyers with wads of cash. We told Stuart we were both experienced boaters, people who loved the English waterways and who would take great pride in keeping a solidly built and beautiful boat in tip-top condition. Then we told him that all our wealth was tied up in a Dutch Linssen yacht and a German motorhome, both of which would need to be sold before he received all or even much of his money.

His agreement surprised us. His subsequent decision to also take our motorhome in part exchange had us dancing around our empty Dutch marina. Then all that stood between us and a beautiful and thoughtfully fitted out narrowboat fully equipped for living on board was the need to find half of the boat’s asking price to use as a deposit.

Cynthia and I aren’t wealthy people. Cynthia is long retired from gainful employment, and my recent earning capacity has been dictated by my willingness to endure long days lying on cold concrete beneath an endless procession of overpriced yachts while covering their bare bottoms with ridiculously priced antifouling paint.

Our savings amounted to little more than a leather purse bulging with small denomination coins, supplemented by a modest bank balance which we needed for our move back to England.

Thanks to Cynthia’s credit rating and an American credit union keen to see its poor customers sink further into debt, we managed to secure a bridging loan to cover two-thirds of the deposit needed before we could move on board. Applying and being approved for the loan was the easy part. Getting the money off American soil proved almost impossible. 

Maybe I’m just being unreasonable. Spousal country bashing is a regular part of our married life. Cynthia would tell you that, more often than not, it’s me that does the bashing. Not wanting to prove her wrong I’ll have another go. Calling an American banking helpline is right up there with anaesthetic free teeth pulling.

It’s a harrowing experience.

We needed to transfer a substantial sum from Cynthia’s US account to the UK. It’s an easy enough process providing the account holder still lives in the USA and has an American mobile phone. Cynthia doesn’t. She’s been living the life of Riley wandering through Europe with me for the last two years. She has a UK postal address for receiving bank statements. Her post is forwarded every fortnight to a destination she nominates. Her phone uses a UK SIM which gives her the best text, calls and data deal we could find before we left the UK.

Our problems began when we tried to transfer the money online. The bank’s website instructed us to complete a form which included a field for Cynthia’s mobile phone number so they could text her to verify the request was really from her. It’s only possible to enter a phone number on the form in US format. International phone numbers aren’t allowed.

We phoned a helpline for advice.

Without a USA phone number, we were told, the only way to verify Cynthia was to send a letter to the address she had in her account profile. That wasn’t going to work. The address is in the UK. We needed to transfer the money before we could move onto our new boat. I think the US postal service still uses a combination of the Pony Express and steamships to make international deliveries. We’ve had to wait a long, long time in the past for letters from America to arrive in England.

Cynthia also has an account with another US bank. Both accounts are linked so making transfers between the two is quick and relatively painless. There’s a daily limit which meant that we would have to make six transfers, and only on regular business days. The delay would take us dangerously close to our deadline for moving onto the boat, but we didn’t have another option.

We phoned the new bank helpline to ask if we could transfer the money directly from Cynthia’s bank to the UK broker’s account. “Of course you can darlin’,” the charming lady from the bank’s call centre somewhere in America’s deep south drawled. We asked the cost. “There’s a forty-five dollar fee,” she warned us. Not bad, we thought considering the sum involved. “Let’s do it,” Cynthia ordered enthusiastically.

Suspecting that the bank would want to make more than forty-five dollars on such a substantial transfer, I asked what exchange rate they would use. “It’s the usual bank exchange rate,” the bank employee unhelpfully told us. After a further five calls to four different departments, we discovered that the bank wanted four hundred dollars more on the exchange than one of the more prominent and trustworthy online international money transfer companies.

Rather than throw four hundred dollars away, we set up an account with TransferWise to move the money across the Atlantic and initiated the transaction. The domestic wire to TransferWise’s New York account went through without a hitch, and then we hit another brick wall.

After twenty-four hours of inactivity, we phoned the TransferWise support team and discovered that we needed to endure yet another account verification process. This latest delay was a real worry. Broker Steve Harral broke the bad news. “I’m afraid I can’t let you put Orient back in the water until the money has hit our account. Karl, the guy doing the work on your boat, finishes for Christmas on Friday 21st December. If the transfer hasn’t reached us by then, Orient will have to stay in the workshop until he comes back.”

While we tried to find a way to move the boat money from the USA to the UK, we drove through the Netherlands, Belgium and France back to England. We arrived at Dover on a P & O car ferry and pulled to the side of the road to programme our route to Portsmouth. We needed to make a quick stop there to have our odometer reset to read kilometres rather than the miles display it had been incorrectly set to when I took the Hymer back to England a month earlier for some warranty repairs.

Crossing the English Channel - Cynthia gazes longingly at the white cliffs of Dover

Crossing the English Channel – Cynthia gazes longingly at the white cliffs of Dover

The fastest route would take us three hours of boring but easy driving on a series of undemanding motorways. However, my wife, the ever curious American tourist, wanted to see the sights along England’s south coast.

Driving a satnav route set to avoid motorways is always an adventure in a large motorhome. We bumped along an endless series of single track farm roads and twisting country lanes for an hour before we reached the coastal village of Rye.

We were both hungry. Cynthia suggested stopping at a quaint English cafe for a healthy midday snack. She’s not familiar with English roadside cafes. We parked outside one which caught Cynthia’s eye. “See what vegetarian or organic options they have,” asked Cynthia. I didn’t want to disappoint her, but two signs either side of the door indicated the type of food we were likely to find. The adverts,  Chip Butties One Pound and Gut Buster Breakfasts, didn’t conjure images of produce fresh from organic farms.

I looked at the menu quickly and then reported back. “I don’t think this one’s going to suit you,” I warned my wife. Cynthia has been spoiled by the variety of food available in Dutch and French restaurants for the last couple of years. If she failed to find something suitable on the menu, the owner’s rarely failed to provide her with an elaborate salad.

“Don’t be so negative,” she scolded. “I’m sure they’ll look after me.”

We walked into a room filled with the heady aroma of frying eggs and bacon and squeezed past well-fleshed diners hunched over dustbin sized plates filled to overflowing with all day breakfasts.

Cynthia examined the menu for anything without chips, frowned, and asked if the chef could make her a salad. “Oi, Beryl!” the guy behind the counter shouted into the kitchen. “You got anything green in the fridge?”

“Nothing,” the owner screamed back, “I gave the last of the lettuce to the rabbit!”

Cynthia, desperate for anything remotely healthy asked about the soup.

“Lady wants to know if the soup is homemade,” the foghorn server bellowed.

“Hold on,” ordered Beryl, “I’ll just check the back of the tin!”

Cynthia settled for a steaming bowl of vegetable soup served with a doorstep-sized chunk of white bread. I chose the mega all day breakfast. I love being back in England.

Back to good old English cooking

Back to good old English cooking

We drove from Portsmouth to Tattenhall marina via Calcutt Boats for a welcome overnight break. With two days to go before our Christmas deadline we still hadn’t heard from TransferWise’s verification department. I managed to transfer funds from two other loans I had taken out to the broker’s account, but it wasn’t enough. What’s more, we needed to hand over our Hymer as part of the deal. We couldn’t empty the Hymer until we could move onto the boat and we couldn’t step onto Orient until we could make our transatlantic transfer. We were very frustrated, stressed by the situation and exhausted by several hectic weeks and many hours on the road.

While we waited, I painted.

Orient’s hull needed blacking. I used bitumen on my old narrowboat. This time I used Keelblack. It has the consistency of water, so it is much easier to apply than bitumen. I put on three coats over as many days, moved as much as I could from the Hymer to Orient and then fretted and worried about our finances some more.

Below deck clutter - I removed this lot from the small space beneath the back deck.

Below deck clutter – I removed this lot from the small space beneath the back deck.

I needed to take Cynthia to a medical appointment in Solihull on deadline day. She received an email from TransferWise’s verification department on our drive south towards Birmingham. The verification process was complete, but we still couldn’t find out when the money would be transferred. I suspected that it would take days to reach the destination bank in England. Cynthia was her usual optimistic self. While she daydreamed about Christmas Day afloat, I worried about what we would do if our new home stayed locked in the workshop when our motorhome’s new owners arrived to collect it.

Orient backs into Tattenhall Marina

Orient backs into Tattenhall Marina

We were an hour away from Tattenhall and our 5 pm deadline when Cynthia’s phone pinged to notify her of an incoming email. “See, I told you everything would work out. This is an email from TransferWise. It says that the money has hit the English account!”

We received confirmation fifteen minutes later from Steve Harral that the money had indeed reached his account. Now, all we needed to do was to get Orient in the water, swap a lifetime’s possessions from the motorhome to the boat and then remove all traces that two people and two fur shedding dogs had been living in the vehicle for the previous two years. And all of that needed to be done before the Hymer was collected the following day. The task was so daunting I didn’t know where to start. Fortunately, on a day of overwhelmingly good news, we received some more.

An overloaded live aboard narrowboat - We feared that Orient would look like this after we tried to move everything on board.

An overloaded live aboard narrowboat – We feared that Orient would look like this after we tried to move everything on board.

Stuart and his wife Sue phoned to say they would be delayed. They couldn’t collect the Hymer until 27th December. We had enough time to try and shoehorn all of our possessions into our new boat and clean the motorhome ready for collection. Providing we postponed our Christmas celebrations and packed, unpacked, washed and wiped throughout the festive period. We didn’t mind. The new boat and a new life back on England’s inland waterways had finally become a reality. We were both very happy bunnies.

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Important changes to the site login process

Over the last month or so I’ve talked about changes to the site login process. I’m sorry if you found some of the instructions both confusing and contradictory. Logging in to a site should be a straightforward process. it wasn’t, but it is now.

This site is built using WordPress. It’s blogging software that’s pretty easy to manage for a numpty like me, but it has its limitations. I have an ever growing number of users needing access to guides they’ve purchased and access to both the Standard and Gold editions of Narrowbudget. I couldn’t manage the access sucessfully with WordPress so I installed a plugin for WordPress to do this for me. Unfortunately, the plugin has a different log in system to WordPress, but it has to be used to manage product access correctly.

If you have been a site subscriber for some time, you have probably been using the WordPress login below.

Wordpress Login

Please do not use this login form any more. The only function that it served in the past was to log you in to the forum so that you could make new posts and reply to existing ones, and to access and edit your profile details. Using this form, you would have entered your username and password.

The new form has replaced the WordPress form. You will find the link to it at the top of each left hand column throughout the site. The new form requires you to enter your email address and password. The email that directed you to this page contains your email address and password that you need to use to log in using this form. If you have landed on this page via another route and want to know your login details, please contact me.

The default landing page from the new form is your own home page. There are three sections to your new home page; the welcome message with links to the main part of the site, the forum and Narrowbudget, your affiliate details and your profile details.DAP Home Page - Welcome

Under the welcome message, you will see all the products that you have access to. Unless you have purchased one of the guides or access to Narrowbudget Gold, you will just see one product listed here; “Site Access”. There is a message under this heading which reads, “Sorry, no content found. This could be because no content has been made available to you yet, or because your access to this product has expired.” Don’t worry about this. All it means is that there are no restricted files connected with your ability to log in and log out of the site.

Once you have successfully logged in to the site and reached your home page, if you click on the link to the forum, you should see “logged in as yourusername” in the top left hand corner. This means that you are able to create new forum posts and reply to existing ones. If you see a “Guest” icon and a message asking you to log in to post, you are probable one of the older subscribers who has an existing user name within the WordPress login system. Don’t worry, I just need to manually sync your new login details with your old ones to get the two systems working together. Just let me know so I can fix it for you. It only has to be done once and takes me just a minute or two.

DAP Home Page - AffiliateThe section beneath product details is Affiliate Details. This section is probably of no interest to you unless you have your own blog or website that’s waterways related and you want to earn some extra money for simply providing a link back from your site to mine. The link in this section has your own personal code embedded in it. It will enable livingonanarrowboat.co.uk to track any visitors from your site and any purchases they make on the site over the following 365 days. You receive a 50% share of those purchases. If you have a site of your own and you want to earn a little more cash from it, please let me know.

The final section is your Profile Details.  You can ammend your profile details in this section, change your password and unsubscribe from the emails you receive from me. There’s a tick box at the bottom of this section which allows you to turn off your email subscription. Please note that if you uncheck this box you won’t receive any further regular newsletters.

Each of the newsletters you receive from now on will have a link at the bottom of the email “Manage your subscription”. Clicking this Profile detailslink will take you to your home page where you can unsubscribe if you choose.

It’s taken me a while to get to this stage, but hopefully logging in to the site and finding your way around is more straightforward than it was before but, as ever, if you have any problems, just let me know.

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Free Online Narrowboat Budgeting Application

I just thought I would write this quick post to let you know about a very exciting addition to the site. It’s a comprehensive, sophisticated and absolutely free tool for you to use to calculate the real cost of owning a narrowboat, particularly with a view to living on it.

 About two months ago I asked a chartered financial analyst to create a budgeting application for me using Microsft Excel 2007. It covered all of the costs you’re likely to face buying and then maintaining a narrowboat including the purchase costs and any additional expenses associated with it, on and offline mooring fees, boat loan repayments, licensing and BSS certificate fees, insurance, repairs and maintenance and all utility costs. There was even a section to include the total running costs for your car in case you’ve considered a life on the cut but haven’t budgeted for running your car.

I was very proud of it. I sent the beta version to over 100 site subscribers for them to review and test. They loved it too. At least the few who could open it loved the application. Sadly that was only about half of them. I had foolishly assumed that everyone in the world had a copy of Excel 2007. Of course, they didn’t. Nearly half of the testers had earlier versions of Excel, used Open Office rather than Excel or owned a Mac rather than a PC.

Narrobudget Budgeting software for narrowboats

The test demonstrated very clearly that an application written in a recent version of Excel wasn’t going to be accessible to the majority of site visitors. I decided to have the spreadsheet translated into an application that would work straight from the site regardless of operating system or software. I’ve taken constructive criticism from the testers to make the application even more comprehensive and user friendly.

The end result is an extremely easy and free to use application that will, within minutes, give you a very good idea of both the initial cost and then the running costs of your dream narrowboat. Nothing has been left out. It’s an essential but previously unavailable tool for any potential narrowboat owner.

It’s going to be available to test next week. I’m looking for both potential and existing narrowboat owners to run it though its paces. I want to make sure that site visitors like you think it’s as useful as I do. You can see what the original software looked like here. The new application is similar, but better. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see a link where you can email me if you want to test the software. You can either do that or justsubscribe to the site below to receive notification the moment it’s released.

GREAT NEWS: Narrowbudget is now live. Click here to access your copy now!

Your email address
Your first name
Your last name
Are you a narrowboat owner? (Yes/No)
If you plan to buy a narrowboat, how soon? (0-6
months, 6-12 months, 1-2 years, more than 2 years)
How much are you prepared to spend on your boat?
(£0 – £20,000, £20,000 – £50,000, £50,000 – £100,000,
£100,000+)
Where did you hear about this web site?
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4

Introducing Your New Narrowboat Budgeting Software

The application is almost ready for release. I know you’re going to love it. It’ll remove all the mystery from planning your great escape. You’ll be able to see at a glance whether you can afford to buy and maintain your dream narrowboat or whether you need to rethink your options. The application will work equally as well for you if you want to buy your boat for living on full time or just for leisure cruising during your weekends and holidays.

All that’s left to do is to test it in the real world. Maybe you can help me do that. I’ll explain what I’m looking for at the end of this post.

Here’s how the application works.

You’ll be progress through a number of different categories entering information as you go before arriving at the summary section which will show you in a number of different ways whether buying and maintaining a narrowboat is a realistic option for you. The first data entry category is…

Capital and Income

Narrowboat Budgeting Software - Capital and Income

Narrowboat Budgeting Software – Capital and Income

You need to be able to buy your boat, and you need to be able to pay for the associated monthly costs. In this section you can add the amount of capital you have available to buy the boat and what regular monthly income you expect to receive in the future.

Car Details

Narrowboat Budget Software - Car Details

Narrowboat Budget Software – Car Details

Expenditure for your car is possibly not something that you’ve considered when you’ve thought about living a life on the waterways. The fact is that most liveaboard narrowboat owners have a car or two. Even some of those who cruise constantly throughout the network have a car. They cruise for a day, moor the boat, get a bike off the roof then, pedal back to the day’s starting point to collect their car. Whatever you plan to do with you boat, you can still do it and keep your car close at hand, but can you afford to?

Use this section to add all of the outgoings for your car or cars. You’ll be able to see on one of the summary pages exactly how much you have to pay for the luxury of motorised transport.

Boat Details

Narrowboat Budget Software - Boat Details

Narrowboat Budget Software – Boat Details

You can add your initial investment here; the cost of your boat, any remedial work required, out of water survey cost and, if you need to get your new boat moved from one part of the country to another, the cost of transporting it by road

You can also begin to enter your ongoing expenses starting with monthly repayments if you’ve had to take out a loan to fund all or part of the cost of your boat. In this section you can also add the cost of your four yearly BSS certificate, waterways license and boat insurance.

Mooring Costs

 

Narrowboat Budgeting Software - Mooring Details

Narrowboat Budgeting Software – Mooring Details

Unless you plan to cruise the network continuously, you will need either a leisure or a residential mooring. Even if you are a continuous cruiser, you may wish to secure a temporary mooring during the winter months or if you want to leave your boat for a while when you go on holiday. In this section you can cater for both eventualities.

Diesel

Narrowboat budget software - Diesel

Narrowboat budget software – Diesel

This was a really interesting area to try to quantify. Many boats use diesel for both heating and propulsion. More often than not the fuel for both is drawn from the same tank. In order to determine how much diesel you need you have to know how much diesel your engine uses per hour, how many hours you will have the engine running, the cost of propulsion diesel, the cost of heating diesel and how much fuel your heating system is likely to use. You can add all the variations here and use the information that will be available separately to determine the most accurate figures to use.

Utilities

Narrowboat Budget Software - Utilities

Narrowboat Budget Software – Utilities

This is the section to enter the cost of heating your boat if you’re going to have a solid fuel stove (I sincerely hope you do otherwise you’ll miss out on one of the real pleasures of living on a narrowboat and you’ll put yourself at risk of freezing in the winter if you’re gong to depend on a mechanical central heating system). You can also add the cost of your gas for cooking and maybe for heating your boat to.

You can also add the cost of communicating when you’re on the boat either by phone or via the internet. Finally, there’s an opportunity to add both TV license and council tax. Again, I’ll provide separate notes to let you know if you need to include these two expenses.

Repairs and Maintenance

Narrowboat Budget Software - Repairs and Maintenance

Narrowboat Budget Software – Repairs and Maintenance

In order to protect your boat’s steelwork, you need to ensure that both top and bottom are painted often enough to prevent rust. In this section you can determine how often you want the painting to be done, whether you intend to do the work yourself or let the professionals do it for you and how much you expect it to cost. Again, the application notes will steer you in the right direction.

You can add other elements of repair and maintenance here too; cratch and rear deck cover replacements and cabin interior and engine repair and maintenance jobs too.

Dashboard

Narrowboat Budget Software - Net Income

Narrowboat Budget Software – Net Income

 

Here’s where all of your hard work pays off. You can now see whether you can afford to buy and maintain your boat based on the information you’ve added in the preceding pages. The annual net income chart shows all of your income by category and all of your expenses, also by category. The grand total at the bottom deducts your total expenses from your total income. If there’s a negative figure here, you can’t afford to maintain your boat.

Boat Purchase Chart

Narrowboat Budget Software - Boat Purchase

Narrowboat Budget Software – Boat Purchase

On the Capital and Boat pages you enter the savings that you want to invest in your boat plus the details of a loan if you intend to take one out. The Boat Purchase section displays whether your savings and/or loan are sufficient to cover the price of your new boat, any remedial work required, the cost of having an out of water survey done and transportation if you need it.

If you don’t have enough for your initial expenses, the Remaining Capital line will display a negative amount. Here’s an opportunity to return to the preceding pages and fine tune your entries.

The budgeting application is almost ready for release but before I make it available to download, I need four or five site visitors to thoroughly test it for me. I want to make sure that it’s easy to use and that all of the calculations are correct. If you would like to take it for a spin, please let me know. Tell me what stage you are at with your plans. Are you a narrowboat owner already? Do you just want to get your hands on the application to confirm what you already know, to see whether the Dashboard reflects your current expenditure? Fantastic! I would love to send you a copy. On the other hand, if you are in the very early stages of considering life on a narrowboat, I would love to hear from you too. I want to make sure that the process of adding data to the various categories is a simple task even if you aren’t familiar with narrowboat at all.

Whatever your circumstances, please get in touch, tell me what your situation is and why you want to test the application. Maybe you can help me put the finishing touches to a really useful narrowboat budgeting tool. Please hurry though if you’re interested in helping with the trial. I’m only looking for a maximum of five testers.

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Not Everyone Enjoys Living On A Narrowboat

Is life really so bad Natasha?

I came across the article below yesterday. It was published recently in the online version of the Uxbridge Gazette. It’s a new blog by reluctant narrowboat liveaboard Natasha Gorbert-Hopkins. What do you think of her take on life on a narrowboat?

Life, warts and all, on a canal narrowboat in Uxbridge

Oct 3 2012 by Natasha Gorbert-Hopkins, Uxbridge Gazette

natasha gorbert-hopkins

LIFE on the canal in Uxbridge – a dream for some, definitely not the lifestyle choice of others – is brought to life in our new blog, The Narrow View, by boat dweller Natasha Gorbert-Hopkins.

SAY the word ‘boater’ and most people think of Rosie and Jim, old men with beards and folk festivals. If they think of anything at all, that is – living on a narrowboat (the long, narrow boats that ply the canals of Britain) is hardly the most common or widely known lifestyle choice.

As a 22 year old female, I’m not really your typical boat-dweller. I’m not really the most enthusiastic boater either: my parents decided to turn to the waterways when I was just a twinkle in their eyes, and – except for a three year stint at university – I’ve been more or less forced to live on them ever since.

Nevertheless, home for me has always been on the Grand Union Canal, in the stretch between Cowley Lock and Uxbridge Lock.

The towpaths, the trees, the neighbours are as familiar to me as I’m sure roads and estates and front gardens are to people who live in houses.

The canal was where my mum brought a chubby-faced baby version of me home from the hospital, the background to my childhood games, the waters that I stared gloomily into in fits of teenage angst.

Until the age of eight, I shared a boat with my parents; when my father moved out, he didn’t stray far, moving on to a narrowboat 10 minutes down the canal. At the age of 16, the fleet expanded further and I moved into my own boat, aptly named Freedom.

This was my beloved home for the next six years, until only a few months ago, when it was sold and I had to – dramatically, tearfully – move out, and begin sharing my father’s 62ft long, 6ft wide narrowboat.

That might sound like a lot of room. It is not.

My cries of: “Oh no, I have to live in a cupboard!” were probably heard reverberating down the canal for days afterwards. If I was 10, I would have been excited that I finally had something in common with Harry Potter, but unfortunately I’m 22 and can say for sure that my Hogwarts letter is not in the post.

Sharing such a small space with my dad, at an age when, let’s face it, I really should have moved out, has been challenging. Don’t get me wrong, there are positive aspects to living on a boat. There are also a whole host of negatives.

I will try to provide a balanced, realistic and insightful look into narrowboat life: I’ll try to cover some of my FAQs – How do you get water? Do you have electricity? – as well as some aspects that landlubbers (we don’t really call you that) might not have considered.

Next time: The difficulties of tall boyfriends, the complications of no electricity, attacks by swans, and the infamous – the dreaded – chemical toilets.

Grand Union Uxbridge Aerial View

Grand Union Uxbridge Aerial View

What do you think of that then? Has the article put you off living afloat? I certainly hope that it hasn’t.

Natasha has lived all of her life on a narrowboat. It’s all that she’s known. She appears to have been on a static mooring for all of her twenty-something years, and static, as far as I’m concerned, in one of the worst places in England to live on a narrowboat. The Grand Union canal runs through Uxbridge on the west side of Greater London. She lives on the stretch between Cowley Lock and Uxbridge lock. The caal there is in a densely populated area just a stone’s throw from the infamous M25.

One of the great advantages of living on a narrowboat is your ability to get away from the noise and polution of city life. Natasha lives within half a mile of one of the busiest roads in Europe with an estimated 196,000 vehicles using the section near Heathrow airport, which is very close to Uxbridge, every day. Uxbridge is also within the Greater London sprawl with its population of 8,000,000 hyper-active and highly stressed souls. Why on Earth would you choose to live on a narrowboat there?

I think that choice is probably the issue with Natasha. She couldn’t choose to live elsewhere when she was a child. She had to live with her parents, or at least with her mother, during her formative years. From a child’s point of view, I can imagine that there are few advantages to living on a narrowboat.

Space is of course an issue. Space is what teenagers crave, and there’s very little of it on a narrowboat. That’s why you see precious few families living on narrowboats. Ocasionally, very ocasionally, you will come across a couple with one or two very small children on a narrowboat, but the majority of liveaboards are single or couples.

Natasha enjoyed a spell on her own boat but now, at the age of twenty two, she’s moved onto her father’s narrowboat. You can almost feel her frustration as she writes her article. I can’t wait to see what she has in next week’s installment. She promises to try to “provide a balanced, realistic and insightful look into narrowboat lifeShe needs to try harder on the balanced bit as far as I’m concerned.

 

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Living On A Narrowboat Forum Survey: The Results

A huge thanks to everyone who took the time to complete the survey and tell me why you either wanted or didn’t want a forum on the site. Virtually everyone who completed the surveyoffered constructive comments; even those who said that they didn’t think a forum would be beneficial..And the result was…

You want a forum!

 

Well, 76.8% of those who responded indicated that they want a forum. There were many positive and encouraging comments posted. There were also many constructive comments posted from those of you who told me why they don’t think a forum is in the site’s best interest. Let me answer some of the more common points made.

“There are enough narrowboat forums already. Another really isn’t needed” I agree that there are a few forums around discussing boats in general and narrowboats in particular. Some contain thousands of topics and tens of thousands of replies, but that’s part of the problem.

I consider myself reasonably proficient with computers. I do a lot of research online so I’m pretty good at searching for information that I need and finding it without too much trouble. I always struggle with forums though. There are often so many topics and threads to plough through that finding the right information is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

I intend to add a little more structure to this site’s forum. I’m going to link forum topics to articles in the site and vice versa. I’m going to extract relevant information from forum conversations and write articles based on that information. I’m going to encourage the use of tags in forum posts to make finding information easier and I’m going to create an index of subjects with links to appropriate posts.

There’s a lot of work involved to keep on top of it all, but the site is my hobby and, as I don’t actually have a social life, I should be OK.

Here’s another constructive comment from the “No” section of the survey;

“There are often cases of cyber bullying on forums from a few established and highly opinionated members” I agree. I’ve seen it often and experienced it myself once or twice. While the forum should be a platform for open debate, there is absolutely no justification for individuals using their online status to intimidate others. I feel very strongly about bullying of any kind. Fortunately I am in a position to do something about it on this site. I simply won’t allow it. I would rather lose a forum member who is a regular contributor than allow other less frequent visitors to be intimidated.

So you now have a forum. I will do everything that I can to ensure that it’s a useful resource for the narrowboat community, but I can’t do it on my own. I need your help. Without it the forum will fail. The forum needs to be used for it to work. It needs to be used by both experienced and inexperienced narrowboat enthusiasts. The forum needs questions posed and questions answered. And they need to be answered in courteous and helpful manner.

It’s time to introduce you to the forum. Click on the following link to go to the forum home page. The page will open in a new window so that you can refer to this post as I show you around. Here it is.

Logging in to the forum

This is the forum home page. You should be logged in already if you’ve followed the link from this post because you need to be logged in to read this post. If you are logged in when you reach the forum home page, you should see your login details and avatar if you’ve selected one in the top left hand corner. You need to be logged in to read and to write posts so if you aren’t logged in already, log in using the link at the top right of the forum window.

Update your profile

Profile Tab

Before you do anything else, why don’t you update your profile. The forum software copied your very basic details from the web site database when the forum was created. This information just consisted of your login details and your name. You can enhance that information here. At the top right hand side of the forum window, you will see a button labelled “Profile”. There are numerous options in this section. The first tab, profile, is where you set your display name, first and last name, location, a short biography, and your signature.

The important ones are display name, location, and signature. These will be displayed on each post you write. The display name needs completing so people who read your posts know what to call you. The location doesn’t have to be completed but, personally, I think it’s really interesting to see where subscribers are located. At the last count, there were subscribers from 32 different countries! If you are a continuous cruiser on your own narrowboat, just add the name of your narrowboat and the fact that you are cruising full time in the location field.

It’s nice to know a little about the people you are talking to, so if you have time please fill in the biography section. You don’t have to write a novel. Just a few words about your situation now, whether you are a boat owner or whether you hope to purchase one in the near future. That’s all you have to put there.

If you have your own blog or website, you can add it here. The more you post on the site, the more your profile will be viewed and the more likely you are to get subscribers from this site visiting your blog.

The signature field is a bit of fun. you can see the signature on the bottom of my posts. It says “loving life afloat”. It sumarises they way I feel at the moment. Be creative!

Do you have an avatar? It’s your online graphic representation. In my case it’s a head and shoulders photo, but you can add whatever image you like to this section. There are just two riders to that;

  1. Keep it clean. Offensive or pornographic images will be removed
  2. You will need to ensure that the image is 50 x 50 pixels if it is to be displayed properly.

The last section on this tab is the account settings. You can change your email address here if you want forum notifications to go to a different address from the one specified. You can also change your password. A word of warning though, if you change your password here, it won’t update your site password. You’ll have to remember two passwords; one for the forum and one for the main site.

There are six other tabs for you to explore but I won’t go into them now. You can change notification settings, define buddies and adversaries (subscribers whose posts you don’t want to read and who you don’t want to send you private messages.

Talking of which, the forum has its own internal email system. You can send private messages to other members whenever you want. Please only use this for topics that are not in the public interest. If you think that others can benefit from the questions you ask and the answers you receive, post a topic on the forum instead.

Forum Rules and Regulations

I’ve never been much of a rule follower but it’s in everyone’s interest that we adhere to one or two. There aren’t many rules but they are important so please read them here.

Introduce Yourself

I want the forum to grow into a friendly and mutually beneficial community, just like the real world boating community. The first step is getting to know each other. This is where you can do that. I’ve started you off. Please read this to find out what encouraged me to leave a very comfortable bricks and mortar home for a relatively claustrophobic steel box.

Post A Topic

It’s time to begin! The majority of you wanted the forum so now’s your chance to put your money where your mouth is. We’ve passed the theory stage. The forum is ready and waiting. Let’s get posting. I promise you this, if you create a thread, I will respond to it. So if you have a question you would like to ask, please ask it. And if you know the answer to a question that’s been posted, please share that knowledge with other subscribers. It’s time to join the forum!

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Test post to see if there is a link created to the forum

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Contact Me

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