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 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.
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 life” She needs to try harder on the balanced bit as far as I’m concerned.
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.
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.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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!
As a result of Pauline Roberts article about the problems she has experienced as a liveaboard narrowboat owner, I created a survey and asked the boat owners who subscribe to this site to give me their point of view. There were eight questions in the survey. The questions and their answers are below.
“No, but it is frquently b****y hot”
“warm if my fire stays in, cold if it goes out”
“It is unless the fire is going and the heat never really warms up the bedroom”
“Only when I am not there to keep the stove in. Gets warm quickly and can always keep coat on.”
“only if I have been away a while”
“Pengalanty is always warm, comfortable & cosy, as I have a diesel fired “Bubble” corner stove that is fully controllable. Changes are noticed with a 15-minute period”
“Only very occasionally, if heating off and fire goes out”
“Webaso takes 10 mins”
“We do not heat the bedroom”
“Only get cold areas if companion ways closed preventing warm air circulating.”
“near the front vents”
“My engine is sited in the back cabin area and near to the inner bulkhead and to one side. After the engine is run, it is like a “Giant” storgage heater, so my boat is warmer than most”
“Stern cabin can be cold due to draughts – can be fixed”
“Much better since we got an Ecofan”
“yes – of course”
“pump out toilet we pump out into containers if we are frozen in”
“I have a pump out but when frozen in, I use a bucket and dispose of contents down the elsan point.”
“We purchased self pump out and house owner kindly lets us empty in manhole in garden by where we are moored”
“Porta potti and pump out for emergency use only if the PP is full and can’t be emptied.”
“With my composting loo, I can survive almost 4-months without toilet maintenance (Emptying)”
“bucket and chuckit”
“i think that there isn’t enough space to add what I really want to write”
“Yes it is a problem. I wouldn’t shoot the dog though, I would shoot the owner”
“I love dogs, but I just wish owners would be considerate and clear up after them, there is nothing worse than stepping off you boat into a slimy pile of poo!!”
“Yes, but if I see owners not clearing up after their dogs I just offer them a plastic bag. No point getting angry.”
“The dog is not the problem. It’s the owner who does not pick up!”
“it’s not the dogs – it’s the owners who should be shot!”
“no I pick mine up and tell others to as well”
“One has to be careful and yes, there are too many lazy, selfish owners.”
“Yes! In some places, this is a severe problem (I use nappy bags for our dog poo!)”
“it’s the owners not the dogs I’d shoot”
“It’s not the dogs that are a problem it’s the owners that don’t clean up after them”
“Yes there’s dog pooh but it’s the owners fault for not picking it up”
“it’s not the dogs fault, it’s the lazy owners who should be shot”
“I have 2 dogs so cleaning up is enevitable. If im moored, why not keep everywhere clean.”
“Don’t blame the dog. Blame the owner.”
“Its the owners that should be shot!!”
“I’m on the Thames and getting water depends on the flow strength”
“Connected to water supply. Never had a problem.”
“have always lived on a boat”
“plenty of space but you have to be eruthless with junk”
“I am a hoarder! – Need I say more? (I have an excess of tradesman tools, this is a problem)”
“If you can’t store it you probably don’t need it!!!!”
“i have sufficient space in the boat – and beautiful outside the boat”
“Have only been living on boat 5months so have not experienced any yet”
“So far I have only been on the rivers”
“I was in the merchant navy for 26 years – this country is a haven – you need to see the rest.”
“I’d sooner have a muddy towpath than a tarmac one. Tarmac only encourages the cyclists.”
“As 1 but I would rather it was not muddy. Too many cyclists and motorcycles churning it up”
“More maintenance is required in heavy use areas; eg when lots of cyclists and walkers.”
“It has good and bad spots which is to be expected.”
“Towpath is behind a gated fence so no problems.”
I’ve just been sent a book to review. It’s “The Liveaboard Guide” by Tony Jones. Tony Jones has lived aboard his 50ft narrowboat for 7 years, in which time he has traversed 500 miles of canals and rivers, navigated through 400 locks and moveable bridges, run aground 4 times, sunk once, and broken down more times than he can remember. He is a professional freelance writer, published regularly in Waterways World, Canals and Rivers and Towpath Talk.
I like this book. It’s packed full of useful information for potential narrowboat owners. Tony describes the different style narrowboats and the pros and cons of each, other liveaboard boat styles available in the UK but why they’re not suitable for canal liveaboards, whether to choose a new or used narrowboat, where to get them and what you can expect to pay, what to check for when considering a boat for sale, how to fund the purchase. Then he moves on to the practicalities of living on a boat.
Where will you moor? Do you need a permanent mooring at all? How will you cope if you’re trying to hold down a full time job? How easy is it to find a residential mooring? What is a residential mooring and how does it differ from a leisure mooring? What facilities are available on moorings? How much can you expect to pay? What are “on-line” moorings and why is an off-side mooring much better than a towpath mooring? Where can you moor your boat for free?
How much does a narrowboat license cost? Where will the license allow you to travel? What is a boat safety certificate and why do you need one? How much does insurance cost for a narrowboat? Is insurance available for liveaboard narrowboat owners? How much does coal and gas cost? How much electricity can you expect to use? How much diesel will your boat use? What about toilet servicing costs and boat maintenance costs? How much does a professional paint job cost and how often does it need to be done? How often does the hull need to be “blacked”?
A narrowboat is a very small space to live in. Tony explains the different internal and external storage options available and why you need to consider the lack of on board space very carefully before considering living on a narrowboat.
It’s a popular topic of conversation on the cut. Your toilet choice can have a significant impact on your life aboard. It’s a subject that never raises its ugly head in spacious homes on dry land but on a narrowboat where you have to carry your liquid and solid waste around with you, it’s very important indeed. And when you intend to live on board full time, it’s critical that you get it right. Tony’s book explains the options available to you.
It’s not difficult to get a narrowboat from point A to point B. At Calcutt Boats, as with most narrowboat hire companies, novice boaters are given a crash course lasting no more than an hour before they set off on their own for a week or two. Of course the hire boats are fully equipped and serviced and call out engineers are just a phone call away. When you buy your own boat, you’re on your own. Tony explains clearly what equipment you need on board and what checks you need to make before you start a cruise. Once you are on the cut, you need to know how to conduct yourself. Tony explains the rules
How do you manage a full time job when you live on a boat? What are the problems that you are likely to experience and what are the solutions? Full time boaters need to be more organised than their land based counterparts. There are logistics to overcome but what are they and is commuting to work from your floating home really practical?
Unlike a house, a boat doesn’t have utilities on tap. Unless you have a connection to a land based electricity supply you have to generate your own electricity on board. You have to replenish your gas, coal and water supply. You have to keep a careful watch on your dreaded toilet tank. Tony explains how to manage it all effectively.
There are many potential dangers in and around your boat. Fire risks from multi fuel stoves, carbon monoxide poisoning from stove and gas appliances, sinking through poor lock practices and lack of basic engine maintenance, slips on wet surfaces, slips on icy surfaces, trips caused by carelessness and poor rope management, slips and falls in the dark, crush injuries cause by inserting body parts between boats and solid objects, drowning (yes, you can drown in a shallow canal), amputation and laceration caused when body parts are introduced to a spinning propeller and broken bones from flying windlasses. The section also covers vandalism and break ins, illnesses and deseases. Be safe. Read the book.
It’s possible to enjoy all the comforts and toys on your boat that you have in your house. Your choice though will have an impact on what type of system you need on board to generate the required amount of electricity. You can have digital television, radios, CD, DVD and MP3 players, games consoles and systems. In many places you can also enjoy broadband speed internet connectivity (I do on James… most of the time). Tony explains all you need to know to keep yourself entertained.
Some basic knowledge about the systems on your boat is essential if you want to enjoy trouble free life on board. Tony explains how to prolong the life of your batteries, how to prevent toilet blockages, how to avoid catastrophic floods from frozen water pipes, basic equipment to keep on board to clear a fouled propeller (and carry out basic boat maintenance), the most effective flooring for your boat, how to deal with stove leaks and engine maintenance. It’s stuff you need to know.
When you move on to a boat full time, you create a bit of a problem for yourself. Many institutions insist that you supply documentary evidence of a permanent address. You don’t have an address for your boat unless you are on a mooring where the owner will agree to accept mail for you. However, this can often create a problem for the mooring owner. So how do you deal with the paperwork necessary to open a bank account, register with a GP or dentist? Guess what? You need to read the book.
In summary, I think Tony’s book is excellent. It’s easy to read, well presented, has plenty of cracking photo’s and is a really useful resource whether you’re thinking of buying a boat to live on or just for occasional leisure use.
In simple terms narrowboat blacking is the process of applying a protective coating to the hull to help prevent rust.
Just click on the link below to download your free guide. It contains all the blah, blah, blah
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