Category Archives for "Living On A Narrowboat Articles"

How To Deal With Swans And Spiders On A Narrowboat

I had an email yesterday from Debbie Smith. She wanted some advice on dealing with a couple of her pet hates; swans and spiders. They’re spoiling her enjoyment of the canals and everything on them. I’m sure that she’s not on her own, so here’s her question and my suggestions.

“This is going to sound very ridiculous and I risk being viewed as a right wimp. I would very much welcome advice on how to deal with swans who seem to take delight tormenting me with my phobia of them by refusing to budge when I need to pass by on a very narrow section of towpath! I’ve tried bribery with bread, and speaking very nicely (whilst muttering dark threats under my breath and trying to look cool) but they are not impressed. Also – even more of an anxiety, apart from horse- chestnut spray, is there anything I can do to try to dissuade the big hairy type house spiders from inviting themselves on board. (I wouldn’t kill them despite loathing the very sight of them).

Apart from these two fears I am quite rational and sane. Rats, mice and snakes are no problem – oh yeah – maybe wasps give me the heebie jeebies but I can cope with them.

Hope you can help with my neuroses apart from recommending that I have major therapy or give up the boating idea!”

Dealing With aggressive Swans

Swans first. They can be fearsome creatures, so I can understand Debbie’s anxiety. A full-grown male can reach almost 30lb in weight and have a wingspan of nearly eight feet. A cobb (male) puffing up his chest, hissing and spreading his wings to protect his pen (female) and their young brood can be quite scary. But swans, as with most creatures, just want a quiet life. They only present an aggressive front when they feel threatened.

Swans aren't always agressive

Swans aren’t always aggressive

I have to get very close to our resident breeding pair in my day-to-day duties as a groundsman. They are most protective, and therefore aggressive during their April – June breeding season. As the cygnets increase in size and become less vulnerable, the adults relax more. It IS possible though to coexist with swans at all times if you just apply a little common sense.

Swans feel very threatened by dogs. If you have a dog that is likely to chase the swans, make sure that it is kept on a short leash. A barking dog will also increase the swan’s agitation, so try to calm your dog. I have two spaniels. They have only recently come to live with me at the marina. Their first visit here was their first experience of swans. They’re spaniels, they’re inquisitive, and the swans didn’t like it. There was much hissing, wing flapping and a bit of barking too.

But Charlie and Daisy aren’t aggressive dogs. They quickly learned not to go too close to the swans. The swans soon accepted them and now both dogs and swans live in harmony. Charlie and Daisy can sniff through the reeds to their heart’s content just ten feet away from the sunbathing adults and their young with no problem at all.

I have learned to live in harmony with swans too. The secret is to take things slowly. Sudden moves alarm all animals. Swans are no exception. If you walk rapidly towards them, they will become defensive and aggressive. If you walk towards them slowly, they will simply move away. At the marina, the swans like to relax on the grass. Two adult swans and six half-grown cygnets laying on the ground make grass cutting a bit of a challenge. There’s a simple solution though. I just move towards them slowly with the mower. If they become agitated, I stop for a moment. When they settle down, I move forward again. They no longer feel threatened, just uncomfortable so they waddle out of the way and slip into the water.

It’s also possible to decrease the birds’ agitation by decreasing your height. If you squat down, you are less intimidating to the swans.

Spiders: Your Little Helpers

I don’t have a problem with spiders now but I did when I first moved on board I did. They were everywhere. Of course the boat was infested with spiders because it had been unoccupied for years. They had a free rein and had made themselves very comfortable. Now I don’t have any more problems with spiders than I would if I was living in a house. Spider webs appear from time to time but not enough to be considered a problem.

So why did I have a problem then and don’t have a problem now? I think there are two reasons. Firstly, the boat is now cleaned very regularly; far more now that Sally is on board full time. Spiders simply don’t get a chance to establish themselves. Whenever a web, or traces of a web, appears, it is dusted into oblivion. As James is all wood panelling inside, there’s a fair amount of furniture polish used inside the boat. I don’t think the spiders like it.

There’s also less opportunity for them to get in these days. In November 2011 I had the existing masonite cabin overplated with steel. The masonite (oil treated ply) was 35 years old and way past its effective life. The two side hatches and the rear hatch were constructed out of deckboard which had warped. The gaps between hatches and doors was large enough to fit my finger so presented no barrier at all for the largest spider.

The roof was in five sections. The four roof joints had moved apart and subsequently been taped over with what looked like duct tape. The tape had split on every joint to allow insects – and the weather – easy access. Many of the windows leaked too. The gaps between window frame and cabin again allowed easy access for insects.

The new 4mm steel roof, cabin sides, forward and rear bulkheads, hatches and doors have both weatherproofed the boat and provided a deterrent for insects. I spent three weeks painting James in April 2012. There are now five lovingly applied coats of paint to protect the steel. I paid particular attention to the window frames. All the frames are now leak free. They are spider-access free too.

Some spiders do manage to sneak on board though so what do I do to get rid of them? Not much to be honest. I would rather have a dozen spiders than a single fly. Disgusting disease ridden little blighters. The more spiders there are to keep the flies down the happier I am. Maybe you don’t feel the same way though so what can you do to discourage spiders from settling?


Conkers. Good old horse chestnuts. The things that school children used to thread om strings and spend endless hours trying to destroy before the gods of the Health and Safety Executive banned such a dangerous activity. Spiders don’t like conkers. Collect horse chestnuts in the autumn then place them next to doors and windows to keep spiders at bay. That’s the theory anyway. Boat and bricks and mortar home owners swear by their effectiveness. There doesn’t appear to be any hard evidence to back up their claims. The Royal Society for Chemistry (RSC) launched an investigation in 2009 to find out if there was any scientific evidence to substantiate the old wives’ tale. You can read a report here.

Whether there’s evidence or not to support the effectiveness of conkers, their use certainly won’t do any harm. Nor will ensuring that your boat is dusted and polished regularly and that window and door frames are as gap-free as possible.

Swans and spiders are a part of everyday life on a narrowboat. There’s much that you can do to minimise your contact with them or to ensure that your experiences with them are as problem free as possible. Don’t let spider and swan phobias spoil your enjoyment of life on the water.

Useful Information

Downsizing From A Three Bed Semi To A Narrowboat

In a way, I was lucky when I moved onto James. I had just moved out of my marital home after an unreconcilable breakdown of my marriage. I took very few material possessions with me; a suitcase stuffed with clothes, a collection of my favourite kitchen knives and, bizarrely, my hiking equipment.

James, for a narrowboat, has plenty of storage space. There’s a large cupboard with bookshelves above either side of the front doors, under-seat drawers where the l-shaped lounge seating is, more under the seats in the dining area, shelves and cupboards under the kitchen sink and work top, two five drawer chests in the bunk area (my office), a cupboard under the bathroom sink a wardrobe in my bedroom and six drawers under the bed. Plenty of storage.

Inside narrowboat James

Inside narrowboat James

Over the last two years I’ve filled some of the space but I still had plenty to spare. I filled all of my book shelves with my favourite paper and hardbacks but then, when I discovered the Kindle, storage space for reading material wasn’t an issue. I was a single bloke with relatively few material possessions living on a fairly large and well-appointed narrowboat.

You can imagine my shock recently when I was faced with the same logistical problems that most new liveaboards encounter.

I met Sally just over a year ago. I’m pleased to say that we get on very well indeed. In fact we get on so well that we’ve spent all of our time together for most of the last year either on the boat or at her house nearby. Mostly on the boat. Sally loves James. Sally’s two spaniels, Daisy and Charlie, love James and the marina even more. The next logical step was to move in together.

As we all love the boat (and as writing content for this site would be both hypocritical and pointless from the lounge of a three bed semi), we decided that everyone would be better off afloat.

“It won’t be a problem”, said Sally. “I don’t have much stuff”. It’s true that she doesn’t appear to have much in the house. She’s ultra tidy and a million miles away from being a hoarder. But she does live in a house. It’s not a huge house but it’s still a house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a lounge, a kitchen, a conservatory, a cloakroom, a garage and a garden with a little shed. Every room, no matter how tidy and sparsely furnished, has stuff in it.

Sally’s been very good about it all, but I think she’s about to have a breakdown. Her life is in her house. There are memories everywhere. Framed photographs of her two grown children adorn the walls. Meaningful photographs; graduating from university, holding a youthful labrador that’s sadly no longer alive, young and innocent smiles on sunny holiday beaches… the list goes on and on.

She has beautiful furniture. Leather Chesterfields and oak coffee tables, display cabinets full of crystal glasses, solid oak book cases (filled with books) and a work station complete with a desk tp PC, BIG monitor and an all-singing-all-dancing printer/scanner/copier/teamaker. She has oriental rugs and mats, beautiful curtains by the score, king size duvets with set upon set of matching covers and pillow cases, and she has clothes. Lots of clothes. There are racks of beautiful clothes, dozens of hand crafted hand bags and clutch bags and a whole heard of designer shoes.

Sally loves to cook. She has every item of kitchen ware that could possibly be of use in the kitchen. There are pots and pans of every conceivable size. There are dainty little pans for sauces, steamers, pressure cookers, omelette pans, frying pans, and one enormous affair that, at a push, I could take a bath in. She has peelers, mincers, dicers, juicers, cutters and presses. She has enough knives to outfit a small army. She has a great deal of crockery. There are sets of serving dishes, serving plates, dinner plates and side plates, soup bowls, dessert dishes, dishes for sauce and dishes for gravy and one enormous platter that probably needs a team of four to carry it.

Sally enjoys gardening. She enjoys gardening because she has the tools to make the job easier. She has wheel barrows and barrows on balls, spades and forks, rakes and hoes, shears and secateurs. She has pots galore.

She has a garage. A very well organised and clutter free garage. There doesn’t appear to be much in it… until you look up. The rafters have been boarded to create storage space above. There’s a full set of alloy wheels for her son’s VW, two oak display cabinets that wouldn’t fit into her current house when she downsized, mops, hard brushes, soft brushes, brushes with long handles and brushes with short handles, a couple of brushes with no handles at all, a dog travel cage, work benches and tools, three sets of ladders, a collection of thick embroidered rugs, paint and paint brushes, trays and rollers and a full garden furniture set.

So what do we do with a lifetime’s accumulated household essentials?

Firstly we discussed what we could reasonably fit onto the boat. Don’t forget that James is reasonably large and has plenty of storage space. Her clothes and shoes are essential of course, but not all of them. Not a chance. I don’t need much space for my clothes, so Sally has the lion’s share but even then, there isn’t space for a fraction of her bags, shoes or clothes. And there’s not much room for anything else at all.

There’s no room for any of the furniture, gardening equipment or stuff from the garage. There’s very little room for anything from the kitchen. After much deliberation we’ve picked just a few of the more frequently used pots and pans and some of the kitchen tools. That’s it.

Where is everything else going to go?

That’s the $64,000 question. The short-term answer is to put it into storage. It’s not a cheap option though. We’ve been quoted £150 per month for an inadequate eighty square feet and a far more reasonable £70 PCM for two hundred square feet. The problem is the cheaper, more spacious storage is in short supply. We may be able to reserve one of these damp-free and secure containers in about two week’s time. I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE 16th August 2013

I wrote this post just over a year ago when we were trying to decide what to do with the contents of Sally’s three bedroom house. We did in fact rent a “half” container. It’s 20′ long and 10 feet wide. On one of my days off with Sally’s son Michael and daughter Maricar to help we rented a box van and moved most of the contents of her house into the container. Sally gave quite a lot to Michael and Maricar to help furnish their homes in Nottingham but by the time we had finished, every square inch of the container was full. Well organised and with everything accessible but still very full.

Over the first couple of months we visited the container two or three times a week to get essential items we couldn’t or didn’t want to store on the boat. Over the following months we visited the container less and less. I think our last visit to the container was about two months ago.

We don’t really need the container. It’s an unnecessary expense.  It’s cost us £910 so far, about the same as the license for James. All of the really useful stuff originally stored in the container is now somewhere on the boat. The container is only two miles away from where we’re moored at Calcutt but there’s still too much effort involved to make a visit worthwhile.

I think we should dispense with the container but that will meaning getting rid of all of Sally’s accumulated possessions. It’s a decision she has to make herself. I won’t get involved (apart from to point out that with the money she saves she can buy herself a ticket to visit her much missed family in the Philippines).


Useful Information

An Alternative To Smoking On Board

A narrowboat offers a relatively small living space so you don’t want to fill it with cigarette smoke. Here’s a healthy alternative for those of you who need a nicotine boost

My name is Allan, from the South West of England UK and I have been helping people all my life in various ways.

Many years ago my married life ended abruptly with Antoinette and I was on my own. After the wounds healed, (Many years later), I heard that Antoinette (Toni) had problems and I was in a position to help her. I didn’t hesitate. I helped her through a difficult period and I think this started another sort of friendship and respect for each other.

This happened a few times and I was always at hand and pleased to be able to give a helping hand because I had a personal feeling of pleasure, (An inner glowing feeling) being useful.

Then the tables turned and I found myself in deep trouble. To my amazement, Toni came to the rescue. I suppose I shouldn’t have
been surprised but when you are under severe stress and bordering on depression thinking is not always logical or normal. This is when our friendship and enjoying each other’s company became rekindled. It was quite different though, as we both still enjoy our independence and own space.

Let’s whizz through many years between 35 and 40 years to the present time –

Toni and I now both live on “Quaint” English narrowboats; a type of vessel that is not found anywhere else in the world, to my knowledge. Both boats are “High Tech” boats complete with everything one would expect in a well-appointed house or flat. We cruise together on the canals these days, (A superb lifestyle that I have written about in another book). We love doing things together and at the same time we are able to have our own space and independence with each owning a boat.

An electronic cigaretteThis may seem odd to some people but it is absolutely right for us. This has given you a short resume of our lifestyles and takes us nicely into the introduction of how I, (A 100% non-smoker, who is affected by second hand tobacco smoke), became seriously interested in the Electronic method of smoking; you see, what I haven’t mentioned before, is that Toni is a regular smoker!

I was visiting her a few of years ago, (When she still lived in a lovely old cottage), in rural Somerset, near Stourhead, on the edge of a forest and in the outstanding beauty of the English countryside. She went out shopping for a couple of items like bread and tomatoes, (And some cigarettes, I expect), and she came across an electronic disposable cigarette.

Knowing how “ciggies” affect me, she purchased one of these, partially out of curiosity.

On her return, she started smoking the EC (Electronic Cigarette) whilst we were sitting in front of her log fire; the aroma and flickering flames of a log fire, being a rare pleasure for me.

I didn’t say anything about her “smoking” in close proximity to me, after all, it was her home and I would not comment on her right to do what she wanted in her own home.

I was surprised, (To say the least), because for the first time in my life, I was not affected by her smoking. I was puzzled as this had never happened before.

It took me a little while to realise that there was something “different” with the cigarette she was smoking. I took more notice and it was only then that I noticed that the red tip was not actually a burn of tobacco but a good imitation, (There was no ash either!). This was the actual moment that I became interested. Needless to say, I studied this new type of cigarette and I had a really good look. I took it to pieces and then reassembled it again. I was impressed – really impressed!

Unfortunately, the EC that Toni purchased was not satisfying enough for her and did not replace the necessity for the nicotine she was used to, although it did have other attributes as it enabled the hand and other movements that smokers are used to and it is a natural progression from tobacco.

Well! I could not get over the “Magic” “Space-Age Cig”, I called it, and the idea of the Electronic Cigarette intrigued me, so I started researching what was available, (Factually there are 100’s of brands manufactured all over the World), many from the Far East, some manufactured in India and there were a large number of American companies set up their own Research and development Labs, then had the American Stands manufactured where labour is less expensive, but to their strict standards.

With this vast amount of selection, (Not too many available in the UK at the moment, as the EC has only just arrived here), where does one start? I became more and more interested in the development, manufacture, spread and interest in these products and have spent over a year, absolutely fascinated in the new “Space Age” electronic cigarette.

The research was serious; I spent over ?500 (About $750 USD) of myown money; not all at once but it was only when I did a calculation that I realised just how much I spent on following my interest in ECs. It gave me something to do and I wondered how one thought of the idea in the first place and it has been a rewarding journey for me too.

It is only recently that I came to the conclusion that I know so much about the positive aspects of smoking the new electronic way, I was in a position to share my knowledge with other people not knowing where to start.

It does take a short while to get used to minor differences between tobacco (Burning) and Electronic (Non-Burning) cigarettes.
There are a couple of minor differences when smoking the electronic way but there are a host of advantages!

The main ones (Features) are:

They are much healthier – not having any of the cacogenic poisons that induce cancer (Tobacco smoke has over 4000 of them of which 5 or 6 are cancer inducing).

Electronics are much cheaper – a 20-a-day smoker will reduce the costs of smoking by over ?1500 per year (That’s over $2200 USD)
This can reduce your smoking costs by up to 80%

WOW! You just can’t ignore this massive on-going savings! It could pay for your next holiday. How “Cool” is that?

You can smoke anywhere legally – The smoke produced is not actually smoke but white water vapour with the vaporised nicotine that supplies the body with the nicotine to satisfy your need to smoke – MUCH more satisfying than Patches, Gum, Tablets or injection and prescription medicine.

No second hand smoke – so you do not cause distress to asthma sufferers or other people that are affected by a smoky environment.

Clothes stay clean and fresh – no more stale smoke and clothes stay fresher.

Teeth – do not become discoloured, stained teeth will become brighter and whiter.

Bad Breath – No more smoky breath, you can get near to your partner or close friends without that awful stale smoky breath.

Home Interiors – No more ceiling going brown from nicotine stains, or curtains becoming discoloured and there is no stale smoke residue either, so every member of the household benefits.

Now there’s an impressive list of positives!

Don’t you think it is time you found out about the Healthier way to Electronic smoking?

Why not read my free book? After you have read all I have learned about the electronic cigarette, which brands are good and which brands are not so good, you’ll have a better idea and some of my expertise to help you decide whether you want to try this new experience and more importantly, where to start.

Allan is in the process of putting together more information about electronic cigarettes in the form of an eBook. If you would like him to send it to you, just send him an email.

Useful Information

Narrowboat Glass Fire Door Cleaning

One of the real joys of a solid fuel stove is relaxing and watching the flames flicker through the glass window. Unfortunately the glass is often too dirty to see through so needs constant cleaning. Here’s a solution to your glass cleaning problems{{{0}}}

Written by Allan Cazaly nb.Pengalanty

I have a diesel “Corner Bubble Stove”

stove glass cleaning

stove glass cleaning

My stove door glass, (After over 5 years of use), has become yellowish, the glass seems to have
changed its surface texture and has what is a crazed surface that can be seen in certain light

It didn’t matter what I did, I could not clean the glass to look like “New” again

The glass seemed to attract the oily soot from the fire and soon went blackish again

NO! I don’t have incomplete combustion!

My “Blue” flame burns properly after lighting, due to my special anti-downdraught flue (German
Manufacture) and a good installation

Recently, I gave this some thought to my problem and wondered if there was anything I could do to
improve the situation without going to the expense and trouble of replacing the glazing in the door

I lifted the door off the stove and washed it with warm soapy water (Fairy liquid) together with some
Lever Brother’s “Cif” cream. I used green abrasive pads and have used Brillo pads in the past

As usual, I ended up with the same crazed finish with the “yellowish” tinge to the glass. My thoughts
turned to the Fast Cutting Paste that I used on my cabin sides paintwork to “rejuvenate” the finish
and decided to try this 3M product as last resort

The result, after two applications and plenty of elbow grease, seemed to give the glass a “sheen”
that it had previously lacked after my normal washing. It still had a slight yellowish tinge and I could
still see the crazing reflections in certain light conditions, so I was somewhat disappointed, after
spending over an hour trying to “Smooth” the glass surface. I polished both sides of the glass

I was disappointed; I thought that all the time spent was wasted.

How Wrong Can You Be?

I replaced the door on the Bubble stove, after I had finished the “polishing” exercise, and when it
was refitted to my stove, it did look somewhat cleaner, so all was not lost.

The weather turned again and became colder, (Just like British weather does), so I lit my Bubble
stove – What a transformation!

– The result was amazing!

– Gone was the yellowish look

– The glass door looked just like new again

-The Blue flame was clear to see

– No sooting up of the glass, even after a week of lighting twice a day for a couple of hours

– The glass seems to have a “non-stick” surface and I it has stayed clean for over a week!

I am delighted with the result; so delighted in fact, that I have written to the 3M Company, telling
them of my findings

If anyone has experienced the same discolouration problems that I have been putting up with for so
long, I would recommend you to try the above method to improve the situation for yourself

I cannot guarantee that you will be successful but my experience should give you the enthusiasm
to “Give it a Go”

The additional plus, (By using 3M cutting paste), is that it seems to have non-stick properties in a
hot environment. My fire is usually at about 180o Celsius when alight and there is no suspicion of
any soot deposits (Flue gas temperature varies between 100o and 180o dependent on valve control

The product used:

3M Fast Cut Plus No: 50417

It is expensive at about ?21.00 in a litre plastic bottle. The chances are you may have this product if
you have ever tried to extend your paint job on your boat. It is an excellent product

Useful Information

Living On The River Cam

Luther Phillips lives on a widebeam boat on the river Cam with his partner Lisa and their two young boys. He talks here about the pleasures of living on the river, but not of the pleasure of the increased mooring fees! {{{0}}}

I currently live aboard a 70ft Widebeam Barge moored on Stourbridge Common, with my wonderful partner Lisa and our two beautiful boys Hapi and Beau. Hapi is 2 years and five months. Hapi is spelt H A P I. I would like to dismiss the rumour that he is called Hapi purely because I am Grumpy! Something to do with my age! Some of you will know Hapi as an Egyptian river God, God of the Nile. Hapi was a deification of the annual flooding of the Nile River in Ancient Egyptian religion. The flood would deposit rich silt on its banks, allowing the Egyptian farmers to grow their crops. His name means ‘Running One’, probably referring to the current of the Nile. And I can tell you he certainly loves running. He’s running me ragged. Beau will be 3 months tomorrow and as you can imagine mummy and daddy are very proud.

Living on the river Cam

Living on the river Cam

I moved onto a boat on the river Cam in September of 2002 in an earnest attempt to climb onto the property ladder. Cambridge’s ascendency and affluence meant my meagre income could only afford me the most basic of dwellings. And for today’s money, probably even less, perhaps nothing at all with its prohibitive costs. At the time many of my friends were buying their own homes, renting for me seemed a waste of my money and in reality I had no ties to Cambridge and needed somewhere to call my home which I owned. My decision to buy a boat resulted from a chance meeting with an ex-colleague who lived on a boat with his girlfriend; they were selling their beloved boat because they had their eye on something that was seagoing with a bit more space.

The brief chat we had fuelled my imagination and after visiting with them and going for a cruise down to Baits Bite lock, I was convinced and sold on the idea of living on a boat.

Practically the next day, my desperate search for a boat began. I surfed the internet; I bought boating magazines and soon made the decision to visit three marinas in the Northampton area, where I felt I would find a suitable boat for a novice, or should I say a suitable boat for my home. To my surprise, at the end of the first day of looking, I was extremely lucky to find the “Corn Dolly”, a 50ft narrowboat within my price range. So, instead of ‘Bricks and Mortar’ I have ended up with ‘Steel and Water’. An adventure to me, a surprise to most and some of my family are still getting use to the idea of my chosen type of domicile. Every Mother wants to know that there little boy is safely grounded!

The staff at Braunston Marina were exceptionally helpful with the transaction and within a few weeks, a survey and some minor reparation, I bought the boat and was ready to travel to Cambridge. They certainly made the process straightforward, selflessly preparing me for my new life ahead. What a strange concept, I would be taking my new home home!

Until that day I had been a mere visitor to the river Cam. But once I left Braunston Marina in my new floating home, the river came alive spectacularly, the blazing hot sun bouncing off the clear cool water. Dragon flies and butterflies adorning the water’s surface for seconds in flashes and dances. The sound of the engine chugging away and the slight smell of diesel fumes made me feel part of an ancient breed of river travellers. I soon learnt the ropes, having a great deal of fun on the way, and after an epic seven day journey cruising from Braunston, Nr Daventry I arrived at Jubilee Gardens, Jesus Green, Cambridge. A journey which I will always treasure, it was a journey of discovery, in my own world I came of age. I was proud of my amazing experience. Each day waking up to picturesque sunrises, the days curatively long and tranquil and without fail, each night preceded by a dazzling sunset. What an introduction to living on the river.

I did have the odd mishap along the way though , once I accidentally managed to tangle my centre rope in the propeller, it was very worrying, but thankfully I had done my research prior to the trip and my quick thinking response saved the day, more importantly saved the boat. It did involve me stripping off and diving into the refreshing water with a knife in my mouth, to cut the knotted rope from around the propeller!

The total distance I travelled to bring my new home home was 144 miles, travelling at 4 miles per hour, operating 74 locks and 27 moveable bridges, traversing 7 small aqueducts or underbridges and 1 long tunnel – Braunston Tunnel, which is one mile long or should I say one long mile. It is 12ft 3in high and 15ft 7in wide and rather gloomy.

The journey should have taken 64 hours, 39 minutes which is 9 days, 1 hour and 39 minutes at 7 hours per day. It took me seven days which I wished lasted a great deal longer.

Although brief and fleeting I never contemplated the change those seven days had on me, it has helped to mould me into the person I am today, a transformation and change of focus towards the river, at this point it became my home as opposed to a place to visit for respite or recreation. I consider myself a changed person now, more of an environmentalist as a result. I found my partner, we found a community, we believed so strongly in our way of life we decided it was good enough to bring new life into the world, so much so, that we are expecting our 2nd baby in January 2012. We have a shared commitment to ensuring our community embraces environmental stewardship and upholds sustainable lifestyles.

Incidentally, the boat my friends were selling was purchased by Lisa, who at that time I had not met!

I lived on the ‘Corn Dolly’ for three and half blissful years, loving every minute of it, it also inspired me to look for something with more space. Which I duly did, I found a boat in Zaandam, Holland which I bought and sailed across the North Sea with the aid of my girlfriend Lisa and a trustworthy old sea dog called Sid Fisher, who is the embodiment of Captain Birds Eye. Now, that was a monumental journey, twelve hours traversing the North Sea in a force 4 on the Beaufort Scale, as the insurance company would not cover us in anything higher. We chugged 115 miles practically straight across from Ijmuiden and were welcomed to Great Yarmouth by fully armed Customs and Excise officers, who stealthily boarded our vessel in true James Bond style, suspecting to find drugs, explosives or illegal immigrants. Several of them thoroughly searching the boat uncovering panels, rummaging through nooks and crannies I didn’t even know existed. During those two hours we were interviewed, I knew I had nothing to worry about, however, it was an ordeal I would not wish to repeat.

A couple of months later, Tjoba as she was called arrived in Cambridge, one of the biggest boats on the Cam. She attracted a lot of attention and required a fair amount of restoration. Tjoba was a decommissioned cockle cutter built in 1911, it operated in Zerike Zee in the South of Holland. She was eventually sold last year, affording Lisa and I our family boat ‘Cygnet’ which we currently live on and is moored on Stourbridge Common. We have expanded our horizons and broadened our commitment to civic life.

Life on the river Cam is healthy! It induces an element of calm; it provides a therapy that is nature, an aura of contentment especially when wildlife graces us with their presence.

Despite the myths and misconceptions, living on a boat is an environmentally friendly low-impact way of life, by that I mean there is not much strain placed on the environment, Cambridge City Council’s resources, the national grid or the water company. Especially considering I generate my own electricity, I am frugal with it and the amount of water I use, and have to be even more considerate using other amenities including disposal of my waste.

I know my carbon footprint is minimal. In fact my existence is very closely scrutinised, as I have to conform to, and satisfy many rules, regulations and tribulations in order to live lawfully on the river. Even if it were not a legal requirement, I can assure you my conscientious nature would ensure my commitment to preserving our planet.

In the years I have lived on the Cam I have developed a strong sense of belonging, I feel a certain responsibility and accountability for maintaining its environs, protecting the wildlife and preserving its history and its heritage for future generations to appreciate.
I am pleased I am in a position to give something back, to be able to express how I feel about our gorgeous river, which is why I take great pride in organising the Cam Clean Up and other environmental initiatives which will preserve and ultimately ensure its existence in its current natural state and safeguard it from any unnecessary developments.

I count myself extremely lucky and fortunate that I can enjoy this environment from so many different perspectives: with so many places to go and so many things to do it’s a fantastic location to moor my boat, my home.

The importance of the river to different user groups is evident; on a daily basis I see hundreds of people of all ages from various walks of life, taking great pleasure enjoying their sporting and leisure activities. Ensuring everyone can access this resource for whatever use is not only fair but essential, equally as important is understanding and addressing the needs of all who wish to share the river, so developing and maintaining a community of cohesive groups is essential.

Here are a few lovely ways to enjoy our lovely river: join a Town rowing club, rowing down to Bait’s Bite Lock and back a few times is hard work but loads of fun, it it’s also an interesting and unique course; take a cycle ride along route 51 or beside the river along the towpath to Clayhithe; the least congested part of the river would mean going on a river boat trip to Bottisham Lock, what a wonderful landscape to explore or rent a punt for a day take a few friends, a picnic and enjoy a trip up to Grantchester.

From Byron’s Pool all the way to Bottisham Lock you will find a wide range of leisure activities taking place. Angling, canoeing, kayaking, motor boating, sailing, swimming and in recent times we have seen new activities such as paddle boarding.

And let’s not forget some of the best green spaces adjacent to the river – the Mill Pond, Jesus Green, Midsummer Common and Stourbridge Common, to mention a few. I like to think of the river and commons as jewels in our crown that is Cambridge, hence, I treasure it and them so much.

As I become older I take more time and pleasure in the simple things in life. Waking up to the sounds of lapping water, quacking ducks, shrieking moorhens, the strong earthy vegetal bouquet after rainfall, observing the awesome sight of swans and herons taking flight or flying a kite, these are some of the things that provide me with everlasting memories, moments of tranquillity, escape and an effective therapy that costs nothing.

With that in mind, how can anyone take the river Cam for granted? Well I certainly can’t, therefore I encourage everyone to do something to pay homage to their local river World Rivers Day on Sunday 30th of September. Looking to the future I trust everyone will join me in maintaining and preserving the rivers of this world and their legacy for our descendents.

Earlier, I alluded to myths and misconceptions commonly held about boat dwellers, let me dispel a few.

“Boaters pollute the environment”

Most Boaters are self-sufficient, therefore very economical with electricity. Electricity is usually provided by a minimum of two car batteries, which are usually recharged by wind turbines, solar panels or running the boat’s engine. This frugality applies to water and heating too. Boaters with solid fuel stoves generally use smokeless coal, despite not being a legal requirement. As a boat is a small space to heat and as long as it is well insulated it takes a short time to warm up, it holds it heat and uses a minimal amount of fuel to do this.

“They don’t pay their way”

Boats which are moored on Cambridge City’s Commons pay a Mooring licence which is the equivalent of Council Tax Band A, they are not liable for council tax. They also pay a Navigation or registration Fee. Which means for a 70ft Widebeam Barge which I currently live on, I pay the City Council ?1000 a year to moor my boat on the Cam and in addition, I pay the Environment Agency ?1000 to navigate the River Cam and Environment Agency controlled waters.

“Lazy layabouts living off the dole”

Many boaters are professionals who work in Cambridge. They are doctors, teachers, lawyers, carers, researchers, University employees and some run their own successful businesses. Quite a few boaters have downsized from lives which were filled and dominated by material possessions and have now consider themselves retired from the proverbial rat race.

“Houseboats on the Cam are an eyesore”

Admittedly some boats moored on the Cam do let the side down! The odd neglected holiday boat abandoned on the Riverside railings, fading paintwork, rotting hulls, tatty ropes, which is hardly a sight to bemoan. Regardless most boat owners are fiercely proud of their homes and some go to the lengths of re-painting them every year. Houseboats augment the River Cam, they are a reminder of the Industrial revolution, a time when Cambridge was being built and these types of boats were used to bring the materials with which many buildings and roads were constructed.

As far as Cambridge’s river history is concerned, I won’t recount what you probably already know, because tonight I am here to tell you about my current view and recent history of Life on the Cam. You will all know that the River Cam was once the centre of life and sustenance for the community and today’s boating families are a reminder of Cambridge’s history.

My limited knowledge of the history of the Cam I find interesting and I can recite events of times past, which many of you will know far more about than I do right now. I do know the River Cam has been navigable at least since Roman times, and from the Middle Ages onwards, barges were used to bring heavy goods to Cambridge. The river once being the centre of commerce for the city, the people working on the boats lived on them, sometimes whole families resided in tiny ‘workman’s cabins’.

Barges brought stone for the College and University buildings including King’s College Chapel. They also carried the goods for trading at Stourbridge Fair & Midsummer Fair. Cambridge was supplied with fuel, food and other supplies by boat until as late as 1951.
In addition, a variety of boathouses, ferries for crossings and industrial boats going to and from the gasworks on Riverside plied their trade on the river.

With the coming of the railway in 1845, the industrial traffic on the river waned, leaving the river purely for recreational and residential use.

The last thirty years have seen a renaissance in the use of the river. There are now more than 2,000 rowers registered at over 30 boathouses in Cambridge. There are also roughly 100 liveaboard boats. This means the river is still heavily used and more popular than at any time in its rich history. However that intense use is comprised of solely recreational activity, predominantly rowing and punting.

When I moved on to the river in 2002 there were only a handful of residential boaters, they were very welcoming and it was a small tight knit community in the centre of a rapidly growing Cambridge. I knew I had made the correct decision, moving onto a boat, it was new, exciting and in fact the novelty still has not worn off. At that time boaters paid nothing to moor on the Cam apart from a Navigation License, which is paid to the Cam Conservancy or the Environment Agency. I was onto a good thing here, I was happy to pay council tax but the City Council had no scheme in place to allow the small boating community to make a contribution. Word quickly spread of free moorings in Cambridge, perpetuated by a website created by a Cam Conservator. Soon more boats arrived and within two years of my moving onto the river, the river seemed full!

It soon became apparent that the increase in residential boaters was not welcome and it conflicted with the already oversubscribed rowing activity on the river Cam. Complaints by rowers mostly were made to the Cam Conservancy and the City Council against the boating community and before you knew it the Cam Conservancy tried to impose a ban on residential boats mooring on Midsummer Common under the guise of a navigational problem, which in all fairness did not exist.

With the advent of the growing community, it was obvious there was a desperate need to form an official residential boating association, in order to be recognised and respected but more urgently a need to defend our homes and our way of life. To show other communities and local residents they had nothing to fear, that their way of life was not being threatened or encroached upon. There needed to be a harmonisation of the community. There was also a need to provide fundamental facilities and services for the boating community as well as the increasing number of visiting boats.

Across the country, boat sales were booming and Cambridge was increasingly going to be visited by water. When the Cathedral link is built, the Cathedral link being an ambitious project by the Environment agency it is actually known as The Fens Waterways Link, it will connect the cathedral cities of Lincoln, Peterborough and Ely, and the market towns of Boston, Spalding, Crowland and Ramsey. In association with other waterway regeneration schemes, the Link will create a new circular waterway to improve recreation, tourism and the environment. This will no doubt encourage more boaters to come to Cambridge.

So with many good reasons, on the 20th of September 2004 Camboaters was born, Camboaters the name for the boating community based here in Cambridge. A public meeting was held to announce the constitution of Camboaters Community Association and members were elected to the Camboaters Community Association Management Committee.

Camboaters is made up of approximately 100 liveaboards on the River Cam and many holiday boat owners. It’s a vibrant, diverse community of all ages and professions. We are a friendly group and believe that our sustainable way of life adds to the natural beauty and charm of Cambridge, providing an additional tourist attraction on the riverside, whilst placing low impact on council resources.
The aims of Camboaters were to:

1. Improve the quality of life and facilities available to boat owners on the river Cam
2. Encourage and provide proactive solutions to the problems faced by boat owners on the river Cam
3. Establish and maintain good relationships between all river users and the relevant authorities
4. Change and dispel myths widely held about liveaboards
5. Assist with the implementation of any new policies that affect houseboat owners
6. Contribute new ideas aimed at preserving the beauty and wildlife on the river
7. Enjoy all aspects of the river from navigation to recreational activities
8. Promote a healthy way of life on the river.

The aims and objective of Camboaters constitution currently reads as such:

a) To represent the interests of residential boaters on the River Cam, and to address issues that affect the residential boating community

b) To work with the City Council and Cam Conservators to maintain and improve a mooring plan and associated facilities that accord with the needs, safety and welfare of all those who live aboard their vessels upon the Cam

c) To promote the recreational use of the River Cam for all its users, by working with the statutory authorities, voluntary organisations and residents on the river to preserve and enhance the amenities available in relation to the River Cam.

So with a flotilla of passionate members of the river community, fearing for their way of life being threatened, we instigated a campaign to ‘Reverse the Ban’ of residential boats moored on Midsummer Common. Several events were held to dispel the myths about residential boaters. Two of which continue as annual events: The Cam Clean Up held in March and an Open Boat Day held on World Rivers Day in September.

The Cam Clean Up is very special to me because with the help of local residents, passionate volunteers, Cambridge City Council, Conservators of the River Cam, and Anglian Water’s RiverCare a cleanup of the River Cam from Grantchester Meadows to Bottisham lock is feasible. It is the perfect excuse to get out there and do something for our fine city, as well as expressing our environmental ethos and love of rivers and wildlife or simply enjoying a day by the river!

The Cam Clean Up has developed into a fabulous event, becoming bigger and better every year. Last year, more than 250 volunteers collected over 500 bags of recyclable and general rubbish from the river and its banks. In 2009 hard-working grapple teams recovered a whopping 100 bikes from the riverbed and three motorised scooters were retrieved from Stourbridge Common.
Last year World Rivers Day Festival took place on Sunday 25th September 2011, 10 am – 6 pm, on Jesus Green, Cambridge. It was a free, local festival which celebrated life on the river. Many of the houseboaters opened up their boats, welcoming many visitors onboard and talking about their life on the river. There were lots of family friendly fun and hands-on activities occurring throughout the day, the main theme running through the day highlighted the importance and enjoyment of life on and around, the River Cam.
Well, back to the campaign, due to our efforts and overwhelming public support, it was successful and boats were not banned from mooring in the City Centre, it did highlight the need for a mooring policy which Camboaters worked on very closely with the City Council to implement. It encouraged many boaters to take more pride in their Community and their boats, as they appreciated they were the river vista representing Cambridge. Some boats which visually spoil the vista just comparatively reflects what you will find on many roads, quite a few well kept houses with pristine gardens, but then there will be the odd house and car that let that neighbourhood down. You can’t force everyone to aspire to perfection!

In my time on the River Cam, the boating community has seen a steady cycle of people moving on to the river for a few years, then moving back into a house or leaving Cambridge all together. Change of circumstance, such as a new job, a baby, you name it, there has been a succession of people enjoying the lifestyle associated with living on the Cam and all that it has to offer. There has been the natural and normal progression of birth life and death. In fact there were over 23 babies born to river folk in the last eight years, over twelve weddings and two deaths that I am aware of. (RIP Eddie & Nathan)

The boating community thrives. Living on a boat appears to be an inviting growing way of life, I receive a fair few enquiries about life on a boat, how to buy a boat, where are there moorings available? And the most common, laughable question is, “Is it cold in the winter?”

There is a long waiting list for residential boat licenses in Cambridge, last time I enquired there were well over 100 people on it. Mooring licenses are in high demand and I can assure you that, with this form of permanent inexpensive accommodation, it highlights the reality that Cambridge needs a marina or a boat haven. Sadly, Cambridge currently lacks the basic amenities that most other boating communities across the country provide as standard.

With Cambridge experiencing substantial growth in its population over the last decade, the activities and numbers partaking in those activities on the river has mirrored that increase. In particular punting, some of you will be aware of the annual ‘Punt Wars’ with aggressive, competitive, annoying punters touting for tourists’ spending money. I used to enjoy punting up The Backs then onto Grantchester on a hot summer’s day, now I seldom venture that way during the busy season. The fun has been taken out of what once use to be a civilised day out. Good days for punting are during term time before the tourists season properly commences, when there is no chance of congestion, collision or being harassed by a tout. Bad days I now leave to the young men and women who can handle the hustle bustle on the river. Unfortunately it will be left to the Cam Conservancy and City Council to sort out the mess but alas the rules and red tape will mean it takes some time.

With rowing and its tradition, there is a misconceived attitude of ownership of the River Cam, exacerbating the problem of conflict with other river users. During term rowing events are almost every weekend and last mostly all of the day. In recent times clashes with Mr Asbo & his family have made National headlines. Town and College clubs are being over subscribed for membership and this popularity causes severe congestion on the river.

Deliberating over matters concerning the River Cam is part of my remit as a River Cam Conservator. The river needs a collective vision, a ‘Waterspace Strategy’ is being developed by the Cam Conservators to give the people of Cambridge, especially the people who make use of it regularly, something to be proud of. Projects such as the Cambridge Sporting Lakes may be years away but it would go a long way to help easing the pressure on the river.

The growth challenges faced by people on the river are really challenges for the City or broader region, thankfully the river communities are now connected by like minded folks, sharing common interests and are realising the necessity to solve the problems as they arise.

So, what will the future bring for the river Cam? More challenges to be tackled by a broader coalition? Collaborations on new opportunities such as building a marina for a growing residential population. We may have to defend Cambridge against a flood? What would be lost to the City without Camboaters? Would there be the leadership and continuity of the Cam Cleanup? How will life on the River Cam change the perspective of our children & grandchildren’s lives? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we re-embraced the river Cam as a civic hub, a community resource and not just an exploited waterway for rowing and punting!

Here’s an article that Luther wrote for the Cambridge news about increased mooring fees on the river Cam

Useful Information

Continuous Cruisers: How To Constantly Cruise The Canal Network

Continuous cruiser Peter Earley emailed me after reading Pauline Roberts article about living on a narrowboat. Peter wrote the following article for the Residential Boat Owner’s Association about four years ago. He though it would be a good counter argument for what many consider unneccessary pessimism in Pauline’s article. {{{0}}}

A little background information about Peter…

“After a good friend died back in 2002 just after realising his dream of owning his own boatyard, Jeannette and I decided that we wanted to realise our ambition of living permanently on water and cruising the canals. We ran a company in Southampton involved with vehicle electrics and someone expressed an interest in buying it so we sold up. We had years of canal experience, first hiring then shared ownership so made the rounds of boat builders and settled on Sabre in Manchester to build ‘Joanie M’. We wanted a unique name. We looked at ‘Joan’ after Jeannettes mum but there were about 6 already. There were 3 or 4 Joanies so we settled on ‘Joanie M’, the M being for Maurice, my father in law.

Joanie M was launched in June 2007 near Worsley on the Bridgewater. She is 58ft long and gas free with a 7 kVa generator built into the engine bay. We have 2 diesel tanks totalling 400 litres and a water tank of about 200 gallons. 4 x 135 aHr leisure batteries and 2 x 45W solar panels.

Jeannette is 64 and I am 65. We have been married 45 years.”

Joining The Ranks Of The Continuous Cruisers

So, you want to join the ranks of that hardy band, Continuous Cruisers? You do realise that besides having to endure all that British weather may throw at us you will also be reviled by half of the canal population as a free loader despite canal living being no cheaper than living on the bank. Not for us the easy existence in a Marina with access to electricity and other essentials.

Narrowboat Joannie M

Narrowboat Joannie M

Actually, you’ll be joining a very select group. According to the 2007 accounts of British Waterways there are only 2175 license holders registered as Continuous Cruisers so that makes us very much a minority interest. It’s a pity that we don’t get as much interest or money as some other minority groups. After all, the road travellers in their coaches and caravans have their own parliamentary spokesman.

As a genuine CCer, there is one rule with which you have to abide. You should only stay in one ‘area’ for no more than 14 days. ‘Area’ is not really defined but is generally accepted to be a parish and you still have to take notice of any local mooring conditions such as time limits. Of course, there are always exceptions to this such as being taken ill, mechanical breakdown, and the like but you should always try and get permission from BW before overstaying. As you cruise the system you might think you’re the only one obeying the rules as the outskirts of many towns and cities are marked by ‘illegally’ moored boats together with their attendant detritus and parked cars. You, of course, won’t have a car and, probably no job either.

You will also have to keep a log of your journeys to prove that you have been cruising continuously. Not that anyone ever asks to look at it! However, it is useful to know whether the ice is earlier or later than last year, when you saw the first cygnet born and to prove your fuel usage when claiming other than the ‘standard’ 40/60 split on fuel duty.

Every year there are stories of people with no previous experience selling their house, buying a boat and sailing off into the sunset, or at least to Birmingham. This is just plain daft. Even if you’ve had a few summer holidays on the canals this won’t prepare you for conditions in February. We thought we were experienced, 20 years of hiring then 8 years of shared ownership meant there wasn’t a month in the year when we hadn’t cruised. Even so, it has been a steep learning curve.

When deciding on your boat there are a number of decisions to be made that will be difficult to unmake later. When you get together with other boaters inevitably you will end up talking about toilets. These divide into pump-out and cassette. Pump-out has the advantage of looking like a normal toilet and it will last at least a couple of weeks between emptying. Indeed, some people manage to make their tank last for 3 months or more. They must make a lot of use of shore facilities such as pubs or keep their legs crossed a lot. Emptying them however will cost. Anything up to ?18 or so a time. Emptying a cassette on the other hand is usually free but a full one is heavy and will need doing every couple of days. So, you pays your money and take your choice. Oh, and whichever system you decide on, at some time it will block!

Very important is your bed as you’re going to spend rather a lot of time in it. In a hire boat the bed always runs fore and aft. You may have noticed that it is only 4 feet wide and that you are always digging your elbows and knees into your partners back. The one who draws the short straw to sleep on the inside also has the risk of sudden shock on accidentally touching the cold side of the boat. But, if you don’t mind the narrowness it has the great advantage of being permanently made up. Of course, you can always have an extension to one side to give you the luxury of a king size but you’ve then lost all the advantages. The cross bed, on the other hand, gives you the king size but can be a bit uncomfortable if you are taller than 5 foot 10. Climbing over the bed though keeps you fit and it also means that whoever sleeps on the kitchen side always gets to make the morning cuppa!

Everything on a boat is a bit of a compromise but you will need as much storage as is humanly possible. You cut down on your cooking utensils, convert all your CDs to MP3, stick all the family photos on your hard drive, stick the wellies in that tiny space at the back but it’s the clothes that take up the space. That great idea, the vacuum bag, must have been made with boaters in mind. Not only does it enable you to pack your spare clothes into a tiny space but it keeps them dry at the same time. You will come to accept the scourge of condensation in time!

When living in a house we took central heating for granted. We assumed we could do this on the boat despite the cost of diesel. A big mistake. Those heating systems generally fitted to boats are not suitable for residential use and, furthermore, any warranty won’t usually cover this use. There are some systems on the market designed for 24 hour use but they are not small and, given the pressures on space in a liveaboard, may not fit. Being children of the 60’s, well 50’s actually, we’ve never really had coal fires at home so thought we could do without one on board. From our experience with the shared ownership boat we found them to be dusty and the heat could sometimes be unbearable. Our first winter found the diesel heating expiring from over use on the coldest week of the year so we bit the bullet and had a multi-fuel stove fitted. The boat is now as warm as toast but guess what, it’s dusty and the heat can sometimes be unbearable. Still, we can always open the front doors!

You will be living in close proximity with your partner in a space not much longer than 50 feet. This inevitably will lead to the occasional argument. Make sure your boat has at least one door that can be closed with a satisfying slam!

Once on board permanently, you will be a person of no fixed abode. This is not acceptable in today’s Britain where the first piece of information you are always asked is your postcode. To have a credit card, a bank account and a British Waterways licence you will need a permanent address on shore. This is why you have children. They’ve used your home as a convenience for years, it’s your turn now. Make sure you get a new passport and driving licence showing this address so you can then apply for the National Bus Pass from the local Council. All your post can go there for your children to deal with. Most of it will be rubbish anyway but the important stuff can always be scanned and e-mailed to you. If it is something that you need to sign then the Royal Mail Poste Restante system works very well but is one of the places that you need to prove who you are so don’t forget to take that nice new driving licence.

Another item that seems to generate much hostility amongst some other boaters is the washing machine. Complaints about hogging the water point being the usual complaint. It might be that these people don’t wash their clothes too often but to rely on launderettes is a no-brainer. First you have to find one, it’s usually a long walk with a heavy bag of washing, you need an inexhaustible supply of ?1 coins and when you get the washing out you find the previous user had washed his overalls after creosoting the fence. So go for an on-board machine if you have the space. Be careful of washer/dryers though as they can use an inordinate amount of water in the drying process.

Having mentioned water, don’t pass a water point without filling up. You may have a tank that would keep a family of five going for a fortnight but, if you do pass a water point, you can bet your life that the next one will have six boats waiting or will not be working. This is even more important during the winter months when you can go to bed on a mildish night to wake to ? inch of ice.

As most of us get older we need to take various medications to make life easier. We are lucky in that the Doctor we have been registered for years continues to keep us on her list despite knowing we no longer live in her area. At first we took our repeat prescription forms to a local Doctor, registered as a temporary patient, and eventually received a new prescription. However, no two Doctors seemed to be the same. Sometimes we would receive enough for 2 months, on others just 2 weeks. Sometimes we were subjected to the third degree, on others we saw no one but a receptionist. Eventually we started posting the prescription form to a friend with a stamped addressed envelope for wherever we expect to be in the next fortnight, he drops it in to our Doctor, collects the new form and pops it in the post. There will be times when you become unwell and need to visit a local Doctor. This is easy. You have a form to fill in as a temporary patient for which you will need the dreaded postcode. I use the one of the nearest pub or supermarket. You will be asked if you are staying for longer than 14 days. (Not the same 14 days as British Waterways surely!) This is where you need to lie and say yes. Otherwise, you will only get enough medication to last until you are out of that Doctors area and are someone else’s problem.

You’ve made all your preparations and are afloat so now you need to make some plans. Plans! I here you say. We’re free agents. We’ll go where the wind, actually diesel power, takes us. If only it were so. Firstly all your friends and relatives will want to visit and see what it is that made you loose your senses but they would rather travel to France rather than find their way to Macclesfield. You’ll need to feed them so easy access to Tescos or Sainsburys is necessary as is plenty of booze to calm you down when they’ve gone. There’s the BW stoppage list to take into account and you need to consider winter whilst you can still move. It is no good being miles from the nearest water tap when the canal freezes over. Not that you can guarantee the tap will work when you do get to it. So, some forward planning is required even if it is somewhat loose. You will make a pact before you start that you are not going to cruise if it is raining or blowing a gale. You can forget that. Having made a plan that you didn’t want in the first place, you can bet it will rain every day when you just have to move

Boats are complicated things and will go wrong, usually at the worst possible time. Besides our heating breaking down, our generator failed a few days before Christmas 2007. ‘So what’, you might say but on a gas-free boat it was a bit awkward. Of course, you’re a DIY expert so you will have a full tool kit and all the spares your limited storage space and your partner will allow. At the very least I recommend you should be able to carry out your own engine service. If you think you can rely upon boatyards for any repairs then think again. You are used to phoning the garage, booking your car in for a service on a particular day and it being done that day. Just as we cruise the canals at a leisurely pace so do boatyards work. You must remember that the parts used on your boat might not be that common. Next time you are in the Chandlers just see how many different water and bilge pumps there are.

It won’t be long before you’re obsessed with your battery power, sticking your voltmeter into a socket at every opportunity to see the state of charge. After a while power conservation becomes second nature so then you can obsess about how much water you are using. Whatever appliances you choose you need to look at their power consumption. There are some quite low power mains units that won’t deplete your batteries too much but you must always remember, a 1000w toaster will pull 90 amps from your batteries if only for a shortish period. Batteries are only a storage medium. There is only so much you can get out of them before damaging them irreparably. The more power you use the longer you need to run your engine or generator the next day to fill it back up.

You will also get used to the morning ‘wipe down’. Condensation is a big problem on a boat. The amount varies from boat to boat and depends on the outside temperature and humidity. Cooking generates a lot, both from steam and from the gas used. The bathroom is another culprit but the biggest offender is us. And, whilst we keep breathing, there is nothing we can do about it. When we stop breathing the problem will go away, permanently! Plenty of ventilation will help as will a decent heating system and a bit of double glazing but a bit of extra insulation only seems to push the problem to a different part of the boat. So get wiping.

Getting about on shore can sometimes be a problem. Without your own car you either have to walk, cycle, bus, taxi, train or hire car. You will quickly realise that pedestrians and public transport come very low in most Councils priorities. Pedestrian routes to most supermarket and retail park entrances are obviously placed by architects who never actually walk anywhere. Most of these places have well worn paths through the flower beds and over the fences where pedestrians have taken the shortest route. Pavements that suddenly end only to start again on the opposite side of a busy road are all too common and pedestrian crossings are timed for the convenience of the motorist, not poor you waiting in the rain.

Having successfully obtained your bus pass you will then be introduced to that great work of fiction, the bus timetable! You will meet some wonderful people and listen to the life history of not a few and that is just the drivers. Take pity on them, having to charge around the country at breakneck speeds to meet unrealistic timetables in aged vehicles that belong to a third world country. The oldest we’ve travelled on was 21 years old! You will also find that large tracts of England are completely cut-off in the evenings and at weekends. Even in a town the size of Bedford, the last bus from the town centre to the marina we were moored in was at 6.15pm and there was no Sunday service at all despite there being a large leisure complex next door.

To keep in contact with your family and friends, there is the mobile phone. It is one of the wonders of the modern age that it is possible to talk with astronauts on the moon but try to get a signal on your phone on the summit level of the Kennet & Avon! If you can, make sure your partners phone is on a different network to yours. That way you have a fighting chance that one of your phones will work. Of course, internet access is the same. You get used to slow connection speeds after a while but it can be very frustrating when you are trying to pay your credit card before the due date. Many CCers make use of home shopping for foodstuffs. It is not something we have used but I understand that Tescos is the most accommodating. Provided you can give them the dreaded postcode they will deliver direct to the boat.

Talking of the internet, there are a number of canal related forums which can offer you some good advice. However, be careful what you say. Threads on these forums often get ‘hijacked’ by people with their own axe to grind. Ask an innocent question about generators, for instance, will bring a tirade from others who see living afloat as some sort of green crusade and that we should all be reading by candlelight, washing our clothes in the cut and scavenging the hedgerows for fuel. Just remember that it is your life and you can live it how you wish providing BW let you.

In the winter you can cruise for days without seeing another moving boat but in the summer it will be completely different. Every lock will have a queue of hirers who will ask the inevitable questions. Do you live on board? How long have you done it? Doesn’t it get cold in the winter? A few similar questions before the big one. How much did your boat cost?

So welcome to the club and if you pass a boat called ‘Joanie M’, slowly of course, give us wave. We’ll always wave back.

Useful Information

Boat TV – Narrowboat Television License Requirements

Most boats have a television on board, but how many of them are licensed and do you really need a license to watch boat TV? Here’s a guide to legal television watching on your boat.

Personally, I don’t watch very much television. In fact, I don’t watch any television as far as the licensing authority is concerned. I use a mobile broadband dongle from 3 which allows me, most of the time, to get my televisual fix by streaming from BBC iPlayer or the other stations’ equivalent.

I do actually have a television. I’ve had an all singing, all dancing flat screen telly for over six months but there’s no ariel attached to it so it won’t actually pick up any programmes at all. It is capable of receiving live broadcasts though, as is my laptop, so – in theory – I either need to buy a license or let the licensing authority know that I don’t need a television license. I know I don’t need a license. They say on their web site that…

boat TV - watching boat television legally

boat TV – watching boat television legally

“You need a valid TV Licence if you use TV receiving equipment to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV. ‘TV receiving equipment’ means any equipment which is used to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV. This includes a TV, computer, mobile phone, games console, digital box, DVD/VHS recorder or any other device.”

As I mentioned earlier, if I want to watch a programme or two, I stream previously broadcast programmes from the internet. But I could watch live television and, in theory, expect a visit from the licensing authority for viewing live television from an unlicensed address. And there’s the problem. Most liveaboard narrowboaters don’t have a fixed address for them to check. They’re moored along the cut near a bridge or are continually cruising. I haven’t heard of a single narrowboat owner having to face the wrath of the BBC but that’s not to say it won’t happen and won’t happen to you if your boat is unlicensed.

You may not need a licence for your boat though if…

  1. You have a bricks and mortar home and you have a television license for that home and there is no one watching television simultaneously at both addresses. So, if your house is empty when you are cruising, you’re OK. However, if you rent your house out, or you have other family members living at the address, you will need an additional license for your boat.
  2. You genuinely don’t watch television. You need to let the authority know though. You can declare that you don’t need a television license on your narrowboat online.
  3. You are over seventy five

There you go. If you watch television on your boat you probably need a license. Enjoy your viewing but don’t forget, half of the pleasure of being on a narrowboat is to get away from “normal” life and lead an life closer to nature instead. Turn the telly off and go for a walk instead!

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Living With Children On A Narrowboat

Is it possible to live on a narrowboat with young children? Aren’t there too many risks living on the water? Here are some suggestions if you are considering a family life afloat.

Here’s some advice from Peggy Melmoth who lives on board her 70′ narrowboat with two children.

“My children were born on the boat and have lived on a boat all of their lives, but if you are thinking of making the transition from land to boat what sort of things do you need to consider?

living on a narrowboat with children

living on a narrowboat with children

The first questions people often ask me are about safety. However, we’re probably less worried about the dangers of the water than non-boating parents. We keep the doors locked shut, and in the summer we put play pen barriers around the front deck. Locks can be particularly dangerous places because of the depth of the water and the currents caused by open paddles. Beside a lock we have a
strict rule of no running and our youngest must always hold hands with a grown up. When travelling our eldest knows to sit very still on the roof, and the youngest is secured safely with toddler reins.

During the winter we take a winter mooring but during the summer we are continuously cruising. This can mean a lot of commuting with the children which can be challenging. It’s a good idea to take a few books and small toys for long bus and train journeys.

Living aboard is not necessarily a low-cost option for a family. It depends on the size of your boat loan repayments and the cost of your mooring. However, it does mean that we can own our home, more easily than if we had to buy property. It’s lovely to be able to live so close to nature; the children enjoy towpath walks and blackberry picking.

The other obvious challenge is space. Our boat is 70 foot long which means we have the space for two bedrooms but storage of toys, clothes and books is an ongoing problem. We have to continually review our possessions and de-clutter. The other challenges are limited electricity, running out of water, and engine trouble. When you live aboard with children it is very important to make sure you can afford to maintain everything in good working order, so that your home comforts are not upset too often.

It can be very hard work but when I see my children feeding swans from the front deck or running down the towpath on a sunny day I remember that this is the rural childhood that I dreamed of for them.”

Peggy Melmoth is a writer, business blogger and virtual assistant. She offers social media services and writes guest posts and articles on the topics of parenting, hypnotherapy, narrowboating and living aboard.

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