I’m always amazed how quickly you make new friends on the cut. After years of living and working in London where even my immediate neighbours were strangers, the easy going and approachable nature of most liveaboard narrowboat owners is truly refreshing.
I spent a very pleasant couple of hours on Monday evening with new narrowboat owners Keith and Gui (pronounced Gee as in geese) on their new Calcutt built Clipper. I first met Keith and Gui last October when they hired one of our boats for a week’s cruise on the Ashby canal. Like many of our hirers, they enjoyed the trip so much that they told me they were going to look into buying a boat of their own and adopting the nomadic lifestyle of continuous cruisers. Unlike most, their suggestion was more than idle talk.
Keith retired from his well paid but far too stressful job in anthropology three years ago. He’s been living with his partner Gui, an ex jet setting travel agent, at her home in Portugal after leaving his native New Zealand. He loved the relaxed lifestyle in the Portuguese village on the coast about half an hour’s drive from Lisbon. He loved the lifestyle, but not nearly as much as he’s always loved the idea of cruising the canals and rivers of England and Wales.
They’ve been on their new boat for less than a week and they’re enjoying every minute of it. They drove to Calcutt from Gui’s home so they were able to bring a few “essentials” with them. I love port so I was in heaven when I sampled the three different types they brought with them, along with a delicious cheese made from goat, sheep and cows’ milk.
I don’t think there’s a better way of passing an hour or two than sitting on a boat’s deck on a warm spring evening, drinking fine wine, eating exquisite food and enjoying stimulating conversation. It’s what living on a narrowboat is all about.
Last Sunday I wrote about the just launched Wessex Rose hotel boat. At 70′ long, 12′ wide and 50 tonnes it’s a rather cumbersome boat to move through the network. Even though the Grand Union is a “wide” canal – it has locks which can accommodate two narrowboats at a time, or one widebeam – there are very few wide beam boats using it.
Although cruising on a wide beam boat is possible on the canal network, it isn’t always pleasant. The canals are usually very shallow away from the main channel which is kept silt free by the continual passage of narrowboats. A wide beam boat will often straddle the deeper channel, especially at bridge holes and narrow passing places, and necessitates ploughing through the muddy canal bottom.
I met the hotel boat as I cruised back from Braunston at a narrow spot with boats moored against the towpath. The Wessex Rose is to narrowboat owners what a nervous caravan tower on a winding country roads is to car drivers. There was a queue of frustrated narrowboat owners moving at a snail’s pace behind the barely moving monstrosity.
The hotel boat’s owners were highly stressed. Not only did they have to contend with dragging their new boat through the silty bottom, but they also had to absorb the tirade of comments from the boats behind them, the moored boats they passed and the narrowboats travelling in the opposite direction.
I met them at Flecknoe where they only had to deal with boats moored against the towpath. I suspect they would have had far more problems with both navigation and criticism from nearby boaters when they reached Braunston. The approach to the junction from all three directions has boats moored on both canal banks. There’s just enough room for two narrowboats to pass each other. There isn’t enough room for a narrowboat and a broad beam boat to pass. They owners looked stressed when I passed them. They would be approaching a nervous breakdown by the time they had negotiated Braunston.
The Wessex Rose is heading down to the K & A where they intend to take high paying passengers on relaxing short breaks along the rivers Kennet and Avon and the Kennet & Avon canal. There are some very narrow stretches on the K & A and plenty of moored boats. I hope that the passengers travelling on the hotel boat aren’t subject to the same stress as the owners.
On Friday I spoke to Sally Ash, the Canal & River Trust’s Head of Boating. I regularly receive emails and respond to forum posts about residential moorings and how to find them. I think I know the answers to site visitors’ questions but I thought it was about time I asked for confirmation. Sally was the perfect person to talk to.
When applying for a license for a narrowboat, owners are asked to either confirm that they have a home mooring or abide by the guidelines for continuous cruising. A home mooring can cost in excess of £2,000 a year, rising to two or three times that figure in and around London. Many boaters are either unwilling or unable to pay for a home mooring, or simply can’t find one which will enable them to legally live on board full time.
The license guidelines state that a boat owner cannot stay in one place for longer than 14 days, or less as indicated on some visitor moorings. Some boaters, in a mistaken attempt to comply with the mooring guidelines, move their boats backwards and forwards between two points in order to stay in the same geographical location so that they are close to work or to schools. Continuous cruisers are required to move every fourteen days as part of a linear progressive journey although, to date, the distance that a boat needs to move as part of the journey isn’t specified because of the difficulty the Trust has defining locations on the cut. The Trust are in the process are in the process of defining clear geographic areas on maps which will be made available to boaters and which will enable the authorities to qualify distance moved.
Some continuous cruisers simply don’t move at all. They are referred to by the Trust as None Compliant Continuous Cruisers or NCCC. They stay in one spot on the towpath, often as part of a community of other NCCC boaters. Out of the 35,000 narrowboats on the canal and river network, 13.4% or 4,700 are registered as not having a home mooring and are therefore obliged to cruise continuously. Sally believes that as many as 50% are NCCC boaters.
Finding a suitable legal mooring for a liveaboard narrowboat is a considerable hurdle to overcome for many would be boat owners. There are relatively few residential moorings available either online (along the side of the canal or offline (in a marina). Most of the Trust owned canal-side moorings are defined as leisure moorings and are not supposed to be used for residential use. However, the Trust are quite relaxed about boat owners living on leisure moorings full time. They are aware of the shortage of official residential moorings and also feel that the canal is a more attractive and more secure environment than lines of empty boats.
While the Trust are happy to allow boaters to stay full time on their leisure moorings, they aren’t happy at all when boat owners over stay their welcome on visitor moorings. The Trust currently employs enforcement team of 50 officers who patrol the towpath to monitor boat movement. The areas of greatest concern at the moment are the Grand Union south of Milton Keynes , the south Oxford and the western end of the K & A. The problem is so acute in these areas that navigation is difficult and vacant visitor moorings are few and far between.
In order to deal with long term NCCCs, the Trust are about to launch a pilot scheme in the London area. The scheme will grant a license to existing none compliant cruisers which will allow them to legally “bridge hop” (move backwards and forwards between two or more points). This scheme will only apply to currently known long term NCCCs. Any new boats using the network which flout the rules will be identified and ultimately served with enforcement notices.
So why is there such a shortage of residential moorings when there are so many vacant moorings, particularly in marinas? Sally says it’s all down to the local authorities. A leisure mooring doesn’t need planning consent. A residential mooring requires a change of land use. Many marinas are on green belt land so the local authorities are unwilling to give consent.
Local authorities are becoming slightly more flexible with linear moorings, The Trust are working with them to identify suitable residential moorings along the canal, especially in congested areas such as the Grand Union south of Milton Keynes.
The Trust acknowledge that they have a difficult task ahead of them. For many years NCCCs have been left to their own devices. There are many communities of static continuous cruisers. There are between 500 and 1,000 NCCC cases open at any one time. The Trust will, in extreme circumstances, remove these boats from the water. However, as the boat owners live on board full time, the courts are often reluctant to sanction boat removal and the boat owners subsequent loss of their homes.
The message is clear, if you live on your boat but don’t cruise and don’t have a registered home mooring, you are breaking the rules as the Trust are concerned, but they are prepared to talk to you to discuss a solution. But if you’ve only recently declared on your license that you’re going to cruise continuously, you need to make sure that’s exactly what you do.
I’ve added the newsletter archive to the forum. You can find it here. Every week when I send out the newsletter, I’ll also post it on the forum. You’ll have all of the newsletters listed by date in one handy section, and you’ll be able to comment on the content in a place where others can respond. You can also use this section to ask for topics to be included in the newsletter. If there’s a subject you don’t think I’ve covered in enough detail, or at all, elsewhere on the site, please use this section to suggest its addition.
There are dozens of helpful and interesting articles on the site, but have you found them all? I thought you might appreciate a list of the more popular articles that you can glance through and click on the ones that take your fancy. Here it is.
There’s a wealth of information on the site in general, but if you’re struggling to find the answer to a particular issue, the forum is the place to find it. I’ve listed some of the more popular posts below but if you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask your question on the forum. If you don’t know how to create a post, or if you can’t log in, please let me know. I’ll be more than happy to get you up and running.
Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost of a Life Afloat – Narrowboat costs explained in detail. My own maintenance and living cost on narrowboat James for a full year. Use this information to work out your own costs.
Find out what parts of the canal are closed and for how long. Essential cruising information for you.
Do you need to find a home for your boat? Here’s a comprehensive list of the narrowboat friendly marinas in the UK
Do you want to see where these marinas are on a map? Here it is.
Here’s a map of all the canals on the system to help you plan your route.
Newsletter Archive – Browse through a wealth of useful content in the newsletters over the last year.
Click here to get a FREE copy of “Living On A Narrowboat:101 Essential Narrowboat Articles”
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