Since Sally and I left our beautiful mooring on the northern fringe of Locks marina at Calcutt Boats just over a month ago, I’ve received a steady stream of emails from site subscribers asking whether our cruise to date has been as enjoyable and relaxing as we hoped when we began planning our semi-retirement cruise nearly a year ago.
Let me describe two days at the beginning of this week and show you just two photo’s. You can draw your own conclusions.
We were moored close to Hopwas village opposite Hopwas Hayes wood. Wood bridge, one of two foot bridges over the canal into the woods, was a hundred metres behind us. On the towpath side of the boat, a wooded hillside fell a hundred gentle feet down to the equally gentle and appropriately named river Tame.
Hopwas wood is a dog walker’s and nature lover’s paradise. A network of well used, mainly dry footpaths snake through four hundred acres of ancient woodland, up and down steep hills, around a small long disused canal-side quarry and around the perimeter of the woods with sweeping views over miles of Staffordshire countryside.
There’s stands of towering beech, a jungle of dark and impenetrable spindly birch, towering pine and magnificent twisted oak shading carpets of bracken. The woods is a wonderful place to take two energetic dogs to let off steam while we sit on a fallen trunk enjoying a tasty packed lunch.
Even though my life has been far from stressful in recent years, spending time in this environment is as close as I’ve ever been to complete relaxation and peace. Both Sally and I have thoroughly enjoyed spending time in these woods but, with appointments to keep, we moved on again on Wednesday.
If I’m on my own at the helm, which I am most of the time, my favourite steering positon is sitting on the starboard side of the cabin roof with my heels braced against the left hand side of the cabin hatch frame, my right foot ready to dip beneath the hatch to gently tweak the Morse control. I invested in a Midland Chandlers waterproof knee kneeler to cushion my bony behind. Seventeen pounds fifty very well spent. I can sit there for hours now in complete comfort.
After leaving Hopwas we stopped close to Asda on the outskirts of Tamworth for shopping, then Fazeley Junction for water, rubbish disposal and to empty the cassette, then re-joined the Coventry canal and passed the first graffiti since Birmingham three weeks earlier.
It’s interesting watching the interaction between footpath users and passing boaters. Dog walkers, often helmeted leisure cyclists, joggers and anglers usually turn their heads, smile or wave or both. Those simply using the towpath as a shortcut between two points in their busy lives walk or ride with heads down, uninterested either in the people or the scenery around them. Quite a few of these insular towpath users passed me as we moved through Tamworth.
Onwards and upwards we cruised through the slow filling pair of Glascote locks, past an empty basin now devoid of boats, once home to Steve Hudson and his band of evangelic boat owners, now occupied by just two primer painted shells.
A spindly grey heron floated into the air from a canal-side garden suspiciously close to a carp filled pond.
Minutes later, there was sudden tap on my leg and an olive wood board appeared through the hatch, plate for my working lunch of chilli cheese and garlic chutney of Jacob’s cream crackers. The hand disappeared, then appeared once more holding a steaming mug of coffee.
I passed two attentive swans with seven cygnets, rows of empty pontoons at Alvecote marina, then Pooley nature reserve dissected by the busy M42 overhead.
Two hours into the journey we caught up with CRT’s towpath maintenance contractors close to Polesworth. We had been following them since they passed us at Hopwas the previous afternoon, ploughing through a thin waterborne carpet of cut grass.
We moved slowly past a continuous line of live aboard boats between bridge 49 and the start of the Atherstone flight.
We reached the head of the flight at 5pm, helped by a Birmingham couple on NB Romany Girl. They were behind us on the flight but each time we reached a lock, the lady hurried along the towpath from the previous lock to close the upstream gate for us as we left. How kind.
As we left Atherstone I frightened the life out of Sally. I rounded a very shallow bend, moving closer to the offside to avoid some long term moorers, and pushed the starboard side of the boat on to a steeply shelving mud flat causing us to list by twenty degrees for a minute before I slip back into deeper water again. Sally popped her head through the rear hatch looking like she was about to abandon ship. She thought we were sinking.
Over the next half hour I tried to moor five times on a suspiciously empty west facing sun soaked and wind protected stretch of towpath. Frustratingly I couldn’t get the stern closer than six feet to the bank so we finally stopped after the next bend, in the shade but close to the bank.
A grey and cold start at 7.30am for another full day’s cruise. Past CRT’s Heartshill depot, then a six feet high concrete bank on the offside in front of long neglected quarries, followed by more former quarries, the spoil heaps now pleasingly grassed, on past CRT’s Mount Jud long term moorings, empty apart from three dilapidated cruisers and then half an hour of urban cruising through less than expected floating plastic and under occasional graffiti covered bridges.
We saw, or rather, felt, the day’s first moving boat on the outskirts of Nuneaton. We rounded a tight bend straight into the bow of Royal Navy owned Calcutt Boats maintained narrowboat Trafalgar. Some swift evasive manoeuvring from both boats, a brief encounter with the Armco for them, and a little unexpected offside undergrowth clearing from me, then we were both on our way.
Just past Marston Junction and the start of the Ashby canal we crawled slowly past Charity Dock with its collection of old and unloved GRP cruisers and nearby silently staring manikins.
We moored above the stop lock at Hawkesbury Junction for lunch at The Greyhound. An hour and a half later we set off in heavy rain. I didn’t mind. I look forward to heavy rain. The £250 I invested in a set of Guy Cotton deep sea fishermen’s yellow plastic waterproofs was money very well spent indeed.
They don’t look trendy and they immediately soak you from the inside if you do any physical exercise such as opening and closing lock gates. But for standing motionless for hours on end at the back of a narrowboat, they are perfect.
I stood exposed to the elements for four hours in torrential rain as we trundled alongside the M6, ducked under the M69, swung around Ansty then cruised above its picturesque golf course on the right and the West Coast Main Line a handful of feet away on the left.
We paused briefly to negotiate Rose Narrowboat’s swing bridge then veered away from the railway to the comparative peace near Brinklow marina where I hoped to moor for the night. My mind was playing games with me again. I was sure we moored close to the marina a couple of years ago when we passed this way but all the banks were shallow and inaccessible.
After hoping for a quiet and peaceful mooring, we ended up sandwiched between a rail and a road bridge close to Lime Farm marina, but it was either there or hoping to find a free spot on the always popular Newbold visitor moorings.
We moved from our rather soggy spot on Friday morning, passing a solid rank of boats on the Newbold moorings, then on to much drier but very shallow moorings close to Tesco in Rugby. The moorings are handy for shopping but a pain to use especially if, like me, you leap gazelle like four feet from the boat straight into a pile of muck left by either a small horse or a very large dog.
Securing the boat took me five minutes. Cleaning the foul smelling dog dirt off my new trainers took quarter of an hour. Nipping to Tesco to pick up everything we need didn’t take much longer.
While Sally unpacked our groceries, I cruised gently away from noisy central Rugby to a far more peaceful setting at the tandem flight of three locks at Hillmorton.
While we stopped at the water point below the flight, I made friends with three very gentle adolescent swans dozing on the grass close to our stern. All three crowded around me gently nipping my tee shirt with shoulder high beaks, trying to reach four slices of wholegrain bread I held out for them.
Above the bottom lock we pulled over again so that I could lug our full cassette over the road bridge to the Elsan point on the opposite bank. I didn’t mind. Cassette carrying should be a thing of the past in less than a week. See the composting section below to find out what I’m talking about.
Once through the locks and after an hour’s stop at Hillmorton Wharf to talk toilets (see below) we trundled along the canal for another half hour before mooring on a short length of Armco on an otherwise shallow bank ensuring that we had no guests for the rest of the evening. Or so we thought.
At 8pm we heard the sound of ever louder singing and shouting, then a racing engine, then an almighty bang as a Union Canal Carriers hire boat smashed into our bow, then scraped the full length of our port side.
The four beer swilling thirty somethings on the front deck smiled and raised half apologetic hands. The three morons on the rear deck simply laughed then jammed the throttle forward, thankfully speeding them and their idiocy far, far away from us.
Since we joined the Oxford canal at Hawkesbury junction there had been a significant increase in the number of boats on the move, both privately owned and hire boats. Fortunately most of the helmsmen knew what they were doing and treated their own boats and those around them with respect.
Another hour at the tiller the following morning brought us to a familiar and thankfully deserted stretch of Armco opposite sheep filled fields a mile from Braunston Junction.
After wandering into Braunston to visit Midland Chandlers to buy a tin of Toplac Mauritius Blue to replace the concrete hard tin in the engine room, we sat in our camp chairs in the warm sun trying not to notice the icy wind.
Our solitude came to an end when a hire boat slowly cruised past the 300m stretch of boat free Armco either side of us then, with a great deal of determined effort, managed to reverse their boat on to their night-time mooring two feet from our bow.
We’re still there now. The hire boat has gone. Sally’s unloaded everything off the front deck, then removed the cratch cover. Now she’s rubbing down the cratch board woodwork ready for touching up. I suppose I’ll have to go and do my bit in a minute.
Sally and I have been living off grid for a month now. It’s not long in the grand scheme of things but four weeks is long enough to discover that we can manage our lives on board much more efficiently and cheaply than we used to.
Take our water supply for example. We have a very modestly sized tank. At three hundred and fifty litres it is less than half the size of most narrowboats, so initially the limited supply caused us some issues.
Sally didn’t realise quite how small the tank was until we ran out a few times miles from the nearest water point, especially after her eyes glazed over and she began one of her marathon washing sessions.
Our twin tub washing machine’s wash tub hold forty litres, so if Sally washes a load, then empties and refills the tub a couple of times to rinse the clothes through, she’s used a third of our water tank. Three loads of washing in a day and, hey presto, we’re out of water.
Sally also used to enthusiastically turn the taps on full to rinse a couple of plates, wash the dog’s bowls, fill a bucket to clean the floor, or any one of the dozens of tasks on board requiring water. I was almost as bad.
The problem was that both of us were used to having an unlimited amount of water almost on tap. On our old mooring at Calcutt Boats, the pontoon mounted water supply was just ten feet from our bow. We often left the hose connected to the tap with the nozzle jammed into our tank filler. Whenever we needed water, which was often, we simply walked to the front of the boat to twist the hose nozzle.
Once we moved to our new mooring at the marina at the beginning of April, refilling our tank wasn’t quite so easy. The nearest tap was 100m away so we had to buy two new Hozelock reels each with fifty metres of hose then wheel into position and reel out both of them whenever we wanted to refill the tank. We soon developed a routine though so we reverted to our wasteful ways.
Over the last month, we’ve slowly reduced the water we use and refined the way we use it.
Forward planning is the key to a happy life on board. Now, Sally does the washing while we are cruising, as long as we are cruising past a water point. She tries to get as much done before we reach the water point so that when we top the tank up we can use it for showering and washing dishes only and so stay longer in rural moorings.
Providing there isn’t a queue at the water point, we also both try to have a shower while we are filling, especially if Sally needs to wash her several feet of hair.
With the washing done by the time we reach the water point, while the tank is filling Sally fills the twin tub with water too so we have an additional forty litres of clean water which she has available to use for floor or dog washing without having to deplete the tank.
To save more water, and because of the more efficient way we’re managing the contents of our diesel tank, I only shower every other day. Sally showers every day but because we don’t have hot water every second day, her showers tend to be both brief and very vocal.
We don’t have hot water every day because to heat water when we’re off grid I need to run the engine for an hour. I don’t want to run the engine and use one and a half litres of diesel if I don’t need to charge my battery bank.
I’m delighted to say that I don’t need to top the batteries up daily because (A) my new bank of four 160ah AGM batteries is performing much better than my old bank of four 135ah lead acid batteries and (B) we don’t waste our electricity so much these days.
We bought a 2.6kw Kippor suitcase generator to allow us to use high power mains appliances when off grid. These appliances included a vacuum cleaner, iron, hair dryer and straighteners and my Nespresso coffee machine. I had very little interest in the vacuum cleaner and none at all in the other appliances apart from the coffee machine but Sally seemed to think they were important.
I was both delighted and surprised to discover that the coffee machine would just about run via the inverter and battery bank.
In the last month the hair dryer, hair straighteners or iron haven’t been used at all. The vacuum cleaner has been used twice for a total of ten minutes; once when Sally cleaned our mattress properly and once when I have the engine room a spring clean. We could have managed without the vacuum cleaner on both occasions.
Coincidentally, I received the following email on the subject of vacuum cleaners from narrowboat enthusiast Richard Genner while I was writing this section.
“picking up on the references on your website about 240V appliances on narrowboats, and knowing that cleanliness is next to Godliness, and that many narrowboat users will like to swing their feet out of bed onto carpet in the morning, and maybe in the summer months toddle along bare-footed on carpet to the kitchen, kettle and first coffee of the day, a vacuum cleaner is something of an essential on a boat, but they are quite 240V power hungry appliances.
But how many narrowboaters have twigged to the potential of the new generation of battery powered vacuum cleaners? My wife bought one before Christmas 2014, and I am impressed, it’s light, powerful, effective and easy to empty, and of course doesn’t have the dreaded power lead. And it’s quite slim-line, so on a narrow boat, it could easily be put away/hidden away at the back of a wardrobe, and therefore, of course, not sit there glowering ‘use me’ every time you pass it! There is a down side, of course, it wasn’t particularly cheap. But my wife firmly believes you get what you pay for, ours is a Bosch and is effective and well made, and courtesy of the internet, we paid the lowest available price, but everyone can make their own choice.
The beauty is that is powered by a rechargeable battery, so for boaters, use it when moored at the canal/riverside, waiting to get into a lock, etc. and charge it from the alternator on the engine when travelling, or from the shore-line when moored against the pontoon in a marina. I can’t find a power-rating for the charger but it is no bigger than my laptop charger, and it takes 3 – 6 hours to charge from flat to full the 25.2V lithium battery, so the draw on a 240V must, I believe, be well with in VA rating of any inverter worth having on a boat.
So that’s another option for domestic 240V appliances, but I’m not sure yet that there is a market for lithium battery powered irons or kettles!”
I have to disagree with Richard with regards to carpets. Dogs, boats and carpets are not a happy combination. We replaced the boat’s threadbare carpet with oak effect laminate flooring. It’s much more practical because it’s so much easier to keep clean.
I toyed with the idea of using a cordless vacuum cleaner before I invested in the generator. In fact, I actually bought one. It’s was a well thought of, rather expensive Phillips hand held vacuum. It didn’t hold a great deal but I thought it would be ideal for whizzing around the boat picking up dust and dog hairs on a daily basis. I bought it while Sally was away in the Philippines. When she returned, after I had been enthusiastically using it for three or four weeks, I proudly handed it to her and told her how much easier her life would be with this handy little appliance.
She did a very good Elvis impression as she curled her top lip then grabbed the vacuum off me and waved it at the floor for a few seconds before handing it back and walking off. She’s not touched it since.
I considered investing most of my savings in a Dyson Animal cordless vacuum cleaner. Dyson claim that it’s as powerful as a mains powered vacuum. I know a couple of boaters who use them and agree that they’re more than powerful enough to do the job.
I don’t think we’ll be going down that route though. Now Sally is used to not having an immediately accessible vacuum cleaner, she’s more than happy to do without. She simply uses a dustpan and brush to sweep up the loose dirt and dog hairs before cleaning the floor with a mop.
Ironing has been dispensed with completely. That’s not because we (Sally) have let our standards slip. We both still look as neat and tidy as we’ve ever done, but without the aid of a power hungry device.
Sally’s solution is simple. Once she’s taken a load out of the twin tub spin tub, she hangs the washing on a rail above the washing machine until it’s dry and most of the creases have fallen out, then folds everything neatly and stacks it on three shelves I had fitted last year when our terminally ill gas heater was removed from the bathroom. Sally, who is ever critical about our appearance, can’t tell the difference between clothes she has painstakingly ironed and garments which have been hung, dried, folded and stacked.
Hair drying has become a thing of the past too. Not that my own half inch long hair has ever been a problem but Sally has much more of a logistical issue with nearly two feet of the stuff.
Since we’ve been off grid full time, Sally is far more relaxed. She isn’t in a hurry to go anywhere so she’s more than happy to allow her hair to dry naturally. It’s a change which I’m sure is better for her hair. It’s certainly better for our battery bank.
Because we’ve been moving most days, I haven’t had to be too careful with the battery bank’s charge but on two occasions we’ve stopped for three or four days in one spot with little or no engine running. During those periods, I made sure that the inverter was only running long enough to power our devices before switching it off thereby minimising the inverter’s drain on the bank.
Most frugal live aboard boat owners would still find us wasteful but we’re happy with the savings we’ve achieved. Our intention is to use our resources carefully but not to live without life’s creature comforts.
I think I’m turning green. Maybe you will too after reading this, so skip this article if you’re about to have lunch or are of a delicate disposition.
After a month living off grid, Sally and I are seriously considering swapping our Porta Potti Elegance cassette in favour of a composting toilet. I’ve spent the last week researching the subject. In the process, I’ve learned far more than I really wanted to know about other people’s bodily waste.
I know one or two boaters who use composting toilets but they are very much in the minority. I’ve been put off using them in the past after hearing too many tales of compost toilet users having to take mechanisms apart so that they can dive into their festering solids to try to get the thing working properly.
Many of the conventional composting toilets struggle to compost waste effectively. The problem is that both liquids and solids are deposited in one tank which means that the composting process, which requires the waste to be dried, involves additional heat and ventilation if it is to work properly or even at all.
The most effective composting toilets separate liquids from solids allowing the liquid reservoir to be removed and emptied every two to three days. The solids are stored in another part of the toilet where the composting process takes place.
The smallest and one of the most effective composting toilets available is the Airhead Compact. It’s slightly smaller than the Porta Potti Elegance we have at the moment.
I’ve researched effectiveness of composting toilets in general and the Airhead model in particular. I looked for reviews online, both good and bad. I’ve found a number of positive Airhead reviews but nothing bad at all.
At £800 + fitting, the toilet is a sizeable investment, but Sally and I think it will pay for itself quite quickly.
Our problem is that we tend to use our current Porta Potti just for liquids because we’ve always found the toilet both ineffective and smelly if we use it for the more serious business.
Because we only use the on board toilet for liquids, we have to use public conveniences for everything else. The public conveniences available to us on the canal are usually pubs or canal-side cafes.
We don’t like to take liberties so we usually buy at least a drink and maybe a cake or two in the cafes. Sometimes we go a little over the top and have drinks and a meal.
Over the last four weeks, we’ve spent over £100 in pubs and cafes, all because we want to use their toilets. If we waste a similar amount over the rest of the year, the cost of an effective odour free loo on board to use instead would soon pay for itself.
Earlier in the week I swapped a few emails with Richard, owner of The Canal Shop at Hillmorton Wharf. On Friday we moored there then spent an hour talking to his wife Susanne. Susanne and her husband Richard live on their boat moored close to the shop. They’ve been using a composting toilet on board for the last two years. Susanne told us that not having to flush the toilet after she’d finished was the hardest part of switching to a composting model. Apart from that, the transition was surprisingly easy.
The most important aspect of composting loos to remember is that the composting process will only work if there’s a healthy colony of aerobic bacteria in your toilet. The bacteria is within all of us. When you pass solids into the loo, you pass healthy bacteria too.
The bacteria is aerobic which means that it needs oxygen to survive. If there’s too little oxygen, too much moisture or any chemicals present, the bacteria dies, the composting process stops and you have a smelly toilet.
Removing excess moisture is achieved initially by separating solids and liquids. Once the solids are deposited in their own holding tank they are kept dry by drawing excess moisture away with a small 12v fan and aerated with a little human help.
There’s a crank handle on the side of the toilet which you turn a couple of times every time you use the loo. The handle turns paddles inside the solids container which stirs the solids and toilet paper within.
It’s essential to keep liquids and solids apart so a flap is kept closed unless you want to make a deposit so that all liquids are directed into the urine tank. To minimise the chance of liquids entering the solids receptacle, male users are required to sit to wee.
Cleaning and maintenance Is minimal but any cleaning must be done using eco products. Chemical use of any kind is disastrous. The urine container is kept odour free by adding a spoonful or two of sugar when required. Cleaning is done with a mixture of water, vinegar and tea tree oil.
Emptying the loo is simple. The liquid reservoir is easily accessible at the front of the toilet. You unclip it, take it outside and empty it into the nearest hedgerow. This method of disposal is EA approved.
The solids container is a little more difficult to get to, but no harder than getting at the cassette on our Porta Potti Elegance. The whole unit weighs just 15kg so lifting the toilet off the solids container on the base isn’t an issue.
Once released, the solids container can be emptied into a bag for disposal at one of CRT’s general waste facilities or, if there are no bins nearby, with the landowner’s permission, in a hole in the ground. Again, this method of disposal is EA approved.
The Airhead is solidly built with few moving parts to maintain or to go wrong. It’s been tested in the most difficult marine environments over the last fifteen years and, last but not least, it will fit into the smallest narrowboat spaces, including our tiny walk through bathroom.
After a quick chat with Sally, I ordered one while we were with Susanne. We’ve scheduled the half day installation for Thursday next week, so we’ll be able to try the new toilet out while we’re eating and drinking to excess for three days at the Crick Boat Show.
In the meantime, I’ve ordered a compact folding spade from eBay and a bottle of tea tree oil from Amazon. We’re ready to go green.
If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.
I’ll be running the discovery days approximately on the first ten days of June, August, October and December this year. As summer approaches more and more site users are booking the relatively few discovery days still available. In June just Friday 5th and Tuesday 9th are available. August onwards is still relatively free. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day please check the diary before it’s too late.
In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Chris Cole…
“At present my plans are not properly established. I will buy a narrow boat sometime later this year and would like it to be a ‘live aboard’…… but I do not think I will be happy as a continuous cruiser. That presents the problem of moorings which we know are difficult to find especially if you want to be in a particular area. Perhaps I might get an ordinary mooring and just spend a great deal of time on the boat …… although that isn’t overly attractive.
As for booking a Discovery Day the reason(s) were simple …. I needed to get the feel of the water again and I needed to see how the other half lives. The hope was to gain an insight into not only of the pleasures of, but more importantly the problems of, living day to day on the water. It doesn’t matter how much you read on the subject or listen to the view of others you need you be there.
Well the day generally was everything I had hoped for, except perhaps for the weather …… it was much too kind.
Information ? plenty of it …. all questions asked were answered as were many that I didn’t ask. Tips on boat purchase, etiquette, steering, maintenance, day to day problems and chores, IT, home management e.g. storage, fuel and power, and so on, were all extremely helpful (even if I didn’t write them all down).
Instruction ? your patience was commendable and your instruction fine …… narrow boats have unique characteristics and the amount of handling you gave to your student (that’s me) enabled them to be understood. I promise to do better.”
What to add ? I have given this thought but can’t think of anything missing.”
You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here. Don’t forget that there’s just one date for a single person remaining for April now so if you want to spend a spring day out with me you need to book quickly.
Each time I write a newsletter, I tick another subject off the list of things which those new to boating have told me that they want to read about. The hardest part of the process isn’t the writing itself, it’s constantly thinking of new content for each issue. The trouble is, I don’t know what you want to read. I think I keep the newsletters reasonably interesting but I don’t know for sure. That’s where I need your help.
Can you let me know what you would like to read in the future? Are there any areas of narrowboat life you don’t think I’ve covered enough or areas which I’ve missed completely? Please let me know what you want to read about. Thanks for your help.
I created the site just over four years ago to provide a source of information for anyone interested in narrowboats and the possibility of living on one full time. The site has grown to encompass a comprehensive listing of inland marinas in England and Wales, dozens of articles, a forum and regular newsletters. I’ve already created (below) indexes of the site articles and the more popular forum posts. I thought it was about time I created an easy to use index of the newsletter content. Here’s the index so far.
Engine room leaks – My winning battle against leaks at the back end of the boat and more tales from our leisurely cruise of the Warwick Ring
Engine room storage space – If you haven’t decided which style stern narrowboat is right for you, look at the tools and equipment I can shoehorn in to my traditional stern engine room
Kingswood Junction to Hopwas – Week two of the journey as we head through squallid Birmingham into beautiful and wooded Staffordshire
A cruise from Braunston to Kingswood Junction – My account of the route, the sights and the occasional problem along the way
Following on from last week’s newsletter, here’s a guide for you if you are thinking of continuously cruising the network. This is information you need to know if you don’t plan to have a home mooring.
You need a licence to cruise the waterways of England and Wales but with a number of different licences and options which do you choose? This post tells you what you need to know.
Three years since we last painted our hull so this week we had the dubious pleasure of taking the boat out of the water to do it again.
Five live aboard case studies – I added four new case studies to the site and updated my own which I had written three years previously
Water pumps and security – Bits and bobs from a life afloat
Narrowboat ownership on a shoestring – How to cut your boat ownership costs
Buying a narrowboat Part 2 – More great advice on choosing and buying your first boat
Buying a narrowboat Part 1 – Some great advice on choosing and buying your first boat
Routine engine servicing – The basic stuff every narrowboat owner should know
Running a boating business – How to earn a living on the cut.
A detailed breakdown of my own narrowboat running costs for December 2014
An unexpected cruise – A surprise cruise to Braunston, secondary double glazing panel fitting, and why dogs and laminate flooring don’t go well together
Battery Banks – The pros and cons of lead acid and AGM batteries
More winter cruising – The tail end of my Christmas break afloat
Winter cruising – A narrowboat isn’t just for the summer months. Winter cruising is a joy. Here’s my account of a week on the cut over the Christmas break
Cooking on the cut – Here are some gourmet festive recipes suitable for a narrowboat’s small galley
A Cautionary Tale – Canals and narrowboats offer all the ingredients for some pretty nasty accidents. Here’s one which could have been much worse.
Shared ownership – If you can’t afford a whole boat, why not buy part of one? Here’s how you can enjoy narrowboat ownership but at a fraction of the normal cost.
Here’s a live aboard narrowboat fully equipped for long term cruising. It’s my own boat James No 194. There’s a five minute video tour of the boat and a summary of the pros and cons of the boat’s design and equipment.
London cruising – Every week I receive emails from potential boat owners who want to live on board in London or who want to visit the capital as part of a holiday cruise. This advice from a very experienced boater will be of great interest to you if you’re one of them.
Narrowboat fuel consumption – How many miles to the gallon can you get out of your floating home?
How to spot bogus narrowboat adverts – Beware narrowboats for sale at bargain basement prices. Here’s a cautionary tale to make you think twice about reaching for your wallet.
Narrowboat CO2 emissions – Is living on a boat a green alternative to a home on dry land? You’ll have to read this newsletter to find out.
Finding reliable tradesmen on the cut – They are out there but it’s not always easy to sort the wheat from the chaff. Here’s a new service on the site which is going to make the job much easier for you.
Anti social behaviour on the cut – How common are the unpleasant incidents you sometimes hear about on the canal network and who are the worst offenders? You’ll probably be surprised.
The pros and cons of buying an ex hire boat to live on – How suitable are ex hire boats for living on board full time?
I ran short of time during this week and couldn’t think of much to write about anyway, so I just detailed an idyllic week we spent away from the marina, pottering about for a few days in Braunston and then finishing off the week on the south Oxford canal down as far as Fenny Compton. Six months before the start of our continuous cruising lifestyle, it was just what we needed to whet our appetites.
Emergency food on board – Some of the most pleasant places to moor are a long way from the nearest supermarket. Here are some suggestions to ensure that you’re never short of a tasty meal on your idyllic canal-side retreat.
Cruising in adverse weather conditions part two – A continuation of the previous week’s newsletter.
Cruising in adverse weather conditions – Steering a narrowboat over the glassy surface of a placid canal on windless day in the middle of summer is child’s play. Here’s what you need to do on a “normal” day’s cruise.
Following your dream – Is your goal to some day spend a life of leisure out on the canal network? This article might encourage you to make a move sooner rather than later.
Route finding for narrowboat owners – Here are the popular paper and digital route finders to help make navigating the network child’s play
Long term narrowboat hire – Is hiring a boat long term a realistic alternative to buying one?
living on board in the winter, the cost of living afloat generally and where you can moor your floating home are all subjects which are misunderstood by many aspiring narrowboat owners. Here’s what you need to know.
Narrowboat heating, electrics and engine specifications – How is the perfect live aboard narrowboat configured? Here are a few suggestions
Essential boating equipment – Here’s the stuff every boater should carry on board
The pros and cons of a wide beam boat – More and more wannabe boaters are considering more spacious wide beams rather than narrowboat. There is clearly more living space on board but how practical are wide beam boats on the inland waterways?
The dreaded weed hatch – Sooner or later your engine will start to overheat, you’ll lose propulsion and you’ll know that you need to dive down your weed hatch to free an obstacle or two from the propeller. Here’s how to do it properly and a list of the tools you’ll need.
Digital aids for narrowboat owners – Digital applications and maps for inland waterways boaters
Practical experience for lone boaters. Here’s an account of a day’s cruise with a nervous single boater. He wanted enough confidence to deal with locks on his own. I spent the day with him, designed a route to include twenty six locks and spent ten hours helping him hone his locking skills.
Extending your boat’s storage space – The pros and cons of fitting covers to your front and rear decks
Naming your boat – The legal requirements when naming, renaming and displaying your boat plus the inland waterways’ two hundred most popular boat names
Speeding boats – Are rocking stationary boats the fault of speeding passing boats or the fault of boat owners who can’t moor securely?
Boat Handling – lock and paddle gear types.
Boat handling – Swing and lift bridges
Single handed boating – Negotiating locks.
Single handed boating – Choosing the right type of boat for single handed cruising and equipment to make your solo journeys safer and more enjoyable.
How to avoid common narrowboat accidents. They happen far more often than you might think. Here’s what you need to keep yourself out of harm’s way.
If you want to live on your boat and don’t want to, or can’t, cruise full time, you must have a residential mooring. Here’s how to find one.
What makes a perfect live aboard narrowboat. Two experienced boaters discuss layout, size and essential equipment
A cautionary tale if you are considering buying a wide beam boat to live on.
A further update to the site content index.
The A -Z of everything narrowboat – With over 5,500 posts and pages on the site now, quickly finding exactly what you want can sometimes be a problem. For this newsletter I started creating and A-Z index of all the site content.
How do you continue to earn money to support your boating lifestyle as you cruise the network?
Sharing your narrowboat space – The practicalities of sharing living accommodation the same size as a large shed.
Paying for a narrowboat – What practical steps can you take to ensure you’ve established legal ownership and how do you deal with the transfer of monies between buyer and seller?
Narrowboat Knots – At my first lock on my first cruise I watched my boat drift into the centre of the canal along with my twelve year old son. If you want to avoid the same embarrassment and potential damage to both your boat and your self esteem, you need to know how to tie your boat securely in a number of different situations.
Toilets is a subject often discussed by narrowboat owners but they usually talk about either pump out or cassette toilets. There is a third type though and it’s one which is both environmentally friendly and cheap to run. Here’s all you need to know about composting toilets.
Boat owners who live on board are considered to have a pretty simple and basic life by many living in bricks and mortar homes. Compared with the lifestyle of the farmers I’ve been staying with in the Philippines though, my UK life seems overly materialistic and expensive. Cou
Here’s an account of my very first winter on board and that of one of the site’s subscribers, Nigel Buttery. They’re very different experiences. My first winter was the coldest on record. Nigel’s is one of the mildest winters we’ve had for a long time.
I’ve also included to links to my Philippines blog. I spent the whole of February living in a rural farming community on the island of Negros.
Have you ever wondered how a narowboat is built. Here are the first two parts of a very detailed account of the building of a Sea Otter aluminium narrowboat. You’ll be particularly interested in Sea Otters if you don’t fancy the constant battle with rust that you have with traditional steel narrowboats.
Condensation is something all boat owners have to deal with. Here’s an explanation of why it occurs and what to do about it. I also tested a remote boat monitoring application in this issue.
Cold floors, cold air above the floors and cold hull sides. It’s a combination which can cause your bottom half quite a bit of discomfort. Here’s what I do to deal with the problem.
Weil’s disease – It’s an often talked about and often feared aspect of living, working or playing close to inland waterways but just how dangerous is it and what can you do to keep yourself safe?
If you’re on a budget maybe a self fit our sailaway is the way to go for you. Here’s the story of a wide beam self fit out to give you inspiration (or put you off completely)
Planning for the year ahead – Written plans and goals have always been important to me. They help me see into the future. Here’s what we’ve planned for our lovely floating home in 2014.
The practicality of hosting Christmas afloat – How do you achieve a floating festive event (and do you really want to)?
Liveaboard case study, The Pearl – Tony and Jane Robinson believe in forward planning. They stated their narrowboat fund thirty years before buying their own boat. Now the two retired education workers moor in a marina for the winter then explore the waterways during the warmer months.
Narrowboat Storage Space – How much space is there to store your worldly goods on board a narrowboat? Here’s a video walk-through of my own boat James.
Roses and Castles Canal Art – What is it and why do boaters spend so much money decorating their boats with it?
Fitting secondary double glazing – Fitting the panels is a simple operation for those with the most basic DIY skills, something which I sadly haven’t developed. As you might expect then, the fitting didn’t go as well as it should.
Narrowboat videos – I launched the Living On A Narrowboat YouTube channel
Secondary double glazing for your boat – The pros and cons of double glazing on a boat and why secondary double glazing is a much better bet and a fraction of the cost.
Living on a narrowboat vidoes – My first hesitant steps into the world of video production for site content
Can you either live or holiday on a narrowboat if you have a disability? – Here’s what you need to know.
Winter fuel allowance – Do you qualify for one if you live on a boat?
Case Study – NB Progress. Kim Wainwright recorded her journey on the forum from nervous anticipation to current liveaboard boat owner. Here’s her story.
Narrowboat central heating – I don’t have any. All that is about to change. Here’s the system I’m going to install and why I’ve chosen it.
Narrowboat running costs – I compare my own running costs to those of a prominent YouTube video blogger and detail my exact costs for October 2013
Popular narrowboat terminology – Hundreds or words or phrases used to describe parts of boats and the waterways they cruise through.
The wind chill factor – How strong the wind is blowing and which direction it’s coming from can determine how difficult it is to heat your boat. Here’s what you need to know.
Case study – Another couple from down under living the dream on the inland waterways.
20th October 2013Condensation. It’s a common problem on boats. Here are a few suggestions how to keep your boat’s interior dry.
A new organisation for liveaboard boaters
On demand water heater problems – Discover a common fault with these water heaters and what you can do to resolve the problem.
Know your firewood – Not all timber burns well. Find out which is best and which to avoid.
Managing your boat’s water supply. You can use your water supply as and when you need it when you live in a house with all mod cons. You can pretty much do the same when you’re on a marina mooring with a water supply just a hose length away. It’s a different kettle of fish when you’re on an online mooring.
Liveaboard case study – A prime example of mooring without a water supply on tap.
The folly of using unseasoned wood as a fuel – Here’s essential information if you plan to use logs you find to heat your boat for free
Creating lasting memories of your cruises – Slightly off topic, but please bear with me. You’ll have some wonderful adventures as you travel throughout the network. They’ll be adventures worth remembering but will you remember them? I have a very poor memory but instant and total recall of all my cruises is just a click away.
A tragedy at Calcutt. Sudden Oak Dieback hits our 1,500 twenty year old oak trees
Forum private messaging – Now you can email other forum users from within the site
Managing your water supply
An American blogs about his travels
Solving engine room leaks – A simple solution to a dripping stern tube
All about the weed hatch – Removing debris from your propeller
A disaster – I inadvertently deleted this week’s newsletter and there wasn’t a backup on the server. What a shame. It was all about the damage you can do to your boat if you don’t watch what you’re doing in a lock. You would have loved it!
Effective fly killers for boats
The downside to living on a narrowboat
Liveaboard Case Study – American Richard Varnes has taken a year out from work to cruise the canal network and write about his adventure. Here’s his case study and a few stories from his journey so far.
CART Guide Approval – The waterways’ governing body is now promoting the information packages available from this site. Yippee!
Narrowboat Insurance – A summary of insurance quotes from the major narrowboat insurers
Liveaboard Case Study – Keith and Nicky downsized their property in Jersey, used the released capital to buy their 57? “go anywhere” narrowboat and now live on their boat full time while they continuously cruise the canal network. They’re ridiculously young to retire, and I’m very, very jealous
Downsizing from a 3 bed semi to a narrowboat – What do you do with a lifetime’s accumulated possessions?
A free download – Living On A Narrowboat: 101 Essential Narrowboat Articles
Narrowboat tips – Handy hints from experienced narrowboat owners
The cost of a continuous cruising lifestyle – How one liveaboard boater manages on a shoestring
The perfect narrowboat washing machine? – It’s low cost and doesn’t need plumbing in, but does it actually clean clothes?
The cost of a continuous cruising lifestyle – How much does living the life of a water gypsy really cost?
The cost of living on a narrowboat – An article in the Daily Mail… and why most boaters disagree with what they said.
Hire boat expectations – Fully understanding what facilities will be available to you is essential if you’re going to enjoy a narrowboat holiday. Here’s what not to do.
Fenland river cruising – Another boater’s maiden voyage to whet your appetite.
Anticipating winter weather – You may well be enjoying unusually warm winter weather but the winter will be with us all too soon. Now is the time that you need to plan for the cold weather ahead.
Keeping your stove glass clean – Maybe you think it’s an odd subject for the summer but you can’t trust the English weather. Late June and the stove was still on now and again. At least now I have a crystal clear view of the fire I shouldn’t need to light.
Traffic chaos caused by Braunston’s historic boat rally – On a day with high winds and a canal full of working boats returning home after the rally, I had the pleasure of taking some very nervous hirers out on the cut.
23rd June 2013 – The cost of a two week cruise. If you live on your own boat, what’s the real cost of taking it away for a two week break?
Case Study – Mary Anne swapped dry land home rental for floating home ownership. Now she loves life afloat and works from home.
Life as a continuous cruiser – The Holy Grail of narrowboat ownership. The ability to travel where and when you like. Peter Early tells all.
The Ashby canal cruise part two – We spent a bit more time on the Ashby before heading south again, joining the Coventry canal, this time following it into Coventry’s rather depressing and disappointing city centre, then retracing our steps back to Calcutt
Most popular narrowboat names – Here’s the definitive list of the top 200 most popular narrowboat names and a resource you can use to find out if any other boat has the same name as yours
Considerate boating – An article prompted after a near head on collision with another boat trying to avoid a fallen oak.
I was on holiday for the first two weeks of June. Sally and I cruised from Calcutt to Braunston, north along the north Oxford where we joined the Coventry canal briefly before taking a very sharp right turn onto the Ashby canal. Here’s a daily report of the first week of our holiday.
An encounter with two poorly prepared holiday boaters and my own impending two week cruise encouraged me to put together a pre cruise check list
Laptop hacking – An update on the problems I encountered after buying a brand new laptop which I suspect was tampered with before I bought it.
Diary of a new narrowboat owner – Frequent forum poster “Our Nige” finally moved on to his new floating home. Here’s his story
My comments about an encounter on the Oxford/GU section between Napton and Braunston sparked a debate about the pros and cons of wide beams on the cut.
Keeping dry – You don’t really need to limit your cruising to sunny summer days. There’s something very special about standing on the back deck in the pouring ran protected by a set of bomb proof waterproofs.
Do you really need a car? Living on a narrowboat is all about enjoying a simple and stress free life. Sally and I had a car each. Mine cost £2,000 to run in the previous 12 months so I decided to get rid of mine to see if I could manage without one.
An encounter with a wide beam boat and why they aren’t suitable for much of the canal network
An interview with the Trust’s head of boating. Sally Ash talks about the Trust’s approach to the thorny issue of residential moorings
Narrowboat fuel tanks – How much do they hold
Meet one of your legless canal side companions
The canal network’s largest floating hotel
Narrowboat blogs – My own first cruise, Our Nige takes his new home on its maiden voyage and a chance for you to have your very own blog section on this site.
The Trust target illegal moorers but just what does the Trust consider to an illegal mooring?
Identity theft – The ongoing saga of my hacked laptop
RCR engine servicing – River Canal Rescue (RCR) are well known as the waterways equivalent of the AA but did you know that they will also come to your mooring to service your boat?
The perils of exceeding your monthly broadband data allowance. Learn from my mistakes.
Narrowboat security – A spate of burglaries from boats and a break in at my former family home encouraged me to write this article
Case study – You need to committed to sell your home to fund the purchase of your narrowboat. That’s what Mick and Marlene have done.
Case study – Sarah lives on wide beam Antioch on the Leeds Liverpool canal. She can do man things with her hands. Here’s her story.
Be inspired – There are always reasons why you don’t make the move from bricks and mortar to steel and water. Here’s an anecdote which demonstrates once and for all that there really aren’t any worthwhile excuses.
Here’s an example of what happens when you really don’t understand how your narrowboat works.
Essential boating equipment – Here’s a low cost item which has paid for itself over and over again.
Whilton marina boat sales – Sometimes things aren’t what they appear to be. This alleged fact about the boat sales at Whilton has come to me from several different sources.
Where can you find residential moorings? Here’s a great place to start
Getting rid of unwelcome visitors – Geese used to regularly disturb a peaceful night’s sleep where I moor. Not any more. Here’s my solution
Know your narrowboat costs – Detailed costs for my own boat for February 2013
Half a dozen boaters now have access to their own blog section on the site. You can too. Here’s how.
James’ upgrade – Adding solar panels and replacing carpets with oak effect laminate flooring
Stove fuel test – What works best; coal, wood, briquettes or something else entirely – Here’s my own take on a Waterways World test
Essential stove maintenance – Here’s what you need to do to make sure that your stove always performs well.
Internet connectivity – I use the internet four or more hours every day. This is the setup I have on my boat to make sure that I’m always connected.
Detailed running costs for my own boat for January 2013
The real cost of going cheap. An in depth look at the cost of my 36 year old boat, and how much I spent (and still need to spend) before it will be a comfortable full time cruising boat.
Case Studies – I put together 21 of the best case studies and analysed and summarised the data in this low cost guide. If you want ton save yourself hundreds of hours of research and costly mistakes, you need to read this guide.
Case Study – Mike’s circumstances are similar to my own. He moved onto his boat after a failed marriage. He’s upgraded from a 27? GRP cruiser to a 50? narrowboat
Narrowboat electrics part 2 – The concluding article from Tim Davis
I asked newsletter subscribers to send me detailed breakdowns of their bricks and mortar expenses so I could compare them with the cost of running a narrowboat. Quite a few subscribers obliged. I added the breakdowns to my narrowboat costs guide and the budgeting application.
Understanding narrowboat electrics – Another excellent article from Tim Davis
Satellite television for narrowboats – Information from a system installer
Low cost narrowboat ownership – A low cost solution to the problem of funding your first narrowboat
Solar power – All you need to know about installing solar panels on your boat. Written by the inland waterways most popular solar system installer
Case Study – Mr. Solar Panel Tim Davis writes about life on board his own narrowboat
First tests and reviews of the budgeting application
The best aerial for a narrowboat television
The first release of the new spreadsheet based narrowboat budgeting application
An unscheduled dip in the marina prompted me to write about safety on the waterways
Living on a narrowboat – Through the eyes of a young lady who would clearly prefer to be somewhere else
I started to develop the narrowboat budgeting software. This newsletter detailed the concept and the progress to date
Practical flooring for narrowboat dogs
Case study – Mike and Mags use a double redundancy payment to pay for their new floating home
The best tip for a wannabe narrowboat owner – Advice from existing boat owners
I published my guide Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost of a Life Afloat. When this newsletter was published it was only available as a Kindle edition. Now it’s available in both Kindle and PDF format and is bundled with Narrowbudget, the site’s bespoke narrowboat budgeting application.
VAT on narrowboat sales
Dealing with pests on a narrowboat – spiders and swans
Posh boats – My personal favourite: S.M. Hudson
Repeat prescriptions, diesel heating systems and solar panels
Survey – Do you want a forum on the site? (You already know the answer to that!)
How to clean your stove glass – One of the real pleasures of a living fire is watching the flames on a cold winter’s eve. Here’s what you need to do to ensure you can actually see the fire.
Smoking on board – An alternative to smelly smoke
DIY narrowboat painting – I’ve broken down the complete cost of painting your own boat and
Dealing with wind on the river – A guest article from liveaboard narrowboat owner Alan Cazaly
DIY narrowboat painting – I spent three weeks in April painting my boat. Here’s the first of my progress reports
Life on the river Cam – A guest article on the pleasures of river life by wide beam liveaboard Luther Phillips
Case Study – Freelance writer Anne and her South African farmer partner John reveal all
Case Study – Toni cruises constantly with ex husband Allan. They cruise together but they live apart… on separate boats
As a result of the article about the downside of living on a narrowboat published in the 18th March newsletter, I asked liveaboard narrowboat owners to complete a survey to give a balanced view of the issues raised by Pauline. Here are the survey results and a much more positive article by liveaboard narrowboat owner and frequent forum contributer Peter Early.
The downside of living on a narrowboat – This was a very controversial post. Liveaboard Pauline Roberts wrote about the less pleasant aspects of life afloat… and attracted a storm of comments
Case study: The Woodsman – Pauline Roberts again giving an insight into the life that you may think she doesn’t like.
Reviewed: The Liveaboard Guide by Tony Jones. A great guide to living afloat
eBay Narrowboat scam (and a little bit of flack for me from another forum)
Case Study: Author Toby Jones on his own liveaboard narrowboat
A review of Debdale Wharf marina
Two more case studies. One of them waxed lyrical about life on the waterways and enjoyed every minute of her life afloat. Now (April 2013) she’s selling up to follow another dream in Spain.
The first four narrowboat case studies published
I’ll start with myself; Paul Smith, living on my own, moored in a marina and working full time. Narrowboat James case study
Meet Peggy. She has a husband and two small children, works full time and cruises the network during the summer months. Narrowboat Violet Mae case study
Fancy spending your retirement cruising the waterways of England and Wales? Meet Barry and Sue Horne. They’re living the dream! Narrowboat Adagio Case Study
Here are another working couple. Lina and Warren cruise the cut with their two cats.Narrowboat Olive Rose case study.
Article – Living on a narrowboat in winter
Dealing with the coldest winter on record
Digital reading – A detailed review of the Kindle, the perfect solution for book loving boat owners
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.
CRT (Canal & River Trust) maintain the waterways. Here’s their site.
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.
Find out more about narrowboat central heating costs here.
Click here to get a FREE copy of “Living On A Narrowboat:101 Essential Narrowboat Articles”
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