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Life on a narrowboat can be as peaceful as it is idyllic BUT you need to understand the pros, cons, highs, lows, and day to day logistics in living on England's inland waterways. Let me help you find out all you need to know before you commit to what could be a very expensive mistake.


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Super Favorite 950AK Dutch Cruiser For Sale

After a frustratingly slow start, we have enjoyed a wonderful summer on the beautiful Dutch inland waterways network. We’ve cruised nine hundred kilometres on easy to navigate waterways through delightful towns and villages, including one rather scary but fascinating passage through Amsterdam harbour.

Our time on the water here has surpassed my wildest expectations. Of course, because I worry too much, I expected problems with the language, waterways signage, lock and bridge operation, finding waterside facilities and moorings, and just boating in a foreign country in general.

None of it was warranted.

The Netherlands is a wonderful place to live and cruise. Did you know that the Dutch are considered to be both the tallest and one of the happiest races on the planet?

We spent Friday evening with two French Canadian couples at a Leiden restaurant. Pierre, Claire, Bernard and Louise have been boating in the Netherlands for the last seven years on the Dutch cruiser they share. During the course of the evening we compared cruising notes.

We agreed that the Dutch are a very civilized bunch. They enjoy good food and they like to drink, but they always do it quietly, and with the greatest respect for those around them. If anyone’s making a noise while they’re enjoying a drink or two, they’re likely to be foreign tourists.

During our winter in France we often saw homeless men and women congregating in public, gripping cans of strong lager or bottles of wine in their grimy little hands. We haven’t witnessed that kind of behaviour once in the Netherlands. Nor have we seen any of the anti social behaviour so common in either the UK or the USA.

Graffiti is rare, vandalism is almost nonexistent, and antisocial behaviour is a rarity. When I think back on Friday and Saturday nights in England, I remember the streets of towns and cities filled with noise and staggering youth. Youngsters in the Netherlands are, at their worst, slightly boisterous.

On several occasions in the last year, on either the boat or in the Hymer, we have been parked or moored near groups of lively teenagers in the early evening. In the UK, I would expect the noise to increase as the evening progressed until the din reached such a volume that I would feel the need to either complain to the offenders, and run the risk of facing a barrage of verbal or physical abuse, or move to somewhere quieter.

In the Netherlands, I don’t worry about early evening activity at all. On virtually every occasion the youngsters have tidied up and left by 11pm at the latest. It’s a very refreshing change.

We’ve enjoyed the Netherlands, and we’ve enjoyed our boat, which is a shame, because we’re going to sell her.

Julisa is a superbly equipped boat for living afloat during the spring, summer and autumn months. We’ve enjoyed our time on her so much that we want to return to living afloat full time.

Unfortunately, we can’t do that on Julisa.

Julisa’s only fault as far as I am concerned is that she lacks insulation. She has an effective central heating system, a system which is wonderful for a day like today when rain has been hammering on the roof for hours on end, but one which would struggle in the depths of winter.

For that reason, and that reason alone, we have decided to part with her. We’re not going to list her with a broker yet. Part of me hopes that we don’t find a buyer so that we can enjoy her in 2018 for one final season.

The problem is that we think we’ve found the perfect boat for us. It’s a 16m barge currently moored in Belgium. We’re going to view ther at the end of this month. Whether we decide to move forward with that purchase or not, we will need to sell Julisa in order to upgrade to a bigger boat.

Sooner or later, our beloved Julisa will have to go.

Our first sight of Julisa in the water

Our first sight of Julisa in the water

On the off chance that a newsletter reader, maybe you, is interested in a wonderful and economical boat for three season cruising in Europe, I’ll tell you a little about her.

Vital statistics

Name: Julisa
Type: Super Favorite AK
Year of Construction: 1975
Built by: Van Kleef
Length: 9.70m (32’)
Width: 3.20m (10’6”)
Depth: 0.95m (3’1”)
Air Draught: 2.45m  (8’0”)
Building Material: Steel with mahogany superstructure

Engine: Peugeot Indenor Diesel 106 hp (economical 1.59 litres per hour at usual 2,000rpm/10.5 kph/6.5mph/5.7 knots)
Motor Number: 0562 690055 indenor AS106 OM
Engine hours: 3,891

Super Favorite’s are a striking and very popular boat in the Netherlands, especially with members of the thriving Super Favorite club. They are beautiful “ships”, as most boats are known to the Dutch, which usually have white painted steel hulls and mahogany cabins.

We purchased Julisa from a Dutch flower seller. His business dictated that he spent most of the summer months working rather than cruising. He took Julisa out for just three weekends in 2016.

He had much more free time in the winter when Julisa was stored in a cavernous and almost clinically clean warehouse. He spent that time painting, varnishing and buffing the boat to shiny perfection.

Regardless of the negligible engine hours, the engine was serviced every year. Everything on the boat was in first class condition when we purchased her in April 2017. Despite the boat’s first class appearance, we had a pre purchase survey done. All of the surveyors recommendations have been dealt with, which were as follows.

  • There was one small sign of rust under the floor in the aft cabin – That area has been treated and painted.
  • There was a little play in the steering gear – The steering gear has been tightened.
  • The cockpit canopy stitching needed attention – Both canopy sections will be restitched as soon as we have Julisa wrapped up for the winter sometime in the next two weeks.
  • There was a connection for a propane gas cylinder inside a sealed cockpit cupboard. Boats in the UK have to have gas stored in an exterior self draining locker. No such regulations apply in the Netherlands, but I suggested to the surveyor that the installation was a risk. He agreed, so I had the connection removed.
  • The surveyor considered the most serious problem to be the ringing noise which he identified at 1,800rpm. He suggested that there might be a problem with the engine. Before I had the engine professionally assessed, I had a look myself. I am far from being mechanically competent, but I resolved this “serious” issue almost immediately.

    The previous owner had hung a metal handled plastic bucket over the drive shaft to catch grease dripping from the stern gland. The ringing noise disappeared as soon as I removed the bucket.

Julisa is a good length on a waterways network where moorings are charged by length. The current rate is roughly €1 per metre per night on paid moorings, although there are unlimited number of moorings which are free of charge. We have used paid moorings for an average of one every four days this year. We use the paid moorings to give the battery bank a boost, empty our cassette toilet, use laundry facilities, or to have a shower.

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

Julisa’s minimal air draught is a huge advantage too.

In the UK, 57’ is the acknowledged ‘go anywhere’ length. In the Netherlands, air draught is far more important than length. Many of the moveable bridges are 2.5m or slightly higher. On a half day cruise we often need to negotiate twenty or thirty bridges. Many of them will be close to 2.5m. Boats higher than Julisa, and there are many, have to wait for up to 15-20 minutes before the bridge keeper opens the bridge for them. Julisa simply slides underneath. There is a ball topped varnished length of dowel fitted to Julisa’s bow with a strong spring. If the ball fits under the bridge, so will the highest point, the cockpit.

Julisa’s low profile has saved us many hours of frustrating bridge waiting.

Also at the bow is Julisa’s 200 litre water tank. It’s small by many boats standards, but our onboard water supply has always been more than enough for us. When we stop at a yacht club or marina, we top up then. Despite eating three cooked meals a day, and therefore washing dishes three times a day, we have never come close to running out of water, even with guests on board.

The Head

Headroom: Not much, but as you spend most of your time seated in this room, you don’t need much.

The smallest room in the house

The smallest room in the house

The smallest room on board, the toilet, for non boaters, is actually quite small on Julisa. There’s no shower on board so the head, which is just behind the water tank, is big enough for our single Porta Potti toilet and a small washbasin. There’s not enough room to swing a cat around in here, but that’s probably not something you want to do when you’re sitting on the throne.

The toilet’s black water tank holds 20 litres. It’s small, but plenty big enough with careful management. Our black water tank is rarely more than two thirds filled when we arrive at a marina.

The bow thruster is accessible through a floor hatch in front of the toilet. Not that we’ve ever had need to access it. The powerful bow thruster is very handy for turning on tight canals. We found it particularly useful when, in error, I took us onto a canal with very low fixed bridges which stopped us dead in our tracks. Julisa’s length, and the bow thruster which allows the boat to turn in its own length, enabled us to turn around on a canal barely wider than we are long, rather than reversing for a couple of miles.

The bow thruster is also very handy for holding station on windy days on the relatively rare occasions that we have to wait for bridges.

There is a large ceiling hatch for ventilation.

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Galley

Headroom 6’2”

The galley is behind the head. Cynthia likes to cook. She manages quite happily with our four burner propane hob. Propane is supplied by a 10kg cylinder in an external locker above the swim step. We also keep a smaller spare smaller cylinder on board in a cockpit cupboard.

A compact but very user friendly galley

A compact but very user friendly galley

There are two 12v 60 litre fridges on board. Cynthia enjoys cooking, and she enjoys cooking with fresh produce. There’s bags of storage space on board, so the loss of a couple of galley shelves to house the new fridge was no big deal, nor does the additional fridge’s electrical draw bother us because of the size of our battery bank.

Plenty of work space in the compact galley

Plenty of work space in the compact galley

Another view of the galley showing the sexy main cabin roof

Another view of the galley showing the sexy main cabin roof

There is a cold water tap in the galley as well as the head. Both are gravity fed, so there’s no problem with water pumps failing or freezing in the winter. Julisa doesn’t have hot water on board, but life is not a problem without it. We have a large flask we keep in the galley, topped up with boiling water heated in the kettle. A water heater is just one more thing to go wrong when you’re cruising.

Dinette

Headroom: 6’ 2”
Converted dinette double bed: Length 6’4”, Width 4’5”
Converted bench seat single bed: Length 6’4”, Width 2’2” Both Cynthia and I have slept on this, at separate times I might add, and found it very comfortable.

The boat’s very comfortable seating area is behind the galley. We have been surprised by just how many boats, often much larger than Julisa, don’t have anywhere comfortable to sit.

Julisa has a Pullman dinette which comfortably seats four adults. In fact, we spent one very enjoyable evening with four adults sitting at the table, and two large basset hounds sleeping under it.

Sunday morning breakfast on the main cabin dinette

Sunday morning breakfast on the main cabin dinette

Sunday night rest, also on the main cabin dinette

Sunday night rest, also on the main cabin dinette

There is a bench seat opposite the dinette which would comfortably hold another three or four people, not that we’ve tried.

The main cabin bench seat is also...

The main cabin bench seat is also…

...a very comfortable single bed

…a very comfortable single bed

Both the dinette and the bench seat convert into beds. Two people can sleep very comfortably on the dinette double bed, and another on the bench seat conversion. We’ve used both beds ourselves and enjoyed very restful nights. In fact, the dinette base makes a very spacious place to sleep.

Space beneath the dinette seats and the bench seat, and the space beneath the central walkway, provide ample storage.

For electrical devices, there are four 220v sockets in the main cabin, plus one cigarette style 12v charge which I use to charge my MacBook. The MacBook charger also has two USB ports, so we can keep our phones charged from the same 12v point.

There is an opening window and a ceiling hatch in the galley for ventilation.

Cockpit

The cockpit is accessed via two steps up from the main cabin. These have storage space under them including, a particular favourite of mine, space for ten bottles of wine or beer.

The cockpit table is perfect for summer lunches

The cockpit table is perfect for summer lunches

Beneath well insulated panels in the cockpit floor is the boat’s 106hp Peugeot engine. The engine is easily accessible via these panels, which makes essential pre cruise checks a breeze. We have been constantly surprised by the engine’s inaccessibility on other boats we’ve looked at.  In fact, one boat had an engine which was virtually impossible to get to.

Looking from the aft cabin forward

Looking from the aft cabin forward

The trawler style cruiser at a boat brokerage in Loosdrecht had its engine under cockpit floor. This is quite normal. However, a bench seat incorporating a second fridge had been built into the cockpit. The fridge was such a tight fit that it protruded slightly over the edge of the opening side of the hatch above the engine.

I tried and failed to move the fridge enough to open the hatch. I asked the brokerage harbour master to open it for me. He failed too, and then admitted that, on the one other occasion that brokerage staff had been anywhere near the engine, they had to take the fridge cabinet apart.

Easy access to the engine bay is essential, but not always easy. Julisa’s engine bay is easier to access than most.

Julisa's super reliable 106hp Peugeot engine

Julisa’s super reliable 106hp Peugeot engine

The boat’s two battery banks are also beneath the cockpit floor. When we bought Julisa, the domestic bank was a mess of mismatched and different aged lead acid batteries. I had them all replaced with a new bank of four 160ah long life maintenance free AGM batteries. I left the almost new 95ah starter battery in place.

A very substantial leisure battery bank (plus the starter battery on the right)

A very substantial leisure battery bank (plus the starter battery on the right)

Julisa had a woefully inadequate 300w inverter when we moved on board. That’s now been upgraded to a Victron Phoenix 1600 model, which caters for all our electrical needs, including Cynthia’s hair dryer and her Vitamix food blender and, the most essential of onboard kitchen tools, our coffee grinder.

The Victron inverter and Allpa battery charger

The Victron inverter and Allpa battery charger

The under cockpit floor space is also home to Julisa’s Eberspacher central heating unit. We tested the central heating during the sea trial. It didn’t work. The owner agreed to pay for half of the cost of a new Eberspacher heater if the installed model couldn’t be repaired. It couldn’t, so the boat now boasts a brand new and very reliable air blown central heating system. As I write this, the temperature outside is a rather chilly early autumn eight degrees. Inside, it’s a very comfortable twenty degrees.

The brand new Eberspacher heater

The brand new Eberspacher heater

The engine bay is both clean and spacious. The bilge is dry with no signs of rust. The Peugeot Indenor engine was extensively refurbished a few years ago – I don’t know exactly when – and currently has 3,891 hours on the clock. We’ve cruised 900km over 175 hours this year at just under 6 knots. I suspect that, if we push the pedal to the metal, we would get another 2-3 knots out of her. On occasion, in order to make a bridge which has just raised, we’ve raced forward. The engine hasn’t missed a beat. There are no signs of leaks, either oil or water, and the exhaust is smoke free.

In addition to the engine’s reliability, it’s also extremely economical. On waterways where boats using 20 litres of diesel an hour aren’t unusual, and craft drinking 4-5 litres an hour are common, Julisa’s negligible 1.6l consumption for a 106hp engine is rare.

Soundproofing is all important when you’re sitting on top of the engine as you cruise. Julisa’s engine bay is very well insulated, which means that we can barely hear the Eberspacher when it’s running either.

Julisa is a joy to drive. She’s very responsive, ‘turns on a tanner’, as my grandfather used to say – I eventually discovered that he meant the vehicle had a very tight turning circle – and from the helm, the steerer has 360’ visibility, handy when negotiating Dutch waterways on a sunny Sunday afternoon with countless perfectly maintained and ridiculously expensive day boats whizzing by on both sides.

The engine controls and gauges are both simple and reliable. There’s an accurate fuel gauge for the 200 litre tank, a tachometer, which I’ve calibrated as a speedometer, engine temperature gauge – it’s reassuringly predictable. The temperature rises slowly over half an hour and then sticks at eighty degrees regardless of the length of the cruising day – and a Victron battery monitor which I had installed in April this year.

The battery monitor is an essential tool for helping prolong battery life. The monitor displays a number of readings. The most useful to me is the current leisure bank state of charge. At a glance, I can tell if and when I need to run the engine to supplement the roof mounted 400whd solar array or connect to a shore supply. The current leisure battery bank, also installed in April, should last 7-10 years with careful management. The Victron monitor allows for very careful management indeed.

The engine speed is determined by a simple Morse control, similar to UK narrowboats.

The is an opening window in front of the helm equipped with wipers. After half a decade standing on the back of a narrowboat open to the elements, sitting in a comfortable chair warm and dry on the coldest and wettest days while I steer is still something of a novelty, and a very welcome one at that.

The cockpit roof is waterproof blue canvas. It can be removed on fine days for al fresco cruising, as can the rear cockpit hood. I have to admit, I was a little concerned about the practicality of a cloth top, knowing that the Dutch weather was similar to that in England, and that we could expect a reasonable amount of rain during our cruising year. Actually, we had very little rain this year until this month.

The cockpit waterproofing was well and truly tested in September, including thirty six hours of torrential rain earlier this week. In all that time, we had three drips through a seam where the stitching had perished. Both canopies will be professionally restitched at the end of this month.

The cockpit offers more very comfortable seating. There’s a comfortable L shaped seat on the starboard side large enough for four people, and another on the port side which will seat two. There is extensive storage space under the seats, in the engine bay, and in cupboards along both sides.

Aft Cabin

Headroom: 5’0”
Double bed: Length 6’2”, Width 3’11”
Single bed: Length, 6’2”, Width 2’8”

This is where Cynthia and I usually sleep. There isn’t much headroom, but that doesn’t matter because neither of us sleep standing up. Once again, there is plenty of storage space. In fact, we use the single bed in the aft cabin for storage too. We keep our two folding bikes in their protective cloth bags on the single bed. They’re much safer there than they are outside and they are protected from the elements.

The aft cabin double bed

The aft cabin double bed

The aft cabin single bed

The aft cabin single bed

There is a small skylight in the aft cabin for ventilation.

Outside

There is an anchor securely stored on the bow, and more than enough chain and rope to go with it.

The boat’s two solar panels are mounted on the deck above the dinette flush with the roof.

To the rear of the boat is a swim step. The Dutch are very fond of swimming in their lakes, rivers and canals. Given their fondness for discharging black waste in the crystal clear waterways, I’m not keen on following their example. If I did, I certainly wouldn’t be swimming with my mouth open.

We use the swim step for storing a boat cleaning brush, a gangplank for rare difficult moorings, and the mast and sail for the boat’s Pirate dinghy. The dinghy hangs securely from davits above the swim step. It’s equipped with a pair of oars for leisurely evening rowing on tranquil lakes (I sometimes sneak a bottle of beer on board to aid my solo rowing expeditions and occasional meditation, but don’t tell Cynthia!)

Jos adjusts the davits for our new dinghy

Jos adjusts the davits for our new dinghy

At the moment, Cynthia isn’t keen on selling the dinghy, but she might change her mind.

Mooring

Julisa is a wonderful boat, but she’s not suitable for living on board full time, which is the only reason we are selling her.

When she’s not being used, she needs a mooring. There’s no shortage of moorings in the Netherlands, but the cost varies considerably.

Before we bought Julisa, we provisionally secured what we thought was an ideal mooring in Friesland. In hindsight, that wasn’t such a good idea. The Friesland moorings was at a pretty marina, but it was quite expensive, and it was in a remote section of the network. In order to reach new cruising territory, we would have to constantly chug along the same canal from the Netherland’s far north.

We decided to moor in Leiden instead.

Leiden is a charming and vibrant city, known by some as “Little Amsterdam” The city’s bewildering network of low bridged canals is a hive of activity in the summer months. Trip boats and countless private day boats ply the waterways at all times of the day and night, entertaining visitors to hundreds of canalside bars, cafes and restaurants.

Leiden is also at the heart of the network. This year, we’ve only explored a small fraction of the canals, rivers and lakes within a few days cruise of our base. We’re moored close to the centre of a vibrant city, but an hour’s cruise away to the north is an extensive area of lakes, polders and islands with some wonderful locations to anchor or moor for a day or two.

Leiden’s proximity to Schiphol airport is also an advantage. There is a train station inside the airport terminal with over 100 scheduled trains to Leiden every day, roughly one train every fifteen minutes. The journey itself takes less than half an hour. Leiden is very easy to reach from the UK.

An equally important consideration is the boatyard we moor at. Actually, calling it a boatyard is a bit of an exaggeration. Our mooring is owned by Jos van Galen and his charming wife Brenda. He has a yard will well equipped workshops and enough space for sixty boats on hardstanding.

Jos has looked after us very well this year. In addition to a first class finish to the alterations and improvements we asked him to do, he agreed to let us keep Julisa in his small yard over the winter for a very reasonable price. He also allowed us keep our motorhome in the yard during the summer.

We’ve had to interrupt our summer cruising for a variety of reasons this year. Each time we returned, he allowed us to moor on the little free space he has on the canal next to his yard, free of charge. He’s a good guy. I couldn’t think of a better place to moor our boat, or a better person to maintain and repair it for us.

We haven’t spoken to Jos yet, but I am sure that he would be happy for the new owner to store Julisa there too.

I think I’ve covered everything you need to know, apart from the price. We’re asking €39,950 for Julisa. It’s a fair price. I don’t know how many Super Favorite’s are still cruising on Dutch waters, but I think that there are several hundred. You won’t find many for sale though. They are very popular boats.

Here are some more external shots taken during our cruises this year…

Sunset at a yacht club in Aalsmeer

Sunset at a yacht club in Aalsmeer

A cosy floating home to return to

A cosy floating home to return to

A tranquil mooring for the night in Flavoland

A tranquil mooring for the night in Flavoland

On a Kaag inslaand mooring

On a Kaag island mooring

…and two more while the boat was on hardstanding having work done…

I wanted to paint on a mouth to make Julisa more shark like

I wanted to paint on a mouth to make Julisa more shark like

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

Having our old sea toilet outlet over plated

If you want to know anything else about Julisa, or would like to arrange a viewing, please either email me or phone me on +31 (0)659 619957.

Oh, I forgot to add that the sale price includes two days of orientation and helmsmanship training if required. The Dutch waterways may seem intimidating to anyone who hasn’t cruised overseas before. I know that the prospect worried me before we made the leap of faith. Cruising over here is actually very easy once you know how. All you need is someone to show you, and I’m your man!

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Paul Smith
 

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.