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A Creative Solution to Narrowboat Finance Part 2

Continued from A Creative Solution to Narrowboat Finance Part 1

Before we left Walter, he had agreed to reduce the asking price by €10,000 and defer the payment of the last €5,000 until we sold Julisa. We now owned a bigger and better boat. A boat, we thought, which we could use for winter living. A classic Dutch craft which would serve all our cruising and living requirements. Cynthia and I were delighted.

For a while.

Buying Dik Trom was a mistake. A big mistake, and it was all mine. I purchased the boat with my heart rather than with my mind. By then, I had six years of narrowboat ownership under my belt. And I had the accumulated knowledge shared with me by narrowboat fitters, marine electricians, painters and engineers at the Warwickshire marina where I lived and worked. I should have known better.

Dik Trom, by Dutch standards, was effectively insulated. Compared to English narrowboats, she was barely protected from cold weather at all.  

And she had acres of heat sapping glass plus an intermittently working heating system marginally more effective than a burning candle. As the autumn days shortened and the thermometer plummeted, so did our spirits and the temperature in our floating home. 

By December we were confined to our tiny galley and dining area. The blown air heater had stopped working by then, so we used a one-kilowatt electric heater to try to keep us warm. A bedsheet draped over the companionway steps prevented our precious hear from climbing four steps to the cockpit and its expanse of single glazed windows. We were almost warm enough in our small space, but damp and miserable.

The boat’s poor insulation allowed condensation to form on every surface. Climbing out of a warm bed to squeeze into damp clothing took tremendous willpower. At least I could look forward to a day in a heated workplace. I wasn’t quite so keen on the eight hours laying on my back painting the hulls of speedboats costing as much as English country houses, but I had more to look forward to than Cynthia.

My working days were warm but tedious. Cynthia also had tedium to look forward to while I was away. Still, she didn’t have moral boosting heat or a change of environment. She sat for hours on the boat alone, with nothing to do but contemplate her failing health.

The novelty of touring Europe without a care in the world was far behind us. We could afford to live in northern Europe in the summer and flee to the south of France to escape the winter cold. But only if I worked all summer doing an unhealthy and tedious job to supplement Cynthia’s pension. While I merely disliked the change in our circumstances, the damp, bone penetrating cold and the isolation had a dangerous effect on Cynthia’s health.

She couldn’t find the daily company she needed to help take her mind off her struggle with the simplest physical tasks. Solitude accelerated both her mental and physical decline. Cynthia’s weight loss alarmed me, as did her extreme reaction to the mildest of ailments. 

We needed to make an immediate change in our lifestyle for the sake of Cynthia’s health and our happiness, and we needed to do it quickly.

I couldn’t see a way out of our situation. One of the reasons we left England was Cynthia’s difficulty in staying long term with me in my country. As an American citizen, she was entitled to stay for a maximum of six months. Our marriage didn’t make any difference to her entitlement. But as we discovered to our dismay, getting permission for an extended stay in mainland Europe was just as tricky. By then, we had been wading through Dutch red tape for eighteen months. Our experience with a succession of reluctant government officials was a soul-destroying affair.

The novelty of extended foreign travel had well and truly worn off. Especially for me. I pined for England’s muddy ditches and the gaily painted narrowboats which cruised them. I would have returned to that lifestyle in a heartbeat, but I suspected at the time that Cynthia didn’t feel the same way. I didn’t want to fuel my desire to return to the UK by openly discussing the possibility. So I did what Englishmen do. I stiffened my upper lip, squared my shoulders and immersed myself in a life of unfulfilling tedium.

I underestimated Cynthia. She was a force of nature. If she sunk her teeth into an idea, she wouldn’t let go until it became a reality. And, I was delighted to discover, she was quite keen on exploring the concept of a return to England.

“I’ve been thinking,” she told me when I climbed into the cabin after another tedious day laying under millionaire’s playthings. “You are at your happiest messing about on the English waterways. Your face lights up when you talk about narrowboats. You miss your old life in England, don’t you?” That was a risky question for me to answer. I had enthusiastically agreed to Cynthia’s European travel plans and embraced the logistical challenges we faced both on the road and on the water. I enjoyed driving through exotic landscapes and meeting new and fascinating people. However, I missed England and the country’s magnificent waterways network.

But much as the thought of a return to England’s canals excited me, I couldn’t imagine how we would achieve it.

We had a collection of empty bank accounts between us. Our only equity was in a fifteen-year-old German motorhome and a 1984 Dutch motor cruiser. We could quickly move off the boat and live full time in the motorhome. That would allow us to instruct a broker to sell our Dutch summer home. However, selling a boat in the Netherlands can be a long-winded affair. Waiting a year or two is for an offer is common and we didn’t want to wait that long. Now that Cynthia had broached the subject, I knew that any delay would drive me mad. And push Cynthia further down the slippery slope of ill health and depression.

Even if we found a boat buyer willing to pay our asking price we still wouldn’t have enough money. We would need to sell the Hymer too, but we couldn’t do that until we had a narrowboat to live on and we couldn’t buy a boat until we sold the motorhome. The situation was hopelessly frustrating, especially after Cynthia’s next statement.

“I’ve found a Steve Hudson boat I know you’ll love.” Cynthia handed me her iPad and showed me the listing on Apolloduck. “The boat is called Orient. It’s the same length as your old boat, James, and it’s filled with beautiful fitted pine furniture.” Cynthia knew that one of my pet hates was a boat devoid of storage space. I’ve lost count of the number of adverts I’ve seen claiming a “spacious and attractively priced narrowboat ideal for full-time living.” In reality, the boat’s low price could only be achieved by the builder avoiding time-consuming and expensive internal joinery. A narrowboat offers very little living space at the best of times. Without plenty of storage space, a boat soon becomes cluttered. For someone like me, who insists on perfectly aligned cup handles and storage jar lids, too little storage space is distressing.

“Look at that,” she said, pointing at a photo. “Orient has a cabin at the back with its own stove. You could use it as your office.” Cynthia knew which buttons to press. Neither our Dutch boat nor our motorhome allowed either of us much privacy. Separate spaces at either end of the craft would give both us some much needed alone time. I began to fall in love with Orient.

Cynthia scrolled through the images. Orient looked gorgeous. I liked everything about her, apart from the monstrous green engine dominating its own room in the middle of the boat. I am neither a competent nor enthusiastic mechanic at the best of times. As far as I was concerned, engines were for hiding behind or under soundproof boards. I felt that engines on display wasted valuable living space and added unnecessary noise and pollution to the cabin. I suspected that keeping this old Lister in good condition would require a level of skill beyond me. Taking on a vintage engine would require some serious thought.

Then there was the price. Sixty-two thousand pounds. It might as well have been a million. We couldn’t raise the asking price even if we managed to sell both our motorhome and our Linssen yacht. We would need to take out yet another loan to buy Orient. And that was without the cost of a survey or any remedial work.

A boat buyer who doesn’t need to invest a few thousand pounds in essential replacements or repairs is a lucky man. The battery bank replacement often initiates the first of many visits to a rapidly disappearing bank balance. I had to change the batteries on my previous three boats as soon as I moved onto them. That would prove to be the case with Orient too. I l discovered to my dismay that there were thirteen on board. However, that particular treat was several months in the future. 

I needed to concentrate on buying the boat first. I wanted to budget five thousand pounds for essential repairs and upgrades. We needed to raise nearly seventy thousand pounds to make sure we covered all eventualities. Seventy thousand pounds more than our combined savings.

The situation looked hopeless. I told Cynthia that there was no point getting excited about a boat we simply couldn’t afford. There was no point in either of us investing time or money in such an unrealistic dream.

“If you had the money, would you buy it?” Cynthia asked. I looked at the photographs again. The engine in its own room didn’t appeal to me, and I wasn’t happy about the limited space in the boat’s saloon area but, apart from that, I loved it. Yes, I would buy it in a heartbeat if we had the cash. Cynthia sensed an opportunity.

“You’ve always wanted a Steve Hudson boat, so why don’t we focus on ways of making this work rather than dismissing the idea out of hand? Why don’t you look at this as an opportunity rather than a problem?” Why indeed. Why did I always dig deeply into any possibility in my life to find reasons not to pursue it? For Cynthia’s sake, I tried to be more positive.

Although we were living in Holland, I realised that viewing Orient wouldn’t be too difficult. I had taken our Hymer back to our Nottingham motorhome dealer two weeks earlier to have some essential repairs done under warranty. I planned to collect the motorhome the following week. As Orient’s mooring at Tattenhall marina was only an hour’s drive away, viewing the boat wouldn’t be a problem. I picked up my iPhone and dialled the listing contact number. I arranged to meet broker Steve Harrel to look at the boat and possibly take her for a test drive. 

And then I spent the rest of the week fretting about money.

The boat exceeded my wildest expectations. It was love at first sight. You know when you’ve found the right boat. It speaks to you. This beautiful craft whispered to me seductively as soon as I stepped on board. Even the engine room had a certain charm. If I could learn to maintain the aged Lister, I thought I could accept the loss of living space. Yes, this boat would do.

I took Orient for a chug around the marina. The two-cylinder Lister JP2 started first time from cold. The engine’s slow and steady thump sounded like the beat of a healthy and happy heart. It was a sound which would entrance many canalside visitors in the years to come.

I knew that the boat was perfect for us. I emailed dozens of photos to Cynthia. She loved what she saw and trusted my judgement. I was sure that we would settle into our new home quickly. Orient was my dream boat and hopefully my last if we could overcome one little problem. 

Money.

We contacted both of our banks. Cynthia was quickly approved for a £20,000 loan, but HSBC’s automated system laughed at me. With little income over the previous two years, I didn’t stand a chance. I knew that I would need to try less orthodox routes.

I borrowed £12,500 from two private lenders. Both of them bent over backwards to help me. We now had fifty per cent of the asking price. It wasn’t enough, but the money gave me the confidence to go to the broker with an offer.

I told Steve Harral that we wanted Orient. What’s more, we were prepared to pay the asking price, providing that everything on the boat was in working order and providing that we could have time to pay.

We didn’t expect our Dutch boat to sell quickly. Dutch boaters are a fussy bunch. They want everything in perfect working order, a craft painted, varnished and maintained to the highest standards. Dik Trom was an old girl, still in need of more tender loving care than I had time to give her. We bought her for €53,000 and then invested another €8,000 in essential repairs and upgrades. Hoping for a quick sale to a bargain hunter, we instructed our broker to advertise her at €49,000. Then we focussed on selling our six-wheeled home.

We purchased the Hymer for £30,000 in March 2016 and then drove the beast 30,000 through Europe. We knew that we would be lucky to get £25,000 for the motorhome if we wanted to sell quickly. We decided to advertise at that price initially to see if there was any interest. 

And then we had a lucky break.

During any boat buying process, one of the first questions I ask is why the owner wants to sell. What motivates him? Does he need the money or is finding the right home for his pride and joy more important? A little knowledge can help enormously.

We discovered that the owner and his wife wanted to spend less time boating and more quality time with their new grandchild. Between babysitting visits, they wanted to travel more and visit parts of England they hadn’t seen before. And they wanted to do it in a motorhome.

Our Hymer was left-hand drive. Because of that, and because England was the least motorhome friendly country of the eleven we toured, we knew that this wouldn’t be a suitable vehicle for them to use to explore England. But it would be perfect if they took it on a ferry or train over to France.

France was our favourite country for motorhome touring by a country mile. Most French villages and towns have free or low-cost motorhome parking, often with an open water supply and sometimes with free electricity too. The people are friendly, the scenery stunning and there’s more history than you can shake a stick at. We talked passionately to the broker about our experiences in France. We hoped that he would pass on some of our enthusiasm to Orient’s owners. 

He did.

The owners agreed to take our Hymer in part-exchange, and they accepted the £25,000 valuation without seeing the vehicle. The owner’s wife, Sue, explained. “We trust your judgement. You seem like honest folk, so I’m sure that the Hymer is in perfect condition. It wasn’t, and I made sure that she knew it. I reminded her that we had spent the previous two years living in it while we toured. However, we agreed to have the motorhome professionally cleaned before we handed it over. That was the plan anyway. Circumstances dictated otherwise.

Even with the Hymer part-exchange and three loans, we still didn’t have enough money. The only option was to further test the owners’ generous nature. We explained our predicament in detail and told them that we were a good bet. We had equity in an old but much-respected Linssen motor cruiser which we were confident would sell soon. We were honest people, we told him, boat lovers who took pride in their floating homes. We promised to lavish Orient with all the tender loving care that she deserved.

The Gods smiled upon us. Owners Stuart and Sue agreed to the sale on our terms; part cash, part motorhome exchange and the balance, £6,500, deferred until Orient sold. I couldn’t believe our good fortune. Cynthia just smiled contentedly and reminded me of the power of positive thinking.

We still had a great deal of work to do. Selling Dik Trom was the biggest challenge. Neither broker Steve or Sue and Stuart knew the difficulty we faced selling an older boat in Holland. Our Linssen was a needle buried under a bewildering haystack of craft for sale. Waiting a year or two for a vessel to sell was typical. We once saw a vintage sailing boat which had been for sale for a decade. All we could do was hope that our discounted selling price would attract serious interest.

In the meantime, we needed to move back to England. The first step was to make sure that Orient was all that she claimed to be. With years of experience in and around narrowboats, I was confident that a surveyor would find very little to worry us. I’ve been wrong many times in my life. This was one such occasion.

My mate, Russ, agreed to look at Orient for me. Russ was a Calcutt Boats fitter and a Boat Safety Scheme examiner. I trusted his judgement completely, and I was looking forward to him confirming that Orient was a gem among narrowboats. He wasn’t as complimentary as I hoped.

The gas locker configuration was downright dangerous and the multi-fuel stove unusable. Russ identified dozens of smaller faults too. All of them were either safety concerns or had the potential for costly remedial work in the years to come. He estimated that resolving all of the issues would cost £2,500.

We were lucky again. The owners agreed to take care of the problems before we moved on board. Even though Orient had two years remaining on its four year BSS certificate, I planned to have another done before we concluded the sale. Stuart and Sue agreed with that too, but circumstances conspired against us. Cynthia’s continued failing health was more of a concern. I would have saved another thousand pounds if I kept to my original plan. Still, my wife’s wellbeing was a higher priority, so the new BSS examination wasn’t done before we moved on board.

Christmas 2018 was an exhausting affair. We had just forty-eight hours to move our possessions. And then remove all traces from the motorhome of two years with fur shedding dogs. 

I failed miserably with the cleaning, despite a marathon scrubbing and polishing session on Christmas Day. Sue and Stuart arrived on Boxing Day to find me on the verge of a nervous breakdown. All we could do was promise to have the vehicle professionally valeted inside and out and move gratefully into our new home.

Yet another of Cynthia’s dreams had become a reality. It proved to be the last of her successes in a long and adventurous life.

This year has been a roller coaster for me. I am back on the English canals where I feel I belong. Sadly, I am here without my wife. I’m still coming to terms with her loss in April. Cynthia’s can-do attitude persuaded me to negotiate the purchase of a first-class narrowboat with no money in the bank. Sadly, she isn’t here to enjoy the result of her drive and determination. It’s one of my life’s saddest ironies.

This year has been financially tough. I further discounted our Dutch boat after Cynthia died. Cynthia’s brother Jeff, her estate executor, pressed for an early sale to repay her bank loan. I paid the final balance to Sue and Stuart after the boat sold in July. Cynthia’s estate had the rest. That just left me to settle the debts to my two private lenders. By the year-end, both of those will be gone too, and I’ll be able to reduce my seven-day working week.

I plan to celebrate with a ten-day cruise to Market Harborough. I’ll find a remote and tranquil spot to spend Christmas Day on the Grand Union Leicester Line’s peaceful summit pound and reflect on the joyful highs and tragic lows of an eventful year. I’ll raise a glass to Cynthia’s memory and to my future on the English waterways. Thank you, Cynthia, for the vision, optimism and determination which encouraged me to negotiate the purchase of my beautiful home with an empty bank account.

Discovery Day Update

Steve and Sue joined me yesterday for my first salesmanship training day of the month. The morning weather was awful. A lively breeze forced us to crab out way past Napton reservoir and blinded us with smoke from my roof-mounted exhaust stack. It wasn’t the most promising start to a day which Steve hoped would convert Sue to an ardent inland waterways enthusiast.

Sue suffers from acute motion sickness. She worried that a cruise on the gentle swell of England’s ordinarily placid canals would cause her more pain than pleasure. And the thought of tackling the rushing waters of a Grand Union canal lock terrified her.

Heavy rain throughout the morning failed to dampen their enthusiasm. Sue’s lock wheeling job didn’t begin until the end of the day. She enjoyed much of the cruise sheltering from the rain and basking in the heat radiating from my boatman’s cabin range.

Talk changed as the day progressed from whether they should buy a boat to what equipment they should buy when they did. As we tackled our sixth and final lock, Sue confided that locks aren’t nearly as intimidating as she expected. And she admitted that the exercise the liveaboard lifestyle entails would do them both a power of good. 

Sue and Steve chatted excitedly about visiting local narrowboat brokers as they left. Both were confident that neither motion sickness nor lock fear would play a part in their floating lives. It was a happy conclusion to a successful day.

If you are considering living afloat on England’s inland waterways, or if you are thinking about purchasing a narrowboat for recreational cruising, I urge you to join me for a day. You’ll learn how to handle a narrowboat safely, and you’ll gain valuable insight into life on the English waterways network.

You can read more about my Discovery Day service here and see and book available dates here.

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A Creative Solution to Narrowboat Finance Part One

October and the tail end of the hire boat season are almost upon us. Colder and wetter days keep many aspiring boat owners indoors. They remember balmy summer days strolling beneath weeping willows watching brightly painted narrowboats chug slowly along a thin ribbon of sparkling water. They remember the joy of spotting pairs of majestic swans leading flotillas of ungainly signets. And the lucky few who hired boats for summer holidays smile at the memory of the good-natured boat yard banter at the beginning of their idyllic breaks afloat.

They browse wistfully through the narrowboat sales listings on popular boating sites like Apolloduck and think about the life they could have. If only.

…If only I didn’t have to work…

…If only I didn’t have to… (insert excuse here)…

And arguably the most challenging barrier to overcome for many aspiring narrowboat owners.

…If only I had enough money in the bank.

A cash shortage may be all that’s standing between you and your boating dreams, your hope for a less stressful and more tranquil way of life. Especially where buying your boat is concerned.

Rather than sabotaging a potentially happy future, search for the solutions rather than the problems. I talk from personal experience, although I needed constant coaching from one of life’s greatest optimists when I purchased my last two boats.

Let me give you some examples of creative narrowboat purchasing from my own experience.

I moved onto my first narrowboat on 2nd April 2010, my fiftieth birthday. I wasn’t interested in boating back then. The neglected boat, James No 194, was in a terrible state. The tired old girl had paint hanging in ribbons from the plywood cabin, and the engine room and aft cabin were inches underwater. I didn’t care. I was licking my wounds after saying goodbye to the business I had worked so hard to grow for fifteen years. My business failure was followed a few short months later by the demise of my twenty-year marriage.

The old boat was all I could afford. I paid a peppercorn rent to the owner, Roger Preen, my boss at the marina, and promised to do all I could to help prevent the boat’s further decline.

I instantly fell in love with the boating lifestyle in general and James in particular. Although I could never quite get my head around calling a boat a man’s name and then referring to it as “she”.

After renting James for eighteen months, I wanted to return my home to its former glory. Despite peeling paint and gunnels hidden under a thick layer of crunchy rust and a roof which leaked like a sieve, she was beautiful inside. James had a cabin fitted with gorgeous fitted pine furniture and, at the stern, a classic Mercedes engine waited to push the boat gently along England’s connected canals and rivers.

But I wasn’t prepared to invest any money into my home unless I owned it. Even though James hadn’t moved from her mooring in over a decade. Roger’s wife, Rosemary, often used the old girl to entertain her fellow artists. She was emotionally attached to the boat, so she was reluctant to part with James.

I managed to eventually persuade her that the boat would be better off with me. I told her that James needed to be pampered, painted and polished regularly rather than used for occasional summertime parties.

When Rosemary reluctantly agreed to sell, I dropped my bombshell.

I worked at the marina at the time, helping maintain the company’s beautiful and expansive grounds. The work was as enjoyable as the pay was awful. I supplemented my income with products I sold on my fledgeling boating website. I had no savings and very little disposable income. I couldn’t afford to buy a takeaway meal, let alone a boat.

I couldn’t afford the boat, but I had nothing to lose by asking.

My brief conversation about the purchase went something like this;

“Thank you for agreeing to sell James to me. I know that you’ll love what I plan to do with her. There’s just one little problem. I don’t have any money. Will you allow me time to pay for your lovely boat?”

The answer from my boss both surprised and delighted me. “Here’s the deal,” he offered immediately. “You can pay me what you want when you want. I don’t mind how little or how much you pay me each month. Take as long as you want, but you can’t stop working for me until you’ve paid for the boat.”

How’s that for a win-win deal? I worked hard to keep the marina looking good. As far as I was concerned, and I still feel the same way, Calcutt Boats has two of the prettiest marinas on the network. Working there was a pleasure. My boss recognised that and was happy to lock me into working a few years at the marina. I was delighted with the outcome. I think he was too.

Three years passed before I could pay my final instalment. By that time, I had also invested a substantial sum into the boat’s refurbishment. I couldn’t have switched to a floating lifestyle without Roger’s generous assistance. I repaid his kindness by resigning as soon as I made the final payment so that I could cruise the network full time. I’m not proud of myself.

I purchased James No 194 using an informal hire purchase agreement

I purchased James No 194 using an informal hire purchase agreement

You might wonder how this helps you. Surely, you’ll argue, people and situations like this are unique?

Arrangements like this, or their potential, are far more common than you might expect.

Here’s another example.

My wife, Cynthia, and I sold our respective homes in 2016, my boat and her house in Arlington, Vermont and crossed the English Channel for a life of leisure on the continent. We toured far and wide in our Hymer motorhome, from the north coast of Denmark in the north down to Spain’s southernmost tip.

But much as we enjoyed our travels we both missed boating.

The Netherlands’ vast network of connected canals, rivers and lakes enchanted us. We toured extensively through the Dutch landscape of low fields, working windmills and nodding tulips. The more time we spent parked close to waterways filled with bobbing boats, the more we wanted to join them.

We had enough money between us to purchase a classic Dutch motor cruiser. Then we spent much of our remaining savings on improvements and essential repairs. Julisa was a quality boat but, with its wooden top and canvas roof, she wasn’t suitable for anything other than summer cruising. After a few short weeks back on the water we talked about buying a bigger boat, a craft better suited to three or four season cruising and maybe, just maybe, a boat suitable for living on permanently.

Dutch motor cruiser, Julisa. The only boat I've purchased outright.

Dutch motor cruiser, Julisa. The only boat I’ve purchased outright.

We found what we thought was the perfect boat moored at a small boat club on the outskirts of Antwerp. We loved everything but the name. Dik Trom was the Dutch answer to England’s Billy Bunter; a fat boy, sorry, calorically challenged young man, renowned for his greed. Dik Trom was also famous for riding a donkey backwards. Given that I had a backwards approach to DIY, I felt an immediate connection with the boat.

Our new floating home, a 1984 Linssen motor cruiser, suited its name perfectly. She was short and fat and ate as much as possible. I was used to my Mercedes engine, pushing my narrowboat slowly along a series of muddy ditches. The thirty-eight horsepower engine consumed a modest litre an hour. Dik Trom, with nearly three times as many horses under the bonnet, used three and a half litres an hour to surge through Holland’s deep and extensive waterways. She was an expensive girl to please.

Dik Trom’s owner, Walter, was a kindly and retired pilot who lost the mobility needed to climb aboard his boat. Dik Trom had already been for sale for two years, priced far too ambitiously at €63,000 (£55,000). The boat’s asking price was too much for us. Most of our money was tied up in our German motorhome and our Dutch motor cruiser. But we wanted Dik Trom, so we needed to find a creative solution, one which would allow the boat without me having a nervous breakdown.

I don’t feel comfortable with an empty bank account. I worry and fret If I don’t have a financial safety net. Ever since the UK’s Revenue and Customs department forced me and my failing business into bankruptcy in 2008, money shortage has terrified me.

Cynthia, on the other hand, was always the eternal optimist. “What’s the worst that can happen?” she would often ask. She was trying to reassure me but asking me something like that is looking for trouble. I have a vivid imagination, especially where doom and gloom is concerned. I pictured unforeseen medical emergencies; Cynthia losing her pension, dwindling interest in my website and anything I offered for sale. I imagined a country which didn’t want to employ me under any circumstances. I worried about doggy disasters requiring expensive surgery, homelessness and poverty, and the pair of us wandering the streets of Europe without a penny between us.

I was so far out of my comfort zone that I had trouble breathing.

But Cynthia was as persuasive as I am easy to persuade. “You have skills,” she reassured me. “You’ll have no problem earning money if you set your mind to it.” Yeah, right. I owned and managed small businesses for most of my life. I was fifty-seven with no employment history and no skills likely to persuade a potential employer to hire me. I wasn’t keen on exploring that route.

“You’re a talented photographer,” she assured me. “You can easily earn money by selling your work online.” I didn’t consider myself talented, nor did I think that selling anything online was easy especially photographs. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of websites offering millions of pictures uploaded by both amateur and professional photographers. Few of them attracted buyers. Professional photographers using the latest and most expensive digital cameras invested an extraordinary amount of time and effort for little financial return. My photos were reasonably well composed, but my handheld iPhone camera pictures didn’t have the pin-sharp clarity necessary to encourage potential buyers to part with their hard-earned cash.

I quickly dismissed the idea too, so Cynthia tried a different line of attack.

“You are a gifted writer,” she told me. “You can earn money from your scribbling.” Was she serious? Writing blog posts for narrowboat enthusiasts hardly put me in the same league as J.K. Rowling. I earned a little from the site’s guides and packages. But the longer I stayed in Europe far away from England’s muddy ditches, the less I made. My income potential would probably be higher in a French burger bar.

My most realistic opportunity to earn some cash was to apply for a position at one of Holland’s many boatyards, boat clubs or marinas. Despite having the practical skills of a three-year-old, at least I could work hard. I reasoned that, with tens of thousands of boats using The Netherlands’ vast waterways network, boatyard employers must need someone to do their grunt work.

Then I would have the language barrier to overcome — something else to worry me. But my endless money concerns were slowly being eclipsed by a desire to return to life on the water.

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t… you’re right!”

Cynthia eventually persuaded me to think positively and imagine that I could find paid employment. She encouraged me to step far outside my comfort zone, walk a boat buying tightrope without a financial safety net and empty my bank account. “Everything will be all right in the end,” she assured me.

I managed to find employment at the prestigious marina where we had collected Julisa. The company needed someone to apply antifouling systems to an endless procession of expensive yachts. It wasn’t employment which gladdened by heart, but it would help with the bills if we were to buy another boat.

Even with a bridging loan from Cynthia’s bank, we were still €15,000 short, so we asked the broker to arrange a meeting with owner Walter.

Walter was a kind and compassionate man. He had lived on or near the water for most of his working life. Walter was passionate about boats and boating and loved his Linssen yacht. We met Walter for coffee in his canalside clubhouse. He talked about his frustration now that he lacked the mobility or energy to maintain his beautiful boat properly. “A boat should be cherished and treated with respect,” he sighed. “I can’t do that any more. She needs to go to someone who will look after her.”

Dik Trom's owner agreed to reduce the asking price by €10,000 and give us time to pay the €5,000 balance

Dik Trom’s owner agreed to reduce the asking price by €10,000 and give us time to pay the €5,000 balance

That was our opportunity. I showed Walter photographs of James throughout her five-year restoration project and photos of the work we had done on Julisa. I convinced Walter that Dik Trom would be in good hands. I talked enthusiastically about the jobs I would tackle immediately. I planned to renew the antifouling, paint the hull and superstructure, varnish any exposed woodwork and tackle a long list of minor repairs. Much as he was encouraged by my enthusiasm, Cynthia enchanted him with her warmth and compassion. Before we left Walter, he had agreed to…

Read A Creative Solution to Narrowboat Finance Part 2…

Discovery Day Update

I continue to work during the week for Calcutt Boats and at the weekend for myself. I host experience and helmsmanship training days on my 62′ narrowboat, Orient. Here’s what a recent guest had to say…

“(I) Wanted to learn about steering canal boats and using locks as (I) wanted to buy and live on a boat and be able to safely move it without recking or sinking it within minutes of purchase!! I also wanted some tips about living on a boat from someone who actually does it….not just a broker who is keen to sell me a boat….

(My Discovery Day was) well above expectations. Yes, I wanted it very ‘hands on’ with the boat and got lots of practical experience which is exactly what i needed! Also, lots of guidance given about what to do and the theory side. I came back feeling confident I could handle boat now in most situations. You were also great company and very patient. It would also be good to additionally learn how to move swing bridges and ‘the other type’ but I guess none on that stretch of canal. I think i do need to do a bit more knot tying experience but I guess that is a days course on it’s own and the phone app you suggested looks great!  

Yes, (I would) definitely (recommend your day to others). I have already done so and told them it is great value for money! The location is also beautiful and the boat stunning.” Jackie Tonks, 

I’m grateful for Jackie’s kind words. Her feedback is similar to hundreds of testimonials that I’ve received over the past half decade. I haven’t shared the  comments with you to show off (although it’s nice that I can), but to emphasise that, if you want to increase your chances of enjoying your time afloat and purchasing a problem free boat, you will be in very good hands. You can find out more about my Discovery Day service here. I hope that you can join me on an idyllic and instructive day out on the cut.

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Buying a Second Hand Narrowboat – Orient, Six Months On

Time heals, so they say. But I don’t know who “they” are and why I should believe them. I think time dulls rather than heals. Cynthia has been gone now for two months. Two long, lonely and hectic months.

Dik Trom, our Dutch boat, was a constant worry. The ongoing mooring, maintenance and insurance fees have been a massive and almost unsustainable financial drain. Thankfully, the drain, stress, and boat have now gone. A German couple paid a deposit for her last week and the balance yesterday. I should be jumping for joy. Hooray! Money in the bank and a much-needed reduction to a five-day working week. Sadly, it’s not to be. The sale proceeds have gone to Cynthia’s estate.

The money will cover a bridging loan which helped with Orient’s purchase and will return Cynthia’s share in Orient to her estate. Then I’ll be debt free once I’ve satisfied my own boating creditors.

Paying off Orient’s debts will take the rest of the year. I’ll need to work seven days a week until late December. I’m very much looking forward to a day or two off at Christmas and maybe even a short cruise.

I don’t mind the short term pain. It’s a price I’m willingly paying for our exciting European tour and an adventurous last three years for my wife. Cruising and relaxing will be back on the agenda in 2020. Until then it’s non-stop work during the day and organising my home’s various repairs and improvements at night.

Cynthia and I took possession of Orient on a damp and dismal day in December 2018. The last six months have been eventful. I found a perfect home and lost a perfect wife. I carefully blacked my hull over three days and then lost most of the paint five weeks later on a fourteen-day winter cruise south from Tattenhall marina to Calcutt Boats, three of them through thick ice. I’ve returned to work helping to maintain the marina’s beautiful grounds and embraced additional work tending the expansive gardens of my boss’s nearby country home. And then I shoehorn Discovery Day trips into my agenda. It’s a busy, busy life. One which helps me come to terms with Cynthia’s loss, pay off our combined boating debts and fund my home’s many planned repairs and improvements.

We paid £60,000 for our dream boat, a craft which we hoped to call home for many years to come. I had always admired Steve Hudson’s easily identifiable narrowboats with their pinched bow, fake rivets, midships engine room and boatman’s cabin filled with brass and lace. I wanted one. Now I have one, but am I happy with it?

We knew that the boat required a little work. The gas locker needed modifying to prevent leaking gas from using the bow thruster wiring to enter the cabin bilge. The cracked stove required replacing, and the Kabola diesel boiler wanted some TLC. The onboard generator had some issues, there wasn’t a single secure hatch or door on the boat, and all but one of Orient’s thirteen batteries needed either replacing or removing. Including the addition of two more lights and lower anchor points for the bow fender’s bottom chains, the labour bill came to £1,394 in addition to a £2,500 allowance paid by the owner for most of the remedial work.

We invested a total of £3,947 in the first three months on repairs and maintenance labour and parts. In addition to a sophisticated battery monitor and alternator booster, we purchased two new chimneys, and a roof-mounted engine exhaust, all in stainless steel. The Little Chimney Company purchases are a long term cost saving. During my first few years on board James, I replaced the chandlery bought chimneys several times after they failed to survive 24/7 liveaboard use. I invested in a stainless steel model two years before I sold my first narrowboat. I could quickly return its showroom shine with a little soap and water. The chimney will serve James’ new owners for many years to come.

Our high repairs and maintenance total included many purchases associated with buying a partially equipped second-hand narrowboat. I bought a reel of paracord and a recovery magnet, and disposable rubber gloves and a dispenser for the engine room. I invested in a trio of mooring chains to replace the less user-friendly onboard stock of nappy pins, piling hooks as they are correctly called. I bought cratch cover cleaner, polish and polishing cloths, new coolie hats, a new set of four anodes and the labour to install them, hull paint, and a roller and tray to apply it and, last but not least, two fifty metre hoses to reach the closest water point to my remote Calcutt Boats mooring.

All of Orient’s many systems appeared to be operational when we left Tattenhall marina in February. That didn’t last long. Orient is now mostly functional, reasonably comfortable and is aesthetically pleasing. However, there is much to do to bring her up to scratch.

The front deck offers useful storage space for low-value items, providing that it’s rain protected. Orient’s cratch cover has seen better days. I’ve managed to remove most of the vomit green organic stain which came with the boat. I can’t do much about the small splits in the clear plastic windows on both sides of the cover, or the frayed edge on the cover’s bottom edge. Although the canvas keeps most rain off the front deck, water leaks through the window splits and through the zips in heavy rain. I want to replace the cover when funds allow.

Kinver Covers quoted £1,000 to replace it. They replaced the covers worn press studs from the bottom edge to stop the canvas from sagging inside the well deck and funnelling water inside on rainy days. Kinver charged a very reasonable £80 for the repair. They also offered to replace the split windows and fit covers over the leaking zips. The repairs would have to be done in-house though so I would be without a cratch cover for several weeks. I would rather put up with the shabby cover for now and invest in new canvas for the front of my boat when I have money again. I’ll need to plan in advance. Kinver Canopies’ current lead time is three months.

We replaced the original and cracked Morso Squirrel stove using our initial £2,500 allowance. The Squirrel, fitted by a well-known canal tradesman with a good reputation spanning twenty years, worked faultlessly until it almost killed me. Squirrels are delivered with an airflow restrictor fitted as standard, a part which needs removing before installing in a narrowboat. It wasn’t so, over three months, the restrictor slowly clogged with stove debris until, in the early hours of a cold and wet winter’s mooring, I woke to a shrieking alarm and a boat filled with smoke.

I returned to bed after two hours of frantic boat ventilating and stove emptying. Thank God for working smoke alarms. Another alarm alerted me to a second stove problem a month later. This time carbon monoxide was the problem, caused by a poorly sealed roof collar. The stove is working fine now, but I wasn’t happy with the installer.

When the boat’s many alarms aren’t warning me of impending death, I like nothing more than relaxing in a comfortable chair watching the stove’s flickering flames on a wet and windy day. Sadly, I can’t do that on Orient. The boat doesn’t have any comfortable chairs.

Orient's saloon seating

Orient’s saloon seating – Despite the padded wheelchair seat on the computer chair, I still get a numb bum after half an hour.

The first task on my lengthy to-do list as we prepared to move on board was to donate the saloon’s two captain’s chairs to Tattenhall marina’s workshop tea room. Despite the aesthetic appeal and undeniable comfort of the two chairs decked out in cracked green leather, they used too much valuable space.

The immediate alternative was more practical but less comfortable. The top of a folding pine table forms the front of a hidden cupboard on the cabin’s port side. It housed two folding chairs and a pair of pine side tables. Until my bank account is much healthier than it is now, the uncomfortable chairs and a temporary table will have to do.

I plan to remove the glass-fronted bookcase built into the saloon and galley partition and install an L shaped upholstered bench seat which will convert into a bed. A skilled local craftsman visited me a couple of months ago to quote for the work. A word of encouragement here for any quality joiners considering moving afloat. You can charge an absolute fortune for narrowboat work. The guy quoted me £2,500 to construct the pine bench and table, not including the upholstery. He even managed to keep a straight face when he delivered the bad news.

High as it is, I’m prepared to pay his price. I know his work is first class and I’ll have comfortable and multifunctional seating which will allow me to rest in comfort at the end of a hard day’s labour. He’ll build the seat bases with lift out lids so that I can quickly reach items in the storage space beneath. I had a similar design on James which I used to store a pair of folding camp chairs to use for towpath sunbathing, an anchor, chain and rope, a vacuum cleaner and bulky engine spares which wouldn’t easily fit elsewhere. This useful storage space isn’t available to boaters who use captain’s chairs.

Plenty of space in the galley

Plenty of space in the galley to cook the most elaborate meals, which is a bit of a shame given that I only have to feed one.

My almost perfect boat kitchen is next to the saloon area. There’s plenty of storage for pots and pans, crockery and enough fresh and dried food to last me weeks, topped by an expansive workspace which allows me to prepare the most exotic meals. Meals which I can cook on and in a full sized hob and oven, which is something of a rarity on a narrowboat. The space is perfect apart from the Houdini hatch, which drives me mad.

Orient’s spray foam insulation is first class. The boat’s ventilation is not. I can’t open the boat’s porthole windows to welcome a cooling breeze or to allow moisture-laden air to escape. Any moisture in the cabin condenses on the Houdini hatch and falls like rain from the hatch’s steel frame. I wake in the morning to a rectangular wet patch on the galley floor and endure constant drips as I cook.

The solution is to fit an insulating clear plastic panel to the hatch frame. It will prevent condensation, but will also stop me from cracking the hatch open to gain some much-needed ventilation.

Orient's spacious bathroom

Orient’s spacious bathroom

There’s a floor to ceiling cupboard on the port side in the bathroom close to the galley door. The Kabola boiler cupboard is opposite. This is my tiny utility room. The port side cupboard used to house the boat’s Zanussi washing machine before it decided that its primary function was to transfer the water tank contents as quickly as possible into the cabin bilge. The cause was a cracked drum. Replacing the washing machine will cost me £400. It’s not something I can either afford or want to do at the moment. The marina has adequate laundry facilities which will have to do for now. I’ll probably install a machine before I begin cruising again in earnest. Either that or rely on on the list of canalside launderettes supplied by the Aylesbury Canal Society.

The Kabola boiler opposite is another low priority problem. A replacement pot cost me an arm and a leg at the beginning of the year. The boiler worked well for a day and then gave up. The issue appears to be a fuel blockage.

The boiler is the only way I can heat water when I’m off -grid. Most narrowboats get gallons of hot water from the engine when it’s running. My Lister doesn’t work up much of a sweat with its slow and steady beat, so it’s no use for water heating. I have a heater in the calorifier which I can use when I’m connected to the national grid but not when I’m cruising.

A plentiful supply of hot water is not a real concern. I can boil a kettle or two for dishwashing and one and a half litres of boiling water mixed with three litres of cold is all I need for my Hozelock Porta Shower. Fixing the boiler is towards the bottom of my to-do list.

My bedroom is next to the bathroom. It’s an area which doesn’t particularly please me. Orient’s sleeping arrangement is, quite frankly, a little bit shit. There’s a cross bed in the main bedroom and another in the boatman’s cabin. Neither allows an adult enough space to stretch out. At 5’10” I’m not the tallest of people, but even my little body can’t lay flat out on the bed. I have to sleep diagonally on the main bedroom bed or curled up like a hedgehog on the shorter bed in the boatman’s cabin.

Orient's bedroom - A room fit for a dwarf

Orient’s bedroom – A room fit for a dwarf

Ventilation is a problem too, not just in the bedroom but throughout the boat. Orient has five portholes down either side. Ten little circular windows which don’t open. Keeping warm on board isn’t a problem. Keeping cool when the thermometer tops twenty degrees is a different matter. With several days forecast to reach the high twenties next week, I’m going to be sleeping in a sauna.

The solution is to have the current windows replaced with portholes with an opening top hopper. I hope I can get them fitted before I melt.

My gorgeous Lister JP2 engine is in its own room next to the bedroom. It’s a thing of beauty. I wish I had more time to invest in keeping it looking pretty. I could easily spend an hour a day polishing its brass fittings and copper pipes. I don’t have the time, so all it gets is a furtive rub every now and then.

The engine and generator room

The engine and generator room

The Lombardini generator, which shares the engine room space, ran for a while after we had it serviced as part of the purchase agreement and then made some worrying noises before I could shut it down. I don’t know how ill it is, nor do I care at the moment. I have no need for it. If I want lots of power which I can’t or don’t want to take from the five battery domestic bank, I have my ever faithful 2KW Honda suitcase generator. Repairing the Lombardini is a long way off.
My man cave, the boatman’s cabin, completes my living space. It’s a cosy, comfortable and quiet area which I use for sleeping in hot weather.

My man cave, the boatman's cabin

My man cave, the boatman’s cabin

The room’s two portholes don’t open so, on dry nights, I sleep with the back doors and hatch open. I’m serenaded by the marina’s water birds and the soothing slap of waves against the stern. I drift off to sleep fantasising about my Christmas Day off on a debt-free boat and the years ahead filled with long cruises in a problem free floating home.

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Narrowboat Expenses For March 2019

This is one of an ongoing series of posts detailing my narrowboat expenses. Each post breaks down my monthly costs for the previous month, the same month three years earlier and a third set of figures for three years before that. As a Narrowbudget Gold user, you will always have access to the narrowboat running expenditure no more than a month old and you’ll be able to compare it with data which spans six years. You’ll be able to use this information to estimate the likely cost of buying and maintaining your own floating home.

Calculating accurate costs for the boat you intend to purchase is difficult. There are so many variables that the best you can hope for is a good idea of the expenses involved and the nature of the variables you need to consider. Even on the two similar length boats I have owned over the last decade, the running costs have varied signifficantly. With that in mind, I have explained the difference in the two boats’ systems, style and design in the series’ first post here.

 

March 2013

Boat: James No 194

Engine Hours This Month: None

Blog Posts This Month

Narrowboat Stove Fuel Test

Fitting Solar Panels

Getting Rid of Unwelcome Visitors

Essential Boating Equipment

A Case Study of Liveaboard Narrowboat Antioch

Narrowboat Running Costs for March 2013

Maintenance and Repairs

Phew! This was an expensive month. I ploughed every spare penny into the refurbishment of my beloved boat, transforming her slowly from an abandoned eyesore to a fully specified live aboard narrowboat.

Tools and fenders: I added a couple of tools to my onboard kit; a pair of mole grips and some bolt cutters. The mole grips saved the day a couple of months later when I lost a windlass, a recovery magnet and my spare windlass in the canal’s murky depths. The last windlass disappeared when I tried to juggle my essential lock key and a mug of hot coffee while negotiating a lock’s narrow balance beam. I was in the middle of an eight lock flight at the time. I used my mole grips as a windlass on the remaining four locks. It’s not a method of paddle raising I recommend.

Bolt croppers are handy for removing any metal which snags the propeller. I invested in them after spending an hour removing a submerged mattress from my boat. £34.82

Traffic Film Remover: TFR is very effective for removing stubborn stains and stove tar from your cabin paint. Twice as clean for half the effort so it’s worth the investment. £15.95

Inverter: An inverter is part of your boat’s power management system. The device converts the DC electrical charge stored in the battery bank to AC so that you can use mains appliances. Pure sine inverters are better for sensitive electronic equipment. This model was a Sterling 1.6kw pure sine inverter. I couldn’t run power guzzling devices like irons or electrical kettles on it, but it was powerful enough for all my day to day needs. £360.69

New flooring: I’d had enough of James’ threadbare and filthy beige carpet. I replaced it with easy care oak effect laminate flooring. It looked great and sounded awful. One of the dogs, springer spaniel Charlie, paced up and down the boat constantly. His claw clicking drove me mad. £640

Solar Power: An essential addition for an off-grid lifestyle. This 300 watt array with its MPPT controller catered for all my electrical needs for most of the year. Input fell to about 10% of the summer high during short and cloudy winter days. Then, I had to run my engine for 60-90 minutes a day to keep my battery bank fully charged. £1,000

Recovery Magnet: This is a marvellous device. It’s compact and powerful. The magnet can lift 50lb, more than enough for anything you might drop in the cut. Apart from the magnet itself. This is the one I lost between windlass drops which resulted in me using a pair of mole grips to work through a lock flight. A word to the wise; if you have novice crew on board, check their knots. £25.99

Fire Protection: All narrowboats now need a Boat Safety Scheme Certificate. James had been tied to its marina mooring since the scheme was introduced. I needed to make many changes to get the boat through its first exam. One of the more basic requirements was to ensure that the correct fire fighting and detection equipment was on board. I purchased a smoke alarm, a fire blanket and three fire extinguishers. £82.90

Additional leisure batteries: James had just one 110ah lead acid battery installed for the domestic supply when I moved on board. And that one didn’t hold a charge. I didn’t know my arse from my elbow when I moved on board. I didn’t know how much power I would use, how many batteries I would need to cater for that demand or the best way of upgrading my battery bank. Adding batteries to an existing bank isn’t a good idea. If you have a bank of different aged batteries, when the oldest fail they take the newer one down with them. The accepted wisdom is to change all batteries in a bank at the same time. In my ignorance, I added two 135ah lead acid batteries to my existing bank. £233.70

Maintenance and repairs total: £2,394.05

Coal: James wasn’t an easy boat to heat. Polystyrene sheets were sandwiched between the pine cladding and the treated plywood cabin sides and top. Spray foam insulation is much more effective method of heat retention. The cabin’s exterior ply had deteriorated badly. I had the complete cabin over plated with steel. I had more polystyrene sandwiched between the original cabin and the new steel. In hindsight, and what a wonderful gift that is, I should have used sprayfoam instead. Polystyrene can crumble and leave cold spots, bare patches which showed clearly on cold winter’s days when the cabin heat quickly melted the roof frost on unprotected areas.

The stove struggled to heat all of the boat too. There were bulkheads between the galley and the utility area, the utility area and the space I used as an office, between the office and the bathroom and between the bathroom and the bedroom at the back of the boat. Consequently, heating anywhere other than the saloon area was difficult.

I used roughly ten 25kg bags of coal briquettes each month. I purchased ten at the beginning and ten at the end of the month. £215.60

Mooring fee: The charge to keep your boat on a static mooring is likely to be your biggest ongoing boating expense. Most marinas do not accept live aboard boaters. Calcutt Boats doesn’t, but they make an exception for members of staff. I had a discounted mooring, but the price I’ve quoted here reflects the price you would have paid, if you had been allowed to stay at Calcutt full time, in March 2013. As with most marinas, there was a discount available for a single annual payment. I couldn’t afford to pay a year’s mooring in advance so I paid a slightly inflated monthly rate. £258.00

Electricity: Because James was so difficult to heat I needed a second heat source. I used two 500w greenhouse heaters, one in the bedroom to remove the evening chill and another in my office space. Consequently my electricity bill was much higher then than it is now. £60.00

Gas: I use less propane gas these days too. I had an on demand gas water heater on board James for the first few years. I had it removed after it tried to cook me. The unit failed while I was showering. It failed to push the cold water supply through the burner fast enough. The end result was a shower cubicle filled with scalding water. I escaped with most of my skin and a morbid fear of these types of water heater. I was using one 13kg cylinder every three weeks when the water heater worked. That dropped to one every six to eight weeks when I only used gas for cooking. £22.90

Total narrowboat expenses for March 2013: £2,950.55

Please remember that this is not a typical month’s expenditure. James was an old and poorly maintained boat which needed extensive repairs and upgrades. Even so, March 2013 was an expensive month. Please read all the posts in this series to gain a clear picture of the costs involved in living on board full time.

Now we’ll move on to the running costs for the same boat three years later.

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Narrowboat Expenses For February 2019

This is one of an ongoing series of posts detailing my narrowboat expenses. Each post breaks down my monthly costs for the previous month, the same month three years earlier and a third set of figures for three years before that. As a Narrowbudget Gold user, you will always have access to the narrowboat running expenditure no more than a month old and you’ll be able to compare it with data which spans six years. You’ll be able to use this information to estimate the likely cost of buying and maintaining your own floating home.

Calculating accurate costs for the boat you intend to purchase is difficult. There are so many variables that the best you can hope for is a good idea of the expenses involved and the nature of the variables you need to consider. Even on the two similar length boats I have owned over the last decade, the running costs have varied signifficantly. With that in mind, I have explained the difference in the two boats’ systems, style and design in the series’ first post here.

 

February 2013

Boat: James No 194

Engine Hours This Month: None

Blog Posts This Month

2013 02 20 Newsletter

Important changes to the site login process

Login Problems Resolved

A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Lucky Duck

Detailed narrowboat running costs for January 2013

I’ve copied this text from the January 2013 blog post detailing my running costs.

“This year (2013) is going to be an expensive year for Sally and I. We have a huge amount of work to do to get James up to scratch. I’ve had some of the more major work done already. In November 2011 I replaced the old perished leaking and rotten wooden top with a new steel cabin. Actually, I didn’t replace one with the other. I had the new steel added on top of the existing cabin, and added another layer of insulation between the two. Removing the existing wooden cabin would have meant destroying much of the woodwork inside the cabin. James is beautifully fitted inside. Removing the woodwork would have been a tragic, almost criminal waste.

The new steel work, transportation and remedial work cost roughly £10,000. The transport alone was £1,100 for a delivery to and collection from a boatbuilder just eight miles away. The boatbuilder didn’t have any lifting gear on site so the road haulage company had to provide a crane too.

In April 2012 I took James out of the water to black the hull. Two days of dirty, back-breaking labour saved me the £500 that I would have been charged if I had asked Calcutt Boats to do the work for me. After James was put back in the water, I took her into one of our paint tents, took three weeks off work and painted the rest of the boat. It was a frustrating but ultimately rewarding project which resulted in a half decent finish and which saved me a fortune. As a ball park figure, you can bank on £100 a foot to have your boat painted by the professionals. James, at 62?, would therefore have cost me over £6,000 for a “proper” job. As it was, the cost of the materials plus the hire of the paint tent was under £1,000.

So I started 2013 with steelwork to the top and to the bottom of the boat with a decent layer of paint. The hull needs doing every three years so I next need to do it mid 2015. The cabin should last five or six years at least if it’s looked after properly, which brings me to January 2013 and my expenses for the month. Here they are…

Electricity: Each mooring has a 230v electrical supply which is charged at 20p per unit and topped up cards available from our reception.  I generally buy 3 x £10 electricity cards at a time.  I bought cards twice this month. My electricity purchases should be significantly reduced in March when I have the solar panels fitted. Time will tell.  – £60

Gas: I should have known better. I ran out of gas in January. I have two 13kg propane cylinders in the front gas locker. When one runs out I usually buy a replacement on the same day. I forgot in December so when the smell of gas alerted me to the fact that the cylinder in use was on its way out on a bitterly cold January morning, I scrambled out of the boat to the gas locker to (I thought) quickly switch from the empty to the full cylinder. Both were empty so there was no morning cup of coffee, and no toast. I wasn’t happy. Consequently, I bought two cylinders later than day. – £45.90

Coal: I get a better deal if I buy ten bags at a time. Ten 25kg bags of Pureheat last me about a month –  £108

Mooring: My mooring costs £2,300 a year – £191.66

Maintenance & Repairs: There were no maintenance and repair expenses as such in January, but I did make a purchase to help me when I’m out cruising. I bought a folding bike. Folding bikes are very handy for getting to and from the local shops, or returning to a parked car so that it can be brought to the boat’s current mooring. You can pay £500 or more for a new folding bike. The one I bought was being sold by the owners of a narrowboat we have on brokerage. It’s very comfortable, but basic Apollo folding bike from Halfords. The list price is £149 but this one has had Derailleur gears added. The cost to me? – £65

Heating the boat increases my monthly outgoings during the winter. In January I spent £108 for coal and about £30 more than I would during the summer on electricity. The increased electricity cost is due to two 500w Dimplex Coldwatcher greenhouse heaters that I use to provide additional heat towards the rear of the boat where the stove’s heat can’t reach.

The total directly boat related regular expenses this month were £213.90 for heating and electricity and £191.66 for my mooring, a total of £427.80. Then of course there was the bike purchase bringing the total to £492.80.

Of course, the boat expenditure is only a part of the cost of life on the boat. Here’s what we spent on our day to day expenses in January

Internet: I use the excellent mobile broadband dongle from Three. For the last two and a half years, since my bankruptcy, I have been using the Pay As You Go option because my credit rating wasn’t pretty. The PAYG service costs £25 for 7GB per month. I’m connected 24/7 as I’m aditing the site early morning, on breaks from work through the day, and in the evening. Sally has an iPad. She’s online quite a bit too. Consequently, we often ran over the monthly allowance. Over the last 12 months I’ve been trying my luck by attempting to order a dongle on a 24 month contract. In January I was successful. My mobile broadband now costs me £15.99 a month for 15GB rather than last year’s average of £29.69 a month. – £15.99

Telephone (Mobile): Sally and I both have mobiles on contract and Sally has an iPad, also on contract – £115

Laundry: Calcutt Boats as two washing machines and a dryer for moorers’ use. We only use the washing machines. Sally hangs the damp washing inside the boat. It’s dry within 24 hours. The washing machines take tokens which we buy at reception. Each token costs £1 and keeps the washing machines going for 45 minutes. – £20

Groceries: We eat well but not extravagantly. £366.40

Eating out: We enjoy a coffee in a cafe and the occasional meal out. In January we had a meal in local pub, a fiery chicken feast in Nandos in the Bullring, Birmingham and a coffee in a canalside cafe – £81.60.

Entertainment: I love to read. I love my Kindle. It’s so easy to finish a book, use my laptop to browse through the Kindle books on Amazon, click a button and open my new book within a minute or two. I don’t read as much as I would like because of the time I spend adding content to this site. However, I still get through three or four books a month. We also buy second hand DVDs from Blockbuster about once a month. The local store sells four for £10 – £32.50

Car: The insurance on my Seat Althea was due in January (£298). I don’t use my car very much so just £31.10 for fuel – £329.35

Clothing: I try to spend as little as possible on clothing but in January I needed a new pair of wellies and a fleece hat – £58.49

My total none-boat-related living costs for January were £1,019.33 bringing my overall total for January to £1,512.13. I fear that the totals for the coming few months are going to be far more than that with the improvements we have planned but what a lovely boat James will be when she’s finished!”

Now we’ll move on to the running costs for the same boat three years later.

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Summary

Narrowboat Expenses For January 2019

This is the first of an ongoing series of posts detailing my narrowboat expenses. Each post will break down my monthly costs for the previous month, the same month three years earlier and a third set of figures for three years before that. I will publish each post in the middle of the month. You will always have access to the narrowboat running expenditure no more than a month old and you’ll be able to compare it with data which spans six years. You’ll be able to use this information to estimate the likely cost of buying and maintaining your own floating home.

Calculating accurate costs for the boat you intend to purchase is difficult. There are so many variables that the best you can hope for is a good idea of the expenses involved and the nature of the variables you need to consider. With that in mind, I have explained the difference in the two boats’ systems, style and design below.

About The Boats

The data spans my two different periods living afloat on England’s inland waterways. I lived on board my first boat, James No 194, from April 2010 until October 2016. I moved off the cut then until December 2018. My wife, Cynthia, and I explored Europe for twenty six months in a 2003 Hymer motorhome. We enjoyed two winters languishing on France’s Mediterranean coast and much of the summer months cruising the vast Dutch waterways network. Much as we enjoyed our European adventures we missed England and the English canal network too much.

We returned to the UK mid December 2018 and purchased our second narrowboat from Ash Boats at Tattenhall marina. Our new floating home is Orient, a 62′ Steve Hudson traditional stern narrowboat.

What you pay to maintain and run your narrowboat will be determined  by many factors including the boat length, layout, heating system(s), insulation, complexity, your ability and desire to maintain and repair your home, and by your boat use and lifestyle.

The boats we have lived on are similar. Here they are in detail.

James No 194

Type: Our first boat was a 62′ Norton Canes traditional stern narrowboat. She was constructed in 1977 with a steel hull and a oil treated ply cabin. I over plated the wooden cabin with steel in November 2011. The boat had polystyrene insulation, typical in a boat built in the seventies and not very efficient. I sandwiched another layer of polystyrene between the original cabin and the new steel. In hindsight, and what a wonderful gift that is, I should have used spray foam instead.

Year of Construction: 1977

Length: 62′

Width: 6’ 10”

Draught: 2’6” 

Building Material: Steel hull with an oil treated ply cabin. The cabin was eventually over plated with 4mm steel. While the new cabin weatherproofed the boat and didn’t neccesitate disturbing the boat’s beautiful internal pine cladding, the extra weight increased the boat draught and raised its centre of gravity. The result was a rather wobbly boat.

Insulation: Polystyrene

Heating: Initially, a Torgem (or was it Torglow?) multi fuel stove at the front of the cabin which gravity fed three radiators along the starboard side. I eventually removed the stove’s back boiler and had a Webasto Thermotop C diesel central heating system installed to heat the back end of the boat. Solid fuel stoves can’t adequately heat a boat divided into two or more rooms.

Engine: Mercedes OM636. This was an extremely reliable if slightly smokey engine. It clocked up 6,173 hours over forty years. People who knew what they were talking about told me that the engine should run for ten times as long without any problems.

Engine Power: 42 horsepower 

Fuel consumption: 1.97 litres per hour – Most narrowboat engines use between one and one and a half litres of diesel per hour. James was a thirsty girl

Diesel tank size: 300 litres – A large tank by narrowboat standards, but a baby compared with Orient’s whopper.

Batteries: 1 engine starter, 4 x 160ah AGM batteries in the domestic bank. I began my boat life with just one 110ah leisure battery. I quickly doubled the capacity and then doubled it again a year or two later. Soon after that I realised the mistake I made. If you need to add to a battery bank, replace the whole bank. If you don’t, the oldest battery in the bank will fail and drag the rest with it. 

Inverter:1600 watt Sterling pure sine. More than enough for onboard use.

Generator: A 2KW Kipor suitcase generator. It cost half as much as a similar specification Honda. That’s because it weighed much more, made more noise and wasn’t as reliable. I rarely used it.

Battery monitor: Smartgauge. 

Solar power: 3 x 100w panels mounted on a tilting bracket, and an MPPT controller. Supplied and fitted by Tim Davis of Onboard Solar. These three panels allowed me to stay as long as I wanted on a summer mooring without having to run the engine for battery charging. I ran my engine for an hour a day in the winter months to supplement the panels’ reduced output.

Water heating: Three options; via the engine when cruising, through the calorifier’s immersion heater when attached to a mains supply and, initially, using a wall mounted on demand gas heater. The gas heater failed catastrophically when I was in the shower, resulting in a cloud of super heated steam rather than hot water from the shower head. I removed the gas heater immediately. 

Cooking: A four ring gas hob, grill and oven.

Orient

Type: Steve Hudson traditional with an engine room and boatman’s cabin. The boat has bulkheads between the galley and the bathroom, the bathroom and the bedroom, the bedroom and the engine room and the engine room and the boatman’s cabin. More bulkheads means greater difficulty pushing heat through the boat from a single multi fuel stove. 

Year of Construction: 1996 hull construction, 2002 sale and owner fit out. 

Length: 61’ 6”

Width: 6’ 10”

Draught: 3’ 0” 

Building Material: Steel

Insulation: Spray foam

Heating: Morso Squirrel in the main cabin, Premiere range in the boatman’s cabin and a Kabola boiler for hot water and for heating a towel rain in the bathroom and radiators in the engine room and main bedroom.

Engine: Lister JP2M – It’s a thing of beauty, housed in its own engine room and visible to all through port and starboard side doors. The downside is that it takes up a huge amount of space, weighs as much as a small car and is the reason towpath users often find me bent double in a darkened room furiously polishing my pistons.

Engine Power: 21 horsepower – It’s about half the power of engines you find in many modern narrowboats of a similar length. However, working boats carrying forty tonne loads and towing a similarly laden butty used engines similar to this. If they were good enough for working boatmen, they’re good enough for me.

Fuel consumption: 0.97 litres per hour – Most narrowboat engines use between one and one and a half litres of diesel per hour. Orient’s fuel consumption came as a pleasant surprise.

Diesel tank size: 500l – This is an enormous tank for a narrowboat, twice the size of many boats, four times the size of some. It feeds the engine, the generator and the Kabola boiler

Batteries: 1 engine starter, 1 generator 1 starter, 5 x 130AGM batteries in the domestic bank – There were thirteen batteries on board when we bought the boat; one engine starter, one generator starter, two for the bow thruster, seven in the domestic bank and two connected to nothing at all under the engine room floor. Twelve of the thirteen wouldn’t hold a charge.

Inverter: 3,000W Sterling – Overkill as far as I’m concerned. A more powerful inverter increases the temptation to use power hungry devices which quickly drain the battery bank. The key to a happy off grid life is using less power, not equipping your boat with expensive kit so that you can use more.

Generator: Lombardini 15LD 315 5KW  – What a useful tool this would be if it worked. It doesn’t. It didn’t work when we viewed the boat. We had it serviced. The Lombardini worked perfectly for a while MORE HERE

Battery monitor: Sterling PMP1

Solar power: None

Water heating: If we’re connected to a shore line, or during the brief period we could use the onboard generator, we could turn on the calorifier’s immersion heater. The immersion heater would quickly drain the battery bank so we can’t use it if we’re powering the boat through the inverter. The most cost effective method is via the Kabola diesel boiler. That’s when it’s working. A clogged burner pot was initially to blame. After I replaced that with a ruinously expensive new part the boiler worked perfectly for a day. The latest problem is likely to be a blocked fuel filter or line. Orient’s slow revving Lister doesn’t get hot enough to heat water.

Cooking: A gas hob and oven in the galley plus limited cooking on the Premiere range in the boatman’s cabin.

Boat Use And Lifestyle

I didn’t know anything about narrowboats when I stepped aboard my first floating home nearly nine years ago. I didn’t know how to handle my long, thin boat either, which was just as well really. James No 194 wasn’t in any condition to take out on the cut. The once beautiful boat had been languishing on a marina mooring for ten years. Everything on board needed servicing, refurbishing, repairing or replacing. I didn’t earn much so the boats beautification took five long years.

Apart from the occasional nerve wracking cruise around the marina, my boat was nothing more than a floating flat for the first three years. The forty year old Mercedes engine remained cold for most of that time. A clogged fuel filter brought the engine to an embarrassing stop six miles from home on my first cruise. One of the marina fitters used a hire boat to tow me back to base. A split gearbox hose put a stop to my second cruising attempt. I pretty much gave up after that until I could afford to have the engine’s perishables replaced and attend to some dangerous faults in the engine room.

I ran the engine for less than fifty hours in my first thirty three months on board. The boat’s condition and my confidence and competence improved dramatically in 2014. I recorded a slightly more respectable three hundred and seventy four engine hours in 2014. In 2015, I swapped my job at the marina for the life of a continuous cruiser. I clocked up 1,134 hours at the tiller that year and lived off grid for all of it. I kept a mooring at Calcutt Boats but didn’t use it. I stayed on the cut all winter, living completely off grid. In fact, I used my shore line to connect the the national grid for just one day in the whole year.

My life changed completely in 2016. I met my wife Cynthia in the autumn of 2015. We both adored the live aboard lifestyle but we agreed that a few months away from the mud and damp of English canal winters would do us both the world of good. We bought a second hand Hymer motorhome to take us to France’s Mediterranean coast then, after battling bureaucracy for a few months and failing to secure the visa Cynthia needed to stay long term in the UK, we decided to sell my narrowboat and tour Europe full time.

The following twenty six months were filled with excitement, adventure and non stop travel. We drove thirty thousand miles through eleven countries, stopping each summer in Holland to explore the Netherland’s vast waterways network in our Dutch Linssen yacht. Much as we enjoyed immersing ourselves in new cultures and experiences we missed the English canals. I missed them most.

We returned to England in December 2018, driving north from Dover to Tattenhall marina near Chester and onto Orient, or new home. 

After six weeks and one abandoned attempt to cruise south to Calcutt Boats we waved a fond farewell to the good folk of Tattenhall and endured an eventful two week trip during to coldest two weeks of the year. Orient kept us warm and dry and performed magnificently during three days of inadvisable ice breaking. The hull I blacked three weeks before our journey south needed blacking again by the time we reached Napton Junction.

I spent far, far too much during our time away and then invested even more in Orient’s purchase. I had an opportunity to return to work at Calcutt Boats, helping to maintain the business’s one hundred and ten acres of glorious Warwickshire countryside. I’ve been working full time at the marina since February 2019, escaping on high days and holidays for a few days cruising.

Marina life doesn’t suit everyone. I don’t think it would suit me if I moored anywhere else. I don’t like the idea of looking through any of Orient’s dozen portholes and seeing another boat moored an arm’s length away. Fortunately, I don’t have to. Orient has a unique mooring, tied to to rusty thirty five foot long dump barge in a little use corner of Lock’s marina, the elder of Calcutt’s two marinas. 

I have the best of both worlds. I have a marina mooring with expansive views, including the antics of novice boaters arriving at Calcutt Bottom lock for the first time.

Read on to discover the actual and detailed expenses for January 2013, January 2016 and January 2019. I’m often asked by aspiring boaters how much the cost of boating increases over the years. If you’re one of them, here’s the information you’ve been looking for.

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A Creative Solution To Narrowboat Finance

I sat with my head in my hands opposite broker, Steve Harral. He listened to me as I reeled off a list of faults unearthed during a two-hour survey.

“There’s too much to do Steve,” I told him unhappily. “There are three different heat sources on the boat. All of them have problems which need addressing before we can move on board. The Squirrel is cracked and needs replacing, and the range in the boatman’s cabin has a loose flue. That needs fixing before we can light it. We can’t use either multi-fuel stove, and we can’t turn the central heating system on because the Kabola boiler is leaking diesel!”

Orient's boatman's cabin range - The flue needs to be sealed before we can use it

Orient’s boatman’s cabin range – The flue needs to be sealed before we can use it

Steve made a note. “Anything else?” he asked. He didn’t look at all concerned. It was all right for him. He didn’t have to find the extra few thousand pounds needed to fix the problems.

“The water tank has a hole near the top. It’s holding water but if we aren’t careful every time we top up our tank we’re going to flood the boat. The tank either needs fixing or replacing.” The water tank worried me. It was probably the original tank, which meant it was sixteen-year-old plastic. Already weakened by an open crack, I didn’t know how many jolts it could stand before bursting like a ripe melon dropped from a high wall. English locks, often staffed by well-meaning but inexperienced bystanders, are no place for a delicate craft.

I carried on working my way through my mental list. “The generator’s in a bit of a state too. It’s leaking in three or four places. An effort’s been made to seal the leaks with epoxy, but it hasn’t worked. That needs servicing too before we can use it.”
Steve scribbled on his reporter’s notepad again. “Is that it?”

“No, I’ve saved the best till last. We opened the gas locker hatch to reveal a real can of worms. There are four reasons why the boat shouldn’t have passed its BSS exam eighteen months ago. Two are quick fixes. I’m not bothered about them, but the other two need some work. Concrete has been poured into the front half of the gas locker to raise the floor. Because the steel base is now inaccessible, it’s an automatic fail until the concrete is removed so the steel can be examined. But the bigger problem is the bow thruster housing.” I explained what my mate and Boat Safety examiner, Russ, had told me about the potential for leaking gas to flow from the locker into the bilge and back to the engine. “There’s a lot of work which needs doing before we can consider moving on board. We can’t afford to have it done at the moment. Do you have any bright ideas?”

Steve looked up from his notes and saw my worried look. “Look, I don’t think any of this is going to be a problem. As far as I’m concerned, these jobs are the seller’s responsibility. I’ve been in this kind of situation many times before. Most sellers look at their boats through rose tinted glasses. They think their pride and joy is perfect. It’s often far from it. If I make these issues go away, are you still interested in buying the boat?” Of course, I was still interested. I had always admired Steve Hudson boats for their elegant design and quality build. I was also acutely aware how few narrowboats for sale have what I consider to be adequate storage space. Although Orient didn’t quite have as many built-in cupboards and drawers as my old Norton Canes boat, it came pretty close. I felt reasonably confident that even after Cynthia’s recent attempt to buy one of everything Amazon had for sale, we would be able to store all our worldly goods and still have a tidy boat.

Plenty of storage space in Orient's galley

Plenty of storage space in Orient’s galley

Steve correctly interpreted my nodding dog impression as agreement. “Right then, I need to try to have a chat with Stuart.” Stuart Palmer was Orient’s owner. Although I hadn’t met him or his wife Sue I liked them immensely. They were clearly exceptionally kind and trusting people.

Our proposed purchase was far from straightforward. All of our money was invested in our two homes; a 2003 Hymer motorhome and a 1983 Dutch Linssen yacht. We could raise up to half of Orient’s asking price via a bridging loan through Cynthia’s American bank. We hoped to pay most of the balance when we sold our Hymer. The remainder would come from the proceeds of our boat sale sometime the following year. We hoped.

Stuart and Sue had bent over backwards to accommodate us. Now we would be testing their generosity to breaking point by asking them to swallow the cost of the boat’s essential repairs, replacements and modifications. The first step, actually talking to them, was far from easy.

Their son was tying the matrimonial knot thousands of miles away. While the Palmer family cavorted somewhere on a Mexico beach, far, far away from working smartphones, tablets or laptop computers, we waited and worried. Stuart and Sue wouldn’t be back in dark and damp England for a further four days. I hoped and prayed that their enthusiasm to sell to us wouldn’t be dampened by an unhappy return to a wet English autumn or a tequila-induced hangover. Time would tell. In the meantime, I had a long drive ahead of me.

I didn’t enjoy the journey back to Holland. Ten hours of tedious motorway driving, broken by a lengthy wait at Eurotunnel’s Folkestone terminal.

I booked a return Channel Tunnel crossing a month earlier when I took our Hymer to England to have some warranty work done. I didn’t know exactly when I would be able to return. The repairs took longer than expected, so I had already altered my return date once. The fee for changing a ticket date depends on train availability. The charge to switch to an early morning train was a very reasonable £1. I arrived at the terminal at 10pm feeling reasonably wide awake after my six-hour drive from Tattenhall marina. I knew the cost of switching again to the 10pm train was an eye-watering £95, so I decided to try the sympathy card.

The uniformed guy at the ticket barrier appeared happy enough. I adopted a miserable expression. I told him about my poorly wife suffering unpleasantly on a damp and partially heated boat moored on a windswept Dutch marina. I explained how an earlier train would improve both her physical and mental health immeasurably. He nodded sympathetically and called his supervisor.

“Good news!” he told me with a smile as he finished his call. You can change to the 10pm train and get back to your wife early.” He fiddled with the display in front of him. “That’s £95. How do you want to pay?”

I put away my wallet and steeled myself for a night trying to sleep in a floodlit carpark, and hoped that Cynthia would understand.

I didn’t enjoy my return to work at a high-end Dutch marina at all. I always felt that I didn’t quite fit in. There was the language issue for a start. Nearly all young Dutch people can speak English when they have to but, of course, they don’t need to very often when most of their coworkers are Dutch. Coffee breaks in the canteen have always been a painful affair, both emotionally and physically. The Dutch are not a quiet race, especially in a workshop canteen. Imagine ten men all trying to talk at once in a language you don’t understand, usually with mouths filled to overflowing with chocolate spread covered bread, at the volume of a four-engined jet struggling to leave Mother Earth. It’s enough to make your ears bleed.

The one saving grace, for me, is the Dutch obsession with cream cakes.

If you have a birthday, if you get a promotion, if you start or leave a job, or if you just fancy enhancing your artery-clogging diet, you stagger into work bow legged under a towering pile of cardboard boxes filled with fresh cream cakes. That’s a typical canteen coffee break in Holland; rounds of dry bread spread thickly with sweetened chocolate spread, a doorstep wedge of sponge filled with fresh cream and a mug of caffeine thickened with heaps of sugar. It’s no wonder my co-workers sounded like guests at a children’s birthday party. I sat quietly on my own reading my Kindle and marvelling at the empty calories being devoured with such enthusiasm while I ploughed my way through my own knee-high mound of cream.

Kempers Watersport Showroom - I endured a monotonous week polishing this lot when I would rather be polishing the one below...

Kempers Watersport Showroom – I endured a monotonous week polishing this lot when I would rather be polishing the one below…

Orient is waiting to welcome us home

Orient is waiting to welcome us home

Steve phoned me on a wet Wednesday as I half-heartedly polished the hull of a £300,000 second-hand speedboat. “I have some news which I think you’ll like,” he offered enigmatically. What news did Steve think I would like? That the sun was shining on Tattenhall marina, that Orient was still leak free despite not being heated during the recent cold snap, or could it be that he had finally spoken to the elusive Palmers?

“I spoke to Stuart yesterday. I told him about the problems. I didn’t phone you then because he needed to talk to his wife before making a decision. I have good news for you. They have agreed to lower the sale price by the total of the quotes for all the different repairs!” This WAS good news, but not great news. In my experience, a quoted price is often far removed from the final bill. It’s an indication, a starting point and, on occasion, complete guesswork. I suggested, for us, a better solution.
“I want the price we pay to include the total cost for all of the work done,” I told him. “What if we pay you a substantial deposit. Rather than Stuart having to pay for any repairs, you can use the deposit to pay for them. You can reduce the boat price by the final repair bill total. How about that?”

“I see your point,” agreed Steve. “I’ll need to run your idea by Stuart. I’ll get back to you as soon as I’ve heard from him. In the meantime, I have some more news for you. Stuart and Sue may want to take your motorhome in part exchange.” That was marvellous news. Orient’s annual mooring at Tattenhall marina expired at the end of December. We didn’t want to renew it but, until CRT’s contractors had completed on the various locks and bridges on our route back to Warwickshire, we wouldn’t have anywhere to store the Hymer when we advertised it for sale. We could hardly adopt a continuous cruising lifestyle on Cheshire’s canals with a five-tonne motorhome to think about. Stuart and Sue taking our motorhome would solve that problem instantly.

Then Steve stuck a pin in my growing bubble of happiness. “Oh, I just want to confirm one detail with you. The Hymer is right-hand drive, isn’t it?” Shit. No, it wasn’t. The vehicle was UK registered but designed for continental travel. The speedometer was calibrated in kilometres, the odometer the same and, more importantly, the steering wheel was definitely on the wrong side for driving on English roads.

I waxed lyrical about the joy of continental touring compared to motorhoming in the UK. I talked about the weather, the food, free campsites, magnificent scenery, the French people’s love affair with motorhome owners and their disposable income. I spoke passionately and perhaps a little desperately. Steve didn’t appear impressed at all.

“Look, here’s Stuart’s email address and telephone number. He insisted that they wanted a right-hand drive vehicle. Maybe you can convince them left-hand drive will work for them.” Steve’s tone suggested otherwise, but I had nothing to lose by speaking with the Palmers.

I phoned Stuart briefly. I tried to switch his allegiance to foreign roads. He listened without enthusiasm and then ended the call with what I suspected was a ploy I had used all too often before. “That’s all very interesting Paul, but I have to go. My wife is waving at me. We’re late for an appointment.”

I was bitterly disappointed. Over the last half hour, I had gone from worrying about the logistics of selling our six-wheeled home to virtual euphoria at the thought of a quick sale, to a deep depression when I suspected we were back to square one. All I could do was wait and hope that the Palmers contacted us again when they had more time.

So I waited and waited, and then I waited some more.

I received an unexpected and very welcome email three days later. “We haven’t completely discounted the possibility of buying a left-hand drive motorhome…” Sue began. It wasn’t the positive reply I hoped for, but it wasn’t a flat-out refusal. She wanted details about the vehicle’s condition, service history and running costs. All of her questions indicated interest and ignited a tiny flame of hope. I emailed the details, complete with a link to an online photo album of the Hymer dominating a variety of exotic landscapes. And then I waited some more.

Sue replied two days later. More positive news. They wanted to do a deal. She suggested taking the motorhome in part exchange and then named the balance they wanted us to pay. The proposal was good in principle, but the email didn’t address who was going to be responsible for the necessary repairs to the boat before we could move on board. I pointed that out to her. The Palmers need to think some more.

In the meantime, I still don’t know how much the repairs are likely to cost, who’s going to be doing them, and when they can be done. We hoped to be on board by Christmas. That deadline is feeling more and more unrealistic.

Tattenhall marina has sublet their marina workshop. The new guy will be open for business tomorrow. He’s going to quote for the work. If his price is acceptable, he should be able to start work immediately. In a perfect world, he would work on our boat to the exclusion of all else, all the parts he needed would be readily available, and he would be finished within a week. Oh, and pigs would fly, and money would grow on trees.

Discovery Day Update

Thank you to those who have booked a day with me in 2019 already. And a big thank you to two of my future guests who asked if I could package a Discovery Day as a Christmas gift. What a great idea. On a feedback form, I received two or three years ago one happy lady told me, “This has been the best anniversary gift I’ve received in twenty-four years of marriage!” I know how much people enjoy their eight-hour cruise with me, so what a wonderful gift to give at a time of the year when balmy summer days are a distant memory.

If you are wondering what on Earth you can buy your significant other for Christmas, here’s an opportunity to arrange something they will really enjoy. They’ll receive an animated Jackie Lawson boating card on Christmas Day with a message including a link to a special Christmas gift. The lucky recipient will land on a Christmas Discovery page on my site describing the treat in store for them in detail. It’s a gift they will always remember fondly.

If you want to see the Discovery Day route, here’s a virtual cruise along the combined Oxford and Grand Union canals between Napton and Braunston junctions.

Click here to watch the video

The video was put together by Discovery Day guest Mike Shacklock on a gorgeous summer’s day in June 2015. The relaxing video shows a rooftop view of my boat on a calm canal and the waving helmsman of narrowboats cruising along a winding canal fringed by rolling hills. The footage ends with an ascent of the three lock Calcutt flight. Set to relaxing music, the video is a great way to rest for twenty minutes while you dream about the summer ahead and the possibility of joining this happy band of boaters.

You can find out more about my Discovery Days here.

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Five Thousand Reasons To Use A Narrowboat Surveyor

I don’t know why I make plans. Things rarely work out the way I want them to. Everything seemed so straightforward on my survey day To Do list.

• Ask permission to black Orient while it’s out of the water
• Make sure there’s a pressure washer available
• Buy bitumen, rollers, weed hatch tape and rolls of paper towels for drying a damp hull on a dull autumn day
• Employ a surveyor for the day
• Jump for joy when the surveyor tells me that the boat is in as good a condition as I suspect

Orient on her mooring when I first saw her

Orient on her mooring when I first saw her



I missed an important item from my list. “Add an extra twelve hours to the day”. I don’t know how I thought I was going to go through the boat with the surveyor and then find time to black Orient too. Not that painting a hull with bitumen was even a consideration after the phone call I received on Friday afternoon.

Cynthia called. She was still on our damp and unheated boat back in Holland. I could barely recognise her voice. She sounded awful, but not as bad as she felt. She told me she had a fever, her mouth had swelled so much that speaking was difficult and that she was so weak that she didn’t have enough strength to climb the companionway steps to the boat’s rear deck. She had two weighty dogs needing a toilet break and no way of getting them outside. Cynthia was understandably upset. The marina was practically deserted. She had no one to turn to. Cynthia felt scared and isolated. I felt helpless.

We discussed our options. We could phone for an ambulance, but they would take Cynthia to a hospital and pump her full of the western medicine she tried so hard to avoid. We scrubbed that idea.

I could abandon my Sunday survey plans and drive back to Holland immediately. We scrubbed that one too. The drive would take ten hours plus whatever delay I would face crossing the channel. Neither Cynthia nor the dogs could wait that long. Cynthia needed someone she could turn to nearby. She has a small number of Dutch friends who she thought might be able to help. One of them, Mariella, the marina owner’s wife, responded to Cynthia’s texted cry for help immediately.

Mariella said that she was working but that she could collect the various herbal medications Cynthia needed when she finished for the day. The following day was Saturday. She would be happy to walk our two bassets three our four times and check on Cynthia at the same time.

That news alone helped Cynthia’s recovery tremendously. She was finding the isolation hard to bear. Most of her vast network of friends lived on the far side of the Atlantic ocean. The North Sea kept her away from her husband and a cultural divide from the Dutch people around her. Despite her many years of international travel, life on a foreign shore had never felt so challenging.

Cynthia’s condition had improved enough by Saturday to allow me to return my focus to boat buying, surveying and blacking.

I had neither the time nor the inclination to black the boat on Sunday. Even if I wanted to, the practicalities overwhelmed me. I had permission to black Orient from the marina management, but didn’t have a pressure washer to clean the hull with first. The marina’s workshop services were in transition, about to be outsourced to a subcontractor who wouldn’t open for business until the beginning of December. The company’s own pressure washer had been moved to another site. I managed to borrow one from every helpful broker Steven Harral. The machine was a Karcher, better suited for car bodywork grime removal than mud, weed and the rock hard secretions of aquatic creatures. As the pressure washer wasn’t up to the job and I didn’t have the time to clean the boat in preparation for blacking or to do the hull painting itself,  I reluctantly removed blacking from my list.

I didn’t have a surveyor either. I asked boat safety examiner and old friend from Calcutt Boats, Russ Fincham, to help me on the day.

Even though Russ has worked with narrowboats for twenty years, I wasn’t really sure I needed him at first. I’ve been around narrowboats since 2010. Over the last eight years, the experiences I’ve had living afloat at one of the country’s most prominent marinas has taught me a thing or two. I’ve learned a great deal from the fitters and engineers I’ve worked with and from my own mistakes and the experiences of the many hundreds of narrowboat owners I’ve had the pleasure to meet. I know a good boat when I see one, and I knew as soon as I saw Orient that I’d found a gem. That’s what I thought.

I arrived at Tattenhall marina two days before survey day. I had plenty of time to mooch around the boat examining it from every angle, inside and out. I was confident that this lovely boat was in first class condition.

Overconfident as it happens. Misguided even. Deluded and clueless, some would say.

The rudder was my only real concern. When I viewed the boat for the first time three weeks earlier I had the chance to take her out for a spin. Even though the boat handled beautifully the steering was very heavy. I hoped that the skeg, the horizontal steel bar which supports the rudder cup, hadn’t come into contact with a lock cill and bent upwards, pinching the rudder bearing and causing the stiff handling.

A comfortable cabin for Discovery Day guests in chilly weather. The range will be on full blast.

A comfortable cabin for Discovery Day guests in chilly weather. The range will be on full blast.

After a coffee and a chat about our mutual oddball boating acquaintances, I left Russ to his own devices for an hour. I didn’t think he needed me there to confirm my opinion. I looked forward to him telling me that Cynthia had found a delightful problem free waterway home for us. The survey was, I assured myself, a formality, nothing more.

“What do you think?” I asked Russ’s jean-clad arse as he bent double to unhook his trapped belt from the brass speed wheel. Why are so many tradesmen working in small narrowboat spaces such big men? “It’s a cracking boat, isn’t it?” I waited for his enthusiastic confirmation.

Red-faced and puffing, he backed out of the boatman’s cabin. He looked at me and wrinkled his nose. “I’ve seen worse,” he conceded resting an arm on the tiller’s swan’s neck.

I pointed at the steel deck beneath his feet. “What about the tiller then? Was I right? Is it going to be a problem?” Orient had to be back in the water the following day. There wasn’t enough time to do any work on it before then. I suspected that the boat would need to be lifted out again and the sturdy steel skeg somehow straightened to relieve some of the tiller tension.
Russ sucked his teeth. Tradesman teeth sucking is always advanced warning of lengthy and costly repairs. “I’ve got to hand it to you,” he admitted, giving the tiller an experimental tweak, “You spotted a big problem there.” I knew it. We’d have to pay hundreds of pounds, maybe a thousand or more, to put the problem right.

I hesitated before asking the burning question. “How much is the repair going to cost me?” He grinned. “About fifteen minutes labour and a couple of quid for parts. There’s just a bit of muck in the rudder cup. Fitting a grease nipple should free it up a bit.”

So much for my expert opinion. Still, I was happy on this occasion to be proven wrong. My only worry turned out to be nothing at all. I breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s great news. I take it everything inside was OK too?” I was pretty sure it was, but having Russ there to confirm it was handy.

“Let’s take a walk through the boat. I want to show you a few things.” He wedged himself back into the boatman’s cabin companionway and reached over the range to its flue. “See this here?” he looked up to where the flue passed through the cabin roof and firmly rocked it from side to side. “This needs properly sealing to prevent rainwater ingress.”

“Is that it?” Resealing the flue wasn’t going to break the bank. I could live with that. “Keep walking,” Russ insisted and lead me past the back cabin’s upholstered bench seats, brass lamps and decorative wall mounted plates. We ducked through the low doorway into the engine room.

Most modern narrowboats are designed to make the most of the limited cabin space. The engine is at the back of the boat either under boards beneath the helmsman’s feet on cruiser stern boats or inside an engine room in front of the steerer on a trad stern boat.  Orient’s design is along the lines of the old working narrowboats. The helmsman, and often his wife and children, would live in a small room, the boatman’s cabin, at the rear of the boat. The engine was in its own room forward of the living accommodation.

Orient's Lister JP2M

Orient’s Lister JP2M

Orient’s engine room is dominated by a bright green 1936 Lister JP2M. There are two pairs of side doors which can be folded open to allow passing boaters and towpath users to see the engine buffed to shiny perfection. Russ hadn’t brought me to see the Lister. He agreed that it was a beautiful piece of machinery. “It’s simple to maintain,” he reassured me. “Even YOU should be able to do it!” He knows me so well.

“The engine’s not a problem. The generator is a different kettle of fish.” He removed the generator housing’s green painted lid. “Nice generator,” I offered. “No, it’s not. It’s leaking like a sieve.” He wiped a grimy finger around a joint. It came away smeared with diesel. “And see there, and there, and there. Oh, and there too?” He pointed at other joints. “They’ve all been leaking at some stage. They’ve been plastered in epoxy. The whole thing needs a good service before you consider running it up.” More bad news, but the worst was yet to come.

We walked from the engine room into the spacious bathroom. An elegant shower cubicle filled one corner. A cassette toilet squatted beside it. That was on our list of things to change if we got the boat. It was fine for now, but I had an unhappy relationship with cassettes for five years on my last narrowboat. I lost count of the number of times I arrived at an Elsan point with my two cartridges filled to bursting to find the sewage disposal point out of order. My time on an idyllic mooring was always limited by my waste carrying capacity. Boating life improved immeasurably as soon as I threw my cassette toilet in Calcutt Boats’ skip and installed a composting toilet in its place. I gave the cassette a sly kick as we walked through the bathroom into the galley and then into the saloon.

Orients cassette toilet - Yours, if you want it for the price of a pint

Orients cassette toilet – Yours, if you want it for the price of a pint

“What do you think of the stove?” Russ asked. “I’ve always wanted a Squirrel,” I told him, imagining it filled with glowing coal and topped by a spinning Ecofan. I tried to guess why Russ was questioning me. I could see that the stove needed a coat of paint, but that wouldn’t take me long to sort out.

He ran a stubby finger along the back edge of the stove’s top plate. “You’re happy with this crack here then?” He lowered his finger to another point beneath the front door’s sooty glass, “And look at this one here. It’s nearly wide enough to put my finger in.” Why hadn’t I noticed the faults? I know my sight’s not what it used to be, but I shouldn’t have missed clear indications that the stove was falling apart.

The condemned Squirrel. I'm sure the boat will be very warm, once there's heat on it.

The condemned Squirrel. I’m sure the boat will be very warm, once there’s heat on it.

“Can I use it until we can afford to have a new stove fitted?” I asked hopefully. “Of course you can,” he assured me, “as long as you wear gas masks to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.” I guessed he meant that we needed a new stove. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. We couldn’t move onto the boat without reliable heating. Then I remembered that the Squirrel stove wasn’t the boat’s only heat source.

“We should be able to keep warm though. The Kabola’s a good boiler, isn’t it?” I asked hopefully. We walked back to the bathroom where the sturdy central heating boiler sat at the bottom of a large pine cupboard. Russ opened the double doors, turned on an overhead light and pointed at the glistening steel sheet the boiler sat on. “The boiler’s been leaking. The light’s reflecting off spilt diesel. I wouldn’t turn it on until it’s been serviced if I were you.” That was terrible news. We had a boat with three heat sources. The stove had cracks in it, a range had a leaking flue, and the central heating boiler was leaking diesel. We had just endured a couple of miserable months on one unheated boat. We didn’t want to move onto another one.

“I’ve saved the best till last,” Russ warned me as we returned to the front of the boat. He opened a small inspection hatch at the top of two steps leading to the front deck and illuminated the dark space with a torch. “That’s your water tank.” He indicated a large plastic cube filling most of the space beneath the well deck. “You can see where it’s been repaired.” He shone his torch on a rough patch at the top of the side facing us and then traced the filler pipe upwards to the deck fitting. “There’s a hole in the filler pipe. If you don’t watch the water going in very carefully every time you top your tank up you’ll flood your boat. In its weakened state, if the boat stops suddenly like if you surge forward and hit the gates in a lock, there’s a chance the tank will rupture. The whole thing really needs replacing with good quality food grade stainless steel. You should expect to pay about £700 for a new tank.”

“Would that include the fitting?” I asked, imagining our bank balance’s cry of despair. Buying the boat had stretched our finances beyond breaking point as it was. The financing was creative,  to say the least. I didn’t know how we could also afford these additional repair costs.

Russ didn’t try to soften the blow. “Fitting the tank is likely to cost you at least as much as buying it. There are two ways to do it. Your first option is to slide it out from the deck into the cabin.” He gestured to the beautifully fitted pine cupboards on the front doors’ port side. “Most of that will have to be removed to get the tank out.” He pointed to the starboard side. “And the stove will have to be removed too. If you’re replacing the stove, you can do it at the same time as the tank.” I didn’t like the sound of that. I’ve seen fitted furniture removed from other boats. It’s never quite the same when it’s put back in again. I hoped the alternative would involve less damage. That hope was short lived.

“The alternative is to go in from above. A section, or sections, of the deck will need to be cut away to allow the old tank to be lifted out and the new one to be dropped in.  If you go in through the deck, you can use a special plastic bag insert. It will cost half as much as a steel tank but the boat’s existing pipework will have to be altered to fit the bag. Even though a stainless steel tank will cost more, it can be made to fit the existing connections so there will be less labour. Both jobs will be a similar price. Which way it’s done is up to you.” Neither way sounded particularly appealing to me. Not that we could afford to do that work or any of the other jobs on Russ’s growing list. He had one more to add.

Our cosy floating home. Maybe you'll have one just like this soon.

Our cosy floating home. Maybe you’ll have one just like this soon.

The boat specifications on the sales listing hadn’t included a bow thruster. Now that Orient was out of the water we could see that there was one fitted and even though the batteries appeared to be dead there were working controls at the helm. I didn’t have a bow thruster on my last boat. One would have been handy on occasion, but I managed pretty well without. A bow thruster was just something else to go wrong and another expensive set of batteries to maintain. And on Orient, the reason for an immediate boat safety examination failure.

“I need to be able to get into the gas locker,” Russ insisted. I can feel concrete through the drain hole. Hudsons sometimes have water ingress issues in the bow locker because of the hull design. One possible but inadvisable solution is to pour concrete into the gas locker base to raise the floor and prevent whatever is in there from getting wet. Concrete in the gas locker means that the locker floor can’t be examined, so it’s an automatic fail.” That puzzled me. Orient’s BSS certificate expires in 2020. Unless the concrete was a recent addition, the boat should have failed its last inspection. “There’s something else too,” he pointed to the electrical wiring leading from the bow thruster batteries in the well deck locker towards the gas locker. “I need to find out where the bow thruster motor is. If it’s in the gas locker, we have a problem!” Not another one. I had problems coming out of my ears.

We spoke briefly to Steve Harral. The bow locker lid was secured with a combination padlock. He didn’t have the code but offered us a simple solution. “The gas locker shouldn’t be locked anyway. Emergency services need to be able to get in the gas locker if there’s an emergency. Cut it off!!”

A couple of minutes later we were staring at the gas locker floor. Half of it, as Russ suspected, was hidden under an inches deep concrete base. The two 13kg gas bottles rested on a raised steel platform held in place by bolts above a recess housing the bow thruster. “Fail, fail, fail and fail!” Russ pointed to the unsecured bottles and their attached hoses, the concrete base and, most dangerous of all, the bow thruster recess. He pointed to the gap between the gas locker and the bow thruster. “That is very dangerous. Imagine gas leaking from almost empty cylinders, which they often do.”

“The gas locker drain holes are supposed to be no more than an inch above the locker base. They’ve been raised to about five inches here when the concrete was added. So, where’s the leaking gas going to flow instead of through those holes and into the canal?” He looked at me and shook his head when he saw my slack-jawed expression. “The leaking gas will find the lowest point which, in this case, is the bow thruster housing. It won’t stop there though. The gas will find the gaps around the wiring, flow into the bilge and then work its way back to the engine. You know what can happen then? No, of course you don’t. A stray spark and…” He threw his arms into the air and made a sound like a bomb going off. I got the picture.

“What can we do to get around this?” I could see our narrowboat plans being buried beneath a growing pile of insurmountable problems. The quick boat walkthrough was turning into a nightmare.

“If you can live without the bow thruster, the solution is relatively straightforward. You can seal both ends of the bow thruster tube and weld a plate over the recess in the locker so the gas can’t get into it. What do you think?” I was thinking that remaining in Holland on a freezing boat might be our only option if we couldn’t find a way of getting this work done without resorting to bank robbery. Russ estimated that the total bill for repairs and alterations would be between five and eight thousand pounds. I knew we couldn’t stretch that far.

All I could think of doing was reporting the issues Russ unearthed to broker Steve and see what he had to say. I trudged over to Ash Boats’ waterside office and slumped into a seat opposite him. “How did the survey go?” he asked brightly. “Not well Steve,” I warned him. I think we have a problem.”

Our bedroom – Perfect for a good night’s sleep… providing you’re not too tall.

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2016 0313 Newsletter – Complete Narrowboat Costs for 2015

We finally left our mooring at Calcutt Boats at 5.30pm on Monday. We spent most of the day before we left taking advantage of having a car parked close to the boat. We shopped till we dropped, and then we shopped some more. We stocked up on dry goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, bottled water, coal, gas, diesel, water, and anything else we could think of before setting sail towards our first goal of the cruising season, the Ashby canal.

I last cruised to the canal’s northern terminus four years ago, six months after spending three weeks repainting the cabin. I remember how nervous I felt negotiating the narrow canal and trying to avoid the offside blackthorn, hawthorn and brambles. Four years and many boat miles later, the occasional scratch isn’t quite so worrying.

We cruised for an hour through the gathering dusk. Just before we moored for the evening, we watched a barn owl flutter moth-like across the canal into a stand of oak on our port side. We tied up under a bankside willow, turned off the engine and basked in the unfamiliar silence after three months bombarded by boatyard noises and constant yapping from a six dog boat moored close to us.

We stayed there all day so that I could work on a variety of internet projects with the eternal hope that I can continue to earn enough to support this wonderfully relaxing lifestyle. Cynthia pottered around on the boat and took a joyous Tasha for a leisurely walk along the towpath and into nearby fields.

That evening we fell asleep to the sound of heavy rain dripping off the bare willow branches above us and plopping on the roof above. Torrential rain fell all night but, because I find it a particularly relaxing sound, I slept through it all.

We woke the following morning at 7am. I stepped out of bed for a not-so-early morning wee and promptly fell over. The boat was listing at least twenty degrees to port.

Cynthia climbed of bed and joined me in a heap on the floor. Because I am the font of all knowledge, she asked why the boat had developed such a pronounced list overnight. Because of the problems I’ve had in the past, the answer sprung to mind immediately.

I told her that I had made a mistake mooring under the willow. The heavy overnight rain had poured off the tree, raced down the boat roof towards the stern, cascaded onto the small back deck, overflowed the tiny drain in the channel beneath the rear deck hatch and flooded into the engine bay.

I leaped into action, fell over again a couple of times, dressed as quickly as possible, and then climbed into the engine room to inspect the damage. There was certainly some water in the bilge, but possibly not enough to cause such a list on a twenty tonne boat.

I keep a Draper wet and dry vacuum in the engine bay for general maintenance and emergency liquid removal. As I thought we were possibly close to sinking or turning turtle I was relieved to have the little vacuum handy. Relieved until I discovered that, even though the motor was running, the vacuum wasn’t picking anything up.

I threw the useless piece of plastic on the towpath, dug out a bucket and measuring jug, then began bailing furiously.

I didn’t have to bail for very long before I had removed all but a dribble from the bilge. A bilge which was still sloping at the same angle as it had been before I removed any water. It was only then that I noticed the glaringly obvious.

Unusually, the level of water in the canal had risen by at least five inches overnight. As usual on the canals I had my mooring lines taut. As the canal level rose under the boat, the starboard side came up but the boat’s port side remained in place.

Fortunately I use a non binding knot when I moor. The lighterman’s hitch is simple to free even when it’s under load. I undid one loop, the boat’s port side rose like a cork to join the rest of the boat, and all was well with the world.

I must book myself on a course on how to spot the blindingly obvious.

I loved every minute of our three hour cruise on Wednesday morning. The canal was in a terrible state. The towpath was completely submerged for hundreds of metres at a time, flood water cascaded off Flecknoe’s hills, over ploughed fields, surged across the canal over the towpath and ran in torrents through the fields beneath us. Spotting unoccupied boats, or boats occupied by sleeping boaters, was easy. All listed dangerously towards the towpath, held down by too tight mooring lines.

A flooded towpath close to Braunston junction

A flooded towpath close to Braunston junction

My Guy Cotten waterproofs performed faultlessly. After an hour cruising through torrential rain, I arrived at Braunston’s Midland Chandlers bone dry, enjoyed a hot drink while I waited for them to open at 10am, and then popped in to buy a hand operated bilge pump. Cynthia told me that all sail boats keep one on board. After my wet vac failure, I thought I should do the same.

The rain continued as we cruised for another two hours to the three lock flight at Hillmorton. We had the canal to ourselves. The locks struggled to cope with the volume of water flowing down the canal. Fast flowing water surged over the top of the gates so we had to use the boat to cross from one side of the lock to the other.

Other than that, the half hour passage was uneventful. We stopped for the day on the visitor moorings below the flight then continued along a calmer and much lower canal the following morning.

We stopped briefly on the appalling visitor moorings close to Rugby’s retail parks to top up at Tesco. Doesn’t Rugby want boaters to stop? The visitor moorings are often empty for a very good reason. You have to be able to leap like a gazelle three feet across shallow water onto the often dog muck covered grass to reach the mooring rings. It’s such a shame after the effort and money which has been spent to develop the adjacent retail park.

After mooring close to Brinklow marina that night, we reached Hawkesbury junction by Friday lunchtime. We popped in for a bite to eat. Cynthia had to roll me along the towpath back to the boat after I demolished the biggest plateful of ribs I’ve ever seen. I ate a week’s worth of meat in one sitting and enjoyed every minute of it.

Cynthia holding back the crowds while I take the boat through

Cynthia holding back the crowds while I take the boat through

We cruised very slowly and carefully past this sunken boat just before the junction. There was little left of the burned out boat apart from the bow and stern lines which floated completely across the canal. It’s always heartbreaking to see the demise of what was probably a boat owner’s home.

A sunken boat at Hawkesbury junction

A sunken boat at Hawkesbury junction

We cruised on, first through the six inch stop lock at the junction, then past the GRP cruisers’ graveyard before making a very sharp and narrow right turn onto the Ashby canal.

We stopped for the night soon afterwards, out of sight but within earshot of the West Coast Main Line. We fell asleep to the constant rattle of passing trains. Our mooring wasn’t the most idyllic we could have chosen but, knowing that we would be able to enjoy tranquil moorings for the rest of our time on the canal, we didn’t mind too much.

Yesterday we cruised ten miles to our current mooring half a mile before Sutton Cheney Wharf. We bypassed urban Hinckley as quickly as possible, stopped for water at Lime Kilns, and then stopped for an hour to visit the Tomlinson’s farm shop close to bridge 25 opposite Ashby Boats.

Fresh vegetables at Tomlinsons farm shop

Fresh vegetables at Tomlinsons farm shop

Loaded with fresh vegetables, half a dozen duck eggs, and two cartons of local ice cream which didn’t make it past the farm shop car park, we returned to the boat for the day’s last half hour leg.

Maybe an ice cream wasn't a good idea

Maybe an ice cream wasn’t a good idea

Cynthia’s choice of mooring is perfect. The cafe and CRT facilities at Sutton Cheney Wharf and access to Bosworth Battlefield is only a ten minute walk away, but it’s far enough away from civilization to deter all but the most determined walkers. We have wonderful views either side of us, no neighbours, and no noise. I think we’ll have a rest day and explore the battlefield properly tomorrow. All of this relaxing is wearing me out.

Cynthia says…..

Adventuring we go…..

At 4:43 PM Monday the 7th of March we finally pulled anchor and set sail down the canal.  We had a bit of a late start due to shopping errands and the like, but we were both eager to depart and head for a change of scenery, even though we ended up mooring only an hour away from Calcutt.  We found a tranquil spot and tied James snuggly to the shore.

It was so nice there we ended up staying two nights.  After spending several intense hours going over our budget, I needed a break and Tasha needed a walk so off we went down the towpath.  I decided to let her go off leash and she would spend several minutes sniffing about then run like the dickens to catch up with me.  It was a lovely spot, and a great start to our current adventure.

That night we were pummelled with rain and it was like music to our ears as we drifted into a deep and restful slumber. You will have read Paul’s account of what happened the following morning as we woke up listing to port.  I remembered having a hand operated bilge pump on our various sailboats, and immediately went searching on the Internet for one.  Luckily we didn’t have to wait for mail service, as Paul was able to procure a dandy one at the chandlery in Braunston.

After breakfast we headed on foot into town to post a letter, and as we were leaving the Post Office, I spotted what appeared to be a delightful butcher shop across the road.  It looked to me like a movie set it was so picture perfect!  I felt like I had stepped back in time when England was known as a nation of shopkeepers. We ended up spending about half an hour there speaking with the proprietors and choosing some delectable items.  The chicken and mushroom pie we had for lunch turned out to be succulent and very tasty.  We will make another pass by there in the near future to stock up.

The rest of the day remained rather dreary, but certainly interesting as we witnessed the flood waters along the canal.  After completing the locks at Hillmorton, we found a suitable, albeit not so beautiful, place to moor for the night. The next day was rather uneventful, with a stop in Rugby to shop at Tesco.  Neither of us enjoy shopping in big box stores such as this, as we much prefer farm shops and health food stores and the like—any place small with a personal touch. We made the best of it and headed out.  We found another tranquil place for the remainder of the afternoon and night, and as Paul made haste with his work at the computer, Tasha and I headed out to explore the towpath.  We found a lovely dirt road to walk along that was actually devoid of puddles, and we enjoyed the lovely farm landscape, plucking a few wild daffodils to present to Paul as we made our way back.

The next day was warmer and brighter as the sun burned off the early morning fog.  We passed through a tiny swing bridge at Rose narrowboats which I found to be delightful.  As we made our way to our lunch stop at Hawkesbury Junction, we started the game of 20 questions and had a great time coming up with the names of obscure things and professions along with definitions of out-of-the-norm words.  One of my favourite words  is sesquipedalian.  Does anyone know what this means without looking it up?   We had great fun doing this, and will continue this game on future journeys.

We moored about a mile from our lunch destination, and had a pleasant walk along the canal.  It was on this stretch that we came upon the drowned narrowboat Paul mentioned.  I was glad he was able to get a good photo of it to share.

Paul had told me about The Greyhound Pub, and I was not disappointed.  It turned out to be the quintessential English pub and I was thoroughly enchanted!  I remarked to the waitress about how beautifully bright and spotless the brass and copper fixtures were, and was amazed to hear that a lady polished all of these things once a week!  Our lunch was delightful and we ambled slowly back to James so we could carry on with our journey.  That night we found a suitable, but not very quiet spot on the Ashby canal and we enjoyed a light supper followed by our usual night at the cinema (aka our bedroom!) where we enjoyed our favourite Doc Martin, and The Good Life.

The next day we made a stop to visit Tomlinson’s Farm Stand at Stoke Golding and our timing was perfect.  We met a couple heading down the towpath who offered to give us a ride there.  They were very kind, and the shop turned out to be quite delightful and we filled Paul’s rucksack to the brim and headed back to the boat to continue on.

Off we went and enjoyed the ever-beautiful venues as we made our way to Sutton Cheney.  We are both quite taken with our tranquil mooring spot and enjoyed our visit to Sutton wharf for a quick bite to eat, followed by a stroll through Bosworth Battlefield.  There is much to see and do there, but we were both a bit weary and will have to give it a further go in more depth in the future.

Today has been get-the-newsletter-out day,  with a brief respite when we took a stroll to drop off our rubbish at the wharf, followed by a sit on the bench outside our door.  We had a small treat of cheese and crackers whilst we read and watched the world go by.

I look forward to a good rest tonight before we eagerly set off on the next adventure tomorrow.  Can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend in the waterway!

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A breakdown of all my narrowboat expenses for 2015

My Narrowbudget Gold budgeting application comes preloaded with two workbooks; one populated with costs kindly provided by a live aboard boater who cruises continuously, and the other populated with my own expenses. I created the NB James workbook three years ago when I was working at Calcutt Boats full time and only cruising on high days and holidays.

I’ve just added a new workbook labelled NB James 2015. It includes all of my narrowboat expenses from last year. Last year was far different than the one I detailed in the original workbook. I continued to work for Calcutt Boats until 1st April and then cruised extensively and enthusiastically for the rest of the year. I cruised 1,700 miles and tackled 940 locks. Obviously I used much more fuel than I did when moored full time at the marina, but I also had to maintain and repair the boat far more too.

All of my expenses are broken down below, but you need to be logged in to your Narrowbudget Gold account to see most of it. If you haven’t yet invested in Narrowbudget Gold, just click on the link below. If you have already purchased Narrowbudget Gold, simply log in to your account then come back to this page.

My expenses may or may not be similar to yours. Narrowboat vary tremendously. They are different lengths, styles and configurations with different types of equipment and engines. There purpose differs widely too. A narrowboat used as a floating flat on a static mooring will have different equipment on board and incur different costs than one used for continuous off grid cruising.

My purpose here is to give you an idea of the costs. I have described how the costs apply to me in as much detail as possible so you can tailor them to meet your own requirements. Here they are…

Maintenance and Repairs

By far the largest expense category from last year was Repairs & Maintenance, but that’s because I’ve added the capital costs of a number of improvements I made. These included replacing my four 135ah leisure battery bank with more expensive but hopefully longer lasting AGM batteries, the services of a marine electrician for a day to tidy up some wiring, employing a carpenter to rebuild my engine room hatch, resolve a problem with two draughty side doors and build a bespoke sapele spice rack for Cynthia, fitting a diesel central heating system, converting my raw water engine cooling to keel cooling and, last but not least, removing the boat from the water to black and repaint the two tunnel flashes and replace the anodes. The cost of these improvements alone was £5,900.

On top of these capital costs, I paid for a number of visits by boatyard engineers to fix things that I couldn’t fix myself (just about everything actually). The total for these visits and the required parts was £1,200. The work included two separate fixes for my aging and ailing raw water cooling system before I finally had it modified to keel cooling at the end of the year.

Here are the repair and maintenance purchases.

Velcro tape – After the magnetic tape failed on my new secondary double glazing panels I resorted to a combination of Velcro tape and screws through the panel corners into the window frames.

Key safe – A wonderful idea. The key safe is bolted to the forward bulkhead next to the front doors. If I forget my keys, which I have done three or four times since the key safe was fitted, I have an easy to access but very secure set of spares.

Fuel filter and anti freeze – For engine servicing

Air filter – I purchased a ridiculously expensive new air filter for my aged Mercedes engine following an engineer’s advice. I wasted £100. All I needed to do was soak my old stainless steel air filter in petrol overnight to remove the accumulated dirt.

Nitrile disposable gloves – Used regularly for dirty engine room jobs and for painting.

Heat exchanger hose – I’ve now replaced all of the engine’s perished hoses.

Bilge paint and spray – Not one of my best ideas. I can’t remember the brand name but this stuff is used to spray the underside of cars to stop corrosion. It’s not a good idea for boat bilges because it doesn’t go off, which is a nightmare if you need to stand in the bilge to work on the engine.

12v cabin fan – I redeemed myself here. My stove has a double top plate so I can’t use an Ecofan to push stove heat towards the back of the boat. The new 12v fan is fixed to the cabin roof in line with the central walkway. When it’s on, the temperature in the back cabin increases by five degrees.

Engine degreaser – A treat for my engine. I may not know how to fix the thing, but I’m quite good at keeping it clean.

Kneel pad – I use this every day in warmer weather. I usually sit on the cabin roof next to the engine room hatch to steer. It’s a very comfortable place, apart from the numbness I feel in my skinny little behind after a couple of hours. The kneel pad, purchased from Midland Chandlers, has cured that. Cynthia now wants one as well (although she doesn’t have a bony backside like me).

Click here to find our more about Narrowbudget Gold and read the rest of this article and learn the complete costs of running a 62’ narrowboat used for extensive cruising on the inland waterways in 2015.

Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

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 run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December.  I realised this morning that I hadn’t added all of my dates for the first half of the year. All the dates for April and June are there now. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

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.

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