Archive

Monthly Archives: February 2016

2016 02 28 Newsletter – Narrowboat Heating Costs

That’s it. My last working week is over. At 4pm on Thursday I washed my last paint brush, put my sander away, and said goodbye to the staff at Calcutt Boats at a short impromptu cake tasting party organised by Cynthia in their reception area.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last two months improving my painting and boat preparation skills, all thanks to those at Calcutt Boats more experienced than me. I’ve enjoyed the companionship, tea break banter and occasional tantrum, but I can’t honestly say that I will miss wearing a dust mask for most of the day.

The worst of the winter weather should be behind us now, not that it’s been particularly cold compared with previous years. The canal has frozen for five days in total. We’ve been moored on the canal for most of that time. The cold weather hasn’t really inconvenienced us at all, but the continuous rain has been a little painful.

The towpath and our front deck has begun to dry out now thanks to a little warmth in the sun. I really look forward to not wearing waterproof boots. Cynthia and I have become so accustomed to wearing them all of the time that we even wore them to a restaurant once.

Six winters afloat is enough. Living on a narrowboat over the winter doesn’t have to be cold or uncomfortable. Providing your boat is properly heated and insulated it should be at least as warm as most bricks and mortar homes. Life afloat isn’t uncomfortable in the winter, it’s just a little boring and laborious.

The weather is too cold or too wet to sit outside comfortably so we spend much of our time scurrying to and from our three hundred square feet of living space. On days out off the boat, we nervously study weather reports hoping for a break in the rain and perpetual cloud. On days out on the canals, we hope for ice free water and a route not blocked by stoppages.

Winter is a time for watching the days slowly pass as spring and the new cruising season draw ever closer.

I had a wonderful time on the waterways last year. By the time I finished work for Calcutt Boats at the beginning of April, and then said goodbye to the last of my discovery day guests seventeen days later, spring had sprung and all was well with the world.

I started with a mostly enjoyable and leisurely cruise of the Warwick Ring. The few parts I didn’t enjoy were at least memorable. Pushing the boat through a sea of plastic around Camp Hill locks wasn’t much fun. Nor was stopping every ten minutes to remove sodden items of clothing from the propeller. The most unpleasant part of the trip was through nearby Garrison locks, using an anti vandal key to release the paddles as I watched a group of very unsavoury characters downing cans of Special Brew for breakfast and then staggering to relieve themselves in a lockside fire damaged building.

I discovered some wonderful open spaces on our Warwick Ring trip; Kingsbury Water Park, somewhat spoiled by the motorway dissecting it, four hundred acres of tranquil ancient woodland on the outskirts of Hopwas village, and then twenty six glorious square miles of forest and heath at Cannock Chase.

In June we headed south down the Oxford canal onto the Thames. Every day was an adventure. I helped paramedics load a poor lady suffering a suspected heart attack into a waiting air ambulance at Sommerton Deep lock, narrowly avoided serious damage to the boat in a Thames lock after my centre line caught immovably on a bollard as the water rose swiftly under the boat, chased a one tonne bullock off the boat’s rear deck at Lechlade, was stung repeatedly by a swarm of angry wasps after hammering a mooring pin through their nest, and hid on the boat after confidently pushing a very large cow away from the boat until I realised that the dangly bits between its legs were testicles, not udders.

In August I headed north on the longest trip of the year; three hundred and five miles and two hundred and forty six locks to Llangollen and back to Calcutt Boats. What an adventure!

I witnessed the only anti social behaviour of the year at Westport lake to the north of Stoke on Trent. I was woken at 5am on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning by shouting and swearing. A group of drunken idiots, no doubt staggering home after a lively Saturday night, worked their way down our row of moored boats removing planks, poles, life rings and bikes to throw in the canal. They removed items from four boats and untied the ropes on two of them. They left me alone. probably because they would have needed to step on my boat to reach my pole and plank and to untie my ropes.

I had the pleasure of negotiating the very low roofed 3km Harecastle tunnel with its bright orange water, and the endless but picturesque flight of locks on Heartbreak Hill which followed.

The route along the Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch was stunning, as was my cruise to the Llangollen canal’s western terminus six miles past Pontcysyllte aqueduct. The 1,000 feet long bridge stands one hundred and seventy feet above the raging river Dee. Taking a twenty tonne narrowboat over the valley along a seven feet wide steel trough is an unforgettable experience.

My return journey along the Shropshire Union canal with its high embankments and steep cuttings was fascinating and a wonderful finale to my season’s cruising, all  1,753 miles and 948 locks.

I can’t think of a more enjoyable way of exploring England and Wales at a leisurely pace in the summer months than on a sedate narrowboat cruise. When you’re running at your top cruising speed and walkers overtake you on the towpath, you know you’re travelling at the right pace to appreciate the sights and sounds around you.

There are an unlimited number of peaceful moorings with far reaching views and very few boats to share them with. There are currently 35,000 narrowboats on the inland waterways sharing over 2,000 miles of connected rivers and canals. Ninety per cent of them are on marina or online moorings at any one time so, once you’re off the beaten track, you can cruise for hours without seeing another moving boat.

It’s a wonderful lifestyle for the warmer months, but the English winters are so miserable. Not as miserable as the Vermont winters Cynthia has endured for the last decade though. She’s struggling to come to terms with blossom on our English trees in February. In Vermont, she has to wait until late April before nature shrugs off its cold white coat.

We’re both fed up with winter, so from now on we will be sunbirds. We’ve committed to buying a motorhome before the end of this year. Cynthia has a house in Vermont. Selling it will make buying a motorhome much easier, but we think we can scrape enough pennies together between now and October to buy something which will suit us well enough.

We’ll spend the rest of the year researching and saving as we cruise, and then when the thermometer begins its journey south, so will we. We’ll find somewhere secure for the boat over the winter, probably somewhere out of the water. Did you know that you can request a license refund for any time your boat is removed from CRT maintained waterways? After we’ve put the boat to bed we’ll swap water for wheels and head for Spain’s balmy south coast. That’s the plan and one I’ll share with you as it develops over the coming months.

In the meantime, back to the frigid waterways.

We moved the boat very briefly on Saturday to top up our diesel tank. We were moored just above Calcutt Top lock facing towards Napton junction. We needed to drop down one lock to reach the diesel point on Calcutt Boats’ wharf. Turning the boat round was too much like hard work so we went down backwards. This maneuver caused a little confusion. The single lady boater waiting to come up through the lock wore a very puzzled expression as we emerged from the lock stern first, squeezed past her, and then swung onto the wharf.

With a full diesel tank and a laptop full of data, we headed back up through the lock to our towpath mooring where I started to write the section below about the cost of heating our boat.

Narrowboat Heating Costs

I had a diesel central heating system fitted in November 2015. The only heat source until then was my thirty nine year old solid fuel stove. It did a passable job of heating the front of the boat, but my office space, the bathroom and the bedroom were always a little less than comfortable.

The stove fed three radiators down the boat’s port side. The gravity fed system wasn’t very effective. I understand that they never are. One radiator at the far end of the boat from the stove is the most efficient configuration. With my three radiators, by the time the stove’s hot water trickled forty feet to the back of the boat, it was lukewarm at best.

I had the three existing radiators removed, the stove’s back boiler disconnected, three replacement radiators fitted on the starboard side, and a large double radiator fitted under my office desk. All of the new radiators were connected to a Webasto Thermotop C diesel burner.

I chose the Webasto because it is relatively quiet and much smaller than the Hurricane heater sold by Calcutt Boats. The downside is that, because it is so compact, servicing costs more than the easily accessible Hurricane. There are other diesel central heating systems available but these were the only two I considered seriously.

As with many boats, our Webasto draws fuel from the same tank as our engine. Because both engine and heater draw from the same tank, determining either the heating or the propulsion system usage can be quite difficult.

Because my heating system has only been fitted recently, and because I am, as Cynthia lovingly describes me, anal retentive, I know that over the last year my engine has used an average of 1.4 litres an hour. Because I know how much fuel my engine uses, I can easily calculate how much fuel is now being used by the heating system. Because I have also recorded the number of hours we have had the central heating turned on each day this month, I can also calculate the system’s hourly consumption.

I added 162.4 litres to my diesel tank yesterday. I ran the engine for 36 hours for battery charging in February plus a further seven hours on a discovery day. The engine ran for a total of 43 hours at 1.4 litres per hour, so the engine used 60.2 litres. The rest, 102.2 litres, was used for heating. During the same period, we had our diesel heating running for 179 hours. We usually have it running for two hours in the morning and then a further four hours in the evening. The average fuel consumption per hour during this period has been 0.57 litres.

If you have diesel central heating, please let me know how much diesel your system uses. I think our usage will be higher than most. Our polystyrene insulation is not as effective as spray foam, so our home requires more heat than many modern boats. I also feel the cold more because of what I do. I spend many hours sitting motionless in my office space as I type, so unless the diesel heating is on I get cold very quickly.

We still have our solid fuel stove on twenty four hours a day at this time of the year but, because of the stove’s poor design, I can’t use an Ecofan to push heat towards the back of the boat. I also had the stove’s back boiler disabled when I had the Webasto heating system installed so the stove doesn’t heat the radiators.

Yesterday’s diesel cost me £0.56 per litre. We’re using the diesel heating for roughly six hours every day, so our daily diesel heating cost is 6 hours x 0.57 litres per hour x £0.56 per litre = £3.36. Our cost for a thirty day month is £100.80.

We’re burning two bags of coal a week at the moment at a cost of £10.75 a bag. Our daily coal cost is £3.07, which is £92.10 for a thirty day month.

Our total heating cost at this time of the year is just under £200. It’s a considerable amount to pay to heat just three hundred square feet of living space but, considering our home is sitting two feet six inches deep in almost freezing water, it’s not a bad price to pay for a warm and cozy home.

Living afloat can cost far more than you might expect. Our heating bill is more than some people pay to keep their bricks and mortar home warm. Of course you don’t necessarily need to pay this much.

You can buy a smaller or a more modern and therefore better insulated boat. You can also do what many live aboard boaters do and simply endure a slightly cooler boat. We’re all different. The way Cynthia and I live is probably not the same way you would choose.

All I can do is give you an idea of the costs based on my own specific circumstances. My Narrowbudget Gold package details my expenditure for a full year including mooring fees, diesel heating and propulsion costs, coal, gas, electric, telephone and broadband, council tax ( I don’t need to pay it), toilet emptying, painting and blacking, battery replacement, cratch cover repairs and/or replacement, and general boat and engine repairs.

All the information you need is there, so you can make an informed decision based on your own particular circumstances. Because everyone’s circumstances are different, I created a browser based narrowboat budget calculator which allows you to create and save an unlimited number of different scenarios and even add your own expense categories.

You may not want or be ready to live afloat full time, so the budget calculator allows you to also add your house expenses in addition to those of your boat. The application’s summary page allows you to easily and quickly determine whether you can afford the lifestyle or whether you can afford to keep a boat for occasional recreational cruising.

The package also includes nearly two dozen case studies. A diverse group of live aboard boaters tell you how they cope with life on board and both positive and negative aspects of inland waterways boating in general and life afloat in particular.

All of the information you need to determine the cost of the lifestyle is in the package. I hope that my accounts from this year’s cruises will encourage you to transform research into reality.

You can find out more about my Narrowbudget Gold package here

Cynthia says—-

Wild life…
One of the things I love most living here is the fact that there are birds singing wherever one goes.  I am so used to Vermont winters where there is virtually no bird life, and none of the subsequent beautiful song and chatter.  I miss it greatly, and now I no longer have to be concerned.  As soon as I step outside I am greeted by these two footed beauties as they flit about and surround me with their melodious songs.  All of this makes our daily walks extra pleasurable.
I often walk Tasha around the reservoir that is opposite us here on the canal.  Tasha being a hound is more interested in the smells on the ground than the beauty of all these colourful birds or what they produce vocally, but each to his own!  The reservoir is always full of a multitude of ducks of many kinds who converge and quack amongst themselves and enjoy the water and soaking up the warmth of the sun.
Living on the canal I have been witness to many bird activities, the most memorable instance being a few weeks ago when the canal was frozen over.  I was walking Tasha and spotted a pair of snow white swans doing their best to ford their way through the ice.  It was so amazing to watch this and to hear the ping of the ice as it broke.  The swan in the lead would forge ahead for a few minutes breaking the ice then rest before beginning again.  Quite the feat, as the ice was nearly an inch thick!  I was lucky enough to record this as a video on my iPhone.
Speaking of swans, there is a single swan who looks so sad that we see from time to time.  I feel badly for him as he seems lonely without his mate who met her demise some time before my arrival.  Tasha is quite taken with this swan, but doesn’t venture too close as she has been hissed at and warned to keep her distance.
There was a young swan who appeared at the front of the boat a couple of weeks ago and I was actually able to feed it without being nipped at!  I haven’t seen this one since that day but hope it will return.  It is always an event to witness these big birds take to the air—a lot like watching a C5A cargo transport plane slowly amble down the runway before an ever-so-slow take off.
I have noticed the past few weeks that there is one black bird with the bright yellow beak who comes to our kitchen window nearly every morning.  He (or she) seems to enjoy watching me and I am curious as to what he is thinking.  I look forward to his appearance every day.
There is also a pair of mallards who show up at the kitchen window from time to time.  I love to break off a few crumbs of bread and feed them!  These are my local friends who bring me a lot of joy.
As I was getting into the car earlier today for an errand, I felt something whoosh past me into the car, and low and behold, it was a robin!  The poor thing was frantic and couldn’t find its way out.  I opened the door to the boot and finally she/he was able to return to freedom.  And something extraordinary happened on Thursday as Paul made his way to Reception here at Calcutt.  A bird landed on his shoulder and stayed with him for a couple of minutes then departed as he neared the building.
I know there are many superstitions and stories around birds showing up in different ways in our lives.  I believe that the Italians think if a bird hits a window on their house that someone has died.  I would be interested to know if anyone who is reading this has bird stories they would like to share.  I would be very interested to hear these.
As we make our way ever closer to spring and summer it will be a joy to see what other kinds of birds and wildlife show up.  I am excited anticipating learning more about the birds in this awesome countryside.
PS. When I was driving down the lane last week to the marina I spotted my first fox in a field!  Hope to see more of these….

Boat burglaries

Allan Campbell Boat Burgler

I wrote about boat burglaries a couple of weeks ago. Here’s more on the same subject. I’ve copied an email sent out by CRT below about a convicted boat thief. If you see this guy, please do us all a favour and give the police a call.

“Hi folks just getting this out to as many people as I can. It would be great if we can catch him between us

This person Allan Campbell is strongly suspected of committing at least some of the recent spate of canal boat burglaries.

He did commit many in our area the last time he was out and about and now Lincs Police are looking for him

If anyone sees him please contact your local police on 101 asap not forgetting to explain exactly where you are.”

[ratingwidget post_id=30094]

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.

2016 02 21 Newsletter – Keeping Warm In Winter

 

Another uneventful work week has passed as we race towards the start of this year’s cruising season. I have just four more working days until we set off on a mini cruise before returning to base and swapping boat for bus and our two week motorhome trip around the Scottish Highlands.

Cynthia wanted to head south down the Oxford canal to Oxford and some gentle and cultured exploration. Unfortunately, winter stoppages have thwarted that plan, and our plans to cruise most of the other routes available to us from our base on the Grand Union canal near Napton junction. We wanted to moor at Great Haywood so that we could explore Cannock Chase. We can’t. We considered heading northwest along the Grand Union canal towards Birmingham. Work on the Hatton flight has stopped us dead in our tracks. We thought about heading the other way along the Grand Union but, once more, stoppages won’t allow us to do so.

We’re going to take the only route open to us at the moment. We’ll brave the Braunston, Crick and Husband Bosworth tunnels, two flights of staircase locks, a couple of swing bridges and the occasional pub on our way to Market Harborough. After four trips there last year it’s a very familiar route, but it’s a beautiful and peaceful journey. We’re looking forward to it very much.

On Friday we enjoyed a very welcome break from stationary monotony on an early season discovery day. The day was dry but chilly. Climbing into the cabin’s warmth for morning coffee and then lunch two hours later was very welcome indeed.

Today is much warmer but very windy. White topped waves marching down the canal have created an unwelcome challenge for some boaters descending the Calcutt Flight behind us. The day is mild but the forecast for the coming week is for a series of sub zero nights. The coming cold spell, and my chilly Friday discovery day, has prompted me to write about keeping warm during winter months.

A common question asked of boaters is how they cope with steel boats in frigid waters. The common misconception is that life on board during the short, dark days of winter must be very cold and unpleasant.

My first winter on board was certainly very cold. Mind you, that particular year, the winter of 2010/11, everyone was very cold. It was the coldest winter ever recorded. My own external thermometer, stuck to the glass of my office space window, recorded minus eighteen degrees one night. I woke the following morning in a sub zero bedroom with a quarter of an inch of frost on the engine room’s internal cladding. I wore two fleece tops, a fleece hat and gloves at all times inside the boat, even when sitting in front of the blazing stove.

The boat sat immobile on a marina frozen under five inches of ice. One afternoon I walked on the  ice around the boat. Nothing moved on the canal network for over six weeks. Live aboard boaters unfortunate enough to be caught on the ice away from service points had to ferry shop-bought water along the towpath to their freezing homes. Water points were often frozen. Many boaters had to use public facilities to wash dirty and very cold bodies.

That winter wasn’t particularly pleasant.

This is my sixth winter. I have continuously improved the boat since I moved on board in April 2010. I’ve added more insulation and another heating system, eliminated a serious damp problem I had at the rear of the boat, eliminated draughts through side doors and hatches, improved heat distribution throughout the boat, and experimented with secondary double glazing. All of the improvements have helped, but so have much milder winters since my baptism of ice.

You probably won’t endure a winter quite as cold as my first on board, but if you’re not prepared for the colder months, life afloat can be less than pleasant. Preparation is the key to waterways success, so here are a few pointers in the right direction.

Secondary double glazing

For us, a major source of heat loss is through our windows. The windows are the original set installed in 1977 when the boat was built. They’re not very good. They have rectangular hopper panes at the top which can arc inwards twenty degrees to allow ventilation. The problem is that they now don’t keep out draughts on windy days. They are also single glazed which means that they are very poor insulators. There are ten windows and three portholes so there’s a considerable surface area leaching heat out of the boat.

I tried secondary double glazing last year. The 4mm polycarbonate panels were very effective once I managed to secure them to the window frames. They came with a magnetic tape kit but the magnets weren’t strong enough to keep the panels in place. I tried velcro too but the panels still fell off. The effective solution was to use the velcro and also screw the panels into the window frames.

This solution created another problem. Because the aged windows had loose catches securing the hoppers, every time we cruised the vibration would shake some of the hopper panes open. Closing them again was a very painful exercise. We had to unscrew the secondary glazing panels, pull the panels off the velcro, close the hopper and then put everything back together again.

Securing the window panels was a pain and removing them to constantly close hoppers was a bigger pain. In the spring when the weather improved, trying to find somewhere to store ten large and easily scratched pieces of plastic was the final straw. They had to go.

This winter has been exceptionally mild. Very wet, but quite warm. We haven’t bothered with secondary double glazing, but if we are on board in more severe winters in the future we will try secondary double glazing film. It’s a low cost heavy duty cling film which is stretched over the window frames and then warmed with a hair dryer to make it taught. Because of the low cost it can be discarded after each season’s use.

On Board Heating

The heart of any live aboard boat is its solid fuel stove. It’s a completely dependable heat source. My own stove was installed when the boat was built in 1977. In thirty nine years the flue has been replaced once and the stove glass has been changed periodically, but that’s it. There are no moving parts to break down when we need them most, and very little servicing to do.

My stove isn’t a particularly good model. The Torgem, or Torglow, I can never remember which it is, has quite a small footprint so, unlike the popular Morso Squirrel stove, I can’t use the hot top plate for heating a pot or a kettle, or for powering an Ecofan to push the stove heat towards the back of the boat.

My stove has a back boiler which used to feed three radiators fitted on the boat’s starboard side. The gravity fed radiators weren’t very effective. By the time the stove’s hot water had trickled forty feet to the last radiator in our bedroom, it had pretty much given up the will to live. The radiator, at best, was luke warm. Consequently the bedroom was too cool to use for anything other than sleeping, insulated by a thick duvet.

Because I couldn’t use an Ecofan on my stove I installed a 12v fan in the centre of the cabin roof. The fan pushed the stove heat down the central passageway and raised the temperature in the back cabin by four or five degrees.

We always burn coal briquettes. Some boaters claim that they can heat their boats effectively using wood that they find on or close to the towpath on their travels. I have never found wood to be either effective or practical.

Wood needs to be seasoned, usually for a year or more, before it is dry enough to use as an effective fuel. When first cut, oak’s water content can be as high as 50%. Ash is usually a little less, but both need to have a water content of less than 20% before they will burn properly. When wet wood is burned, more energy is used to evaporate water than generate heat. The wood sweats rather than burns which produces flue blocking tar and a nicotine-like stain from the chimney down the boat’s cabin side.

When I was working at Calcutt Boats I had access to all the wood I wanted. One of my jobs was to manage the site’s young woodland. I had to fell twenty year old ash and oak to thin out the woodland so, over a two year period, I stockpiled four or five tonnes of seasoned logs. Log burning still didn’t work for me.

My small stove needs feeding too often if I’m burning wood. A stove full of coal briquettes lasts for ten to twelve hours. A stove full of logs lasts no more than three hours. A stove full of logs doesn’t last the night. A stove full of coal does.

Even if I could adapt to feeding the fire more frequently I couldn’t carry enough logs with me when cruising. I can comfortably carry enough coal to last me 7-10 days decanted into leak proof plastic boxes stored under the cratch cover on the front deck. I can’t store bags of coal on the boat roof like some boaters because, after over plating the original wooden cabin with steel, the boat is a little top heavy to say the least. Carrying enough wood to last me a similar time is out of the question.

My stove does a reasonable job of heating the boat, but it’s not quite enough during the winter months, especially if I’m sitting motionless for hours on end typing in my office space towards the back of the boat. To improve matters I fitted a diesel central heating system in November 2015 .

I had the stove’s back boiler disconnected, the old radiators removed and three new radiators fitted down the starboard side, plus a large one on the port side under my office desk. The Webasto Thermotop C system has made a real difference on board.

We have been off grid on all but a handful of days since last April, including all of this winter. The last few months haven’t been as cold as previous years, but they’ve been cold enough to warrant having effective heating on board.

I am now always very comfortable in my office space. The bedroom space is much more pleasant too. We have a television and Blu-ray player installed there which we often use to watch films in the evening. Now we can watch them in comfort.

Insulation and Ventilation

Damp can often be an unpleasant problem on board during the winter months. Poorly heated, insulated and ventilated spaces often suffer condensation problems. During my first two years on board I endured a very damp bedroom. The bedding was often so damp it was almost wet.

Over the following four years I made many changes to improve the situation at the back of the boat.

I added more insulation to the hull when I over plated the cabin. My polystyrene insulation isn’t the best form of boat insulation. Sprayfoam is much better but I can’t change my polystyrene now. It could be better but it’s not bad.

I also fixed a thermal blanket to between the bed and the hull beneath the gunnel, made sure that all the internal doors were open to allow heat from the stove to reach the bedroom and, last November, installed a diesel central heating system with a large radiator fitted at the back of the boat. I also ensure that my roof vents remain open at all times to allow moisture laden warm air to leave the boat.

The bedroom, and the bedding, is now dry and warm.

Clothing and Footwear

Most narrowboat floors aren’t insulated effectively or at all. My floor is typical. Steel bearers run over the base plate from port to starboard. Ballast sits between the bearers. I have steel ingots. Many boats have broken paving slabs. Marine ply flooring is fitted over the bearers. That’s it. There’s roughly 75mm of icy steel and damp ply between the soles of my feet and the canal’s frigid waters.

Air trapped at the bottom of the cabin close to the floor is unpleasantly cold. If I walk through my boat in bare feet I feel the cold very quickly indeed. Carpet can be fitted to help insulate the floor but then there’s a new problem to deal with.

Carpet was fitted in my boat when I moved on board six years ago. It wasn’t pleasant. The threadbare beige covering was a dirt magnet, especially with two dogs on board. Hallway carpets see the most wear in a bricks and mortar home. A boat is all hallway so flooring throughout needs to be hard wearing.

I fitted oak effect laminate flooring three or four years ago. It looks good and is very easy to clean, but it isn’t a good insulator.

Both Cynthia and I wear Crocs when we are in the boat. Their thick rubber soles are wonderful insulators.

Crocs keep our feet warm but if we’re sitting for long periods, our legs are still cold if we have our feet on the floor. The solution is to sit with our feet up on our L shaped fitted lounge seats.

Winter cruising can be a very cold affair for even the hardiest of souls. I always ask my discovery day guests to pack plenty of warm clothes. Not all of them follow my advice.

On a chilly day last winter, my discovery day guest was a middle aged farmer. He had been a farmer all of his working life. He was used to being outdoors in all weather. The cold didn’t worry him at all.

He wore a padded shirt and heavy duty sweater for our seven hour cruise. He also wore a fleece hat. He didn’t bring a coat.

Before we set off I asked if he had a coat in his car. He told me he didn’t need one because he was capable of dealing with anything the English winter could throw at him. We set off with me wearing several more layers than him, including my bright yellow Guy Cotten waterproofs. We weren’t expecting rain, but the thick plastic smock top and bib and braces trousers are a very effective wind barrier.

What the farmer hadn’t considered was that, unlike his normal working day around the farm, he was going to spend seven hours standing still on the back of a boat. His working days usually involved plenty of heat generating activity. Steering the boat didn’t generate any heat at all.

We had to cut the cruise short and head back to base. He was mildly hyperthermic. I felt that he wasn’t getting as much out of the day as he should, so as we moored I asked him what he would like to do with his remaining time with me. He told me that all he wanted to do was to climb into his car, turn the heater on full blast and wait until he melted.

A decent hat makes all the difference. The fleece hat I used to wear worked reasonably well as an insulator, but wasn’t a patch on the aviator/trapper hat I wear now. They’re very popular on the inland waterways. There’s a wide selection available here.

Warm footwear is also very important. Walking boots are good insulators, but they aren’t very practical on board. They’re a real pain to take on and off, so for frequent short trips on and off the boat they’re a real nuisance.

I used to wear Wellington boots for wet weather cruising. My feet stayed dry but they were always cold. Cynthia introduced me to Muckboots. They’re wonderful. The neoprene boots keep my feet toasty warm. The boots are comfortable too. I have driven a car for two hours while wearing them and haven’t suffered any discomfort at all after five or six mile hikes.

Solar power

I have occasionally been asked if my solar panels help keep the boat warm in the cooler months. No they don’t. They’re very effective in the summer months for helping top up my four leisure and one starter battery bank. They don’t play any part in onboard heating though, and they are virtually useless during the winter months for anything at all. Yesterday, on a dull February day, they were producing just 1 amp compared to 20 amps on a sunny summer’s day

Escaping the UK winter for warmer climates

It’s an extreme solution for dealing with dreary winter weather, but it’s something Cynthia and I are considering seriously. We’re thinking about buying a motorhome so that we can spend our winters exploring the south of Spain.

I love living afloat now as much as I did when I first moved on board six years ago. I certainly don’t want to live in a bricks and mortar home. I want to continue exploring the waterways for as long as I can, but I’m not a big fan of cold and wet weather or inland waterways stoppages.

Winter stoppages are a real frustration. CRT do a marvellous job keeping the 200 year old waterways network in working order. Essential maintenance to locks and bridges mean that sections of canals and rivers sometimes have to be closed. The most practical time to close them is when boaters least want to use them, so all scheduled stoppages are done over the winter months.

Providing you wear appropriate clothing winter cruising is wonderful. You normally have the waterways to yourself and tranquil moorings are plentiful. The problem is that you can’t travel very far. Of the five directions I can head within a couple of hours cruising from Calcutt Boats, four have stoppages on at the moment.

Winter afloat, even for continuous cruisers, is a waiting game. Waiting for warmer weather, and waiting for the waterways to open. We would both like to do our waiting somewhere warmer.

Cynthia Says——

PLANS……

As we descend the final steps of winter and slide into spring, there are many plans in the making and they are all exciting!  Next weekend with tickets in our hot little hands, we head to Birmingham for the Motorhome show.  This will be a first for both of us, and we are excited to see what’s out there and to talk with knowledgeable people.  Paul has really been hitting the books and as I write this, he has already devoured 3 books on the subject.

We are in savings mode (except for the odd DVD purchase here and there), and are serious about tucking away our pounds, so we can make this motorhome a reality sooner rather than later.  We are of course hoping the Vermont house will sell and we can move ahead with our plans even quicker.

With the above in mind, I made contact with my real estate agent a few days ago.  Seems as though this has been a mild winter and she is actually showing houses, something pretty much unheard of in Vermont at this time of year.  If the weather holds the house will be cleaned and ready to show in March.  We are keeping our fingers crossed that the house will go quickly (I lowered the price once again), and it would be absolutely spectacular if it did, and I could close and put it all behind me.

Our wedding date of 1 April is fast approaching, and we are finalizing all of our plans.  We are both really happy that we will be spending the two weeks around the wedding date in a rented motorhome.  We plan to explore the coast as much as possible and pray to the gods for fair weather.  It will be a wonderful introduction to living aboard a “land yacht” and we will learn a lot along with seeing many beautiful vistas.

I have found a dressmaker to do my tartan skirt for the Big Day, and this week I will be seeing the lady about making our wedding cake.  We have found a stupendous restaurant on the Isle of Skye.  Our rings are being designed by a friend of mine in Vermont.  I think Paul is finally giving into the idea of wearing a kilt and that will be a highlight of the trip for me:-)

Paul’s job comes to a close this coming Thursday and then we will make our way back onto the waterways for a couple of weeks.  We were planning to head towards Oxford, but found out there are stoppages along the way, so unfortunately that is out.  I have faith we will come up with some delightful destination—we always do.  Even going back to our Christmas destination, Market Harborough would be just fine.  I wouldn’t mind at all returning to Veneto’s and departing from my diet to indulge in a bowl of my favorite Movenpick ice cream!

I think that about covers the plans we have in focus for the near future, with our eye of course on the day when we can head off into the sunset in our motorhome!  Stay tuned—-

[ratingwidget post_id=30091]

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.

2016 02 14 Newsletter – Keeping Romance Afloat

In the words of John Paul Young in his 1978 hit, “Love is in the air, everywhere I look around. Love is in the air, in every sight and every sound”.

He’s certainly right today.

This morning was completely still and clear. A light frost melted in the early morning sun, the birds sang in hedgerows showing more than a hint of springtime green. Last week’s submerged towpath is now more solid than soggy allowing groups of happy hikers to stride slip free beside the canal’s still waters. A steady stream of happy boaters chugged happily past on romantic weekend cruises.

It’s Valentine’s day and all is well in our tiny section of the inland waterways.

All is well but, to tell you the truth, we’ve been a little bored. Once more Cynthia and I have endured rather than enjoyed a largely event free week afloat as we edge ever closer to Thursday 25th February and my last working day at Calcutt Boats. My working week included sanding, painting, scraping, needle gunning, wire brushing, more sanding and more painting, all inside and all done while wearing a claustrophobic mask, goggles or ear defenders. I’ve been close to boats but far away from the open air and tranquility I crave.

We had a little boating excitement on Friday to break the monotony. Narrowboat Magpies pulled over onto the lock landing above Calcutt’s three lock flight as we passed, so we stopped for a chat. Fred – not his real name but the one he wanted to be known as to save his embarrassment – told us about his travel plans as he confidently steadied his 67’ boat against the towpath with his centre line while his wife crossed the lock to close the offside upstream gate.

She returned, so we chatted some more for a few minutes before she hopped on board shortly followed by Fred who leaped gazelle-like onto his gunnel. Fred carried on talking as he tidied his centre line, and that was his mistake. Any man with a few decades under his belt should know that any attempt at multi tasking is going to end in tears.

As Fred pivoted on his five inch wide gunnel to bid us farewell, his heels slipped off the thin steel ribbon and he disappeared under the canal’s murky surface like a jet propelled missile.

Fred is never going to make a living as a tightrope walker, but he’s very good at holding his breath under water. He stayed down long enough for me to seriously consider fetching my camera, then floated close enough to the surface for me to grab a handful of coat to pull his head above the surface.

Completely disorientated, he splashed away from the concrete bank towards his boat before we managed to spin him round and unceremoniously haul him out of the canal. His immediate concern was the rather wet phone in his pocket and for his wife. He wasn’t worried about any anxiety she might be feeling, but rather the ribbing he was likely to receive from her. She fell into the canal from a pontoon on the Llangollen last year. He demonstrated the usual level of sympathy offered when a fellow boater falls in – none at all – so he knew that he was in for a couple of rough months.

Fortunately there was no damage done other than to his phone, so while Fred the Fish disappeared for a much needed hot shower, Cynthia and I moored the boat for them before carrying on with our day.

We don’t have the time to do any cruising at the moment but at least we managed to combine some research with a waterways fix yesterday.

Our motorhome homework is progressing well. We followed the accepted wisdom of determining a budget and sticking to it… for about five minutes. Yesterday we spent a couple of hours looking at vehicles we’ll only be able to afford if we win the lottery, rob a bank, receive an inheritance, or when Cynthia sells her Vermont house. Still, it’s good to dream of trips to warmer climates housed in a comfortable and commodious modern vehicle.

There’s so much crossover between motorhomes and narrowboats. As we walked through countless used vehicles we searched for signs of care and maintenance. In one particularly shabby van the signs of neglect were crowned by a gaping shower tray split which has no doubt been allowing water to flow into areas where it shouldn’t for months or years. We’re not in a position to buy yet but visiting as many dealers as possible to view a wide variety of vehicles is a very useful exercise.

As with narrowboats, there is a bewildering choice of manufacturers, designs, layouts, and on board equipment. As with narrowboats, most are designed for reasonably light leisure use rather than full time living.

As standard, a motor home has one 90-110ah leisure battery compared to our boat’s 4 x 160ah leisure bank. On a boat, if the craft doesn’t have a large enough battery bank, the solution is to just add more batteries. However, in a motorhome, according to the salesman we spoke to yesterday, two leisure batteries is the maximum you can safely install without running the risk of frying the on-board electrics.

Another consideration is payload. Within reason, we can pretty much carry what we want on the boat. In the motorhome we favour at the moment, the Autotrail Apache 700, the most we can have is 700kg. Although there is more than enough storage space to store everything to make our touring both comfortable and convenient, we don’t have the payload to carry it. Cynthia’s expensive range of cast iron cookware will definitely have to remain on the boat, as will our extensive selection of heavy crockery and possibly even the generator we want to use to top up our two batteries during extended wild camping trips. We’ll also have to make do with a tiny 100 litre water tank. At 350 lites our boat’s tank is considered very small. Most narrowboat water tanks 700-1,000 litres.. Out tank currently lasts us about six days, so the motorhome tank will need topping up every other day.

We co-ordinated our Huntingdon motorhome research with some waterside relaxation. Although rain scuppered our plans for a pleasant two hour meadows walk, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the National Trust run cafe next to Houghton Mill on the River Great Ouse.

The seventy five mile journey took us an hour and a half by car, mostly along the dreary A14 with its litter strewn hard shoulders. By boat the trip is much more interesting. According to CanalPlan, cruising for seven hours a day, the trip takes eight and a half days to negotiate one hundred and fifty nine miles of rivers and canals and seventy seven locks.

We haven’t decided yet, but this route is certainly a possibility for later on in the year. Comprehensive guides for cruising the Fens appear to be few and far between, so I’ll certainly be reading Peter Earley’s comprehensive “rough” guides on the forum. He’s done three for this area; the River Nene, the Middle Level Navigations and the River Great Ouse. They contain a wealth of information. Peter spent several months cruising this area last year. I’m sure that his experience will prove very useful to anyone considering cruising the network’s eastern reaches.

And that, my friends, is all you’re getting this week. My apologies for such a short newsletter but it’s either a short newsletter or the very real chance of me being hung, drawn and quartered for working all day on Valentine’s day. I have more important work to do.

Cynthia cooked a superb breakfast this morning. We started with her exotic One Hundred Foot Journey inspired omelette, then finished with fresh organic fruit topped with chantilly cream. After such a hearty breakfast we need some exercise so we’re just about to set off on a surprise walk. Of course, it’s not a surprise walk for both of us or we’d struggle with the directions. I’ve told Cynthia the length of the walk and that she’ll need her wellies. What I conveniently forgot to mention was that, at this time of the year, the mud’s likely to be about three feet deep. I’m sure she won’t mind. She needs to work up an appetite for the meal I’ll be cooking this evening.

Normal romance free service will be resumed next week.

Cynthia says……

THE BEST Valentines Day EVER!!

Happiest Valentines Day to all of you reading this—I hope it has been a special one that brought you happiness and love, and other good things.

Like Paul’s message today, mine will also be brief.  I wanted to share a recipe that I use quite a bit for our breakfast.  It is easy to do, tasty, and filling, so I will share it with you now.  Please give it a try if it interests you and let me know what you think—I love feedback like Paul does…..

Sautéed fruit

I cut up whatever fruit we have on hand, and this time of year I use various apples, pears, oranges, apricots (when I can find them!) and whatever else I fancy.  I am somewhat limited, as I do my best to only use organic fruit.  I also add various nuts and dried fruit.  I often use frozen berries as well, adding them at the end.  I cut everything in bite size pieces and add them all to a tablespoon or so of melted coconut oil (this is stored as energy, not fat) in a frying pan over medium heat.  I sauté them until they are just a bit tender 5-8 minutes or so.  I often add a little vanilla extract and some muesli towards the end.  It is done in less than ten minutes.

Today being Valentines Day, I wanted to make something special for Paul and since we just watched one of our favourite movies, “The Hundred Foot Journey,” I became obsessed with omelettes and decided to forge ahead and cook the one like was done in the movie.  I haven’t had much luck with the spray oils that keep food from sticking, and I refuse to use nonstick pans because the toxicity they give off.  I read that it was possible to use a good stainless steel pan, if you heated it first for a couple of minutes over medium heat, then added clarified butter and swirled it around the pan until it stated to smoke a bit, then poured the eggs in and make the omelet.  I did this procedure starting out with much trepidation, but low and behold it worked perfectly and we were rewarded with two perfect omelettes!  We complimented this dish with a fresh croissant, marmalade and organic berries and apricots topped with chantilly (whipped cream) and a touch of ground cinnamon.  We were both pleased with the results, so next time I won’t feel so intimidated when wanting to cook an omelette.  My next endeavour will be a reduction sauce.  I guess my French blood is showing itself, as I am loving cooking and learning more challenging dishes is exciting and fun.

And now as I am putting the finishing touches on this, Paul is gearing up to cook Valentines dinner for me.  I am thrilled beyond words.  This afternoon he took me on a surprise hike amidst gorgeous trees with breathtaking views across the fields.  As it was a stunning sunny day, we were able to enjoy our small lunch sitting on a fallen tree surrounded by the beauty of nature and stupendous views.

This has been the BEST Valentines Day I have ever had, and I have my dear Paul to thank.  I hope all of you have felt as well loved today as I have.

[ratingwidget post_id=30082]

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.

2016 02 07 Newsletter – Building Boating Competence and Confidence

I’m slowly but surely losing my mind. I urinated on my feet this week. It’s not something I did willingly or enthusiastically. In fact the whole experience was a little unsettling.

Cynthia and I enjoyed a couple of hours away from the boat on Thursday evening with a discovery day guest from earlier in the year. Retiree Ian Kirkup wanted to find out if he could comfortably handle a narrowboat on his own. After a seven hour cruise through twelve hours of stunning Warwickshire countryside, obscured to some degree by driving rain, we spent an hour and a half negotiating three descending and then three ascending locks in the Calcutt flight.

Ian found the day very useful indeed. He decided that his limited mobility would prevent him from enjoying a life afloat. He still wanted to live a gypsy lifestyle so decided that his best option was to buy a well-equipped motorhome. It’s a beauty.

After two very pleasant hours discussing the practicalities of living for extended periods in a space which makes our 62’ boat look cavernous, we trudged back to the boat through thick mud along a darkened towpath falling down holes, tripping over roots and being raked by hedgerow brambles. We had, of course, forgotten to bring a torch with us.

Apart from tripping over the bollard our boat’s bow is tied to we climbed back on board without incident. Because of my advanced age, tennis ball sized bladder and copious quantities of tea, my most pressing need was to have a wee.

I headed for our bathroom and smiled lovingly at Cynthia as she passed me carrying a bucket sized, foul smelling plastic container, whipped my trousers down to use our composting toilet, sat down and let loose.

The composting toilet has been on board now for eight months. The first time I used it for liquids I remember thinking that the sound of water splashing into the empty container at my feet sounded very much like liquid splashing directly onto the bathroom floor. I was reminded of this initial impression again on Thursday night, moments before I realised that the sound really was liquid splashing onto the floor. The container which I had clearly seen Cynthia carrying was the missing wee bottle.

There was no harm done other than the few bruises Cynthia gained when she fell over laughing after climbing back back into the boat with the empty liquids container and saw me crawling around the bathroom floor with my trousers around my ankles busily mopping the floor with a handful of blue roll.

That was probably the highlight of our week. The problem with mooring in one spot for weeks on end is that I don’t have an awful lot to report. I work for four days, then relax for three, but I do very little boating.

All of that will change in just three short weeks when my work for Calcutt Boats ends. I’m not sure where we’ll go yet. We’ll have three weeks free before heading north to the Isle of Skye for our wedding.

We’ve decided on a rather unconventional honeymoon. We’re going to hire a motorhome so we can explore the Scottish highlands in comfort. We have an ulterior motive. We want to see how I feel living in the much smaller space available in even a large motor home after the relative spaciousness offered by the fifty feet long cabin on our 62’ narrowboat. If I can endure or even enjoy the experience we will be number crunching to see if we can afford a reasonably comfortable motorhome of our own to use to explore somewhere a little more pleasant than winter-time Britain.

We will continue to spend most of our time afloat. Even though a motor home would allow us escape for two or three months of dreary winter weather, I can’t think of a better way of spending the warmer months. A motor home may allow us to reach southern Europe in comfort but the actual travelling won’t be as peaceful or as stress free as cruising at two or three miles an hour.

Back to boating then, and a subject which I am often asked about. I appear to be a reasonably competent and confident boater now, but how did I feel when I first moved on board?

Many aspiring narrowboat owners are daunted by the prospect of handling such large and ungainly craft on their own. They are worried about mooring techniques, which knots to use, waterways etiquette and rules, lock negotiation, and the many differences between living in a house and living afloat. If you’re considering moving afloat and are overwhelmed by the prospect, I hope that the following summary of my experiences to date will reassure you that if I can do it, anyone can.

I moved onto my current boat on 2nd April 2010. I knew nothing about boats. In fact, I wasn’t particularly interested in boats or living afloat. I just needed somewhere, anywhere, to live away from my matrimonial home. After a disastrous business failure culminating in bankruptcy, the resulting financial strain was the last nail in my marriage’s coffin.

I had no savings and very little income. Six months before moving afloat I started working part time at a marina. I loved working on the extensive grounds there but I earned very little. I needed to move out of my house, but I couldn’t afford to rent the most modest of flats. Because of my bankruptcy I probably wouldn’t have passed the letting agents’ screening anyway.

There are 250 boats moored at Calcutt Boats on two marinas. My daily work involved working close to the boats cleaning and repairing the wooden piers and sometimes moving the boats from their moorings so that they could be repaired or painted. Some appeared to be neglected and unused. One, on a quiet mooring at the western end of Calcutt Boats’ Meadows marina, was in a particularly dilapidated condition.

Paint hung in ribbons off the boat’s windward port side. The gunnels were thick with flaking rust. A tattered lichen smeared cratch cover sagged over the front deck’s peeling paint. The edges of the cabin’s five masonite roof panels curled towards the sky allowing rain to pour into the boat in all but the lightest showers. Ill fitting and rotting wooden hatches over two pairs of side doors and the engine room allowed rainwater to flow down the internal parana pine cladding. The boat was a mess.

The engine room doors were unlocked so, on a cold February day, I climbed over a rickety coffin shaped wooden box covering the dusty engine, swept aside thick floor to ceiling cobwebs and stepped inside.

I didn’t particularly like the boat’s interior. In the depths of winter the boat’s cabin was very cold. Rainwater dripped from discoloured patches in the pine clad roof, dead flies dotted every surface, mould-covered curtains and seating, the stove flue was cracked and the stove glass was broken. What probably bothered me most was a large brown stain in the centre of a sagging mattress on the fixed double bed in the rear cabin.

I didn’t like the boat or know anything about boating. I didn’t really want to live afloat. All I needed was somewhere to live away from the woman who was slowly but surely driving me mad. I’m sure she felt the same about me.

I discovered that the boat was owned by my boss, marina owner Roger Preen. After a short meeting with Roger and his wife Rosemary they agreed that I could pay them a nominal rent to live on board. I moved on board on my fiftieth birthday.

The boat was barely habitable. I spent a week running a powerful dehumidifier for twelve hours a day to try and remove the damp, and then had to do it all again after I inadvertently flooded the rear cabin after discovering that (a) a 350 litre tank doesn’t take an hour to fill and (b) a split filler hose between water tank and deck was allowing the excess to drain into the cabin bilge, flow back to the engine bilge and then slowly fill up the inside of the boat from the rear.

That aside, my first six months were idyllic. Grassed banks carpeted by a stunning array of wildflowers stretched in front of my mooring. Behind me, a half acre tree-studded island rose from twenty feet of clear water filled with shoals of roach, predatory pike and perch, and small groups of battleship sized carp. Mallards squabbled over mates, coots bolted comically through the bankside reeds and an ungainly cob swan chased a dozen Canada geese across the sparkling water.

Each day I finished work at 5.30pm, strolled along a woodland path back to my new home and then sat reading for hours in the early evening sun at a table on the front deck. I very quickly fell in love with the lifestyle.

With very little money coming in from a hugely enjoyable but low paid outdoor job I couldn’t afford to remedy any of the boat’s many ailments. I had no confidence in the engine, the unstable construction covering it was dangerous, water poured through the rapidly deteriorating roof and through ill fitting hatches, the absurd bath was just deep enough to wash a very small baby, the gas water heater was so temperamental that showering was as unpleasant as it was dangerous, the water tank filler hose leaked, the stove flue was cracked and the original electrical system, installed in 1977, was woefully inadequate.

I loved the boat as a home but I had no interest in using it to explore the waterways network. In fact, I was only vaguely aware that a network existed at all. The boat was a reasonably acceptable floating home. It was somewhere to lick my wounds while I considered what to do next, but the options I considered didn’t include waterways cruising.

The thought of using the boat for anything other than a floating flat frightened me. I didn’t take the boat out of the marina for eighteen months and then when I did, I broke down twice. The first breakdown was due to a blocked and almost inaccessible fuel filter. The second breakdown occurred after my gearbox oil leaked out of two perished hoses.

If I had known the first thing about engines I would have realised that after spending thirteen years languishing unused on a marina mooring, all of the perishable pipes and hoses needed replacing.

During my first few months on board I learned an enormous amount about narrowboats in general and mine in particular. Every day I worked with engineers, marine electricians, fitters and painters, many of them boat owners themselves. Every day I discovered more about the boat I lived on and what a beautiful and well appointed boat is used to be.

I learned from the people around me, and I learned by making plenty of mistakes.

I flooded the boat from the bow twice thanks to a split and inaccessible filler hose. I almost flooded the boat three times from the rear when the raw water cooling system failed and dumped gallons of canal water into the engine room bilge in just a few minutes.

Most of the time I worked on the water at the marina. Sometimes, inadvertently, I worked in it too. I have fallen into the marina or the canal spectacularly on three different occasions. The first, two months after I started working there, was on a bitterly cold winter’s day. An icy crust covered the water, catching the hull of the boat I was trying to pull towards me against a lively north westerly. The painful lesson I learned that day was not to lean backwards over water while pulling on a centre line with all my might. The knot slipped causing me to do a backward somersault through the ice into the muddy water beneath, much to the amusement of those around me. I suffered no injuries other than a bruised ego, dented pride and a mild case of hypothermia.

A very important lesson I learned in the early days was how to handle locks safely. Locks caused me no end of confusion and anxiety initially but I was very lucky. A very pleasant part of my job at Calcutt Boats was moving narrowboats between wharf and marina. ThIs involved negotiating two wide locks, initially with another member of staff.

I found locks very confusing. I wasn’t sure which paddles to raise or why I needed to raise them. I sometimes opened paddles in the wrong order or both upstream and downstream paddles at the same time, much to the amusement of the more experienced members of staff who accompanied me.

Shortly after I had mastered the basics of passing through a lock safely, the company asked me to take a brand new boat they had just built on a thirty nine hour cruise down the south Oxford canal and onto the Thames where it was being exhibited at the IWA boat show at Beale Park near Reading. I lost their pride and joy at the first lock I encountered.

I left my twelve year old son on board making tea while I moored the new boat beneath the bottom lock in the Napton flight then left it to set the lock. I was so busy concentrating on manfully winding up the paddle as fast as I could to notice the effect that the surge of water leaving the lock was having on my poorly tied boat.

The knot came adrift allowing the boat to float into the middle of the canal, my son, Brook, standing trembling lipped on the front deck with steaming mug of tea in his hand. Two laughing local boaters brought the boat back to me.

The mishap was at the beginning of three very long but hugely enjoyable cruising days. My son was with me to help with locks and lift bridges. He was too weak to work the locks and too light to lift the bridges. I had to do everything myself. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but both passengers and boat made it to Beale Park in one piece, despite being pinned against a Thames weir as soon as I left the canal’s comparative calm

Over the months which followed I became a proficient boat handler and full time liveaboard boater. One of the most important pieces in the jigsaw was understanding on board electrics and how they differed enormously from those in a bricks and mortar home. I learned about the relationship between power generation, storage and consumption and how balancing the three is the most difficult aspect of liveaboard life.

I made many mistakes when I first started boating. I still make some now. It’s very easy to be distracted by the wonderful scenery or wildlife as I cruise but I don’t mind. Narrowboats are very forgiving vehicles. The occasional bump or scrape isn’t going to do any harm.

All of this is very good news for you. I don’t pick new skills up particularly quickly, I am rubbish at DIY, and I make many silly mistakes. If I can competently manage living afloat and steer my boat along the inland waterways, you can too. Once you have mastered the basics you can begin to relax and enjoy exploring the wonderful inland waterways network at a very gentle pace.

You will make many mistakes when you first start boating. You will make less if you invest in a little training first. There are many companies offering RYA accredited helmsmanship courses for the inland waterways. Alternatively you can join me for a more comprehensive discovery day and learn about the practicalities of living afloat as well as boat handling. You can find out more about my days here.

Boat Thefts

All is not well with local online moorers. There’s a thief about. A spineless b****d, or maybe two or more of them, has broken into two boats moored on the combined Oxford/Grand Union canal running between Napton and Braunston junctions. Is there a name for a group of thieves? You have a troop of monkeys, a pack of dogs or a herd of cows. How about a vermin of thieves?

One of the boats, owned by newsletter reader Chris Dobbie, was moored close to Tomlow bridge between Napton and Braunston junctions. The thief forced a side hatch to gain entry then stole a waterproof coat, a quilted coat, walking boats, a beanie hat, gloves and a pair of old trainers. Unusually, they left behind other items which would have been easier for them to dispose of. A rucksack was stolen from the second boat before a dog scared them off.

We can only hope that the thief trips over while wearing the unfamiliar walking boots and falls into the canal, but not until he has knocked himself unconscious first. I sincerely hope that he encounters one or two boat owners who are more than happy to deal with his antisocial behavior  and save the local police force the trouble of turning up far too late and then promising to do nothing at all.

In case you think I’m being a little too harsh, I’ve been burgled five times in the past. The thieves have never been caught.

Cynthia says…..

The Best of Both Worlds—

I don’t know about all of you out there, but in the past I used to be in a quandary over how to choose the best thing to do.  This would include where to vacation, or perhaps which museum to visit or how should I spend my day.

After much hand-wringing and soul-searching and a lot of research, I started entertaining the thought of why not do both?  With a bit of imagination and open-mindedness, it often worked out that when I was in doubt about what to do, I found with a little artful manoeuvring I could do both!

The reason I bring this up, is because Paul and I have been discussing on and off over the winter how nice it would be to plant ourselves in the warmer climes and soak up the sun, instead of slogging through the mud, leaning into the biting wind and cold as we make our way to wherever we need to be.

We started discussing motorhomes in earnest this past week, and now it seems to be the reigning topic at hand.  We have spent hours surfing the Internet and reading the various blogs describing all aspects of motorhome traveling and living.

Yesterday (Saturday) was rather nasty weather-wise, and we decided to forego our usual National Trust property visit and head to Weedon (30 minutes drive from us) to see some of these beauties firsthand.  The people there were very accommodating and gave us free rein to look at the vehicles that we fancied.  Well, the first one provided everything we were looking for, so even though we glanced at several other models, we knew we had found the one that resonated best with us.

After returning home Paul was able to locate the same model and layout online, but a few years older and much more in line price-wise for us.  So now we begin the process of putting the pieces of the puzzle together to make this work……we will keep you posted!

I love discovering ways to find a balance in all aspects of my life, but particularly when it comes to making choices about where to go, what to eat etc.  I remember once when I was on a Paris layover I had spotted the dessert tray when we walked in the door.  They had a mouth-watering lemon tart, as well as an equally delectable apple tart.  I wanted a little of each, so I asked our server if this was possible and the next thing I knew voila, I was able to enjoy both.

Applying this to continuous cruising, think about the opportunities to see many things along the way.  With enough flexibility and use of your imagination you can extend your horizons and enjoy much more than you thought possible.  Just give it a try….

Several people have asked if I might include a recipe with the weekly newsletter, but we decided against this as Paul has said in the past there really hasn’t been must interest.  However, with that in mind, for those of you who are interested in such culinary delights, here is the blog I use so much for what I cook—www.eatliverun.com.

Wishing you a good week of creative imagination—go out and make things happen!

[ratingwidget post_id=30076]

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.  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.

>