A view along the top of our soon to be narrowboat – 57 feet long.
How do you keep the dream alive?
So there has been this time; it’s called Christmas and New Year. Both mu and I love it and had a wonderful time but it has meant that we have had to wait as inevitably, work on our narrowboat will have slowed due to the holiday period. We were also busy with planning and deciding upon what presents to get and what food to purchase etc. and so, whilst the narrowboat has had to take a bit of a back seat in the flotilla of Christmas proceedings, we have still found ways of keeping the dream alive. By this I mean keeping the momentum needed hit the ground running (hit the canal floating) going.
Youtube is the tool of choice for seeing; what people have done, how they’ve done it, what they wouldn’t do next time and why they did it the way they did from narrowboat-tinged Youtubers. Their countdown to Christmas broadcasts and Christmas Specials have kept us entertained, especially
We can dream of Christmas afloat!
There is also a wealth of British Waterways’ film archive uploaded e.g. by Beulah25. This provides a brilliant insight into the past and how the waterways used to be used, it’s just you have to watch it up scaled from some ultra-low definition format obscured in blur and artifact. It does give it an added nostalgia and it is free, so you can’t complain really.
The other way we’ve kept involved is by visiting the local canals and walking various towpaths
The Kennet & Avon Canal provides limitless possibilities to experience some of Britain’s finest countryside. We’ve walked at Bradford-On-Avon, both towards Trowbridge and towards the Tithe Barn where you can dream of the past & Avoncliffe Aqueduct.
We’ve often stopped off at The Lock Inn as it would have been rude not to. They serve simply excellent food 😉
The Floating Christmas Market at Bradford-On-Avon was an excellent event where we got to combine a study of narrowboats with Christmas present shopping – definitely recommend it – going again next year.
The Somersetshire Coal Canal, a short arm off the Kennet & Avon is a great starting point for walking across the Dundas Aqueduct towards Winsley and Bradford-On-Avon or to taking the other direction towards Millbrook and Claverton
I’ve taken a number of photographs whilst out and about, trying to capture the feel of the canal as it exists today, for me, currently as a non-boater. I’m interested to see how they will change as we move onto the canals and become part of it.
On a narrowboat, there’s room for everything!
This narrowboat is fully laden, stocked up for Winter. The makeshift adaptation and patina of age make a great visual subject as well as capturing for me, the spirit of liveaboards throughout the canal network.
Picture taken on the Kennett & Avon Canal in Wiltshire in December 2017.
I’ll be taking pictures of narrowboats that inspire me and posting them to show the wonderful diversity on the canals of England and Wales.
So, with all the previous worry out of the way, we descended the steps into Whilton Marina to view ‘the purchase’.
At this point, it should be mentioned that we had only seen the boat once before and when viewing others. Would it look like we remembered? Was it that we had seen it through rose-tinted glasses before? Ourlegs were weak and swaying. “Oh no, that was the pontoon leading out onto the water”. Phew! The narrowboat? It was how we remembered it, it was perfect.
Long and sleek in the water, light and airy inside, not a hint of damp. Entering via the Bow onto the Tug deck, keys in hand (with one of those floaty devices as a key ring from when you inevitable drop them in the drink), we were opening the door to our new home. I couldn’t get in! The door was a bit stiff so wiggled the key and pushed the door and we’re in – hurray!
The thing that hits you is that this narrowboat is so light and airy. Traditional is good but but it can be dark and depressing. This is the boat for us, we think she’ll scrub up very nicely.
We spent a good hour looking into cupboards, poking into spaces, measuring lengths and tapping things to ensure they were solid (they were). All was good. It seemed a pity to have to give the key back at the end but we reluctantly did and made our way back to the car, looking over our shoulders, down into the marina, at where our boat stood. Our boat!
On the way back we stopped at Banbury.
We parked by the canal (where else) and walked along its towpath and stopped to look at narrowboat names and their colour schemes and configurations. It’s called gongoozling; the watching of canals and narrowboats and their peoples by people who don’t have a boat. Technically then, we weren’t gongoozling. A black cat
appeared out of nowhere, onto the towpath, in front of us. It was cute and affectionate. It obviously knew we were in the process of purchasing a narrowboat. I could tell.
Banbury is the home of Tooley’s Boatyard
which houses an 86’ dry dock and a 200 year old working forge. It’s right next door to the Banbury Museum which houses hands-on canal-related stuff like how a lock works and the great little Cafe Red; good coffee, great food, nice people and it overlooks the canal
we waved at a passing boat 🙂
On the drive back home, we passed over canal bridges and shouted as we saw narrowboats but as we left Northampton and dropped back down into the county of Wiltshire, the canals seemed far away, as if we’d put them aside. The fix is short-lived at this stage of proceedings. We would have to be content with memories and magazines, until the next time.
The narrowboat we’re buying is a second hand one. It’s an old one but this is in keeping with the ethos of why we want to liveaboard and off-grid. We like to think of it as a form of recycling, re-purposing. The budget also had a hand in the choice. OK It was mainly the budget.
Bringing this 1991 narrowboat up to the expectations of our liveaboard dream is a challenge, not least because of the fundamental lack of skills I possess in mechanics and carpentry. I put shelves up once. They fell down. For gardening they say you require green fingers. I have collector’s fingers. I can collect things; comics, Books, pottery, magazines, bits & pieces (I have many bits & pieces). Over the years I have become very adept at collecting things, and more importantly, not letting them go. The trouble is, when you are planning to move into a 57 foot long, 7 foot wide tube, collecting things is not a skill to brag about. I will learn new skills though, have no fear. The first thing I have to learn is letting …
I have already learned a whole host of new things in the very short time, regarding narrowboats since deciding to purchase one. But, where do I start? The most important thing I have learned is that if you are buying a second hand narrowboat (or indeed, any type of vessel intended to float in water) – commission a survey!
The survey is worth its weight in gold, ours literally was the weight of a gold ingot. It was so long! We thought there would be some things pointed out; the paint works is a bit scratched, the engine needs a service, things of that nature. Oh no. No no no. The document created by the marine surveyor we commissioned was a tome, a weighty tome. It was a thing of beauty. The problem was we wanted a short list of fixable items, not the War and Peace of narrowboat failings. It turns out that we did want the War and Peace version because the very thorough and detailed survey carried out by Craig Allen of Craig Allen Marine became the blueprint for bringing our narrowboat up to the expectations of our liveaboard dream.
We opened the PDF to a nice nautical logo, business-looking font and some kind words about our Holy Grail. It then started to list, in logical order, section by section, the short comings of said Grail. If Arthur had read this, he wouldn’t have bothered about searching for the grail. Had we chosen poorly? It looked like we had. I didn’t know a boat could have so many things that could be fixed on it. At first glance, it seemed as though there was for to fix than boat – a floating aggregation of broken pieces. We were starting to hyperventilate and a black storm cloud was starting to come in off the ocean and we hadn’t even driven in her yet! But, wait. We went back through from start to finish, section by section, the night was still young (good job it was!). Upon logical review, the items started to change from impending disasters into fixable items by a competent boat-fixing person – what are you looking at me for? I collect things, remember?
For a number of nights we clung to the vague hope that the Marina brokering the sale would somehow (against all odds) be true to their word and ‘fix any BSS-related issues and get her ready to sail away’. To be fair, most of the issues were BSS-related so we took some comfort from this. I mean, I could polish the brass mushrooms on top of the boat so that would be one less thing, wouldn’t it? Those nights before we could get up to Northampton to ‘discuss’ the survey on the Sunday were some of the longest we have ever experienced. We just saw our deposit, cost for lifting the boat out of the water for the survey and the survey fee, floating like jetsam (or is that flotsam?) down the canal of lost dreams.
Sunday finally came, we were up early (we must have been worried) and we made our way to Whilton in Northamptonshire, stopping off at the Solstice Services at Avebury in Wiltshire (we hadn’t actually got very far by this point but that early in the morning, you need sustenance of some sort early on). There was some trepidation here as last time we had made this same journey to view narrowboats in general, I had left my camera bag at said services, only realising once we were up in Northamptonshire that I didn’t have my trusty bag and new camera with me. Thankfully, that tail of woe ended happily in that the lovely people at Costa had looked after it for me until our return back that way. If we had set off back at that point, we may never have seen the narrowboat we were traveling up to hopefully purchase.
Another little point that was preying on our minds at this point was ‘Winter Stoppages’. “What are Winter Stoppages?” I hear you cry. Well, in winter, the Canal & River Trust carryout routine and required maintenance on the canal network. His means that sections of the canal are closed for periods of time. This means that when trying to get our narrowboat ‘home’, in addition to moving through cold and ice, we could potentially get stuck, in the middle of nowhere for swathes of time.
I may as well detail at this point, we haven’t actually driven a narrowboat before or been on a trip on one but we have stood on several and pretended. This seemed pertinent to the above discussion.
The drive up to Northampton from Wiltshire (by car, I cannot yet comment on by narrowboat) is a beautiful one and it managed to assuage some of the anxiety that would have otherwise built. However, upon arriving at Whilton Marina (missing the turning once again. Another skill I need to develop’ better mapping skills. Perhaps that should be charting skills) we were both as nervous as if going into court. We needn’t have been. The people at Whilton Marina greeted us once through the door.
“where here regarding our narrowboat”.
“Oh, yes. Come on in. We have a copy of the survey here and have hi-lighted the relevant points. There’s a lot to do!”.
“Ye-s, we thought so as well”.
“Not to worry, it’s all covered in the price agreed as it is one of our boats. All the items are BSS issues so it will all get done”.
This was no courtroom; it was an ante chamber of some hitherto unknown heaven. The anxiety and worry of the previous days slipped, we both had beaming smiles and it was at this point we knew we were buying a narrowboat. But it didn’t stop there.
“It will take some time to address the issues obviously what with Christmas and the Winter Stoppages. You will be unable to move the boat and it would be unfair of us to expect you to so the earliest it would be ready is end February, maybe end April if we needed to address the hull in detail”.
If she needed a new hull, they would provide one! Re-Blacking, engine fully addressed (a replacement one if deemed necessary)! etc. etc. The only thing they didn’t mention was the polishing of the brass mushrooms but hey! I can do that! This turned out to be one of the greatest days of our lives; issues will be addressed, timing is perfect and we got to go and spend time on ‘our’ narrowboat.
Continues in Finding a Narrowboat Pt 2 – All Aboard
The first thing anyone asks you if you mention you are buying a boat is; ‘What’s it called?’ – Our narrowboat has a name but we want to change it. There’s a particular reason for this and that is because its current name doesn’t mean anything! I searched and searched and after false starts, whereby Google tried to be helpful, changed my search criteria but I didn’t notice, so I spent hours following meanings down rabbit holes that were nothing to do with the actual name! When I actually corrected this and put in the name – nothing! Well, that’s not strictly true, it did come up with a brass band that won some competition or other, in 1960-something however, this had no meaning for us.
There is a lot of discussion around changing a boat’s name, believe me (1, 2, 3, 4) There are two camps; the ‘Don’t do it!’ camp or ‘vehement opposition to superstition and do it’ camp. There’s a ceremony that can be performed to ensure no bad luck befalls the re-namer and his or her boat – for ‘bad luck’ read ‘boat sinks’. As I understand it, you are basically keeping on the good side of Poseidon who keeps a record of all boats in some ledger, that kind of thing. Now I’m not a superstitious person but… And the ceremony involves alcohol so it can’t be all bad 😉
There’s been debate. There’s been a lot of debate. We started out, I assume like most people setting forth on this kind of venture
“We’ll name it after a water bird. We’ll name it after a plant. We’ll name it after an aquatic insect”
All very good, fitting and likable. Until you find out that hundreds of other boats had done just that. There seems to me that you have to have some semblance of uniqueness. So, we started to find ever more obscure names, references to old things we liked and eventually were grabbing at tenuous links that basically didn’t hold water. There have been ‘We’re calling it this’ 24 hour periods, followed closely by ‘Err, maybe not’ moments. Other people like to get in on the act as well which brings in a whole new dimension. Answering the first thing people are going to ask isn’t easy. Here is a summary of the naming list we went through
(All too commonly used)
We decided upon ‘Out Of The Blue’ only to have it scuppered by seeing a narrowboat called just that in a drive past on a video on YouTube, the very next day. So, back to the drawing board. Luckily, the drawing board was still up, covered in scribbles and doodles and a name that we had both liked all along, bubbled to the surface again: ‘In Search Of Space’. A quick search across the Internet showed there weren’t 643 other narrowboats named that and a pact was made; Is it going to be called In Search Of Space? But it isn’t. No, we’ve fallen back into ‘Out Of The Blue’. It just feels like ‘Out Of The Blue’. Sometimes you just can’t be that unique (sorry to anyone else who has called their boat this. We hope you’ll understand).
It’s a blue narrowboat, people will see it coming ‘out of the blue’ of the water and that Roxy Music track is just sublime… Mainly, it’s just that the idea came ‘Out of the Blue’ and we are following it to its conclusion. We now have an answer to the first thing people are going to ask.
There was a moment, I can’t remember when it was but there was definitely a moment. All the doubts, nay saying, mental calculations, business of everyday life, it all just melted away. Something had changed. Some subtle makeup in my psyche had shifted (to Port? To Starboard?). The desire had always been there, it had to have been. The thoughts of just buying a narrowboat and moving to live on it and all it entails does not just arrive like a whim, or if they do, they quickly flitter away, like dandelion thistledown. There must have been a seed planted many years ago. What had changed was the time – the time was right.
Once the moment had been met, that point in time reached, it proved to be a tipping point, a headlong fall into making it happen; how where, what, when. We both knew it was right, it had the feeling of when we first met, in the ‘80’s. The world was ahead of us, the fog had lifted and we could see a future. It would be back to a simpler way of life, back to basics, back to a future.
We had to search for a boat. We didn’t know how much a narrowboat cost or where you bought one from (presumably some canal place). At this point we only knew they were long and thin and floated. That’s what we wanted. One thing you can be sure of in today’s world is that if you have a need, Messrs Search Engine and Internet will be able to fulfill it
Return: About 2, 850,000 results
The next few weeks were filled with searching, cross-referencing, wishful thinking, pragmatism, loads more wishful thinking. A little more wishful thinking. The problem is, we humans love to dream and our dreams get in the way of practical things like budget, or lack thereof. However, this was the new us we were approaching this from a new angle.
Initially, the only way is up; you find something, but you need this extra item, then a couple of further capabilities, and then some must haves and then sprinkles on top! We resisted the temptation (or should I say temptations as there were many of them). Mu had seen a narrowboat and liked it, I also liked it but it was a little way a way and there was a marina local to us which had narrowboats for sale. So initially, we went and saw three, of varying type, fit out and price range. It was our first time aboard a narrowboat (when I say we’re new to narrowboating, I mean I can barely recall seeing one in the past, let alone stand on the stern of one or heaven forbid, actually going for a ride on one!) and it was magical. We were given keys to wander at our leisure, it was like I was a Captain or something. We learned a lot in that half an hour;’ what we liked, what we didn’t, what we thought would work, and what might not but most of all, we learned we wanted to live aboard a narrowboat.
We had to see more, as that’s what everyone advises. It would be folly just buy the first one you see. We went to a marina, it was pouring with rain, it was lunchtime, they couldn’t show us onto any boats that were for sale at the present time, we should visit a marina like Whilton Marina. ‘They have a much larger range of narrowboats for sale and they will give you the key and let you just view the boats on your own’ (that wasn’t going to happen here) but that was what we wanted to do! Maybe I looked dodgy and they thought I might run off with it – all 19 tons of steel narrowboat. There were no moorings at this time either. We did get some good advice however, about the size of narrowboat we should be looking for, so it wasn’t a complete loss. Forearmed and forewarned, we decided to visit Whilton Marina. ‘Where was it?’ – deepest, darkest Northampton.
At Whilton Marina in Northampton, we looked at four Narrowboats. We got to stepaboard and go over every inch of narrowboats we had narrowed down to our price range i.e. not a lot. Three had beautiful wooden interiors, one reminiscent of a baby Golden Hind. They had stoves, port holes, cratch covers, locker storage. In fact, a whole host of things. Traditional narrowboat fare. But it was the fourth boat, the one we had poured over on the website time and time again that stood out. Why? Because it was light and airy. Traditional can mean old fashioned; as in a ‘it looks like a flat with fitted kitchen and comfy chairs’, not an old working boat aesthetic, which is cool. This one had lots of windows which, bearing in mind a narrowboat is basically a metal tube, sealed at both ends, by metal, it can be dark and dingy and uninviting. It also had a tug deck at the front (fore) and was low and sleek in the water (which could of course meant it was cool looking or taking on water). From entering forward, right through to exiting aft, this was the one.
Hello World! We’re buying a narrowboat, doing it up, going to liveaboard, going off-grid (as far as is possible) and eventually going to continuously cruise the canal network of England & Wales, visiting interesting and obscure places, both pastoral and industrial.
If you’re interested – jump aboard!
Hey! Be careful, the weight distribution’s critical. We’ve a finely tuned ballast 😉
Tales From the Bilge – life aboard a narrowboat