Saturday, 31 May 2008

Mobile Broadband

We've known for ages that we'll need to get ourselves hooked up the internet using a mobile broadband service once we're living afloat. I checked out the offers available and found that as a current 3 customer, I could get 7GB per month for £12.50 and a free 'dongle'. However, the deal on the half price internet ended today (supposedly - the internet says next month, meh), so I pootled along to the 3 shop to sign up.

Edit: Now online using the dongle. Fast(ish) and easy to set up too. I am impressed!

Friday, 30 May 2008

James' Account

James recently posted a reply to a member asking for advice on CanalWorld forums, accounting how we went about choosing the boat. The forum has been an invaluable source of advice for us and its good to be able to give something back! I'll reproduce it here as an alternative account of our boat buying experiences:

"At the moment, interesting things are happening with the boat market, due to the credit crunch; it is getting harder and harder to get an unsecured personal loan so a marine mortgage might be the way to go. For that, you'll need enough money for a deposit, and a mooring too.

My partner and I have recently bought a boat; here's the process we went through:

-Firstly, we researched. We've got a number of friends who lived aboard, and we had many long chats with them about it. We also stayed on their boat, whilst they were away, to get a feel for boating. I know how cold it can get in an unheated back cabin!

-This pretty much took the place of hiring a boat; we decided that, being practical kind of people who don't mind doing things like emptying portaloos and getting our hands dirty, that we'd be able to tolerate boating life. I see it as a boat first and foremost, and a house second- it's a lot more complicated than a house and you have to think about everything. Electricity doesn't just come out of the sockets, you have to have charged batteries etc; you need to have enough water for a shower etc...

-At the same time, we also looked at the two big waterways magazines, "Canal Boat" and "Waterways World" every month. "Canals and Rivers" has a useful "Brokers" section detailing boats for sale, so that's worth a look for that alone really. We found out about the different types of boats, how boat systems worked, different manufacturers and a lot of different information.

-At about that time, we went to Whilton Marina. Whilton is pretty good for seeing a LOT of different types of boat; you can literally give them your name and address and they'll hand over the keys, and they've got a wide selection of boats. This way, you can actually see for yourself the differences between a 40' boat and a 60' boat, the different types of stern, different layouts inside, and all the rest.

-Having done that, we drew up a specification for the ideal boat for us:

45' long plus- two of us living aboard, so this is the popularly recokoned minimum length for two; ideally 50' +
Reasonably habitable- not an empty shell, but prepared to get a boat with some work that needs doing.
Ideally a trad stern for maximum living space, but the other two types considered.
Fixed double bed- no faffing with making up beds
Solid fuel stove
Space for guests- either space for an air mattress in the saloon, or a futon or fold-up guest bed
Oven, hob, proper galley
Inverter for on-board electrics
Bathroom with shower and cassette/pumpout
Space for books and a study
Engine room- or way of getting at the engine in the dry, so maintenance can be done in the dry even when it's really raining down!
Less than £30,000.

-This seemed like a pretty big ask. There were very few boats out there that had all these features. We found that we could get a long, big boat in poor internal condition, or a nicely fitted out boat that was on the short side.

-When looking at boats, it helps to know the market. There is a finite number of boats available in any price bracket, and it IS possible to know them all!

-We kept a spreadsheet with the details of all the boats that we saw and that were suitable on them, crossing them off as they got sold. We rated each one and always had a few favourites so we could move in quickly!

-We got a shock, seeing that our favourite boat- "Just Maggie II" at Whilton- was featured in "Canal Boat" magazine, so we decided to look seriously for boats a few months earlier than planned.

-Just Maggie turned out to be not exactly ideal, as it needed a LOT of work done to it; so we moved on down the list, viewing boats.

-When viewing a boat, be cautious. If you're seeing it with the buyer there, don't be too positive; if they get the impression that you really like the boat, then they'll be more inflexible when it comes to haggling as they know you want it. Similarly, don't be too negative- they'll be put off.

-It's worth having a thorough look at the boats you like, with a camera and notebook if necessary. A boat that looks ideal on paper can turn out to be not-so-good in real life.

-Look at all the details given. When was the last full survey done? Can you see the results? When was the hull last blacked? When was the engine serviced? Whe did the servicing- the owner's mate Dave down at the garage, or a "proper" certified boatyard? Try and get as much details as possible, and don't be afraid of asking awkward questions. Any genuine seller will be happy to answer them; don't forget, they need the sale! If they're reluctant to answer questions, or are evasive, then that's a sign that there's something rotten in the state of Denmark. Conversely, an honest, open owner with no reservations and the ability to put all his or her cards on the table and say, "yes, it was serviced because X, Y and Z was wrong, it's been fine ever since" is an absolute blessing.

-We saw the boat we particularly liked, and made an offer subject to survey the very next day.

-Making an offer is the tricky part. Don't be afraid to make an offer that's lower than the asking price- if the owner doesn't like it, they'll say "no". Haggling is all part and parcel of boat buying. A canny owner will probably have put the boat on the market at a price higher than what they actually expect to get for it; you can expect to knock some money off at least, although it does all depend upon the owner and their situation! If the boat's been on the market for a LONG time, for example, they might be willing to accept a VERY cheeky offer! You never know. The owner will generally have a price that they've worked out, below which it becomes uneconomic to sell the boat. So offers for a boat for sale for £23,000 might actually be accepted at £20,000.

-Having had the offer accepted, the next job was to sort finance. We'd previously had good things from banks and loan providers, but when it came to officially applying for a loan they said "no"- so we got a marine mortgage instead.

-Having had the offer accepted, you need to have the boat out of the water and have a survey done. You look through the lists of surveyors (advertised in the magazines, on the net etc.) and, having got quotes from them, arrange to have them come and look at your boat. You will pay for their time and travel. You'll also have to pay a boatyard to have the boat taken out of the water- surveying is expensive, but it can stop you making an expensive mistake! Better to have a £800 survey to tell you that the boat's rubbish and that you shouldn't buy it at that price, or to show faults that mean you won't continue with the sale, than buying the boat and having the faults come up later!

-Having had the survey done, the surveyor will tell you what they believe the boat to be worth. Hopefully this will tally with what you have offered; you can always negociate further to get the final price.

-Once accepted, you have to transfer the money and paperwork. DOn't forget to sort out licenses and all the other kit and kaboodle that goes with the boat!

And that's it....

Happy boat hunting!

Edited to say: Don't feel shy about using the forums, either! We joined when we were at the same stage as you are now, and I can say that it really does help. There's a lot of knowledge floating round, and obviously different opinions- it can help you to get a far better understanding of the whole process, and to have queries about boats answered. FOr example, we were looking at a few boats which had wooden superstructures on steel hulls. We found out, from the forum, where the problems would be and where to look when examining a boat, to find out the varying pros and cons, and to get more details."

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Of windlasses and tiller-pins

Lucky James went to Crick boat show last Saturday (before it all blew away) and he brought me back some presents! Exciting things too! Firstly a new windlass with a rotating handle, and a highly useful Seasearcher magnet (watching James struggle to get the keeper off was quite funny- its a helluva stong magnet). Most exciting was a duck-shaped tiller pin though, just like the one the boat currently has (but that the owner will take away with him). Also he bought me a book on how to paint proper roses and castles! Yay!

This got us thinking about all the other stuff we're going to need. Helpfully we're not the only ones and Lady Muck of Canal world forums has recently posted this list of useful things

Monday, 26 May 2008

Twenty Questions

Following the example of Sarah of NB Warrior, and on Andrew Denny of Granny Buttons suggestion, here's my answers to Canal Boat's Twenty Questions.

  • What's your favourite canal? The Huddersfield Narrow Canal - It was the first narrow canal I ever visited. The Exeter Ship Canal comes close, but since its not connected to the rest of the inland waterways network, it doesn't quite count.
  • And your least favourite? Not found one I don't like yet!
  • Who would be your ideal cruising companion? Terry and Monica Darlington (and Jim)
  • What was the last book you read? Stephen Fry's Making History. The last canal related book? Hmm, how about Philip Pullman's Northern Lights? His (slightly surreal) description of the canals and waterways in Lyra's world was one of the things that got me interested in the waterways of my own world. I read Canal Boat and Waterways World every month of course.

  • Favourite time of day on the waterways? Dusk

  • What irritates you most on the waterways? Incompetent rowers

  • When would you most liked to have lived? The 70s for the music, the 20s for the boats, the fashion and the architecture.

  • When did you last fall in? Not fallen in yet!

  • What did you want to be at 12? A mad scientist...

  • If I didn't have narrowboating, I'd... probably not bore my non-boater friends by pointing out every canal/boat we pass!

  • Narrowboaters are... the sane ones.

  • After a day's cruising I most look forward to... the next day's cruising!

  • The waterways need...more connecting -I'd love to be able to go from London to Cambridge without going via Northampton!

  • If you met the Waterways Minister on the towpath, what would you say to him? Can't we just make moorings simple?

  • Windows or portholes? Both!

  • Pumpout or cassette? Pumpout, although Lucky Duck has a portapotti.

  • Canals or rivers? Rivers, as long as they're navigable.

  • Where will you be when you're 70? Cruising with my grandchildren on the Wilts and Berks (where my grandparents used to take me).

  • What do you think is your greatest achievment in life? Pretty happy to be finally living my life rather than having it live me, but nothing particularly spectacular as yet!

  • What would your superpower be? The ability to fast-forward through the boring bits of life (those when I'm not afloat), and replay the best bits.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Mystery Duck

Walking along the Regents Canal (can't keep away!) the other day, James and I came across this little family. However, despite being a something of a bird geek, I have no idea what it is. Clearly not your run of the mill Mallard. I wonder if the Regents Canal has stocks of more interesting birds? Can anyone help?

July pootling...

Yesterday I got quite frustrated and upset with the fact that we still have over 2 months before we can move in (I know its nothing really, but it feels like a long time), and with life in general. Thankfully James was on hand to offer advice and hugs, and he reminded me that Lucky Duck could be ours in just over a month and theres no reason why we can't go up and pootle about during the weekends in July before we bring the boat back! For some reason this hadn't occurred to me! So, yay!

Edit: Bones' and Athena's comments below also contributed to cheering me up yesterday :)

Wednesday, 21 May 2008


... has added my blog to the blogroll on her site. Awesome, thanks MB!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Dates and such

So. I have told my work that my last day is Friday 1st August. That evening we shall probably take a train up to Birmingham, stay overnight aboard the boat, and set off early Saturday 2nd August. The current owner has kindly allowed us to keep the boat on his mooring in Birmingham until we're ready to set off.

A logistical nightmare lies ahead though. Currently I have my stuff in my room in London, and James has his stuff in his room in Cambridge. After his graduation on Thursday 26th June, James has to move everything out of his place. Or rather BEFORE. Because we're going up to Birmingham to oversee the survey the weekend immediately after that. So he'll put some stuff back at his parents' houses in Bracknell, some in my room in London, and some in various boathouses etc (with permission). Luckily for me, I have my London room until Monday 25th August, so we can pick it up when we come to London by boat...

And then theres licensing but I'll save that for another post.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Extended Cruising Plan

Having thought about my options for when I leave my job in London, I have decided to take the last two-three weeks as annual leave, which means that I can leave London at the end of July. This, in turn means that we can take as long as we like to bring the boat back from Birmingham to Cambridge. In fact we will probably at least double the original journey (see my post on Sun 27 April) but incorporating the Thames Ring into our trip, as well as a little trip down the Regent's Canal. We really feel that we ought to make the most of the chance to be out on the Inland waterways, and that it would be worth delaying coming back and settling in Cambridge by a few weeks in favour of having a proper holiday. I'm so excited about discovering bits of the BCN, the Oxford Canal, the Thames, the Regents and the GU as well as the Nene, the Middle Levels and the Cam!

We'd also love to meet as many people as possible on our journey so we'll keep everyone up to date on our progress (we plan to have mobile internet) and just see who we run into really (not literally - I hope we're not that inept!) So if, during August you see Lucky Duck pootling by, do give us a wave/come onboard for a cup of tea!

Various family members and friends will be on board for relevant bits too - my dad might do a bit of the Thames, since he used to be a (rowing)boat-maker in Oxford, perhaps some of James' family when we're nearer Reading, and my mum maybe for part of the Grand Union near Northampton.

Here's a map with our planned route doodled on:

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Maffi's blog

Was rather pleased to see that Maffi has added a link to my blog on his 'New blogs' section. I have decided to start my own linky list, on the left and will add to it as I get round to reading more of peoples' blogs/finding interesting websites! 

P.S Thanks to everyone who's left comments!

Friday, 16 May 2008


How does Lucky Duck compare to the ‘ideal boat’ I described in my first post?
  • Under £30,000 (more on finances later) Negotiated £26,000 and (all going to plan) it will be paid for with a marine mortgage from Collidge and Partners.
  • 50-57ft (enough space, but a 'go-anywhere' length - some of the smallest locks can only accommodate a 57ft boat) At 48ft, Lucky Duck is slightly smaller than we wanted, but not significantly so, and the space is better used than some longer boats.
  • Traditional (trad) stern, to maximise space and look authentic, but a semi-trad or cruiser would be acceptable if we liked everything else! Lovely trad stern!
  • Engine room (for easy access to the engine, and for storage) Sort of – the engine can be accessed from inside, which makes fixing it in inclement weather somewhat simpler.
  • Fixed double bed with loads of storage for clothes! Yes and yes! Top loading wardrobe and a chest of drawers. Plus lots of space for hanging coats.
  • Bathroom with shower and pumpout/cassette toilet. One point where we made a compromise. Lucky Duck only has a porta-potti. We could replace it with a Thetford cassette, though.
  • Kitchen with (ideally) a range but at least a gas oven and a 12 v fridge Lucky Duck has a lovely kitchen, hardly smaller than the one at my parents’ house! Although that’s not saying much! No range, but lovely stove (see later)
  • Living room next to kitchen for optimised social cooking and preferably no fixed furniture, but space for a double futon, for guests. Some fixed furniture (Table and box/chair unit) but the futon’s not fixed, allowing some flexibility)
  • Stove in living room (essential!) Mørso Squirrel, with back boiler for central heating. Toasty!
  • Plenty of potential space for books and a study. The ingenious bed/study system allows study space under the bed when it is lifted up on gas struts.
  • Inverter so we can have 240v 'lectrics while not hooked up to the land. Yup!
  • Must be in a habitable condition. We don't mind a bit of work, but we have to be able to move straight in. Lucky Duck is more than habitable. I can’t wait to move in.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The List

We have heard that the Cambridge moorings list is having a bit of a reshuffle, and now, seemingly it makes a difference whether or not you actually have a boat. Whilst we're not sure we agree with the new system, it does seem that it would be in our favour to point out to the ACF (who run the list) that we have now got a boat.

The woman I've spoken to about this before is highly elusive though. First she was away, then out, then the line was engaged, and now she's out again! Fingers crossed she'll get back to me then we can get ourselves shuffled up the list!

Edit: Aha! Well. Apparently they had decided at the review in April to create a two-tiered list, where people whose boat was their sole residency were towards the top. But that was deemed to be unfair by many so the fact that we now have a boat makes very little difference. Although it does mean that nothing changes for us, at least the system's fair now.

Sunday, 11 May 2008


Do leave them! I realised today that I had comments turned off, but that has now been rectified. I'd love to hear from people who have read the blog!

Becoming a boatie...

This isn't really narrowboat related, but it is Cam related and boat related: I have started to learn to row. Something that in all my days at Cambridge, I vowed never to do. However, it is for a town club, rather than my college, so is somewhat less daunting. I was rather scared about my first outing in the tub on Saturday, but it didn't go nearly as badly as I expected and now I just want to get back out on the water!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Engine Arm - Lucky Duck's current home

Just a few words on Lucky Duck's current location (Smethwick near B'ham in the heart of canal country), in the absence of any real news.

The Engine Arm branch got its name from the Boulton & Watt beam engine that onced pumped water from the Engine Arm to the Birmingham Canal, the engine ran for 112 years only stopping for maintenance and repairs. It is now a gated in-line 'marina' with electricity hook ups and a lovely community feel. Seems sad to take the duck away from that but i'm sure she'll be happy in Upware!

This is Engine Arm Aqueduct, just a minutes cruise from Lucy Duck's current mooring. We went over it, in fact on our way back from our cruise with the current owner.

The sign says...

This magnificent aqueduct was originally desiged and constructed by Thomas Telford in 1825 to carry the Engine Arm Canal above the New Main Line some twenty feet below.

The Aqueduct...
Is an iron trough supported on a cast iron laced arch with brick and stone abutments. The aqueduct was restored in 1985 and incuded a new painting scheme to highlight the fine detail of the ironwork. The brick footbridge carrying the Old Main Line towpath has honeycomb indents in stone quoins.

Engine Arm Canal...
Also known as Engine Branch or Birmingham Feeder Arm, is typical of the many short branches serving industry which were lined and totally enclosed by factory walls and wharves. It's main purpose was a feeder from Rotton Park Reservoir to the Old Main Line at Smethwick Summit. The end of the feeder was made navigable mainly to bring coal to the Smethwick Engine site at Bridge Street as part of Telford's improvements in 1830.

The canal is a quiet backwater but it only requires a little imagination to see it as a hive of activity with workmen, horses, boats passing, loading and unloading at the now silent wharves and loading points. When industry turned its back on the canal, the windows, doors and loading points were crudely blocked off or bricked up.


James' college have kindly offered to loan him some monies which wont be repayable til January. Phewf! That means we should be able to afford to survey the boat AND eat! Weight. Shoulders. Lifted. :D

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Just Canals

We have a mention on the Just Canals forum: hehe we're famous!


Having previously thought that we could bring the boat to Cambridge straight after blacking it, it turns out that there are several obstacles to this plan. Firstly, awaiting the transferral of the money from Collidge (assuming also that the valuation goes well) and then BUMPS TRAINING. The all-important town bumps are on the 21st July, and of course there will be lots of training that needs to happen prior to that. So either we wiat til AFTER bumps to move it. or we move it in stages, with James going back to Cambridge every few days... Ho hum. I prefer the first option - I'd much rather do it all at once, but then its getting dangerously close to the end of my work contract, and if I go off for 2 weeks, just before i leave, they may not want me back after wards! erp.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Its May

Its May! We're getting the boat surveyed next month!

Plus this month a) has TWO bank holidays and b) is an anagram of my name :D