Writers Block?

Turning to things more prosaic, stocking the boat with essentials before we headed out was a priority. Turning to things more ‘poosaic’, the waste system on a boat is unique and nothing like the system in a house – as we were about to find out.

Stocking the boat: we needed cleaning supplies. On the Canal Network, the waste from the shower and sink is referred to as ‘grey waste’ and is dealt with in a very simple way. It goes straight down the plug hole, along a pipe and out into the canal. This has rightly forced us to be far more aware of what we put down the plug hole, much more than we ever used to be. Wanting to keep the canals as clean and unpolluted as possible is now a massive focus of ours. There is a brand of products that are free from harmful chemicals and that are stocked by our local Tesco. ECOVER claim to have the same powerful formula as other recognised brands but they use biodegradable plant-based ingredients and so are kinder to our environment. They make a range of all the cleaning products that we use everyday: washing up liquid, dishwasher tabs, laundry liquid and fabric conditioner, as well as bathroom and even glass cleaner. They cost roughly the same as other well known but less environmentally friendly products, which was a welcome surprise. They all come in lovely fragrances too, way more than I expected: lemon & aloe, chamomile & clementine, lily & lotus, pomegranate & fig as well as a zero fragrance free alternative. Awareness of these products is growing and it’s encouraging to see such a huge selection alongside other more well known products.

Keeping the water clean and unpolluted is essential for the feathered friends who share the canal with us.

We then went in search of shampoo and conditioner but sadly were not faced with the same choices. Our supermarket has a wide aisle dedicated to these two products that the general population use on a daily basis. What we use in the shower at home goes straight down the plug hole and into the water system, having a direct impact on planet earth, yet I searched and searched looking for something suitable for use on a narrowboat. Eventually I managed to find one brand “Love Beauty And Planet” shampoo and a conditioner too. Reading the label I found that it had no sulfates, parabens, synthetic fragrance, phthalates, or PEGs (polyethylene glycol) and was definitely eco-friendly.  But unlike the Ecover cleaning products, these were not cheap. The price was a staggering £7 for each bottle.

This got me thinking. Extinction Rebellion, and other climate change and environmental awareness campaigners, should raise awareness and challenge the producers of these products to think more about making them kinder to our planet. There were shelves and shelves of products with chemicals that are harmful to our planet and a choice of one for those who care about the environment. Shouldn’t the balance be the other way round? Surely safer products should be more prominent and not priced out of a lot of people’s budgets?

Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now (literally).

The dirty bit: our toilet waste is definitely not ‘grey waste’ and is dealt with by a macerator, which basically grinds everything up and takes it down a fairly narrow pipe into a tank, which, previous Blog readers will know, is situated under our bed. Having it working efficiently is vital and so you have to very careful what you put down it. Positioned strategically above the toilet we have a sign which reads: ‘Please do not put anything down the toilet unless you have eaten it’ – a golden rule to ‘GO’ by. You should also never use anything heavier than double ply toilet paper (most is at least triple-ply). My bottom is used to being pampered and I always buy nothing but the higher end quilted toilet paper. It still feels weird to be using the cheapest, thinnest paper but needs must and life is all about compromise. We were advised by a fellow boat owner that the best kind to use was Sainsbury’s own brand recycled paper. I took some convincing that recycled paper was okay to use and I still worry what it is recycled from!

Despite following the rules and only using the right toilet paper, I still managed to block the toilet! Following a visit to the smallest room one morning I confidently pressed the button to flush. The macerator came to life and I fully expected the contents to duly disappear. To my horror the toilet just filled up with water and not just water, brown water! I tried once more and pressed the flush button again. I could hear the motor of the macerator working really hard but things were just not moving at all. After several minutes of pressing, waiting and then utter despair I summoned Rob. He looked at me rather accusingly. He didn’t have to say anything. I knew exactly what he was thinking. How could you have broken the toilet?? His usual suggestion of pressing the button over and over was of no help at all and the offending brown liquid just wouldn’t go away.

Fortunately, we were not far from the marina, so with legs crossed we headed back. Derek at the marina, who is very helpful in all boat-related matters, said he would come and have a look. He already has us summed up in his own mind as land lubbers who really know nothing when it comes to boats, usually rolling his eyes or tutting under his breath whenever we ask him a question that he thinks anyone with half a brain should know. He does it in a good humoured way but we are always left with the sneaking suspicion that he thinks we really are numpties. This latest dilemma would just reinforce his opinion of us.

His professional view was that the toilet was well and truly blocked and that it would require taking apart and a thorough inspection of the pipes. But before he could do that it would need to be emptied manually. When Rob asked him how to do this he was promptly handed a bucket and Derek left mumbling under his breath. Not the nicest job, but Rob being a perfect gentleman took on the unenviable task of scooping the brown liquid into the bucket. Something I am eternally grateful for.

Offending liquid removed, and after careful inspection, Derek found that the pipes were old and that the plastic was so brittle that it could have developed a crack at any moment leaking pooh in places that you really don’t want. An even greater disaster. So actually I did us a favour by blocking it up!

It might take some convincing for Rob to see the benefit though.

We now have sparkly new pipes, a new macerator and a spare. Apparently having a spare is vital and something Derek never leaves the marina without. £700 lighter but a lot wiser.

Oh dear!

As an aside and to make me feel better, Derek also told us that he and his wife Emma used to run hotel boats. New guests were always greeted and welcomed with a social event on the first night and given a dose of high bran flapjacks – that way at least giving the toilets onboard a fighting chance in the week ahead!

I’ll add bran to the shopping list……

Got a light mate?

Rob’s turn to take over the keyboard…….

Our last Blog saw us leaving the Marina for the first time, pumping out and turning the Frog around to head south on the Grand Union Canal to meet our boat movers, Jackie and Neil, at Stoke Bruerne.

Stoke Bruerne is a beautiful little village – centred on the Canal – with lots of permanently moored narrow boats, selling everything from chandlery supplies, to All Things Spanish, jewelry and cheese – with a floating bar being the highlight. There was only one problem – between us and this idyll lay the third longest navigable tunnel on the canal network at Blisworth.

A boat selling cheese at Stoke Bruerne – see I told you!

Blisworth tunnel took 12 years to construct- finishing in 1805. It’s a staggering 3076 yards long (or 2813 m for the younger/European/Canadian readers, or 1 & 3/4 miles for our American readers). At its deepest point it’s 143 feet (43m) underground and is wide enough to allow two narrow boats to pass each other. It is pitch dark along most of its length and takes approximately 25 minutes to complete – assuming normal cruising speed. Unfortunately, on our trip through the tunnel, we never got anywhere near cruising speed……..

So let’s go back one step – remember the boat safety certificate? Well, one of the prerequisites for any narrow boat is a working bow light – and it is part of the safety check – or at least it should have been! We know that we will learn something new every day on the canals – and today’s lesson was: check your bow light – before you leave the marina and NOT when you reach the mouth of the third longest tunnel in the country!

So much history.

In the words of Jethro (a Cornish comedian) – ‘what happened was’ (said with a Cornish accent): we assumed the light was working, after all the safety certificate had just been issued, and set merrily off towards the tunnel. There is no winding hole near the entrance meaning no way of turning the boat around- so once we were approaching the impending darkness we had crossed the Rubicon and were committed to going through. It was only then that I glibly flicked the bow light switch on the control panel at the stern of the Frog and confidently asked Pip to confirm it was on.

It wasn’t.

Never an electrician, I had no idea what was wrong and simply kept turning it on and off, in a not very logical belief that this may help! It didn’t. So what to do? We were committed to the tunnel and we had no bow light.

I shouted down into the 58′ boat: ‘Pip turn on your I phone and hurry down to the bow’.

Pip, sensing the emergency by the tone of my voice, duly obliged running through, not even stopping to grab a coat, turning on all the interior lights on her way, in a vain attempt to help me navigate.

We entered the chasm into pitch darkness with Pip 58 feet in front of me – shining her I phone torch against the damp walls. Anyone who has an I phone knows that the torch is relatively bright but it is clearly not designed to light up the vastness of a tunnel. I was in total darkness at the stern except for a dim light coming from the bedroom window onto the right hand wall. I could only just make out the light from the phone in the distance and I could not see the wall at the bow at all – which was extremely disconcerting. I shouted forward: ‘Pip – you are going to have to guide me by calling out directions’. Pip – being a purist – started responding accordingly: ‘Port a bit, port, port, starboard – steady’… etc.

To say I was stressed was an understatement. My mind was working at a fierce-some rate as I tried to get every ounce of light onto my retinas whilst listening intently to Pip. The last thing I needed was the added complication of ‘translating’ her directions into ‘everyday English’. I snapped. My language reflected my stress levels:

‘Just say F@#$ing left or right’.

The looming Chasm!

I will spare you the 45 minute real time torture of the full journey – remember the normal passing time of 25 minutes(!) – and cut to about halfway through.

Blisworth was built in a unique way with a series of ‘vents’ sunk down into the hillside. Once at the right depth, the navvies (Navigational Engineers – the muscle behind UK canal building), started to dig sideways in both directions, until the tunnels all met. The vents are now still in place and ensure fresh air reaches the middle of the tunnel. Unfortunately they also bring any falling water directly down on top of the Frog. This had two impacts – one, I got soaking wet – little chance that I could let go of the tiller and seek any protection. Two, Pip who had more flexibility but no coat, jumped back into the main cabin to stay dry – and I was plunged into ‘guide-free’ darkness for the seemingly endless few seconds that we passed under the vent.

No time to appreciate the incredible engineering feat of building a very deep tunnel in the late 1700’s, no time to inspect the brickwork and the sheer history of the place.

Here is it being lit up by a boat cruising the tunnel. This is what we couldn’t see!

The outlet of one of the many vents built above and for the Blisworth Tunnel. Navvies were lowered down through these vents to start their digging.

Being totally in the dark meant that I was drifting too far to the right and a telling ‘clonk’ tells me that I have hit the wall. What I don’t realise is that this noise is the chimney that has taken the brunt of the impact and it will never be the same again. We had to have it replaced shortly after our return back to the marina.

Pip could just make out the light at the end of the tunnel (not a pun) but the brain plays tricks on you when you’re in total darkness and she kept shouting that there was an oncoming boat. It never materialised but it did contribute to the anxiety. Finally we saw a proper light – the problem was it was not ahead of us – but behind. An unfortunate fellow narrow boater, travelling at normal speed – and with a light – was approaching from our stern and we made a very big and very slow obstacle in their way! I did not dare look behind me and put my ‘if I can’t see you then you’re not there’ face on and stared forwards.

An excruciatingly slow crawl continued and finally – for us and our convoy – we emerged into daylight on the South Side of the tunnel – with palpable relief. We pulled over and moored almost immediately, just short of the village and I gave a grovelling apology to the boat behind before also apologising to Pip for my earlier outbursts.

Southern exit to the tunnel – near Stoke Bruerne – our haven

So – at last a chance to relax, get the light fixed (tomorrow we have to reverse the journey) and plan our meeting with Jackie and Neil. We adjourned to the pub and had a good laugh at the disaster of our first tunnel adventure (though we were definitely not laughing at the time) and that we had really earned our drinks.

Life on the canal is anything but dull.

The beautiful Boat Inn at Stoke Bruerne – and a calming pint or two!

Casting Off For The First Time…..

Its now mid July and we have had our first night on board our new boat. We’ve had all the work done to get our boat safety certificate (a boat safety certificate has to be renewed every 4 years and ensures that each boat is safe to be on the waterways. The best analogy is a boat MOT certificate). Our hull has been blacked and the wood burner has now been installed correctly. We’ve paid in full and now The Frog, as we’ve decided to refer to her, is finally ours.

At this point the Frog is still located in Gayton Marina, near Northampton, a long 5 hour drive from our home in Cornwall. This is not ideal and I have been calling every marina within a shorter drive to find a place for us to keep her until we sell the house and move onboard early next year.

The canal network in the UK was predominately built in the early part of the industrial revolution, late 18th century – and indeed helped power this trans-formative development in the UK. It was a relatively quick way to move commodities such as coal, china etc and development was often funded by the entrepreneurs of the time who would directly benefit. Getting products to ports for distribution was a challenge before the age of the railway and canals provided a solution. As these industries were concentrated in the midlands and to the north, that’s where most of the canals are located.

The most southerly (connected) canal is the Kennet and Avon (known as the K&A) which links Reading (and therefore London via the Thames) to Bristol. Whilst this is nearer than Gayton, it is still a 3 hour drive from Cornwall but certainly preferable to 5 hours in the car, particularly in the summer when UK roads are mostly like car parks. My research revealed that the closer to Bath and Bristol that you are, the more expensive the moorings. They vary in price massively. Most marinas charge per foot of boat and the facilities usually include diesel, pump out for the toilet and boat repairs. The more facilities there are, the higher the charge. Many of the marinas that I called were full with no space for a boat of our size and some would only let their moorings on an annual basis.

Newbury Boat Company

Eventually I found a marina near Newbury that had space and was cheaper than most. Newbury Boat Company https://www.newburyboatco.co.uk/ . The marina had been run by the same family since it started and is now run by Emma and her husband Derek. Emma was so friendly during our phone calls and full of useful advice. She was happy to let us have a mooring on a temporary basis, renewing every 3 months. This suited us as we are hoping to cast off on our adventures early next year once the house is sold but without a definite date in mind, it was good to find somewhere with this flexibility. Although it was a 3 hour drive from home,one advantage was that it is near to my brother Robbie, his wife Sue and their family, who live in Reading, about 15 miles away.

Our next dilemma was how to get the boat to Newbury from its current resting place in Northampton. Rob is not due to retire until October and has used up all of his holiday allowance and so could not take any time off to facilitate this move. A real shame, as we really wanted to be able to use the boat at weekends and really get to know it before we cast off next year.

We were obviously not going to be able to do this move on our own. We thought about doing it in stages at weekends but it would be hard logistically as most of the locations are rural with no public transport and how would we get back to our car each time? A google search on how to move a boat from one location to another suggested a professional boat mover. Who knew such a person existed? I called the first one on the list and he was very helpful. His fee was over £1,500!

We politely declined but he did point us to a really useful site that he uses for estimating the length of journeys and planning his trips https://canalplan.org.uk/. On this site, you are able to select your starting point and final destination or a round trip as well as the length of days that you want to cruise. You can even input the length of your boat so giving you options for places you can turn the boat around, known as winding holes (pronounced like the wind that blows). It then produces a summary of the journey, the number of days /hours that it will take you, number of locks, bridges etc. Its very useful and something we subsequently have used often. We put the starting point of Gayton Marina into it and the final destination of Newbury and pressed the button for the suggested route. The planner said it was 129 miles of waterways, had 85 locks and would take the best part of 9 days.

There’s that phrase again. Everything moves slowly on canals.

9 days to do a journey that could be driven in under 2 hours!

Not a bad earner for a week of cruising on someone else’s boat.

A phone call from my sister in law Sue provided our solution.

Sue had been having coffee with her friend Jacky and was telling her of our plans and all about the boat we had bought. Jacky was particularly interested as her husband Neil had only just been talking about booking a canal boat holiday. A plan started to formulate in Sue’s mind: Jacky and Neil wanted a holiday and we wanted a boat moving, a perfect coincidence of wants. They were both retired and other than regularly babysitting duties for their grandchildren, they were basically free from early August. Sue reassured us that although neither of them had been on board a canal boat before, Neil was an experienced boater being a member of a yacht club and that our boat would be in good hands.

We had a facetime call with Neil and Jacky to talk over details and arranged to meet. We were going to the boat the following weekend and planned a one day trip with them, taking in some locks to ensure that they were happy to undertake this challenge.

Having had the first night on our boat, which we detailed in the previous blog “what does this button do?”, we had our breakfast outside on a beautiful morning looking out at the stunning view from our bow. The now faded but still lingering smell of pooh inside the Frog made dining al fresco an attractive option!

As we had only located one bowl on board. We shared this for our yogurt and fruit. (must put crockery on our list of things that we needed. An ever growing list.)

Curious morning visitors.
Morning cuppas in our boat warming present from my brother Mike and sister in law Sara

Having fueled our tummies, now it was time to refuel the boat and pump out the offensive toilet contents. As we were about to cast off we met the owners of the boat that was moored next to ours. We got chatting, as canal folk tend to do and found out that this couple’s plans were similar to ours, except they were only spending a few months every year on board, and the winter months in their apartment in Tenerife. They had sold their house having fallen in love with their narrowboat ‘That’s Amore’ and that morning was the first day of their adventure. They had also never owned a boat before but thought it would be a fun way to live. We found out we had so much in common and the wife’s name is Philippa too!

Rob was understandably a little nervous handling our boat for the first time and in unfamiliar surroundings. Coming out of the marina was not easy, a very sharp turn to the left but first a swing bridge to move. He managed the manoeuvre with little difficulty and pulled up proudly to the bank. One pump out quickly followed. We certainly didn’t mind paying the fee to get rid of that waste and we also poured in generous volumes of Elsan (a blue ‘gloopy’ liquid that helps de-odorise your sewerage tank – a godsend)!

Having completed all of the necessary maintenance we finally set off for our first cruise, ultimately to meet up with Neil and Jacky the following day but where we needed to go was in the opposite direction to where we were facing. Its not easy turning a 58 foot boat around, steering from the back, so we had to go off away from our destination until we found a winding hole in which to turn around. One hour later we were only just passing the marina again this time heading in the right direction….

Such concentration

Surely nothing else could go wrong.

Did I mention that everything moves slowly on the canals?……..

That’s why we love it.

“What does this button do?”

All paid for, insured (surprisingly inexpensive at less than £250 for the year), boat safety certificate granted and license purchased. Finally Frog In A Bucket is ours.

We excitedly set off on the 5 hour drive for our very first weekend on our beautiful boat. Dreams of sipping a cool gin and tonic whilst watching the sunset, sat on the bow, moored on a peaceful canal bank filled my head. We had no recollection of what was included in the sale or what we would find on board but we decided to just take the bare minimum of stuff such as bedding and towels and some basic bits of food. You are never far from a pub, especially on the canals so we were not worried.

We encountered the usual summertime traffic in the UK, so we did not arrive at the Marina until just before the office closed. We hurriedly ran in and thankfully we were able to retrieve the keys before they locked up for the night. Wheelbarrows are kindly provided and so we loaded up our stuff from the car and went off in search of our boat.

Coming on board, we started looking at what had been left for us and found some mugs, cutlery and a corkscrew. Essentials covered. The fridge needed some cleaning and refreshing before it was safe to put the food in it so this was my first task. The boat was plugged in to the shore power supply so you would expect that the fridge would have power wouldn’t you? Turing the dial inside didn’t help and so Rob’s first task was to find out why.

Galley, skylight reflected in the granite worktops.

Before he started though, Rob needed to use the facilities. After studying the various options for flushing (even the using the loo is complicated, with 4 different ways to get rid of the contents) he opted for a quick flush and pressed the button. There are various types of toilets to choose from on narrow boats – this one that has a macerator built in which grinds stuff up and deposits it into a tank, situated under our bed. The boat had not left the marina for sometime and the contents of the toilet had obviously settled in the tank. The deodorising fluid had stopped working many months ago and the tank contents were all disturbed with Rob’s flush. I cannot begin to describe the smell that emanated from the bathroom, I would not have been surprised if a green fog had appeared. Oh my god, it was beyond description and caused us to evacuate the boat at top speed, gasping for breath. It took quite a while for the smell to die down even with many air fresheners going at full speed and all the windows and doors open. Another thing to add to our list of things to sort out in the morning.

Whatever you do, don’t press the flush!

Behind our bed is the control panel for the boat electrical system and has almost as many switches as an aeroplane cockpit, okay maybe a slight exaggeration but what most of them did was a complete mystery. Gauges for fuel, waste etc were self explanatory but we hadn’t got a clue about the rest. There was nobody around at the marina to ask either so Rob set about trying to figure it out. I assumed it would be like a car, turn the key and everything should work with simplicity, but it all looked very complicated, 12 volt and 240 volt systems, and what the heck is an inverter?

Finally Rob worked out which buttons to press to get the 12v system working onboard and with the fridge gleaming once again, we duly made up the bed before adjourning to the pub for our dinner and a much needed drink. It was unrealistic to be casting off for our maiden voyage that night so we took the canal guide with us to study and plan our weekend out on the water. We decided to seek some help from the marina staff in the morning and ask for a rundown on how things worked, very sensible before heading off on our own.

Sinking into our very comfortable memory foam bed we lay back and felt very pleased with ourselves and anticipated our first voyage in the morning, trying to ignore the overwhelming smell of air freshener and faint whiff of stale pooh coming from under our bed. We even managed a laugh about the earlier toilet mishap. I put in my earplugs, very necessary when you live with someone who snores like my husband and started to drift off into peaceful slumber.

I started to stir sometime during the night, but without my glasses on I could not tell what time it was. Someone was moving around inside. I pulled out my earplugs and saw a silhouette of a figure in front of the control panel behind our bed, almost at the same time I was deafened by a high pitched shrill. Rob, in his underpants, was frantically pressing buttons using only the torch on his I phone for light so as not to disturb me. Apparently it was 3am and unbelievably I had slept through several minutes of this thanks to my earplugs, Rob being less fortunate, had been up for ages. No matter what he did, what buttons he pressed or how much he swore, the noise would just not stop. We came to the grim realisation that we hadn’t got a clue how things worked and so our only option was to attempt to get some sleep despite the noise. I decided to share an earplug with Rob.

I am partially deaf in one ear due to a benign brain tumour. I’m quite a private person and there are lots of my friends that don’t know that I have this ( until now), it was diagnosed 18 months ago and is fortunately very slow growing. Eventually it will need radiotherapy but for now I feel very lucky that the only symptoms I have are continuous tinnitus, hearing loss and the occasional balance issue. Little did I know that my deafness would be a bonus.

Sleeping with one ear plug each we actually managed to get a few winks and were very very pleased to see daylight.

In the morning, the marina kindly sent someone to explain a few things to us. The alarm that intruded into our night was the inverter alerting us to the fact that the batteries were not holding charge, despite the fact that we were connected to the shoreline. Another thing to add to our list to investigate. In the meantime, at least they showed us how to turn the inverter alarm off. A very valuable thing to know.

Mmmm, maybe there is more to this boating lark than we first thought.

This ordeal has got me thinking. In order to drive a car, you are required, by law, to have many hours of driving lessons and then have to undergo a very rigorous driving test to assess your competence and to ensure that you are safe to be on the road with other drivers. Yet, we were able to buy a 58′ boat, no questions asked and take it out on to the waters totally unsupervised.

Bleary eyed but unperturbed we cast off on our maiden voyage. What could possibly go wrong?

To be continued……

Everything Moves Slowly on Canals

The first glimpse of Frog In A Bucket. Love at first sight!

So, its now the beginning of June and our offer for the boat has been accepted and deposit paid, we now needed to sort out a survey. The marina was very helpful and provided a list of local people to contact. A full survey is always recommended even if the boat is relatively new as it can alert you to problems that may not be apparent, especially to the untrained eyes that we have, the cost is around £500. The boat is lifted out of the water using a crane and the hull is thoroughly inspected, as well as looking at the engine, electrics etc. There is an extra charge of approx £300 for lifting it out and so we thought this would be a good time to have the hull blacked at the same time as it was almost due anyway. The blacking is done to preserve the steel hull and needs doing every 3 years, the cost is per foot and we agreed to pay £400 to have this done, saving ourselves the cost of having to pay for another lifting. The inspection needed to be carried out fairly quickly as the marina’s crane was about to go out of action for maintenance for several weeks. The date was set for the following week, or so we thought.

The first lesson that we learned was that everything goes slowly on canals. The crane had developed a problem and the man that was supposed to fix it had not turned up and so the survey was delayed. Apparently he was only available on Fridays and so we would have to wait another week. 2 more weeks went by and finally we got the go ahead for the survey.

The survey report was sent to us very quickly and a few minor problems involving the inverter and the electrical system were highlighted but nothing major (or so we naively thought, and would find out later), except for the fact that the wood burner had never been fixed to the boat and was too close to the hull to be safe. The owner was contacted and agreed to pay the cost to bring this up to safety standards, as well as fixing the other minor problems mentioned in the report, so we were good to go. The upside was that the surveyor had valued it at £4,ooo more than we paid for it. Although we know that it is only one man’s opinion and its also only worth as much as somebody is willing to pay for it, but it still made us very happy. On a downside though, due to the delay in having the survey done there was not time to have the blacking done while it was out of the water. The marina was very apologetic as the crane was now out of action and so they could not do it now until end of July. They agreed to waive the lifting charge and also to not charge us any mooring fees for that period. Frustrating but unavoidable.

Everything moves slowly on canals…..

Boat sales particulars.

The Next Stage

The next stage:

So, we’ve decided that we like the idea to move onto a narrowboat once we’ve sold our house, early next year, and we’re both excited at this prospect. The first thing we need is a boat.

We have had holidays before on various narrowboats, mostly 60 – 70 foot long. We have spent many hours looking at boats online and in magazines and there are so many to choose from. All the listings contained terminology and anacronyms that we had never heard of, such as semi-trad, cruiser and trad sterns, to name but a few. This was going to be harder than we thought. Upon further investigation we found out that Trad is short for traditional, giving the helmsman just enough spae to operate the tiller, cruiser sterns are much larger, enabling many people to stand at the back and semi trad is something in between. We decided on a semi trad stern, this gives enough space to drive the boat from the rear comfortably but without sacrificing too much interior space. There are many helpful vlogs on You Tube containing much advice and guidance as well as some downright strange ones. Finding your way through the many options is mind boggling as well as time consuming, but a good way to spend rainy Sundays. Our first thought was the bigger the better as we’re going to be live-aboards and having space was a priority, or so we thought. Wrong! A very helpful video on You Tube pointed out that many canal networks and especially the locks are narrow and short, and do not accommodate larger boats and especially wide beams. We were directed to a very helpful site http://www.canalnarrowboat.co.uk/boat-handling/canals-lock-sizes/ which lists all the canals and waterways in UK and the maximum size boat that can use the locks. The optimum length is 57 feet. A boat of this length can go just about anywhere, with the exception of the Bridgwater and Taunton canal, (which doesn’t link up to any other canal so there’s no chance of going there anyway), and as we want to go just about everywhere, this seemed like what we should aim for. For anyone reading this who is planning something similar we cannot stress enough how important it is to do your research first. One article that we read discussed the pros and cons of buying a new or a used boat. It pointed out that new boats suffer similar depreciation to cars and are also subject to VAT (non-reclaimable for us). As we may sell our boat after our year afloat we quickly discounted this option. It also stated that much older boats were hard to sell as they needed more maintenance. The conclusion was that the best boats for holding their value were ones that were no more than 10 years old and ones costing 50k or more were less likely to depreciate and in fact could hold their value.

So, with the search options of 57’ and a narrow beam with a semi trad stern, we started our quest to find the perfect boat. We live more than a 2 hour drive to the nearest canal and so we were going to have to do most of our research online first before setting off to see any actual boats. We set ourselves a budget of £50,000 and started bookmarking certain sites and found what we thought were boats worth looking at. The Crick boat festival was on in May and this seemed like a good opportunity to see some boats and talk to people whose brains we could pick for advice. Crick is central to many canals and is an ideal location to go boat hunting. As luck would have it, one of the boats that was within our budget, and that we liked the look of, was going to be on display at the show so we set off hopeful that we could make the 5 hour drive worthwhile.

For anyone that likes barges and all things related to canals the Show is certainly worth a visit. There are stalls and marquees with all kinds of boat paraphernalia and people happy to impart their wisdom on you. We spent the whole day just walking around trying to take everything in. We picked up loads of leaflets and generally had a great day. We also managed to look at several boats including the one that we had high hopes for. Whilst it was nice, it just didn’t have the finish or quality that we were hoping for and certainly wasn’t conducive to being the home from home that we need for our big adventure. It would have been fine for a weekend or holiday boat but as neither of us are young and we like our creature comforts, this was really lacking any comfort at all. We toured a total of 6 boats that day, all within our price range and none of them seemed right. Feeling a tad discouraged, we spent that evening looking online at more boats and came to the conclusion that we needed to increase the budget. We wanted to line up some boats to see before we had the 5 hour drive home and managed to find 3 that fitted our criteria and within an easy drive from where we were staying. Phone calls were made and we had appointments to see them all. The first one we got to had sold just that morning. On to the next marina to see the last 2 before heading home. The first was quickly discounted as not suitable. As we boarded the last one, just 10 years old, our hopes were raised. A beautiful marine blue colour and with lovely silver coloured portholes sparkling in the sunshine. Upon entering at the stern, we came down the steps into the bedroom which had a double bed with a memory foam mattress and built in wardrobes. Next there was a walkthrough bathroom, a definite bonus. Narrow boats are 6’10” wide and most bathrooms are off a corridor, meaning that the bathroom ends up being about 4’ wide and not enough room to swing a cat. This one had a door at either end of the bathroom, having 2 doors to shut to get some privacy is a small price to pay for having a bathroom wide enough to be useful. It also had an almost full size bath with shower over, lovely for lounging in after a hard day of doing locks. Going into the main part of the boat, we both took a large intake of breath. It was beautiful. Oak cupboards and solid granite worktops in the kitchen, a built in washing machine, loads of cupboard space and even an integrated dishwasher. Green leather cushions surrounded the dinette, lovely oak parquet style flooring led into a lounge that had the icing on the cake, a wood burner.

They say that when your looking at houses you know within a few seconds if it’s the one for you, well the same can be said for boats.

We left the boat grinning from ear to ear and headed for the marina office, thoughts of how much below the asking price of £69,000 to offer filled our heads. We were told that it had just gone on sale the day before and we were the first to view, but there were 3 more couples booked in to look at it that day alone. We then realised that we had to act quick as it become apparent that boats of this quality are rare and we did not want to lose it for the sake of trying to save a few quid. So, with a deep breath, we offered the asking price. We took great pride in watching the “under offer” sign being placed on the roof. The owner was away on holiday and so we had to wait a full week to find out that our offer had been accepted.

We did it though, we finally bought a boat.

And the best thing of all, its name: FROG IN A BUCKET.

Step 1 ticked off our list. But we were only just finding out how long the list was going to be……

Setting The Scene

Blog From The Frog

Setting the scene:

Blog from the Frog is an odd title I know, but all will become clear later in the blog, if I ever get to the point, something I sometimes struggle with.

When our daughter embarked on her recent lifestyle change I suggested that she do a blog to share her stories with family and friends as a way for them to hear all her news. She actually took my advice, a rarity! It’s a fabulous read https://ramblingsofarambler.com/, check it out. As Rob and I are about to embark on our own adventure she asked why we didn’t do the same. So here goes…….. (with lots of help from our 24 hour tech support son Mark).

I am very lucky to lead such a lovely life. I am married to Rob, the most wonderful husband who I adore and who I’m fairly sure loves me back. We live in a charming cottage in a beautiful part of Cornwall, we are comfortable in our lives but something major is missing. We have fantastic children and 4, soon to be 5, beautiful grandchildren and we miss regular contact with them. 2 of the 4 of them, through circumstances beyond our control, live abroad. Loki is almost 5, a live wire who brings so much joy to our lives but who sadly lives in Denmark with his mum, Kimmie. We have to be content with seeing him every few months for a brief but action-packed visit and occasional video calls, though these are a challenge as he has now almost forgotten the English that he was once fluent in. Cullen, our youngest grandchild lives with his parents in Georgia USA. ‘Junior’ is just over a year old and is a proper little character. We enjoy daily facetime calls with him and have had visits every few months, either here in UK or in his home in the deep south of USA. Daily contact means that we seem familiar to him which makes the visits easier on him as we are not considered as strangers. Then there’s Billy, the eldest at 7, though sometimes he appears beyond his years with an extensive vocabulary, amazing knowledge of dinosaurs and an ability to hold very grown up conversations with us. He’s such a joy. Finally, there’s Lyra, who is the spitting image of Rachael as a youngster and spending time with her takes me back to my early adulthood. She loves playing with princesses and sits very patiently while I do her hair, just like her Auntie Rachael used to do. They all bring so much joy to our lives but what we really crave is to spend more ‘normal’ time with them. Visits from them all are wonderful but also sometimes a little stressful. In the case of Loki and Cullen, there’s the added stress of long travelling times, unfamiliar beds and living out of a suitcase. When Billy and Lyra come to stay, which fortunately is often as school holiday allow, there’s still a massive upheaval, a 5 hour drive, 2 crazy dogs and smaller beds than they are used to.

Can’t do anything about being away from Loki and Cullen but we can do something about being closer to Billy and Lyra. They live in London, a place we know we could never settle in. They have though, for some time though contemplated moving nearer to South West and recently have talked about it more. Our lovely daughter in law Brittany, being an only child, is keen to be nearer to her parents who both live in Somerset. Obviously depending on their Dad, Ian, finding the right job. Having family support would make their lives easier, especially with the arrival of baby number 3.

Rob is just about to retire and there is nothing keeping us in Cornwall. So, we’re ready to move shortly, but where do we move to? Bristol or South Gloucester area would put us much nearer Rob’s 3 children, closer to airports and rail links. But we don’t want to move house more than once but don’t want to buy in Bristol area if Ian and family end up in Gloucester, or Taunton, or anywhere that’s not near us. Rob suggested selling and renting while we wait for them to relocate, but who wants to sign a lease when we don’t know how long for and even though it would remove the house buying element, we would still need to move house again. Unsettling, not to mention a proper hassle. It was while mulling over our predicament that I came up with a cunning plan. Just needed to convince Rob now!

What if, instead of living in a rented house, we lived on a narrow boat? Crazy, but it could just work. It would mean packing up our 4 bedroom house and putting it all into storage. It would mean going from living in a large house to living in the equivalent of a floating caravan. But it would also mean a fantastic, life changing adventure that could give us many memories to keep us warm for years to come. The more I thought about it the more it seemed like the perfect solution. Rob, surprisingly didn’t dismiss it right away and even seemed to warm to the idea. We did much research, subscribed to a canal boat magazine, read loads of online articles, and watched many hours of You Tube vlogs done by people living our dream.

And so, we started down this crazy but wonderful chapter in our lives.

So, that has set the scene. Now to find a boat………. Not as easy as you might think.