Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Choosing Your Boat

As this blog was started as a way of recording our trials and tribulations in buying, maintaining and using Patience I thought it about time to celebrate our choice and think about the alternatives.
It's now coming up to two years ago that I stood on the banks of the Old West river with my daughter Sarah, who asked how much a narrow boat cost and started us off on this boating adventure.
 Back then we knew nothing of the pros and cons of different narrow boats and even now we have little experience of other types. But using a bit of common sense - and a thorough survey - we bought only the second boat we looked at.
So why is Patience the best boat for us?
Look at her from the outside and what can you tell? She has a cruiser stern (more room outside, though a trad stern might offer more protection in poor weather as the navigator can partly retire into the cabin). Note also that the chimney is towards the bow. A trad stern boat with a captain's cabin would have the chimney to the rear, while ours has a wood burning stove that heats the forward saloon rather than the rear cabin (though there's a radiator for the aft area too)..
Superficially the condition of paint work tells you something about the condition of the superstructure. But in fact most narrow boats are made of steel plate (plating specs are in millimetres eg 10-8-5 being the thickness for hull, sides and roof respectively) and it would take substantial rust to affect its sea worthiness. Rotten wood outside or in (eg benches, or gas boxes) would suggest poor maintenance and might be expensive to replace but could be done by a competent DIY-er with time to spare. Old boats with wooden superstructure in poor condition are to be avoided.
Patience is 45 feet long and 7 feet wide - the longest boat that can use all standard sized locks  across the country. She sleeps four in some comfort. Longer boats would have more space for sleeping and living, including single beds with doors off a gangway for privacy, while Patience is open with just the possibility of a dividing curtain to conceal the two bedroom areas from each other if required. The longer boats have manoeuvering problems in tight spaces and are restricted to which locks and turning areas they can use. And longer boats usually cost more to moor up. However 55 feet would also be a good compromise.
Seating and Sleeping
Patience has a forward saloon, with bench seats and lockers beneath, side to side, that convert to beds and house a table too. See a previous post if you're interested. The rear area has two bench seats facing fore and aft with room for a table between - the so-called Pullman arrangement. This converts to a double bed fore and aft leaving a narrow corridor - forward to the loo and aft to the wardrobes and storage spaces, including the electrical panel.

The galley is in the centre adjoining the bathroom / loo and shower. We have seen small baths in the larger boats, and longer boats sometimes have bathrooms that use the full width of the boat. However, in that pattern closing the doors for more space inside means no-one can pass along the length of the boat while the bathroom is in use. Ours has the benefit that the whole length of the boat is accessible. The galley has a sink with  hot water heated by the engine, cold from the water tank in the bow and potable from a rather basic jerrycan below. All the taps rely on a pump, so the battery needs to be on for taps to function.
Cooking and the fridge are both powered by gas so they don't drain the batteries (there are two 13 Kg propane cylinders in the stern and three car batteries) and the cooker is a 4 hob plus oven and (rather feeble) grill. The fridge is very effective when working, but we have had problems telling whether the pilot light has been lit by the piezo lighter. Annoying - but having no fridge would be worse. Modern small 12v electric fridges use little battery power, if you are cruising most days.
External electrical power is available if there is a socket at your mooring, but we have never used it. We do have a small inverter to convert battery power to AC and we use that for low power devices such as phone charger, camera battery charger and the television. A small inverter is inexpensive but a larger one to power a washing machine, say, is unnecessarily luxurious for us and would risk draining the battery if used when the engine isn't running. A pure syne wave inverter is quite expensive but would be preferred for charging a laptop.
The shower is a bit cramped but we don't use it much as we aren't often on the boat for long continuous trips. The loo is a hand pumped version that drains into a holding tank to be pumped out only occasionally (we always use pub facilities when we are customers). The alternative, cassettes, have to be cleaned out more often and are I believe more expensive.

Height and width are standard rectangles rather than port holes. Brass framed port holes look dinky but they need polishing and most people agree they let in less light.  All our windows open on a bottom hinge and can be easily removed from their frame for cleaning or in hot weather.
We have no roof lights ("Houdini hatch" or "pigeon box") which would let in more light and let out summer heat but could leak if not well maintained. Our roof is slightly curved (so the rain pours off) and covered in a non-slip paint (useful to walk on, especially in locks - gloss may look better but performs poorly) with only air vent "mushrooms" for ventilation. It's painted cream, so reflects heat in summer. We also have a rail along each topside - more convenient I think than a ledge as we can tie centre ropes to it, hold on to it and it doesn't collect water or leaves.
The gunwales, those narrow ledges along the sides, have to be non-slip; traditionally sand is applied while the paint is still wet, then brushed off later. You can also buy paint with small rubber granules embedded to provide surface grip.
I'll leave John to write an entry on the engine - whether it's powerful enough (I think it usually is, though we've had occasions in weed, wind and current which could have used more power), economical enough (we believe it does 8 mpg) and whether the engine cooling system is effective enough (probably not, we'd prefer a larger cooling tank) - and electrics (strip lights versus halogen and LED, mains power versus batteries, 12 volt appliances versus inverters). Modern boats with a "hospital silencer" are quieter than ours.
The Answer
But the answer to my original question must be that Patience is ideal for 2-4 people holidaying rather than living aboard or using it for lengthy cruising. For more extensive use we might have chosen something longer and with more storage. As it is, it's an ideal size, with all the mod cons you need for a week or so at a time without anything superfluous. And as it is 16-17 years old the price wasn't huge compared to a new one.
Read Waterways World and  survey boats of the length and age that suits you. The other variables are condition (modernised, or not) and place (comes with a mooring? conveniently placed or needs to be moved to your preferred mooring?)

Good old Patience!

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