Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Family Approval

Family approval on my side came about on a short and cold winter walk over Christmas which ended up in the Lazy Otter.
Everyone seems to want a go when the weather is warmer, and is astonished at the good shape the boat is in and what kit goes with it. We noticed a batch of canal books including maps had been left behind, and that the bed (which John and I had supposed was just that with storage below), could be in fact a "pullman" style bench seat. This we will explore further.
Meanwhile John needs the opportunity to show his family around (sorry John, I've still got the keys!) and has compiled a maintenance regime to ensure Patience is kept in good shape. When we've agreed and refined it we'll link it to this blog so anyone can have a look. In fact here it is!
I can recommend the Canal Boat Manual by Canal Boat and Inland Waterways Magazine. It covers every aspect of boating I can think of - except, surprisingly, use of solar and wind power to supplement meagre battery power. Apart from that an excellent and informative read.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Handover

Today at midday I received the keys to Patience from Alan. It is now officially ours!
Alan has done a fantastic job of  winterising her, draining the water and settling her into hibernation, though we confess that we are very keen indeed to get in and sail away. The fact that today was literally freezing, with the river a layer of ice and snow on the boats in the marina doesn't encourage that.

Alan has swept some of the snow away but the river itself is not hugely appealing today. However the Cam further south has live-aboard narrow boaters and passing them this morning they do look cosy with their chimneys breathing soft smoke into the cold air. There are some live-aboard boaters here too but more have escaped to a family centrally heated house elsewhere.
But yes, today we actually own it, the money having been received, the mooring cheque paid, the safety certificate valid and in our care, insurance active from midnight last night and only the BW license and engine service certificate to come (delayed in the post it would seem.)
Alan has volunteered to re-commission her when the weather is better so we can go over the ins and outs of the water and electrical system, which windlass or key is for what lock etc.
It is hugely reassuring to have an experienced chap like Alan on our side, happy to answer our questions and give sensible advice. He knows the boat and the waters and when we have learned from him we will be sure to pass on the important things to anyone who borrows the boat from us.
Meanwhile Alan has left the boat fully kitted out, with cutlery and kitchen kit included. When the ice retreats and after suitable re-commissioning and a little research we will be ready to set out.
What fun!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Survey Results

We've now had the detailed results of the survey, which I'm delighted to say was very thorough (thank you Andy) and positive. Good old Patience!
In summary, she's in good condition, which is testimony to her previous owners' care (well done, Alan!). Now she needs her hull blacking with bitumen, a coat of paint on the topsides and in the water tank, an outlet needs capping (lest water gets in to her bilges and worse), and corrosion should be kept at bay by providing 4 new anodes (see elsewhere) and a galvanic isolator (a what? more here).
All of this is within the usual maintenance regimes so we are assured that dear Patience isn't heading for disaster.

We've agreed a price in line with the survey estimate and expect to take over in a few days. Once we've officially exchanged we'll sort out a maintenance and improvement timetable, getting to know how all the water and electrical systems work and fitting some extra berths to convert her from a 2 to a 4 berth vessel.
Blacking her bottom must wait till the spring, as cold and wet are not good conditions for applying the bitumen. Nor are they good conditions for painting her sides, so the pressure is off for the moment. Maybe a few test sailings (is it still sailing when there's no sail?) to whet our appetites when the weather is a bit warmer. And maybe a few earnest meetings at The Lazy Otter to mull things over....

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

An Engineer's Perspective

Patience is a wonderful reminder of the great days of British engineering before electronics transformed the world - just good old welded steel plate, a diesel engine, a solid fuel stove and some (relatively!) straightforward pumps, valves and pipes. Some basic electrics, but no computers, software or built-in diagnostics - how very refreshing!


Now that the survey shows Patience is in good shape we turn our minds to actually buying her. Alan has suggested a price and our budget has to include not only the cost of the boat but also dry dock, the survey, moorings, insurance, blacking the boat and paying the British Waterways license.
In the end our negotiations are brief and gentlemanly and we seal the deal with a handshake and a pint at the Otter.
Leaving a few days for our cheques to be processed we can actually exchange and receive the keys a few days before Christmas - quite a present for both of us this year. We'll receive the detailed written survey in a few days, arrange insurance, pay for the moorings and it's all done! I'm thrilled!
We'll need to build some benches and a table in the saloon, then start practising all those boating techniques - the knots, mooring up, pumping out, starting up the engine, steering, negotiating locks both together and single handed ... and 101 things of which know little.
Let the fun begin!

The Day of the Survey

Tuesday 15th December was the day of Patience's survey.  On Sunday Alan steered her into dry dock, Cyril drained the dock (and repatriated the fish that followed) and Patience was bare to the world. Bare except for a layer of mud and slime.
So John and I met up with Alan and Andy the surveyor at the Lazy Otter, unlocked the gates to the boat yard and gazed, rapt, at Patience in all her glory.  We were greatly relieved to find that everyone thought she was in good shape, with no obvious problems apart from the odd flake of paint and the occasional dent. Inside and out Andy measured her steel, tapped her welds, scraped her muddy bottom, while Alan disentangled some fishing line from her propeller. Soon Alan, John and Andy were discussing the finer points of the engine, the plumbing, the pump out and the galvanised this and that while I stood around taking photographs and keeping out of the way.
At this point I have to say I was delighted at the good condition of Patience but struck by how big a job it will be to scrape her and black her with bitumen. It's not just that she's 45 feet long, but that she's just a couple of feet off the ground and I'd have to lie on one of those little wheeled mechanics trolleys with my nose just inches from the bottom plate first scraping then painting - three times, with sticky black bitumen paint. One good point is that you simply can't do this in the cold, because the surface has to be dry and warm enough for the paint to adhere to the steel. So no scraping over Christmas ....
But I am excited by it all! I'm no engineer or mechanic but I have plans for two extra berths (because Patience is only kitted out for two at the moment) and for exploring East Anglia from the river side.
A few weeks ago we dithered over having a survey, but it was the right thing to do. For a few hundred pounds we know the boat is sound and have guidance on future improvements. Well worth while.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Learning the skills

While we wait for the survey I've been doing a bit of research to update my knowledge of boat handling. No substitute for actually doing it but good preparation and this should also be useful for training any of the family who want to borrow the boat.
Luckily I came across some useful guidance on WikiHow, so until I can make the definitive guide book for Patience the best place to look is here for managing a lock, and here for how to control a narrow boat.
Useful advice such as: "an arm held out to prevent the boat hitting a lock side will get broken" and "NEVER EVER tie a rope from a boat going down a lock" (because once tight you'll be unable to untie it; either the rope will snap or the part of the boat it's attached to.)
If you prefer YouTube demos you could try this one or this one on getting through locks.
There don't seem to be any video clips for solo boaters (thinks: maybe there was no-one around to hold the camera ...) though I did find a detailed written description of what to do mooring or in locks when you're solo.
The canals and waterways FAQ might be useful too.
Actually any advice is useful before you start out and although we shall no doubt meet helpful people near the locks it would be wise to work out in advance what we should do in a crisis (and thereby avoid it ....)

Later addition: read our series on Narrow Boat Problems And How To Avoid Them.

Monday, 30 November 2009

How it all started

Just thought it was worth mentioning that, like many of the best things in life, this all happened by chance.
My daughter Sarah wanted to rummage around the Emmaus second hand warehouse near Waterbeach so I offered her a lift. When she'd finished we went for lunch at The Lazy Otter, a pub I'd seen advertised nearby but never visited. Arriving with time to spare we wandered down to gaze at the boats and saw a for sale sign. "How much are narrow boats?" asked Sarah. Not having a clue I pulled out my mobile and rang the number on the sign.
By chance the owner was on board and kindly showed us round.
That got my interest going and led in only a short time to a conversation with my friend John, an engineer now with some time on his hands who himself visited the boat. As it happened this boat was quickly sold to someone else, but he told us of another boat for sale just yards away and that is how Patience came to our attention.
All because Sarah needed a lift. And thanks to The Lazy Otter.

Ready for a Survey

We're now booked in a for a survey with a marine surveyor. We've set great trust in Alan who's selling Patience, but it's important to know the state of Patience's bottom (ouch!) and whether there is any serious maintenance required.
Alan and John will put her into dry dock for the inspection and if the results are favourable we can decide firstly whether to buy her and secondly whether she needs work, such as blacking her bottom. Depending on water conditions a narrow boat may need blacking every two or three years. We must also find out about her "sacrificial anode". This is defined as "An anode attached to a metal object, such as a boat or underground tank, to inhibit the object's corrosion. The anode is electrolytically decomposed while the object remains free of damage." So it sounds like a good idea to have one, though it's tough on an innocent anode ....
And if all that works out we might then get on with choosing a solar panel, changing the sleeping arrangements and winterising her for the cold days ahead. Not to mention paying for her mooring, insurance, cruising certificate and other things about which we currently know little.
But it makes it easier to suggest things for us this Christmas. A little something from the chandlery collection perhaps?

Monday, 23 November 2009

Life in the Slow Lane

No I'm not really having a mid-life crisis but ... my friend John and I have just decided to buy a narrow boat and our wives have doubts about our common sense. The boat is named Patience and she's 45 feet long with a cruising stern, cosy accommodation for four and a wood burning stove.

In fact we're pretty sensible blokes looking for a project - and what could be more sensible than a narrow boat? Not for us the red Ferrari or a subscription to a lap dancing club; not a mistress or a motor bike or a speed boat in sight. Just a slow moving little caravan on water. We can, individually or together, chug down the river at 4mph, stop at a waterside pub for a pint and a sandwich, browse the local sites or bookshops then set off again at a sedate pace.
We've both been on narrow boat holidays, so we have a general idea of what it's about, but I think we might have a lot to learn about the ways of the water.
We are moored at The Lazy Otter between Cambridge and Ely on a part of the river Ouse called "The Old West River". We plan to spend the winter rearranging the accommodation on Patience and perhaps improving the electrical system. She needs a survey and we'll probably have to paint her bottom ("blacking") but by early Spring we hope to be out there on the Ouse spending time navigating the eastern waterways.
Watch this space ....