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A newbies guide to the realities ......................


Alan de Enfield

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The ebb and flow of life on a houseboat | The Spectator

 

In the spring of 2021 I took a man to a pub in Hackney and bought him a drink. Perhaps he should have been doing the buying, since I had just handed him a large sum in return for his narrowboat. But I was in an exultant mood. No London flat, I reasoned, could ever be as cosy as that low-ceilinged, teak-panelled interior with its coal-burning stove and narrow cabin bed. And outside it lay a pathway to adventure through the hidden districts of the capital, their parks, nature reserves, railway bridges, gasholders, locks, warehouses and waterside pubs.

Such thoughts, amplified by a sub-genre of YouTube and Instagram accounts, tempt scores of idealists on to the canals each year. They quickly discover reality.

 

On day one the shower sputters out before you have rinsed the shampoo from your hair, and you remember that you are dependent on an onboard tank for your water supply. On day two a cold snap descends, and after several attempts to light a fire you shiver through a miserable night, eventually falling asleep at 4 a.m. to dreams of shipwrecks. On day three the toilet overflows and the nearest emptying point is out of order, though rumour has it it may reopen as soon as next month. By day ten you trudge home down streets of lighted windows to your freezing vessel, slightly smaller than a Tube carriage, half-submerged in diseased, rubbish-choked water, wondering what possessed you to abandon the ordinary comforts of civilised life.

Nobody discusses this subject more eagerly than the tradesmen who work both on land and on water, and like to drive home the rashness of the latter choice. Our mechanic, a man of profound generosity who undercharged us for a superb 

job, crouched in the engine bay firing off insults against marine engines and their owners.

‘I think I heard a screech from the alternator belt,’ I ventured.

Him: ‘No, that was me.’

Me, brightly: ‘This is our first marital home, you know.’

Him: ‘Hope it isn’t the last.’

 

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Increasingly this community senses a threat, as licence fees rise and more of the waterways are marked ‘No mooring’ or designated ‘eco-moorings’, which demand an extra fee. Whenever the Canal and River Trust announces some such change, boat-owners protest: they fear a future of soulless, shiny waterside flats overlooking canals where nobody ever runs an engine or sits out on their roof. The Trust always responds that it is merely trying to secure the future of the canals for everyone. Yet it is the boat-owners who, by loving the waterways on which they depend, give them their character and a link with their past.

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1 hour ago, Alan de Enfield said:

designated ‘eco-moorings'

 

What an excellent idea!

 

Are these moorings when no-one is allowed to fire up the frame generator then decamp to the pub for four hours because they can't stand the noise? 

 

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3 minutes ago, MtB said:

 

What an excellent idea!

 

Are these moorings when no-one is allowed to fire up the frame generator then decamp to the pub for four hours because they can't stand the noise? 

 

 

And no coal / wood fires, no discharging of grey or black water, and no diesel engines. Fully 'leccy boats only.

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No grey water discharge? That would be unusual. 

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People who have very expensive houses with expensive defra wood burning fires don't want other people burning wood. 

 

 

 

 

It does make sense. I bet someone with a superyacht who burns more diesel in a day than most people burn in a year would like to see people using less diesel as long as it does not affect their personal usage. 

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That will be interesting. I've got 5 separate stainless steel water tanks on the Trawler so the two large tanks under the stern deck area could easily be converted to grey water if needed and use the ones under the cabin for the fresh water. The latter pair of tanks have never been used. 

 

 

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Sounds about right to me although in my ten years on the canals I was never a livaboard nor would I have wanted to be. Bricks and mortar are way more secure and infinetly more comfortable and quite possibly a tad cheaper for me and I don't have to move, although we did move house nearly two years ago but this is where I will now die. And yeah firelighting was never a problem.

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Carry on up the (insert canal name here) 

 

Ashby works quite well. 

 

 

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I still struggle lighting the fire and this is after 29 yars of living on boats all the time with only a fire for heating. 

 

Got to light one shortly actually as its a little chilly at the country estate boat. 

 

Tends to work in the end but can be quite an arduous experience if one does not have suitable accelerants.

 

I heard brake fluid is good. 

 

This is why I had a blowtorch hole added to my fire. I don't have a blowtorch. 

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3 minutes ago, magnetman said:

I still struggle lighting the fire and this is after 29 yars of living on boats all the time with only a fire for heating. 

 

 

That's weird, I find lighting the fire a total breeze. 

 

But then I have been at it for 45 years not 29....

 

 

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8 hours ago, Athy said:

Oh good grief.

It is a fairly basic skill, and not one unique to boats.

Depends what you're trying to light it with, especially if you're a newbie

 

At the best of times, it's more of effort than twiddling a temperature knob, at the worst of times it goes out overnight when it's -6 outside,  or you're trying to relight and refuel it yesterday and the wind keeps blowing smoke in your face...

  • Greenie 1
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I got it going anyway and now very hot in the boat. 

 

Pizza box, pieces of dead ivy as kindling and some short pieces of dead hawthorn cut from the now overgrown pleasure gardens on the estate. Tomorrow one shall acquire some fallen branches of Oriental Plane which is rather pleasant although slightly hard on the bowsaw blade. 

 

Hawthorn is favoured. 

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I can assure you that it will only take four years to crack the stove management.

I have: 

A box of Household matches ... Poundland 49p, elsewhere £1+.

A box of firelighters, the best are those eco ones with wood shavings and wax, they are about twice the price of normal ones.

A lot of dry small kindling.

A bag of Premium dry smokeless fuel.

A bag of dry birch.

Sit by the fire until the base layer of coal is glowing red and self sustaining. If there is a massive cloud of black smoke when you open the door you have failed to get everything hot enough.

Edited by LadyG
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4 hours ago, LadyG said:

I can assure you that it will only take four years to crack the stove management.

I have: 

A box of Household matches ... Poundland 49p, elsewhere £1+.

A box of firelighters, the best are those eco ones with wood shavings and wax, they are about twice the price of normal ones.

A lot of dry small kindling.

A bag of Premium dry smokeless fuel.

A bag of dry birch.

Sit by the fire until the base layer of coal is glowing red and self sustaining. If there is a massive cloud of black smoke when you open the door you have failed to get everything hot enough.

I have an old newspaper I got out of the bin, and a box of matches bought in 2001. 

 

I light the fire in October and it goes out in April. 

 

Only cracked it once. 

  • Greenie 1
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7 hours ago, LadyG said:

I can assure you that it will only take four years to crack the stove management.

I have: 

A box of Household matches ... Poundland 49p, elsewhere £1+.

A box of firelighters, the best are those eco ones with wood shavings and wax, they are about twice the price of normal ones.

A lot of dry small kindling.

A bag of Premium dry smokeless fuel.

A bag of dry birch.

Sit by the fire until the base layer of coal is glowing red and self sustaining. If there is a massive cloud of black smoke when you open the door you have failed to get everything hot enough.

What are these firelighters you talk of?

Junk mail, wood shavings and kindling chopped from softwood offcuts or dry twigs do okay.

It should be possible to start even the biggest bonfire without resorting to accelerants.

However, sometimes I cheat and throw a capful of meths on for good measure.

Betting plenty of people under forty have never even had to light a disposable barbeque

 

 

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Can't be fannying about with all that stuff.  Place fire lighter in grate light fire lighter put fuel on top.

Leave bottom door open for a while when roaring red add more fuel then shut door.

Job done.

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