Uncategorized · 2 August 2022

Launching off – the narrowboat life begins

My son bought a narrowboat this summer. He was being chucked out of his rented flat in London and couldn’t face going through the whole yearly rigmarole of finding and moving into another flat only to have the landlord raise the rent on him at the end of another year. He had a friend in the same position, and the two of them decided that living on a narrowboat and permanently cruising might be a solution.

After viewing an untold number of boats, most of which got snapped up before he could make a decision, he chose Drake’s Drum, which is, tbh, a bit of a fixer-upper.

Out of the water for its survey inspection

On the one hand a fixer-upper is a good thing because when we (my son and the rest of the family) have fixed it up, it will be worth more than he paid for it. Or if you look at it another way, he got it cheaply because no-one else wanted it.

On the other hand, it does have the disadvantage that he is starting his boating life, having never driven a narrowboat before, with no idea of how engines work or electrical wiring, in possession of a boat with many problems.

This is a grand learning experience!

Fortunately the survey said the boat was fit for purpose (though there are issues that need to be looked at by a boat yard sooner rather than later – like the two holes in the hull that have been filled up with sealant, for example.)

The electricity does work (sort of), and the engine does work (sort of) and the rust in the hull has not yet reached dangerous depths. So my son – under time pressure from his work, which gave him July to work remotely while setting the boat up, but expects him to be back in the office in August – has put it in the water and is currently making his way, slow lock by lock, down to London.

The list of things that have to be done before he can settle into a regular sort of life seems to be endless, though. Among them –

  • The engine stalls out if left on neutral – this makes mooring up extra difficult and contributes to embarrassing crashes with already moored up boats. (Has joined the Russell Newbery engine owner’s club for advice as to how to change the idle speed. Has also joined the River Canal Rescue – the AA of narrowboats.)
  • The shower can’t be used because the wiring is exposed along the wall. (This weekend’s task is putting paneling with waterproof lining along the wall.)
  • The toilet was a composting toilet, which is no longer allowed on the canals due to the difficulty of disposing of partly composted human waste. (This issue resolved – replaced with a capsule toilet.)
  • The engine gets very hot and an uninsulated pipe sticks out into the gangway. (Solved too – wrapped with fibreglass and aluminium tape, now only a trip rather than a burn hazard.)
  • The engine is not charging the batteries very well – this makes using work laptop difficult. (Hopefully the Russel Newbery owners will have some hints on this too.)
  • There’s never any internet signal, which makes remote work difficult. (Probably solvable with a higher mast for internet aerial.)
  • Unsecured phones will fall into the bilges and be ruined. (Issue to be solved with a waterproof phone case and lanyard.)

And none of this begins to address the bigger issues raised on the survey like the holes in the hull and the lack of sacrificial anodes etc. That is going to be fixed in September, which was the earliest we could get a boatyard to take it on. Which will be a great relief when it’s done.

But we can’t start trying to repair the extremely rusty paintwork until it’s been through the whole process of having things welded to it. Or at least, we could, but we’d only have to do it again once the boatyard had torn things out and welded new things onto it.

We have big plans for a fresh new rust-free colour scheme with a design that tells everyone we come from Ely (‘island of the eels’) which I have mocked up below.

When he bought the boat, I thought repainting would be one of the earliest things we did, but now I realize that–if we get that far–it will be because a technical shit ton of other, more important work has been done first. If we reach the stage of actually being able to paint, inside and out, it will be a celebration of the huge amount of work and education, research, effort, money, bravery and persistence that went into it to get to that stage.

Keep your fingers crossed for us, and maybe this winter you’ll see a very snazzy newly painted boat that looks a bit like this cruising past. My fingers are also crossed. It’s a wonder I can type this at all.

The future is bright, the future is aqua