Friday 31 December 2010

It all begins with one little step

Today we took the first small step in the direction of our narrowboat dream. We made an offer on a house up the street from us and it was accepted!  Both the seller and us wanted a long settlement so we now have 6 months to pack up the enormous volume of stuff we've accumulated in our time at this house.  We'll put our house on the market in a few months time and hope we find a buyer at a price that leaves us enough to fulfill our dream.  How exciting!

Happy New Year to all !

Friday 10 December 2010

Don't wish your life away

We just can't wait for our narrowboat adventure to begin.  With it likely to be two years away we often find ourselves wishing the time to go faster.  I catch myself when I notice I'm doing this and give myself a lecture.  Life is too short as it is without wishing it away.

There is another very good reason why we shouldn't wish this time away.  In fact it's the very reason we have to wait.  Two years ago, and just 3 months before we made our vague narrowboat dream a definite goal to work towards, we adopted Coco.  She's a chocolate labrador and at the time was 10 years old.  She's now 12 but still in great health.  She is such a lovely girl, and although the reality is that we wouldn't have taken her if if we'd heard about her 3 months later, we adore her and don't want to wish her life shorter.  We have had a couple of people offer to take her so we can go now, but it is traumatic for a dog to change families at 10 years old and we wouldn't do that to her again.  She's the most gentle and affectionate dog I've ever met!

Tuesday 7 December 2010

A visit from Ray and Diane

We had a lovely visit from Ray and Diane, owners of  Gypsy Rover.  It was great to see Ray again and to finally meet Diane.  With Gypsy Rover safely tucked away at a marina for the English Winter, Ray is back in Australia until Diane is able to start their narrowboating life next year.

A bit of narrowboat chat was just what we needed.  The questions never seem to end.  There's always something new we're wondering about.  We look forward to following Ray and Diane's travels and learning with them as they go.

** This is where I would have had a photo of the 4 of us - if I'd thought to take one!!

Friday 26 November 2010

Exchange rates.... and pick of the week - nb Rainbow Lorikeet

When we first looked at narrowboats for sale during our holiday in 2007, we were looking at what we could get for $100,000 (Australian dollars that is).  At the time it was equivalent to about £40,000.  What a difference the exchange rate fluctuations can make.  Now, in 2010, we were looking at £60,000 boats!

We have our fingers crossed that the rate won't drop back before we get to buy a boat of our own.  A lot can happen over a period of couple of years.  Look at the difference between 2007 and 2010.

This is a problem that doesn't affect most narrowboaters.  But, for those of us planning from the other side of the world it is a very important factor.  So much so that fellow Aussies Ray and Diane (coming to visit us on Sunday!), new owners of Gypsy Rover, brought forward their plans to take advantage of the favourable exchange rates.  We only wish we were in a position to do the same. It works both ways though.  For Derek and Dot, previous owners of Gypsy Rover, the huge difference in the exchange rate has worked against them. 

So every night we watch the news and check out how the Australian dollar is faring against the British Pound.  Lately it as been consistently over the .60 mark - that is 60 pence for one Aussie dollar.  We keep wishing we had money spare to buy a boat right now.  I guess we'll just have to keep buying Tattslotto tickets.

Here is our pick of the week from ABNB brokerage (wonder if Aussies named this boat.... we have Rainbow Lorikeets in our garden sometimes).  It's seems a bit expensive for its age though.

Length: 59ft 8in  
Builder: Burton Narrowboats  
Fitter-out: Severn Valley Boat Centre  
Year registered: 2004  
Style: Trad  
Safety Certificate: 2012
Engine: Shire 45hp diesel  
Bowthruster: Tube only Plating: 10/6/5/4 
Last blacked: 2009
Fit-out materials: Cabin sides, hull sides & headling in oak faced ply with oak trim  
Insulation: Spray foam
Headroom: 6ft 5in  
Berths: 2+2 
Berth sizes: 6ft 4in x 4ft 0in permanent double, 6ft 4in x 4ft 0in double on L-shape dinette

Mains Power: Landline,1800W Sterling inverter, 3.5kW Travelpower 230V alternator
Cabin heating: Eberspacher diesel c/heating > rads, diesel stove with back boiler > rads Water Heating: C/heating + stove + engine + 230V immersion > calorifier  
Water tank: 150gall stainless steel
Cooker: Spinflo Midi Prima oven & grill - gas, 800W microwave  
Fridge: LEC 4cu ft 12V  
Washer/dryer: Zanussi Aquacycle compact automatic washer  
WC: Thetford swivel seat cassette wc  
Shower: over bath with curtain
Other: Cratch & cover. One private owner from new who sells to move abroad.
Price: £59,950

Sunday 31 October 2010

Farewell Northern Pride

The end of an era... Barry and Sandra are heading back to New Zealand!  We wish them both a safe trip home.

We're sure Northern Pride will be sorely missed but hope a new owner comes along soon.  She's a wonderful boat and so lovingly cared for.  The blog and Barry's amazing photos will serve well as memories of two English Summer's on Northern Pride.

Lucky for the rest of us that Barry and Sandra are behind on handing in their homework and the blog will keep coming for a little while yet as they catch up on their movements over the last few weeks.

Farewell Northern Pride!

Friday 29 October 2010

Narrowboat browsing

We visited many marinas/brokers during our holiday in the UK.  It was a very worthwhile learning experience.  It is difficult to know if photos shown on a website give a true representation of the condition of the boat.  Now we know they often don't! You can get an idea of the layout and whether it's light/dark or the sort of timber work you like.  But... you're only going to see photos of the best of that boat.

We gave ourselves notional "budgets" of £40,000, £50,000 and £60,000 to see what we could afford at each of those price levels.  With the exchange rate firmly in our favour at the moment we'd be looking at the higher end if we were going today.  But on our last trip together it would have been the lower end.  Who knows what might happen over the next 2 or so years.

What the process taught us is that at whatever budget we have, we would be able to find a boat to suit our requirements.  There may be some compromising at the lower end of the scale but we could find something we'd be happy with.

At  £60,000 we found our dream boat at Harral Brokerage - Billy Whizz.  It had everything we wanted, was immaculate and the price had already been reduced.  Whenever we talk about the boats we looked at we always remember Billy.  If we had been looking to buy a boat we would have looked no further.

At  £50,000 we found a boat at Whilton Marina that needed a little repair and new paintwork.  It has been for sale for a while because it was one we'd looked at on the internet a while ago. We remembered the name because Pukeko is a New Zealand bird and Mick was born in NZ.  There was some damage on the roof and the paintwork wasn't the best but allowing for repair and paintwork in our budget would resolve that.  The boat had a lovely open feel and pretty much ticked all our boxes.  It didn't have a washing machine.

At  £40,000 there was a lovely little boat at Braunston Marina called Puddleduck.  At 50ft it was a little shorter than we'd prefer and had a smallish water tank but was in great condition. It was priced at just under £35,000 but there were quite a few things we'd want to do.  I see today that someone has bought Puddleduck. Great little boat.

Our wishlist has been a bit of a moving target over the last couple of years.  This trip has really given us more definite ideas.  We spoke to so many helpful people and learnt so much!
Our main preferences at this stage are :
Length - between 55-60ft.
We'd prefer a semi trad.  Mick's really not keen on cruisers and we feel a semi trad might be easier to sell at the end than a trad.  But... if we found the right boat.....
We want a washing machine.  If there isn't one already, there needs to be somewhere to put one.
We would prefer spay foam insulation, which seems to be the norm on boats less than about 10 years old.
We want to have 2 sources of heating - a solid fuel stove and a central heating system.  So we'd be looking for a boat that has the scope for these to be fitted if they aren't already.
Good ventilation - opening windows/port holes and we would like to have a side hatch.
We'd like to have a pullman dinette.  We want somewhere to sit and eat and I'd like somewhere I can use my laptop and write or sew.
We want a decent size water tank.

We took note of ideas we really liked.  Not that we're likely to ever build a boat but it's good to remember what we liked in case it gives us inspiration for what might be done in our boat.

Here's  setup we really liked.  A semi trad stern with a little utility area - space for a washing machine and even a little desk.

 We thought the tiled area on entering this boat was a great idea.

Oh, and finally, we saw a couple of familiar boats at Braunston.
We've enjoyed the DVD's "Narrowboat" and "Narrowboat Afloat" featuring NB Dover.

And we've also seen some footage about NB Raymond and the restoration.

Monday 25 October 2010

This was England

We had a fantastic holiday!  First I had a week visiting my long time friend in Germany.  We had a lovely time with a little sightseeing, a visit to Rothenberg to the Christmas museum and shops, and just spending time together.  I had a weekend in London on my own before Mick arrived on the Monday morning for a couple of weeks with a hire car to tour around England.

Our first destination was to Scarisbrick, North of Liverpool, to spend some time with Mick's half brother.  We only discovered Peter on our last trip to England in 2007 and saw him for only a brief few hours.  We spent an enjoyable few days getting to know him better this time, as well as meeting Anthony, their cousin.  Here is Anthony, Mick and Peter.

A bonus was that the sister of one of Mick's childhood friends lived just a few miles away in Ormskirk.  Mick hadn't seen Lynne for many years.  We both enjoyed meeting her and looking at narrowboats together. We also had a great day out to see the Anderton Boat Lift.  Lynne with Mick.

On the Saturday we made our way South to Buckingham.  Along the way we visited a couple of marinas and met up with Ray on Gypsy Rover at Fradley Junction.  We'd followed the travels of Gypsy Rover on Derek and Dot's blog for a few years so had been thrilled to find the new owners were fellow Aussies and would also be keeping a blog.  It was great to meet Ray and we enjoyed our couple of hours at Fradley - chatting about some of our many questions.  Ray and Dianne are the first bloggers we've encountered who are doing exactly what we plan to do.... years of planning, downsizing our house, researching from the other side of the world, buying a second hand boat, and planning on spending at least a year or two afloat including Winters. It will be very interesting for us to read their blog over the coming couple of years.  We may learn from their experience!

We hope to catch up with Ray and his wife Dianne (I can't imagine being left back in Australia while my husband starts off on our adventure alone!) while Ray is back in Australia over the UK Winter.  I'm cursing that I took not a single photo at Fradley Junction or of Ray or Gypsy Rover.  I'll definitely have to get better at this when we finally get a boat of our own.

The week we spent staying at Lillingstone Lovell, near Buckingham, was an enjoyable one.  Our accomodation was a delightful 400 year old thatched cottage. We highly recommend it as a quintessentially English place to stay.  It's called Little Thatch and had an absurdly steep, sloping, winding staircase up to the bedroom. The owners, Jane and Ian, live next door and were lovely hosts.  We enjoyed chatting with them - and much to our delight they were narrowboat owners!

We spent much of the week visiting marinas, looking at boats and lurking around the canals. We had a day trip to the Cotswolds and visited Moreton-in-Marsh, Lower Slaughter and Bibury among other beautiful Cotswold villages.

We also met up with New Zealand bloggers Barry a Sandra on Northern Pride.  Barry takes the most amazing photos so do check out their blog!  They generously invited us on their boat for the day but the logistics of working out how to get back to our hire car, and the fact that we were running out of time to see and do all we wanted to meant we needed to squeeze in other things on the same day.  We arranged to meet them at Cowroast for lunch at the pub.  As planned we arrived an hour or so ahead of the meeting time and began walking along the towpath in their direction. It was a pleasant half hour or so before we saw them coming out of a lock.  We jumped on board and Mick delighted in helping through the next couple of locks back to Cowroast.

I vividly recalled a blog entry by Sandra about Barry's camera and photography and a comment she made about him leaping about with camera in one hand and windlass in the other.  He's like a clambering monkey!!!  This day he didn't have to worry about the windlass but with the untethered boat drifting about in the double lock, I leaned out the cratch opening to see Barry leap to the roof of the boat from the stern, snap a couple of photos, and then off onto the lockside and up on the lock gate to take a couple more. Amazing.  I wish I'd taken more photos but was too busy watching! 

For our last weekend in England we drove to Cornwall and on the way stopped at Bradford on Avon where we had a picnic by the canal.  It was yet another gorgeous little town.  We stayed in Rosemary Cottage, a little cottage in the heart of Port Isaac. We are fans of the television show "Doc Martin" which is filmed there.  It's the most picturesque little village.  It was very restful to watch the fishing boats and we really enjoyed walking the steep, narrow streets. Our parking space was between the narrowest of spaces between the end of a building and the stone wall that was at the edge looking over into the water.

We drove to Padstow to have lunch on Sunday at Rick Stein's fish and chip cafe.  There was a queue at the door well before it opened at midday.  We joined the queue of course.  Padstow was very pretty with a lively harbour.  It was surrounded by interesting shops and eateries and being a perfect sunny day was crowded with people.  We enjoyed our visit there very much.

On Monday it was time to make our way back to London.  We detoured through Cheddar Gorge and drove through Bath but decided it was way to busy to try and find parking so we could look around.  We'll save that for a place to visit on our boat.  Our final visit was the little village of Turville, the film location for the Vicar of Dibley... yes, it seems we watch too much tv but we just love those English shows.

Finally it was back to a hotel near the airport to hand back the hire car before the long flight home the following day. 

All about the narrowboats we looked at in the next post !

Friday 15 October 2010

In narrowboating heaven....

Just a brief update from our holiday in the UK.  We've spent almost two weeks catching up with family and friends, old and new, and researching narrowboats.

Hello to Mick's half brother Peter, we were so glad to be able to spend some time getting to know you better.  Before you know it we'll be back again.
And Lynne, we had a great time during our couple of days out.  We'll look forward to seeing more of you in a couple of years time!
Ray, was great to meet you and we are suitably inspired.  Can't wait to meet up with you on the cut.
Barry and Sandra, wonderful to meet you at last.  We've loved reading your blog and will miss it sorely!

Until we get home to Australia...
Elly and Mick

Thursday 23 September 2010

A visit to England

We're both really excited to be heading off to England.  We'll spend some time looking at narrowboats and getting a better idea of what we'll be able to afford when the time comes to buy our own boat.  We're armed with a list of marinas (thanks Ray) and hope we'll refine our priority list of what features are important to us in a boat.  And... we'll try to meet up with a couple of the narrowboat bloggers we've been in touch with.

Tomorrow I'm flying to Frankfurt to visit my long time friend in Germany and then the week after Mick will join me in London for a couple of weeks in England.  We are also looking forward to spending some time with Mick's half brother who we only met for the first time on our 2007 trip to England.

We'll have some new narrowboat photos to add to our blog soon!

Friday 17 September 2010

We'll have to sell our house!

It took us some time to get our heads around the idea of selling our house in order to finance our narrowboat plans.  It’s been a real labour of love (mostly Mick’s) to renovate this house.   What started as a barely livable wreck 11 years ago took 7 years to become the much loved home we have today.

What made the decision easier was the fact that the first sections of our renovation were looking in need of renovation!  This is partly because the first couple of years that we had this house it was intended as a weekender that we might one day retire to.  The fairly basic cooking facilities would suit us fine until the time came that we wanted to move here full time.  Little did we know that in not much more than 3 years we would have sold up in Melbourne and be living here permanently. 

Now the kitchen has had its second update and some repainting has been done.  The more we look around the more we can see that it will be a never ending process.  Weatherboard houses just don’t stay looking good without constant maintenance.

So we’re hoping our next house will require a little less maintenance.  We won’t be so choosy about it being an historic house this time.  As long as we have enough space for a vegetable garden we’ll be happy.  We’d still like a house with some sort of character.

We have a bit of a unique position in our town.  We are only a 10 minute walk from the shops, our land is less than 1 acre, yet it is difficult to see a neighbouring house.  Our property is bounded by only the road and crown land that will never be built on.  We know we won’t find this again and we will very much miss the lovely private location.



Saturday 11 September 2010

The beginning

In our 40’s now, and knowing for 10 years now that we were unable to have children, we’ve tried to make the most of our circumstances.  We’ve moved out of the city, reduced our working hours and travelled.

Following a visit to England in 2007 (and a very successful and enjoyable narrowboat hire) we started to consider the idea of spending a year or more cruising the canals.  We began reading narrowboating blogs, watching DVD’s, reading books and magazines.  The idea appealed to us more and more.  But how could we finance it? 

Eventually we came up with a plan.  We will sell our house and buy a cheaper one to free up money to finance the trip.  We’ll rent out our house while we are away (the cheaper one that is) which will cover costs back here in Australia.  We plan to free up enough money to buy a second hand boat and to live for a year.  We’ve allowed for everyday living costs, boat running costs and a kitty for emergency repairs etc.  If we manage to pick up some odd jobs along the way, and we survive our first English Winter, then maybe we’ll stay longer.  That’s the plan, now we’re looking for the right house.  We are aiming to be ready to go in about 2 years from now.  We have an elderly labrador to consider so it may be longer than that before we can leave.

Planning a year on a narrowboat in the UK, when you live on the other side of the world, isn’t easy.  We’re grateful for the email advice we’ve received from narrowboat bloggers we’ve made contact with over the last few years.

We thought it might be good to remember this process in years to come by keeping a blog ourselves.  It might also be of some assistance to other Australians or New Zealanders thinking of doing this too.  At first I thought it seemed a bit premature to be blogging about a dream but was pleased to see we aren’t alone.  I googled “narrowboat dream” and discovered someone else blogging about their dream : Narrowboat Dream

We won’t have regular narrowboat photos to post to our blog but hope other narrowboaters might contribute comments on the various topics we will talk about during this process.  We look forward to “meeting” you.

2007 : our favourite holiday memory