Sunday, 6 April 2008

Boats and Moorings

This blog will now become a record of the process of choosing, surveying, buying and eventually mooring a liveaboard narrowboat in Cambridge.

Firstly a summary of where we are now.

The decision:
In the summer of 2007, my then-friend-now-boyfriend, James offered to boat-sit for some friends who live on narrowboat Kestrel, on the Cam. He'd already fallen in love with the idea of living afloat but that weekend made him totally sure that he wanted to pursue the idea beyond a mere pipe dream. During that weekend, I came to visit him on the boat (I think I called it a 'canal boat' or something! Oops!) Having never set foot on one before, I was very excited to see what they were like. That first Saturday, spent chilling out on Kestrel, I fell in love with both the narrowboating lifestyle and James. When the owners (big)James and Emma came back and took us for a short cruise, i knew it was what I wanted! I was in a relationship with someone else, and just about to start a new job 70 miles away in London, so I kind of assumed that it was unlikely to happen to me for quite some while. So I said bye reluctantly and moved to London. But then events unfolded in the next few months which resulted in my getting together (finally!) with James on 10th September. We'd known each other for a long time and knew that it would be a serious long term thing straight away. So the obvious (!) thing to do, about a month after we got together was to put our names down on the fabled 'list' to get a highly sought-after mooring in Cambridge.

Research commences:
We knew we couldn't buy or move into a boat until the following summer, since James had to finish his History degree at Cambridge university and I had to finish my year's contract with my architect's job in London. But we started researching then, knowing that it couldnt hurt to learn as much as possible about the world of the canals, and the narrowboat market before making an offer in roughly June 2008. So from then on we started poring over canal magazines and websites, choosing which boats we'd buy if we could afford them now, mentally fitting them out and establishing exactly what we wanted from a boat. We are very lucky in that our friends (big)James and Emma have been incredibly supportive of our plans since the beginning, answering all our n00by questions and even, in January 2008, taking us on a tour of various marinas on the Grand Union canal. We stopped at Whilton, and had a chance to see quite a few boats we'd seen online at first hand. Whilton Marina is well known for specialising in the lower end of the market, and for keeping a very wide selection of boats for brokerage. It was an invaluable experience and helped us see exactly the sort of thing we could afford, and get a better understanding of the market.

Ever since that trip we have been further honing our narrowboat criteria, and keeping a list of the boats we like constantly updated in a spreadsheet

Our current ideal boat

  • Under £30,000 (more on finances later)
  • 50-57ft (enough space, but a 'go-anywhere' length - some of the smallest locks can only accomodate a 57ft boat)
  • Traditional (trad) stern, to maximise space and look authentic, but a semi-trad or cruiser would be acceptable if we liked everything else!
  • Engine room (for east access to the engine, and for storage)
  • Fixed double bed with loads of storage for clothes!
  • Bathroom with shower and pumpout/cassette toilet.
  • Kitchen with (ideally) a range but at least a gas oven and a 12 v fridge
  • Living room next to kitchen for optimised social cooking and preferably no fixed furniture, but space for a double futon, for guests.
  • Stove in living room (essential!)
  • Plenty of potential spave for books and a study.
  • Inverter so we can have 240v 'lectrics while not hooked up to the land
  • Must be in a habitable condition. We don't mind a bit of work, but we have to be able to move straight in.
I think thats it!

Financial Stuffs:
Compared to houses, boats are cheap to buy. We're looking at something in the range of £25,000. Certianly less than £30,000. Hopefully with my stable (ish), relatively well paid job, and respected career prospects as an architect, I'll be able to secure a personal loan to pay for the boat straight off. I'm meeting the bank next week to discuss possibilities! So there'll be more on that then. We looked at marine mortgages but they are only offered on boats costing more that £37,000 and aren't really viable for us.
Running costs are another matter, as Cam conservancy fees, BW licencing fees, fuel, moorings, general upkeep, all add up, But it wouldnt be MORE than keeping a house. And the benefits out-weigh the difficulties tenfold! Fact is, we both know that a life on the inland waterways would suit us!

Now this is the tricky bit, especially in Cambridge! Town centre moorings are VERY hard to come by, and although we're on the list, it may not be our turn til next year. So we'll have to find a temporary solution until then. Most likely would be to get a relatively expensive, but secure mooring in a marina, and maybe hop down to the visitors mooring in Cambridge during the week. If it comes to it, we can hop about constantly, or find a mooring further up the river, and commute to Cambridge every day. Either way its going to be a struggle for a bit, until we get our permanent mooring. But i have every faith that we'll cope.

So thats the background. My next posts will be more up to date news of new boats we've found and how finances are going. I'll also be looking for a job in Cambridge soon, so will be posting about that too.

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