Monday, 12 May 2014

Decaying boats everywhere

Went down to Canvey Island today and saw this scene of boating devastation:
It may look like a tsunami hit the area or a flood washed everyone away but this is what happens when owners neglect their boats and no-one else is responsible for clearing it away.
Fortunately, this rarely happens on our canals (thank you CRT).
Contrast this with previous blog entry at Little Venice!

Monday, 5 May 2014

Canalway Cavalcade at Little Venice

I took the opportunity of a sunny bank holiday weekend to visit Little Venice and their gathering of canal boats. It was a jolly get-together, with lots of people asking mundane questions about narrow boats and friendly boat owners answering kindly. Quite a variety of boats too, all decorated with bunting and flags, some with highly polished engine rooms, others traditionally painted. I'm afraid dear Patience would have felt a bit under-dressed.
A band played easy-going jazz, there were lots of stalls and a lengthy queue for the beer tent. I bumped into squadrons of shiny helium balloons and rather enjoyed myself. To be recommended next year on May Day Weekend.

Incidentally, if we were to take Patience to the Little Venice fair next year it would take us eight full days of boating, involving 92 locks. And that's just one way. I feel tired already ....

Friday, 2 May 2014

How to Choose a Mooring IV

We've decided our important preferences (see this blog entry), compiled our spreadsheet (see this blog entry), and now have collected as much information as we need (see this blog entry) to make a decision on where to go next.

At last we were in a position to make a decision. We had gathered application forms and left contact details but not signed anything. We had general advice about whether there was likely to be space for us in the time frame we wanted and we could weigh the information and reach a decision. We also had a collection of photographs to remind us which marina was which, as it's so easy to confuse them later.

In our case there were at least two marinas that matched our needs and it was difficult to decide between them. It came down to small preferences but it was very useful to return to our original ranked list. It can be tempting to make a decision on the spur of the moment, persuaded by a sunny day, a friendly neighbour or a trivial incident, when these are unimportant in the longer term.

Where did we choose and why?

Why not help us to decide?

Our short list was:

Canal Wharf, Welford, Northamptonshire, NN66JQ Tel:01858575995
No website
64 miles, 1hr 20 mins from base by car
£1,480.00 pa
Leicester arm - 17 miles and 8 locks from Norton junction, and Crick tunnel (1528 yds); better value, good scope for day and short trips and would take a day to get to Grand Union.

Gayton Marina
Near jnc. of Grand Union & Northampton arm and north of Blisworth tunnel (3076 yds). Telephone: 01604 858 685
64 miles, 1hr 22 mins from base by car
£1,925.00 pa
No showers but most other facilities incl chandlery, pump out, crane, polytunnel covers; established environment, hire fleet (so staff on duty) mooring available for 45ft, elec available for casual use;

Weltonfield Narrowboats
Near Norton Jcn. (Leicester Arm and mainline) 01327 842282
71 miles, 1hr 32 mins from base by car
Off A5, very pleasant, workshop, no chandlery except a few oddments in the office; grassy mooring available for extra charge, or pontoon pumpout and fuel. Quiet. Even quieter second marina 5 minutes up river - no facilities there; £2137 for premium grassy) berth. A bit hemmed in by lock flights for day trips

Crick Marina
West Haddon Road, Crick, Northamptonshire NN67SQ Tel:01788824034
69miles, 1hr 32 mins from base by car
Leicester section - 5 miles & 7 locks from Norton junction, and Crick tunnel (1528 yds) good scope for day and short trips and close to Grand Union.

Where did we choose and why? What do YOU think we should have chosen?
Later, we'll tell you where we opted for, and our reasons for choosing our new moorings.

... more later. We'll tell you how we get on. Indeed we'll tell you how we get there. It's a long haul from Oundle on The Nene to our new home on - or near - The Grand Union

How To Choose a Mooring III

So now we've chosen our important features and put them in order of preference (see this blog)
We've also created a spreadsheet with useful headings (see this blog)
We first checked through their websites for more details and for a flavour of the kind of site they were describing. A word of caution here, because the flashiest sites aren’t necessarily what you are looking for and the most basic sites may not reflect the site as you see it on the ground. Some moorings simply don’t think a website is necessary and they may be all the better for it!

Now we set out to try and visit each one. Having ordered them geographically (south to north in our case) we entered their post codes on a sat nav, took a road map as backup and also marked the position in detail on an OS map. We did need all three to find marinas whose entrances had been moved or which were often invisible from country roads. Of course you can bypass all of that by simply taking your boat up and down the canal of your choice and stopping at likely places, but being in paid up moorings on the Nene with umpteen locks between us and the Grand Union we wanted to make a recce by car well in advance and plan the date of our move.

We hoped to make our visits in a single day and we wanted to record our first impressions, talking to moorers and on site staff, reading notices and brochures, checking out car parking, the quality of facilities that were of most use to us (are the loos clean? Is there convenient electricity, water, showers, laundry, pump out, gas, diesel). Can we leave the car safely while we’re afloat? Will the boat be exposed to thieves or is it secure - locked, attended? Can we stay onboard overnight from time to time even if the site doesn’t encourage liveaboards), so we made notes and took photographs to add to our spreadsheet and to bolster our memories. It’s surprisingly easy to confuse similar marinas when you’ve visited half a dozen in a day.

We made a further check of the position on the canal, asking people where to go for a convenient day trip, how readily we could access other canals, whether there were any nearby rings for longer circular journeys. Was this a long-established marina inheriting a love of boats, or a new venture intended mainly as a business? How congested does it get in busy periods?

We also noted whether travel to the mooring was conveniently close or just that bit too far when dropping in to check the battery in midwinter or polish and clean in spring. We awarded each one marks out of ten as judged by our own criteria and then talked it over at length.

Finally of course, are there any vacancies for your length of boat and will you be able to move in when you want to, for example when your present agreement expires?

How to Choose a Mooring II

In the previous blog we listed the most important fetures to be considered when choosing a new mooring.
Having put these in order you can start choosing the general area and identify sites within it. Waterways World provides an annual list of moorings and marinas which includes most places, though there will be smaller canal side moorings that can only be found by exploring the area in more detail.

The case study here may help explain how we went about the search.
We have explored the Ouse and the Nene and wanted to be on the main canal network but near to home. Looking at the countrywide map we found the Lee and Stort to be nearest to our homes in Cambridge but restrictive in that we would have to go a long way round London to reach the rest of the country. Near Milton Keynes would be convenient if the Bedford to Milton Keynes link had been built, but we will have to wait a few years for that, and mooring charges are noticeably higher as you near London. So we decided we wanted to be on the Grand Union, probably somewhere between Stoke Bruerne in the south and Braunston in the north.

We then created a spreadsheet of the main information using the following headings:
•    marina name,
•    contact details (including phone and post code),
•    website address,
•    car miles and travel time from home (using the AA journey planner and the marina post code),
•    cost per foot and for the length of our boat (found usually from the marina website and checked later in person)
•    any service charges,
•    notes including unique or interesting features, distance from any nearby train station, whether near locks etc.

With this information we identified each one, first on a canal map (I used Inland Waterways of Great Britain by Jane Cumberlidge) then gave each marina a number so we could order them in south to north order.
Now we could start discussing priorities and how far these moorings fitted the bill. Anything obviously unsuitable can be moved off the list at this stage. The remaining sites – we had nine – are worth exploring further.

We first checked through their websites for more details and for a flavour of the kind of site they were describing. A word of caution here, because the flashiest sites aren’t necessarily what you are looking for and the most basic sites may not reflect the site as you see it on the ground. Some moorings simply don’t think a website is necessary - and they may be all the better for it!

Patience On The Move - How to choose a mooring

Patience is heading away from the peaceful River Nene with her lovely mooring at Oundle Marina towards the Big World of Real Canals and The Grand Union.

How did you decide on your current moorings? Was it nearest to home, in a delightful setting, where there is access to your favourite places, or just where the boat was when you bought it?
Next to your choice of boat - and your boating partner - your long term mooring is probably the most important boating choice you will make. However the decision to move to a new mooring can usually be made logically and in your own time. With luck you'll be able to make a seamless transition from where you are to where you want to be without either being homeless or paying for two moorings at once.

First decide what kind of boater you. Are you keen to travel extensively, to take mainly short trips or to pootle around the marina? How long are you going to spend in the marina? How often will you travel to it?
From that decision you can say the marina is just a convenient staging post you return to from time to time, the centre of your day trips or your main home.
When you’ve decided that, you can look at your other preferences, ranking them in order of importance:
  • Distance / travel time from home (including whether accessible by train or bus or car)
  • Canalside, basin or marina
  • Convenient facilities (pump out, diesel, shower block, pleasant loos, chandlery, workshop)
  • Environment - picnic space and established trees, pubs and shops nearby, historic places of interest
  • Choice of waterway
  • Friendly caretaker and neighbours, boat club and clubhouse
  • Cost (usually calculated per foot per annum but can vary in weeks, months and metres)

       Make your mind up about these important options and come back to read the next post.