Monday, 28 November 2005

What makes a boater?

I ask this question because I was vilified in a 'webrag' by someone who will remain nameless, because I don't own a boat and had the temerity to pass comment on boaty things. This person, a journalist for some years, has used his somewhat paltry position to make me look like the prat he is, and in my opinion does no good service to boating with his constant complaining and often ill informed rantings.

If I write a good piece on a boat related topic, then whether or not I own a boat should not not be a factor in my ability to write a good factual piece. True I don't have the boating ethos that many boaters have, but my time will come. Everyone has to start somewhere.

What I do have is a passion for the Waterways of Britain and a commitment to be a boater, SOON!

Is owning a boat important? There are thousands of people who, every year hire a boat and get out on the cut. Are they to be excluded from commenting on boaty things just because they don't own a boat? No certainly not! Neither should I!

Given the time I have spent learning about boats and boat related stuff and the commitment I have made, (I have sold my house to part fund my boat) the risk I have taken to put myself in a position to buy a boat (I have lived for the last two years or so in a terrorist area of a very terror oriented city) I cannot for the life of me see why I am not to be allowed to comment on things that have an effect on my life as it will be in the not too distant future.

To be honest a lot of people who do comment on boaty things have very little to say and say it with a verve that belies it's importance.

I don't really care what others say, I have every right to comment as I see fit.

I never comment on things of which I have no experience, handling, engines, builds, Power systems etc, but do comment on things that rely on interpretation of the rules and what is happening on the system.

No, I don't suppose you could say I am a 'real' boater, but you will not get me on commitment. I am as committed to the system and boating as any boat owning hypocrite that thinks I should not be allowed to comment.

We don't actually have a real right to freedom of speech in the UK, but I will stand toe-to-toe with anyone who seeks to stop me from having my say.

Sunday, 27 November 2005

The Licence Fee Saga

There has been a lot of controversy over the last several months about the licence fee paid by boaters for putting their boat on the water.

The canals, as they have evolved today, are about being out on the water. All boaters pay for that privilege.

The private boater, that is to say those that have a boat for their own personal use, come in two basic types. Those that spend their life on the water and move around the system continuously, the Continuous Cruiser and (for want of a better term) the Part Time Boater who for reasons personal to themselves cannot spend all their time on the water and need a place too moor up while they are not boating.

Now at the point of sale of the licence both boaters pay the same fee, for a given size of boat, for exactly the same access to the whole system or part of it as dictated by the size of their boat.

If you consider as I said earlier that the point of the canals is to be out on the water you will probably agree that the licence fee is fair. I see no problem with every boater paying the same licence fee.

However those that are not able to take full advantage of the waterways, must have a place to park their boat when they are working or the kids are at school or whatever else they do when not boating.

Some of their mooring fee is paid back to British Waterways by their 'mooring provider'. This is good business, recover your overheads. This leads to the part time boater complaining that they pay more to have a boat that the CCer, even though they don’t use the system as much. I am not going to argue against this, as it does seem unfair.

But when buying a boat this should have been one of the things that they took into consideration. I am all for PTB raising the point of mooring costs. Costs should be addressed. I cannot accept that it is reasonable to try and include the cost that the CCer pays while making their point about mooring costs. CCers use the same mooring (for free) that all boaters use (for free) when out on the water.

Licence fees and mooring fees are two separate issues and should be kept so. Using the CCer’s enviable position to make a point about mooring fees is at best fruitless.

There are those who say that CCer’s are getting away without paying their dues. This could not be further from the truth. BW asks all CCer’s to pay a licence fee for their use of the canal. This most of them do. So their 'dues' are determined by BW. If they are paying what is asked of them I have to ask, "what are they getting away with?"

Answer Nothing!

Saturday, 26 November 2005

THE BUILD

So time marches on. In about 4 weeks the build will start. Excited is not a term I would use at this stage. I am now at the point of nervous trepidation. I, unlike so many others before me will not have the opportunity to visit the builder as my boat progresses. Living 3500 miles away it is a bit of a trek not to mention costly. A ticket at that time of the year being £3/400. However, if you know Ledgard Bridge they do put builds on line, so at least I will be able to see the boat being built.

I may be lucky and see my boat finished in May. While that does depend on Ledgard it also depends on DIFA (the company I work for) they have a very annoying habit of holding your final settlement for as long as they can in the hope that you will get fed up waiting and go without it. Me, not being stupid, will hold out till the bitter end. It's a lot of money to leave behind on a promise that "we will send it to you". I don't think soooo.
Now I have started this I shall continue on through the build, on to the water and beyond.

TECHNICAL STUFF

I have not dwelt on the technical stuff simply because I don't know how all this goes together. The builders will do the plumbing and electrickery bits they know how it's done. Other than specifying what engine, what power supplies etc it's a bit out of my league. Give me a C130 Hercules to play with or a Harrier or even a Vulcan Bomber and I am OK but all this boaty stuff leaves me cold. It's so very different to aeroplanes.

At this time it's a toss up between the Barras Shire 45 bhp and the Beta Greenline 43 bhp. The Barras certainly looks like it can kick ass, but I have a liking for painted engines, especially green ones. Not a sound way of choosing an engine I know but at least I am not just choosing between the green one and the grey one. I do have some idea what the spec sheet is telling me. There is no difference on the price and would I really notice the difference of two extra horses. I doubt it.

I will be using the washer/dryer only when cruising so I have asked for a 220Vac generator to run off the engine. All other equipment will run off an inverter.

Yes I am going to live aboard permanently so I will have need of some home comforts but my 35 years as an aircraft engineer will stand me in good stead for fault finding, maintaining the engine etc. As long as the builder knows what I want that is all I need to input at this stage.

All this is a far cry from my original conception of "two batteries and reading by hurricane lamp", but I don’t envisage any real problems. There are those who will be smirking and saying 'Poor fellow' and I don't doubt that I will have problems, but there is nothing that cannot be fixed and given that I have spent most of my working life fixing some very complex aircraft systems, I think I have the necessary back ground to cope. Only time will tell.

OTHER FIXTURES AND FITTINGS

As far as fixtures and fittings go, I trawled round all the DIY sites and downloaded pics of stuff that I liked. Using the program that I do it is easy to paste them into the drawings. You can't always put them in the position they will go because of the angle of the photo, but they can be pasted alongside the drawing to show the builder what you want.

Lighting

I have used a number of lights in each room. 4 dome lights in the living room for general illumination. Conected in pairs diagonally And 2 wall mounted lights for reading.

Only 3 dome lights in the galley. One either side of the sink and one over the hatch. I think I might put an extra one over the cooker. Its one of those things that you don’t know till it’s built

There are two dome lights in the bedroom and one fluorescent/or dome over the bed head.

Two domes equally spaced diagonally across the shower room, and a lamp of the same type used in the living room for reading for the shaving mirror.

Two domes and a fluorescent in the office and a further 2 domes in the back cabin. I do like the idea of putting two domes in the engine hole made to operate when the steps are lifted, however I think proper flameproof bulkhead lights will be safer here.

I am installing blue safety diodes at each access point including one in the end of the ‘step’ in the wine rack. Being as none of the doors will reach the ceiling the diodes are to be placed directly above the doors so that one can be seen from either side. If ever there is a necessity to move around the boat after lights out or in an emergency it will be a simple matter of following the blue lights.

Vents
I have placed brass mushroom vents along the centre line of the roof. Enough for adequate ventilation and then some.

Safety
I can't get away from the BSS requirement for fire extinguishers, but I will not have dry powder. I have used one of these in anger before and I don't want to go through that again.

Plank, ropes, fenders and boat hook/pole

These come as standard fit from the builder.

Having spent more than 500 hours doing all this I can only hope it all works out. Proof of the pudding is in the cruising, so to speak.

FLOORS, WALLS, CEILING

I planned on having natural ash wood flooring through out, with a 7 x 5 ft rug in the lounge and a 'runner' in the bedroom. The shower room needs a waterproof covering. (note to self investigate)

I have seen a very beautiful 'Magic Carpet' at a local store. Woven in silk I wonder if this would be a bit OTT for a boat. Not sure if I could justify nearly £800 to trample with muddy boots.

The walls are to be done in ash with Sapelee trims. However there is a product on the market called Kronospan. It comes in many colours I might opt for this on the walls with the Sapelee trims.

The ceiling Ash with same Sapelee trims.

STERN

My builder does a modified trad stern. What this means is that instead of having a semi elliptical (narrow) stern big eonugh usually for only one, it is semi circular. The advantage of this is a slightly wider deck, big enough for two. Normally he builds in two fixed seat/safety rails either side of the tiller. I want him to make them movable, insted of straight legs, legs with a double dog leg, so that set one way the seats are forward and set the other way the seats are out, slightly, over the water. The actual measure from the front of the forward seat position to the back edge of the rearward position will be about 9 inches.

BACK CABIN

Access to the back cabin is via two louvered doors central on the back bulkhead.
Most of the back cabin is down to the builder. Steps to the stern deck, which obviously cover the engine. Cupboards for the electrikery stuff and storage cupboards to fit the space. However I will be wanting a washer/dryer installed on the left hand side next to the Office bulkhead. This will help to balance out the galley and bedroom, which are on the right.

OFFICE

The office has to double as a spare single bedroom so it is not only important to be able to hide the bed when not in use, but to have a small cupboard or table to place a clock etc. I did not place the doors against the wall, rather about 9 inches out. Utilising the area up to the gunwale I have 6ft 6in x 3 ft x 9 ins against the left hand wall in which to build the foldaway, plenty.

Opposite this are more cupboards mounted with a 'work top' to act as a desk. A sliding tray under the worktop, to hold my keyboard, with a flat screen monitor on top. The CPU can fit in one of the cupboards. Unless, of course I go for the laptop idea. Maybe both who knows.
One 3ft window either side of the boat with small cupboards either side over the 'desk'.
The Back cabin is closed off with two central louvered doors.

Friday, 25 November 2005

SHOWER ROOM

No bath in this boat.The shower cubicle is placed to back on to the bedroom bulkhead with a Rail across the top centre of the shower cubicle to hang rain sodden clothes (dual functionality). The basin, toilet and cabinet etc are on the shower/office bulkhead.
So walking from the bedroom you enter by the bottom right hand corner. The toilet bowl is straight in front with a hand basin to the left set on a suitable shelf extending out to the wall but narrowing behind the toilet. I shall have a dropped front to the shelf to hide the pipe work and a linen cupboard under having a louvered door. I have opted for what looks like a freestanding oval basin with a monobloc faucet. A mirror fronted wooden cabinet in line with basin at shaving height. I only hope that I don’t have any female guests that need to use it to shave.
Standing at the basin, the shower is left and behind in the corner. The louvered privacy doors beside the basin are not set tight against the wall and open inwards or maybe swing. In the centre of the wall, space between the shower and the doors, will be an obscured porthole, with a duplicate in the other side, more or less over the toilet.

BEDROOM

The bedroom is very simple.
A 6 ft bed lies along the left wall, the head up against the shower room bulkhead. At the foot of the bed galley end a 3 ft wide wardrobe against the wall with the hanging space at the bottom and two drawers atop and an up and over cupboard above that. I may have to reduce the width of the wardrobe to allow a longer bed, but hey, how much space do you need for six pairs of jeans and a dozen tee-shirts? Not much, but you ladies can't come away for the weekend without 3 weeks worth of clothes, just in case.

Directly opposite, a shoe shrank that protrudes about 1 ft from the wall. It seems that a cupboard over the head of bed is usual I see no reason not to have one if only to support the reading lamp. A small shelf for my morning coffee at arms reach opposite the bed (always assuming that I can find someone to make one from time to time). There will be a 4 ft window centralised on each wall.

GALLEY

There are several options for the galley.
Often a centre aisle is the norm with the galley on either side. The problem here is people coming past when you are working in the galley. A real pain so I am told. You could have a 'U' shaped galley with the 'corridor' to one side. Or even an 'L' shaped galley. I have seen a central island type but I don't think this makes good use of the space, though on a holiday boat it may be OK. I went for a combination of 'L' and centre aisle. Sink cooker and cupboards on one side in an 'L' shape and then fridge and cupboards on the other side though not the full length of the galley. Culminating with central louvred doors to the bedroom.
The cupboards that form the 'L' shape, like any kitchen with corner units, the corner one is always difficult to fully utilise. So instead of fitting a 'carousel' type fitting to the door (which in my mind is a waste of space anyway) I plan not to have any access to that corner in the galley. There is a door to the left of the stove in the living room to access that space. The cooker is fitted on the Centre line directly behind the stove, with a hob on top in the short end of the 'L'.

The kitchen sink, with a mono bloc faucet, will face a 4 ft window with small cupboards over and beside. On the opposite wall will be a hatch. There will be two cupboards under the hatch separated by single column wine rack that should hold 7 bottles, however to enable the hatch to be used as an escape, the centre bottle will be replaced with a reinforced box section containing a length of 3 x 3 timber that can be slid out wards to form a step. For the sake of safety I suppose I will just have to survive on six bottles.
To the left of the cupboards is the fridge with a Microwave on top and another cupboard on top of that to the ceiling with up opening door, all built in to look like one unit. Of the cupboards under the hatch the one nearest the front access will be angled away to the wall make it easier for passing through.

Living Room

It seems to me from those that I have seen, that the 'norm' is to have a stove in one corner, often at the front. This means having a stovepipe sitting at a jaunty angle. Well, I tend to like things symmetric so that was not an option for me. I placed my stove on the centre line against the living room/galley bulkhead. This makes it about 19 ft from the bow. Not only putting the stove further down the boat but also from a ballasting point of view kept the weight in the middle crosswise. The front bulkhead is probably a bit ambitious in that it has cupboards, draws and bookcases to each side of the main door.

Making allowances for two comfy swivel chairs I placed a foldaway table halfway down the left side. This gives me enough room for a coffee table. If the plan works well I should be able to place two folding chairs behind the table against the wall and a footstool beside each swivel chair. On one boat I have seen, instead of having a central leg on the foldaway table, a removable post hung from the ceiling suspended it. Heating other than the stove will be by 'FinRads'.

With the stove in the centre of the bulkhead, I have placed a door to access the galley corner unit on the left (corner units in kitchens are difficult to utilise fully) and access to the galley to the right.

The room will be finished with one 5 ft window centred either side. I know there are people who will say that I am not thinking about security and they would be right. I have no intention of living in a steel tunnel with little light. Some say that they have portholes and there is plenty of light, to them I would say GET REAL! The room where I am writing this is about 12 x 12 and one 4 x5 window is barely enough, and remember I live in a very sunny desert in the Middle East.
Click to enlarge

Designing my boat

Designing a narrow boat is not an easy task. What do I know about designing boats, not a lot. There are so many options. I looked at a good many layouts before I felt happy about putting my ideas down on 'paper'. I now settled down to come up with the boat that I want. I was quite happy to do a drawing of the outside of the boat, but this has it's drawbacks. Until the inside dimensions are sorted you don't really know where the windows are going to be.

How long should it be? How do I intend to use it? Though I have no authority in this subject I think that the boat will be different for a live aboard than a holiday boat, but if I want to do the whole system the length is limited by lock dimensions, there are places you can visit on the web that give lock dimensions. I had to settle on 58 ft. It was either that or no proper office/spare bedroom. As it is I took 6 ins off the shower to make the office bigger.

Do I want a well deck at the front? What type of stern do I want? Enclosed cabin? I will not dwell on that other than to say I want a well deck and a traditional stern. Once you have these questions answered the builder will probably have a stock design. My long standing idea of a narrow boat is the 'Rosie and Jim' (did I say that) standard boat with cratch cover over the well deck.

Though the out side has to look right, I think the internal layout is more important for me. After all I will be living on this boat full time.

Accommodation (beds) room size galley size etc. Who is going to spend a lot of time on board? My calculations were easy as I am to be a single hander with occasional visitors. One double bedroom and a foldaway single bed in the office would suffice.

With a 4 ft well deck and a 3.5 ft bow my boat is 8.5 ft from the bow to the front bulkhead. With a 3.5 ft stern this means I have 46 ft of interior with which to play.

I started off with someone else's measurements.
Living room 12 ft
Galley 8 ft
Bedroom 9 ft
Shower room 6 ft
Bedroom 9 ft
Office space 6 ft
Back cabin 7 ft all this adds up to 57 ft Doh! This was for a 70 footer.

I took 1 ft off the living room and 1 ft off the galley, to make it all fit which I thought was sufficient. However I then shortened the shower room by 6 inches and added that to the office so I could get a 6 ft 6 in foldaway bed in there with comfort. And of course I left out one of the bedrooms.

What order to put the rooms in makes a big difference. My choice was as per the list above. But everyone is different, that layout suits me at this time. Looking at other boats will give you ideas. Some people have the galley at the front, some at the back. Some have no well deck and put the bed at the front in the middle. Others have crosswise bed that has to be folded away each day. I think I made the right choice for me.

The length of each room depends on where the walkways/doorways are. If it's just a 'corridor' down side of the boat a lot of decision-making is done for you, but who would want to live on a boat like a train. However on my boat the front doors are central. Walking through the living room I cross over to the right to enter the galley. A 'dog leg' through the galley to the centrally positioned doors which take you to the bedroom. The walk way through is across to the right leading to the shower room. To exit the shower room it's a diagonal through way across the boat to the office. Then a pair of doors, central to the back cabin. This set up does mean that you have to lock both doors in the shower room when answering a call of nature, but, as I will be on my own most of the time I don't think it's a problem. My main thought was that I didn't want to live in a 'corridor'.

I used a program called Visiotech 5 to design my boat. Although only a 2d drawing package it depends on your computer skills and how fast you can learn the package as to what effects you can get. I drew each room floor plan on a separate sheet. Once completed, I also drew each wall and each bulkhead (both sides) again on a separate sheet. I have a lot of time on my hands so I have ended up with about 35 (edit:40) very detailed drawings, including any separate details that need to be highlighted, fixtures and fittings, (I am still not finished yet the back cabin is giving me a bit of a headache). Then using a facility that allows you to save each drawing as an Icon and then retrieve it later, I put all the drawings together, end-to-end, and side-by-side to give me one big drawing that looks like a boat that has been opened down the centre and laid out flat. You could of course do all this with a pencil and paper, but I feel that the more detail you can get in the more likely the builder will build the boat you want.

Learning about canals and boaty things Pt 2

Ok so now I have a lot of good info about boats and boaty things, but I am still not a boater. What I really need is a boat. Do I want a new one or second hand? Do I need a big boat or small boat? How do I intend to use it?

All very relevant questions and all very personal.

I have lived all my life in other people's houses. Even when I bought my own house it was someone elses house before. When I bought a car it was someone else's car before. For a change I want something that is mine and not someone else's cast off, so new build it was going to be.

I spent 25 years 239 days in the Royal Air Force. I lived in a lot of places and got to know those places, but I never really 'saw' England. If I am going to live on the canals this is one thing I am going to correct. I want a boat that will 'do' the system, or at least a good 95% of it. It would seem that 57ft is the maximum length to get around the all system comfortably. It can be done in 60 footer but there are some locks a 60 ft wont fit in and some locks that it will have to go in at an angle. 70 ft is very restrictive and limits the amount of canals that can be accessed.

When I finally got down to 'designing' my boat I started out with the idea that 57 ft would be ideal (most long term boaters suggest this). Unfortunately I just couldn't seem to get it all in to the space available. I had to stretch the design by 1 ft and reduce the size of the shower room to ensure I had enough living/sleeping space and an office/spare bedroom. The office was very important, I am not the best writer in the world but I have had some success and writing would be where I want my spare time to go. Whether or not I get published is another matter. So now I'm going with 58 ft.

So what type of boat do I want? Well it helps to know what types of boat there are.

Narrow boats are classified by the type of stern they have.

The 'Trad' mimics the lines of a traditional working boat. The stern deck is short and narrow tapered like the pointier end of an egg. This means there is little room and more than one crew on the deck would make it crowded. In days gone by there was no necessity for more than one person on the deck so it filled it's purpose.

The 'Semi Trad' has the same size deck plus seating forward of the deck for family/friends etc. From the side it looks like a 'Trad' the flat panel side ending where the stern deck starts. This design does reduce the overall inside accommodation.

The 'Cruiser' is vastly different. The stern deck is long about 6 to many feet depending on user preference. It can be shaped like a 'Trad' (semi elliptical) or square, or any shape for that matter I suppose. Square sterns don't handle as well as the rounded 'Trad' so I am told. The advantage of the 'Cruiser' is the large outside space, but at the expense of the inside space. If you are going to be a weekend boater this can double as a dinning room or party area.

However if it is your plan to live your whole life on board the space taken by the 'Cruiser' deck is wasted, unless you are into gardening.

There is another stern that is becoming popular the 'Modified Trad'. A few builders are producing these. In essence the deck is semi-circular and as such is wider than a 'Trad' enabling two people on the deck without being crowded. There is also built in seats/safety rails either side of the tiller.

I suppose what you get is what you want, determined by how you are going to use the boat. There are other boats. The barge is becoming popular. Whilst it is a 'narrow' boat it is not built the same way. Not to my taste. You can have a 'wide beam' (anything wider than a narrow boat (6' 10") but if you plan to visit the whole system this is not a good choice. Many locks are only 7' wide; hence the reason 'proper' narrow boats are only 6'10". It's all down to choice.

The front deck is again down to choice and how you intend to use it. The front bulkhead can butt up to the gas locker giving you maximum room inside the boat. Or can stop short and form a 'well' deck, the length of which is down to choice. The 'well' deck can be as long as you choose, can contain lockers that will double as seats. Often the 'well' deck is surmounted with a cratch and cover.

Another forward deck style is the 'Tug' deck. This is an area that has the specific purpose of carrying cargo, size is determined by what you want to carry, though why any one would want to waste that much space on a recreational boat is any ones guess.
I will be on my boat on my own most of the time. Occasionally there will be one or two visitors. So the choice for me will be the 'Modified Trad' with a well deck which will suit me perfectly.

Thursday, 24 November 2005

Learning about canals and boaty things.

So where to from here. I decided that I was going to own a boat. It was going to be my home. What do I know about boats? Well I knew that they floated on water. I knew that they used to be pulled by horses, but what did I know about boats? Nothing!

How do I find out about boats?

Research! And..................................????????

Research is a good word. Google provided me with the tool to search the web for "Narrow Boats" and "Canals UK". There are myriad finds on the Google net. Take your pick.

I started out reading Waterways Interactive. A lot of information but not much traffic (a year or two down the line a few of us tried to resurrect it, but it was hard going). My next 'site' was Canal World Forums. Again a lot of information, but this time a lot of traffic too. Ask a question and a dozen replies from very knowledgeable boaters would appear over the next few days. Not knowing any thing about boating I did not know what questions to ask, so I set about reading all, yes all the posts. A new site on the up is Canal Interactive. Mostly aimed at CCer's and live aboards. It's slow starting but I have an idea that it will take off.

The good thing about CWF at the time was the level of experience, from crusty old 'sea dogs' to those like me who knew just enough to get there.

The important thing was to glean information. I have a lot of info on my hard drive. A lot of it was very relevant to me and a lot not. I have learned a lot. I now know a lot about boats. I also know quite a lot about the canals and the organisations that control them. What I do not know is what it is like to be a boater. You can't get that kind of ethos from the net, but everyone has to start somewhere.

I imagined a life living in a boat with a couple of 12-volt batteries and reading by the light of a hurricane lamp, was I in for a surprise!

Learning about boats is only part of the process. Learning about the system, the controlling bodies and the 'rules' is very important. For those that haven't caught up with me yet I live in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh to be exact. Learning about the mechanical aspects is relatively easy for me, I am an aircraft electrical engineer, have been for nearly 35 years. Whilst learning the mechanics was easy I did miss out on 'hands on' experience due to my location. The nearest canal to me was the SUEZ about 500 miles away, I think, so the chance of me getting hands on experience was non-existent.

Rules are not the same. If you can read and have a reasonable standard of education most can understand the 'rules'. I have always been a 'rules man'. I can learn rules. I can interpret rules and I can apply rules. You still need a bit of 'on board ethos', but owning a boat is not a pre-requisite to understanding the rules. Usually if someone says to me that 'this is a grey area' I tend to know that they do not understand the rules. I don't know all the rules yet, but I am learning fast.

To buy a Narrow Boat

It has been some time since I decided that life on the canals was for me. Based not on actual time on a narrow boat or any boat, other than trip boats, but on the time I have spent living near canals. My first view of a canal was in the 1950's, when my mother pointed out the Grand Union from a train window on a visit to Grandma's. We were somewhere near Birmingham, I would have been about 7 or 8 years old. I watched the canal disappear into the distance till I had my face pressed flat against the window and mother made me sit down properly. I was in awe of this great ribbon of water that flowed through the countryside.

During my RAF career I spent several years living in Halton Village, Bucks, which has the Wendover Arm of the GUC running through it all the way to Wendover. Being a 'twitcher' in those days I would spend many days there spotting birds. The Marston Lock on the GUC was not far away and with three big reservoirs feeding the canal I found lots of opportunity to visit both the canal and the reservoirs.

I spent many a sunny afternoon walking along the canal, binoculars hung around my neck. Soaking up the ambience. Some friends had a house backing on to the Aylesbury Arm, which was always a source of envy. Pitstone was really the spark for me. Our church used to organise trips out from there. Though these trips were only a few hours in duration I was hooked, though it never occurred to me that I might ever be able to afford a boat.

As time marched on wife No 2 left me with two of my three daughters to bring up, the oldest being married, and we spent more and more time by the canal (cheap day out). I would chat to the boaters, operate the locks and generally absorb canal culture.

In 1994 the RAF moved me to Lyneham and I bought my first house in Calne, Wiltshire, sadly leaving the GUC behind. By this time it was only Kim and I. Lo and behold! Only a few miles away was the Kennet & Avon. My nearest point to the K&A was Caen Hill. What a different canal that was. I got great pleasure out of visiting that canal I can tell you.

I left the RAF in 1997 after 25 years 239 days. We came to an arrangement that as we were both going in separate directions, retirement from the service was the best option. At the tail end of 1999 with my oldest two girls married and with children, my youngest Kim at college, I started working abroad. I was able to earn a lot more in Oman than the UK which would enable me to 'bung' Kim a few sovs a month so she could concentrate on her studies and didn't have to get a part time job.

So for the last 5 years or so I have only been able to visit the canals on my infrequent vacations. Every vacation seemed to begin and end with trip to the Crossed Guns at Avoncliffe, intermittently peppered with walks along various stretches of the K&A from east of Devizes through to Bath. It was during one of the visits to the 'Guns' that I began to realise that owning a boat was a real possibility. With the oldest girls now self-supporting and the younger Kim had progressed on to Uni I no longer needed a house, which I rattled around in. I only ever came home twice a year anyway so what was the point of paying Council tax, water rates and other bills when I had no requirement.

I had been home for about a year when Kim finished Uni. An ex girlfriend gave me a scrap of news paper with an Ad for work in Saudi. I called and was offered a job working for the Saudi military. Of course I accepted well at $2700 a month plus 25% 'extras' and airfares and housing, who wouldn't. The package was worth about $46000 a year. When I arrived in Saudi Arabia (this is the third ME country I have worked in, Kuwait and Oman being the other two) I met a chap, from Norfolk, Len Hope who was also interested in canals. We talked a lot. A chance remark convinced me that getting a boat was not only doable, but that with my RAF pension, retiring soon and living on a boat was extremely probable. That remark was 'Not much over a thousand pound a foot�'.

I set about finding out all I could about the canals and Narrow boats. Boy! Was there a lot to learn? The vast majority of the info I have, has been learnt from the Internet, but I don't think I have even scratched the surface yet. I have an 80 Gb hard drive that is nearly full of canal related stuff laws, rules, pictures, history, links etc.

Making the decision to change your life completely is the easy part. I had done it a few times before. Doing the deed is the hard bit. My house had nearly tripled in value during the nine years I had owned it. Money was not going to be a problem. Selling it might be. While in Saudi Arabia my daughter lived there with her boy friend. Though rent-free it was, for me, a bonus in that they looked after the house while I was away and paid the bills. Kim and Jim (honest it's no joke) loved the house and made it their home. It seemed to me that if they could afford it they would be the ideal people to buy it. Kim had, by this time, finished Uni and had a very good job; Jim was working in engineering also with good salary. They bought the house in July 2005.

It is important to me that I have a nice lump sum in the bank when I finally move aboard hence the reason I am still in Saudi Arabia, but time still marches on and in 188 days I should be able to move on to the boat. That's a laugh all I really had when the house was sold was a name 'Maffi Mushkila' arabic for 'NO PROBLEM' and the promise of a build slot in Mirfield.