Boating in lockdown: annual review

Essential cruising, broken alternators, and the cost of living on the cut in the tax year 2020-2021.

Field path near Cropredy, Oxfordshire.

At the start of the tax year just ended I was moored at Cropredy in Oxfordshire, it was the thirteenth day of lockdown. Although I have not counted miles walked, I must have covered many times the distance travelled by boat, which was a mere 155.7 miles. For much of the year boat travel has been restricted to the essential, so my exercise on foot has covered much more ground.

In some ways my mooring was convenient: ahead a water and waste disposal point; and astern a marina for other services, but barely half a mile betwen them. In addition, I could have groceries delivered to a nearby bridge, and Richard at the Lock House took in mail for we stranded boaters. The sun shone and there were many field paths with people few and far bewteen. The only bugbears were that I needed engineering support to repair my domestic alternator (£200), and I was unable to arrange other work to the boat.

The CRT (Canal & River Trust) restrictions were lifted on 23 May, but it was rather squally. I hunkered down over the bank holiday, and then set off towards Banbury, stopping just short of Slat Mill Lock, where the variety of wild flowers and creatures was much more diverse. This was to be a theme of that summer, during which the contractors were unable to scalp the towpaths, hurrah! I felt it unwise to visit so busy a place as Banbury, so returned to Cropredy the next day, before moving on up the South Oxford Canal, thank goodness the vegetation had been pruned along the Fenny Compton Tunnel. I spent a couple of weeks on the Grand Union Canal near Flecknoe, a favourite spot, but was dogged by tendonitis, so was mainly inactive.

Next, I spent three weeks in the Braunston area, the later part on the North Oxford. My main achievement was to replace almost all of my interior lights with LEDs (I bought all they had of the ones that fit). Following that I moved on to Hillmorton, scene of the network’s busiest locks, with a stop at Dunchurch Pools Marina for diesel, water and pumpout.

Hillmorton Middle Lock

Brownsover, on the outskirts of Rugby was my next stop. Although the town centre is something of a trek, there are many useful shops near to the canal, so I was able to stock up on groceries and buy some much needed clothing and footwear. There are also water and rubbish points.

Another favourite spot is opposite Brinklow, a nice little village with a small shop, book swaps in two red telephone boxes, a motte and bailey castle site (so it is said the best preserved in Enland), and a regular bus service to Rugby or Coventry. I was getting desperate for a pumpout, so stayed only one night. While unmooring I was unable to dislodge, by cunning or brute force, one of my mooring hooks (or “nappy pins”) from the piling, so eventually abandoned it. I had hoped to get a pumpout at Stretton Stop, but they were closed, so I had to press on. I topped up fresh water and disposed of rubbish at Hawkesbury Junction, and u-turned onto the Coventry Canal, mooring at Bedworth. I like Bedworth. There is a good range of shops, including Choppra’s auto spares, where I was able to get spare alternator belts.

In early September, I reached Springwood Haven Marina, where I could get a pumpout, diesel, water, a replacement mooring hook (£7.95), and some other materials. A few days later I passed through Atherstone locks in stages, and reached Pooley Country Park, where I discovered my batteries were not charging: turned out to be a failed alternator. I had this fixed at Alvecote Wharf, where I had a few days on shoreline (£338.80, including some other odd jobs).

Atherstone Lock 5

After a week at Fazeley, another convenient spot, where I bought some coal and deisel from Narrowboat Auriga (the coal boat), I moved onto the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, near Fisher’s Mill Bridge, where I stayed a few days to explore Middleton Lakes, then returned to Fazeley. This was partly to get good TV reception for the restart of the Rugby Union Six Nations on 31 October. On 14 November, it was reported that the last land mines in the Falkland Islands had been destroyed – near 40 years on!

When the second lockdown began, I was still at Fazeley, but some moevement within tier 3 was allowed, so, after a while, I moved through Glacote (water point) and on to Pooley Country Park, where I stayed until I needed more water, and moved to Atherstone (above lock 10), watering at Grendon Wharf. Eventually, I needed more water, so moved through the remaining nine locks, watered and disposed of rubbish, and moored after bridge 40. Next was Nb Cygnet (occupant Annette, a dance teacher unable to work), the Nb Narrow Escape (occupants Collette, George and Lily, a lively wee dog adept at chasing mallard).

There developed a routine in which Annette, Collette and Christine, another boater, helped “Rick the Coal” through the locks. It was useful exercise and social contact. Eventually, though I tired of being in the same place with very limited TV and weak broadband. So, on 9 March, I dumped rubbish, said goodbye to Annette, and set off for Hartshill Wharf (water point), finishing up just short of Spring Wood. After that I oscillated between Nuneaton, Hartshill, and Atherstone, spending almost all nights near Caldecote, a few hundred yards south of Spring Wood (bridge 27), where broadband and TV are excellent. There are some pleasant footpaths in the Caldecote and Hartshill areas. And that is where I ended the tax year.

Narrowboat Auriga alongside, delivering coal, kindling and gas.

From today it appears boating will return to normal. It has been quiet on the cut, with the only moving boaters being liveaboards, respectfully slowing down past moored boats, and not making a pig’s ear of steering. Devant le deluge …

So what did it all cost?

This is a question frequently asked of boaters. In addition to the usual household costs, such a groceries, cleaning materials, and so on, there are some boat-specific costs. These are not necessarily more or less than maintaing a house, but there are some differences.

Annual necessities include a CRT license, which depends on boat length, but for my 60 feet it was £994.24. This covers water, waste disposal and some other facilities (as a continuous cruiser I am not liable for Council Tax or mooring fees). Insurance tends to be about the same as for a modest house, but adding maintence costs (parts, labour, spares, oil, filters, lighting, and other bits and bobs, brought the annual sum to just short of £1,500.

Running costs include red diesel for propulsion, battery charging and mains electricty (773 litres @ 80p – this would be more without lockdown, as there would be more tax to pay for propulsion; average about 90p). Most of my heating is from burning coal, this year I spent more on firewood and kindling, as I have not been able to forage as much as I normally do; total stove fuel came to £858, of which £600 was for coal @ 50p/kg. I have used the stove more in lockdown because I have spent less time cruising. I also use gas for cooking, which amounted to 5 bottles @ £35.50, but 3 bottles will last me more than a year.

A caveat: I need to arrange for a hull survey, blacking, anodes and some other one-off work, which will be more expensive this financial year than last, but it might also reduce my insurance premium. My boat safety certificate (equivalent to an MOT) is valid until June 2023, but I will have to budget for that in future.

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