Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How insurance companies value a boat.

I just renewed my boat insurance and made a couple of changes to the requirements and saved some money.  I also learned a bit of good advice regarding how they estimate the value should the boat be stolen or written off.

First the changes.  I thought I should drop the value of the boat as the amount it has been static for six years now, ( a four year old boat is worth more than a ten year old don’t you think?) so I knocked five grand off.  Then I doubled the contents insurance as we tend to have more valuable stuff on the boat these days.  The result?  A saving of nearly £30 on an already reasonable premium.  The whole lot now costs £179 including a tenner for legal cover.

Now the interesting bit.  I asked how they would value the boat if it was destroyed.  First of course they said they would look at the make and original price of the boat, and its age.  But then the lady said they do like to take account of how well the boat has been improved and maintained.  “If you do have photos or other evidence of how well you have cared for the boat it can make quite a difference, especially if you have made improvements.” 

Aaah – another reason for recording all my work on the blog then.  I’m afraid I shall have to continue inflicting upon you any tales of DiY or other improvements to Herbie.  I can’t afford not to.!

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Sinking Fund

I think that when we first looked into having a narrowboat, we were advised that the annual running costs would be between two and three thousand pounds a year.  That’s excluding depreciation.  With hindsight does it look as though the advice was about right?

Based on the advice we got, at the outset we set up a separate account which we laughingly call the Sinking Fund and planned to put three grand a year in it.  I suppose the first thing to say is that having set ourselves this budget, then that affected how much we spent.  After all we could have gone for a central London mooring, or one in a BW marina, and that would have blown the budget right out of the water.  However by shopping around we have found good moorings, first at High Line Yachting in Iver and now at Crick which cost well under £2k.  And that reminds me that the other controllable factor is how long a boat you choose to buy.  Big costs like mooring and licencing are charged by the foot (or metre).

So our sinking fund has  to cover

Fixed annual costs like insurance, boat licence, mooring fees, RCR membership

Diesel, coal

Servicing costs – filters, oil, antifreeze etc

Unforeseen repairs – I mostly do them myself but parts and tools cost money

Improvements to furniture and fittings in the boat

Major cost that occur every few years like painting and blacking, new batteries

and so it goes on.  We rarely escape from a visit to a chandlery without spending more than we planned.

So how has our three grand per annum held up?  Well, not too bad actually.  Some years we spend less and that helps us towards paying for other years when we have big jobs like having Herbie’s bottom blacked, or repainting.  I was interested last year to be shown some of the annual costs charged by boat share companies.  Suffice it to say they were far above what we manage on.

This year we’ll overspend our three grand because it’s bottom blacking time , and I think we’re going to lash out on a two pack epoxy job. There are lots of arguments for and against epoxy blacking, but for me the choice is not what's good about epoxy, but what’s bad about bitumen based blacking.  With bitumen I’ve learned to consider it a success if I can get out of the boatyard where the job has been done without scraping some off!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Reservoir check - a look at Welford

We’ve had a bit of rain lately – hooray.  Are the reservoirs filling up?  If our visit yesterday to the BW reservoir at Welford is anything to go by there is still a very long way to go.  Here is my picture taken yesterday.

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This is taken from more or less the same spot as the photo I showed a few posts back – scroll down a couple of times and you’ll see it.  That picture was taken by Rick  shortly before Christmas.  personally I can’t see any significant change.  Sad smile  I reckon this reservoir is a good fifteen feet below its full level.  A local man who we met there told us that he had never seen it so low in all his life.  In fact he had never before seen the concrete culvert block you see here.  He said Saddington reservoir nearby is no better.

There is a slight ray of hope though.  There are in fact two reservoirs here, Sulby and Welford.  Here you see the two of them side by side.


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Sulby on the left looks a lot fuller, although according to the measuring posts it  is still some two metres down.  It looks as though Sulby feeds into Welford when it gets full – down the shute you can see at the bottom right of this next picture.


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Maybe things will look better when Sulby fills up and tips its surplus into Welford.

The retreat of the waters leaves some strange sights,  like this tree, which to me looks like some sort of camel!

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Late night rescue - Herbie crew abandons ship - and Herbie's law of DiY,

High drama on the open seas.  Read about how our gallant crew was forced to abandon ship and spend the night in the seaman's mission.Well, when I say open seas I mean Crick marina, and when I say seaman's mission I mean Rick and Marilyn's house, but life and death drama nevertheless.

On Sunday we arrived to board Herbie for a few days R&R.  We lit the stove and began to settle in.  It was a cold night and despite our best efforts the stove wasn't getting all that hot.  Then when Kath was returning from getting a fresh bucket of coal (she has her uses), she noticed a big lump of metal on the floor at the back of the stove.  On closer inspection it turned out to be the circular blanking plate that seals the alternative chimney flue orifice.  That explained why the stove wouldn't draw properly, there was a five inch hole in the back of it!

Further inspection revealed a broken clamp that seals the plate from inside the stove.  Here you see the plate and the cracked clamp.

No fixing that in a hurry.  What should we do?  Soon I realised that this was dangerous.  That big hole might well allow a lot of carbon monoxide to flow into the cabin, especially if we damped the fire down for the night.  Extinguishing a stove, once lit, is not all that simple, and anyway it was freezing cold.  ( I should perhaps point out that we do have a carbon monoxide detector but I don't know how much I wanted to trust it in this case.  Incidentally Kath calls it a monosodium glutamate detector but she was never all that good at chemistry.)

The only other choices were a) risk headlines like "retired couple found dead aboard narrowboat - carbon monoxide poisoning suspected", or b) abandon ship.  Had we been out somewhere in the sticks this would have been a big problem.  We would have had to carefully empty the hot coals from the stove and spend the night with the Eberspacher roaring away like a jet engine or freeze to death.  Remember the boat had been uninhabited for several weeks and needed a lot of warming through.  Luckily Crick is only a ten minute drive from Rick and Marilyn's house so we resorted to appealing to their better nature and they offered us a bed.  Thanks R&M.

A quick scan of the internet showed that a new clamp could be obtained, but not in less than 14 days.  However if any one can fix something like this, it's Rick.  Next morning, in about fifteen minutes, he made a substitute clamp out of an old bit of steel strip using naught but a hacksaw, a hammer and a vice.  Here it is

Eagerly I retired to the boat to fit the new clamp, and it did fit!  Were my troubles over?  No.

To fit the clamp I had to remove the fire bricks and the flue baffle plate inside the stove.  Easy.  Then I had to refit them.  Aah, not easy.  When I removed the bricks the baffle plate fell out on its own before I could see how it fitted, and it seemed no matter what I tried, I couldn't get it back in.  In the ensuing struggle, now joined by Rick, I managed to crack two of the three fire bricks.  Later investigation showed that the best price for these bricks was £35 (ebay).  Rats!  Now I had caused more expenditure than I had saved.

Slowly our luck began to turn.  Scanning the internet I eventually found a diagram showing how to fit the baffle.  After three hours of failure, we found the answer and fitted the baffle plate in thirty seconds.

By now we were both very black and sooty, so once again retired to chez R&M for the night.  Then, Kath somehow recalled that we saved the old firebricks from our previous stove, which was the same model.  After some rummaging in the log box I found them intact this morning and to cut a long story short we are now up and running and warm and cosy.  Total cost -£0.  If I had to do the job again now, I could do it in a couple of minutes instead of several hours.

Which brings me to Herbie's Law of DiY.

DiY saves you money and is not too difficult,  the second time you do a job.  The struggle the first time is the price you pay.

There is a second law of DiY.  Get a friend like Rick :-)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What is a boat worth?


Its that time of year when I have to reinsure Herbie.  Our policy is based on the “market value” of the boat. We’ve been declaring the same value ever since we bought the boat, but I suppose that is now over optimistic, and I might be able to get a lower premium if I declare a lower figure.

But how do I decide what Herbie’s market value is?  I can think of a number of ways to look at it.

is it:

1.  How much I might expect to get if we sold the boat.  I haven’t got a clue what that would be.  Boats aren’t like cars.  You can’t pick up a copy of What Boat and look up the model and year and read off a price according to what mileage band you are in.  They’re a bit more like houses where you need an estate agent to survey the place and set a price according to local conditions and current trends. I suspect that condition is a good part of setting a price for a boat.   A broker once told me that the exterior paint job makes a big difference, closely followed by the ambience of the cabin.  Apparently it’s the women that have the last word when a couple buys a boat. In any case, whatever the selling price we wouldn’t get the full amount because a broker would take his cut.


2.  How much money it would take for me to part with the boat.  This may well be more than it’s true market value.  Herbie may well be worth more to me than the price I would get. Also, you only have to look at some of the boats for sale to realise that sellers are often over optimistic in what they will get.  You often see boats advertised on brokers pages as “reduced price” as the seller is finally convinced by the broker that his original price is too high.  In any case, boats are always advertised at a higher price than expected, to allow scope for a bit of haggling.


3. What would I have to pay to replace the boat if it was written off.  Even harder this one, because there isn’t another boat like Herbie. Like so many narrowboats, it’s a one off.

Now you might say this is all a bit academic for insurance purposes  because the chances of having the boat written off is pretty remote.  I suppose it would have to be gutted by fire, or sunk, or successfully stolen.  I say successfully because getting away with stealing a narrowboat isn’t easy because they move really slowly and aren’t easily hidden, and because individual boats are easily recognised.   I once said to the lady at the insurers that they probably don’t often have to pay up for the whole boat and she said “You’d be surprised!”

One thing I will be doing is paying the extra tenner for legal cover.  Knowing how cantankerous some boaters are I reckon the likelihood of litigation after an accident might be  costly.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Keeping warm and the technology placebo effect

Yes I am still alive.  I just haven’t had much to write about lately and I wouldn’t want to waste your time dear reader with idle chit chat.

Last weekend we had one of the very rare home visit fro our son Richard who lives aboard his narrowboat Bankside near Huntingdon.  Surprisingly we talked very little about toilets and batteries, but the subject of keeping warm on a boat did come up.  Richard uses a squirrel for this purpose.  Now for anyone who thing Richard snuggles up with an arborial rodent, let me explain the a squirrel is a popular make of solid fuel stove.

A couple of posts back I mentioned that a stove would be one of my “must haves”  when choosing a boat.  Talking with Richard reminded me of things I should have added.

Stove position. – if you have a 70ft boat and the stove is by the front door, it won’t keep you very warm in a rear bedroom unless the stove has a back boiler to drive radiators.  The best place for a stove is as near amidships as you can get it.  On Herbie we are lucky, in that our stove is bang in the middle, both fore and aft wise and side to side wise.  Actually we’re in a good position to judge the relative efficacy of stoves versus central heating because on Herbie we have both.  Does the central heating get the boat as warm as a stove?  No way!  Not by a country mile.   The CH gives a gentle background heat, but the stove if well stoked up, can get you to open the windows on a frosty night!

Every now and then some unwitting soul puts a post on Canal World Forums on the Interweb asking for opinions on the efficacy of Ecofans.  For the non cognoscenti, an Ecofan is a clever fan that sits of top of the stove and by fiendish electronicery converts heat into electricity to drive itself round, thus moving the hot air from the stove to further afield.   For about a week after the question gets asked the forum buzzes with alternate  praise and scorn for this rather expensive but fascinating device.  People who have them generally believe they make a difference.  People who don’t have them generally have doubts.

Well we’ve got one and Richard has one too.  What do we think? In a practical sense they certainly do work, in as far as when the stove top gets hot the fan whizzes round very fast and does generate a gentle current of air.  Does it help warm up the boat?  Hmmm, Richard does and we feel as though it does, although that might be the placebo effect.  But hey, if a placebo works, it works!  Here’s an old snap of Kath with her feet up in her favourite spot by the fire.  You can make out the fan whizzing round atop the stove.



I’ve lost the Ecofan instructions now, but as far as I recall,I think you’re supposed to position the fan in front ofthe chimney flue so that it daws air around the hot flue and pushes it out front.  Sadly our little stove is a bit too small for us to be able to do this.  Late in the evening we generally try to position it so that it wafts the warm air towards the bedroom.

Ecofans are great fun anyway, and do give an indication of the state of warmth of the stove – the hotter the faster.  Richard uses his as an indicator of when to put on more coal.  I use ours as an indicator of where the fire is capable of rekindling when we get up in the morning.  If the fan is still slowly turning, I can generally re kindle from the embers.  If the fan has stopped I usually have to relay the fire.

There  are ways to keep warm on deck on cold days, including eating porridge for breakfast, keeping the hot drinks going and being dressed properly.  As the old saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes”.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Good News, Bad News and a civic award

Which do you want first?  Let’s get the bad news out of the way.

Following my recent post about the dire state of the Marsworth reservoirs, it seem things are even worse than I thought.  As from Wednesday BW will be closing the entire Tring summit pound, 3 miles through the lovely Tring cutting, and lowering its level by a foot.  This is apparently because the surrounding land is so dry that the canal is loosing water through its bed and sides at the rate of 61 million litres a week in this stretch – that’s 220 lock fulls!  As you will recall from my photo in an earlier post, the reservoirs are in no state to make up this loss, so BW have little choice.

For those who don’t know the area or the canal, this is serious.  Tring is close to the middle of the Grand Union canal, effectively the equivalent of closing the M1 motorway.  Worse really, as it leaves only one alternative route south from the midlands i.e. via the Oxford canal (already short of water) and the Thames, which happens to be reasonably full at the moment.  So Rainman, keep getting out there.  Maybe organise a game of cricket or something – that’s often good for rain.

Now a bit of better news.  Although the reservoirs on the Leicester section are still very very low – Rick recently sent me this photo he took of the Welford reservoir,

welford reservoir

it seems that recent rains have put enough water into the actual canal along the 20 mile pound between Watford and Foxton for the restrictions at Foxton locks to be suspended.  So Market Harborough is no longer cut off from civilisation ( or is that vice versa).

I think we’re in for an interesting year.

Now for a totally unrelated message.  Despite the Queen having strangely overlooked me yet again in the New Year’s Honours List, I have today been promoted to the rank of Senior Citizen.  Yes, as of today I am officially an OAP, so I shall expect a bit more respect from my friends in future.  Please speak loudly an clearly as you offer me your seat on a crowded bus and refer to me as Dear or Dearie.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Buying a Boat–Chapter 2 How we bought Herbie by instinct

As I said yesterday, people build up check lists of what they want in a boat, and looking back over ours, some items have stayed firmly on our list and others have changed subtly with time and experience.  In the end though, the check list has its limitations. At the time we were buying we rejected a couple of boats that, looking back now, might have been very good for us.

One that sometimes haunts me was a boat called Swanley which was on sale at Whilton.  She was a trad stern boat with (I think) a Ruston Hornsby engine in an engine room.  The hull had a very long swim (inward lateral curve) at the back, and I reckon she would have swam beautifully.   She was tastefully kitted out and obviously well cared for.  As far as I recall she would have cost us less than Herbie. So what put us off?  Well, mainly that we didn’t feel ready for a vintage engine.  The previous owner had left detailed instructions on how to start the engine, and these ran to several pages!  I don’t think I would be so scared now.  There was also the issue of exposed pulley belts near the corridor through the engine room and we worried that it would be dangerous for the grandchildren.  Nothing that the fitting of a handrail couldn’t have sorted I suppose.  I wonder where she is now?

So that’s one that didn’t fit our check list but might have suited.  What about boats that did fit our list and we rejected.   I suppose that I should state at the outset that we were looking at the budget end of the market.  We wanted a well maintained but not fancy boat, no more than about  5 or 6 years old.  The ads were full of them and on paper they looked pretty good.  On paper.  Many’s the mile we travelled to look at boats which looked ideal in the brochure and were very disappointing in real life.  Why? Well most often that they didn’t feel cared for.  Sometimes it was obvious – not clean, bodged up DIY etc.  We saw one or two boats where the DIY fit out looked like a two year old had had a go at it.  We couldn’t believe how bad the work was.  Some other boats were sound enough but still felt bare and unloved somehow.  If the bits you can see look neglected, what about the bits you can’t see?

So after looking at nigh on 50 boats, how did we end up with Herbie?  She was advertised on a broker’s web site with lots of photos.  Running through our checklist she had most of what we wanted and some extras too like the eberspacher and a morco water heater.  So far so good.  It looked a bit chintzy, but homely.

  Saloon to galley  Corridor

At the end of the blurb was this sentence.

This boat has been very well looked after and is exceptionally clean and tidy throughout with lots and lots of well thought out storage and systems which make it an ideal liveaboard.

Hmmm, worth a look after all the sad, tired boats we had seen.  We booked a visit, and discovered that the owners were still living aboard.  They were selling up to buy a bigger boat.  So off we went more in hope than expectation to meet them (with the broker)  on a temporary mooring at Stanstead Abbots.  It was a cold frosty day, a bit foggy too. Not the kind of day for boat shopping.

I don’t think Roy and Val, the owners, would mind me referring to them as elderly.  They were very welcoming and we stepped on board and were greeted by the warmth of the fire and the subtle smell of furniture polish, and of course a nice cup of tea and a piece of cake..  Even though they lived aboard with two labradors, everything was neat and tidy and wonderfully clean.  Talking to Roy and Val it soon became apparent that they had lavished love and care on the boat.  Roy showed me the engine bay which was tidy and spotless.  He told me about the engineer he used for servicing.  It looked like Roy was very particular about having stuff done right.

After a complete tour of the boat, we said our thank you’s and Kath and I retired to the nearby pub to compare notes.  I think we both knew straight away that this was a boat we could like and trust.  So different from the soul less boats we had seen up until then. It wasn’t just the check list, it was the homely feel of the boat and it was the trust we felt in Roy and Val.

Of course they wanted more than we could afford for Herbie so in the time honoured manner we upped our budget a bit and they came down a bit until we had a deal – subject to a short test cruise and a thorough tour of the working equipment on the boat.  They also had a two year old survey report done by a well known surveyor.  This suggested one or two things which needed attention, and Roy was able to demonstrate to me that he had dealt with every one.

The “sea trials” a week later were a joy, and we cruised up to Ware and back.  We got on famously and Kath and I were even more confident.  A couple of weeks later and Herbie was ours.

The moral of the story?  We didn’t just buy an empty boat, we bought the love and care of her by the previous owners.  We had the rare opportunity of seeing her in use as a home and seeing how the owners handled and managed her.  I guess we were lucky.  Most people move off a boat before they sell it.

In the end it all came down to a feeling of rightness.

Has Herbie turned out alright?  Were out instincts justified?  Yes.  I still think we should have driven a harder bargain, considering she was never an expensive boat to start with, but she still has a feeling about her that people like when they come aboard.  She remains a nice boat to be on, and that’s what matters.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Buying a boat. chapter 1

Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring, I’m not buying another boat!  I notice though that Halfie (John) has been looking for one, and it drew me into reminiscing about our search which ended just six years ago next week when we found Herbie.

I well recall the check list of things we wanted in our ideal boat.  Apart from the obvious things like length, condition, price etc. there were things we had learned from our hiring experiences.  I wonder how many of these features we would change today if we were looking again for a boat?  Let’s  look through our old requirements list and test some out

Semi Trad stern – would I keep it?  THE big question - I’ll come to that later

Rear galley -  the well known “reverse layout”.  easier to make tea etc. when you are cruising along, and less muddy boots through the bedroom.  We like ours, but it puts the saloon amidships.  It would be nicer if the saloon was up front where we could have the doors open in the summer. Another layout wouldn’t be a show stopper for us.

A side hatch in the saloon – not in the corridor (useless, but found in some boats).  I’d still  insist on it if we had a saloon amidships.  The bigger the better.

Toilet type -  I daren’t even start on this one or we’ll be here all week.  We’re reasonably happy with our cassette type but I wouldn’t now rule out a pump out.

Easy access to the weed hatch – you only know how important this is if you don’t have it.  I my opinion this is the one thing that is non negotiable.  I have experienced lying across a hot engine trying to lift a heavy hatch cover at arms length.  I never want to do it again.  Ours is lovely.  I should add that it becomes even more important in urban areas (plastic bags), or in places like up the Slough Arm where the weed thrives.

Easy engine access for maintenance _ Herbie is not too bad, but an engine room would be wonderful.

A solid fuel stove.  Not as clean or convenient as diesel or gas heating, but oh so cosy.  I’d find it hard not to have one.  We have an Eberspacher diesel heater and radiators too but hardly ever use them.

A covered cratch.  Hmmm. very convenient, but I might swap for a long well deck or I definitely would for a tug front deck.

240 volt sockets and an inverter.  I hate using the inverter, but to plug in to a shore line and charge the batteries is very handy.  I would be unhappy about a home mooring without shore power.  The main thing is to cut down on equipment that needs 240v.  Definitely get a 12v telly if you want a telly at all.

What was not on our list, but would be now?

1. A slightly longer boat  - 56ft instead of our 50ft, then we could fit in a dinette which I would like.

2.  One or two technical things like an easy to bleed engine and perhaps an aquadrive. 

3. er, not a lot else really.  Obviously I would like a Russell Newbury engine and a Phil Speight paint job and a Steve Hudson shell, but we’re operating on a budget here!

So what about that stern type then?  The age old question that John and Jan are struggling with.  Trad, Semi Trad or cruiser.

To some folks that’s easy.  Almost everyone agrees that Trad stern boats look the best and their owners will go on about how nice it is to stand on the top step in the warm whilst cruising along in the winter.  I don’t think I would have a trad stern with a rear engine.  It would have to have a proper engine room with an engine that goes chug chug.  I confess I often yearn for such a beast.   With a trad stern you can also have a proper traditional boatman’s cabin with a little stove and a drop down table and folding bed and a ticket drawer and all that.  I can well see why John yearns for such a thing.

But – (there’s always a but), everything has a down side and John has posted about the issue of social space.  As you cruise along, do you want to be in the company of friends?  You can get a couple of people on the back of a trad but after that it gets too crowded or (if they stand out on the gunwales) too unsafe.  That’s the only thing that would make me think twice about a trad stern, but of us, it’ s a big factor.  One of our purposes in having a boat was to be able to share trips with friends, not as passengers tucked away up the front, but as participants.

Then there’s the good old cruiser stern, much loved by hire boat companies.  Room for a whole gang on the back deck but nowhere to shelter when the rain comes in sideways.  The time I envy cruiser sterners is in the summer evenings, when they have enough space for alfresco dining.

I guess it all comes down to how you want to use the boat.  Living aboard, or exploring the system as a couple, I would go for a trad.  Carrying friends a lot of time, I’m not so sure.  Perhaps a couple of our regular passengers may care to comment. Hint hint.  In fact, John and Jan, that’s what I would do – ask your passengers.

Next time I’ll have something to say about what really matters when you choose a boat.