How two South African new­bies down­sized and learnt to steer to be­come ex­pe­ri­enced live­aboards

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS & PIC­TURES BY KEVIN THOMAS

Life on a 60ft live­aboard is cer­tainly a far cry from the four decades Brenda and I had pre­vi­ously spent in the south­ern African sa­fari in­dus­try.

In 2014 we de­cided to re­lo­cate from South Africa to the UK where the rest of our fam­ily are. On one of our pre­vi­ous vis­its dur­ing 2010 we’d seen narrowboats for the first time at Foxton Locks, and af­ter be­ing in­vited aboard one for a cuppa, we were sold on the con­cept of re­sid­ing per­ma­nently on a live­aboard.

With the de­ci­sion made, two new words soon crept into our vo­cab­u­lary – ‘min­i­mal­is­tic liv­ing’. Given that we had a two-story home in South Africa set on nearly four acres, mov­ing onto a nar­row­boat was go­ing to be a ma­jor change. Our house was huge and spa­cious with two lounges, a large en­ter­tain­ment area and much else. (It later tran­spired that our boat was about the same length, al­though a lot nar­rower, than our en­ter­tain­ment area and bar).

How­ever, by May 2015 we’d sold our house and most of what was in it, and in mid- Oc­to­ber we ar­rived in the UK.

Prior to de­part­ing South Africa we’d found seven boats ad­ver­tised on the in­ter­net that in­ter­ested us. We im­me­di­ately set about look­ing at them be­fore buy­ing Ash­bridge, a 60ft fourberth ves­sel, which at time of pur­chase was stand­ing in dry dock in Lymm, Cheshire. She had ev­ery­thing we’d wanted in a boat, and the price suited our bud­get.

With the sale and pa­per­work be­hind us, we soon found that buy­ing a boat at the on­set of win­ter can be prob­lem­atic be­cause of locks be­ing closed for main­te­nance. Not be­ing able to travel via the canal sys­tem from Cheshire to Wilt­shire, where we’d cho­sen to base our­selves, meant our new home had to be moved by road. Weigh­ing 16 tons and be­ing 60ft long

Ash­bridge needed a suit­able low-loader and, at the other end, a big crane – all added costs, al­though we had no

‘On the ad­vice of ex­pe­ri­enced nar­row­boaters, we moved into Caen Hill Ma­rina for the du­ra­tion of the win­ter’

al­ter­nate op­tion. For­tu­nately, the sell­ers, Stuart and Sa­man­tha Hamil­ton, were a great help, and gave us sage ad­vice when­ever needed.

It took a week be­fore our boat ar­rived in Wilt­shire and, on the ad­vice of ex­pe­ri­enced nar­row­boaters, we moved into the well-ap­pointed and man­aged Caen Hill Ma­rina for the du­ra­tion of the win­ter. As com­plete neo­phytes, we’d ini­tially been think­ing of win­ter­ing along the tow­path.

Well fit­ted out, Ash­bridge has a four-burner gas stove, mi­crowave and fridge, TV, sound sys­tem, a Pull­man dinette, shower and pump-out wc, am­ple stor­age space, two wa­ter tanks to­talling 700lt and a 240-litre diesel tank.

Heat­ing is via a We­basto and a diesel Bub­ble stove, and un­der our dou­ble bed there is an im­mer­sion heater. Through­out the 2015/16 win­ter we found the heat­ing sys­tem to be ad­e­quate. At win­ter’s end, we were con­tent in the knowl­edge that we’d past the test, this af­ter sev­eral friends had opined that if we could sur­vive the win­ter on a nar­row­boat we’d be good to go.

Ash­bridge’s en­gine is a Perkins 104-22, and it is ac­cessed from in­side the boat, not via a hatch in the stern deck plates. It has also been placed slightly for­ward of where an en­gine would nor­mally be. Stuart clev­erly had two well in­su­lated lift-off doors made that seal the en­trance to the en­gine room. When the en­gine is run­ning, there is hardly any sound to be heard such is the ef­fi­ciency of the in­su­la­tion.

At time of pur­chase, the bat­tery sys­tem com­prised three large 440amp leisure bat­ter­ies, how­ever, they’ve since com­pleted their life cy­cle and we’ve re­placed them with six 220amp bat­ter­ies, plus we have a starter bat­tery which is still the orig­i­nal.

Work on build­ing Ash­bridge com­menced in late 2003 and she was com­pleted in Oc­to­ber 2005, Stuart and Sam over­saw the work and were heav­ily in­volved from start to fin­ish. Their de­ci­sion to sell due to health is­sues was with both sad­ness and re­luc­tance. From our first meet­ing with them we re­alised

Ash­bridge had been a labour of love, and our tak­ing pos­ses­sion of her was tinged with emo­tion from both sides.

Ex­ter­nally the boat does now need some TLC on the paint­work and we’ve made a start, per­haps I should re­phrase that to read, Brenda’s made a start – us­ing T-Cut and wax pol­ish and the star­board side is com­ing along nicely.

My skill at the tiller had ini­tially been lim­ited to bump­ing around in­side Caen Hill Ma­rina be­tween our berth and the re­fu­elling point, with pe­ri­odic help from res­i­dent ex­pe­ri­enced helms­men Mike Sim­mons and Steve Cowham.

A slight hic­cup dur­ing the early part of 2016 was that I had to re­turn to South Africa while my UK res­i­dency ap­pli­ca­tion was be­ing pro­cessed. This meant Brenda had to take care of mov­ing our be­long­ings aboard Ash­bridge once

they’d cleared Cus­toms. A task she com­pleted ad­mirably.

Shortly af­ter my re­turn, in late March 2016 and with the on­set of spring, we re­ceived a sur­prise in­vite. With over 20 years of liv­ing and tour­ing ex­ten­sively on narrowboats, the ge­nial Caen Hill Ma­rina man­age­ment cou­ple Mike Gar­forth and his part­ner He­len Pin­der kindly in­vited us to fol­low them in their boat Fire­fly along a sec­tion of the Kennet & Avon from the ma­rina to Dun­das and back. Given that they’ve also done all of Europe’s canals and wa­ter­ways, we couldn’t have had two bet­ter tu­tors.

It was an ex­cel­lent in­tro­duc­tory canal trip for Brenda and me, in­volv­ing seven broad locks, six swing­bridges, and two aque­ducts each way. Add to this a mix of strong winds, stun­ning scenery, pro­lific wa­ter­fowl num­bers, quaint his­toric vil­lages, lovely pubs, rain, heavy fog, sunny skies, good wine, and some ex­cel­lent com­pany.

Af­ter our fun-filled four- day jaunt, lit­tle else was needed to con­vince us our new choice of life­style was the cor­rect one, de­spite be­ing so dif­fer­ent to life in sa­fari camps across south­ern Africa. Since that ini­tial fun-filled in­tro­duc­tory trip, we’ve moved on from neo­phyte sta­tus and now feel like old hands along the cut. CB

The in­te­rior’s very cosy

Caen Hill man­ager Mike Gar­forth on our maiden voy­age A lit­tle bit of el­bow grease and the paint­work is com­ing up nicely

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