Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Narrowboat Shopping Take Two

After two months of travelling in India and Nepal we are back in England, and the Narrowboat search is ON!

I have a slight irrational fear that we won't find a boat, a fear that has been steadily increasing during the two months that we have been away. I worry that any suitable boats that come on the market will immediately be sold to someone else. The rational part of my brain knows that this is not the case, but as we have been planning to move to a life afloat since last July, the search to find our boat feels long overdue.

We were back in England for the whole of January 2017, and during that month we spent a total of 4 days visiting various brokerages up and down the country. This may not seem like much of a search, but we packed a lot into those 4 days. We visited at least 18 marinas and viewed 40+ boats. Most boats were not suitable for our needs at all, and we learned an awful lot about what our needs actually were as well as which brokers were worth revisiting. There were a number of strong contenders, and two that we liked enough to put in an offer. Neither offer was accepted which left us feeling a little disheartened, but we felt lucky to be able to take a break from the search and travel to India and Nepal for two months to return refreshed and ready to begin the search again.

As soon as our plane has returned us safely to England I began scouring the web for possible boats, I make a spreadsheet of these listings, detailing the price, length and -- critically -- the cabin height and then plot all the locations onto Google Maps. Not all sellers list the cabin height so I put in a call to the brokers, which then reveals that some of these boats are already under offer. Someone else has already snapped them up. It is hard to keep the irrational panic at bay.

As we want to explore the whole network over time there is no geographical limit to our search, and as I plot all the boats on the map it appears that over the next few days we will be travelling as far west as Bath, as far north as Leeds, and everywhere in between.

On the first Tuesday since our return the search moves from screen to car, and to ease us in gently we start fairly locally, first to Teddington and then down to Pryford Marina. In Teddington we view a 40 year old, well-loved craft, and despite its age it would have been a serious contender if it hadn't been for the low ceiling height. Michael simply couldn't stand up straight in her. Which is too bad, as she was very attractively priced, and had been refitted very basically and therefore is a blank canvas for whoever ends up being her new owners.

At Pryford Marina the broker has a day off, so one of his Marina colleagues finds us the keys to 4 boats and leaves us to explore them ourselves while he has his lunch break. Every broker does things differently, and while it is nice to have someone on hand to answer any questions I much prefer to nose around on my own. That way I can freely make comments to Michael about the dodgy decor, the amateur fit-out, or the musty smell.

The first boat we look at was a 50 footer and while we knew she would probably be too short we wanted to check how spacious she actually was. There seem to be so many boats of this length for sale, and I didn't want to rule them out prematurely. A great boat, but yes 50 foot is simply too short; the bedroom was fine, the bathroom was fine, the kitchen was fine, but the living space was just a little bit lacking and, as we want to work as well as live on our boat, we would soon start to feel the claustrophobia.

Of the other three boats, two were definite nos. Its funny how quickly you can rule a boat out, something that looks great in pictures can look totally unappealing in the flesh/steel. One warning sign should have been the words 'owner fit out,' but I seem to live in hope that this doesn't always mean terrible fit out. There was carpeted walls that shed thick dust off into our hands, double depth kitchen cabinets, wood panels that don't meet up, dripping glue, protruding screws and nails and awkward corners. We are not against doing some work on the boat, but don't want to pay over the odds for second, or even third and forth rate work.

The other boat however was different, it was a Liverpool Boats build and fit out, and while these boats have a somewhat mixed reputation, we know for a fact that the internal hight is good as they have a distinctive arched roof. It is 56 feet long, not too long and not too short - tick, excellent fit out and obviously very well looked after - tick, paint work in good condition - tick, stove, inverter, engine, bow thruster, bath, semi trad, tick tick tick tick tick. Maybe lacking a little bit of character, being one of the mass produced boats of the early 2000s, but it felt like it could be home. The only real downside being the pump out toilet, but we had a look under the bed at the holding tank and it was plastic. So possibly not too much of a problem to remove and replace with a cassette or composter.

We had a real contender and it was only our first day back out searching. Woohoo! But there was a problem, we couldn't make an offer on this boat as the broker was away, and not due back at work for two days. We returned the keys and asked a few questions about the boat, only to be told that there was already an offer in, and there was someone else coming back for a second viewing. My heart sank and the panicky feeling returned with a vengeance. Suddenly it felt like our chances of getting this boat had greatly reduced.

So... on with the search, The next day we drove out to Devizes. We saw two definite no's and a maybe, which then became a no. The reasons for the no's are as follows:
  1.  A very poor self fit out and unfinished engine room on a trad stern. There was no floor above the engine, and so no where to stand when driving. This meant no sound proofing, and because the bedroom wall had been fitted there was no room to be able to work and fit the side walls and floor. This was a project boat, and as a project for us it was way over priced. 
  2. The second boat was also a bad self fit out, worse than before but it also had a strange layout, when you descended from the stern you entered the bathroom, creating little privacy when cruising
  3. The third boat was 30 years old and also had a strange layout; there was also no wall between the bedroom and the bathroom, which meant that whoever got up to use the bathroom first in the morning would have an audience. Also the rest of the boat was open plan, meaning no visitors would be able to use the bathroom in private. While we could consider living with this arrangement, it would probably limit the resale value, if it put us off it would certainly put off other buyers when we came to sell the boat. 
Back home a couple of commitments for the next few days, but a plan to head up north at the end of the week to search some more.