Golden Year(s) – a 2021 retrospective

Golden Year(s) – a 2021 retrospective

As 2021 comes to an end and we celebrate a whole year aboard, we thought we’d take time to look back on all the adventures we’ve had and our experience of living aboard Old Nick, our Serial Electric Hybrid Narrowboat.

Old Nick was finally launched in December 10th 2020 after a long wait caused mainly by the delay in selling our house and buying a flat and Covid. But it was well worth the wait. My brother, Bruce, and my stepmother (Nanny Lynne) both came to witness the momentous occasion, which went without a hitch.

Ortomarine really had created our dream boat and we could not stop pinching ourselves for the first few weeks. Well – to be honest – we still are. We both feel so privileged to be actually living our dream instead of just dreaming about it.

But our excitement was tempered somewhat, when, just 10 short days after launch, a worsening Covid situation meant that a new lockdown was introduced. It blew all our plans out of the water (see what I did there?) !! We had intended to spend Christmas on board Old Nick with my brother and then set off down South, with him, to Cowroast, where we planned to overwinter.

As it was, we spent Christmas alone and could not actually leave the marina until nearly the end of April, by which time we had committed to taking part in Ortomarine’s Electric Propulsion trial at the end of May.

Covid Christmas 2020

Although the the Marina had everything we needed, had been very kind and welcoming, and was in a lovely location, the wait to go cruising was agonising. It was like being given a thrilling new toy at Christmas, but being forbidden to use it until after Easter.

As the lock down started to ease, we managed a few days out but it wasn’t until May 30th that we finally slipped away from our berth, with our friends Sue and Paul Rogers on board. We were off! It was very exciting as we waved farewell to our new friends at Droitwich Spa Marina and set off into the wide blue yonder.

Furry Friends

Contrary to our original thinking, we had decided, before we left, that we should base ourselves at Droitwich and would return later in the year when the winter stoppages (for maintenance) began.

We had a glorious summer. Everything on Old Nick performed exactly as it should have and we were genuinely overjoyed to find that there was not one thing that we would change about Old Nick. The Vetus E-Line engine performed silently and efficiently and truly enhanced our cruising experience by being so unobtrusive.

As you’ll recall, we spent the summer in the south, getting there via the Worcester & Birmingham, North Stratford, Grand Union and Oxford canals.

We spent a large chunk of the time on the Thames and utterly fell in love with the upper reaches, from Oxford up to Lechlade. It is very rural indeed and we’d advise anyone contemplating a cruise to go for it, but take plenty of provisions as shops are few and far between..

We also absolutely loved the bit of the Thames between Maidenhead and Henley – particularly the Cliveden stretch. It was a real wrench to leave that area. We had no problem finding moorings on the Thames, although, invariably, we had to pay. But we expected this. We made good use of the lock-based mornings with hook-up, our favourite being Shifford , which was nigh-on idyllic!

Beautiful Cliveden

We ventured onto the Rivey Wey navigation, which was delightful. We balked at the Basingstoke canal, largely because of time constraints, but will definitely be back to give it a go another year. We have previously done the section from Odiham to Fleet and found it be very pleasant.

The “Wey Team”

We also went up the Kennet & Avon canal, from its start in Reading as far as Great Bedwyn. This was a first for us . We’ve boated on the K&A quite a lot but always picked a boat up somewhere along it, so it was good to start from scratch, as it were. It also means that we have now travelled the entire length of it, from Reading, down to Bristol. Just not all in one go!

Joining the K&A

Looking back, it seems like a golden summer, with hardly any rain. We loved welcoming friends and family aboard and generally the peace and freedom of boat life. It confirms what I guess we already knew – that we had made the right choice. I know some people thought we were a bit bonkers and some even said we were brave. But we love our new life.

What did we learn? Well managing OldNick was a big one. We found we could cruise for two or three days without having to top the batteries up. We tended to run with batteries between 60 and 90% State of Charge (SOC). On the many sunny days, with no trees to obscure the sun, we ran on solar energy alone, which was a joy. The choice of lead carbon batteries was definitely right for us. An occasional night on hook-up was well worth doing and made a nice change. We particularly liked Greenham Lock Marina near Newbury.

We learnt that having people to stay is great but to keep it simple. There were times when I felt like we were running a hotel boat. It was very tiring. And it’s not that people aren’t prepared to help, but it’s not always practical in that small galley.

We learnt that a separator toilet is the least smelly of any that we have used on a boat, and very easy to manage. Sadly, we are just about to have it removed and replaced with a chemical toilet as we have nowhere to compost our output. CRT announced that the practice of bagging and binning the “solids” is no longer permitted about 4 weeks after we had had our toilet installed. Great timing. We are putting our Compoost into storage in the hope that, one day not too far hence, proper collection points are introduced around the system. There is already a collection boat serving the London area. Meanwhile, it’s back to the often quite vile task of emptying the loo at the sanitary stations dotted around the system. Mainly because of other people not clearing up after themselves.

We learnt that a washer/dryer is not for us. Despite being highly rated, it seems to take forever to dry a load and that load ends up very creased indeed. If we could go back, we’d choose a great washing machine rather than a washer/dryer. In the winter months, we use the very efficient washing machines and tumble dryers at the marina and whilst out cruising we rely on sunshine and breezes. Luckily our washer/dryer has several conventional washes, so it’s still very useful and we would not be without it. But when it goes, it will definitely be replaced by a decent washing machine.

We learnt that we can live aboard just like we would have done in our house. I can dry my hair with a proper hairdryer while the oven is cooking a roast. No need for annoying compromises.

We also learned that we miss absolutely nothing about our old life, except our family and our dear friends. other than that, we have everything we need for a happy and fulfilling life.

People were very interested indeed in the technology aboard Old Nick. They were often surprised that we had an electric engine and also that we could cruise for periods. They’d often ask how many hours we could cruise and were, again, surprised to hear it measured in days! And they were complimentary to a a man. We got lots of “well dones” and quite a few “that’s a beautiful boat” and even a couple of “Wow – that’s the nicest boat I’ve ever seen”. A couple of people even recognised us from top vlogger David Johns’ (aka Cruising the Cut) video report on the Electric Propulsion Trial Event.

Old Nick was, indeed, such a talking point, Paul actually created a QR code to send folk to our website. Just for times when we wanted a bit of privacy – mainly in the evening. It seemed to be quite popular. But we were largely happy to talk to people, answer their questions, correct misconceptions about the viability of electric propulsion and just generally act as ambassadors for electric boats.

Our HIGHs

  • Thames swimming
  • Training day with Willow Wren -see also LOWs
  • Taking part in the Ortomarine Electric Propulsion Trial
  • Seeing friends and family
  • Rescuing a drowning hedgehog

Our LOWS

  • The wettest days cruising we have EVER experienced (during Willow Wren training) – see also HIGHs
  • The poor maintenance on the K&A
  • Having to return to base earlier than planned

Now, as a person whose entire career was spent at the Office for National Statistics, I could hardly end this post without a few stats, now could I?

Some of the stats are for the period from launch to date. Others are for the whole of 2021 to date. I will make it clear which is which.

Since launch 
Distance travelled757 miles
Of which underground11.6 miles
Number of locks653
Movable bridges94
Tunnels42
 
CRUISING STATS

In terms of running costs, our biggest expenditure was on moorings (just over £3,500) followed by Licence (just under £1000). Diesel for the whole year cost just over £650 although a good third of that was for heating. Our total boat related expenditure for 2021 was roughly £6,500, so our mooring fees accounted for over 50% of our annual costs. In our previous life, our mortgage alone came to £8,400 per annum, so our running costs compare very favourably. And we are not spending any money on gas as Old Nick is gas-free. Neither are we spending any money on fuel for a stove, as we don’t have one. I should mention, in case you are worried, that we are saving as much as possible each month into a boat maintenance fund, so that when expensive jobs like blacking the bottom or some such job needs doing, the funds are pretty much there.

We had an amazing first year and we will always look back on it with misty eyes. It was great having you all accompanying us on our adventures and we look forward to travelling with you all again soon. Have a very merry Christmas and here’s to 2022. May we all stay healthy and happy.

8 thoughts on “Golden Year(s) – a 2021 retrospective

  1. Such a interesting read, and such a lovely fulfilling life, take care both of you and I wish you a very Happy Christmas and New Year

  2. Really interesting to read as we sold our house, caravan and car and moved on board our new boat NB Grace on June 19th. I’ve absolutely no idea how far we’ve travelled, but we’ve no regrets at all and as newbies to boating, we’ve got almost the entire UK network to to cruise in the coming years! Merry Christmas 🎄🎅🥂

  3. I love reading your blog. It is so interesting. You must have muscles of steel opening all of these locks. Do you stay onboard over Christmas or in your flat? Wishing you a Happy Christmas & a Peaceful 2022.

  4. Thanks for such an interesting vlog that you post every couple of weeks. I love the learning experiences that you have (Washer/dryer choice!) and store these away for when our boat is in production! Why do you feel that your choice of lead acid batteries has been vindicated? Purely because they are performing well or because they are a better choice than lithium?
    Last question….. your annual cost for mooring £3500; how much of that was for one off overnight mooring and how much for a winter or home mooring in Droitwich?
    Have a lovely break and see you around the system sometime in 2022
    Richard and Rebecca

    1. Hi Richard,
      There was not very much info on Lead Carbon batteries and everyone seemed to be going LiFePo4 which was beyond our budget and had other question marks, when we had to choose and so it was a bit of a leap of faith but they have proved very good as a Narrowboat propulsion solution.

      Our mooring costs when cruising were less than £200 most of which were on the Thames. We have to pay a full year of moorings at Droitwich which I think is becoming the norm in most marinas if you are a live aboard and want to guarantee a winter berth.
      Paul and Kay

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