After four very successful narrowboating holidays in the space of two and a bit years, our thoughts turned to the idea of owning our own boat. This seems to be the dream of many people, often tied to the idea of retirement, or just plain “dropping out”, but we desired something to enjoy while our daughter was still young enough to want to come on holiday with us. Being tied to school holidays makes a reasonable boat quite costly to hire. The first thought was shared ownership, but as I’m freelance I can’t risk having to book weeks so far in advance.

And so a plan began to form….

Before we had really decided what we wanted, we paid a visit to Cowroast Marina, which is very close to home. We looked over 6 or so boats but saw nothing that was “right” for us. We then went down the pub and made a list of what we wanted.

Setting the criteria. Things we really wanted –

  1. At least two cabins – fixed double in one and two single bunks in the other.
  2. A convertible dinette so we could have occasional guests.
  3. Central heating for comfort.
  4. A Cruiser stern so we can all sit outside together in good weather.
  5. Decent shower and toilet.

What could we afford? Ah – money! This would come from extending our mortgage, and a figure of £30,000 seemed to be sensible given that interest rates can’t go much lower, so will probably go up. We could push our finances a bit harder and look at a new “budget” boat, but these often lack some things we thought essential, not least of which was SPACE. Based on our first viewing trip, we thought if we cast the net a bit wider we should be able to find a suitable boat with a bit of money left over for improvements.

Beginning the search. First, the magazines. Scouring the ads in Waterways World, Canal Boat and the websites of the brokers didn’t turn up anything obvious, but the layout descriptions didn’t always make the sleeping arrangements clear. One notable exception was the ABNB website, but most of their boats were too expensive for us. We did discover that the lead times for the magazines meant that the paper ads were often for boats that were already under offer, and therefore any “bargains” would be already sold. Next, we went to Bugbrooke Marina to visit the Canal Craft boats for sale. There were plenty of boats up to £30,000 but none had two cabins and those that were long enough to be fitted out in such a way were all a bit grim. There were a couple of incomplete projects that had potential but we were looking for a boat to spend holidays on, not a mammoth DIY task.

And at the IWA Boat Show… Visiting the 2001 Milton Keynes show led to the breakthrough, when we met Andy Burnett at the ABNB stand. I was actually carrying a copy of his “Inland Boat Owners Book” at the time! When we described what we were looking for and our price limit, his advice was that the layout we were looking for was quite rare in private boats but we should look at ex-hire boats – and in the process handed us a leaflet for “Lune Valley”….

Viewing the boat at Valley Cruisers

Viewing the boat.

Buying an ex-hire boat probably means that when it is put on the market, it is still in the hire fleet. We had to visit Lune Valley on a Saturday while it was being turned round. What we didn’t realise until we got there was that we were probably the first to see the boat, and there we other people due to see it after us. The boat looked good, as you would expect a boat awaiting its next hirers, and the cleaner was still aboard! From the layout you can see the boat has quite a small living area but three separate cabins, one more than we needed. It was also a bit longer than ideal – 5 foot shorter and it would have been capable of cruising the entire network and be slightly cheaper to run. The toilet and shower area was rather cramped, and it had an extra pumpout toilet we didn’t need. In its favour, it was in the best state of any boat we had seen in the price range, was “ready to cruise” and priced so we would be able to afford to have work done to it. We left the boatyard and went and sat in Donnington Park motorway services to discuss what to do. Perhaps knowing that others were interested pushed us to phone the broker within an hour to offer the asking price!