Page published 1 February 2015

Go to Top Mike Thinks About Boat Shares

Diana and I spent New Year with Mike, my brother, and Mary. In the course of conversation I asked Mike, "What's happened to your plans to buy a share in a narrow boat"? Little did I realise the sequence of events that simple question was to set off.

It was probably as far back as September when, during one of our telephone calls catching up on family news, that he had first mentioned that he and Mary had been discussing the idea of buying a share and asked me one or two questions about my experience with Stolen Time. There had been a few further questions in later calls, but no real news. This time his reply was that the idea was abandoned. They had agreed that it was too much to commit all their holiday time to boating.

That's when Diana pipes up "We could go halves with you!", though she claims that she only whispered it quietly in my ear and more as a question. Whatever the correct version, I took to the Internet looking up all the various boats Mike told me he had been considering over the last few months. After what Diana describes as all the spare time left with them at new year I had whittled his list down to a short list of two craft.

Back at home, I took the initiative and on Saturday 24 January all four of us made the trip to Anderton Marina to view the first of the two boats.

Go to Top Anderton Marina

Anderton Marina

© 2008 bigdutchmanslittlebrother

This photo, taken a few years ago, shows where Shelton was to be found, on a berth on the far side of the marina, near the dark green boats.

Mike, travelling from Surrey, arrived at the Marina about 10 minutes ahead of Diana and I. We had made an overnight stop in Coventry, staying with Sylvia, Diana's sister, which made our drive from Norfolk the shorter of the two journeys. After meeting up and sorting out the arrangements for the day in the office we were shown to the first of the boats we had come to see.

Anderton Marina Dry Dock

© 2010 Adventuresof Kara

From the car park at the marina you descend a ramp past the dry dock. It was only a few yards further to reach the boat we had come to see

Escorting us was Andrew Barton. He is the managing director of BCBM, the company that manages the boats we were to view on behalf of the various owners. Once aboard, he talked us through the main points that have to be borne in mind when one is a shared owner and answered all the questions we had. He then left us to have a closer inspection of the boat and talk amongst ourselves. That didn't take very long. It had been a cloudy morning and after almost half an hour sitting listening, with only a few questions from us, we all felt pretty chilly on the boat.

Outside, the neighbouring boat looked in a lot better condition than the one we had seen over. Perhaps it was an unfair comparison as the one we had come to view had not yet been through its winter maintenance program and its paintwork showed significant wear. Mike remembered that it was a boat on his long list. He had rejected it, mainly on the grounds of age and a belief in the adage "you get what you pay for". However, as it looked better on the outside, we felt that we might as well test that theory and see if the inside was as good. Andrew obliged, finding fetching the keys from the office. So it was a few minutes more before we moved on to Wrenbury where the other boat we had booked to view was moored.

Go to Top Wrenbury Wharf

Somehow, Diana and I arrived first, followed by Andrew. I had just entered "Wrenbury Marina" in my phone's SatNav app. Mike and Mary had put the post code into theirs. I'm not sure why that should mean they got a little lost somewhere within Wrenbury. However, twenty minutes or so after us they finally arrived.

Wrenbury Mill

© 2013 Stephen McKay

After the drive from Anderton, we approached the mill at Wrenbury from the far side of the bridge seen here, turning left to park the car by the boatyard.

While waiting Andrew had chatted with the people at the yard and obtained the keys from the office. Once Mike and Mary were with us we were shown aboard the last of the three boats we were to inspect. As this boat was also part way through its winter maintenance program and new carpet was being laid throughout the boat we were asked to remove our shoes while looking around it.

Wrenbury Marina

© 2013 Christopher Hilton

The wharf alongside the old mill at Wrenbury is the base for a number of hire boats. Sundance, seen here, is moored roughly where the boat we had come to see was found.

Having had a look around, Andrew suggested that we should follow him to the company office at Audlem, where he could offer us tea and coffee, provide further information on the additional boat we had seen and provide any paperwork we might want to see, so with that we set off in convoy behind his Range Rover.

Go to Top The BCBM Audlem Office

I hadn't realised quite how far it was from Wrenbury to Audlem. It seemed longer than the fifteen minutes that Google tells me the journey ought to take. Luckily, as we arrived it was to find three parking spaces in line immediately outside the office, a small building, seemingly a converted garage to the rear of some small shopsand looking much like an estate agent's office. Once inside we were offered drinks and sat down to ask our further questions. These, such as the weeks booked for the additional boat we'd seen, where on the pick list for booking weeks were the shares for sale placed, were all quickly answered.

BCBM Audlem Office

© 2013 BCBM

The BCBM office is set back to the rear of an end of terrace cottage, now a small shop, looking for all the world like the converted garage it probably is.

By now it was after two o' clock so our last question was where might we find a bite to eat and chat about what we'd seen before making our way home. The pub immediately opposite the office was recommended. After checking whether it was advisable to move our cars, from the on street parking bays we crossed the road to the pub, order our food and talk over the boats we'd seen.

Go to Topnb Adderbury

All the boats we had seen were very similar, having the "standard" OwnerShips layout, of a semi-traditional stern, forward of which is a cabin with fixed double bed and en suite toilet compartment (you can't call it a room!). Forward again along a passage, off which is the bathroom - more about this later. The galley comes next with each of the boats that we saw having slight differences in layout. Beyond that is the dinette, which can be converted into a double berth. This is slightly raised on a plinth, into which the Desmo legs are inserted that support the table. Finally, the forward cabin is the saloon which opens onto the forward well with full height glazed concertina doors.

OwnerShips Standard Layout

© 2013 BCBM

The layout plan of nb Adderbury, typical of boats commissioned by OwnerShips.

In the two boats we had booked to see the saloon had a pair of swivel based chairs. According to the sales brochure, one of them had airbeds in the inventory, so could, in theory, sleep six people, but in all our views sleeping six aboard makes the boat too crowded as then four berths have to be converted for daytime use, with everyone having to rise at the same time.

Adderbury Port Side from Aft

© 2013 BCBM

Adderbury, as she appeared in the BCBM sales brochure. This appears to have been taken since the re-paint scheduled in the owner's 2013 budget.

As all the boats were so similar in layout and specification, the decision largely came down to balancing the cost of the initial share, ongoing service charges, and any potential for major items of expense in the next year or two. One thing that had become clear during the day was that age, in itself, was not a significant factor in determining how well a boat looked. More important seemed to be the decisions the owners had made various maintenance issues.

We had looked at boats between six and fourteen years old. The newest boat did have slightly lighter wood, giving it a brighter look inside, but this darkens with age although only to a certain extent. We reasoned there was little point in choosing a newer boat on those grounds as it would soon look no different to the older boats.

Adderbury Starboard Side from Aft

© 2013 BCBM

Another view of the boat, in which you can just make out the side hatch with hinged roof panel, which allows you to exit from the galley easily - not just the side doors seen on so many modern boats.

In fact, part of the reason why the cabin looked brightest in the newest boat was that it was fitted with fixed skylights above the dinette and saloon. The trouble with these were that they showed signs of condensation running down the wooden trim in their mounts, staining the wood and damaging the varnish. The overall result was a rather tired looking craft that looked no better internally than the oldest boat and in some ways worse. The share price was also more than double that of the older boat. there seemed little justification for this.

Mike was also less keen on this boat as it was fitted with a satellite dish. He felt he'd be unlikely to have an affinity with owners for whom good TV reception was a priority. Similarly, he and Mary had rejected a boat they'd viewed a few weeks earlier which had a dish washer and washer/drier fitted. I certainly agreed with him on the latter two items. With our shared share, we weren't expecting to have fortnights aboard and reckon we can cope with a week's washing at home, and can certainly cope without a dishwasher when a good proportion of meals are expected to be taken ashore and there are likely to be only two of us aboard much of the time.

In the end the mid-aged boat was also rejected. Partly, it was because we couldn't justify the 50% extra asked for the share, partly it was its base, on the Llangollen Canal, which was a little limiting in destinations for one week cruises, and partly because it seemed to be run by owners who preferred to be rescued when things went wrong rather than spend on preventative maintenance. However, the clincher that knocked out both the newer boats is that Diana are due to be married on 12 September this year and the shares for both two newer boats had weeks that clash with the wedding and we would all be committed to be in Norfolk.

Adderbury Aft Cabin

© 2014 BCBM

The aft cabin. On the bed you can see the mattress extension, that enables the bed to be stretched to a five foot width, at the cost of leaving almost no room to walk past the bed.

Adderbury Bathroom

© 2013 BCBM

The main bathroom. was about to have a shower cubicle fitted, to replace the corner bath still in place in this photograph!

So the decision was to go for nb Adderbury and the photos you see here come from the brochure and web site of the management company.

Looking at the photographs in detail it can be seen that some date from a while ago. Most obvious is that in some show a completely different set of curtains from others at the same windows.

OwnerShips' slogan was "affordable luxury afloat". Starting in the aft cabin, the photograph shows the newer curtains, you can see the bed has the mattress extension resting on it. This was one of the features that went with the slogan. However, for many owners its disadvantages - having to de-construct the bed for day time use - outweighed its advantages. It was a common sight to see owners dump the mattress extension in their car before starting their cruise.

The corner bath another of the trademark features of the OwnerShips fleet, by whom all the boats we looked over had been commissioned. The company claimed to have introduced the concept of managed shared ownership boating to the canals and the corner bath certainly gave their boats an image of luxury. However, to my mind, it was always questionable how worthwhile it was while cruising when water supply is limited by the size of the tank on board, and given the way that most of shared owner boats are used. Maybe a corner bath would be worth it for a single owner boat used as a floating cottage and rarely moving from its marina berth, but that is not the typical use of a shared owner boat. It was good, therefore, to be told that this boat's owners are to have it replaced in the next few weeks with a more conventional shower cubicle, of good proportions.

Adderbury Galley

© 2014 BCBM

The galley. The curtains in the dinette and saloon beyond tell you this is one of the more recent photographs. The mains electric oil filled radiator and clear worktop suggest this was taken during winter maintenance.

Adderbury Gallery

© 2013 BCBM

The galley from the forward end. The "OwnerShips" curtains outside the bathroom reveal this is an older photograph.

I have always been taught that a cooker should have work surface to either side so, from my point of view, the galley layout of Adderbury is less than ideal, especially as I am left handed.

The one thing that I preferred about the newest boat we looked at was that it had galley with an offset centre aisle. The side hatch was moved slightly forward to allow a set of high level wall cupboards to be mounted to starboard above a long shallow worktop with cupboards and draws under but, nevertheless, deep enough to hold a microwave oven.

This allowed an L-shaped worktop to be placed to port, cutting out one of the corner cupboards that are so difficult to put things in or find them again later. It also had the hob mounted at 45 degrees in the turn of the L which meant there was plenty of space to both sides of the hob.

With all the high level cupboards to starboard, there was no need for the "divider" cupboard between the galley and dinette, giving a much more open feel to this part of the boat.

However, the disadvantage of that arrangement was that it left the side hatch partially over the worktop and it had no ladder under it. this is essential if you are going to use it to exit the boat.

I used to feel that one of the good things about Ownerships boats were their side hatches. These were not just side doors but, as can be seen in the second galley picture, includes a roof hatch as well. Together with the built in ladder underneath, which some folk use only as shelves, this makes climbing in and out through the hatch easy. It helps considerably with passing provisions into the galley as well and allows for ventilation without the loss of privacy that can occur with side doors alone, or even the unexpected entry of an over enthusiastic doge on the towpath!

Adderbury Dinette

© 2014 BCBM

Moving further towards the bows we take in the dinette (and the more recent curtains). The ladder under the side hatch becomes more obvious.

The fold down flap is a useful feature on the dinette table, especially when there are only two aboard. Without it manoeuvring round the table would become a little more difficult. Dropping the flap means you do not have to stow the table between meals.

A pair of wooden stools (one of which is seen below) was another standard piece of OwnerShips inventory, completing the seats needed when six are to sit down for a meal aboard. Being small and backless means they are easy to tuck in a corner when not needed.

Adderbury Dinette and Saloon

© 2013 BCBM

The original OwnerShips curtains are seen in this view forward from the galley. The drapes by the stool and by the cushion on the dinette separate the cabin when people are sleeping on both the dinette and saloon.

The wardrobe and drawer unit forward of the dinette can seem intrusive and unnecessary if one is only going to have two people sleeping aboard. Even with four it rather separates the seating space, especially as it is sited opposite the stove. However, it can be useful even when only two are aboard, as a store for the unwanted stools and most owners seem to store maps, guide books, and leaflets from canal-side attractions in the drawers.

Adderbury Saloon

© 2014& BCBM

The saloon showing the original OwnerShips convertible chair/beds, but the new curtains.

Adderbury Saloon and Dinette

© 2013 BCBM

A better view of the stove - with the older curtains!

The original convertible easy chairs in the saloon date from OwnerShips days. The new predominately beige and cream curtains are, perhaps, a less good match for them than the original grey ones would have been.

It's only when you see the armchairs that you realise how narrow a narrowboat is and why some people think of them as such anti-social boats. It's impossible to get even four people sitting in comfort in the saloon, making watching TV on board a rather anti-social activity, especially as normally they are 12 volt devices which don't have screens much bigger than 14".

This, perhaps, is why apart from the maps and guides, the drawers and cupboard in the saloon in shared owner boats is often filled with packs of cards and board games.

Many narrowboats have their stove sited just inside the bow doors. While it's only a few feet further aft, I have always thought that it must spread the heat better to have it further back into the boat. However, it does then mean that there is more risk of dropping coal dust on the carpet.

The full length folding glazed doors will provide a reasonable view forward but only if standing. When seated the bow will block your view of all but the tree tops.

Beyond the saloon is the forward well. The photograph below, shows a substantial bracket which presumably was for an old-style analogue TV aerial. There now appears to be a modern digital aerial mounted further back on the cabin roof. We didn't ask, about this during our viewing, but presumably this gets rid of all that trouble that one used to have setting up an aerial to get a reasonable signal.

The one problem with having full height concertina doors is that you cannot then have side benches in the well that stretch all the way back to the cabin. On most narrowboats sitting lengthways on the side benches with one's back against the cabin wall is the preferred place for crew to sit. It keeps them away from engine noise, gives them a good view of the canal ahead and places them just where they need to be when it comes to a lock, water point, or anywhere you might want to moor.

Adderbury Saloon Doors and Forward Well

© 2014 BCBM

A feature of all OwnerShips boats, the full height concertina doors opening onto the forward well.

So that's it! A first glance at a boat Diana and I hope to be aboard for a week later this month. The paperwork has not been signed by all parties yet, but let's hope that's just a formality. I'll let you know how we get on.

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