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The travels of narrow boat Racundra

Finding the right boat

Finding the right boat

Having decided to buy a boat, we returned home to Scotland and started looking in earnest – on the internet. There were a lot of boats for sale!

Our needs had now changed. We were no longer looking for a boat for two couples for a one week holiday. We wanted to be able to have friends and family come and join us for a week or two at a time (to help with all those locks). But at the same time (or rather at different times) we would be travelling alone so we needed a boat that would be a practical home for us and Charlie over the months. We gradually refined our requirements to create a shortlist of boats with the following:

  • Length: 56-58′
  • Cruiser stern – particularly convenient for dogs and small children
  • Year: 2004-
  • Fixed double berth
  • Pullman dinette – converting to second double
  • Scope for occasional further two beds, what we called 2+2+2
  • Price range ¬£40-50k
  • Separate shower ¬†cubicle (not a wet room)
  • Well equipped kitchen

Our final shortlist had 8 boats, which were scattered across central England from Chester to Rugby. We loaded up the campervan and set off on the 8 hour drive to the nearest marina. At this point we were determined to only buy a boat if we found one that we really liked – we were still prepared to call the whole thing off. In the end we viewed over 30 boats at maybe 8 different locations. The variation in quality of ostensibly similar boats at comparable prices was staggering. In the end, quite by chance, we saw the two most suitable boats on the first day. In comparison nothing else near. One of these boats sold within a couple of days of us viewing it and the other was Racundra. She wasn’t one of the boats on our shortlist as she had only just come on the market.

Not only does Racundra tick all the boxes, but she had only one owner from new and is extremely well presented. We were impressed when we first saw her, but by the time we had seen all those other boats we really appreciated her quality. Another consideration for us was that we don’t intend to keep her for more than a year or possibly two, so it was important to pick a boat that would hold its value. We live too far away to maintain a boat long term and don’t want her to become a millstone around our necks. Far better to pass her on to another appreciative owner while she is still in tip top condition – and before we get irredeemably attached to her!

During our travels we received conflicting advice on a number of issues.

1. Holding tank v Cassette toilet

There are two systems for handling toilet waste. Needless to say it is not acceptable to dump your waste in the canal. Hire boats and a proportion of privately owned boats collect waste into a holding tank which requires to be emptied. This is usually every 2 – 4 weeks. The alternative system is a cassette toilet where the waste is kept in a small cassette in the toilet which can be removed and taken to a disposal point. Most boats have a spare cassette or two. Cassettes need emptying every few days.

Holding tank

Holding tank

We first thought we wanted a holding tank system as it seemed much more convenient and somehow less distasteful! However, there are downsides. The boat must be taken to a pump out station and a fee paid. Not necessarily a problem, but you do need to have one nearby and if for any reason your boat was immobilised as a result of a breakdown or perhaps a frozen canal then you simply wouldn’t be able to empty it. We have also heard stories of the tanks getting blocked and unblocking them is very distasteful. Another disadvantage of the holding tank is the space that it takes out of your living area. It is often positioned under the fixed bed and loses you a valuable storage space.

We were surprised to notice that many of the more expensive bespoke boats (those out of our price range) had cassette toilets. Cassettes don’t take up much space. They can usually be emptied free of charge and places where this can be done are common. Blockages aren’t a problem and the cassettes can be carried or transported if the boat can’t be moved. The downside is the frequency with which the cassettes have to be emptied. However, one has to take on water every day or so and I guess it is no great inconvenience to empty the cassettes at the same time.

Racundra has a cassette system and we will see how it goes.

2. Self-contained water tank v Integral tank

There are two systems of storing water. A self-contained tank, usually stainless steel, or an integral water tank. An integral tank uses a section of the hull, usually in the bows, which is lined with a suitable paint and accessible through a sealed lid set into the deck. A self-contained stainless tank sounds like a good idea until something goes wrong. If the tank seams were to leak it would be very difficult to mend in place or to remove and replace the tank. There is also always the risk on a metal boat of corrosion. Corrosion results from the different electrical characteristics of varying metals. The less different metals that are incorporated into the structure the better.

The integral tank will occasionally need repainting on the inside. This is accessible through the lid from where the tank can be inspected and maintained.

Recundra has an integral tank and we are hoping that we won’t have to think any more about it!

3. Insulation

All modern boats have insulated hulls. Insulation is applied/inserted before lining out the cabin areas and so is located between the steel hull and the lining material (the internally visible “walls & ceiling”). There are predominantly two types of insulation.

Uninsulated hull

Uninsulated hull

The first, sprayfoam, is applied to the hull to the desired thickness. Once applied the foam can be trimmed back to an even layer. The second consists of cutting and fitting panels of preformed insulating material, usually sheets of foam.

The effectiveness of the insulation is seriously degraded by any air pockets which are not filled. In this respect one would imagine that sprayfoam would be better as the foam can be sprayed into every nook and cranny, whereas it is very time consuming to cut perfectly shaped sections to fill every gap. However, if the panel insulation is done properly then any gaps will be filled and the joins between panels will be taped. Conversely, sprayfoam sets quickly and it requires a skilled practitioner to obtain a thorough even coat.

Opinion is divided as to which system is better and it seems to come down to how well the job is done.

Racundra has sprayfoam insulation.

Buying the boat…


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