I’ve been living on Angela Dawn for 7 weeks now. For those contemplating purchasing a boat and cruising the Thames here’s my experience so far;
I’ve been very lucky, the weather this autumn has been exceptional. As such I haven’t yet experienced any problems with flow warnings from the Environment Agency (EA). I do keep a close eye on the weather forecast conscious that the levels and flow could increase suddenly after a big dump of rain. As of the 1st November several locks have been closed for scheduled maintenance. I keep a regular eye on the EA website for any unscheduled work. This restricts me slightly but I still have a reasonable play area and most work is only for 6 weeks. Traffic on the river is very quiet, most transits through locks are alone except at weekends. Rowers are out all the time; I’m getting to know where the clubs are now. Once moving, the rowers are significantly faster than me, I try and sit in the middle of the stream and let them pass inside. Often a coach in a speedboat accompanies them. Singles and pairs need an occasional short blast on the horn to let them know I’m there but in general they keep a pretty good look out. I always slow down if they’re turning or by the clubhouse. Their boats look very unstable and none of them wears life jackets.
Plastic cruisers and hire boats can be entertaining and a cause for concern. I fear one striking me from the rear. Many have their anchor or the steel fixings right on the bow tip at just the right height to scratch my lovely paintwork. I’ve jumped off when moored several times to “help” a crew moor up that clearly have limited control over the boat. You get to know the sound of electric thrusters, a bit like the dentists drill.
There’s quite a few moorings on the non-tidal Thames. EA controlled usually offer 24 hours free and then another couple of days for a small fee. Town moorings; Abingdon 5 days free, Henley £10 a night or £55 a week, Marlow £12 a night, Windsor £8 a night. Hampton Court £5. I’ve had no problems finding a space and there are other moorings against fields and parks, some free some at a cost. I know it’ll be more challenging in the summer months. It’s worth investing in a copy of The River Thames Book by Chris Cove-Smith, mine is 6th edition. This gives good information on moorings and the river generally with detailed maps.
The locks provide a variety of services; rubbish, water, pump out and electric hook up. Charges for pump out are lower than marinas but you cant guarantee them to be available. This EA site gives details of lock facilities. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/river-thames-bridges-locks-and-facilities-for-boaters#base-moorings Marina services can be found in Cove-Smiths book and most have a web site. It’s not always possible to visit a specific marina as the service pontoon may be crowded with boats moored up. Best give them a call if you’re desperate.
Life aboard has been superb so far, very few technical problems most of which can be resolved by a quick phone call of text. Pipers do come out and do repairs, maintenance or modifications when requested. They wait until there’s a group of boats that need attention, which makes sense. I’ve had to change the gearbox and engine oil; the generator is due soon as well. Not particularly difficult just remember to look at the maintenance schedules in the booklets for each bit of kit. You could always pay someone to do this! I’d recommend the Engine Maintenance course run by the River Canal Rescue company http://www.rivercanalrescue.co.uk/rcr-courses/boat-engine-maintenance/
There’s little I’d change of the design of Angela Dawn, I would suggest an opening porthole for the second cabin / dinette. It gets pretty stuffy in there during warmer nights. I have the oil stove, running that and central heating is unnecessary but each is a good back up for the other. I wouldn’t want to be onboard with no heating.
Handling Angela Dawn single-handed hasn’t yet given me any major problems. I have a 15M rope eithers side on the bow and 8M either side on the stern. I’ve also two 4.5M ropes for the middle mooring bollards. These are great to hold her for short period such as waiting to enter a lock. In the lock you’re required to use 2 ropes. I run the bow rope round a lock bollard then back round a boat bollard running the rope end close to the wheelhouse. The same for the stern rope, holding both ends I give the lock keeper a thumbs up when I’m ready. If the lock’s self service I do the same but standing on the lock side. During self-service the sluice gates have restricted flow so there’s no panic to get from the control panel back to the ropes. The flow of water into the locks varies; side channels near the gates create least turbulence and boat movement. Channels along the length of the side of the lock push the boat to the middle, a lock keeper advised me to let her drift to the middle and pull her back in once most of the water movement had happened. Sluices on the lock gates create most movement first pushing the boat back and then after the waters hit the back of the lock it pushes you forward. This may all sound dramatic but give yourself room from other craft, take your time, it works. The lock keepers keep a close eye on you and can close the sluices if you or they are concerned.
My biggest fear is bridges. My boat is just under 10ft but she has a wide fixed wheelhouse and some of the bridge arches give little clearance. It would be easy to scrape the arch, there’s certainly plenty of evidence of this on the inside of the arches. I approach very slow and make sure I’m lined up with the orientation of the tunnel or back off. I think when the rivers in flow or the level high I’ll be in the pub.
I hope this is of use, please feel free to quiz me, as I gain more experience I’ll update this page.