This website describes our transition from our ‘old life’ on land to our ‘new life’ afloat in our narrowboat ‘BELLE’ and our adventures and experiences thereafter within the UK canal and river network.  We have included some technical details and we have offered some advice regarding the commissioning of a new boat and selecting a boat builder in the hope that this may be of assistance to you if you are contemplating your own build.  You can take it or leave it; the choice is of course entirely yours.  If you do want to know some more about any of the topics discussed, then just email or call us and we will help you where we can.



The Idea – August 2004


Picture this:


We have just set up a new business and our joint income is marginally above our outgoings and likely to be that way for quite some time to come.  What could we do to significantly reduce our outgoings whilst still maintaining a reasonably comfortable standard of living?


“Simple says I [having seen two or three episodes of Waterworld on the TV], let’s downsize and live aboard a narrowboat for a while”


“Have you completely lost your f*****g mind?”, was the response.


“We could sell the house, redeem the mortgage, clear any other debts and use the rest to buy the boat and still have some money left over for a rainy day”, not actually knowing how much a decent narrowboat will cost us, but they can’t cost that much can they?


Hmmm – some research required me thinks.



Research completed – January 2005


So, about six months have passed.  We have bought most of the glossy magazines, been to a couple of boat shows, watched even more of ‘Waterworld’ on the TV, spoken with countless narrowboat owners and viewed their boats, been on a really enjoyable weekend cruise on a 50 footer [putting aside the events that nearly sank us in the River Trent] and we have visited half a dozen boat builders.


We have consolidated most of our ideas into a provisional layout drawing and provisional specification – this helps us to get our ideas over to boat builders and to get some budget costs from them.  No mean feat considering all of the ‘heated discussions’ we have had between us about which would be the best end to locate the bedroom, should we have a straight galley or a cross-over galley, a cruiser stern, a semi-traditional stern or traditional stern, cassette toilet, dump-through (don’t you just love that term) toilet, macerator toilet, and so on.  As if this was not enough, we even tinkered with harder, ‘trench warfare inducing’ topics like; So what colour shall we have the boat then?  It would be fair to say that we have taken boats to pieces and we have put them back together again in our sleep!


Now for the really strange part.  Our outlook has changed significantly - we are now moreover motivated by our desire to live what promises to be a much better lifestyle afloat and we are much less motivated by our desire to reduce our financial outgoings.  This is just as well really, because we have learned that securing a narrowboat to suit our requirements is going to cost us a lot more than we originally thought – in fact, there will be nothing left over for a rainy day!


However, living costs are almost certainly going to be significantly less than they are for our land-base.  We have heard that mooring costs and annual licensing costs are slowly increasing and that the abolition of ‘red diesel’ may be imminent – these increases, whilst they are disappointing, are unlikely to drive us back to our land-base in the foreseeable future.


We are hooked.



Decision – February 2005


We have provisionally costed the boat, obtained a redemption value for the mortgage, estimated the value of the house and generally totted up the likely costs and confirmed that our venture is feasible.


We have also discussed our plans with family and friends and we have convinced them that we are not suffering from a mid-life crisis and we are not overdoing the drugs, etc.  In fact, we believe that there might be a few envious ones out there.  A stroke of luck – one of our relatives has offered to put us up in Nottingham whilst our boat is built.  Our research to date suggests that the lead time for our boat will be between twelve and eighteen months, so this offer of accommodation is excellent news.


Let’s go for it.



Making it happen – March 2005


The house goes on the market – luckily, we receive a lot of interest and we have a buyer for our house in what seems like no time at all.  We intensify our discussions with boat builders with a view to selecting one or other of them to build our boat as soon as possible.    


We have decided to call our new boat BELLE


We have also decided that we would like a pseudo ‘trading name’; something with a traditional appearance and including the family name “WELLS”.


We hit upon the idea ofWELLS CARGO                                of  NOTTINGHAM



Order placed  – June 2005


We decided to order BELLE from Sandhills Narrowboats Limited.  We found Dawn, Gary and Mark very helpful whilst we were researching our boat – they provided us with lot‘s of advice and guidance and they allowed us to look at the boat they were building for another customer.  We saw it at the bare shell stage and several times thereafter before we decided that we would place our order for BELLE with them.  We must say that they were very patient when confronted by two would-be narrowboaters that wanted to know everything about everything to do with the boat that they were building and the boat that they would build for us!


Our order is based on the British Marine Federation (BMF) Construction Agreement - you should be able to access the latest version of the construction agreement here.


We feel that now would be a good time to warn potential narrowboat owners that there are many pitfalls out there and that they should take great care when selecting a boat builder.  Just to focus the mind – you are about to spend what will probably be a six figure sum on what could turn out to be a glorified floating waste skip.  Whilst there are many reputable boat builders out there, it appears that there is an inordinate amount of ‘less than reputable ones’ as well – we could tell you some real horror stories!


Do not be rushed into anything and be very thorough when assessing what is on offer from the boat builder.  View boats in build and the boats already built for other customers.  If you get the chance, speak with previous customers about their boats.  Carefully assess the workmanship, not just superficially, but under the skin as well.  If you do not feel up to it, then get a friend or colleague with a bit more knowledge about mechanical and electrical equipment to help you.  We generated a checklist to help us assess what was on offer – you will find it here.


Take the time and trouble to generate a specification and a scaled layout drawing for your boat – this will help you to check that your ideas are workable and you can use them in your discussions with boat builders, updating them as you go along.  Most people have access to a computer with Microsoft Word and/or Microsoft Excel software – all of our layouts, graphics and our specifications (and even this website) were produced using Microsoft Word and Excel.



Site Map


We started our BLOG the day we placed the order for BELLE – we have updated it as and when we have encountered something that we thought may be of interest to others.  We have tried our best to avoid blogging the tedious and we have also tried to strike a reasonable balance between the topical and the technical.


Our specification is quite detailed – we have included our final layout drawings and graphics as well as many of the prototypes along the way.


Our gallery contains regularly updated images of BELLE’s construction – it will eventually contain images of the launch and ultimately images of items and places of interest, etc. that are connected in some way or other to narrowboating in the UK canal and river network.


You can contact us if you wish by email or by mobile phone.



All the best, Chris & Stelle


Copyright © 2005 - 2006 C J Wells