Harmonia on the Thames, 2000.
Photo Amanda Castleman

Fog on the Oxford Canal, 1999.
Photo Amanda Castleman

New Name Painted by Glynnis Fawkes, 2004

Narrowboat Harmonia

Harmonia is a lovely narrowboat with a coveted Agenda-21 residential mooring in Oxford.

Narrowboat living is an enjoyable and economical solution to the Oxford housing problem. Although it does involve a certain amount of work, many people find the advantages far outweigh the minor privations, and as a result most of the Agenda 21 Mooring community would not live in any other way.

The advantages:

- completely detached, affordable home in one of the best parts of Oxford (where the cheapest one bedroom flat seels for 250,000 pounds!)
- waterfront property
- maximum independence and privacy
- great community of neighbours who help each other
- sense of living outdoors, but with the comforts of home
-great tranquility
-close to Jericho, Port Meadow, Whytham Woods, Thames Path, Summertown shops. 5-10 minutes bike ride to city center via towpath or Walton Street.

The hardships:

- must load/unload all utilities manually (water, coal, calor gas and sewage) via wheelbarrowand bicycle cart
- cold when returning home at night until fire is made (then it's very warm indeed)
- towpath gets wet and muddy in winter, and walkers love to crap their dogs on it

Specifics of Harmonia:

The Mooring

Oxford moorings are hard to get, and they are not making any more of them; with skyrocketing real estate prices, boats with these moorings have also appreciated substantially, will continue to do so. The Agenda 21 mooring community was created in 2000 under a European Union initiative providing for official sanction of traditional communities, and after lengthy negotiations between the Oxford Boaters' Co-Op and British Waterways. Agenda 21 boaters are permitted to moor anywhere within five designated zones between St. Edward's field and just north of the Wolvercote lock.

According to our constitution, "Oxford Boaters form a strong, inclusive and supportive communitywith a committment to an ecologically sound lifestyle. To support this, the moorings have the unique feature of being residential but non-fixed site moorings with low services

Living Space. 54 x 7 feet, of which the back 10 feet are engine room/toilet, and the front 8 or so are decking. The front deck is sheltered by a cratch and cover to serve as a mudroom and prevent rain from getting into the bilges. It can also be used in nice weather for eating/sitting. The rest of the boat is living room, kitchen and bedroom, with the bedroom slightly separated from the rest. Harmonia has loads of light, including two new hatch-style windows by the bed. There is a double futon and folding table in the living room, built-in book case, several cupboards, 12V CD/Radio and Wind-up/Solar radio.

Current Location:
Across from St. Ed's school. Many consider this the most desirable stretch of Agenda 21 moorings. Lots of neighbours means high security. Harmonia is immediately next to water point, and close to rubbish/sewage point/mail box. Lots of green on both sides. 10 minute ride to city center or Summertown.

Heating: solid fuel stove with hot water radiator system. Wood or coal may be used. There are two sheltered lockers on the forward deck which can hold 10 bags of coal and kindling. The roof may be used to store a whole winter's worth of coal. Approximate heating cost for the winter, for those not home during day, is about 250 pounds of coal. A coal boat makes boat-to-boat deliveries about once a month.

Electric: Electricity is a luxury on any boat. That said, Harmonia has, I believe, more alternative energy capacity than any other boat in the community, with 3 Siemens solar panels and a windmill. These feed 2 12V leisure batteries (more could be added), which in turn power 2 water pumps, electric lights, a CD/Radio, and an open set of positive/negative wires running half the boat length for various 12V applications as needed (e.g. you could add an electric refrigerator, 12V DVD-player, and any of the other 12V appliances sold at caravan shops). There is also an inverter for creating 240V power for e.g. recharging a mobile phone, running computers, etc. This uses a lot of energy and you have to learn the knack of managing your resources and generative capacity. In the summer power is superabundant, but of course beginning from November until February the solar panels go through a power dip; the windmill compensates for this, but of course depends on wind. As a backup, therefore, there is a Honda EU10i petrol generator, with both 12V and 240V output; with this, one can have unlimited electricity.

Hot Water and Cooker run on Calor Gas bottle, which goes in small locker at very front of boat. One bottle lasts me at least a month, and costs about 15 quid. Water tank is under bed and must be filled from hose/tap on towpath supplied by British Waterways. Water lasts about 1 week for one person, depending on use.

Refrigeration: None. From late autumn - early spring this is not much of a problem, as perishables may be kept outdoors. Note that this arrangement is well suited to a vegetarian or vegan diet, but requires making small shopping stops every 1-3 days for perishables. They do make 12V refrigerators, however, and there is a space under the cooker where one could go.

: there is a porta-potty in the engine room which lasts one person about 2 weeks with regular use. This must then be dumped manually at a sewage station about 5 minutes north on the towpath past the Wolvercote lock. Rubbish: there is a rubbish disposal point next to the sewage point.

Cruising: Harmonia has a fully reconditioned Lister SL3 diesel engine, a classic model from the 1950s. I have recently had it properly mounted to a steel frame, replacing the flimsy four bolts that the previous owner had used.

Laundry/Washing: None. The nearest laundrette is South park road in Summertown (5-10 minutes bike). Some boaters do install washing machines, and run them off the generator.

Post: There’s a communal locked postal box at St Eds. Address: Narrowboat Harmonia, Boaters' Box, Oxford Canal Towpath, Woodstock Road, Oxford, OX2 7AH.

The Hull

Harmonia was built in 1986 by an amateur builder; as such it had several indiosycnrasies that I have had corrected since buying the boat in 1999. After a hull survey two years ago by the toughest inspector in Oxfordshire, I implemented a number of recommended measures to extend the life of the hull: several steel struts welded at strategic points, cratch built, floor inspection hatches cut, several external apertures welded over (there from a previous engine installation), installed new water system and drained/dried previous tank, added 10 sacrificial anodes to outer hull, filled in pitting with zinc epoxy, and applied thick coating of zinc epoxy tar. The toal cost of this work was 1,700 p.s. Average thickness is 4.5 millimeters, which is not bad. If the steel work is properly cared for—taken out of water, re-blacked and re-inspected every 3-4 years—it can last almost for ever. A final recourse, however, is always to replate a boat, which costs about 6,000 quid, but essentially gives you a new boat.

Routine maintenance:

- keeping water out of bilges is essential. Therefore cratch cover must be kept closed at all times unless you are home and can see that it is sunny out. It should be shut as soon as any rain starts. The front hatches must stay covered with a tarp. Any new corrosion in front lockers can be deducted from deposit.

- stern gland must be checked regularly (this is a grease-barrier around the propellor shaft which keeps water out. It just needs a half-turn twist every few weeks.

- The water pipes must be drained in winter if you go away overnight to prevent from freezing. This takes only a minute, and failure to do so could lead to the boat being flooded by the contents of the water tank.

The Price

I paid 22k in 1999, without a mooring. Harmonia now has an Agenda 21 mooring, which have sold for 10k even without a boat on it. I have since put it about 10k worth of tangible improvements (i.e. not counting routine maintenance): 3 solar panels, 12v-240v inverter, windmill, recoditioned engine, properly mounted engine, petrol generator, cratch, hull work, new ful stove and radiator system, hatch windows, new cooker, new water system and pumps, bicycle trailer. Given this, the unique location/nature of the Agenda 21 community, and the fact that the cheapest hovel one could buy, even as far out as Wolvercote, is 135k +, I believe that the boat is worth 40-45k.