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Monday, April 24, 2006

"The King" Narrowboat & Envirolet, Part 2

The King's Crown As promised, here is more about the Envirolet® installation on “The King,” the 100 year old narrowboat. We wrote about it a few days ago on Buzz here.

Here is what Graham wrote recently about his Envirolet® on Granny Buttons, a great narrowboat blog:

“Sue & I own the FMC ex Steamer “The King” - 72’ rivetted iron hull built launched in April 1905. She is from the same fleet as “The President”, but 4 years older.

When we purchased the boat in November 2004 it needed to have a complete interior/exterior refurbishment and upgrading etc., which involved 6 months in dry & wet dock. As part of the internal work we had an Envirolet Composting Toilet fitted, which was supplied by Wilton Marina chandlery. At the time, as far as the chandlers knew, there was only one - possibly two - other boats on the canals with such a system.


Previously we had always had “pump out” systems, but had become concerned about (i) the ever rising costs of a pump out and (ii) the effect on the environment.

Because the internal refit work involved moving bulkheads around we were able to provide enough space for the toilet to have a room “across the boat” of its own. It is quite large and takes up quite a bit of space, therefore it would not be suitable for craft where the existing bathroom space is limited. Also there is a “breather” pipe that goes from the back of the toilet and up through the roof of the boat.

Initially we were a bit worried about if or how it would “work”. After 2 years, I can honestly say that it’s a piece of cake (pardon the pun) and it works extremely well, with no problems at all!!! There is absolutely NO smell after you have “used” the toilet - nor is there a smell in the boat when no one has been on board for several weeks, i.e. over the winter.

As our boat has full 240v electrics, we have the “mains” version - there is a 12v alternative. There is a small fan, inside the toilet, that we run when on board and the 240v version also has a heater that helps to speed up the composting process. The fan evaporates the “liquid” up through the breather pipe - no matter what human waste you put into the toilet, most of it is water. There is NO smell outside the boat from this pipe.

The “solids” break down over time, just like in your garden compost - but slower. Every week you sprinkle a little composting “activator” inside the bowl (we use Garotter from a Garden Centre), mixed with 2 or 3 pints of warm water. You need to keep everything “moist” and “warm” for the natural process to be effective.

Once a year (or when the toilet looks full) you pull a bar at the base in and out several times - to give everythng a rake - and the “compost” falls into a tray. Put it in a plastic bag, take it home and put it on the garden. If the composting process has taken place correctly there is ABSOLUTELY NO SMELL AT ALL.

If you have the space on your boat - and are either concerned about costs or the environment - I would fully recommend you considering this alternative.

I have some photos of the Toilet in situ - in “The King’s Throne Room”. Send me an e-mail and I would be happy to forward them - or answer any other questions etc.”

Graham R.



“The King” has a long, rich history. Graham gives us the story:

The History of “The King”
In closing a bit about our boat “The King”. She was launched in April 1905 (now 101 years old), her hull is made of riveted iron and when built she was propelled by a steam engine. She was part of a fleet of 25 Steamers - only 5 or 6 remain to this day. “The President” is the only one now with a steam engine and this boat is owned by a Waterways Charity - but is five years younger than ours. I have attached a publicity picture of “The King” that was taken in 1910 ( see - “The King In 1910”). You can see the steam funnel, with the “captain” on the rear in his uniform of white corduroy trousers, black jacket and bowler hat. In front of him are the two engine room crew - the driver and stoker - who are in “blue overalls”. They were all very smart.

The steam engines were all removed by
1924 and Bolinder semi-diesels were put in. By removing the steam boilers, engines and coal bunkers, the boats could then carry 20 ton instead of the previous 10 tons - making the transportation far more economical. Up to 1948 the boat was owned by its original builders “Fellows, Morton & Clayton”, who were commercial waterways carriers. In 1948 the UK Government nationalised most of the canal carrying companies, but “The King” was sold into the ownership of a private business. She was used by various private carriers until the middle 1960s when the “carrying trade” ended and she was abandoned and ended up being sunk.

A few years later a private person “raised” her and covered her hold with a wooden cabin to make her into a residential leisure boat. The conversion was never entirely completed and the boat passed through a number of private owners in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2002 we were looking to buy a boat with a history and purchased “The King” in November 2003. Because of her neglected condition she was in dry and wet dock for 6 months, during which time she was repainted into her current traditional colours, with her original owners name - Fellows Morton & Clayton - being reinstated on the outside. Internally she was totally reconstructed to make very comfortable accommodation for two people plus the traditional 8’ “Boatman’s cabin” at the rear - where the boating family lived and cooked etc. when the boat carried goods. The fittings and furniture are what you would expect to have at home, Hot/cold running water, Lounge furniture, Flat screen TV, Hi Fi, Multi Fuel Stove, Central Heating, Household kitchen equipment, 6’6” wide fully sprung double bed, Power shower and an electrical system that is 12v, 24v and mains 240v (UK standard). This latter is created via a computer from the bank of 12v batteries and allows us to use mains household equipment like kettles etc.

Graham has also kindly sent us a very comprehensive history of the narrowboat. Quite interesting. Read on…

History of Narrowboats
Narrowboats in England have a long history - starting with the building of the Canal System in the 1700s. They were used for the carrying of goods as there were no suitable roads or the means to use them - only horses and carts which caused damage when used for carriage of fragile goods etc. They carried raw materials such as coal, china clay, wool, cotton, flour to the factories in the cities - and immediately made the finished articles much, much cheaper. Coal sent by canal just six miles to the factories in Manchester - halved the cost of the cotton goods that they made!!

Over a period of 150 years the Canal system was dug by hand and eventually linked all the four corners of England and the main river systems. There are two widths of navigation - the “Broad” system, where the bridge holes and locks allow the passage of a boat up to 14’ wide and the “Narrow” system where the boats can only be 7’ wide. This latter width is by far the most common and from that comes the word “Narrowboat”. Compared to your Canadian and American canal system the dimensions are clearly very, very different. English canals are not seaways, like in Europe.


Over the years the Canal system fell into disrepair, due to competition with firstly the Train and then the Lorry, which were both able to move the same goods to a destination in a day whereas a narrowboat would take a week or more. Commercial carrying on the Canals totally disappeared in the 1950s and by the end of the 1960s had gone altogether. In many cases the canals were then totally abandoned and a lot were infilled and had houses etc. built over them.

From the 1960s though many people, with a great deal of foresight, could see the potential for Leisure use and enormous lobbying of Government and Local Authorities etc. has resulted in 3/4s of the original system now having been re-opened. In 2000 there was more canal building / re-building going on than at any time since the Canals were first dug in the 1700s. This also includes the preservation of a lot of the original buildings and structures.

There are now many thousands of private canal boats on the system, with a growth rate in new boats coming onto the water so high that there are concerns about the ability of the waterways to cope, especially in the summer. Queues at locks etc. can be quite long - but they are a good place to have a chat with fellow boaters. Whilst new boats are available almost “off the shelf”, for some boat builders you would need to wait for 12-18 months such is the demand for their work. These type of craft will take maybe six months to construct and finish.

As I mentioned before the original carrying boats were pulled by horse. In the late 1890s to 1915 “Steam” propulsion was introduced, which enabled the boats to travel faster and further. These boats were the “crème de crème” and carried expensive goods such as sugar between say Birmingham and London - non stop in about 36 hours. By horse this would have taken a week!! Around 1910 simple Diesel engines were introduced from a company in Sweden called Bollinger. These were primitive compared with today’s diesels as they required pre heating with paraffin to warm up the plugs. As time moved on more modern diesel engines became the norm and in today’s “modern” leisure boats marinised car engines are used.

Due to the passage of time and the disappearance of the original carrying trade most of the “historical boats”, made of wood or riveted iron have disappeared. Fortunately there are surviving craft, mostly in private ownership, and they are well looked after for the public to be able to see and feel “live history”. For a better understanding of the Historical Boats - have a look at these web sites, where there are a huge number of pictures and a better explanation that I can give.

http://www.fuller28.freeserve.co.uk/fmc.htm#steamers - Scroll down to “The King” - that is our boat.
http://www.hnboc.org.uk - This is the site for the Historic Narrowboat Owners Club of which we are members. Enter - Boat Gallery - for current pictures of Historic Craft. Again go down to “The King” and you will see the boat as she looks today. At the top of the Boat Gallery page - enter “Our Boats” and you can then find all the Historical facts about the listed boats. Go to “The King” and you can see documents showing when and how she was built, repairs and maintenance, who owned her and where she went etc. Our ownership is listed at the bottom.

Boats that are built today for Leisure use have a “passing resemblance” to the Historic craft, but for obvious reasons they are constructed internally more like a caravan. Prior to us buying “The King” we owned one such boat like this and as a comparison I have included a photo of “Delilah” - see “Anderton Marina” where she was moored.

These days all boats that are either built for Leisure or Residential use have a very high specification, especially inside. Everything that you have in your house you have, or expect to have, in your boat. This is certainly not camping or “going without”. Toilets - as that was the reason for the e-mails - are a good example. When I started boating on the canals in the 1960s we literally had a bucket with chemicals that had to be emptied - at official points on the canals - whenever your stomach was strong enough!! Over the years these developed into (i) high performance cassette systems the same as you have in caravans and (ii) into “pump out” systems - fairly simple at the lower end up but up to high specification electric vacuum systems at the upper end - much the same as you have on an aeroplane. You pays your money and you take your choice.

All of them have one drawback. What goes in has to come out and into the public drainage system for the waste be eventually treated by the Water & Sewerage Authorities. This is of course totally anti environmental and in the UK we are fast catching up on the “damage” that this causes to the planet. Also the cost of having your holding tanks emptied is now becoming a major cost to the boater. Cassettes are still be emptied free of charge, but this will change in the near future I am sure. At this moment in time composting toilets on narrowboats are a rarity - I know of only one other person who has one. When we bought ours some two years ago, I was told that there were only maybe six others on the canals. In the UK, as you will know, the application is far more normal in houses etc. that are not linked to the main drainage system.

In Narrowboats the main problem is space. Cassette and “pump outs” are only the size of household toilets and the holding tanks for “pump outs” are located under beds and out of the way. With a composting toilet - it is large and “in your face”. Therefore it would be difficult to fit one into a boat, if the previous toilet was a cassette or “pump out” - there simply would not be the space in the bathroom. This would be different if a boat was being totally refitted internally - as was the case with our boat “The King”. In addition our boat is what is called “full length” at 72’ long by 7’ wide and the internal space needed for a composting toilet was quite easily made available - fitted across the boat.

Certainly everyone that sees our toilet in position has been interested and many people have gone away very impressed.