No, it’s Not Bloody Cold!
That may seem like a strange opening title but you would not believe the amount of times we are asked the question ‘Is it not too cold on your boat in the winter?’ or “How do you keep warm? Our boat is very warm and cosy, in fact it can be too hot and we find ourselves opening the doors and windows! It is one of the many common misconceptions people have about life aboard a canal boat. Right then, with that one out of the way let’s continue!
You Don’t Have to be Old
Another slight misconception that I have come across is that narrowboats are for retired people. This could not be further from the truth, especially when it comes to people who actually live on their boats.
I was brought up around boats, my father always had something that floats from speedboats to sailing dinghy’s so it was only natural some of it would rub off on me. We used to go racing together in an old Heron sail boat which was brilliant fun until my father decided to go ‘single handed’ with a brand new Topper. Of course I still sailed with him but he now raced solo – probably a good move as I was more of a hindrance than a help!
Once I left home the boating fun pretty much stopped until in 2002 myself and the wife were invited to join my father aboard his 22ft Springer Narrowboat. At the time I was in a pretty stressful job and found it very hard to unwind until that fateful day. Once we were out on the River Nene I found that for the first time in many years I was totally relaxed and taking in everything around me. Once we returned home I was straight onto the internet searching for boats to buy!
Within about a week we were the proud owners of a 1960’s Freeman 22 called Spindrift, quite a rare little boat. It was perhaps one of the best things I have ever done both for my own sanity and for the children. We had many years of fun cruising up and down the River Nene and many fond memories. However, circumstances changed and Spindrift was sold. I missed Spindrift but life went on and we rejoined the rat race.
What’s Living on a Boat Really Like?
I will be brutally honest here, living on a narrow boat is not for everyone and we often hear of people that have sold their homes and jumped feet first into buying and living on a boat only to find that it was not quite what they expected. For some who jump straight in to continuos cruising it turns out to be a lonely experience as they perhaps had that romantic image of mooring up in the middle of nowhere and found it was not quite so attractive when it’s snowing outside, the towpath is a quagmire, they are low on water, their toilet is full, they have no solar power and they are six miles away from the nearest town or village. If you have a similar romantic vision of living on a boat then my advice would be to spend at least a month in darkest winter aboard one first, or at least hire one in the winter months to see how you get on.
Our approach was much slower and we kind of eased ourselves into living full time aboard Hannah the Narrowboat. We bought her in 2011, spent more and more time aboard her and then finally moved aboard full time in 2018 – it was the best thing we have ever done and looking back to that day that we decided to go for it I know we made the right choice. As I’m writting this winter 2020 is approaching and many of us still have our lives on hold due to the so called pandemic – don’t even get me started on that!
We feel blessed that we were not confined to a brick box during the initial lockdown and were instead lucky enough to be trapped at the marina surrounded by great people. We became a commuity that looked after each other and many of us have become good friends. There is always someone to talk to when you are feeling down and always someone to have a beer with as the pubs were closed! We became our own little bubble and pretty much ignored all the fear mongering – in fact I turned the TV off in March and it has not been turned on again since as we got rid of the aerial and the TV receiver altogether. Do the same, it will change your life! Being completely open about it, I’m not sure how I would have survived if we were not living here, especially from a mental health standpoint.
So, the good, the bad and the ugly. What I love about boat life is the community spirit (apart from the grumpy gobshites on the Facebook narrow boat groups). It’s like stepping back in time when people used to actually talk to each other face to face and not think you are a weirdo for wishing them a good morning. It’s the feeling that if you get in trouble or are struggling with something someone is always there to lend a helping hand. We love the cosyness of Hannah the Narrowboat and you really can’t beat sitting in the warm with a real ale, gin or glass of wine with the fire roaring away whilst the rain pitter patters on the roof. Living closer to nature is soothing and inspiring and watching the ducks playfully chasing each other whilst working on the computer is so much better than working in an office in the middle of a town or city.
Of course there are also downsides to living on a boat such as living space but I have always said I could be sitting in a house 10 feet away from a 50″ screen or 3 foot away in our saloon from a 28″ sreen – the effect is the same! Storage is always an issue and we have a routine before we go to bed called the bedroom shuffle where we have to move stuff off the bed and into the saloon as we have not found homes for everything as of yet! It’s the same with crockery and pans – you often have to move things to get to other things.
Then we have the mundane to deal with, the boat is not attached to a tap so every 6 days or so we have to get the hose out and fill our water tanks which is not so much fun in the winter months. We also have to replace gas bottles as there is not a magic gas line connected to Hannah either. We have to tend to the fire in the winter months and again, filling up the coal scuttle when it’s pouring with rain is not my idea of fun. Electricity is not so much of a problem as we are marina based and also have solar when we are out and about. Mud, stones, grass and all sorts of other debris always finds it’s way into the boat along with an eclectic mix of insect life and even slugs! Of course then we have the toilet which does not empty itself – luckily the lady of the boat deals with that and we do have a composting toilet that only needs emptying around once a month.
For us, living aboard a boat is a good fit with our lifestyle and personalities. We are both creatives and free minded people and really don’t like the normality of what most people call day to day life. We have found over the years that life seems to have become dumbed down in general society – just look at the reality show shite and box ticking on TV to understand what I mean. We want no part of that and could not be happier that we have left all that behind.