The story of a liveaboard

On the move along the GU near Horsenden Hill

On the move along the GU near Horsenden Hill - Credit: Archant

An unfriendly ten-person house share, or your own narrowboat in a marina that you can also use to go places – Paul knows which one he prefers...


PAUL ‘CAKES’ BARBER - Credit: Archant

Actually that title is a little misleading as I have been fortunate to have been in, on or around boats since I was about four years old. These boats have been all shapes, sizes and colours and, for the last few years, I have earned a crust teaching folk how to get a sailing boat going in a straight line. However, I was very soon to find myself clinging to the very steep learning curve that I had walked, actually sprinted, into.

For many years I had thought of living on a boat. It seemed to me just secluded simplicity in some of the UK’s beauty spots with a little ‘stuff’ thrown in every now and again but, unfortunately, the option to be in one never arose. Then one day, I just snapped. I was living in a shared house in Wembley with ten other people, nine of whom I didn’t know their names and they had no intention of knowing mine and, as you can imagine, it wasn’t a place I was happy to call home.

I started my search in earnest to see if it was a valid option in London, after all, there were plenty of news reports, articles and blogs of people moving on to boats because it is ‘cheaper’ and life-changing. I like to think I was a bit more savvy and looked into moorings before boats. This brought me to the wonder of the Canal & River Trust moorings site. Now, I know you all have your own opinions on this so I will keep this plain: I bid at four auctions and lost the first three but won the last one for the reserve.

Home is Engineers Wharf, Northolt

Home is Engineers Wharf, Northolt - Credit: Archant

Now the savvy I mentioned earlier... I now had a berth, but nothing to put in it. With thoughts of pitching my tent in my kayak and living in that, I used the last Saturday I had free before the two sets of rent fell on me (with the crushing doom that only a Greek accountant could share) to go and look for a floating home.

I drove furiously from Watford to Leighton Buzzard to Cambridge and then to Ely. Eight boats in one day and what a day it was, telling you about the boats would be a tale in itself, but, needless to say, I had picked the best one. A 58ft semi-trad reverse layout. Next job was to quickly run it by my folks who were supporting me in this venture; sorry, that is a discredit to them as they are the lynchpins. They both seemed very happy with the choice and were enthused by her and the delivery voyage.

Now, to get it down to London with term fast approaching would be the next trick. Lots of phone ‘tennis’ between the finance company (as a teaching assistant in a primary school, I needed yet more financial assistance!) and the boatyard, arranging for a survey, finishing off the last bits of work, insurance, canal licence and sorting the mooring – it all happened in a whirlwind of a few weeks.

Paul’s new home, Papillon

Paul’s new home, Papillon - Credit: Archant

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Fortunately, I inherited my (albeit, only a little) savvy from someone who also happened to be an enthusiast. So with dad, mum and family friend Steve enlisted, the trip to London began, and so did the problems. (At this point, I would like to say that I was not on board, being in education meant they were not massively keen on me having four days off to move in.) The shower was hot or cold, not both; the fridge didn’t work and, perhaps worse, neither did the engine. After only an hour chugging on the cut, it packed in and there was then four hours of waiting before the engineer came out. Unfortunately, this would be the theme for a few more days.

But they got it; they brought my home to its new home. My dad helped me to move in all my stuff, then gave me a quick briefing on what to do when it all goes wrong – and then he was away.

Moving day had already commenced, but now it was me against the boat, or more importantly, my stuff against the boat. Having already moved in the bulkier items, perhaps the issue was then the smaller items. There was stuff everywhere; my first night on my floating palace was between boxes on a lilo. So, I had a few decisions to make. Firstly, where do I put everything? This, it seems, is an ongoing problem, and the ongoing solution is to get rid of everything. Why I didn’t do this before I moved on is a question I often ask myself. The next one was: where do I put the Christmas tree? Well, as the shower didn’t work...

Taking friends for a cruise

Taking friends for a cruise - Credit: Archant

Over the next few months, with winter fast approaching, a new fridge was bought and installed, the diesel bug was cured and the shower fixed. The chimney was cleaned and the stove was given a run-through before the onset of winter. Cheap firewood/coal sourced, removing drawer units, building shelves, soundproofing pumps, insulating tanks, cleaning pipes and bilges – all went on in the evenings and weekends. But I still hadn’t driven it anywhere...

So I recruited my dad and Steve to (again!) come down and show me the ropes. It turns out, it’s not really that hard, but add in winding holes, lock sills, marinas etc and it gets hard, very quickly. So far, all has gone well and only a small bit of blacking is missing from the bow. I have had many ‘jollies’ (just to get used to driving my house, of course) and have been to the pub and back. Surviving my first winter was a great mixture of being freezing at night and warm in the morning or vice versa due to inadequate tuning of the air intake on the old Squirrel. Marina living has been amazing; being in a community of boaters is great – lots of advice, smiles, alcohol and venting always works, and I soon found my place in the hamlet of boaters.

Like a house, there is always another job but, unlike a house, there is no space to do it. Often a simple job requires emptying a whole part of the cabin or removing several items of furniture.

Norwood Bottom Lock

Norwood Bottom Lock - Credit: Archant

There has been an engine service, boat safety check, painting, oiling, greasing and so much cleaning. Soft furnishings, plumbing, carpeting, carpentry, metal work, plumbing and electrics have all been changed, removed or adjusted. It has been brilliant to have my own, albeit, thin piece of waterborne simplicity.

It has now been about 18 months since I moved on board; I have done some more cruising (mainly to a further pub) and have loved it, and I’m planning on travelling further afield this summer to Bishop Stortford and Hertford.

There have been a few moments of dread but many of joy and it makes it worthwhile. People often ask, what is it like? I am still working on a more descriptive definition but, for now, I say it’s like living in a temperature-varying corridor that rests in a rocking chair...

Christmas tree in the shower!

Christmas tree in the shower! - Credit: Archant