Me and my boats: seeking a sea change
PUBLISHED: 16:15 30 October 2018
It may well be the call of the wild or simply the search for new sights but when you’ve got to go... and what better way than life as a liveaboard as Fiona Wright and daughter Emma discovered on board nb Pendle
I had reached the time of my life when I was looking for a change. I had lived in one place for a number of years due to family and work commitments. I had a four bedroom house, as I had fostered teenagers for a number of years. When I finished fostering I felt that my house was too big and wanted to downsize. When I looked at buying a smaller property and trying to be mortgage free I was not happy with the type of properties I saw or the locations.
I would have loved to have bought some land and lived in a Yurt, as I was really interested in off grid living. However the planning laws in the UK make this extremely difficult. I did consider the growing trend of living in a van, however we have five dogs and I felt that it was not an option for us. I then looked into buying and living on a narrowboat. I did a lot of research, looking at both the pros and cons of living on a narrowboat. There are so many great sources of information including forums, Facebook pages and great YouTube channels. The time spent researching was invaluable in making decisions about the boat we eventually bought and the type of systems and equipment we wanted. Being prepared helped for with the inevitable steep learning curve that I think all novice boat owners experience.
My 11 year old daughter was already homeschooled so I was able to opt easily for continuously cruising as we did not have to be in one location for school. We decided that we wanted to travel the river and canal network, albeit slowly, rather than pick on area to live in. In the future we may consider settling in one area, particularly if Emma wants to attend college.
We set about the task of selling our house and most of our possessions. We moved into a borrowed caravan at the end of January 2018, just in time for the bad weather. We eventually found our boat Pendle in Devizes Marina and moved onto our boat in March 2018. We ended up opting for an older, slightly smaller boat as it had been well looked after. We did get a survey on a newer boat but the survey raised a number of concerns and we didn’t think it had been maintained very well. Finding the right boat for can be a long and complicated process and it helps to be clear what you are looking for but also being prepared to be flexible and compromise. Our boat Pendle is 49 foot built in 1980 by Fernie Fabrications, with a 1500 BMC engine.
We spent a few weeks in Devizes Marina having work on the boat. We had a small amount of welding done, anodes replaced and the boat blacked. We wanted good off grid systems so Dan from Hollands Boats did an amazing job fitting solar, lithium batteries, a compost toilet and LED lights. We also bought a good 12v fridge freezer. Emma and I completed some RYA training and off we went onto the cut towards the end of May 2018.
My daughter started a YouTube channel Narrowboat Girl. She films and edits all the videos herself and you can see our journey from our house to our boat. So far we have travelled from Devizes to Reading on the Kennet and Avon. We have also had an amazing week on the Thames from Reading to Oxford and are currently on the Oxford Canal. This will be our first winter on the cut, which I am sure will be an experience.
Our first few months of continuously cruising have been a real adventure. We have seen some incredible places and met some amazing people. The boating community is welcoming and we have had so much help and advice and shared quite a few glasses of wine together. We love the more rural mooring locations, often with stunning scenery, where we are sometimes the only boat moored. We generally travel to the towns and cities to do our shopping, as we no longer have a car. We also generally move every 7-10 days to fill up on water.
The towpath provides a great variety of experiences and is never dull. It can be a very sociable place but can often be filled with conflicts. Cyclists, dog walkers, hire boaters, leisure boaters and liveaboards all compete for space and resources. Conflicts can arise very quickly as can amazing acts of kindness. No one day is ever the same. Some people have known each other for years and others like us make friends knowing that in few days we will be moving on.
So what is off grid living like? It can be hard work. We don’t have a car so sometimes shopping involves pulling a shopping trolley across a corn field. I admit sometimes I don’t know what day of the week it is but I always know when I last filled up on water. It is important to be able to plan ahead and in particular keep an eye on the weather..
What is life like for an off grid pre teen? Emma has adapted very well to our new life. Home schooling gives us more flexibility to travel. There are amazing home school groups throughout the country and we intend to meet up with these groups as we travel.She has coped well with the lack of space, the downsizing of her possessions and the additional chores required in boat life. If you asked her what made life on a narrowboat as a young person easier she would say good internet and a freezer for ice cream. Luckily with current technology both of these are achievable. She loves being outdoors and her amazing videos and photos have captured some amazing scenery and wildlife. Her videos show what it is like to live on a narrowboat through the eyes of an 11 year old. I really think that we have achieved a good balance in life. We spend most of our time enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside and only briefly visit more urban areas where we can enjoy a treat in a cafe or stock up on supplies.
Would I recommend this life? Yes I would, but do your research. A narrowboat can give you a very simple way of life or you can have many of the modern day conveniences if you have the space and the power on board. Marina life can give you security and a community and enable you to stay in one place for work and family commitments. Continuously cruising can be amazing but there are many factors outside your control and a degree of robustness is required. Alternatively many people love buying a narrowboat for holidays or hiring a boat and enjoying all the amazing sights to be seen on our river and canal network.