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Me and my boats: the birth of a baby and a boat

PUBLISHED: 15:17 07 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:17 07 September 2018

On the Nene (photo: Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown)

On the Nene (photo: Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown)

Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown

How do you buy a narrowboat and spend five days a week renovating it while on maternity leave, without letting on to your husband? Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown tells us how it was done...

My Husband James has always had a passion for the canals. For many years he has been a volunteer with Waterway Recovery Group. He has always had an ambition to one day own his own narrowboat and cruise the canal network he has helped to restore.

Back in October 2016, whilst visiting my parents’ boat on the River Nene, I got chatting to the couple who owned a 1980s 36ft Springer narrowboat moored behind my parents’ boat. They said they were thinking of selling it, my ears pricked up and I enquired upon the price they were thinking of. The price was to my liking so a plan was formed. It was very much a case of right place, right time of my life as I was pregnant with our first child. So I agreed to buy and paid my deposit, to then take full ownership in the New Year. This was all to be kept a big secret so that I could surprise my husband James.

January 26th 2017 I gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Joules. A month later I took full ownership of the narrowboat. I told James I had a surprise for him but didn’t let on what.

My parents had already offered to help renovate the boat to suit our needs and taste. So as soon as James had left for work early in the morning I got up, got our daughter ready, collected my parents and drove the 52 miles to the boat to spend the day working on it and then to drive home and cook dinner ready for when James returned from work. It’s amazing the jobs that can be done whilst breastfeeding a newborn at the same time. All research needed was done during night feeds.

The galley before work started (photo: Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown)The galley before work started (photo: Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown)

We spent just over four months, five days a week, working on the boat. The first job was to get the boat out of the water: luckily the boat club we are at has its own cradle on a slip, so we booked use of that. As soon as it was on the slip we jet washed the hull and prepared it ready for blacking. We then started work on the inside; we took off all of the soft furnishings including the old mattress - it must’ve been a rather funny sight watching two adults wrestle to get the mattress along the narrow corridor and out of the back doors. The dark varnished wood walls weren’t to my taste, so we prepared them and painted them magnolia. One of the front hopper windows leaked so Dad took it out, which revealed all the different colours the boat had been in its lifetime.

We then moved on to sand and paint the outside. She was red, yellow and blue; I’d decided on green and cream with Cadbury purple details (Cadbury purple was our wedding colour theme so is special to us). I knew all along I wanted to rename the boat; I wanted to name her after our daughter, Joules. After the painting was done I painstakingly applied the vinyl name graphic and stood back to admire it with tears rolling down my face, so proud of what we had achieved.

Once she was back in the water the work on the inside really started, new tiles were put around the fire, new sparkle fleck worktops fitted and the bathroom changed around to accommodate a cassette toilet instead of a Porta Potti. Mum and I made completely new sofa cushions and curtains, storing them all in my parents’ loft so that James didn’t see them. I also fitted two cassette caravan blinds, one to the bathroom porthole and one to the bedroom porthole to make it as dark as possible.

We were working to a tight schedule as I originally wanted to reveal it to James at the beginning of May for his birthday. Unfortunately due to bad weather and a teething baby we were delayed so it was decided that the big reveal would be on Fathers’ Day.

Out of the water and the overhaul journey begins (photo: Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown)Out of the water and the overhaul journey begins (photo: Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown)

By this time James was starting to become suspicious, but I kept dropping hints that I was training to become a hot air balloon pilot to try and throw him off the scent.

My parents and I had made a plan to get James down to the boat, my dad was going to ask him to help with something on their boat.

Father’s Day arrived so we all went down to the boat to ‘help’ dad with their boat. Once it was revealed, all freshly painted and proudly displaying out daughter’s name, James stood speechless until muttering “I knew it, I knew it all along that you weren’t learning to fly a hot air balloon”. Once he’d got over the shock he was very happy that we’d made one of his dreams come true. Like all things there are always little jobs to do and maintenance to keep up, (we all know BOAT stands for Bring Out Another Thousand) but James is enjoying getting stuck in.

All in all not a bad way to spend my maternity leave.

Katy-Felicity and Joules out on the river (photo: Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown)Katy-Felicity and Joules out on the river (photo: Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown)

Next year we plan on cruising to London in time for Little Venice Canalway Cavalcade, this is somewhere James has always wanted to take a narrowboat to: another dream we can hopefully tick off.

Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown


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