Go Stay Work Play... Float!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Apologies for the break in blogging, but I’ve really had my hands full for the last few weeks. Remember when I talked about messing about in boats?  Astute Go Stay Work Play Live readers will remember that near the end of that post I mused somewhat idly about how living on a narrowboat on a canal might be a interesting option for an itinerant London-dweller itching for a place of her own but without the lottery winnings or generous inheritance to afford a place on dry land.  It seems those musings were not as idle as you (or, in fact, I) might have thought.  Why do I say that?  Because… this:

Er, this is my boat.

Yeah… I bought a narrowboat.  It’s a bit sudden, I’ll grant you that.  But there were circumstances.  And I think it’s fair to say the boat was a good deal.  Value for money, I think, though it’s definitely what a real estate agent would call a “fixer-upper”.  It’s functional right now, but it’s not going to win any beauty contests.  Unless they have beauty contests for “Boat that looks most like someone’s lakeside cottage from the 1970s” in which case I would probably clean up.  But like I said… value for money.  The main reason that the boat was such a good deal is that it takes a fair bit of imagination to see past the wood panelling and custom cabinet-work of the previous owners.

No extra charge for the high-end fittings

Without going into details, I think it’s safe to say that even if I spend more than the original purchase price on improvements - enough to upgrade pretty much all of the systems and get it looking more like an Ikea catalogue and less like the Unabomber's shack, I’ll struggle to spend even as much as a down payment on a studio flat in London.  And I already own it outright - no mortgage, and no rent.

I did think about it, you know.  And I talked to quite a few people too, people at home in Canada and friends here in London.  And every time I expected someone to say, “What?  A boat?  Are you crazy?”  Instead I heard things like, “Oh, yeah I can see you doing that” and “That’s totally you.”  Friends in London almost invariably said, “Oh, yeah I have a friend/ cousin/ former student/ hairdresser/ chimney sweep who lives on a boat” as if it were the most normal and acceptable thing possible.  You’re all enablers.  Every one of you.  So I took the proverbial plunge (though I hasten to add that I have not yet actually taken any literal plunges).

The other reason this particular boat was a deal was priced as it was is  because it was located in Cheshire.  Remember the Grand Day Out when I saw Iron Bridge and failed to find the Secret Bunker?  Well the real reason for that trip was to go see this boat, which was moored at a marina near Nantwich.  And the friend I brought along - Nes - was there because he lived on a boat for a year and is also a certified guy-who-knows-about-engines-and-electricalish-stuff and could look at the diesel engine and see something other than a large noisy lump of metal emitting trippy fumes and looking rather greasy.  So we went to see the boat on a Wednesday, and I made an offer on it Thursday morning when the office opened.  I might have pondered a bit longer, but as we were leaving the marina there was a couple waiting to go look at the same boat, so I figured it was carpe diem time.  Also Nes was hopelessly incorrigible and egged me on relentlessly.  (Nes: This is basically all your fault. You know that, right?)

Here’s me when holding the keys to my boat, on Day One.

Adding to the urgency was the fact that Nes was planning to move back to SOUTH AMERICA in just a few weeks, so if I was going to buy a boat I wanted to do it in soon, to maximise the amount of boat-related knowledge and experience I could squeeze out of the poor guy before he fled the country.  There followed a sort of frenzied period when we made a second trip to Cheshire to drive the boat from the marina where I bought it to a marina where they would take it out of the water, put it on a flat bed truck, and drive it to another marina in suburban London.  And then there was the time it took to get it from that marina, which is on the Thames, into the canal system (Shepperton to Brentford, for those in the know) and up to its current mooring spot in far-flung Uxbridge, all the while trying to remember that the tiller steers sort of backwards and you should really turn the engine pre-heater off once it’s started and that the grease on lock gears stains permanently, while simultaneously vomiting out large sums of cash about every 4 hours on everything from alternator belts and ropes and floating keychains to dish rags and generous lashings of gin and tonic.

And so that’s the big news… I bought a boat.  In fact, I’m on the boat now, as I write this.  I woke up on board this morning, had a nice productive day of puttering around dismantling some of the more heinous Unabomber-y bits and generally knocking the place into shape (including ejecting several pieces of really foul carpet that were basically a Level 4 biohazard), made dinner, and watched two episodes of House of Cards.  All while floating.  It’s been quite agreeable.

So, the details:  The boat is a 45’ long narrowboat, meaning that it’s roughly 7’ wide.  (45’ is small for a narrowboat - some get up just over 70’ long, which means that the bow and stern are basically two different time zones.)  It’s got a 1.5 litre BMC diesel engine.  The stern is what’s called a “Cruiser” style, which means that it’s got a generously sized deck instead of the Traditional and Semi-Traditional styles.  The deck is a great feature - it’s like having a balcony in an apartment.

Breakfast on the deck.

Entering from the back deck (or stern, as we boat-people would say) there’s a kitchen with a sink with running water, gas cooker (stove and oven) and a pretty generous amount of counter space, shelving and drawers.  No refrigerator yet, but that’s coming. For now there’s a 12 volt cooler that I rarely use.  There’s also no hot running water because the gas heater is disconnected, another thing that will be sorted while I’m away.


It's LITERALLY a galley kitchen!

Moving along, there’s a wood stove, which pumps out quite a remarkable amount of heat, but will likely be used merely for ambience/ emergencies since I’m also having a forced hot air system put in.  And there’s a built in couch that will eventually convert into a second (sorta-almost) double bed, and I’ve just sorted out a table and chair in the living area.  The bathroom needs a lot of work, thought it’s functional right now.  There’s a chemical toilet (not bad at all, really), sink, and shower (which I haven’t tried because, as I mentioned, no hot water).

The current heating system

Living / Dining / Home Office / Guest Room

At the front of the boat is a separate bedroom, which was another important feature for me. The cabin of this boat is quite a small living space - about 200 square feet in total - but one of the things that makes it feel like a proper home is that the bed doesn’t have to fold out of the ceiling or pop up from underneath the dining table and then be stowed away again before you can actually move.  That was non-negotiable.

The Coke bedspread is temporary

Water comes from a tank under the bow deck that’s filled at various water points on the canals.  Gas for the stove and (eventually) hot water comes from large propane cylinders in special lockers at the stern.  Electricity is from batteries which are charged either by the alternator (when the engine is running) or by a small solar panel on the roof.

And that’s it.  It’s a home.  Outdoor deck, kitchen, living/dining, bathroom, bedroom.  All that, with a guaranteed water view, 24/7.

There is a lot of work to do, but while I’m in Azerbaijan (remember that?) I’m leaving the boat with a mechanic who’s going to do a bunch of mechanical and other upgrades while I’m away. Gas-fired fridge, new hot water heater, engine tune-up, scraping and re-painting the hull, scraping and priming the exterior so I can give it a sexy new colour scheme… the list goes on. When I get back, the plan is to move onto it full time and start renovating the interior.  In the mean time, I’m spending a few nights a week onboard, getting a feel for how things might work, measuring up and making drawings, and generally just trying to figure out this new lifestyle.  I’m sad at the thought of leaving the big, friendly house in Brixton, but it was starting to feel like it was time for that move anyway.  And with me doing more work internationally and leaving the UK for months at a stretch, it’s hugely appealing to think that I can simply drive my house to a marina where they’ll pluck it out of the water and stick it on a shelf until I get back.  It all just kind of makes sense.  And I can’t deny it, it feels cool.  Really, really cool.

One last thing… the name of the boat right now is “Dragonfly”.  Despite imprecations from relatives with a fondness for dragonflies, I’m going to change the name.  And don’t give me that malarky about it being bad luck to change a boat’s name because this boat started life as “Lisa Jane” before it was “Dragonfly”, so it’s my turn. I’ve got a few ideas, but haven’t made a decision yet, and this is where you come in.  I’m thinking about doing a Canadian-ish paint scheme - dark red, cream, maybe some black, so I thought something with a Canadian or prairie sound would be nice.  Or maybe it needs a Russian twist, since it was Russian roubles that bought it.  Suggestions are welcome; click on the bottom left where it says “Post a Comment” and give me your best.

And THAT’S why I haven’t been blogging much.

Me at the tiller, looking and feeling pretty insufferably smug.  Wouldn't you?


Patty in the U.S. said...

I think I've only commented once, but I've been enjoying your excellent writing since your Big Trip. London is my favorite city in the world, so thanks for moving there and writing about it! I have to say, though, this might be the most exciting news yet - you SHOULD feel smug for accomplishing this feat! The canals have always fascinated me and I look forward to following along vicariously. Please keep writing, whether it's about your next job, your narrowboat adventures, or what you had for breakfast. Your writing is always entertaining no matter the topic.

Crazy Auntie Linda said...

I suggested Northern Lights but your mom says Aurora. Either that or The Maple Moose. 😁

Mitch said...

YAY, not only is following your adventures just awesome, but now we get another flavour no doubt tossed in - Nautical Adventures!!!!

My suggestions:
The Tragically Ship
I like the Maple Moose suggested above
Beaver Damn
Bluenose LXXVIII
Two for Tripping
I'm sure the girls will have more suggestions - if there's any decent ones, I'll be sure to send them along!

Congratulations again on your new digs!

Claire said...


Miles Muir said...

I think you have the perfect name right in front of you. "GoStay..." When you first left the cryptic tweet about Dragonfly, I looked her up on the web, found the sellers site and saw that there was a fresh deposit and I thought you had bought it...and like others, I think it is PERFECT for you...I mean how cool to live on a canal boat just outside of London! I look forward to more blog entries as you bring her to her full potential.

Anonymous said...

So, so happy for you. I can't wait to see the transformation from Unibomber-chic to . . . how would you describe your aesthetic?
Looking forward to any and all boat posts!
I have no witty boat name ideas other than "From away"
Love the blog, as always,
Steven G.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Congrats Pam! What a portal (porthole) to more adventure! Looking forward to future updates. Names...hmmm. You've got some excellent options already. Maybe "Saskabush"?

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