A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Festina Lente

After a brush with bowel cancer, Andy and his wife Sue decided to live life to the full, retire early and continuously cruise the canal network. They now have no fixed abode and love every minute of their new lifestyle.

Who are you? (and your significant other and, of course, your dog if you have one)

 My name is Andy and I am married to Sue

Tell me a little about yourself and why you decided to live a life afloat

I suppose we have been planning getting a narrowboat since our 20’s. for when we retire but last year I had cancer of the bowel so we decided to retire early and live on smaller pensions.

What is your boat called and why did you decide on that name?

‘Festina Lente’ it’s latin for ‘make haste slowly’ The boat was already named.

Do you have a permanent mooring?

Festina LenteWe haven’t a mooring yet but will have a winter berth in a marina.

What is your boat style and length

58 foot Trad

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

Since April, this is our first year on her.

How did you finance your boat?


How much time do you spend on your boat each year?

All year so far.

Are you still working? (If so, what do you do?)

Early retirees

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

Inconsiderate people who moor at water points.

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

Absolutely everything, life at this pace gives your eyes time to see.

If you could change just one thing about your boat, what would it be?

A bigger cratch area maybe and I’d love a bow thruster.

When you are cruising how do you resupply (How do you get to the supermarket without a car)?

ina Lente on a river mooringWe moor near supermarkets or get them to deliver the heavy stuff, we use farm shops and local butchers which are a little more expensive but far superior quality. If we need a car to visit relatives we use Enterprise who collect us from the boat.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

We have a full size domestic appliance on board.

What type of toilet do you have on board and are you happy with it?

Cassette with 3 tanks. We can go a couple of weeks if we really needed too. We haven’t found Elsan services hard to find.

How do you connect to the internet when you are on your boat and are you happy with the service you receive?

MiFi  contract with 3 , very happy, the coverage for the data is much better than their mobile phone coverage for some reason.

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

Thames is our favourite waterway but the South Oxford is nice and we are on the Ashby as I write which is beuatifully rural although shallow in places.

How do you generate electricity when you are cruising and how much do you use?

Twin alternators and 5 leisure batteries plus 250 watt solar panels. The summer we have had we haven’t needed to run the engine to top the bank up. We are not big electric uses mainly recharging stuff like laptops. We have a TV but don’t use it much. The biggest user is the washing machine which we have to run the engine to use.

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

We haven’t been through a winter yet, but April was cool and we had the Epping stove lit which warms the boat nicely.We also have diesel central heating to 5 rads if we need it.

What advice can you offer someone considering living on a narrowboat?

Know your budget. Look at loads and loads of boats on the internet to get a feel for prices.  Some brokers seem to chance their arm with the price probably to get the vendor to sell through them, then the price  suddenly drops by as much as £10,000, so don’t get caught out. Make a list of everything you must have on your boat and another list of would be nice to have aboard. You can use this list to whittle down the boats to view. Then spend time driving around marinas viewing as many boats as you can and speak to boaters, sit by a lock and ask them questions , they are a chatty bunch. A full Survey is a must.

You can read Andy’s excellent and often updated blog here.


Are you one of the lucky few who lives the dream on board your own narrowboat full time? Would you like to share your experience with some of the thousands of potential floating home owners who visit this site? If you can spare the time to answer a few simple questions, I would love to hear from you. Just let me know so I can email the questions to you. I’ll create a post like the one above complete with a link back to your own blog or website.



Useful Information
Paul Smith

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.

vchells - Monday,16 September, 2013

Hi Sue, good to read your blog. We are a mirror couple of you, except Chris had a fight with bone plasma cancer which almost cost him his life! That was 2 years ago, since when we have sold the house, & are now living in a caravan whilst our boat is being built. A question for you, from an apprehensive wife, how long was it before you settled down to life aboard? Was it an immediate love, did you have days of self-doubt, or do you gradually acclimatise? 


Thanks, Vivien H


Paul Smith - Monday,16 September, 2013

Hi Vivien,

While you’re waiting for Sue or Andy to respond, let me add my two penneth worth. I think you either love the lifestyle or you don’t. I’ve been on my own boat now for three and a half years and I can honestly say that I’ve loved every minute of it… even in the depths of my first winter on board, when the nighttime temperature plunged to a decidedly chilly minus eighteen, I was very happy to be living on the boat rather than living in a house.

I suppose the hardest thing to get used to is the lack of space. I had to adapt to a total living space marginally smaller than the area of my old lounge at home. In that space I had to cram all of my worldly possessions. Admittedly there weren’t many of them at the time. I had just left my matrimonial home and escaped with a suitcase of clothes. I never did go back for the rest of my stuff. I left wardrobes of suits, dozens of shirts, racks and racks of ties. I didn’t need them on the boat. I’ve never missed them.

The other big difference is that utilities aren’t on tap as they are in a house. Coal for the stove has to be carried to the boat in 25kg bags, gas for cooking in cylinders about the same weight and water has to be regularly topped up. Once you’re used to the regime though, it’s no problem.

The space won’t be an issue for you if you’re currently living in a caravan and you have a similar issue with utilities. The big difference between a caravan and a narrowboat is that a narrowboat owner isn’t seen as a nuisance on the waterways as caravan owners are on the roads. On the canals, everyone is a caravan owner and everyone – nearly everyone – is very happy to travel slowly.

How is your build progressing? Who is building it? What’s the size and layout?


vchells - Monday,16 September, 2013

Thanks Paul, we are really excited about our adventure. Boat will be 57×13, built by Burscough Boat Trading. We hope to move on board at the end of November & we have secured winter moorings at Scarisbrick Marina. We will be cruising the Northern Section next year. Everyone we have spoken with has always been very positive & content with their way of life. We have moved from a cottage on the top of the Pennines so lugging wood & coal comes naturally to us!! We are going on the Helmsman Course with Bear Boating of Apperley Bridge tomorrow & Wednesday.. & are looking forward to that. Once we get photo’s of the boat (which will be JetMeg1)we will post & start a blog ourselves I think.

It’s something we were going to do 20 years ago but the timing wasn’t right; Chris’s illness gave us a real kick up the backside. Thanks





Alan - Monday,16 September, 2013

Hi Vivien

Sounds like you will take to life onboard no problem and you will have loads of space with a widebeam.  Paul’s remarks about a caravan are correct, although sometimes the supposedly wide canals can be pretty narrow in places and a widebeam can be a caravan!  However, the  northern waterways are so quiet it is seldom a problem in my (very limited) experience.





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