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Life on a narrowboat can be as peaceful as it is idyllic BUT you need to understand the pros, cons, highs, lows, and day to day logistics in living on England's inland waterways. Let me help you find out all you need to know before you commit to what could be a very expensive mistake.


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A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Manouche

Paul and Pei work in London and live on their boat on the nearby river Lee. Decent London residential moorings are as rare as hens’ teeth but this newly married couple have found one. In fact, they like the mooring so much that they rarely move their boat off it.

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

Hi there, my name is Paul 34 and my wife is Pei 30, we don’t own a dog but we do have a neighbour’s cat that wonders in and out now and again.

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

Paul Manouche2
Pei and I met several years ago, after our relationship became more serious we decided that we wanted our own place. London house prices being out of our grasp yet both of our jobs being linked to the city meant that buying a boat would at least be a step in the right direction into the property market. Despite us living on a narrowboat there is ironically more floor space than some places we have lived in over the years!

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

Our boat is called Manouche (French for Gypsy), the man we bought her from named her we are not sure why he settled on Manouche, he certainly wasn’t French or a Gypsy. He was a plumber from Kent, pretty sure he didn’t speak French either.

Do you have a permanent mooring? If so, tell me about it.

We are lucky enough to have found a permanent residential mooring on the River Lee north London. We are very fortunate in that we are located a 5 minute walk from a main line train station that is a short 20 minute journey into Liverpool Street station. We are also lucky in that we have access to all facilities including coal and gas and more recently the marina has invested in a pump out machine. The marina is very well run and the owners are easy going and really look after the boaters here.

What is you boat length and style?

62’ Tug Boat.

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

About 4 years now.

How did you finance your boat?

Combination of savings, partial loan from my very understanding boss and equally understanding parents, the remainder of the money came in the form of a Marine Loan.

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

Being full time liveaboards we are on the boat pretty much all year round.

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

Yes we both work full time. I work as a Self Employed Cabinet Maker. my main client is working for a small company based in Shoreditch London, who specialise in bespoke furniture. Pei works in marketing for a fancy clothes shop in West London providing ridiculously expensive clothes and accessories for ridiculously wealthy people.

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

Hmmm aside from insects 😉 for me it would be the limited fridge/ freezer space, for Pei it would be the odour from the pump out toilet from time to time.

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

Without hesitation the peacefulness of living on the river, we both lived in central London for years and it is very nice to be away from the constant bustle and noise.

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

The width. we would like to start a family soon. We love our boat and it would be great if we could stretch her. We want to stay afloat so we are starting to look at Wide beams now.

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

This is quite embarrassing but as permanent live aboard boaters we have always treated our boat like a floating flat. The truth of the matter is that we have a lot of experience living afloat, but we have only taken Manouche out a handful of times for an afternoon. Consequently we have never been cruising long enough to need to stop for supplies.

However, we took the car of the road for a couple of years and we tried Tesco home delivery but they kept giving us the bruised fruit so we gave up on them and started going ourselves using our push bikes with rucksacks on our backs. Have to admit it was nice to put the car back on the road.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

To be honest we have not cruised long enough for this to be an issue for us, given the length of our trips out on the boat we would be back on the mooring before the spin cycle finished! That said, we do have a washing machine aboard which can be powered by our 3Kw generator when not on Shore power. The washer has a tumble dryer built in but we do not use it, we can dry a whole rack of clothes in front of the stove in just a few hours, we think the washing smells better if we avoid tumble drying.

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

We have a trusty Sealand Traveler 911 Drop Through toilet and both the wife and I are absolutely delighted with it, there is nothing this little puppy can’t handle despite its compact size. However, we are slightly less pleased with the volume of the holding tank at a questionable 75 litres, we try to extend our pump out requirements by skipping strong coffee and orange juice at breakfast time.

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

Hmmm, yes again we have to own up and admit that we have a phone line connection to the boat which we installed shortly after moving in. So we are fortunate in that we do not have the usual internet connection problems although our mobiles seem to work pretty well inside the boat despite the steel hull. Consequently we are very pleased with the internet which is fortunate as our TV aerial is not the best so we download a lot of TV shows direct to our laptops.

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

Without question it has to be the river Lee

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

We have a 3Kw generator fitted to the engine so as long as the engine is running we can run most things on the boat, just not at the same time…. even with shore power we have to be aware of how many appliances are running as its quite easy to blow fuses on the main board which is a real pain to get to buried at the bottom of the engine bay. In terms of shore power we use around £40/ month that we top up a meter using tokens bought from the marina office.

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

We were amazed when we first moved aboard because the boat is cosier than most flats we have lived in over the years. We use a solid fuel stove which keeps the boat toasty and dry, we actually leave the bedroom door closed to stop the bedroom getting to hot. It is great to open the bedroom door on a freezing winter morning and be hit with a wall of hot air.

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

Our main piece of advice would be to really think carefully about how you can make owning a boat work for you. We spent almost half a year searching for a residential mooring before we bought the boat and it was a conscious decision that we made early that if we were unable to find a residential mooring then we would not buy a boat. Both of us working full time and pretty long hours means constant cruising would not work for us.

We were very clear about the reasons for buying on a boat, our work is very much linked to London but the idea of owning a property in the city is a pipe dream. The boat is our home, it has provided us with a place to call our own enabling us to move away from rented accommodation and invest in ourselves. To be honest our initial reasons were totally money driven, but after several years of living afloat on our little narrowboat on the river and having swans as neighbours the idea of living in one of those things on land made of bricks brings of waves of claustrophobia.

A final piece of advice to any would be boaters is that once you own your dream boat, invest in some self-adhesive backed plastic shower curtain clips, and of course some Bugsout rings they work a treat!

Paul and Pei don’t like creepy crawlies in their boat. They couldn’t find a decent solution for keeping unwanted crawling visitors out of their boat so they have designed an effective barrier for their porthole windows. You can find out more about their products here.

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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.

 

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Summary
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.