Learn about life afloat the easy way

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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8

A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat The Woodsman

Pauline is the second narrowboat owner featured in the case study section who has a partner who also owns and lives on a narrowboat. Is this a growing trend and a solution to the lack of space on a narrowboat?

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

I am Pauline Roberts and my partner is Barry Babbington. We don’t have a dog or any other pets.

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

Barry and I own our own boats and travel together. I met him when I had a smaller boat and moored up behind him. We enjoy being close to nature, watching the wild life and the changing of the seasons. Barry is a bit of a musician, plays the keyboard and drums. I introduced him to poetry and showed him how to put it on a poetry site. We also enjoy drawing and painting (though we are not very good at that), making candles, sight-seeing and looking at old churches and cathedrals on our travels, and are fascinated with words… Scrabble, Boggle, quizzes. The reason I decided to live afloat is that once on my first little boat I became hooked. Those long weekends which were planned turned into long weeks. Then months. The canal adopted ME, rather than the other way round

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

My boat is The Woodsman, a 60 foot semi-trad, built in 2000. Barry’s is called Sunflower and is a 1993 Dave Thomas build, a 63 foot Dutch barge style. We both bought our boats with the names already in place.

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

Barry has lived on his for over nine years and I have lived on two boats over a period of nearly five years. My first one, an old 36 foot Springer, was bought for weekends and holidays although I eventually moved on to it as my house was on the market. My grandson and his partner are now the owners of the Springer.

How did you finance your boat?

We both sold our houses to buy the boats.

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

as continuous cruisers living aboard obviously we spend all year on ours.

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

We are both in our 60’s and retired. I used to be a psychiatric nurse.

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

Barry and I have discussed what we like least about narrowboat life. Muddy, inadequate towpaths and lack of moorings in places. He doesn’t like the cold at all and I get frustrated about the ignorance displayed by house-dwellers who have no idea of the hardships we sometimes have to put up with, such as getting water, emptying the loo, etc.

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

As for the things we like the most, well the top answer to that would be the community spirit of boaters. Although we hardly ever know peoples’ surnames and sometimes even their Christian names there is a camaraderie and willingness to help each other. Of course, towpath walkers who stop to talk are always welcomed. We’ve met some pretty interesting people that way.

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

Changes? I have a walk-through bedroom at the stern of my boat. How I would love to have a private room at the bow instead.

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

When cruising we get our supplies by looking through the canal books, making a note of where the shops are and either walking or catching a bus. We tend to have lots of supplies which don’t need a fridge so that when we are in the middle of nowhere we won’t go hungry. For instance, part-baked bread which can be kept in a cupboard, long-life milk and some tins of ham, corned beef etc. In the winter I am able to keep chilled food in the cratch as well.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

We do our washing by hand. Big items like sheets are usually boil-washed at marinas or laundrettes. Barry and I both have washing machines but rarely use them except to spin out the clothes before either hanging them outside or in the bathroom. They use too much water.

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

We both have pump-out toilets and Barry also has a Portapotti. I have my own pump-out kit so use that when there is a facility for it at sanitary stations. We are both satisfied with our toilets but find, in some areas, a lack of places to get rid of waste. For instance, in Berkhamsted there are no working sanitary stations. There used to be one in the grounds of a pub (!!) but that hasn’t been operational for years. We did campaign to get it back into use but that’s another story… BW told us to either go up five locks to another one or go down five locks. Not very helpful especially when the cut is frozen over.

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

We have computers and go online via a dongle. As explained in my essay it all depends on where we are moored whether we get a strong signal, a weak one or nothing at all.

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

You asked which was our favourite canal or section. It has to be the Aylesbury Arm. We’ve travelled that twice and would do so again because it is quiet, pretty and has a basin full of welcoming and helpful boaters. Halfway up the arm, between bridge 14 and lock 14, is the most gorgeous setting, with a carp lake set among massive fields full of bullocks and four totally wild Palomino ponies.

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

As for generating electricity when cruising we both have twin alternators and generators. We use very little electricity. I have my fridge on at the moment but won’t use that very often because it really eats the power. Barry and I both changed our lighting to LEDs which use just a fraction of the power the old lights used and we like to burn candles on winter evenings. To read we use battery headlights and as well as our built-in radios we have battery operated ones.

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

My advice to people considering living on a narrowboat would be to try it out. Take a boating holiday in mid-winter and decide if you could manage to put up with the cold, condensation, etc. Talk to as many boaters as possible to get an in-depth picture. And look at websites, like yours, Paul, which give superb advice and information.

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

You asked about a boat’s warmth in winter. I have a multi-fuel fire at one end of the boat and my bedroom at the other so there’s a massive range of temperature variation. In other words my stern is bloody freezing. However, with both boats having diesel-fired central heating this can be rectified at the press of a button. Thermal underwear is a must along with lots of layers and, at bedtime, hot-water bottles. Ecofans on the fire really help, too.

Pauline has also written what has proven to be quite a controvertial article about the pitfalls of living on a narrowboat. You can read it 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 web site.

 

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary
Paul Smith
 

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia now wander Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 32' Dutch motor cruiser.

Comments
  • Tournesol Monday,19 March, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Hi Pauline,
    We used to own Sunflower, in fact we bought it from Whilton Marina in 1999 and changed the name from Eesti Princess to Sunflower and made a lot of changes to the electrics etc to make it suitable for continuous cruising. We only sold her because we moved to France in 2000 and we came back in 2010, when we bought Tournesol (the boat was named Wherethehell-R-We – you can see why we changed the name!) I have read your article but I can honestly say that we lived in Sunflower through the summer and winter of 1999/2000 and we didn’t experience any of the problems that you talk about. The boat was almost too warm and the only niggle was a lack of storage space, but we had three cats and two dogs living with us as well, so maybe that’s why! Our boat now is a 70 foot trad, built in 2008 and it is a lot more modern than Sunflower was but we loved that boat, which is why we chose to come back to this way of life. I think that the important point for people considering the way of life is that if you didn’t ever enjoy camping as a child or adult, you probably won’t enjoy the cruising lifestyle. We have a mooring at Yelvertoft now (I would definitely recommend the marina, it ticks almost every box) and we therefore have a safe place for the boat for the winter months. Maybe we were lucky in the winter of 1999/2000?
    Anne and Keith Poulton

     
    • Barry B Friday,13 April, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      Tournesol
      Hi Pauline,We used to own Sunflower, in fact we bought it from Whilton Marina in 1999 and changed the name from Eesti Princess to Sunflower and made a lot of changes to the electrics etc to make it suitable for continuous cruising. We only sold her because we moved to France in 2000 and we came back in 2010, when we bought Tournesol (the boat was named Wherethehell-R-We – you can see why we changed the name!) I have read your article but I can honestly say that we lived in Sunflower through the summer and winter of 1999/2000 and we didn’t experience any of the problems that you talk about. The boat was almost too warm and the only niggle was a lack of storage space, but we had three cats and two dogs living with us as well, so maybe that’s why! Our boat now is a 70 foot trad, built in 2008 and it is a lot more modern than Sunflower was but we loved that boat, which is why we chose to come back to this way of life. I think that the important point for people considering the way of life is that if you didn’t ever enjoy camping as a child or adult, you probably won’t enjoy the cruising lifestyle. We have a mooring at Yelvertoft now (I would definitely recommend the marina, it ticks almost every box) and we therefore have a safe place for the boat for the winter months. Maybe we were lucky in the winter of 1999/2000?Anne and Keith Poulton

       
      • Barry B Friday,13 April, 2012 at 4:32 pm

        hi tournicel nice to see your st5ill floating nice to see your contact on this superb web site barry and pauline

         
    • boatlady Saturday,14 April, 2012 at 10:06 am

      Hello Anne and Keith. I have met you when you paid Barry a visit on Sunflower. There was a funny incident with his dressing gown catching fire but we won’t go into that…. Best wishes and carry on cruising. Hope we meet again.
      Pauline

       
  • bojangles Monday,19 March, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    I have just read paulines case study of living on a narrowboat. I would like to ask her a question .
    How did she manage on a narrow boat as a single woman. I have lived on a narrow boat when my husband was alive , and would like to go back to living on a narrow boat . But I dont know how I would manage as a single woman on her own . As my husband was very good at doing things , so I dont know if I would be able to do things on my own . I would be very grateful for some advice.
    Thanks in anticipation. Doreen

     
    • Barry B Friday,13 April, 2012 at 4:23 pm

      barry on sunflower says being a lady on her own wil experience now problems be a big girl and go for it our community is there for all it is there for us to enjoy

       
    • boatlady Friday,13 April, 2012 at 6:47 pm

      Hi Doreen. I have managed because I wanted to learn all there was about a single woman on a narrowboat. I now know, with the help of so many narrowboaters, how to service my engine, how to check the batteries, how to pack my stern gland gland etc. Just ask those you are moored near.
      Pauline on the Woodsman.

       
  • Tournesol Saturday,14 April, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    “Hello Anne and Keith. I have met you when you paid Barry a visit on Sunflower. There was a funny incident with his dressing gown catching fire but we won’t go into that…. Best wishes and carry on cruising. Hope we meet again. Pauline”

    Hi Pauline, yes I knew that it was you and that we came in to introduce ourselves when we passed your two boats near Milton Keynes, plus we remember the dressing gown episode with horror. It was me who noticed that Barry was on fire, I think! Had visions of having to heave him into the canal but luckily it didn’t come to that. Hope to catch up with you again one day, keep well. Anne

     
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