Welcome to some of my memories of experiences living off grid on a narrowboat. I guess that a bit of an introduction to the circumstances and type of boat should come first, then I’ll get down to details of life on board. This will take more than one article, so please be patient as it will take time to get everything written & submitted.
A quarter of a century ago, at the age of 25, I sold my home and moved on to a narrowboat. I wasn’t some kind of hippy or new age traveller, just someone who had to take a lower paid job and couldn’t keep up with the mortgage repayments and needed somewhere cheap to live. It was a decision that changed my life: no mortgage, no rent, free from the shackles of the big utility companies, here today and gone tomorrow… sounds idyllic. It was good but you have to bear in mind that I had a full time job, so the boat had to be moored somewhere convenient for work which meant paying for moorings, canal licence, insurance etc. Nowadays there are, I believe, more expenses and paperwork involved, you just can’t escape bureaucracy in the UK. However it was superb fun and there was a freedom that you don’t get with a more traditional lifestyle: don’t like the view or the neighbours, just untie the ropes and move somewhere else. Can’t afford the mooring, move somewhere cheaper or even move the boat every so often and don’t pay any mooring fees.
I had friends in the village I’d lived in who were selling their boat for the same amount of money as my proceeds from the sale of my bungalow, so I sort of fell in to boating at the right time. What I got was a smallish 30 foot all steel construction narrowboat, wood lined and well insulated, just right for living on permanently. The small size meant it was easy to heat and could be turned most places without having to search for a “winding hole” that so many longer boats need to turn around. Of course it meant getting used to living in a confined area with little room for storage but as with most things in life it was a compromise. If I were to move back on the water, and I may well do so when child #2 leaves home in a few years time, I would again buy a small narrowboat as, for me, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages: cheaper to buy, moor, licence and insure, easier to handle for one person, and the best reason for me is that they can be heated to a luxurious level so quickly and cheaply. Forget shivering miserably in the winter months, I like my comfort!
Moving in day arrived after much planning and I cast off (that’s nautical speak for untying the ropes, hopefully not the end that should still be attached to the boat) and headed for a marina out in the countryside, just me and my faithful hound looking forward to a life of freedom and peace. How hard could that be?
Well it wasn’t all plain sailing (appropriate pun). The first problem I encountered was my untidiness. Living in a house you can get away with a lot but in the confines of a 30 foot narrowboat things can descend pretty rapidly into chaos. It may not sound like much but believe me, after a few days I really was throwing stuff around in frustration because I couldn’t find the things I needed. After a week I realised that I had to change my mindset and began to take note of something my mother used to tell me, time and time again: don’t put it down, put it away. It probably took a while to change but change I did and to this day I hate things out of place. That in itself could be a lifesaver, even if the power went off at night I could walk through my home and pick up my keys (car and doors) in complete darkness along with anything else I need. Of course I also know the exact locations of all my torches but if necessary I could do without them.
So, my untidiness cured and with everything ship shape I settled in to life afloat without a care in the world, little realising that living off grid actually requires some planning ahead.
More to come in Pt 2