AmyJo was launched on a bright but cold morning of 30th November 2014 at Crick marina. She was the result of 4 years of research, planning and life changing experiences. Chris and I have lived on her pretty much full time since July 2014 so here is a brief summary of our experience.
Once AmyJo’s base plates were laid our journey towards our dream had finally started to be reality. To say we were like school kids getting a new toy was an understatement. We revelled in every detail of the experience, loving every last second of the build. We would savour every new fitting and furniture that went into AmyJo at each visit and pinched ourselves each time to remind us that this boat was really ours and no one else’s. Fernwood Boats, our builders, provided us with a boat we are extremely proud of and one that gets many admiring glances and comments where ever we go. She is our first boat and her design, whilst may not suit many, is exactly what we wanted. We listened to boaters during our design phase and one piece of advice became our mantra. Build her for you, not anyone else as they will only be guests, you will be the ones living on her. Sound advice we have since found out.
Our plan was to enjoy her at weekends and holidays then move aboard when we retire. This took a rather unexpected turn after we actually got AmyJo on the cut. We launched at Crick Marina to be there for the boat show but we always knew we would bring AmyJo home to Cheshire that year and so in July we took a three week holiday to cruise her up to Tattenhall marina on the Shropshire union canal. This would give us a taste of what life would be like as live-a-boards. It also meant we would find out what worked and what did not, what we needed to purchase and what we had we did not need.
The weather gods favoured us and we enjoyed three weeks of perfect weather. We cruised up the Coventry canal onto the Staff and Worcester then onto the Shropshire union managing the 119 miles in just two weeks by cruising 6 hours every day. We then found time to cruise into our home town of Chester for a few days. AmyJo performed faultlessly and we fell in love with her. We soon learnt how she handled and along the way got several very useful tips from the more experience boaters who we had great pleasure in meeting. To them we are eternally grateful.
Life aboard a narrow boat for us is most enjoyable but for someone who is thinking of following suit there are a few things that one needs to be prepared for that may put some off.
In the early days we quickly found out that you have to adapt to new routines. Chris and I both work, so in the mornings getting ready takes a little longer. With only one bathroom and no hot water we had to wait for the kettle to boil to provide wash water. AmyJo has an immersion heater fitted for use when hooked up to the mains but it originally only had an on/off switch. We had this replaced with a timer so now we have hot water every morning when in the marina. No use when cruising of course, so then we rely on either the kettle on the cooker or running the engine to heat water.
On the subject of water we found our use of it has changed due to the fact we only have a finite amount stored onboard that, when used, naturally has to be topped up. The 400litre tank provides ample water but like other boaters we choose to conserve where we can. Take having a shower. At home one would run the water constantly whilst taking our ablutions. On a boat this would run most of the water out so we run the water to get wet. Turn it off whilst soaping and then on again to rinse off. This way less water is used and this helps delay filling up again. This could also be applied at home during water shortages or hose pipe bans.
Another topic of conversation favoured by many boaters it seems is the subject of toilets. Some favour pump out macerator loos whilst others favour porta potties. On good advice of seasoned boaters we have both on AmyJo. If you are frozen in for days or weeks out on the cut you cannot always reach a pump out facility when needed but with the porta potty this is not a problem as it is portable. If you have a pump out an adage one boater told us to prolong time between pump outs is, “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down”. Now some of you may turn your nose up at this but reasonable application, and if one knows it will be a while before accessing a pump out, this may actually help until the facilities can be reached.
Another area we have learnt to adapt is cooking. Some boats are all electric with generators providing sufficient power for the appliances. AmyJo has a gas cooker and oven and unlike some we do not have a microwave, therefore cooking vegetables has to be done the conventional way in a saucepan. The same applies with washing up. Our dishwasher is very economical as it consists of us using dish cloths and tea towels.
When at the house broadband internet was everything for both the girls and us. I could work from home using the internet. Having migrated from Essex to Chester social media is key in helping us stay touch with the family. Our aging parents have now discovered FaceTime so we regularly speak face to face more now than we ever did when we lived just round the corner to them. AmyJo has a GSM wireless router and our EE 4G package copes well with the demand we put on it each month. Its costly at £30/p/m but we consider that well spent.
One question we are constantly asked is “Now its cold are you warm enough on the boat?” or “How on earth do you keep the boat warm?” Well in this day and age its easy. Narrow boats can still have all the mod cons of a house, just in a smaller space that all. Modern spray foam insulation on a boat stands in for cavity insulation on a house and if applied correctly spray foam is more effective. We do have central heating, all be it powered by an EberSpacher diesel heater, that is also providing the hot water to the radiators. In addition, again on good advice of seasoned boaters, we opted for a log burner as well. So whilst frozen in and diesel reserves are very low we can still keep warm using the log burner. Our little hobbit multi-fuel stove can keep the boat as warm as 27°C quite easily if needed. Burning coal or wood we should never be far from a supply of fuel. One can also tap into local timber merchants for offcuts, another source of cheap fuel.
To anyone considering buying a narrow boat I’ll be honest here and say living the dream is not all what programs like Waterways make it out to be. It’s not all romantic scenery, cute villages with picture book pubs and pleasant boaters giving cheery waves as they pass by (though most do) but it is very rewarding none the less. For the newcomer there is a steep learning curve so my one piece of advice is do your research and definitely, without reservation, do hire boat holidays at different times of the year to be sure. Living aboard full time is nothing like living aboard for two weeks. It will take a time to adjust and settle in. One will learn to keep only what you need to save space. You will conserve water by turning taps off in the shower to soap up then on to rinse off. Put thicker jumpers on rather than waste another log until you can resupply. For all this your reward will be the natural wonders this country has to offer and over 2000 miles of garden to enjoy along the way. I could never tire of waking up to a view like this:-
Like I said at the beginning we're still novices ourselves but boating is one lesson Chris and I are truly enjoying so to summarize would we change anything now we are boaters? Absolutely not! We love our new way of life so much retirement cannot come soon enough. We simply cannot wait to “up pins” and “do the network” full time. Who knows we may cross paths one day.