The Reality of Living on and Renovating a Boat.

Luxurious. The word echoed in my head as I fumbled through my scattered belongings to search for a bin bag.

I’m going to make this boat as luxurious as possible.

My words were definitely coming back to haunt me.

“Ah-ha! Gotcha!” I pulled out the forlorn crumpled bin bag from behind a bag of clothes and scrambled to hook it over my bathroom window. The towpath was busy today, and after three days of not showering, the scent of my own armpits offended me.

I knew people couldn’t help but look in through the windows. But I still glowered as I pulled shut two makeshift curtains I had created from old sarongs for my bathroom doors. I was guilty of that myself. I tried not to. But I find it too irresistible to get a flash of someone’s life. See what they’re watching on tv. What book they’re reading. If they’re sitting with an arm around a partner. Or alone in a chair with a dog asleep in their lap.

But I’m sure when people looked through my windows, they didn’t expect to see a 30-something naked woman sitting in a dog’s paddling pool with a camping shower.

“Why don’t you use a shower curtain?” someone had asked me on Instagram.

“If I had a shower curtain, do you really think I wouldn’t use it?” I thought with gritted teeth. Sometimes it can be annoying when people point out the obvious.

What you need is a shower curtain.

What you need are solar panels.

What you need is a fridge.

I know.

I know.

I know.

“When I move onto the boat, my costs will be mega low,” I had assured my parents. “I’ll be able to bank a hulk of cash. Don’t worry!”

Those words were haunting me now as I moved to the kitchen, two steps away from my wet room. Having my gas connected was going to cost on average £750- or so I had heard. £750. Just to have hot water.

I placed the kettle onto my small camping stove, which stood just over my new Thetford three burner- the burner that I couldn’t afford to connect.

Renovating a boat was not cheap. And although I had moved onto Leviathan, I still had previous bills to pay. My old boatyard for rent. My boat builder. I needed to save for solar. For an inverter. For a gas fit out. For a wet room to be built. For a custom mattress to be made.

Mild panic rolled in my head before I squashed it down.

“You’re fine for now,” I told myself. “Stay in the present.”

I turned briefly and stared at what was supposed to be my “luxurious” lounge. A space with a bookshelf stacked with history books, encyclopaedias, poetry and fantasy. Opposite sat two airbeds perched on top of each other, covered with a green throw. That was my makeshift settee for now. Before it lay a purple, gold and green rug my sister had gifted me and the fireplace. The fireplace was probably the most successful and openly beautiful thing about this boat. A black multi-fuel burner set upon Victorian-style pale green tiles. Gloss teal tiles surrounded the burner and set within were antique metal plaques. Moulded into the metal was a scene of men and women at work in the fields.

I swallowed at the sight. They had belonged to my late Granddad, hidden away in a shed, of which he had intended to use for a later project he just never got round to.

“He would love all of this,” my Nan had told me. “He would have loved to help you with everything.”

And it was true. If there had been a man designed to help with this boat project who could do everything it would have been him.

My dad had crafted the fireplace setting together, and it made it mean even more to me. The only source of warmth in my home had been crafted by my family.

The whistling of the kettle jerked my thoughts back to the present. Turning off my small camping stove, I set to pouring it into a bucket and found my desired temperature with cold water.

My washing method was a £30 electronic camping shower. I’d sit in the paddling pool to shampoo, condition, wash my face, body and then- if I was feeling particularly luxurious- shave my legs.

What a treat for the world.

I padded into the tiny paddling pool and set about washing the week from my body, hair and face. That was the biggest change from land to water life. The lack of frequent hot showers. The difference of water pressure. The ability to step out and actually have room to move.

I had started sadistically making everything into a game. How quickly I could do it all. How tidily. How much water I could save in the bucket for the end where I could simply sit, relax and be.

With tasks like these, I made sure to make myself associate them with something positive happening. Sometimes it was a glass of wine in front of the fire and music whilst I bathed. Today it was listening to an audiobook and Maltesers.

Sometimes it was hard to keep that mentality. Sometimes it was hard to not feel exhausted before the day had even started and go to work with full energy.

Wake up, boil water, start the generator to charge my phone and other electronics, run the engine to charge the batteries, make breakfast after boiling water for tea and shower, pack away padding pool, and then get dressed and ready for the day on a swaying boat as hire boats whizz past.

I had always thought other narrowboaters were over-exaggerating when they complained at the speed when other boats went past. In the past, living on a sailboat prepared you for the entire boat to ricochet back and forth, dishes smashing and possessions falling from shelves as the crew were shoved from one side to the other. And if it wasn’t other boats, it was from the swell of the sea.

And although it was nowhere near as bad, an inconvenience is still an inconvenience.

I finally stumbled out into the cockpit, fresh and dressed, to head to my art studio, which was now an hour’s drive away. I had been cruising and commuting to work as best as possible to ensure I still had funds to come in for renovations, fuel and provisions. But the commute was getting further and further away as I progressed, petrol costs were spiralling and constantly moving my car was getting to me.

The sunlight hit me in one shard of dazzlement. I blinked, trying to adapt my sight from the shadows from inside the boat.

“Good morning, darling!” came a cheery wave and greeting from my boat neighbour. I released a bundled breath and my shoulders relaxed.

And as I dragged in the scent of grass, fields, blossom and damp earth into my lungs, tinged with the familiar smell of coal, oil and the scent coffee being made somewhere, it all felt worthwhile.

You can’t rush on a canalboat. It’s impossible. So I’d sit on my roof and stare out. Recalibrate. Remind myself that this was why I was doing all of this. To have this to soothe my brain when times got hard.

Despite all of the long routes I had to do inside my boat to achieve minuscule tasks, I didn’t hate any of it. I enjoyed it. Yes, I could complain and whinge. But… I liked it. I liked knowing that I was capable. That I could survive. Make do. Persevere.

And that gave me a sense of pride in my ability.

It was making me build a better relationship with myself. Made me feel proud.

See? You can do it! Look at you go!

“I’m making coffee, would you like one?”

I scanned the blue skies, the rolling green fields, watched as the other boaters prepared for their day. Someone had come back from provision shopping and another was painting the exterior of his boat. An older boater was laughing at his dog, attempting to pick up an overly large stick, his gravelly laugh travelling along the water.

This. I could get used to this.

I didn’t bother checking my watch. I thought of the traffic. Of the buildings. Of needing to get more petrol. Of reality caving in around me in a case of concrete and pylons. Deadlines. Emails. The internet.

A part of me recoiled at the idea of going back to it.

I grinned. “I’d love one.”


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