Hello All! I thought I should put some background about us, Mackerel Sky and life on the boat.My name is Holly, I live on the Regent's Canal with my partner Bob, our son and our cat Rodney on our boat, 'Mackerel Sky'.
Anyone that has walked along the Regents' Canal has probably seen one of us, either me struggling to lift the pushchair onto the back deck, Rodney darting or falling off the boat to explore or catch mice, or Bob (or occasionally me if I have to) chopping up wood.
Our boat, Mackerel Sky, has had an eventful life and this is the story of how we came to make her our home.
I come from quite a boat-orientated family. My father ran a boat yard in Totnes in Devon and knows a lot of people in the industry, so when I told him Bob and I were looking for a canal boat (after only knowing each other a couple of months) he let me know of one after he'd had lunch with a boat surveyor mate who knew of a boat going.
Esther, a 40ft Springer that had sunk currently being pumped out in Cowley in Uxbridge, West London.
My unnerving optimism and naivity led me to utter the words, "Great Dad! Let's go and see the boat!" So we went and blimey, the boat was damp and smelly, as damp as a sponge.
Used as a floating caravan holiday boat, she had sunk because after a week of heavy rain and tight ropes the boat had been pulled below the water line and water had poured into the rusty and decrepid gas locker, sinking the boat. The story goes something like that anyway.
So, we put in a sealed bid to buy the boat and got it for £3,200. This is a question we get asked a lot: "How much was your boat?"
" Wow, that's really cheap, I'm going to get a canal boat!"
So we had bought 'Esther', gutted the inside so only a wood burning stove remained and had to go a couple of miles to the Highline Yachting Boat Yard along the Slough Arm of the Grand Union Canal. A reasonable, easy journey for the experienced boater.
Part of the bathroom today
But we weren't (and still are not) experienced boaters. On a cold, dark and windy day we left the safety of our mooring spot not before doing a couple of comedy turns-literally - our boat swiveling on the windy canal water looming and leering like a drunkard towards the parked boats on either side.
Yes. I admit I did do a bit of screaming. Mostly shouting things like, "Bob! Bob! Mind the $£@*ing boats!" of course inciting terror in the faces of the surrounding boat owners. Finally managing to go reasonably straight we had to do a right-angled turn down the Slough Arm.
With deft skill and unerring confidence we managed to drive into the side of a bridge (a dented scar the boat still bears) before limping slowly into the Arm (anyone who knows this part of the waterway could, I hope, but somehow I doubt it, empathise).
Needless to say the rest of the journey was conducted in silence, I had taken charge of the boat and we drifted from one side of the canal like a tin can across the surface. I think I was frozen to the tiller until the engine conked out on the wrong side of the canal from the boat yard just as the light was failing.
So, the hull survey...to my novice understanding, the surveyor basically uses a hammer to determine the thickness of the steel of the hull. Our surveyor's hammer went through the hull at several places. Verdict: the whole hull needed to be replated with new steel (Remember the "Yeah, well..." bit of our response to how cheap the boat seemed to be).
I remember the chat with the boat yard manager in his office, to our question, "Can it be saved?" He replied with a wry smile, "Well, any boat can be saved, it's a case of money". We laughed nervously.
Thousands of pounds from the bank of Mum and Dad (props to them all) a complete re-plate of the hull and months later (months of hauling all sorts of bits and bobs to the boat yard via public transport) the boat was canal-worthy again and we decided we wanted to make her as green as possible.
Bob used to work for an organisation called Shoreditch Trust, and they agreed to sponsor our boat as an experiment in urban off-grid living aboard.
We devised a list of equipment that would allow the boat to function seasonally and as off-grid as possible: A wind turbine, solar panels, a water solar panel for summer, a wood-burning Rayburn to cook and heat water in winter and last but not least, the famous Swedish composting toilet that seems to break quite often...the less said the better.
Breathe in! The corridor today
So that was that, we thought as we got used to living on the canal outside one of Shoreditch Trust's restaurant's 'The Waterhouse', situated opposite Kingsland Basin and the CHUG crew.
I had just finished my MA in Broadcast Journalism, was working for a production company in Old Street and then discovered I was pregnant. Hence, the need for more space.
But unlike most normal people that would just buy a bigger boat, we decided to go for the more dramatic and drastic option of getting the boat enlarged by 25ft to create a 65 ft boat. Entailing a dissecting and dismembering of the boat just in front of where the boat prow begins to narrow to a point (I get all these terms mixed up, at the front of the boat) we could then have two bedrooms and a bathroom- a luxury after our 'open-plan' living beforehand.
We went to a different boat yard this time, Uxbridge boat centre. November 2010: "Oh it'll take three weeks",
"Really? That seems amazingly fast, are you sure it'll only take that long?"
"Cool, ok that's great. Er, how much?"
Six months later...well, you know there had been all that snow hadn't there? Plus, a welder quitting, one other being sacked, delays in deliveries of windows (see picture below) the Arab Spring...you know, these things stop a boat yard from running to schedule, don't they?
Six months of hospitality at my grandparents' house and Bob and Rodney the cat staying at Bob's sister's house. Six months of begging, stealing and borrowing, painting, joinering, plumbering and wiring and the boat was 'finished', to a point. It had got to the point where I had shouted to anyone who could still be bothered to listen to our boatyard rantics, "I don't give a f*** if the water or walls aren't in- what do you mean bulkheads?!- We'll just do it ourselves."
Anyone that has experienced the logistics of house building or renovating can empathise with the constant worry and negotiation of deliveries and workmen will usually embark on a lot of work themselves once they've reached a point of either desperation/despondency that 'NO ONE CARES!' or just wanting to get the hell on with it (and hope that this will kind of rub off on other skilled people working on the boat or at least give them a laugh that we're having having a go). We even played the 'baby card' to try to speed up the process.
It was a very expensive process, as ever, a lot more than we had anticipated and yet again, we have to thank the Bank of Bob's Mum and Dad for helping us to realize the project. Boat products are often really expensive. Just add the word 'Marine' onto any piece of equipment from a humble screw to a shower pump and immediately extra 0s are added to the price.
Our bath, for instance, is smaller the ordinary bath as you can see in the photo (it's from Germany since you ask) but the price was high because it's quite unusual for anyone to actually want a hobbit-sized bath. We used having a child as an excuse to get one but I love a good bath every couple of days...water saving measures (read 'a small water tank that was for a 40ft boat now serving three people') don't allow us to wash everyday.
A bit of the son and heir's room
We now have the original 30ft of indoor space that we used to live in as our living room, then a narrow (narrow as in 45cm wide above the gunwhales) with a bathroom, our son's room and our bedroom. There are two wood-burning stoves in the living area and we have one in our room that keeps us warm at night, if it stays alight, which fires invariably don't do they?
So, that's about it, up to date. We love living on the boat, when it's cosy and tidy and the stoves are lit it's lovely. I never understand why so many people ask 'Is it cold?' , who would willingly live in a cold environment?! Like every home, it's cold if not heating/stoves have been on but it soon warms up. If it's rainy and windy you can hear the rain on the roof and the creak of the mooring ropes and in summer, nothing beats sitting on the back deck, glass of wine and watching the world go by.
It can be hard work. Anyone who tells you not is either living on a all-singing and dancing beauty of a mod-con boat (usually a new wide-beam that are double the width of the humble 6"12 wide narrow boat) or is a part-time boater (there seem to be loads of uninhabited boats along the towpath).
Or they just love with a passion mending things, general DIY when you're not sure what is actually broken, looking for and chopping wood, getting dirty looking for tools in the gas locker, having your boat untied, messing about with engines, having to go and get water, finding mysterious leaks...the list goes on.
It's a good life though, and all the Urban Boaters around the world would say that despite the challenges, once you live on the water, it's hard to go back to dry land.
Check out our monthly blog, Notes from the Boat, for a diary of our boat life month by month.