So on April 1st we left the marina and moved out onto the towpath. We’ve had a lovely month- we’ve made new friends, deepened existing friendships and really benefited from our floating neighbours. So far our travels have brought us to Purton, where the canal is very close to to the River Severn. It’s a beautiful area, with stunning views across to the Forest of Dean, and really only a few metres from the river itself. This area is famous for its boat graveyard, which helps prevent erosion of the banks which might otherwise threaten the canal itself. I must try to get some photos to include because it really is quite lovely.
We are very much enjoying life outside the marina. Each new place brings new views, new bird sounds (this canal is amazing for twitchers!), and new surroundings. The challenges are much less challenging now that the weather is a bit kinder, the days longer and the bridges open all week for ten hours a day. The solar panels work brilliantly at keeping the batteries topped up. The composting loo is easy to use and maintain. The only (very first-world) problem I’ve encountered really are that my fairy lights don’t like the 240V power coming through the inverter, and they strobe so that I can’t use them! And it’s a frustration that we can only get hot water from running the engine; I would love a solution for this.
It’s been fabulous to actually boat along, to remember that lovely sense of freedom and to smell the clean-water smell of the canal. We are looking out for otters now; apparently there have been several sightings and signs of them.
Spring has really sprung the last week or so. The crocuses are all but over, the daffs are looking lovely, and I haven’t needed to keep the fire in overnight or through the day for ages. (As a result I’m burning mainly wood at the moment.)
Sitting out out on deck of a morning or evening, I reflect on how lucky I am to have had this chance, to make this choice. It’s one I can’t imagine regretting. Even winter-those short days!- feels a long time ago.
The composting loo is working well. Not smelly, not arduous; and Single Mum has offered me a third share in an allotment, so compost heaps will soon be mine! A moment of composters’ humour: to accelerate the composting process, I was advised to turn and mix the contents of the bucket. As a result I can now say that I stir shit; and have a shitty stick that I wouldn’t touch things with 😂
However, once the Heap is created I suspect the buckets will simply be emptied directly, to break down naturally. A food waste compost heap will be created as well; I don’t envisage using the Heap on my strawberries or potato plants 😱😷
There are lots of jobs to do, apart from breaking into the overgrowth on the allotment. I swept the chimney last week, and cleaned the cratch, but the deck rail wants sanding and oiling, and I really must get around to the rust patches on the roof. However, the bottom is blacked and I’m told she is in good shape down there, so I am pressing on with the kitchen refit. Ideally I would swap all the living spaces around, but unless the lovely B can’t do the smaller job this spring, I think I will let that idea lie for now.
The marina is busy at weekends now, with people filling up, running engines, ‘tidying things up’ after the winter. The rubbish area is filled with evidence of cleaning and clear outs- I took another four bags of books and clothes to the charity shop. Everyone is eager to get out onto the canal. Me too- this summer I must get to the far end and I also want to do my shopping by boat!
I have finally got a minute in daylight to take some pictures of our new composting loo. It arrived a couple of weeks ago and the lovely R disconnected the macerating loo, capped off the tank and the glorious glitter khazi is fully functional!
Made by Colin and Maria of Kildwick Crafts, the order was completed quickly and delivered when I was expecting it. The box weighed 14kg, so I was easily able to handle it myself, and the unit is self-contained so it could go wherever, anywhere you want it to stand. We’ve gone conventional and put ours in the bathroom 🙂
Now the best part. You can have almost any colours you like for the outside, and for the inside… we went sparkly…
Isn’t that fantastic! I’ve never had a glittery loo before.
A couple of weeks in and the practical aspects are easy to cope with. There’s no smell, because of the separation- and there really is no smell. Visitors have confirmed this! We’re using sawdust for our drying material and so that’s probably the dominant smell. I’ve been emptying the bottle in the toilet block, rinsing it and giving it a wash, then replacing it. I clean the separett at the same time with Method cleaner. It lasts me and Boat Girl several days (2-3), though admittedly we’re often out in the days at work and school.
I’m delighted to never have to pump out again (more about the memorable last pumpout expedition later!) and feel that this is far easier than a cassette would be. You have to keep an eye on the bottle, make sure it’s not over-full before you use it, but the unit comes with two bottles and two lidded buckets so plenty of spares. I’ll keep you updated but so far, so very very good!
Boat Girl and I had a quiet one here with Star Wars episodes V and VI (taking advantage of shore power!), and Tattooed Bloke came round to join in and share the Prosecco. Boat Girl fell asleep around 9:30 but she woke up for the fireworks at midnight. Either that or she couldn’t sleep through my rendition of Auld Lang Syne…
In the night the rain arrived, and the temperatures dropped from Unseasonably Mild to Bitterly Cold In The Wind And Rain. We also ran out of fuel (my bad) so we couldn’t light the fire this morning and after a run out to get some more, and to walk the temporary dog, I got home to 7 degrees in the warmest part of the boat. It’s been raining since midnight, that cold, persistent rain that gets straight to the thighs as it runs off your raincoat. Luckily the water was hot so I could have a nice shower, and the stove quickly began kicking out a high old heat. I could use a stove-top fan but even without it the temperature rose ten degrees within about twenty minutes (guess who got a weather station for Christmas!?).
It’s lovely and cosy now. I’ve got woollen socks, a woollen cardi, and a selection of blankets, as well as a warm dog and this lush Morso Squirrel stove. I’m so lucky!
Happy New Year everyone. Let’s hope it’s a happier one than last year.
I thought it’d be good to list a few pros and cons of boaty life. Anyone looking for a few things to consider if they’re thinking of moving onto a boat could have a read through. These aren’t in any order of importance but in the order they occurred to me!
Contact with the outdoors. Even at this point in the year, when it’s dark by 4:20 and often dank, dreary, and miserable, we are aware of the seasons, the weather and the cycle of Nature. Temperatures in houses can feel uncomfortably warm at night. Outdoor temperatures, and morning ones on the boat, can be surprisingly acceptable. I love having this contact with the outdoors and September was hard because I was suddenly spending hours and hours indoors instead of outside, as over the whole summer. We don’t sit out much at the moment (all the seats are damp!) but we do walk and cycle when we’re not at school and work, even just over to the block to do washing or use the showers or the loos. When you do this routinely, you also see beauty as part of your routine. Mist rising off the water. The smoke from a flue hanging in the still air. Sunrise. Sunset. Moonrise. Enormous skies, down here on the flats near the river. We have little traffic noise, no neighbour noise. There’s a tawny owl nearby who we hear more regularly than our neighbours.
Community. We’re massively supported by our quiet neighbours. People are always willing to chat- or not to. To advise. To help. To lend tools and equipment, onions and eggs. Check your battery charger. Steer you back to safety when the wind takes you broadside and you get stuck somewhere you don’t want to be. To make tea or drink gin with you. Help you change your tiller handle when you accidentally break it on a plastic boat, while you were trying to leave your berth on a windy day. One of our neighbours plays the harmonica and the sounds drift gently across sometimes adding a very filmic vibe to living here. Another neighbour plays folk guitar at the local pub. I’m invited to pub quizzes and to swimming (I can’t often go because of Boat Girl, but it’s very nice to be asked). Boat Girl has many friends who look out for her- old, young, human, dog and cat. It’s a real village.
Friends. There’s Single Dad, who likes to do things with us when his boys are around. He gave us a canoe which I really must get a paddle for! There’s Single Mum, whose daughter and Boat Girl are great friends. Single Mum and I are something of kindred spirits, I think- she’s a real friend to us. There’s B, who does joinery and fits kitchens. I want her to come and make mine better, but I’m delighted to have met her properly because she’s another kindred spirit. We’ve shared a couple of drinks once or twice and had a good natter. Then there’s Tattooed Bloke who came and drank a lot on my boat a number of times over the summer, but who’s been busier of late with a new job and some courses. We’re considering a Boxing Day festive drink. In fact I’m hoping to have a festive drink with most of these guys. That’s without even mentioning our other friends, the bird watcher, the older people who treat me almost like a daughter, the guys who look after our maintenance and the familiar faces who nod and smile when we pass.
Nature. We see tons of birds- a couple of weeks back we were late for school because Boat Girl spotted a kingfisher sitting on a post not three metres from our window, and then moments later we saw a grey wagtail using the dead nettles to get down to the edge of the water. I don’t know what it was doing- having a drink maybe, or looking for spiders and aphids or something? It was a gorgeous bird though, really beautiful. Herons are common for us and we’ve seen a family of cygnets grow up to, by now, be almost adult birds, with their white feathers dominating the greyish-brown ones. We also see a huge number of fish- perch, rudd, bream, and even pike hanging in the water just outside the kitchen window.
Cosy times. I love my boat, its cosy saloon with the stove, the gorgeous look of it. I love feeling the slight rock as I get into bed and I tie my ropes slightly loose just so I can feel that 🙂
Flexibility. I can just get up and go whenever I want to- to be alone, to be with friends, to go to the pub for a meal, to change the scene or to change the neighbours.
Sustainability. We are both far more conscious of the water we’re using, the lights we’re leaving on. With grey water going straight into the canal, you can’t just buy any old washing up liquid or soap full of perfumes and parabens. You have to get something biodegradable, that doesn’t harm the ecosystem. We’re also getting a composting loo to further reduce our dependency on marina facilities and our use of potable water for unnecessary purposes (more about that another time!).
With every good comes some bad, so for the purposes of balance…
It’s harder work. You have to be conscious of the water you’re using- how often do you want to fill the well? (Equally, how long do you want your water to sit in the tank?) You have to be conscious of heating the space- if you’re out all day do you leave the fire in with coal, or do you light it from scratch each evening? You consider your batteries. They need charging up every time you use your lights, or the shower pump, or the water pump to any of the taps. In the marina you can connect to shoreline power but on the canal you have to run the engine. You think about when you use the loo, when to charge your phone (can you do it at work?), whether to watch a DVD or read a book instead. Things we take for granted on land all have much greater impact on a boat. (This could be a positive instead- I do think if more of us had to think in this way, we’d be getting somewhere faster than we are at present…)
Sometimes it’s a pain being in such a small space. There’s nowhere to put things (or we have too many things). Guests have to be carefully considered. At present we can’t eat at a table, though I’d like us to. We just don’t have a suitable space at the moment.
Things do break quite regularly. I had to buy a new battery charger last week. Luckily for me, my friend fitted it and didn’t charge me to do that (see “community” and “friends” above). But in August it was the diesel polish; in February it’s the dry dock and blacking (and hopefully nothing else!). There’s always something to pay for.
Heavy, prolonged rain induces mild anxiety. Where will the water get in?
Cold weather brings a different water problem: condensation. We’ve got the heater but Aussie Boater says we should have asked for a dehumidifier as well; it pumps out the heat while sucking the wet, she says…
Single handing makes mooring really quite tricky at times. Windy weather is particularly challenging. Community helps but sometimes there’s really no-one around and you have to cope on your own.
Changing the gas.*
I think that’s really it for the cons. At the moment I have to say I wouldn’t go back. Every day I feel more ‘boaty’ and I miss it more when I stay on land. I feel it’s a positive choice I’m making, where maybe back in February when I started looking, it felt more Hobson’s choice or making the best of a bad hand. I feel like Boat Girl and I both benefit enormously from it. The list of pros massively outweighs the list of cons- for us, for now. Never say never, I suppose, but I’m happy to be boaty.
We’ve had a few frosts this autumn but the real winter weather started yesterday, with overnight low temperatures down here of about -5°C. We woke to a stunning white world, frost coating every blade of grass. The following night was even colder and when I woke up this morning, the edge of my duvet was slightly damp where my breath had condensed onto it. We have had ice on the brass window frames once or twice, but this morning’s was most impressive.
We’ve not been cold in our beds; we are snug in warm cotton pyjamas and good duvets (feather for me, wool for Boat Girl) and have blankets on top, plus leg warmers for warming cold feet. In the mornings I usually get up first and throw a cardi or a fleecy hoodie over my pyjamas as I get out of bed- my cotton dressing gown is no match for these early temperatures! It doesn’t usually feel too bad getting out of bed, although this morning was a bit sharp, I must admit, and I hurried to grab my hoodie. Boat Granny recently finished making us some lovely new curtains, using the old ones as linings, and that’s a massive help because being so much thicker, they really cut out the draft. She’s even made us a door curtain and again, that’s made a huge improvement.
My first job is to riddle the fire and stoke it up- I bank it up overnight with coal, so in the morning it doesn’t need re-lighting and the saloon end of the boat doesn’t get too cold. That way it warms up again quickly in the mornings and also in the evenings. Sometimes I chuck on a few logs to ramp up the heat, but on work days I heap on more coal so that once we’re on the way out, I can just turn down the vent and leave it to burn low all day long. Our shoes stay down by the stove overnight, which helps with cold feet as we’re heading out for the day.
Boat Girl’s dad gave us an electric heater and that’s been a boon the last couple of mornings. Coming on for an hour at six, morning and evening, it takes the edge off the chill by her bed, and helps keep that end of the boat less damp-feeling as it starts to solve the problem of condensation on the metal and means the air isn’t too cold when she goes to bed, or when she gets up. It isn’t too expensive on the pillar, either; though I don’t know how it’ll run on the inverter. Hopefully over Christmas I’ll get to try it out on the cut and see how practical life will be living out there full time. Having said that, I’m glad of the facilities at the moment. We use the shower and the loos in the block here, saving our own water- pontoon water is off while the temperatures are so low- and we have shoreline electrics. My battery charger doesn’t seem to be charging the batteries at the moment so it’s all on the solar panels- and while they are doing well, the daylight is so limited just now that they can’t fully charge the batteries; we’re floating between 60 and 80% at the moment. Out there, we have no immersion so will still need to run the engine to heat water (and charge batteries) until I find a way around that problem.
In this cold weather I’m using more coal- lots more. Probably a sack a week, supplemented with logs. It’s still affordable when you offset that cost against the savings made by having no other utility bills to speak of*, no council tax and minimal rent (and that only for a berth in the marina; out on the cut, it would only be the annual cost of the licence). £11.30 is good for 25kg of Taybrite fuel. I’m sharing the logs with Boat Granny, so that’s another saving (a load is far cheaper than buying by the net, and free logs can be found in the woods; we cut them up and stack them together). I’m comforted that it’s a primary use of fossil fuels- our own heating and also some (quite a lot of) cooking. It’s more sustainable than using electricity generated by a coal-fired power station; and wood is carbon neutral, of course.
My second morning job is to get the coffee on, and then the porridge. Each evening I put Boat Girl’s school clothes near the fire so that they’re nice and warm for her to put on in the mornings. Pyjamas go there in the evenings, and towels hang there to dry. I need an enormous cup of coffee to start the day. Boat Girl often has hot chocolate and again, if I leave the kettle near the stove it makes boiling up in the mornings a quicker process.
Changing in this weather is done quickly. Bottom half, then top half. Boat Girl changes by the fire but I don’t because although we’ve curtains on the side windows, our front windows are currently open to the world! As a child I remember getting dressed under the bedclothes because I didn’t have a radiator in my attic bedroom (no, my parents didn’t make me sleep in a garret!) and it’s similar now. No hanging about. We shower in the evenings and put pyjamas on with a fluffy dressing gown (Boat Girl) or an old cardi or hooded top, and slippers, and sit by the fire for stories and cwtches before bed. It’s important to stay warm in the evenings, because warming up in a cold bed is hard if you’re already chilled. Our camping experience comes in handy for things like that! In the morning, a splash of super-chilled water on the face is great for waking you up!
On weekends, I have a day when Boat Girl is with her dad, and a day with her. On the day I’m alone, I do jobs like cleaning, filling the well, moving the boat to the pumpout station and so on. I make mental lists of jobs I’ve not got round to, like sanding down and rust-proofing those pesky patches on the roof and around the windows. “In the spring,” I think, recalling the drying advice on the tin of Jenolite… I also try to take time to admire our home, tidy it, and enjoy it. It’s pretty special and on mornings like this morning, it’s not hard to see why I still say I’m loving our boaty life.
*I’m still waiting for that gas bottle to run out. One day soon, one day soon… it’s been in place since 1st August! Undoubtedly it’ll go on a wet, dark day or night, when I really don’t want to wrangle with it and can’t do without it…