It seems the key to surviving on a narrowboat is organisation. Meticulous, particular, compulsive organisation. Without this your world can crumble within minutes into a disastrous, hazard filled space, and when living in 28 by 6 foot floating box with two dogs, this is something than can make grown men cry. I know.
The decision to move onto a boat was fuelled by anarchist utopian dreams of free and simple living, sailing freely where I ever I please, creating and managing my own fuels and energy. Being of no fixed abode, my entire living space mobile upon my whim. The thought of being in the middle of nowhere in my cosy cabin, log burner blazing, food being cooked in the oven, the dogs curled up by the glowing stove. It was all too irresistible.
There has been many of those cosy moments. But there’s been many moments where the dream is shattered by the harsh reality of trying to live off the grid.
It’s the first week in Jan right now and this evening out of pure rage and anger I took a mop handle to the freshly forming ice surrounding the boat. A futile juvenile outburst rooted in the fact that for the last 6 weeks, coincidently my first 6 weeks of boat life have been frozen solid on the canal. So solid that even with my barge pole, I couldn’t smash a small whole to empty my plastic bottle of urine into the water, which was a problem as the only the other empty bottle I had was for fresh water.
Dilemma’s like this have been coming my way thick and fast. On my maiden voyage I managed to drain all my batteries by naively relaxing on my first night aboard with all the lights on like electricity was just on tap. That foolish error left us stranded and stressed for a good 12 hours the following day. “You know what his problem is?…The cunts still connected to the land” was what a bearded old veteran boatman said about the affair, standing on the towpath whilst smoking his pipe, wearing all the attire you’d expect an old canal dog to wear, complete with flip flops and no socks in mid December.
He was wrong to call me a cunt, but ultimately he was right, I was still connected to the land, and having a hard time disconnecting from it.
In the last few months I have had to swiftly learn to become a joiner, a plumber, an electrician, a lumberjack, a thief, a gas engineer, and boat safety specialist. This is coming from a man who before this change in lifestyle could barely nail a picture frame to a wall. I could grow a good crop of onions mind – I can graft, but hands on DIY shit just wasn’t my bag, but now out of pure necessity, id say im getting pretty damn handy.
There’s been some ups and downs, but it is getting better, as I finish this article I have just bailed the last of the 230 odd gallon of water out of my hull, the boat is an extra 3 inches out the water, ive decorated, and the bread is in the oven. So the dream is taking shape, but there is a darker side to all this canal life. Its not all free living and peace, and not all boaters are friendly. Oh no. But that’s another story for another time.