‘Sorry, did you just say you live on a boat?’
This is most common response to the grand unveiling of my place of residence. It can be said with varying degrees of inflection: from delight, through admiration and jealousy to outright disbelief.
Yes I live on a boat. Yes it’s often cold (but we do have a heater). And small. Yes we have a shower and a loo, there’s a laundry for our washing and we have a pigeon-hole for our post. Boat life, in a nutshell.
The most hilarious thing is, I can’t sail. Neither can my husband.
‘What do you mean, you don’t sail?’
I have to admit my little heart sinks a fraction lower in the water when this inevitable subject surfaces. Our sailing friends are inconsolable – genuinely disbelieving of the fact that we could own a boat and not know how it works. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate their frustration. It must seem like such a waste – so heinously backwards.
‘Oh but you must!’
Oh dear. I love our little boat home, for what it is: our home. Of course one day I would love to learn to sail, but currently it’s just a bit impractical. Full to the brim with all the things that everyday life breeds, I can just imagine taking our elegant vessel out on the open water and all our worldly possessions tumbling around inside as she keels over in the wind. I brace myself for the question when describing our situation, turning the words over in my mind to find a polite way of saying to strangers ‘do-I-tell-you-how-to-live-in-your-home?’.
As you can imagine, the most immediately obvious questions are never the most important. Living on a boat carries so many other nuances it is difficult to summarise when trying to explain to someone what it is actually like.
Your life becomes inseparably intertwined with the weather. A storm envelops you, keeps you awake with the systematic lurching of the wind & creaking ropes (while your husband snoozes oblivious next to you…). There are trips to the shower block in the pouring rain; when you arrive you now wonder if there is any point at all. Electric cards run out at 11pm with the spare in the map desk already used up…gas bottles sputter out halfway through cooking dinner (when the chandlery is of course closed), and so does the water, inevitably before that all-important morning coffee.
This is not to say, by any means, that it is all bad. You wake up with the open sky through the hatch above your pillow and coming back to the marina’s calm stillness at night feels like a giant exhale. When there is nowhere to go, a storm is in fact your friend. It nestles you into the cosy nook of the cabin as it rages around you. Summer draws you out until you practically live outdoors: all meals are eaten on deck and every job that can be is taken out into the air. Our back garden wildlife includes cormorants, herons, yellow wagtails, kingfishers and each spring a new brood of signets (all called Sigfried, of course), courtesy of our beautiful resident swan couple (Monty & Mrs Monty). These are all gently harassed by our very shouty boat cat Shadow, who has adapted to his watery existence surprising well. He’s only been swimming once…
You adjust to the space. My husband and I now dance, climb and dodge around each other without really thinking about it. Those who bemoan the ‘galley’ kitchen in their comparably spacious homes don’t know what they have; the unforgiving sequence of actions required in our one-man galley was hard-learned. The work-surface covers the hob, and the chopping board covers the sink… There was much swearing at the beginning when we got it wrong (and if I’m honest, still is).
To find something that is most similar, I guess it is a bit like camping – all the time. This would be some people’s idea of hell, but we are happy to embrace the not-so-fun-stuff to allow for the good stuff. It is all part of the trade off – you get wet and cold but you get to wake up somewhere that offers you something ‘else’.
I cannot deny though, that I look forward to having a kitchen. And a garden. And shelves for our books. But for the current stage in our lives, it has been a mini adventure that I certainly wouldn’t trade for a pokey flat above a takeaway.
[photograph c. Barry Williams]