I have been living on this boat since September. 

Essentially, it’s a long corridor. It’s 45 ft and as wide as my hand span –  6 ft 11.”  It’s a barge, a narrow boat…it’s good.

You walk onto it through the well deck – that’s what we call it.  You step down into  the living room. There is a little log burner on the left and that keeps us very warm.  There is a little kitchen. It’s got a little sink with a little window and there is a four hob cooker and an oven and a grill. 

Galley kitchen on houseboat
My happy place

It’s basically a house on a boat.

It’s got fridge and freezer… and wardrobe, toilet shower. There’s quite a lot of space. There’s more space than you think – to be fair.

It could sleep 3 or 4… but probably 2 comfortably.  Currently there are two humans and 2 dogs living here.  They are both lurchers.  One is more greyhound and the other is more whippet.  There are quite a lot of people here who have that kind of dog.

Narrow dogs – for a narrow boat.

two lurcher dogs on sofa on boat
The hounds

The dogs hate water – they won’t go anywhere near it.  We live on the end of a pontoon – probably 100 metres long. When we got Fia as a puppy she would  not walk along it so we had to carry her  all the way.  She wouldn’t even walk in puddles, she walks around puddles. 

The month I moved in I got this desk and K. spent the whole day putting it up. The next day he found a leak at the front so we  had to move back off the boat for 3 weeks. 

Anyone who has a boat knows you should keep the engine checked over at certain times.

houseboat going through lock
K. in the middle lock at Fradley Junction

I used to live on a canal boat in London and you have to move it every 2 weeks.  

Here, if you go in one direction you end up at a river. For a river you need an anchor. K. doesn’t have an anchor so we don’t go that way. You can travel 10 or 15 miles the other way, it’s a very canally-type place.

We are moored on a marina. At the end of every pontoon there’s a stand for electricity and  water… there’s a tap there so we just put  the hose onto it. 

Everyone here is really  friendly. 

painting of houseboats
Oil drawing – the end of the pontoon

I used to live in a terraced house, I would walk  down the street  and sometimes people would turn away. Here, people generally look out for each other. There’s always  some drama on the Facebook page,  but that’s the same for any community. It’s a nice place to live.

A lot can go wrong with a boat.

You should get them out of the water every 4 years or so to get them blacked –  otherwise they get rusty. There was a guy recently whose boat ended up half in the water. There were a  lot of people trying to pump out water and level it back up.  His boat was quite rusty and hadn’t been well maintained. 

The boat is  24 years old. 

man and woman on boat
K. and I bringing the boat home after being in the works

My partner K. has lived on this boat for a while.  He owns it.

Because the survey came back all wrong the boat had loads of problems  with it.  It took 9 months for his boat to be repaired. When he was allowed to go and get it we sailed it back  – which  took a few days.  It was quite fun. He got the word from the works the day after Boris made his big announcement about lockdown.

When I first saw the boat I loved it. 

interior of houseboat
Looking into the boat from the front door

I was seeing a place  I’d heard so much about.  When I first met K. he was living with his parents so I hadn’t been able to see it before because it was in the works.

Because I had lived on a boat before I knew what to expect. And so, after years of.. Oh I wish I had the money to buy a boat. Then.. ..it just happened.  Somehow I ended up back on a boat. 

Yes, it is an adjustment – definitely. But I enjoy it.

I’d say I’m quite tidy. 

You have to choose what to keep because it can get quite cluttered.  It’s quite minimal, but there is enough stuff. 

I had to edit my things down a lot. To be fair, I  didn’t have that much because  I never know where I am going to be. Thanks to my mum and dad I have been able to move it over to my old bedroom. I need to go through it all. It makes you realise what you don’t need. 

You don’t need a lot –  especially the way the world is at the minute. What do you actually  need?

desk inside houseboat
This is my desk

Before I moved on all I really wanted was a desk.

K. has moved a lot of stuff out of the way for my art equipment – which is all under the sofa. I work mainly in painting and drawing…I have to start using it more.   

There’s quite a lot of storage.

Inside the boat…it’s like a rectangle with two slanted walls and a curved roof. K. is  6ft something so they are way bigger than you think. I guess from  the outside, you only see up to the hip-height.  It’s like an iceberg, most of it is underneath the water.  

When there was a leak K. had to take up all the floorboards. Underneath the floor you’ve got three panels of wood and under that a bit more. You’ve got all these  massive blocks of concrete.  I’m learning how it all works. It’s interesting. 

K. knows a lot about  boats. He’s teaching me all the time.

main sailing boat
The tiller, connected to the rudder at the stern of the boat

I’m quite good at  making a mess. When I wash  the pots he says: move the water away, you don’t live in a house! 

I wouldn’t know where to start if there’s a problem. Since I moved on he’s let me do things to the boat  – like put up some pictures. Because the room is a bit slanted on the top you have to use these special screws – otherwise you can’t do it. 

The best thing about living on a boat? I think for me… it is living with K. –  because it’s his home, so I felt at home, I guess.

It’s just like living on the land but… I look out the window and it’s on the water….and  there’s birds everywhere. Some mornings you come out and you’re  face to face with a heron… and then it’ll fly off.  

There’s this small hatch you can open and one time there was a swan right outside. It stuck its head into the boat.  His feet were huge. I didn’t realise how big swans’ feet are. I’m learning a lot about nature here. 

heron by river with houseboats
‘Mr Heron’ – at Christmas the marina is pretty magical, lit up by fairy lights

The community is really nice.

The people actually have the time to talk to each other which you don’t often find in life. You are always bumping into people at the end of the day – so you kind of have to talk to them. 

There are probably 5-600 odd boats. It’s quite a big place. On this pontoon there’s probably about 80  and  I think there’s pontoon for every letter of the alphabet. It kind of goes in a big circle and there are some shops and  restaurants. It’s probably the biggest inland marina in Europe. It’s quite big.

houseboats on pontoon
Our pontoon – we’re right down the other end

The demographic is older… but the last few years there’s been a lot more young people.  I think K. was the youngest person here for a while. There’s a lot of retirees…a lot of single men and couples.  Younger couples. A woman just down from us has just had a baby – and you see other babies here.  It’s an eclectic mix.

Covid, it’s definitely been a journey.  

My dad’s a doctor and my brother’s a doctor. My dad always said something like this was going to happen. And..it’s happened.  

lurcher dog on frosty wasteland
I love the old power station cooling towers. It’s a sign of home. Whenever you see them in the distance driving back you know you’re close!

I work at a local café.

Before lockdown I was working at a B&B and was furloughed for the most part of it. When I went back to work –  then it was lockdown again.

I never felt too anxious about it because  I talked to him about it. But I was worried about them.  I was calling my  mum and dad every day… and my brother. It definitely brought us closer together.  

colourful drawing of towpath
Drawing of the towpath outside of the marina

At the start of Covid I was living with some friends in Derby.  

They were good  people to be in lockdown with because none of us were working. So.. it was a nice time in a way. Because we all had such different schedules it was just nice to have some time with each other and … it  was really warm. I just remember being sat in the garden loads.  

I was very lucky. I know people who didn’t  have that. It must have been a very, very lonely time for a lot of people.  If it had been a few years prior to that for me  I think I would have had a very rubbish time…a dark place. 

I think in that period of time our priorities  definitely changed.  It was a period of change.  I had met K. a   few months before the first lockdown. This past  two years are almost a  blur.

On the boat you hear sounds.  

black swan by boat
The black swan

At the minute it’s mainly the geese – they are really loud. I can sleep through them but they keep K. up all night.  Most of the time it’s pretty calm but when it’s very stormy there’s a lot more noises.. sounds… “What’s that noise?.. Are we sinking?…Is that water coming in..?”

Either side of the boat you have buoys  to stop it from hitting the side of the pontoon. If it’s very windy it knocks about a bit.  Sometimes the floor creaks a bit.

I think ducks or fish must swim into the boat because sometimes you hear a bump underneath.  What’s that noise.. are we sinking…is that water coming in?

I have been trying to get up earlier. 

cherry blossom and houseboats
Spring has arrived

For mental health reasons I  have my little morning routine to start the day well.

I get up…  do a  little bible study … walk the dogs sometimes.. have a shower…and then  I go to work for 9.30am.  Then I cook some food for people… clean a few pots… either go to the gym or come back… and then cook food and try and do some art – or go to hockey. 

We don’t have a washing machine on board –  but some people do. We have three laundrettes here but K. does a lot of the washing… or I take it back to mum and dad’s just down the round.  They help me out. 

How we keep warm.

I think K. had a different experience of living here during lockdown from me.  K. got  Fia because he needed some company  but you couldn’t leave her by herself – at all. So we got the second one. They are kind of like cats really. They sleep on the sofa a lot of the time: their beds… the sofa – and our bed. 

Living on a boat –  I would recommend it to anyone. 

If you have never lived on a boat, you should get one. 

house boat in sunset
We get epic sunsets

All photos by Respondent

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights across the social/spatial sphere.

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