Yes, we’ve done it with­out a bolt­hole...

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats -

Iseem to have dis­ap­pointed Joe Pat­ter­son (Let­ters, CB, June) by con­fess­ing that we owned a house as well as a boat. It seems we weren’t ‘proper’ con­tin­u­ous cruis­ers as we hadn’t, in his words, given up ev­ery­thing for a life afloat.

Well I’ve met a few peo­ple who have done ex­actly that and I must say some of them have seemed quite stag­ger­ingly naïve: sell­ing their houses and buy­ing boats with­out even hav­ing spent a hol­i­day, let alone a win­ter, on the wa­ter.

True, some­times it works out but, as of­ten as not, one sees the boat up for sale a year later when they have dis­cov­ered the re­al­ity hasn’t lived up to their dreams. Emp­ty­ing a toi­let when you’re sur­rounded by ice or keep­ing your bat­ter­ies charged dur­ing the long dark days of win­ter don’t fig­ure in many ro­man­tic vi­sions.

Just to put the record straight, we did sell up on land and spent five years on the wa­ter­ways with­out a bolt­hole to re­turn to. Prop­erly cruis­ing, too, not tied up on a win­ter moor­ing at­tached to a handy length of elec­tric string. Our boat was in­deed our home.

We used some of our house money to buy a big­ger boat but we put the rest in the bank, ready to buy an­other prop­erty if and when we needed one. And with prop­erty prices ris­ing and what we could get with our mod­est pot di­min­ish­ing, we even­tu­ally cashed in our chips and bought a lit­tle house to rent out while we carry on boat­ing and re­turn to when we can’t.

For this is the point, of course. Life can get in the way of all one’s plans, whether those plans in­volve boat­ing, mov­ing to the sun­shine of south­ern Spain or bik­ing around the world. Health or fam­ily cir­cum­stances are things you over­look at your peril, es­pe­cially when you’re get­ting on a bit.

If I was 40 years younger, I would chuck in my rented flat and move on to the wa­ter with­out a back­ward glance. Or would I? I would have a job and be try­ing to fit in worka­day life with float­ing about on a boat – which means, likely as not, I’d ei­ther be in a ma­rina (and that would be pretty much like liv­ing in a flat) or dodg­ing the CRT check­ers as a con­tin­u­ous moorer. And that’s not my idea of boat­ing, ei­ther.

These days, if you’re young, fit and free of ties, there are a host of ways to give up ev­ery­thing and break free of the rat race – and most of them a whole lot bolder than float­ing around the canals. But if, like Steve Hay­wood and me, you’ve served your time and waited un­til the mort­gage is paid, the kids are set­tled and the pen­sion ar­rives then that spirit of ad­ven­ture will likely have be­come tem­pered with a spot of worldly wis­dom.

But so what? We know what we want to do and are happy to make the com­mit­ment – and it is a com­mit­ment. We might have a house lurk­ing some­where but we’re still giv­ing up gar­dens, shelves full of books, friends just a few streets away, the lo­cal pub, and prob­a­bly a car. Plus un­lim­ited hot wa­ter!

Last win­ter was the first in years that we spent away from the boat. We left the boat at a yard to have some work done and re­turned to the house for a while to do some work on that our­selves. All that this taught us was that houses are com­pli­cated, ex­pen­sive and nowhere as much fun to live in as a boat. We couldn’t wait to get back.

Hav­ing a house or a spot of money in the bank or a pen­sion doesn’t stop one en­joy­ing the wa­ter­ways or ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the highs and lows, ad­ven­tures and mis­ad­ven­tures of boat­ing life. It’s use­ful; a source of in­come or sim­ply a bit in re­serve – rather in the way that the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ of­fers a handy over­draft fa­cil­ity for young­sters.

So I’m afraid you’re wrong, Joe. When I was stuck on a mud­bank or strip­ping down a blown en­gine, or when Steve was ma­rooned on a flooded River Ouse, own­ing a house was no help at all.

‘We’re still giv­ing up gar­dens, shelves full of books, friends nearby, a lo­cal pub, and prob­a­bly a car. Plus un­lim­ited hot wa­ter!’

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