A cou­ple who de­cided to pri­ori­tise buy­ing a boat and upped their mort­gage to achieve their dream

They’d spent years sav­ing up for a boat but it was still a long way off... un­til an al­ter­na­tive idea came to mind

Canal Boat - - Contents - WORDS & PIC­TURES BY DEB­O­RAH MEN­DEL-LION

Colin and I were spend­ing a cou­ple of thou­sand pounds ev­ery year on nar­row­boat hol­i­days, and ev­ery time there was a sunny week­end we would tell our­selves, ‘When we get our own boat, and the weather is like this, we can just pop down to it for the week­end’.

We were sav­ing up and putting a lit­tle away each month in the hope that when we re­tired we would be able to buy a boat. Mean­while, we loved go­ing to Crick and other boat shows to day­dream.

Our op­tions were sud­denly opened early in 2011, when we bumped into old friends we hadn’t seen in years at a party. Mak­ing po­lite small talk, I hap­pened to ask what their plans were for the sum­mer. Steve in­formed me that they were go­ing cruis­ing on their new nar­row­boat. The con­ver­sa­tion quickly turned from idle chit-chat to se­ri­ous boat busi­ness. How long was it? Trad or cruiser stern? Cas­sette or pump-out? Re­verse or tra­di­tional lay­out? And fi­nally, the big ques­tion: How could they af­ford it?

As soon as the idea of in­creas­ing our house mort­gage was sug­gested, the pos­si­bil­ity of own­ing our own boat was sud­denly brought for­ward by a decade. We had al­ready saved up enough for a sub­stan­tial de­posit and by the end of the fol­low­ing week, hav­ing checked with the build­ing so­ci­ety how much we could bor­row, we had a bud­get. We could now af­ford to buy a rea­son­able sec­ond­hand boat. In the pre­vi­ous eight years we had been to­gether, we had hired sev­eral boats from dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies, and we knew what we wanted. A 60-footer, tra­di­tional lay­out, cruiser stern and a pump-out loo.

Colin nar­rowed our search down to six sec­ond­hand boats, all within a two-hour

drive of our home in North­wood, Mid­dle­sex. We set out at the week­end, cross-coun­try to look at the short­list. We looked at sev­eral per­fectly ac­cept­able boats over the two days, but none felt ‘right’.

Whilton Ma­rina in Northamp­ton­shire had a few more than ad­ver­tised on the web­site, so we had fun look­ing at and re­ject­ing a few. Then we climbed on board Rosel­laII. We opened the stern door, which led di­rectly into the cabin, and I saw a shelf by the bed per­fectly placed for my morn­ing cup of tea. And then, walk­ing past the bath­room into the gal­ley, I spied a per­fectly placed wine rack. This was our boat. Colin checked out all the man stuff about en­gines, elec­tric­ity, bat­ter­ies and the like, while I in­ves­ti­gated cup­boards, stor­age and soft fur­nish­ings.

We put in an of­fer which was ac­cepted and a few weeks later we made our first voy­age up through Buckby Locks and Braun­ston Tun­nel. My par­ents had reg­u­larly hired from Con­co­form Ma­rina at Wee­don, in the Seven­ties when I was a child and this stretch of the canal was fa­mil­iar to me. We now cruise this sec­tion of the Grand Union reg­u­larly and it al­ways feels like home. Since buy­ing

Rosel­lall (Rosie for short) we have been as far afield as Llan­gollen, Not­ting­ham and Bris­tol, and this sum­mer we reached Strat­ford-UponAvon. In the sum­mer of 2017, the plan is to cruise to Peter­bor­ough.

Most week­ends we cruise, while we un­der­take our longer cruises in the sum­mer hol­i­days and at Easter we travel through Lon­don to the Lee and Stort Nav­i­ga­tions. The high­light of which is the cake shop at Saw­bridge­worth. As we are con­tin­u­ous cruis­ers, we have to move reg­u­larly around the sys­tem, which is fan­tas­tic as we see new places all the time, but we also rel­ish re­vis­it­ing tried and tested haunts.

For ex­am­ple, we love the com­mu­nity feel at The Wharf in Fenny Comp­ton, and the huge serv­ings of de­li­cious home-cooked food at The Row­barge Inn at Wool­hamp­ton. An­other reg­u­lar stop is the canal­side shop by The Folly at Nap­ton on the Ox­ford, where we buy lo­cal honey and buf­falo cheese – made par­tic­u­larly thrilling by the fact that you can see the buf­fa­los in the fields by the shop.

Since we have had Rosella ll, we have fit­ted a multi-fuel Squir­rel stove, which gets reg­u­lar use on cold win­ter cruises, a TV/DVD player and two new diesel heaters. I have re­painted the roof, bought a top box, re­placed the saggy cap­tain’s chairs with a comfy sofa bed and hung new match­ing cur­tains.

Last year we moved on to the boat full time for seven months as a trial run for our re­tire­ment. I loved be­ing able to have break­fast watch­ing the ducks and morn­ing light on the wa­ter, and strolling

‘I saw a shelf by the bed, per­fect for my morn­ing cup of tea, and in the gal­ley, a per­fectly-placed wine rack. This was our boat!’

along the tow­path af­ter work. I did, how­ever, miss hav­ing a wash­ing ma­chine and dish­washer. The plan is to re­tire in five years and cruise the whole sys­tem.

Luck­ily for me, as a child my father taught me to steer. I say luck­ily, be­cause I don’t think as an adult I would have been able to learn. I see so many women strug­gling with creaky pad­dles and heavy lock gates be­cause they are too ner­vous to steer.

I love watch­ing Colin leap­ing about the locks, while I sit on the deck slav­ing over the ‘hot tiller’. I have steered and ne­go­ti­ated locks sin­gle-handed, while Colin has been away, and the sense of achieve­ment I get as a mid­dle-aged woman be­ing able to do so is huge.

I am very proud of my­self. I do think that more women should chal­lenge them­selves and learn to steer.

Un­usu­ally, Colin had also en­joyed canal boat hol­i­days grow­ing up in the Six­ties and was com­fort­able around all things canal-re­lated.

When we meet new boaters I think it is im­por­tant to be friendly and help­ful rather than rude and crit­i­cal be­cause the more the canal is used, the bet­ter it will be for ev­ery­one, as new in­vest­ment has to fol­low. Over­all, Colin and I just love the al­ter­nate uni­verse that is of­fered by the canal sys­tem in the UK and feel priv­i­leged to be part of it.

TheBuck­yfligh­tal­ways feel­s­like­home

TheRiverS­tor­tatHar­low

With­friend­sCaro­lin­e­andLes inthePortofLon­don

With­friends Alex and Clive, reg­u­lar vis­i­tors on Rosella

Moored up in Bath AtKingsLan­g­ley­on­theGrandUnion

An­other favourite haunt for Deb­o­ra­handColin,theRiverLee

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