ME & MY BOATS
How do you buy a narrowboat and spend five days a week renovating it while on maternity leave, without letting on to your husband? Katy-Felicity Butler-Brown tells us how it was done...
You’ve just had your first child, you’re on maternity leave, and you’re thinking of a way to surprise your husband. Would you thing of buying a narrowboat? That’s what Katy-Felicity did!
My husband James has always had a passion for the canals. For many years he has been a volunteer with Waterway Recovery Group. He has always had an ambition to one day own his own narrowboat and cruise the canal network he has helped to restore.
Back in October 2016, while visiting my parents’ boat on the River Nene, I got chatting to the couple who owned a 1980s 36ft Springer narrowboat moored behind
my parents’ boat. They said they were thinking of selling it, my ears pricked up and I enquired upon the price they were thinking of. The price was to my liking so a plan was formed.
It was very much a case of right place, right time of my life as I was pregnant with our first child. So I agreed to buy and paid my deposit, to take full ownership in the New Year. This was all to be kept a big secret so that I could surprise James.
On January 26, 2017 I gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Joules. A month later I took full ownership of the narrowboat. I told James I had a surprise for him but didn’t let on what.
My parents had already offered to help renovate the boat to suit our needs and taste. So as soon as James had left for work early in the morning I got up, got our daughter ready, collected my parents and drove the 52 miles to the boat to spend the day working on it.
Then drove home and to have dinner ready for when James returned from work. It’s amazing the jobs that can be done whilst breastfeeding a newborn at the same time. All research needed was done during night feeds.
We spent just over four months, five days a week, working on the boat. The first job was to get the boat out of the water: luckily the boat club we are at has its own cradle on a slip, so we booked use of that. As soon as it was on the slip, we jet-washed the hull and prepared it ready for blacking. We then started work on the inside; we took off all of the soft furnishings including the old mattress – it must have been a rather funny sight watching two adults wrestle to get the mattress along the narrow corridor and out of the back doors. The dark varnished wood walls weren’t to my taste, so we prepared them and painted them magnolia. One of the front hopper windows leaked so Dad took it out, which revealed all the different colours the boat had been in its lifetime.
We then moved on to sand and paint the outside. She was red, yellow and blue; I’d decided on green and cream with Cadbury purple details (Cadbury purple was our wedding colour theme so is special to us). I knew all along I wanted to rename the boat; I wanted to name her after our daughter, Joules.
After the painting was done, I painstakingly applied the vinyl name graphic and stood back to admire it with tears rolling down my face, so proud of what we had achieved.
Once she was back in the water the
We were working to a tight schedule as I originally wanted to reveal it to James at the beginning of May for his birthday. Unfortunately due to bad weather and a teething baby we were delayed so it was decided that the big reveal would be on Father’s Day.
work on the inside really started, new tiles were put around the fire, new sparkle fleck worktops fitted and the bathroom changed around to accommodate a cassette toilet instead of a Porta Potti. Mum and I made completely new sofa cushions and curtains, storing them all in my parents’ loft so that James didn’t see them. I also fitted two cassette caravan blinds, one to the bathroom porthole and one to the bedroom porthole to make it as dark as possible.
We were working to a tight schedule as I originally wanted to reveal it to James at the beginning of May for his birthday. Unfortunately due to bad weather and a teething baby, we were delayed so it was decided that the big reveal would be on Father’s Day.
By this time James was starting to become suspicious, but I kept dropping hints that I was training to become a hot air balloon pilot to try to throw him off the scent.
My parents and I had made a plan to get James down to the boat; my dad was going to ask him to help with something on my parents’ boat.
Father’s Day arrived so we all went down to the boat to ‘help’ dad with their boat. Once it was revealed, all freshly painted and proudly displaying out daughter’s name, James stood speechless until muttering: “I knew it, I knew it all along that you weren’t learning to fly a hot air balloon.” Once he’d got over the shock he was very happy that we’d made one of his dreams come true. Like all things there are always little jobs to do and maintenance to keep up, (we all know BOAT stands for Bring Out Another Thousand) but James is enjoying getting stuck in.
All in all, not a bad way to spend my maternity leave.
Next year we plan on cruising to London in time for Little Venice Canalway Cavalcade, this is somewhere James has always wanted to take a narrowboat: another dream we can hopefully tick off.
Out of the water and the overhaul journey begins
The galley before work started
Multiple layers of old paint to rub down
Katy-Felicity and Joules out on the river
Bright and airy feel to new look