We are James and Amy, a young couple who have been living on boats since 2008, and are now in the process of fitting out the wonderful 1935 ex-working narrowboat, Willow.
So, how did we end up here, living afloat on an historic boat? For James, his experience of boating began at an early age, going on family hire boat holidays as an eighteen month old. Amy grew up in Devon, and did a fair bit of dinghy sailing on the Exe Estuary as a child.
We met whilst we were both studying at Cambridge university, and bonded over a shared interest in WW2 coastal fortifications. It was James’s idea to live afloat, having spent time with his friends on their narrowboat, moored on the River Cam. He “boat-sat” for them, Amy came to visit and she was hooked too.
So, we put our names on the list to get a residential mooring in Cambridge despite the fact that James was still studying and Amy was living in London, working as an architectural assistant. Over the course of the next year or so we spent most of our spare time researching canals and narrowboats, eventually buying one – 48ft Lucky Duck- in August 2008, using a loan from the bank of Amy’s dad and a marine mortgage. It was a steep learning curve, and during our return voyage everything conspired to go wrong, but with the help of friends and family, we made it back to Cambridge eventually! We spent the next four years enjoying our life afloat on Lucky Duck, but during this time a growing interest in historic narrow boats turned into a passion and we decided that we needed one of our own! It made sense to buy a full length (72ft boat) because by this time, James was training to be a teacher, and Amy had embarked upon a PhD, and both needed more space to work at home.
Over a year’s worth of networking and searching ensued and eventually, through the Historic Narrow Boat Club and a friend’s tip off (Dan, we owe you one!) we found Willow. See more on the history of the boat here. It wasn’t quite what we had been after because it was such a massive project: the hull was very sound, having just been rebottomed in 2010, but for that to occur, all the internal fit out, bar the living room panelling had been removed. The only services that the boat had was (thankfully, since we bought it in February!) the woodburner and radiators! Everything else from water, gas and electrics, to flooring, lining out and insulating the bathroom and bedroom still needed doing. But we felt that, with five years boat maintenance under our belts, and a willingness to put in some hard work, we could do it. We never thought we’d end up fitting out our own boat, but somehow it seemed like the perfect solution. We remember a momentous evening sitting in a Wetherspoons in Milton Keynes, writing a list of the pros and cons, and deciding to actually go ahead. The boat was very cheap due to its lack of services, and building the interior mostly from scratch meant that we could do it exactly as we wanted. We commissioned a survey from an expert in old narrow boats, which came back saying that the boat was both very sound and excellent value, so that was that. The previous owner was very good to us and helped us out by giving us the materials, furniture and applicances he’d bought to finish the fit out but become to ill to actually use.
We stayed living on our old boat for a while, heading up to Langley Mill near Nottingham where Willow had a paid up mooring pretty much every weekend until we had the basic services (including a fitted IKEA kitchen) finished. Then it was time to bring it home! Now, getting on for a year later, we have a comfortable home which we hope to live in for years to come! You can read all about our travels and the fit out by clicking on the links.
Aside from boating, we both enjoy rowing – James is a cox and Amy a rower, and we both go out on the river several time a week, meaning that we probably spend more time on the water than on land! As both rowers and live aboard boaters, we dedicate a fair bit of time to promoting the views of each with the other group. We set up the Cam River Users Group to bring both parties and others together to talk about river issues. Amy is a serial committee joiner and sits on the board of the Conservators of the River Cam, the local navigation authority, as well as being the Fens Rep for the Historic Narrow Boat Club. Both of us are on the committee of the local residential boaters’ group, Camboaters.
When we can, we go off boating, exploring the canals and rivers of England. We also enjoy visiting other UK cities, by car or train, but we inevitably end up searching out their waterways!