About fifteen years ago I was contemplating what I was going to do when came the time to retire, not having a home of my own as I lived in accommodation associated with our business, I seriously considered making my retirement residence a narrowboat on the canal system of Britain. I had contacts on the canals with friends who lived on a narrowboat and I could see myself enjoying their lifestyle, but there were many factors to be taken into consideration not the least of which was, as a single person, the size of boat I’d be able to handle on my own.
My friends owned a boat that was 70 feet in length, very unwieldy to manage on your own, if not impossible, so I had to think smaller. On some of our canal holidays in the early 1990s we had hired boats of various lengths and I found I could manage a 45ft boat fairly easily and up to 55 with a little more difficulty so thought 50ft should be the maximum I should look for which would give adequate accommodation space for a single person with enough room for a permanent bedroom. Ideally I really wanted a boat with traditional looks and a vintage engine, I had in mind a single cylinder diesel perhaps a Lister JP1 or even a mighty Kelvin K1 but boats with that form of motive power are rare and I couldn’t really afford to have one made, I’d have to compromise somewhere and a previously owned boat would probably fit the bill into which I could then fit an engine of my choice. A tug-style became my preferred shape and my ideas centred around eventually owning a boat from that genre.
That is, until I saw this boat in a yard on the Shropshire Union Canal. It looked like an abandoned project but had a very unusual appearance and I was immediately attracted to it because of its eccentricity, it suited my personality and I wanted it. There were problems to be overcome however and I seriously had to take a look at my former requirements, this boat met none of the criteria I had set my mind upon. Firstly at 57ft it was over my desired length, this could be overcome, I’d probably need a bow-thruster to handle it on my own, but this was not insurmountable, it was also slightly narrower than a conventional canal boat so consideration would need to be given to internal layout to maximise the space. The idea of a vintage engine had to be thrown out as there just wasn’t room to fit one, I was persuaded by my friend that a modern diesel fitted with a “hospital” silencer would really suit the vessel as it would seem to be gliding silently as befitting such an elegant shape, so conceded that one. Then there was the layout, there is no doubt it would have been extraordinary, not enough headroom in the bow section for me stand up straight, although I could probably have lived with that as it would have been my sleeping quarters. The aft cabin was fairly large but it would have been a squeeze to fit in a lounge, kitchen and bathroom in the space available. The passage from the main cabin to the bedroom passed through the wheelhouse up steps and down again, not practical at all and there really was no way around altering this arrangement. Behind the main cabin was a large open deck which looked good, but in reality was wasted space although lockers underneath would have provided storage. The design provided for the engine to be mid-ship off-centre under the wheelhouse and a keel-cooling tank had been installed, remote hydraulic drive to the propellor would have been necessary. The fake funnel was hinged so it could be lowered for passing under some of the canal systems lower bridges. In all, very quirky and I could see myself as the owner of this beautiful craft with it looking a real eye-catcher painted and lined out in suitable colours.
But, as with many of my dreams, it was to remain just that, a dream. By the mid 2000s many events changed the course of my future including the sale of our large property in Southerndown subsequently allowing me to purchase a house on my share of the proceeds. The canal boat was a lovely idea but the thought of having to get rid of much of my “stuff” accumulated over many decades proved too much of a challenge and I realised full-time living on a boat was really not a practical idea. My friends who lived on a narrow boat went on to run their own boat yard in Northamptonshire but even they have now just retired, sold up and moved back on land. I still love the canal atmosphere but now realise full-time living on a narrowboat as one approaches old-age was really not a serious proposition – I had fun thinking about and planning it though!