I said I’d have a go at the How and Why of narrowboat life. This is a bit of that.
I discovered narrowboats when living in London in the 1990s. Wandering around Maida Vale and Camden, the canal is just there. I’ve always enjoyed, no, loved, anything to do with boats. I grew up sailing dinghies in the ocean, and seem to fall in love with any boat or yacht I can get my hands on.
Back a couple of years, I got to try out narrowboating for about six months over winter. And I loved it.
Narrowboating – living aboard, is a very Elemental way to live. By that I mean — close to the elements: Water, Air, Fire, Earth. Hot and cold are close. Off grid. A walk to the car if you even have one close. Birds: ducks, geese, swans everywhere. The canals are rich with life and often seem like nature corridors through urban places.
As a life, it is less safe (in the way that my home is afloat, and like any boat, could sink), and more engaged. It is less easy to hide in a nice warm house and binge Netflix. There’s more agency here. That sometimes looks like logistics (ie. carrying stuff from place to place) but that’s not so bad for somebody who works in front of a laptop. I need that physical stuff.
Now, let’s talk about Engineering. I’m an Engineer. I like making things and solving engineering problems: Electrics, mechanical stuff, batteries, engines, solar panels — all materials I like to work with. Boats are great for this stuff. There’s always something that needs work or a problem to solve.
Adventure. I need some adventure in my life. What’s around the next bend in the canal? Where will I stop for the night? Like hiking, but I’m taking my home with me. I like maps, mapping, finding places, exploring.
Yes, adventure, but not in an Indiana Jones kind of way. The pace of things here on the canals is slow. Narrowboats move slowly (about walking pace). Locks take time to fill and empty. Filling with water takes time. Opening and closing lock gates is a constant lesson in applying energy carefully. Moving a 57foot many-ton steel boat needs to be done with patience and care.
I like this life. It sure isn’t for everyone. For me, it is just right.