In 1998 I had my own home in High Wycombe, I loved it, it was a 3 bedroom 100-year-old railway cottage, it had been re-wired, had new heating, new roof etc, nothing needed doing to it, which was just as well as I had very limited DIY skills. All was not rosy though, I’d started a new job earning less than before (but back in bottling/distilling, no more HGV driving) and I couldn’t afford the mortgage. I’d had a series of lodgers renting the spare rooms, but that was driving me mad as they didn’t care about the house or my stuff in it! So I decided to sell the house and fulfill a long time dream and live on a narrow boat, all I had to do was find the right one. I explained my idea to my mother who thought I was being an idiot, as usual, but then set about finding a boat, at this point my mum decided that she had better accompany me to look at a couple of boats so she could point out the drawbacks and talk me out of the idea. I booked a trip to a marina sales office on the Grand Union Canal and duly went and had a look at a couple of boats, I knew roughly what to expect, but mum took a look, and was hooked! I then decided to take her to a marina in west London, and as we drove in she said “Ok, you can do this” All I had to do was find a boat, how hard could that be?
Well, as it happens that was the hard part, the only boats that I could afford needed lots of work, which I wasn’t confident I could do, the boats I liked I couldn’t afford! So one evening, sat in the pub with my brother (DIY expert) explaining my problem, he said “why not buy a shell and build your own?” I can only think that I must have been a few beers in, as I thought about it for a bit, and said “what a brilliant idea, how hard can it be?” A month or so later I found a shell, bought it, had the engine, ballast, flooring and insulation fitted, fitted the windows with help from my brother and brother-in-law, and moved aboard! This all sounds a bit simple now, but at the time there were lots of issues to overcome, like deciding what went where, where to put the lights, bulkheads, kitchen, bathroom etc. Deciding what to spend my dwindling budget on, heating or a clever inverter/charger for the electrics was another big issue, and I went for the inverter/charger as it would allow me to convert the boats 12 volt battery power into 240 volt domestic power so I could power all my domestic equipment (TV, stereo, computer etc) heating could wait as it was summer!
Having moved aboard, my brother, brother-in-law and I had a 2 week voyage to bring the boat from Lymm in Cheshire, down to London, via the Shropshire Union Canal, Birmingham, the down the Grand Union Canal. All went well for the first day, then on entering a lock we noticed that the engine compartment at the back of the boat was flooding with water, and we were sinking. A panicked phone call to the engine fitter resulted in a dash to a dry dock in Northwich, followed by a day with the engine fitter sorting it all out, then we were off again. All the time on the trip we were fitting the boat out, we put in the lining and some of the bulkheads, set out some of the wiring and built the engine cover, this was whilst negotiating the 150 or so locks, and driving the boat all the hours of daylight! It was a busy but fun trip. Once in West London the boat was craned out of the water and put into the car park, where it stayed for the winter, with me living on board, carrying on with the fit out.