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End of an era: We’re buying a ‘normal house’

Well folks, it’s the end of an era. Em and I have finished building our tiny house (as in, Em has built it, I’ve jumped around excitedly taking photos and occasionally slapping some paint on something) and we’re preparing to leave the Isle of Skye and move to our very own Proper House…in Wales. Did …

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Empress – the story so far

Empress is Emma’s boat – after selling Swallow back in February, I moved aboard with the cats. Empress is 45ft long and not technically a narrowboat. Traditionally narrowboats are 6ft wide, Empress is 8ft. She’s a home-build – as far as we know, built in someone’s garden in Todmorden some 20 years ago, then plopped into the …

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All change

Well, here’s a long-overdue update! I can’t believe it’s been 10 months since I last posted to this blog. So much has changed since then…but I’ll keep this short. First and foremost – Swallow was sold back in February. After a few viewings, the perfect owner came along and, understandably, fell in love with her. …

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A bit of a squash

Emma’s gone off to America for a few months to learn timber frame building, leaving me with not only the two cats on board Swallow, but now our gorgeous little black labrador Billie, too. As a freelancer, I also work from home a lot. And just a reminder that Swallow is 30ft long and 6ft …

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Winter fuel and clean air

The whole of Manchester is covered by the Clean Air Act, meaning that there are restrictions on what you can and can’t burn for heating. I discovered this shortly after it got cold, when a notice from the council was pinned up in the boaters’ hut, stating that the burning of wood was generally not …

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A new kitchen seat

Swallow’s engine is actually inside the cabin in a large steel box which goes right down into the bilge. To make the most of the space, Dad and I built a cover for the engine box which could easily be removed for access, but while moored, half of this would be the platform you step …

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Preparing to cruise

You don’t just fire up a narrowboat’s engine and set sail into the sunset/drizzle/whatever. In advance of Swallow’s three-day journey to Manchester, I had a fair bit of sorting to do. A big part of this was simply sorting out all the stuff I had on land. When you have a mooring, you tend to …

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Some last minute DIY

Well, I said Swallow was as finished as I was going to get her… but then today, my last day in Todmorden before setting off to Manchester, I got the DIY bug again. I had a HUGE piece of plywood that I’d bought a while back – far too expensive to waste. My sort-of landlord …

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Swallow is for sale!

It’s with a  lot of mixed emotions that I’ve put Swallow up for sale. She’s my home and been my big project for the past 13 months and I (finally) love her dearly. I’m not desperate to sell her, but I’d also like to go travelling for a bit, see some friends in the US …

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Before and after

One year on from moving aboard Narrowboat Swallow, I thought it would be fun to do some before and after shots to illustrate the changes I’ve made to my tiny floating home. Entrance I’m really proud of the new entrance hatch, built by my friend Noah Rose. Here’s a little more about that. Bow Kitchen When …

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BSS boat safety examination

Great news – Swallow passed her BSS boat safety exam today! The examiner had visited previously and presented me with a to-do list of amendments to make to ensure Swallow was gas safe and not likely to blow up any neighbours/cats/locks/sections of the canal. Luckily these were fairly simple tasks and there were no major …

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Paintwork nearly finished…

Narrowboat for sale

Just wanted to share a few photographs of the paint job coming along. The weather has been showery recently so it’s a case of grabbing an afternoon here, a morning there – progress has definitely slowed since that initial hot spell. Still I think Swallow is looking pretty fab:

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A busy evening

Gosh. You do nothing on your boat for months, and then on one sunny evening suddenly make crazy progress like nobody’s business. Here’s what got sorted tonight: 1. Removal of nasty leaky plastic flue/mushroom thing (and yes of course I shoulda done that before painting…) 2. Fitting of beautiful brass mushroom Classy, huh? 3. Continuing …

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Painting 3 – red red red!

After all that sanding, time for the fun stuff! Firstly the lead paint, for all the areas if gone down to bare metal: And then it was finally time for the moment of truth. The red paint. I’ve got a 5ltr tin of gloss steel paint from Paints and Lacquers in Halifax, in ‘signalrot’ – …

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Painting 2 – preparation

I don’t care what line of work you’re in, until you’ve spent two full days sanding an entire narrowboat, you don’t know hard work. (And if I hear the words ‘it’s all in the preparation’ one more time, I might just shove someone in the canal.) The weekend turned out to be utterly gorgeous and …

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Painting 1 – tackling the rust

So! It can be put off no longer. It’s summer, it’s warm, it stops raining for more than 24 hours at a time and it’s time to sort out the mess that is Swallow’s exterior paint job. I’ve scared myself looking at blogs of grown men apparently reduced to tears by the task, and also …

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Boat shuffle

The past couple of weeks, there’s been some shifting about around Baltimore Marina. Estelle was giving away her boat, so Jamie took it. Through one thing and another, it ended up next to me, meaning I had a boat an inch away on one side, and a boat an inch away on the other. Not …

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The perfect cupboard

Since I moved aboard, I’ve been searching for the perfect cupboard to squeeze in alongside the sofa and maximise the storage space there. Every time I passed a junk shop or charity shop, every Thursday market I was there, looking for something to fit. Tricky, because it needed to be something long, but with the …

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On doorways

The entrance to your home is important. You encounter it over and over and over again, each time you go out or return. I suppose a good doorway is one which you don’t notice you’re going through, and a great doorway is one which you truly love to go through – one which welcomes you …

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Cooking on gas

Narrowboat gas cooker

Words cannot express my excitement. Gone is the camping stove, gone is nipping over to Emma’s for a slice of toast… I can grill my own since my little Super Calor Gas cooker is fully plumbed in. I’ve got hot running water too! Tony had to do a little fixing as there was a loose connection or …

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I’ve got gas

No, not that kind of gas. As in, LPG. Gas you can cook on. Gas that heats water. Exciting! I bought my boiler and associated gubbins months ago, but the lovely chap who was going to do my gas for me wasn’t able to. This weekend, he and Emma got together and got started. Firstly this …

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Running water

Behold: No, not some internet trickery or illusion. Actual running water, on my boat. All thanks to Emma of course! While I was busy being fazed by pretty much ever element of boat DIY, she quietly cracked on with my plumbing. I don’t yet have gas, so there’s no hot water, but just seeing it …

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Cold, slow winter update (leaks)

It’s been wintery, it’s been cold. There’s not been much to report in terms of Swallow’s progress, except to say that it turns out those leaky windows weren’t sorted after all. At one point, I had to move off the boat and in with Emma while we (she) looked at them. Slowly, they’re getting fixed, …

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Keeping clean without running water

You might expect without a shower or running water that I’m a bit of a dirty scruff these days. On the contrary, I don’t think I’ve ever been so clean! This is thanks to Todmorden’s leisure centre, which I joined after moving aboard. Whenever I like I can use the pool, jacuzzi, steam room, sauna …

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New office all set up!

…well almost. The BT engineer installing my broadband was a little phased by the boat thing but, having explained the whole situation to BT several times previously I took a deep breath, rolled my eyes and went inside to make him a cuppa. For now I’m stealing neighbour’s internet which is enough to get by …

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Sunday jobs

It was a bright, mild Sunday morning so it felt like time for a few chores – cleaning and tidying and some of the little jobs I’ve been meaning to do for ages but not getting round to. First had to be emptying the toilet. I’ve probably banged on enough about the joys of doing …

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Bringing it all back home

I’m sitting on the floor by the newly-lit fire, looking around my boat and trying to make sense of the past year. It’s been, without a doubt, the hardest year of my life. Although I’ve started my first business and bought my first home, it’s hard at this moment to concentrate on achievements rather than …

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Lamplighter Festival

Our new (hopefully) annual street event in Todmorden – the Lamplighter Festival – where the whole town gathers to greet the cold, dark season with bright lanterns, music, fire and more – featured a few floating sculptures on the Rochdale Canal, and even some on a narrowboat :)

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Cats on board

It’s also the day these little cats are going to get out exploring (I hope) – they’ve been in a week, they know Swallow is home, and it’s time for them to get out there and do their outdoor cat things. I had to bribe them to leave the warm, cosy fire with bits of …

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Frost

It’s the most beautiful, frosty morning, making the boatyard look almost romantic. There’s golden sunlight on the hills opposite, and thick white glittery ice over boats, woodpiles, ropes and sheds.  

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Moving on board

Moving day was Thursday. I spent most of it in the flat cleaning and scrubbing ready for the net tenant (my friend Bridget) and Emma took carloads of boxes over to the boats. It was a long, hard day but we got there eventually – this included a brilliant trip through town with my sofa …

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Two weeks of rushing and hard work

It’s been a strange and full-on few weeks. Since arriving back in Todmorden with Swallow, there’s been a rush to get done as many things as possible to make her liveable, comfortable, dry and safe. After a horrible time trying to remove just one window that first weekend back, I realised that the best use …

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Insulating the ceiling

Today is one of those grim, rainy days, so I was looking for an indoor job to do. I decided to insulate the ceiling using a roll of fibre insulation which Kevin had got for me. The ceiling did have some insulation, but it was patchy and loose and a bit gross. I removed the centre …

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Windows: Now without water pouring in!

The marina in Todmorden has it’s pros and cons. On the down-side, everyone is squished up close to each other, there’s no privacy, and there are some strong personalities which can dominate the place. On the up-side, there are also some really, really lovely people. One of these is Len, who came across me struggling …

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A studio on dry land

I’m self employed and need a base where I can work and be warm and dry during the day – even if the boat was ready to move on board, I still wouldn’t have the 240v electricity, internet access and comfortable desk space I need to run my business. So I’ve rented a studio at …

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Costs so far

For the sheer thrill of it, I’ve been recording the money I’ve spend on my boat so far. This does include travel to and from the boat when it was in Chester, and to my parents’ in Shrewsbury. It doesn’t include the cost of the boat itself! I haven’t yet finished the windows, installed the gas, …

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Migration 4 – Chadderton to Todmorden

26th October – Chadderton to Punchbowl Lock, Littleborough Rochdale Canal We ploughed on through some fairly boring canalway, through Rochdale was a highlight – despite the main lock on the centre being a pretty tough one, we were greatly encouraged by three drunk guys who helped us out and shut the gates behind us. But…we …

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Air in the diesel

If you pour diesel into the tank to enthusiastically, you can end up with air bubbles becoming trapped in it, which can bring your engine to a halt. Swallow’s BMC 1.5 engine is fitted with two filters – one just as the diesel leaves the tank, and the other where it flows through the engine. Eric …

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Migration 3 – The Manchester 18

25th October – New Islington to Chadderton Rochdale Canal – the ‘Manchester 18’ locks For me, this was the most gruelling day of the trip. We did more locks on other days, but these particular 18 locks, running from Manchester city centre to Failsworth on the outskirts, truly are challenging. Big heavy gates, often-faulty mechanisms, …

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The stern gland greaser

The stern gland greaser is a mechanism which keeps the stern gland watertight, by squeezing grease around the shaft to form a seal. You have to give it a twist and squeeze some grease down there each time you stop, as moving the boat breaks the seal each time.   The greaser, which screws up …

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Migration 2 – Manchester and the Rochdale Nine

Thursday 24th October- Manchester City Centre Bridgewater Canal to Rochdale Canal This was a toughie – the notoriously difficult ‘Rochdale Nine’, the first nine locks of the Rochdale canal taking you through the city centre. It all started off beautifully though – waking up in Sale was just gorgeous, a sunny, cold autumn morning and …

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A few tunnels

When I saw that my journey included three tunnels on the Trent and Mersey Canal (Barnton, Saltersford and Preston Brook) I thought they would be great fun. In reality, I found them pretty terrifying. They are narrow, cold, and obviously very dark – you rely completely on your headlamp and the tiny light at the …

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Migration 1 – Chester to Manchester

This was it – Swallow’s big journey. Emma and I had taken plenty of time off work and we set sail from Golden Nook Farm, just east of Chester on the Shropshire Union Canal, to bring Swallow to her new home in Todmorden. We had a bed, a porta-potty, a stove for warmth, a camping …

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Planning my route

The weather is getting colder and nastier with every passing day and I’ve decided that I need to set off moving my boat in a couple of weeks’ time. The engine is (nearly) fixed, the electrics are (nearly) in and despite dreams of cruising a finished houseboat down the canals at a leisurely pace, I’m …

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Narrowboat electrics 1

Today was exciting, because Clive Penny came to make a start on my electrics. Aside from the fact that I forgot the boat keys, so we had to climb in and out all day through the sliding hatch (brilliant in the rain, as it can’t actually be closed from inside the boat. I did a …

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Toilet humour

One of the delightful gifts left to me on board my boat was a porta-potty. Unfortunately for me, this one was full. I had a lovely time working out which drain to empty it into. Not, it turns out, the one I chose, which was basically a pit of raw sewage bobbing around merrily which …

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Scrubbing up

Nice clean white roof after some cleaning.

Inspired by a sunny session cleaning Emma’s boat yesterday, today I headed to Golden Nook Farm early to do a little scrubbing of Swallow’s roof before the electrician arrived to give me a quote. I was sad to see how much flaking and deterioration of the paintwork had been allowed to take place beneath the …

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Think I might need a new mattress

Ewwww. I’m going to need a whole new one, but due to Swallow’s beautiful curves, this will need to be custom-made. Custom-made means expensive, so I won’t be getting a proper mattress until the more pressing things (y’know, running water, luxuries like that) are sorted, but for now a few people have recommended cheap foam …

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Narrowboat bagua

Can you do Feng Shui on a narrowboat? I thought I’d try, by applying a Feng Shui bagua (an ‘energy map’) to a plan of little Swallow. The idea of a bagua is that it shows you where the different ‘energies’ in your home lie, so you can ensure you’re making the best of each …

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Sunday sunshine: cleaning Emma’s boat

This weekend I wasn’t off working on my boat. I made lots of lists, called lots of tradespeople, spend a lot of time online trying to get my head around 12v narrowboat electrics and generally getting very frustrated that I currently live so far away from my boat. We had two beautiful, sunny, early-autumn days …

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Finishing up the kitchen units

There was still plenty to do with the kitchen units before installing them on the boat. More joinery – this time the trickier mid-leg mortice and tenon joints, plus cutting a hole for the sink. This was a lot harder than either of us thought – we had to keep adjusting and readjusting over and …

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Warmth!

Close up of small black stove

I popped to the boat today to pick up my sink, and lo and behold, Eric was there with his mate Jason, putting the finishing touches to my stove. Wonderful. It’s a 4KW compact, multifuel stove which fits snugly in the corner of the living room, and should be more than enough to keep little …

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Kitchen carpentry the right way

I was really pleased with myself for having knocked together two kitchen units last week. (Read about that here.) However, Dad kindly informed me that I’d done this all wrong and that my units needed to be properly jointed. Oops. Fortunately he was well up for giving me a lesson in how to do this …

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Kitchen worktops

There’s not a lot of room for making big design statements in my tiny boat, but one area I thought I could make an impact was the kitchen worktops. I wanted to use some really nice wood for this, and Emma suggested Keighley Tree Services – a tree surgeon and timber yard not far from …

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First night aboard

As the day drew to an end and the sun dropped lower over the fields opposite, I packed away my tools and wood and began to potter about the boat, making it as cosy as possible for my first night aboard. The day’s playful swallows were replaced, first by a flock of geese, calling to …

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Starting the kitchen

I’m chuffed to say that I built my first pieces of furniture today. I arrived at the farm mid-morning and Eric was nowhere to be seen – I’d arranged to have a chat with him about what needed doing in what order, as I’d been feeling a bit chicken-and-egg about most of the jobs on my …

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Jumble sale

My flat has been a jumble sale for the past week, as I tried to get rid of my possessions. At first, this was kinda fun, but after a couple of days, living in a junk shop with *stuff* everywhere was starting to grate. By Sunday Emma and I had had enough. We called around …

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Swallow

I’ve been re-thinking the future name of my boat. She was called Tingletrees when I bought her but we’re just calling her ‘the boat’ for now…I don’t want to rename her until she’s all finished and lovely and I can move on board.) Page of Cups had been the favourite until Sunday, when I started …

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Golden Nook Farm

On 30th August after our first day cruising together, Swallow arrived at Golden Nook Farm where she could have her engine serviced, and hopefully a lot more besides – there’s an engineer who says he can help with my stove, electrics, gas and plumbing so the idea is to keep her here for the time …

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Maiden voyage

Not the boat’s maiden voyage, obviously. But my first trip out on her. Today Dad and I said goodbye to Taylor’s Boatyard and set sail to…well…we weren’t really sure where. All we knew was that we had to go south, then east, through a few locks and along til we reached a farm where the charming Eric …

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Sketchup 1 – galley/living space

Sketchup is a brilliant piece of 3D drawing software which anyone can download and use, but be warned – it’s addictive.   My initial sketches aren’t brilliant, but they’re really useful for showing family and friends my plans for the boat – my dad in particular as he’s helping me to build some of it, …

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Taylor’s Boatyard

One really great thing about all the work that needs doing on my boat is that it’s currently moored at Taylor’s Boatyard, in Chester. Built in 1845, this is one of the oldest working boatyards in the country, though it was disused from the 70s until Yvette and Pete Askey took it over a couple …

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Bilge

One lovely thing I gained when I bought the boat was a LOT of crap in the bilge. The entire back end of the boat surrounding the engine box was awash with swirling, brown, sludgy, oily, disgusting water which smelled of stagnation and disinfectant. The engine battery sat loose, three inches deep in it. Nice. …

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Internal rust

Removing rust from the inside of my boat where water had been swilling around wasn’t hard, just unpleasant. It was simply a case of  scrubbing it all off with a wire brush and cleaning it up nice, and painting it with a thick coat of red lead oxide paint.    

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Starting the carpentry

There was no way to safely get in and out of the boat, as the doorway came straight in onto the open engine box. When I bought her, there were cupboard doors sitting over part of it, so you stepped down onto that and clambered down into the boat on a plank covering the open …

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Boat history – the search continues

Jannel got back to me and said that the boat wasn’t one of theirs, as they never made sloping windows like the ones on my boat. However a quick check on Jim Shead’s Boat Listing website using the British Waterways number brought this result: Confusing! This also confused Jannel, who looked into it a little …

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Boat history – first steps

I was told by the previous owner that this boat is a Jannel Cruiser.  Naturally I want to know more about the history of my boat, so I’ve contacted Jannel themselves (now a family-run marina, still in Shobnall Basin on the Trent and Mersey Canal) and checked out the history section of their website – …

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Gas and water – first sketch

Plan of boat showing gas and water tanks and fittings

Here’s my first sketch for gas and water systems. It’s pretty simple, just showing where I want things. I have a pretty big problem in that the boat doesn’t have a water tank and I don’t know where it should go, so I’ll be asking for advice from JP Marine on that one.

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Electrics – first sketch

The first thing to say is that I don’t yet know much about boat electrics. Neither does my dad even though he’s an electrician by trade – boat electrics are completely different to the systems you find in houses on land and have to meet a set of standards set by the Boat Safety Scheme …

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Interior – first sketch

The steel box I plan to live in is 30ft long and 6ft wide, and my head *just about* touches the ceiling when I stand up nice and tall. So it’s not very big. Designing the interior of a boat to maximise space and incorporate as much storage and comfort as possible is an art …

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Downsizing (1)

Okay. So I rent a tiny flat in Todmorden – it’s not like I have a house full of stuff accumulated over a lifetime the way some people do. But still, moving from a land-lubbing home to a teeny tiny boat is a major downsizing project. I’ve got a wardrobe plus baskets plus boxes plus …

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Getting the boat survey done

The boat survey was on Friday 9th August. The surveyor was Peter Hopley of Acorn Engineering, Manchester – a personal recommendation from the boat yard. He wasn’t cheap at £500, but it was money very well spent. First, she was docked at the boatyard’s own dry-dock (this cost a further £100 – their daily rate …

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Wanted: small boat for excited woman and three cats

Once I’d decided I wanted to live on a canal boat, I must admit I didn’t spend much time looking before I (well, my partner Emma actually,) came across Tingletrees. My budget was pretty small, and had to include any renovation work – so my choices were limited…however I was really surprised about what you …

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