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 Rochdale Canal where she lived until Emma bought her.

She’s been doing her up ever since!

Here’s the story so far, starting with the most recent stuff because the pics will be prettier…

Last week, Em and I finally finished Empress’ paint job (we started back in summer last year, when I was also painting Swallow).

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Here we are sanding and painting away merrily:

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And on the inside…



Good old Dad came over a couple of months ago to install 240v electricity, which was awesome. Previously we’d been powering our gizmos via a totally unlawful tangle of extension leads.

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Previous to all of this, Empress was a darker shade of blue and pretty scruffy, comme ça:


She also had a pretty awful hatch (not as awful as mine was, mind) but our friend Noah sorted that out. This is what it looked like before he worked his magic:


And here’s Noah and Em at work on it:


Before even that, Em did one of the most amazing things to Empress. She added a big, lovely skylight. We’re grateful for this every day now, as it fills the boat with light and it’s very handy for getting rid of the smoke of burned toast:


It’s glazed and painted now, and it makes an incredible difference.

Before even that, Em did something even more amazing. She stripped out all of the wooden panelling and insulation, and re-insulated and lined the boat herself, with 9mm ply:



There’s more – much more, but these are the photos I can find. Empress is a beautiful boat, a wide, hulking tank of a boat, inelegant but roomy and kind-feeling. After Swallow’s dinky proportions, she feels palatial. Em and I were both worried about the two of us living together in such a small space…but it works. That may be partly due to the fact that one of us has been out of the country for months at a time throughout the year, and also that I have a studio where I go to work each day…but it’s also due to Empress’ space. She just doesn’t feel crowded.

Now the exterior painting is done, it’s time to focus on the inside. Em’s away (again) for 12 weeks…but I’m excited to see what I can get done without her, and what we can accomplish on her weekends back in Manchester.