finding the right balance

narrowboat nomads

finding the balance

I’ve never been daunted by change; indeed, I undeniably relish it, but Donna is generally more grounded and sedate with her decision making. It usually goes something like; I throw up a fantastical idea verging on lunacy, then Donna has a meltdown and spends the next few days percolating and figuring out the feasibility and possible pitfalls, so that we end up with a refined plausible plan that might even work.

Narrowboat Nomads home marina Diglis Basin, WorcesterBuying a narrowboat is a consideration not to be taken lightly. We bought our boat to cruise the cut and experience the nature and the seasons at close hand, to visit all the places that the canal system granted us access to and spend time in the company of kindred spirits. The quintessential English idyl that many dream of, however, as in life, things conspire, plans change and sometimes matters can unravel very quickly.

Once we had got aboard, we realised that immediate repairs and some long-term refitting needed to be completed before we could start exploring.  We had an idea of what was involved, as I had already created a spreadsheet with all the things we would like on our hypothetical boat, and I had costed it within an inch of its life. Of course, this turned out to be a total work of fiction and had very little relevance with the Jeremiah Lee. We had only recently dusted ourselves down after a 2-year renovation of a 1900’s cottage but a narrowboat is an entirely different prospect and when reality struck, we didn’t know whether to make a bowline or a beeline.

She had been built as a holiday, getaway, weekend boat by some very capable and experienced boaters who knew exactly what they needed twenty years ago, in effect she was an out of date leisure boat. Her second owner had also fallen in love with her because she will charm anyone who boards her. He wanted to live on her on a permanent mooring, with electric hook up, piped water and all that one requires close by, the well-used phrase and crudely put “floater not a boater” springs to mind.

However, the ambiguity of constant cruising means that your floating home requires a level of self-reliance, the vessel needs to be capable of sustaining you for a duration of time between facilities; you might say her off grid capabilities.

Our narrowboat was indeed somebody else’s baby, and a refit requires one to work within someone else’s original plan. For every action we would take there would be a reaction, that’s to say that the impact of doing one thing will affect another thing that you will have to live with. The boats’ depth and attitude in the water, her ballast, air draught, keeping us warm and a healthy engine are of course crucial, but changes needed to be made regardless.

Narrowboat Nomads narrowboat interiorPrimarily the lack of space, the required tools and building materials along with clothes, food and all the essentials needed for cooking and eating, washing and dressing, somewhere to sit, somewhere to sleep, it may sound odd but with so little room, we must move things about just to be able to work.

Secondly, besides the carpentry and decoration, there’s a whole load of other skills required; electrics for both direct current and alternating current, solar systems, security systems, comms systems, gas and water plumbing, engineering and an understanding of engines and mechanics.

Then there are the chores; walking Dylan and trying to keep our place and things clean, shopping, topping up the water, the diesel, the gas and coal, foraging wood, buying food and sorting our waste requires a chunk of time. All of this whilst not owning a car could make matters even more difficult but luckily for us, we could rely on the benevolence of our friends’ network.

One also needs appropriate work arounds to live long term on the cut and this is another quagmire that needs thought and ingenuity; financial arrangements, an income and banking, medical arrangements, any conditions, requirements and prescriptions, mail and parcels, groceries, all need sorting out. There’s the general maintenance of your boat, an appreciation of the weather, understanding navigation, being able to handle the boat and know how to manage locks, bridges and tunnels. In short, becoming competent helmspersons.

narrowboat nomads finding the right balance

Whilst working on the boat has and can be an arduous undertaking, sometimes stressful, always testing but essentially rewarding. We have flagged a few times, run out of steam, lost the will, taken time out, whatever excuse we’ve used them all. But generally, Donna remains more sanguine and hey if you’re going to get knocked down, fall forward rather than backward as its easier to get up again, so we muddle on and through the tricky stuff.

We knew that making time for ourselves would be crucial for the pleasure of the experience, so our desire hasn’t diminished, and our aspirations grow with the completion of each task. Whilst we are still a few months from being able to go cruising, we are a long way from where we started and have learnt much, how much is to be discovered but that is at the core of our endeavours.

narrowboat nomads finding the right balanceIt’s not just the geography, the landscapes and the flora and fauna that requires our further investigation and quiet contemplation, it’s the journey of self-exploration and expression. Getting off the hamster wheel is a life choice and trade off; we have given up comfort and security to slow right down. We may not have an alarm, but the clock is relentless and being able to enjoy our fitness and good health to pursue ones’ aspirations is our reward.

Living in a small space with a bookshelf is all we need to have a light touch in our world. We both have interests and creative pastimes that will occupy our days and quench our ambitions and we have taken this holistic approach to experience life within the briefness of the time that we have.

narrowboat nomads - finding the right balanceA major contributing factor for our mental wellbeing is being able to live within this close-knit community of persons who are alternative thinkers, decision makers and risk takers. The achievers that choose their destiny and find their own and unique pathways, gives us a sense of belonging and helps us feel comfortable as our adventure unfolds. It’s also a very social environment that requires our engagement and attendance of events and some considerable quaffing.  After all, your vibe is our tribe eh!

You can follow us on Instagram; @narrowboat_nomads, watch us on YouTube; Narrowboat Nomads and find out more at;

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About Martin Duggan

As a former overland expedition driver, independent traveller and photographer, getting into scrapes has been the norm. Now, Martin along with his partner Donna are refitting their recently acquired narrowboat before embarking on a new journey as continuous cruisers. You can follow their adventures here and on their YouTube channel: Narrowboat Nomads.