A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Lois-Jane

James and Debbie are the wrong side of forty. They have decided to take a belated gap year cruising the inland waterways of Englarand and Wales. Will the gap year last more than a year and can you forgive James for being an estate agent?

Who are you? (and your significant other and, of course, your dog if you have one)

Just us two, that’s James and Debbie Ward

Tell me a little about yourself and why you decided to live a life afloat

First part; we are both just the wrong side of 40 with our daughter Jess settled at Winchester Uni. We have a house in Poole Dorset that we have just rented out for a year. We used to really like kayaking and walking but as jobs got busier leisure time got less. Oh, I’m a bit of a waffler as well

Debs relaxing on the bank next to Lois Jane

Debs relaxing on the bank next to Lois Jane

Second part; Wow, the $64k question. We were both really fed up of our 9-5 (8-8 in my case) sort of corporate work lifestyles and wanted the opportunity to see what life and other parts of the UK was all about. We have both worked full time since the day we left school and really needed our ‘gap year’. We moved to Poole on a whim (I’m that kind of person) we had lived in Basingstoke and enjoyed daytrips to the coast. We have no family there and no ties so why not look at other parts of the UK to live in and seeing the Uk at 3mph sounded like a good start. I guess it would be a great opportunity to live on a shoestring to retrain ourselves to live within our means rather than spend what we earned. (Did I mention that I am a bit of a waffler?)

What is your boat called and why did you decide on that name?

She is called Lois Jane, don’t know why, it was all down to the previous owner as was the apples and pears paintings as well. I am sure it all means something.

Do you have a permenant mooring?

No we are CC’ers. We plan to get a mooring over winter (Dec, Jan and Feb) and get some temporary work.

What is your boat style and length

Lois Jane is a 60ft cruiser stern. Built in 2000 by Alexander boat builders and is Sandhills No. 1 boat. She is a gas free boat with a 50hp beta marine engine and engine mounted 7kva generator. I have recently added 4 x 100w solar panels. The layout from stern is – office and electrics, bedroom with cross bed, bathroom with airing cupboard for my homebrew, galley with breakfast bar, lounge with a Becton arrow stove in the corner. The interior is all good quality but I am spending an arm and a leg on varnish for the iroko floor and oak paneled walls.

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

Picked up the keys about mid Feb 2012 and started sanding, varnishing and wandering around saying OMG what have we done.

How did you finance your boat?

An idylic mooring for Lois-Jane

An idylic mooring for Lois-Jane

Scrimped and saved for a couple of years of a 10 year plan before waking up one day and saying ‘we’re going to the bank to re-mortgage the house’ I didn’t want to wait another 8 years! My most recent background was Estate agency and it’s associated financing so I was able to get quite good mortgage rates that meant we would still have a good few hundred pound over from the rent we were charging our tenants to live on.

How much time do you spend on your boat each year?

I should imagine we will be onboard for about 50 weeks of our first year.

Are you still working? (If so, what do you do?)

Not at the mo, Deb is hoping to do a bit of online admin and I’ve got a couple of pin money ideas, but again I want to aim to earn what I need to live not fit my lifestyle around what I earn.

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

Probably not having the postman knocking on the door. Being CC’ers all post goes to my mother in law. I will try out the post offices ‘Post restante’ soon. but as far as I know businesses like ebay wont send to the post office.

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

A different view every fortnight from my lounge window. I also like the fact that it is a bit quirky, the life style always has an opinion ‘fantastic idea’ or ‘b****y idiot’ everyone has an opinion and questions.

If you could change just one thing about your boat, what would it be?

Gunwales 2″ higher. I know it’s only a small point but head height with the cross bed is a bit too tight!

When you are cruising how do you resupply (How do you get to the supermarket without a car)?

Bike and flat-bed bike trailer with a big plastic box on the back. Deb’s bike has a front basket and back rack for quick trips.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

I fitted a mini zanussi washing machine which has been fantastic

What type of toilet do you have on board and are you happy with it?

Pump out that lasts the two of us about a month, but we also use a small port-a-loo. How can I put this … one for solids and one for liquids to maximise the time we can stay in one place.

How do you connect to the internet when you are on your boat and are you happy with the service you receive?

Mifi by 3. Yes it’s great. ?18 per month for 15gb and we can take it out walking or cycling to use google maps etc

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

Too early to tell yet but leaving Braunston and surrounding areas felt like moving home again, it’s a great area.

How do you generate electricity when you are cruising and how much do you use?

It was a bit of a disaster when we started. Dead batteries meant being very careful and charging via the engine for about 3.5 hours (?5ish per day) Since then new batteries and 4 x 100w solar panels have cut charging down to about an hour and a half (?2 ish) which is a massive difference. I think we use about 120 amps per day.

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

Not thinking about that yet….. still waiting for summer to start!

What advice can you offer someone considering living on a narrowboat?

Be realistic, it is not always going to be a bed of roses. You have got to dig deep into Google to get specific answers as most sites will be quite vague with budgets and expenditure. This web site is what I used as the basis of all regular costs and I was then able to adjust accordingly like ‘my boat is newer so better insulated’ etc. I will hopefully post my budget and actual costs soon but so far we are not too far out.

You can find out more about James and Debbie’s watery gap year on their blog.

Are you one of the lucky few who lives the dream on board your own narrowboat full time? Would you like to share your experience with some of the thousands of potential floating home owners who visit this site? If you can spare the time to answer a few simple questions, I would love to hear from you. Just let me know so I can email the questions to you. I’ll create a post like the one above complete with a link back to your own blog or web site.