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Boaters from Gravesend, Medway and Faversham share what it's like to live afloat

From losing an oar in a fast-flowing river to being in the shower and running out of water while shampoo runs in your eyes, are just some of the hair-raising things people living on boats experience.

It's not all plain sailing and it's a question many of us ask when gazing at a harbour on a sunny afternoon, what would it be like to live on a boat? Here Megan Carr, who is a boater herself, shares what life is like living afloat.

Barge owner Alan Carr speaking about what it is like to live on a boat

In 2019 my family decided to move from our house in Greenhithe onto a 28 metre Dutch Barge.

The boat was moord at Gravesend Marina and had a history spanning across the last 100 years.

Vrijheid, meaning Freedom, was built in 1922 in the Netherlands as a sailing barge but was later motorised and traded extensively between Holland and Germany on the River Rhine, transporting grain and mixed cargo's.

After finding our feet and learning more about our new home it soon became very clear that she required a lot of maintenance to live up to her full potential.

Vrijheid moored in Queenborough
Vrijheid moored in Queenborough

A lot of that manual labour fell upon my dad.

Just like a house you have water, electricity and heating, however, there are no pipes that continuously give you the necessities you need to live.

You have to fill everything yourself! I live with my parents and brother, we use the shower, dishwasher and washing machine daily, just like any normal family would.

But, when living afloat your water comes from the tanks in the belly of the boat.

We have a 1,000 litre tank and my dad fills it up from the main water supply every other day. Sometimes we might be mid shower and the water stops because we forgot to fill the tank up!

Vrijheid was built in 1922 in the Netherlands as a sailing barge but was later motorised
Vrijheid was built in 1922 in the Netherlands as a sailing barge but was later motorised

It is little things like this that you might not realise goes into living on a boat.

Our heating comes from the Aga, the old cooker is like the heart of the boat, it not only allows us too cook meals but also heat the vessel, which has 11 radiators, as well as warm our water.

This is powered by Kerosene, 2,000 litres could last our family up to 12 months, but again the price and usage all changes depending on the time of year.

Our Volvo engine is powered by diesel, we also have a black tank for our toilet waste which has to be pumped out and the boat has batteries for our electricity when we are sailing.

Finally electricity and Wi-Fi, in today's world it was unlikely my teenage brother would settle for anything less than the best internet.

Vrijheid in Faversham at Standard Quay
Vrijheid in Faversham at Standard Quay

So we had to ensure that just because we were living on water that didn't mean we would have to live like cavemen!

Our electricity comes from the land, depending on where you moor your boat there are places to 'plug in' at electric charging points.

With regards to Wi-Fi you can either have a wire that connects you to fibre broad bands or a dongle that works like a phone hotspot.

My dad, Alan Carr, said: "We decided to move from a house to a boat because it offered us a new sense of freedom, if we want to move we can take the boat with us.

"You have to be proactive, because there isn't a never ending water supply and you do have to plan when you fill up the tanks, you have to be mindful of your consumption.

Vrijheid at Gravesend Marina
Vrijheid at Gravesend Marina

"Boats can be very expensive to maintain, we still pay council tax, mooring fees and insurance too.

"There is no requirement to pass a competency test to gain a ‘boat driving licence’ in the same way that there is for a car or other vehicle used on the roads.

"Although, if you are planning to purchase a boat, it is probably advisable to have some form of training to ensure your safety and the safety of others."

After living in Gravesend for a year-and-a-half, last September, after my brother had finished secondary school, we decided it was time for a change.

It was always a dream of my family's to live on a boat and travel on it, we didn't want to use the beautiful boat like a static caravan.

Vrijheid traded extensively between Holland and Germany on the River Rhine
Vrijheid traded extensively between Holland and Germany on the River Rhine

It was decided that we would move to the Standard Quay in Faversham.

Not only was it a change of scenery while my brother went to college, but, the location made it easier for us to come and go on boating adventures when we pleased.

Alan added: "Faversham is a lovely historic town and we now live two minutes from the Shepherd Neame brewery!"

For me personally I adore living on boat, as a family of four, with a dog, there is plenty of room.

The boat has four bedrooms, a galley or kitchen, a saloon or front room and bathroom, just like any house. There is also storage underneath the entirety of its 28 metre length and even a man cave/ garage in the bow.

Vrijheid on her way from Gravesend to Faversham
Vrijheid on her way from Gravesend to Faversham

Living on a boat isn't necessarily cheaper or more expensive than a house.

You have to consider the cost of the boat, the cost of diesel for the boat, kerosene, mooring fees, water, electricity, boat maintenance and upkeep, insurance and council tax.

However, some of those things vary greatly depending on location, the size of the boat and how many people are living on it.

Two of my old neighbours from Gravesend Marina explained how living afloat differs for them.

Janet Johnson, a 71-year-old doctors receptionist at Swanscombe Health Centre and her husband Michael began their married life on a boat at just 19.

Janet Johnson, owner of Jorena
Janet Johnson, owner of Jorena

Michael, also 71, is an engineer, he said: "We first began living on a boat when we first got married."

Janet continued: "Our first boat was a converted lifeboat called The Phoenix, it was pretty primitive compared to what we have now but we had two dogs and a cat.

"We were moord up with a gang plank on a little island and we had water, electricity, all the basics and I used to cook all the fisherman bacon sandwiches.

"I then fell pregnant with our daughter and everyone said we can't live on our boat with a baby, so we sold our boat and started on the houses, mortgage and the married path.

"And then we reached 60, we were living in Greenhithe, the area was changing, and not for the better, so we came to a unanimous decision that the money we had from the sale of different properties we'd use to buy another boat.

Michael Johnson with his dog on board Jorena
Michael Johnson with his dog on board Jorena

"So we brought a 65 foot narrow boat called the Kiwi Bach, and had a marvellous time choosing her because boats choose you, you don't choose the boat.

"She was a bit old fashioned but Michael welded his magic on it and we did lots of travelling on the canals.

"I still worked for the NHS and Michael worked in London so we worked and travelled and we also had a five week-old puppy at the time who has never known anything but a boat.

"We also had two cats who had only ever lived in a house but they took to the boat like cats to water!

"Then we moord up at Laleham Reach in Chertsey and Jorena came into the marina and again, she just called to me, so we brought her and have been living on her for the last five years."

Jorena at Gravesend Marina
Jorena at Gravesend Marina

The couple also spent a lot of time moord on an island in Old Windsor.

Michael said: "During the winter you'd get really bad flooding, half the time you couldn't get off your boat!

"Janet was stuck on the barge for seven weeks at one time because of how high the water was, I had to walk in water up to my waist to get to the car to go to work!

"It was good fun though, really good fun, the people there were really lovely too, you get a great sense of community help and care when living on barges."

Janet added: "When we lived on the island at Old Windsor, the guy who owned the island wouldn't let us walk over the bridge that connected the back of the island to the mainland, you had to row across the Thames.

Janet and Michael are hoping to move Jorena to Maldon later this year
Janet and Michael are hoping to move Jorena to Maldon later this year

"But I can't row! So I had to wait until Michael was there or our neighbour to take me out.

"One Christmas Eve, our daughter came down and stayed at the local hotel in Windsor and we met up as we always do, had supper and exchanged gifts, and then had to row back to our boat.

"So we're rowing back in the dark at two in the morning and the oar broke!

"So Michael and I had one oar and the Thames was in flood, it was fast, so fast.

"The only thing that saved us from dying was Michael's strength.

Jorena's wheel
Jorena's wheel

"As we got near the big old Dutch Barges that were moord down further than us, Michael grabbed their ropes and literally hauled himself from barge to barge until we got back to our mooring.

"I was catatonic, I couldn't move, I was ready to die because I can't swim very well. I would have died in that river, it was also freezing cold!

"He had to get me out the boat as well because I couldn't move, I was frozen solid, and when he got me out I said I am never ever getting in that again!"

Janet and Michael believe anyone can live on a boat as long as you have common sense and research how to do it safely.

Michael added: "If you want to live on a boat do it.

Janet and Michael brought Jorena five years ago
Janet and Michael brought Jorena five years ago

"Don't dream about it just do it, because if you're young enough and after five years you don't like it you can sell your boat and you're still young enough to start again"

Janet also said: "With hindsight, and remember we first moved onto a boat in the early 70s when attitudes were different, you can have kids on a boat, you can bring up children on a narrow barge.

"As long as you put life jackets on a kid you're fine, and teach them safety, it's safety first then enjoyment.

"I also suggest taking a holiday on a barge before moving onto a boat, that way you can see if it is something you are 100% comfortable with doing.

"And finally, if you move from a house to a boat make sure you remember you are on a boat, you can't live in it like a house, you have to downsize and you have to remember she is a vehicle."

Simon Crosskey on board Big Willy
Simon Crosskey on board Big Willy

The couple are hoping to move Jorena to the Blackwater Estuary in Maldon, Essex, later this year.

Michael and Janet are then thinking of retiring and cruising the canals of the UK together on another barge in the future.

Simon Crosskey and Mandy Couch also live on a 100ft Dutch barge at Port Medway.

The couple have lived on board for eight years. She was built in 1934 and brought over from Holland by her previous owner.

Simon is a 55-year-old HGV mechanic, he said: "We used to live in a house in Belvedere but it was my idea to move onto a boat after watching Timothy Spall.

Simon Crosskey with his dogs at Port Medway
Simon Crosskey with his dogs at Port Medway

"The boat we moved onto is called Big Willy, after our dog!"

The pair were also moord at Gravesend Marina but decided to move their boat because she needed to come out of the water.

Mandy added: "When we retire we would like to get a smaller boat to sail.

"For anyone thinking of buying a boat I'd say this, have big pockets!

"Buying a boat can be cheap but the upkeep can be expensive, however, living on a boat is so much better than living in a house you have a lot fewer neighbours for a start and the quality of life is amazing.

"Its a life choice, your priorities change, we've also met the most amazing people by living on our boat."

For more quirky and unusual stories, click here

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