Is barge life for you? Your questions answered

I spend a lot of time on board my barge. She is my haven and favourite place to muse. I love my time here, no matter what the season. In the warmer weather, I plunge into my rooftop beanbag, usually evicting a sunbathing cat. The charms of this open-air vista are obvious to many. Yet, even on a cold winter’s night, when wind meets tide and she gently creaks and rocks, there is a sense of safety in her ancient, iron sides and a soothing cosiness comes from the glowing stove.

Throughout the summer, usually on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I have become accustomed to having the “Dreamers” conversation. It usually goes along the lines of, “I’ve always fancied owning a barge”, directed at me by the male half of a perambulating couple. The neatly-turned-out female companion  usually has that look on her face of “where would I put my clothes/china collection/grandchildren” and is more preoccupied in whether her heels will slip on the pontoon. As we near that season again, I thought that I would try to answer a few of the regular questions. Maybe then, you will know if it’s for you or not.

  1. Is it cheap to buy one? Many purchasers sell their house to buy their barge. Something roomy enough to live in, without doing yourself a mischief every day, and sound enough in structure to keep your feet dry, will take an investment like that of a small cottage or apartment.
  2. Can you put it anywhere you fancy? Like Wild Camping, stopping for the night along the way may be allowed on some waterways, but an official marina or boatyard is the typical place to stay. Moorings may be hard to come by and can be very expensive. It is always recommended that you find your preferred parking space before you begin your hunt for the perfect boat. You pay fees according to size, so longer boat = bigger bills.
  3. Is it cold and damp? Just like a traditional home, maintenance and keeping it well-aired staves off problems of mould or damp. The right combination of central heating, multi-fuel stove, desiccant dehumidifiers in wardrobes and a sensible airing regime means belongings remain dry and my chilly bones are snug even on the coldest, wintery days.
  4. Is it easy to maintain? This will vary according to the age and type of your vessel. As mine was built in 1898, and she had been a little neglected, it has taken a great deal of work and all my savings to restore her to her former glory. Insurance requires that they are brought out of the water for survey, and maintenance, at specified intervals – like a car’s MOT, but not needed as often. As one tends to find with houses and cars, be warned, they generally require more to be done than you’d bargained for!
  5. Where can I find my perfect match? As with nearly everything in this internet age, there are countless websites to peruse and brokers keen to sell you something/anything. Beware anyone offering to hold your hand and do the work for you – they will be costly and may not be that trustworthy. Speak to other owners, who are not selling you anything. Most people are happy to discuss their own journey in boat-ownership and share advice and warnings of pitfalls and shady characters. I found Drie Gebroeders, my old lady, in the Netherlands where the choice is vast. At the time the currency exchange rate favoured this deal and I got value for money. It takes plenty of research, a “must have/nice to have” criteria and a determination to find your dream, but it can be done, even by a novice like myself!

If this hasn’t put you off and you are still saving barge pictures to your Favourites and trolling boating Facebook pages, then make your decision and go for it! As we all know, life is short and should be lived to the full. See you on the water!

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