Why one woman ditched her St Albans house for a Berkhamsted boat

PUBLISHED: 12:00 15 August 2016 | UPDATED: 14:07 15 August 2016

The boat is moored on the canal near Berkhampstead

The boat is moored on the canal near Berkhampstead


House prices are high and finding a suitable home on a budget can be tough - meaning more city dwellers are ditching their houses in favour of living on a boat.

"I love being in nature and outside most of the time," says Frankie

What is it that attracts them to boat life and why do increasing numbers of us opt for water instead of mortar? Many traditional practical folk might question if it is a sustainable lifestyle in reality.

Is it an unattainable dream that comes with a high price - or a cheaper more satisfying way of securing a property that lets you connect with nature, while living close enough to work?

The cost of buying a boat to live on varies hugely. A modest second-hand option can be picked up for around £30,000, whereas a longer, newer and more luxurious boat is approximately £100,000 or more.

Hard work and costs that might not spring to mind when you initially plan to make the change could easily put off some, as they delve deeper in the muddy waters of what boat life involves.

The boat has a kitchen with oven and fridgeThe boat has a kitchen with oven and fridge

But for those with a passion for the great outdoors, the gusto to see it through and an adventurous streak, moving from a brick house to a boat can be the ultimate joy.

Frankie Paterson, 36, is director of an independent speech and language therapy practice. She grew up in a large family home in Vanda Crescent, St Albans, and remained local between exciting travel experiences and university study.

Last year, she made the decision to turn her ambition into reality and bought a boat, which she now lives on in Berkhamsted. And she’s never been happier.

She said: “I have always been very attracted to boats and water. I find being around water calming for some reason. I had a romantic dream of living on a boat a few years ago. It wasn’t something I was brave enough to do at the time.

Doing up the boat has been an on-going creative project for FrankieDoing up the boat has been an on-going creative project for Frankie

“A couple of years ago, I started to get braver about doing things I dreamed of instead of just dreaming about them. I did realise, once I looked into it, that living on a boat is romantic and dreamy at times but that a lot of the time it’s hard work.

“It’s a lot to be responsible for; not sinking a boat by keeping it in good working order and well maintained. That put me off for a while because it seemed too much like hard work. But the idea of living on a boat just wouldn’t leave me. In the end I decided to go with it. I told myself I could always sell it if I decided it wasn’t for me. Now I love it.

“I love being in nature and outside most of the time. I love the independent nature of this way of living. I only have to see people when I want to. It’s very sociable when you want it to be and completely self-contained when you want it to be.”

There is a common misconception that it is a very cheap way to live but there are on-going costs such as maintenance of the boat, moorings fees, insurance, diesel, electricity hook-ups, coal and licences. It is cheaper than buying a house, no doubt, but the financial aspects can’t be the main motivator, according to those who live on boats full-time.

Frankie started living on her boat last yearFrankie started living on her boat last year

Frankie said: “Obviously part of the attraction is how cheap it is compared to a house. But you can’t do it based on that alone. Lots of people couldn’t do without their luxuries like hot running water, no matter how cheap the life is.”

But the upsides far make up for that for Frankie – like many of the 15,000 people in Britain who have headed for boat life as a permanent housing solution.

Hers is a 44ft cruiser stern narrow boat with a steel hull. It is three-berth, which means there is room to sleep three people, has a kitchen with oven and fridge, and a bathroom complete with a shower.

One of the advantages for her is that it provides an on-going creative project. She describes ‘doing it up’ to be her home, choosing colours and different layouts and thinking of clever storage ideas as part of the fun.

Home comforts on board include a bathroom complete with showerHome comforts on board include a bathroom complete with shower

But she is careful not to get bogged down with that side of boat life and has a sensible strategy for giving herself time off from DIY. Frankie explained: “There’s always stuff to do and often I can’t be bothered, as I’ve been working all week and just want to chill. I’m beginning to get the balance of getting things done gradually and still getting time to go out and relax at home at the weekend. The trick is not to set too many deadlines so I don’t get too stressed.”

It is clear from interviewing Frankie that she is successfully living her dream. As well as the boat providing a home, it has given her confidence, courage and contentment. She said: “Amongst the things I love are waking up to ducks quacking and laying eggs in the bow, listening to the rain on the metal roof and morning runs in the nearby hills.”

It all sounds very appealing indeed. So are there any downsides at all?

Frankie added: “At first when you live on a boat you feel absolutely terrified about it sinking while you are out, or worse, while you’re in bed asleep. But as you get to understand the boat better, you learn what the signs of sinking are and how to avoid it.

Frankie's boat sleeps three peopleFrankie's boat sleeps three people

“Some people definitely couldn’t cope with the tininess of the space. You can’t be messy. You can’t have loads of stuff. It has made me more ‘cut-throat’ about not accumulating too many belongings. I have no idea how long I’ll want to live on a boat but I think it’ll be a good few years.”

For more information on the speech therapy services Frankie’s company provides, visit magicwordstherapy.co.uk

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