Robbie at large …

robbie steering his boatLike everyone at Hornby Whitefoot, I work from home.  And in the modern age of remote working that wouldn’t be particularly surprising – if it weren’t for the fact that my home is made of steel, floats on water and travels at a top speed of 7mph.

I live and work on a 42ft vintage narrowboat, powered by a Lister diesel engine and heated by a small (but fierce!) Boatman multifuel stove.   My current lifestyle, – which no doubt instantly appears idyllic – is the result of steely determination, a large amount of hard work, some major lifestyle adjustments, and technological advancements that didn’t even exist until a few years ago.  I also wouldn’t be able to do what I do without the support of my family, friends and colleagues.

I’ve always dreamt of living near the water – and of owning my own home.  I belong to a generation that is struggling to get onto the housing ladder, so a house by the sea, lake or even sewage treatment facility is simply impossible.  I hadn’t even considered living in a boat, until a friend lent me hers for three months during 2012/13, on the Regents Canal in the heart of London.  I was struck by how friendly other boaters were, the amazing juxtaposition of what felt like a country cottage in the middle of a metropolis – and the freedom of moving your own home to wherever you wanted.  Two years later I finally realised my dream of owning my own home – not only by, but on, the water.

robbie working in his boatLiving ‘aboard’ and continuously cruising the inland waterways network, is not a lifestyle that is meant to suit everyone – but I love it.  Every morning I wake up, put my whistling kettle on the hob, light the fire if it’s cold, perhaps go for a run along the towpath and explore the neighbourhood, have breakfast and shower as normal, and then get down to work.

My work day is mostly made up of writing copy for press releases, searching for publicity opportunities for clients, and corresponding with journalists, sending them information and images.  All of which rely on having a decent phone signal!  But how do I do that you ask?  Well… depending on where I am in the country, and the strength of signal available, I alternate between using a 3 ‘MiFi™’ mobile broadband device, an EE ‘buzzard’ or if I’m near a built up area, a BT FON hotspot.  Each network is accessed via a superfast Macbook Pro and an iPhone which also has the benefit of ‘WiFi calling’ – drawing on the WiFi signal to improve the quality of the phone signal – even if that signal is non existent to begin with.  And if there is absolutely no signal whatsoever – I just move to where there is one!

Inside the boat there’s room inside for a double bed, a galley kitchen, a bathroom with sink and plumbed in toilet, two areas at the stern and bow to store logs, tools and other outside items and the largest area given over to a living room that doubles up as my office.  When working, I like to switch between a sitting and standing desk – to help with posture and to keep energy levels up.  Even with the thick real oak floor I installed, there is still enough space for me to stand up – I’m 6′ 1″, tall enough to bang my head on most things, so headroom was a definite deal-breaker during my initial search!

I exchanged on the boat in March 2015 – a full 5 months after putting my deposit down.  Even at around 10% of the cost, buying a boat comes with much of the same agony as buying a house.   I trawled hundreds of adverts, called scores of marinas to find out what they had, arranged viewings and travelled to hard to reach places.  Once I eventually found my boat (luckily within a 45 minute drive of all my tools and belongings) I had to request a survey – which although being competed in a day, took several months for nearby locks to re-open in order to get the boat to where it was meant to be taken out of the water.  The final price was then renegotiated – after holes were found in the hull – due to the cost of replating and blacking.  This came at a great expense – mostly to the seller while I was forced to stick to my budget.  Other expensive yet essential items were added soon after, such as a boat safety check, canal and river licence, insurance and engine servicing.  On top of all this I also forked out on hiring an electrician to fit top of the range solar panels and deep cycle batteries and LED bulbs – meaning I’d spent roughly £26,000 of my loan and savings before I’d even set out!

But as soon as I began my journey up the Kennet and Avon through Bath I realised all the effort had been worthwhile.  Travelling the UK’s inland waterways is a pure joy – and the continuous change in scenery and varying cultures is the reason I don’t moor anywhere permanently.

robbie on the canalMoorings can be hard to find in peak season – in popular tourist spots and also on waterways such as the Thames and the Kennet and Avon (where I bought my boat) that don’t have many dedicated visitor moorings.  Even so, when I do find a good mooring I will make the most of it, explore the area, take in the sights and meet some of the local people.   I have heard some amazing stories, from some genuine characters and even met some famous people, well, the guy who played ‘Ben’ in Alan Partridge, and Graham Coxon’s dad!  From a PR standpoint, being able to spread the word about our clients’ products, and then hearing feedback, general comments on garden products and brands in general and the topics of the day is invaluable.  Beats any focus group hands down!

I’m planning on mooring up for a few weeks here and there in London this winter, which will allow easy access to transport and other facilities (like the laundrette!) but most of all the feeling of belonging to a friendly community that looks out for one another – somewhat at odds with the normal stereotype of London residents.  By the time the leisure cruisers and hire boats start bumping around in the spring I should be working my way up through Birmingham and on to Manchester and Yorkshire.  Will hopefully see some of you along the way!