By Alyce Collins
AFTER STRUGGLING to get a mortgage for a house, this family made the leap to buying a NARROWBOAT home, after being inspired by the film Captain Fantastic.
Dental nurse, Jessica Bates (24) from Northamptonshire, UK, and her husband Liam (33) felt first-hand the sharp pinch of rising house prices, which left them unable to buy their own place.
Jessica was working part-time looking after their eldest son, Jasper (3) so as a result of the couple’s low income, they were only able to borrow enough money for shared ownership of a house. There weren’t many of these available in the Banbury area where the couple were searching, with the only ones being new builds which they’d already decided against.
Back in August 2016 Jessica met a boater at Fairport Convention who told her about life on a boat. Jessica liked the sound of it but was put off by the idea of doing it with a child.
However, during a flight back from a holiday in April 2017, Jessica watched the movie Captain Fantastic, about a father who raises his children in an off-grid treehouse. The film inspired Jessica to take the leap from house hunting to searching for her family’s new home on the water.
Jessica and Liam purchased their boat, Athos, which cost £40,000 in July 2017 when Jasper was 18 months old. They had never set foot on a narrowboat previously, but the freedom of living on a boat and the beauty of the surrounding Oxford Canal was enough to persuade them.
The couple have since extended their family by welcoming their youngest son Oakley in February 2018. Living on a boat has helped Jessica revaluate what they need and helped them get back to basics. No phone signal and a limited power source has highlighted the importance of spending time together as a family.
“Liam and I first started looking for a house at the beginning of 2017,” said Jessica.
“At the time, my husband didn’t earn a great deal in his previous job, and I was only working part-time, so they would only lend us enough money for a shared ownership house.
“That would have been fine however there are very few houses around the area which are shared ownership. Any that did come up were new builds and we both decided we didn’t want to live in a new build.
“The idea of living in a boat first came about in August 2016 when I met a boater at Fairport convention in Cropredy. He was taking to us about boat life and it sounded like something I wanted to try but I thought it would be too difficult with a child.
“But the decision was made on the way back from a holiday to Florida in April 2017. I watched a film on the flight called Captain Fantastic. He brought his children up in a treehouse which inspired me. I thought if he could do it, then so could I – just on a boat instead.
“We looked into narrowboat life a little bit. I joined all the narrowboat Facebook groups and spoke to other boaters. But we never hired a boat nor took any kind of course.
“We just bit the bullet and took a chance. I wasn’t even sure if I would get sea sick, or canal sick in this instance. We purchased the boat in July 2017, and it’s 63-feet-long and six feet wide. We mostly saved for the boat, but we also got a small loan to make up the rest.
“My family were of course a bit wary and my mum can’t even stand on the boat without being sick. But she’s so proud of us, she tells everybody we are bringing our kids up on a boat.
“My dad, who is quite straight-laced, was surprisingly cool about it. He said he would love a boat when he retires. Overall everybody was fine about it; they just want us to be safe, warm and happy.”
Jessica had always dreamed of being a mother and a wife, and although buying a house was the initial goal, narrowboat living has since shown her the importance of returning to basics.
With limited power, sourced from the boat’s solar panels, Jessica, Liam and the boys talk to each other more and get to do more activities together, although she admits that summers are easier than winters.
“There are a few limitations when living on a narrowboat, with space being the main one,” said Jessica.
“What I would give to have a wardrobe and a dressing table again. Also, we have no washing machine, but we are lucky enough to have our mums close by to do that for us.
“The children don’t have their own cabin which is a shame as some boats have lots of sleeping space. They sleep in bed with us, but they would anyway even in a house. Jasper, the eldest, does have his own bed but he chooses to sleep with me.
“If the boat is left all day without heating or the fire on it can be freezing, literally. We once had snow get in through a hatch. However, with a log burner, central heating and underfloor heating it gets toasty. We generally don’t use the radiators or underfloor heating as the log burner is plenty.
“Living on a boat has made me realise how little you actually need, in terms of toys, clothes and so on.
“When summer was coming to an end and our solar panels weren’t drawing in enough energy from the sun, we had no fridge, freezer or television and it didn’t matter. The boys have one toy box full of toys and one draw of clothes each. That’s all they need.
“Life is a bit more complicated regarding having to move every two weeks and find a mooring, but it’s also a lot simpler, it’s back to basics.
“I feel as though I spend so much more time with babies because sometimes we’re in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal and not enough power for the TV, so we talk more and go for walks.
“Jasper my eldest son loves fishing and feeding the ducks and he’s awesome at the locks too. My baby, Oakley River, is only 11 months but living on a boat hasn’t stopped them or disadvantaged them in anyway what so ever.
“I thought Oakley would be a slow walker because of the lack of space but he started walking at 10 months and Jasper has just started preschool.
“I think people are shocked when they visit though because in pictures the boat looks quite big when in actual fact it’s tiny in width.
“People also expect a boat to be very traditional with a lot of wood and panelling, but ours has been fully refurbished and has a very modern vibe.
“I love the freedom of boating. The Oxford Canal is beautiful, and it feels like a different world. You see sights you would miss from the road.”
You can follow more of Jessica’s narrowboat life by visiting @floating_mumma.