I think I have always wanted to live on a boat.
I have an adventurous spirit, and for those of you who have read my previous blogs, you may remember that one of my very first was about my love of the water- being beside it, in it or on it ( amandahlondon Just Keep Swimming ).
Having been blessed to live on a beautiful private island here on The River Thames for the last 10 years ( amandahlondon Island Life for more on this! ) I have experienced first – hand the wonders of being so close to nature on a daily basis.
A friend told me, years ago, when I first bought this house, that once I’d lived on the water, there would be no going back.
Richard- you were absolutely right!
We have loved living here, but the time has come for a change of scenery and a new adventure, and recently, I decided that new horizons were beckoning.
I started to look at smaller houses and flats elsewhere ( this was to be a downsize – my eldest son, Rob, and his girlfriend Marley, live in America and I want to be able to go over and see them on a regular basis ).
But I very quickly became despondent.
Even the nicest of the houses had one vital ingredient missing: water.
Where was the water?
My house here on The Island has a mooring, and amongst the boatyard friends I have made whilst living here, I am well known for being out there, in all weathers.Wrapped up in winter, sunbathing in the summer.
The sight of geese water -skiing up to greet me in the morning, or a baby coot following its mother, or the laughing of the ducks ( yes, they laugh ) fills my soul with deep joy.
And I’m a writer, so I find the peace and tranquillity of the river very inspiring, it allows me space to breathe and create, away from the bustle of London, where I often work.
I began to think I could not bear to leave. I love my house, and will be sad to move on, but it is so much more about my love of being so close to nature, and to water in particular.
But what to do? I needed to simplify and make life less expensive, and anyway, had itchy feet.
My friend Barnaby, who works at the aforementioned boatyard, had spoken to me before about the possibilities of buying a boat to live on.
We had talked at length about it, over a Gimlet or two, and I had listened very carefully.
Barnaby is himself building a boat, which he plans to live on one day.
And so, after much thought, and as I always do whenever I need the soundest advice, particularly in matters financial, I called my friend Zed Lorgat ( JM Financial, for any of you who need a top finance wizard ).
Zed had been advising me on my house move anyway, and knew my plans to downsize, plus my love of the water.
‘ Zed, ‘ I said to him, ‘ I don’t think I can leave the river. Do you think it would be absolutely crazy of me to consider buying a boat to live on?’
Now, Zed knows me well, but is also not afraid of being quite forthright in his opinions …he is a Yorkshireman after all. I knew I would get an honest answer from him.
‘ No,’ he said, ‘ I actually think it’s a really good idea.’
I thought so too.
As always, when I decide on something, The Universe seems to conspire to help me along, for the very next thing that happened was that Barnaby called me.
I had begun to look at some boats that were for sale locally, and I have to admit, I’d seen a couple of very unsuitable vessels ( ok- they were stinkers.)
Here, I have to thank Steve, who along with his wife, Mel, is a friend of mine who also just happens to be the lock – keeper at the next lock along – East Molesey.
Steve steered me away from a couple of potentially dire purchases- as I say, I am very blessed, I have friends here on the river.
One though, was beautiful, but far too big for me.
She was a Dutch Barge, fully navigable, and my mind began to fill with possibilities.
By now, I had decided against a houseboat. I wanted a boat I could not only live on, but learn to sail. To meander upstream with my family or a friend, drinks in hand, and moor up under a weeping willow for the night…with always a good pub close by- what could be better?
And the delicious prospect of deciding on a new horizon and changing view as often as desired…yes, the sailing life was beckoning me.
‘ Amanda, ‘ said Barnaby, ‘ Don’t buy that one, she’s far too big and expensive and I’ve got a better idea. Come down to the yard and I will introduce you to Keith. He builds boats.’
Reader, I did.
I had always somehow thought that you had to be some kind of oligarch to commission a boat to be built for you.It seemed so…rockstarinsouthoffrance.
I never dreamed that I would be in a position to sit down with a boat builder and describe my perfect boat to him, yet that is exactly what happened.
I sat there, at Harts Boatyard and Stewart Marine with Keith and Barnaby, and I decided to commission a boat…built for me, to my very own spec.
We looked over a couple- Widebeam Barges, the type I would be having- and Barnaby told me the right questions to ask.
I knew I should be asking about the engine, and how smoothly she steered, but I was already out on the bow, entranced with the panoramic, 360 degree view over the most stunning stretch of river, with a faraway smile in my eyes, planning the name and colours. Imagining myself, up on the roof, enjoying a sunrise or sunset, chilled wine never far away.
I was a goner. It was a foregone conclusion.
Even my Dad, who as a Shipwright, was involved with boats his whole career, approved the engine spec and design.
But how could this be done? I hadn’t yet sold my house, and a deposit needed to be paid to seal the deal.
Zed, yet again, came to the rescue, pulling the rabbit out of the hat, managing to put together a finance package for me which would allow me to pay said deposit whilst awaiting my house sale ( thank you Zed, and Jane, PA extraordinaire at JM Financial ).
The impossible had suddenly become possible – I was on my way.
So Keith and I sat down again, this time with Ossie Stewart, who owns the boat – building company and the Marine, and together we drafted the layout of what was to be my boat ( see pic for final version ) .
Keith must be praised here, for immediately ‘ getting ‘ me ( and for bearing with me during several changes of mind on where the main berth would go …thanks Keith).
He had incorporated plenty of wardrobe and shoe space ( I love clothes ), a bath as well as a shower, as I cannot do without one, particularly in the winter, a log – burning fire, bookshelves for my many books, and – most importantly- a special wine cooler in the galley kitchen.
We had even built in some steps leading up to the roof, for ease of access when admiring the view or sunbathing.
As I always say, I can do very well without essentials, but I must have my luxuries…and creating warmth and cosiness wherever I am is very important to me, as my family and friends will testify.
And in the meantime, a hot July afternoon spent dreaming in a deckchair,( always so vital for inspiration, doing nothing much ) with a beloved book of mine, ‘ Anam Cara’ by John O’ Donohue, an Irish poet and philosopher, had resulted in me finding a name for her- ‘ ANU’ , which is Celtic, and means Goddess of the earth, rivers, sea and abundance.
Having always had a very strong affinity with my Irish heritage on my mother’s side, and a deep love of Ireland, ( my daughter’s name, Molly, was chosen for this reason also ) I wanted Anu to be painted in traditional Irish colours, and Keith suggested Shannon Green and Cream ( again, see pic ).
I chose the harp as my logo, inspired by that traditional and most nutritious Irish beverage- Guinness, and because the harp is, for me, a mythical and beautiful instrument which I have always associated with the sea and water.
As a further nice connection, my son Fred plays drums in the Ellie Ford Band, where Ellie herself writes the songs and plays the harp.
It was all beginning to come together.
And so, the journey begins.
Keith has already been to Great Yarmouth, to oversee the start of the build.
I shall go with him next time, and will post some photos of the hull as it takes shape.
Ossie has a son, Cameron,who is involved in the building of Anu, and in another twist, went to infant school with Molly…funny how life comes full circle.
It is SO exciting!
And a new talking point at parties, where quite a few people ( the chaps especially, I have to say) are expressing a huge interest, along with a desire to know more, and be invited on board when she is built.
‘ Oh, how wonderful, I’ve always wanted to live on a boat, ‘ they tell me. ‘ Can you fish?’
It is not for everyone, but as Zed says- it suits me.
So, I look forward to sharing my adventures with you, as they happen, in this blog.
Both as ‘ ANU’ is born, and once I finally step aboard and start sailing her around the rivers and canals.
Bon Voyage, and I do hope you will enjoy the trip!
‘ Anam Cara’ by John O’ Donohue
copyright Amanda Hills 2016, All Rights Reserved