An enormous barge in the docklands

B&J live on an ENORMOUS barge in the Docklands, and are supercool to boot. These facts made for an auspicious start to test#1 on my mission to persuade the Owl that boat life might be the life for us.

To be fair, he’s always been remarkably open to the idea; for some divine reason he doesn’t find it as peculiar as so many others do, and has always acknowledged the possibility that the quality of a life in London could be significantly higher lived on water than on land. God knows, I’ve gone on about it enough over the years… Nevertheless, he did still need to see for himself. And let’s face it – I’ve only really done narrowboats before. A full on barge of permanent, live-aboard scale is uncharted territory for us both.

This first, enormous barge we saw in the Docklands is actually more of a ship. It’s a good 6m wide and was shortened from 70-odd metres to about 32 when it was converted to live-aboard. The captain’s cabin behind the engine-room at the back is so big it’s got two bedrooms AND a living room – the Owl couldn’t stand up straight in it, but that’s still bigger than any I’ve ever seen or heard of. The front end -the converted cargo hold- is gorgeous and amazing and VAST.

Future posts will include more photos, but sadly when we went, the thought of writing a blog about it all hadn’t crossed my mind and I took none, so apply your imaginations and I’ll describe it as best I can…

You step off the quayside onto the wide gunwale to the front door, which opens into a cosy little mezzanine with a drumkit and a staircase leading down into the main, double-height living space with a free-standing wood-burner in the middle of the room. The open-plan kitchen overlooks the dining table and living room with two massive sofas and sufficient room remaining to swing many, many cats, in all directions. There’s a decent sized bathroom, two beds and another study/ guest room right up in the bow at the front. Amazing. All space/ height/ cool reservations the Owl could conceivably have had were banished instantly – I couldn’t have planned it better myself. The Owl was sold.

We were sat drinking wine with our hosts, asking questions like children and generally not wanting to leave, when B remembered suddenly that he had the keys to another boat up the path which was For Sale. Despite the immediate disclaimer that it was probably well out of our price range, I quietly decided to myself that this was Fate and Meant To Be. (It turns out that it was, but sadly not in the way that ends up with us living on it.)

Without further ado we wrapped ourselves back up in our coats and scarves and trooped down the quayside a few boats along to the most beautifully restored little barge you might imagine. She was stunning. Smaller, at about 4m wide and 30ish long, she’d just been done up by her owner to the highest spec to go on sale for £350,000. Oh, if only I’d followed my dad’s advice to get a city career – some people never learn…!

Done up with power, plumbing, insulation etc. but with no more finished than necessary to give whoever bought her the freedom to lay out the rooms in the main hold however they liked.

Currently, she was a single, breathtaking high-ceilinged space with beautiful old brass portholes all down the sides, immaculately hand-crafted curved wooden walls fitted along the shape of the hull, and strong, thick beams under the tarp over the roof (where the cargo used to be loaded in). She has a simple painted wood floor with a small hatch in the middle for inspecting the spotless inside of the hull. They’d even painted the engine room white – now that’s sexy. Her current owner has had her for thirty five years, raised his children on her, and refitted her three times over the years according to his family’s changing needs (which just goes to show how versatile boats can actually be if you’re bold enough!)

I tell you now – my imagination exploded. I had happy dreams for a good week after that first visit to the Docklands, and that boat is still my happy place whenever I need to lift my spirits.

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