Blog: Jumping in at the deep end, by Adrienne Orchard.

Adrienne Orchard. Credit - Adrienne Orchard.
Adrienne Orchard. Credit - Adrienne Orchard.

Adrienne has recently started a new adventure moving onto a friends boat. The following is blog is about her new life on the water.

So here I am, November 29th, moored up by the Tithe Barn in Bradford on Avon, I am halfway through week three of living on a canal boat for the first time… eek or WTF are the first words that springs to mind!

A friend of mine wanted to go away so I agreed to look after her boat whilst she was gone. Believe me I have massively considered living on a canal boat for years but I didn’t take for granted the work and effort that goes into this way of life therefore didn’t enter into it. I do get spooked at night so that might have been another persuading factor not to move onto the canal, I think it was too many horror films as a child.

Now as I enter my third week I can honestly say I am the happiest I have been in a long time, I appreciate that I may very well be in the honeymoon stage and I might wake up one day and decide this isn’t for me as it’s a very unique and sometimes testing way of life. However it is full of so much beauty, kindness, community spirit and contentment, I would honestly recommend this life to everyone for the fulfilling and insightful perspective that you gain from these floating homes.

I arrived at the boat on day one and firstly had to work out how to open the door. I walked in and said out loud in a ‘Neil from the Young One’s’ voice: “I’m sorry boat, I’m going to have to live on you now.” It was so surreal walking onto this boat and thinking this is now my home. I thought to myself: “Oh god what have you done?! You can’t do this, you have no idea how to do this!”

After wandering around for a bit, mildly alarmed, I sat down and tried to comprehend my new home. Shortly afterwards my friend arrived and she spent the next couple of hours going through as much as she could with regards to all of the controls and quirks for each part of the boat. We then got a fire going and after another chat she left. “As I enter my third week I can honestly say I am the happiest I have been in a long time.”At this point I felt so much better and less out of my depth, what a relief! I thought to myself; “Perhaps you can do this Adrienne, and the challenge will be just what you need to grow up a bit… or maybe not hehe.”

Adrienne's new home. Credit - Adrienne Orchard
Adrienne’s new home. Credit – Adrienne Orchard

I am very lucky to have this lovely person who trusts me with her boat and has done as much as she can to ensure that I know as much as possible to make my life as easy as it can be. She and many of my other boater friends have had to learn the hard way, where much of it has been self-taught, so I am extremely grateful for the level of support I have had from her. Not to mention the amount of support I have had from all of my boater and non-boater friends, as well as lots of strangers and fellow boaters who I don’t know but hope to become friends with. It’s so overwhelming how open, friendly, charming, helpful and beautiful people can be, I can honestly say this doesn’t exist in suburbia, not on this scale, it’s brilliant.

When I moved onto the boat I was in a career gap which enabled me to effectively move on with the time and space to do what was necessary, which I feel was rather essential as it was an all-consuming period where I had to further reduce my belongings and narrow everything down to the essentials in order to fit on the ‘narrow’ 42ft space I had just inhabited. There was already furniture on there, which was extremely useful as I don’t think any of mine would have even fitted through the door! I realised quickly one has to be very selective with regards to what can fit on the boat. This meant I had to give up my favourite possession; my extremely comfortable and expensive memory foam mattress, this was the hardest sacrifice as I’m a firm believer that sleeping well improves the quality of your life drastically. However I now sleep on the sofa bed in front of the wood burner and it’s so cosy I still sleep extremely well, unless I get woken up by baby swans making noise or ducks having sex at 4am!

“It’s so overwhelming how open, friendly, charming, helpful and beautiful people can be, I can honestly say this doesn’t exist in suburbia, not on this scale, it’s brilliant.”So, once I had reached a point where I was happy with the contents on my boat I then sought employment. I was strange because I had known only the corporate office world for so long and I was trying to steer away from it! However I found myself gravitating towards similar roles and ended up working in a temp role at Danone which was located on the opposite side of Trowbridge a few miles from the canal. This opened up a new world of logistical challenges with regards to the location of my boat in relation to work. Having clean office clothes, ironing the clothes without an iron, wearing different clothes and footwear for getting off the boat and onto the muddy towpath so that I didn’t rock up at work caked in mud…the list went on! With regards to clothing, my parents came very much in use as they live not too far from where the office was. I was extremely grateful for this whilst I adjusted myself but my end goal was to do this without the reliance on anyone else due to my freakishly strong sense of independence, “I must do this on my own,” I told myself. As time went on I got better at this, because as a live on the canal I am required to move my boat every fourteen days, each fortnight the goalposts changed for me.

Following a huge mistake, which I wholeheartedly regret, I knew I was going to lose my licence so I spent the next few weeks moving more stuff onto the boat and stocking up my supplies. When the time came I did lose it, it was a one year ban and a £200 fine, which, could have been worse so I do take gratitude in that respect. However my life then took an entirely new direction with regards to transporting extremely heavy diesel cans, coal and wood amongst other things like washing and shopping. Also the logistics of how I would get to work which took a completely new turn. I found a lady that would give me lifts from Hilperton/Staverton way provided I was moored there so I could walk or cycle to the point she could pick me up. This could be very lengthy and wet some days, however there was one day following Storm Imogen, a storm that scared the bejesus out of me, I didn’t sleep a wink, constantly looking out of the window to make sure I hadn’t come unpinned and floated down the canal. One thing I can say about being on a canal boat during a storm aside from the movement is the sheer noise, pounding on the side of the steel floating vessel you’re sat in clinging on for dear life. It’s unbelievably loud. Anyway the morning after this I got up to do the thirty minute walk to Staverton for my lift to work and it was literally the calm after the storm. I had a swan pecking at my window for food whilst the sun was rising, I took a wonderful picture of this on my way out of the boat which captured the sereneness of this moment. Shortly afterwards on my merry way down the towpath I saw some lovely ducks followed by some moorhens, in the adjacent field I saw some sheep and a cow with her calf which was stunning. Then I saw several very cute dogs before I finally reached my lift to work. So after this day and night of terror during the storm I was instantly reminded of why I was living on the canal…Bloody marvellous!

Adrienne is currently working at a narrowboat hire company on the Kennet and Avon Canal
Adrienne is currently working at a narrowboat hire company on the Kennet and Avon Canal

So the story goes on and suddenly my life became even more challenging after losing my wheels, can you imagine?! How could my life possibly become any harder… Although please don’t take this as moaning because I was taking every inch in my stride with no moans and minimal requests for help. I’m good at ‘building a bridge’ and getting over it, but this one tipped me over the edge, the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak. I went to a friend’s house in Bradford on Avon where I had been babysitting for her little girl, maybe as I had gotten used to not having a staircase I had lost my knack, however I was wearing fluffy bed socks and slipped down several stairs which resulted in me breaking my toe. Can you believe it?! I had just lost my wheels and the last thing I had left were my feet which suddenly I lost too as I could only limp short distances, this wildly affected my logistical life creating an impact in every manner.

So independent Adrienne had to mostly rely on my parents for the initial week as there was no way I was getting to work otherwise. It took a good two to three weeks before I was able to walk any great distances other than the short and necessary. This resulted in a good period of break down in my ability to live on the canal and had to use the goodwill and hospitality of others to get me around, which as you can imagine I hated, but on the flip side I was so moved and touched by the support I had when I really needed it. My toe was almost healed when I left Danone and immediately started a job at a narrowboat company in Bradford on Avon at the start of March.

“After several moves with friends, I finally moved the boat on my own which was a big deal for me at the time.”It’s now Monday 21st March, so far so good is the first thing to say. Since moving aboard in November I was immediately faced with the Caen Hill Locks – a great jumping in at the deep end experience. The tug boat got caught in one of the locks and the canal consumed a bicycle. Despite that it went rather well. I managed to get the boat past the closures before they closed so I could start my boat life in familiar territory. After several moves with friends, I finally moved the boat on my own which was a big deal for me at the time. In my empowered moment I managed to moor up at the water point in Bradford on Avon. I changed my gas, topped up my diesel, emptied my toilet and filled my water tank. I was rocking the independent boater movement! However once a boat came through the lock and wanted the water point I had to move the boat rather quickly and managed to mess up my turn which resulted in me trying to pole my boat out and falling in. Through the panic and hyperventilating doggy paddle I managed to get to the hard standing and attempt to pull myself in, at which point the manager of the wharf came along and pulled me up. What a legend, I do think he saved my life. I got myself warm and went on my merry however cautious way. I am sure most people will agree this sort of event can knock one’s confidence, which it did, I went out and bought grip shoes and gloves etc. To this day I am more cautious than I was when I started so I am grateful that my first baptism has given me the caution I should have in order to respect the potential harm that can come from this way of life.

I have since taken a full break from ten years in a corporate office world and taken a job at a company that hires out narrowboats where I clean boats and also teach holidaymakers how to drive them. This is a huge jump in at the deep end for me, I have learnt so much about boats and the people on the canal in three weeks, it’s mad! It’s bloody hard work, I am being physically and socially challenged in the best of ways. I’ve laughed and learnt so much in such a short space of time.

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