Part 1

When Simon asked me to marry him by a canal in Bruges, having spent the summer cruising up the flooded Thames on his narrow boat I knew we were going to live on a boat. When Simon and I met for our first date at the canal café in Little Venice I had no idea I would end up living on a boat with him. Having had the biggest fear of spiders my entire life I never for one minute dreamed I would share my marital home with spiders living on a boat. I never realised the river my life would follow would be one that I lived literally in the middle of, happy to be carried up and down by the tide. I said yes and kissed goodbye to single city girl living in a suburb full of media darlings, to spend hours in a small town I had never heard of scraping rust. I said yes to the biggest adventure of my life. I said yes to love, buckets of rust and glasses of wine.

Once Simon had asked me to marry him we needed to find a boat we could both live on. His narrow boat, Iris#3, is a lovely boat and we spent many happy hours aboard her, but she was not big enough. The wardrobe was at best a capsule wardrobe designed for short breaks and at worst the wardrobe of a bachelor who loved their nomadic life. Iris#3 was to narrow boats what city loft apartments are to converted barns in hundreds of acres of England’s finest rural landscape. For a couple who are both over six foot, the confined area with no break out space, was a sure fire recipe for disaster where one of us could end up walking the plank or a double mutiny could occur and we are both mature enough to admit we need our own space sometimes. Simon sees this space as somewhere for me to go and ‘think about what I’ve done’, I see it as somewhere to drink wine and/or gin, read chick lit and watch chick flicks. For this space we needed another boat.

The search begun and we saw a number of boats up and down the length and the breadth of the waterways, visiting potential mooring spaces just to see what was out there. After a while we both realised despite looking at three lovely Dutch barges, we liked the English barges best, specifically the ‘keels’ from the north east. Having missed out on a Sheffield Keel (and also Misterton – she was ‘sold’ as we were driving north to see her in January), we decided we should just buy an empty hull and build the boat from scratch. The logic to this decision bring there were only so many of these English keel barges in existence and this seemed to be the only way to own one. We put a deposit down in February and went on a much needed holiday where I went down a mountain on a snowboard for the first time. I could see our marriage was going to contain lots of firsts and make my new years resolution (to do a first every month) easy to keep.

Upon our safe return to the UK Simon had a voice mail inviting us to Yorkshire. Misterton, a Lincoln keel had just come back on the market and the boat broker thought we might prefer buying this to starting from scratch. Worth a look we thought and drove straight to Goole and the boat brokers’ yard from the airport. On arrival the broker and his wife urged us to look at the boat and ‘see her potential’. I felt apprehensive.

We went to Stainforth where the boat was moored and saw Misterton for the first time. From the outside she looked massive and I wondered would I ever be able to drive something that big. In the car world I had always kept to a two door model as parking is a constant source of frustration, something ten times the length of my car could be challenging. Still, I liked the look of her, and although full of clutter on deck she looked as though she had many a tale inside her. We stepped on board.

The smell hit me straightaway, stale and musty, the smell a house has when it needs a good clean. The type of smell that even if you have just showered with the most amazing shower gel you still feel dirty from standing in the smell. I remembered the words ‘see the potential’, took a big breath and looked around.

There was plenty of room to stand up straight, and although nothing seemed complete, I could sense that she was crying out to be loved and she made me feel safe. Friends often tell you when you find the right house to buy you’ll just know, other friends said when you meet Mr Right you just know, Misterton was the same. I knew Simon and I were going to live on her, it just felt right. I needed to find out if Simon knew too.

Simon was talking with the boat broker a lot in a technical language that just went over my head despite my best efforts. He spent quite some time in the engine room and told me ‘it’s an original Lister three’ with a very big smile on his face, I guessed that this was good. The couple selling the boat told me it was on the historic ships register and then proceeded to tell me tales of ill health and hospitals. I guessed this was why they were selling up but a two sentence explanation would have sufficed, instead I was privy to a detailed description of ailments that I really was too young to know about.

Twenty minutes later Simon and the broker had not returned from the engine room, my patience was wearing thin so I made polite excuses and went in search of the man I was to marry. I discovered both of them in the wheelhouse still communicating in a language of boats, and I felt relief. Simon stopped long enough to tell me the original captains quarters were under the wheelhouse and although in a bad condition, still as they would have been.

I clambered down the access ladder and waited for my eyes to adjust to the sudden loss of daylight. I could make out a bench shape just ahead of me and stepped forward. The broker was behind me, and pointed out the original fireplace opposite the bench and fold down shelf area. I had a sense of déjà vu and realised that here was the perfect place for gin, red wine and reading chick lit throughout the year. I turned to the broker and smiled ‘now I see the full potential’.

I was sorry to leave the cabin but knew I needed to have time alone with Simon. We thanked all concerned and got into the car. Almost simultaneously ‘what do you think?’ we both asked the other. We are always reluctant to force the others opinion on the other and also take equal delight in listening to the others chatter about decisions, life and the price of wine. Simon told me he liked her and thought she did have potential. I said I could see us living on her, but she would need to be cleaned. Simon agreed.

We decided to go home and think about it and the three hour journey from Goole to Crouch End was full of each of us convincing the other that Misterton was the boat for us. Simon liked the engine, I liked the drinking room, Simon was pleased there was a workshop and I liked the Stanley Range. We both agreed she would need work and would be a ‘project’ but less of a project than an empty hull.

Naively I thought we might be able to move onto her after our honeymoon, that was still six months away and she would not need that much doing to her. We both slept with dreams of boats, weddings, marriage and glasses of wine.