Thursday, 28 May 2015

What's Through the Round Window?

I love looking in other peoples boats (when invited, of course) so I thought I'd let you have a (virtual) peek into ours. Apart from the pure pleasure of looking at a beautifully fitted out interior or a clever idea, it can really help when looking for a new boat, fitting out a new build or refitting an existing boat. We have shown a few people around both Mervyn and our previous boat Alternative Therapy and I have also been invited in by boaters to look at their pride and joy (we are usually a pretty friendly lot in this matter!). It is hard to know exactly what will work before ever living aboard and what works for you can only really develop with experience. Our first boat wasn't intended as a liveaboard initially so we chose purely on the interior being to our taste aesthetically. Once we began to liveaboard full time we learned quickly the features that would go or stay when we bought our next one. Sometimes things previously dismissed can become a feature you wouldn't swap for the world once you live with it and something insisted upon becomes less unimportant. Compromise is always needed.
So below are a few photos showing the layout of Mervyn and some of the onboard equipment that make it really practical for us. Although not designed by us but by the previous and first owner, it comes pretty close to being our perfect layout and style.

Compared to our last boat, we have so much more space, storage and features that I now believe essential to living a comfortable, convenient life aboard when working full time. Gone is my earlier insistence at an off corridor bathroom - full width, more room! Included on the 'must have' is a full height double and half height single wardrobe - I refuse to believe that you have to throw half of your clothes and shoes away to be a boat dweller. When we fist stepped down from the front hatch into the 'saloon' above we knew it was for us.

A full size permanent double bed that doesn't need making up every night wasn't on the 'must have' list but a tug deck was. The compromise being a bedroom underneath, the bonus being a full size permanent double that doesn't need making up every night. The tug deck has been raised slightly to enable better headroom (you can sit up in bed) and there is lots of storage under there too. I know it might not be to everyone's taste but we love it. It's our little cosy retreat and almost everyone who has been on the boat agree that it isn't as bad as they thought it might be! Personally we think a bedroom is a wasted room on a boat so this is our perfect solution, the outside space on the tug deck and the look of the boat are worth it for us.

The large stainless steel water tank is fitted behind the bed under the shelf at the back. 
The bow locker after here is accessed from the deck and is a good size for storing mooring pins, water hoses and other assorted paraphernalia.

The steps down from the front hatch slide to one side for easier access to the bed and a half height single wardrobe is tucked away on the left under the deck.

Looking back towards the open plan kitchen with breakfast bar and dresser being both attractive and practical. I always missed having somewhere to sit and eat on Alternative Therapy but we don't like dinettes (the built in table and bench seat that you see in a lot of boats). They might be practical and can covert to another bed which are great for hire boats but don't feel homely enough for us. We prefer to eat out at weekends so don't miss the space for a larger table. The full height double wardrobe is behind the range cooker and next to the bathroom - warm clothes readily at hand!

Looking forward you get a sense of the space and flow. There is so much cupboard space and because the units don't reach the floor the sense of space is greater. There is a pigeon box above the kitchen to let in additional light and can be opened in the summer to let heat out.

The long granite worktop runs the full length incorporating the double sink, with water filter mixer tap (filter housed in cupboard beneath), essential for staying healthy.

I was going to say that the range cooker is the heart of the boat but surely the engine is only worthy of that description! (more on this later).  However, it really is the heart of the 'home'. Providing hot water and central heating, this diesel fired Heritage Uno with built in timer is truly a joy. Having an oven but no grill, my first thought was 'how and I going to make cheese on toast?! (my penchant for cheese is well known among my family). Believe me, cheese on toast made in the oven of a range is something else! The large hotplate has a simmer part at the front and boil part at the back, it is surprisingly effective and controllable. A built in timer ensures a warm boat and a kettle just on the boil first thing - place kettle on simmer part of hotplate before bed and move onto boil part as you walk past to the loo, by the time you're done, so is the kettle.

Talking of  bathrooms, this was probably the biggest compromise for me and one I am now grateful for. I never really liked the idea of having to pass the toilet when walking the length of the boat. Some 'walkthrough' bathrooms have the door on opposite sides to create two 'corners' and maximise space but this means a detour through the bathroom to get to the other end of the boat. Mervyn's has the doors on the same side, creating a corridor like effect when both doors are open. Instead of a shower cubicle, the clever design has made the best of the space and created a wet room by means of a custom stainless steel tray set into the floor. The upside of this being the shower head is at the highest point (Mr F currently comes in just under 6'2" and the whole boat has great headroom). Being a wet room means that you need to give the whole room a bit of a wipe down after showering but this means you get a nice clean bathroom after each use. Result.

Ample storage in here too, under the granite worktop is housed the calorifier (hot water tank) and a large cupboard. The toilet is a Leesan 'dump through' (pardon the expression) which means it is mounted directly above the waste tank. It doesn't require a pump to flush, only the pump that operates the main water tank. It is mechanical in its operation using gravity, meaning less to go wrong and spares are readily available. The tank is a good size and has been positioned across the boat so it doesn't affect the 'trim'. In other words, the boat won't start to list to one side as it fill up - a problem we encountered on our last boat that required rearranging ballast every few weeks. At the time of writing it is coming up to seven weeks since it was last pumped out, which we do ourselves (see previous blog post 'Its a dirty job but someone's gotta do it...' if you really want to know more!). I won't restart the 'Great Toilet Debate' here but we like it, it works for us, doesn't smell and gets us out and about in winter to the pump out station when we otherwise might not move. In nearly three years of living with a pump out toilet we have never had cause to complain. Moving on....

The beating heart of the boat. When the Gardner 2LW thumps into life you really feel like you are on a narrowboat. The thud, thud under your feet as you stand on the back counter can have me waxing lyrical for hours. I'll try not to go on, but seriously, this photo just doesn't do it justice. After buying our first boat which was a cruiser stern with a buzzy Isuzu and getting the narrowboat bug, we made a decision early on that our next boat would have a vintage engine. It fitted perfectly with our love of old VW's and our newly discovered interest in the history of the canals, boats and the people living and working on them to have something authentic. The engine room is also home to the inverter and batteries (under the floor) plus a myriad of gauges including the battery monitors of which we have two. There is a hook up located in here although we don't currently use it along with all the fuses for the 12v lights and 240v sockets. The essential tool kit and selection of chimneys/exhaust stacks also live in here.

Looking back from the engine room the back cabin, fitted out in the style of the traditional working boats and decorated with roses and castles. The step also doubles as a coal bunker. The stove is a 'Jotul' which we believe to have been out of a farmhouse in France.

The drop down table and 'crumb' drawer are particularly nicely painted. The ribbon plates were very popular with boat families and were fairly inexpensive souvenirs of places they had visited.

The cupboards below house the bed, folding down to join the seat making a 'cross' bed. This is our spare bed and although it has been made wider than usual so it is 4' wide it has limited length being across the boat. This was a consideration when looking at boats where it was the main bed as due to Mr F's height it isn't practical for us but is really handy for visitors. The cupboards above the bed are a good size and afford additional clothing storage. Below the bed is a cocooned 'silent' generator enabling us to be self sufficient power-wise, as running the engine to charge the batteries isn't an option on this boat!

The seating area makes for a nice place to sit when travelling or on a nice evening with the back doors open looking out onto the water. There is good storage under the seats too. A bulls eye glass dome set into the roof lets a great deal of light into here even though there is only one small porthole.

The doors are also beautifully decorated and look great when open. 

OK, I know, they aren't round. but having a nice big hatch at the front and two 
side hatches with glass window inserts makes the boat much brighter. 
It also means you can see the gorgeous views afforded by living on the water.


  1. Beautiful. We live in Canada and travel not in a boat, but with a vintage Airstream trailer. Much like with the boat crowd, what to do with human waste is a topic of much discussion. We are just about to remove the traditional toilet altogether and replace it with a composting model - one that was initially developed for the boating market, strangely enough, but has been enthusiastically adopted by the RV crowd. On RVs you, typically, have separate black (waste) and grey (shower etc) tanks, making the change to composting will allow us to use the old black tank for additional grey capacity.

  2. Thankyou Andreas. We too have considered a composting toilet. However, we have yet to find one on the market that seems to both be efficient and aesthetically pleasing. It would also need a complete refit so it is probably something for the future... I love the Airstream trailers, we are into the VW scene here in the UK and they occasionally pop up at events. Enjoy your travels.....

  3. Just love the look of your boat, we have a dream of living on a narrowboat one day and working on it as well and would love it to look as good as yours. We are due to go on another narrow boat holiday later this year to feed our constantly growing addiction.

    1. Thanks Drew! We started with a dream too, you just have to make it happen. We would love to work from the (or a) boat too but the sacrifice for living aboard now is that we keep the day jobs... You never know though, one day maybe, like i said you have to make it happen. A holiday is a really good way to get your boat fix in the meantime and yes it is an addiction! Glad you enjoyed the blog post :)

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  5. Hi! Love your narrowboat, looks gorgeous! I'm just curious what make an model is your boat? I'm toying with the idea of getting a live-able narrowboat, but don't want to give up a designate bedroom. Yours is the only one I've seen that utilizes the under deck space to make a cabin (such a neat idea!). Has the boat been modified anyway to create that space, and if so how and what are the trade offs? (Most boats I've looked at seem to have a water tank in that space)
    Anyway gorgeous boat and great post! You really look like you're living the dream there!