How Did We Get Here?

Having spent far too many years in increasingly tedious corporate drudgery it was a surprise to look up one day and realise there had been a point to it after all. We could actually see a date by which, with some careful management, we might cast off the mortgage shackles and just about afford to retire. It was a few years away but definitely a target to aim for. Things did go according to plan yet when push came to shove, in May 2016, the chance to continue earning on a part-time basis alongside drawing our pension, proved rather seductive. During the next few months change, which had always been the only constant in my profession, gave another lurch forward and within a year I found myself redundant. Once, this had been the great fear. Now, it represented an unexpected windfall; the only down side being having to decide what to do about it.

Over many years we had enjoyed various hire boat holidays of a week or two on the canals and broads. At the time of my original planned retirement we had arranged to celebrate with an extended trip on a narrowboat for the whole of June. Despite that year’s “flaming June” being more appropriately dubbed “flooding June” we enjoyed the trip and even discussed the possibility of buying a boat of our own or a share in one for occasional holidays. In the end, at that time, we had decided against it.

Now, looking at the available options for what to do with a small lump sum, we could just sit on it and keep it safe or we could put it in a savings account where the interest would be minimal. We could invest it, hoping for a greater return but had no knowledge or expertise to support that and would just risk losing it. Over a pint in the local pub one evening we revisited the narrowboat idea. We could probably get a reasonable second-hand one, we could at least get some return on it in the form of a few holidays at far less cost than a hire boat and it looked as if the depreciation on a used boat was not nearly as bad as, say, a second-hand car. By closing time we had decided that was what we would do.

We did find a decent boat. We did also find out just how much it costs to own and run one but we did have fun going through the process and found ourselves with our very own vessel moored at Crick Marina by July 2017.

Of course, there was work to do on her and there were things we wanted to change so we spent quite a lot of our time fettling at the marina, as well as enjoying the occasional cruise. We also spent a lot of time on the M25 and M40 going back and forth from Surrey to Northamptonshire. Every time we were staying on the boat each of us felt, privately, that we really didn’t want to leave and come home. It was actually quite a while before we realised that we both felt the same in this respect. When we did we started to think about what else we should do.

There were a lot of possible options, in many permutations, all with different implications that were less desirable for one or other of us, or both. What they all had in common was a big change to our lives and the need to expend assets we had been conditioned all our lives to accumulate. In the end we settled on one approach: sell the house in Surrey; relocate nearer to the canal system; at the same time, downsize to a more sensible property for just the two of us; invest some of the equity released in having a new boat built to our own specification.

We didn’t need such a big house and would benefit by being able to get to the boat much more easily. We weren’t quite ready to give up the conventional security of property ownership altogether or to live solely on the boat without any bolthole to retreat to at all. However, as well as saving money by moving to a smaller property, it would also be cheaper, like for like, in the Midlands. The new boat was pure indulgence, of course, but we hoped to offset some of the cost of it by the eventual sale of our current used boat.

It seemed like a leap into the unknown, particularly when we had moved out of our old house but our new one had not even begun to be built . Nonetheless, it all went pretty much according to plan. By May 2018 we were of no fixed abode. We lived entirely on our existing boat with everything that wouldn’t fit being put into storage. We had a fabulous trip down the Grand Union, along the Thames and up the Oxford Canal, in one of the best summers we can remember, with side trips to Warwickshire and Liverpool to check on progress with the new house and the new boat respectively. The house was ready for us to move in by November 2018. The boat, of course, was always on canal time. However, that did help, as it gave us the winter to sort out the house and then focus on the boat in the spring.

In March 2019 our new boat was delivered and went into the water. We had already arranged to sell our first love through a broker. We handed in the keys and gave then the go-ahead on Saturday morning, by the same evening we had accepted an offer £1,000 more than we originally paid. Let’s not argue whether the price was too low or the commission too high and focus on the fact that we love it when a plan comes together. We were relocated, downsized and back on the water with a bespoke new boat. The only real question now: “What next?”

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