Living on the Platypus

By Anna Watts

Photo:Platypus at Saul Junction

Platypus at Saul Junction

Alan and Anna Watts

We have owned our 50 foot narrow-boat, Platypus, for about 14 years. We bought her early on in our retirement. She had originally been a hire boat and was already about 15 years old when we purchased her from a London professional couple who only used her as a weekend retreat. They never took her out from her mooring. That long ago you could buy a second hand narrow boat relatively cheaply.

We knew she needed some TLC and modernisation which for Alan and I was a bit daunting as neither of us was particularly practical or mechanically minded. Eventually we got her as we wanted. An article I wrote for a magazine tells what happened and is reproduced here. We could sleep six on board but that would be a bit crowded.

She has what is known as a cruiser stern, a large area compared with the limited space of a more traditional boat.  Some purists feel this detracts from the ideal of a narrow boat living and the traditions associated with it but we like having the extra space to share with friends whilst travelling. The engine, a BMC 1.5 diesel, is situated under the stern deck rather than having its own space within the cabin area. This has its disadvantages when working on the engine as it is low down and parts are somewhat inaccessible and one has no protection from the elements when tinkering with it. Also under the stern decking are the diesel fuel tanks and a bank of batteries, one to start the engine and another three for domestic use. These are charged from the engine although we have been fortunate enough to have friends who have donated an old wind generator and a couple of small solar panels which also help to charge the batteries. Above deck are two compartments, one on each side, to hold gas cylinders. We use gas for cooking and hot water, although, when cruising, the engine provides the latter.

As you enter the cabin area from the stern on your right are two bunk beds with a wash basin and cupboards on your left. Under the bottom bunk Alan stores his tools and bits and pieces whilst in the wardrobe, cupboard and drawers on the left I keep most of my clothes as well as our wet weather gear. Carrying on toward the front of the boat you pass the bathroom containing a small bath with shower over, another wash hand-basin and a cassette toilet, not unlike that of a caravan. Some boats have a large holding tank which has to be pumped out periodically.

Next is the main bedroom. The double bed fits across the width of the boat but the end is folded away during the day to provide a through passageway. On the walls is my main concession to tradition, a collection of ribbon plates. The women on the old working boats used to brighten up their cramped living quarters with these. I also enjoy patchwork and quilting and I have made some things for this room. The fixed part of our bed has substantial storage space underneath.

Between our bedroom and the kitchen is another wardrobe with the space behind it holding a gas boiler. In the kitchen are a high level gas oven and separate grill and a gas hob around the essential sink and draining board. No dishwasher or washing machine, although more modern boats often sport such features. In the winter we use the laundry beside the Heritage Centre at Saul Junction. At the time of writing we still have a small house which we visit occasionally and I do a massive wash!

Carrying on from the kitchen is the lounge which occupies the rest of the cabin. This has a multi-fuel burner in which we can burn coal or wood to keep us warm. This is supplemented by two hot water radiators.

For entertainment we have loads of books and games and a small digital TV set. I have my sewing machine to keep me busy in the winter. In the summer I enjoy doing the outside paintwork on the boat.

At the "sharp end", the bow, under the floor is a water tank filled at the very front. We can manage about 4 days on a full tank as compared with many boats our water tank is quite small. The waste water from the sink and shower goes straight into the canal. We are assured by the Environment Agency that this is OK, even on the Gloucester - Sharpness Canal which provides some of Bristol's drinking water. The front area outside the cabin is called the Cratch and ours is covered by a tailored canopy. It contains benches and a hinged table which we use in the summer. In the winter it is used as an overflow storage area. We also store things on the roof such as coal and firewood as well as flower boxes.

We love our floating home and spend more time on her than we do in our house. If you see us give us a wave or if we are moored up knock on the door and we will put the kettle on.

This page was added by Iris Capps on 14/01/2010.

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