Going with the flow on a life afloat

Brian Rothery’s contemporary canal boat is an outright winner. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Mike Cowling

“When people find out where I live they are always interested, though you get a mixed reaction. Some think I’m mad and others say they wish they had the courage to do it,” says management consultant Brian, who is regularly asked to reveal his tales from the riverbank.

His two-bedroom home is a 65ft by 11ft wide beam canal boat moored on a non-tidal stretch of the Ouse near York, and it’s the very opposite of traditional Rosie and Jim style.

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There’s no painted enamelware or milk churns on the House of Tribes, which is named after Brian’s favourite New York jazz venue.

Finding a contemporary, well-designed boat was a big challenge and he spent two years contemplating and researching before finally leaving bricks and mortar behind.

“The idea emerged gradually. I loved sailing and I wanted a yacht but that was too expensive and impractical,” says Brian, whose previous home was a flat in Durham.

“I lived near my parents but they passed away and I was travelling all over the North on business, so I had no reason to stay in the North-East. I started reassessing my lifestyle and the idea of living on a boat evolved.

“I bought magazines, went to boat exhibitions and realised very quickly that I wanted something new, but I didn’t want a six-foot wide narrow boat. I felt it would be like living in a tube. That’s when I started looking at wide beams.”

He eventually opted for the Henley design by Droitwich-based Metrofloat. It cost £200,000 via agents the New and Used Boat Company in Derby.

“A lot of boats feel like caravans, but Metrofloat’s concept is apartment boats and that’s what this feels like.”

His yachting experience helped when it came to navigating his new home, but his biggest learning curve was taking it 140 miles from Derby to York, up the Rivers Trent, Goole and Ouse.

“There were 30 odd locks and it took four days. I also had to work out whether the currents were in my favour or it would’ve taken a lot longer, but I soon got the hang of it” says Brian, who lived on the boat in Derby for six months before moving to York over a year ago.

The transition from land to water has been plain sailing too.

“The main issue was getting rid of everything. You have to be ruthless and think about functionality. You ask yourself questions like: ‘Do you need a full set of Le Creuset pans or would two do?’

“I got rid of all my CDs and vinyl and stored my music digitally, which was okay. The hardest thing was getting rid of books.

“You’ve also got to think hard before you buy anything when you live on a boat. You’ve got to think what you’re going to throw out to make room for it and you have to think twice if it something breakable.”

It helps that the House of Tribes has great storage, including an ingenious bed, that has shelves and hanging rails hidden in the headboard, pull-out bedside tables and room underneath for more belongings.

The main bedroom is large and roomy, like the living space at the other end of the boat.

This features a sitting area, built-in desk and a large kitchen with full-size appliances for keen cook Brian.

Off the long corridor, there is a shower room and another bedroom.

“It’s a great place to live. I’m happier here and a lot more relaxed than I ever was. I’m probably healthier too because I am outdoors a lot more. It really is like being on holiday and there is a constantly changing view on the river, from the swans I’ve seen grow up from signets, to canoeists and the York Pleasure Cruiser.

“Plus, I can always take the boat out to York city centre if I want to or I can go to Manchester if I’m working there.”

The cost of living on a boat is similar to a land-based property, according to Brian.

The 55 horse power engine is fuelled by diesel as is the central heating and hot water and that costs about £1,000 a year and there’s an onboard battery or a shoreline cable for electricity, which costs £120.

Then there is an annual waterways licence costing £800 and mooring fees of £3,000 a year, though no council tax.

“It’s not as cheap as people think it is,” says Brian, who recently won a £1,000 prize, that has helped offset the expense.

He came first in the York edition of TV’s May the Best House Win.

Fellow contestants in the Come Dine with Me-style ITV show gave his home top marks, though one of them admitted they could “live in it for one week, maybe two”.

“I can see why they said that,” says Brian. “But I love it and I can honestly say there is nothing I miss about living on land.”

• Metrofloat www.metrofloat.co.uk; The new and Used Boat Company www.newandusedboat.co.uk