When I first viewed my narrowbeam boat I knew immediately it was the one for me.
Apart from the lovely oak-and-ash interior, and the glorious lotus flower painted on the exterior rear doors, what I liked most about it was that it reminded me of one of those pencilcases you used to get as a kid. You know the ones. They have all sorts of different compartments and places to hide things, and pencil sharpeners where you don’t expect them. I used to obsess about those pencilcases as a kid. Even as a grown up I wished I could find one designed for adults; one that wasn’t made of pink strawberry-scented plastic.
Well, now I basically live in my dream pencilcase.
I live in a pencilcase
When I started looking for boats last year, I’d initially wanted something bigger. Specifically I wanted a widebeam. After all, I was used to living in houses. My home at the time was a rented Victorian farmhouse – not a warehouse, but not exactly a studio flat either.
I thought I’d find a narrowbeam boat claustrophobic and oppressive, but I don’t. That said, at 64ft it’s not a short boat and I’m still not sure I’d want to share my restricted living space with another human. It feels just about the right size for me.
And Geoff, of course. But he’s not human.
Now, I’m not setting myself up as some kind of expert. A year ago, I’m willing to bet I knew less about narrowboats of any width than anyone reading this, and I still daren’t ask what a bowthruster is. But, well, a lot can happen in a year. Such as, you can end up moving into a pencilcase.
Widebeams promote familial harmony
Widebeam boats have become extremely popular. A few years ago the majority of widebeam boats seem to have been imported Dutch barges, but now many boatbuilders are making widebeams which can be 10, 11 or even 12 feet wide and up to 70ft long. Widebeams, of course, offer more floor space than narrowbeams. If you’ve got a family, a widebeam means less likelihood of falling over each other and stepping on each other and generally hating each other, or having to make children sleep in cupboards or drawers under the bed.
I thought I’d find a narrowbeam boat claustrophobic and oppressive, but I don’t.
Widebeams can accommodate massive tellies
Many wide beams are so spacious inside that they’re like apartments. (Or bungalows. Especially if they’re furnished with those squishy beige recliner seats to watch Countdown from.) A widebeam boat will fit a good-sized sofa and telly – items I used to have and of which I was very fond, but have relinquished. My mother has been the grateful beneficiary. If you like to sprawl in front of a big telly in the evenings, a widebeam should let you do that in comfort.
Narrowbeams use space more efficiently
However, even though widebeams offer more floorspace, they don’t necessarily make better use of space. My boat has so much storage in unexpected places that I’ve still got drawers and cupboards half-empty. Whereas a narrowbeam is more likely to make clever use of storage by virtue of necessity, widebeams often do not, meaning that extra space can easily end up being used inefficiently or, worse, full of extra clutter.
A widebeam boat means less likelihood of falling over each other and stepping on each other and generally hating each other, or having to make children sleep in cupboards or drawers under the bed.
Narrowbeams are cheaper
Naturally widebeam boats, being bigger, tend to cost more to buy. It can be more difficult and costly to find a mooring for a widebeam boat than it is a narrowboat, and the Canal and River Trust plans to hoik up prices for wider vessels over coming years. Clearly, widebeams take up more space than their narrower counterparts and while this may not be an issue on some waterways, it can be very much an issue in areas of high traffic – such as around the London canal network, where space is at a premium.
Ultimately it comes down to pencilcases
From an interiors standpoint, after looking at several widebeams I realised that I wanted to feel as though I was actually living on a boat, as opposed to a home that just happened to be on water. While the interior finish of a boat can vary widely, a narrowbeam may well lend itself to a more traditional style that feels like a boat. But that’s a matter of personal taste, and I have always had a fondness for twee things (like pencilcases).
I basically live in my dream pencilcase.
For people who want to feel as though they’re in a floating apartment (or bungalow!), a widebeam boat can offer spacious and modern accommodation, and plenty of room for families. I’ll be honest, I do seem to bang my head on doorways quite bit, but not as often as I used to bang my shins on the open dishwasher when I lived in a house.
I know, I know; I should have tried closing the dishwasher. But where’s the fun in that?