Some information about life aboard a British narrowboat. I owned Harmonia in Oxford for four years and can't recommend the lifestyle enough. The chores are intense, but so are the perks.

Narrowboat Harmonia

Mooring: Oxford Canal Agenda 21, meaning the boat is free to moor anywhere between Jericho and Wolvercote. Harmonia generally remains across from St Eds school (north of Frenchay Rd bridge), about 1/2 mile from the road.

Set-up: Front deck (substantial storage space, herb pots); Living room (coal stove, bench, table, chairs, bookcases); the somewhat open-plan Kitchen (cooker, sink, ample counters and cupboards, some pots and pans provided); a separate Bedroom (a bed that fits two [just], storage below, closets, a fairly powerful shower); the Engine Room (the Lister SL3, various greasy bits of kit, the toilet, back door and tiny back deck). Harmonia is well suited for one-person or a close couple.

Light: No electricity mains. The solar panels can run lights and moderate CD/laptop use, with a petrol generator for back-up. Harmonia has large windows for a narrowboat, with excellent natural light in the living room and kitchen.

Water: The St Eds site has two water taps and long, long hoses. The water tank needs filling once every three weeks or so (it’s also the ballast, so the boat starts listing – a good indicator).

Shower: Stronger than expected for a boat. After your shower, you need to hand-pump the waste water, which takes about 30 seconds.

Sink: Drains into the canal on its own. Use eco-friendly detergent.

Calor gas: Hot water and the cooker are fuelled by gas canisters. Always keep a spare or two. Mobbs delivers to the bridges (coal too). Fetch by wheelbarrow, bike or boat (however, Oxford has only two winding holes – turn-around points – large enough: one downtown and one at Duke’s Lock, so this should be kept in mind while cruising). When one canister expires, you need to climb into the front hatch, bash away with the spanner and replace it. Luckily this only happens once every three months or so.

Stove: Green (eco) coal or wood. Fire starters are recommended. Incredibly hot, lulling everyone straight to sleep in the winter. A new Belgian stove and central heating system have made it even cozier. Coal can be bought from the twice annual delivery boat or via Mobbs (see above).

Cooker: New Calor gas model with two burners, grill and oven.

Fridge: Nope. A cool-box does the trick, if you don’t mind warmish beer.

Washing machine: No. The nearest laundromats are on Walton St and South Parade.

Toilet: Another DIY job. A bucket (with lid) fits into a toilet-seat unit – and needs to be emptied once every 10 days or so, depending on use. A waste disposal point is 1/8 mile away at St Eds. Yucky, but you acclimate.

Engine: A Lister SL3 diesel, a classic workhorse, newly overhauled and remounted. It needs diesel, oil, clean air filters (once a year, currently new).

Transport: bike strongly recommended for trips into town, hauling groceries, toilet etc. On-street car parking near bridges is a wee bit risky, but commonly done.

Other chores: bailing the front hatch (every three months), turning the stern gland (takes two seconds once a week, keeps the boat from sinking), sealing the leaky window (when needed squirt goo into the moulding, otherwise it rots the woodwork). The pipes must be drained if unheated in winter, otherwise Harmonia could sink (read more). Boat chores aren’t nearly as odious as they sound – and are completely overshadowed by the tranquillity, beauty and friendliness of the canal.

Post: There’s a communal lock-box at St Eds.

Neighbourhood: a great mix of young professionals, bohemians, artists and families, very close-nit and very helpful. Break-ins do occur occasionally – don’t leave electronic equipment in sight, insure, lock up boat tools, bikes etc. The unlit towpath and mooring area seemed a bit spooky at first, but most boaters feel incredibly safe. Someone might nick your hammer, but if you yelled for help, an army would arrive.

Please contact my ex, John Curtis Franklin, if you're interested in renting Harmonia: or 07792.910.480 (August 2004)

Living room and kitchen



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