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A decade ago, Susan Smillie bought a classic ketch, moored it on the Thames and moved aboard. Now hipster landlubbers squeezed out of the property market are taking to the water in droves. So what are the joys and challenges of a river residence?

Yes, she can only buy ebooks. I t was an unusual welcome to London. Gazing ahead as we entered the Thames estuary, I made out the dorsal fin of a porpoise, gently rolling through silver waves. Quite a contrast from my first arrival, 10 years earlier, as an impressionable year-old, deposited off the Glasgow bus to the thrilling, screaming capital at night.

This time, I had come on my boat, the 47ft wooden motorsailer that had been home to my partner Phil and me for a couple of years. It was our first voyage on her, and though neither of us had a clue what we were doing we were relying on an experienced friend , it felt good. Boats are meant to move. North Foreland , sleepily familiar from the Shipping Forecast , made real.

I had no sailing background. I noticed people lived on boats in Brighton marina and was immediately gripped. It was wonderful. It was also cramped I realised during one blazing argument that I had no door to slam. The novelty made up for that. I had a childlike sense of wonder. Chores were no longer chores � they were looking after the boat; sweeping teak floors with light streaming through the wooden hatch above was genuinely enjoyable. I was taken with Paranormal, a steel motorboat in Rochester that the owner, gesturing to a bent spoon framed on the wall, said had previously belonged to Uri Geller.

It was a while before I could laugh. Shortly afterwards, my dad phoned with news of a beautiful boat, Pamela Jeanne, in the river in Dumbarton, at almost half our budget. So elegant. She had two masts. My desire to own her was immediate and overwhelming. A couple of years later, I had retrained as a journalist, got a job in London and realised we could move, home and all, to the Thames.

I had regrets about leaving the ocean, but what I loved most � PJ � was coming, and we could always return. Besides, what an epic journey to plan. Something extraordinary happens when you arrive in London by boat. The city is changed for ever. The river opens it up. After following its bends and curves from the sea, you realise that it is why London exists � first perched on Ludgate Hill to trade with the world.

The Thames loops wide around Canary Wharf, black as tar against the night-lit financial skyline. We arrived, those 10 years ago, without permission to stay. We had waited more than a year for a leisure mooring � a long-term licence to berth a boat, but without rights to live aboard.

There were two of us when we came to London. It is hard to capture without cliche. Likewise the pod of porpoise that turned up a couple of years ago. My kayak floats alongside, for a paddle before work. Barbecues are ubiquitous on starry summer nights. This all sounds unbearably smug but there are niggles. What would I do if I met someone who hated the water? Or got seasick? There are more serious issues, too.

But unlike bricks and mortar, she will not appreciate in value beyond that. So this is about an affordably high quality of life now rather than an investment that will grow. And that feeling of space outside? It was liberating. I have a beautiful little aft cabin, with a double bed, plenty of drawers and hanging closet. Up some steps is a wheelhouse, kept empty, just for the luxury of space. Down more steps into a relatively roomy living space, about 12ft wide at its beamiest. Not hugely practical, but the hatch above means I get Small Boats New Uk to bathe under the stars and shower under the sun.

Often, liveaboards will be converted barges, relatively flat bottomed for navigating canals and rivers. Many particularly in London have more square footage than a flat. Some have swimming pools on deck. But, the bigger the boat, the more it costs to buy, berth, and of course, maintain. You can, of course, pay other people to do the work for you � many people do. But there are maintenance costs with character properties, too � those old Victorian windows can cost a fortune to fix up, I hear.

I cross the Thames daily, cycle up the towpath to work, and have seen it transform. All the signs are there � ironic graffiti, pop-up supper clubs, skateboarding adults. The air is heavy with the whiff of moustache wax. But the waterway network is congested. Every other day near the lock gates, there are baffled boys in flat caps with ropes hanging from their hands.

The canal network was designed for free-flowing traffic, not as a pretty spot for a cheap home. Coggins is keen to emphasise the importance of research to anyone considering the lifestyle: where to get your gas, wood or coal for heating; how to charge batteries and generators; the technical knowledge required to maintain engines and bilge pumps. But the romance of boat life has always attracted a disparate crowd, the original hipster artists � musicians, actors, writers. Malcolm Hardee, the infamous comedy promoter , ran a club on the Wibbly Wobbly, his floating pub next to the boat he lived on in my marina until he drowned after his nightly row from one to the other.

He was Free Small Boat Plans Plywood 5g responsible for a long line of famous characters stumbling around the dock I was bemused by the sight of a topless and dishevelled Keith Allen emerging from the Used Small Cabin Boats 80 barge next to me one morning.

I look east to Greenwich, to the three masts of the Cutty Sark rising gracefully, feet into the London sky. The tea clipper � the sole surviving example and one of the most famous ships in the world � was built in Dumbarton.

This beautiful exile is surely the best thing to come out of that place. Closely followed by Pamela Jeanne. Ten years living on a boat: 'It's a fun life � I'm not a watery hobo'. Susan Smillie enjoys a cup of tea on her boat in South dock marina, Deptford.

Photograph: Andy Hall for the Guardian. Susan Smillie. Wed 29 Jul What's it like living on a boat? Share your photos and experiences. Read more. My life in London's houseboat slums. Generation rent: how does it feel to be locked out of the housing market? Reuse this content.


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