Living Aboard

Joy Tod tells us about Phyllis and Andy Cross who had a 10 year adventure away from Littleport!

Whilst many of us, after an idyllic holiday, may dream of exchanging our lives for a slower pace, few of us ever achieve the dream. However, Phyllis and Andy Cross of Anchor Court, did just that. After a holiday spent on the hire boat ‘Cameo’ they were hooked on boating and took the massive decision of selling their home, giving up their careers, and commenced a new life on the water. It was the start of a wonderful 10 year adventure which saw them exploring the waterways of England.

Permanent residential mooring was found at High House Marina, Weedon in Northants, the 70ft Karamia narrowboat was purchased and renamed ‘Dats n Doris’ and became home to not just Andy and Phyllis, but also Tish the cat, Ben their dog and Percy their parrot. The mooring even had a garden where the couple created a beautiful rock garden.

Tish spent the first week or so in the airing cupboard, eventually cautiously taking a climb up the steps to peek out at the canal, whereas Ben soon adapted to life as a boat dog, liking nothing better than curling up in front of the on board stove.

That first summer, many happy days were spent with visiting grandchildren exploring the towpaths and woods.

The first winter brought frost and snow and the boat had to break through the ice on the canal. Two swans became regular visitors and would stand on the ice and knock the boat with their beaks to beg food. However, all was cosy and warm inside and plenty of Christmas Cheer with a family lunch cooked on board and the boat festively decorated.

Visitors were always welcomed and on one occasion Phyllis cooked a three course lunch in the galley kitchen for her Mum and seven friends. As well as old friends, many new ones were made amongst the boating community.

Venturing from their mooring over the years, many tunnels, junctions and flights have been negotiated, including the amazing Staircase on the Grand Union Canal and even navigating the canal beneath Birmingham’s spaghetti junction. Shugborough Hall, Warwick and traversing the Leicester Ring, and along the way many sights have been seen including hot air balloons, flights of geese, stopping off at Country Fairs, even an Otter Hunt meet (these days they meet to control mink which kill ducks and other wildlife).

Family visited often and soon got involved with locking and even bottom blacking. This is essential maintenance for narrow boats and in Easter 1998 Dats n Doris underwent this procedure in dry dock. The hull is pressure washed to remove weeds, rust and mud and then painted with epoxy or bitumen to protect it from rust and rubbing damage caused by locks and other boats. Hard, but essential work. She underwent the procedure again in June 2002 and this time was craned back into the water, seeing your home suspended several feet in the air is quite an unnerving experience.

Phyllis wrote of her time on the boat two years before they moved back to Littleport: ‘Isn’t it cold? That’s usually the first thing people ask when they learn that I live on a narrowboat all year through. I can honestly answer that, NO – it isn’t. With a solid fuel stove in the lounge and central heating throughout the boat, it’s warm and cosy.

At first it was very lonely, but gradually I made new friends, and fellow boaters taught me the ropes, so that now I hate the thought of being a land-lubber again. But, of course, it will happen one day.’

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