FLOATING ASSETS

Hester Lacey meets the young professionals who have swapped traffic noise for the gentle lapping of water against wood, and bricks and mortar for the romance of a houseboat. The pros may seem obvious, but are there any drawbacks?

Outside Robin Bennett's back window, a cormorant is wrestling with a large eel, gulping it down head-first. Living on a houseboat means making lots of new friends. "The first morning I moved in here, I woke up to find a huge bird sitting on the end of the boat, all hunched up and looking like death," he says. "There's a hot water outlet just up the river, where there are lots of eels, and so we get dozens of herons and cormorants. Greylag geese come tapping on the window begging for food, and the mallard ducks are always fighting."

Amari, the rented houseboat where Bennett, 28, lives with his fiancee Helene Pinel, is moored at Chelsea Village, just above Battersea Bridge, alongside the extremely posh Cheyne Walk. The moorings, however, are bright and friendly looking, with brightly painted boats festooned with flower- baskets and pots. Bennett moved to Amari 10 months ago - from Mallard, the boat-next-door. "People tend to stay, once they've lived on a boat for a while," he says. "I'd cycled past here many times and loved the idea of living on a boat. Three years ago I stuck a notice on a tree outside the village, saying `young professional seeks houseboat' and ended up renting the top cabin next door. When we needed somewhere bigger, we moved in here."

Amari's living room is wood-panelled, with rugs on the floor and trays of seedlings on the windowsill. The view over the Thames is amazing. "We have windows rather than portholes, so this boat has one of the nicest views of the river," says Bennett. "And it's silent; there's no traffic noise at all, even in the heart of London, because the thick embankment reflects the sound." The only disturbance, he says, comes from intrusive speedboats and summer party boats. "When it's high tide, you get thrown around by the wash. If you are prone to motion sickness, you will get it on a houseboat - I'm an appalling sailor, but I've developed my sea- legs since living here."

Stand on the upper deck of the boat, and within view are the church where William Blake was married, and the former residences of Hilaire Belloc, one of the Pankhursts ("I can't remember which"), Brunel and Turner. Many of the boats at Chelsea Village used to be old craft from the Normandy Landings but these have since been replaced with more modern floating dwellings. Most are permanently moored. "I would love to have a boat that really worked," says Bennett. "But it would be very expensive to keep undoing it and tying it up. It's quite a performance. We're attached to mains water, electricity and phone by sealed rubber junctions and that would have to be disconnected and connected back up each time."

Gas is supplied by cylinder. The kitchen is a tiny galley, and the bathroom, lighted by a porthole, is also a little cubby-hole, tiled in black and white. "The worst thing about living on a boat is the loo," admits Bennett. "Ours is basically a portaloo, and it has to be flushed out into the septic tank with a hosepipe once a week. That's my job," he adds somewhat ruefully.

Amari is heated by a stove-burner. At this time of year the river is idyllic, but it can get cold in winter. "It's essential to keep the boat well heated in winter. If you're stingy with the heating, things get damp, really damp - you'll find your shirts all wet in the mornings." Dry shirts are important for a young professional, but living on a house-boat is by no means incompatible with working in an office; Bennett runs two businesses, the Aktuel Translation Group and a supply teaching agency, London Tutors, while Helene is a retail manager at Liberty's department store.

"You have to be a special type to live on a houseboat," says Bennett. "People who think they're `eccentric' don't last. I shall always keep the boat, even if we go and live somewhere else. You can't beat living on a boat."

While Amari is firmly anchored on one of the world's busiest rivers in the heart of London, the Fighting Spirit narrow boat is moored alongside green fields on the sleepy stretch of the Grand Union canal that runs through Rickmansworth. Simon Kelly, 31, has lived on three of the 50 or so boats that cluster along the banks; he bought the Fighting Spirit for pounds 10,500, two years ago, and spent pounds 20,000 doing it up. "It was empty when I bought it; like a rusty bean can. It took a year to do it up," he says. Now, reluctantly, he is selling up. Fighting Spirit is on the market for pounds 36,000 through marine agent Virginia Currer (see below for details). He and his wife, Latifa Tbahriti, 33, need more room now the family includes Samya, 15 months old, but he's sorry to be thinking about moving on. "My original plan was that we would all live here. Living like this, you're so close to nature - you step off the boat into fields," he says.

Fighting Spirit has a phone line, mains electricity, water from a standpipe, and cylinder gas; Kelly also retained the engine. "It is moveable, like an ordinary boat, though when you live on a boat you tend not to move it; you don't want to go on holidays in it." The interior is two feet wider than the usual narrow boat, and there is plenty of head-room. The boat is divided into living area and bedroom, where Tofu the cat is snoozing comfortably on the bed. Kelly lined the hull with solid spray foam for insulation, which retains warmth and avoids the condensation that is a problem on many boats, and fitted the interior with new wood panelling and carpets. "I wanted to make it comfortable," he says. "I work in computer support and I have to go into work in a suit every day, so things here couldn't be too basic. I've had the horrible experience of living on an unheated boat in the middle of winter, with the shower right next to the loo, and I wanted to build something really nice." He has also managed to wedge in a reasonably-sized shower-room and lavatory, though once again, sanitary facilities are a slight black spot. "This is a bioloo, it's meant to convert sewage into compost, you just clear it out every six months. It doesn't work, though, I'm thinking of getting rid of it."

Outside, the river bank is alive with buttercups, ragged-robin, clover and dandelion, and the neighbours are pottering about. "This is a beautiful set of moorings," says Kelly. "Everyone is living close and there's a real community spirit. There are bonfires and barbecues every year; and there are larger-than-life characters here that you wouldn't get anywhere else. houseboats are very romantic - they are the floating equivalent of a little log cabin in the mountains." !

Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz