Sunday, June 08, 2014


Anyone who thinks having a houseboat is a luxury is seriously misinformed. It's either that or they have an altogether different view of owning a floating home from mine.
A skipper's work is never done

It is of course possible that when I say I have a liveaboard Dutch barge, the image this conjures is of one of these luxurious, newly-built copies that are rather popular in the UK and also in France. I won't say I'd love to own one because I wouldn't trade my century-old heap of rusting iron and rotting rivets for a single part these replicas. Beautifully designed, they undoubtedly are; fitted to perfection they might be with the last word in compact kitchens and bathrooms, not to mention storage space where you wouldn't believe it possible to create a mouse-hole let alone a cupboard (Okay, maybe I am a bit envious of the cleverly designed interiors). But apart from that, I would neither want nor could I afford one of these - shall we say - generous-pension-fund-retirement investments. They are very, very expensive.

No, when I talk about owning a barge, the most impressive thing I can say about mine is that it's genuinely a piece of floating history. This year, my barge is 116 years old. There…isn't that something? And, as I mentioned in my last post, it was one of the first Dutch barges to be built as a motor vessel. In case you didn't know already, at the end of the last century, most barges were still sailing craft. Some were built for both and allowed for an engine as an auxiliary to the sails, but few were constructed with just a motor and no sails at all. So I'm a little proud of this part my dainty dameschip  has played in the history of transport.

But all that aside, the fact that it is so very, very old brings its own set of maintenance problems. One of these is simply keeping it clean. I don't know why it should be but old boats don't just attract dirt, they act as magnets for any and all grime, sand, mould and associated fungal growth that's around. Moor up next to a new built barge or cruiser, and you'll see what I mean. These wonders of modern design and materials never seem to show so much as a smudge. And yet my barge looks as dirty and grubby after I've scrubbed, washed and drowned it with rinsing water as it did before. It just isn't fair! Even worse, every winter, it grows a green coat, which is slimy and horrible. It doesn't matter how diligently you brave the snow, ice and howling gales to try and keep it at bay, the dreaded furry growth spreads like some nasty science fiction disease.

How I love to see my barge - Freshly painted and CLEAN!

You might justifiably be wondering why I'm on this mini rant today. Well, for the past two weekends, I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning our two very old (but much loved) boats. Next to one of these, our little Henni H, lie two Dutch barges with everything new on them, and I am constantly ashamed to be in their company. Every time I go to the Henni H, which is most weekends, I seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time cleaning, so I rarely get the chance to do what is really needed and that is the painting. The same is true of the Vereeniging, but luckily, my gorgeous monument is moored next to a bunch of other equally ancient barges, so despite my mutters, it doesn't compare so badly.
The Hennie H - also freshly painted, but not as monumental
as the Vereeniging

All the same, it would be lovely to see some benefits for my labours, don't you think? The trouble is I know that if I really want that level of immaculate perfection, I shouldn't go for  - what was it I called it? - an old heap of rusting iron and rivets. Just as nothing is ever straight on an old barge, nothing is ever smooth either, so all those little pits and crevices that are the result of years of wear and tear are just asking for the world and his gunk to settle in them.

 So, people with cleanliness phobias beware, an old barge is a dirt trap and unless you are a career cleaner, or you have the whole thing re-built (in which case it's not old anymore), there's no miracle on earth that's going to keep it clean. As for me, I just have to keep the buckets and brushes primed and deal with it. I suppose it keeps me fit if nothing else. There have to be some compensations...


  1. And then there's spiders... Don't know about your side of the pond, (I'm assuming the same) but over here, boat = spiders, and an inordinately large number of them. Winter is the only break. Ugh. Nothing like walking into a web with your face in the dark...

  2. Ha, Tom, that was my subject about three posts ago! Yes, spiders just love my boat…in fact all boats seem to be a haven for them. Odd isn't it?

  3. I have a theory that the dirt only goes so far and then it stops! Dog hair is the bane of my life - the amount I sweep up on a daily basis, Alfie should be bald! The trouble with the new shiny boats is that their beauty is only skin deep. I hate the 'fake' wood - at least with proper wood, when it gets scratched you can sand it down and revarnish, then it looks as good as new. But the fake wood that they have on their insides is soon going to look horrible unless one is very precious about living and I'm afraid I'm not xxxx

  4. Your cleaning duties are very similar to ours. I think that living in anything which has the character of age needs regular attention.
    Living with animals: cats and especially long haired dogs such as is our Toby, is a constant battle for cleanliness. All I can say is All praise to Mr Dyson for his innovation.

  5. Fran, I think I need to subscribe to that theory. I suppose your barge is much the same with its old steel hull. I do agree about the wonders of wood, though. I would never have the fake stuff for that very reason…and the fact real wood just looks so much nicer! xxx

    Mel, I think I need to investigate this Dyson wonder. I've heard of it, but I haven't seen one. They're supposed to be amazing!

  6. You are doing this deliberately...aren't you? Just when I think: hey, life on a barge....a visit with Val...what larks! I read another post about rust, toilets, bilge, cold,etc etc. Hahahaha.

  7. Chortle, chortle….whenever I write one of these now, I think of you, CarolStar! xx

  8. I live in a very old house - and one of the things I love is knowing that my house had a life before me, and will be standing long after I'm pushing up daisies. It allows me to enjoy it, and in return I must look after it.

    In the same way - you have become part of the story of your barge. It will never forget you!!

  9. Jo, what a lovely thing to say! That's a really special idea! Thank you!

  10. While this all sounds like the very hard work that it is, I see similarities with a regular house here Val. As my late mother used to often quote "A woman's work is never done; it is only noticed when you don't do it!" These days, I only do what I can and what I see as essential, and ignore everything else. Works for me :)

  11. Some things and some people are worth all the work and attention they require to keep them in top shape. I think your barge qualifies. It's lovely :)

  12. Aah, thank you, Carol! That's a lovely thing to say as well!


Apologies for switching on comment moderation, but this is to make sure everyone can comment without jumping through captcha hoops!

However, anonymous comments will not be published, so please would you sign your name. Even if you leave a nice, relevant comment, I won't publish it without a name.