Living Aboard A Boat - An Alternative Lifestyle
Moorings, House Boats, & Live-Aboards
Some years back, I was watching a television program called 'Quincy M.D'. For those of you that have never seen the program, it is about a pathologist Quincy (Jack Klugman) who was a medical examiner/coroner in Los Angeles. In the episode I was watching Quincy lived aboard a yacht within a marina, which excited my imagination as I have always loved anything to do with boats and the water (An Englishman's Heritage Perhaps) and I started to wonder if that type of lifestyle was possible in the UK, especially as I was fed up with the social problems associated with living in a town such as Croydon where muggings, murders, rapes and assaults were commonplace, and where the shrill of Police, Ambulances and fire engine sirens pervaded day and night. Indeed, Corrine Bailey, a neighbour who lived opposite me was almost home when she was sexually assaulted and bludgeoned to death. Another incident occurred one morning as I was leaving for work, I came out to find a young chap dead from what the Police said was a drug overdose. The final straw for me was that of being mugged. As I walked through the side alleyway of the flats where I lived to get to the car park behind, and where I had parked my car, two chaps pinned me up against a wall and tried to steal my car keys and wallet whilst threatening me with a knife. For those that may be interested, my attacker and his accomplice were hospitalised, one of whom sustained knife wounds (His own knife I hasten to add) and I was arrested. The charges against me were subsequently dropped as it was concluded that I had used as much force as was necessary, and the force used was reasonable in order to defend myself.
So began my quest to find and purchase a vessel as a second home/getaway and for cruising. I started to research the subject and soon found out that moorings were at a premium. Everyone I spoke to, or on reading online comments and blogs suggested that it would be advisable to seek a mooring prior to purchasing a vessel as moorings were hard to come by. Moorings are often categorised into three different types, Permanent, Residential and Visitors. Permanent and Residential moorings are for your exclusive use, and should you decide to go cruising for a few days or even months then your mooring will be kept vacant for you until your return. Visitor's moorings when vacant are for any vessels use, but often have a maximum set time stay limit, from a few hours to a few days. Many permanent moorings are classified as non residential, this may be because the local authorities refuse to give permanent mooring licenses or because the mooring operators do not want live-aboardís.
Local authorities vary considerably in their attitudes to residential moorings and vessels at Port Werburgh are subject to Council Tax payments which is at the lowest band rate, probably because the Council do not provide facilities such as pump-outs Etc. Moorings along the River Medway in Kent are popular amongst barge owners, most of these will be in the £2,000 (half tide) to £3,500 (outside floating pontoons) region, depending upon location and services. The down side is, it is salt water which is not so kind to steel vessels as fresh and that most are drying out moorings (sitting on mud when the tide goes out), on the other hand you do not have to worry about emptying toilet tanks, as this is normally discharged directly into the tidal river.
I eventually settled on a mooring offered at Port Werburgh which is situated on the Hoo Peninsula and which separates the estuaries of the rivers Thames and Medway. It is dominated by a line of sand and clay hills surrounded by an extensive area of marshland composed of alluvial silt. The name Hoo is the Old English word for 'Spur of Land'. I was a little concerned to see the close proximity of the vessels to each other at Port Werburgh as they are packed in like sardines (Pardon the fishy pun) which could be a problem should a vessel catch fire. There are no fire facilities provided and the Fire Brigade were shocked at how tightly packed vessels are to each other when they had to attend a vessel where the batteries were giving off harmful vapour. However, that aside for the moment, there is electricity, water and telephone lines with ADSL broadband and the people I met there made it seem like a nice little community. So I confirmed my mooring and then set to finding and purchasing my vessel.
I quickly found and secured a Dutch barge sitting in Holland near Amsterdam (Yes I visited the Cafes before you ask). Unfortunately upon inspection it was found the hull needed extensive remedial work before my insurers would accept the risk. So I had her transported to northern Holland where a very nice Dutchman named Jelle Talsma quickly and reliably over plated the hull to my insurers satisfaction. If you need any work done to a Dutch Barge then he is the man to see. Unlike his British counterparts nothing was too much trouble, his work was top notch and faultless, he even left a bottle of the hard stuff as a welcome present. He didnít even complain when my sister Lynn and I visited to see work in progress and she used the sea toilet while my new vessel was on stands.... Oooops!
Eventually my new vessel was ready for transportation and was shipped to the UK via a low loader and put in the water at Gillingham Marina, whereupon I sailed her to her berth at Port Werburgh. Since ownership I have made various improvements to accommodate living aboard a boat and have increased the value of my investment. One thing that took a little getting used to was having to adopt a minimalistic attitude to what I keep aboard. There just isnít the room. The upside is waking at dawn and seeing the sun come up with my vessel gently rocking at her berth as the tide meanders in and out, watching some of the wildlife, or just taking in the peace and tranquillity. I have been asked many times if I would ever move back to dry land and the answer is a categorical and resounding NO!
In my opinion, Port Werburgh is a pleasant, clean and secure marina. The people there come from all walks of life. Such as artists, businessmen, police officers Etc.. and as with all communities some of the people are nice, whilst others are not so nice. Vessels range from boats, cruisers and ships in excess of 120 feet, to whacking great structures built upon old lighters formerly used for moving cargo up and down the Thames. Some have all the home comforts that you would find in the average land based home such as central heating Etc, and at least one vessel has swimming pool, while another even has a lift and a recording studio.
The Down Side:
In my research for a mooring I came across horror stories of marina/boatyard operators. Stories such as a female boat owner (Somewhere in Kent), who had a berth on a long lease, and where the marina wanted her out because they wanted to redevelop. This Marina operator maintained a sustained barrage of insults, jibes and general harassment to get the lady out until eventually they succeeded in their endeavours by adding sugar or some other contaminant to her fuel system which was the last straw for her. Scared that their actions would get worse, she left, frightened and intimidated. Please remember I cannot validate the truth of this story as it was recounted via a third party and therefore hearsay. However, I can recount my own experiences and conclusions since living aboard at Port Werburgh .
Dennis Swann along with his wife Jill and business partner Andrew Brice manage Port Werburgh as Residential Marine. They apparently started out wanting to create a secure and pleasant Marina with the intent of specialising in Dutch Barges. However, nearly 20 years on and Port Werburgh now accommodates more lighters and larger ships than barges, the upshot of which is that there is very few engine enabled vessels that actually use the waterways and rivers. The lighters are spacious and mostly of the open plan design which during the winter months is major drawback as far as heating costs go. In addition to this, there is an electricity restriction at Port Werburgh which means you will not be allowed to heat your vessel, or to heat water from the electricity supply. If you are considered to be a high user of electricity you will be warned by way of threat of eviction if you fail to comply with their electricity restrictions.
If you do get evicted, or decide you want to move elsewhere then remember, moorings are at a premium. Finding a berth within a marina for a 40 foot cruiser although difficult, is a lot easier than it is for ships or lighters. The definition of a marina is classified as 'a dock or basin providing secure moorings for small pleasure boats and often offering, washing machines, showers, and other facilities such as pump-out and lifting facilities' all of which are not provided at Port Werburgh. It seems a shame that the original idea of moorings just for barges has changed, and from all accounts so have the management. Although there are very few original residents left at Port Werburgh, those that do remain reminisce and advocate how friendly, nice and genuine Jill and Dennis were in the early years, and how pleasant Port Werburgh was back then. Now, there seems to be bitterness on all sides. Management are regarded as churlish, spiteful and selective in their application of the rules and regulations which they enforce through threat of eviction. They also know that certain types of vessels would have extreme difficulty finding moorings elsewhere, if not impossible, and they use this knowledge as a lever.
At parties, I noted that the conversation often turned to the treatment of residents by Residential Marine, some of the complaints in my opinion were justified, whilst others were not. People were scared of crossing management in case they too were evicted for something inconsequential, so they generally contented themselves by mocking and impersonating management. Some joked and likened Port Werburgh to a concentration camp and renamed it to 'Stalag Port Werburgh' with the never ending references to 'The Great Escape' and digging a tunnel through the mud to bypass the watchtowers. Whilst others contented themselves with personal attacks, such as defining Jill Swann as a 'spiteful, nit-picking, balding, pasty faced Essex tart with delusions of grandeur who's plastic tits match her plastic personality'. Even people they regard as friendly to management, or so called friends would sometimes make derogatory comments, out of earshot of course. When the Swann's take their son Jake who is a keen speedboat racer to weekend race meetings they use a huge motorhome, boats, trailers and support vehicles, you can almost hear the sigh of relief from the whole marina as they leave amid comments like 'There goes the circus', or 'the circus is back in town'. Jill, Dennis and Andrew must be aware of some of the low esteem in which they are held, so it should come as no surprise that they feel resentful and bitter towards some of their residents,
In any community we must have rules and regulations that everyone abides by to ensure a cohesive existence with each other. Management at Port Werburgh selectively enforce rules that they must know will give rise to resentment and claims of unfair treatment, and sometimes could be interpreted as victimisation. If you complain they will bully you into submission with the ultimate ever present threat of eviction. I myself fell foul of them when I made an allegation of victimisation, to which they just laughed and said it was ridiculous and refused to acknowledge my claim. As a patron of Port Werburgh I had expectations of being treated the same as any other resident and of being entitled to the same privileges. I wrongly assumed that as I paid the same rate per foot per week, that I would be able to enjoy those self same privileges. Two weeks after I pressed the matter and insisted on an answer I was served with an eviction notice with immediate effect.
In a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887 Lord Acton expressed an opinion in which he said "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". Does Lord Acton's opinion apply here?... I leave it to the reader to judge for themselves. My story along with other resident's accounts and examples of management's decisions and actions at Port Werburgh can be read here
Finally, and in conclusion, select your vessel with care, particularly if you intend to live-aboard. Remember that water pipes will freeze during winter more easily than land based dwellings as the pipes are more exposed. Electricity may be limited, or may even suffer power outages or failures due to the generally remote locations of some moorings. Voltage drops can occur the further out from shore you are, and the same can be expected with water pressure. Sensitive equipment designed to run at certain voltage and Hertz which in the UK is 50 cycles can be damaged due to low voltage. Try to ascertain the running costs of heating, lighting cooking Etc.. When seeking moorings, check if car parking is available, and do make sure that you have read and understood any agreements before signing. Speak to other residents, try to find out what the neighbours are like, and don't be afraid to ask their opinion about the management, after all, you could be living there.
Both my vessel, and my partners have now moved to a marina located on the river with all the facilities associated within a proper marina as opposed to a residential boatyard. There is a hoist for lifting vessels up to 65 tonnes, washing machines, tumble driers, showers, toilets and pump-out facilities. Where previously we were moored stern on and packed in side by side with the ever present risk of fire, we now have side on moorings to a pontoon which makes it safer and a lot easier to get on and off as well as loading and unloading goods such as shopping. We have magnificent views across the river and the rolling hills beyond. In addition, it is a lot easier for us to manoeuvre our boats without having to negotiate restrictive turning area's due to the proximity of other moored vessels. There is more privacy and the management are non confrontational. Of course there are the obligatory rules and regulations, but they are enforced fairly and without favouritism. Mooring fees are similar to Port Werburgh, but electricity is supplied at a slightly higher rate. In my opinion, what we had, to what we now have is as different as is the difference between chalk and cheese. We both wish we had done it much sooner.
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