This is the continuation of my seven years of blogging about living an alternative lifestyle in small spaces. You can read all about living afloat on the English inland waterways here. You can read about our continuing adventures in our Hymer motorhome on this site.
We are Paul (me) and Cynthia (not me) Smith. We live full time in our Hymer B754 motorhome, touring Europe and stopping wherever and whenever we want. Actually, that’s not quite true. At the time of writing, 3rd September 2016, we are in a frustrating and sometimes scary transitional stage.
I am still living on my narrowboat at one of the most beautiful inland waterways marinas in England. I’ve blogged extensively about my life afloat on my boating site. I’ve lived afloat since 2nd April 2010 when I left my substantial matrimonial home and all my worldly possessions behind to escape an unhappy marriage, a marriage which became even more dismal after the failure of my ten-year-old business.
I moved into a total living space slightly smaller than my old lounge. Three hundred square feet feels very spacious to me now compared with the two hundred square feet we have in our 7.7 meters long thirteen-year-old Hymer.
Cynthia sold her Vermont house last month. Her original intention was to move to England to live afloat with me on my 62′ narrowboat James No 194. Unfortunately, the UK government didn’t think much of our plans. Cynthia, a frequent flyer who has visited the England hundreds of times during her twenty years working as first class cabin crew for American Airlines, knew that she could stay in the UK for six months without a visa. What she didn’t know was that, if she intended to marry within six months, she needed a marriage visit visa. She didn’t have one so, when she came waltzing through Heathrow immigration in November 2015 pushing five large suitcases holding everything she hadn’t either sold or given away, she was held in a locked room for six hours before being refused permission to stay.
Cynthia was given a seven-day stay of execution before flying to New York to apply for the correct visa. She returned to London ten days later for a blissful six month stay on the boat with me.
We planned our marriage for April this year on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. As we planned our wedding, we also talked about buying a motorhome between us so that we could escape the dismal English winters. Narrowboat owners who live afloat full time are often asked if living on a boat in water which is sometimes frozen is cold. The truth is that narrowboats are often much warmer during the winter months than bricks and mortar homes. Cold winters afloat aren’t unpleasant at all, but mild and wet winters are a different kettle of fish.
My last three or four winters afloat have been both mild and wet. Wet weather is particularly unpleasant if you are a dog owner. I didn’t have pets on board, but Cynthia brought two adorable basset hounds with her. Basset hounds are a peculiar shape. They’re narrowboat shaped actually, long and thin with ears and undercarriages which brush the ground as they waddle. Even a quick toilet break off the boat necessitates ten minutes with a cloth to remove liquid mud from tent sized ears and dustbin lid feet.
The plan was to buy a motorhome in the autumn but, because we wanted to tour the Scottish highlands after our wedding and didn’t want to waste substantial motorhome rental payments, we decided to buy sooner rather than later.
Our maiden voyage was to Devon and Cornwall in England’s south-west. Despite my lack of large vehicle experience, the two counties’ notoriously narrow roads, and a particularly nasty bout of flu which laid Cynthia low for much of our trip, we had a wonderful time.
Shortly before we left on our first tour, I discovered that my long awaited divorce wouldn’t be finalised before our planned marriage. The Isle of Skye was no longer a possibility so we considered other options.
Cynthia’s six-month marriage visa expired in May. She had to leave England. We wanted to marry somewhere in mainland Europe instead. We discovered that the only country in Europe which requires neither residency or citizenship status is Denmark. Cynthia hadn’t visited Denmark before, and my only experience was an overnight stop in Esbjerg as part of a two-day booze cruise in my early twenties. We decided that the island of Ærø would be wedding destination number two.
Cynthia flew to Spain, spent a week in Malaga and then a further two weeks in the south of France before I could join her towards the end of June. I met her in Calais. We drove through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany to Denmark. We hoped that our arrival would coincide with the much-awaited issue of my decree absolute. It didn’t.
I should have know better than to expect an English court to move quickly. An unnecessary delay meant that, once more, we had to abandon our plans. I dropped Cynthia off in Amsterdam at Schipol airport where she then flew back to her empty Vermont house. I drove back to Warwickshire to work on plan C.
Plan C should have been plan A. Hindsight is a wonderful gift. Plan C was for me to fly to New York and then make my way to Cynthia’s hometown of Arlington in beautiful Vermont.
On Saturday 16th July we married in a civil ceremony held in two stunning acres of landscaped gardens belonging to two of Cynthia’s many, many friends. The wedding and my all too brief six-day stay was a joy but, two days after our ceremony, I had to return my job at the marina.
Once married, the next step was for Cynthia to apply for another visa to allow her to stay in England with me. The application process was horribly expensive and didn’t guarantee that a visa would be issued at the end of it.
We considered all of our options before going forward with our plan.
We would sell my beloved boat and the lovely classic Mercedes which we owned between us, Cynthia would dispose of her house, we would move our life lock, stock and barrel into our Hymer motorhome and spend the next few years exploring all of Europe’s forty-nine countries and ten million square kilometres.
We’re nearly there.
I have sold my boat and Cynthia has sold her house. The Mercedes is still for sale. Cynthia has moved from the USA to a rented house in Rottevalle in the Netherlands region of Friesland. She’ll be there until I can join her mid-October.
I am simultaneously tremendously excited and absolutely terrified. I love living afloat. I love the work I do caring for 11o acres of stunning Warwickshire countryside at a beautiful marina. I love the online business I have created for the boating community selling products and services to aspiring boaters.
I love all that I do, but it’s not good for me.
Since leaving school forty-one years ago I have worked between sixty and eighty hours a week. I’ve never been short of money, but I’ve never had much in the way of free time. I’ve snatched three or four weeks a year to take holidays I was always too tired to enjoy. I’m not very good at either relaxing or slowing down.
Cynthia is much better at relaxing than I am. She considers herself blessed to have had her career with American Airlines. Her routine was to work on an international flight and then spend several days relaxing before she had to fly again. This regime allowed her to explore much of the world while relaxing.
She has been retired now for a decade, so has developed her relaxation skills even more. She regularly reminds me that life is all about balance. Too much work and too little time to recover from it can have disastrous consequences. Apart from feeling exhausted most of the time, I am superbly fit at healthy at the moment.
I have worked for the last seven years in the inland waterways boating industry. Because of my website, I regularly receive emails from both current and aspiring boat owners. I receive many messages from those whose health has failed and prevented them from enjoying a retirement which they have endured a lifetime’s toil to fund. I don’t want to join that unhappy band.
So, on 9th October 2016, I will move my last belongings from boat to bus, wave goodbye to the life I have enjoyed so much since my 50th birthday, and drive into the unknown. We have enough money to last us for a few years but, at some stage in the not too distant future, I will need to generate an income again.
Since my business failed in 2008 and the lovely folk at Revenue and Customs forced me into bankruptcy, I have been obsessed with money. I have worked very hard to ensure that I have a substantial rainy day fund tucked away, but what’s the point in having money without the time to spend it?
These are our plans. Even though I’m nervous about the financial side of things, I realise that we’ll probably be fine. What I know beyond question is that life from now on will be an ever-changing adventure. I know that in my dotage that I won’t be one of the many who regrets the things they haven’t done. My things will be done, and this blog will document their doing.
Update February 2018: Eighteen months after writing the above introduction, we’re still living in the motorhome. Our plans have evolved a little in the last year and a half. We don’t live full time in the motorhome. We now have a boat as well. Actually, we have two.
We both missed boating so we bought a classic steel and mahogany Dutch cruiser in April 2017. We enjoyed our time on the Dutch waterways last year so much that we decided to move back to the water full time. We bought what we thought was a well insulated Linsen yacht. After a few cold early winter days, we discovered that it wasn’t going to be warm enough to stay on all year. We fled to the south of France for the winter and thanked the Gods that we made the right decision. We were supposed to moor in Maastricht until April this year. We’ve been checking the temperature regularly. It’s often below freezing and is very windy. We would have been miserable there.
Life is still good. We hope to keep the motorhome for many years yet. We’re looking forward to our first season on board our new yacht, and praying that we can sell Julisa, our Dutch cruiser, before our bank accounts are completely empty.
That’s the story so far. Enjoy the blog!