‘It’s a lovely way of life’: London couple list restored narrowboat on eBay for £55,000

·4-min read
The couple renamed the boat Peace Frog during their renovation (Jessy Webster)
The couple renamed the boat Peace Frog during their renovation (Jessy Webster)

When Jessy Webster and her partner Alex bought their 55-foot narrowboat from a marina in Northampton in 2019, they didn’t quite know what they were getting into.

As they steered it out of the marina, they quickly realised that driving a barge was not as easy as it looked. Which side of the canal were they supposed to be on? How did the batteries work?

“You buy it as you see it. We had no idea what we were doing,” says Jessy. “We crashed it on the way out of the marina. It was so embarrassing.”

Getting the boat down to London, where they lived, was another question too. For months, they spent their weekends taking trains out to the boat to drive it as far south as they could, before mooring it and coming back the week after.

For Jessy and Alex, the boat was a chance to move in together for the first time. They were both living in house shares with friends, and buying it presented a more affordable way to have a space of their own without a mortgage. “We were so sick of renting. It’s so expensive in London and we were looking for another option,” says Jessy. “We wanted to put our own mark on something — with renting, that’s difficult.”

The boat pre-renovation (Jessy Webster)
The boat pre-renovation (Jessy Webster)

Having taken van trips around Europe together, the couple were also attracted to a more nomadic style of living. “The canals are very peaceful, quiet areas of London that just don’t feel like London to me…we decided that it would be an adventure; a way to feel a bit more outdoors while still being in the city. It felt like a nice balance for us.”

Initially, the décor inside was more traditional: lots of dark, varnished wood and built-in furniture. They liked the fit, but it needed updating.

In lockdown, after having lived there for two years, that opportunity finally arose. Alex, a carpenter, found himself out of work, with time on his hands to dedicate to a renovation. They moved in with friends in Camden, took the boat out of the water and stripped it back to its steels.

The couple took the boat out of the water for the refit (Jessy Webster)
The couple took the boat out of the water for the refit (Jessy Webster)

They painted the outside teal, intersected with a black and white zigzag. Inside, they injected splashes of colour to the woodwork: indigo kitchen cabinets, a feature wall in the bedroom and pink cushions. A new central heating system and double-glazed windows were fitted to keep the boat warm and dry, as well as solar panels on the roof.

They tried to make the space more functional, installing more storage, expanding the bathroom and adding in a dining area to host friends for dinner. In total, the process took around six months.

The refit was also a chance to rename the boat, which is supposedly bad luck while in the water. Until then, the boat had been called The Welkin of Isis. “That wasn’t really our vibe. We decided to rename her Peace Frog, which is a song by the Doors. We felt it was quite fitting for life on the water.”

Peace Frog’s new kitchen (Jessy Webster)
Peace Frog’s new kitchen (Jessy Webster)

Like most other boaters in London, Jessy and Alex have a short-term mooring, which means that they change location every two weeks. “For us, that was a part of the appeal. It means that you can be on Victoria Park one week and Hackney Wick the next. You always have a new local, and it’s nice to get to know new areas. Every area has different benefits.”

Energy costs are also significantly lower than a house. The main expenses are gas, which Jessy estimates would usually cost around £70 for four to five months, and diesel, at around £100 for six months’ worth. This also powers their central heating. During the winter, they also buy coal and have a wood-burner stove, while in the summer, the solar panels take over.

“The living costs are really low, but you put more time into it. It comes out in the wash a little bit. It suits people who want more time at home and less time at work,” says Jessy. “It can be tricky — your resources are finite and you have to manage them carefully. You need time, and you need to plan to make sure you’ve got everything.”

Now, after five years aboard Peace Frog, Jessy and Alex are selling their beloved home. They plan to leave London, and advertised the boat for £55,000 on eBay, which they hoped would allow them to give the buyers a better handover than they had themselves.

In just a week, Jessy said they received “hundreds” of enquiries about Peace Frog, as well as three offers — one of which they have now accepted. “We didn’t accept a higher offer despite having a few — we picked new owners based on the fact that we felt they were the best people to take over the boat and are really nice. That mattered a lot to us,” says Jessy. “Because it’s like our little baby, we want it to go to someone who will care for her.”

She adds: “I hope the next owners love it as much as we did. It’s such a lovely way of life. It makes you slow down and be grateful for the little things, but it also feels like such an adventure.”