|Typical liveaboard scene: the washing on the line|
That aside, living on a boat has often been compared to life in a floating caravan, and there are indeed comparisons to be made. Even so, most permanently berthed caravans generally have mains water and electricity, so it is, in principle, possible to live a pretty normal life in a mobile home. On a boat, however, these things still tend to be different.
Take water, for example. On my barge, the Vereeniging, I have two five-hundred litre water tanks. Now in most homes, people use water fairly indiscriminately. A thousand litres? It's probably not difficult to go through that amount of water in a couple of days, is it? On the Vereeniging, I make this quantity last around ten days. Yes, I do.
On the Hoop, the barge I lived on first, I had no running water at all for several months, and I had to fetch it in jerry cans - ten litres at a time. I have to say that such water restrictions concentrate the mind no end. Need becomes a relative concept. How much water do I truly need, and so on. When I eventually got my waterworks installed on the Vereeniging, a thousand litres felt positively decadent and luxurious, but even then, it had its limitations.
|One of the two five-hundred litre tanks on the Vereeniging|
I have to say I'd had some practice at this before even arriving in the Netherlands. My former home in South Africa was prone to drought and we'd always paid for our water usage. We were used to being careful; you know, turning off taps as soon as we'd filled anything, using tooth mugs instead of letting the tap run, putting bricks in the cistern of the loo to save water. All that sort of thing was quite normal to me. But living on a boat took water restrictions to new levels.
Just imagine this, for instance: filling the tanks means unravelling metres and metres of hosepipe, dragging it all up the loopplank and walking to the water point to attach it (the distance can vary depending on how far along the row of barges you are). Then once you have fixed both ends, you have to sit and wait for the tanks to fill, about half an hour in my case. You also have to be very, very careful not to over fill the tanks. The resulting overflow is not funny, and needs another post all of its own to explain why.
But for the moment, let's assume everything goes according to plan. The tanks are filled, so then you have to reverse the process: switch off the water, undo the hosepipe from both ends and wind it back up again. In general, the whole process from start to finish takes something in the region of an hour, and a bit more. Not a 'just job'. Nor is it something I've ever relished doing when it's snowing, raining, sleeting, or blowing a gale - all activities the weather likes to be involved in at various times of the year. Result: use as little water as it's possible to safely and hygienically get away with.
|It was winter and freezing|
So let's think of the next scenario. I am a woman of a certain age. Even before I started living on a boat, I was close to it, but I am one of those individuals who has gone grey very early. In fact I was completely grey by the time I was thirty five. I used to dye my hair in some attempt to deny this reality. For years, I succeeded in disguising my real hair colour with a variety of hues ranging from black to blonde and back again. But the crunch came when I moved on board the Hoop.
Now anyone who knows about messing around with hair colour also knows you need a lot of water to do the job properly. A lot. I didn't have even anything approaching to a lot on the Hoop, and by the time I moved onto the Vereeniging, I was jealously guarding every drop.
I remember it all so clearly. The thing is my hair tends to grow rather fast, so to keep up the pretence of having some kind of pigment in my mop, I had to 'do the roots' every two weeks. At least that's what I used to do in South Africa. On the boat, this became a huge challenge. I'd stock up on water for the event. Jerry cans would collect on the foredeck in readiness, and I swear people started making the connection between the unusual amount of water I was accumulating and my consequently brighter hair. Eventually, it all got too much to do every fortnight, so I started sporting scarves to cover up the badger stripe I would develop after about ten days. The scarves became a permanent fixture the longer I delayed re-painting my hair (as the Dutch call it), and then the inevitable day came.
It was winter and freezing. The water points on the quay were frozen. My tanks were empty. I had no water: nix, nada, nothing. If I wanted to 'do' my hair, let alone make a cup of coffee or have a wash, I would have to trek round the harbour to the little building where the communal washing machines were housed, fill up the jerry cans and walk all the way back again over frozen, icy ground with twenty litres of water. For what? For vanity? Even I admitted that coffee and cleanliness were somewhat higher on the priority scale, although I wouldn't like to say which of these two actually came first.
|It took time to phase the colour out|
In any event, this was the defining moment for me. I decided to reveal the truth, unmask myself and just give in to nature. I would stop dying my hair and go grey. Other reasons rushed in to support my decision. My hair would undoubtedly breathe a sigh of relief - years of artificial colour not being particularly nourishing; the environment would send up three cheers as I would no longer be flushing chemicals into the river; and I would save a whole tank full of water, not to mention a multitude of fish.
So that's what happened. It didn't happen over night if I'm honest. I sort of phased out the colour in progressively lighter shades until the difference was barely noticeable, but during this period, the spells between the dying got longer and longer, and I saved myself and the Rotterdam water authorities vast quantities of clean water.
The long and the short of it is that when you live on a boat, you might be surrounded with water, but that's where the luxury ends.
The reality is that being submerged in the stuff is about as luxurious as living in a desert!