‘Myself and my boyfriend Josh first started thinking about living on a boat when we were in university together in Stoke-on-Trent. The area is famous for narrowboats and as we were living very close to a canal, we often saw people cruising past.

t was actually one of our university mates who sparked the idea. He told us he was going to buy a narrowboat for £10k and live on the water rather than pay for accommodation.

At the time it sounded crazy. We were like, ‘You’re an absolute idiot, why would you want to live on a narrowboat?’ But then, after looking around and watching videos, we started to fall in love with the idea too.

As we prepared for our third year in university, we started thinking about where we would like to live afterwards. We thought about renting or even buying a house but the idea of a mortgage scared me quite a bit. I hated the idea of that constant debt and always paying back for the rest of your life.

Our parents’ generation could buy a house for £80,000 but we have to fork out £280,000 for a house these days. It’s just madness.

We also had ideas of building our own tiny house but that didn’t happen. It was just too difficult to find time to do something like that.

After giving it a lot of thought, the plan, originally, was to stay in Stoke-on-Trent, where we both had good jobs at the time, and buy a boat there. But then Covid struck and our dream was shattered. We had to go home to Co Armagh and move back in with our parents.

When we got back home, Josh was curious to see if there were any narrowboats in Northern Ireland and he found one for sale. It almost felt too good to be true.

The day we bought ‘Qisma’ was quite surreal. We went onto the boat and met the previous owners and exchanged contracts and information. The boat cost £53,000 and passing over that sum of money from your account to another person’s account is nerve-wracking. For a moment it felt like time stopped, but it all came together quite well.

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Sophie Durand on her narrowboat, 'Qisma'. Photo: John McVitty

Sophie Durand on her narrowboat, 'Qisma'. Photo: John McVitty

Sophie Durand on her narrowboat, ‘Qisma’. Photo: John McVitty

Sophie Durand on her narrowboat, ‘Qisma’. Photo: John McVitty

Josh and I are savers. We both had jobs when we were very young and we both had quite a lot of savings. We also started businesses over lockdown. Almost all our work came to a standstill and although we were living with our families, we still had to make a living and contribute.

Josh started a beard care business, which took off really well. I started a freelance marketing business and then I started another business with my mum, selling reusable eco products.

We don’t spend a lot of money. We’re not very materialistic people. I haven’t bought first-hand clothes in two or three years now, same with Josh. We just prefer slower living.

‘Qisma’ was built in 2010 so she’s a fairly new boat and she was very well looked after. The boat came with crockery, cutlery… everything we could have asked for. We want to keep all the features and the woodwork but we’ll probably do a few summer projects over time.

At six feet wide and 60 feet long, she’s very narrow, but she’s still nice and spacious. If Josh wants his own time, I can sit in the living room and he can sit in the bedroom or vice versa. It’s not like those family caravan holidays where you get no privacy. We’re not on top of each other.

There’s plenty of room for other people too. We have a breakfast bar and we’ve had seven or eight people over for dinner. We also have a lovely futon sofa so we can host two people, sleeping over, quite comfortably.

We have a wood-fired stove and a central heating system powered by the diesel engine, so the boat can heat up very quickly. We’re growing shrubs and flowers on the roof and I’ve an allotment where I grow vegetables nearby.

We try to cruise once a week, weather permitting. The boat is very easy to steer and manoeuvre. Obviously we had lessons from the previous owners, which we’re so thankful for, but other than that we don’t need a licence or anything.

We love to go to places like Crom Castle and Enniskillen. Next summer we’d like to do the whole of the Irish waterways and cruise from Carrick-on-Shannon all the way to Limerick.

When we were cruising recently we saw wild deer crossing the water just in front of us. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We wake up every morning and see something new out our window. A family of swans and their cygnets. A fog coming in… It just feels so tranquil and peaceful and it makes you so grateful for what you can do and see on the water.

You meet people from all walks of life when you live on a boat. You also meet some of the kindest people in the boating community, people who will offer you cruises or just hang out on their boat and have a drink. If you come into a dock they’ll help tie your ropes.

The boating community is a slightly older generation and it’s almost unheard of for people of our ages — 22 and 23 — to own a boat on the lough. We haven’t met anyone the same age as us but hopefully we will at some point.

Getting on the property ladder was always looming over us but we didn’t need a big house. In fact, the cost of this boat probably would have been the deposit for a house.

Plus, we don’t need to accumulate lots of stuff. There are people who have garages filled to the brim with junk, but on a boat you have a very small amount of storage so you have to be very mindful of what you’re buying. We also have to be very mindful about our electricity, coal and wood usage — even our water.

It’s not for everybody but the idea of smaller living, not consuming so much and living in the now, living slowly, is just amazing. I think more people should try it out, even if it’s just for a holiday.”

Sophie is on Instagram @cruisingqisma

As told to Katie Byrne

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