Pricey housing pushes Londoners to boats
ROCKETING housing costs in Britain's capital have fuelled a surge in Londoners seeking cheaper accommodation on boats, with increased numbers putting pressure on the city's historic network of rivers and canals.
The picturesque lifestyle of sleeping in a colourfully painted narrowboat or barge may seem tempting, especially when buying one can cost a fraction of the price of bricks and mortar.
"It's become more common for people who don't know what they are getting into to do it, or even because they have no choice," said education worker Jim Bryden, 39, who has lived aboard the Violet Mae with his girlfriend, a dog and a cat for two years.
"I've met people who have ended up on a boat because they had two weeks' notice to leave their flat and were able to buy a boat for £10,000 (S$20,900)."
Everyone has a story of spotting newcomers struggling with engine failure, steering ineptly along a crowded canal or harbouring regrets once confronted by a damp, cold winter on boats often heated by stove and about 2m wide.
Maintenance costs can mount quickly and boaters dryly refer to their vessels as "black holes" for cash, constantly in need of repair.
"If you are ignorant about buying a boat, it can be easy to buy a boat that will become a nightmare," said Mikaela Khan-Parrack, 26, who has lived on the water for four years and works as a mooring ranger for the Canal and River Trust.
Still, the more expensive boats, which can cost over £100,000, are a fraction of the average London house price of £500,000, up 11 per cent in a year.
As London private rents have increased to cost almost half the average salary, some renters have turned to cheap but illegally let rooms on boats described as mouldering "floating shacks", in an article by a former resident in The Guardian.
But for many, waking up with ducks swimming by the window, and the freedom and sociability of the pretty tree-lined waterways compensate for downsides like emptying toilet tanks, trudging the towpath to do laundry or fetch gas cylinders, and vulnerability to thieves.
One boat entered the London waterways for every working day in the past year, with popular areas seeing an 85 per cent spike in numbers, according to the Canal and River Trust.
The charity manages 3,200km of a network that spans Britain, much of it built to carry freight during the industrial revolution.
The increased numbers have caused congestion, with fierce competition for mooring spaces, queues at locks and friction with nearby residents who suddenly find themselves with a large and shifting cast of new neighbours in boats moored two or three abreast.
Yet, an attempt by the Canal and River Trust to address congestion has caused an outcry in the boating community.