Continuous-cruiser and roving trader Katie Wales took to the waterways to live off-grid and own her home outright
In our separate lives, my partner Scott and I both dreamed of living off-grid one day. After we met, we looked at all the different ways of making it a reality and we settled on boat life. Although we’d both grown up seeing boats on the canals, neither of us had holidayed or lived aboard one before. We loved that the lifestyle would allow us to be off-grid and more conscious of the environment, as well as travelling around. We moved onto our 65ft cruiser stern Lily Gurl in 2021. Currently we are continuously cruising and trading on the western end of the Kennet & Avon Canal, although one day we’d love to explore the whole network.
We probably looked at over 30 boats in marinas and brokerages across the country before we found Lily Gurl. There was one boat online called Frensham that we really liked the look of but after getting advice from friends we were told to avoid it as it had been overplated and was an ex-hire-boat. We left the advert in a favourites folder on my computer and went to look at a different craft called Ment 2 B. We liked it enough to put a deposit on it but when the surveyor rang us he basically told us to walk away from it as it needed too much work on the hull. Despite its name, it wasn’t meant to be.
No other boats seemed to click with us, so we reconsidered Frensham. Three or four months after we’d first seen it, it was still on the market – unheard of at the time when boats were selling fast. We decided to view it in person and as soon as we stepped on board, we fell in love with it completely. This time, the surveyor had good news: he said that he’d never seen a better overplating job done before. We didn’t hesitate in buying it, and we renamed it Lily Gurl after my little Pomeranian.
It was originally a hire-boat but the interior had been refurbished by the previous owner very much to our style: Scandi rustic. We will be giving it a new lick of paint and changing some of the colours soon, though. It had been based in a marina so relied wholly on a shoreline for power, which wasn’t ideal for continuously cruising. As soon as we moved onboard we upgraded all the electrics with solar panels and an inverter so that it’s suitable for off-grid living.
Tackling the plastic problem
Before moving onto the waterways, I was very much affected by the revelations made in BBC’s Blue Planet about the problem of plastic pollution. I did what I could to avoid plastic and being a boater has now made me even more conscious of the resources we use – and I notice it more with limited space on board to store rubbish. You have to be resourceful, rather than choose convenience.
I started my business, Cotton Lily, in 2018 from the shed in the back garden of my Bedfordshire cottage. I previously worked as a visual merchandiser but I wanted to do something that I was passionate about and the plastic-free movement really inspired me. I applied for a roving traders licence as soon as we found our boat. Initially, I hand made plastic-free reuseables but this year my range has shifted towards indoor plants and plant accessories made from sustainable materials, including macramé hanging planters and copper trellises. The original products are being phased out but I’m quite excited to see where the new range will go.
Managing the space aboard has become a little more difficult since deciding to sell indoor plants. It’s like a jungle in there and it does get quite a lot of attention from people walking or cruising past. I’ve tied rope across the bottom of the windows to hold rows of little glass bottles on the ledge – that’s where I do all my propagation. My own plants are all displayed quite nicely around the boat and I’ve made indoor window boxes to store stock so that they get lots of natural light.
Making a mark-et
Becoming a roving trader on the K&A has meant getting to know a fantastic community of other boating business owners. When we first moved here, I put a post on Facebook asking if there were any floating markets that I could trade at. That’s how I found out about the Kennet & Avon Floating Fayre. I attended the one at Bradford-on-Avon and afterwards Scott and I headed towards Bath and moored at Darlington Wharf. As we sat there one evening we thought it would be a fantastic place for a market, so I contacted the organisers of the Floating Fayre to put forward the idea. It turns out that they used to hold one there before Covid, and they invited me to help revive it.
I joined the team and just cracked on. There are so many hoops you have to jump through to get an event approved by the Canal & River Trust, but I had all of the skills needed to organise an event from my previous job. I really enjoyed the whole process and I have loved really being part of this community and getting to know the other boaters and traders on the canal.