One weekend afternoon about a month after I moved aboard a canal boat in London, there was a rap-rap-rap on the wood-and-metal paneling of my front door. I had left it partly open to let in the breeze, and a woman was peeking in like a tentative cat.
“Excuse me, do you live around here?” she asked. We were docked at Little Venice, a busy hub for tourists just a short walk north of Hyde Park. I said yes. She seemed confused, and pointing toward nearby Paddington, she asked again, “You mean, you live around here?” I noticed two more faces peeking around the door.
“No,” I said, pointing to the floor in the middle of my living room. “I live here.”
The visitors—Finnish tourists—had been touring London’s canals. I invited them in, happy to let them take photos, and in an attempt to impress them with the modernity of boat living, told them that the Internet onboard (tethered to my phone) was faster than in any of the three London flats I’d lived in.
Unimpressed, they wanted to know how many knots I could tie. None, I told them. The only thing I knew about boats when I moved onboard in August was that I wanted to live on one.
London has more than 100 miles of waterways (not including the Thames). Over the past four years, the number of people living on boats that ply them has risen by more than 50 percent, according to the Canal and River Trust, a nonprofit that maintains 2,000 miles of rivers in England and Wales.