A FAMILY living on a houseboat near Barnstaple say they are sick of being branded a "problem" by local authorities.
Randy Northrop, 54, lives with his wife Susan and 12-year-old son, Benjamin, on an old tugboat called Cannis which is moored off Chivenor Business Park.
Randy, a Californian who moved to England in the late 1980s, has lived with his family on the ship for more than nine years but only arrived in North Devon a year ago.
Randy told the
the boat was a labour of love which makes an ideal and cheap family home.
He said: "I bought the boat from a man in Bideford for £11,000 in 2001.
"We were living in Bristol at the time and decided to buy a boat because we were fed up of living in a grotty council house in a rough area of the city.
"I'm an electrical engineer and handyman by trade and have spent the past eight years renovating the ship which included removing several tonnes of engine.
"Most of the hard work is done now and it's mainly DIY and painting that's left."
Randy and his family arrived in North Devon in October 2008 having spent the previous eight years moored at Bristol.
Randy said: "It was a real shame we had to leave Bristol but the authorities there aren't too keen on live-aboards.
"Susan had a great job as a music teacher at Clifton High School and I had regular handyman work coming in. Things were pretty sweet.
"However, it wasn't to be, so we moved slowly down the coast stopping at Minehead, Ilfracombe and Instow en route to Chivenor."
The Northrop's houseboat, a former Thames tug built in 1953, has many of the features that prospective house buyers look for.
There are two good-sized bedrooms, two open fireplaces, gas central heating, a large sitting room and kitchen and several flat screen TVs.
Old admiralty maps decorate the ceiling and there is even a grand piano and dedicated music room onboard.
Randy said: "A lot of people don't realise how we live here. We don't get grief from anyone and most are quite envious.
"I'm upset that councils and groups such as the Taw and Torridge Estuary Forum label us a problem — they don't know us so how could they make that judgement?
"We may live differently to those in concrete boxes but we're not bad people. We work, we pay taxes — the boating community are no different to the rest of the population."
Randy believes the authorities could learn a great deal from the way he and his family live.
He said: "Houseboats could be the future of affordable housing. Our life has next to no carbon footprint and any sewage we produce is properly treated.
"We may not pay council tax but neither do we receive services such as electricity, water or having our bins emptied.
"We don't live on a boat in a deliberate attempt to screw the council over — we just enjoy it."
Susan, who teaches flute and saxophone for a living, added: "We're just an average family who happen to live on a boat — there's nothing unusual about us.
"I play regularly with the Cedar's Big Band and Hartland Orchestra and also work as a waitress to put food on the table."
Benjamin, who is home educated by Randy and Susan, added: "I love living on a boat — it's exciting."