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Boat is an ideal family home

By This is Exeter  |  Posted: February 25, 2010

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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."

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    Muzungu, ex pat from East Africa on hols in Barnstaple  |  September 18 2010, 5:14PM

    IMHO Better a responsible houseboat owner than an irresponsible ship owner that lets his boat wander freely around the Taw River Estuary? (i.e. Seven Sands comes to mind). And a council that does not take action is another storey? Good luck to you Randy and your family. Muzungu

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    Allen N. Munroe, Jr., Auberry, California USA  |  March 04 2010, 7:14AM

    To you "neative nellies," I was fortunate enough to grow up with Randy, go through Boy Scouts (attained Eagle together) and so on. A kinder, more considerate soul you could not ask for as a neighbor. And who, in their right mind would give any government(voluntarily, no less) a single penny more than is necessary?

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    Chas, Bideford  |  March 02 2010, 9:42PM

    Local authorities should get on with looking after the BASICS such as http://www.fixmystreet.com/reports/Torridge TTEF have been asking "Coll-onell who ever is in charge" of the landing craft and fuel barge from Zeta berth, to stop causing so much damaging, dangerous and unecessary wake that affects boaters, wildlife and bank erosion. Trouble is "Coll-onell who ever" is a member of the club, yachting or dinner companion so no result there - Let's chase the boat people instead. Dogs dumping everywhere and chasing wildlife and builders Fly Tipping are rife but the boat people, they're like gypsies, easy targets and easy to stir up hate against them - all in the name of democracy - of course. They stole the land from us! By the way this moderation is a bit much - most people are responsible.

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    Big T Comedian, Combe Martin  |  March 01 2010, 8:43AM

    Well I say after reading all the comments about this subject, good and bad " Whatever floats your boat" Good luck Randy, Susan and Ben it appears you have a great way of life enviable to many !

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    chris, culimba  |  February 28 2010, 1:01AM

    crisps and cheese and kumquats

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    jim, gym  |  February 28 2010, 12:59AM

    well i say "satsumas" to all and sundrie

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    Joanne, North Devon  |  February 27 2010, 3:56PM

    For heavens sake, leave these guys alone! They are entitled to live in any way they choose and I think it's great! Who in their right minds would actually choose to live in one of those souless, concrete housing estates? Don't let the council push you around .... they do it all the time to everybody ... all they care about is their fat salaries and even fatter pensions. They can't even sort out raw sewage spewing up onto our Tarka Trail at Anchor Woods! Concentrate on that problem NDC! And if you have any further problems with the Taw Tawridge Estuary Forum .... just get in contact with me via the Journal. Live and Let live I say .. leave this nice little family along! Nice to see you're still around Meme!

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    (G)rowing (O)ld (D)isgracefully, The Banana Republic of North Devon  |  February 27 2010, 2:22PM

    Randy, Get your facts right. You are wrong saying that septic tanks are legally allowed to discharge into the river, they are not, all discharges of effluent to watercourse require the formal written Consent to Discharge from the regulatory authority which is now the Environment Agency, and have done since the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution Act) 1951 and the amended 1961 version. Septic tank effluent would not be allowed under the conditions of a Consent to Discharge, only secondary treated effluent i.e. from a package sewage treatment plant. Even you need Consent from your boat as controlled waters extend 3 miles out, so you are commiting a criminal offence by putting your sewage into the river without Consent. And if you are referring to the brown foam on the river it is not storm sewage, it is an algal bloom called Phaeocystis which is an important unicellular, photosynthetic, eukaryotic algae distributed throughout the world's oceans. Unfortunately due to the demands for more housing we place enormous pressure on old and inadequate sewerage systems so CSO's (combined storm overflows) are used to prevent the sewers backing up and people having their homes flooded with crude sewage. The sewage works at Cornborough is I understand already at capacity so there will outcry when the water rates go up again to fund improvement works. Living on a boat certainly does not solve any of these problems no matter how 'green' you think you are.

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    weatherley, torrington  |  February 27 2010, 8:42AM

    my goodness some people get very rude and grumpy don't they? pay whatever you can as a voluntary council tax - write torridge a letter telling them and then just pay your way like everyone else - you sound respectable members of society to me don't let people disenfranchise you with their paperwork or blinkered thinking. Yes of course North Devon homes took over the council housing and when global warming kicks in (IF) wemay all be looking at living on house boats - don't let people push you out - take some control and pay your way - they will have to acknowledge you or return your money with reasons for doing so. Seems to me that your choice is a way of life comparable to that of travellers (and heaven only knows they have a hard enough time poor people) for all it's equality and diversity policies the council is failing y ou - don't let them do that. They cannot house people they don't have enough places- it is not your fault you have made provision for your family and we all have to atke responsibility for our own family - make yourself part of things by paying in to the system. North Devon Homes have some pretty expensive housing ont heir books the shared ownership costs are astronomical - affordable housing is a big issues and people need to take this on in responsible ways - that is what you are trying to do. keep it nice and attempt to pay your way - work out your council tax by looking at what other people pay - less any council tax benefits and send it every week. sooner or later alternative ways of iving will have to be accepted because we are facing financial ruin as a nation and people are going to have to fend for themselves more than ever. Take care of yourselves.

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    J Cairns, My Palace  |  February 26 2010, 4:22PM

    Apology accepted. Good luck to you.