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The model makers and founders of Capital Models don’t pack up their laser cutting tools at 5pm, power down the CNC machine and go home to have supper in front of the TV. Oh no, when Marcia and Robert Danton-Rees leave Capital’s workshop in Shoreditch, they continue creating and building on their own model, the Big Blue, a 70ft long x 12ft wide sailaway barge.

A sailaway barge comes as a waterproof shell, fitted with an engine so you can literally sail away and customise it yourself. And so, the project began.

boat model making

Marcia and Robert took possession of the Big Blue on the 22nd December 2020. This was the largest Christmas present they’d ever given each other, and it came along with essential stocking fillers – two life jackets in matching colours!

Capital Models Founders

So, life on the canal began and the Christmas holiday was a time to get a feel for what it would be like living on the Big Blue. Of course, with winter came huge temperature drops and snow, with the boat quickly being engulfed in ice that was 1½ inches thick. “The ice smashing against the hull as water levels changed sounded like we were hitting icebergs”, Marcia said “it took some getting used to, especially in the middle of the night”.

barge caught in ice in London

The first few months of 2021 was a busy time indeed with a list of ideas, sketches and plans. The first job was to install Robert’s TV and their ‘vintage’ sofa (just in case they had a spare moment to curl up and relax).

Then came the removal of partition walls between bedrooms, laying floors in the lounge/kitchen, moving radiators and re-routing electrics for a breakfast bar. Robert’s ‘Weapons of Mass Construction’ were out and very active!

model makers london

Some work onboard involved specialist ‘Marine’ Contractors and Tom and Tommy of TM Marine were a great help throughout.

Of course, being an architectural model maker and CNC specialist has its advantages when it comes to DIY and building kitchens and Robert put his specialist skills to work. Storage on boats can be challenging so the kitchen units had to be specially designed to maximise the space with CNC cut ply kitchen tops, ready to take CNC Corian worktops.

sailaway barge kitchen

Corian, (designed by the chemical company DuPont) is made from acrylic powder and aluminium trihydrate, which combined together make a solid surface which is incredibly strong, durable and easy to clean.

It’s a non-porous material and resists the growth of mould and bacteria – perfect for a kitchen and breakfast bar.

Robert recently completed a Corian training course, so he is enjoying putting into practice the specialist techniques he has learnt.  At the moment the Corian worktops are just placed in position ready for final trimming and gluing.

Boat kitchen model

One very important part of living on such a big barge is learning how to drive it. Lessons were difficult to organise during COVID restrictions, but Marcia and Robert are now having driving lessons and training under the supervision of ‘Genty’ who has an amazing knowledge of boats and the area.

saling barge in London

They haven’t ventured too far yet but are getting to grips with driving Big Blue and picking up experience every time they need to visit a service point. Once on the move going further afield, the biggest challenge will be turning the boat at a winding hole (a widened area of the canal especially for turning). The term comes from the old English word “windan” meaning turning or twisting and is pronounced ‘whin-ding’ not ‘wine-ding’ because the wind can be of assistance when turning the boat.

Barge sailing London

One thing that Marcia has found out, is that from the steering wheel, she can’t actually see the front of Big Blue (which is pretty crucial in order to steer) and so she has had a special step made for her to enable her to see the bow.

boating in the UK

Big Blue has now passed its BSS examination and is licenced and registered with the Environment Agency. And so, a permanent sign has been allowed and Big Blue is officially christened!

Big Blue boat

It’s now feeling really homely and boating life is certainly part of Marcia and Robert’s make-up. Living off-grid can sometimes be challenging and you have to commit 100% which they certainly have. They’ve integrated into the boating community with ease, have joined many Facebook ‘boating’ groups and say they are constantly learning.

Boat indoors

“You have to be super organised and constantly plan ahead”, Robert said, “my home life routine is now all about checking the water tank, making sure we have enough diesel, planning when to empty the rubbish and of course the toilet, stocking up on logs and spare parts and wearing ‘practical’ clothes. It’s all about readjusting to a new life on the water, a new life on the go”. 

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