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24 September 2014

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River Orwell

You are in: Suffolk > Places > River Orwell > Life on the awesome Orwell

Life on the awesome Orwell

Jonathon and Nicky Webb live on a houseboat on the River Orwell. But it's not just any houseboat - this is the house that Jonathon and his brother Richard built.

The deck of Melissa looking out across the river

Richard, Jonathon and Catherine onboard Melissa

Jonathon and Richard Webb are boat builders who have a small boatyard at Pin Mill on the River Orwell.

In June 2008 they were still building Melissa, 14 years after starting.

This might seem like a long time to you and me, but in boat building terms, it isn't when you juggle taking on other work with your pet project. They are determined to finish Melissa so that they can sail in her early next year.

Jonathon and Richard painting Melissa

Jonathon and Richard Webb

Melissa, who has so far had ten coats of paint, is a Thames Barge. She has spent about three years in the boatyard and has now been moved out to the river shore on dry supports.

Inside she is in the throws of being fitted out ready for her new cargo - people. There is a bar and the seating is being installed ready for trips up and down the Orwell. The wiring and the mast are still to be finished.

There are seven generations of boat builders in the Webb family. With Lemon and Charlie before them, Jonathon and Richard are continuing the family tradition. Jonathon said: "My father's uncle use to ship build in the middle of the village.

"This area use to be fields. When the ships were finished they would drag them down to the water's edge and launch them."

Living on the water

Jonathon's wife Nicky Webb runs the business of maintaining the moorings on the Pin Mill waterfront. The family live in a boat that Jonathon and Richard built a couple of years ago.

It took them eight months to build the boat. They have lived here for one year and two months.

The bathroom in the houseboat

The bathroom in the houseboat

It isn't what you might expect inside. It's well equipped with water and mains electricity, bath and shower rooms, three bedrooms, and two bunks with no lower bunk so the children can play beneath them.

The view from the balcony on the back is superb. Nicky and I did our fair share of gazing out at the boats on the River Orwell while trying to conduct this interview!

Nicky said: "The view would mean nothing if the people weren't here. The friends we have made here are the most important thing.

"The children have a great time looking for crabs and jelly fish when the tide has gone out. There is great excitement when the weather comes warm and they can bathe along the jetty." 

Working with the tide

The tide is a very important part of this watery experience.

"Occasionally, I misjudge how fast the tide is coming in and by the time I get to the door to collect the kids from school it is right up to the wall by the pub car park. I then have to phone Jonathon and he wades over and gives me a fireman's lift to the ladder that leads to the car park."

Most people who have boats or yachts wait for the tide to turn to either take them out or bring them back into shore. Otherwise you end up getting caught out: "There is quite a safety issue around the mud. The coastguard gets called out when a boat gets stuck in the mud.

"If you try to walk in the mud you sink and don't stop. So if you don't bring your boat in far enough then you get stranded. I have seen the coastguard come over in a helicopter and winch a couple of people out of their dinghy."

View from houseboat balcony

View from houseboat balcony

"I have only abandoned ship once and that was in December 2007 when there was a storm. The boat rocks in the wind. I went to my mother-in-law's in the village!

As I sat in the Webb's sitting room looking out at the river, I could just see a short piece of the Orwell Bridge between the trees on either side of the estuary. This gave the me the illusion that the cars were travelling from tree to tree!

Nicky finishes by saying: "I have never felt so at home here on the River Orwell. The feeling of peace and tranquillity is wonderful."

I can certainly see what she means.

last updated: 29/07/2008 at 12:34
created: 26/06/2008

Have Your Say

Would you fancy living on the River Orwell?

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

John Aldous
I would be quite at home living on the Orwell, I presently reside on my 34ft Yacht on the Pacific Coast of California near San Francisco.

Nick Ardley
For a real barging childhood, read my book, The May Flower A Barging Childhood, published by Tempus, May 2007. See BBC Essex and Kent featured pages. The book recounts life afloat 1950/1981 - the time the May Flower was owned by John and Gwen Ardley. Four children learnt the ropes about looking after and sailing a barge as a home, without an engine, without elctricity or hot running water.

Gary Bloom
I used to hire a dinghy along with my father when I was a kid from Jack Webb for Ten Shillings a day and we used to row out to one of the buoys to fish for eels

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