Surrounded by nature - the Northern Ireland couple living on a narrowboat named Qisma

A young County Armagh couple are enjoying life surrounded by the nature of Lough Erne after swapping bricks and mortar for a narrowboat named Qisma.

By Joanne Knox
Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 3:47 pm

Twenty-two-year-old Sophie Durand and Josh Boyd, who is 23, turned their dream of living aboard a narrowboat into a reality when they purchased their new home back in August.

The couple, who have been together for seven years, moved onto the boat in mid-September and haven’t looked back!

Now, they wake each morning to a variety of wildlife around them, including deers making their way across the lough.

Sign up to our daily Farming Life Today newsletter

Josh and Sophie on Qisma

During their time at university in Stoke-on-Trent (Sophie studied CGI and visual effects, while Josh studied animation) they fell in love with the idea of living on a narrowboat.

“As we lived in Stoke-on-Trent, a place renowned for canals and narrowboats, we had an American flatmate who wanted to live in a £5,000 rust bucket that was apparently labelled as a narrowboat,” they explained.

“He thought it would be a cheaper way of living at uni, but eventually came to his senses.”

However, this sparked an interest in life on a boat for the Northern Ireland couple, and they soon found themselves watching YouTube videos of boaters and researching living on one themselves!

Qisma the narrowboat

The pandemic put paid to their plans as they were forced to move back home where they isolated with their families.

They continued: “While we were at uni, we started looking at boats online, mostly via Gumtree, eBay and Facebook Marketplace.

“Unfortunately, our dreams got cut short due to Covid when we had to quickly get ferried back to Northern Ireland.

“We eventually lost hope in the idea of living on a narrowboat, especially as there are so few in the Irish waterways compared to the canals in England.

Josh and Sophie have been making the most of the space on their narrowboat

“As we grew up with holidays in Fermanagh, we always loved the water!”

Curious, Josh decided to find out if there were many barges in Lough Erne, which is how they discovered Qisma for sale on Done Deal and Apollo Duck.

“Once we went through the buying process and completed the sale, we got to work with painting a few parts of the kitchen and living room area to brighten up the place and make it look bigger,” they explained.

“We had very little changes to make as the boat was in such good condition, only a bit of painting and putting up shelves, picture frames, etc.”

Sophie Durand

The boat was already named Qisma – which means ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ in Arabic.

For Sophie and Josh, finding Qisma was exactly that, so the name fits perfectly and they love it.

Many people have become digital nomads in recent times, working on the road from campervans.

Life on board doesn’t differ, apart from the water below instead of solid ground.

Sophie is working remotely on the boat as a digital marketing executive for a software company, while Josh is handy to his work as a production and tour assistant in The Boatyard Distillery.

They feel boat life and van life have many similarities, including space.

Josh on Qisma

“Space can be an issue when small living, but you become creative with storage and start to consume only what you need,” the couple stated.

“We possess and consume a lot less than we did living at our parents’ houses.

“Small living also means being more conscious about what you use, for example water, heating, fuel and waste.

“The feeling of wanderlust and being connected to nature is very real.

“We wake up every morning to find something new each day, all types of birds, otters, deers crossing the lough, we have it all here!”

And, as with van life, there is a wonderful connection, with a sense of “togetherness” within the boating community in Lough Erne, where fellow boaters have offered great advice and knowledge of the waterways.

The couple love the location and the fact they can travel around the Erne, stopping off in various jetties along the Irish waterways.

The best thing about living on Qisma is being around nature, living on the water and being next to families of swans, herons and red-crested grebes.

Living on a boat means Sophie and Josh can go on holidays and, quite literally, take their home with them.

A downside is living in a small space. They have become more mindful about what they buy, including food, clothes and luxury items.

“We do like to share the downside of living on a narrowboat on our social media,” they said, “as many people see our lives through rose-tinted glasses.”

Their advice for anyone who is considering ‘living small’, be it in a van or on a boat, is to give it a try before making that final decision.

“Boat holidays, like hiring a cruiser on the Erne aren’t cheap, but definitely worth it.

“There are also more affordable options like glamping pods, houseboats and shepherd huts all across Northern Ireland and Ireland that would be a perfect way to have a feel of living small and slow.

“Always do your research and don’t hesitate to ask people questions too.”

Looking ahead, the County Armagh couple certainly see a future on Qisma.

They hope to ‘do up’ a few things on the boat, like the bathroom and bedroom.

Further down the line, however, they would like to upgrade to a barge – double the width of their current boat.

This would mean they could accommodate more guests post Covid.

Sophie and Josh also hope to cruise down the Shannon, properly exploring Ireland when they can.

They are also working on growing their social media following.

The pair have already got a strong following on Instagram and TikTok, where they share videos and photographs of their life on Qisma.

Documenting their cruises and showing off the beautiful County Fermanagh on YouTube is something else Sophie and Josh are keen to ‘get their teeth into’.

You can keep up-to-date with their life aboard their narrowboat Qisma by searching for @cruisingqisma on both Instagram and TikTok.

The narrowboat on Lough Erne