On my recent trip along the Great Glen, I slept for six nights in my boat tent. I only finished making the tent the day before I left and hadn't even had time to put it up, let alone test it. Luckily it worked, but I'm not sure the boat tent is going to be my favourite overnight accommodation. (Image © John Macpherson)
Making the tent I – more or less – followed the plans that John Welsford supplied with the boat plans.
Wooden blocks to hold the ends of the poles. I had hoped to use the rowlock sockets, but they weren't in the right place, at least not forward, and the angle of them put too much curve on the poles.
Gelert tent poles seem to be the only poles readily available on the internet. They do the job, but the curve is pretty much near the limit of their flexibility, and the elastic for threading them doesn't last long.
I used polythene dust-sheets to make the pattern. Medium duty from B&Q is tissue-thin, if I was doing this again I'd use something heavier.
Adjusting to get a good fit was tricky, especially as the poles keep flexing.
I bought all my supplies from Point North who were very helpful. I could have used a breathable fabric, but settled on coated nylon (D4 at Points North) as it was much cheaper.
I sewed and fitted the body of the the tent before fitting the doors. The doors I finally completed the day before I set off.
First night in the boat tent. One thing I hadn't thought about was getting in and out of the tent when moored against the lock wall like this! It can be done with care.
In addition to the wide doors on either side, as specified by JohnW, I also made small openings either end so I could adjust the mooring lines.
I choose a dark colour because of the short nights in Scotland, I didn't want the light wakening me. As we had little sun on the trip I couldn't test this feature too well.
Looking aft. The camera is on the part of the foredeck inside the coaming, the grey thing is my shoulder, my head's under the camera. While there's quite a lot of room, there's also quite a lot of stuff – two pairs of oars, buckets, daggerboard, tiller etc, let alone my bags, sleeping bag and so on. I didn't have any food or cooking equipment as catering was provided on the barge, Fingal of Caldeonia, I slept on two Thermarest self inflating mattresses; very comfortable.
So how was it?
In a word – damp. Not any fault of the design, but the weather. It rained heavily at the start of the trip, it was windy and pretty cold.
Putting up the tent was easy so long as I started at the windward end. The next step was to wipe the entire inside of the boat down with a sponge to remove the rain and mud. I could then put down the sleeping mats and get into my sleeping bag.
But with the combination of rain and condensation, the inside of the tent was soon covered in droplets of water. Some of this was from the seams, but I think it was mainly condensation, despite the vent I'd included at the suggestion of the helpful woman at PointNorth. And then the drops ran down the inside of the tent, and if the rain was heavy and it was windy, water dropped onto to me too. This was partly I think due to the tunnel design which means the 'roof' is fairly flat – with a ridge pole tent the water is more likely to run down the walls.
Getting into and out of the tent without creating a shower of water from the fabric was impossible. I slept with my oilskins over my sleeping bag. A couple of times I had to sponge the floor dry when I woke up in the night. Fitting guylines at each end running to the masts might help keep the fabric tight and avoid so much dripping.
Having said all this, I'm not sure I'd have been much better off camping on land in a small tent – on one bad night several of the people camping on land had their tents blow down, or at least had the walls pushed against them by the strong winds.
The tent packs up small and takes very little room, so I think it's worth taking on any trip for emergencies or for when camping ashore is not possible. However, if I was cruising where wild camping was legal (Scotland) I think I'd take a normal tent and try and find a pleasant on shore campsite if I could.
Of course, if we'd been blest with great weather, I might be singing the praises of my boat tent!