By Tania Jacquier
FIVE YEARS after beginning his journey, Ben Cummins reached Leeds today aboard his trusty home-made boat, the Piano Raft.
Ben, 44, who used to be a university arts lecturer in Brighton, set off along the canal from Liverpool in 2012 travelling at a leisurely pace of a few miles a fortnight. 127 miles and 91 locks later, he has reached Leeds, completing the first leg of his 25-year odyssey to London.
He said: “I jumped on a raft in Liverpool that my friend Ben Parry had initially built, and I had to restore it and extend it – it’s just an evolving story from then. The thing I had in my head was just a piano and a raft.”
The Piano Raft is made up of an extraordinary collection of items, all salvaged along the way. When it left Liverpool, it was a single room with minimal protection from the elements and nowhere to sleep.
Now, it is a full-sized barge with a cosy living space, having tripled in size and even gained a conservatory – built from Aldi freezer doors – and a wood-burning stove, as well as a supplementary rowing boat made from an old bath.
He is looking for another bath, to make the boat into a catamaran so it will be more stable.
He said: “Everything on the Piano Raft is reclaimed and given new purpose – there’s a porthole that used to be a tumble dryer door, the tiling on the roof is office carpet tiles.”
Ben describes himself as an artist, a father, and a dreamer. His son, aged 9, lives in London, but loves to spend holidays aboard the Piano Raft. Other than that, his only company aboard the Piano Raft is his cat, Peterson – named for famous jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.
For Ben, the most interesting things he has seen on his travels are the “amazing” people.
He said: “The piano raft draws people – it’s a magnet. People always want to project their own ideas and fantasies on the whole vessel.”
Ben has no steady source of income, and wants to live sustainably on the canal. He will be selling wreaths made from foliage he has collected along the canal while he is moored in Clarence Docks over Christmas.
You can follow the Piano Raft’s adventures on Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter @pianoraft.