90-year-old canal boat turned holiday let
- Credit: Archant
William, which turns 90 this year, is a working canal boat with a fascinating history and a fun future
When Tim Carter bought William, a 1931 Yarwoods-built Royalty Class built for Associated Canal Carriers, he was on familiar territory.
“My mum and dad bought boats from the late 1950s,” said Tim, who grew up living on some of them, including George, another Royalty class.
“I didn’t realise how magical it was. I remember the canal system in the mid-Seventies. I’ve watched it change and get better over the years,” he said.
Having left school, Tim skippered holiday boats in the summer and worked at boatyards during the winter months, honing skills which serve him well today.
William worked into the early 1960s, with her final trip to carry coal to the Runcorn gas works. Then a trio of grammar schoolboys formed a syndicate, bought William and for the next five decades ran it as a holiday boat.
“Dad and I knew them, so when William came up for sale in 2013 I bought it (in a syndicate with Micron Theatre’s Sam Lucas), and pretty well carried on from where they’d left off,” said Tim, who with wife Bridget trades as Inland Navigators, using William for camping holiday trips. William didn’t have a busy year thanks to lockdown, which Tim describes as ‘an absolute nightmare,’ but the business was buttressed by a pair of hire boats, which were in big demand when the first lockdown eased.
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Keeping William in good order is an involved business, and in normal times it doesn’t generate a massive profit.
“We have a rolling maintenance programme really, to keep on top of it. Get too far behind and it’s an awfully big job,” said Tim, whose welding and hot riveting skills have been put to good use. Licence and insurance requirements for a hire boat are exacting, and Tim tries to anticipate issues before each survey. William is out of the water every two or three years.
Tim said that client expectations had ‘come full circle,’ with people wanting an authentic experience, but expectations have changed since the 1980s.
“I’ve fitted a shower, there’s hot and cold running water and a log burning stove. In the old days there wasn’t any of that. At Easter, boats that carried coal would be swept out and used for camping cruising. There would be two buckets. One for washing and one for the other.”
William has a relatively deep draft, and according to Tim, on the Oxford canal in the summer feels big, but on the Thames in London it’s a small boat. “In the middle of Birmingham with the sound of the Bolinder echoing off the flats, you feel you’re in a very noisy boat!”
A single-cylinder diesel two stroke, the engine was fitted about three years after William was built. “We had the same engine on George,” said Tim. “Dad taught me everything I know about it.”