Boat test: 60ft cruiser by Boating Leisure Services
- Credit: Archant
After saving for 15 years and visiting eight boatyards, Sue and Alan Shrimpton were always going to create a winner... and the crowds at Crick agreed
Two Hoots, the winning boat, is fitted out in BLS's trademark style - but there's much more to the boat than that. Every detail has been thought through by the owners, Sue and Alan Shrimpton, and the BLS team, headed by Gary Manning, has come up with some outstanding features.
Even more significant, perhaps, is that this boat has one of the most advanced electrical systems we've ever seen. It's a gas-free boat with all electric appliances, and makes use of the latest technology.
Sue and Alan wanted a cruiser stern, so went to ColeCraft for the shell, as they have great experience in building boats like this. As you might expect from such a well known boat builder, the quality of the steelwork looks excellent.
The bow is the typical ColeCraft shape, looking slightly flared when you see it head on. As there's no gas on this boat, the locker in the nose is available for storage. As well as the usual hatch, there are doors into it from the well deck which are big enough to get a couple of folding bikes through.
The well deck is a foot shorter than usual, to give more cabin space. There are also storage lockers each side, and a water tank underneath. Attractive grab handles have been incorporated into the leading edge of the cabin, to make it easier to climb in and out of the boat. The handrails also have a finger grip all the way along. There's also an LED deck light above the double doors into the cabin.
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At the stern, there's more top-class work by ColeCraft. The lockers each side of the cruiser stern deck are asymmetrical; the one on the left hand side of the boat is smaller, meaning the steerer has a pocket of space to stand in, or to sit on the taff rail.
Both the well and stern decks are covered with Permateak, a synthetic material made to look like teak decking. It has to be specially templated to fit, and looks great.
The paint is beautifully shiny. Two Hoots was one of the first boats to go through BLS's new painting facilities, a spray shop where they use two-pack polyurethane paints. The colour scheme uses black borders round dark green panels, with a cream coach line and roof. The sign writing is by Jon Leesons and includes a couple of well painted owls, which certainly attracted the attention of passers by when we visited the boat.
The windows and portholes are all double glazed, and come from Channelglaze.
The technical section of these tests usually comes towards the end, but with this boat the decisions made (particularly about the electrics) governed many of the choices inside, so it makes sense to move the details forward.
Sue and Alan wanted the ability to be able to moor up in a quiet spot for several days - so Gary Manning suggested they consider installing lithium ion batteries, which would provide them with enough electrical power that they wouldn't need to run their engine during this time. These batteries are expensive (around £3,000 each) but have the advantage that they charge very quickly and, unlike lead acid batteries, can be discharged to almost nothing. They will also last much longer than conventional batteries, meaning the initial outlay won't have to be repeated for many years.
The battery bank consists of three 24 volt 200Ah lithiums by Victron. That makes a bank of 600Ah at 24 volts, which is large. It means a big alternator was needed to charge them, so the boat has a 260 amp Niehoff alternator. That in turn governed the choice of engine, because of the design of crankshaft needed. So this boat has a Beta 85hp, turbo charged engine - the biggest we've even come across in a narrowboat. It's made for the US market, so the turbo charger is there so it meets American emissions standards. Alan says they've tested it on the deep waters of a river, and it really goes!
As well as charging by engine, there are two 130 watt semi-flexible solar panels on the roof, and there are shoreline points at the bow and the stern, which automatically switch depending which one is being used.. There are separate batteries for the engine and the bow thruster, both of which are 12 volt, and have their own alternator, and shoreline charging
A 240 volt supply comes from a Victron 8kw inverter charger - meaning it can handle all the kitchen appliances. There is a Victron monitoring system with a colour display, showing what's going into the batteries and what's being drawn.
The bow thruster is the Vetus brushless one, which has a joystick control. The advantages are that rather than just being on or off, you can give a little bit of thrust or a lot, and you can set the joystick and leave the thruster running.
Layout and fitout
This is a reverse layout boat with the galley at the stern. Next comes a Pullman dinette, followed by the saloon. A walk-through shower room is next, with the cabin at the bow.
The fitout uses ash, chosen by Sue and Alan as they have it at home and like the way the colour of the wood changes as it ages. There is shadow gap tongue and groove below the gunwales, with painted panels, trimmed with ash, on the cabin sides. The ceiling is painted white (sprayed in the boatyard paintshop), and is routed to look like tongue and groove.
The flooring is mostly Karndean with a wood effect, but the sparkly tiles in the shower room are Amtico.
We'll start at the stern, where the rear slide is extra long to make getting down into the boat easier, and the three steps are also wide for the same reason. On one side of the steps is the electrical cupboard, while on the other is a wet locker with a heater in the bottom to dry out damp coats.
In the galley proper, there are white painted doors to the units, and luxurious-looking granite worktops. There's an undermounted sink, with drainer grooves milled into the granite.
With such a robust electrical system, all the appliances are electric. To make the best use of space, the Bosch electric oven is set quite low down - it just fitted between the swim and the gunwale, but the housing had to be millimetre perfect. Above it there's a Samsung microwave. The hob is a four ring-linear induction hob by Neff. The linear set-up works well in the narrow worktops of a boat, but this was the only model the owners could find which can be stepped down to 13 amps to suit the boat's systems. There is also a Bosch full-size fridge, a Hotpoint washing machine, and a Penguin freezer under the dinette.
There is plenty of other storage. An above-counter cupboard provides lots of room for food, with adjustable glass shelves. And there's a custom-made unit at the end of the longer run: it has a normal cupboard on the outside, but then the whole unit pulls out revealing a set of drawers which make use of the otherwise dead corner. There's a wine store set into the floor.
Dinette and saloon
The Pullman dinette is raised so the views from the windows and side doors are better. It also means there's more storage space in the plinth. The table is extra wide, and drops down to form a guest bed.
There's a clever conversion involving the forward backrest, too. This can be unclipped and moved to the other side of the bench seat, giving more seating in the saloon. And because the dinette is raised, there's an electrically powered footrest, which slides out at the touch of a button.
In the saloon itself, there's a two-seater futon sofa which converts into a single bed. Opposite is an under gunwale unit for storage, and to house the onboard wifi. Alongside there's a flatscreen TV on an arm. A high level cupboard on the forward bulkhead has a light inside to illuminate the contents.
The solid-fuel Ottawa stove is in the centre of the boat. The hearth is made from 12mm glass which is sunk into the floor; Gary Manning was concerned that a raised hearth would have proved to be a trip hazard and led to many stubbed toes, so this is a practical solution as well as looking stunning. The split face stone tiles behind the stove and its double insulated flue also look great. A sign of the attention to detail in the fitout, is that the wooden doorframe alongside has been chased to fit exactly to the tiles - a job which must have taken a considerable time.
The door between the saloon and the shower room contains a beautiful piece of stained glass by Kate Webley, who has a floating workshop on a butty. Needless to say, a couple of owls feature in the artwork.
The walk-through room is in many ways quite conventional, with a large corner unit carrying a large white basin, with a Sanimarine macerator loo alongside. The wall above is all mirror. The Quadrant shower is a good size, and is lined with laminate. There are also his and hers towel rails, so both can have a warm towel.
But there is one unusual feature, which Sue and Alan had the idea for, and which has been turned into reality by BLS. Rather than the normal airing cupboard and shelves in the space between the shower and the cabin side, there's a full-height drying cupboard. It pulls out, and is equipped with rails and hooks; the idea is that washing, particularly big items such as bedding, can be hung on the rails, and the cupboard pushed most of the way in. There's a heater at the bottom, so warm air dries the items, with any moisture escaping through an extractor fan in the ceiling bathroom. The couple say they're pleased with the way it works.
The cabin, at the bow, features a cross bed, as Alan and Sue wanted king-size width. It makes up in less than a minute, with a pull-out infill section, and a split mattress which flips over. While some of the space under the bed in taken up by the loo holding tank, which is on the centre line, the rest is easily accessible as the bed lifts on gas struts.
There's lots of storage, including a bedside cabinet each side, and a run of high-level cupboards over the bed, with a arch over the porthole. The main wardrobe has a clever bi-fold door which makes access very easy, and in addition to hanging space there are shelves to one side, against the cabin side. There's another smaller wardrobe by the bow doors, with a low unit opposite. This has cabling for another TV, although the owners have decided not to have one.
On the water
A short cruise through the moorings, lift bridge, and lock in the centre of Banbury wasn't really the time to find out just how fast a narrowboat with an 85hp engine can go. But, perhaps more importantly, it was the ideal place to check that it doesn't feel incredibly over powered. Indeed, it proved very easy to go slowly, and the extra power makes stopping a very fast process.
The engine is also very quiet, and with the cushions on the stern lockers, this cruiser deck is a very pleasant place to be.
Sue and Alan Shrimpton has been boating for a long time, with Alan first taking hire boat holidays when he was a student. The couple continued hiring when their three daughters were growing up, and have been making a mental note of the good and bad features of boats the whole time.
Sue was a financial planner, so they began thinking about saving for their own boat some 15 years ago; she's now changed direction, and is studying for a diploma in nutritional therapy. Alan was an IT consultant, and has just retired.
When they started looking for a boat builder in 2017, they began with a rather long shortlist of 12, having already ruled some out because they were too far away from their home in Gloucestershire. Boating Leisure Services were the ninth yard they visited, but Gary Manning, Dave Flowers and their team made such a good impression, the couple decided not to even see the three remaining firms.
Even though Two Hoots is heavy with owls both inside and out, the name actually came first. "There's two of us on board," says Alan, "and we consider ourselves a couple of old hoots!"
Beam: 6ft 10in
Engine: Beta 85hp
Batteries: Victron Lithium Ion 24 volt 300Ah
Inverter: Victron 8kw
Bow Thruster: Vetus brushless
Stained glass: Kate Webley £ prices vary
Hob: Neff T40FT40X0 £1039.00
Stove: Ottawa 5kw £339.00
Boating Leisure Services, Heyford Fields Marina, Bugbrooke Road, Nether Heyford, Northants NN7 3NP
01604 833599 / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.boatingleisureservices.com