Boat Test: Taking a bow
- Credit: Archant
Seasoned boaters Audrey and Mick Rogers know what they like so the only destination to head for was one of the country’s top builders
There’s something special about a tug. The shape of them somehow just looks right -- like the way a narrowboat should look. And they seem to be popular with the voting visitors to the Crick Boat Show too, because twice in the past five years the title of Favourite Boat has gone to a tug.
And it could happen again, because this tug will be the Finesse show boat this year -- and it has a lot in its favour. Not only is the outside that traditional tug shape, but the inside shows off the Finesse style extremely well with modern, spacious living areas.
And then there’s the use of the tug deck itself. Over the years, we’ve seen the space under this sort of deck used for all sorts of things -- pull out tables and beds, storage to rival a garden shed, and even a whole extra bedroom. In this boat, part of the space has been turned into a clever garage for a motorbike, which rises up on a remote controlled hydraulic platform.
It’s clever stuff. And it’s another example of taking a traditional boat shape, and doing something very modern with it.
Caress of Steel is, like all Finesse boats, based on a shell from Jonathan Wilson. Both firms are owned by the same family, and the shells are built in a shed just across the yard from the fitting out shed.
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As you might expect from one of the country’s top builders, the steelwork is excellent. The boat has a Josher style bow with a very substantial stem post, and some lovely curves. The tug deck is satisfyingly long -- it’s twelve feet from the point of the bow to the start of the cabin. (That’s actually only 2ft longer than a Jonathan Wilson Josher-bowed boat).
But for the owners, Audrey and Mick Rogers, the choice of a tug was as much about practicality as aesthetics. “Our previous boat had a normal front deck with a cratch cover over it”, says Mick. “We never sat out there, because we either used the semi-trad deck at the stern, or we’d put a table and chairs out on the towpath. The front deck was just somewhere to store things, and put the rubbish bag while we waited for a refuse point.”
So storage was important -- and the tug deck provides lots of it, in different ways. As you might expect, the gas locker is in the nose. Immediately behind is a big locker where the couple will keep their towpath table and chairs. It also provides access to the bow thruster tube, and the water tank is down here too. At the other end of the deck, the two feet of deck closest to the cabin is storage accessed from inside (of which more later).
The couple of feet in the middle is the motorbike garage. A full width hatch in the deck opens with each door rising easily on gas struts. Inside, there’s a hydraulic platform, operated either by a connected controller, or by a remote. Once the platform has risen, there’s a gang plank to wheel the bike to the bank. Now it has to be said that this isn’t the biggest motorbike in the world; it’s a Chinese built Skymax monkey bike, which is compact and has folding handlebars. The couple love it, though: “While we’ve been between boats”, says Mick, “we’ve had a camper van to travel across Europe, and we took the motorbike with us. It’s great for getting around quickly and easily.” Audrey adds that they often got funny looks while riding it. While on the boat, Mick will use the bike to get to a railway station, if he needs to get to work.
There’s more clever storage at the stern, where the lockers either side of the semi-trad deck have been designed to take folding bikes. Because the bikes wouldn’t fit through the top of the lockers, the fronts are hinged so they drop down, giving excellent access to the space. Security is a priority, so these stern lockers and those in the tug deck all have proper locks on them.
Back to the aesthetics, though, as this boat looks great from every angle. The colour scheme is dark blue with grey panels, separated by an off-white coach line; the same pale colour is used on the roof. The sign writing is by Andy Russell, and he’d done a great job. There’s a boatman’s beam across the roof, and at the bow there’s a sliding hatch above the doors. All the trim is chrome, giving a more modern look than brass. At the bow, there’s a chrome headlight and horn on a pole -- along with one of the boat’s four security cameras. There’s another at the stern, and two inside. At the very stern there are a couple of taff rails; regular readers will know that I’m not a fan of these, as they encourage people to sit in the arc of the tiller, but they’re fine if used only when moored up.
LAYOUT AND FITOUT
This is a reverse layout boat, with the galley at the stern. Next comes the saloon, followed by a walk-through shower room, then the cabin at the bow.
The fitout uses oak butt and bead tongue and groove below the gunwales, with painted ash panels above. The grain of the wood is clearly visible under the paint, which gives some nice texture. The trim is oak, and is also nicely shaped. There’s a sapele inlay in the trim just below the ceiling, to give a contrast in colour. The floor is Karndean, in a darker wood finish.
There are a couple of glazed pigeon boxes in the ceiling, complete with LED lighting. They both open, and can be locked in the open position. They’re a good way of getting additional light and ventilation into an all-porthole boat.
Space-saving steps lead from the stern deck into the galley. On one side is the electrical cupboard, while on the other side is a coat locker. Above-worktop cupboards each side have a drawer, and space for a microwave.
This is a very spacious galley, as Audrey and Mick enjoy cooking and were determined to have plenty of worktop space. The worktops themselves are made from Corian -- and are moulded in house. They’re built up from 12mm sheets, and getting a seamless finish is a time-consuming process. However, the effect is worth the effort as they’re smooth, chunky, and hard wearing. There’s a Corian sink, with a smaller one alongside.
There’s plenty of storage space, with a range of cupboards and drawers with attractive painted doors. The couple also wanted to make sure they had a full size, good quality oven and hob, so they’ve chosen very smart models by Smeg. The fridge is also a full size 240 volt domestic one, and there’s a freezer, hidden and accessed in a rather clever way. It’s in the otherwise dead corner at the end of the longer run of units. The triangular cupboard there pulls out, bringing the freezer with it. A washing machine is hidden more conventionally behind a door.
At the end of the galley is a good sized breakfast bar. Mick says they have one at home and use it all the time -- so it seemed to make sense to have one in their boat, rather than a full dinette. It will also provide somewhere to sit and work.
The main piece of furniture in the saloon is a bespoke sofa bed, made by Elite furnishings. It’s big, and pulls out into a full length double bed for guests.
Under the gunwale opposite is a unit containing a Samsung smart tv. The boat is equipped with a wifi system which means the output of the security cameras can be brought up on the screen, so you can see what’s happening outside.
There’s a grey school radiator, while additional heating comes from a Lockgate Refleks diesel stove. There’s a slate hearth with a cupboard underneath for lighting materials, and split face tiles behind.
One of the main features of the room is some fantastic fused glass panels in the door through to the shower room. They were made by Kate Webley at her floating studio, and depict an imaginary view forward along a canal as if you were on a boat -- you can seen the point of the bow at the bottom of the piece. Some of Kate’s work was on the boat which won the Favourite Boat title at the Crick Boat Show last year, and this is another impressive piece of work.
This is another generous room, partly to give space to include something I’ve never seen in a narrowboat before: a bidet. It sits alongside the Sanimarine loo. The holding tank is across the boat at the stern, behind the steps down into the galley. It means the pipe run between toilet and tank is quite long, but Finesse use rigid pipe rather than flexible, and it runs under the gunwale.
The shower is an 800mm quadrant, which seems slightly modest for the size of the room. The basin unit floats off the floor and has a light underneath; it has a Corian worktop and a range of cupboards which include a shaver socket and toothbrush charging point. The doors have push catches rather than handles, and are covered in the same laminate as the walls. Having it on all surfaces gives a really cohesive look, and almost makes the cupboards disappear. The laminate itself has a textured finish; that used in the shower is a slightly darker shade.
The bed is a cross boat design, with the foot section folding up electrically. There are cupboards in each side of the bed base, with longer term storage at the back, accessed below the mattress.
Audrey was particularly keen that there should be plentiful storage in the cabin. So there are wardrobes each side of the bed, and a run of high level cupboards over the head of the bed. These also have reading lights set into them -- and as there are no bedside tables, there’s a drinks holder each side.
Then there’s the storage under the tug deck, which is really like an extension to the cabin. Some of it comes in the form of drawers, while there’s more as a cupboard behind the steps up to the tug deck. To access it, the steps slide to the side -- just lift them half an inch off the floor, and move them over.
Caress of Steel is powered by a Beta 50S -- the S stands for silent, as it’s cocooned in a sound deadening box. Electrical power comes from six 120Ah AGM domestic batteries (plus one for the engine), and there’s a Victron 5kw inverter charger. There are two 150 watt flexible solar panels on the roof, with an MPPT controller to manage the charging. The bow thruster is a Lewmar 6hp hydraulic model. Being hydraulic rather than electric means it can be run for longer periods if necessary, and isn’t limited to short bursts.
As Mick intends to work from the boat, he’s installed a wireless internet system, with an antenna on the roof. Lots of other things make use of this network in addition to the usual phones and tablets. There’s a Swan CCTV system which can be accessed remotely by phone, so you can see what’s going on inside and outside the boat even when you’re miles away. And there’s a Nest controller for the heating, which can also be controlled from a phone. It means you can turn the heating on while you travel to the boat, so it’s warm when you arrive.
The heating system has a 10kw pressure jet boiler. That sounds big compared with the more usual 4 or 5kw diesel boilers fitted in boats, but it’s claimed to be a more efficient system, and it won’t be working at the upper end of its range.
ON THE WATER
We’ve always liked the handling of Jonathan Wilson’s boats, and this one is no exception. It goes exactly where it’s pointed, responds well to the tiller, and turns very easily: we turned around twice without any fuss during our test. Being a tug, this boat sits a couple of inches deeper in the water than a more standard boat, so it feels nice and solid. It also moves through the water with minimal wash.
The cocooned engine is very quiet, and the controls fall easily to hand. The column which holds the Morse control has the bow thruster buttons on the forward side.
There’s plenty of room on the stern deck for crew. There would have been even more if the rear doors had been split so the top half folded back over the lockers.
The only downside of being on board is that you can’t see how lovely the boat looks as it moves through the water. It’s certainly a head turner, and one boater even made a special effort to come out and compliment the boat as we went past.
It almost goes without saying that this boat looks good on the outside, and has well appointed, spacious accommodation inside. What’s perhaps more interesting is how it makes use of the space under the tug deck. The owners had particular requirements, and this boat meets them exactly. And they haven’t really lost much inside space, as their tug deck is only 2ft longer than a normal Jonathan Wilson Josher-bowed boat -- and that 2ft is accessed from the inside anyway.
A boat of this quality doesn’t come cheap. Finesse Boats say a 60ft tug starts at around £150,000; this boat costs more, thanks to things such as the Smeg appliances, the Corian worktops, the security systems, and the hydraulic bike lift. We estimate the total at around £185,000.
This boat will be on show at Crick, but if you want to guarantee a closer look it will almost certainly be necessary to book a slot in advance. It’s an exceptionally appealing boat, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in contention when the Favourite Boat votes come to be counted.
Mick and Audrey Rogers had their previous boat for four years, and learned a lot about what they liked and didn’t like. Mick used to stay on board during the week, as they had a mooring close to his work, but they also took extensive trips out.
Audrey has now retired from her job as a physiotherapist, but Mick still works, running a company making powder coated parts for the automotive industry. They’re planning to spend a lot of time on board, as Mick will be able to work remotely.
The couple’s previous boat was called Boris, after a track by The Who, Boris the Spider. Caress of Steel is a album by the rock band, Rush -- but is also a reference to the way the Josher bow cuts through the water, as caress of steel is a French revolutionary phrase referring to the cut of a guillotine. In addition, of course, the boat was built in Sheffield, the home of British steel.
Victoria Boatyard, Sussex Street, Sheffield S4 7YY
07852 201375. firstname.lastname@example.org
Beam: 6ft 10in
Shell: Jonathan Wilson
Fit-out: Oak and painted panels
Engine: Beta 50S
Inverter: Victron Quattro 5kw
Bow Thruster: Lewmar 6hp
Fused glass panels: Pod4Art £prices vary
Security cameras: Swann £150 each
Nest thermostat: www.nest.com/uk £179
Hob: Smeg PGF64-4 £338
Total Price: c£185,000