Boat Test: Short and sweet
- Credit: Archant
This lovely narrow-boat style widebeam delivers the ultimate retirement bolt-hole for its new owners
You might think that considerations of location, location, location only apply to property, not boats. After all, one of the great things about boating is that if you don’t like your current location, you can put the tiller on, fire up the engine, and move to a different one.
But for Carole and Kevin Sharp, their choice of location for their retirement bolt hole came first, and greatly influenced their choice of boat. They live in the north west and wanted somewhere to escape to that wasn’t too far from home or their elderly parents. In fact, a boat was only one of several options considered, because their preferred area included the Lake District, which meant static caravans and cabins were also in the running.
The couple have had boats before, and the call back to the waterways was strong enough to see off the challenge of caravan sites. Their local canal is the Lancaster - and that presented more choices, principally how wide their boat should be. On the Lancaster, there’s no need to stick to narrowboat dimensions. There are no locks on the waterway’s main line, the locks on the Glasson Branch are wide, and the only way to the main part of the waterways network is the Ribble Link, where you might argue that wide boats are probably more suitable than narrow ones anyway.
The question was ‘how wide?’ Carole and Kevin wanted a boat which was easy to handle, so Andrew Crook at Brayzel Boats (their local boat builder) showed them a couple of not-too-wide widebeams. One was a 10ft wide Dutch Barge style shell he’d taken to the Crick Boat Show, the other was an 8ft 6in wide hire boat which operates locally. After much discussion they settled on a boat 9ft wide and 44ft long - unusual dimensions, but, as we’ll see, ones which offer the couple everything they need in a compact package.
Jescka is what’s called a narrowboat-style widebeam, meaning the basic shape is derived from a narrowboat rather than a barge of some description. It can be hard to make this type of boat look attractive; this one, however, thanks to being both not very wide and not very long, looks rather cute.
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The short length contributes to the good looks in a number of ways. Firstly and most obviously, the entire mass of the boat isn’t very big. Secondly, to fit everything in, Carole and Kevin needed a 30ft cabin; this means the bow is quite short at just 7ft, so the cabin sides have to curve in as they reach the bow - making the boat look narrower. The cratch cover also contributes to the effect.
At the stern, the couple have resisted the temptation to maximise space on the cruiser deck by going square. Instead the stern is a very attractive elliptical shape, which tricks the eye into thinking the boat is narrower than it really is. This stern shape also makes handling easier, as there are no corners to catch as you exit bridge holes.
The shell was built by Darren Barker of Cauldon Boats of Stoke-on-Trent. If that name sounds familiar, it might be because a few years ago Cauldon did some well received full fitouts; but Darren’s background was in steel fabrication, and he now concentrates on producing shells. Andrew Crook says the firm is particularly good for shells which are a little bit out of the ordinary.
In this case, the shell is a success. The steelwork looks good, the cabin sides are smooth, the lines are attractive, and there are some nice touches such as a finger grip on the handrails.
The cruiser stern is surrounded by a rail topped with hardwood and enclosed by a dodger. There’s also a big pram cover for use when moored, which was removed before we set off on our test cruise. There are lockers each side of the deck, each containing a full size gas bottle. They also provide somewhere to perch, or to put your mug of tea. There’s a step fabricated into the deck down to the stern doors. It means it should be easier to get in and out of the boat, but you do have to remember it’s there!
The well deck has lockers on three sides, with cushions to make sitting out there more comfortable. The locker across the boat gives access to the bow thruster tube, which has a weedhatch. The locker also contains the battery, and has its own bilge pump.
Kevin was very keen that the water tank should be a stainless steel one, so it’s situated under the well deck. As the gas bottles live at the stern, the locker in the nose is available for storage.
The colour scheme is a classic blue with white panels and a red coach line. It looks fresh and clean. The sign writing is by Mather Signs, who use a stencil to paint by hand. Carole came up with the font used, and oversaw the shading. The contemporary look of the boat is enhanced by all the trim and the window frames, which are by Caldwells, being in chrome.
LAYOUT AND FITOUT
This is a reverse layout boat with the galley at the stern. There’s a breakfast bar helping divide the galley from the saloon. A walk through shower room comes next, with the cabin at the bow.
Carole and Kevin wanted a contemporary look inside the boat and not too much wood, so while there’s oak faced ply below the gunwales the panels on the cabin sides have been painted white. And not just any white: the couple tried a number of whites before settling on one called ‘Frosted Dawn’. What’s nice is that the grain of the wood shows through the paint.
The ceiling uses the same technique, but the boards have been routed to give a tongue and groove effect. There’s a central feature made of oak running down the centre with LED lights behind, washing the ceiling with light.
The flooring consists of a sheet vinyl in the galley and shower room, complete with a sparkly effect, and carpet in the saloon and cabin.
A set of ladder steps takes you down into the galley, and there’s an immediate sense of space. At 9ft wide, this boat is only a little over two feet wider than a narrowboat - and yet inside it seems to offer much more room.
Behind the steps is a radiator, which helps to warm up the rear deck when the pram hood is on. On one side there’s an electrical cupboard, while on the other is a wet locker with a radiator inside.
Carole was determined to have full sized appliances in her galley, so there’s a Belling oven and a matching four-burner hob. The fridge is a Lec 240-volt model with a freezer compartment, and the sink is a full size one by Franke.
There’s plenty of storage, with big cupboards under the worktop, and even a bit of space behind the electrical cupboard made use of, accessed from a door in the bulkhead above the worktop. Perhaps the biggest storage space is under the breakfast bar. There’s one door on the galley side, and another on the saloon side to access what would otherwise be a dead corner. There’s also a wine rack here, to make use of the under gunwale space.
The worktop is a laminate, in a stone effect.
The breakfast bar divides the galley and the saloon, and has a couple of attractive stools for perching on. Saloon seating consists of a couple of captain’s chairs.
In the left hand corner there’s a 4kw Hamlet Hardy stove, complete with a twin wall flue. The tiled hearth is heat resistant and has an air gap behind.
On the bulkhead across the boat is a tv unit. This contains a Pioneer DAB radio, and there are speakers built into the hull sides of the saloon and the cabin. There’s another small cupboard on the other side of the boat, by the door through to the shower room.
The saloon has a set of side doors.
This room is another example of where the extra width of the boat makes a real difference - because it takes up less than five feet of the length, and yet still feels spacious.
The layout is interesting, with the shower taking up virtually all of one side of the room. Again, the owners were determined to have a decent sized shower cubicle; it’s 1000mm by 900mm, so they’ve certainly got it. There’s also a porthole in the shower - apparently the subject of much debate. It’s been positioned carefully, so those outside don’t get a show when there’s someone in the shower.
At one end of the shower, there’s a full height cupboard to make use of the spare space. It has plenty of shelves inside.
The toilet is a Thetford cassette unit, but has a porcelain bowl rather than a plastic one, and doesn’t have the usual plastic panel at the back. The cassette is accessed through the cupboard in the saloon. Also on this wall is a tall narrow towel rail, another item which was a must-have, as was a full size basin. This sits on a corner unit.
The walls of the shower room are lined with laminate. It’s white, and has a sparkly effect.
In a narrowboat, the bed is either up against one wall, or goes across the boat and has to be made up each night. In a widebeam, even a slim one like this, there are no such compromises. The bed goes across the boat, but there’s still room to walk all round it. It’s also 4ft 6in wide - so a normal double size. It’s also been built like a bed frame, rather than being boxed in, so items can be stored underneath just by sliding them under; there’s no need for doors or drawers. Either side of the bed is a neat unit with drawers in the bottom half, and a half-width, full height cupboard above. Other storage includes a corner cupboard opposite one corner of the bed, and a full-height wardrobe on the other side. This cupboard is much bigger inside that you expect, because it borrows otherwise wasted space from alongside the shower cubicle.
This boat is fairly straightforward technically. It’s powered by a Beta 38 engine, which should be more than powerful enough for a boat of this size. There’s also a Vetus 55kgf bow thruster.
Electrical power comes from four 110Ah domestic batteries. A 240 volt supply comes from a 1.6kw Victron inverter charger. This is fairly small, but as this is a holiday boat there aren’t any power-hungry appliances such as a washing machine on board.
There are two 150 watt solar panels on the roof. These charge through a Victron 100/30 MPPT solar controller, which is big enough to handle more panels should the owners want to add them.
There are shore line points at both the bow and the stern. The owners knew which mooring they were having, so the stern one is on the port side and the bow one on the starboard, so whichever way they came into their mooring, the cable would be as short as possible.
Carole didn’t want to be cold in the winter, so the heating system is a substantial Kabola diesel boiler. It’s a big unit, mounted in the engine hole; but Andrew Crook says that while some boilers are working at the upper end of their range in a boat, this one could do a lot more. The owners say it gets the boat warm in a matter of minutes.
ON THE WATER
As we’ve seen, the difference between a boat of 6ft 10im wide and one of 9ft is very noticeable on the inside - but at the helm the extra width is worn quite lightly. Party, I suspect, that’s because this is also a pretty short boat, so you don’t have a massive expanse of roof in front of you.
This is not a difficult boat to steer. For one thing, it’s narrow enough that you can easily have a quick look down the side, to check how much room you’ve got. And you get used to the additional width quite quickly. While the first few bridges you approach look a bit small, once you’re going through them you find there’s plenty of room.
Handling is also very good, again probably assisted by the short length. We winded easily - in fact had the canal been just a little wider we’d have probably got round in one movement. Pushing the tiller and applying some power sent the bow round very smartly. The boat has a bow thruster, which we found useful when returning to the on-line mooring and getting into a space between two other boats. We also found the boat reverses pretty well.
In general, the boat goes exactly where it’s pointed, and responds nice and quickly. It really doesn’t feel any different from steering a narrowboat - perhaps because it has a tiller and not a steering wheel, like some widebeams.
This is a very neat little boat, in several senses of the word. It packs a lot into a small space, and it does it in a very stylish way. There’s not an inch of wasted space, yet it feels very spacious.
One of the advantages that big widebeams have is that they can be VAT-free for liveaboards - which can clearly make a significant difference to the price. This boat is too small to qualify for zero VAT status, just like narrowboats are (and this boat isn’t a liveaboard boat anyway). Even so, the price of £95,000 is good value - and it certainly compares favourably to the caravans and cabins Carole and Kevin were considering.
Going wider than a narrowboat is clearly a big decision, because it means there are parts of the network you won’t be able to access. But if you’re in the right location, it’s a decision which makes perfect sense. And Carole and Kevin say they’ve made exactly the right decisions on dimensions and fitout. They’ve got a small boat which feels spacious, is easy to handle, and suits the waterway it’s based on. That’s a winning combination.
Carole and Kevin Sharp bought their first boat almost twenty-five years ago, and each subsequent one has been a bit bigger than the last. Their first was a GRP boat, a Fairline 19; that was replaced by a 25ft cruiser-sterned narrowboat by Hallmark, which they’re happy to admit left a bit to be desired in the quality of build and fitout; then they got a 40ft Liverpool boat, again a cruiser stern.
That last boat was sold nine years ago, and the couple have clearly been missing the waterways. It was just a matter of time and circumstances which tempted them back. A big factor was that they’re both now retired. Carole used to be in marketing, writing copy, choosing photos, and creating brochures. Kevin was in customer services in the utility industry.
The name of their new boat, Jescka, has been specially invented. It comes from the name of the third crew member, Jessie the dog (who’s a cavapooshon, in case you were wondering), a C for Carole, a K for Kevin - and an A because it needed something on the end!
Shell: Cauldon Boats
Fit-out: Oak and painted panels
Engine: Beta 38 Tel: 01452 723492
Inverter: Victron 1.6kw
Bow Thruster: Vetus 55kgf
Brayzel Narrowboats, Bridge House Marina, Nateby Crossing Lane, Nateby, Preston, Lancashire PR3 0JJ
01995 601515, 07889 299731, www.brayzelnarrowboats.com
DESIGN AND DECOR
Central heating boiler: Kabola Compact 7 with Calorifier Contol From £3,120
Toilet: Thetford C260 Special order through Midland Chandlers £589
Shower room laminate: Respatex Sugar Sparkle From £100 per panel
Stove: Hamlet Hardy 4kw £349
Total Price: £95,000