Boat Test: the 200 club (Fantasia II)
- Credit: Archant
This boat marks a milestone for Aintree boats. Not only that, the 52ft semi-trad showcases all their craft at a remarkable price
We first tested a boat from Aintree Boats back in 2011, after they’d been to the Crick Boat Show for the first time. The firm had been going nearly a year, but had managed to produce twenty-five boats. Now, less than eight years later, they’ve reached another milestone, because this boat, Fantasia II, is their 200th.
Comparing the two boats gives a flavour of how Aintree has developed over the years. In 2011, the firm was producing a range of off-the-peg boats with three levels of specification. The one we tested was typical: a 58ft cruiser with an oak interior, at a little over £75,000.
Today, while standard boats are still available, Aintree has also turned itself into a proper bespoke boat builder. Fantasia II is a good example of what they’re doing these days, because it’s a non-standard length at 52ft, and has a non-standard interior. That’s because the
owners, Sandra and Will Axon, wanted a boat that was easy to handle and easy to moor, and their daughters wanted a bright modern interior. In short, the boat had to work for when the whole family was on board - and it’s been designed accordingly.
Not all Aintree boats have been full fitouts, because the company also builds shells and sailaways. Even so, 200 boats is still pretty good going, and it’s an achievement well worth marking.
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If Fantasia II’s name doesn’t give you a hint about the owners’ love of Disney, then the sign writing will. The letters are huge and mimic a typeface used by Disney, and are surrounded by stars. And while the boat might be a rather sober dark blue, the detailing adds a zing of colour, with coachlines in an electric blue, and a paint which gives an aluminium-effect finish. This paint is also used for the sign writing. Robin Wagg, who did the lettering, apparently wasn’t sure about the font or the paint - but in spite of his misgivings he’s achieved a very stylish and individual look.
Aintree build their own steel work, and we’ve always liked the shape and the quality of the workmanship. This boat has Aintree’s rather pretty curvy bow, and there are nice details such as scrolls in the cants. The cabin sides are nice and smooth.
All the window frames and mushroom vents are in a chrome finish, to give a very contemporary look. There’s a good sized glazed pigeon box to provide extra light inside, and the roof also houses a couple of flexible solar panels as well as a tv ariel and an internet antenna (essential requirements for the younger members of the crew).
The nose contains the gas locker, while the well deck has a lift-up cover to give access to the bow thruster and its battery. There are also lockers both sides of the well deck providing somewhere to sit; one is available for storage, while the other contains a 20 litre diesel tank to supply the stove. The water tank is underneath the deck.
The stern is semi-trad, with lockers both sides of the deck. The instrument panel is on a column one side, and has a lifting cover to give some protection from the elements. As well as all the usual dials and switches, there’s a 12 volt socket, which Will plans to use for a plug-in torch to provide extra light in tunnels. There are sockets for shore power at the bow and stern.
The deck board has a Desmo fitting to take a small table. It’s just the right size for the space, as it’s small enough to get round, and big enough for several cups or glasses.
There are a couple of taff seats at the rear, specified by the owners purely as somewhere to hang the life ring. They also say, though, that they act as a rail to help make them feel safer when stepping on and off the stern.
The owners have added a cratch cover and a pram hood. Will went to great lengths to get the hood to look just right, designing the side windows to replicate the shapes seen in river cruisers, like the one the family used to have in the Lake District. Both covers were made by NRM Leisure.
LAYOUT AND FITOUT
This is a 52ft boat, but Sandra says they wanted to fit in everything you’d normally find in a 60 footer-- and they have pretty much succeeded. It’s a reverse layout boat, with the galley at the stern. Next comes a Pullman dinette, just a little shorter than the standard, followed by the saloon. The shower room is an off-corridor design, with the cabin at the bow.
The fitout uses oak faced panels below the gunwales, with painted butt and bead tongue and groove on the cabin sides and the ceiling, which when teamed with colourful furnishings gives a very bright cheerful look. The floor of the galley and shower room is porcelain tiles, while in the rest of the boat it’s solid oak.
Steps lead down from the stern deck into the galley. The treads lift for storage, and there are little LED lights in the risers. On one side is a coat cupboard with the calorifier in the bottom, so anything stored in here will be dried and warmed. On the opposite side is the electrical cupboard, which also contains a Pioneer car radio, linked to speakers in the ceiling of the saloon and cabin.
The galley proper starts with a full height unit containing a Thetford oven and grill set at eye level. Below are drawers, while above is a cupboard containing a microwave. The hob is alongside, set into the sparkly black quartz worktop. It’s a very smart, oblong, three-burner model by Thetford. Set into the worktop on the other side is a circular stainless steel sink.
Other equipment includes a 12 volt Shoreline fridge with a freezer box, and there’s a washing machine, hidden behind a door. There’s also a decent amount of storage in the remaining cupboards.
DINETTE AND SALOON
It’s relatively unusual to find a dinette in a boat of this length (a breakfast bar is more typical) but plenty of seating was a must for this family of four. It takes up six feet of the boat’s length, six inches less than most dinettes - but those lost inches will probably only be noticeable when it’s converted into a bed, and even then only if you’re tall.
The bench seats provide lots of storage space. One has a drawer, while the other has a cupboard door; there’s longer term storage at the far end. The whole dinette is raised, so there’s a drawer under the raised floor too. A useful touch is a 240 volt socket complete with USB port under the table, perfect for charging a laptop or tablet.
The dinette cushions are upholstered in a bright turquoise fabric. It’s a bold choice which works really well, and provides a good splash of colour to contrast with the white cabin sides. The same fabric is used on the very large sofa bed in the saloon. This piece of furniture had to be specially modified so it would fit; it came from Sofa Bed Barn, where they’re apparently quite used to making changes to their handmade furniture. It’s still large - but just manages to be on the right side of too large. Extra cushions in the same fabric as the curtains help pull the design together, and there are plenty of Disney elements to spot too!
The size of the sofa meant plans for a solid fuel stove were didtched, and a diesel fired one was substituted. A solid fuel stove would have needed a much bigger hearth, and would have been too hot for the extended sofa; the Lockgate Refleks stove they’ve fitted instead can get away with a smaller hearth, and should cool down much quicker. There is other heating in the saloon, with finrads running along one side of the room.
A flat screen tv is housed in an under-gunwale unit, which also has some shelves. There are LED lights under the gunwales, which have a colour change feature: a remote control can be used to set them to any colour you like. Extra natural light comes from a glazed pigeon box in the ceiling, making the whole area feel very airy.
A door separates the saloon from the corridor which leads to the shower room and cabin, so the two ends of the boat can be divided off. An off-corridor shower room is a sensible choice for a boat with a family of four on board, as it means there’s always a route through the boat, even if someone is spending ages in the shower.
It’s not a big room at just 5ft 5in, but the space has been very cleverly used. The shower cubicle itself is very generous at 900 x 750mm, and the sparkly white Shower Wall laminate makes it appear even bigger. It has a folding door, which can be left open to give extra room for drying yourself after a shower. There’s a small space between the shower cubicle and the hull side, so this has been made into a useful cupboard.
The basin matches the shower in terms of its largeness compared with the size of the room as a whole; it really is very generous without looking wrong. It sits on a unit topped with quartz, and has a large mirror above.
The loo is a Thetford cassette unit, with access to the cassettes via the basin unit. Sandra says it’s the only element of the shower room which proved difficult to fit in. Fortunately, the bowl can be swivelled.
The bed is inline and 4ft wide, with masses of storage in the base in the form of three big drawers. There are also high level cupboards above the head of the bed, and a large wardrobe with hanging space at the foot. There are some shelves in the opposite corner, with a small flat screen tv mounted on a bracket. The step leading up to the well deck also contains some storage space.
Technically this boat is both fairly straight forward, and comprehensively equipped. The engine is a Beta 38, which should be more than powerful enough for a boat of this size. There’s also a Vetus 55kgf bow thruster, to help with manoeuvring. The deck over the engine is made from a single board, so it’s quite bulky to lift. But once it’s up, there’s plenty of room round the engine. Once helpful touch is a strip of LED lights in the engine hole, for when engine servicing needs to happen in the gloom.
There are four 135Ah domestic batteries, plus one for the engine and another for the bow thruster. A 240 volt supply comes from a 3kw Victron inverter charger. There are two 136 watt flexible solar panels on the roof, which charge the batteries through a Victron 75/10 MPPT controller. These controllers have a good reputation for getting the maximum amount of performance out of panels.
Heating comes from an Eberspacher diesel boiler.
ON THE WATER
This boat handles nicely and swims well. It responds to the tiller, and goes where it’s pointed. As you might expect from a fairly short boat, turning is straightforward: we winded without having to use the bow thruster.
The engine is quiet and smooth at normal canal speeds, and clearly has plenty in reserve should it find itself against the flow on a river. The tiller is at a nice height, and the Morse control falls easily to hand. The dials are easy to see, and the bow thruster controls are also close at hand.
The stern deck has plenty of room for crew to sit, and the little table is a nice addition.
There’s always a potential problem when you try to fit everything you’d find in a 60ft boat into one that’s only 52ft long: there’s a strong chance it will feel cramped, that the whole thing will be compromised. But this boat has cleverly avoided that pitfall. That the dinette is a bit smaller than usual is hardly noticeable, and the shower room’s clever design means that every inch of space is used. Even the massive sofa somehow doesn’t seem out of place.
Part of the reason for the spacious feel is because of the choices made by the owners. The white cabin sides, the colourful fabrics, and the pigeon box all help make the boat seem bigger than it really is.
This boat also shows that you can have great value without having to have an off-the-peg design. Fantasia II is a boat which is properly bespoke - and yet cost only £85,000. That’s an exceptional price for a boat with this amount of quality and charm.
It’s a combination which helps explain why Aintree have been so successful. They might have reached 200, but they’re very much not out.
Sandra and Will Axon have a long boating history. Will grew up with boats as his parents always had a cruiser, and he introduced Sandra to the canals. They regularly used to borrow the boat, and have done some properly long trips such as Cheshire to the Thames.
In recent years, the couple and their children, Rebecca who’s twenty-one and seventeen year old Holly have had a 28ft sports cruiser on Windermere called Fantasia. Recently though, they wanted a boat they could get to quickly - and as the Macclesfield Canal is just a five minute drive from where they live, they came back to the canals. It’s a far cry from Disney World, where they’ve visited for a dozen years.
Will has his own business installing healthy-eating pasta bars in schools and colleges. Sandra has spent the past few years bringing up their children, and caring for elderly relatives.
Aintree Boat had an interesting birth, back in 2010. A north-west charity had had a boat built by Skater Marine, and between delivery and snagging the company folded; staff hadn’t been paid and other customers were in danger of losing their boats. The chairman of the charity, David Flynn, took it on himself to set up a new company, taking on many of the same staff and completing the unfinished boats.
As David Flynn had never intended to end up owning a boat building company, he soon handed the company on to existing staff Jamie Greaves and Andy Jenkins who’ve been running it successfully ever since.
The firm now employs a couple of dozen people. It still offers a range of standard boats as well as more bespoke ones. Shells and sailaways are also a big part of the business. And then there’s the Aintree Beetle, a range of affordable steel boats starting as short as 25ft.
Beam: 6ft 10in
Shell: Aintree Boats
Fit-out: Oak and painted tongue and groove
Engine: Beta 38 Tel: 01452 723492 www.betamarine.co.uk
Inverter: Victron 3kw
Bow Thruster: Vetus 55kgf www.vetus.com
Hob: Thetford Topline 931 www.midlandchandlers.co.uk £205
Diesel stove: Lockgate-Refleks www.lockgate.com £650
Sofa bed: Sofa Bed Barn www.sofabedbarn.co.uk From £500
Total Price: £85,000
Units 14, 15, 16, Brookfield Tradecentre, Brookfield Drive, Aintree, Liverpool L9 7AS
0151 523 9000. www.aintreeboats.co.uk