Boat test: the gentle giant
- Credit: Archant
Propelled an electric motor powered by a huge array of solar panels, this style-packed 70-footer shows how technology is marching on
It probably won’t have escaped your attention that there’s a lot of work going on in the car industry to reduce reliance on the internal combustion engine. A few years ago, hybrids were all the rage; now the emphasis is on electric cars. In the boating world, something similar is going on — although without the same level of research spending, or the maverick entrepreneurs.
Recently, we’ve noticed a big increase in the number of boats fitted with hybrid systems — a conventional engine with an electric motor bolted on, to give the option of cruising using either diesel or electric power. But here’s a boat which has gone one step further. It has the latest version of an electric motor powered by a big battery bank. That battery bank still needs charging, though, and while this boat has a significant solar array, there’s also a generator — powered by old fashioned diesel.
The propulsion system isn’t the only thing notable about this boat. It’s also big — long and wide — and has room for three bedrooms.
The sheer size of this boat, Sacred, makes it hard to miss, as it’s 70ft long and 12ft wide. It is built by Elton Moss, and is from their Kingsley range. The thing about this particular Dutch barge-style range is that the standard design can take many variables. That means boats of different lengths and widths, but also variations in the position of the wheelhouse. Some have it at the stern, but this boat has an extra room aft of the wheelhouse — which means it also has some outside space in the form of a terrace on top of that extra room. Steps lead up the outside, while a set of stainless steel railings surround the space. These railings are removable, so you can still get under low bridges.
The wheelhouse is also collapsible for the same reason. On Sacred it’s a fairly straightforward process as the roof is automatic. First, the mahogany window frames have to be folded down out of the way, and then at the press of a button the roof lowers. There’s a hatch for the steerer to stand in when the roof is down. It’s worth noting that the roof is insulated.
- 1 Restoring & reopening the Wendover Arm of Grand Union Canal
- 2 Second-hand canal boats for sale
- 3 Boat test: Mothership Marine’s solar-powered semi-trad
- 4 Boat test: “Oyster Catcher” the permanent house boat
- 5 10 pubs on the River Wey Navigation
- 6 Ask the experts: My narrowboat is damp and stained
- 7 Best pubs on: the Grand Union Canal, between Birmingham & Napton
- 8 The waterways heritage spotter: narrow gauge railway tracks
- 9 Restoration on the Cromford Canal
- 10 ‘Let boaters sleep aboard’ says CRT chief
This is a Dutch barge style boat, so the bow is impressively high and pointed. There’s a small deck area at the bow, with some escape doors from the cabin. The gunwales are very narrow though, meaning it might be difficult to walk along them, if for example you needed to get to the bow to rope up in a Thames lock. There’s a stainless steel grab rail round the roof.
Elton Moss boats are built in the Czech Republic, and the steelwork looks very good. These boats have a 12mm thick base plate and 8mm hull sides, so they are substantially built. Everything is on a big scale. There’s a water tank of approaching 1000 litres under the bow and the bed in the forward cabin. The gas locker is just outside the wheelhouse, and there’s a similar locker the other side for storage. The vast roof of this boat is covered in solar panels, but there’s also a substantial dog box over the main living area.
The colour scheme of blue and red is bright and lively, as is the artwork for the name (Sacred is a Erasure song which means a lot to the owners) which is a vinyl transfer. The owners say they’ve had plenty of admiring comments about the colours.
Layout and fitout
This boat is home to Dale and Alison Canfield and their twin seventeen year old daughters, Alice and Rose, so everyone needed their own space. Immediately forward of the wheelhouse is the galley, which is open plan to the saloon. Further forward is the smallest of the three bedrooms, accessed via a corridor down one side of the boat. Further along the corridor is the shower room. The main cabin is at the bow, and also has a small en suite. At the stern, behind the wheelhouse, is another bedroom.
The fitout uses cream painted panels on the cabin sides, with oak tongue and groove below. In the public areas, the tongue and groove is set diagonally, which adds a bit of interest. The floor is an engineered laminate. The fitout is very good quality, and is a testament to the workmanship of the Elton Moss staff at their factory in the Czech Republic.
Wheelhouse and engine room
The wheelhouse is the entry point to the boat, with doors both sides. The steering position is in the centre, and there’s plenty of room for other crew. The floor has a couple of hatches which lift to give access to the engine room below, where you find the generator, the sizeable battery bank and accompanying electrics, and the workings for the roof. There’s also a mass of storage space.
Many city centre apartments have kitchens that are smaller than the galley in this boat. It’s not only big but very stylish, with white gloss cabinet doors and dark composite worktops. The main part of the galley is U-shaped, with a breakfast bar on the far side and a high level unit above with glazed doors. There’s more storage in another run of units on the opposite side of the boat.
Interestingly, in spite of the huge battery bank on board, the owners opted to stick with gas cooking, so there’s an Amica gas hob and a full size Belling oven, set at eye level. They say they’ve always used gas, and were worried by the electrical draw from an induction hob. The fridge and freezer and both 12 volt models by Shoreline, hidden behind doors.
The splash back tiles in a small brick pattern were the result of a mistake. They were ordered from an online photo, and Alison and Dale thought they were big tiles — until they arrived and turned out to be more like a mosaic. Fortunately they now really like them, which isn’t surprising as they look good.
There’s plenty of room in this saloon for a sofa, a couple of armchairs, and a coffee table. There’s a Hamlet Hardy stove in one corner of the room on a hearth of grey tiles, and with a double insulated flue.
A large unit takes up the bulkhead at the forward end of the room. It contains a big flat screen tv and all the gubbins for controlling the self seeking satellite dish on the roof, and some cupboards for storage.
There’s plenty of light in the room, thanks to a large dog box in the roof, and a set of side doors.
A corridor down one side of the boat leads first to the smallest of the bedrooms. That’s not to say it’s small, though; it would put many box rooms to shame. There’s room for everything you need, including a double bed with storage underneath, a desk with high level cupboards above, and a very large wardrobe. It’s a comfortable and relaxing space.
Further along the corridor is the shower room. The shower itself is a very generous rectangular cubicle, of 1200mm by 800. The sliding door is in three parts, and can be opened from either end. The shower, and indeed the whole room, is lined with white pvc which should be easy to keep clean.
Beyond the shower is a large cupboard. The bottom half houses a washing machine, while the top part offers storage. There’s more storage space in opposite, in a unit with the basin on top.
The loo is a Tecma macerating one, with the holding tank in the bottom of the wardrobes in the cabin behind. Dale says that pump out facilities on the Grand Union south of the Tring Summit are fewer and further between than is ideal — meaning the system isn’t as convenient as the family had hoped.
The corridor ends at the main cabin. Immediately inside is a door hiding a small en suite. This time the loo is a Thetford cassette, to give the family options; there are more Elsans than pump out points. There’s also a very neat oblong hand basin.
In the main cabin itself, the bed is right at the bow, with the doors to the bow deck above it. It means these are little more than escape doors. You wouldn’t want to have to use them regularly, as you’d have to climb onto the bed each time. The width of the boat is emphasised by the fact that the bed is a king size, and yet there’s still room for a run of units down each side of the boat. These contain drawers and cupboards, and have composite work tops. There are more wardrobes opposite the bed, although some space is lost to the loo tank.
The middle-sized bedroom is at the stern, behind the wheelhouse, with stairs down into it. It has a double bed, a corner desk with shelves above, and a couple of decent sized wardrobes. Part of the room, at the foot of the bed, has a raised floor, necessitated by the swim of the boat.
It’s a very welcoming space, not least because it has a very nice view out of the stern of the boat, and feels very cosy. Some might see being slightly separated from the rest of the boat as a distinct advantage; but it does mean that a night time visit to the loo means a route through the wheelhouse. And a lie in might not be possible on moving days, as the electric motor is under the bed. The weed hatch is also accessed from this room.
The electric propulsion system on the boat was supplied by Fischer Panda. The motor is the latest model from the Dutch specialists, Bellmarine. It’s a 20kw DriveMaster Ultimate, which is liquid cooled and said to be very efficient and service-free; vibration and noise has also been reduced.
The motor is a 48 volt model, so the battery bank consists of eight 6 volt cells by Rolls, each one giving 468Ah. That‘s a big bank, equivalent to more than 1800Ah at 12 volts — more than four times what many boats have. These batteries are deep cycle, and have a seven year warranty.
For the domestic 240 volt supply, there’s a 5kw Victron inverter charger. There’s also a Victron box which steps the 48 volts down to 12 volts, to run things such as the lighting, the pumps, and the galley supply.
Charging of this huge battery bank comes from a number of different sources. If the boat was in a marina, it could be plugged into shore power. Out on the cut, there’s a massive solar array on the roof consisting of ten 230 watt panels by Panasonic. And in the engine room there’s a 13kw 48 volt generator by Fischer Panda. Dale and Alison say that during the summer months, the solar kept up with all their electrical requirements, for both living and moving. It was only as summer turned into autumn that they needed to run the generator. The batteries have a monitoring system, so you can see the state of charge, and what’s being put in and taken out. It automatically starts the generator if the batteries get down to 55 per cent.
On the water
We tried the boat on both electric-only propulsion, and using the electric motor and the generator together. The electric motor is very quiet, making only what Dale calls a kind alien noise — a slightly odd whirring. But with the motor some distance away and sound-proofed by the bed on top of it, you hardly hear anything apart from the water as you pass through it. With the generator working at the same time, there’s a little more noise, but not much. One difference from a normal engine is that in this case, increasing your speed doesn’t really change the note from the generator.
The wheel steering on this boat is hydraulic, so there is a bit of a delay between turning the wheel and the boat responding. It’s just a matter of getting used to it, and not becoming impatient and turning the wheel some more. There’s a dial showing the direction of the rudder, so you know which way you’re going to move. This boat also has cameras each side and at the bow and stern, which actually proved surprisingly useful, particularly as we pulled away around a moored boat.
This is a big boat — not just in length and width but in height too, and this soon becomes apparent once under way. You have to keep a look out for overhanging trees, which can catch the wheelhouse in a way they would never affect a narrowboat. There were only tall bridges on our test route, but for ones with lower arches the wheel house has to be lowered. The automatic roof lessens the work no end, but it still takes a few minutes. And if the wheelhouse needs to come down, then so do the railings at the stern.
The amount of accommodation in this boat is extraordinary. There’s plenty of space for a family of four, and you can see why a big boat like this would appeal. It’s comfortable, stylish, and the fitout is to Elton Moss’s usual high standard.
The propulsion system is also interesting, offering virtual silent cruising and very little maintenance to the electric motor (although the generator will still need some servicing). And as things stand, this arrangement means the boat also qualifies for a twenty per cent discount on its CRT licence, as the only means of propulsion is electric.
Of course a boat this size and with this level of technology comes with a healthy price tag of around £240,000 excluding VAT. (As a liveaboard, it’s big enough to qualify for zero VAT). The owners say the electric propulsion added around £30,000 to the cost. But when you think about the price of other places the family could have chosen to live, it compares pretty favourably.
Hybrids are really catching on in the boating world; it will be interesting to see if electric propulsion like this system further helps the move away from diesel.
Dale and Alison Canfield caught the boating bug when they lived near the Grand Union Canal at Apsley. At least, Dale caught the bug — and spent a few years working on Alison before she would agree to move afloat. Part of the change came when they’d been married 25 years, and decided to do things differently in the future, to make the most of life. The couple are still working, Dale for a charity and Alison on cleaning jobs, but they’re also spending their time moving their boat.
Their twin daughters, Alice and Rose, are at different colleges and have Saturday jobs, but have adapted remarkably well to living aboard. “They’re very good at working out public transport” says Dale, “so when we’ve moved while they’re out we just text them the location and they find their way home”. The other members of the family are the dogs, Kenny and Jasmine.
Kings Lock Boatyard, Booth Lane, Middlewich, Cheshire CW10 0JJ. 01270 760160
Shell: Elton Moss
Style: Dutch Barge with centre wheelhouse
Electric Motor: Bellmarine 20kw DriveMaster Ultimate www.belmarine.nl
Generator: Fischer Panda 13kw 48v www.fischerpanda.co.uk
Inverter: Victrom 5kw www.vetus.com
Bow Thruster: Vetus www.vetus.com
Chairs: Ikea Strandmon £225 www.ikea.com
Galley tiles: Shapes Mini Metro £77.67 per sq metre www.toppstiles.co.uk
Total Price: c£240,000 excl VAT
Dimensions for plan (from stern)
Bed 2: 8ft 6in
Wheelhouse: 8ft 8in
Galley: 7ft 6in
Saloon: 12ft 4in
Bed 3: 7ft 2in
Shower room: 5ft 11in
Main Cabin: 11ft 7in