Braidbar Boats 58ft
BRAIDBAR BOATS 58ft
If you are contemplating buying your first narrowboat what better way to learn more about the subject than hiring one for a holiday. The only snag is that your average multi-berth, school-of-hard-knocks hire boat is not terribly representative of what you might want in your own boat. Which is where Braidbar Boats come in.This family firm is based on the Macclesfield Canal at the edge of footballers’ wives country in Cheshire and has been involved in boatbuilding for 20 years. Owned by Ian and Luisa Bryceland, it operates a small hire fleet, designed to reflect its bespoke boat building standards, both in quality of fit-out and interior layout. It only hires them to experienced boaters and in fact many of its hire customers are potential buyers taking what might be called an extended ‘test drive’.DESIGN & EXTERIORSkye, the subject of this test is a boat that Braidbar has had on its hire fleet for a year. It is a 58ft 6in traditional stern craft, fitted out around a Tim Tyler hull. The layout is a relatively conventional one: an open front deck leads into the lounge, then through the galley to a convertible dinette. Beyond this is the shower room and finally the master cabin at the rear.It’s a classic looking narrowboat that is very easy on the eye thanks to a handsome – and well executed – paint job in rich green with yellow coachlines and ornate name panels. The side hatch and rear doors also open to reveal traditionally detailed linings.Though conceived as a hire craft, it features all the detailing that Braidbar would specify for a customer boat. The shell has a number of particularly nice touches including figured drain holes for the front deck, sculpted ends to the roof handrails and rear hatch, and shaped fender eyes. Finally all the exterior metal fittings – window frames, vents and Houdini hatch – are in brass.FRONT DECKForwards of the 9ft deck is the gas locker which holds two cylinders, but the deck itself is completely open with no cratch or lockers: a private owner would probably want the extra stowage provided by lockers but the hirer won’t need it so it’s a reasonable bit of cost saving.From the deck a pair of half glazed steel doors with oak internal linings lead down into the interior.SALOONSkye is fitted out in a mix of ash and oak timbers. Above the gunwales, horizontally laid tongue and groove planks of solid ash are used while below the gunwales it is finished in oak veneered ply. Solid oak is also used for cupboards, shelves and doors. The floor is in Douglas fir planking.The overall effect is one that will please the traditionalist who likes the look and feel of solid wood and planking yet still has a degree of style and individuality about it.There are nice finishing touches and design ‘cues’ visible in the saloon as elsewhere in the boat which reflect Braidbar’s attention to detail: neat stop chamfer detailing round the windows and, in particular, the cruciform ventilation holes that can first be seen in the front steps (which as usual have lift-off tops for stowage inside).The saloon is a comfortable 11ft 6ins long and is quite simply furnished with just a large pair of comfortable swivelling armchairs. Along the starboard side of the saloon are full-length oak bookshelves, built around the radiator (which for the radiator-haters among us could easily be further disguised by a front grille).These merge at the front into a corner cabinet with tv and dvd on top. (An unseen bit of detailing is the ducting of low level ventilation from the front deck inlet to the base of this cupboard.) Opposite the cupboard is a Morso Squirrel solid fuel stove with a tiled surround to match the galley splashback.GALLEYIt’s a well made but no frills galley; a layout intended for the hirer or occasional user to cook those fry-up breakfasts rather than a live-aboard Christmas dinner (though, to be fair, the facilities are there to do that).Essentially it comprises just a single 8ft line of maple worktop on the port side in which are set the single drainer stainless steel sink unit under the window and Vanette four-burner hob unit. Below the hob are matching Vanette grill and oven while at the other end is the fridge.If the cooking facilities are a tad cramped, there’s no lack of storage space in the handsome oak dresser unit opposite on the starboard side. This boasts three base doors, three drawers and four top cupboards as well as a built-in wine rack, and another one of those little cruciform patterns.The side hatch opens just aft of the dresser and benefits from another bit of Braidbar thinking: instead of the usual (and sometimes less than secure) shoot bolts it features a very substantial flip-over brass catch that can also be screwed tight shut. Below the side hatch is another shallow storage cupboard.DINETTEThe stylish curved division between galley and raised dinette is a striking feature of the boat that can be seen right from the front doors. And there’s more good thinking in the dinette itself, too.The dinette table top has been widened slightly so that it can be laid with four comfortable place settings. To accommodate the extra-wide table when collapsed down between the seats to form a bed the forward edges of the seat bases can then be removed.More good storage space is found in large drawers under the seats and a third drawer under the table base. A decorative plate rack sits on the aft wall of the dinette area, decorated again with one of those cruciforms.SHOWER ROOMThe shower room is accessed off the through corridor which limits its overall dimensions but even so the six feet long room does not feel unduly cramped.Sensibly, a pair of half-width doors rather than a single door is used which makes entry and exit easier. Inside, on the front wall are an oval basin mounted on a corner vanity unit with the twin-flush Saniflo macerator toilet alongside and a full width mirror above.To the rear is a good size shower cabinet with, to its outside, the calorifier cupboard and built-in airing cupboard above.Though executed to the same high standard as the rest of the boat, this is the only room that doesn’t feel quite right with too many woods (oak, ash, maple) and styles in a small space. A simpler fit-out might have worked better here.CABINNo such criticisms can be made of the handsome cabin which once more mixes practicality with quality and low-key style.The double bed is fitted with a slide out extension to bring it to king-size width (the mattress addition being hidden under the bed alongside the waste tank). At the head of the bed is an over-bed cupboard with a decorative finish, raised panel doors and reading lights underneath. At the foot of the bed the wardrobe unit is split half way with hanging space behind raised panel doors and three storage shelves below. Opposite the bed is a radiator with shelf over.Portholes provide privacy whilst an opening Houdini hatch allows extra light into the cabin. A step (again with cubby locker space within) leads up from the cabin to the engine room, past another small cupboard for the likes of mooring pins to the rear deck.
TECHNICALSkye is powered by a Beta Marine 43hp engine and the installation is, as one would expect in such a well detailed boat, very well thought out. Brackets are fitted to the shell before engine fitting to enable tidy location of ancilliaries and pipe clips and the result is a clean and tidy looking engine bay with no messy wires or pipes. Removable steel floor bearers aid access for maintenance. Batteries are well boxed off on the port side. Good quality, heavy duty master switches are fitted.A lot of work has been done to minimise engine noise and vibration: the engine compartment is lined with insulating material and the engine drives through a Centaflex T-16 cushion drive. Braidbar also fits Crowther high efficiency propellers to its craft both for smoother running and greater response.Very sensibly the weed hatch is separated by a bulkhead from the rest of the boat and accessed via its own hatch on the rear deck. This way there can be no accidental flooding in the event of the hatch not being properly secured.The electrical system is conventional; the engine has twin alternators feeding leisure and starter batteries and uses a Victron Multi 1200 50amp sine wave inverter/charger to supply 220v AC. In addition there is a landline AC connection with manual switching between the two systems.The inverter is installed in a cupboard on the port side at the rear of the engine room with 12v and 220v fuse panels below. The instrument panel and throttle control lever is set on the side of this same cupboard. All the wiring is neat and tidily clipped.ON THE WATERThe sound deadening, cushion drive and Crowther prop really prove their value on the water where Skye really is exceptionally quiet and smooth running.Braidbar’s Ian Bryceland believes the prop is a valuable safety feature: he’s a strong believer that a narrowboat should be able to stop in half its own length and the combination of the strong 43hp engine and efficient propeller allow it to do just that as we were able to demonstrate.Overall it’s a very manoeuvrable, light to handle and stable craft.CONCLUSIONSkye had been given a good spring clean before we arrived but it was still clear to see that it had survived the rigours of a year as a hire boat very well indeed – a credit to the quality of its construction and well thought out design.To buy the equivalent boat now from Braidbar would cost around £85,000, which puts it nearer the bottom rather than the top end of the bespoke price scale. Even so, there’s no evidence of scrimping: it’s a very solid, honest boat. It might lack some of the exotic fixtures and fittings of other boats but you’d spend a lot more to get both those and the quality of Skye.Last but certainly not least it comes from a small but highly experienced company – and one that is willing to share that experience and advice without imposing fixed ideas on customers. Proof positive that with the right approach there certainly is a big place for the small boatbuilder.