Louis & Joshua
LEWIS & JOSHUA 57ft
You have to be a pretty good footballer to win an England cap, but you need to be a very special one to win eighty, ninety or even a hundred caps.
It’s the same for boatbuilding. Fitting out a narrowboat is a tough way to make a living, especially in the current market, and plenty of builders have come and gone after a few attempts. But that’s not the case with Louis & Joshua, based alongside the Stainforth and Keadby Canal at Thorne, near Doncaster. They are nearing their 100th boat after ten years in the business.
Louis & Joshua is one of those firms that goes about its business quietly and efficiently, rarely making the headlines with flamboyant builds, but keeping its customers happy with those old-fashioned virtues of quality, durability and value. All its boats are normally custom made, but with some customer open days coming up the company decided to build the 57ft trad L&J No 95 as a showcase of what it can offer. It’s not an ‘all-the-bells-and-whistles’ superstar model, but a very typical example of what the company builds and with a down to earth price to match of �89,995 – so a good one for us to look at for those with more modest aspirations.
Jonathan Wilson co-founded Louis & Joshua some ten years ago and owned the company with his business partner until selling it to present owners Mike and Maureen Lewis six years back. So it’s only natural that the famous Sheffield steel man still supplies L&J with its shells.
No 95 here has a typical Wilson shell that combines elegant lines above the water with good water cleaving characteristics below the surface where it really counts for handling and manoeuvrability. The long, slender front end is classic Wilson. Some might quibble at ‘wasting’ cabin space with extra deck length, but the four feet six inch well deck gives the boat a real sense of style – and provides a useful and enjoyable outdoor space as well. The well deck also houses an unusual ventilation ‘box’ that ducts air through to outlet vents in the front step risers – obviating those often draughty door vents. The box has an open-topped inner chamber that leads through to the vents and fitted over this is the outer box with an intake slot at its base. The design means that while air can enter the boat, any water in the deck can’t get through.
The shell is not over-ornamented but it does have enough nice detailing to catch the eye. Finger-grips on the cabin-top handrails would have been good to see but could, of course, easily be specified on a custom-build. The shell’s paintwork was impeccably finished off, with the dark red and cream colouring being spray-applied and the decorative work hand-finished at L&J. We were impressed too by the evident quality of the boat’s shapely and substantial-looking large (17-inch) cast brass portholes. Indeed quality brasswork is a feature throughout – starting with the chunky, positive latch catches that hold front and rear doors open. As well as the portholes there are hatches either side: those on the starboard side have solid oak infill panels with ornate feature carving, while those to port are above the galley sink and have a sliding inner window so they are completely weatherproof – a good idea though it does mean only half the window can be opened at any time.
DESIGN AND LAYOUT
The boat has the classic trad layout; one enters from the front into a long open-plan saloon and galley, the latter incorporating a small breakfast bar. The galley is in the form of two opposing L-shapes, and from this a starboard side corridor runs through past the bathroom to the rear cabin where there’s an in-line bed followed by a double wardrobe, before the usual exit steps out over the Beta 38 engine to the stern.
The fit-out is equally classical, being carried out in Amercan light oak whose warm tones seem to have a timeless appeal. The panelling plywood is faced in oak veneers that are crown-cut (sliced along the length of the timber), a process that results in striking and varied grain effects. These grains have been matched and selected throughout the boat for best effect. The trim mouldings and much of the rest of the joinery, such as shelves and cupboard tops, are in solid oak. The trim pieces between the ply lining panels are quite slim, maintaining a clean, uncluttered look while cupboard tops, shelves and doors are all solid and chunky. The flooring is solid oak laid on a plywood base, except in the bathroom where there are mosaic-style tiles instead.
Steel front doors with three-quarter length windows and solid oak interior linings open into what immediately feels a large and airy interior. As indeed it is: the saloon is 13ft 6in long and continues through into a sizeable 11ft galley. It’s not just a question of length, though: there is minimal intrusion into the floorspace to maximise the interior width and that sense of space. The uncluttered open-plan interior also shows off the striking figuring and graining of the oak veneers.
On one side of the front steps is a triangular Bubble multi-fuel stove whose clever shape allows it to sit neatly into the corner, while the opposite corner is filled with a similarly shaped cupboard. This has a simple built-in radio/cd player and is also the natural home for any TV. Smart, brushed brass plug and TV aerial sockets are fitted here and throughout the boat in another touch of quality detailing. Extending down the starboard side from the cupboard are under gunwale bookshelves. They sit on slim uprights rather than being boxed in so the floor extends underneath – a small thing but it all helps toward the sense of space. Under the opposite gunwale is a particularly attractive multi-tubular designer radiator painted in cream to tone in with the woodwork. It’s another good solution – much smarter than the standard white job and less intrusive than the alternative of boxing-in.
The eye-catching centrepieces of the galley are its striking fleckled cream worktops and matching upstands. They look like granite but are in fact formed from Kerrock – a man-made composite similar to Corian. As with the latter, it has the hardness of stone but can be worked and bonded in a variety of ways. As we described earlier, these are arranged in two opposing L-shapes either side of the central gangway. On the starboard side at the foot of the L there’s a simple breakfast bar, supported on an elegant turned oak leg, that allows you to eat while enjoying the scenery through the side-hatch doors.
Beyond this a domestic Belling oven and grille sits in the centre of the cupboard run with a three-drawer unit to its left that has a sensibly large bottom drawer and a 240v AC domestic fridge to its right. A four-burner Spinflo hob with hinged glass lid is installed in the worktop above the oven. On the opposite side a circular stainless sink with matching drainer lies under the side hatch. There’s a double storage cupboard below and to its right a cupboard that could house a washing machine or further storage according to the customer’s needs.
A slimmer worktop returns along the rear bulkhead and has a further single cupboard below. There is also an attractive, open-fronted wall unit above the worktop. Finally, filling the space between the sink and the return is a neat wine rack. A last thoughtful touch is the provision of small LED light units in the kick-spaces either side of the gangway (as well as on the front steps into the saloon) so you can easily find your way through the boat in the dark.
Full-width through bathrooms have become the vogue on many boats and compared with these the off-the-corridor design of the L&J boat does feel relatively small. All the same, everything is there and it certainly isn’t awkwardly cramped. Access is via a sliding door – and we noted both its substantial thickness (25mm) and high-quality handle and latch. The rectangular shower to the right on entry is not as big as some at 700x700mm but perfectly adequate and nicely tiled. Alongside this is floor to ceiling storage – a cupboard with shelving above. Facing the shower there’s an oval washbasin in a vanity cupboard with a large, oak framed mirror above, while alongside is the porcelain bowl of a Leesan vacuum cassette toilet. Finally there is the usual towel rail radiator on the cabin side wall.
The in-line bed runs down the port side immediately aft of the bathroom. It does not extend so it is the slightly tight four feet width as a result. Underneath it the remote cassette for the toilet is hidden tidily away behind a cupboard door, but it is easily accessed for changing. There are further drawers and shelves under the bed, but the central area has been left open to be a useful hide-away for the storage boxes of clothes and bedding that many weekend boaters tend to bring from home. (It would be an easy option to box in as a full cupboard, though, if desired.
The bed has overhead cupboards either side of the window and these are joined by decorative bridgework, and there is a sizeable double wardrobe with shelving and plenty of hanging space along the cabin side at the bed’s end. There are electric and TV aerial sockets fitted inside the wardrobe so a wall-mounted TV would be easy to fit for bedtime viewing. Doors at either end close the cabin off from the stern and the rest of the boat; the resulting corridor seemed a tad narrow but maybe the writer is just getting wider!
From the cabin, steps lead up and over the engine hole to the rear deck and they offer more evidence of L&J’s solid quality; the ribbed rubber surfaced treads are smartly framed in oak and have recessed brass lift catches to access the engine space below. One more nice touch on the way out to the deck is a solid oak ‘pipe rack’ style holder for the tiller arm and pin.
Under the engine boards you’ll find the distinctive green paintwork of a Beta engine – this one being the Beta 38 with PRM 150 gearbox, Centaflex coupling and traditional greased stern gland. A nice touch here is that the greaser unit has been remotely mounted up above the floor in the electrical cupboard so it’s easily accessed for its daily tweak. The electrical system is equally conventional – four 110aH domestic batteries and a 95aH engine starter charged by the Beta’s twin alternators. The batteries are easy to get at, being located above the port side swim and under the removable floor of the electric cupboard (again more nicely fitted and finished lift-out panels here). A Sterling 2500w combi inverter/charger unit supplies domestic AC power when on the move and should be more than adequate for the boat’s relatively modest needs.
ON THE WATER
Anyone who has seen a Jonathan Wilson hull out of the water will have admired its long and elegantly curved rear swims and, as No 95 here testifies yet again, they do move well through the water. It steers straight, answers the helm smoothly and reverses tidily. There are no bow thrusters but, to be honest, in a 57ft craft that handles as predictably and accurately as this one you shouldn’t need one.
If you could say that a boat had a ‘Yorkshire’ feel to it then this Louis & Joshua craft does. There are no ‘southern Jessie’ frills or fancies about it, rather it provides solid quality and sound, straightforward design.And honest value, too. Frightening as it may seem, �90,000 is not a lot to pay for a new boat these days but in this one you can at least see where your money has been spent – on good materials and quality fittings. For that’s how you get to 95 ‘caps’ – by working hard at your game and always turning in quality performances.
Length: 57ft 0inBeam: 6ft 10inShell: Jonathan WilsonEngine: Beta Marine 38,Electrical: 12v DC, 220v AC via Sterling 2.5kW inverter
Louis & Joshua Boat Builders
Hatfield Road, Thorne
Tel: 01405 814443
Price: �89,995 inc VAT www.louisandjoshua.co.uk