Bath Narrowboats 57ft
Bath Narrowboats 57ft
A few months ago hireboat Holly made the headlines when it managed to disappear for several weeks on the canal system despite being tracked by boaters everywhere.
Well, we have been tracking another narrowboat for several months – not because it was stolen but simply because we wanted to test it. Finally we caught up with it.
We first came upon Nb Æthelburh at the Crick Show and decided that the Bath Narrowboats craft was definitely one for the test list. It seemed an easy one to tackle as well: after the show the boat was being trucked over to the Great Ouse to spend the summer on a long and gentle ramble over summer long weekends towards its destination at Tewkesbury.
But then the weather took a hand. The rain and floods of June (remember them?) conspired against us in the Fens so we waited until the owners had brought the boat onto the canals. And then it rained again, even harder. For the whole of August. Tewkesbury was under several feet of water, the boat was stuck in the Midlands and we had a backlog of other tests to catch up on.
So it was only as the first frosts of winter were touching the ground that we finally met up with Æthelburh. The wait, though, was worthwhile: the sun shone brightly, the Avon was at its most picturesque, the boat was excellent – and we even had time for a lunchtime pint at a riverside pub.
DESIGN AND EXTERIOR
We are always urging readers to think carefully through what they want from their new boat and John and Barbara Haines have most certainly done that: from dealing with the fact that John is six feet three inches tall to thinking about their dogs and even to designing a boat that they will feel comfortable using as they become older. And it is gas-free too – a decision made primarily on safety grounds.
The 57ft Æthelburh, then, sets out, first and foremost to be a practical boat rather than a head-turner. The large cruiser deck with its substantial guard railing is there to keep grandchildren and dogs safe; the offset front door is to enable the layout of the cabin inside. Neither detail is particularly easy on the eye but both are there for a reason.
All the same, the boat does sit very well in the water thanks to its dropped, tug-style gunwale line, which gives it a low, sleek look, a nicely curved bow and well proportioned windows.The dropped gunwale is a feature of some previous Bath boats and it’s been carried over for the again eminently practical reason that it allows a lower inside floor (for John) and correspondingly lower window line (so that everyone else on board can still see out!).
The shell is built by Colecraft to the company’s usual high and sturdy standards using 10: 6: 5: 4 mm steel. It is finished in simple but lustrous forest green paintwork with its name in ‘olde English’ script boldly inscribed in the centre of each side, as well as ‘Queen of Wessex’ for those of us who don’t know our Anglo-Saxon history. Paintwork details elsewhere echo that Saxon theme.
There are plenty of little practical details, especially in the rear deck area. The locker backing onto the rear of the cabin was built to be large enough to take a folding bicycle; there’s a sturdy parasol holder fitted to the rear of the guardrail which doubles as a base for the washing line (the other end fixes to another slot that also takes the TV aerial) and the single door that leads into the boat is has a security combination lock rather than needing a key which could drop into the drink. We also noted the sensible finger grips on the cabinside handrails.
It’s a reverse layout boat with windows for the rear galley and central saloon and portholes ahead for the bathroom and cabin. There is also a side hatch to port at the forward end of the galley. Inside, the fit-out is all in ash-veneered panels with solid ash trims.
Forget those steep and tricky steps down into the boat, Æthelburh has wide, quarter turning ‘stairs’ with storage under them that lead in from the offset rear door and have a stout rope handle on the wall too. (Thinking ahead, John and Barbara didn’t want a boat that would be hard to get in and out of).
The stairs lead into the centre of a very impressive looking and fully equipped galley arranged either side of the boat and topped with gleaming black granite work surfaces. The main working area is to starboard. It begins with a full height ‘junk cupboard’ beside the steps; alongside this the calorifier is housed in the corner of the galley with the electrical cupboard above it at the end of the worktop.
A one-and-a-half bowl sink sits centrally under a large side window where a venetian blind runs in sensible wooden channels. Below the worktop are cupboards and a Zanussi 1300 washing machine. Beyond that is the Heritage Uno single-plate range cooker which also provides heating and hot water for the boat. These new generation Aga-style cookers have boilers that can be controlled by timer and thermostat so they only come on when needed.Beyond the Uno on a short return of work units is a microwave – tidily boxed in – and an end-on set of drawers. The ‘lost’ corner below the microwave is home to the central heating pump.
Across on the opposite side of the galley a smaller run of floor cabinet houses a matched pair of built-in Shoreline fridge and freezer. In a neat detail one of its angled ends hides a purpose-built waste-bin behind its cupboard door. Completing the ample storage in the galley is a double-width wall cupboard above this unit.
SALOON AND DINETTE
A changing in flooring from tiles to carpet marks the start of the boat’s central living space. This is an open-plan area that comprises saloon, a multi-function dinette and an office as well as a feature fireplace. It is, as a result, quite a busy looking space.
It begins with the unusual dinette whose single two-seater bench and table sit immediately ahead of the starboard side galley. Making up the additional seating are two freestanding storage boxes with padded tops. It’s a good idea that makes the dinette less obtrusive than the usual pullman type. However converting the dinette to a second double bed is a fiddly job: the table drops down and an extension flap folds out from under the cushion of the bench to join it, all supported by the table’s leg which becomes a side support. (A fill-in cushion is stored inside the bench, too.)
The two boxes make up the final element. Too tricky for all but occasional use, we reckon.Two handsome Ekornes Stressless recliners occupy the centre of the saloon and these face the Becton Bunny solid fuel stove that is set on a green slate base and fireback. It’s a striking set-up but John and Barbara have discovered that the warmth generated by the Heritage stove, as well as central heating by skirting level finrads has so far rendered the stove redundant. Maybe a cold frosty night will change things. Beyond the stove a set of bookshelves fits in below the gunwale.
The area is completed by an L-shaped desk that occupies the front left corner. It has bookshelves above and cupboards below plus a flat-screen computer monitor-cum-TV mounted on the forward bulkhead. John does do some freelance work from the boat but the couple also wanted to be able to stay in touch with family and friends via email and internet while cruising.
The desk fits tidily into the corner but comes with a big office chair and that means three large seats in a small space, as well as those seating boxes. It all feels a bit crowded – maybe the office chair could be dispensed with?
Entered off the starboard side corridor, this room, unusually these days features a bath rather than a shower compartment. It is a compact but deep bath that runs the width of the room. Showering is possible, as there’s a mixer tap and shower curtain. Oddly, the walls around the bath aren’t fully tiled, the waterproofing protection being only some 18 inches high, though to be fair the wood panelling above this is varnished and only liable to minor splashing if showering.
Opposite the bath a tidy, full-width vanity unit houses the basin and, alongside, an SFA pump-out toilet. A bidet showerhead is also installed alongside the toilet.
The front cabin is cleverly organised: the bed is arranged in-line and there’s space at its foot to access the cross-mounted double wardrobe and a dressing table with mirror above. There’s another clothes cupboard above the mirror – and under this is a TV with a motorised drop-down flat screen operated by remote control: perfect for telly watching while in bed.
The bed itself takes advantage of the fact that while John is 6ft 3in, Barbara certainly isn’t! The bed end has been cut away on the inner side so that Barbara can more easily slip out of bed. This also creates a little more room for the dressing table. The couple opted for an expensive ‘memory foam’ mattress for the bed which they have been very impressed by.
There’s further storage in four drawers and a small cupboard under the bed – the toilet tank is also located here – and there’s a further (lockable) cupboard over the bed head.
Three wide steps lead up out of the cabin via the single offset stable-style door (another safety feature to prevent children or dogs finding their way out). This leads to the good length well deck which has a full length locker cum seat along the port side.
Æthelburh is powered by the ubiquitous Beta 43 and PRM150 engine/gearbox combination. These drive to the prop via an Aquadrive, the unit that isolates propeller thrust from the engine and so reduces vibration and noise. Everything in the engine compartment is easily accessed for servicing after removing the central deckboards in the large deck and, despite showing the wear and tear of a summer’s boating, the under deck space is evidently tidy and well organised.
The boat has a substantial electrical system to supply its potentially heavy electrical demands and, again, the system is set up in an interesting and well thought out fashion. There are six 110aH leisure batteries split into a group of four and another of two. The latter pair supply the fridge and can be additionally charged by two roof mounted solar panels via a Sunsport solar regulator, an arrangement which should work effectively during the sunny months and enable the fridge to be left running for spells when the boat is unattended without battery drain.
The main battery bank is charged by a large 150 amp engine alternator and there is also a 45 amp alternator charging the engine and bow thrusters batteries. Mains AC electricity is supplied by a Travelpower AC alternator when on the move or a 2500w Victron Combi inverter/charger.
ON THE WATER
The Avon had long since dropped back to its normal levels from the devastating floods of August but the river was still running fast when we took Æthelburh out. The Beta 43 engine pushed the craft easily upstream against the current, illustrating just how under-worked a modern narrowboat engine is on the canals.
Though the engine was immediately underfoot it was vibration free and relatively quiet, thanks to sound deadening and the rubber matting on the deck itself.
The boat itself headed smoothly through the water, answering the well-weighted tiller accurately and easily. It does have bow thrusters but we didn’t need to try them as it turned easily in the width of the river when it was time for the return trip.
Finally Barbara gave a virtuoso display of the boat’s (and her own) reversing abilities by slotting it backwards into its tight marina mooring space.
There’s a great deal to approve of in Æthelburh. It’s been extremely well thought out by its owners whose clear-headedness in what they wanted from a boat is an object lesson to others. Sensible safety features, good storage and a well planned galley are all big plus points. A rather cluttered living space and an over-fiddly dinette are our only reservations.
The builders have shown plenty of attention to practical detail too, for example with removable panels giving easy to taps, pumps and other sources of possible minor problems. The fit-out is simple in style but very well executed: there are no show-off curves but everything fits tightly and tidily. Our only quibble would be over the use of rather cheap looking hinges and catches.
The high specification – range cooker, bow thrusters, Travelpower and so on – jacks the price up, but £96,000 still does not seem unreasonable for a boat of this quality.
Length: 57ft 4in
Beam: 6ft 10in
Shell: ColecraftEngine: Beta 43Electrics: 150 & 45amp alternators,230v AC Travelpower alternator2500w Victron Combi2 x solar panels
Cooker: Heritage Uno
Bath NarrowboatsSydney WharfBathwick HillBathBA2 4EL
Tel: 01225 447276