Canal boat test: 57ft semi-trad from Tyler Wilson and Finesse Boats

Spec saviours (photo: Andy R Annable)

Spec saviours (photo: Andy R Annable) - Credit: Archant

You’ve been bitten by the bug and your budget’s in place to satisfy your burning desire to get on board your new boat but what about the dreaded waiting lists?

The saloon is open plan with a light and airy feel (photo: Andy R Annable)

The saloon is open plan with a light and airy feel (photo: Andy R Annable) - Credit: Archant

Most of the boats we look at in these pages are built bespoke, to the exact requirements of their owners. But we've also regularly extolled the virtues of spec boats - boat built to a manufacturers standard spec. One of the disadvantages of commissioning a new build is the length of time it takes. Some builders have waiting lists of up to two years for a build slot, but even in a best case scenario you'll be waiting several weeks for a shell to be built, and then at least a couple of months for the fitout to be completed. But if your needs are relatively straightforward, a spec boat can be a good way of getting a high quality boat at a reasonable price in a quick timeframe.

The problem with spec boats has been that they could be hard to find, especially from the top builders. Those with order books full for the next two years with bespoke builds didn't really have the time or inclination to build one; and if they did, it's timing would most like be a bit random.

But now, some of the best known names in boating have decided to build a range of spec boats alongside their bespoke builds. It's the idea of Jonathan Wilson of Tyler Wilson Boats, one of the biggest names in boat steelwork, and the related fitout company, Finesse (which is run from the same boat yard in Sheffield by Jonathan's son-in-law).

Both firms have plenty of work, in fact you'd be waiting a while for a Finesse build slot. But the thing about spec boats is that because they're built to a standard design, they can be turned around relatively quickly; after all, the furniture in each is the same, and there are no meetings with customers who want to change things. So they plan to produce four or five of these boats a year, slotted in with all the bespoke ones. This is the first, and it's one of three boats Finesse have at the Crick Boat Show this year.

Tyler Wilson boats are a joy to handle (photo: Andy R Annable)

Tyler Wilson boats are a joy to handle (photo: Andy R Annable) - Credit: Archant


One of the best things about this 57ft spec boat is undoubtedly the involvement of Jonathan Wilson, because this is a very good looking boat. One reason is that Jonathan likes his boats to have a full length bow of 9ft - which really does make for very elegant lines. It means the well deck is a good size, as is the nose. It also means the swims are long, helping the way the boat handles. Indeed, there's absolutely no sense in which this is 'just' a spec boat. The bow may be the standard shape rather than a Josher, but it's still very pretty; the stem post is reassuringly substantial, and there are full rubbing strakes. There's also detailing such as scrolls on the cants and handrails, and a boatman's beam across the roof.

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The nose houses the gas locker, which has room for two 13kg bottles. There's a locker across the well deck giving access to the bow thruster. A stainless steel water tank is under the deck.

Steps from the deck are removable (photo: Andy R Annable)

Steps from the deck are removable (photo: Andy R Annable) - Credit: Archant

At the stern of this semi-trad boat, the rear deck has useful storage lockers both sides, but they stop short of the cabin which allows the rear doors to open fully. The engine board is made from chequer plate, and there's more lining the external stern doors; I rather like the somewhat industrial look this gives.

The weedhatch is the usual Tyler Wilson design, of a chute that is completely separate from the rest of the engine hole. It means that there's absolutely no risk of water from the weed hatch getting into the boat.

Finesse has a very modern paint shed, and this boat is painted with two pack, which should provide a long-lasting quality finish. The colour scheme teams an attractive blueish grey for the panels with a white border and roof, plus red handrails. All the trim, such as mushroom vents, nav lights and horn are in chrome, which gives a contemporary look and is much easier to keep clean than brass.

The galley sets the whole tone of the boat (photo: Andy R Annable)

The galley sets the whole tone of the boat (photo: Andy R Annable) - Credit: Archant

Layout and fitout

This is a reverse layout boat, which works well with a semi-trad. The galley is at the stern, followed by an L-shaped dinette and an open saloon. A walk-through shower room comes next, with the cabin at the bow. This is a tried and tested layout, which will suit most people.

The fitout is light, bright, and contemporary. Painted cabin sides have become increasingly popular in recent years, but this boat goes one step further, with painted panels below the gunwales as well: no-one could accuse this interior of being gloomy. Oak is used for the trim, and Real Oak laminate for the furniture. The floor is hardwearing Karndean, in an oak finish. The ceiling is formed of single boards which stretch the whole way across the boat, without the need for broad side trims or a join in the middle. It's another way in which the inside of this boat looks very sleek.

The table can be stored under the gunwale (photo: Andy R Annable)

The table can be stored under the gunwale (photo: Andy R Annable) - Credit: Archant


We'll start our tour of the boat at the stern, where the rear slide is both long and wide, giving very easy access to the interior. There's no chance of banging your head. A set of removable steps leads down from the deck into the galley, with cupboards both sides, one containing all the electrics.

The galley itself sets the tone of the whole boat, being light, bright, and contemporary. There are off-white cupboard doors in a shaker style, and there are white Corian worktops. The sink is stainless steel, with milled drainer grooves in the Corian, and a smart arched tap. All the drawers have soft closers, while at the end of the shorter run of units there are a couple of open shelves. There are no high level cupboards, giving the boat a nice open feel.

The appliances are top notch examples by Smeg, including a full size stainless steel oven with a four-burner hob above, and a 240 volt fridge which is behind a door. There's also a Logic washing machine, which is also hidden by a door.

Steps leading up to the deck double up as storage (photo: Andy R Annable)

Steps leading up to the deck double up as storage (photo: Andy R Annable) - Credit: Archant

Dinette and saloon

The dinette is L-shaped, and upholstered in a white and grey fabric which echoes the exterior colour scheme. The table is on Desmo legs, and there are built in storage supports for it under the gunwale in the saloon, for when it's not needed. The dinette converts to a guest double bed, with a flip-round flap at the end of the saloon providing support for the infill. Storage in the base of the dinette is accessed through drop-down doors.

There's a set of side doors opposite the dinette, for ventilation and feeding the ducks. Underneath is a white school radiator.

(photo: Andy R Annable)

(photo: Andy R Annable) - Credit: Archant

The saloon is left open for a couple of armchairs or a sofa. If you thought you might be entertaining lots of guests, you could put a sofa bed here.

There's an under-gunwale unit with tall cupboards either side and shelves in the middle. The biggest space is designed to take a flat screen tv, as there is both a power and an aerial socket already wired in.

In the forward corner of the room is a Hamlet Hardy 4 solid fuel stove, complete with a chromed double insulated flue. It sits on a black hearth and surround.

Shower room

The walls in the shower room are lined with laminate, to withstand the steam from the shower, and splashes from the basin. The shower itself is a good size quadrant, with smart shower controls.

The loo is a Thetford cassette, with a porcelain bowl. Access to the cassette is in the saloon. There's a vanity unit alongside, with laminate doors underneath, and a white inset basin on the top. There's also a heated towel rail.


The cabin is at the bow, and has an inline bed. The base contains three large drawers to provide lots of storage, and there's space for long term storage beyond, accessed through the top.

On one side of the glazed doors which lead out to the well deck there's a low level cupboard. On the other side there's a tall wardrobe, with plenty of hanging space. Further storage is available in the two steps which lead up to the deck, although one also provides access to the water pump.

This is a fairly straightforward room, but one which nevertheless has everything you need.


Under the engine board is a Vetus M4.45 engine, which produces a more than sufficient 42hp. These are rugged and reliable units, and Vetus says the latest versions have been designed with ease of servicing in mind, as things such as the oil filter are positioned in sensible places. There's plenty of room around the engine in this boat, which should make things even more straight forward. There's also a 75kgf Vetus bow thruster, which has two dedicated batteries at the bow.

Electrical power comes from six 100Ah domestic batteries, which is a generously sized bank. A 240 volt supply is provided by a 3kw Vetus inverter charger. All the installation looked neat and tidy.

There's a 5kw Webasto diesel boiler for the central heating.

On the water

We've always liked the handling of Tyler Wilson boats, and this one was no exception. They move extremely well through the water, and turn exceptionally well: push the tiller over and give the engine a bit of power and the bow moves over even without the thruster being deployed. Winding this boat proved to be very easy, and was completed without any fuss.

The Vetus engine is smooth and quiet, thanks in part to the hospital silencer fitted. At the helm, the tiller is at a nice height and the Morse control is in a sensible place on a column. The bow thruster controls are on the forward side of the column, so you shouldn't accidentally lean on them. The dials are just inside the boat, so you have to make a special effort to look at them.

There's plenty of room on the stern deck for your crew, and the lockers give them somewhere to sit.


There is a great deal to like about this boat - which is as it should be for a spec boat: the whole point is that it should have wide market appeal, and suit most buyers. The shell is fantastic, as you'd expect from Jonathan Wilson - pretty, elegant, and well made. The layout is exactly what lots of people want these days, and the Finesse fitout is bright and modern. It would be a very easy boat to live with.

One area in which spec boats always win is price, and that's certainly true with this one. It's on the market at £127,000 - still a significant sum, but well below the price of bespoke boats. And in the not too distant past we've seen spec boats from builders less well known that Tyler Wilson and Finesse with bigger asking prices. In addition, just think about what's included: a shell from one of the best known names in boating, a Finesse fitout, good quality Vetus engineering, and top of the range Smeg galley appliances. All things considered, this boat looks very good value indeed.

So if your boating requirements are straight forward rather than out of the ordinary, a spec boat could be the way to go. And now that Tyler Wilson and Finesse are planning to build boats like this on a regular basis, the chances of one being available just when you want one have increased considerably.

Tyler Wilson and Finesse

Tyler Wilson and Finesse are the very definition of family firms. Jonathan Wilson learnt his trade from his uncle, the well-respected boat builder, Mike Heywood. Jonathan set up on his own in 1986, and took on Tim Tyler as an apprentice. He later joined the family, by marrying Jonathan's sister. In the way that all good families benefit from a bit of separation, Jonathan works out of the boat yard at Sheffield, while Tim has a base in Stoke. Many of the boats are worked on at both yards, though.

Tyler Wilson had been doing some fitting out work in addition to steel for a while, but it had all been a bit ad hoc. In 2016, Jonathan's son in law, Ricky Lee, set up Finesse, based at the Sheffield yard, and quickly established the firm as a real quality builder.

Narrowboats are only part of the story, as Finesse also has room to build widebeam boats, not least their very atrractive Sheffield Keels, based on the big working boats of the area. They are also promising a widebeam spec boat later in the year, which we're told won't just be a fat narrowboat. When it's launched, we'll take a look at it.

Technical specification

Finesse Boats, Victoria Boatyard, Sussex Street, Sheffield S4 7YY. 07852 201375.

Length: 57ft

Beam: 6ft 10in

Shell: Tyler Wilson

Style: Semi-trad

Layout: Reverse

Berths: 2+2

Fit-out: Painted panels and oak

Engine: Vetus M4.45 42hp

Inverter: Vetus 3kw

Bow Thruster: Vetus 75kgf

Stove: Hamlet Hardy 4 £345

Hob: Smeg S64S £169

Oven: Smeg SF6341GVX £539

Total Price: £127,000