Boat test: Oakums Narrowboats precision-machined masterpiece!
PUBLISHED: 17:20 29 January 2021 | UPDATED: 17:21 03 February 2021
ANDY R ANNABLE
Relative newcomers to the scene - Oakums Narrowboats - are making waves with precision-machining, daring colours & an eye for detail...
It sometimes seems that while the technology on board boats these days has moved on tremendously in the past few years, the technology used to actually build them hasn’t. Boat builders are often small outfits using pretty traditional methods, even while they’re fitting the latest kit.
But Liam Hainsworth from Oakums Narrowboats has a background in shop fitting, where the components for fixtures and furniture are cut out very precisely by machine. Of course, boat shells are often not made with a 100 percent precision, so each shell is laser measured before fitting out starts, to make sure everything fits properly.recision machined masterpiece!
The aim is to produce a very sturdy, well built fitout, from good quality materials.
It’s clear from both the inside and the outside of this boat that Oakums is trying to do something a little different from the norm. They’re a relatively new company, with this being their third boat.
CANAL BOAT EXTERIOR
It’s difficult to miss this boat from the outside, thanks to its green metallic paint. The colour really sparkles in the sunshine, and goes well with the soft grey of the handrails and the roof. While there might be concerns about how easy it might be to touch up scrapes and scratches after encounters with trees, the plus side is that this type of sprayed finish is tougher than traditional narrowboat paintwork.
The 57ft semi-trad shell is by Jackson and Sons. They’re one of the smaller boatbuilders (this is the first of their shells we’ve featured in a boat test), but the firm has built almost 70 boats, many of which are sold as sailaways or part fitouts through Lymm Marina. The company is based a few miles from the Shropshire Union Canal in Newport.
The steelwork itself looks good. The bow is a pleasant enough shape with a good substantial stem post, and there’s a nice lift to the lines at the stern. The handrails finish with nice curves.
The hatch to the locker in the nose is large, making access easy – and as this locker is available for storage that’s a very good thing. There are two lockers on the stern deck, one of which is the gas locker. It would be an improvement, though, if either the lockers were shaped to allow the rear doors to open fully, or the doors themselves were split to take account of the lockers. There are a couple of taff rails at the stern (although they didn’t yet have their hardwood tops on when we visited); these are fine for perching on while moored up, but shouldn’t be used as a seat while under way because of the dangers of being within the arc of the tiller.
The window frames are by Wesley Windows and are double glazed and have a thermal break. The glass can be lifted out completely from inside, to provide extra routes for escape in an emergency. But perhaps even more noticeable than the windows with their dark frames and glass, are the three skylights in the roof. They’re big and stand up a few inches from the roof, but there’s still plenty of roof left for solar panels, should you want them.
NARROW BOAT LAYOUT AND FITOUT
This is a reverse layout boat, with the galley towards the stern. But in a clever twist, there’s a little vestibule or mud room between the back deck and the galley itself. Forward of the galley is the saloon, followed by a walk-through shower room, and the cabin which is at the bow.
The fitout uses a combination of oak tongue and groove on the hull sides, with painted boards on the cabin sides. These are routed to look like tongue and groove, and cleverly the joins are positioned where the windows are, so they’re much harder to see. Another clever move is that the window surrounds look like wood, but are in fact made of fibreglass, meaning they won’t discolour should they get wet from condensation. They are sprayed in a dark paint.
The ceiling is flat, rather than following the curve of the roof. This is partly for ease of installation and partly for the look: there’s a slightly lower section each side of the boat which contains hidden LED lighting, which floods the central part of the ceiling. In spite of the flat ceiling, there is very good headroom, and the boat feels even more spacious because of the skylights.
All the trim and furniture is made from solid oak. Everything is very solidly built – so for example the bulkhead between the saloon and the bathroom is properly thick and has a full-thickness door. This whole bulkhead, complete with door, was made in the workshop and then lowered through the skylight opening.
There’s also real attention to detail on show. A look at the drawer fronts shows that they’re cut from the same piece of board, so the wood grain matches. All the wood has been treated to be fire resistant. The floor is covered with non-slip vinyl in the galley and shower room, and carpet in the saloon and cabin. This has a thermal underlay, and is fire retardant.
The mud room
We’ll start at the stern, where steps lead down into the mud room or vestibule, where the floor is entirely doormat. It’s a useful space for taking off coats and boots, and there’s plenty of hanging and storage space for them. There’s a full height wardrobe with mirrored doors which houses a washing machine, and the electrical cupboard is here too.
A door with frosted glass leads through into the galley, which has smart blue units and vinyl flooring with a crazy 3D pattern. All the units are made in house, and can be virtually any colour you like; what’s particularly nice is the the insides are also a matching shade of blue. The cupboard on the end of the shorter run has a nice curved door.
The worktops are a Quartz in a Carrara marble design — but being quartz, they are far tougher than marble would be. There are some convenient worktop-mounted electrical sockets. The L-shaped run of units forms a breakfast bar which would make a pleasant place to sit and eat.
There’s a round stainless steel sink, with a pull-tap. The sink drains into a box in the cupboard below and is then automatically pumped overboard. This system allows the sink fittings to be higher up the hull side (although to be honest, few boats seem to have problems with the position of their sink drain exits).
There’s no shortage of equipment in this galley, with a Kenwood gas oven and electric grill, a Thetford three burner gas hob and an integrated Lamona 240-volt fridge. There’s also a Lamona slimline dishwasher.
The galley also has the first of the three big skylights. These are a really attractive feature which open electrically using a small remote control, so not only do they flood the interior with light, they can also provide plenty of ventilation. If it gets too windy, they will close themselves.
This saloon has a rather unusual layout, with the solid fuel stove in the centre of one wall, rather than tucked into a corner. It also has full height surround, which it’s fair to say has caused some debate among those who’ve seen the boat. Liam says the idea is to position the stove in as safe a place as possible (ie not next to a door), and provide a feature in the room. The hearth itself is nicely tiled with marble-effect tiles, set in a brick pattern on the sides and a herringbone pattern behind. The stove is a Morso Squirrel, and the flue is double insulated.
A couple of very comfortable armchairs are either side of the stove. On the opposite side of the boat there’s a shelving unit. A further cupboard unit gives more storage space. The TV provided is a rather clever Cello solar-powered model. It needs a small solar panel on the roof, but can also be charged up from the mains. This boat has other options, though, because there’s a socket high on the cabin side, should you wish to have a wall-mounted TV instead. It’s also worth pointing out that while most of the sockets and switches have a smart metal finish, there are one or two plastic ones in the boat. This is only because of pandemic-related supply problems; they’ll be changed for better-looking ones once they’re available again.
We don’t often see baths in narrowboats, but this one has one, set across the boat and with a shower above. There’s a choice of shower heads too, including a rainfall one. The decision to include a bath probably reflects the fact that Liam Hainsworth has young children, and it’s far easier to deal with them in a bath than a shower cubicle. The tiles are the same attractive marble-effect design used in the fireplace, and they’re again laid in two different patterns to add some further interest. The gunwale shape can often look rather clumsy in tiled areas, so in this boat Liam has cleverly ignored it, and put a flat diagonal wall from the ceiling to the bath – which looks much more sleek.
There’s a large oak vanity unit with both cupboards and drawers, but which also contains the workings for the boats underfloor heating (of which more later). It has a Quartz worktop and a large rectangular basin. Above the splashback, the entire wall is mirror — with the porthole right in the centre. It creates a rather mind-bending effect, as your brain figures out which is actual mirror, and which glass you can see through.
The loo is a composting unit by Simploo. It’s the basic model, which separates solids and liquids into different containers. Rather than being vented to the outside through the hull, there’s a carbon filter unit which sits alongside and is designed to absorb any smells. One advantage of this set-up is that the loo could easily be changed for a cassette if you preferred.
Immediately inside the cabin there’s a dressing area, with two large wardrobes with bronze mirrored doors. The bed then has a very attractive proper oak headboard. The bed is built to 4ft 6in wide, which still leaves enough space alongside to walk past. The bed base has drawers for extra storage, and there’s long term storage space behind.
The step to the bow doors has a lifting tread made from a beautiful thick piece of oak, and the small cabinet alongside has a similarly chunky top. There are some shelves above, and a TV point.
This room also has a large electric skylight. I can imagine that it could be quite special lying in bed looking at the stars above you.
Oakums is powered by a Canaline 42bhp engine. This is a model found in many hire fleets, and they wouldn’t use them if they caused much trouble. The battery bank is made up of six 2 volt AGM cells, giving a total of 500Ah. A 240 volt supply comes from a 3kva Power Star LW inverter charger.
Perhaps one of the most interesting technical aspects is the under floor heating. It is arranged in four zones which can be controlled separately — galley, saloon, bathroom, and cabin. There is insulation under the floor so the heat goes up into the boat, not down into the canal. And the pipes are arranged over the whole floor area, including under all the furniture. It means there are no cold spots inside cupboards, and the bed is warmed from beneath. The whole system runs off a Webasto diesel boiler, very familiar from normal heating systems with radiators. The manifold in the bathroom cupboard means that each zone can be adjusted individually.
ON THE WATER
It was a blustery day when we did this boat test, and yet the shell still handled pretty well. We turned around without any fuss, and the boat went where it was pointed. The engine is quiet, and the Morse control falls easily to hand. The helmsman can’t see any of the dials, though, as the instrument panel is inside a cupboard just inside the stern doors. The stern deck has space for crew to keep the helmsman company.
The colour of the boat certainly seems to attract attention, both from the towpath and from other boaters.
There’s a lot to like about this boat, in particular the way the fitout is constructed. Everything is well built, nicely put together, and fits perfectly. Real care and attention has been paid to make sure everything is right. The style is bright and modern, with some really nice touches — but may not be to the taste of people who like something a bit more traditional.
Oakums have an arrangement with the brokers, Rugby Boats, and she was for sale at £115,000. With the way boat prices are going at the moment, that seems like a very reasonable price for a boat which has such a good fitout, and has plenty of kit on board.
It’s nice to see a relatively new boat builder coming out with some good ideas and showing an accomplished touch.