BOAT TEST: TYLER-WIL­SON WIDE­BEAM

If Dutch barges are at­trac­tive for their space and looks, here’s an ‘English’ barge we reckon can go one bet­ter

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Here’s an English barge that we reckon is even bet­ter than a Dutch barge for looks and space

We’ve re­viewed plenty of Tyler-Wil­son boats over the years – but never one quite like this. The firm is one of the big­gest and best known shell builders, sup­ply­ing steel­work to many of the top boat-fit­ters, but they also fit-out a few boats each year, and this is the first time we’ve looked at one where they’re re­spon­si­ble for the in­side as well.

In fact, this boat shows off ev­ery­thing they can do. They de­signed the shape of the shell, based on old work­ing barges, built the steel­work, came up with the in­ter­nal lay­out, fit­ted it out and painted the out­side.

What’s more, this boat easily meets the tax­man’s re­quire­ments to be zero rated for VAT if it’s bought as a live­aboard. That means it’s firmly in the residential mar­ket as well as ap­peal­ing to leisure boaters.

EX­TE­RIOR

This is a big boat – 60ft long and a lit­tle over 12ft wide. And the good thing is that the shape re­ally suits the size. That’s prob­a­bly be­cause it’s based on big barges which worked the north­ern wa­ter­ways in the past.

The Tyler-Wil­son team have a day out oc­ca­sion­ally at the Na­tional Wa­ter­ways Mu­seum at Ellesmere Port and saw an open barge called Big­mere which im­pressed them with the sheer vol­ume of its in­ter­nal space. Then Tim Tyler saw a photo of a boat called Whale, with bluff bows and a sheer­line to the sides. And so their own ‘Sheffield Keel’ boat was born.

It has the bluff bows with a ver­ti­cal stem post which give it real pres­ence on the wa­ter with­out look­ing as tow­er­ing as some Dutch barges do. There are high gun­wales to max­imise in­ter­nal space and a rel­a­tively low cabin (in fact, put it next to a nar­row­boat and, re­mark­ably, it’s only three or four inches taller). The gun­wales are nice and wide, so they’re easy to walk down which is im­por­tant on a boat of this size. There are tra­di­tional flat handrails to hold on to, too.

View the boat from the side and there’s a lovely sweep­ing sheer­line curve. The cabin also has a step, both in the sides and the roof, about half­way down. Tim Tyler says this is mostly for

LAY­OUT AND FIT-OUT

aes­thet­ics, to stop the cabin look­ing too slab-like; but this lit­tle de­sign fea­ture has the ad­van­tage of giv­ing a cou­ple of inches of ex­tra space in the for­ward rooms. It’s dif­fi­cult to get big boats to look right, but this one does; it’s a proper English barge.

As be­fits steel­work spe­cial­ists, the qual­ity of the shell is ex­cel­lent. What you can’t see is that the base­plate has an in­ter­nal keel­son run­ning down the cen­tre and there’s ex­tra fram­ing through­out the shell to keep it stiff. The rear deck is spa­cious, with an arc of built-in seat­ing. A stain­less steel rail pro­vides a bit of ex­tra pro­tec­tion for the crew, as well as be­ing some­where to hang back cush­ions.

The front deck, mean­while, has three hatches: one pro­vides ac­cess to the bow thruster – it’s so far down there’s a lad­der to climb down!, one is for the an­chor winch and the third is the gas locker.

There’s also room un­der the front deck for a 200-gallon food- qual­ity plas­tic wa­ter tank and the loo hold­ing tank, which is made from 6mm steel, and coated with two-pack epoxy.

Out­side, the paint is two-pack yacht paint, which should prove very hard­wear­ing. The trim is in chrome and in­cludes LED down lighters mounted along the cabin sides. I’m told it looks rather spe­cial af­ter dark. This is a re­verse lay­out boat with the gal­ley at the stern, fol­lowed by a spa­cious liv­ing area. A cor­ri­dor then runs down one side, lead­ing first to the sec­ond bed­room. The shower room is be­yond, with the main cabin at the bow.

The fit-out uses painted pan­els with just the odd piece of trim in oak. This means the in­te­rior is very light, bright and con­tem­po­rary. Some of the pan­els, be­low the gun­wales and on the ceil­ing, look like tongue and groove, but are ac­tu­ally just routed so there’s no chance

‘The floor is rather spe­cial, and made from oak beams re­claimed from a barn, cut down to 18mm floor­boards’

GAL­LEY

of any joins open­ing up. The floor is rather spe­cial and made from re­claimed oak beams from a barn. They’ve been cut down to 18mm floor­boards which have been oiled and waxed, to give a lovely matt fin­ish. The rear hatch slides easily on rollers and broad steps with a chunky handrail take you down into the boat. On one side of the steps there’s the elec­tri­cal cup­board and two more units for stor­age. In­side, the gal­ley is at­trac­tively dec­o­rated; the unit doors are painted a soft grey, while the work­tops are sparkly white quartz with red glass splash­backs.

The gal­ley is in a broad U-shape across the back of the boat with an eye-level full-size Belling oven and grill, and a Belling five-burner gas hob with an ex­trac­tor hood above.

The sink is stain­less steel and set into the work­top which con­tin­ues un­der the wide gun­wales. It makes the work­top ap­pear wider than it re­ally is and gives a sense that ev­ery inch of space is be­ing used. The ef­fect is em­pha­sised by un­der-gun­wale light­ing which ex­tends through­out the boat.

Other equip­ment in­cludes a Waeco 12-volt fridge and there’s plumb­ing for a wash­ing ma­chine in the dead cor­ner, which is ac­cessed from the saloon side. The break­fast bar has a cou­ple of stools and at­trac­tive ceil­ing lights fit­ted with trendy squir­rel cage bulbs.

On the other side of the boat, there’s a short run of grey painted units topped with more white quartz. They’re tucked com­pletely un­der the gun­wales.

SALOON

The saloon feels par­tic­u­larly spa­cious, in part be­cause of a large glazed dog box in the roof which al­lows light to flood in. The ceil­ing also has a cen­tral fea­ture panel with LED lights which wash the ceil­ing in light.

The sense of space is em­pha­sised by the way the main fea­ture of the room, the large unit which houses the stove, floats above the floor. The stove it­self is a con­tem­po­rary ver­sion of the Morso Squir­rel, which sits on a lipped hearth and has a dou­ble in­su­lated flue. Ei­ther side, the log store has been turned into a

very at­trac­tive fea­ture. The unit also has dis­play shelves and deep draw­ers with stylish twisted wooden han­dles.

The broad gun­wales mean ra­di­a­tors and a flat-screen TV can be tucked easily un­der­neath. The TV is housed in a sim­ple sur­round, while the ra­di­a­tors are grey to match the gal­ley; we loved the chunky chrome fit­tings and there’s not an ugly plas­tic knob in sight.

The size of this room is brought home by the scale of the huge L-shaped sofa.

SEC­OND BED­ROOM

A cor­ri­dor down one side of the boat takes you to the sec­ond bed­room, com­plete with a lovely solid oak door. In this boat the space has been fit­ted out with a sin­gle bed with draw­ers un­der­neath, but there are many things you could do with it. It’s big enough for a dou­ble bed, bunks would be another pos­si­bil­ity, or it could be an of­fice.

The wall op­po­site the bed has a shal­low desk or dress­ing ta­ble. Along­side, there’s a wardrobe which turns out to be much deeper than you might ex­pect. This is be­cause it bor­rows space from the wall unit in the saloon. There’s a sim­i­lar idea in the cor­ri­dor wall: a box shelf in the bed­room and another out­side. The cor­ri­dor also of­fers lots more stor­age space, with cup­boards un­der the gun­wales topped with oak.

SHOWER ROOM

When you’ve got this much space to play with you can af­ford to have a gen­er­ous shower cu­bi­cle – in this case it’s 1200 x 800mm and has two shower heads. The walls are lined with lam­i­nate.

There are two loos, a Ve­tus pump-out and a Thet­ford cas­sette. The think­ing is that, if you’re liv­ing on board, there might be times of ice or bad weather when get­ting to a pump-out point is dif­fi­cult.

A unit topped with quartz (sparkly grey this time) car­ries a large cir­cu­lar basin. And there’s more stor­age in cup­boards be­hind the door. The floor is Karn­dean and there’s no short­age of light thanks to a large Hou­dini hatch in the ceil­ing.

MAIN CABIN

The huge bed is the main fea­ture of this room and it’s been built to look as

though it’s float­ing above the floor to in­crease the sense of space. There are still draw­ers in the base, though. Other stor­age con­sists of de­cent sized wardrobes ei­ther side of the bed. There are also bed­side book­cases and a small dress­ing ta­ble.

Above the bed, a hatch opens on to the front deck as both a source of fresh air and an es­cape route. This boat has an all Ve­tus sys­tem, start­ing with an 80hp en­gine. The bow thruster is a beefy 90kgf unit. The steer­ing is hy­draulic with the pod ac­ces­si­ble through the seat­ing on the rear deck. Ac­cess to the en­gine hole is via a num­ber of deck boards which lift easily and have at­trac­tive cov­ered chrome han­dles. Elec­tri­cal power comes from four 110Ah bat­ter­ies, plus one for the en­gine. There’s a 3kW Ve­tus in­verter/charger for a 240-volt sup­ply.

Heat­ing is from a 5kW Eber­spächer diesel boiler.

TECH­NI­CAL

The first thing you no­tice stand­ing at the steer­ing po­si­tion is that the roof stretch­ing out in front looks enor­mous, par­tic­u­larly if you’re used to a nar­row­boat. The other thing that takes a bit of get­ting used to is wheel steer­ing. It’s not as in­stinc­tive as a tiller and you don’t get the same feel from the di­rect con­nec­tion to the wa­ter, ei­ther. At first, you tend to find your­self zigzag­ging some­what up the cut but, once you’ve got the hang of judg­ing how much to turn the wheel, it’s fine.

One ad­van­tage of a wheel over a tiller is that the wheel is po­si­tioned to one side of the stern deck so you can look down one side of the boat.

As you might ex­pect from such a large boat, it feels very steady in the wa­ter. It swims well, re­sponds to the helm (al­beit with a slight hy­draulic de­lay) and turns ex­tremely well. We spun round at Vic­to­ria Quays in Sheffield with an ease that be­lies the size of the boat.

‘It re­sponds to the helm and turns ex­tremely well. We spun round at Vic­to­ria Keys with an ease that be­lies the size of the boat’

ON THE WA­TER

CON­CLU­SION

On a purely prac­ti­cal level, this boat has a lot go­ing for it. The space is re­mark­able and you can see the ap­peal for peo­ple who want to live aboard. And the price is very rea­son­able too, at £169,000 ex­clud­ing VAT. We fre­quently see nar­row­boats that cost al­most as much and this of­fers a lot more boat. And if you’re plan­ning to live on a residential moor­ing in a city, the price and space will com­pare well with a flat.

But this is a lot more than just a lot of space. What makes this boat stand out is that you’re also get­ting style in spades. It’s a craft that looks like a proper boat. It has a top qual­ity shell and fit-out. The level of thought put into the de­sign, from the ba­sic shape to the de­tail­ing, makes this boat some­thing spe­cial.

The Sheffield Keel would be com­pletely at home on the big north­ern wa­ter­ways, or on rivers such as the Thames. We are in the UK af­ter all, so why have a Dutch barge, for ex­am­ple, when you can have an English one?

Ver­dict: ‘A great take on the wide­beam with a lot to of­fer at a

good price’

Broad steps lead down to the stylish gal­ley at the stern

Break­fast, any­one?

How’s this for a fea­ture fire­place?

And just look at that floor

A huge bed and de­cent sized wardrobes in the main cabin

Lots of pos­si­bil­i­ties for the sec­ond bed­room

A big shower, to go in a big space

Another sparkly quartz work­top, this time in grey

You could get a team of me­chan­ics around the Ve­tus en­gine

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