BOAT TEST: AIN­TREE BOATS 65FT

... You’ll find some­thing rather dif­fer­ent – a be­spoke boat from a com­pany you might think makes only stan­dard mod­els, which is why we de­cided to have a closer look

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS ADAM PORTER PIC­TURES ANDY R ANNABLE

Ain­tree used to be known for build­ing stan­dard boats – this one is any­thing but...

It’s been quite a while since we last looked at an Ain­tree boat – in fact, it was back in 2011, when the com­pany was fairly new and they’d ex­hib­ited at the Crick Boat Show for the first time. Back then, ev­ery boat was pretty much the same. But the trou­ble with build­ing a stan­dard boat, how­ever good it is, is that it’s not nec­es­sar­ily what buy­ers want. So over the years, Ain­tree have been vary­ing things de­pend­ing on their cus­tomers’ re­quire­ments. And this

boat is an ex­am­ple of how far things have changed – be­cause there’s al­most noth­ing stan­dard about this boat. It has an en­gine room, hy­draulic drive, and lots of items sourced and sup­plied by the own­ers.

You might not see the word ‘be­spoke’ on Ain­tree’s web­site (af­ter all, some peo­ple might equate that with ‘ex­pen­sive’), but be­spoke boats are in ef­fect what they’re build­ing. In short, you can have ex­actly what you want – and Suzie No. 2 tested here is the boat that proves it.

EX­TE­RIOR

Ain­tree build their own shells and the qual­ity looks ex­cel­lent. Wher­ever pos­si­ble, the cabin sides and roof are made of one piece of steel so there are no joins; at 65ft, this boat was a lit­tle too long for that – but you’d still be hard pressed to spot the join. There are scrolls on the bow cants, while the ends of the handrails have di­ag­o­nal notches which have be­come some­thing of an Ain­tree trade­mark. But per­haps the best fea­ture of the shell is the bow, which is rather pretty, curvy, with­out go­ing over the top.

Paint­ing is done in house at Ain­tree

too; it’s done by hand, in­volves seven coats and has an ex­cel­lent fin­ish.

Suzie No. 2 has a clas­sic dark blue colour scheme with cream coach lines and red handrails. The roof is cream, so shouldn’t get too hot in the sum­mer.

The mush­room vents and fair­leads are chrome to give a mod­ern look and the port­holes match. They’re dou­ble glazed units by Cald­wells. On the roof there’s what looks like a dog box. It ac­tu­ally houses (and hides) a satel­lite dish.

The well deck has lock­ers ei­ther side, which pro­vide some­where to sit as well as stor­age space. There’s also ac­cess to the bow thruster through a hatch. Un­derneath the deck there’s a large wa­ter tank.

LAY­OUT AND FIT-OUT

This is a stan­dard lay­out boat, in as much as the sa­loon is at the bow and the cabin is to­wards the rear. But, in fact, there’s more to it than that.

There’s a dinette ad­join­ing the sa­loon, fol­lowed by the gal­ley. Then comes a walk-through shower room and the cabin. But there’s more, be­cause at the stern, a large en­gine room dou­bles as a util­ity.

The fit-out uses a com­bi­na­tion of oak and painted pan­els which gives a light, bright, con­tem­po­rary look. The nice thing about the painted pan­els is that the grain of the oak un­derneath can still be seen, so you get a bit of tex­ture. In the en­gine room all the cup­board doors have been painted in a dark grey – and this colour is picked up at var­i­ous points through­out the boat. The floor­ing is Karn­dean, in a stone fin­ish.

The qual­ity of the fit- out is ex­cel­lent. There’s a lot of join­ery in the boat and it’s all been done to a very high stan­dard.

SA­LOON AND DINETTE

A sin­gle step takes you from the well deck into the sa­loon. The tread lifts for stor­age and ac­cess to the wa­ter stop­cock. On one side, a neat lit­tle solid

fuel Arada stove sits on a gran­ite hearth with tiles be­hind. On the op­po­site side, a cor­ner unit houses a flat-screen TV on a bracket. Be­low this, a cup­board with a glazed door con­tains things like the satel­lite box and there’s an­other glazed cup­board above which is used as a drinks cab­i­net.

There’s a sofa by Wil­son’s, which con­verts into a dou­ble berth. The same up­hol­stery has been used on the L-shaped dinette, which again con­verts into a bed. There’s also stor­age in the bench seats. The ta­ble is on Desmo legs so can be taken down and stored un­der the gun­wale op­po­site.

A smart grey ra­di­a­tor is tucked un­der the gun­wale – the first ap­pear­ance of the grey from the en­gine room. Th­ese ra­di­a­tors were cho­sen partly be­cause they can be spec­i­fied in any colour, and partly be­cause they’re quite thin and fit neatly un­der the gun­wale.

GAL­LEY

A bulk­head sep­a­rates the gal­ley from the dinette, which makes the gal­ley feel a lit­tle smaller than if it was fully open-plan. But the own­ers, Guy Chat­wood and Suzie Red­man, wanted a de­gree of sep­a­ra­tion.

They also wanted the oven, which is a full-size do­mes­tic Belling, at eye level and the most sen­si­ble place for this was on the boat’s cen­tre-line. Un­derneath, there’s a small Miele dish­washer, which uses less wa­ter than a day of wash­ing up.

The four-burner gas hob is also a Belling and full-size. This means the smart black gran­ite work­top has been ex­tended slightly to ac­com­mo­date it. Un­derneath, there are cup­boards offering masses of stor­age space, plus a 12-volt Shore­line fridge in black to match the rest of the gal­ley.

On the op­po­site side, there’s a smaller run of cup­boards. Ev­ery inch of space has been used, so there’s a cor­ner cup­board, draw­ers and a wine rack built into the un­der-gun­wale void. The white sink is set into the work­top, which has a milled drainer and a very im­pres­sive tap by Grohe.

A really nice touch is the choice of han­dles on all the doors and draw­ers. They’re stain­less steel with leather pulls, and look really stylish. In ad­di­tion, you won’t catch on them as you walk past.

SHOWER ROOM

The sense of style con­tin­ues in the shower room. Here, there’s more gran­ite work­top, but the colour changes to grey. The basin is ob­long, with a stun­ning

‘A really nice touch is the choice of han­dles on all the doors and draw­ers. They’re stain­less steel with leather pulls and look stylish’

wa­ter­fall tap. There’s a shav­ing mir­ror on an ex­tend­ing arm fixed to the wall above. When the door from the gal­ley is open, it hides the Ve­tus pump-out loo. It’s po­si­tion means it’s quite a long way from the hold­ing tank, though, so there’s a fair run of pipe be­tween the two.

On the side of the shower en­clo­sure there’s a very im­pres­sive heated towel rail. Un­usu­ally, it’s a 12-volt elec­tric model made to or­der to fit the space. It means you can have the towel rail on with­out the rest of the heat­ing.

The shower it­self is large, lined with grey lam­i­nate and has two shower heads, one built in and the other a hand-held.

CABIN

The bed is in line and the toi­let hold­ing tank takes up some space un­derneath; it’s on the cen­tre­line, so won’t af­fect the boat’s trim as it fills.

Be­yond it, there’s a drawer in the bed base. Just above the bed there’s a lit­tle cubby hole that steals a bit of oth­er­wise wasted space from be­hind the shower. It’s fit­ted with a USB charg­ing point for a phone. There are also high level cup­boards.

At the foot of the bed there is a range of wardrobes and draw­ers, pro­vid­ing plenty of stor­age.

EN­GINE ROOM

If you had any doubts about where Guy’s pri­or­i­ties lie, then I only need tell you that the en­gine room is big­ger than the cabin or the gal­ley! He wanted his en­gine to be easy to get to, say­ing he’s had enough of hav­ing to con­tort him­self to get into en­gine holes. To be fair, this is also a util­ity room be­cause the full-size wash­ing ma­chine is also here; it will make a great dry­ing space.

As mod­ern en­gine rooms go, this one is rather stylish, thanks to the use of that dark grey colour. The cup­board doors are all painted with it and the run of units down one side has grey gran­ite work­tops too, with a lit­tle sink set into one end. There are more brown leather han­dles, al­though this time they’re sim­ple straps, again cho­sen so you won’t catch on them as you pass.

Apart from the cup­boards, the main ob­ject in here is the en­gine it­self; al­though as it’s a mod­ern Beta in a sound-less­en­ing co­coon, it’s not ex­actly pretty. Guy has also taken the de­ci­sion to leave ex­posed all the pipes and hoses for the hy­draulic sys­tem, rather than hav­ing them boxed in. He likes the in­dus­trial look and it cer­tainly means you can see

what’s go­ing on. But aes­thet­ics have also come into play. The reser­voir tank for the hy­draulic oil has been painted grey, and Ain­tree’s sign­writer has even re­pro­duced the Beta Marine logo on it. And any parts of the hy­draulic sys­tem which could be painted have also had the grey treat­ment.

The floor is set at the same level as the rest of the boat, but there’s a raised di­vide be­tween the en­gine room and the cabin. This is be­cause the shell of the boat in­cludes a steel bund be­tween the en­gine room and the rest of the boat. It’s there just in case there’s a leak of hy­draulic oil, for ex­am­ple, and would con­fine any spills to the en­gine room; it’s a sen­si­ble pre­cau­tion. The floor it­self is made up of a num­ber of boards, which can be lifted if nec­es­sary.

A set of lad­der steps leads up to the back counter, with cup­boards ei­ther side. One has all the fuses, con­trols and switches (in­clud­ing a ra­dio and a con­trol box which means the out­put can be turned on and off in any room in the boat) while the one on the other side con­tains the calori­fier.

TECH­NI­CAL

Once he had his en­gine room, Guy toyed with hav­ing a vin­tage en­gine to put in it. “But I’m get­ting older,” he says, “and I wanted ev­ery­thing to be sim­ple to main­tain.” So he opted in­stead for a Beta 50S, com­plete with its sound­proof­ing co­coon. Call­ing any en­gine ‘su­per silent’ is prob­a­bly ask­ing for trou­ble be­cause it’s never go­ing to be silent. This one is about as quiet as it’s go­ing to get, though, so you can stand next to it in the en­gine room and have a con­ver­sa­tion with­out hav­ing to raise your voice or strain your ears.

The en­gine is off-cen­tre for a couple of rea­sons; it works bet­ter with the boat’s lay­out and Guy didn’t want to have to raise the floor of the en­gine room to cope with the prop shaft. This meant hy­draulic drive was the way to go. There’s a pump on the en­gine linked to a con­trol valve, which then links to the pod which turns the prop and the bow thruster. The whole hy­draulic sys­tem is sup­plied by Beta, al­though the pump and pod are made by Her­cules, who have a good rep­u­ta­tion in this field.

For elec­tri­cal power, there are four 120Ah gel bat­ter­ies (plus a starter bat­tery) and a 3kW Vic­tron Mul­ti­plus in­verter. In ad­di­tion, there’s a 3.5kva Travel Power en­gine-driven gen­er­a­tor.

There’s a 4kW Eber­spächer diesel boiler for the cen­tral heat­ing.

A mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem is fit­ted, which will text Guy and Suzie if there’s wa­ter in the bilges. They can also use their smart­phones to turn on lights and the cen­tral heat­ing re­motely. In ad­di­tion, there are fobs that can turn on ex­te­rior lights as you walk up the tow­path

– handy if you’re com­ing back from the pub in the dark.

ON THE WA­TER

Most hy­draulic drive boats we’ve tested have had two con­trols, one for the en­gine revs and the other to gov­ern the pro­por­tion of power go­ing through the hy­draulic pod. This can take a bit of get­ting used to, par­tic­u­larly when you can speed up and slow down with­out chang­ing the en­gine revs.

By con­trast, this boat has just one Morse con­trol (and it is a smart Ve­tus chrome one). This means it feels much

‘The shell in­cludes a steel bund be­tween the en­gine room and the rest of the boat in case there’s a leak of hy­draulic oil’

more like a nor­mal boat, and the en­gine note changes ac­cord­ingly as you move the con­trol.

There is a slight hy­draulic de­lay – just a sec­ond or two – but you soon get used to it. On the move, the boat is still pretty quiet, with very lit­tle noise from the en­gine or pod.

It han­dles ex­tremely well, re­spond­ing quickly to the tiller. When wind­ing, once the bow is go­ing around, it just keeps go­ing, so in most in­stances there’s lit­tle or no need for the bow thruster.

If it were my boat, I’d need the top step up from the en­gine room to be higher be­cause I like to stand in­side the hatch to steer, rather than be ex­posed on the back counter.

One rather novel con­se­quence of Guy’s de­ci­sion to leave all the engi­neer­ing ex­posed rather than boxed-in is that, from the steer­ing po­si­tion, you can see the prop­shaft turn­ing be­neath you. It seems strangely re­as­sur­ing.

CON­CLU­SION

This is a boat that has bags of style and has been de­signed with a good eye. The de­ci­sions made by the own­ers wouldn’t suit ev­ery­one, but that’s the whole point: it’s been built to meet their needs.

And at £128,000 the price is good, too, es­pe­cially when you con­sider all the ex­pen­sive equip­ment on board. The hy­draulic sys­tem costs around £15,000 (the hoses alone are £1,500) and hav­ing the en­gine in a co­coon also adds around £3,000 to the to­tal. All of that means that you could have a sim­i­lar but more con­ven­tional boat for a lot less money.

And Ain­tree still of­fer good value stan­dard boats, too; a fully fit­ted 57ft cruiser starts at £75,500. But it’s in­ter­est­ing to now note that if you want some­thing that de­vi­ates from the stan­dard script, they can more than carry out your wishes. This boat cer­tainly proves that.

Ver­dict: ‘A good be­spoke build, de­signed with style and we like the price’

Sin­gle step into sa­loon; sofa and dinette (above) can both be used as beds

Bulk­head makes gal­ley feel a lit­tle small; best place for fulll-size oven is on cen­tre­line

Sink with milled drainer is on op­po­site side to hob

We love the wa­ter­fall tap in shower room; door hides loo when open

Cabin is neat; cub­by­hole stolen

from shower is a neat trick

‘En­gine room’ is most un­usual; en­gine is co­cooned ( bot­tom left)

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