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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)