If a widebeam’s too wide, this might be the answer
If you’ve made the big decision to go for a widebeam rather than a narrow one, then the next thing you have to think about is how wide to go. One school of thought says that if you’re going wide, you might as well go the whole hog and maximise the interior space. But it’s not quite that simple. Would you be comfortable steering a boat that’s 12ft or more wide? Can it actually go everywhere you want it to? So here’s an alternative view: the Pioneer Slimline Widebeam. This boat, 60ft long but only nine feet wide, is the brainchild of the team at Narrowboats Ltd at
Wincham Wharf, at the top end of the Trent & Mersey. It means you get a lot of extra space inside compared with a narrowboat, but keep things manageable on the outside. And that’s a pretty attractive combination.
Widebeams have a more limited cruising range than narrowboats because they clearly can’t fit through narrow locks, but this boat can go to a few places a wider widebeam can’t. A wider boat wouldn’t actually be able to get to Wincham Wharf, for example, because anything wider than nine feet is unable to get through the tunnels at Preston Brook, Barnton and Saltersford, or for that matter, the Preston Brook stop lock. This boat can, though, which means it can get to the Anderton Lift and the River Weaver.
LAYOUT AND FIT-OUT
The idea of the Pioneer is an affordable boat, well suited for the liveaboard life. To achieve that, they have come up with a standard design which can be adapted through optional changes and extras. “We’re not building a bespoke boat,” says Liam Furby, “although no two built so far have been the same.”
The reverse layout seen here has
proved by far the most popular – in fact, Liam says no-one has even asked about the standard layout. So there’s a galley at the stern, followed by a large open-plan saloon. Next comes a spacious off-corridor shower room, with the cabin at the bow. As far as the layout is concerned, options extend to more than just standard or reverse – you can actually have an extra room if you want, with the addition of a small second bedroom.
The fit-out uses oak below the gunwales and for the furniture. In this boat, the cabin sides have painted panels and the ceiling is also painted. The floor is solid oak, which is an upgrade on the standard spec. The fit-out style is fairly straightforward, but we noticed and liked that the doors, for example, are all pretty solidly built.
The Pioneer is buit by Collingwood, one of the biggest boat builders in the country. It uses narrowboat styling but, thanks to its relatively small additional width, doesn’t look ungainly in the way some wider boats can do. There are also some little details to please the eye, such as scrolls on the bow cants and shaping to the ends of the rubbing strakes.
There’s a decent-size well deck with a water tank underneath and a hatch to access the bow thruster. The nose contains a useful storage locker because the gas locker is at the stern. This means you don’t have to balance on the nose of the boat to lift gas bottles in and out, and the locker doubles as somewhere to perch on the stern deck.
The rear cruiser deck itself is large and square which, while perhaps not being the most attractive of shapes, does
maximise outside space. This boat has an optional pram cover over the stern, so all that room is even more useable.
There’s a choice of colours, all with coachlines to add a touch of flair. This boat has a cream roof to help keep it cool in summer. The mushroom vents are all finished in chrome.
There’s one design feature that has more to do with economics than aesthetics. One of the reasons for the strong growth in the widebeam market over recent years has been the concession that liveaboard boats over a certain size can be bought free of VAT. With VAT at 20 percent, that’s a potential saving of many thousands of pounds.
There’s a formula for working out whether a boat is big enough to be classed as a ‘qualifying ship’ and, therefore, VAT-free. It involves working out the gross tonnage – which isn’t the weight of the boat itself, but its theoretical carrying capacity – by using measurements of the width of the boat and the depth from the floor to the deck, and it’s the definition of deck which is important here.
Usually, gunwales are classed as decks because you can walk along them. This boat, though, has narrower than usual gunwales so they can’t be classed as decks, and the measurement can be taken to the roof instead.
This, in turn, means the boat easily qualifies. Narrowboats Ltd and Collingwood say they’ve had this checked and HMRC is happy. Of course, this concession only applies if the boat is to be a liveaboard; you’ll have to sign a declaration to that effect – and the taxman has been known to check.
On a practical level, while the gunwales are narrow, they’re not so narrow as to be impossible to walk along. You would need to take extra care, though, especially in the wet. An extra upside, however, is that this decision gives you an extra couple of inches of width inside the cabin. It’s not much, but every little helps.
The galley is at the stern, which makes perfect sense in a cruiser like this. Three steps, each with lifting treads, bring you down from the stern deck; the rearmost gives access to the plumbing.
The galley is a smart space with grey granite worktops, a stainless steel sink with a curved tap and well made oak doors on the units. There’s plenty of storage space, and lots of workspace.
Equipment includes a Belling fourburner hob and a full-size Belling oven and grill, set at eye level, and with a microwave above. There’s also a 12-volt Inlander fridge.
In the otherwise dead corner, and accessed from the saloon, there’s a cupboard which has plumbing for a washing machine.
The worktop extends to a breakfast bar, so there are a couple of stools. There’s also a set of side doors just here, which would make this a very pleasant place to eat.
‘There’s a formula for working out whether a boat is big enough to be classed as a qualifying ship and, therefore, VAT-free’
It’s when you’re in the saloon that the width of this boat really makes itself felt. It seems remarkable that widening the shell by only just over a couple of feet can have such a dramatic impact on the feeling of space: it seems much, much wider than a narrowboat. Of course, design features here also help. The painted cabin sides and ceiling give a sense of space, as do more than 20 LED downlighters set into the ceiling.
Most of the space is left for freestanding furniture and, with this much space, you can afford to have proper full sized sofas. Fixed furniture includes a small under-gunwale TV unit on one side of the boat, while on the forward bulkhead there’s a large feature fireplace unit which includes a Morso Squirrel solid fuel stove, plus cupboards and shelves both sides.
A decently wide corridor runs down one side of the boat, and a glazed door leads to the shower room. This is another area where the boat’s extra width comes into its own. It might be an off-corridor design, but still has as much room as a walk-though would on a narrowboat. There’s an 800mm quadrant shower on one side, while on the other there are full-height cupboards with glazed doors providing masses of storage space. More cupboards form a lower-height unit, which has granite worktop and a smart large round white basin. There’s also a heated towel rail. The loo is a macerating unit, with the holding tank under the bed in the cabin.
The cabin also offers plenty of space and acres of storage. The bed is a fixed island double (a fixed bed that you can walk around both sides is something
narrow boaters can only dream of!) with a couple of big drawers in the end of the base. There are bedside cabinets both sides, too.
A whole wall of mirrored wardrobes means there’s plenty of space for clothes, and there are more cupboards either side of the doors which lead out to the well deck.
A TV aerial point is provided, so you could have a wall-mounted TV if you wanted.
Technically, this boat is fairly straightforward. It’s fitted with a Canaline 52hp engine, which should be more than big enough for a craft of this size (although a 60hp is also available, which you might want to consider if you’re planning a lot of river work). This boat has an optional bow thruster, a 95kgf model by Craftsman.
Electrical power comes from three 110Ah batteries (plus one for the engine and another for the bow thruster), and a 2.5kW Sterling inverter.
Access to the engine hole is via a sizeable deckboard. As it’s a wide boat there’s plenty of room down there, so servicing shouldn’t require the sort of contortions you sometimes need in a narrowboat engine hole. There’s also a smaller section of deckboard that lifts independently to give access to the weed hatch.
In addition to the Squirrel stove, there’s a Webasto diesel boiler and this boat also has an immersion heater fitted to the calorifier.
ON THE WATER
The difference between a boat of 6ft 10in wide and one of 9ft doesn’t sound like much, but we’ve seen that it makes a big difference on the inside and when you take to the helm you realise it also makes a big difference to the expanse of roof in front of you as well. However, this is not a difficult boat to steer. For one thing, it’s narrow enough that you can easily have a quick look down the side, to check how much room you’ve got. And you get used to the additional width quite quickly. While the first few bridges you approach look impossibly small, once you’re going through them, you find there’s really plenty of room.
Handling is also surprisingly good. The bow thruster will undoubtedly come in handy from time to time, but we winded easily without having to use it, and I was impressed that putting the tiller over and applying some power sent the bow around very smartly.
In general, the boat goes exactly where it’s pointed and responds nice and quickly. It really doesn’t feel any different from steering a narrowboat. Partly that’s
‘Handling is suprisingly good... I was impressed that putting the tiller over and applying some power sent the bow around smartly’
because it has a tiller and not a steering wheel as some widebeams do.
At first hearing, the concept of a slimline widebeam sounds a little odd – surely the point of a widebeam is to be wide… But, in fact, it makes a lot of sense: it’s a boat that shows its extra width most clearly on the inside, where the additional space is remarkable, without looking too big on the outside.
This also has advantages in terms of being less daunting to handle than a very wide boat; and if you particularly have connections with the top end of the Trent & Mersey, this boat will also appeal because of the additional territory it gives you access to (in fact, any boat that opens up the beautiful River Weaver gets a plus from me!).
One area where this boat really wins is on price. The most basic Pioneer is £ 82,500 excluding VAT – although Liam Furby says no-one has ever ordered one without any extras at all.
The boat we’ve been looking at is £ 90,450 excluding VAT, thanks to a long list of extras including the pram cover, granite worktops instead of wood and wooden floors instead of carpet. But don’t be put off by the thought of having to add extras. Unlike some options lists we’ve seen, the Pioneer extras are very reasonably priced; you won’t find you’ve suddenly doubled the cost.
Going widebeam is a big decision; you’ve got to accept that there are parts of the canal network you won’t be able to get to. But once that’s said, this is a boat that makes a lot of sense. It’s big but not too big, has a very sensible layout, a decent fit-out and is good value for money. That’s a combination it’s hard to argue with.
Verdict: ‘Nicely built and if you want more space it’s worth considering’
The breakfast bar has a set of side doors right next to it – lovely in good weather
From the saloon right through to the galley
Extra interior width really shows in the saloon
More evidence of the greater width
You can walk around both sides of the bed Width allows drawers in the end of cross bed
The proportions look very good
Engine is 52hp, you might
want larger for rivers