Wood, GRP or steel?
I ENJOYED THE ARTICLE on Which Boat? ( CB, Sep) and having owned wood and GRP, also having many years with steel narrowboats, I thought I would add my comments on all three types.
Wood: mine was marine ply on an ash frame, 27ft narrow beam and centre cockpit. It was very cheap to buy, in poor condition, had an inboard Vedette engine with fore and aft cabins. Maintenance was a big problem – painting and small repairs always needed attention. Its main faults were rainwater ingress with bedding and soft furnishings always wet after heavy rain. Also the exposed drive shaft used to pick up a lot of ragweed etc.
Conclusions: a good starter boat, go-anywhere but required a lot of attention, probably none around now. Heavier planked boats could be a better investment but still require a lot of maintenance.
GRP: I had two, a 22ft Norman and 23ft Teal, both rear cockpit with inboard engines and outdrives. A lot easier to maintain, no internal leaks, small accident repairs were easy and if you were lucky, like me, they could be trailed to another location or brought home for maintenance. Conclusions: a good all-round boat but it still suffered with raw water cooling and needed the filter cleaning regularly on heavily weeded canals. Difficult in high winds or pouring rain with the hood up. Needed a good deal of hull cleaning, and petrol was getting difficult to find at marinas.
Steel: more practical for the canal system, normally a lot more room and under 58ft, go-anywhere. Usually tough as old boots but more expensive to buy and maintain. Most have diesel engines so fuel at bankside available. Strangely, standing outside in the rain comes naturally after a few months of use.
Conclusions: A better long term investment but ask friends or experts on hull design and engine makes before purchase. Earlier makes might need overplating or serious repairs so get a survey first. Will still require painting and hull blacking.
In the perfect world, heavy wooden boats are more suited to lakes, broads or rivers, GRPs to rivers or broad canals and steel to most inland waterways. But practicality has to go hand in hand with budget when buying any type of boat.