BOAT TEST: MGM BOATS 50FT

If 70 is the new 60 it’s just the right age to re­tire and live aboard – but this boat has wisely been built with ease of use in mind

Canal Boat - - Contents - WORDS ADAM PORTER PIC­TURES IAN THOMP­SON

A boat for a 70-year-old to live­aboard has plenty of clever ideas with ease of use in mind

The pat­tern of peo­ple’s lives is chang­ing. We’re liv­ing longer, which means we’re work­ing longer and hav­ing to wait longer for our pen­sions. In the past plenty of peo­ple re­tired at 55 with a big chunk of their pen­sion to keep them go­ing – and a good num­ber took up the live­aboard life­style. Now things are dif­fer­ent. Peo­ple are gen­er­ally health­ier and work­ing much later in life, some­times through choice, some­times be­cause their pen­sion rules have changed.

Paul Barfield is an ex­am­ple of a new breed of live­aboard boater. He chose to carry on work­ing and re­tired last year. Now, at the age of 70, he’s had a boat built for him to live on and ex­plore the net­work. But start­ing a new phase of life at 70 rather than 55 brings its own chal­lenges – and pos­si­bly re­quires a dif­fer­ent sort of boat.

Paul has de­signed his boat to make life on the wa­ter as easy as pos­si­ble. He wanted it a man­age­able size so it’s just 50ft long, but he wanted as much space as pos­si­ble so it has an ex­tended fore-cabin; and he and his builders, MGM, have come up with a num­ber of ideas to make us­ing the boat eas­ier, so it’s cer­tainly not con­ven­tional.

EX­TE­RIOR

Wey Away looks longer than its 50ft. That’s be­cause in­stead of a well deck or cratch, the cabin is ex­tended. Paul says he’s al­ways re­garded the cratch area as wasted space; he’d rather have it inside. It cer­tainly means he’s achieved his aim of hav­ing a short boat with­out los­ing any in­te­rior space.

The steel­work by Nick Thorpe looks nicely done with smooth sides and crisp edges. There are also de­tails such as a boat­man’s beam across the roof and scrolls in the handrail.

The de­sign of the shell is by MGM’s Mark Fen­ton, so the bow is still recog­nis­ably MGM: it’s curvy and shapely, and ac­tu­ally doesn’t suf­fer at all from the ex­tended cabin. MGM have done a few boats re­cently that have had a well deck, but with the roof ex­tend­ing over it, and they’ve used sim­i­lar tricks here to make the boat look right.

For ex­am­ple, the handrails con­tinue right to the front of the cabin, with a pro­nounced curve in­wards. It means the cabin looks as though it’s meant to be there, not an af­ter­thought. Most other boats we’ve looked at with ex­tended cab­ins have had a big win­dow at the front; not this boat, though. In­stead, the solid for­ward bulk­head car­ries the boat’s name.

The gas locker is at the bow, al­though the space inside is some­what less than usual be­cause of an­other of Paul’s re­quire­ments, an an­chor winch. It sits on the front of the boat (still await­ing its an­chor at the time we vis­ited, along with the chain, which will be stored in a com­part­ment un­der­neath).

Paul in­tends to do quite a lot of river work and, while he hopes the worst will never hap­pen, he wanted to be pre­pared. He’ll also be sin­gle­hand­ing most of the time, so wanted to be able to de­ploy an an­chor with­out hav­ing to leave the tiller. The winch means he’ll be able to do that, thanks to a but­ton on the con­trol panel at the stern. The smaller gas locker means smaller gas bot­tles which, al­though pro­por­tion­ately more ex­pen­sive, are lighter and eas­ier to han­dle.

This is a semi-trad boat, so there’s a de­cent sized deck at the stern. It has stor­age lock­ers both sides, which also pro­vide some­where to sit. The board cov­er­ing the en­gine bay is topped with a com­pos­ite teak-style ma­te­rial and looks very smart.

There are a cou­ple of taff seats at the stern; I’m not a fan of these be­cause I’m a firm be­liever in be­ing in front of the tiller when steer­ing, that way there’s no dan­ger of be­ing knocked off the boat if the rud­der

hits some­thing un­der the wa­ter and makes the tiller swing.

The colour scheme is quite bold in its sim­plic­ity. The blue is clas­sic and con­tin­ues right up over the handrails, with no coach lines or other dec­o­ra­tion. The name is painted in flam­boy­ant fash­ion by Robin Wagg. Both the name and the leg­end un­der­neath, ‘Gun’s Mouth to Palling­ham 1816’ re­fer to Paul’s sup­port for the Wey & Arun Canal Trust. Gun’s Mouth and Palling­ham are the two ends of the canal, and 1816 was when it orig­i­nally opened.

If the sides of the boat are rel­a­tively clean and sim­ple, the roof is any­thing but. It’s filled with kit, in­clud­ing three so­lar pan­els and a fold­ing lad­der that dou­bles as a gang plank. There’s also a satel­lite dome and two in­ter­net an­ten­nas.

Then, on each corner, there’s a small cam­era dome. These will en­able Paul to see what’s go­ing on out­side, from inside; the pic­tures will be vis­i­ble on his TV and can also be recorded.

With the roof be­ing so full, hav­ing a cen­tre­line at­tached in the mid­dle would have been dif­fi­cult but a cen­tre line is es­sen­tial, par­tic­u­larly when you’re sin­gle hand­ing, so there are loops for at­tach­ing lines on each side of the roof, to make han­dling the boat eas­ier.

LAY­OUT AND FIT-OUT

This is a re­verse lay­out boat, with the gal­ley sit­u­ated at the stern. Next comes a Pull­man dinette, fol­lowed by what Paul calls his work sta­tion; oth­ers might see it as the sa­loon. The walk-through shower room comes next, fol­lowed by the cabin at the bow.

The fit-out uses a com­bi­na­tion of painted pan­els on the cabin sides, teamed with Amer­i­can ash. This gives a light, airy feel to the in­te­rior. The style of fit-out is very typ­i­cal of MGM, with mould­ings around the painted pan­els and well con­structed cup­boards and shelves.

The floor­ings change as you go through the boat, start­ing with ce­ramic tiles in the gal­ley, fol­lowed by en­gi­neered wal­nut in the dinette and sa­loon, and car­pet in the cabin. Un­der the floor, Paul in­sisted on hav­ing two inches of in­su­la­tion, to try to en­sure his feet didn’t get cold.

The ceil­ing is routed to look like tongue and groove and was sprayed white be­fore be­ing fit­ted. There are KEF speak­ers set into it through­out the boat, cho­sen pri­mar­ily not for their sound qual­ity or pres­ti­gious name, but be­cause they’re slim and don’t take up too much roof space.

GAL­LEY

Three steps take you from the semi-trad rear deck into the gal­ley and the treads lift for stor­age. On one side there’s an elec­tri­cal cup­board with con­trols and pan­els set into the door. Op­po­site there’s a wet cup­board; the floor lifts and Paul in­tends to put a bin un­der­neath.

The gal­ley it­self is stylish thanks to a good use of colour. The work­tops are made from Formica lam­i­nate, teamed with op­u­lent gold and red mo­saic tiles. It gives a look of the Ori­ent with­out be­ing

too ob­vi­ous. The sink con­trasts in black com­pos­ite, and the tap has a head that pulls out.

Equip­ment in­cludes a Thet­ford four-burner hob and a do­mes­tic-sized Belling oven and grill. The fridge is a 240-volt model by Beko. There’s also a small mi­crowave in match­ing red.

DINETTE AND SA­LOON

The Pull­man dinette is raised, so there’s a good view out of the side hatches on each side. These have glazed in­ner doors so they can be opened even when the weather isn’t that good. The ta­ble it­self has more of the red Formica lam­i­nate.

Get­ting in and out of a Pull­man dinette can some­times be a lit­tle tight, but this one has a sim­ple but clever de­sign fea­ture to a make it eas­ier. The ta­ble is sup­ported by a bar set just be­low the side hatch, along which it can slide, to in­crease the ac­cess gap. It’s an idea that plenty of peo­ple would find use­ful, not just those of a cer­tain age. There’s stor­age in the bench seats of the dinette and un­der the floor of the raised sec­tion.

The sa­loon, or work sta­tion, is pretty small, but to solve any pos­si­ble seat­ing short­age, the back­rest of the dinette can be moved to the other side of the bench, so the seat­ing now faces the sa­loon. Oth­er­wise, there’s room for just one chair: Paul has gone for a stylish Ger­man-de­signed rac­ing chair.

The main fea­ture of the sa­loon is a

‘The ta­ble can slide to in­crease the ac­cess gap. It’s an idea that plenty of peo­ple would find use­ful, not just those of a cer­tain age’

good sized desk that wraps around the corner into a book case. The de­sign is good, and the use of colour even bet­ter, with red used to good ef­fect.

Much of the boat’s elec­tron­ics have been de­signed by a friend of Paul’s, who hadn’t yet been able to com­mis­sion them when we vis­ited. But MGM have in­stalled all the ca­bles, and there are lots of them. MGM’s Martin Par­sons says they’ve never be­fore been asked to in­stall so much ca­bling in a boat.

SHOWER ROOM

The shower room is a walk-through de­sign to max­imise space. The door from the sa­loon slides back into the bulk­head and is re­leased with a push catch. The walls and floor are tiled, but the ceil­ing is cov­ered in Formica lam­i­nate, with more of the same colour mak­ing the top of the basin unit.

The basin is a round white one, while the unit has four draw­ers. There’s a fea­ture mir­ror above across the corner of the room. Paul was de­ter­mined he’d be able to see prop­erly to shave, so a spot­light has been put on the ceil­ing, to light him not the mir­ror.

The good sized quad­rant shower has sparkly lam­i­nate walls and an ex­trac­tor fan in the ceil­ing. The loo is a Jab­sco mac­er­at­ing unit, with the hold­ing tank un­der the bed; the wa­ter tank is also un­der here.

Be­tween the shower room and the cabin there’s a two foot-long cor­ri­dor that pro­vides cup­boards both sides. On one side they house a Ken­wood wash­ing ma­chine, while op­po­site there’s a Beko tum­ble drier. Paul wanted the ap­pli­ances close to the bed­room, where dirty clothes are taken off. The spa­ces above are used as wardrobes with hang­ing space.

CABIN

The cabin takes up the front of the boat, in the ex­tended sec­tion. Of­ten when we’ve seen beds in spa­ces like this, the own­ers have taken the op­por­tu­nity to have a bed that’s the full width of the boat; but that means crawl­ing into bed from the foot and putting a sheet on the

‘Paul wanted the wash­ing ma­chine and tum­ble dryer in the cor­ri­dor close to the bed­room, where dirty clothes are taken off’

mat­tress can be re­ally dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially as you get older. So in this case, the bed is off­set to one side; the mat­tress has been spe­cially made to fit, as the boat curves in on one side. This set up means the bed is eas­ier to get in and out of, and you can eas­ily reach across to make it. Ad­di­tion­ally, there’s room for a bed­side cab­i­net. There’s also a book­shelf above the bed.

A set of side doors in the cabin pro­vide a means of es­cape, with lad­der-style steps. The port­holes here are smaller than in the rest of the boat at 11 inches across rather than 14.

TECH­NI­CAL

In one sense, this boat is quite straight­for­ward tech­ni­cally. There’s a Beta 43 en­gine, which should be re­li­able, easy to main­tain and pro­vide suf­fi­cient power for rivers. There are five 110ah do­mes­tic bat­ter­ies, plus one for the en­gine and an­other at the bow for the an­chor winch. A 240-volt sup­ply comes from a Vic­tron 2.5kW in­verter, and there’s also a 3.5 kW Trav­elPower en­gine-driven gen­er­a­tor.

Much of the ad­di­tional tech­ni­cal equip­ment has been de­signed and sourced by a friend of Paul’s, who’s an ex­pert in such things. He or­dered the three 250-Watt so­lar pan­els and an MPPT con­troller di­rect from China; he also sourced the in­ter­net an­ten­nas and router, and the se­cu­rity sys­tem which in­cludes the four se­cu­rity cam­eras.

A VHF ra­dio is in­stalled for use on big rivers and heat­ing is pro­vided by a We­basto diesel boiler.

ON THE WA­TER

Mark Fen­ton de­signs his hulls with nice long swims, so it’s no sur­prise that this boat han­dles very well in­deed. It re­sponds quickly to the tiller and turns well. Wind­ing was easy, there’s no bow thruster (Paul thought he wouldn’t need one, given that it’s a rel­a­tively short boat), but there is a tube fit­ted in case he changes his mind.

The stern deck has plenty of room for crew and the lock­ers make ideal seats. The en­gine is quiet and the Morse con­trol well placed, but the po­si­tion­ing of the con­trol panel inside the boat

means you have to make a bit of an ef­fort to see the di­als. From the tiller, the ex­tended cabin means you have more idea where the front of the boat is. CON­CLU­SION

Let’s start by ad­mit­ting that boats with ex­tended front cab­ins aren’t ev­ery­one’s cup of tea. For many boaters, a well deck is an es­sen­tial fea­ture that they wouldn’t want to be with­out. The ex­tended cabin also gives the boat a very non-tra­di­tional look which won’t ap­peal to ev­ery­one. But this boat is an ob­ject les­son in fit­ting as much as pos­si­ble into as small a space as prac­ti­cal. The owner wanted a shorter boat for ease of han­dling and moor­ing, but he still wanted a de­cent amount of liv­ing space inside – and that’s cer­tainly been achieved.

What’s more, the in­te­rior is very stylish, com­bin­ing Paul’s eye for colour and de­sign with MGM’s crafts­man­ship. It’s in­cor­po­rated many lit­tle de­tails to help Paul live aboard and ex­plore the net­work well into re­tire­ment.

And the price is pretty good too. MGM’s price for a boat like this is around £110,000. That in­cludes the shell, the fit-out, the en­gine, and all the ba­sic electrics, ev­ery­thing you need. Paul says he’s added ex­tras (such as the so­lar pan­els, the mul­ti­ple se­cu­rity cam­eras, and his high tech in­ter­net sys­tem) cost­ing at least £10,000. Ob­vi­ously lots of peo­ple could live with­out some or all of those things.

So here we have a very be­spoke boat, on a good shell, with a high qual­ity fin­ish, for a rea­son­able price. And when you’re start­ing a new phase of your life at what­ever age, but par­tic­u­larly in re­tire­ment, that sounds like a win­ning com­bi­na­tion.

The bright sa­loon cer­tain­lyStylish gal­leyis dif­fer­en­twith good use of colour

Clever de­sign on the dinette makes it easy to get in and out of

The back­rest of the dinette can be moved, so the seat then faces the sa­loon

Roomy bath­room with good-sized quad­rant shower

The short cor­ri­dor with the tum­ble dryer and wash­ing ma­chine

Bed is off­set so it’s eas­ier to get in and out of

Neat electrics, but gauges hard to see

A very busy roof space

Bow cabin top looks neat

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