Sim­ply elec­tric

Cut­ting edge tech on the ‘Green’ boat


Gen­er­ally speak­ing, you’d think boaters would be a pretty eco-friendly bunch. Af­ter all, be­ing on a boat – whether as your home or for a hol­i­day – gives you a con­nec­tion with the out­doors it’s dif­fi­cult to find else­where. When you’re boating, you’re close to na­ture, you see plenty of wildlife and you def­i­nitely ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery­thing the weather throws at you. But our en­gines burn diesel, our stoves coal, and our loos of­ten use chem­i­cals with dire warn­ings on the pack­ag­ing.

So when Nick Clack and Ali Roberts de­cided to live on a boat, they wanted to build one that was as en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able as pos­si­ble and they’ve come up with some in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions.

There’s sus­tain­able wood in the fit-out, a mas­sive so­lar ar­ray, un­der floor heating which uses the nat­u­ral warmth

of canal wa­ter, a com­post­ing toi­let and elec­tric drive.

So even if you think a wide­beam boat isn’t your thing, read on be­cause this is one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing boats you’re likely to hear about. Ar­tie Chalmers of El­ton Moss Boat Builders says that not only is it the most com­pli­cated build they’ve ever taken on, it’s prob­a­bly the most com­pli­cated in­land wa­ter­ways boat in the UK.


Tu­lak is based on El­ton Moss’s ‘Kings­ley’ Dutch barge-style wide­beam range. It’s 12ft wide and 65ft long (a bit longer than a stan­dard Kings­ley) and was built in El­ton Moss’s fac­tory in the Czech Repub­lic.

The steel­work is sub­stan­tial, with a 12mm base­plate. It’s well made, with nice smooth cabin sides. The bow is high and man­ages to look sur­pris­ingly del­i­cate, while the stern is square to max­imise space. Un­like most Kings­leys, Tu­lak has an ex­tra cabin be­hind the wheel­house, and for the first time, the roof of this stern cabin has been made into an out­side seat­ing area. It’s slightly flat­ter than nor­mal (which meant ex­tra brac­ing was re­quired) and is sur­rounded by a stain­less steel safety rail, which can be un­bolted and re­moved if nec­es­sary. Steps lead­ing up to the deck are

in­cor­po­rated into the steel­work. And in an­other change from the stan­dard boat,

Tu­lak has a full well deck at the bow. This has lock­ers ei­ther side and ac­cess to the bow thruster. An an­chor big enough to mean busi­ness is hung on the bow, with the chain and winch housed in an­other locker.

The green and red colour scheme makes a real state­ment. Nick Clack says they wanted a green that looked a bit brighter than a nor­mal canal boat and they’ve cer­tainly achieved that. The red roof has a non-slip fin­ish and much of it is cov­ered in so­lar pan­els, but space has been left to­wards the bow so that the cou­ple can grow plants.


Nick and Ali were de­ter­mined to have three bed­rooms on their boat be­cause they have a three-year-old son, Kas­par, and also wanted a guest room. The spare room is the one be­hind the wheel­house and it also serves as a snug and an of­fice.

The wheel­house pro­vides the main en­try point and has the engine room un­der­neath. Steps then take you down into the main part of the ac­com­mo­da­tion.

First comes the gal­ley which has a break­fast bar and is open-plan to the sa­loon. Some space here has been sac­ri­ficed for the third bed­room: Ar­tie Chalmers says the sa­loon would nor­mally be twice the size. From here a cor­ri­dor leads down one side of the boat to the other rooms. First there’s a bath­room, then Kas­par’s bed­room, then the main cabin at the bow.

The fit-out uses a com­bi­na­tion of painted pan­els above the gun­wales and oak below. All the trim and fur­ni­ture is built of oak, and all the tim­ber comes from sources cer­ti­fied by the For­est Stew­ard­ship Coun­cil as be­ing re­spon­si­bly pro­duced. The floor is also solid oak.

The qual­ity of join­ery through­out looks ex­cel­lent.


The U-shaped gal­ley pro­vides plenty of work­top space. The tops are made from a brown en­gi­neered stone with bright flecks to catch the eye, and which is less likely to crack or be dam­aged than nat­u­ral gran­ite.

Set into one side there’s a dou­ble Belfast sink and a splash of colour is added by red tiles with the odd pat­terned one slot­ted in here and there. There are also high level cup­boards with lights un­der­neath.

Equip­ment in­cludes a 240-volt fridge and sep­a­rate freezer. There’s a four-burner Bosch gas hob with an

‘In line with their eco cre­den­tials, Nick and Ali have cho­sen an AEG ma­chine that uses heat pump tech­nol­ogy’

oven un­der­neath. On the other side, a sideboard of­fers more stor­age. None of the cup­boards have han­dles; in­stead there are fin­ger holes in the doors which have the ad­van­tage that you can’t catch your­self or your clothes on them.


The gal­ley work­top forms a break­fast bar with a cou­ple of stools which di­vides it from the sa­loon. The main fea­ture of the sa­loon it­self is a large dresser that of­fers a range of shelves and cup­boards, as well as hous­ing the TV.

While the sa­loon might be a lit­tle small by wide­beam stan­dards, it’s pretty big when you’re used to nar­row­boats. There’s room for a sofa and an­other chair. In one cor­ner there’s a Morso Squir­rel stove.


The bath­room is off a cor­ri­dor that leads down one side of the boat. Use­fully, the door slides as a space-sav­ing mea­sure. As this is a wide­beam, there’s plenty of room for a bath – pretty much es­sen­tial when you’ve got a three-year-old – with a shower over.

There’s also a unit with a smart white basin and a full height cup­board with stor­age at the top and a washer/dryer at the bot­tom. In line with their eco cre­den­tials, Nick and Ali have cho­sen an AEG ma­chine that uses heat pump tech­nol­ogy to re- cir­cu­late hot air. It’s claimed to be 40 per­cent more ef­fi­cient than a stan­dard A-rated ma­chine.

But the most eco-friendly item in the bath­room is the com­post­ing toi­let. It’s an Air­head which sep­a­rates liq­uids from solids and has a fan that draws air across the solids con­tainer to dry them out. This boat has space for ex­tra con­tain­ers, so the solids can be kept for sev­eral months to com­post fully.


Kas­par’s room is based on El­ton Moss’s stan­dard bunk room, but with a few ad­di­tions such as the box stor­age unit that forms steps up to the top bunk. The bunks them­selves have stor­age un­der­neath, and there’s a size­able wardrobe.

Up front, the main cabin in the bow features a large bed and masses of

stor­age. This in­cludes two dou­ble wardrobes and a unit of cup­boards and shelves. There’s also a fold-up rack for drying clothes. The bed houses the wa­ter tank, which holds around 950 litres.

Usu­ally in a Dutch barge-style boat there would be just a small set of doors as an es­cape hatch, lead­ing onto a high-level front deck, but this boat has a full well deck, so the doors are full-height, too.

The third cabin at the stern has a unit with cup­boards and shelves on one wall, while the L-shaped seat­ing (which is raised to take ac­count of the boat’s swims) is a ver­sa­tile piece of fur­ni­ture. A fold­ing ta­ble means it can be used as an of­fice or din­ing space, and it also con­verts into a guest bed. There’s also a set of doors to the stern.


It was es­sen­tial in a boat of this lay­out that the wheel­house felt as if it was part of the in­te­rior, not just an out­side space with a cover – and it does.

Of course, the space is dom­i­nated by the steer­ing po­si­tion, with a wheel and an im­pres­sive range of in­stru­ments, but there’s also a fixed bench seat with stor­age un­der­neath.

The wheel­house frame­work is made of a hard­wood, iroko, and is col­lapsi­ble. An au­to­matic elec­tric ver­sion is avail­able, but Nick and Ali went for the man­ual op­tion, which Nick ad­mits does take some time to dis­man­tle. The roof comes off in five sec­tions and all the win­dows fold down. The fam­ily has only had to do this once so far, to get un­der an arched bridge on the Ken­net & Avon.


As you might ex­pect, this is where Tu­lak gets com­pli­cated – and really in­ter­est­ing. Nor­mally, we’d start with the engine, but this boat doesn’t have one. Not a nor­mal diesel engine, any­way. In­stead, it has an elec­tric drive sys­tem us­ing a 48-volt 20kW Fis­cher Panda elec­tric mo­tor.

Strangely per­haps (given that Nick and Ali had come up with plenty of un­usual ideas al­ready), it was Ar­tie Chalmers

‘If you thought the drive and elec­tri­cal sys­tems were in­ter­est­ing, the heating is lit­tle short of rev­o­lu­tion­ary’

who sug­gested this sys­tem. His rea­son­ing was that they were al­ready equip­ping the boat with a big bat­tery bank, lots of so­lar pan­els and a back-up gen­er­a­tor, so why not make full use of that sys­tem and avoid the need for an­other diesel unit?

So the bat­tery bank is large. There are eight Rolls bat­ter­ies, each of 468Ah. Such a mas­sive bank needs a lot of charg­ing, so the so­lar ar­ray is the sort of size you might nor­mally find on a house – ten 240W pan­els – and a Fis­cher Panda diesel gen­er­a­tor of 13kW.

The gen­er­a­tor is pro­grammed to kick in au­to­mat­i­cally when it’s needed, so it will come on when the bat­ter­ies drop to a cer­tain state of charge, or when the draw on them reaches a cer­tain level. In prac­tice, this means that turn­ing on an elec­tric ket­tle will mean the gen­er­a­tor starts up, and it’s also on while un­der­way.

The elec­tri­cal sys­tem is nec­es­sar­ily fiendishly com­pli­cated. There’s a 12-volt cir­cuit for things such as the LED lights; the bow thruster (a Ve­tus 95kgf model) is 24 volts; the propul­sion mo­tor is 48 volts; and then there’s the 240-volt cir­cuit for the fridge and so on, which is run by a 5kW Vic­tron in­verter.

But if you thought the drive and elec­tri­cal sys­tems were in­ter­est­ing, the heating is lit­tle short of rev­o­lu­tion­ary. There’s no boiler in a con­ven­tional sense, in­stead, a heat pump uses the nat­u­ral warmth of the canal or river wa­ter to pro­vide both heating and hot wa­ter. In land-based sys­tems, these heat pumps use the warmth stored in the earth, col­lected via an ex­ten­sive sys­tem of pipes buried a me­tre un­der­ground. The equiv­a­lent on this boat is a mas­sive skin tank on the base­plate, un­der­neath the engine room.

The liq­uid from this skin tank passes into the heat pump, where it goes through the first of two heat ex­chang­ers. The other side of the heat ex­changer con­tains a liq­uid with a very low boiling point, so the warmth from the canal wa­ter, even at just a few degrees, turns it into gas. This gas passes through a com­pres­sor, which heats it up. The hot gas goes through the sec­ond heat ex­changer, where it warms the heating and hot wa­ter sys­tem. As the gas cools it con­denses back into a liq­uid, ready to go around again.

There are sev­eral elec­tri­cal parts in the sys­tem, a pump for the skin tank liq­uid, the com­pres­sor, and an­other pump for the heating sys­tem. But the mak­ers of the pump, Kensa, say that for ev­ery unit of elec­tric­ity used, be­tween three and four units of heat are cre­ated. The heat pump it­self is rel­a­tively small; Kensa don’t call it their Shoe Box pump for noth­ing.

There’s a large hot wa­ter tank in the

engine room, while heating comes from an un­der-floor net­work of pipes, zoned by room. The pipes (and, there­fore, the floor) won’t get very hot.

The idea is to have a con­stant low level back­ground heat; if it’s not quite enough, this boat has the sa­loon stove as a back-up. In ad­di­tion, the in­su­la­tion is far thicker, par­tic­u­larly on the roof, than you’d find in a nor­mal boat.

Nick Clack says the sys­tem has worked well, pro­vid­ing plen­ti­ful hot wa­ter. The real test will come in the depths of win­ter, but re­mem­ber that even in freez­ing con­di­tions, canals in this coun­try freeze only to a depth of a few inches, and the wa­ter un­der­neath the ice con­tin­ues to re­main at a fairly con­stant tem­per­a­ture.


This is a big boat, and if any­thing it looks even big­ger when you’re be­hind the wheel. The roof stretches out in front of you, and there’s quite a lot of boat be­hind you, too.

Al­though wheel steer­ing takes a bit of get­ting used to af­ter a tiller, this boat has the ad­van­tage of a gauge that in­di­cates the an­gle of the rud­der. It’s an hy­draulic

sys­tem so it’s not as im­me­di­ate as a tra­di­tional tiller; there’s a slight de­lay be­fore the ef­fects of turn­ing the wheel start to hap­pen.

The elec­tric mo­tor is amazingly quiet and sur­pris­ingly pow­er­ful. Re­vers­ing off the moor­ing hap­pened in com­plete si­lence, and even when the gen­er­a­tor kicks in it’s hardly no­tice­able.

The other sur­pris­ing thing is how well the boat han­dles, given its size. Once it starts to turn, it re­sponds really well; you could cer­tainly spin it in its own length. What’s more, the bow thruster has plenty of grunt, too.

Stone work­stops are less likely to crack than gran­ite

Engine room is be­hind the steps

Sa­loon is a lit­tle smaller than a nor­mal wide­beam, but still big enough

A bath – es­sen­tial with a three-year-old

And there’s still room for full-size front doors

A three-year-old’s room, ob­vi­ously...

Raised plat­form for the swim

Wheel­house feels like in­te­rior

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