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.
LAYOUT AND FIT-OUT
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.
THE THREE BEDROOMS
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.
ON THE WATER
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