BOAT TEST: ORTOMARINE SEMI-TRAD

You prob­a­bly won’t have heard of Ortomarine be­fore, but the chances are you’ll be hear­ing more as their first pri­vate boat shows

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS ADAM PORTER PIC­TURES ANDY R ANNABLE

A solid Bri­tish-built boat for un­der £100,000 – and it’s got some high-tech elec­tron­ics as well

Di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion is a cur­rent busi­ness buz­zword – mov­ing into a dif­fer­ent area to ex­pand your com­pany and pos­si­bly pro­tect your­self should your orig­i­nal area go into a downturn. It’s par­tic­u­larly good if you can make bet­ter use of ex­ist­ing as­sets or skills, which is why farm­ers are putting glamp­ing tents on their land and Ap­ple has used its com­put­ing skills to make smart phones.

So when we heard that a firm mak­ing elec­tronic con­trol sys­tems for ev­ery­thing from the gas in­dus­try to crum­pet pro­duc­tion lines had started build­ing nar­row­boats, we were in­trigued to say the least.

Frankly, it didn’t seem a par­tic­u­larly

good fit. But closer in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed that the com­pany was, in fact, just mak­ing good use of skills it al­ready had. That’s be­cause Caro­line Badger and Rob Howle had taken on Rob’s brother, Dave, as an en­gi­neer when he took re­dun­dancy from one of the big­gest hire boat com­pa­nies af­ter more than 20 years’ ser­vice.

Dave was soon be­ing ap­proached by some of his pre­vi­ous con­tacts who asked if he could built them some re­place­ment hire boats. And so the di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion hap­pened.

Now, af­ter build­ing four hire boats, Ortomarine has built a cou­ple of pri­vate boats for sale, of which this is the first to be fin­ished. The aim was to pro­duce a solid, Bri­tish-built boat for less than £100,000, but also to in­clude some of the high-tech elec­tron­ics the par­ent com­pany is known for. Quite a chal­lenge.

EX­TE­RIOR

Ortomarine were de­ter­mined that their boats would be built on good qual­ity shells, so they turned to Tyler Wil­son, one of the big­gest and best known names in the in­dus­try. This boat is based on one of Tyler Wil­son’s Mike

Chris­tian shells, the name they give to their stan­dard builds.

It means there are fewer frills, al­though the build qual­ity and at­ten­tion to de­tail re­mains the same. So while you don’t get a boat­man’s beam or scrolls at the end of the handrails and cants (the ends are rounded in­stead, in a non-fussy but at­trac­tive way), there’s still a very pretty Josher-style bow and a Birm­ing­ham square shape to the hull, which pro­vides more space in­side.

What you also get are things such as the chute-style weed hatch which means you can’t sink your boat by fail­ing to se­cure the hatch prop­erly, and long swims which con­trib­ute to the leg­endary Tyler Wil­son han­dling.

Ortomarine uses Andy Ed­wards from Forge Stu­dio in Dun­hamp­stead to hand-paint the boats and the fin­ished re­sult looks ex­cel­lent. This one has a nice shiny fin­ish and looks clas­si­cally el­e­gant in a dark grey, while the chrome trim pro­duces a con­tem­po­rary look.

On the roof, as well as the usual plank and pole stand there’s a long so­lar panel. There’s also a very dis­creet in­ter­net an­tenna, which looks like a small dome. In the nose there’s a spacious gas locker, while the wa­ter tank is un­der the well deck. The well deck it­self has lock­ers both sides for stor­age and to pro­vide some­where to sit.

There are also lock­ers on the semi-trad stern deck which has use­ful deck lights for when you re­turn from the pub in the dark...

‘There are also lock­ers on the semi-trad stern deck which has use­ful deck­lights for when you re­turn from the pub in the dark...’

LAY­OUT AND FIT-OUT

This is a re­verse lay­out boat, with the gal­ley at the stern. Next comes a large saloon with a free­stand­ing din­ing ta­ble. A gen­er­ous walk-through bath­room fol­lows, with the cabin at the bow. The fit-out uses a mois­ture-re­sis­tant MDF board be­low the gun­wales, routed to look like tongue and groove and painted white. Al­though many peo­ple worry about MDF in boats, ev­i­dence sug­gests that it ac­tu­ally stands up to wa­ter just as well as ply­wood, if not bet­ter.

Above the gun­wales, the cabin sides are cov­ered in a marine vinyl, the sort of thing more nor­mally seen in yachts. It has a leather fin­ish and is padded, pro­duc­ing a feel­ing of lux­ury and warmth. The trim is solid oak.

One of the real strengths of this boat is the sense of style. All the fix­tures and fit­tings are good qual­ity and it looks and feels like a de­signer boat.

GAL­LEY

Steps bring you down in­side from the semi-trad stern. On one side an air­ing cup­board has the calori­fier un­der­neath, while on the other side there’s an open space with hang­ing for coats.

To achieve the sub £100,000 price-tag, the gal­ley is made from a kit, but don’t imag­ine this is just an off-the-shelf flat pack, it’s not. In­stead, the de­sign for the gal­ley was drawn up and sent for all the parts to be cut by com­puter. This meant the good qual­ity units fit­ted prop­erly, but took a lot less time to put to­gether. And, as is often said, time is money.

There are plenty of cup­boards, all with oak-style doors, and some clever touches such as the mi­crowave be­ing built in to the side of the full-height cup­board, to save work­top space. There’s also a built-in wine rack and a rack for mugs

and glasses. The work­tops are lam­i­nate and the sink is very stylish. It’s round, black, with a built-in drainer, and made of a quartz com­pos­ite that’s very strong and won’t scratch. To max­imise workspace, a cover goes over the sink.

Equip­ment in­cludes a full-size Thet­ford Caprice oven and hob, and a 12-volt Lec In­lan­der fridge. A nice touch is LED light­ing un­der the gun­wales, which washes the work­tops with light, and brushed steel light switches and sock­ets.

The win­dows have blinds from John Lewis, and to avoid the need for re­tain­ing bars or hooks, there are mag­nets in the blinds and the win­dow trims. The floor is a lux­ury vinyl tile.

SALOON

The saloon is a large and flex­i­ble space, left for loose fur­ni­ture rather than built-in items. How­ever, the boat has been de­signed so that a Pull­man dinette could be added straight af­ter the gal­ley.

As it stands, this boat has a John Lewis ta­ble and benches; these have cush­ions, which can also be used on the lock­ers on the stern or bow decks. Op­po­site the ta­ble there’s a side hatch. The sofa bed comes from Ikea and con­verts eas­ily into a bed with­out hav­ing to be moved. It is on the large size but, of course, the beauty of free­stand­ing fur­ni­ture is that you can choose what­ever seat­ing you like.

Op­po­site the sofa, a hand­made un­der-gun­wale unit houses a DAB ra­dio and a smart TV. Of the other lit­tle cup­boards, one con­tains a Wi-Fi router, while one at the top flips down to re­veal a touch-screen con­trol for the boat’s mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem (about which there’ll be much more later).

There’s a cup­board in the cor­ner of the saloon, but this could eas­ily be re­placed by a solid fuel stove.

SHOWER ROOM

This is one of the most spacious shower rooms we’ve seen. It’s a walk-though de­sign, which al­ways adds space, but this one is also al­most seven feet long.

The shower is a 900 x 760mm quad­rant, so it also of­fers lots of room, and it’s lined with a shower board. Along­side there are shelves be­low the gun­wales, which also give ac­cess to the shower pump.

The van­ity unit, by Roca, has grey high gloss doors. A match­ing unit has been slot­ted un­der the gun­wales on the op­po­site side. The basin is large and has a stylish water­fall tap, while the splash­backs are made from glass mo­saic.

There’s a shaver point and a mir­ror that has a demist­ing heater el­e­ment be­hind which comes on when you switch on the light above.

The loo is a Jab­sco mac­er­a­tor with the hold­ing tank im­me­di­ately be­hind, un­der the bed. This means the length of pipe be­tween the two is com­mend­ably short.

There’s both a ra­di­a­tor and match­ing towel rail in grey. The doors at ei­ther end of the room are kept open by mag­nets.

CABIN

Up at the bow, the cabin has an in-line bed with a lux­u­ri­ous and very stylish padded headboard. Above this there’s a high-level cup­board with read­ing lights (which can also be set to night light mode) and a charg­ing point for a phone.

In the back of the cup­board, there’s ac­cess to the work­ings of the heated shower room mir­ror; Dave’s hire boat back­ground means he’s tried to make ev­ery­thing easy to get at, just in case they need at­ten­tion. Port­hole bungs have been made to match the headboard.

As we said, the hold­ing tank for the loo is un­der part of the bed, but there’s also room for big draw­ers in the other part of the base; there’s also longer term stor­age un­der the far side of the bed and this area is car­peted.

A large wardrobe pro­vides plenty of space for clothes and there’s also power and an aerial point, so a TV could be hung on the side of the wardrobe. A lower unit sits along­side. The steps up to the well deck lift for stor­age.

Un­usu­ally, the bow doors and the win­dows along­side are uPVC dou­ble glazed units. They are less tra­di­tional than steel or hard­wood doors, but should cer­tainly im­prove se­cu­rity and draught ex­clu­sion. The cur­tains roll down in­di­vid­u­ally.

TECH­NI­CAL

In one sense this boat is rel­a­tively straight­for­ward tech­ni­cally, with a Beta 43 en­gine and PRM 150 gear­box, a set up that ev­ery boat­yard in the coun­try will be fa­mil­iar with.

The elec­tri­cal side is rel­a­tively mod­est. There are three 110Ah bat­ter­ies, plus a starter bat­tery, and a 2kW Vic­tron in­verter. A wel­come ad­di­tion is a de­cent-sized so­lar panel on the roof. It’s a flex­i­ble, low pro­file, 144-Watt af­fair that uses the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, so it’s more ef­fi­cient in low light con­di­tions.

Heat­ing comes from a Eber­spächer diesel boiler.

Per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing part of the boat tech­ni­cally is the mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem, which (as it’s the sort of thing they do all the time) has been de­vel­oped by Ortomarine’s par­ent com­pany, Or­tomader. The touch screen dis­play in the saloon shows you the state of the bat­ter­ies, the heat­ing, and the fuel and wa­ter tanks.

The sys­tem is linked to the in­ter­net via a 3G/4G router in­side the boat and the small dome an­tenna on the roof.

This means you can do things such as turn on the boat’s heat­ing from your smart­phone while you’re still at home or on the mo­tor­way, so the boat is warm when you ar­rive; you can set it to alert you by text or email if the bat­ter­ies drop to a cer­tain level. You could also be no­ti­fied if the level in the fuel tank dropped sud­denly (which might mean some­one was steal­ing your diesel).

Part of the beauty of the sys­tem is that it can be set up in many dif­fer­ent ways. It

could in­clude an in­truder alarm, for ex­am­ple, or the lights on the back deck could be con­trolled from your phone. Flex­i­bil­ity and adapt­abil­ity are the key to this be­spoke sys­tem. The hope is that it will ap­peal to lots of boaters and be fit­ted by other boat-builders.

ON THE WA­TER

One of Tyler Wil­son’s Mike Chris­tian hulls paired with a Beta 43 en­gine is a good com­bi­na­tion and al­most bound to work well. And in­deed there are no sur­prises. The boat sits in the wa­ter nicely, it swims well and the han­dling is

ex­cel­lent. The main test of that while we were on board was the very ex­treme turn into the Droitwich Junc­tion Canal when com­ing north on the Worces­ter & Birm­ing­ham. You al­most have to dou­ble back on your­self, and this boat man­aged it with ease.

There’s plenty of room on the stern deck for crew and the lock­ers give them some­where to sit. For the steerer, the tiller is at a nice height with the Morse con­trol in the right place. The di­als and warn­ing lights are in­side the boat, though, so you can’t re­ally just glance at them.

Saloon has been de­signed to al­low for a Pull­man dinette

Above the gun­wales cabin sides have a padded ‘leather’ fin­ish

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