BUYING A BOAT
What to buy can be fraught with difficulties, here Neil Barnett takes a sideways (but not necessarily inaccurate) view of the whole idea
Trad, semi or cruiser? Portholes or windows with that? A sideways look at the pleasures and pitfalls of finding a new boat
For those of you new to narrowboating and looking to purchase your first boat, you might like to take a look at what you may be letting yourself in for. You have been warned....
Firstly, you will need to trawl the internet forums and research through the many printed publications. Walk the towpaths chatting to boaters and you’ll soon discover it might not be quite as straightforward as you thought. Differing opinions abound and sometimes argued vehemently so. Whether it’s pump-out toilet or cassette, portholes or windows, or the rather sexist comment that bow thrusters are ‘girlie buttons’, all are capable of producing heated debate over a pint or a casual chat on the towpath.
But it doesn’t stop there, unfortunately. I doubt there’s another walk of life that produces such diverse and often passionate debate as the boating fraternity does.
Let’s begin with the choices regarding the configuration of your boat. Traditional-type sterns are surely the best because they give you much more cabin space inside. On cold days the person at the helm can stand just inside the cabin and have the benefit of the heat emanating from within and gain some shelter from the rain and wind too. Traditional type sterns also look aesthetically better.
But what about the lack of room for partners, friends, or your pet? Surely it must a real hassle constantly having to work around other people and worrying about tripping over the dog when you’re moving the tiller from side to side, not to mention the risk to your other crew members perched precariously on the narrow gunwale hanging on for dear life in order to give the tiller-person the room to steer?
Give me a cruiser stern any day. Much more sociable. There’s room for crew members to share time with the helmsperson, your dogs to watch the world go by and plenty of space to sit with a glass of wine or beer. You can do the same when moored if the towpath is muddy or narrow, without the need of
having to keep moving over to let the speeding cyclists or the incessant stream of joggers pass you. Also, access to the engine and bilges is so much easier than a trad or semi-trad.
Ah yes, but a cruiser stern is such a waste. Those extra few feet could be put to much better use as cabin space and when cruising you’re so exposed and have little protection from the elements, especially the wind and rain.
Okay, how about a semi-trad? Some say they are neither one thing or the other. Are they the worst of both worlds or the best? They are a waste of potential cabin space yet don’t offer the same room that a cruiser stern does. Or do they? Are they better because they provide sheltered seating for the other crew members, safety for young children and dogs, and somewhere to store things like wellies or boating gear such as mooring pins and windlass?
Now for the other end. There are fans of the tug-type foredeck which many think gives the boat a sleek and graceful look. The large open space can be used for relaxing upon, similar to the benefits of a cruiser stern. But isn’t this a waste of cabin space too? However they do provide plentiful storage space underneath, and in some cases even a bed under there.
Whatever the configuration of the bows another often contentious issue is that of the foredeck. Cratch cover or open deck? Again there are pros and cons and as with the other issues it is, of course, down to personal choice.
There’s even more. Portholes or windows? Side hatch? Houdini hatch? Pigeon box? Hospital silencer? Tonneau? Pram hood? Pullman dinette? And yes we are still referring to boats, honestly!
Now let’s step inside shall we. To discuss the innumerable options regarding the layout, configuration and furnishing of the boat would easily run to ten pages or more so let’s just stick to the basics. The two most common configurations are firstly the so-called conventional layout with the saloon at the front, bedroom(s) at the rear, and various combinations of other rooms in between. With the saloon at the front the other crew members can stay inside comfortably and see ahead as they cruise along.
However with the sleeping quarters in the rear, the bedding is prone to getting wet and soiled as crew open the roof hatch and squeeze past in their wet trousers and shoes, unless of course you have some form of ‘back cabin’. Secondly, what’s increased in popularity is what is often referred to as a ‘reverse layout’ with the saloon or galley at the back, much better for the crew/passengers to be in closer contact with the person at the tiller and thus help them feel less isolated, but the downside is the cabin is a the front so there’s no proper seating on which to sit at the front of the boat to see ahead, apart from the well deck.
As for the ‘pump-out’ versus cassette toilet arrangement, I’m not even going to go there! Just seek the opinions of as many boaters as you can and you’ll still be none the wiser. It’s a little like the Marmite scenario.
What about the length of boat? Do you go for the full 70ft, the ‘go-anywhere’ 58ft
‘What about the length of boat? Do you go for the full 70ft, the ‘go-anywhere’ 58ft or something in between or smaller, perhaps?’
or something in between or smaller? Again it’s down to personal choice and much is dependant upon where you plan to cruise and for what purpose, live aboard or holidays.
Then of course there are widebeams and Dutch Barges. How wonderful to have all that extra width but with that comes the restrictions of only being able to cruise wide canals or river usage.
Do you go for a modern engine or a vintage one? Modern engines are efficient and easy to maintain, however the gentle ‘putt-putt putting’ noise of those old ones effortlessly chugging along is a wonderful sound. But you’d need to increase your spend by around 15 percent, have a decent-sized engine room to accommodate it and probably a great deal of mechanical knowledge, too.
You’ll learn about bow thrusters and what a tremendous help they are, especially in windy conditions or manoeuvring in tight spaces, and how just a short press of a button takes away the need for somebody to push the bows away from the bank when setting off. But hey, ‘proper’ boaters shouldn’t need them and some vital boat handling skills are never learned, such is the danger of relying on them too much. You’ll hear disparaging comments about those who incredibly won’t want to go out on their boat if the bow thruster isn’t working, which sometimes happens when they get clogged up with weed or mud.
So now you’ve chosen your boat, it’s time to learn the finer points of using it and the etiquette and terminology that is expected of you before embarking upon your first cruise. After all you’re going to meet a lot of other boaters, many of whom will be experienced, so next month we’ll prepare for that big wide world of cruising.
Trad stern: cosy but less room for friends
Modern engines are economical and efficient
Pump-out or cassette?
Trad stern doesn’t waste any cabin space
Vintage engines can need a lot of care
Cratch with a cover, or without?
Semi-trads are a popular choice