What to buy can be fraught with dif­fi­cul­ties, here Neil Bar­nett takes a side­ways (but not nec­es­sar­ily in­ac­cu­rate) view of the whole idea

Canal Boat - - This Month -

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

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