WORTH THE WAIT

New boats from Blisworth don’t come along very of­ten and this one took 15 months to build, so we were in­trigued to see what it was like

Canal Boat - - The Boat Test - WORDS ADAM PORTER PIC­TURES ANDY R ANNABLE

There’s noth­ing more bor­ing than watching paint dry – even if the paint is on the side of a nar­row­boat. And let’s face it, when you’re paint­ing a nar­row­boat, there’s quite a lot of dry­ing time be­tween coats and while the paint hard­ens.

And that’s where Ja­son Clarke of Blisworth Tun­nel Boats saw an op­por­tu­nity. Boat paint­ing is his main busi­ness but in­stead of watching the paint dry, he puts the time to much bet­ter use, fit­ting out boats.

It means that each one takes quite a while to fin­ish, be­cause he’s not do­ing it full-time – but as he tends to build a spec boat and then put it up for sale, that doesn’t par­tic­u­larly mat­ter.

Ja­son has worked for some well known firms in the past and has built quite a few

boats him­self too since tak­ing over Blisworth Tun­nel Boats 12 years ago, so he knows what he’s do­ing.

We liked a boat he took to the Crick Show a cou­ple of years ago be­cause of its high qual­ity wood­work. Now his lat­est boat is just fin­ished af­ter some 15 months of work and we were keen to see what he’d done this time.

Ja­son is keen to ex­pand the boat-build­ing side by tak­ing on a part­ner. This could be a great op­por­tu­nity for an ex­pe­ri­enced boat fit­ter to join the busi­ness.

EX­TE­RIOR

This 58ft 6in boat is built on a very at­trac­tive shell by Tyler Wil­son. It’s one of their Josh­ers, so the bow is curvy and the whole bow area is longer than you’d find on one of their stan­dard bows. In ad­di­tion to the usual de­tails such as scrolls in the ends of the handrails and a boat­man’s beam across the roof, this boat also has a line of replica riv­ets be­low the gun­wales, to em­pha­sise the tra­di­tional look. Along the same lines, there are brass Grand Union style open­ing port­holes and two pi­geon boxes on the roof. These are glazed and have ven­ti­la­tion in each end. The whole boat has a look and feel of stur­di­ness and qual­ity.

As you might ex­pect on a boat built by a spe­cial­ist boat painter, the paint­work is very glossy and deep. The colour scheme is a clas­sic ma­roon for the pan­els, with bor­ders of grey aft of the boat­man’s beam and black for­ward of it. A nice paint de­tail is a run of di­a­monds in be­tween the two sec­tions. It all looks very classy. As it’s a spec boat, it’s cur­rently un­named, but sign­writ­ing to the even­tual cus­tomer’s re­quire­ments is in­cluded in the price.

The gas locker is in the nose, while the well deck (which is planned to be cov­ered by a cratch) has a set of doors in the for­ward bulk­head giv­ing ac­cess to the bow thruster tube. The wa­ter tank, un­der the well deck, is made from food-grade

plas­tic. At the stern, there are lock­ers both sides of the semi-trad deck pro­vid­ing plenty of stor­age.

The deck also has rear doors, which have been nicely dec­o­rated. A nice touch is the strip of me­tal che­quer­plate on the thresh­old.

LAY­OUT AND FIT-OUT

This boat has a stan­dard lay­out, with the sa­loon and dinette at the bow fol­lowed by a U-shaped gal­ley. The walk-through shower room is next, with the cab­ins at the rear.

The fit- out uses a lot of solid oak. It’s Euro­pean char­ac­ter grade wood, so con­tains a lot of at­trac­tive knots and burrs – you can see why it’s called char­ac­ter grade. The 18mm thick planks are used be­low the gun­wales and on the floor, where they’re laid over 25mm ply boards. The floor in the shower room is slate tiles. The cabin sides are whitepainted tongue and groove, to give a light bright look. Pine is used for the skirt­ing, to give a bit of con­trast­ing colour and tex­ture. All the fur­ni­ture is hand­made from the char­ac­ter­ful oak.

SA­LOON AND DINETTE

A cou­ple of steps bring you into the sa­loon from the well deck through oak-lined glazed doors. The steps im­me­di­ately in­di­cate the level of thought and at­ten­tion to de­tail that’s been put into this boat: non-slip strips are made of ebony and have been in­laid to the treads. The treads them­selves lift for stor­age and the whole step unit pulls out on cast­ers to shelves; there’s a TV point here, so you have op­tions about where the TV goes. Above, there’s a glazed, high level cup­board. The door has a stained glass de­sign hand made by Martin Far­rant at his lit­tle stu­dio just the other side of the Blisworth Tun­nel in Stoke Bruerne. Un­der the gun­wales is a unit con­tain­ing shelves and a flat screen smart TV on a move­able bracket. The top of the unit has an in­laid line of king­wood, a dark wood from In­dia. Fur­ther along is a black col­umn radiator, which both matches and con­trasts with the wooden in­te­rior of the boat.

The dinette con­sists of fixed L-shaped seat­ing, with a hand­made ta­ble. This is in­laid with more king­wood band­ing. There’s space un­der the gun­wales to store the ta­ble when it’s not needed. The dinette con­verts into a guest dou­ble bed,

by drop­ping the ta­ble onto shorter Desmo legs, which are stored in the base.

There’s a mass of other stor­age space down here too; fur­ther long term stor­age (or pos­si­bly for valu­ables or even a safe) is avail­able through the back of the dinette seat, in the oth­er­wise dead cor­ner of the gal­ley.

GAL­LEY

The U-shaped gal­ley is a smart and prac­ti­cal space. A cou­ple of black wrought iron poles help to di­vide the area from the sa­loon, and add to the tra­di­tional look, and there’s an­other piece of stained glass set into the half-bulk­head.

The work­tops are black gran­ite and there’s a match­ing black gran­ite sink by Range­mas­ter, which is cold to the touch. It’s teamed with a pull-out tap, deemed es­sen­tial by Ja­son’s wife, Ning, who’s a keen cook.

She’s also added other use­ful items, such as a bin which pulls out on run­ners from the cup­board un­der the sink, and came up with the lay­out of the gal­ley.

At first it looks a bit un­usual, with the sink across the boat rather than un­der the win­dow. But ac­tu­ally it makes good use of space, with the drain­ing board stretch­ing into the cor­ner and a large area of work­top avail­able for pre­par­ing food.

‘The dinette con­verts into a guest dou­ble bed, by drop­ping the ta­ble onto shorter Desmo legs, which are stored in the base’

All the units are made from solid oak, with nicely con­structed doors with gran­ite han­dles. All the cup­board doors and draw­ers have soft clos­ing mech­a­nisms. The high level ones are glazed with frosted glass.

Equip­ment in­cludes a full size slot-in oven with a grill and hob. There’s also a com­pact Zanussi wash­ing ma­chine and a 12v Shore­line fridge with a freezer box. A re­mark­able amount has been fit­ted into a rel­a­tively small space. There’s a set of oak-lined side doors, for feed­ing the ducks.

SHOWER ROOM

A door glazed with frosted glass leads from the gal­ley to the shower room, with lovely tra­di­tional door fur­ni­ture. The space is dom­i­nated by the very gen­er­ous 900mm quad­rant shower lined with a slate ef­fect shower board. The shower fit­tings are by Tri­ton and the pump is the lat­est model by Whale which turns on au­to­mat­i­cally when it de­tects wa­ter. Pre­vi­ously, au­to­matic shower pumps worked by hav­ing a sump box which al­ways even­tu­ally got clogged up; this one does away with that and just has an elec­tric sen­sor to de­tect wa­ter. Along­side the shower, there’s a cup­board and some lit­tle shelves mak­ing use of the space be­tween the shower and the cabin sides, as well as giv­ing ac­cess to the pump.

Op­po­site, there’s a good sized unit pro­vid­ing plenty of stor­age, with a gran­ite top and a large round mar­ble basin. The wall be­hind has a huge mir­ror.

The loo is a Jab­sco mac­er­at­ing ver­sion; the top of the small unit be­hind lifts off.

There’s a heated towel rail un­der the gun­wale, and Ning has added a cou­ple of towel hooks along­side.

CABIN

The down­side of hav­ing such a large shower cu­bi­cle is that the door into the cabin is a lit­tle nar­row – es­pe­cially when you take into ac­count the door han­dle. But for many who cher­ish room in their

show­ers, this will be a com­pro­mise well worth mak­ing.

The bed is 4ft wide and has a run of high level units above the long side. The loo hold­ing tank is un­der the bed, but clever po­si­tion­ing means it takes up less room than you might think. It sits al­most down on the base plate rather than on top of the floor. The tank is also boxed in to limit the scope for smells to es­cape; all the con­nec­tions are also boxed in but ac­ces­si­ble if nec­es­sary.

Set­ting the tank low down means there’s room in the bed base for a cou­ple of de­cent-sized draw­ers above it. There’s an­other, deeper drawer in the end of the bed base, us­ing the space by the tank.

Ei­ther side of the rear steps are large wardrobes with mir­rors on the doors. And they re­ally are vo­lu­mi­nous, and fit­ted with shelves and hang­ing space. One loses a lit­tle space to some of the boat’s elec­tri­cals, as the fuse panel is on the out­side wall. But the wiring has been boxed in with a door – a sort of cup­board within the cup­board – so you can’t ac­ci­den­tally knock any of the ca­bles, yet they’re all still ac­ces­si­ble.

The steps them­selves have ebony non-slip in­lays; the top one has a lift­ing tread, while the other two are draw­ers. All in all, this is a cabin with a lot of stor­age space for clothes.

TECH­NI­CAL

The boat is pow­ered by a 40hp Bar­rus Shire en­gine. The bow thruster hadn’t been fit­ted when we tested the boat but will be an elec­tric one by Lew­mar. Elec­tri­cal power comes from five 110Ah do­mes­tic bat­ter­ies in a vented box in the en­gine hole, plus one for the en­gine and other for the bow thruster. A Vic­tron 3kw in­verter pro­vides a 240v sup­ply.

There’s a shore­line hookup at the stern and the bow, so you won’t ever have to run a cable along the length of the boat.

Ac­cess to the en­gine is pretty good. A sin­gle board lifts up, and there’s a de­cent amount of space around the en­gine. The calori­fier is also in the en­gine hole, as well as the Eberspacher diesel boiler.

ON THE WA­TER

This is a boat that feels im­mensely se­cure on the wa­ter. It’s a de­cently heavy boat, and at the tiller it feels solid and re­spon­sive. We’ve al­ways liked the way

Tyler Wil­son shells han­dle, and this is a good ex­am­ple of its type. It goes ex­actly where it’s pointed, it turns ex­cep­tion­ally well, and even goes back­wards in a straight line.

Wind­ing was easy, even with­out the bow thruster and the boat moves through the wa­ter very eas­ily. All in all we couldn’t fault the han­dling.

There’s plenty of room on the stern deck for crew and the lock­ers mean they have some­where to sit. The en­gine is nice and quiet, and the Morse con­trol falls eas­ily to hand.

The di­als and some of the switches, though, are on the for­ward side of the col­umn, so they’re not in the steerer’s eye­line, mean­ing you can’t just keep an eye on them. Ja­son says he puts them there be­cause there’s less chance of ac­ci­den­tally knock­ing a switch.Isque volorit mag­ni­hil mag­ni­hil ide qu­ost,

The long, curvy bow adds to the look of qual­ity

With the sink abeam the boat there’s plenty of space

We loved the hand­made ta­ble

Stained glass adds a nice touch

The 4ft bed is a snug fit Ebony in­lay stops slip­ping

Shower has au­to­matic pump

The boat rev­els in a tra­di­tional look

Tidy mind, tidy boat with en­closed electrics

More gran­ite ac­cen­tu­ates stylish fit-out

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