BOAT TEST: JD NAR­ROW­BOATS 54FT SEMI-CRUISER

Prov­ing that build­ing a bespoke boat means you can de­sign just about any­thing you want

Canal Boat - - Con­tents - WORDS ADAM PORTER PIC­TURES ANDY R ANNABLE

We reg­u­larly hear of peo­ple who see one of these boat tests and like the boat so much they or­der one just the same. That’s great, and it’s not sur­pris­ing that some de­signs work for lots of peo­ple.

But the ma­jor­ity of boat builders we fea­ture build bespoke boats – and most of them will tell you they’d get bored if they had to build the same thing over and over again. They like cus­tomers like Nigel and Jen­nie Eveleigh, who’d seen a boat in this magazine and at the Crick Boat Show, and liked it - but also wanted to adapt the de­sign to suit their boat­ing plans.

The boat they’d seen was by JD Nar­row­boats, which had an ex­tended cabin rather than a well deck. They liked the fact that this ar­range­ment gave a lot more in­side space for the length of boat; and they loved the idea of a huge bed tak­ing up the whole width of the front of the boat. How­ever, they’ve done a lot of boat­ing on the Thames, and know that it’s es­sen­tial to have some­where safe at the bow for a crew mem­ber to stand, so they can throw a rope over a bol­lard and hold on while the lock keeper fills or emp­ties the lock.

One of the joys of us­ing a bespoke boat builder is that they can do pretty much what­ever you want. That’s per­haps even more true of a firm like JD Nar­row­boats who build their own shells as well as do­ing the fit­ting out. So they came up with a de­sign that achieves two seem­ingly con­tra­dic­tory things: an ex­tended cabin, and a well deck.

EX­TE­RIOR

If you visit the JD Nar­row­boats yard on the Trent and Mersey Canal you’ll see boats in var­i­ous stages of com­ple­tion – from a pile of steel sheets, to vir­tu­ally fin­ished. And while they’ve built ev­ery­thing in­clud­ing boats with nor­mal well decks and even tugs, it’s the ones with ex­tended cab­ins that seem to have be­come a bit of a spe­cial­ity. It’s a fea­ture which is un­doubt­edly prac­ti­cal, of­fer­ing a lot of ex­tra in­te­rior space, with­out length­en­ing the boat as a whole. But it’s also al­most cer­tain to di­vide the crowd: some peo­ple will never want to sac­ri­fice a seat­ing area at the bow, while oth­ers won’t like the look of the boat.

In this case, Dar­ron How­ell, JD’s steel man, had to come up with a de­sign which in­cor­po­rated an ex­tended cabin and some­where safe to stand. The an­swer was a well deck - al­beit a very short one. In fact, it’s just eigh­teen inches long, which is enough space to stand in, but not much else.

What’s sur­pris­ing is how the pres­ence of this lit­tle deck dis­guises the fact that the cabin comes much fur­ther for­ward than usual. Partly it’s be­cause the cabin doesn’t have to curve in so much, so the for­ward bulk­head isn’t so nar­row. And there’s another clever op­ti­cal trick: rather than a big window at the front of the boat, this one has a set of glazed doors in­stead, mak­ing it look like most other nar­row­boats on the wa­ter. From a dis­tance (and ac­tu­ally, even from fairly close) you’d think this boat had a full size well deck.

The steel­work looks good, and there are some nice touches such as scrolls in the cants and a fin­ger grip along the handrails. The gas locker is in the nose, while a hatch in the lit­tle well deck gives ac­cess to the bow thruster tube. At the other end of the boat is a gen­er­ously sized semi-cruiser deck, with stor­age lock­ers both sides, and arched steel­work semi-en­clos­ing the area. At the very stern is a set of metal rails with hard­wood tops.

The colour scheme uses black with cream coach­lines and a cream roof.

This dark colour also seems to dis­guise the fact that this is a rel­a­tively short boat, at just 54ft.

The win­dows are by Wes­ley Win­dows, and are dou­ble glazed.

LAY­OUT AND FITOUT

This is a re­verse lay­out boat – the whole point of the ex­tended cabin was to achieve a great big bed in the for­ward cabin. Be­hind the cabin is a walk­through shower room. The sa­loon is in the mid­dle of the boat, with the gal­ley at the stern.

The fitout uses a com­bi­na­tion of oak for the fur­ni­ture and bulk­heads, and painted ash-faced ply above the gun­wales. It’s a mod­ern feel­ing in­te­rior, and you can still see the grain of the wood un­der the paint.

GAL­LEY

Three steps take you down from the stern deck into the gal­ley. The top two have lift­ing treads for stor­age, while the bot­tom one is a drawer. There are cup­boards each side: one con­tains the electrics, the op­po­site one pro­vides hang­ing space and has the calori­fier un­der­neath (mak­ing it a good place to dry damp coats).

The gal­ley proper is dom­i­nated by beau­ti­ful oak work­tops, made in-house. They’re made from planks of oak, and even af­ter be­ing planed and sanded they’re a good 45mm think. On one side, the work­tops open out into a break­fast bar, giv­ing a vast ex­panse of re­ally lovely look­ing wood.

On one side of the boat there’s a Belfast sink, with a drainer routed into the work­top. As well as the nor­mal hot and cold taps, there’s another for fil­tered wa­ter. On the op­po­site side there’s a Thet­ford slot-in oven. Other equip­ment in­cludes a 12 volt Shore­line fridge, but it’s a bit wider than usual (and as such has to be spe­cially or­dered).

The own­ers wanted ev­ery­thing to look clean and smooth, so there are no pro­trud­ing han­dles on any of the cup­boards or draw­ers; in­stead, there are re­cesses in the doors. It means there’s noth­ing to catch you or your cloth­ing as

you pass through the gal­ley. There is some great join­ery on show, with a beau­ti­fully curved door at the end of the run of units. Be­hind, tucked un­der the gun­wale, is a pull-out wine rack - com­plete with the out­line of a bot­tle in­laid in a darker wood. There’s also a pull- out spice rack.

High-level cup­boards are lim­ited to a cou­ple of cor­ner units at the stern. There’s also a sim­ple high-level mug shelf, which has an LED light un­der­neath. A great deal of thought has been given to light­ing in this boat. There are dimmable LEDs and lights un­der shelves and gun­wales, as Nigel says they like to use light­ing to cre­ate dif­fer­ent moods on board.

There are side doors on each side of the boat, over the break­fast bar and op­po­site, both with glazed inner doors. That means you can let in light even when the weather isn’t so good. The break­fast bar it­self has a cou­ple of stylish stools. There’s also a ra­di­a­tor, which could be an­noy­ing for the per­son sit­ting on that side. The sa­loon-side of the unit also has a door giv­ing ac­cess to what would oth­er­wise be a dead cor­ner.

SA­LOON

The ma­jor piece of fur­ni­ture in the sa­loon is a big, com­fort­able, L-shaped sofa. It’s skil­fully made with curved cor­ners, and has stor­age in the base, with a large drawer. Nor­mally, we’d be ex­plain­ing how this con­verts into a guest bed – but in this case, it doesn’t: it’s been built to be as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble for sit­ting on.

Nigel and Jen­nie say their fam­ily tend to come and see them on the boat for the day, rather than overnight; in fact in ten years of boat­ing, they’ve never had friends or fam­ily stay the night on board. They’re not as heart­less as that might sound, though, be­cause the sofa could be used as a sin­gle bed, and they also have a blow-up mat­tress just in case!

Op­po­site the sofa is an un­der-gun­wale unit, which not only houses a flat screen tv but also a ra­dio and CD player, built-in speak­ers, and plenty of stor­age for CDs.

A free stand­ing table is stowed un­der the gun­wales, and there’s a high-level shelf on the for­ward bulk­head, with light­ing un­der­neath.

SHOWER ROOM

The shower room is a walk-through de­sign. The shower it­self is very gen­er­ously sized; it’s 900 x 900mm, but the bul­bous shape of the cu­bi­cle means it’s more than a quad­rant.

The loo is a Thet­ford cas­sette model, with a ce­ramic bowl. Ac­cess to the cas­sette is in a cup­board the other side of the bulk­head, and there’s room to store a spare.

In the cor­ner op­po­site the shower is a de­cent sized cor­ner unit hold­ing a smart round basin. It has a cup­board un­der­neath and draw­ers along­side. There’s a shaver point in the side and a mir­ror above. The room also has a heated towel rail.

One nice touch is that the shower room and the cabin be­yond have wooden tongue and groove on the ceil­ing rather that the cream pan­els used in the pub­lic ar­eas of the boat. It makes these more pri­vate spa­ces feel cosier.

CABIN

This is a re­ally good sized cabin – with masses of stor­age and a huge bed. There are wardrobes both sides of the boat, form­ing a mini-cor­ri­dor from the shower room. Again, all the cup­board doors and draw­ers have in­te­grated han­dles. Next comes a chest of three big draw­ers. There’s more stor­age in the base of the bed, ac­cessed by a cou­ple of doors. Most of the bed base, though, is taken up with an 800-litre wa­ter tank.

The bed is where this de­sign of boat re­ally comes into its own, and one of the main rea­sons Nigel and Jen­nie wanted an ex­tended cabin. It’s the full width of the boat, and as long as you like; so it’s six feet wide at the foot, and long too. Be­cause the cabin curves in­wards along the length of the bed, the mat­tress had to be spe­cially made to fit. Each side of the bed has a cush­ion form­ing a mini head­board, a use­ful shelf for a glass of wa­ter, and a read­ing light.

In other boats with ex­tend­ing cab­ins, there’s nor­mally just a window at the bow, mean­ing there’s no ac­cess to the front of the boat at all. But as Rip­ples has a mini well deck, there’s a set of half doors at the bow. They might not be every­one’s ideal way of get­ting out of the boat, but Jen­nie says climb­ing across the bed and go­ing through them is an ac­cept­able way of ac­cess­ing the well deck when a lock is com­ing up. The al­ter­na­tive is walk­ing down the gun­wales.

TECH­NI­CAL

This is a fairly straigh­for­ward boat tech­ni­cally. It’s pow­ered by a Beta 38 en­gine, which should be pow­er­ful enough for a boat of this size. There is also a Ve­tus 55kgf bow thruster.

Elec­tri­cal power comes from four 110Ah do­mes­tic bat­ter­ies (and there’s also one for the en­gine and another for the bow thruster). A Vic­tron 3kw mul­ti­plus in­verter gives a 240 volt sup­ply.

Heat­ing is by an Eberspacher diesel boiler.

The en­gine is cov­ered by a large deck board, but there’s a smaller board cov­er­ing the stern-most part of the en­gine hole, mak­ing it eas­ier to ac­cess the stern greaser and weed hatch.

ON THE WA­TER

Un­der way, this boat per­forms very well. The Beta en­gine is quiet and smooth, and the boat re­sponds well to the tiller. It swims nicely, with lit­tle wash. Dur­ing

our test, Andy Darken from JD couldn’t remember whether the boat was fit­ted with an Ax­iom pro­peller. But when we needed to re­verse a dis­tance, he re­alised it does have one – be­cause the boat com­pleted the task in a pretty straight line.

The Morse con­trol falls read­ily to hand, as it’s mounted on top of the stern rail. It’s a good idea, as many cruis­ers have the lever much too low. The in­stru­ment panel is clearly vis­i­ble too.

The cruiser stern deck is large enough for plenty of crew, and the lock­ers give them some­where to sit or put their cups and glasses. It’s also big enough to be a pleas­ant place to sit once moored up for the day.

The sa­loon leads to the rear gal­ley

All gal­ley han­dles are hid­den

Break­fast bar com­plete with swish stools

The me­dia cen­tre is well equipped

Cas­sette loo with ce­ramic bowl

Full-size bed was a pri­or­ity

Shower has plenty of space

The L-shape sofa is a fo­cal point

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