BOAT TEST: NORTON CANES
When Graham Edgson retired from Norton Canes, daughter Sarah took over and is busy expanding the renowned boatbuilding business
A very accomplished 58ft semi-trad narrowboat that represents the start of a new era for a famous name: Norton Canes
People often speak wistfully about the end of an era, forgetting perhaps that it’s often only the end of a chapter, not the end of the whole story. This boat illustrates the point, as it represents both the continuation of a famous name in the boating world, and the continued use of a famous location.
The name is Norton Canes. It was certainly the end of an era when Graham Edgson retired from boat building. For more than three decades he’d been building beautiful shells to the highest standards; the likelihood is that you’ve perhaps unwittingly seen one on the water and thought to yourself, that looks like a nice boat. Many people aspired to own a Norton Canes. Graham knew boats, knew steelwork, and put that knowledge to great use. But the Norton Canes name is still alive and well, thanks to his daughter, Sarah. The business is somewhat different, now offering a wide range of boating services rather than building shells.
And that brings us to the well known location. Glascote Basin in Tamworth was for many years the home of SM Hudson boats, and it was certainly the end of an era when Steve Hudson died a few years ago, suddenly and unexpectedly. Boat building at Glascote came to an immediate halt, with several boats left unfinished. Sarah Edgson has taken on the lease of the basin, and returned it to a busy boating centre. The advantages of moving Norton Canes (the company) to Galscote from Norton Canes (the place) are fairly obvious to anyone who knows their canal maps. While Glascote is on a busy section of the Coventry Canal, Norton Canes is at a dead end in one of the furthest outreaches of the Birmingham Canal Navigations — the sort of place where you can travel all day and not see a boat
It’s fairly early days for fitting out boats by Norton Canes at Glascote. Last year they fitted out a Steve Hudson shell which was bought with the boatyard; this boat has been built as a spec boat, but the firm has commissions in the pipeline.
Norton Canes aren’t yet building their own shells (although, excitingly, that could change fairly soon) so this boat is built on a ColeCraft shell. It’s recognisably ColeCraft, with their typical bow and quite a sweep upwards at the stern; other features are relatively plain with stepped ends to the handrails rather than scrolls, but there is a useful finger grip along the handrails. As you might expect for one of the best known names in shell building, the steelwork looks good and true.
This 58ft boat is a semi-trad, and there are lockers both sides of the stern deck for storage. They’re also scalloped so the cabin doors can open fully. There are more storage lockers on the well deck, which is covered by a cratch. The water tank is underneath the deck, and the deck also has a hatch giving access to the bow thruster. The gas locker is in the nose.
The colour scheme uses a contemporary combination of two greys, separated by a cream coachline. The hand rails are red, and in a nice nod to tradition the decks and gunwale tops are painted in raddle red. The yard at Glascote has a dedicated wet dock for painting, and the firm specialises in two pack paint, which is sprayed rather than brushed on. Two pack is tougher and should last longer than the single pack enamels often used on canal boats. The Norton Canes painting team is all female (with the exception of the resident sign writers, Dave Moore, and Steve Evans who’s done some decoration on this as yet
unnamed boat). The finish on the paintwork looked good.
The contemporary look of the outside is complimented by black window frames and chrome mushroom vents and other trim. All in all, it’s a very smart looking boat.
Layout and fitout
This boat has a standard layout, with the saloon at the bow. There’s a Pullman dinette followed by a U-shaped galley. The shower room is a walkthrough design, and the cabin is at the stern.
The fitout uses oak, with panels above the gunwales and tongue and groove used below — but with much narrower boards than you often find, meaning it stands out somewhat from the crowd. It’s a very attractive choice, and adds a nice element of texture to the interior. The ceiling is also oak, but painted. The floor is Karndean, which should be tough enough to withstand the demands of boating.
The joinery is all by Darren Aldridge, who works for himself but is now based at Glascote and gets much of his work through the yard. The quality of the woodwork is good. Everything fits properly together, and the furniture looks and feels solid.
Saloon and dinette
A little ladder step brings you down from the front deck into the saloon. On one side of the steps is a sizeable corner unit which could take a TV (there’s both power and an ariel socket here) with a smaller high level unit above. On the other side of the boat is a small Hamlet Hardy stove on a hearth with white tiling in a brick pattern right up to the ceiling. The latest guidelines (and they are only guidelines) suggest stoves should have insulated flues to improve performance, but this stove has only a single wall flue.
Most of the saloon space is left open for freestanding furniture. When we visited there was just one captain’s chair — which emphasised how much space there is in here. There’s easily enough room for another, or for a sofa or sofa bed, if you thought you might need one for additional guests.
The radiators are a rather smart grey design which really suits the boat. There are wall lights as well as ceiling lights.
The dinette is a Pullman design, and it’s raised so you get a good view out of the window while you’re sitting there. There’s plenty of storage in the base, with cupboard doors in the ends, and the floor of the central section also lifts. The table is attractive with angled corners to make it easier to get in, and the whole thing converts into a guest bed. The upholstery matches the curtains in the saloon.
This is a stylish galley, with thick oak worktops, a Belfast sink, and an arched tap. The cupboard doors have panels made from the same narrow tongue and groove which is used on the hull sides. It means there’s a sense of continuity through the boat. Similarly, the tiles used for the splash back mirror the hearth, being white and set in a brick pattern. It’s also a bright space, as there’s a Houdini hatch in the ceiling.
The main part of the galley is U-shaped, which is very practical. It means whoever is cooking does’t get in the way of anyone else walking through the boat. On the opposite side of the boat is an under-gunwale cupboard — except that it’s much deeper than just the under-gunwale space. In fact, it’s so big that as well as the inside space, it offers useful extra worktop too. There’s a set of wide side doors above it, giving prime duck-feeding opportunities. There’s already plenty of cupboard space in this alley, but there’s more — in the form of another big storage cupboard just down the corridor towards the shower room. It’s a full height pull-out larder unit, tucked behind the oven, which offers space which is convenient and well organised.
Equipment includes a Thetford oven and grill set at eye level in the centre of
the boat, and a Thetford four burner hob. There’s space for a washing machine.
The shower room is a walk-through design. Immediately opposite the door from the galley is a sizeable unit with a white oval basin on top, and a smart tap. There’s a high-level cupboard above, with mirrored doors. The loo, which is a Jabsco macerating unit, is alongside, on a slightly raised plinth. The holding tank is under the bed immediately behind, so there’s very little pipe needed to connect the two. The tank is also on the centre line so it won’t affect the trim of the boat as it fills.
On the opposite side of the room is an 800mm quadrant shower. There are more white tiles, with a stone detail line. Between the shower and the cabin side are a couple of cupboards. There’s a heated towel rail under the porthole.
The bed is in-line, and while some of the space in the base is taken up with the loo tank, there’s plenty left. Longer term storage is accessed through the top of the bed base, but there’s also a drawer in the end. There are a couple of high level cupboards above the head of the bed, but the main storage is two large wardrobes at the stern, one of which is angled to preserve the width of the walkway. The doors again have tongue and groove panels. One of the cupboards contains the boat’s electrics. It’s a fairly straightforward space, but comfortable none the less.
This boat is powered by the ubiquitous Beta 43 engine. It’s a reliable unit, but if something does go wrong or you decide not to do your own servicing, every narrowboat mechanic in the country will have seen numerous examples and will know where everything is. It’s fitted with a hospital silencer, to keep the exhaust noise down. The bow thruster is a 75kgf model by Vetus.
Electrical power comes from five 110Ah domestic batteries (and there’s another for the engine start, and one for the bow thruster). A 240 volt supply comes from a 3kw Victron inverter charger. There’s a galvanic isolator, to protect the boat from the corrosive effects of a shoreline.
Central heating is by way of a Webasto boiler. On the water There are few surprises with this boat, given that it’s built on a shell by a prolific builder and has an engine we see regularly. And that’s not in any way a criticism; when steering, surprises are what you really don’t want. The handling is good, with the boat responding well to the tiller, and going where it’s pointed. We winded during our trip without any problems.
The semi-trad stern deck provides plenty of space for crew to join the helmsman, and the lockers mean they have somewhere to sit, too. The engine is smooth and quiet. At the helm, the Morse control is sensibly placed, and all the dials and switches are on the same column so they’re all easy to see and use. All in all, being at the back of this boat is a thoroughly pleasant experience.
Handling is good with the boat responding well to the tiller
The oak fit-out uses narrow tongue and grooves boards
The U-shaped galley is a bright and open space
Bags of room for the chef
After dinner, the table converts into a guest bed
The small Hamlet Hardy stovesits on a hearth
The shower room has its own porthole
The inviting in-line bed has plenty of storage space underneath
The high- quality woodwork is by Darren Aldridge