BOAT TEST: NOR­TON CANES

When Gra­ham Edg­son re­tired from Nor­ton Canes, daugh­ter Sarah took over and is busy ex­pand­ing the renowned boat­build­ing busi­ness

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

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.

Ex­te­rior

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.

Gal­ley

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.

Shower room

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.

Cabin

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.

Tech­ni­cal

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

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