Tuesday, 1 March 2011


The first serious suggestion came in the form of ENCELADUS, originally a Grand Union Canal Carrying Company "Small Northwich" and "Star Class" motor boat.  A good pedigree, and a relatively rare type of which only 12 pairs of boats were constructed by Yarwoods at Northwich.

When full scale long distance carrying by narrow boat was running down, many working boats were surplus to requirements, and British Waterways converted quite a number wither to trip boats or holiday hire boats, usually renaming them with a name commencing "Water".

Enceladus was such a boat, and had been cut short in 1960 for conversion to serve as the hire cruiser "Water Valiant".

Classic "Small Northwich" front end
Eventually. now in private ownership, its steelwork was in very poor shape, and it's owner was forced to give it up.

It had been acquired by a specialist in narrow boat restoration as a long term project, but now its new owner had decided they now wanted to do the necessary work on ENCELADUS to put it up for sale.  Perhaps ENCELADUS would fit the bill for us, but it would be a long term project, as it was not even yet a fully reworked hull, and everything else was missing.


But the back end would have been "all new".
At 50 feet, perhaps it might eventually be our CHALICE replacement.  We went to see the boat, which had obvious potential, but things started to emerge that caused us doubts.  Actually it wasn't even the full 50 feet, it was a couple of feet shorter.  To look right, it would need to be given a "tug look", but  a suitably long front deck, meant that the extra accommodation that could be created forward of a traditionally laid out engine room and back cabin was rather limited.

I drew, and redrew plans, and asked lots of questions.  Eventually some guideline costings also emerged, although the final costs really could not be predicted with any accuracy.

It was very much "work in progress" when we viewed!
We agonised for a long while, knowing that one day it will appear as someone else's very special looking boat, but in the end could not convince ourselves it was the right choice for us.

Also we had a major boating trip planned with CHALICE, so tough decisions needed to be made before we set off on the Thames ring and Upper Thames.

We withdrew, although at this stage we still thought we were looking for a CHALICE replacement.

The Seeds Are Set!

Over the years Cath had taken the view that old boats were lovely to behold, but they were not a practical proposition for people in our situation.  I had talked longingly of finally wanting to have a "proper" boat, but in my heart of hearts, I too could not see the idea as rational.

Then we started meeting more and more apparently irrational people!  Yes, there were folks out there who decided they wanted one of these things, managed to secure a deal on something that had really taken their fancy, and then perhaps learn only by experience what that actually meant.

We talked with people who had fully fitted out a brand new boat, and then swapped it for the hulk of an ex working boat, knowing that years of slog, and a lot of cash would be needed to turn it into what they wanted.  We met people who already had a very nice boat, with all you need for comfort afloat, who had still decided they actually wanted something where the living accommodation is little more than 8 feet long.

Just a tiny fraction of the boats at the 2010 Braunston Historic Boat Show
We found we liked these people, and really they didn't seem that unhinged at all! (Yes, you know who you are!).  We attended as visitors the events they attended with their boats, and, like them, we started to be hooked.  Note not just I, the long term admirer of working boats, started to get hooked - Cath was now as enthused by this mad idea as I was.

But how to go about it ?  Boats clearly change hands fairly frequently, but the vast majority never appear to be commercially advertised.  Boats change hand often by word of mouth - someone knows someone who might be selling, and someone who maybe wants something like that.  We started putting out feelers, but we didn't know what we really wanted!

We want to be able to carry on doing long boating trips with more than just the two of us - so a simple unconverted working boat with minimal accommodation couldn't be a CHALICE replacement.  We also didn't feel ready to take on a full length, (70 foot or more), boat.  It is generally frowned on now to add cabin conversions to historic boats not already so treated, so a lot of boats would not be an appropriate choice.

We saw two possible options......

Fellows Morton & Clayton TASMANIA, originally an unpowered boat.
Firstly we could try and find a boat long enough to be our full time boating boat, but hopefully still short enough to be able to access the canals with shorter locks.  This probably meant finding a boat already suitable for our needs, without doing anything new that was inappropriate to it's history.

The boat pictured had sold within recent history, and seemed the kind of thing we might look for.

Alternatively there was the "wild card", (or "barking mad"!) idea.  Keep CHALICE, but try and find a small tug that we could keep as well.

We quickly dismissed "plan B" as too impractical, too expensive, and, anyway where would we find a suitable tug!

Background To Why There's A New Blog (Part 1!)

For some years now we have owned our much loved 50 foot leisure narrow boat CHALICE. 
CHALICE on a recent trip.
She is neither a particularly modern boat, nor a particularly posh one, and, if we are completely honest, we were so keen to buy a boat when I took early retirement, that we rather jumped in, even though we could see that CHALICE was far from a perfect match to what we could only guess our needs to be at that stage.
When we have not been beset by family emergencies of one kind or another, (and last year there were a few!), we have alternated between making improvements to CHALICE to better suit our requirements and going off boating whenever the opportunity presents itself.

BILSTER & ANGEL my brothers' boats (Photo: Mike Fincher).
However, my interest in canals and canal boats extends back more than 40 years, and I have always had a strong interest in what are now called variously "historic narrow boats" or simply "working boats".  My brothers actually owned a pair of working boats back in the 1970s, which they regularly loaded with coal, and brought down to supply retail businesses operating from the canal-side. (Back then we are talking about bulk house coal, loose, shot in from lorries, not loading pre-bagged smokeless fuels, which is the norm now).

KERBAU, my old boat, claimed to be 1898 build.
Whilst I was not directly involved in this, I lived and breathed "old boats" and took on, and commenced a rebuild of a very ancient Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) day boat, already in the family.  This boat, whilst interesting in its own right, was an early pleasure boat conversion, where the iron and steel work had actually been done by an old working boatyard, Harris Brothers, (all hot riveted - not a weld in sight), but in a way that really limited what it was possible to do with the boat, (look at that "elegant" back end!).  I completely re-cabined the boat, in wood in something approaching traditional methods, but eventually the project foundered, and the boat was sold.

Some of the proceeds from KERBAU gave me the chance of a hire boating holiday, but after that I had no boat of my own.

SICKLE (photo by me in 1973)
However, at the time my brothers were working full length (71' 6") boats, I developed a fascination for examples of these that had been cut down to around 40 feet for purposes other than carrying.  Several had originally been converted to ice-breakers, but had in some cases already reached private ownership.  In fact I did a part time job at a local hire fleet, where to of these former ice-breakers had been converted into the hire boats of the day.

SICKLE towing large hopper (my photo, again 1973)
But our local BW section still also had two of these former ice-breakers in use as maintenance tugs, being used to haul around either the small work flats or large mud hoppers in use when lock maintenance, piling, or dredging work was being carried out.  I regularly looked at both "Big Northwich", ("Town class") RENTON, and "Middle Northwich", ("Star Class"), SICKLE, and thought how very much I would like to own one.  However such boats were rarely sold off, and when they did British waterways usually made it impossible for private owners to acquire them.

RENTON nearing her retirement from the BW maintenance fleet.
Over the years, both these tugs remained active on our local patch, although periodic "improvement" work on them by BW resulted in them losing some of their original looks, particularly as original cabin and engine room arrangements got replaced by something less original.

RENTON eventually found it's way to the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal trust.

But apparently when BW chose in 2000 to do a survey to ascertain the condition of SICKLE, they decided she was not fit for further service, and should be cut-up on-site.  The story goes that the men brought in to do this recognised her as a significant historic craft and refused to do it.

Sickle at the Braunston Historic Boat Show - June 2008
The story of what happened next is fully told elsewhere, but basically a decision was taken that she should become a "feature" in a car park at Sawley marina - a kind of very large and unusual flower bed!  A family called Parrott fought a battle that this should not happen, and after much campaigning were finally allowed to buy SICKLE for restoration.  Again that story is told elsewhere, but basically after five years of restoration and reconstruction SICKLE was refloated in a much rejuvenated state.

SICKLE's future was now secure, but attendance at events like the one pictured above increasingly made our minds turn to the fact that we would like to own an old boat of our own.  Plans started to hatch!