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Hotel Narrow Boats

on the Canals and Rivers of the UK

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A Scrap Book of the building of our boats.

Planning the Great Adventure, September to October 2003.

In the car coming back from a three week holiday cruise during August we realised that both of us wished to carry on cruising! We also realised that with changes in our family situation, we were not now tied down to one spot. If we waited until we retired, as we had been planning, we could not guarantee good health, so why not do something now? Frantic financial calculations then followed which showed that purchase of a Hotel Boat Pair was within our reach and if we could attract sufficient guests we could meet all our bills this way.

We decided we wanted to run the motor as our family boat and to cook and feed our guests on it, and to run the butty as an accommodation boat for our guests. I went and looked at one pair of hotel boats which were on the market, but despite liking the boats very much it was obvious that a major rebuild would be required if we were to operate them in the way we wanted to. So back to the drawing board.

Could we afford to build a new pair? Could anyone build them before next summer? To answer these questions I sent out over 50 letters to all the firms which might possibly carry out this work. Asking them four questions ...
1.. Could they build a motor and butty pair in a traditional style? I was aware that many firms only produced a limited range of styles of boat for reasons of economy.
2.. Would they be prepared to only half fit out so I could complete some sections myself to reduce the cost, while paying them to fit out the guest sections to ensure good quality work?
3.. What would it all cost?
4.. When could they build them by, order books being very full?

Most firms which replied were interested in the project, and wished me well, but either could not undertake it or were too expensive or had full order books. However Dave Thomas, Boat Builder of Braunston had just had a cancellation, if we could move fast we could have that slot. He was experienced in building traditional style boats. He was prepared to do the work we wanted. His price was just in our reach.

A detailed specification was worked out. One great advantage of building from scratch was that we could now incorporate ideas based on our 25 years of experience to make the boats easier to work and much more pleasant for everyone to live in. Contracts were produced and exchanged. We were now committed to this 'mad' idea. Work on the Motor, to be called 'Oak', would start in the middle of November to be finished in March 2004. Work on the Butty, to be called 'Ash', would start in February 2004, and be finished in May 2004 ready for me to carry out the final touches to run the first cruise in July 2004.


Construction of the Hull of 'Oak', November 2003 to January 2004.

The base plates were laid on November 21st. The sides were then welded on. Next the builders had to construct the complex steel work which makes up the bows and the rear deck. Finally they could weld on the steel plates which were to make up the cabin. All progressed smoothly and kept to the planned schedule.

Before the cabin could be fitted the engine had to be delivered and installed on its specially prepared supports. The final pieces of the rear cabin roof could then be welded on.

With the steel work virtually completed even down to details like the rudder, the windows arrived and holes, carefully measured, were cut so they could be fitted. Finally a coat of primer was painted over the whole boat and the bottom blacked to keep rust away once the steel of the boat met the rain of the British climate.

See more pictures of the construction of the hull of Oak.


Craning 'Oak' into the canal, 28th January 2004.

All was ready, and Oak mounted on steel rollers was slowly inched out from the shed into a cold January morning by the fork lift truck. The crane took over and carefully eased her completely out of the shed before lifting her up on to a huge lorry.

The lorry crept the last few yards to the canal, involving squeezing through a very narrow gap between the edge of the canal and boats being worked on, with its wheel right on the edge of the canal! You could contrast my state of nerves with the calm assurance of the driver and his mate!

The crane then repositioned itself and lifted the boat off the lorry, up in the air to avoid the TV aerial of a moored boat, and gently placed her in the canal. Afloat for the first time, she was now ready to be fitted out.

See more pictures of the craning in of Oak.


Fitting out of 'Oak', February to April 2004.

With Oak safely afloat attention could be turned to the inside. Ballast was placed in the bottom to hold the boat down in the water to get her under low bridges and to stop her rocking around when people moved inside her.

The floor could now be laid. Then water, electricity and gas was installed involving a mass of wires and pipes being connected up.

Finally the cabins could be built, first bulkheads to separate them, then the fitted furniture to be built in situ.

I then took over and started to install all the hundreds of loose items. Mattresses in the bedrooms and seat cushions in the lounge. Crockery and pans in the kitchen and a TV in the lounge etc.

See more pictures of the fitting out of Oak.


Building the Hull of 'Ash', February to April 2004.

With the shed clear, now that Oak had been towed out, the steel plates which would form the bottom of Ash could be laid out on the floor and joined together for the construction of the hull to start. This was very much a duplicate of that of Oak, except for the stern. We had ordered a traditional butty stern and cabin, but Dave Thomas's had never built one! It was the last part to be built as everyone thought about how it should be done!

One spectacular part of the construction I caught on camera was the cutting out of the windows in the sides of the boat.

One part should be made out of wood the Elum, the rudder on the butty. The problem was that we did not know of anyone who could do this tricky work, till one day as I was crossing over a bridge at Braunston I looked down to see a boat passing below carrying newly built Elum! I chased them down the towpath and we ordered another Elum this time for Ash.


See more pictures of the construction of the hull of Ash.


Craning 'Ash' into the canal 2nd April 2004.

This happened twice! unlike Oak, Ash would be fitted out outside the shed, but before doing this Dave Thomas wanted to check the welding and the ballast. Hence Ash was pulled out into the light of day and put in the canal for a few minutes before being lifted out and placed back in the yard. However by now Carlton TV were filming us for waterworld so their camera was present for the craning, and while we waited to see Ash lifted out they interviewed Dave Thomas with Ash hanging in the background.

At the start of June, Ash was placed back in the canal for the final fitting out to be finished during the week, and to allow me to practise with the two boats on the weekends!

See more pictures of the craning in of Ash


Fitting out of 'Ash', April to June 2004.

I was able this time to watch the spraying on of the insulating foam.

The fit out of Ash was less complex technically, no kitchen, no engine, no 240 volt system. It was however much more complex for the carpenters with five cabins not only to be built but also to be fully fitted out, so Dave Thomas took on a third carpenter to ensure the work was finished on time.

I was responsible for the exterior painting of the boats, so now with more time available after Easter, I, sometimes assisted by the rest of the family, started the painting of all 70 ft of boat. One coat of primer had been put on by the boatyard, I added a second primer, then two coats of undercoat, before sanding smooth, and then a first coat of top coat, and finally lightly sanded that and added a final, sixth coat!

When we came to the showers, I had specified 30 inch square trays to give plenty of room. However it was found that the marine chandeleres did not sell them, all boats are supposed to have smaller showers!! The problem was solved by going to a domestic D.I.Y. store and buying the same size as used in a house.

I had to tile the shower cubicles one weekend, so the boatyard could fit the showers themselves. On the Saturday I tiled both showers, but on Sunday I was enticed away by an offer of experience on Duke and Duchess, so the pointing had to wait until July to get done.

See more pictures of the fitting out of Ash.


Remember there are more pictures of ....

steelwork of Oak / craning in of Oak / fitting out of Oak

steelwork of Ash / craning in of Ash / fitting out of Ash.

Also have a look at

The detailed description of the boats.

From 'Dream to Reality', an article from Waterways World on the setting up of Reed Boats.


If you have any questions then do ring us on 07977 229103
or email us at martinreed@reedboats.co.uk

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