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Building An Aluminium Narrowboat – Part 9

Continued from part eight

9th & final Sea Otter Boat progress report.

16th of January 2014.

Me and my Sea Otter Boat are now on the Lancaster Canal, and I’m looking back over the last two and a half years.  I have had a few major teething problems a couple of years ago, and some were avoidable.  For example, that concerning the calorifier.

But I can’t blame Sea Otter for my faulty gearbox, which needed changing after two days usage.  That must be down to Nanni, or their agents Peachments.

Remember the bill I paid from Kate Boats for £1,107.08 for the gearbox to be replaced, along with my first service ?  Peachments (the agents for my Nanni Engine) eventually only supplied a new gearbox and paid the £350.00 + VAT, which was  the labour cost of replacing the gearbox, but not the £400.00 + VAT for the craning in and out.  The craning was necessary because Sea Otter do not recommend replacing the gearbox when the boat is in water, because of the particular type of stern-gear that they fit.  The boat could sink if the work is carried out with the boat in the water, they say !  Sea Otter advised me to chase Peachments for that cost, their reasoning being that, if there hadn’t been a problem with the gearbox, there would have been no need for the craning.

But Peachments turn the coin and say that :-  (Quote)

“We have never understood why the boat had to be taken out of the water to change a gearbox?
This is not covered under Nanni warranty and we did not give the go ahead for the boat to be lifted so we are unable to cover the cost of the boat lift.”

In the end, and as a gesture of goodwill, Sea Otter pay me half of the £400.00 + VAT for the cranage for which and I am very grateful.  Peachments paid nothing towards that.

Despite my teething problems I CERTAINLY DO NOT regret buying a boat from Sea Otter.   It was fun helping to plan it, and I thank Paul and Anthony for all the time they’ve spent discussing the various aspects and design features with me.  Some of my original ideas were used, and some were not, by mutual consent.  They permitted me unlimited access during the building of the boat.  They provided all the right paperwork including a purchase form approved by the RYA which protects both sides.   The stage payments were requested (and of-course paid) at all the correct times.  Okay, it was completed a little later than promised, but that’s better than corners being cut to rush the job through on time.  And very importantly I have a “Boat Safety Certificate” !   This gives me great peace of mind.  No nasty surprises when the boat is 4 years old and out of guarantee.

There will always be teething problems with a new boat, and I commend Sea Otter and their team for resolving all my problems, small and large, efficiently and as quickly as possible, which is all very reassuring.

So far I’ve just told you about my experiences.  I haven’t been giving advice.  But here’s some.

If you are considering having a boat built, in addition to the usual precautions, I advise you to specify the following :-

1)     Get a RYA approved agreement form filled out by both you and the builder from square one.

2)     Have it in writing that you will be supplied with a Boat Safety Scheme certificate (BSC) on completion and before the final payment needs to be paid, even if you need to pay for the examination yourself, but preferably not.

(It should be noted here that my BSC examination was carried out by Peter Hopley, from Denton, Manchester, and that Sea Otter paid for and arranged for the examination for me… you may smell a rat.  But the fact that Peter initially failed my boat on five points proves to me that there was no collusion, and I have the greatest respect for both the very thorough examination process, and for Peter himself, and for the integrity of all concerned.)

3)     Get the following in writing :-

“The builder will be responsible for the costs of removing the boat from the water, and returning it to the water, if the undertaking of any warranty work by the builder or his agent/s necessitates this.”

Get the builder to agree to these 3 conditions right from the start.  And finally…..

4)     When you take delivery of your new boat, choose, if you can, a mooring close to the builder for the first few weeks, if not a month or two !  It will make it easier for them to solve your teething problems (and you will have them) so they’re more likely to be rectified quickly !

I like my boat very much, but before concluding my report I’d like to tell you about the 14 things that I PARTICULARLY like about it :-

1)     I like my engine.  This Nanni 43HP engine produces no unpleasant fumes whatsoever during normal use. At no time have I detected fumes in deep locks.  Combined with its reassuringly regular heart-beat, it makes a perfect engine for my boat.

2)     I like my trace heating, which will maintain my piece of mind through the winter months.  I know I’ve mentioned it before, but just in case you missed it, the trace-heating wires run alongside the water pipes throughout the boat, except those already protected by having anti-freeze inside.  This is a photograph of the thermostat which is located in the drying (calorifier) cupboard.

Trace heating thermostat

When the temperature drops to near freezing, the thermostat permits mains electricity to flow through the wire, it heats up, and stops the water within the pipes freezing.  No need to drain water systems down.  But for obvious reasons you DO NEED A DEPENDABLE 240V SUPPLY !

Sea Otter will fit this system for you as an optional extra.

3)   I like my “Smart Gauge”.   What a great bit of kit this is, the most useful feature is that it tells me the power left in my battery bank as a percentage of when fully charged.  That is so useful !  Let me give you four examples why.  (Bear in mind my battery bank has a 540 amp-hour capacity, and I have two 100 amp alternators fitted.)

a)     I know that if I have my microwave on full power for 10 minutes through the inverter I use
3.5% of the power in my battery bank.

b)     My Webasto boiler uses 4% of my battery bank power per hour.

c)     It can take 2 hours of cruising to charge my batteries up by 10%.

d)     I can recharge my batteries by 8% per hour by running the engine at 1200 rpm in neutral.

Just the sort of information you need to ensure that you maintain a good charge in your batteries.

4)    I like my boarding plank !  I like it VERY much, because it typifies the attention to detail that Sea Otter pay when building their boats, even when fabricating such a mundane item of equipment.  It’s made of aluminium so it’s light;  It’s painted to match the boat;  It is well located in retaining brackets, along with a very nice aluminium pole with a wooden handle;  It doubles up as a water escape ladder, with anti-slip paint, and complete with foot-holes !

Boarding plank & pole
(Actually, the “plank” wasn’t finished when the boat was launched, so Anthony posted it to me to Crick Marina !  But it was just a little bit wider than the supporting brackets on the top of my boat.  Luckily I carry a suitable file in my heated tool-store, which I used to remove a couple of mm off the bracket….and left it at that !  On a normal steel boat I would have needed to prime the open wound with a rust-prevention product, followed by a coat or three of red-oxide, and then apply a couple of coats of green paint, AND collect up all the iron filings before they rusted on the top of the boat!)

Incidentally, in the photograph of my boarding plank, see what I mean about my tiller being longer than usual  ?

5)     I like my lounge.   The two settees allow us to relax sitting looking forward, with a back-rest, and  feet up, rather than compulsorily looking sideways across the boat.

This photograph shows the front end of the lounge, with my home-made log-box (under a cushion) between the end of the starboard side settee and television cabinet:-
Front end of lounge
With the addition of 3 wooden in-fills (one of which doubles as an excellent fold-up-table) the gap between the settees converts into a massive full-width bed.

Both of my lounge radiators are hidden behind the sofa backs, but easily exposed by the simple removal of a specially made back cushion on each side.

Here is the starboard settee in normal “Summer Mode” :-

Lounge settee in Summer mode
And in “cold-winter-night-mode”, radiator exposed :-

Lounge settee in cosy Winter mode

And my heated tool-store under the same settee, with access from side or top :-

Heated tool store

6)     I like my sky-lights !  Two of the eight are shown on the same photograph as my boarding plank.  Their main job is as a ventilator, and very important for the BSS, but they also let lots of light in !  I really don’t need roof-hatches, houdini hatches or prisms with eight of these !  And they look good from the outside too….low, inconspicuous, and not likely to be nicked !  The one in the kitchen does a THIRD job, because in addition to letting air & light in, it incorporates a dual-speed dual-direction fan.  The one in the shower does a FOURTH job, because it has a fan AND a 12v light in it !  All standard on a Sea Otter Boat of this length.

7)     I very much like the fact that I haven’t run aground in the relatively shallow waters experienced by almost everyone on the Lancaster Canal this year.  And in the last two and a half years I have not had to remove anything to speak of wrapped around the prop !  And I was most definitely moored closer to the sides than any other boat in the location on many occasions !

8)     I like the fact that my engine bay looks as good as the day I took delivery.  No rust down there, just sparkling shiny aluminium!   Any leak easily spotted !

9)     I washed and waxed my boat the other week, and it was a much more pleasant job than I thought it would be.  In doing so I appreciated how very smooth the paintwork is, and because of that,  the end result was very satisfying.  You get to know the irregularities very intimately when doing this job, and I can tell you that there are very few.

10)     I actually like my airing cupboard very much, even though the leaking calorifier was a problem for a day or two all that time ago.  I was told that the modern calorifiers are so well insulated that the amount of heat escaping is not enough to dry clothes.  But most of the heat in the cupboard doesn’t come from the calorifier…but from all the pipes leading to and from it !  I can tell you, that after I’ve been cruising for an hour I can put a selection of wet clothes and a wet towel on the rails inside, and they’ll be dry within a couple more hours.  I would NOT want all that useful heat to be dissipated in my engine bay where it is least needed.

11)     I like my Squirrel Stove.  And of-course it’s aluminium surround !  I quickly learnt how to keep the stove going all night, and get it going quickly in the morning.  Even in the wintery months we use the Webasto and the mains heaters only very rarely.  Of-course the bedroom won’t be very warm, but that suits us fine.


12)     I like my Wesley windows.   They have attractive curved tops incorporating removable hoppers, which can be left in the open position in most rainy conditions for ventilation.  Below the hopper is a large sliding glass section half the size of the window, which allows excellent air-flow on hot days.

Kitchen window

As it happens, I did have a leak from one, but Gary from Wesley came to my boat to fix my problem the very next day….from Newark !

13)     I like my television aerial !  Sea Otter do not fix television aerials to their boats as standard bits of kit, because everyone wants something different.  So I thought I’d use my old magnetic clamp to support my Omni globe aerial……well we all have our bad days.  Fortunately I realised, before going to a lot of trouble, that magnets and aluminium are not in the least bit attracted to each other, so I asked Sea Otter to add an aluminium tube somewhere to support an aerial.  As usual they thought of an excellent solution, by welding an aluminium tube behind the starboard grab-handle on the bow bulkhead, and of-course they painted it to match the boat.  Within this aluminium tube is another smaller one, and an even smaller one within that, and some stainless steel wing nuts too.  I now have an inconspicuous aerial mast which can telescope up to about 20 feet high, on the top of which I can clamp a decent DM Log aerial in a matter of moments for a perfect picture.

I hope you can see it on this photograph taken just 2 months ago, when the boat was well over two years old !

14)     I particularly like my fenders, because I don’t need any !  You’ll see from the photograph above that there are two thick rubber strakes fitted right along the sides of the boat.  These are very thick and very strong, and very well glued on, and I don’t require additional ones hanging down the side of the boat (even though Sea Otter did provide 8 recessed fender eyes, which I tend to use for other purposes).     The exception is when I’m moored up for the evening, and I drop one or two of my big white fenders down between the boat and the bank, as shown here, which promotes a peaceful nights sleep.

You may notice an additional thick rubber pipe (reinforced internally with steel) hanging down at the bow, which is held on by rope passed through it.  One end of the rope is tied to the chain holding the bow fender on.  The other end of the rope is tied to the first of the recessed fender eyes along the side of the boat.  Well, I added that rubber pipe myself, just as additional protection, which I also did to my previous steel boat.  It is actually 2″ fuel delivery hose, from Centre Tank Services.

Incidentally, in that photograph I’m moored at the Tewitfield picnic corner, the most Northern and most shallow part of the presently navigable Lancaster Canal, and I’m almost against the bank, despite being on a bend !  Most boats can’t get within 2 foot of the bank at that spot !

And you may notice I have my shorter Morso “cruising” chimney” on, not my longer mooring chimney !

It is hard for me to think of some things that I don’t particularly like about my boat, but after much thought, I ‘ve come up with only 4 :-

1)     The first.  My “intercalated generator” which is attached to the end of my Nanni Engine.  The reason I’ve chosen that is because it cost me 2.5 grand, and it only generated 240volts at the relatively high revs required to stop me going South on the River Severn.  It’s a nice bit of kit if you can maintain 1,600 revs to 2,000 revs on your canal cruise.  I can sometimes if I really need to, but I don’t often want to.  I cannot blame Sea Otter for my bad decision regarding that.

2)     The second.  I had a little problem with light switches……I usually enter the boat at the stern, where there are 2 handy light switches.  One of these turns the lights on in the bedroom, and the other turns the lights on in the corridor up to the loo, approaching the kitchen.  But once I’ve reached the next switch bank in the kitchen, I need to backtrack, because there isn’t a switch in the kitchen to turn off either of the aforementioned lights in bedroom or corridor.  But, I’ve got round the problem, by locating LED sensor lights on top of the radiator pipes.  If it’s dark (and only when it’s dark) they come on as I walk towards them, and go off a few minutes later.  Perfect !

3)     The third.  I did experience condensation in some of the cupboards in the Winter.  Particularly in my small kitchen cupboard fitted under the gunnels on the starboard side, but also in the shower-room vanity unit.  But I’ve found that fitting vents into the doors almost eradicates the problem.  I’ve fitted quite a few measuring 165 X 75mm from part number 51044 and they’re under a couple of quid each.

I’m very happy with the type of sheet foam insulation that they used in my boat, and the way it was fitted.  I get no condensation anywhere else apart from the windows and frames, and I’ve devised ways of coping with that.

I don’t know the facts here, but I sometimes wonder if aluminium transmits heat more quickly than steel !  Because…..the inside of my boat cools down more quickly than I remember my previous steel boat doing, and conversely, seems to heat up more quickly when the Sun shines on it !!  But this is not a big problem with 3 heating systems, and large openings in all the windows.

4)     The fourth & final one, and I really can’t blame Sea Otter for this extra expense, but over the last two years I’ve felt it necessary to change all 31 of my Halogen bulbs for LEDS (from Midland Chandlers) thus reducing my 12v lighting power consumption by 90%.

And finally I’ll correct a few commonly-held misconceptions about Sea Otters :-

My Sea Otter gets blown about in the wind no more than my previously-owned steel boat of about the same length.   Some folk think because it’s made of aluminium it’ll be too light……not with the water ballast system and all my gear in it it isn’t !

I’ve given my boat a couple of really good whacks against parts of locks.  Of-course I did both deliberately to test the strength of the boat, but as a consequence it suffered no damage except for a minor tear to the “rubber bumper” which surrounds the boat, bits of which can easily be replaced or repaired.  None of my experiences indicate that my Sea Otter boat is less strong than my previous steel boat.

A final word on water leak detectors !  Every boat should have AT LEAST ONE !  Here’s just a few of my 11 !

Detector & water pump
Detector & shower pump
Detector & calorifier
Detector & internal bilge access

Detector & engine bilge
(The water detector contacts in the last photograph are held in position a couple of inches above the base plate with the black velcro)


I have every reason to think that this boat will last and look good for many years to come, with relatively little maintenance.  With no rust preventative measures to take, I should have a lot more time to relax on it rather than working on it !  And that, if you remember reader, was the main reason I chose Sea Otter to build my boat in the first place.  Well done Sea Otter.

Useful contacts & numbers ?

Sea Otter Boats.  Paul & Anthony.  01246 470005  Tell them Brian (On Cloud Wine) sent you.

Me.  Brian. 07774 141916.

10% discount for my reader at my Spanish beach-side holiday rental apartments:-

2″ Fuel delivery hose from   Part number WH1

Kitchen sliding baskets.  Part number 106 4025

B & Q pull-out sliding rack.  Part number 3082478

Kate Boats.  ALWAYS just across the canal when needed. Nick, Molly & Cheryl. 01926 492968

Stratford Marina.  John & Heather.  01789 778358

Peter Hopwood.  BSC examiner (Manchester) 0161 336 2680

Water-leakage detectors.  I’ll advise on application !

Heat-trace freeze protection.  Martin.  01483 825193

Vents for cupboard doors. 020 7228 1183

Wesley Marine Windows, Newark.  Angie & Gary.  01636 704363

Useful Information

Building An Aluminium Narrowboat – Part 8

Continued from part 7

6th of August 2011

My gearbox has been replaced, and my 20 hour service has been carried out.  We’re at Kate Boats at Stockton Locks, and there is now a crew of 6 family members including 1-year old Chloe on board, all ready for a cruise to Stratford.  All goes swimmingly, until…..

8th of August 2011.

It is now the morning of my 61st birthday, and we’re about to set off from a mooring in Warwick.  Since my flood I am even more paranoid about water leaks.  I have now installed a seventh water-detector into the lowest point of the bilge, accessible through the small trap-door under the stern-step that I showed you earlier, but I still visually check it from time to time, and I did this morning……and there’s water there !  It’s just creeping towards the detectors’ contacts.

None of the other six water-detectors have indicated a leak, so I’m pretty sure the water is coming from the very back of the boat, and sure enough I find a drip from the elbow taking the cold water supply into the calorifier.

It is very difficult to reach and even more difficult to get a spanner to, so I ring Sea Otter Boats for advice.  They offer to come out to me, but it will be the next day.  They offer to pay for the job if I can get a local boat-yard to fix it.  I look across the canal and what do I see …, it’s not a mirage…..or an hallucination…..or an imaginary reflection of a previously visited location……..can it possibly be…….another Kate Boats !

I feel quite at home as I meet Molly and Cheryl again, and I duly push my boat across the canal (again ! ) into their capable hands.  Rob comes up from their Stockton boat-yard in the afternoon to look at my problem, but there is bad news…..the elbow cannot be tightened any more because it is already hard up against the bulkhead in the direction for tightening !  The calorifier will need to be, at least, loosened from its mounting, or removed altogether, and they daren’t start the job today in case they can’t finish it.  With 6 of us on board, including a baby, all requiring water, preferably hot, at some time or another over the next 12 hours, I don’t argue with that.   So I erect a drainage channel into a large bowl for the drips from the elbow, we play Monopoly, and we later walk to the Cape Of  Good Hope.  I wasn’t allowed to win at Monopoly on my birthday, but the pub was an excellent choice for the celebration, and it wasn’t as far away as the name suggesed.

I also took the opportunity that day to take a few photographs of the boat’s internals.

I believe in using any space available in a boat to the full, and I’m constantly figuring out ways of doing so.  But, perversely, I think one of the most useful spaces in a boat is……an empty cupboard!

There’s many a time that there’s a requirement for temporary and easily accessible storage, say, for a big bag of shopping (you just didn’t have time to unpack it before your friends arrived), or for a bag of rubbish (awaiting the next refuse point), or for that bag of washing (you’ll be calling to the launderette with it later this afternoon), or even for the kettle when you’ve folded down the cooker lid to provide extra work-top space.

So, with that in mind, this is my only large kitchen cupboard :-

Kitchen shelf 1
The two top wooden containers move from side to side on the top shelf, and so do the two chrome baskets (on runners) on the bottom shelf.  (They are just visible on the left and right of the bottom shelf.)  The lid for my tin-store under the cupboard base is shown in its closed position.

In the next photograph, of my open tin-store, the lid is hinged backwards and leaning against the side of the boat, and the wooden containers on the top shelf have been moved sideways to access other items.

kitchen shelf 2
In another photograph, the top wooden containers have been moved again, to gain access to different items in the left-hand-one, and the tin-store lid has been lowered, allowing the chrome baskets to slide towards each other.

kitchen shelf 3
A storage unit (from B&Q) slides out from next to fridge, as shown in this photograph.

kitchen pull-out unit

And a well-made “soft-close” drawer to the right of the sink, but normally hidden behind the right-hand kitchen cupboard door, is shown in this photograph.
Kitchen drawer
Like many kitchen sinks in narrowboats, this has no emergency outlet anywhere within the sink.  If a tap is left on accidentally, water will overflow the bowl and run along the work surface and eventually onto the floor.  I don’t like this.  This photograph shows my kitchen sink flood prevention scheme.
kitchen sink
I have modified one of those microwave anti-splatter lids by cutting holes into the sides of the rim (not visible unfortunately), and it is ALWAYS kept under the sink bowl.  If water overflows the bowl, it goes down the sides of the bowl, and finds its way down into the plug-hole via the holes in the sides of the microwave lid.  As a final and audible flood defence mechanism another water-detector lurks in the background!    Paranoid ?   …..most definately yes.

Here is a photograph of my very large dinette table, which converts into a double bed utilising the back cushions :-
Dinette 3
The under-dinette-floor wine & beer store keeps those valuables out of sight, and surprisingly very cool ! :-

Wine store
Another photograph shows the double rubbish bins pulled out from under one of the dinette seats.

And the bedroom.
9th of August 2011.

Chris arrives first thing, and drains the calorifier.  Mine doesn’t drain into the canal, but into the engine bay, so I spend my time mopping up.  Much more fun than using my bilge-pump and it’s a nice day to be outside.  He loosens it at the back, enabling him to remove the offending elbow, and re-seal into position.  The job is completed by lunch-time, I pay the £168.00 invoice, which Sea Otter Boats subsequently and very quickly refunded to me.   (It would have been possible for the calorifier to have been removed completely from the cupboard if need be.  Sea Otter built the cupboard with that in mind.)

I thank Kate Boats again for helping me out efficiently, again, at a time of need, and I feel a tinge of panic as I venture forth along canals that I know are devoid of any more Kate Boats boatyards. It is 2.00pm, and we have the two Cape Locks and the Hatton 21 to cope with before our next meal.

11th of August 2011.

We eventually arrive at Stratford Upon Avon to a nice reception from John & Heather Dews, the very pleasant owners of Stratford Marina (01789 778358) and what a delightful location to moor up at….right by the river, grassy banks and picnic-tables to relax on, all within a minutes walk of pubs & restaurants, and five minutes to the town centre.  A very fine jewel in a very fine crown.

191 (12082011) Crew at Stratford

I realised I’d not checked to see if anything was wrapped around the prop since Crick !  So I did, and nothing was, which I think is perhaps testament to a good combination of the Axiom prop, the attached rope-cutter, and the shape of the hull.

I realised too that, despite the very shallow water that many other boaters had been complaining about on the way across country, I had never knowingly touched the bottom, or had any problems in mooring up against the sides.  Again perhaps thanks to the v-shaped hull, and the comparatively shallow draft of Sea Otter Boats.

The boat is booked into Stratford Marina for 9 nights, and I look forward to seeing how the boat performs at OVER 4 MPH on the Rivers Avon and Severn.

20th of August 2011.

We amble along the river Avon, cruising for about 3 or 4 hours a day, and arrived at nicely spaced-out towns by about midday each day….Bidford, Evesham, Pershore, and Tewksbury.  Pershore was our favourite for general ambiance & the quality of its moorings and pubs.

Again, throughout this period in which the river levels were low, we never knowingly scraped the bottom even on the approach to locks, and nothing caught around the prop.

24th of August 2011.

I’m touching wood as I write this.  Everything has worked perfectly over the last several cruising days.

We passed through the tricky manned Tewksbury lock yesterday, and today, now travelling against the flow of the river Severn, the engine needs to work harder.

I am very surprised how much extra throttle I had to apply to move up-stream at a reasonable speed just after turning wide onto the wider River Severn to avoid an unseen sandbank that the lock-keeper, and the canal books, had warned us about.

Today was to be the first in which my generator light showed green for any length of time, indicating that mains voltage was being produced at the higher engine revs required to cruise against the flow.

The boat behaved impeccably, and there was very little turbulence from the stern considering that the engine was running at about 2,400 rpm to give a speed of about 5 mph.

The tiller did vibrate a little more than normal, but there again it’s a little longer than tillers usually are.  Despite the higher revs, the engine temperature gauge stayed well within the normal range, possibly thanks to the twin keel-cooling tanks fitted.  The boat didn’t need steering at these speeds, it just went straight !

We make Upton Marina in a little more than an hour, and we have planned to leave the boat here for a couple of weeks.  Tingdene, who run the marina, are also Sea Otter agents, and  we have made a deal that permits me to moor at a cheaper than normal rate, in exchange for offering my boat for viewing by potential purchasers of a Sea Otter Boat while it’s there.

My next and final report covers the next two and a half years, and I tell of my particular likes & dislikes of my boat after living with it for quarter of a decade.

Concluded in part nine.

Useful Information

Building An Aluminium Narrowboat – Part 7

Continued from part 6

26th of May 2011

Today I have to search around for signs of progress.

There is a craftsman at work, and to do his crafting to his level of competence, Carpenter Nigel needs space and a great deal of time.  Much of his work is done behind the scenes, and the parts he’s working on may not be on the boat.

As an example I find my glazed side-hatch doors, the bow and stern doors, and the bow-step in the varnishing bay.

Side Hatches & doors
Observe the surfaces of the wood left where holes have been cut out of the green unglazed stern doors, which the louvred ventilation panels will eventually cover…….they’ll be forever out of view, but the bare wood has still been protected by sealant and then painted.  I know from experience that not all boatbuilders do this, so instead, on some other new boats,  the wood around the vents will soon discolour, the varnish and paint will peel off, and rot will set in within just a few years.  I could give you many examples of such things, but suffice to say, the vast proportion of the quality of the work that I see being done on my boat can only be descibed as excellent.

It is now the day before my boat was due to be transported to the Crick Show.  Even though the lads worked late some nights, and the last few weekends, it just isn’t finished in time.  Cutting corners wasn’t an option to Paul and Anthony, and the boat was not completed until the following week.

We decide to keep in part to the same plan, by making Crick Marina the launching site for the boat on the 3rd of June, but there’s a lot still to be done before that.  Just before I leave on the 26th of May the soft furnishings arrive for my boat.

Cushions arrive
1st of June 2011.

My boat has now been painted, and is still in the paint oven when I arrive.
Paint oven
Their spray booth is really an oven, in which the 2-part paint is baked on, and there are very large heaters and ducts in the roof so that the temperature can be controlled during that baking process.  When built this was one of the largest paint ovens in the UK.   I’m told the paint job on my boat should last 25 years.  I can vouch for the longevity of the paintwork on some elderly Sea Otters that I’ve seen previously.

The trouble is, because my boat is now longer than 56 feet, (because of the engine generator), as you can see…….it doesn’t quite fit in !   Earlier, it had to be manoeuvred diagonally before the the oven doors would close !

There’s a flurry of activity inside the boat.  The installation of the stove is nearing completion, and I see that the new rules are being complied with, hence the wide gap behind the aluminium plates.  But Mark tells me that they have always fitted them that way, which must be reassuring to existing Sea Otter Boat owners with fitted stoves.
Stove installation
There’s less space in the biggest bedroom cupboard now, since the fitting of, from left, the two control boxes for the engine generator, the blue switch-over unit, then the consumer unit, and finally, on the right, the blue 3.5KW inverter.
Electrics 2
At the stern the work on the prop shaft is complete, the Axiom prop has been fitted, and just behind that is the small but lethal blade of a “rope-cutter”.  (A label on the weed-hatch cover plate is a reminder to the unwary of its presence !)

2nd of June 2011.

My boat is unceremoniously launched in Sea Otters own test-tank, and thankfully it floats.  Anti-freeze is added to the engine cooling systems (incorporating two keel tanks) and to the central heating system (Webasto) and all the operating systems are now being tested, including engine and transmission, charging, heating, and all electrical installations.

Into the test tank
A leak is found, and fixed, in a bathroom radiator, and tomorrow is the big day.

3rd  of June 2011.

The boat has been in the spray-booth overnight for sign-writing and few final paint-jobs.

It is now returned to the workshop for a few final checks.

Back to workshop
The transport arrives, and my boat is loaded on….watch your hands Paul !

Loaded up
It’s a good opportunity to photograph the V-hull.
V-hull 2
And a side view of the bow-thruster setup in association with the V-hull.  You can see the holes drilled into the V-hull !

And the big moment !

Launching at Crick
There is a worrying moment during the launching when the water around the boat seemed to take on a life of it’s own, as if a thousand fish were thrashing around just under the surface…..but it’s all to do with the water flowing into the V-hull and displacing the air which escapes within big bubbles all around the boat.

My boat was moored up in the new part of the marina, and I make myself at home.

There are bound to be teething problems with a new boat.  It’s like buying a house and a car both together…there are a many systems that can prove troublesome, and I had my fair share of problems.  Nothing major at this time, but I managed to compile quite a list for subsequent rectification.

On the top of my list was a reference to very weak water pressure in the shower, which was later found to be caused by a kink in the pipe behind it.

The diesel tank gauge didn’t work, which we later found was a stuck float.

I reported the fact that there was only one stern navigation light –silly me.

There were a few minor leaks from radiator joints, and a more serious leak from under the kitchen sink, and a slight leak from the engine fuel filter, and the starter battery was not being charged by the battery charger when on shore-power.    [All were quickly remedied.]

Paul had promised me a “Boat Safety Scheme Certificate”, but there hadn’t been time to have the boat tested in the factory.  Sure to his word he arranged a visit by an examiner at Crick.  BSS certificates are NOT normally given out with a new boat, but more usually faults are discovered four years later, by which time the test is mandatory, and also by which time the boat is well out of its guarantee period.

So it is a sign of their faith in their boats that Sea Otter arrange the BSS test when the boat is new.

Worth mentioning the Alde gas-tester which Sea Otter fit to their boats.  You can test your own gas system for a leak, and it saves the examiner a lot of time too.

I didn’t have a gas-leak, but my boat did fail the BSS test !    On five points !

Number one was that the battery boxes were not secured to the hull.  Sea Otter admit that this was an oversight.

Number two was that two main battery leads ran across the route of the Webasto fuel line.  There had to be a barrier fitted between the two.

Number three was that there were only 2 fire-extinguishers, not three, but that was previously known about and was in hand.

Number four was that the gas cylinders in the bow-locker were not secured.  They need to be chained down so they can’t fall over and roll about and damage the pipework.

Number five was that the rubber hose that joins the copper cooker pipe to the cooker was not of the correct specification.  Apparently, even though the system operates at low-pressure, the hose has to be of the high-pressure type !  Which is usually orange in colour and labelled BS3212-2, and mine was black and wasn’t.

ALL the above problems were rectified quickly by two subsequent visits to Crick Marina by Mark and John from Sea Otter Boats.  And a week later I had my first BSS certificate.

So things were looking up, until one night the red hose from the bottom of the calorifier came adrift, the pump came on as it would, and pumped the entire140 gallons contents of my full water tank out of the open end of the hose and into the back of my boat…..and I slept right through it.  I blame both the strength of the beer at the Red Lion and the fact that the hose was only held on by one jubilee clip, not two.  Fortunately I had a manual pump on board and spent from 3 am to 6 am pumping the water out.  Paul’s advice about installing the calorifier in the engine bay might have been echoing in my ears but it wasn’t because I was too bloody busy pumping.

As if I didn’t have enough on my mind at that time, my Webasto central heating turned ITSELF on TWICE while I was pumping !  I found out later it was because I had accidentally sprayed some water into the time clock positioned near the stern door.  It subsequently dried out with no apparent consequential damage.

The professionally laid carpets had to be ripped out, and dried off on the jetty, which that morning resembled a Crick-second-hand-carpet-sellers-market-stall.

I had fitted 6 water-detectors to my old boat, and had already fitted 6 to this boat, the seventh couldn’t yet be fitted into the bilge because it was still drying it out since the kitchen sink leak.  I was going to fit it the very next day !

It took a long time to dry the carpets out completely, and I think I was lucky that they shrank only minimally.  The wood dried out okay, and the carpets are back down, and things are back to normal, but I won’t forget that morning.  In future I’ll stick to the 4% and not the guest ale at the Red Lion, and I thank Sea Otter for not fitting any MDF.

18th of July 2011.

I was now ready for my first cruise, which was to be a leisurely four-day trip from Crick to Warwick.  Plunging into the mile long Crick Tunnel created a learning curve, the angle of the curve tightening as we passed two boats on the way through and my right hand couldn’t locate the throttle which wasn’t surprising when it’s not on that side but my last boat’s was !

I was impressed how the boat handled, and how quickly I could stop it.  That was reassuring but it didn’t prevent the first bit of damage to my new boat when the side-wind caught it when entering the Watford staircase top lock, and the boat was pushed into the side of the lock entrance, and where was my bow-thruster when I most needed it ?  It had turned itself off !   I had heard a type of warning buzzer in the tunnel, but didn’t know where it came from.  Apparently, when this particular bow-thruster hasn’t been used for 30 minutes, it gives you two audible warning buzzes, then promptly turns itself off.   What nonsense.  But no serious damage, just a torn rubber strake but that’s just what its for, and it can be easily mended, and no-one saw me do it, and that helped.

Just a note for anyone considering paying extra for a 240 volt in-line (“intercalated”) generator attached to a Nanni Engine.  It is worth knowing that, by default, it doesn’t kick-in until about 1,600 revs are reached, and doesn’t really work properly ’till 2,000rpm.!   And by then the boat is normally going too fast !  Apparently the system can be modified, but, as I understand it, then the onus is on the owner to ensure that the revs are high enough to produce the power for 240v appliances turned on within the boat, otherwise non-warranty damage may occur !  There’s a 3-year warranty on this Nanni engine, as long as the services are carried out when advised, and I’m doing nothing to prejudice that at this stage.

That evening we moored at Braunston, and then the next night, just before Stockton locks.  It was there that I raised the engine hatch and peered into the depths and it all looked very red.

The red was the contents of my gearbox.

It was after 5.00 pm, so I ‘phoned River Canal Rescue.  As usual, in my experience, they arrive quickly and courteously and they find that all my gearbox oil had escaped from a triangular plate near the back of the gearbox, the plate being held on by 3 bolts, and behind which was an “O” ring seal which was supposed to keep the oil in but hadn’t.  The seal, and the groove in the plate in which it lived, were cleaned and re-installed but oil still leaked when tested.  I was advised to contact the engine agents the next day for the gearbox to be repaired under warranty.

The offending plate can be seen clearly on this photograph (taken previously)…..follow the central vertical black tube down to where it joins the engine and go a little further down and come forward a bit…it’s that triangular plate held on with 3 bolts just behind the flexible coupling of the prop-shaft :-

Engine installed


There was only one thing that cheered me up that night…the boat Inn.  But thankfully no guest beers.

Over a pint that evening I pondered over the possibility that I had run the engine without gearbox oil for up to 5 hours that day, because I had no way of knowing when the oil had escaped, so the next morning I ‘phoned Peachments, the Nanni engine distributor and agent, and requested a new gearbox, and they agreed to send one out.

I wonder if you can guess where to ?   It depends on how well you know the canal system of-course.  But not only was I moored opposite a really good pub, I was also virtually opposite a Nanny Engine Agent by the name of “Kate Boats”.  [I didn’t know them then, but I subsequently get to know them quite well ! ]  Forward planning at its finest I’m sure you’ll agree.  Well done me.

The new gearbox was duly delivered the next day, and I pushed my boat across the canal to Kate Boats !

But the plot thickened.  Four thickenings.

The first, which I never got to the bottom of, was why the original gearbox oil was red, and yet the handbook says to use normal engine oil (AP1 CD SAE 15W40) .

The second, because of the type of water-lubricated stern-gland fitted to Sea Otter Boats, the boat would have to be craned out of the water to replace the gearbox !  Where was the nearest crane?  At Kate Boats of-course.  Well done me.

The third, when Nick removed the gearbox he found that the drive plate had been wearing down part of the gearbox casting (or was it the other way round ?) in the 11 hours since Crick !   So a new drive plate had to be ordered.

The fourth, a bracket that holds a heat exchanger onto the top of the engine, had cracked.  You can see the bracket on the above photograph, right between the tops of the two vertical hoses.  It is retaining a blue cylinder (heat exchanger) with a hose at each end.  A new bracket had to be ordered too.

All the above resulted in my new boat being out of commission for two weeks after only 2 days of cruising.

5th of August 2011.

Over the last few days the boat has been craned out to facilitate the replacement of the gearbox, the drive plate has been replaced, Nick has made a bracket for the heat-exchanger which is much better than the original, and the boat is back in the water.  This photograph shows the wear to the gearbox casting (left) and the wear to a corner of the drive plate (right).



Nick gives me permission to run my engine in gear in his marina, and I’m now approaching 20 hours, just right for its first service, which Kate Boats promise to carry out tomorrow.

5th of August 2011.

All goes smoothly with the running-in, and Rob arrives as promised to carry out my 20 hour engine service, after which I’m presented with a bill for £1,107.08 which I need to pay.  The three biggest chunks of the bill are for the craning in and out of the water (£400.00 + VAT) and the labour for the gearbox change (£350.00 + VAT) and the 20 hour service including parts (£132.00 + VAT).

I’m responsible for paying for the 20 hour service, but I’m hoping to claim the first two chunks back in due course.  Do you think I’ll get them back ?  I’ll let you know in the next report.

And….are my teething troubles over yet ? ……

Continued in part 8

Useful Information

Building An Aluminium Narrowboat – Part 6

Continued from part 5

7th of April 2011.

Another week has flown by and I visit Sea Otter Boats again.  The engine has just been unpacked from its crate.

Engine 1
I suspect that I pushed the amiable repartee which had developed between us over the last few months to a perilous new level when I told Paul  (in a very serious manner and with a very straight face) “I’m sure I ordered a red one”.

The big round bit of the engine between the two nearest mounting brackets, and with a black box on top, is the 240V “intercalated generator”, designed to produce 4.5KW, when the engine is running.

Engine 2

Those two mushroom-shaped handles at the top left of the photograph are for the oil removal pumps, one for the engine oil, and one for the gearbox oil, the latter being an optional extra.

The circular thing at bottom right is a standard Sea Otter fitment, similar to a “Python Drive”.  I’m told it will take up a certain amount of misalignment between engine and drive-shaft, and a rubbery bit within reduces vibration.

There’s a funny thing about this engine.  You would think, looking at the photographs of it that the two mounting brackets, on the SAME SIDE of the engine, are in line with one another.   But they aren’t, despite the fact that they ARE shown to be in line on the diagram that came with the engine.  The distance between the rearmost pair (nearest the drive shaft) is several mm’s greater than the distance between the two front ones (nearest the alternators).

This may not seem important……until engine fitting time, when the bit of the engine block, nearest to the rear mounts, catches on the inside of the aluminium box-section engine bearers, and doesn’t allow the rear mounts to sit squarely on the bearers.  Emergency modifications needed to be carried out, hence the two cut-outs on the bearers shown in the photograph of the engine bay below.
Engine bay
14th of April 2011.

A framework for the airing cupboard has been constructed, and a chrome radiator is fitted to the right of the calorifier.  That will be one warm airing cupboard.

Calorifier cupboard
A full height “wardrobe-type” door will be fitted later.

This will be difficult to photograph (and also to extract!) once the kitchen work-surface is fitted.  It is a neat sliding unit on the left-hand-side of the top shelf, constructed by Nigel around a “B & Q” cutlery tray.  (Ignore the coiled up gas-pipe!)  There is a similar one, but smaller, on the right-hand-side of the same shelf.  The utilisation of both means that there is no inaccessible place on that top shelf.

Another sliding unit
This is a very neat cutlery drawer beautifully constructed by Nigel and fitted BEHIND the right-hand-side kitchen cupboard door.

Cutlery drawaer
A neatly fitted towel-rail in the bathroom.

Electric towel rail
14th of April 2011.

I’m not visiting my boat-builders today, but nevertheless, I’ve just paid £334.00 EXTRA !

And that’s just to comply with new regulations !

My reader may remember that I bought my Morso Squirrel HS-022 stove in February 2011, along with the fitting kit, from Midland Chandlers, Preston Brook branch.  But, subsequently, in March 2011, a new British Standard came into effect pertaining to the fitting of solid fuel stoves in canal boats (BS 8511:2010). This means the fitting kit I bought is not now suitable.  In fact, neither should I even be locating my new stove where planned.  Probably the most common place for a stove on a narrowboat, between the bow steps and the hull, is NOT now recommended under the new code of practice !

Well, there’s nothing I can do about that at this stage in the building of the boat.  But we’ll do our best to follow the other guide-lines regarding the fitting.  The biggest change as far as I can see is that the roof collar and chimney must be double-skinned, additionally the roof-collar must be insulated, and the chimney must be 2 feet tall when moored and in use.

So I ring Midland Chandlers to ask if they’ll take the originally-purchased (and unused) fitting kit back, credit me for it all, and supply me with a new one which complies with the regulations.   Well……up ‘till now they’ve always been very helpful…..and ……… was no exception !  “Certainly”, they said.

So this is what I paid £334.00 EXTRA for:-
Morso flue kit
There is good news too.  This is a “genuine” kit is supplied by Morso, and it appears to be very good quality.   I know how hot a flue pipe gets on a boat, and how close “things” can get to it.  In this kit the entire flue-pipe is double-skinned and insulated, which goes beyond the recommendations.  Money well spent ?  Well, as I understand it, these new regulations are advisory only, but in the case of a fire caused by a new stove installation after March 2011, a subsequent insurance claim may be prejudiced if the recommendations have not been followed.   So perhaps…. yes.

5th of May 2011.

The fibreglass granite-effect kitchen work-surface is made “in-house” in a very tidy but rather smelly work-shop.  THE WHOLE TOP shown here is moulded in one piece, and that includes the moulded sink and drainer.  So, no joins whatsoever.  There is a choice of colour, my wife chose the mottled brown.
Kitchen work suface
Only the splash-backs are constructed and fitted separately.  I ventured into the smelliest place in the factory to see them under construction:-


The same applies to the top for the bathroom vanity unit.

Bathroom cupboard

The water pump and accumulator are now neatly installed under the TV cabinet in lounge.
Pump & accumulator
The brushed satin twin sockets which are now being fitted show obvious finger marks and stains.  I don’t like them, for mostly that reason, and ask for chrome ones to be fitted instead.  The chrome ones will also better match the window-frames and exposed water-pipes.  I don’t suppose they were too happy about that, but they didn’t show it, and they’re replaced on my next visit.

 17th of May 2011.

The engine is finally installed, along with much of the wiring:-
Engine installed
Externally the propeller shaft and skeg are being aligned:-

Lining up prop
Meanwhile, in the electrics cupboard the power controller is installed, along with the 3KW inverter:-

Power controller &  Inverter (right)
The power controller decides automatically from where the 240v power comes to supply mains to the internal sockets and equipment.  If shore-power is available, it’ll automatically use that.  If not, then the generated power from the engine will be used if available. If neither of those is available (and presuming the inverter is switched on) it will utilise the charge from the battery bank to power that inverter.

My boat is due to be shown at the Crick Boat Show in ten days time.  The pressure is on.  The lads are confident that it will be finished to their usual very high standard in time for Crick, but there’s a lot to do…..minor things…….like painting and sign-writing and installation of stove and lights and consumer units and throttle and control panels and batteries and cupboards and doors and carpet and windows and side-hatch and rubbing strake and rear seats and settees and …………

My next report will tell you if it was completed in time for Crick.

Continued in part 7

Useful Information

Building An Aluminium Narrowboat – Part 5

Continued from part 4

2nd of March 2011.

I normally call at Sea Otter Boats weekly but it has been almost 2 weeks since my last visit (because of the intervening Birmingham boat show) and the internal layout is well under way.

Lounge to dinette
The 240v Dimplex fan heater that I supplied has been neatly fitted into the forward facing panel to provide fast heating of the lounge when plugged into the mains, very useful for that first hour when arriving to the boat on a cold winter’s day and before the stove is fired up.

Dinette 2

The main frame of the dinette has been raised by 7 inches since I last saw it, and access to all under-seat storage areas are now provided for by both doors AND removable top panels

The main kitchen cupboards are under construction, and my tin-store is clearly visible under the central area of the kitchen unit base.  I need to tell you that here, there was a misunderstanding!  When I requested this storage compartment I presumed that Nigel & the team would construct it so that the tins would be laid on their side, so that the labels could be read….but no, it was constructed in order to take vertically stored tins !  (Paul tried to explain their reasoning for this by claiming that there are no labels on the tins from the very cheapo supermarket that they all shop in at Chesterfield !)  But everyone did agree that the additional height needed for vertically stored tins did raise the work surfaces to an unacceptably high level.  The base needs to be lowered, and I’ll be more careful with the descriptions of my requests in future.

You may just be wondering how my tin-store will accessed when the cupboards are fully laden ?……more later.

The gas pipe has appeared.  This has been run under the gunnels, and can be accessed with ease, as per boat safety regulations.  The fridge will be positioned with its back to the unused portion of that dinette seat back, on the right of the photograph, and the cooker will stand opposite it.

9th of March 2011.

More work has been carried out in the dinette.  The least obvious is the installation of the dual rubbish bin, which has been fitted with great care & attention to detail, under the seating nearest the kitchen.
Bin openBin closed
I am very impressed with the way the contours of the wooden bin front exactly matches those of the dinette base unit.  Also, the storage spaces around the sides of the bin are accessible either by the fold-down side-flap shown, or by the removable under-seat panels.  I don’t like wasted space.

Moving along the boat I see that the hole for the shower door has been cut out of the panel, and the piping installed.  The trace-heating is visible once again.  The shower pump is to be situated under the nearby vanity unit.

Arriving in the bedroom I see that the construction of the bed is well under way.

This bed is 4 feet wide, which we think is the widest possible if the corridor is still to be useable.  My last boat had a slightly narrower bed, perhaps 3 feet 9 inches wide, but it was extendable by about 6 inches, which did make a big difference.  We’ve decided we can sleep with 3 inches less width, and without the hassle of extending the bed.  Actually, pulling the mattress out by just a couple of inches at bedtime will make a big difference with very little effort.

There will be two large drawers under the bed.

As I leave Nigel is fitting the overhead cupboard :-
Cupboard over bed-head
On another subject, Sea Otter do not fit TV aerials, because everyone wants something different, and many are subsequently updated, possibly leaving holes in the roof which need filling.  The aerial hole in my previous boat leaked, and you’ll know by now my views on drilling holes in a boat roof unless absolutely necessary.  My soon-to-be-purchased “LOG” aerial will be mounted utilising an aluminium tube soon to be welded to the front bulkhead.

16th of March 2011.

Back again, and the radiators & associated pipe-work have been fitted.

Radiators installed
The 22mm chrome pipes will be exposed both as an attractive feature and additional heat distributors.  All the radiators & pipes will have to be removed again prior to the fitting of the carpet.

Another preview of the kitchen cupboard configuration.

Sliding basket
I sourced two sliding baskets from a firm called “Scotts of Stow”, part number 107 4748 @ £79.90 for two, and Sea Otter fitted them for me, one on either side of the bottom shelf of the main kitchen cupboard, above my tin-store, which has been lowered since my last visit !  The baskets can be slid across towards the centre of the cupboard to access all that is held within.  There will be a similar arrangement for the top shelf in that same cupboard, not yet fitted.  Both systems will help to maximise the use of the space available, and avoid “dead corners”.

 24th of March 2011.

Nigel has fitted an extremely neat bi-folding door to the front of the corridor wardrobe, between the bedroom at the stern and the bathroom door.  Without realising this, when fully folded in the open position, it will double up as a very effective privacy screen between the main bedroom and the rest of the boat.

Bi-folding door

Another neat addition, my B&Q sourced sliding unit meticulously installed in the kitchen, next to where the fridge is to be.

Kitchen sliding unit

And useful storage provided under the dinette floor.

Dinette storage

29th of March 2011.

The Cassette loo has been fitted, and the vanity unit is under construction :-

Cassette loo

And the calorifier is tried for size :-


It is temporarily supported by a wooden frame at the height from the floor as recommended in the manual, to allow for space to replace the internally fitted immersion heater element if necessary.

My Nanni engine is due next week, and the electrician will be back on the job, so lots to look forward to in April as the completion of the boat proceeds.

Continued in part 6

Useful Information

Building An Aluminium Narrowboat – Part 4

Continued from part 3

I return again with my wife, because today is the day for choosing carpets, seat materials, and curtain colours, so lots of decisions to be made.

Paul had also previously asked about how I wanted the boat painted.  Today I give him a photograph of my old boat, which had red side panels with a yellow coach-line around, the rest of the sides green, and with red hand-rails and a green (anti-slip) top.  I liked the colours of that boat, and I still do.  “Like that”, I say.  Easy.

My new boat had been moved to a more convenient position closer to Nigel the joiner’s work-bench, parallel to another two boats under construction.
3 boats in a row!
Mine is the furthest away, and before you ask, I haven’t specified a lookout’s bench, that’s just a handy place for Nigel to keep his steps.

When I look at that photograph closely I see that the top hand-rails don’t meet in the middle on any of the boats.  The reason I’m given is that it is so the ropes from the central bollard can pass through the gap.  Couldn’t it just pass under a joined-up rail?  I never see the logic in that !

Today the construction of the tops of the dinette under-seat storage units was nearing completion.

The units will later be raised by about 7 inches when the false floor of the entire “raised pullman dinette” is installed, thus increasing substantially the storage space underneath, including a wine-store under the raised floor between the bench-seats, accessible by raising flaps.

Note the silver-topped box between the two dinette seats, and next to the drill.  This is a rubbish bin which Paul has sourced, and will be fitted under the nearest dinette seat, and will pull out into the corridor, on rollers.  It actually contains TWO fair-sized rubbish bins, a useful concept in these days of recycling.

The cardboard box on the far dinette seat contains a Dimplex fan heater which I had brought with me.  I have asked for it to be fitted in a bow-facing central location in the front of the seat on which it is perched, and will be a backup source of quick heat for the lounge when on shore-power.

Something has appeared in my boat which wasn’t there last visit:-

Water tank
This beast is a 350 litre (approximately) stainless-steel water-tank and is to be fitted in the similarly-shaped space underneath the bow-deck.  It was pressure-tested after manufacture.  The fill pipe is on the right, and then there are two others close together.  One is the breather (B) and the other Flow (F)

What we can’t see are the strengthening baffle plates within the tank (which also reduce water-surging) and an additional outlet for the water gauge pipe.

One thing I wondered about ever since I read the build specification of a modern Sea Otter Boat…… when everything metal is made of aluminium, why is the water-tank made of stainless steel ?  If you know the answer to this already, I take my hat off to you.  If you don’t here’s a clue to the answer :

Earlier Sea Otter Boats WERE fitted with aluminium water-tanks !  But if the boats were left for a while without being used, sometimes white crystals up to 5mm wide were found in the water-pump inlet filter, and sometimes they built up and completely blocked the pump filter.

Answer.  The crystals were aluminium chloride, produced when Chlorine (introduced into the tank as a constituent of drinking water) reacted with the aluminium that the tank was made from.  So that’s why they changed to stainless steel for the water tank.

Something else has appeared in the bow of my boat.  Just in front of the water-tank you may notice a raised square-shaped aluminium structure.  I’m told this is the lower part of what will be a “coffer-tank”.   I’m not sure what one of those is, but the answer was forthcoming from Paul :-

An aluminium tank designed to hold water will be built up from that frame, to a height of perhaps a foot or so, and inside that tank my bow-thruster will be located.  Whatever the exact measurements are, the top of the tank will be designed to be above the level of the water outside in the canal.  (That’s the clue.)  So, if anything goes wrong with the bow-thruster or the associated seals, causing water to leak, that water will stop flowing by the time it reaches the top of the “coffer-tank”.  In other words, it could save my boat from flooding.

Just before I leave my boat I notice a new flap at the stern.
Bilge access
This is the bilge access point which I mentioned in my last report.  It isn’t very deep, but the aluminium plate below is the base-plate of the boat, and this is the lowest point in the bilge, though as my reader will know, there is a v-shaped hull below that base-plate.

You may notice the black heat-trace wire securely sandwiched between the hot & cold water pipes.

On the way to the office from the boat I’m shown a cooker which is about to be fitted to one of the other new boats.  I’ll be having the same model.  No problem, it ticks all my boxes, such as electric ignition to oven as well as hob, pan storage beneath (thus providing more space in the kitchen cupboards for other things) and a (mirrored) glass top which looks good and provides an additional kitchen work surface when the hob is not in use.

There are samples of seating material laid out in the office.  We quickly choose our favourite (we had a preview of them on out very first visit to Sea Otter Boats) and choose a contrasting coloured material for the curtains from another sample book.

I ask for the seats (for the lounge & dinette seats) to be covered in the chosen material on both sides, so if a stain occurs the seat can simply be turned over.  I also ask for some spare material.

We then visit Paul’s carpet supplier to choose a suitable colour and quality.  We end up NOT choosing a rubber-backed one because we didn’t like any of them, but we’ll be having suitable underlay fitted anyway.

This might sound very obvious, even naïve, but one thing I learned this day was to look at the carpet samples outside !  Some of those that we liked “inside” appeared a totally different colour when viewed in the natural light of day.

On the way in his car we discuss the ventilation of boat cupboards.  I have read that some other boat-builders provide air-grills in all cupboard doors, presumably to avoid condensation & subsequent dampness problems.  Paul tells me that they have never had an issue with dampness in any of their boat cupboards, perhaps due to the care they take with the insulation of the sides & roof & floor areas.  I decide to go with the flow on this, and will only fit them myself later if I experience any problems. [I did and I did ! ]

 15th of February 2011.

The first thing I notice is that my water-tank has been re-located to its permanent home under the bow-deck.  The top fill pipe has been connected to the filler cap assembly above.  The breather (“B”) is connected to the outside, and a tap has been added to the outlet (“F” for flow).  And another connection is for the water gauge.

Water tank gauge

I am impressed with the location of the water level gauge.  I took this photograph from inside the boat, and I’m looking through what will be the portside window in the forward lounge bulkhead.  (The bow door is on my right).  The level is clearly visible from inside the boat, and it is of-course also clearly visible to the person outside filling the tank.

Water filler cap

At first I wasn’t so impressed with the position of the water filler cap.  That’s it, covered with masking tape, and in the centre of the photograph.  I expected it to be tucked away in a locker.  Won’t it gather dirt and be difficult to clean off before filling up ?

But when I think about it, whenever I had to gain access to the filler in my previous boat, I had to half empty the locker of its contents first.  And then many-a-time I ended up flooding the locker.  And, as you prepare to fill up, seeing as how you’ve got a water-hose in your hand anyway, it’s an easy enough job to clean any accumulated dirt from around the filler first.  And it is raised up from the surface of the floor to stop bits getting in.  It’s beginning to grow on me.

I had been so pre-occupied with the bow end of the boat that I hadn’t noticed that the floor of the boat was now covered with vinyl / lino.
Marking out floor plan

This prompted us to consider how many layers will be underfoot in my boat !  The answer we come up with is  9 !

1)     First there’s the external frame of the v-hull (6mm)
2)     Then a layer of semi-trapped water within the V-shaped hull
3)     Then the flat aluminium base-plat (8mm)
4)     Then an air-space with strengthening rails & possibly concrete ballast on the starboard side
5)     Then the ply-wood flooring (18mm)
6)     Then this layer of vinyl
7)     Then there is to be a layer of carpet underlay
8)     Then the carpet
9)     And, knowing me as I do, a protective rug or runner (or two) on the top.

I don’t like cold feet.

Masking tape had been stuck to the lino to mark out the floor-plan.  The two vertical aluminium panels represent the bulkheads either side of the kitchen.  We can make sense of the plan from this photograph up to the kitchen.  The mid-line can be ignored for this purpose.

I was standing in the lounge when I took the photograph.  The nearest horizontal line (as it appears on the photograph) represents where the settees will go up to (one on either side of the lounge).   The space between the first & second horizontal line represents the space required to change the corridor from the starboard side (on the left looking at this photograph) to between the aforementioned settees in the lounge.  (On the portside this space will also allow access to cupboards under the forward dinette seats, and for guests to store their bags)

The space between the next two lines will be the forward seating area of the “Pullman dinette”, the next will be where the table will be, and the next, the far dinette seats.  Then there’s the kitchen area, in which the positions of the kitchen cabinets can be made out.

As you know I’m having carpet up to the gunnels, but those vertical aluminium strenghening box-sections on either side of the boat will not be carpeted, but instead boxed in with wood, which will hopefully contrast quite nicely with the adjacent carpet.

Before I leave Sea Otter Boats today, I’m shown to an upstairs workshop in which my furniture is being made.   This is to be the corner “TV cabinet” in the lounge, and the end of the bed frame just appears on the right of the photograph.   Good quality plywood throughout.  No MDF.

Lounge corner cabinet
As I leave Paul slips me two free tickets for the Birmingam boat show, and we arrange my next visit for two weeks time.

Continued in part 5

Useful Information

Building An Aluminium Narrowboat – Part 3

Continued from part two

20th of January 2011

Again I’m impressed by the progress made since my last visit just a few weeks ago, particularly considering the festive period fell within that time.

The most obvious difference from the outside is that all ten of the curved-top holes for the windows have been cut out, as have the two round holes for the large portholes.  The side-hatch doors (later to be glazed) have been fitted.


As I step onto the bow I realise how much work has been done in this area too.


The deck is in, and so too are the lockers. The shapes of the bulkhead windows (on either side of the bow doors) have been cut out, and the bow-doors installed.  As discussed in the planning stage, “stable-doors” had been constructed for me.  The lower sections will be useful when my grand-daughter reaches that dangerous crawling stage, and the upper sections can be opened right back against the bulk-head  They can be leant back against, whilst sitting on top of those lockers.  Just what I ordered.

As I step through the bow door, I see that, even with the roof now on the boat, and still being under the roof of the factory, the boat is impressively light inside.


The internal wooden surrounds to all the windows & portholes are fitted neatly, (the final panelling and internal polished wooden window frames will be installed later) and the foam insulation sheets are in place throughout the inside of the boat.

The wires that run from stern to bow (such as those for the bow-thruster) have already been safely installed within that aluminium box section visible half-way down the side of the boat.  There’s no chance of a stray screw piercing them.

The pipes that carry cold & hot water from the bow water tank and from the calorifier respectively are in place.  Sea Otter use flexible plastic pipe, for most purposes, not HEP.


In the photograph above of the porthole and pipe-work in what is to be the bathroom, you’ll see that the newly cut ends of all the water pipes have been covered with masking tape.  This is to avoid small pieces of insulation (and there’s plenty of those about ! ) getting trapped in the pipes, which would cause plumbing problems later.  They’ve learnt that from a past experience !

I’ve mentioned trace-heating.  It’s a wire that warms up as 240v is passed through it.  It is used in conjunction with a thermostat, and it keeps the water-pipes warm in freezing conditions.  I had ordered that from my supplier previously, and I have brought it with me.  I did intend fitting it myself, but they weren’t quite ready for that, so it was decided that John would fit it the following day.  I leave them to it, and I’m due back in 5 days time.

25th of January 2011.

John the electrician has been very busy !

Wires are hanging down and sticking out from everywhere !  Apparently I’ve specified so many 240v sockets there’s got to be three ring-mains.

More wires

More of the additional wiring is being fitted by electrician John during my visit.


I’m pleased to see that the trace-heating has been fitted, and in a very sensible way too.  Where there is a single pipe (such as the blue cold-water pipe from the water tank to the kitchen) then the heat-trace wire has been taped to it.  Where there is a hot & cold pipe together (such as the route from the calorifier to the bathroom) then the heat-trace has been taped in position between both the pipes.  This reduces the length of the heat-trace wire required to a minimum.

The following photograph shows the black heat-trace wire attached to the pipes in what will be the kitchen.  In other areas more “spare” heat-trace wire has been left, for example, to wrap around the shower pump at a later stage.

Heat trace

A few other things were discussed that day.

I’m a bit fussy when it comes to diesel filler caps.  I obviously want a lockable one to help protect the valuable contents of my tank from thieves, but I also want to reduce the chances of water ingress through it.  (We read more & more about problems caused by diesel bug caused by water in the tank.)  I’ve seen some poor examples of lockable fuel filler caps sold for boats, some of which come complete with a clear warning that they aren’t waterproof ( by offering the advice that an additional water-trap should be fitted in the fuel-line after fitting ! )   I have a few ideas of my own, but I’m shown the type that Sea Otter Boats normally fit, and it ticks all the boxes.  The external top cover has no hole in it, and is domed so that water will run off, and completely covers the screw-holes with which the whole assembly is fitted.  It has two good seals.  The cap is positioned under a rod which fits through holes in the normal upturns around the fuel filler, and locked in position with a standard but good quality padlock.  That will do nicely.

As usual I leave very content with the progress and the discussions we’ve had, and will return in 8 days.


In between visits I choose my multi-fuel stove from the range on display at Midland Chandlers, Preston Brook Branch.  It is a Morso Squrrel 1410, which is the more “traditional” of the range.  It is also the cheapest of the Morso stoves that I see.  It has the lowest heat output too.  (That suits me because from my experiences of man sharing boat with stove on well-insulated boat, the biggest problem is man overheating.)  It is NOT one of the new “cleanheat” range.  (I’m told that the flue in a narrowboat cannot be long enough for the “cleanheat” system to work efficiently.)  It hasn’t got the biggest front glass, or a lattice door, so it will be easier to keep the glass clean.  I’m told that it is one of the most easily controlled (because of the two variable air-vents regulators) and so a low combustion rate is easier to maintain through the night.    But, best of all it’s got a squirrel on both sides (they don’t all have) and I like squirrels.

As usual the staff at my Midland Chandlers branch are very helpful. They put a “fiiting kit” together for me, including flue, roof collar, chimney, rain-hat, bolts, sealant, lagging etc.  And two “lockgate fixing feet”.  Apparently these replace the back two feet that come with the stove.  These  have pre-drilled holes enabling the stove to be bolted down.  The stove, once secured, then complies with one of the latest boat safety rules.  I even treat myself to a companion set for when I’m on the boat alone.

I pay cash for everything, but Otter Boats previously negotiated the trade prices that I pay, so I’m happily acting as a courier and will deliver the stove to Sea Otter Boats at Chesterfield the very next day.

2nd of February 2011.

My trusty Mazda 323 knows it’s own way to Staveley (Chesterfield) now, and has even worked out a few short cuts.

Today we discuss bilge access.  They tell me that they provide this as standard on all their boats.  They show me a little flap near the stern steps in another boat being built, which provides access to the lowest point of the bilge, where leaking water from anywhere inside the boat will collect.  I should have known they’d have thought of that.  I intend dropping a simple battery operated water detector probe into this space later, so I’ll receive a very loud audible warning if it gets wet down there.  I’ve used these water detectors before (and I sell them to RCR) and I think everyone should have at least one !  They’re a very affordable early warning device.

I know a bit about fridges, as in an earlier life I wholesaled spare parts for them.  I know the working bits produce heat, and normally that heat is trapped behind the fridge because there’s usually very little space behind it for the heat to escape.  So gradually the space behind the fridge gets warmer and warmer, and the fridge has to work harder and harder, and use more and more electricity (be it 12v or 240v), to cools itself inside.

The way to increase the efficiency of an overheated and overworked fridge is to provide the back of it with some ventilation.  I ask Anthony to make a note to drill me some holes through the floor and into the bilge, behind where the fridge will be.  And I ask for some more holes to be drilled through the wood at the side of the fridge. This will provide some useful ventilation.  But the ventilation can be improved considerably by the fitting a small fan to draw air into (or out of) the space behind the fridge, thus creating a draught. (A computer fan is ideal and can be bought cheaply from Maplin or on Ebay.)  Many 12v fridges have two very useful contacts on the compressor, to which the wires from the fan can be connected.  Wired this way the fan only operates when the compressor is working, thus saving valuable battery power.

A by-product is that the draught thus created can also help to keep the bilge aired.

I’ll likely pop another of those water-detectors down one of the bilge access points behind the fridge at a later time. [Eventually I fit 11 water detectors to my boat, but not soon enough !]

Our discussions are over for another day and I see my boat.

Panelling fitted

Nothing much has changed externally in the 8 days since my last visit, but inside, the internal panelling is almost complete.  There are two types of plywood panels being used. (No MDF whatsoever on a Sea Otter Boat)  If the panelling will be on view, they use “quality A”   If it’s not to be on view, they use “quality B”.

Starting from the roof there WILL be a central area of “quality A” panelling, which hasn’t been fitted yet.  On either side of that, just fitted and still being supported, we have an area of brown “quality B” panelling.  During my last visit I watched as all these browner panels were being sprayed in the paint-shop.  They will all eventually be covered with a cream vinyl headlining, and it is through this that the lights are fitted.   The foam roof insulation at the top front left is just about to be covered by another panel of “quality B”.

Moving vertically down the side of the boat there is a layer of “quality A” panelling surrounding the windows and portholes.  This has a very nice light ash veneer, and has been previously sprayed with varnish to a very shiny finish.  Every panel has been chosen so that the grain matches that of its neighbour.

Below that we have the gunnels, and below that a layer of “quality B” panelling.  If you have read all my progress reports, you’ll know I’m going back in time and having carpet fitted up to the gunnels.  It would therefore be somewhat of a waste to use ”quality A” panelling when its going to be covered in carpet.  Sea Otter Boats are not going to charge me for the extra carpet they’ll need, because they save money by fitting the cheaper “quality B” panelling in this area.  Another mutually beneficial arrangement.

You’ll see two aluminium plates sticking out from the left hand (portside) wall.  These represent the bulkheads on either side of the kitchen.  Towards the camera from the nearest aluminium plate, you’ll see the water-pipes for the wash-basin, and you’ll observe the black “heat-trace” wire coiled up amongst them.  The reason there’s so much “spare” there is because it will need to stretch to the shower pump, and coil around it, to protect the contents from freezing in the winter.  Closer still to the camera are the water pipes for the shower.

I leave for home after another satisfying visit, and will return in 6 days.

Continued in part 4

Useful Information

Building An Aluminium Narrowboat – Part 2

Continued from part one.

I return to Otter Boats on the 14th of December 2010 by which time some of the previously flat-packed aluminium panels had been joined and bent to produce a semblance of a water craft.  But most of the engineering work done so far had been in the construction of the V-shaped hull, as shown in the following photograph sent to me in the interim period by Anthony:-


The V-shaped hull, made from 6mm aluminium plate, is designed to allow water in and the water then acts as ballast.  The water enters through holes drilled into it, and completely fills it.  The hollow bow-post at the very front of the boat (doubling up as a “bumper” and on which is fixed the bow-fender) is eventually internally joined to the space in the V-hull.  As the V-hull fills with water, the misplaced air is forced up this tube, where it remains happily under slight pressure for as long as the boat floats.  To stop the water in the V-hull from surging from one end to another, or from side to side during unusual boat movements, there are specially designed baffle plates strategically positioned within it.  No additional ballast is normally required unless there is more weight (furniture, cookers, fridges etc) on either the port or starboard sides, in which case concrete ballast will be added to the opposite side to balance the boat.

Work is being done in the photograph to the cut-outs in the V-hull for the operation of the bow-thruster.

Later the V-hull was turned the right way up, thus exposing the flat 8mm base-plate, and more of the 8mm side-panels are positioned and welded into place, utilising several pre-constructed and temporarily inserted bulkhead-type templates.  These are to be removed later.

Full length from bow

If you look closely you may observe the box channel through which the main electrical cables travel the length of the boat on the starboard side (On the right on this photograph).  Also, at the front of the photograph, lying on top of a bin, is an incomplete baffle plate of the type used within the V-hull, which shows well the shape of that hull.

The next photograph, taken the same day, shows the stage just before the 8mm side-plates are bent round to join the base plate at the stern.


Windows were discussed, and I opt for a nine curved-top-types, with lower-sliding panels.  The maximum number and sizes of windows is dictated by how much strength is removed from cutting out all that aluminium from the side panels, so I don’t get the biggest size available from the supplier’s catalogue. I specify an opening hopper in the curved top so they can be left open in some rainy weather without water ingress.  I choose a non-shiny “coated” finish rather than a shiny aluminium finish as I suspect the latter will show more marks.  I choose larger than normal hopper portholes, one for the bedroom and one for the shower-room, both portside.  The side-hatch will also have curved top glazing, actually one of the standard curved-top windows cut in two.

Anthony printed out the plan of my boat showing the positions & sizes of windows and radiators which I was required to sign, after which those positions are deemed to be “written in stone”.   This new formality follows a recent situation whereby they were asked to change the position of a port-hole after the hole for it had been cut out !  They are determined not to have to do that again. Fair enough.

More decisions had to be made regarding the positions of ceiling, wall, and reading lights, and 240  & 12 volt sockets.  Anthony prints out another boat-plan, and, with a highlighting pen marks on it where they would normally position such things.  I ask if I can keep it for a week, which I do.

I like sockets, and lots of them !  I don’t like plug-adaptors and trailing cables.  I added dozens of sockets to my last boat, both 12v and 240v, to avoid such things.

I return a week later with their electrical plan and a cheque for the second stage payment.  I tell them that there’s good news & bad news.  I presume from that they’ll think the bad news is that I’ve not brought the cheque as promised, but I hand that over as the good news and I hope they’re relieved.  I now produce the electrics plan which now more resembles an abstract painting created by flicking paint-laden brushes at it.  There are now 33 purple spots (representing twin mains sockets) and 14 pink spots (representing 12v sockets in addition to the 12v supplies for cooker ignition and fridge) and 23 yellow spots (representing ceiling lights) and 5 orange spots (representing wall / reading lights) and 9 blue spots (representing panel-lights), in addition to green & red spots (representing navigation lights) and finished off with a long orange streak in the engine bay (representing an LED strip-light).  There are no raised eye-brows as Anthony adds all my coloured spots to the computer master-copy and I’m certain it was a good plan to give them the cheque first.

We discussed loos.  I want to keep the plumbing as minimalistic as possible, specifically to simplify the fitting of trace-heating to the pipes at a later stage.  I would have been content with a porta-potti, but Paul showed me a fitted cassette-loo in another boat being built, and I was converted.  It was a very neat job, it was an integral part of the shower-room rather than a separate entity, and as it was a manual-fill type it did not require pipe-work to it. Best of both worlds as I see it.

I wanted to check what sort of calorifier I was getting.  The type they fit to a boat my size is of 60 litre capacity, made of stainless steel (because they’re less likely to give trouble), with twin coils (one to bring hot water from the engine, and the other to bring hot water from the Webasto diesel heater), and with a fitted immersion heater.  So no problem there.  But they don’t necessarily build the cupboard around it in such a way as to enable the later replacement of the calorifier if necessary, but they promise to work on that !

I finally get to see my boat, and I’m again amazed at how much progress has been made in just one week.  It has gained the full shape of a narrow-boat with both sides welded up.

As Paul talked me through the progress that had been made he mentioned that, because they had never fitted an intercalated (in-line) generator to a Nanni engine, they had decided to fit a second keel-cooling tank just in case additional engine cooling may be required.  And this (when asked) would be at no additional cost.  This is very typical of their “belt & braces” attitude to boat-building, and extremely comforting to me as a Sea Otter Boat buyer.

The construction of the roof was being completed as I watched. The aluminium sheets were being manually bent up to meet the shape of the pre-manufactured curved aluminium box-sections.  They were then clamped together, and then welded together.  So simple, but a lot of thought & pre-planning has obviously gone into the process.

Roof bending

Later that day the roof was turned the right way up utilising those big suckers on the gantry crane, and positioned in place over the boat.  I missed that stage but Anthony sent me a photograph of the action:-

Roof in place

Sea Otter Boats now close for Christmas holidays, and I’ll be back to see more progress in the New Year 2011…….

Continued in part three

Useful Information

Building An Aluminium Narrowboat – Part 1

Early June 2010

I’ve had one narrow-boat, a 55′ cruiser-stern Liverpool Boat.  I did a great deal of work on that, most of it involving rust removal or rust prevention, and I found that my efforts would need to be ongoing if it was to remain in reasonable condition.  The worst two jobs were the bottom-blacking every two or three years (combined with the associated replacement of anodes), and the painting of the inside of the steel water-tank, without doubt, in my opinion, the very worst chore.

I decided on a change of boat last year.  There were to be two priorities.  With a grand-child imminent, I wanted a “semi-traditional stern”, which provides a safer haven for youngsters than a cruiser stern.  And with older age imminent, I wanted less maintenance work.

A visit to Sea Otter at Staveley, (between Chesterfield & M1) in early July 2010 seemed like a good idea.  They build narrow-boats out of marine-grade aluminium alloy.  So no rust and no blacking.  No electrolytic action below the waterline ( * ) so no anodes to replace.  And with a stainless steel water tank, no painting.

( *  There are no dissimilar metals in contact with the hull below the waterline on a Sea Otter Boat.  All stern gear runs through a phenolic cutlass bearing. The stainless rudder and stock run through MDPE bearings. Any below-the-water-line fittings that may be dissimilar are fitted with a polyurethane gasket. None of these conduct electricity. Because there are no dissimilar metals in close proximity, no electrolysis can occur.)

In early June 2010 I met up with brothers Anthony (who I had earlier met at the Birmingham Boat Show) & Paul, who now run the business between them.  It was started by their uncle 17 years ago.

After preliminary discussions with them, and an inspection tour of their brand-new-looking factory, paint-shop, test-tank, and kitchen / bathroom fabrication unit, I was impressed, and had confidence in them.  Alnost everything is made “in-house”.

I am given a basic price for a 56′ semi-trad. They’ll give me a lifetime guarantee on the hull.  What are they trying to tell me ?

Everything considered, including the reported very low level of depreciation, the price seemed reasonable.  It incorporates some items that, from other boats-builders, may be charged as extras, such as bow-thruster, shore-power, navigation lights, immersion heater, bathroom & kitchen extractor fans, stainless steel water-tank, water & diesel tank gauges, Hospital Silencer, Anchor etc etc.  Quite a few items could be deleted from my “wish-list” that I had taken along with me, and Anthony & Paul did me a few good deals on some of the remaining ones.

But the list still included some additional expensive bits, such as a Morso Squirrel Stove, a 240V transmission (“intercalated”) generator for the Nanni engine, heat-trace freeze-protection for the cold-water system, Axiom propeller, and a side-hatch.  We reckon £125,000.00 will cover everything.  There are boats being made at that price that’ll soon start rusting.

The next stage was the signing of the purchase form, designed by the “British Marine Industries Federation” and approved by the RYA.  It protects both sides.

I’m pleased to be told that I’ll be supplied with a Boat Safety certificate on completion !

The final stage that day was the paying of a 20% deposit on the base price.

The second instalment (30%) will be due upon completion of hull fabrication, estimated to be end of December 2010.

The third instalment (another 30%) will be due upon installation of engine & cabin-lining, estimated at end of January 2011.

The final instalment (20% + extras) will be due upon completion of construction prior to boat leaving factory, estimated at mid to end of March 2011.

21st July 2010

I return to Sea Otter with a plan:-

1)  My plan

My plan was very approximately to scale, on A3 graph-paper, and amply decorated with post-it-notes!  That way I could shuffle sections around, and re-draw them independently when necessary.  The scale of the boat on the graph paper was very approximately 1 inch equals 2 feet.  I had just roughly divided the length into 9 sections which looked about right in relationship to each other :-  bow, fore-deck, lounge, dinette, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, rear-deck, and finally the back-end.  No technical terms here, but generally considered to be of a “floating-cottage design”.   Anthony is going to transform my efforts into a more acceptable form with the help of a computer and a printer.

In the short time since my last visit, the marine-grade aluminium alloy sheets for my boat had arrived, and were neatly stacked up in the factory !

2) Aluminium

The big suckers above the stored aluminium sheets facilitate the raising, rotation & transportation to different areas of the factory during construction.There are two thicknesses shown.  8mm for the base-plate and sides up to gunnels.  6mm for the sides above gunnels & roof.    But the hull is actually better protected than those figures might suggest.  There is an additional v-shaped hull constructed of 6mm aluminium alloy below the 8mm base plate.  That makes a total of 14mm of protection under the boat.

The aluminium alloy is delivered in 12 metre lengths, so there will only be one vertical join in the entire length of the boat.

I had a few pre-conceived ideas about my boat.  Following discussions at this early stage, some of my ideas were about to change, and I get my own way on others.

I originally wanted my batteries to be easily accessible, preferably in a locker from which they could be easily removed for maintenance.  In my old boat it was a back-breaking job to remove the batteries for water-level-checking.  But Paul tells me that he’d be supplying Vetus 108AH sealed-gel batteries which shouldn’t need maintenance of any description for several years.  We read an article published in a canal magazine about a guy who had 3 such batteries in his boat for 20 years, and they were still going strong when he sold it !  Then Anthony told me that a battery monitor would be fitted.  I’m then informed that the dreaded boat inspector can be very fussy about where & how batteries are stored.   And that Paul has just taken delivery of some very nice new and specially designed fibre-glass battery boxes.  I capitulated. The batteries will be hidden away in the engine bay.  (1 to them)

I had a preference for the calorifier to be in the bottom of an airing cupboard.  I reckon this is the best place for it, because the heat from it isn’t wasted (it helps to dry clothes) and the hot water within keeps warmer longer.  Anthony & Paul explain that the new calorifiers are so well insulated that they don’t loose much heat.  [I find out later it’s not just the heat from the calorifier that helps dry my clothes, it’s the heat from the several pipes running to and from it.] They prefer the calorifier in the engine bay because if it ever leaks, the water just runs harmlessly into the bilge. Fair point, but then I learn that it may well be necessary to remove the engine to replace a faulty calorifier !   I get to keep it in the airing cupboard.  (1 each)  [I live to regret that decision!]

Don’t get me wrong.  They’re quite happy to do almost anything to a boat to suit the buyer.  But they’ll input the benefit of their experiences and leave the final decision to the buyer.  I’d be daft not to listen.

Anthony & Paul showed me one of their boats being built, to examine the kitchen & bathroom.  Both varied a little from my pre-conceived ideas, but the differences were unimportant, they know their ideas work, so I go with the flow.

So ended my second fruitful visit to Otter Boats, and I look forward to seeing my computer-generated boat-plan at my next visit, leading to more discussions about the details.

27th OF OCTOBER 2010

Back in the Sea Otter office I get to see my boat’s computer-generated plan he’d been working on.

3)  Computer plan


There’s plenty to discuss.

My engine bay (and hence the boat) has to be made a little longer to incorporate the extra length of my Nanni engine because of the addition of the aforementioned “intercalated generator”  This is a nice bit of kit, though pricey at about £2.5 grand.   It is round, like a pancake, and fits between the engine and the drive shaft, and produces 230V as the engine runs.  The obvious advantage of this over the Electrolux “Travel-power” system that was fitted to my previous boat, is that “the pancake” is maintenance-free….no expensive poly-v belts to replace every couple of years.  [ I find out later that there are disadvantages to this as well ! ]

Sea Otter Boats fit a Webasto diesel heating system by default.  I’ve had problems with another popular make in the past, so I’ll be happy to go along with this.

There are to be 5 radiators throughout the boat, and a heated towel rail in the bathroom. Two of the five radiators are to be in the lounge.  That’s one more than Sea Otter normally fit.  They will do calculations to decide if a larger than usual calorifier will be necessary.

I am shown 3 samples of kitchen worktop, and a quick decision is made on which it is to be.

I like windows rather than portholes, for the extra light they provide, but it’s to be portholes in the bedroom on the port side, and in the bathroom (same side).

The windows recently fitted to Sea Otter Boats have had curved tops, which I quite like.  But I have a preference for bigger ones.  I also specify an opening hopper top, because they can be left open for ventilation when it’s raining.  And I also specify sliding windows below the hopper top.  It seems to me that they provide better ventilation.  All these windows will need to be specially ordered, which Paul is happy to do.

I like carpets fitted up to the gunnels.  It takes some nerve to write that because it’s an old fashioned idea.  But I think it makes the interior cosy.  Does it improve the general insulation of the boat ?  It must, and by a good amount I would think.

I had decided on a cassette loo.  I’ve had a pump-out loo, and personally I wouldn’t have one again, because of unpleasant blockage problems experienced.  In many respects this boat is to be kept as simple as possible.

I order a side-hatch opposite the kitchen.  It is to be glazed, so, just like a window, it lets in light even when closed.

The subject of insulation had cropped up on several occasions, and I had done a bit of my own research.

I looked at “Thermafleece”.  As the name suggests it is made from a sheep….compressed wool.  At about £5.00 per square metre the price compares well to “Thinsulate” at £20.00 per square metre.   But a technical consultant told me that the former will allow moisture in, and if it can’t escape effectively (and how could it on a narrowboat) the water could cause deterioration in the product, and eventual degradation.  So that’s off the list of possibilities.  Sea Otter Boats usually fit sheet foam.  They’re used to fitting it, and they’re good at fitting it.  They’ve built a lot of boats with it, without problems, and without complaints.  Anthony & Paul say “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it”.  They do offer the alternatives of fitting “Thinsulate”, or “getting the spray-foam-boys in”, both at additional cost off-course.  I decide again to go with the flow.  I decide that foam sheets will do fine.

An experienced friend of mine is adamant that holes should never be cut in the roof of a boat unless absolutely necessary!  But I like roof-hatches, Houdini-hatches, and even prisms.  But my good friends’ words echo in my ears every time any of the above are considered. I end up not ordering any, consoling myself with the thought that I have lots of big windows to let light in, the side hatch will be glazed, all the interior wood is light in colour, and that a cream vinyl headlining is to be fitted as part of the Sea Otter package.

There’ll be no cratch !  I think the bow is the very nicest part of the boat to sit in. You’re transformed to a different world.  It is a quiet vantage point.  You’re the first to see birds & animals.  You’re the first to get there.  I think a cratch takes something away.  The cratch was the first thing I removed from my previous boat.

We decide on stable doors at the bow.  These enable full-length lockers to be built along the sides of the fore-deck which double up as seats.  The lower sections of the stable doors open against the locker sides utilising magnetic catches to retain them, and the upper halves of the stable doors open right across, to lie against the front bulkhead, and you can lean back against them.

I have “trace heating” in bold type on my wish list.  I think it is a great concept.  It protects your water-pipes from freezing, avoiding the hassle of draining water systems down prior to leaving your boat in the winter.  “Trace heating” is simply a special flattish wire, (looks like “twin & earth”) which is attached (using cable-ties) to the water pipes.  (You don’t fit it to the radiator pipes because they are already protected by having anti-freeze inside them.)  When the temperature drops to near freezing a thermostat clicks on and the wire warms up ! Wonderful.  It will be easy to fasten the wire, comparatively speaking, during the plumbing installation stage.  I fitted a similar system retrospectively to my last boat and it took many hours of work.

I reckon when operating it will use about 420 watts of electricity.  It will cost about £500.00 for this 57 foot boat.  Not bad for the peace of mind it will provide over many hard winters.  Disadvantages ?  … need a very reliable supply of shore-power right through the winter !

I’ve only been at Otter Boats for a couple of hours, but many important decisions have been made.  Because of a trip abroad, I won’t be back until after the building of my boat begins, estimated to be mid November.  The first stage will be the construction of the “V” hull.

The “V”  hulls of Sea Otter Boats are designed to let water in.

More about that, and photographs of the various build stages which follow, in part 2.

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