Kingsground Narrowboats celebrated 15 years of producing bespoke narrowboats in January by launching their 100th vessel, Oak, into a very cold Oxford Canal. Rather than breaking a bottle of bubbly over the bow, it was more of a case of breaking the ice to allow the boat to float! Oak is a 58ft tug-style narrowboat.
Its conventional, traditional exterior belies a very modern take on the interior The owners, Mr and Mrs Prosser, have borrowed extensively on their boating experience with a series of thoughtful touches to make long-distance cruising more practical. Shell The steel shell is built by Alexander Boatbuilders, at Stourport. Several top-end boat fitters use this company: they have a good eye for detail and can make a creditable Josher-style replica when required.
Oak has a longish forward tug deck, leading to a sweeping bow; the effort required by the builder to make such curves cannot be underestimated. The gas bottle locker fills the bow, and a small steel mast carries the fetching brass headlamp and horn (removable for security!), just behind the hatch.
Slightly further aft, under the tug deck, is the stainless steel water tank.
Here there is also access to the bow thruster and associated electrical goods, and space for cruising gear.
The heavy steel lid of the locker is sensibly supported by a gas strut, like on the tailgate of a car - a good safety idea.
Seeing the boat craned into the water highlighted some details that builders often miss. In addition to the rubbing strake formed by the top-bend, an additional rubbing strake runs underwater from the bow to where the stern swims begin to taper.
This will help with reducing wear to the edge of the base plate in the future. A further three strakes run from the bow to a point just forward of the cabin. The steelwork was flawless, even after the application of a crisp, high-gloss paint finish. Boats fitted with portholes often have wavy cabin sides, but here there were no distortions even after the fit-out. The aft pair of sacrificial anodes were mounted further forward than usual, near the start of the swim.
This gives two main advantages: better protection of the steel in the middle of the boat, and compared to ones mounted near the propeller, a less disturbed flow of water to the screw. The roof is finished in a light green paint finish, to match the dark green cabin sides. A sensible amount of slip-resistant additive has been applied - enough to give good grip, but not so much that it will be hard to clean.
Brass roof vents, portholes and prism deck lights set off the boat well, and on a trad-style boat are more fitting than the chrome equivalents would be. All the brass work is lacquered, so avoiding any polishing for a long time. A pair of 68W solar panels are strongly mounted to the roof, giving independence from mains power. During the summer this should be enough to support most electrical loads, and will also recharge the batteries between cruises.
The steerer has a large, wide hatch, so that two people can easily stand here, without someone having to perch on the gunwale. The tiller is a good height and seems well balanced. We do, of course, aim to take out any boats we test, but on this occasion the frozen canal precluded that. Even two-part epoxy hull paints can be damaged by icebreaking!