Stretching a boat

A return to memory lane this week. Already in the late seventies of last century, on our way to the north of the UK for having a holiday in the Lake District (beautiful!) the female half of the two of us spotted narrowboats and wondered whether they were for hire. After having visited a holiday fair in 1992 in The Netherlands we hired one that same year for the first time and immediately fell deeply in love with narrowboating and cruising England’s waterways. We frequently hired a narrowboat in England during the following decade. In 2000 we spent our holiday in the UK, where else?, visiting loads of builders and eventually choose Barry Hawkins Narrowboats at Baddesley Wharf, Coventry Canal, Atherstone, Warks, to build one for ourselves. A 60-foot boat, named ‘Utrecht’ after our home city, was delivered to us in December 2002. Baddesley Wharf would remain our home base during the entire period that we’ve owned her, almost nine-and-a-half years. Here she is, moored at the top of the Wolverhampton Twenty-One in 2003.

The boat comfortably slept four – one double bed and a dinette that could be changed into a second double bed. Sometimes it was even more; we’ve accommodated inflatable beds, foldable baby beds and were capable of creating another bed using the cushions of a pouf. The record number of people sleeping on board proudly stands on seven (7!); 2 women, 4 men and a little toddler boy. When approaching our retirement-date, May 2007, we decided to stretch the boat to 70 feet, thus creating more room, not only for visitors but for ourselves as well, as the boat was going to be used more frequently. Consequently we had to make a drawing of the extra 10 feet’s lay out. The best surrounding to do a job like that is inevetably a pub. (We should have chosen for 70 foot from the beginning. On hindsight a lot of things are painfully obvious…)

After the 2006 summer season she was craned out of the water. The picture shows her on dry land, awaiting the ordeal to come.

Preparing for cutting her in half.

Cutting causes the existing tension of the hull to change. Crosses of steel pipes/tubes are welded inside the hull on either side of the cut to avoid this. If the shape of the hull would change the entire boat would be reduced to the value of scrap metal.

Here we go. The sound of the cutter is really spine-chilling. Add this to the already present uncomfortable feeling, caused by the process itself. There’s no way back now…

No further comment.

This is it. Although close together there are now two halves…

A detail of what has happened just before…

…and another one. The cut on the portside ‘uses’ exactly the edge of the dinette-window, which is also visible on the picture before this one.

To separate the two parts, each 10 tons on average, the front part is equipped with a temporary towing device. The rear part can easily be towed away by using the almost unbreakable skeg. For the novices: a skeg is the beam whereupon the rudder rests, see the next picture.

One should not look too long to this when the real thing is on its way. To picture the boat in the water again is now more or less beyond imagination.

Understructure and roof are welded to the two parts, to make it look like one again. Straight too, miraculously.

The new bottom- and side-parts as visible on the inside…

…and again, looking aft…

…and front. The galley is partly visible. It makes us think again of the trouble we’ve had protecting our belongings, mostly stowed away in the closed-off bedroom, situated in the rear part of the boat. So we hoped only the front door would be used for access, via the living room and the galley, to the ‘war-zone’. On numerous occasions we have seen all doors and windows opened – our possessions exposed to the mercy of the elements. It made us grit our teeth at the time…

Steelwork done. An extra porthole is included, although it’s only there to keep the proportions right. On the inside of it is the new settee that can be changed into two bunk beds, see the next picture.

Looking to the rear, some six-and-a-half feet were intended to serve as a settee opposite a cupboard. The settee could be changed into two bunk beds by replacing the back rest on top of the supports on the walls. A telly was placed upon the cupboard and all equipment for listening to music and watching movies was there too.

Looking to the front. The remaining three-and-a-half feet were used for creating a little l-shaped ‘desk’ whereupon our computer and printer found their places. The shelves later on contained all our CDs and DVDs. It was all very ingenious, don’t you think?

To create an airy surrounding a Houdini-hatch was fitted in the roof. Later on a screen was fitted that could be shut from either side: during the day to protect us from the bugs when the hatch was opened and during the night to darken the room.

Back in the water, no leakages – what a relief! Ready for a total repaint, to be executed in the paint-dock, being the ‘poly-tunnel’ visible on the right hand side on the picture.

This artist (we only ever knew his first name: Jim) had no objection whatsoever when we asked his permission to make a photograph of him when painting the name onto our pride and joy. He even allowed people to walk inside the boat during his job. Be assured that a narrowboat moves when someone walks inside of it. He kept a steady hand under all circumstances. Bravo!

This is a part of the finished paintjob. Spray-painted by a former car-painter. Especially red is a ‘weak’ colour – as we experienced when our boat was brush-painted when new in 2002. The sprayed paint proved to be a lot stronger; when we sold the boat in April/May 2012 the paint was still in pristine condition – partly thanks to our habit of waxing several times every year too. All signwriting and scrolling was done by already mentioned Jim. We’d definitely find him again if we ever would be in need of a sign writer in England.

To end with here she is again, now in the full glory of her 70 feet. Compare this picture with the first one. We have forgotten the name of the park (oh dear!) but know for sure it’s on the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal. Although we live on a barge since December 2010, crossed The Channel in September 2012 and cruise the waterways of the Continent at present we’ll remain anglophiles for the rest of our lives. The narrowboat-era in England, spanning as much as 20 years, is fondly remembered. Hope to ‘meet’ you again next week.