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How the outside world sees us

The designer's bible, Design Week, takes an unprompted look at narrowboat design with this challenging article.

The headline, 'Canalside Travesties', warns you that it's not going to be a sympathetic hearing:

"Canal boats are basically motorised metal pontoons, comically narrow floating caravans. There is very little nautical about them. That's fine, but I have an issue with the way they are now. They are all weird fakes."

Hugh Pearman, the well-respected author of the article, would like to see more "unselfconscious, functional boats" rather than what he describes as historic pastiches.

It's not an entirely fair picture: there are still some very affordable functional craft out there, like the Calcutt Clipper or even some of the narrowboats we've seen imported from China. But could there be an ounce of truth in his portrayal?

Thursday 15 May  | Richard Fairhurst  | 2.44pm, Thursday 15 May 2008


I regret to say that I have some sympathy with Hugh Pearman. Boats should be boats: their interior design should be governed by what will work well on the water.

The hull and topsides design of a modern canal boat, whilst "traditional", have been proved to work over many years, and most people don't want a radical design in this part of their boat.

30 years or more ago, boats on the canals were recognisably boats inside - lots of solid wood (or good quality ply), well built and "fit for purpose" - i.e. capable of coping with a wet crew after locking up the Wolverhampton 21.

Nowadays, boats have CARPETS (I ask you) and loadsa finicky fancy woodwork - all very nice I'm sure, but in MDF?? Also, quality control and practicality has gone out of the window: I've seen a recent report on a boat fire where the solid fuel stove was installed far too close to the cabin sides and set the boat alight, with tragic loss of life.

I blame the builders: they upped the anti when they started to add exotic woods and fancy joinery to their builds in an attempt to "add value" and charge even more for their product and now all the fancy gizmos are demanded by all the newcomers to the cut who buy a "narrowboat BMW", use it one week a year and THEN grumble 'coz the blacking's got scratched!

Brian L Dominic  | 8.33PM, Monday 19 May

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