Piper Boat Owners' Club

A club open to anyone who owns a Piper-built boat


By Peter Fairhurst

Since the last article, in the Winter 08 edition of Pipeline, we have finally progressed from the birth of the barge to the berth of the barge as after more than 8 months in build we were launched (in the dark – photos awful) at Red Hill Marina on Tuesday 9th December and after an extended delay due to the river being in flood we started the journey to our permanent mooring at Barrow-upon-Soar – more of which later.
On the day of the launch we set off to Red Hill Marina (the site of the 2009 IWA National Festival) to see the arrival of the boat and the set-up for the lift from the road trailer into the River Soar when we crossed fingers, legs, eyes and anything else as it was stressful seeing the boat (our main future home whilst we rent out the bricks and mortar) hoisted into the air supported by wire rope slings. Fortunately all went well and eventually the boat was gradually and carefully lowered into the water to be quickly examined for any leakage by Piper Boats before the slings were finally removed and the boat floated free. The weight of the boat was recorded by the crane as 40.5 tonnes. New PBOC member Paul Wixey’s sailaway Piper narrowboat was also launched on the same afternoon and on the Friday (before the flooding began) he departed Red Hill for Willington where I believe he plans to complete the fit-out.
Following the launch there were two days of commissioning by Piper Boats during which the electrical, mechanical and hydraulic systems received attention and the main engine was started – very quiet and smooth. The electrical systems, including the Mastervolt 6kW generator, were given a thorough testing to ensure that they were fully integrated and that any automatic changeovers from inverter to generator to shore supply worked and that our existing 2kW Honda emergency generator was also compatible. I was then given instructions on the operation of the various systems that I had already asked questions about during the many Saturday visits to Biddulph.  I thought on the basis that to try and absorb all the technical and operating information in one short hit was impossible and that an extended ‘drip feed’ of the information was preferable – I still managed to forget some procedures though, but that is what the instruction manuals are then for. Following the commissioning, our carpet fitter came along over a two day period to fit the carpets and this was followed by the upholsterers who delivered the sofa bed and other soft furnishings. The result of fitting the underlay and carpet is that the floor was no longer a heat sink and sounds no longer reverberate as much. The Refleks oil stove was left burning for nearly a week on a low heat to keep the inside temperature at a reasonable level during the very wet and cold period following the launch. December is definitely not the best month for a boat launch.
We had originally decided to take three days (river flow and weather dependant – wheelhouse down – cabriolet mode) over the journey back from Red Hill to Barrow upon Soar where we have our permanent mooring.
The first of these days would be spent on the wide Trent where I could become familiar (ie have a play) with the size and handling of the boat before re-entering the narrower Soar Navigation locks. On Sunday 21st December two friends and I took the boat out onto the still swollen and fast running Trent for its first outing as far upstream as Sawley Locks and back and I was pleased to note that despite the strong stream conditions on the Trent the boat just ploughed through the water without any hesitation. The turn at Sawley Lock was somewhat dramatic as it was a battle between the forces of nature (the combined flow of the rivers Trent & Derwent) and the forces of a Beta engine and I am pleased to say that the forces of Beta won which prevented us being swept sideways into the bridge buttresses whilst turning through 180° in the strong stream conditions. I have made this same turn many times in our narrowboat under calmer conditions but this was the first and last time that I would consider doing it in the conditions which prevailed that day. On our brief return to Red Hill we demounted and stowed the upper wheelhouse sections and set off on our journey towards Barrow. The day was cold (but dry) with a stiff breeze blowing which made for uncomfortable travelling conditions in the now open wheelhouse – very familiar to narrowboat steerers. This was the first time that I had handled the boat through the locks on the Soar and was pleased to be told that I had around 10” (250mm) clearance on both sides of the boat – not that I could tell from the steering position as you cannot see down the side of the hull as a reference. Our journey ended abruptly 5 locks later at Zouch where the river Soar flood gates were still closed and so we had to reverse back, moor up and rebuild the wheelhouse outside of the canal side Rose & Crown pub which benefited greatly over the following days from our enforced stoppage however, the food was really good. It was to be Boxing Day before we could move the boat again as we had to wait for the level of the Soar to fall and our friends had other commitments during the run up to Christmas but on Boxing Day the weather was sunny, dry, cold and thankfully calm when we eventually set off mid-morning for the journey to Barrow via Loughborough. Although the journey itself was without significant incident there were some testing moments whilst negotiating the arched canal bridges between Loughborough and Barrow. On two bridges in particular the arch was so low that there was only around 2” (50mm) clearance on the offside between the arch masonry and the handrails around the back of the boat but there was plenty of evidence on the arch and headwalls where some boaters had not been so fortunate. A number of tight turns on the route such as the ‘Devils Elbow’ turn under the A6006 at Zouch, the right angled turn under Chain Bridge in Loughborough and the restricted approach to Barrow Deep Lock made for some interesting moments but by a good team effort from the lookouts at the bow we did not provide much entertainment for the spectators. We finally arrived at Meadow Farm Marina at Barrow mid afternoon, quickly rebuilt the wheelhouse and after a hot drink and grateful thanks ferried our friends back to their cars that had been left that morning at the Rose & Crown.
One steering characteristic that I have had to become used to is the time delay between moving the steering wheel and the boat responding; unlike a narrowboat where the response to the tiller is almost instantaneous. The problem here is that you initially try to compensate for this delay by moving the wheel more and end up over-steering producing a meandering path that doesn’t look very good but very quickly you learn to anticipate the moves and then allow the necessary time beforehand. I also have to admit that without the bow thruster I would have been up the proverbial creek sans paddle; the hope and intention is that with handling experience our reliance on the bow thruster will become very much less but in the meantime I’m extremely glad that it works. Yes I did scuff a small amount of Comastic from the hull due to inexperience whilst entering the locks but these scuffs were slight and are easily retouched. Kath & I hope to attend a barge handling course later this year to provide us with more confidence and to learn the ‘correct’ way of working the boat.
Over the remaining Christmas/New Year period we stayed on the boat where we became more familiar with the various systems, the unique boat ‘sounds’ and also to allow me to fit rails, curtains etc and to continue with the wall tiling in the shower room - although a relatively compact room this task seemed never ending but the end result is well worth while. The extended holiday period was a really enjoyable break and, as our live-in grandson was away for a few days, we were able to concentrate on the various finishing off jobs. Unfortunately the adverse weather in January and February precluded any attempts to take the boat out for a jolly along the Soar as the river was almost constantly in flood but this served to encourage us to complete as many jobs as possible.
For us this now marks the end of the beginning that has involved many hours of drawing, debating layouts and frustrations but in general a great deal of pleasure designing what is to become our future home (we plan to move onboard around Easter time) and I hope to contribute one or two future updates on our experiences. We intend to take the boat down to Loughborough for the May Day bank holiday boat festival by which time it should be ‘complete’ (whatever that means in boat terms) and we are hoping for some good weather as all profits from the festival benefit the local charities.
Some of the longer standing PBOC members may recall an article that I wrote in Pipeline in 2003 titled ‘Owning a Piper Boat – The Positives & Negatives’ (still on the PBOC website) where I posed the question at the end of the article ‘would I buy another Piper boat?’ I said an emphatic YES at that time and nothing that we have experienced during this latest build has changed my feelings.
Kath, and I are indebted particularly to Simon, Andy, Dave, Duncan, Dan and Matt as well as Lee, Stuart and Howard (plus others at Piper Boats) for producing a good looking, sturdy and well finished boat that has already received many very favourable comments from passers-by as well as other boaters.

By Peter Fairhurst

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