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The Design and Construction of Warble Narrowboats

written by: Willie Scott • edited by: KennethSleight • updated: 5/13/2011

Warble Narrowboats was a highly regarded canal boat building company that carried out construction to their own designs at their boatyard in Hyde, England. They were renowned for their steel hulled boats that were specifically designed for waterways and canals. They ceased trading in 2004.

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    Précis of a High Quality Canal Boat

    Warble Narrowboats was founded by husband and wife team Kevin and Janet Wadsworth in the late 1980's. Their company became synonymous with high quality design of steel hulls, quickly gaining a reputation for a very high standard of outfitting and painting.

    They won many prestige awards for “Best UK Canal Boat" at various National Boat Shows throughout the UK. They also exported their narrowboats to the US, one of their first boats being the “Californian" built for an American client.

    For various reasons Kevin subcontracted his steel hulls out to Jonathan Wilson, a local boat-builder also of good repute who used the original hull patterns to fabricate the steel hulls, transporting them to Warble's boatyard for finishing.

    Sadly they are no longer trading, but their legacy of excellent craftsmanship lives on in the numerous Warble boats still to be seen on the canal networks across Europe and the USA.

    The company was sold around 2004 to Lees Narrowboats of Hyde, a company run by a father and son team that unfortunately has since gone into liquidation.

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    NBWhisper: a Narrowboat of Repute

    Whisper Livery from www.nbwhisper  

    As we have seen, Warble was a renowned boatbuilder; one of their best examples is the Jazz, an award winning narrowboat built by the company owner Kevin Wadsworth for his own use.

    He also built a sister boat Whisper, for Andy Greener, and it is the design and construction of this boat that we will examine. Whisper is shown below on the water with Andy steering. (Please click image to enlarge.)

    Whisper with Andy Steering from www.nbWhisper  

    Andy’s wife Jane is an interior designer and it was she who designed the Whisper’s interior decor, giving it a unique, bright and airy finish.

    Internal fittings of Whisper  

    The Hull Design

    Most narrowboats built in the last twenty or so years are of steel construction to a plating specification known as 10-6-4; the bottom plates being 10mm thick, side plates of 6mm thick up to the gunnels, and 4mm used for the remaining parts of the hull. The Whisper’s hull was constructed from mild steel plate welded together to form one of the best narrowboat hulls around at that time (and since for that matter) to Kevin Wadsworth's design.

    Due to the many tunnels in the canal networks, silencers, aerials, cratches, and chimneys must be de-mountable. A cratch is a boat cover used in cold or wet weather. On Whisper, the cratch board (or cratch support) is hinged to facilitate stowage when not in use and is glazed to enable one to see for'd from the saloon when it is in use.

    Whisper showing cratch support and cover from owners collection  

    The dimensions of a narrowboat hull are governed by the widths of the canals and locks, so to be able to navigate the majority of these a maximum beam of 6’10" with a length of 60’ is required and was applied to Whisper.

    Some locks on the Yorkshire canals are only 56’10" but a 60’ long narrowboat can fit into the lock diagonally.

    Below is a photo of Whisper at an angle to the bank to show how she would look in the smaller lock.

    Whisper at angle to bank, fromwww.nbwhisper  

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    The Interior Design

    This is where having a designer wife must have came in very handy for the internal design of the Whisper. As will be seen she created an inviting and airy interior mainly from the use of light wood cladding and furniture. This is complimented by black trims and accessories such as the black wood burner, galley worktops, and curtain rods above the ports.

    We shall examine the interior of the Whisper by area from aft, using my sketch below;

    Whisper's internal layout showing key components. (My impression)  

    • Counter
    Aft Double doors giving access to Counter from www.nbwhisper  

    A set of half-double doors give access from the deck to the Counter, central heating boiler, calorifier, and wet-weather gear storage facilities. Also in here are the engine controls and electrical panels and switchgear for the 12v/230v AC. The extra-large hatch is to allow for the helmsman’s and companion's steering seat, another of Andy's ideas.

    • Engine and Bedroom

    The engine is a 4 cylinder 2.2 litre Beta Marine Propgen unit that is fully cocooned and produces 11kV of power at 230Volts. It operates at a constant speed, and this combined with it being fully cocooned and exhausting through a “hospital generator silencer," allows it to runs very quietly. A hydraulic gearbox and trolling mechanism is used to control the prop shaft speed.

    This compartment also contains the flushing water tank and the waste holding tank. These are installed underdeck, fore/aft on the port side and are self-balancing. This is a rather great idea of Whisper's owner Andy that prevents the listing that can occur when tanks are installed on opposite sides of the hull.The double bed fits over the Propgen engine enclosure and the tanks.

    • The Heads

    These are a rather sophisticated version of the normal boat's head, again being very well designed using all the available space. This compartment contains a shower, w/c and wash hand basin all enclosed for privacy.

    • Galley and Utility Room

    Whispers Galley from www.nbwisper.com  

    The utility room contains the washing machine and tumble drier and leads onto the galley where there is a cooker, microwave, fridge/freezer, and built-in cupboards under black worktops.

    • Saloon

    Saloon from galley, from www.nbwhisper  

    This compartment is the main relaxation area and it contains the usual soft furnishings and a wood/coal burning stove; a storage drawer under the stove allows storage of coal or logs .

    That about completes the inventory of the hull internals; this is a very well designed canal boat interior, and, as can be seen from the images, attention has been paid to every detail.

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    Summary

    Warble Narrowboats were one of the best builders of UK canal boats; winning several prestigious awards at boat-shows throughout the UK for their design and finish.

    The NB Whisper was an example of this being a sister boat of Jazz; the company owner’s boat.

    Whisper was built in 1999, incorporating numerous good design ideas put into practice by her owner Andy Greener. Built to a very high specification, as can be seen from the images in the article, Whisper can still be seen cruising on the Thames also the Reading/Oxford/Henley Waterways.

    Thanks

    My thanks go to Andy Greener for supplying many of the images and allowing me to use his website as the basis of the article.

    References

    1. Whisper: Design and construction of a typical warble narrowboat.
    2. Narrowboatsurvery: Inland waterway boat surveys info.
    3. Nbpresident: Steam driven Narrowboat for info
    4. Americancanals: Indexes of American canals.
    5. Tooleysboatyard: Narrowboat chandlers



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