After a number of years hiring boats for holidays, we thought it would be great to have our own boat. Retirement was a long way off, and money was a little tight, but we can all dream.....
Pie-in-the-sky ideas were tabled, and the "ideal" boat was designed in our imaginations.
I was diagnosed with heart trouble, and went on long-term sick leave. We managed a canal holiday but I wasn't really in any fit state to enjoy it. Thoughts of our own boat started slipping away. We still had elderly parents who needed our help, and the possibility of losing my job was high due to my health.
Fate took a hand, and I was given an early retirement with a good severance package. My health improved as a result of the removal of my work stress, and the money situation was a little better. But we still needed to stay in Scotland for our parents.
The last of our parents passed on, and all the obstacles were one-by-one removed. In the spring of 2013, we started seriously looking at the possibilities of owning a boat. Over a period of about six months, we visited a number of builders, both well-established and new (someone had told us not to go with the first yard we visited - good advice), and we also looked at a number of second-hand boats. We eventually decided upon Top Notch Boat Company based at Cradley Heath outside Birmingham.
The other yards we had visited offering bespoke boats had given the impression that "yes, we do boats to order, but this is what you'll get; if you want something different, give us a plan". Jon Johnston of Top Notch said "write me a wish-list and come to the office in two weeks; lets go on a journey together to find your perfect boat". Expecting a sketch-plan, we went to the yard to be shown round the workshop and over two of his boats in build, meeting the workforce as we went. We were greeted in the boardroom by a 10ft scale plan which Jon proceeded to explain. He had used our comments as a base for his plan, but said that nothing was set in stone - "let's discuss it". We loved what we saw. Jon's attention to detail is fantastic, with practically no space left as unused.
Top Notch offered us a choice of two hull-builders depending on the style/shape of hull we wanted, and Jon sent us a quote for the work, saying that alterations could be made along the journey as long as they didn't require a change in the basic hull once selected. We chose a Jonathan Wilson "Josher"-style hull by Tyler Wilson boats of Sheffield. We were told that a deposit would secure a build slot for the hull - it would then be six weeks from commencement of steelwork to Top Notch getting the hull for fitting out. Top Notch would then need four months to have the boat ready to put in the water. Payments would be made along the way as different stages were completed. Based on that meeting and subsequent correspondence, we signed the contract at the end of September for Top Notch to build our boat, and they confirmed a build-slot was available for immediate start.
The steelwork was completed mid-November and delivered by lorry to Top Notch in Cradley Heath on 18th. I travelled down for the delivery, and visited the yard at roughly monthly intervals thereafter until launch.
My first visit down since the fit-out began. The internal coating had been completed, and the spray-foam insulation had been done and covered with the lining boards. The cross-bulkheads (between rooms) had been started. The engine and gearbox had been fitted. The electric cabling and plumbing had been started.
By the time Pat & I visited mid-January, all the lining boards and cross-bulkheads were in place. The final panelling had been cut and was away being polished. A mock-up of the galley had been prepared for us to see how the overhead lockers and breakfast bar would work. We decided that it would need changed! Undercoating was well under way on the outside of the hull.
I went down south again mid-February to find the internal panelling now in place - she looks wonderful! Fixtures and fittings were almost complete in back cabin, shower-room and main bedroom. The galley and saloon were progressing. The electrics were almost complete. Outside, the topcoats were well under way, leaving the signwriting still to start. The solar panel had been fitted.
The boat should have been ready by this stage, but Jon was not happy that the paint had been given long enough the harden before giving it a final polishing. There were a couple of things still to do in our re-fashioned galley area. It was agreed that it would be finished by the first week in April, and he would arrange crane and marina for that point.
The crane and lorry were booked for 8th April, and "Paws" was taken from Cradley Heath to Aston Marina at Stone on the Trent & Mersey Canal. She was taken down the ramp at the marina and first felt the water at 1315 (official time of launch). Over that day and the next, the builders checked the ballast was in the correct places, checked systems for being operational, filled her fresh water tank, ran up her engine, and took her for a turn round the marina. On the Wednesday afternoon, we got aboard for our first feel of her in the water.
As this journey ends, so starts a new one. We hope to live aboard "Paws" for most of each year, only returning to our house when necessary, or to continue activities we do not want to lose completely. Hopefully, we have another great journey ahead of us.
Thought it might be useful to provide an update after two years.
We have had a number of problems, mostly in the electrical and plumbing side.
Learned for future that wood panels need to be able to be removable to permit access to electric cables behind - no new cabling or change of plan can be made on our boat without major carpentry.
Heard that Top Notch, and their parent company Classic Joinery (Midland), both went into liquidation in December 2015.
Whilst the above have caused concerns, we still like "Paws", and there are very few design features that we would change given the time over again.
Over the years, we have become more and more conscious that running the engine for as long as we do is not great (financially, ecologically or morally). At the end of 2022, we decided to bite the bullet and get someone to look at the existing panel and advise on repair or replacement. I trawled the internet for information and finally (through a word-of-mouth recommendation) contacted Jay Robinson, a freelance who works in conjunction with Onboard Mobile Energy.
He checked over what we had and said it was unrepairable, and was really unsuitable in the first place. We discussed replacement and he gave a quote well less than anything I had seen online, so he was asked to do the job. We agreed on 5 panels (1m x 600mm 115W) along with an MPPT controller, all from Victron to match the inverter we already had. He completed the job in two working days - the first to fit the panels on the roof, the second to run the cables and commission.
The initial results are good, and suggest that we may be able to recover the cost (by less fuel used) within about 6-8 years. Wish I had done it sooner!