In modern canal boat we have the opportunity to reflect the best of the narrowboat tradition, drawing on the design and decoration of the original working boat, but bringing the whole completely up to date. Designs have now settled down into three main styles - traditional, semi-traditional and cruiser - with two or three variations for the enthusiast.
Lets start by looking at the three main narrowboat styles in more detail...
Traditional style - with short aft deck
(or simply Trad style) where the back deck is short, with room only for the steerer. ‘Cruiser’ style with a longer back deck, popular with hire boats and families, as there is more room for several people to gather together on the stern. ‘Semi Trad’ where the shape viewed side on looks like a Trad, but in reality the deck is open like a cruiser allowing more room at the stern.
A ‘Barge’ is a craft whose beam is wider than 6’10”, and so cannot navigate the locks on the narrow canals. Barges are restricted to the broad canals such as the Leeds & Liverpool, parts of the Grand Union, Kennet & Avon, etc. The term ‘Barge’ nowadays tends to be reserved for older or historic ex-working craft. Modern canal boats built with a wide beam may also have Trad, Cruiser or Semi Trad sterns, and tend to be referred to simply as ‘Wide Beam Trad’ or ‘Wide Beam Cruiser’ etc. Such craft can be anything from 8’ to 12’6” beam (possibly more).
‘Dutch Barge’ is a term often heard today, and refers to a particular style of craft which is a different concept to the narrowboat. Whereas narrowboats are flat bottomed, Dutch Barges usually have rounded or vee bottom hull forms, are built to any of the above wide beam dimensions, and also normally will have a wheelhouse, which can either be aft, or midships. Dutch Barges, because of their hull shape, are usually seaworthy, which canal boats are not.
Finally, we have ‘Dutch Barge style Narrowboats’ !! This is a narrowboat whose hull below waterline will be similar to other narrowboats, but the hull and superstructure above waterline is styled to look like the shape of the Dutch Barge, including the provision of a wheelhouse, the distinctive rounded counter, and the characteristic bow shape.
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