Things are moving on


The first visit to Pipers after I’d sent them some cash couldn’t come quick enough. And, true to form, I arrived in the Stoke area about an hour and a half before I was due to meet Andrea!  Unfortunately Nicola couldn’t make it as she was looking after her poorly Mother, so there was added pressure on me as I was choosing the interior of our boat!

When I pulled into the yard I was greeted with the sight of a big boys IKEA flat-pack.

I then became acutely aware of 2 things:

Firstly, I was now the proud owner of a few tons of flat steel. And, secondly, before me was my boat!!

Inside the metal shop, things were already progressing with the keel already laid.




Does size matter?

Well the answer is quite obviously, Yes!

My first thoughts were big is best. More space. More room for gadgets. Just, more!  However the flip size of more size and more stuff, is more expense. Not only in the build, around £10k per metre, but also in running costs, heating costs, mooring fees, furnishings etc etc.

So we had to get our thoughts in order and decide how we would determine which size was best for us. And the answer was there really, the boat was for us, Thats me, Nicola and Alfie the Border Terrier. As much as we are expecting guests, family and friends, old and new, the majority of the time the boat will be enjoyed by just us three amigos. So one cabin, with optional sleeping space. Easy to handle (by me and Nicola, with Alfie having little to offer here)!

Piper, our preferred builders offer a couple of styles in a number of lengths and a wide and not quite so wide beam. The two styles are a raised aft deck, with cabin underneath this (the ‘L’, and a deck level aft deck opening from the wheelhouse, with cabin up at the pointy end (the M). After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and um-ing and ah-ing we eventually decided on the ‘M’. A few of our reasons were not wanting to be isolated while steering the boat – the wheelhouse opening onto the rear deck seems to suit this, and ease of access to the rear deck for Alfie and also whilst carrying food and drinks (us, that is, not Alfie)!

As mentioned it would be just the two of us + hound, so single cabin was the preferred route. Ease of use was important – neither of us felt the need to learn a whole new Master Mariner skill set. Having had a couple of visits to the wonderful Piper weekend at Henley in September we had been on a few different Piper Barges and spoken at length to there owners, we decided that 49ft would be just about right.

Simon Piper developed the 49M model to be the ideal boat to cruise the inland waterways of France – just where we wanted to be. I wouldn’t go against Mary Berry when she recommends a Victoria Sandwich recipe, so why would I try to second guess Simon Piper when he points us towards a Piper 49M?

Why pay Piper?

Neither of us have any meaningful experience with boats, nor are very handy in the DIY department. So, the relatively easy first decision of new or old was reached quickly.

Once we’d come to the decision to splash (sorry!) out on a new build we then started the search for a builder.

To be honest, I’m not sure whether to be surprised or not, but, we didn’t have a lot to choose from in the UK. We wanted a UK build as our plan was to cruise the Thames for a season or two – more of that later. Some of those we found on line no longer existed. One or two didn’t respond to emails.

We narrowed it down to a couple of builders, both producing a similar product at a similar price. Piper’s though, invited us to a weekend at Henley on Thames, about half an hour from home. Here they had around a dozen or so barges, brought their by their owners, and moored up alongside a marquee. Prospective owners could swarm over the assembled Piper barges, chat to their owners, speak to Pipers staff, and have a beer and a sandwich.

pipers henley

Piper barges ready for inspection at Henley-upon-Thames


A great idea. It really made us think that if Pipers were being this open – and, by the way, we were allowed unfettered access to the owners and their thoughts on their barges and the builder – then they just might be producing a fine product.

We were sold!

Now we just needed to decide which model !


Why a Barge?

Well ……………

I must admit, sailing the ocean waves in a Grand Banks has always really appealed to me. The thought of going anywhere I like, when I like, has a certain romanticism. No one can deny that. The thought of navigating the oceans and seas of the world would be a challenge and an adventure. Unfortunately though, not one that Nicola wanted to subject Alfie or her to!!

grand banks

A Grand Banks – “A life on the Ocean Wave, tra la”


So my ropes were shortened and my charts were downsized a little. Inland waterways it would be, but perhaps with a little coastal cruising (Alfie the terrier seems fine with that, but, Dear Reader, perhaps don’t mention it to Nicola yet if you happen to moor next to us!)

Research started in earnest in 2014 trying to find if such a craft existed. We had had a couple of holidays on the Broads, but wanted something a bit bigger than the Broads Cruiser style.

A narrow boat would allow us access to the whole of the UK waterways and with a spirit of adventure and a following wind would get us across the Channel.

narrow boat

Narrow boat – a little on the compact size


However, a dutch barge style of craft seemed absolutely perfect.

But which one?  Old or new? Size? shape? Style?

Why a boat?

You may well ask!

Twenty odd years ago I nearly bough a Princess motor yacht previously owned by Nigel Mansell. In the end, common sense won and I bought a house in Watford.

However, I think it was then that the seed was sown and a continued and reoccurring dream was born to own a boat.

For the past six or seven years this desire has been getting stronger. Websites have been visited. Catalogues poured over. Blogs read and re-read. Tim & Pru’s and Tim & Shane’s adventures closely followed, until, eventually, a plan was hatched to buy a boat with a view to taking her across the channel and cruising the waterways of Europe.

It’s obviously a good idea, because I have had no objections from Nicola – the Admiral – or Alfie – the ships dog.

Things have just got real

Never have I been so happy to receive an invoice!

This one was different thought. It was from Nick at Piper Boats and signalled the purchase of the steel for my 49M.

Over the next few posts, until the boat launches around May time, I shall try and give you, dear reader, a bit of insight into how the decision to purchase a Piper 49M was made, what a 49M is, and, looking further ahead, a travel blog detailing our travels on board.