Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article More than a Mooring - Calcutt Boats is the copyright of Jim Shead - The first of a new series on marinas and boatyards. First published in Waterways World October 2003.
The site at Calcutt Locks, on the Grand Union Canal and close to the junction with the Oxford Canal at Napton, was recognised by Roger and Rosemary Preen as an excellent cruising base as far back as the 1960's but there were to be many attempts to acquire the site and many shifts of British Waterways policy before they could start Calcutt Boats in 1973.
At that time it was a derelict site with no access by road, as the farmer who owned the land did not want anyone to develop it, so they had to rely on water transport for the first three months and bring in building materials by boat. From this rather unpromising start they have built up an impressive boating centre and well known hire fleet.
Roger had lived by the Thames at Hampton Court and his father had a part share in a small boatyard at Thames Ditton where he used to go as a schoolboy to service the Maid Line fleet - changing the gas, filling with water, etc. He was always fascinated with canals and walked the whole length of the K&A and Somerset Coal Canal. He also visited the Thames & Severn Canal going up the Thames in the family boat, mooring at Inglesham and walking right through to Sapperton Tunnel. Rosemary's parents lived on the wharf by Wootton Wawen on the Stratford upon Avon Canal and it was on a boat trip between the two that they discovered the Calcutt site.
The company, with Roger as Managing Director and Rosemary as Chairman, started as a hire boat company with two Burland 26 cruisers with outboards but they found two outboards wee needed for every boat, one being mended and one working. This confirmed their belief that fibre glass cruisers with outboards were not ideal as hire boats. So after the first couple of years of running with fibre glass boats they decided to buy their first steel boats and fit them out themselves but one of the problems was that there was a long waiting list for engines.
Roger was from the motor industry and used to be in diesel engine design, so he decided to do the Marinisation himself. He got himself accredited for this process with BMC, which meant going to the factory and answering lots of questions and showing them design work and certificates and so on. Once they were happy with his abilities he produced the first engine and sent it to BMC for inspection which took over three months before they decided it was acceptable. BMC gave them the right to buy from the Coventry factory and they still buy BMC 1.8 engines that are now produced in Turkey. They have now marinised over 1200 engines, mostly for narrowboats.
Engine marinisation is a major part of Calcutt's business together with the Marina and the hire fleet. This helps to even out the downturns that occur from time to time in each of the individual parts of the business and with cranes, dry docks, etc. it makes them a one-stop boatyard as, apart from building shells, they do everything else in the business.
They do a lot of fitting out for private boats concentrating on their 50 foot clipper class boats which are built to a standard design for around £37,500. This is proving very popular and they now have a two year order book. Some changes to the specification to meet customers preferences are catered for but they are not bespoke boats as each boat would need individual drawings and under the RCD they would need a detailed handbook which is expensive to produce so to keep the costs low a standard design is used.
In the days when BW hire licences were difficult to obtain Calcutt Boats had 12 licences and found that to get more they were required to provide 10 moorings for each new licence. This meant that to get 12 more licences they needed to provide moorings for 120 boats and was the reason that the marina was built. The original marina site was a low quality field for agricultural purposes from which clay had been taken in the past. Piling for the marina was obtained from a rolling mill at Doncaster which was closing down and which had hundreds of rejected lengths of piling that had twisted during manufacture. From these 10 metre lengths probably one or two 3-metre usable lengths could be salvaged.
The marina opened in 1989. The building of the marina took a long time because they did it all themselves. At the time contractors working on inland waterways were hard to find and very expensive. The marina has a very spacious feel as a lot of extra land had to be included when the field for the marina was bought, much of this has now been planted as woodland. Also the water space is very generous with a lot of open water around the moorings. It is difficult to see more than a glimpse of the site by passing on the canal so on my first visit ashore there I was surprised and impressed by its extent.
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